Monday, October 26, 2009

Crafting in Arkansas

Well, it has been busy around here again. Between chasing the boy for scouts and marching band, we are also starting to think about the holiday season. And we have started a new learning experience toward self sufficiency. We have started home brewing.

I know it sounds just a bit nuts, but it is one of those things that if they economy really does tank completely, we will have something available that we will not have to buy. The ingredients aren't that expensive and it is more learning the process than having vast quantities of beer and wine around the house. It will get used eventually. And it is kinda fun. Now we just have to see how it turns out.

I have also been trying to use up all of the yarn I have hanging around the house. I have made something like 25 hats in the last few weeks and several scarves to go with them. These will probably be Christmas gifts for friends and family. They didn't cost much, look nice and are actually useful. Much better than giving a gift that will just collect dust or take up space in a closet until a yard sale happens. I still have lots of yarn left, most of them small or partial skeins, so I may just make hats until I run out of yarn and donate them to a homeless shelter or something. At least it gives me something to do and gets rid of some of the "stuff" hanging around the house.

I also recently completed an afghan for my sister-in-law. She was the last one in the family to get one and I felt really bad about it taking so long to get one made for her. So it is an especially nice one. I got some really expensive yarn from a clearance rack for about $1.50 a skein. So I made a $70 (retail price for the yarn) afghan for about $18 dollars. I thought that was a very good deal on a very nice, soft, cuddly blanket.

Being "crafty" gives me a lot of satisfaction. Handmade gifts seem to be appreciated, they are less expensive than the store-bought versions, and it gives me something to do.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Making Diapers

Well, it looks like i will be back in the diaper making business. My husband's nephew is going to have a baby in the spring. They are so excited. They have been married for 9 years and had given up being able to get pregnant. Now that they are, they don't know what to do with themselves.

They don't have a lot of money so we are going to do whatever we can to help them out. Cloth diapers will help a long way to saving them a lot of money, so that is what I am going to do.

I had made up a bunch, like 2 dozen, for a friend of ours who became a grandpa last Spring. They use a lot of disposables too, but now that Max has grown some, the diapers I made for him fit now. I think they are going to pass them back to us after he has outgrown them so Greg and Brandy can use them as well.

I like making the diapers. It only takes about half an hour to put one together and the materials aren't that expensive. Maybe $2.50 each. But the fact that it can be used over and over is a major plus on the money side. 20 diapers at $2.50 each is about $50. So if you figure that the baby can use each size for about 4-5 months, that is a big savings over disposables. Disposables might be only 36 cents (or so) each, but if you change your baby 5-6 times a day or more, that is $2.16 a day in something you are going to throw away. You can invest the $2.50 each in cloth diapers, and in less than a month, they have paid for themselves. And the cloth diapers are just too cute.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The daily grind

There is still an awful lot of stuff going on here. Both of the kids are back in school, only one of which is still here, and it seems I STILL have some house cleaning to do from all of the renovations we have done in the last month. The laundry is finally caught back up and the dishes are getting done every day.

Today, I got the joy of sitting in the doctor's office for three hours with an IV stuck in my arm and had to give them large sums for the privilege. But in a day or two, I will not hurt so much. But it is looking like I will be having surgery on my wrist at some point before the end of the year. Won't that be fun?

And to top everything off, my husband's uncle is in a coma and has hung on almost 48 hours longer than the Hospice folks said he would. So, the black suits and dresses have been dry cleaned and are ready to be packed for a quick trip to Fort Worth any day.

We were given a bag of tomatoes and jalapenos yesterday, so I made salsa and I dried the majority of the peppers. Not really sure what I will do with them. We don't eat a lot of jalapenos, but I am sure I will find some use for them, sooner or later.

I guess it is a good thing that , along with everything else, I have some easy meals either canned or frozen. I do not feel like cooking tonight.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

July was crazy

OK, So I have been a little lax in the blogging department lately. I have been rather busy canning, chasing my kids around, wrecking my truck, and putting in a wood floor. My house is still trashed from having to move everything out of the den to lay the floor and I just can't seem to make myself want to put everything away now that the floor is finished. *sigh*

And we have been eating out a lot. We have had company stay over so we go out instead of cooking and that has been really expensive. So we are going to have to really buckle down and focus on the money thing again. I canned enough food so that we will not have to go to the store too much, except for things like sugar and milk, but I just don't want to start using that stuff yet for some reason. Maybe I am just so sick of looking at it all that I don't want to dig through the jars to find something for dinner. It is, after all, stacked up in boxes in the bedroom waiting for a permanent home. Something else I have to do.

This is the last weekend that my sweet, little, bald-headed baby girl will be living at home. She moves into her college dorm on the 22nd. I have a feeling that I will be torn between very sad and relieved that we have finished our job raising her. It just won't be the same without her here making little noises and "Kramer-ing" out of her bedroom. Very Sad.

Band practice started last week for the boy. He has to get fitted for his uniform today. He is really thrilled about that. But that is part of it. Football games in the sleet. Or thunderstorms. Or hot and humid. In a wool uniform. Parades. Contests. Ahhh, those were the days. I remember them fondly.

After school starts back, things will settle back down to some semblance of normal.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 4th in all of its Glory

Well, the 4th is finally over and a very chaotic weekend it was. The gang, all 14 of them, descended upon our house for the holiday. That is approximately 100sf per person in our small house. And it necessitated a lot of cleaning. Fortunately, my husband was off of work on Friday, so he and the kids were cleaning dervishes.

My son had spent the week moving everything out of his room and painting. It was a major redecoration of his personal space that involved getting rid of all of his furniture except 1 bookcase. He wanted to add a small sofa so we picked one out when we picked out the paint color. Since he had finished painting Thursday night, we went Friday morning to actually buy it. It had sold the day before. Crushed! So we spent the next 3 hours driving to every furniture store in town looking for a different one. We finally, finally found one almost identical to the one he had picked out, and it was even cheaper than the one he wanted. It wouldn't fit in the truck with the bed cover on, so for 25$ they delivered it. It wouldn't fit through his 28 inch door frame. He was crushed. Again. So back out to find something smaller. He settled for a recliner instead. We got it home and in place with about 30 minutes to spare.

The first night we had dinner for 11. Home made pizza. It went over very well. The baby had his own dinner. So after we cleaned up the kitchen, we had games for the adults. Until around 3 am. It was a very long day for me.

On Saturday, we had 3 more arrive. That made our 14. Dinner on the grill. And games. And several empty wine bottles. It rained so no fireworks, sadly, but I don't think we missed them. We were all too busy to notice. And we needed the rain.

Early Sunday, 4 of our party had to leave. They were getting ready to drive to Florida for a vacation on Monday and had to get packed. So the remaining wife and I went to Big Lots for some light shopping while the husbands and a couple of the kids (teens really) played a game. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, she found some furniture that they had been looking for much cheaper (like 75% off) than they would normally be able to buy it. We called the husbands for advice (interrupting the game) and they agreed to join us in the parking lot to load the furniture. Hilarity ensued. Queen sized mattress and box springs, twin mattress, and a click clack sofa most of which was on top of a minivan. We put the twin mattress in the back of the truck and we all drove back to our house. Several trips to the dollar store to get bungee cords and tie down straps. And it all managed to get attached to the van for the three hour drive home. That evening, the wife, the daughter, the baby, and the boyfriend/fiance left leaving us with 7.

My hubby had taken Monday off for the holiday as well, so we enjoyed some more visiting time. I still had a box of tomatoes to do something with so I ran them through the blender and started adding things to it and cooked it down. 5 Quarts of spaghetti sauce. The last 3 finally had to leave around 3pm. They didn't want to be carrying mattresses down the interstate after dark. Then the daughter left to spend the night with a friend. Finally a quiet evening.

Almost too quiet.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jars, Jars, everywhere...

It is canning time again. I think I have mentioned that already, but I mention it again because it has really started up now. Yesterday I canned blueberries. Today I am canning beans. Tomorrow I may can tomatoes. This is the time of year to stock up for the winter.

So far this month I have canned beef, chicken, beans, cherries, blueberries, and now beans. I hope to do a lot more beans, corn, peas, carrots, and whatever else I can find to put in a jar.

I have dried potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, strawberries, and made fruit leather and jerky. So far. I hope to do some more jerky and vegetables. I might dry some more fruit this year as well.

With the cost of food steadily rising, and no end in site, it can only be a good thing to be prepared. And I actually have fun putting everything away for a rainy day. We never know when the power will go out, or if my husband will lose his job. These are all things that having a supply of food in the house will help with. We won'd have to worry about having enough to eat. And since I am growing part of this myself, it is costing us only the seeds. That is a much better way to ensure you are eating healthy and not getting a bunch of preservatives in your food.

My biggest problem is where to store everything. If I try to can, dry, or freeze everything we will need for a year, I just won't have enough space, even using all of the closets, to put everything. A year's worth of food takes up a lot of room.

Since I try to find things when they are on sale and stock up, maybe I should look for another one of those diy cabinets with the doors on it. The one I have now, that I am using as a sewing storage/food pantry, is already full. And it is only mid June. By August, I will have jars, bags, and shelves overflowing.

But it is always better to be prepared than to be caught unaware.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grandma's to speak

We are back from the Ridge after getting my daughter's college orientation completed. It is an exciting time for her. She turned 18 last week and can now officially be considered an adult. I am just getting old. It will be hard to let her go, but she has her wings now and I have to let her fly.

We also spent some time with my mother helping her clean up in my grandmother's house. 50 years worth of accumulated "stuff" sitting, for the last 10 years, in an empty house. It is amazing just how much daily clutter sits in random cupboards and drawers. I think we found about 30 pairs of scissors.

It was actually very sad to be in her house. It seems so much smaller than when I was a child. And there wasn't the warm sunlight streaming in that I always loved when I was a kid. Maybe it was because it was just so...empty feeling. It wasn't like going to Grandma's House. It was like rummaging through some stranger's house, trying to find things of value. I just kept shaking my head, wondering why Grandma would keep some of the things she did. Just how many rolls of electrical tape did she need anyway?

We didn't have enough room to take everything that needed to be taken from the house. We will probably just need to rent a trailer and load it up to bring it home. There is going to have to be some serious work done on the house before it is habitable again. The ice storm in January really did a number on it. I am not really sure the structure is worth saving anymore. There is just so much damage to the roof, a piece of the ceiling collapsed in the living room, the add-on that housed the hot water heater is open to the elements now, and all of the outbuildings have either fallen in or are about to. Regardless, if there is anything in it that needs to be saved, it will have to be removed soon or it will be lost forever.

Needless to say, I had a difficult weekend.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Canning time!

It is that time of year again. Time to start canning and preserving fruits and veggies. I just picked the last of the green peas that I planted in February and will be pulling up the vines today to get ready to plant green beans. Also this morning I took a gallon of strawberries out of the dehydrator (I have a packed quart of dried sliced berries now) and made 6 pints of jam. I still have about 1/2 a gallon of berries to decide what to do with. I may make some more jam. Not sure yet.

Today will also be the day I do a lot of yard work. We finally have a nice warm day after almost a solid month of rain. My daughter will be mowing while I am working in the garden (since she is graduated now and doesn't have to go to school), then I will have her help me move the compost I made over the winter and put it in the garden. I will get my husband to till it all in this evening and plant my green beans tomorrow. We will still have to figure out a trellis system for the garden since the green beans we have seed for will grow about 8 feet tall. Maybe some sort of hoop system that I can use as a hot house this fall and winter. We will see.

I am getting excited about the new canning season. Since I put up a bunch of food last year for the first time, I will know better this year what we will actually eat and what size jars to use to each item. I know that I don't need to put beans in quarts this year. We just don't eat that much of them. And I know that I will need to can a lot more tomatoes. We used all of them in about a month. We also used all of the corn I put in the freezer in about 5 months so I will need a lot more of that too.

We still have fruit though. For some reason, we just didn't eat that much. Maybe I just need to make more deserts. We ate the dried fruits better than the canned, so maybe I will just dry more instead of canning them.

I have canned quite a bit of meat so far this year. I get it from the grocery when it is on sale. If I can it, we can still have good meat even if the power goes out. We won't have to worry about all of it thawing out and spoiling. I am thinking I will dry some more too. Jerky is just too handy to have on hand, and it makes for a really nice stew in a bind.

Now that I have the dehydrator, a vacuum sealer, and a pressure canner, there shouldn't be any reason why we cannot put up enough food to last us a year or two. Buy it on sale or on clearance and seal it for future use.

Now if I just had a grain mill.....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Excalabur 2900 dehydrator

I got my new dehydrator in this week and I am so excited. It is more than twice the size of my old one (15 sf of drying space) and actually much faster too. The first day I got it, I dried 6 chopped bell peppers (on sale for $1.78 for all 6) and 5 chopped onions ($1.99 for a 3 pound bag) and still had 2 trays left empty. The same amount of chopped dried onions retails for about $6. And since I use the peppers and onions all the time when I cook, it is a great deal for us. And also much better for cooking when I just don't feel like chopping up an onion.

I also picked up some really nice strawberries from a roadside vendor this week. I have bought from them in the past and they are some of the best strawberries you will ever eat. At $14 a gallon, they are a little bit expensive, but still cheaper than the grocery store, and the taste just can't be beat. We ate a few of them fresh and the rest (a little less than a gallon) I made into fruit leather and dried sliced. The finished product gave us about 10 fruit roll-ups and almost a quart jar of dried slices.

The sliced berries work out really well for us. I make scones with them, and we use butter and strawberry freezer jam on the hot scones. Really awesome and very easy. Take your favorite biscuit recipe (there is a good one on the back of the Bisquick box, just don't use the liquids), add 1/2 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of sour cream, and a big handful of crumbled berry slices and enough water or milk to make a really, really stiff dough. It just needs to hold together and not be too "wet". Place the dough on a greased baking sheet and pat it out to about 3/4 inch thick and round. Slice it like a pizza and bake it in a moderately hot oven, I generally bake at 375, until it is nice and browned all over. Like I said, just awesome.

Drying food takes up a lot less space than canning, and the majority of the time, tastes just as good as fresh. 3 pounds of chopped, dried onions will fit into a half gallon jar and you don't have to worry about them getting soft or mildewed in the pantry. If you need "fresh" onions for things like potato salad or similar recipes, just soak them in a little warm water and they will plump back up. Same with the fruit. To make a fruit salad or compote, soak your mixed dried fruits in a little water or apple juice to plump them back up and chill.

Just about every vegetable can be dried and stored. Potatoes work out really well. Slice and parboil the spuds, surface dry with a paper towel and lay them out on the trays. After they are dry, they can be used for scalloped potatoes, re-hydrated and fried, or cooked in the microwave with a little milk and then mashed. Drop some in a stew or soup, run through the blender to make potato flour or instant mashed potatoes. Very very useful.

I would suggest this to just about anyone who wants to be able to preserve food without the mess and expense of canning. Buy produce when it is on sale or in season from a farmers market and dry it. And if the dried foods are kept sealed, they will keep just about indefinitely. It is a great way to save money. And eat healthier.

Friday, May 8, 2009

An Era Ends

Things change. It is a simple fact and there is not a darn thing you can do about it. Children grow up, people get old, and pets die. We do not like it, but there is nothing anyone can do about it.

We buried our family pet of 14 years this week. Katie was a Border collie/Miniature collie mix and turned 14 this month, before she quietly laid down and stopped breathing. She had been ill for a while and finally stopped eating. We all knew that the end was near, but that didn't make it any easier to bear. She is buried in her favorite sleeping spot, by the back fence, beside the bench. We will be building a raised flower bed over her resting place so that it will not be disturbed. She was interred with a bag of her favorite Pupperoni's and her favorite blanket was her shroud. She will be greatly missed.

My daughter had her final orchestra concert this week as well. After 7 years of concerts, rehearsals, fundraisers, practice sessions, private lessons, and lost music, my daughter will be packing away her viola. She is convinced that she will still play occasionally, but her life will be filled with new things now, and I doubt she will take the time. Another end of an era.

Graduation is on the 21st of this month. And my daughter will be an Honor Grad with a Beta Club sash. And she will be 18 in a couple of weeks. I am not sure I am ready for her to be grown up. No more groundings for staying out too late or not doing her chores, no more making her go with us to places she has no interest in(like the grocery store), no more telling her that she "can't" do something. If she asks, I will probably give her an answer like always, but if she doesn't ask, I have no authority to tell her to be home by 10, or that she can't go to a concert in Little Rock with her friends. All I can hope is that she heeds the lessons we have taught her and acts in a responsible manner. I have faith in her, she is a good kid. But it is a Mother's job to worry, so I do.

All in all, this week has just sucked. And I feel old.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Squash is so misunderstood

I have been thinking a lot about nutrition lately. And how to eat healthier without spending a lot of money to do it. Usually all I really have to do is look in my garden.

This year that means tomatoes, green peas, snap beans, broccoli, and garlic. I have been reading about Native Americans and their gardening choices. They mostly grew corn, beans, and squash. It grows fast, can be planted together, and generally produces a lot of food for a small space. The corn is planted first, and when the seedlings get about 4 inches tall, they planted beans around each corn plant. As they grew, the beans would climb up the corn stalks. The squash (pumpkin is actually a squash) would be planted in hills around the field.

It also appears that when you eat these three vegetables together, it creates a complete protein very similar to meat protein. So Corn+Beans+Squash = Meat. Very useful for those lean times when hunting was difficult. And with a seasoning of herbs gathered in the wild, very tasty.

Anyway...we don't generally eat a lot of squash. The kids don't really care for it, and the only way my husband had ever eaten squash (yellow crookneck, BTW) was fried. Except for the annual pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. I grew up eating patty pan, crookneck, and butternut squash. Can't say that I ever really liked it. But I ate it anyway.

I picked up a butternut squash on sale, thinking that it was something different and that different is good sometimes. I sliced it in half, scooped out the seeds, and turned it cut side down on a baking sheet. 375 oven until it was soft. My husband actually ate half of it by himself. It seems that he had never eaten any type of squash except crookneck and even then it was fried. He didn't really like it much so he thought that a squash is a squash, and so he doesn't like squash. He was wrong. We have eaten it several times since then.

Now I have something to add to my garden. If I can find a place to put it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Has Anyone Seen the Constitution Lately?

I am so irritated right now. The Supreme Court will be hearing a case today on whether or not a school had the right to strip search a 13 year old girl for the allegation that she had possession of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and was handing it out to other students.

Supposedly, "someone" saw her handing out said acetaminophen, so the administrator pulled her out of class and searched her backpack. Then, because they didn't find anything, he enlisted the aid of the school nurse and his female assistant to strip this child down to her panties. They still found nothing.

The school says they didn't need a search warrant because they had probable cause. The school board has been the party to keep the appeals going on this. They are absolutely convinced they have the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want even though the courts have ruled in favor of the child several times.

Reminds me of a situation in our town a few years back. A teacher accused 3 girls of taking $20 out of her purse when she was out of the room. This teacher had the 3 girls strip searched to find the money. They didn't have it. An expanded search found the $20 in the teacher's desk drawer. The school supported the teacher's decision to search the girls. The parents were not informed, nor would they allow the girls to call them, until afterward. I believe this settled out of court, but the school tried to keep it very hush-hush.

I am afraid that I would just have to get up in someone's face if that happened to one of my kids.

There have been many, many cases of school boards violating the Constitutional Rights of students, all in the name of "safety" or "zero tolerance drug policies". There have even been cases of schools expelling students for violating school policy after school hours and not on school property. And Free Speech anywhere on campus is simply a joke.

It would appear that the schools do not feel that our children have any Constitutional Rights until after they have graduated. Not when they turn 18, but when they graduate. And it just sets my poor School Newspaper Co-editor daughter to gnashing her teeth. It just makes her teeth hurt to have to submit her editorials to the principal, not the staff adviser, the Principal, before it can be published. They have to send the entire paper to the office for approval before it can go to the printers. And if he cuts a story, they can't print the edition without a complete change of layout. They have only been able to print 3 editions of the school paper all year because of story cuts.

It is getting to the point where home school is the only place children can actually learn what the Constitution means to the individual, not just to the government.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Senior Prom...Oh the Horror!

This has been a rather busy week for me. I have been chasing kids around to doctor's appointments, cleaning the house, creating works of art with yarn (crochet), getting paperwork together for the recast on the mortgage, and getting ready for Prom.

Yes, my sweet little bald-headed baby is going to her Senior Prom tonight. Normally, this wouldn't be that big of a deal, but trying to get my daughter into a dress for any reason is nearly impossible. She made a statement way back when she was 12 or so that she only *had* to wear a dress 2 times in her life. Senior Prom and a Wedding dress. Granted she will wear a skirt occasionally, but not often, but that is a lot different than a dress. She promised her best friend that she would go to the Senior Prom if she didn't have to go to every other school dance, including but not limited to Homecoming dances. My little girl just doesn't dance. Her friend kept her word, so now Shine is keeping hers. Regardless of how much she professes hates it.

We got the dress, ($228) and the shoes ($42, 3 1/2 inch heels to boot), and she will be wearing the rhinestones from MY prom. That just leaves her hair and makeup. Oh the horror! The idea that she can't look like she does every other day just mystifies her. My daughter has a natural beauty that doesn't require a lot of makeup and her preferred hairstyle is brushed out and hanging down her back. Very straight. And it looks good on her. But she wants sausage curls for Prom. Go figure? So I will have to go buy some rollers. One of her friends is going to do her makeup.

Her fella will be shocked. And he may not recognize her.

I think she will have a good time anyway. In spite of herself.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Babies Cause Global Warming

I just read an article that said that having babies is causing global warming.

If that isn't the single most ridiculous thing I have heard this year, and I have heard some fairly ridiculous things, it is at least in the top 10. The article states that each child born has a "carbon footprint" exponential greater than that of parent. Horse Hockey, I say. Even if an infant could consume enough resources to have a "carbon footprint" there is no way it could be greater than the parent who is driving to work, burning electricity, and consuming resources.

The main issue of the article to that overpopulation is a major problem. And while I agree that in some places on the Earth, there are population problems, there are many many more that are underpopulated. Russia, for instance, for all of it's land mass, is having such a problem with falling birth rates that in less than one generation, they will not have a population density great enough to sustain basic services and food production. The government is actually paying women to have babies. Then in other places like India, the population is so dense that they literally cannot grow enough food in their climate to support themselves. Overpopulation isn't the issue, it is population density.

China has the largest population of any country on Earth, yet if you take the populations of the major cities out of the equation, that country would have almost no people. It all comes back to density. More people in a small area create bigger problems. From sanitation to pollution. 5 people living on 1 acre will likely not get sick. 500 on one acre likely will. And that is what cities do to us. That is why, historically, when you pack a bunch of people into a small living area, such as a slum, a barrio, or a ghetto, disease will spread. Think of the Black Plague. Too many people living in a small area invites in the rats and other vermin, people get bitten by fleas or get histoplasmosis from the droppings, and pass it to everyone they meet. Spread these same people out a bit and the infection rate drops dramatically.

"Oh, but we are consuming to many resources", you say. "We need a smaller population so that we do not consume so many resources and destroy natural habitats." "We are destroying the Earth." The answer to that argument is sustainability. 100 years ago, the majority of the population grew at least part, if not all, of their own food. They grew enough for themselves and maybe a little extra to sell. Nothing was wasted. Very few people anywhere on earth actually do that now. We are dependent on corporate farms that provide limited nutrition to feed us. No one actually wants to invest sweat for good healthy food anymore. That is why overpopulation is a problem. There are a limited number of jobs in the cities and no place to grow your own food. So people in the cities are dependent on other to feed them. If there are not enough people willing to grow the food, there is a problem.

As a species, we have gotten lazy.

For those of you who do not believe in God...We have evolved to the point that we are at the top of the food chain. We have successfully out-competed every other animal on the planet and our birth rates prove it. If we practice restraint, we will have the resources to continue to evolve forever.

To those God-faring folks out there, God created Man and gave him dominion over the Earth. We were given the mandate to go forth and multiply. We were also charged with the responsibility to be stewards over the Earth. That means we were told to take care of it.

Any way you look at it, stewardship, sustainability, husbandry, responsibility, whatever, if we do not take care of the Earth, it will not matter a hill of beans how many people there are. We will fail.

The answer isn't how many, it is just how.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Financial stability

I have finally been officially approved for disability. I got my back pay, and got back pay for the kids this week. Unfortunately, after talking to my accountant (ie sister in law), we will have to pay taxes on my portion of the back pay to the tune of about 10k. Because the kid's portion is paid under their socials, they will have to file taxes on their part. Neither are working right now (my son is only 15 anyway) and the back pay won't be enough for them to have to pay any tax on it, hopefully.

We have taken the remaining portion of the money and paid a lump sum principal payment on the mortgage and talked to the mortgage company to recalculate the payments on the new principal balance. It will cut our house payment in half! If we continue to make the same payment we currently owe, we can have the house paid off in less than 5 years. If my husband gets laid off, we can still afford the house payment just living off of my disability check. And if he can get even a part time minimum wage job, that is even better.

And the best part of it is that our house has an insurance appraisal of 95k, we will owe only 23k so the difference is all profit if/when we decide to sell the house and finally, FINALLY buy our little homestead. I have been keeping an eye out for small acreage with a house and there are lots of them in AR in the 50-70k range. Older,smaller houses of course, but that is all we really need.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Home again, home again...

Well, we are back from the Northeast corner of the state not too worse for wear. This was the first time we had been home since Christmas and everyone was more than happy to see us. We couldn't stay anywhere long enough to satisfy so we wound up having short visits with everyone, and no one was happy. So what else is new.

Our oldest didn't get to go with us since she was on her very last school trip, an orchestra contest, in Dallas. They did bring home 2 trophies so that is good. We got to hear about how everyone really missed her presence, which was sad. My sweet little bald-headed baby will be leaving the nest, probably for good, in August, so we will have to get used to making the trip without her. I won't enjoy that.

I got to visit with my dad about various things, like chickens, cows, goats, asparagus, fences, greenhouses, and genealogy. Mostly genealogy.

All in all, it wasn't a bad trip. Everyone mostly got along, and the meals were good. We got to see everyone, at least for a little while, and the visits were mostly pleasant.

Maybe the trip in June will be just as nice.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Saving Money on food

With the economy like it is, we are all trying to do more to save money. And there are as many ways to do that as there are grains of sand at the beach. Not every tip will work for all families but a few are just common sense. Don't buy it if you don't need it, shop around for the best deals, don't buy disposable anything if you don't have to, etc.

Since I have two teens, one of which will be headed for college in the fall, we have to save wherever we can. Our biggest way is to cook at home instead of eating out. In the last year or so, we have cut back on the number of times we eat out every month, and have started being more careful of what we buy at the grocery store. I have even found better ways to use up leftovers (so they don't look like leftovers).

My absolute favorite way is to cook big once or maybe twice a week, and eat leftovers the rest of the time. I use my smoker a lot that way. Smoke a pork roast or fresh picnic roast. The same time you are smoking the pork, you can smoke some whole chickens for later in the week. Chop up what meat isn't eaten and put that into meal sized freezer bags and throw it in the freezer. The leftover pork roast can be heated with BBQ sauce for sandwiches the next night, and the bones and meat tidbits left (not the BBQ ones) can be thrown into a pot of beans for yet another meal. And the leftover beans can be used to make bean burritos the next night or for lunch. The chicken can be sliced onto a salad, sauteed into a stir-fry, made onto sandwiches, chopped into soup or dumplings, or make chicken salad. Not only are you stretching your food costs by only cooking once or twice a week, you give yourself some very easy, super fast meals for hectic weeknight dinners.

Another way to save money on food is to do it yourself. Shredding your own cheese can save dollars per pound on the cost of cheese. And is will not have all of the anti-clumping additives that are just not really healthy for you. Buy a big chunk and shred it all at once. This is why Ziplock bags were invented. And as an added tip, use the finest shred you can. Your cheese will go farther. It is all in the psychology of it. It looks like you are using more, but by weight, it is actually less. And sharp cheddar will go farther than mild. More flavor, and all of that.

Not everyone has the time to make it all yourself, and sometimes it is just cheaper not to. Take bread for instance. It is cheaper for us to buy our sandwich bread from the bakery thrift store than it is for me to make it. That is partially because of the price of ingredients and the electricity to run the oven, but more because we can buy a loaf of 100% whole grain, Name Brand bread at the thrift store for 80 cents, and the store is only a couple of miles from the house. And we drive by it fairly often. I still make things like flat breads, baguettes and dinner rolls, but hamburger and hot dog buns and sandwich bread we get from the thrift store. This won't work for everyone, but there ya have it. Bread does freeze well, so if you stock up by buying a month's worth at a time, it could be worth a special trip to the store.

Use your freezer. It is more than a place to store ice cream sandwiches. Any time meat goes on sale, or veggies, or most fruits, you can stock up and freeze what you will not up fresh. Just remember to get as much air out of the freezer bags as possible to prevent freezer burn. And date everything so you will remember to use the oldest first. I have even frozen leftover veggie side-dishes (like corn or green beans) into 1 large bag and when the bag gets full, make soup. Soup is an excellent way to use up leftovers before they go bad.

We also have what we call a freezer night. Once a month or so, I go through the freezer and pull out partial bags of french fries, a few pizza rolls, whatever I can find in there that needs to be eaten. I usually will have several things that don't really match what you would consider a "normal" meal. A couple of burritos, some fish sticks, some mixed fries and tater tots, that bag of frozen brussel sprouts that you got on sale and never cooked, you know, that sort of thing. Cook it all. Everyone can get a bit of everything or one person can get all of the fish sticks while some one else gets the burritos. However you want to do it. This is a great way to not only clean out the freezer to make room, but also you are not wasting food that you would normally have to throw out because you forgot it is there. And my kids think it is a fun way to have dinner since it isn't so formal. I will usually bake everything that I can (like fries, fish sticks, and burritos) on the same baking sheet to avoid making a mess frying every thing. And it is just faster too. Microwaves are good for doing the veggies. So I can generally have dinner ready in less than 30 minutes without a lot of fuss or a lot of clean up.

But anyway, saving money is all in the mindset to think outside the box. Find ways that your family can live with. Look back at some of my other posts for other ideas on how WE save money.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Taxes, taxes everywhere...

Well, things are getting out of hand... again. Nation wide today a new tax went into effect. One that raises the price of tobacco products by 60-some-odd cents a pack. But apparently, because little cigars were not considered cigarettes, they were not taxed the same. And they fixed that little loop-hole with this tax. A pack of little cigars went from 89 cents a pack up to $4.00 at midnight last night. Loose tobacco, such as pipe tobacco was set to go up to something like $80 a pound.

And what is our government going to use all of that new tax revenue for, you ask? My guess would be to bail out all of the failing businesses. After all, that money has to come from somewhere. Or they might use it as foreign aid to countries that don't like us. Or...Congress might give themselves a raise for all of the hard work they are doing for us. OR...It will go to pay all of the corporate executives to stay in this country after we told them that they cannot have the bonuses they were contracted to get.

Anyway, with all of the new spending the current government is doing, the money has to come from somewhere. And just how many times can the Federal Reserve print up $6Billion and buy treasury bills with it? Yes, folks, the government just printed $6 Billion in new paper with nothing to back it up. That is inflation in the making.

The current government makes Jimmy Carter's "Tax and Spend" policies look like bargain day at the thrift store. This year's budget alone will cost us more that all of World War II. And that isn't counting all of the bailouts and handouts Congress has been tossing around like confetti.

I am just waiting for the time when they start taxing us on food consumption. Not a sales tax, but a tax on how much food we actually eat. After all, those who eat a lot are a big drain on the healthcare system because of all of the health issues related to obesity. So if they tax the foods that aren't good for us (of course this is anything that corporate farms say it is), we will all eat healthier, right?

I'm thinking it is time for a Tea Party.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Just a seed?

There is something of a miracle to a seed. It is such a tiny thing with boundless potential. It is all pent up energy, almost quivering with the Grace of God. One tiny seed that can feed the multitudes. With a couple of basic needs, that one seed can turn into thousands in less than a decade. Soil, Water, and Sunlight. That is it. That is all it needs. The better the soil, the better it will grow, but it will still reproduce itself exponentially even with poor growing conditions.

It is almost like nurturing a child. Give it a few basics, like food (soil), water( or milk, tea, or in some cases Kool-Aid) , and a healthy dose of sunlight (fresh air, shelter, warmth) and that child(seed) will thrive. And with the Grace of God, the child is bursting with boundless potential.

Is it any wonder we talk of children "growing up" with the same terminology we use to talk about our gardens? Growing like a weed, indeed. We nurture seedlings as if they were children and as they grow, they become less dependent on us and depend more on the rain and the sun, and God. They mature and fulfill their purpose that God has set for them.

We all start as a seed of potential, grow and gain the strength to withstand the weather, mature and fulfill our purpose, and then go dormant, giving our offspring their time to bloom. The cycle is beautiful in its simplicity. There will always be periods of drought or flood, the rains may come and try to beat us down, the sun may scorch us from time to time, and there will always be weeds, but in the end, we will always do what our potential has set for us.

It is humbling. Yet empowering.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dreams of self-sufficiency

Trying to be self-sufficient is becoming popular these days. More and more people are trying to eat healthier and are paying more attention to their overall health.

I have noticed that online seed companies are selling out of vegetable seed more quickly and the seeds that are selling the fastest are the heirloom seeds. More and more people are getting scared of GMO (genetically modified organisms) and hybrid seeds. A lot of people, my self included, want to only buy seeds once then let some of the end-of-season crops go to seed for next year. There is a problem with that, though. Some vegetables, like corn, are so hybridized and so easy to cross pollinate, that it is almost impossible to keep the variety pure. Corn has to be planted like 2 miles from other corn or it will cross-pollinate from the wind. And some vegetables take more than 1 year to produce seeds, like carrots and asparagus.

There are a lot of little things people can do to become more self-sufficient these days. One of the easiest( for us at least) to do is to just stop buying things you don't need. You have to know the difference between a need and a want. You NEED food, water, shelter, clothing, and climate control. You WANT an i-phone, a big screen plasma TV, eating out every week or even every night, and Prada. Once you can deal with the difference between want and need, you will realize just how much money we all waste every month. With all of the money you save from cutting your spending, you can get yourself out of debt. You simply cannot be self-sufficient if you are in debt. Money has to come from somewhere and if you have debt, you cannot make enough to be SELF-sufficient.

You can grow your own food, raise animals for meat and/or eggs, cook your own meals, make your own bread, sew your own clothes, and you still will not be completely self-sufficient. You will still have a water bill unless you have your own well, electric bill unless you have gone solar or wind, fuel costs for your vehichles unless you can bike everywhere you need to go and are physically able to do so, and countless other things that nibble away at your money. There are even some things we would have to buy even if all of the other criteria have been met. There is simply no way to grow coffee where we live. It just gets too cold. And the same with sugar cane. Sorgham for molassas, yes, sugar cane, no. We "could" grow herbals for tea if we were really in a bind, and roasted dandelion roots makes a passable coffee substitute, but those would be desperate times indeed. And as long as we have access to enough dirt and/or pasturage, we could free up money from other food items to buy coffee, sugar, and tea.

Being truely self-sufficient is a complete dream these days, but cutting as much as possible, given the current economic climate, only makes sense.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Land of the Free? Not any more

It is starting to get really scary to live in the Land of the Free. Because our rights are being stripped, one by one, in such covert ways that most of us don't even realize it. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States is as follows:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Now, just how much of all of that is still actually in effect? Let's take it apart and look at it.

In order to form a more perfect Union... well, depending on how you look at the United States, we are not actually a Union any more. When the Constitution was written, we were a Union of United States, hence the name. It was a Republic that was formed by numerous sovereign States for the purpose outlined in the Preamble. The States held the power over it's citizens and the Federal government was developed to support the States. To Form a More Perfect Union. Now, the Federal government dictates laws, statutes, taxes, social programs, fees, and last but not least, penalties, to the states. Just see what happens if you don't pay your IRS bill to prove my point. The federal government has manipulated itself in such a way that Federal law supersedes all state law, and that no state can legally remove itself from the Union. If you don't believe me, go look up the Civil War. So what that boils down to is that if you don't like what the government is doing, leave the country because moving from out of state won't help you.

Establish Justice...Oh yeah, we have some serious justice going on in our country. Just look at Bernie Madoff, O. J. Simpson, Corporate bank executives, and all of the Wall Street brokerages. And all of the major corporations who had their hand out for bailout money, until, of course, they were told that they couldn't have the money if they were going to use any of it to ship jobs overseas or pay executive bonuses. When that little detail got out, a lot of those hands went away. Why? It would seem that the execs who were responsible for running the business, or bank, into the ground in the first place wanted to be rewarded with bailout money for their efforts. Or lack thereof. So the average taxpayer gets no justice. Ever. So we all work like dogs, pay our taxes, try to pay our bills, so that the country can go Trillions of dollars in debt just so we can give free cash to the people who are trying to take our jobs and homes away from us. Doesn't really sound like justice to me.

Ensure domestic Tranquility...that means keeping the peace in our country. Translated, that means crime. Yup, our government is charged with the responsibility of keeping us safe within our own country. And aren't they just doing a bang-up job? We have gangs running unchecked through large swaths of the country, including in every major city in the US. We have children selling drugs on street corners and in the schools. We have oppressive laws where the police can interpret any given statute on the books to suit their own purposes. (That doesn't happen much, and I have great respect for law enforcement officials, but bad cops do happen, and when they do, it is bad for everyone, not just criminals) We have legislators who are bought and paid for by special interest groups, or who just openly sell themselves to the highest bidder. None of these things Ensure Domestic Tranquility. And that isn't even talking about the fact that crime is such a factor in our every day lives that we lock our doors and keep our children always in sight without even thinking about it. We are fearful as a nation. We don't trust one another. And after 9-11, we cetainly don't trust outsiders. Doesn't sound very Tranquil, does it?

Provide for the Common Defense...that is our military. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, Border Patrol, FBI, CIA, DEA, ATF, and all of those other folks who protect us every day from dangers we never see. These are the people who get shot at, sometimes daily, so you have the right to go to Starbucks and pay $5 for a cup of coffee whenever you want. And what is our government doing to provide for the common defense? Cutting military spending. That means the people who die for us on a daily basis have to get food stamps to be able to feed their families. It means that they do not get the armored vehichles to keep from being shot while they are patroling the streets of Baghdad or Faluja. It means that the flood of illegal immigrants, some of whom are transporting drugs into our country, cannot be stopped because there are not enough patrols along our very long border to stop them. Not to mention the laws in place that prevent them from actually being able to do anything about it if they do happen to catch anyone crossing the border. And what is Congress doing about it? Cutting spending some more. I am thinking that we could almost be invaded by a troop of boy scouts with sling shots. We are not Providing for the Common Defense.

Promote the General Welfare...this one is my personal pet peeve. That does NOT mean that eveyone should be getting a check from the government every month. It means that the government is responsible for ensuring that we are healthy, have a decent standard of living, have access to the basics of food, housing, and heating and cooling of said housing to be healthy, productive citizens. It means that the government is responsible for protecting our children and grandparents, and that we are safe in our own communities. Instead, we are being force-fed genetically modified, antibiotic laden foods that have nominal nutritional value, have staggering health issues due to poor nutrition, foreclosure rates that are driving people even futher into debt or in some cases, into the streets. And the lack of safety(for both food products and general day to day safety in the communities) has spurred the nation's healthcare system to overload. We can't get affordable insurance because we are all too sick. Our elderly cannot afford to eat healthy food or even get decent( read that as minimal) care in nursing homes. Obesity and diabetes have become epidemic in our country. And the government is subsidizing our downfall. Corporate farms growing genetically modified foods are given billions of dollars every year while the small farmers who grow healthy organic foods are being driven out of business. There is current legislation before Congress that will force even more small farmers out of business. Do a search on NAIS to see what I am talking about. And there are several states passing legislation that is similar in nature. As for the general safety, well, we have Amber Alerts for a reason. General Welfare in this country is a joke. And it isn't funny.

Secure the Blessings of Liberty, for ourselves and our Posterity... We are giving up liberty every day, and most people don't even realize it. Could you imagine someone telling Benjamin Franklin that he will have to have a passport and photo ID showing proof of citizenship before being allowed to travel to France to secure their help in the Revolutionary War? Could you imagine George Washington being told he has to pay a toll to ride from one city to another on a certain road? Can you imagine Paul Revere being told he has to go to a certain doctor, 80 miles away, because his insurance will not pay for him to see the doctor in his home town? The Founding Fathers threw the world's biggest Tea Party over one single food item being taxed by the government, yet we are taxed on everything we buy, every day. If you think about the levels we are being taxed daily, it is just appauling. Federal income tax, State income tax (in some states, mine included), sales tax, property tax, real estate tax, car tags, drivers liscense, permits for absolutely everything, gun control, business liscenses, health inspections, ad nauseum. We cannot travel freely anymore, we cannot own an unregistered gun even though we are guaranteed that right in the constitiution, we cannot own a business without paying fees and buying liscences, and if all of the legistation currently under review, both Federal and State, we will not even be able to grow a small garden for personal use or have a single livestock animal, like a chicken, to feed ourselves. All of our food must be purchased from a corporate farm. The thing is, most people don't have a clue where food comes from. They think it comes from the store and are fine with that. The easier it is, the better. And they don't want to think that an egg is an unfertilized chicken embryo, or that a hamburger used to moo and walk around a pasture. So we are willingly allowing ourselves to be stripped of our liberties because it is a lot easier to just not think about it. It isn't really a problem because "I" am not exerting that liberty anyway. Ben Franklin is quoted as saying, "Anyone who is willing to give up a little liberty for a little security will lose both and deserve neither." I think that pretty much says it all.

The Constitution of the United States is a contract with the people, or I should say citizens, of our country. It is the basis of all of our laws and rights as a free people. We have amended it 27 times in the last 222 years, although at least one has been repealed by another amendment. But it is still the basis for being free. If we use that document as a contract, and not as a page full of words to twist for our own purposes, we actually will be the Land of the Free once again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Learning now for a rainy day

It seems these days, I have been reading a lot about homesteading and survival skills. Keep in mind, that for the last couple of years, I have been trying to move away from rampant consumerism and toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle, but it has become more important to me lately. With the current economic downturn, it only makes sense to be prepared for the worst.

I purchased a CD set a few weeks back that has over 1000 publications over a wide range of topics. Some of them will just not apply to us, like building Bamboo structures in Indonesia or fruit tree growing in Nepal, but the basics can still be useful. I have read a "book" on how an attached greenhouse can not only allow you to grow fresh food all year long, but you can use the excess heat from the greenhouse to help warm your home in the winter. I have learned how to build a fireplace with a chimney that draws correctly and how to build a wood stove. I have learned that 1 acre of sweet potatoes will yield approximately 6000 pounds. I have learned how to build a rabbit hutch, a chicken coop, what kind of fencing to use for cows, and for goats. I have the technical specs for building a micro-hydro turbine, and how to use that turbine to grind grains.

Is any of this stuff useful to me right now, not really. But it is all very useful knowledge and might come in handy at some point. If for no other reason than that learning is fun. Some of the publications are in French and Spanish, so I could even print them off for the kids to study (those are the languages they are learning in school). Or I could use the Spanish ones to brush up on my own study of Spanish from high school all those many years ago.

Now, if I just had some place to use all of the stuff I have learned...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Has Spring already Sprung?

Here in Central Arkansas, the weather over the weekend was in the Mid 70s and beautiful. Today we are supposed to be in the high 60s with a 60% chance of strong storms over the next 3 days.

This weather is amazingly normal for March, not early February. I had looked at a projected weather forecast back in January that said our area would experience slightly above normal temperatures this year, but nothing too far out of the norm. Usually for Arkansas, that means a stormy spring and a long hot summer. But I am wondering if that is really so much different than every other year. Weather forecasts are notoriously wrong.

My husband and I talked last week about planting by the Farmer's Almanac and how it could be wrong. Well, my theory on that is, well, yeah. The weather is what it is, always. Impossible to predict. My joints can give me about an 8 hour lead time on a storm coming in, and I trust that more than the local weatherman.

And as for planting, the sparrows and finches are getting their sexy feathers, so I would say that Spring is going to be early this year. At least in our neck of the woods. That is part of the reason I planted my peas already. That and they do not like the hot weather we get here, so early is better. The daffodils and surprise lilies are coming up, buds on the trees are swelling, the grass is starting to green up a little. All of these things, along with the mating feathers of the wild birds, tells me we will have an early spring.

Punxsutawney Phil has been wrong before.

My only real concern is for the fruit trees. A prolonged warm spell will cause the trees to think it really is Spring before Winter is actually over. Even though Winter is generally, not decisively any way, over here until mid-April. We almost always get a cold snap around the end of March. And about half the time, it kills the blooms on all of the trees and frostbites the tomatoes.

So here is hoping that Spring actually has Sprung this year. I think we could all use some sunny days.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Raw Milk Revisited

I am so P.O.'ed at the FDA right now. This is an excerpt from the FDA web site.

  • The CDC reports that from 1998 to present there were 39 outbreaks in which unpasteurized milk or cheese made from unpasteurized milk were implicated.
  • These outbreaks occurred in 22 states and two of them were multi-state outbreaks. An estimated 831 illnesses, 66 hospitalizations and 1 death were associated with these outbreaks.
  • Not all outbreaks are recognized.
  • Even when they are, not all are reported to CDC.
  • Virtually impossible to capture all of the incidents of individual illness which might occur

This is just so absurd. They are reporting 831 instances of ILLNESS from raw milk over 10 YEARS! More people get food poisoning EVERY YEAR at Thanksgiving from eating improperly prepared stuffing! Good Grief! More people got sick from eating bad salsa last spring. Or even the current peanut butter scare!

Their position can only be a product of big commercial dairies. Anything to keep the little guy from being able to stay in business.

At least the State of Arkansas is considering legislation that will allow the sale of unpasteurized goat milk directly from the farm as long as they do not sell more than 100 gallons a month. It has been voted on in the house and sent to committee. From there it will go to the Senate. At least it is a step forward.

If your personal beliefs worked that way, you could almost say that Big Brother has gotten together with Corporate Farms and the Healthcare industry to legislate the health of the average American. It is bad enough the government funds conflicting studies on the health of different foods, like eggs, and tries to scare people into not eating them. For a while the demon was pork (too much fat), then it was beef (too much cholesterol), then they told us that skinless white meat chicken was the heathiest( thank you Tyson). Fish is really good for you, Oh wait, it could contain mercury and other heavy metals so you had better limit your intake. It is just getting out of hand.

What is wrong with growing healthy, pesticide free, antibiotic free food? Nope, they don't want us doing that either. Because our healthy livestock might contaminate the over-medicated, immune suppressed factory farms. They are even trying to get legislation passed to force the individual to "register" every head of livestock , including chickens, because there might be a disease outbreak. And that means that the government can come in and destroy your entire herd or flock to protect the factory farms. So not only does the individual have to pay a fee to register each animal, it can be destroyed without warning or compensation. All in the name of consumer protection.

If the government would just leave us alone, I would guess that in a few years we would make our own food choices and it would be healthier than if it is regulated.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

1) I have so much useless knowledge in my brain that I sometimes forget what I am doing.

2) I sometimes think I would be much happier if I never had to go to a store ever again.

3) My husband really is my best friend.

4) I would love to have a smoke house, root cellar, berry patch, chickens, and a big garden just like my grandparents did.

5) I know how to build a house, dig a well, plumb a bathroom, butcher a pig, and pluck a chicken. But I can't physically do any or it. And that makes me sad sometimes.

6) I like eggs

7) I like standing in the woods while it is snowing and just listening to the silence.

8) My first job was stuffing envelopes for $4.00 an hour while all of my friends were flipping burgers for $3.15.

9) I don't tell my kids how proud of them I am nearly often enough

10) I am not afraid to try new things even if I often fail at it.

11) The only "stuff" I need to be happy really just belongs in the kitchen. If I couldn't cook, I think I would go crazy. I don't know how people live without cooking their own food. I just get so much satisfaction from getting elbow deep in a bread bowl. I think we would all be healthier and happier if we would all just take the time to cook a big meal for family and friends at least once a month.

12) I make my own soap, laundry detergent, bread, and ham. I can make butter (when I have access to extra milk) salami, and sausage. I sew, crochet, can our food, and make jelly. I think I am living in the wrong century.

13) I get more joy from watching the birds in the yard than from watching TV.

14) I sometimes think that getting sick and not being able to work was actually a blessing. If I hadn't gotten sick, I would have missed so many chances to be with my family.

15) I want a homestead so badly I can taste it.

16) I am tired of the government telling me what I can eat, what I can do or not do, where I can put a chicken coop, what i am supposed to believe, and how to raise my kids. After all, they have done such a great job with the banks and manufacturing sector. I don't know why everyone doesn't adopt the morals the government employs. It has worked so well for them, after all.

17) I think that greed is over-riding common sense. That is why we are in such an economic mess.

18) Learning to be still was very hard to master, but very worth the effort.

19) I think I would be much harder to live with if I didn't have chocolate.

20) Bureaucrats make my teeth hurt.

21) I don't kill things, except ants.

22) I think the two most important phrases in the English language are " thank you" and "I'm sorry".

23) I would like to lose weight, but I just like food too much. If I could lose weight without giving up good food, that is a diet I can stick with.

24) I believe in knowledge for knowledge's sake. If you stop learning, you might as well just give up.

25) I enjoy being silly sometimes. I think that if we take everything too seriously, we forget to take joy in the moment.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are you sick of it yet?

I have said it before and I will say it again, real food is healthier for you than over-processed, additive laden, profit driven food ever thought about being.

I grew up on food we either grew or traded for. Raw, unpasteurized milk, eggs so fresh they were still warm from being under the chicken, veggies you had to wash the garden off of before you could eat it, and the joy(sort of) of spending a weekend putting a pig or a steer in the freezer. And you can't forget the smell of hot wet chicken feathers, no matter how hard you try.

The studies are overwhelmingly in favor of organically grown food. The pesticides and other chemicals used in factory farms can kill you. That is why, just about every year, there are food recalls, and not just on vegetables. Government regulation of our food supply has resulted in marginally nutritional food-like products that only resemble real food in shape and color. If you haven't had a fresh peach that you hand picked, you have no idea just how much fuzz is actually on a peach. The fruit you buy from the store, even fresh peaches, has been processed to the point that there is almost no fuzz left on it. Not only that, it was picked so green that it barely has any color so that it can withstand the processing. When you bite into a peach and the juice drips off of your elbow, now THAT is a peach.

But the people who grow that kind of food these days can't sell it. Government regulation being what it is, if it hasn't been inspected, processed, packaged, and has a paper trail a mile long, it just isn't safe for human consumption. To that, I say, "Bollocks!"

It wasn't until the early 1900's that food went from being good for you to being a major industry. Regulation was mandated to protect the general population from being sold spoiled food products or products that had been adulterated with non-food products. At the time, it was a good thing. But as time went on, more and more small producers were bought out by corporate farms. When the corporate farms got big enough, they were able to enforce legislation to force the little guy to sell out. That was the downfall of real food.

With the rise of suburbia, more people were buying their food from stores than were growing their own. In the 1950's, store bought food was a status symbol. Kids were raised buying their food instead of growing it. These days, the closest most people get to growing their own food is the single bean they grow in 4th grade science. And just about every person in the US has some sort of physical problem, from obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, or asthma. And if you aren't sick now, you probably know someone who is.

Until we can stop the aggressive legislation that is preventing us from eating healthy, real food, we will all be doomed to be sick. Because food is big business. And so is the healthcare industry.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Saving Money

Everyone knows that saving money is a good thing. And everyone has little tricks they use on themselves to save the most. But not every tip will work for every family.

Take, for instance, the fact that I save money by cooking at home instead of eating out. That works very well for us because I have the time to cook and really enjoy it. Some friends of ours do not have that luxury. She works an hour and 15 minutes from home and doesn't get home in time to cook a nice meal every night and still be able to get the kids in bed at a decent time. And she doesn't really like to cook that much. But they both have good jobs and make good money, so eating out for them is an option.

For us, as a family, we really don't need that much stuff. We spend more on groceries than anything else. None of us are clothes hounds, we don't compulsively buy new "toys", we don't go out to the movies or dinner very often, and we don't just go shopping just to be shopping. When we do buy things, it is generally used DVDs. We watch a lot of movies at home. We won't buy them new. Why spend $20 on a movie that will be less than half that in a couple of months? We have a lot of movies, some of them really good, some really really bad, but most are just on the good side of average. Which is fine. There isn't really anything being filmed that is better than average anyway. And by paying $6.99 for a DVD instead of $7 each for movie tickets ($28 for the 4 of us) plus concessions, we are saving a ton of cash. And if one of us needs to take a break, we can just pause it. Much better than going to the theater.

I have seen lists of money saving tips all over the internet, and for the most part, it is good sound advice. And we do a lot of the things that make sense for us. But not everyone can grow their own food or make their own clothes. Or cut their own hair. Or bicycle to work. It just isn't possible for most of us.

The key is to be comfortable with it. Going from living large to being a tightwad over night is impossible. You will only make yourself crazy. Anyone who has lost their job will tell you that it is no fun living on pork and beans and mac and cheese. Work up to your savings goals. When you get comfortable with one change, then add another. Don't just stop spending cold turkey. You have to retrain your self to a new lifestyle. So work up to it. Slow and steady will work much better for long term change. If you feel yourself getting depressed or feeling deprived, have a treat. Just remember that it is a treat, and that you can't to do it all of the time.

So when you decide to start getting serious about saving money, study the tips. Make a list of your own. But keep in mind that if it isn't something that you can actually do, and will do consistantly, forcing yourself to do it will only make you feel guilty when you don't. Saving money should make you feel good, not deprived. I have found that having a goal in mind when you start trying to save money really helps. Something like, "I want to pay off this bill by the end of the year. How much do I have to save to be able to do that?" If you drink coffee shop coffee everyday, you can save 3 or 4 dollars a day my making coffee at home instead. That is around $80 a month you can add to your bill payment every month. Or if you go out every weekend and spend $30 at the bar, go every other weekend and save $60 a month. If you have a big dry cleaning bill, try to find clothes that don't need to be dry cleaned, or if you have to wear suits to work, try to wear them more than once as long as they pass the sniff test.

There are a million ways to not spend money, the secret is to find what works for you. Set a goal, add new tips slowly into your lifestyle, and if you start to feel deprived, splurge a little.

Friday, January 9, 2009

This Bailout Thing Has Got To Stop!

There are a few things that just really set me off. Government getting in my business, someone telling me how to raise my kids, and people begging for my tax money that don't deserve it.

This morning I heard of some people who are asking for Federal Bailout money. There is a small town in Georgia, a village really, with less than 200 people, who are asking for millions of dollars of MY tax money so they can put in Solar traffic lights, plug in stations for electric golf carts, and an EcoMuseum among other things. Now my question to them is...Why? Does this town have such a high electric bill from their one traffic light that they are having trouble paying it? Is there a large number of golf carts in this little hamlet in Georgia? And would a museum even generate enough income to pay the one employee it would take to run the thing?

Or maybe it is just the prospect of free money that caused them to stick out their hand? I find it almost absurd that the Bank Bailout Package, which started out as an obscene $900 Billion is going to be used by every group of 3 or more people as an excuse to do stupid things. I was opposed to the original bailout to begin with. It is time for the greedy folks to pay the piper. They have been bilking the common joe for decades, and now that they have gotten "caught", they are whining about how it wasn't their fault. If any of these companies had a shred of common sense to begin with they would not have employed the business practices that lead to their downfall. It is their own danged fault they are going under. Have none of these people ever taken an economics class? Interest rates that border on usury, giving loans and credit to people who don't have jobs, giving multiple mortgage loans to people without verifiable income, robbing Peter to pay Paul, shipping jobs overseas and keeping Americans either underemployed or overpaid. None of these things are good business practices. When the average American Adult is more than $10,000 in debt, not counting their mortgages, you should know that there is a problem.

And now the same people who have killed us as a nation are wanting the taxpayer to pay them for being stupid? Just where do they think all of this money is going to come from? Can we just pull BILLIONS or TRILLIONS of dollars out of the air and say, "Here ya go. We are sorry it isn't more?"

There are only a couple of ways the government can get enough money to pay these people off. One is to raise taxes. Americans are already under such a tax burden that the average worker only sees maybe 60-70% of their paycheck. And if we add more taxes to pay for the bailout, it will suck even more out of our paychecks. The major problem with that idea is that most people are living paycheck to paycheck as it is. So people can't afford to buy anything, including food. Or they default on their loans and credit cards and file bankruptcy. Less people buying things means less being sold. That is bad, very bad, for retailers and manufacturers, Then they go bankrupt and lay off or fire employees. That causes more people to not be able to pay their bills. See the cycle here?

Or, the federal reserve can just print more money. Yeah, lets do that! Big mistake. Our money isn't really worth anything anymore since it isn't backed by anything but the good name of the United States. All of that gold sitting in Fort Knox is just sitting there useless. Used to be a time when the Fed would only have enough currency floating around the US equal to the value of the gold in the Federal Reserve. That kept our dollar worth something. We knew that each and every US dollar anywhere on earth was equal to a piece of the gold bars in Kentucky. That isn't the case anymore. We dropped the gold standard sometime back in the 80's, I think. Since then we have just been printing money to be printing money. It isn't really worth anything except in it's rarity. If we print more for the sake of the buyout, each piece of currency will be worth less and less. So it will take more of them to mean anything. That is called inflation. And if we actually print enough for the bailout, that will be called runaway inflation. Yes, boys and girls, if we inject $900 Billion new dollars into the economy just to pay people for being stupid, it will cost $10 for a loaf of bread, if you can find a bakery that is still in business. Hamburger, which is already $3.00 a pound will probably be over $15. And for people who are already out of work, and behind on their bills, how will they live?

All of this just burns my tail feathers. If corporations hadn't gotten greedy and made bad decisions, and if people in general hadn't taken on more debt than they could pay and banks encouraging them to take on more, none of this would be an issue.

And maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't be lambasted all over the world for being the largest consumer on the planet.

It just makes my teeth hurt.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Community Gardens: Good or Bad?

I read an article this morning that got me to thinking about community gardens. While I can see it working in some situations, I think that the population as a whole is simply too greedy for it to work in every community. Everyone wants that first ripe tomato, but who is going to get it? The first one to spot it, even if that person didn't actually plant it or care for the plant. Even if it is a co-op garden and everyone works for the common good and gets an equal share, there will be those who will feel that they should get more tomatoes because they don't like the zucchini and eggplant. It is a difficult situation with no real solution.

Our society has existed too long with the entitlement mindset. We think that everything should be given to us without having to work for it. We, as a nation, simply do not want to work for, or toward, anything useful. We have demonized the concept of getting dirty. If that were not true, there would be a lot more people with back yard gardens and we wouldn't need food banks anymore. We would all be eating healthier and diseases like diabetes would not be such an issue anymore.

Now, with all of that being said, there are still things that can be done to help others. If you have a garden, share your extra food with those in need. There are lots of things you can grow in a small space that will produce more than the normal family can eat during the season. Like squash, tomatoes, melons, and beans. This is especially true for those who do not can or preserve their crop. Just how many cantaloupes can you and your family eat in a week? So give the extras to your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Getting tired of beans before the plants stop producing? Donate them. Or sell them at the local farmer's market.

There was an online program I found a couple of years ago called "Plant a row for the hungry" that gave out free packets of seeds for anyone agreeing to donate the proceeds from that seed packet to a food bank or homeless shelter. I thought that was an exceptionally good idea. I got a packet of carrot seeds, which probably actually cost less than the postage to mail it to me, but produced about 5 pounds of carrots. I gave them to the teen shelter and they were grateful.

There are just so many options for the extra food you produce. Even things like eggs from your backyard flock. I know that we could not possibly eat enough eggs every week to keep up with the production from even 4 or 5 hens. We just don't eat enough eggs. I use about 7 eggs a week. What would I do with the extras? And if I were raising chickens for meat, I would need a lot more than 4 or 5 chickens. That is a bunch of potential eggs. I could sell them, or give them to friends and neighbors, or I could donate them.

But would I want to raise them in a community coop where anyone could decide that they needed all of them that day and leave none for anyone else? I am thinking probably not. As a society, we just haven't been taught to share on such a scale anymore. Neighbors don't pitch in and help build a barn or give food and clothing to victims of house fires. We don't trust one another any more. And we have hardened ourselves against caring for anyone but ourselves.

I don't like it, but it is the truth. And unless we can change it, we will probably lose all sense of community and be a nation of individuals instead of the United States of America.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Making due

With more and more companies downsizing and prices on the rise, it is becoming more important than ever to watch where and how we spend.

There are so many ways to save money every day that it is almost intimidating. Most of us settle for just not buying things, but that can make you feel deprived and depressed about the whole situation. What my family and I have done is a little bit different. We haven't completely stopped spending money, but we are a lot pickier about what we spend it on.

For instance, instead of buying some of our Christmas gifts this year, we made them. We spent less money than if we purchased them, and they are actually a little more heartfelt. We found out at the last minute (actually about 10 days before Christmas) that our nephew was giving us a gift after the family decided last year to not buy for each other any more. So I rapidly made him an afghan in his favorite team colors. I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing when I made the original chain for the length, so it wound up being HUGE. Almost 8 feet long. Well, at least he and his wife will have plenty to keep warm at the football games. But he loved it. Probably better than if we had bought something random from the store.

Since I cook, that saves us a lot of money too. We haven't stopped eating out completely, but we have cut down a lot. And when we do stop for a burger, we generally eat off of the Dollar Menu. Last night, for instance, we had to go grocery shopping after my husband got off work. It was 7pm by the time we were finished and we were both very hungry so we decided to go to McDonalds and just grab a bunch of double cheese burgers and take them home. We got into the drive thru and saw the new dollar menu and were shocked. There were only 6 items on the dollar menu now and none of them were meat. Just ice cream, fries, pies, parfaits, small sodas, and I think cookies or something. We were amazed that McDonalds would kill their dollar menu like that. So we went thru a couple of more drive thrus looking for dollar items. Finally wound up at Wendys. Jr Double Cheeseburgers for $.99. Sold! We got 8 of them( 2 for each of us) and 4 plain baked potatoes for $14 and change. While it is still somewhat expensive, it is better than it could have been. Had I cooked them myself, it would have been about 1/3 of that after buying buns and meat, but at least we got to eat quicker and didn't have a mess to clean up.

Anyway, I generally cook our meals. I haven't really found anything that I can't cook at home that we would normally eat if we went to a sit down restaurant. And sometimes, I can do a better job than the restaurants, since I can tailor it to my family's liking. Granted, it does make us have to have a wider variety of ingredients on-hand, but if I shop smart, and use coupons, I can almost always make it cheaper than retail.

An example of this is flatbread. I got online and looked up pita bread recipes and found that you can use just about any bread dough to make pitas. So yesterday I was making bread and decided that instead of 2 loaves of slicing bread, I would make 1 loaf and some flat bread. Pinch off a ball about the size of a pingpong ball, roll it out really thin, like 1/4-1/8 of an inch, pre-heat a pizza stone in the oven to about 475 degrees, and bake them on the stone 2 or 3 at a time. When they puff, flip them. It takes about 5 minutes each. And they are wonderful. Since I was making bread anyway, it saved me the $3 or $4 dollars that a pack of flatbread would have cost me, and I know they are fresh.

Prices have gone up so much lately that it is almost cheaper now to make our bread instead of even going to the thrift store. And if I can ever get a batch of sourdough going without killing it, I won't even have to buy yeast. Flour is going up, but that will affect commerical bakers as well as home cooks.

So as long as prices keep going up, I will continue to find ways to either make it myself or make due without.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Garden fever

It is that time again. The time when the urge to plant a garden clashes with the fact that we still have 2 months of possible snow and ice.

Seed catalogs have been rolling in with alarming frequency, showing us all of the wonderful foods of summer. The plump juicy tomatoes, hundreds of types of beans, piles of squash and gourds, tender crunchy lettuces, and all of the other wonderful things that make an organic foodie have spasms of delight. But the problem, and I assure you it is a problem, is that it is still bloody cold outside.

According to, we have a 50/50 shot at freezing rain today. That isn't really the best thing for growing beans. Even green peas will have trouble this early. So I have at least a month, maybe a month and a half, before I can even start my seed pots. And 6 weeks or so after that before I can even think about putting them out in the garden. It is enough to make you want to pull your hair out.

A couple of months ago, I had the idea that I would set up a fish tank with a grow light and plant lettuce or carrots or something in it. I never found a cheap fish tank. But that would certainly help with the urge that always hits me in early January. The seed catalogs are evil. They make my mouth water with dreams of fresh crunchy veggies by the pound and tree ripened fruits so juicy that one bite causes that explosion of flavor so intense that it makes your knees quiver.

I have even gotten so caught up in the fever this year that I have started looking at canning supplies again. I have cases of jars and boxes of lids and bands ready for filling, yet nothing to fill them with. I am afraid that I will have to buy produce from the grocery store soon just to get the itch out so I don't drive my family crazy.

Maybe it is just that Winter is so dreary and gray that makes me want to have green growing things around me. Maybe if I had more house, that won't work either. We just don't have enough light inside for them to grow. I suppose I could change all of my light bulbs to grow lights, but then I would have the police wondering just what exactly I was growing in here.

Oh, well. I guess I will just have to tough it out. After all, time flies when your having fun, right?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Gotta love the Holidays

We have managed to survive yet another holiday season. It wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. After the Thanksgiving drama, Christmas and New Years went fairly smoothly.

Christmas at the Nephew's house went very well, and every one was full as a tick by 7pm. Granted, my niece and I did most of the cooking, but it was fun and everything turned out good. No one really got snippy with anyone else so the mood was good. My brother-in-law still wasn't feeling well, so they didn't stay long, but at least we got to visit for a little bit before he had to leave.

The Christmas gifts were about as expected. I think my Mother-in-law just gathered things from around the house to give every one. She has lots of stuff that she bought on sale over the last 40 years to give as wedding and birthday gifts that she digs through as needed. So my 17 year old daughter got a Barbie and I got yet another fleece throw blanket. I think she bought a single package of men's socks and gave each male member of the family 1 pair. She also gave each of us an envelope with cash in it. That was probably the best thing to do. She is getting old and her health is starting to go south, so she really didn't need to be out shopping anyway. And cash is always a useful gift.

New Years started, for us anyway, on Tuesday. That was the day that our friends from Hardy and our friends from Jacksonville arrived. We did our simple gift exchange with each other, then we threw a little baby shower for our friend's daughter. It wasn't really anything much, just some basic things like clothes and bottles and that sort of thing. Wednesday afternoon, us Moms went to the local thrift store and found tons of really nice baby things for next to nothing. I hope this baby turns out to be a girl. LOL! Although, I did find a couple of cute boy outfits and the other two moms got some really cute overalls that could go either way. But most of the stuff we got was frilly little dresses. I tried to stick with every day clothes, like onesies and t-shirts, I even found a couple of diaper covers that I think might be water proof. Those will really come in handy.

New Years Eve night brought my daughter's boyfriend to the house. It is still a little awkward having him around. This is her first real boyfriend and she is still a little shy of the concept I think. The Dads had a good time during the Inquisition. It was funny to watch the other 2 Dads quizing him over his future plans, if his intentions were honorable to my daughter, whether or not he believes in werewolves, etc. He managed to blow it all off with no problem. My daughter was mortified. I think she was afraid they would scare him off. He stayed relaxed and even humored Dennis in his werewolf stories. We had to run him off around 1:30 so we could all go to bed.

New Year's Day was more relaxed. I made omelettes as people got up. Then we played a couple of games and just visited. Our Hardy friends had to leave because she had to work this morning and their kids had to go to school. Our Jacksonville friends left too because my husband has to work today. We ran the boyfriend (yes, he came back) off around 8pm and we finally had the house to ourselves again.

Now all we have to worry about is geting the laundry and dishes caught back up and getting ready for the kids to go back to school on Monday.

While the holiday season is nice and everything, I am glad it is over. I will be ready for company again by the time spring break rolls around, but for now, I just want my house back.

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