Saturday, June 28, 2008

Home hair cuts

Well, I just cut my husband's hair for the first time. and he is actually pleased with it. I really didn't do too much to it, really just a trim, but he has decided that I should be the one to cut his hair from now on.

We did pay $12 for some clippers that we didn't use, but the package had a comb and some scissors with it that I did use. So we actually paid for the haircut by buying the clippers but we will not have that expense next time. So that is at least another $12 a month we will be saving.

As for the rest of us, both my daughter and I have long hair(mine is down to my knees) so all we need is a trim to my bangs and a trim on the bottom of hers. My son is letting his grow out too, much to his grandmother's despair. So the only haircut that happens on a regular basis is my husband's. And since he is satisfied with my efforts, it looks like I will be doing his from now on. Scary.

But 12 bucks is still 12 bucks. I am glad that he is pleased with it. I used to cut my Dad's hair, when he still had some, way back when, but I haven't done that really in close to 20 years. I cut the kid's hair when they were babies, but again, that too has been a good long while. To say that I am out of practice is a major understatement. I guess that with a little more practice, it will come back to me. I might even get good at it. Who knows.

But it nice to know that when push comes to shove, I can do it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court Ruling

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States made a landmark decision to allow us to keep the Second Amendment to our Constitution. It was a very narrow vote, 5 to 4, against the proposal to make owning a firearm illegal in this country. Apparently, there was a lot of discussion as to whether or not the words "bear arms" was only intended for militia or for every citizen of the US.

Granted, I do not personally own a firearm of any kind, but it isn't for any reason other than I don't really need one. When I was growing up, we had a house full. My Daddy made sure we all knew how to take apart, clean, put back together, and fire accurately every gun in the house as soon as we were old enough to hold it steady. I got to be a pretty good shot with a rifle and a decent shot with a pistol. The only one I hated having to shoot was the 357 Magnum long barrel. That thing wasn't good for anything but killing someone. I could fire it accurately, but I didn't like it.

My husband isn't really much of a hunter, he said that he got his 2 so he doesn't have to do it again, and we don't live in a high crime area. We have been talking about getting a shot gun, just to have, you know, in case, but we haven't yet. But I will be danged if I let the Liberal, Socialist, "guns kill people" Right Wing Federal Government and their bought and paid for Judges tell me that I CAN'T.

There is a reason the Supreme Court was created. That reason was to protect the Constitution and it's ideals from abuses by the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government. Now that same court is denying it's own purpose by trying to set law in a backhanded way.

There are some things that just set me off. Don't tell me what I can't do. Don't tell me how to raise my kids. And DO NOT jack with the Constitution and the rights it gives us and the ones it upholds as inalienable. You remember, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"? Those are not just words. We have already given away a vast majority of our Liberty in the name of Security.

But personally, I think that if we had not given up any of our liberties, we would not be having a security problem. Giving up our guns would just be one more way to make the US a police state. After all, it has worked so well in the UK.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pasta, Rice, and Potatoes

A couple of days ago I mentioned how pasta, rice, and potatoes can really stretch your food dollars. I have found that those three items go a lot farther than most people would think.

Let's take pasta first. When most people think of pasta, they think of spaghetti or other Italian dishes with a tomato or cream sauce. But there is a lot more to it than that. You can use pastas of different shapes and sizes for just about any meal. Egg noodles are one of our favorites.

You can seriously cut down on the amount of meat you use for a meal with a simple meat gravy over egg noodles. The noodles are great because they don't take very long to cook, are very inexpensive, and exceedingly versatile. One of the easiest meals that I make with them is a ground beef gravy. Brown about 1/2 pound of hamburger meat and drain off the fat, add your favorite seasoning salt, chopped onion, chopped peppers, mushrooms, whatever you and your family likes. Pour in 2 1/2 cups of water or beef broth (if you use water, add a couple of beef bullion cubes to give it flavor) and bring it to a boil. In 1/2 cup of water, stir in 2 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch. If you have any Kitchen Bouquet, add that to the cornstarch mix (it enhances both the flavor and the color). When you have a good boil going in the meat, slowly add the cornstarch water to the pot, stirring constantly so you don't have lumps. Continue to boil until it is almost thick. It will continue to thicken as it cools so don't worry if it looks a little thin. The thing to remember is that the cornstarch has to boil to cook it or it will taste kinda gritty. Serve over egg noodles. This will make around 3 cups of meat gravy, so if you consider a serving to be 1/2 cup, then that is 6 servings out of 1/2 pound of ground beef. Just make sure you have plenty of noodles. If you don't have any hamburger, you can use round steak or chuck cut into thin strips and cook it the same way. Just remember that it doesn't take a lot of meat. The meat is for flavor, the pasta is the meal.

Another good thing about pasta is that it can be just as good cold as it is hot. Take a pasta salad. That is a wonderful meal for the summer months. You can make it up ahead of time and just chill it in the fridge until dinner. One that we like is almost an antipasto type. Boil a package of rotini (the spiral ones) until soft but not mushy. Drain. Mix in chopped onion, chopped pepper, a shredded carrot, mushrooms, sliced black and green olives, whatever you have handy. You can add leftover chicken (chopped) or pepperoni slices, or summer sausage, or whatever tidbits of meat you have hanging in the fridge. A crumbled hamburger patty is good too. Toss it all with Italian dressing and cover it. Stick it in the fridge until you are ready for dinner. Sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese. This is good with a salad and fresh fruit. Keep in mind that 1 pound of pasta will serve about 8, so if you don't need that much, don't cook the whole pound of pasta.

These are just a couple of our favorites, but they give you the idea. It lets you feed a family a good meal that is also inexpensive. This is also good when you have company coming and not a lot of cash to feed every one. Just make a double batch. Still cheap, but it doesn't look or taste that way.

Rice is another way to spread the meal around. Whether it is steamed, boiled, baked, in a stir fry, risotto, as a pilaf, in a pudding, whatever, rice will seriously stretch out your food dollar. When you consider that a pound of rice is about $1, and it will almost (but not quite, 1 cup of rice will make about 1 3/4 cup cooked) double in size when it is cooked, adding rice to a dish is a great way to bulk out a meal. Add a handful to a soup pot to add texture. Whip up a quick stir fry for lunch. Make a rice pudding for dessert. Drop a couple of bullion cubes to a pot of boiling rice for flavor. Use it as a base for meat gravy instead of pasta. Or just boil some up for breakfast, served with butter and sugar.

You can find a zillion recipes that use rice on the web. It isn't just for Chinese food. And because it is a grain, that is healthy for you. Using brown rice is even better since it is whole grain.

For a meal on the cheap, baked potatoes are probably one of the best. A little butter, some shredded cheese, a few bacon bits, add a salad and dinner is served. Roasted, boiled, baked, fried, steamed, grilled, in a casserole, hash browns, scalloped, au graten, potato salad, mashed, etc, there are enough ways to make potatoes that you can have them every day for a year and never have them the same way twice. They are low fat, high fiber, and best of all, generally cheap. Adding potatoes to a meal will allow you to serve less of everything else since potatoes will bulk out a meal. My general rule of thumb is 1 medium sized potato per adult, 1/2 for each child under the age of 10 or so. This doesn't always work, you have to take family preferences into account, but it is a good general idea. For instance, for fried potatoes, I usually peel 6 for my family of 4 because we really like them. But for mashed potatoes, I only use 4. The plan is to make enough, but not too much. Unless it is potato salad, potatoes don't really reheat well, so to save on waste, only cook what you actually need.

An easy way to roast potatoes is to wash them really well and cut them into about 1 inch chunks. In a large ziplock bag, add about 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning. Add the potatoes to the bag and shake it up really well to cover all of the potatoes with the oil and seasoning. Pour it all out onto a cookie sheet and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes start to brown. You may need to stir these around a couple of times to keep them from sticking to the pan, but I promise, they are wonderful.

Pasta, Rice and Potatoes...great ways to spread out your food dollars without your family thinking they are being cheated. Cheap, versatile, and really really good.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Farm market

Well, I have been busy the last couple of days. On Saturday, my husband and I took a little trip to a local farm to buy some produce. We followed the directions on their website and after the seemingly longest 11 miles, finally arrived.

They had some of the largest tomatoes I have seen in a good long while. And for $1 a pound, we got ...well, alot. Something like 20 pounds. Maybe more, I don't know. It was a box full. We also got some new potatoes for 80 cents a pound. So how ever much $11 worth was. Some squash, peppers, and a cabbage the size of a basketball. All in all, 2 big produce boxes full of stuff. I was happy.

So I set to making stuff. Yesterday, I made some spaghetti sauce. Today, after picking my daughter up from Governor's School, I made ketchup. Hehe. Cost effective? Nope, not a bit. Fun? Oh yeah! And it tastes really good. If you want the recipe that I used, look on page 53 of the Ball Blue book of Preserving and change the celery seed in the recipe to 1 tsp of cloves. It's good, I promise.

And I still have about 6 or 7 pounds of tomatoes left. I think those will just be canned chopped. The sauce just takes too long to cook down. And at 25 cents a can in the store, it isn't worth it.

Next week they should have beans and corn added to their farm store. I will be buying at least 100 ears. That should be enough...maybe...hmm, we can eat a lot of corn.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Saving Money List

I have been thinking about all of the things I do around the house to save money. Granted, some of it doesn't save a lot, but over time all of the little things really add up.

Take, for instance, light bulbs. Granted, 1 light bulb by itself doesn't make a big deal, but all of the lights in the house over the course of the month actually do make a savings. So as a bulb burns out, I change it to a CFL(compact fluorescent light) bulb. They do cost a little bit more up front, but they burn about a tenth of the electricity and last much much longer. Making sure the lights are turned off if no one is in the room makes another difference.

I know I have mentioned this before, but a clothesline, especially in the summer, makes a HUGE difference. My dryer takes forever to dry things like jeans and towels and that eats a lot of electricity. And it heats up the house, making the AC have to work harder. So by hanging out clothes on the line I have seen a savings of between 25%-50% of the usage on my electric bill. So it is worth the $3 in string and the $2 in clothes pins? Absolutely. And on top of that, I can do more loads of laundry at a time because they dry so much faster. Usually by the time one load is washed, the first load is dry. A weeks worth of laundry done in 1 day.

Turning the AC up to about 78 degrees makes a difference too. With the ceiling fans to circulate the air, it feels much cooler than that and it cuts the electric use as well. If I am in the kitchen canning or baking, I use a box fan as well. If your summers don't get too terribly hot or your house is well shaded, don't use the AC at all. Just open the windows and use the fans. Believe it or not, they draw less power than running the AC.

Cooking from scratch instead of eating out or buying ready made or boxed meals is also another money saver. I can make at least 3 meals for 4 people out of a whole chicken that costs me $5. I actually once made a meal for 14 people out of 1/2 chicken, about 1/2 pound of carrots, some stray pasta, and some left over fresh veggies in the crisper(celery, spinach, onion, bell pepper, and a half shriveled leek) and a couple of dashes of hot sauce. It made about 3 gallons of soup, and we buttered up some sandwich bread that was going stale and toasted it in the oven. By the time every one got seconds or thirds, there was about 1/2 cup left over. With a little creativity, you can make some very inexpensive meals. Pasta, rice, and potatoes are great for stretching out meats to make them go farther without feeling like you are depriving yourself. More on that in another post.

I have also mentioned that I make my own soap and laundry detergent. Granted, making the soap isn't really necessary for saving money, but with all of the allergies in our house, it is just a good idea for us. The laundry soap on the other hand is wonderful. You can use just about any kind of soap you want and it just costs pennies a load. Very easy to make and costs about 70 cents to make 2.5 gallons. Much better than 6$ for less than a gallon of detergent.

We have just about stopped buying cleaning supplies too. Vinegar and water make a fine window and surface cleaner and baking soda works great as a Comet or Ajax substitute.

Stocking up on things when they are on clearance is another way to save cash. I have a freezer full of meat and veggies from the clearance sales. The pantry is full to bursting with food that I have canned myself or things that I have gotten on closeout or on a really good sale. The only thing I really have to grocery shop for is stuff like milk(and other dairy stuff like cheese and butter) and eggs. We have been buying our cereal at Big Lots and the dollar stores and the bread from the thrift store.

One habit we did have to break was buying food just because it was on sale. At one point we had almost 20 boxes of Hamburger Helper because they were on sale for a dollar and we had coupons for .50 off of 3 that would double to a dollar off. The problem with that is we do not eat a lot of Hamburger Helper. We have found that I can make the same thing without the mix. So it is almost a year later and we still have about 10 boxes taking up space in my pantry. So even though they were plenty cheap enough, it wasn't worth the .60 each we spent on them.

Gifting is another thing we have cut back on. It has been unanimously decided by both sides of the family that Christmas gifts are just not needed. We spend way too much time and money on things that will probably not be like or needed so we decided to just cut it out completely. None of us really have the spare cash at that time of the year anyway. For birthdays, we just call the folks and have a good chat. For Father's day this year I made my Husband a shirt instead of buying one. Needless to say, he was a little surprised. I haven't had the sewing machine out for a good long while and I made sure that everything was put away by the time he got home from work.

I have made 2 baby blankets (crochet) for shower gifts instead of buying something. It just seems a lot more meaningful if you make a gift instead of buying it. Time and effort do still mean something to people especially, if it is customized to their tastes.

I am sure there are other things I do to save money that I am just not thinking of right now. But I will pass them on to you when I think of them.

Monday, June 16, 2008

What is wrong with some people?

There are times when I wonder just exactly what is wrong with the world and how we could let it get this way. What ever happened to helping your neighbor and giving to those less fortunate just to be giving instead of using it as a tax break?

It seems to me that the only people who care about anything anymore (except making money) are the youth. They haven't yet had the chance to get their ideals smashed against the brick walls of bureaucracy and apathy. There just doesn't seem to be anyone in a position to do anything useful that is also willing to do the right thing.

Granted, there are lots of causes out there to support, but how many people actually do anything besides write a check? I am talking about more than monetary support. I am talking about getting out there and getting your hands dirty to help someone who needs it. How many older people are there out there who need their house painted, or roof patched, or even a ride to the doctor or drug store? How many children are left at home alone because Daddy left a long time ago and Momma works two jobs just to pay the rent? How many people simply don't have enough food to eat?

And I am not even talking about Third World Countries. I mean in the good ole US of A. Yes, these folks can get public assistance. Yes, there are government agencies to coordinate aid for the elderly and unfortunate. And yes, some of the folks who get aid don't actually deserve it, but no system is perfect.

What I guess I am saying is that we all have a responsibility to help others. If you have an elderly person living near you who is unable to do minor home repairs or drive themselves to town, why do you not offer to help? Is it pride? Are you too busy? Or do you just not care?

It doesn't cost anything to be nice. Why not offer to take the widow lady next door to church with you? Or to the grocery store? Or at least ask her if she needs anything. If she doesn't have any family and lives alone, what would happen if she fell? Would you just leave her there?

If everyone took 5 or 10 minutes a day, a couple of times a week, just to be nice to someone, think of how much better a place the world would be. Smile at a stranger. You never know, that could be the first good thing they had happen all day.

I used to make a point at waving at all mail carriers and delivery people whenever I saw them. They have a thankless job and being nice made me feel good too.

Just do something, anything, to help others. Smile at a stranger, fix a window, offer to paint a wall, read a book to a child, just do something. We are not here on the Earth to make money and waste our lives. Find something you believe in and DO SOMETHING!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tools for Cooking

There are a few things that IMHO are necessary if you are going to be cooking a lot. A GOOD set of cookware, a cast iron skillet, a steamer basket, sharp knives, a grater/slicer of some sort, heavy spoons, a wire whip, a good cutting board, and a good cookbook.

Meals can be made or broke on the cookware. Yes you can heat up a can of beans or make hamburger helper in the el cheapo dollar store cookware, but do you want to cook or just make food? Personally, I prefer good heavy stainless steel cookware. It heats fast and evenly, is virtually indestructible, and if you do somehow manage to burn something onto it, you can scour the blazes out of it without hurting it. And it can go in the oven. I have a stainless stockpot I got from Goodwill, was it 15 (yikes! Time flies...) years ago. I use it at least 3 or 4 times a week. I make pasta in it, boil corn on the cob, use it to roast meats, and even make soup in it. It has a lid that fits snugly so I can use it for just about anything. If I had no other cookware, that is the one piece I just will never give up. I have only had to give it a good scrub once, and that was just my own stupidity for burning garlic onto the bottom. I had to soak it a while and get out the steel wool, but it did clean up. Anyway...Stainless steel cookware with a good solid core will heat evenly so you don't have hot spots. That is key when you are cooking. That way you won't be as prone to burn spots while others are not cooked. You can find good sets online at reasonable prices or you can build your set a piece at a time as you find them on sale. Don't bother with the Teflon coated skillets unless you plan on making a lot of sticky things. I have 1 skillet that I use to make omelets and pancakes, but other than that, I don't use it much. No matter how careful you are, the coating will eventually wear off. And you can't use metal spoons and stuff with Teflon so that is another drawback.

A cast iron skillet is another essential. Depending on the size of your family, I would say don't get one over 12 inches. Anything over that size is just to big to handle with anything close to ease. A good cask iron skillet can last a hundred years if you take care of it. I know a lot of people who have their grandmother's skillets and are still using them. There are a couple of things to remember about cast iron though. Never, never, NEVER, put them in the dishwasher. Automatic dishwashing detergent will eat the finish off of them. That finish (the black stuff) is what keeps your food from sticking to the pan. You need to hand wash them with a mild detergent if you must, but you can generally just wash them with water to get them clean. You can use a plastic scrubber, but don't use steel wool unless you plan on reseasoning them. After you wash them, always dry them immediately. Otherwise, you are inviting them to rust. After they are dry, take a paper towel that has about 1/2 teaspoon of cooking oil on it, and wipe the entire thing with the oil. That will replenish the coating and help to keep food from sticking. You don't need enough oil to make it slick, just enough to sort of seal the skillet. It will also help keep it from rusting. If you buy a new, unseasoned skillet, or if the one you found at the yard sale is rusty, you can scrub them down(not necessary for the new one) and coat them heavily with oil. It shouldn't be enough to pool up in the bottom but enough to make the whole thing kinda shiny. Then stick it in the oven on about 300 degrees for a few hours. This is baking the oil into all of the pores in the cast iron and sealing the metal. Sealing(seasoning) the skillet will make it turn the classic black that cast iron cookware is supposed to be. After is is completely cooled, you can put it away. I have done everything from frying chicken to baking cakes and cornbread in my cast iron skillet. I even made a pie in it once. And like the stainless, it is really hard to destroy one.

Steamer baskets...well, what can I say about them. They are very low tech when you think about it, but it makes for some really awesome food. You can steam rice, veggies, potatoes, corn, really just about anything without losing the nutrients and vitamins like you would with boiling. And it is really fast. Take your classic broccoli/cauliflower mix. Steam your veggies, turn the burner off, sprinkle a little bit of cheese on the top and put the lid back on the steamer. The cheese melts and you are good to go. Or you can shred potatoes like for hash browns, mix in your favorite seasoning salt or steak rub, put them in the steamer, and you are good to go. You will need to stir those up at least once so all of the potatoes will get cooked, but it is just wonderful with grilled steaks or beef roast.

Nothing bugs me more than dull knives. You can seriously hurt yourself with them. It takes more manhandling of your food to cut it with a dull knife, making an accident much more likely. A sharp knife is a pleasure to work with. It slices through food easily, makes prettier cuts, and doesn't wear you out working with them. KEEP YOUR KNIVES SHARP. OK, enough of that. But seriously, it is much faster to work with a sharp knife and you will be amazed at how much nicer it is to use. And your food will have nice clean cuts instead of torn jagged ones. And if you do manage to cut yourself, you also will have nice clean cuts instead of torn jagged onces, and they will heal faster. I have cut myself before, but only once(in my 39 years) that needed stitches. And that was because I was stupid. But because my knife was sharp, I barely have a scar. Even the Doc commented on it.

Slicer/graters are one of the most wonderful money and time saving devises ever made. I actually have a couple of different ones, none of which are a food processor. I have the classic box grater that has different grating surfaces on each of the sides, I have a little hand held cheese grater that has three different blades (it was a freebie, I don't think I would have bought one given a choice, it is just too small) and I have a Saladmaster rotary grater that I love. One the money saving end, just think about how much you spend buying pre-shredded cheese, boxed scalloped potatoes, pre-cut coleslaw, potato chips, etc. instead of making those things yourself. It really doesn't take that long to do and you don't have all of the added preservatives and anti-caking agents added to what was once healthy food. Not only that, but a block of cheese is much less expensive than buying the same weight pre-shredded. And you can use that same piece of equipment over and over. Hash browns, slaw, carrots, cheese, onions,you can even make bread crumbs with it. Very handy to have.

Heavy spoons are another item I use a lot. Granted, I have some of the plastic kind, but I try to make sure that they are not too flexible. Try picking up a whole boiled potato with a flexible spoon and you will know what I am talking about. Get some that are slotted and some that are not. After you use them a few times, you will agree that they are necessary.

A wire whip is another good thing to have. You can use it to make gravies, sauces, mashed potatoes, and cake mixes. Easier than a spoon, and more useful than a hand mixer. They are cheap so just get one. Or two.

Cutting boards these days come in many shapes and sizes. And most of them are relatively inexpensive. I would suggest that you don't get the huge 4 inch thick butcher block kind that weighs 20 pounds. It is just too big to work with, so you will wind up not using it. Get a decent plastic one for cutting fruits and veggies and a wooden or bamboo one for cutting meats. If you get the two different kinds you will be less likely to get them mixed up. After cutting meats you will need to sanitize it by soaking it in a sink full of hot water with a few drops of bleach, just to make sure you kill all of the bacteria. Never put a wooden cutting board in the dishwasher. Not only will the heat warp the wood, but the detergent will soak into the wood and possibly transfer back onto your food. The plastic one is fine in the dishwasher and it will sanitize it( no pores in the plastic). A good cutting board should last you for years. And it is a good investment.

Last but not least is a good cookbook. I would suggest one of the big Betty Crocker ones. That is just about everything you will ever need or want to cook anyway. And a lot of the recipes have pictures and procedures described in detail so you can't really mess them up. Very good for people who don't cook a lot but want to or just don't really know how. There is even a section on making things like jams and jellies if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Hopefully, this will be helpful to anyone who is interested in the whole cooking thing. This is all from my own personal experience and I am sure that some will disagree with me on certain things. Every good cook has their own ideas about how things should be done. But if you haven't cooked much before, it is at least a place to start.

Don't be afraid of the kitchen. It can be fun and save you a lot of money from not eating out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Father's Day, Sewing

Well, another holiday is creeping up on us again. Advertising, greeting cards, expensive meals, getting together with family, and spending money. Again.

The really interesting thing for us this year is that my husband's birthday is Saturday. So he will be getting a double whammy. At least I know what he will be getting. We have satellite radio that we got for his birthday a few years ago, and it renews itself every year on his birthday. Happy Birthday Sweetie!

It is one of our few vices these days. We really can't afford it, but it is only $12.50 a month (paid once a year) so at least if something happens, we can still have it at least until his birthday comes around again. And it is a ready made gift.

Father's day on the other hand is really a greeting card holiday. It is an excuse by the greeting card companies and the advertisers to extort more of our hard earned cash into their coffers. That bugs me. If you honor your mother and father like the Good Book says to, every day is Mother's and Father's day. Why do you need a special day to treat them? I call my folks every few days anyway. We go see them whenever we can ( They live in Paragould) and I tell them that I love them every chance I get. Isn't that what Parent's Day is all about anyway?

Well, this year for my husband, I am making him a shirt. It isn't going to be anything fancy but I can sew well enough for that at least. He had made the comment that we needed to get him some more short sleeved shirts for work so I decided to make him one. I haven't had my sewing machine out for a few years so it will definitely be a surprise. I have been working on it while he is at work and having everything put away by the time he comes home. I hope it comes out alright.

And it costs a lot less to make one than to go buy one, even if it is on sale. And he is so tall (6'6") that it is hard to find one that fits so at least this way I can add an inch or two to the tail so it will stay tucked into his pants. Who knows, he may like it so much he wants me to start making all of his shirts. He liked the ones I made for him when we were doing the Civil War reenacting so who knows.

Finding a used sewing machine or even buying an inexpensive one really can save some cash as well. Even if you don't use it for anything but mending, it is still worth the time and effort. I finally got around to doing all of the mending that needed to be done a week or so ago. I didn't realize how much I had just let it pile up. In one afternoon, I repaired 3 pairs of jeans, a skirt, 3 or 4 pairs of pajama pants, and a couple of tank tops. That is a lot of clothes that otherwise would have just been thrown away. Replacing buttons is so easy that 9 year old Boy Scouts do it as a required project.

So don't throw away your clothes just because of a small tear or a missing button. Repair them and get some more life out of them. Or learn to sew and make new ones. It really is worth the time to do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Grocery store canning

Yesterday I took a small trip to the local national chain grocery store to check out the marked down produce. The trucks run there on Tuesday and Friday so if I go in the early morning, they are marking down produce to make way for the new stock. I came away with about 11 pounds of pears for $6, organic baby carrots for $1 a bag, bell peppers for 25 cents each, some really nice portabella mushrooms for $1.75, a big bag of shallots for 50 cents, and 2 bags of green beans for a dollar. I also got a bunch of strawberries for less than the U-Pick-Em price.

Needless to say, I was busy yesterday afternoon. I canned 2 quarts of green beans, 5 pints of carrots, and 6 pints of spiced pears and dried the mushrooms. I am going to dry the peppers today and make some strawberry jam.

So for about $25, I got a pretty fair amount of goodies to feed the family. It may not be enough to last the winter, but it is a good start. And after all, any is better than none.

I still want to hit up the farmer's markets to get peas, tomatoes and corn. I wish I could find broccoli and cauliflower, but it is just too hot here to grow that well and it would already be picked even if it was. Maybe I can find some seeds and start some this summer for a winter garden. I wouldn't can them, but they do freeze very well.

On a side note, I got ambitious last week and decided that the big empty space in my garden needed something in it. I looked around the house for stray seeds to plant. I happened upon a 4 pound bag of dried pinto beans in my pantry, so I took a handful (or two) of them and soaked them for a couple of hours, then planted them. In less than a week, I had almost a hundred (yes, I counted them) baby bean plants in my 8' X12' garden. Wow! I really wasn't expecting that many to come up. After all, they are not intended for seed, they are meant to be eaten so I planted them kind of thick. I did make zig-zag rows to be able to plant more in a small space, but, Geesh. I will likely have fresh pinto beans coming out of my ears before it is all said and done. A good thing we like beans.

All in all, I think we will at least have a good supplement to our winter food supply. Maybe we can come away with a much lower grocery bill and a healthier eating habit because of it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

My Dream Garden

I have talked about wanting to move into the middle of no where before, but now I am going to talk about what I want to do when I get there.

I want a garden. And I don't mean a couple of tomatoes and maybe some peppers. I want to raise all of the food I can so that we are not having to rely upon the stores to eat. I want onions, garlic, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, lettuces, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens, green beans, pinto beans, purple hull peas, black-eyed peas, green peas, crowder peas, wax beans, lima beans, corn, a couple of different kinds of tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, jalapeƱos, cucumbers, cantaloupes, water melons, and honeydews. That is just the stuff that has to be replanted every year.

I also want blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and grapes. And for the tree crops, I want a couple of cherry trees, a couple of peach trees, 2 red and 2 yellow apple trees, maybe an apricot tree, a nut tree of some kind (either pecan or almond) and a plum tree.

Granted, I know that I am not asking for much here, but for the most part, this was how I grew up. We had just about all of this stuff, plus chickens, a couple of cows, and a few pigs, all on 5 acres.

I want to grow enough food to be able to put up enough for my family for a year. And if you stop to think about it, that really does take a lot of food. I will still have to buy some things like sugar, coffee, flour, spices , cereal and such, but it will drop our spending to almost nothing. And the best part about it is that I KNOW what is on the food and how it was grown.

I also intend to supplement our household income by selling the stuff that we have too much of.
You know, the garden stand or the "back of the truck sales". I know that I won't be able to sell everything that I pick, but we have enough friends that we can give them to if they don't sell.

And since I will have at least a few chickens hanging around, I might have organic eggs to sell too. We eat a lot of chicken so that will be handy. I might even spring for a milk cow. We do use a lot of butter and cream. But I am not sure I am up for that task. We will see.

When I was growing up, I couldn't wait to get off the farm. Now that I am older, I can't wait to get back. I have done the club scene, the orchestra concerts, the fancy restaurants, and all of that stuff. It just seems that I am happiest when I am sitting on the couch snapping beans for dinner.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Home Made Lye Soap

I know that I have mentioned this before but my husband has an allergy to detergents so we have started using lye soap. It only has 3 ingredients, water, lard and lye, and it works great. After purchasing a bar to try, I started making it myself. It is really easy to make, but it is a little time consuming and you have to be really careful with the lye. But it makes a really great soap with a good feeling lather and is hypoallergenic. My teens even use it to help clear up their acne issues.

It costs me about $8 to make 40 bars of soap. I even found a recipe to make laundry soap from the home made bars. That costs me about 80 cents to make a little over 2 gallons and it works great too. (see previous post)

In case you were wondering if it is harsh, let me explain how it works. The lye and the lard create a chemical reaction that transforms them into glycerin, the same stuff used in those clear bars of expensive "beauty" soaps you buy at the drugstore. Depending on what you use as your fats in the mix, you can even make the high dollar specialty soaps that sell in boutiques for $5-$10 each. Because my husband is so sensitive, I stick with the basics and don't even add a fragrance. But you can if you wish.

Not only do we save a bundle of money by making the soaps ourselves, they contain no phosphates so they are environmentally friendly as well. And 1 bar will last almost a month in the shower so it is very cost effective.

I know that most people don't think much about the cost of soap since it is one of those basic things that are really not that expensive to buy, but after you make your own, you begin to wonder why you would want to spread all of those chemicals and phosphates and who-knows-what-else all over your body on a daily basis. Home made soap has been in use for thousands of years yet in the last 100 years, we have gotten away from using natural products. Now there is finally a movement to get away from all of the chemicals that are supposed to make our lives better.

The old ways are sometimes the best ways.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Home Made Laundry Detergent

In our quest to save money, we looked around the house at the items we spend the most money on. Laundry detergent was up there at the top. It seemed we would go through a big bottle of laundry detergent about every three or four weeks, and even buying Purex, that is a lot of money. And my husband has an allergy to detergents so we had to use Dreft to wash his clothes because everything else would break him out. So I started scouring the web for ways to make my own.

And Lo and Behold, I found several sites that give recipes for liquid laundry soap. My favorite is so easy, and inexpensive, that I haven't bought laundry detergent since December.

You start with a 3 ounce bar of soap. You can use any soap really, the recipe actually said to use Fels Naptha or a bar of home made soap, but you can use any soap you like. I use home made lye soap in mine, because it doesn't cause my husband to break out. Grate it finely and melt it in about 4-6 cups of water over low heat. When it is completely melted, add 1/2 cup of borax and 1/2 cup of washing soda (not baking soda) and stir until dissolved. Pour all of that into a container big enough to hold at least 3 gallons ( I use a cat litter bucket) and add 2 gallons of water. Stir it up really well, and let it sit over night. Use 1/2 cup per wash.

This is a low foam washing soap, so you won't have a lot of bubbles in your washer, but it really does work. I used it to wash my daughter's fast food uniform and it worked great out getting out soda, chocolate, and strawberry stains out of her shirt. It is even good on grease. Just use a little bit of it to pretreat before you throw it in the washer.

Now this will not look like store bought laundry detergent. It is kinda thin, and opaque white. And will need to be stirred up occasionally. It will set up to look sort of like pudding until it is stirred back up. I actually use an empty fabric softener bottle to dispense from. It is a lot less messy that way. And the cap on the bottle actually holds the 1/2 cup you need per load. So you will have a new use for those empty bottles.

I have passed this recipe on to several of my friends and in-laws, and every one who uses it likes it. It costs about 80 cents to make 2.5 gallons using my own home made soap ( cost to make that is about 20 cents a bar).

Between the home made soap and using the clothesline, it costs me almost nothing to wash clothes, just the cost of the water and electricity to run the washer. So we are saving a bundle just on laundry.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sad state of affairs

With the price of food steadily going up, it really makes me wonder if I am doing enough to protect my family. We will all be paying more for lower quality food and suffering for it in the long run.

I drove 20 miles to go to a farmer's market on Saturday and was disappointed in the offerings. Just about all there was to chose from was salad greens and garlic. I already have green beans and the green peas are done for the season. I did break down and plant a few pepper plants and some tomatoes but it will be a long while before those are ready to pick.

There just isn't anything available in the quantities I want. I am looking to buy by the bushel not by the piece and that just isn't happening around here. I am hopeful that in the next couple of weeks there will be more roadside stands and farmer's markets pop up. I really don't think that I can afford to rely on the grocery stores for our food by winter.

One on my friends and I will be buying a pig and splitting it this fall, but it is a long time until October. Hopefully, we can find someone who is growing enough different vegetables to sell and they will sell them at a decent price.

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