Looking Back To Move Forward


We are deep into cold season which means that the pellet stove runs 24/7, soups (Split Pea!  Tortilla!  Minestrone!  Tomato!) are almost always simmering away on the stovetop, fuzzy slippers are the indoor footwear of choice, flannel sheets on the bed are a must, and coffee and tea are brewed all day long.

The squirrels and wild birds appreciate anything left for them, the garden is buried under a beautiful blanket of white, garden bounty we preserved in the heart of summer and fall provide us with memories and great meals, and days where we make it into double digit temps are very much appreciated.  The start of another new year has arrived and with it comes hope, excitement, and optimism about what's ahead.  

Each year I try to reflect back on the previous 12 months to think about what worked well, what didn't, what I want to do again, and what changes I'd like to make as we move forward.  I've noted before that I don't set resolutions, preferring to set goals.  Goals are more specific, and I do better with specific.  Part of the process includes a review of everything from our budget to the garden to hobbies, etc.

It's also time to give myself some grace.  Grace for not achieving everything I'd set out to do, and grace for attempts that seem as though they ended in failure.   I'm sharing bits of my review here in hopes it helps some of you who also do this or for those of you who would like to begin something similar.

Here we go!

While we did ok last year, there were areas we could improve on, and we are going to work on tightening this a bit more this year.  Because our monthly pet expenses exceed our monthly living expenses (minus the mortgage), and may continue to increase, we need to make sure we're reducing where we can.  The grocery budget is what I typically cut when we need a significant reduction so that's what I'll do again.  We'll also cut discretionary spending although we don't spend a lot on "wants" so the grocery savings will fill in the gap nicely.

We have pet insurance for both Oliver and Jackson, and we love it.  But (and it's a big but) we didn't start the insurance until after Oliver had his first spine surgery so anything to do with his spine/disc disease is considered pre-existing and therefore, not covered.  Because this is a large part of his medical issues currently, it is rather expensive.  We knew this when we signed up for the insurance and are still happy we did, because it covers everything else he's been diagnosed with.

Food prices have gone up and are expected to continue rising which makes cutting a grocery budget tricky.  We have a nice working stockpile which I began building years ago, so this will help tremendously.  I've also worked on growing more for food preservation, not just seasonal eating, so that will be a priority again this coming summer and fall.

(**Anytime I've written about pet insurance I receive emails telling me it's not worth the price and that instead I should just save the money we would pay for monthly premiums and use that for the expenses.  I completely understand that many times this would make more sense and appreciate the concern.  We each have to make our own decisions on what we believe will be best for us, and in the case of our pet insurance, it was important to us so we would have options without the worry about cost should any medical issues arise.  That's exactly what happened when Emerson was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  We were able to move forward with radiation treatment ($20,000) without any concern of cost (we pay a per-diagnosis deductible + 10%).  The insurance has paid out much more than we've paid into it for 2 of our 3 animals we've had covered.**)

My goals for this year are to continue amending the soil, start making growing spaces on the outer border of the garden fence, and begin creating garden beds in the front yard.  I also want to focus on growing more salad greens this year.  I did better last year but could have used more.  I am planning on growing and drying more variety of herbs this year.  Also, as noted above, I want to try to grow more produce for preservation.  

I don't need to buy any seeds this year which is a huge blessing.

I wanted to include buying/planting more blueberry bushes this year, but I'm not convinced we have enough sun in the backyard.  I'm going to consider figuring out how to add some bushes to the front yard instead and put it on next year's list.  I will not be growing trying to grow melons this year.  Once I have the front yard beds ready I will give it a go there.

Thanks to 2020 for giving me extra time to devote to gardening, I've been able to work regular weeding and watering into my daily schedule, even with the busyness of this past year.  I'm going to continue both this year.

Making Homemade vs. Buying
This is non-food related as I make most of our food from scratch anyway.

For the past 14 years I've worked at trying homemade versions of many products we use to see if it's something I would like to continue or not.  That's actually how our soap & skincare business started.  I had started making products for ourselves, family, and friends and before we knew it, we were in business!   

Some of what we currently make homemade:
  • We use all of our handmade soap & skincare products (soap, shampoo bars, deodorant, facial soap & cream, lip balm, bug spray, shave soap, laundry stain remover, and lotions).  
  • I make all of our household cleaners except for laundry soap.  Sometimes I make laundry soap and sometimes I buy it.  (I use this recipe here which is also the recipe for the laundry soap we used to make and sell).  
  • I use liquid castille soap for our liquid hand soap (castille soap + water + essential oils).  
  • I use vinegar for laundry softener and toilet cleaner.  
  • I use fractionated coconut oil for a make-up remover and to polish our stainless steel appliances.
  • I make our salves (Drawing Salve and Head-To-Toe Salve), the ones we used to make and sell, because we absolutely love them, and they work so well.
  • I make our wooden spoon & board butter.  (soooo easy - coconut oil + beeswax)
  • I make some of our herbal remedies using herbs we grow.

And every year I try to add a couple more items to the list.  This year I would like to try:
  • making honey-mint cough drops (if cough drops are needed)
  • growing and drying more variety of herbs so I can try new tisane recipes
  • making my own tinted lip gloss.  I don't wear a lot of make-up - usually eyeliner, mascara, and lip gloss (when not wearing a mask) so I would eventually like to try making all of these to see if it's something I would prefer to make or buy going forward.

I am working to find more time for this in 2022.  

As I've shared before, I am working on writing a novel.  Part of that process means writing a LOT in an effort to improve my writing style.  I have no aspirations to complete my novel in the next year but am hopeful that in the next 2-3 years the process will be more fluid for me, and I can begin writing with the goal of publishing.  Just writing that sentence makes me very excited!

I have taught myself to crochet and I am currently working on 2 projects that are allowing me to develop my skill and learn new stitches.  I would like to someday learn to knit as well but I'll keep my focus on crochet for now.  I have a few crochet projects I would like to create and hope to have the skills to work toward those by late summer/early fall.

Surprisingly (to me), I have found hand embroidery more enjoyable than I thought I would.  I think because it's easier for me to be creative.  I don't care to necessarily follow patterns when I craft - I usually have specific ideas in my head, so with embroidery I can achieve that easier than with crocheting.  I hope to be able to work on a series of embroidery projects for fall and winter.

I'm going to start a sketch book so I can begin delving into drawing and painting again.  This is something I haven't taken the time to do for years and am interested to start back up.  Eventually, when we can travel (our focus is Oliver right now), I would like to keep a travel sketch book/journal.  Getting in the habit now would be a great start.

I want to work on creating a handful of sauce recipes that I can use on different veggie and grain bowls.  I had this on last year's list and while I did find a couple more, I would like to add 4 or 5 more to my list.

For Jay, I would like to try some new summer recipes to incorporate into his meal rotation.

For both of us I want to incorporate more monthly freezer cooking, which makes dinner time much easier.  I am aiming at each of us having one freezer meal per week.

Food preservation is always on my list as an area I need to improve on.  I would like to really get a better grasp on it this year.  Freezing, dehydrating and canning many different fruit, veggies, and herbs.

Zero Waste
While I don't believe it's realistic for me to strive to be completely zero waste, I think Jay and I can do a LOT to improve how much we bring into our home that eventually gets thrown away.  We've made great improvements on kitchen waste such as paper towels, plastic food bags, etc. We always use our reusable drink containers (I LOVE my glass water bottles and always have one with me), stainless steel straws, and reusable bags.  It has been a great start which I hope to improve on every year.

Packaging seems to be larger than ever and so incredibly wasteful.  I've read stories about people who, on their own journey, refuse to buy products when the packaging is excessive. I would love to get to that point, but I'm certainly not there yet.

This year I'm going to focus on packaging waste from food.  It's mostly a problem if I purchase produce out-of-season at the grocery store (I typically purchase locally if it's in-season produce that I don't grow) and salad greens.  I always use my reusable cloth produce bags for any loose produce, however, I do purchase items that are packaged (usually plastic bags or clamshells) and I'm going to eliminate those items from my shopping this year.  Regardless of whether the packaging is plastic or recyclable, I would like to eliminate as much packaging as possible.  

I'll also focus on purchasing as much as possible from bulk bins for grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.  Although I do currently purchase a lot from these bins, I don't shop them exclusively.  I'll have to get in the habit of ensuring I have my bulk bin cloth bags and jars with me when I head out to the store.  I also tend to rely on canned cooked beans during busy times, and I would like to make more of an effort of ensuring I cook up batches of dried (bulk bin) beans and store them in the freezer until needed.

Books are a big part of my life.  Partly because I've always enjoyed reading and partly because I'm learning to write my own someday.  The photo above is a stack of books I haven't yet read so I cannot recommend any of them.  They were all gifted to me or purchased used.  I also have about a dozen books on my computer that I need to read.  

I did well with my reading goal last year and this year I hope to read one book a month.  I likely will get through two or three some months but if I can remain consistent with one, I would be happy.

This is a glimpse into some of the goals I've set for 2022.  Do you set any goals or resolutions of your own?

Hoping you've had a great start to the new year!


  1. So many wonderful things to work on! I wish you well in all of your endeavors.

    I recently ordered some things from Zero Waste Outlet and am very pleased not only with the items, but the minimal packaging. I also order from Misfits for some of our organic produce, and they focus on minimal packaging as well. You are fortunate to have a resource for bulk buying. We don't even have a health food store in our town!

    Best wishes in the New Year. I pray the critters stay well.

  2. I'm a goal-setter, too, rather than a resolution gal. You've set some great goals! I'm going to be starting a "wellness package" for my pet, similar to an insurance program, but it's offered through the veterinary chain that I use for my pup. The base package covers the cost of all the annual immunizations that are required, and includes 2 fee-free office visits, and an annual teeth cleaning. And, it includes 10% off of all other services and purchases (so 10% off on boarding, daycare, any prescription food if he gets sick, flea & tick, heartworm meds, etc.). It will pay for itself. And, it's a monthly payment, and I won't be shelling out $$$ all at once for immunizations.

    While I'm currently a city girl, I did grow up in rural southwest Michigan and learned canning and preserving at my grandmother's knee (and Mom's, too, but I paid more attention to gram). I still make a trek from suburban Chicago to my favorite produce stands in the summer, so I can preserve that goodness. I'm also in a Facebook canners group, and many of the members there buy their dried beans in bulk and then can them so they're ready to use. If your freezer space is tight, you might consider canning some.

    Wishing you all the best in 2022. And, as a retired researcher, writer, and editor, hope to someday be able to read your novel!

  3. All sounds like a very good plan for the year. I'm like you in terms of crochet I can do basic stitch and knitting same don't have the confidence to make a garment. Sienna has made 2 crochet shoulder bags recently and they are wonderful. If you like embroidery check out this Brisbane girl "Life with Bess" https://www.lifewithbess.com/ In 2020 during our first 8 week Covid lockdown she posted on tiktok some embroidery she was doing for herself. This lead to many questions about patterns, needles, threads etc. and now the embroidery business is actually her full time job. She's on IG as well. I bought Sienna a starter kit for Christmas from her. Have a good week.

  4. Daisy - thank you! Our health food store is a couple of towns away but that's where all of our grocery shopping is so it works out well. Thank you for your prayer for the critters!

    Lori - the pet wellness package sounds like a great plan!

    I bet you have some wonderful memories of preserving food with your family. Working together and all of the chit-chat and laughter that comes with it. Thank you for the tip on canning the beans. I do plan on doing that once I'm pressure canning. I haven't taken the leap into that as of yet.

    Wow - a retired editor, writer, AND researcher. Sounds fascinating. I'm hoping to get at least one of those under my belt someday. 😊

    Kathy - thank you for the embroidery recommendation! It seems to be making quite a comeback these days. Happy to hear your daughter is dabbling in it as well.

  5. Oh those simmering soups sound wonderful...just what we need this week. Snow and ice are on the way Thursday, so I'll stock up and keep a pot ready for an easy meal.

    Thanks for sharing your goals for the year...it's good to see what I might borrow and do myself. Hobbies...so many things I'd like to do, but don't make time for, and reading...that seems only happen in winter. And grace...that's a lovely reminder. I can get so frustrated when my list doesn't get crossed off. Some things have been on it for years, but then I have to remember that money and opportunity don't always line up.

    Your post title reminded me of a line from the movie Cars..."you have to turn right, to go left." While it doesn't seem to make sense, sometimes going too fast will cause us to drift and wander...we need to steer into the slide to keep on track and not end up in a ditch. Hmmm, maybe a future post! Thanks again for the inspiration! Mary


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on this post!