Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Easiest Way to Save Electricity... not to be at home.  Mr. B had a job interview six hours from home Friday, so we made a weekend and took the family camping.  Not only were we not using electricity at home, but we didn't use it there, either.  That weekend hiatus probably canceled out the two weeks that Miss F has been leaving lights on in the playroom.  In one respect, it's nice that I can send her downstairs to play without even going down to turn the lights on for her.  But at the same time, she's not tall enough to turn them off without a chair or stool, so they tend to get left on for quite a while.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Stress of Moving

It's been nearly two years since I quit my full time job in order to be a stay at home mom.  Since them, I've held a number of part time jobs to make ends meet.  When Miss C was born, I wasn't able to keep a steady part time job, and instead tutor on an as-needed basis for former students.

When we had full gardens in our backyard and complete control over our surroundings, life was not easy but not very stressful, either.  In January 2014, we prepared to sell our house by cleaning, painting walls and cabinets, and removing 75% of our belongings and putting them in my dad's garage.  We went on the market in May.  From that day on, our house was no longer ours, but someone else's that we were staying in.  Our first realtor told us that people liked gardens, and we could leave them.  Last summer, we planted a moderate garden.  It wasn't as much as we'd like, but we 'knew' that we'd be somewhere else come the next spring with bees and chickens and food forests as far as we could see.  We got very few showings with that realtor, switched to a new one in November, and tucked in through the holidays.

Come January, we still weren't getting showings.  We tore out the old floors in the first floor of our house and replaced them ourselves with wood laminate flooring.  We replaced the dated sink in the main bathroom, and removed all of the wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom and repainted the entire basement a more neutral color.  We removed the wallpaper border and curtains in the kitchen to make it look cleaner and removed even more of our belongings.  We finally tore out our garden beds and seeded the lawn this spring.It was a sad day and even worse if we can't sell because that is a significant amount of our food

In that year, we've also dropped the price by 10%.  At our current price, we'd break even.  We started getting showings, but no takers.  For every bit of feedback, we'd tweak something about the house.  We were told by our most recent showing that we were overpriced.  After talking to our agent, it seems we are.  We have to either drop our price significantly or put in an HVAC system as we have baseboard and window units right now.  Either way, we'd lose all of the money we have in savings for buying another house.  We also learned that our fall back plan - renting the house out and buying another house - is impossible as one needs to have two years of being a landlord as income on tax documents in order to procure another mortgage.  So right now, we're stuck in a holding pattern.  We can't afford to stay here, and we can't afford to move.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A New Project for May - Electricity Awareness

It's been quite a while since I've had a new project.  I'm pleased that many of my projects from two years ago - no microwave, no artificial sweeteners, no 'poo - have stuck around.  Many others - once a month grocery trips, gas mileage over 30 mpg, countless diets - have fallen off.  We've had a very large project looming over our heads recently.  As of May 4th, our house will have been on the market for 1 year, as yet unsold.  I'm tired of waiting to move for more projects, so I'm working with what I have.

I've been reading The Non-Consumer Advocate quite a bit recently.  I struggle frequently with reducing our food costs as a means to getting our budget under control.  It costs about $500 per month to feed our family of four.  I'd never paid much attention to our electric bill or gasoline bills.  I was shocked when we were hit with an erroneous $330 electric bill.  The real bill was $160, which was still startling given that we haven't been using our baseboard heaters.  I realized the other day that there's a lot we can be doing to reduce that bill.

So today starts our electricity awareness and reduction project.  Our two biggest drains come from using lights when we don't need them and keeping chargers plugged in constantly. Miss F has learned to turn on some of our lights, and tends to leave the lights on in her playroom pretty frequently.  The baby monitors are left on all the time, the Keurig heating water for no reason, phone chargers plugged in... You get the point.

Last month, we used 1432 kWh.  At 9 am this morning, our meter read 13015 kWh.  My goal is to be at or under 14250 kWh on June 1st.  Hopefully, what is difficult at first will become habit rather quickly.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - November 24th through 30th

- I learned to make pie crusts from a friend.  That was one of the few things that I still bought because it was too intimidating.

- I took advantage of the pre-holiday sales and stocked up on canned vegetables.

- I pressure canned eight pints of chili for the first time.  It was so easy that I was able to do it while Mr. B was at work and both kids were awake.  I'll definitely do that again.

- I took the carcass from my mom's Thanksgiving turkey to make stock rather than let her throw it away.

- Since my birthday and Thanksgiving was this week, I didn't end up cooking very much at all.

- My mom bought me Christmas boxes from Joann's at 50% off as my birthday present.  We use them to give pajamas on Christmas Eve.  We had four last year, but given that we want four kids, I wanted to make sure we had six while I knew where to get them.

- We bought a humanely raised turkey after Thanksgiving for about $0.62 per pound after a $10 off deal.

- Mr. B made a beautiful wreath from the trimmings off the bottom of our Christmas tree.

- Though I rather would have gotten it from the local consignment store, we bought Miss F a Christmas dress last minute at 40% off.

- A woman I knew from college came over to take family Christmas pictures for us for a very low fee.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - November 17th through 23rd

- While I didn't start it this week, our apple cider vinegar is about ready to use.  It has developed two really fantastic mothers, one on top and one on bottom.
- I cooked a cinderella pumpkin that has been hanging around for a month.  I saved the seeds to grow for next year, and I put it in the cold oven to dry because I didn't have counterspace, but I forgot about it and preheated the oven with them in there.  They fused to the wax paper.  Oops.

- Mr. B made a pumpkin cheesecake for us using the pumpkin puree I cooked.  It was delicious and didn't last more than two days in our house.
 - I froze 16 cups of pumpkin in 1/3 cup servings using muffin pans.  One block makes 6 doughnuts with the scaled down one egg version of this recipe from King Arthur Flour.  I made a pumpkin spice latte and one batch of doughnuts with the 1/2 cup that didn't fit in the muffin pans

- Mr. B's work gives their employees turkeys as a holiday bonus. Since we're not cooking this year and our freezer was too full for a whole bird, I cooked it a week and a half before Thanksgiving.  On an interesting note, it was a Butterball turkey, and it is American Certified Humane.  That's not the best certification, but something is better than nothing.

- We ate one leg/thigh of the turkey, then froze the other leg/thigh and all of the breast meat for later meals.

- I made two rounds of turkey stock from the carcass.  The first was combined with the dark meat package above to make a large amount of turkey soup. 

- The second round of stock was used for butternut squash soup.  This is soup I made with some of that stock for freezing.

- The last of the turkey stock was used to pressure can butternut squash.  We've never done this before, but in theory, I can reheat the jar on the stovetop, throw in some sage, onion, cayenne pepper, and salt, immersion blend it, and I'll have the same soup as above.

- I made vegetable stock with scraps I had kept in a gallon bag in the freezer.

- Mr. B made persimmon leather from some persimmons he found growing wild last week.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Big Rocks and the Art of Manliness

For the last few weeks, I've been rather distant from Mr. B.  I'm sure I could blame it on working three nights a week, or having a 3 month old, or Mr. B's work schedule (which I greatly dislike).  But I've been grumpy and distant, either way.  The other day, he was practically begging for attention.  I felt terrible for ignoring him.  We've been talking a lot lately about what makes us happy and what we do that takes up time but gives us no happiness at all.  We ended up stumbling upon this video from The Art of Manliness called Big Rocks. 

I'd always heard the story about filling a jar with rocks, and how much more you could fit in by putting the big rocks in first.  But for some reason, this video stuck with us.  We started a list of our rocks (priorities): big, gravel, sand, and water.

Big Rocks
Family Meals and Rituals
Quality Time for Me and Mr. B
Mr. B’s Work

Clean House
Time with Extended Family
Implementing Homesteading Projects

Researching Homesteading Projects

Brainstorming Homesteading Projects (i.e. randomly browsing the web for ideas)

We also decided to start waking up earlier.  In Mr. B's case, he's already up and out early.  But I wake up between 6 and 8 am, the former if I don't sleep after nursing, the latter if I go back down for some more time.  I knew but never admitted that on days I woke up at 6, I was much happier and energetic.  So I'm committing to waking up at that last early morning feeding so that I can do the things I want to do without the kids around.  If I plan for the big rocks during the bulk of the day, I can get my gravel and sand out of the way in the early morning, and I'm a much happier mama for it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making the Most Where You Are

We realized the other day that, even if we bought a house today, we'd be here at least until February.  We're fed up.  Miss F can't go nine months with no toys.  She's been driving us (mostly me) nuts.  She has two puzzles, a bag of blocks, and about six little toy cars.  To keep herself entertained, she's been getting into trouble.  She's been hanging on Miss C's swing (many times when she's in it), climbing up on chairs to rip stuff off of our hutch, and begging to watch shows.  We don't let her watch TV other than one family movie a week, but the time that she's spent with family has clued her into Cars, Winnie the Pooh, and Sesame Street.  She begs to watch them instead of having a good time playing pretend with her kitchen or driving her Tonka truck around because she's BORED.

Rather than just cleaning up for our Sunday open house like usual - an open house at which we didn't have any attendance - we first took a new look at our basement.  It's a finished basement, and we set it up as a bedroom to stage the house to sell it.  We're giving up an entire large room in our house to make it look like a bedroom that no one lives in to sell to someone who's not even showing up to see it.  So we rearranged the things we had and ended up gaining a TON of space without even moving out the bed.  We realized we were wasting much of the space in the laundry room and half bath side of the basement.  We took Mr. B's tools and moved them over.  We freed up an entire wall of the "bedroom".  We moved the books up the bookshelf and devoted two shelves to Miss F's things.

We brought back art supplies and trains.   I think Miss F has missed trains most of all.  We'll be bringing her kitchen back soon.  By then, it'll be Christmas, and I'm sure - despite our requests to tone down the presents - her grandparents will be filling the toy gap in no time.