Friday, January 30, 2009

Too good to pass up

This was a story I stumbled on that was too funny not to post. Nigerian police detain a goat in attempted auto theft. A quote from the story:

"One of Nigeria's biggest daily newspapers reported that police implicated a goat in an attempted automobile theft...two men tried to steal a Mazda...with one suspect transforming himself into a goat as vigilantes cornered him.

The newspaper reported that police paraded the goat before journalists, and published a picture of the animal."

So...how exactly do you interrogate a goat? Does the goat get a defense attorney? Would you actually record the deposition of a goat? "baaaaaaaa, baaaaaaaaaa"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Syrup!

I became aware today of a building debate about mercury being present in some High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Now, I'm not a fan of HFCS. The main reason is that for a period of several months I attempted to eliminate all corn from my diet. Have you ever thought about that? Next time you go shopping, check out the labels---just about every processed food you buy has corn in it. At the time, this was greatly frustrating. Then, I read Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and started to educate myself about US agricultural policies, and how they affect our farming. At that point I started to get mad. Then, the Corn Refiner's Association (there's an unbiased source for ya) started this whole campaign to let us all know that HFCS is actually GOOD for us. To me (and a lot of my friends) the whole campaign is creepy, but I'm sure they'll use a large budget to repeat the message enough times so it starts to sink in and people start believing it. Marketing 101.

This all ties into a frugal topic that came up today. We ended up making some pancakes, but were out of high fructose corn syrup....errrr--I mean, pancake syrup. Actually having a forest of maple trees nearby would be the most natural food choice, but since that's not gonna happen, I made pancake syrup from water, brown sugar and butter. It was really easy:

Mix:
2/3 cup water
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp butter

Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Let cool, serve warm.

This made about a cup. I put the left-over in a half-pint jar and put it in the fridge. I'm assuming I'll be able to heat it later and use it again. I'm thinking it'd be nice to make up a batch and can it. It seems doable, along the lines of jam or fruit in heavy syrup, but I can't find anything definitive about the safety of it, if it'll stay as a syrup, or what processing time should be used. If anyone knows, let me know!

While I'm on the topic of farming practices, there was an interesting article in this issue of Mother Earth News about The Hidden Link Between Factory Farms and Human Illness. On page 5 of the web article, they even mention a study that links a "multi-state outbreak of urinary tract infections among women in 1999 and 2000 to contamination with a single strain of drug-resistant E. coli found in cows".

Monday, January 26, 2009

Laundry Detergent, Re-Visited

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I have come across this article, so you may want to read up and leave the Borax out. http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-home-living/borax-has-issues-you-have-alternatives.aspx

For Christmas, we received some homemade powdered laundry detergent from Josh's brother. It was lemongrass scented and wonderful to use. It was less messy than the homemade liquid detergent I posted about last April. We ran out of it, so I wanted to figure out how to make my own. I talked to my brother-in-law, did some google searches, and came up with a recipe that is a mish mash of what I found.

Ingredients:
1/3 bar laundry soap (fels naptha or zote seem to work best)
1.5c Washing Soda (not baking soda)
1.5c Borax

Directions:
Grate soap and mix everything. Use 1-2 tbsp for a load of laundry. About 1/2 tbsp for a load of cloth diapers.

When grating the soap, you want it really fine (your final product should look a lot like store bought soap). There are a couple of options here. My brother-in-law grated it by hand, let it dry out on a cookie sheet, then crumbled it up. I cut the soap into chunks, ran it through the food processor until it was pretty fine, then added half the washing soda to the food processor and ran it a little longer. Dumped the whole works into an old margarine container and mixed. I have a really good, kitchen aid food processor, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to do this or not. I didn't have any trouble cleaning out my food processor, but I've read the suggestion to do it by hand instead of putting all that soap in the dishwasher. Another option, my brother-in-law added oxiclean (about 1/4-1/2c for this size recipe). I'm pretty sure this helps with the kiddo's stained clothes, but I didn't have any, so I didn't add it. A handy measuring device is an old medicine cup--check out the markings, many of them have a 1 or 2 tbsp line.

A note on the financial aspect of homemade laundry detergent. I have a picture of my ingredients back in that post I made last April. Today I finally grated up the last 1/3 of that original bar of soap, and I still have enough borax and washing soda to do at least one more recipe of detergent. For somewhere around $7 or $8, I've had about a year's worth of laundry detergent (by the time I use up today's batch). That's at a rate of about one load of laundry a day (I know, I know, that's NOT especially frugal of me, but I have two small children, one in cloth diapers).

And while I'm on this topic, I'll update about my Homemade Dishwasher Detergent as well. I don't like it. We used it for several months, but it didn't really get the dishes clean. I found I was doing a lot more pre-washing and I figured the cost of having the water running and using liquid dish soap was eating away the savings of not buying commercial dishwasher detergent. So, I went back to buying (generic) cascade. If you know of a homemade option besides the washing soda/borax mix, let me know!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Our Whirlwind Afternoon

It has been a hectic day around here! First, I found out my closest mommy friend was offered a really good part-time job she applied for. That means I now have a job too! (well, aside from the one of raising my kids...which has great emotional rewards, but frankly, the pay and benefits suck!) I'll be watching her baby boy for her several times a week and probably the baby and her pre-schooler one afternoon a week. Life will be busy, but it'll be fun and bring in a little extra money for us. Very exciting!

Then, Josh got his W-2, which puts me one step closer to filing taxes. I know, I'm weird, but I actually like doing the taxes (I'm not commenting here on the individual tax policies, but just the act of doing the math and the paperwork).

After lunch, I decided we should take advantage of the 78 degree weather and go outside. So, the girls ran around the backyard while I set up the sprinkler to water the garden. Note to self, do not turn an 18 month old loose in the yard, turn on the water, then turn your back to pinch off strawberry blooms. You might just turn around to find this:


And this:


And an adorable little girl that seems to be saying, "I know I shouldn't, but it really is oh so fun!"


In the end, you have to give in, let kids be kids and agree that your pre-schooler can play in the sprinkler too:


Then when everyone's thoroughly soaked AND they've played in the wet dirt to boot...


It's time to strip down at the back door, throw the clothes in the washer and change in to dry (non-matching, but whatever...) clothes and hang out on the porch swing


Then you cap off the afternoon with a toddler face-planting on the floor. You know you're a veteran mom when you see this:

And your primary thought is, "eh, that's not so bad"

Yes, you read that right...I have kids running through the sprinkler and blooming strawberry plants--in January. :::shakes head:::

Poor Sierra

We had a very upset four year old on our hands this morning. Sometime around 5:30 this morning, Sedona apparently woke up and Josh decided to just bring her in bed with us so everyone would stay asleep. Around 7:15, a very distraught, crying Sierra came in our room telling us she had lost Sedona, that she woke up and she wasn't there and she lost her. I can only hope the poor kid wasn't sitting in her room for an hour wondering how she was gonna tell mom and dad that she lost their youngest child. She seemed very relieved to find out Sedona was with us, but she did tell us that from now on, we are to leave Sedona there and not take her out of the room.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sisters

I'll make a confession...I was very relieved we ended up having two girls. Should I at some point in life somehow end up with a boy ('cause we think we're done having kids, but life has a way of jumping out and yelling "surprise!!!!!" when you least expect it), I would take a couple of weeks to digest the news and come around to being happy about it. What I really wanted though, were girls. Sisters that could giggle and laugh and gossip and share life lessons together. In striving for a simpler life, we decided back when I was pregnant that the girls can share a room. If they ask to be separated at some point, we'll discuss that, but we have no intention of bringing it up. Then I got a great deal on a double bed and decided they could just share the same bed. It was a bit of selfish idea---I know when I was a pre-teen, I would have loved to have had a sister right there to make me feel a little safer when I woke up in the night and it was dark and I was scared. Sierra has been very excited about this idea and we've been waiting for Sedona to get big enough. Lately, Sedona's been having nightmares (I assume, she wakes up screaming, won't calm down, all that fun stuff), so we decided to make the switch. It is super cute to see your 4 year old and 18 month old snuggled up together. Even after they "went their separate ways", we were left with this:



Sedona slept much better last night, and in the morning, Sierra got them cereal and they played instead of getting us. I think this is going to be a very very good thing.

The weather is NUTS. It is currently 77 degrees. In January. It is so very tempting to move forward with spring gardening tasks, but last March it was snowing, so who knows what's in store.

Three local grocery stores had great sales this week. So, I totally blew the budget. Well, not really. We budget $150/month for groceries. If we go over one month, we spend less the next. We've been known to not shop for 5 or 6 weeks straight to balance everything out because if nothing else, I'm all about staying on budget. So, with three stores having items we use at "stock up prices", I just had to take advantage. The final tally:

Honey Nut Chex (3 boxes at 50 cents each) $1.50
Pineapple (3 small cans at 50 cents each) $1.50
Pasta (7 pounds at $1 each) $7
Cornstarch $0.50
Tomato Soup (3 cans at 50 cents each) $1.50
Diced tomatoes (6 cans at 50 cents each) $3
Powerade (10 bottles at 50 cents each) $5
Brown Sugar $1.19
Canned Veggies (6 cans at 3/$1) $2
Apple juice (2 gallons at $3/gallon) $6
2L soda (4 at 50 cents each) $2
Cornmeal, 5# $1.76
Pretzels, 15 oz (3 bags at $1 each) $3
Bananas (6.75 pounds at 44 cents a pound) $2.97
White chocolate chips (4 bags at 25 cents each) $1
Bacon $2.50
Yogurt (2 qts at $1.79 each) $3.58
Pasta Sauce (2 cans at 89 cents each) $1.78
Tomato Sauce, 8 oz (7 cans at 7/$1) $1
Wheat Thins (5 boxes at $1.89 each) $9.45
Cream Cheese (5 packs at 99 cents each) $4.95
Goldfish Crackers (10 packs at 99 cents each) $9.90
Ghiradelli brownie mix (2 boxes at $1.49 each) $2.98
Rotel (8 cans at 37 cents each) $2.96
12 pack coca cola (3 at $2.33 each) $7

Tax (8.25% on convenience items): 0.75
Total: 100 items (ha! didn't plan that!) for $86.77

I admit, there are plenty of convenience items and a few treats here. I'm frugal, not crazy. Surely every mom has those days where they just need to throw a bag of goldfish at the kids so they can have two minutes to go to the bathroom uninterrupted. The only item I overpaid for was the cream cheese. $1 is usually as cheap as it gets around here, until I got to the next store and saw it was on (unadvertised) sale for 80 cents...grrr.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's not SPAM on your own blog

Beautiful thing about having your own blog...you can advertise, for free, to your heart's content and it's not considered SPAM. So here we go--
I have a Lactation Educator Training coming up at the end of March in Katy, TX. My trainings have changed from the old 2 day format to a 3 day format in support of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. The new format covers more clinical skills and is ideal for someone wanting to teach breastfeeding classes to parents or health care providers as well as nurses/nursing students who already work in a clinical setting. If you are interested in signing up for the training, you can visit my website, Empowered Momma, for more information. Keep in mind that if you are interested in a training in another city or state, I can most likely work that out with you, just let me know!

If you are local and interested in classes or lactation counseling for parents, you can also find information on that on the website. I'm currently doing childbirth, breastfeeding, cloth diapering and baby-wearing classes as well as offering a package deal for private lactation services.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chore List

It's somewhere around 50 degrees outside and our nightly lows have been in the 30's. So you know what that means....Time to Prepare for Spring!!!! When you intend to truly replace much of your store-bought diet with food produced in your own backyard, gardening is a year round task. For our area, there is almost always something that can be planted. Heat tolerant things like okra and peppers and black eyed peas in the summer; onions and carrots and strawberries in the fall; broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts through the winter (in those years we actually HAVE a winter); then start spring garden seeds indoors in February, transplant in March/April and start all over again!

Our chore list for this weekend:

1)Uncover strawberries. We had freezing temps this week, so we picked up leaves neighbors had put out for trash and spread them on top of our strawberry bed. Now that the freezing temps are gone, time to uncover the leaves and let them continue building up nice, healthy foliage.

2)Pick up manure. We're getting a truckload of composted horse manure from a local family today.

3)Bake bread.

4)Plant more indoor lettuce pots. Started two last week, will start another two this week (so we get a small, steady flow of lettuce instead of a huge amount all at once)

5)Start preparing for seed planting. We need to make newspaper pots, start filling pots, clean off our table we use for indoor planting and check out the grow light to be sure it's in working order. I'd rather start this now, then try to do it all and plant seeds in one weekend (I'm thinking we'll have nearly 200 pots)

6)Prune fruit trees? Not sure on this one--we just planted the trees last year and we're still learning on this one. Typical pruning time is February around here, but I just have a feeling we're gonna have an "early spring" this year.

We accomplished quite a bit already today. Had a good time uncovering strawberries, working on spreading the manure, filling one of the new beds with soil and thinning carrots. It was an experimental bread baking day that turned out better than expected. The lentil bread was a recipe I picked up from TennZen and it came out pretty tasty. It's almost like a whole grain, nutty bread taste, without all that "bird food" in it (as my father in law would say). Josh really liked it. For my oatmeal bread, I tried substituting some of the flour with oatmeal baby cereal (just for the sake of using it up) and it didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped, but it wasn't a total disaster. The texture of the crust is just slightly off.

Had a close friend ask me one time (well, actually, it was originally her husband's question) what we do for FUN. She guessed (and was correct) that this IS our fun. Despite the term "chore", these things are our hobbies. I don't always enjoy all the tasks (watering the garden with a 23 pound kiddo on my hip probably nears the bottom of my list), but there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment to stand at the window with a cup of hot peppermint tea and watch an entire produce section grow in your backyard. It gives a calming sense of security to bring in a basket of fresh veggies and to know how to cook with them and how to preserve them. It's incredibly freeing to know that (contrary to popular belief, unfortunately) you don't NEED 100K a year, or 50, or even 25 to live comfortably. We have (nearly, perhaps) escaped the cycle of needing convenience items, which require more money, which requires more out of the home work, which requires more convenience items....

In other quirky "you think that's fun?!?" hobby news....Josh is making fabulous progress on a bookshelf for the girls. I requested something similar to what they have in the kid's section of the library so that it will be easy for the girls to see what they have without spreading the books all over the floor, and also easy for them to put the books away neatly. He's been making updates at his website. (Check out the link about making your own paint!)

And I think I have recovered from the holiday season and am ready to put an end to my sewing hiatus. I'm itching to make a quilt for Josh and I (which I haven't done yet!). I'm thinking a simple, repeating Amish Star. I've actually got this idea in my head because I've been reading the Abram's Daughters series by Beverly Lewis. They're fiction, but the characters are Amish. Lewis' grandmother grew up in an Old Order Mennonite community and from what I know, the setting she portrays in these books is fairly accurate. If there's anything I shouldn't be reading, it's anything concerning an Amish or Mennonite type lifestyle! It feels my head with all sorts of to-do lists!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The joys of children

It's only fair to post about letting babies be babies one day and then the trials of that the next, right?

As part of Sedona's separation anxiety, she has decided sleeping in her own bed is only suitable for the first 4 or 5 hours of the night. Then she wakes up and oh so lovingly says, "mummy dear? may I sleep with you?" No, no. really, she screams bloody murder and Josh and I would both rather bring her into bed with us than stay up much of the night. Most of the time, she's reasonably cuddly. As soon as she lays down, she holds onto my hand and we all go back to sleep. At some point last night though, she decided momma was in need of a love pat. Yes, somewhere in the wee hours of the night, I awoke to the lovely feeling of a size 5 foot slamming into my face. There was direct heel to eye contact and for a second, I fully expected to reach a hand to my face and feel vitreous (that jelly stuff that fills your eye) running down my cheek. I made some whimpering sounds in a blatant grab for attention and sympathy, but Sedona just rolled over and Josh never stirred. I feel so loved. Today, something behind my eyeball (that I'm pretty sure I'm never supposed to feel at all) is sore.

Sedona has also discovered her loud voice. My mother can attest (because it went on so long, I called to let her listen in) that when Sedona wants snacks, she is not taking "dinner will be ready in 15 minutes" for an answer. She proceeds to yell something like, "YA YA YA YA YA YA YA YA" at the top of her lungs. I'm pretty sure that's baby talk for "just open the *$*#%& pantry door and get me some *#@#*(# animal crackers this *#(%*)**( minute! I don't give a #*%(# rat's #%@ that dinner's in #*(%$#(*& 15 minutes!"

Fortunately, Sierra stories are quite limited lately. The funniest thing is really just in how animated she is when she explains something to you. Her mission in life is to figure out everything. Though, since she claims to be omniscient (really, she does), I'm not quite sure why she needs to ask so many questions. As we ate pizza tonight, she claimed to have a wonderful rice pizza recipe. She says she'll teach me to make it when she gets older.

Random pictures are the best kind, aren't they?

When you triple your bread recipe, and decide to play on the Wii for *just a little bit*, you do run the risk of forgetting entirely that you were making bread. If you have a husband that gets all nervous about your massive batches of dough anyway, that sort of thing might just feed into his delusion that one night the dough may crawl out of the bowl and come to eat him....


Sierra in her super cute dress that she HATED when she opened it on Christmas Eve (because it's black and she doesn't like black), but she now LOVES and wants to wear all the time:

Sedona's in the background, working on what we euphemistically like to call "drawing"

And because I forgot to post earlier, King Cake!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Baby Wearing

This is where I sing the praises of baby-wearing. Let me describe the last 4 years of my life in a nutshell.......working (usually full time) and taking my baby with me. I didn't get my own "office" until the last 6 months I worked. I am not exaggerating at all when I say my office was a re-purposed closet. Seriously. I crammed a play pen in there so poor Sedona could stretch out for naps, but otherwise, she was tied to me. When I was taking Sierra, I had no office space of my own and she needed to be with me as I moved from place to place. That's where baby wearing came in. In my situation, it was just plain convenient to have the baby safe, but have both hands free. Then I learned the benefits. Mostly--there is very little baby crying when I'm baby wearing. I don't like baby crying. It doesn't make their lungs strong, it makes my brain feel like it's being stabbed with 10 ice picks, and I don't believe in babies learning to "self-soothe" (if you're really interested, email and I'll get out my "self-soothing" vs. "giving up on anyone helping me" soapbox).

Baby wearing gets a fair amount of flak (mostly from non baby-wearers, I've noticed) as just being the new "in" thing to do. If you take the time to find the method that works for you, it truly is comfortable, even for hours at a time. The best thing you can do is find friends or a baby-wearing class that will let you try out different carriers. My personal favorite is the Moby Wrap. It can be worn lots of different ways and it's super easy to spread the weight out across a wide area of your shoulders, back and hips. Sedona practically lived in the Moby Wrap. Well, okay, I admit, I just made my own. I'm not going to tell you how because I'm assuming there might be some legal ramifications to that, but it is super easy and requires no sewing. I'm sure you can find it somewhere else on the internet. The homemade version may not be nearly as pretty, but it can be done for $3.

For the first time in her life, Sedona is starting to experience some separation anxiety. Yes, it's a tad annoying, but I'll give her all the time in the world to test the idea that I really am there for her when she needs me because I remember her older sister being glued to me for 2 years (much worse than Sedona is) and how confidently she moved on when she was ready. They grow up so quickly and I'm a fan of letting my babies be babies and letting them explore the world at their own pace. SOOO I've spent of lot of time in the last 2 weeks or so holding a 23 pound kiddo on my hip. My arm's sore. Time to break out the good ol' Moby again. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh We tried the hip carry for the first time---Sedona was in the same position she's used to, but I didn't have my back popped out of whack to perch her there. Since her weight was distributed to the opposite shoulder and across both hips, it was like I wasn't really holding much of anything. She was excited to see the Moby again (she LOVED that thing) and laughed and snuggled up against me.

If you want to look up more baby wearing info, check out The Baby Wearer or look for a baby-wearing class in your area.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A mish mash

A mish mash of topics today...

First, in garden news. We are about to get some cold (for us) temperatures. We expect to be below freezing for 6-10 hours tonight, which is pretty unusual around here. We have 125 strawberry plants in the ground that are doing extremely well and we decided that even though they'd probably make it through a few hours of freeze, we'd rather play it safe, so they just got a nice thick blanket of leaves. Hopefully they'll all pull through just fine and even if they give us a modest amount of berries this summer, we'll be looking at a 30-60 pound harvest.

In frugal meal planning: we had spaghetti for dinner tonight. I cooked a pound of pasta, opened a can of sauce (yes, the cheap stuff...it actually does really well in taste tests. Not necessarily first, but close enough once you factor in cost), threw in some meatballs (made in bulk and stored in the freezer), and put some bread sticks in the oven (also made in bulk and frozen). Something like $3 worth of ingredients. The leftover spaghetti will be bagged up and thrown in the fridge. Tomorrow for lunch, the girls and I will be eating spaghetti tossed with melted cheese. Tomorrow for dinner, the leftover pasta sauce will be used to make homemade pizza. The moral of the story: plan for your leftovers. If you don't like eating leftovers (and I don't), plan out a way to turn the food into a suitably different meal for the next day. Whenever you throw food away, do a quick calculation in your head and imagine that food is cash that you're just pitching in the trash. If you find you're consistently tossing old food, start cooking or buying less. For instance, don't trash bananas and apples, turn them into bread; and buy less next time.

Yummy recipe of the day:
Hot chocolate
Mix: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa and 1/2 cup water. Stir over medium heat until sugar and cocoa dissolved. Add two cans evaporated milk and 1 cup water. Continue heating until it's to the temperature you want.

This recipe makes enough for 3 big cups. A scaled down 1 cup version is 2 tbsp sugar, cocoa and water mixed with 3/4 cup evaporated milk and 1/4 cup water. This is a super rich, creamy hot cocoa. Regular milk will work (4 cups of milk at the end, no water), but evaporated milk is really what gives it its creaminess.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Debt

When a lot of people talk about reducing their debt, they mean their credit card debt. And, by all means, that should go! Since we carry no credit card debt and no car loans, when I talk about reducing my debt, I mean paying off my house. I REALLY want the house paid off. Think about how much your monthly mortgage is. What else could you do with that money? Does the current state of the economy worry you? How much more secure would you feel if you knew the roof over your head belonged to you and not the mortgage company? While not entirely common, did you know there are plenty of instances that give your mortgage company the right to call the full balance of your loan due immediately? Unfortunately, if you're like me, the huge sum of money involved in a mortgage is completely demoralizing. What's the point in throwing an extra $1,000 at a loan 100 times (or more) that size?

Well, I have an assignment for you. Look up an online mortgage calculator. There are lots of them out there. Find one that allows you to calculate the difference in your overall payment if you pay an extra amount each month. You want something that will tell you both the change in time to payoff and total interest paid. Our loan is a standard 30 year loan---no adjustable rates, no pre-payment penalties. We have the ability to write a an extra check to the mortgage company and specify the money go towards the loan balance. We just bought the house a year and a half ago. As an example, if we start paying an extra $100 each month, we will pay off the loan 8 YEARS early and save over $38,000 in interest. If we start paying an extra $200 each month, we will pay off the loan 12 YEARS early and save over $56,000 in interest. This happens because a very large portion of each monthly payment goes towards interest. Each month that you pay, slightly more goes towards principle, but it's many, many, many years before you get to the point where the majority of your payment is used to pay down the principle. It's really quite similar to only making minimum payments on a large credit card debt. When you're paying interest on a large sum of money, bring the principle down just a little bit makes a big difference in how much you pay over the life of the loan. You may be thinking, "whoopty doo, I won't be living here in 22 years anyway". Fair enough, but the more you pay down your principle, the bigger check you'll get when you sell (and you'll use that check to put down 20% or more on the next house....right?!?).

So, $100 a month. That's a pretty reasonable starting point. Maybe you make a resolution of paying an extra $100/month this year and next year you bump that up to $150. $100 a month is doable, the trick is "finding the pennies in the couch", the little things add up quickly. Some places a typical American family might find that money:
1. Groceries--I know LOTS of families that could save $100 on groceries alone...cut coupons and learn to use them correctly, learn to stock up during sales and stop paying full price for anything, eat one or two less meat based meals each week, learn the unit prices in your area and buy in bulk when it's cheaper.
2. Eating Out--If you're grabbing lunch on the go everyday, start packing a lunch. If you typically spend $7/day on lunch, just bringing a bag lunch twice a week saves you $56/month
3. Stop the cable madness--Cable is a luxury, not a necessity. If you don't want to give it up completely, how about cutting back to the next cheapest package?
4. Movie Rentals--you might be surprised how many good movies your library has available...for free. I was shocked to find how extensive my local library's DVD section is. We're not talking documentaries and history channel type stuff (though they have that too)---there's lots of good ol' fluff there when we need a relaxing night
5. Change the thermostat--bump the temperature up 2 degrees in the summer and down 2 degrees in the winter. Put the money you save on your electric bill towards your mortgage
6. Cell phones--same as the cable. I'll count talk service as a necessity (if you don't have a land line), but the rest is luxury. Do you NEED to be able to text and send pictures? Especially if you have computer/email access at home, is the extra money you spend on this each month really worth it? If you do have the latest and greatest cell service, do you need a land line as well?
7. Gym Memberships--do you use it? If so, good for you. If not, why are you paying?
8. Coffee Shops--I know, everyone picks on the coffee, but really, if you spend $4 on coffee every weekday, that's nearly $100/month right there. Buy a good thermos, make your own. Even if cold caffeine is your addiction, $1 for a bottle of coke from the vending machine is costing you just over $20/month. Cut either one by half and you have a decent amount of money to put toward your goal

There are lots of ways to save money--cloth diapers, breastfeeding, home gardens, walking/biking, etc, etc, etc... If these ideas don't work for you, I'm sure something in your budget can be shaved down. And yes, this is easier if you have an honest to goodness budget you're working from. Otherwise, that extra $10 you saved on one thing just gets spent on something else. I highly recommend the budget technique outlined in the book America's Cheapest Family if you're new to budgeting. Make yourself an "extra principle payments" category in your budget and start shifting your extra leftover money there. You'd be surprised how quickly $5 here and $10 there adds up. If you don't already have a mortgage, use the same technique to save up a good down payment and be responsible about doing your research and choosing a mortgage that won't get you into trouble.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My own personal shop

My husband has taken up woodworking, with an emphasis on the skills that replace the need for power tools. This is great for me. I say, "sweetie? I'd like __________" and he retires to the back room every evening for a few days and comes out with a custom piece built to my specifications. Awesome!!! And it turns out frugality is contagious because he has totally come around to my penny-pinching ways. I may be a fabric hoarder, but he, my friends, is definitely a scrap wood hoarder. He's started his own blog to catalog his projects over at sawdaddysaw.blogspot.com. The shoe rack turned out beautifully and I'm very excited to see the kid's bookcase.

I'm getting antsy for spring planting. We went to producer's again yesterday because they have the first of their seed potatoes in now. We got several pounds of those and some garlic as well. Apparently, going in as a family makes us memorable--the head gardening guy and the owner both seem to recognize us now. We had a good talk about what's required to be successful with blueberries in our area and I used some Christmas money to buy a Tifblue and a Premier. I learned that you need two different kinda of blueberries (kinda like with apples) and in our area, you want one of those to be a tifblue, because they're the good pollinator. I've seen some sources say you can have only tifblues, but I'm all for variety. I've read before that if you have lots of pine trees around, that's a sign your soil is acidic enough to grow blueberries. The guys at producer's said our local soil is too alkaline, so you can either grow them in a big whiskey barrel type container, or acidify the soil around the plant. The "natural" way to do that is with plenty of spagnum moss in the hole where you plant (actually, apparently there has been some success with growing in pure spagnum moss). The cheaper, but more chemical way is to add some ammonium sulfate at planting and then twice a year throughout the plant's life.

Our other task yesterday was to start filling the new garden beds with soil. We are going to dismantle our current beds over time and go with more traditional, rectangle beds. They will take more work to water, but be more space efficient. As we took apart part of the back bed and shoveled its dirt onto a tarp to drag to the new beds, I decided maybe I should've named this blog "The Fickle Farmers" because we're always changing something. Josh insists we're just adapting based on whatever our current needs are.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Preparing for Spring

I had wanted to do a short series of "preparing for Spring" posts all about getting starting with gardening and canning. Then, I started seeing all my ideas on another blog I've started reading! The lovely author of TennZen has done a WONDERFUL job of laying out the basics of planning/starting a garden and preparing to harvest the rewards of that garden, so I decided (with her permission) that it'd be easier to just link on over to her blog.

Starting back on Dec. 29, she writes about her plans to only grow what's edible. We're all about "food, not lawns". We've completely given up our backyard and it looks nothing like what the typical suburban homeowner strives for--there's a mishmash of "weeds" back there wherever the grass hasn't already been replaced by large garden beds. The "weeds" ended up being just what the chickens love to eat though......they may not look like food to the casual observer, but they put yummy, nutritious eggs on our table. Our front yard is definitely not the best in the neighborhood. It's not that we don't care what it looks like, it's just that we don't care so much about keeping up the st. augustine grass. It's takes lots of water and time to upkeep, but doesn't give anything back. We've already planted peach, plum, fig and pear trees out there, and the goal is to landscape with things like artichokes and rosemary that contribute the manicured beauty the neighbors like to see, while providing us with food in return for our efforts.

Then, on Jan 2, TennZen wrote about planting a salad bowl. Great idea! Our grow lights will soon be monopolized by seedlings, so we wanted to find a suitable window to put our living salad. This weekend, we'll be attaching a left over piece of bamboo flooring to the chosen window sill so that it will support small pots of lettuces.

On Jan 5, I began to wonder if TennZen had a direct connection to my brain or something (even though we've never met). Her Advice to a Beginning Gardener post is fantastic. She included many of the same links I would have included! For those of you who are local, here are a few more specific things for you to check out: Producer's Co-op is a great local source of seed/plants/trees. The folks that work there are helpful, they carry the varieties that are known to grow well in our area, and they have useful information packets on certain topics already printed out for you to take with you. You can get information from the Brazos County Master Gardeners (hint: they have a class next week on spring vegetable gardens 101) too. Two of the most helpful resources I like to have around are the Vegetable Planting Guide and Vegetable Varieties Guide. These will give a head start about when to plant and what grows well in our area. You can also access the Aggie Horticulture page for information about all sorts of different plants and how to help them grow in our area. On Thursdays, from noon to 1pm, you can tune into KAMU 90.9 on your radio and listen in (or call in with your questions) to Garden Success with Doug Welsh. His email's down right now, but usually you can also email a question when you think of it, and then just listen on Thursday for your answer. Doug has also put together a Texas Garden Almanac that's available locally (though if you buy through that website, you get a discount that nearly cancels the cost of shipping).

Moving on to January 6, When TennZen posted the first canning topic of the year, and I just have to ditto everything she says! Like she mentioned, we love the National Center for Home Preservation website and the Ball blue book. The canner she mentions is the same one we use. If you are looking for canner parts locally (gaskets, gauges, etc...), I have seen them at Parker-Astin Hardware along with harder to find items like half gallon Ball jars, and large boiling water bath canners. She talks about using flour sack towels instead of cheesecloth and I'm definitely going to have to try that out.

She Followed up with a post about canning safety, which I nodding along in agreement with until I got to the part about cake in a jar. Cake in a jar made me uneasy, but then one day I decided to go ahead and try it out. It seemed to work fine and no one got sick and I changed my mind into thinking it was a good idea. Then I clicked on the link in TennZen's post and read the statement about cake in a jar on the National Center for Home Preservation website and decided cake in a jar really isn't worth the risk. I have two deep freezes, I can freeze cake. Even if it's worked fine for me in the past, I'm really not into pushing my luck when things like botulism are involved. So thank you, TennZen, for teaching me something new!

Most recently, TennZen wrote about why she cans...to save money. I am all about saving money! I get some flack sometimes because our garden is not 100% organic. We don't use pesticides, we don't use chemical fertilizers, but we are not totally organic. Our chickens are grass/bug-fed, but they are supplemented with (non-medicated) feed and are not free range...they stay in their coop, their coop just moves around the yard. So, I've clarified before, but I'll do it again. We do this because it's frugal and because it makes us more independent. We are working towards being as self-sufficient as possible and certainly growing our own food is part of that. As an added bonus, it's comforting to know what we're putting in our bodies. We know what goes in our plants and on our plants and we are comfortable with eating those things. We also feel the nutritional value saved by eating or preserving immediately after harvest makes a big difference. Actually had a doctor tell me about a month ago that she'd really prefer her patients eat frozen vegetables because the "fresh" vegetables have often been stored so long they've lost much of their nutritional value. Better than that is just grow it in your backyard, run out to pick it, and eat it right away! I was shocked to find through TennZen's blog that Tennessee taxes food! While we deal with a pretty high sales tax in Texas (8.25% in our area), we do not tax food unless it is a "convenience" item. Even better for us, vegetable seeds are not taxable. Regardless of tax though, I don't trust that the local grocery store will always be there and stocked with affordable food. Even if I don't NEED it at the moment and choose not to maintain it all the time, I want to make dang sure we have learned the skills to provide for ourselves if the need arises.

Skip on over to TennZen's blog and enjoy her wonderfully thorough posts. Especially if you are in Texas, NOW is the time to start planning your spring garden.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany

Today is the feast of the Epiphany. The story goes that three wise men visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem on the 12th day following his birth. That day is labeled as "the Epiphany" and it's celebrated on January 6th. More about the religious beliefs behind Epiphany here. In the Southern US, Epiphany ties into the celebration of Mardi Gras Season, which starts with the epiphany and ends with Mardi Gras Day, which is 46 days before Easter. Mardi Gras translates to "fat tuesday" and occurs the day before lent begins with Ash Wednesday. I've heard Mardi Gras/Carnival Season described as a time to get all the revelry and partying out of your system before Lent comes around and requires you to "be good". My favorite part of all this Epiphany/Mardi Gras business is.........KING CAKE!!!! You get different explanations depending on where you go, but a basic explanation is that the king cake is in celebration of the three wise men. In Mardi Gras celebrations, whoever gets the bean or plastic baby hidden in the cake is named the king or queen of the ball......the queen throws the ball the next week, the king provides the king cake. In religious terms, the colors of the Epiphany are white and gold, but in Mardi Gras tradition, the cakes are covered with purple (for justice), green (for faith) and gold (for power) sugar.

Traditional king cakes are different in different countries, but all of them are fairly different from what I've always seen as King Cake around this area. What I'm used to resembles a giant cinnamon roll loaf shaped into a circle. I like to make the recipe I found on All Recipes (note, the recipe makes two cakes, half it if you only want one!). The dough for my king cake is rising as we speak...Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Day 2!

I must admit, it's nice to start the day with a clean kitchen. Today's list took me an hour and a half too, but that's mostly because one of my "extras" today was to clean off the baker's rack....another thing where I was NOT starting with a clean slate. Everything else took about an hour (well, aside from folding the laundry, because it's still in the dryer).

On the frugal meals front, we're having homemade tamales tonight. No way I can break that down by price because they're super cheap, but really labor intensive. There's not really a fair way to price it out. If you do decide to make tamales, wait until right before Christmas, when you can usually buy your ingredients in bulk and on sale (if you're somewhere with a sizable Hispanic population, anyway), then make LOTS. If you're gonna take the time to do it, might as well get at least 5-10 dozen out of the deal.

Garden-wise, our weather is screwy as ever. Went from 80's to 40's overnight. lovely. Sometime this week, hoping to start lettuce seeds indoors. The idea is to put several small pots in the sunniest windows (we have old windows with no coatings, I suspect newer windows that block UV would cause problems for plants?). Then I'll start lettuce seeds every week until the pots are full. Once the leaves grow up, I'll have the plants right here in the kitchen as a reminder to put a salad with dinner---healthy and budget stretching!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

One day down, 364 to go...

There's a bunch of anecdotal stuff out there about it taking 30 days to form a new habit, but I don't buy it (at least not for me). I'm gonna set the more realistic goal of one year. If I can push myself to do something for one year, perhaps it will be "programmed in" at that point. Today was the first day of my cleaning checklist plan. As I prepared for this (cleaning up things that were WAY beyond needing cleaning, so I didn't have such a daunting task the first day), I quickly realized that I was going to have to make an effort to "schedule" this into my day. My solution? A new rule for myself: the computer does not get turned on until the cleaning checklist is finished. I dutifully got up this morning and completed my daily and "extras" checklists in about an hour and a half. Not bad at all! You have to keep in mind that daily chores include cleaning the kitchen counters and sweeping (things where I was definitely NOT starting with a clean slate). I suspect it will take me less time tomorrow now that I have less to clean. Sierra was even excited to help me...when I started sweeping, she got out the dustpan and asked to help. And I've found it's much more satisfying to clean each dish/knife/cutting board as I use it when there is no other mess around. Here's to clean houses (or at the very least, clean kitchens) in an hour or less a day!

On the meal planning front, tonight's dinner will be red beans and rice:
1 cup dried kidney beans $0.40
1/3 pound sausage $0.75 (Josh's mom bought this while she was here, not sure how much it cost, so I'm guessing)
1/3 onion $0.10
3 cloves garlic $0.05
3 1/3 cup water free
dash of cayenne $0.01
several dashes chili powder $0.03
4 cups cooked rice $0.80 (I'm using organic brown rice I have leftover from making baby food, regular white rice would be cheaper)

Total: $2.14

Will also be making bread again today. I like to triple my recipe and get 5 loaves (from regular sized loaf pans, like you'd use for banana bread):
6 cups water free
2 cups sugar $0.21 (stock up when on sale for $1/4 pound bag)
4 1/2 tbsp yeast $0.32 (purchased in 1 pound packs)
4 1/2 tsp salt $0.05
3/4 c vegetable oil $0.27 (purchased in 1.25 gallon jugs)
16 cups flour $1.28 (includes flour for kneading, stock up when on sale for $1.50/5 pound bag)
2 tbsp butter $.12 (to brush tops so crust is softer, stocked up at $1.89/pound)

Total: $2.25---$0.45 per loaf

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Another year, another budget

Last night, we had spaghetti and meatballs and there was sauce leftover, so tonight it was time for pizza. For the fun of it, I decided to see how much it cost. Here's the run-down:
1 cup of water (pretty much free)
2.5 tsp yeast $0.06 (purchased in a one pound pack)
1 tsp salt $0.01 (purchased in bulk)
2 tbsp olive oil $0.21 (purchased in 2 liter containers)
3 cups flour $0.24 (stocked up at $1.50/5 #)
¼ can spaghetti sauce $0.23 (used leftovers from pasta dinner last night)
1 tsp garlic powder $0.04 (estimated, not sure how many tsp in a 10 ounce bottle)
½ pound mozzarella cheese $2.25

Total: $3.04

I'm thinking you can't really beat $.75 a person for dinner. Plus, homemade crust tastes SOOOO much better than the greasy, commercial version. If you happen to have a dairy cow in the back (don't laugh, it's a long term goal) or be on WIC and don't have to pay for the cheese, it's only $0.79 total and you definitely can't beat that.

Maybe someone can refresh my memory, because I really don't remember this happening before last winter, but we are definitely back in that "Falltering" pattern where the temps fluctuate wildly from 30/40 to 70/80 and back again (all within the same week). This does horrible things for my cold weather plants...specifically the brussels sprouts, which I love, but I really think I'm not even gonna plant next year because this is looking like it'll be year 2 of NO crop from them. The winter of 2006/2007 they grew perfectly fine (and I think it was consistently cool). It's very frustrating. You have to make the best of any situation though, so we spent some time outside today on garden tasks. Josh was assembling new garden beds (more info over at his new blog, Saw Daddy Saw), and I picked blooms off strawberry plants (yes, doing that AGAIN, in JANUARY), weeded and watered. Also started this year's garden journal today!

An Award!


I have a friend who left me (sniff, sniff) years ago for the wilds of Oklahoma and her own little One Acre Homestead. Yesterday, she gifted me this award. The assignment that goes along with the award is to list 6 things I'm thankful for and nominate 6 other bloggers to receive the award.

6 Things I'm Thankful For:

1. A wonderful family, complete with handy hubby and super smart and funny (if spirited!) daughters

2. The bounty of things given by the earth. How great is it to put a skillet on to heat and then run out to snag a pepper here, a tomato there, from my own backyard?

3. The internet, which has been responsible for almost my entire education in sewing, gardening, cooking and preserving

4. The local library...never turn down a free education!

5. My house. I really do like the house we live in now. With the whole housing market/economic situation, I think too many people started looking at their houses as big piles of equity instead of what they really are....a roof over our heads where family can gather together and turn a simple structure into a home. Bonus points that it's half an acre in the middle of town--the best of both worlds for where we are in life right now.

6. Chocolate. Figured the last one should be a frivolous thing. Did you know Cadbury took Mini-Eggs, colored them red, green and white and labeled them "solid chocolate with a crisp sugar shell" for Christmas? And that Target had TONS of these beauties on the shelf for $0.69 a bag after Christmas? I do love me some cadbury mini-eggs.

And to tag other blogs. I'm only going to do 3, cause it's my blog and I can change the requirements if I want to ;-)
Three Stranded Cord
All Things Supercinski
The Family of B's

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

A New Year is upon us and it promises to be interesting! I have set a few goals for myself that I'd like to accomplish this year.

The first one is easy, I just need to get back into the habit....some sort of exercise most days. I've simply gotten out of the habit of jumping on the Wii everyday, but it really is easy and fun to play on the Fit for 30 minutes everyday. Before I got the Fit, my biggest post-pregnancy pain was tightness in my ankles and feet. Every morning, I'd put my feet on the floor and they would sting and ache as the tendons stretched out. Every evening, my heels and ankles would be experiencing a constant soreness. The Fit made me more aware of my center of balance so all of my weight wasn't on my heels--that fixed the end of the day aches. The balance games helped me stretch my feet and ankles and that fixed the morning owies. I haven't been doing the Fit every day for several weeks now and everything's starting to feel tight in the mornings again, so time to get back to it!!

The second one is probably the hardest for me. I am not a neat person by nature. I want a clean space, and the clutter annoys me to no end, but it's just not easy for me to do seemingly easy things, like pick up after myself. This is just a lifetime of bad habits and I'm going to have to put in the conscious effort to overcome them and develop some better habits. I've convinced myself that there's always something better than cleaning to do (and it's true, I have no interest in cleaning 3 or 4 hours a day at the expense of spending time with my kiddos), but there is a certain amount of cleaning and upkeep required when you have a house and family to care for. I think I need to change my thinking---cleaning and basic maintenance shows respect for the material things we have worked hard to get. Like when you're a kid and you break your toys...your parents always tell you if you can't respect your things, you don't need to have them. Well, I need to start respecting my space. I've decided to utilize the method found on the Motivated Moms website. Basically, there is a daily check list of the everyday stuff, then for each day of the year, another small checklist of routine items (like cleaning fans, changing the air filter, etc...) so you get through those on a regular basis. They have a sample page on their website you can look at. I'm always more efficient with a checklist in front of me and there aren't many things more satisfying than scratching off that last item on a checklist.

Lastly, I think we need to get serious about the garden. We have enjoyed doing a garden, but with the current state of the economy, I think it'd be prudent to be more serious about increasing yields and saving money. If we're gonna be doing it anyway, might as well do a good job of it. We've done a lazy job of keeping up the garden journal in the past, but this year I've found a resource that I think will really help us track expenses, yields, and what helps and what doesn't. It's a Free Garden Journal you can download and print out as needed.

What do YOU have planned for 2009??

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