Tuesday, April 28, 2009

There She Blows

Thanks to the winds, the mini-greenhouse got blown over, spilling dozens of plants. I was able to salvage most of them, but I did lose about 2 dozen tomatoes. Not to worry ~ I have hundreds more growing. But, what a mess! It happened during the rain that dumped 5 inches on us.

Question: What would a reasonable budget for food be, for a family of 7?

My Answer: $400 a month.

Let me explain. We are in the process of eliminating debt using Dave Ramsey's proven method. We have a long ways to go, but we're dedicated to the mission. We decided to see a financial counselor to get a check up, so to speak. She went over our budget and suggested we cut the food budget in half. Um, WHAT?! 7 people should eat 100% of their meals on $200 a month? I have a pantry, but it's not THAT well stocked right now.

We didn't guesstimate correctly last fall when we were canning. It was the first year we decided to actually can enough to last us until this year's harvest. We under estimated on everything. So, I'm shopping more than I thought I would.

Also included in that budget are seeds & plants that will produce (raspberries & blueberries to name a few.)

I'm a very careful shopper and have a price book plus I'm now couponing in hopes that I can save money every place I can. (I used to just buy the store brand or at Aldi's but I'm discovering that I can often get better deals on the name brands by using coupons during a sale.) Also included are the products I use to make my own laundry soap, shampoo, conditioner and cleaners.

What isn't included in that budget is the cost of feed for the chickens, cats, dogs, and other pets. She insinuated that we might want to get rid of all the pets in order to apply that money to the debt. Again, I see her angle, but the pets (and chickens) add to our quality of life and we won't be getting rid of them. Plus, my chickens feed me. :D

I don't know why this is still rubbing me the wrong way (we met with her in Feb.) but it is. I guess I'd just really like to know how a family of 7 can eat 84 meals on $200 a month. I do buy 25 pounds of rice at the Chinese market and I am growing beans, so heck, we could do the beans-n-rice meals that Dave always spouts about, but I'm sure that we'd be sick of them by day 3.

We eat a ton of veggies. In the summer, we eat stir fry nearly every night. If it's not stir fry, it's grilled veggies. We love them. In the winter/early spring, we don't eat as many because it's not in the budget (have you SEEN the prices at the stores lately?)

The other thing we do to help offset the budget is barter. I have swapped eggs for Elderberry plants & baked goods. One of our sons helps a neighbor in his garden in exchange for veggies. Bartering is a great way to get more food without paying for it.

What do you think? Is my $400 a month too much?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Party of Seven

When Jerry & I were engaged, we went shopping for a table and chair set. This was the nicest one we could afford. At the time, with just the two of us, it seemed like such a HUGE table. It has a leaf that folds inside, but the photo above shows the leaf IN, so this is the table we use everyday to seat 7. Yeah, it's a squeeze. 2 people sit on folding chairs and Emma still uses her high chair, just without the tray on it.

We've had a lot of laughs at this table. I grew up in a family that rarely joked around or enjoyed meals together. Not so in MY house. We all laugh, joke, snort and share good times. We are silly and loving and US. I've wanted a bigger table for so long, but it's not in the budget and really, not a huge priority. We've talked a little about getting a bench for one side but we just haven't gotten around to it.

Let me present to you the new-to-us incredible blessing that we've received this week!! This table is amazing! First off, with it fully extended, it can seat 12, TWELVE. That's five more than we need! OH, and it comes with SIX matching chairs, so still using the high chair, we have seating for us all. Divine! Truly divine! It also stores the extra (2) leaves inside, but we opted to have 1 in and 1 stored. It's so much wider than our old table. It's weird to not be able to reach A L L the way across the table anymore. LOL

My dear friend K is moving to a smaller home and this table wouldn't fit. She offered it to us... free. I'm still in shock and just feeling incredibly grateful for her generosity. She could've sold it and made some cash, but instead, she chose to give it to us.

We got it home last night and I just marvel at it's size. There's room enough for all of us plus the meal too. Our old table didn't hold much, so we often prepared the plates in the kitchen and just ate at the table. Now we get to truly know what a family does - Pass the potatoes! Pass the salt and pepper! Oh, the fun times we're going to have at this beauty. I can't wait. Thanks again K ~ you know we love you and appreciate all you do for us!! Come join us for dinner, we've got room.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Make your Own Bags

I've been hunting for reusable bags to use for veggies at the Farmer's Market. I found a few on Etsy but what I wanted to find was a pattern to make some. Alas, I'm not a great seamstress and the thought of trying to sew with a "holey" (netting) fabric made me cringe.

Well, here's the Eureka moment! Thanks to The Frugal Country Mom I no longer have to contemplate this and I already HAVE some of these bags including my old dip bag (for dishes) from Girl Scouts. {smacks forhead for NOT thinking of this already}. LOL

But, if you'd like to make some bags, check out this site GreenBagLady. Now I can sew straight lines, so I'm going to whip up a few bags today using her patterns. What a cool site!

All of this started with a comment by Marianne on Down To Earth. So, thanks again for the awesome bunny trail to follow. Another thing crossed off my to do list (find bag pattern.)

As soon as I whip a bag up, I'll post a photo of it. :)
UPDATED: Ok, now you see the bag I made! It was pretty simple even for someone who hasn't sewn in ages. I do have an issue with my sewing machine - it won't "keep" a zig zag stitch. It'll go for a few inches, then drop back to straight stitch then go back into zigzag mode.
I inherited the Singer from my husband's grandmother. She sewed all her families clothes on it! The first thing I made was a Log Cabin quilt for my husband as a wedding gift. Honestly, had I known what I was getting myself into, I doubt I would've tackled that as my first real project! LOL But, it turned out great as did all the other quilts I made on it. I may try to find someone that has a serger to do the handles for me - that's my only concern that the zigzag will frey and the handles will come apart.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Money Savings

Years ago when I was a newlywed, I clipped coupons and used them. Not like some people (click on her Past Deals tabs - it's AMAZING!), but I did use them. We always eat out with coupons (well, on the rare occasions that we actually eat out, lol). Recently, I've been reading blogs about money savings using coupons, store rewards (cash back receipts), double/triple couponing and other strategies.

I've never gotten into it as a way to save mega bucks because I shop at Aldi's, the bread store, food co-ops and of course, the other favorites (Farmer's markets, Farmers, gleaning, craigslist, freecycle etc.) I tend to buy the store brands when they're on sale, and store brands usually don't have coupons.

Well, this past weekend, I was surfing around and came across a few blogs that boasted of buying $100 of grocerries for a mere $10. Right, I said, like everybody can do that. But, as I continued to read, I found out that a lot of people are really scooping up some good deals out there.

Just to see if I could do it too, I flipped thru the coupon section from Sunday's paper. I clipped a $.75 off Colgate coupon and headed to Walgreen's. They have these deals where if you buy certain products, you'll get the same amount of money back to use on your next purchase (store credit receipts) and of course, they have stuff on sale. So, I bought a shaving cream for my husband and the colgate. I used the coupon. Here's how it worked:
  • I bought shaving cream which was marked down to $2.99 ~ got a $3 store credit
  • Colgate was on sale for $.99 ~ had a $.75 off coupon ~ paid just $.24 for it
So I spent out of pocket $3.48 (includes tax) but I have a $3 coupon to use on the next trip.

I've put the word out that I'd love to have other people's coupon papers if they're not using them. It'll be interesting to see what all I can purchase for a reduced amount. I've set a goal of spending less than $200 a month for our family of 7. Between the sale shopping and the garden, I'm sure I can do it!

As a side note, at Aldi's, the green beans which were $.29 a can are now $.49 a can! Brown sugar which was $.79 in December is now $1.19. So, even at the low cost stores, prices are rising at a very fast pace!

Also, if you are into coupons and weren't aware, K-Mart is doubling coupons up to $2 in my area and even more in other areas. Our local circular didn't show this!!! I went online and still didn't believe it so I called the store and she said, yes, they are doing it too. When I got there, I snagged a coupon booklet at the front door (under the circular rack) and it has some good stuff in it.

When I used to travel for my job, I always hit the CVS as they have stellar deals. I'm not prepared to drive 2 hours just to get a good deal but if you have one near you, check it out!

Here's a few sites I found that got me started in my path to savings this one, this one , this one and this one.

If you are into couponing, how do you stay organized?! I knew what I wanted to buy so I didn't take all the coupons with me, but at Walgreen's they have unannounced in-store sales that I could've taken advantage of had I had the coupons with me.

I did see a few people who have taken this to an extreme and seem to be hoarding a ton of stuff. I still can't imagine getting things I won't use (like the lady who has cases of cat food, but no cat!) I guess you can donate it? Or swap with someone for stuff you do use?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tiptoe in my Tulips

Red Tulips now, Red Geraniums to come
My front porch has been converted into a seeding station. I found the mini-greenhouse at Lowe's and it works GREAT! Not all of these flats actually fit in there, some stay indoors at night. Even with yesterday's 50 degree, cloudy day, inside the greenhouse, it was a balmy 62. I do have to keep a close eye on the temp though and unzip it and roll up the one side just about the time the sun starts hitting it - it heats up quick!

Future red raspberry plants hanging out until the ground dries out enough to be planted. Buds are already appearing on them. Oddly, the nursery didn't send the blackberry plants at the same time, but the blueberries have shipped.

Last Friday, Emma and I went to the feed store to check for seed potatoes - we couldn't resist looking at the ducks and chickens. And, wouldn't you know, 10 Cornish Rocks ended up in our shopping cart. These are the trial run birds -the big order shows up next month. Trial run as in: we-don't-know-how-to-butcher-but-heck-we're-gonna-give-it-a-whirl.
I'm not grooving on their disposition - if you've ever seen the movie Wall-E, they remind me of those humans - completely uninterested in moving around on their own. They lay by the feed trough and eat, LAYING DOWN. This isn't okay with me! (their bellies are featherless and dirty, ugh!) I'm used to free-ranging, independent beauties that spend all their time foraging, dust bathing and dashing all around the yard. These birds? L A Z Y. I did read a good article about an alternative to Cornish Cross for meat birds. After the next batch comes and goes into the freezer, I think we'll give an alternative a try. Meanwhile, I put the birds in the chicken tractor on nice sunny days in hopes they move around a bit more.

Besides, sunshine is a great boost for whatever ails you, right?!

The free rangers chose one strawberry bed as their own personal dig zone. They ignored the fencing and my hollering and chasing. They waited until my back was turned, and IN they'd go. Now, I know the bed has juicy worms and other yummy bugs, but I'm trying to grow enough berries to actual put some up this year as in jam and P I E. So, I took a great tip from Amy over at Twelve Acres and I put poultry netting out. HaHaHa - foiled the birds. I let my netting float on the main part of the bed and just have it pinned on the corners. I ended up having to do this on all the beds - too tempting for the chooks. As much as I love them and their free ranging ways, I have to have food this year too. They decimated the broccoli and cabbage beds before I got the netting on. Sigh. As an aside, do they make a netting to keep kids out of strawberries?

Here are some of the lovely Ladies in action. Yes, I know they look innocent, but those feet can dig like you wouldn't believe! In the background, you can see the absolute BARE earth that is their run - they took it from luscious grass to bare earth in a mere 3 days. This bit in front of their run is on the thin side, but it's a good fescue blend and should bounce back with enough sunshine and rain.

Rhubarb Pests

This is what one of my Rhubarb plants looks like (by the way, is that a SEED STALK shooting up? If so, what do I do with it?)

This is what my other Rhubarb plant looks like.

This is what is eating my Rhubarb...
time to call their owners and ask that the electric fence be put back up and turned on.

Monday, April 13, 2009

For the Bag Ladies

Okay, I read on $5 Dinners about Kroger's design-a-bag contest. Just for entering, you can get a free bag. A FREE BAG! I designed my bag - I'd love a vote from you. You can design your own bag. All the participating stores are on the list like Dillon's, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyers and others.

I may use their upload-a-photo option to create another one. Or, I might just buy my design. I think it'd look better on a black bag though.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

IDC Update #2

1) Plant Something
I planted the broccoli and cabbage out in the new raised beds. There were 24 plants each that I had started from seed. 2 days after planting, we had a hard freeze. They were heavily mulched, but time will tell if they survived. I also planted 180 onion bulbs and hundreds of potatoes (we quit counting after 160). Peas are up and have survived 2 snow days plus a couple of freezes. Lettuce, carrots and spinach are planted but have yet to appear. I did start several new flats of seeds and I'm most excited about the tomato seeds Judy sent me. Thanks Judy!!

2) Harvest Something
We ate the last of the indoor grown lettuce. This was the 5th cutting on it and what's left got sent out to the chickens. We picked and ate the first onions and garlic from the garden. I've got to be patient and let it continue to grow - but boy, is that hard.

3) Preserve Something
I made grape jelly from frozen concentrate. It was so easy! I'm looking forward to having our own grape juice from the bartered vines this summer. Here's a link to the grape jelly recipe I used. I did go ahead and can the jelly. We got 6 jelly jars. Next time, I'll skip the cutie pie jars and just use the pint or even quart. The kids eat jelly and peanut butter like crazy. I also made up the last batch of peanut butter. Find that recipe here. Good neighbor gave us dozens of loaves of bread, some of it ended up as bread crumbs and others as dried bread for stuffing.

4) Prep Something
More work on the canning shelves and the jars themselves. Since I'd bought so many off Craigslist last summer, I didn't get around to washing them all up. I'd rather do a batch a day now then when canning is in high gear. I think I've got about 400 more jars to go. Also, we re-worked the shed so one side is for potting. I re-potted 200+ tomato plants as well as basil.

5) Cook Something
I've been cooking dinner every night. Jerry and I can't remember the last time we ate out! I did find a recipe for Papa Murphy's Garlic Chicken Pizza that we'll try this week. I love cooking and eating at home but every now and then, I miss certain dishes.

6) Manage Your Reserves
Our canned reserves are nearly gone. Last count we had 4 quarts of pears left and 6 pints of apple butter. I have put together a list of what I'd like to can this year including meats and it's pretty extensive. I better get the core workouts in now for those long days of standing on my feet. LOL If anyone knows where to buy canning lids in bulk, I'd love to have that as a resource. The first batch of meat birds have been ordered and will be here in May. Jerry found out that a neighbor's uncle has a plucker that we can barter for. Yes! Plucking seems to be the hardest part of butchering.

7) Work on Local Food Systems
I attended the Delano Neighborhood meeting last week where they discussed their plans for the community garden behind the Senior Center in conjunction with IGO. I was there to get more info about being a vendor for their Farm & Art Market. It seems they have a lot of good structure in place and I hope they go ahead with the Market. We are now yard sharing nearly 4 acres of garden spaces across the city. Susan with IGO said they have a few spots we could adopt too which I'm very grateful for. I drive around town and see all the spaces and think "Boy could I grow a lot there!". I had contacted The Lord's Diner to see if they had a community garden where I could volunteer, but was told that they were unable to have one or even accept locally grown produce as their status didn't allow for that. I've sent an email to a few places that have food pantries (churches) to see if they'd like a community garden started or if they have one, we could volunteer once a week. No word back yet.

8) Barter
I have discovered how much I enjoy bartering! There are many things I'd like to have, but I just don't want to spend money on them when I've got stuff I could swap. For example, we swap eggs for milk, sourdough bread and cookies. I swapped Irises for some garden pots. I've got a gal who'll buy me canning lids in exchange for the abundance of rings I have. I participated in the seed swaps and I'll be swapping tomato plants for some pepper plants.

9) Misc
When we got the current month's electric bill, I looked at the usage comparison for last year to this year. We are down nearly 100 kwh!!!! This is HUGE! It's amazing that we did that as I now work from home (with a computer on all day long plus printer) which I thought would use more electricity plus we've been running a heat lamp for the chickens most of the winter. We did switch out most of the light bulbs and we quit using the dishwasher in January. We also sealed up the exterior door in kitchen to stop the air loss and installed the new dryer vent. I have hung laundry out several times this winter, but often it was too cold or humid so we opted to use the dryer. I guess all the little changes added up. I wish I could say the same for the gas bill. It was down (thanks in part to the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge) but not as much as the electricity.
However, I'm still annoyed that the water company charges us a minimum use instead of actual use. We could save $ there for sure. Every little bit counts when you've declared war on debt!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Needs vs Frustration

I've been reading some blogs that seem to be in the same boat as me. Maybe this will help somebody.

I haven't shared a lot of personal life here because, well, it's personal! But here goes: 2008 was, by far, the WORST year of my life. My kid's lives were so heavily impacted that for 2 months I waivered on the brink of needing to be put into a mental institution. I've always felt I was born to be a Mom and I take that job very seriously. My kids mean the world to me. So when they hurt, I hurt too. The enormousness of what happened was so huge it was crushing.

Then, my career suffered blow after blow after blow and the fall out of that is still impacting us. Then, a dear, dear friend was killed in a freak accident doing what he loved (he died with a smile on his face and that gave me peace.) Less than a week later, another friend was killed. In October, my chronic illness went beserk due to the stress (it's in remission when I remain stress free) but with all that was going on, I wasn't able to stave off the flare up. It nearly put me back in the hospital.

But, I survived it all and now am sweeping up the pieces of my shattered life and trying to figure out what to do next.

I was hunting in the library for a book when I saw this one: The Secret Laws of Attraction by Talane Miedaner. What caught my eye was a small note about take the quiz inside. I like these kinds of quizzes - they often give insight or confirm what you may have already known. If you want to take the quiz, here's a link to her site. (As an aside, I didn't read the subtitle close enough - the book is about getting the relationship you want - a dating book. *ahem* I'm married - but there still is good info in the book that can be applied to any relationship.)

My results were as I already know:

1) Need for Peace
2) Need to be Heard
3) Need for Control
4) Need to be Independent

What does it mean? Discovering my needs isn't anything new, but what she says is that if you can find out how to meet your needs yourself, you will stop looking to other people to fulfill them and you won't be as disappointed or frustrated. Hmmmm, she may have a point there.

Last year, I wasn't in control of anything that happened. I had to learn to roll with life and stop fighting for control. Everything that happened was completely out of my hands. I had to find other outlets for my control needs. My Peace was blown to the winds. No longer did I have refuge in my job or in my home - there was chaos everywhere I went. And, through it all, I felt like no one was listening to me/us. It took nearly 8 months before we found an advocate for us and we are finally on the road to recovery.

I guess my point is this: know who you are and what you need. If your needs aren't being met, you know it. You'll feel frustrated and angry. You are unsettled and everything seems so hard. But, life isn't meant to be hard, IMHO. Keep looking, keep fighting. You will find the solution. It just might take some time.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Seed Swap

I joined Howling Hill's seed swap because I knew I'd be introduced to new stuff. The envelope arrived yesterday from Mindy and I was NOT disappointed! Before I even opened it, I could smell something delicious - even the mail lady asked what it was.

As it turns out, it was Garlic - several cloves.

As I've never done a seed swap before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Take a close look at the photo - there are dozens and dozens of different seeds in there.

Part of the instructions said "No GM" (genetically modified) which is awesome. Up until very recently, I was completely unaware of the impending status of our seed sources here in the U.S. If we don't do something about it, soon the availability of seed plus the sheer amount of different types of seed is going to be gone.

When I started blog reading, many people said they bought their seeds from one company or another, mostly based off of price or customer service. However, I discovered this list which should help you to find more heirloom, non-hybrid seeds. If you're like me and you have some of the hybrid GM seeds, use them up or give them away. If you do use them, don't bother to harvest the seeds.

I joined the Seed Savers Challenge a while ago and I hope you will to. We all need to do our part to save heirloom, open pollinated, NON GM seeds.

Okay, off my soap box and on to the seeds!

There were so many incredible options to choose from. It was a seed buffet in that overstuffed envelope!

I took pinch amounts of seeds except for one package which only had a few seeds and I took them all. So here's a sampling of what I pinched:

Moon & Stars Watermelon
Speckled Limas - okay, confession time - I don't like Limas but the seeds look COOL
Nu Mex Big Jim chili pepper
Green Culinary Sage
Garlic cloves
Gold Nugget Squash
Banana Squash
Parisan Pickling Cucumber
Bushel Gourds
Sweet Fennel
Rhubarb (I had no idea it went to seed!!!)
Lumina White Pumpkin
White tipped scarlet Radish
Coriander (Cilantro before it bolts, right?)
Long Purple Eggplant
Fava Bean - again, NO CLUE why I took 4 beans except they are COOL looking
Mustard Greens

I put in:

Mortgage Lifter Tomato
Arkansas Traveler Tomato
Super Sioux Tomato
Sweet Majoram

The flowers were the only seeds I'd saved from my own garden, the rest came from a reliable source for non-GM seeds.

I was lucky enough to live close to the next participant on the list, Phelan, and I hand delivered the package to her earlier today, although I did offer to mail it :D

Thank you Howling Hill and Mindy and all the other swap participants! This year, when I'm working in the garden, I'll think of you.
If you haven't participated in a seed swap, I highly encourage you to do so!