Friday, April 30, 2010

So Blessed

A fellow science teacher runs an environmental science course. Every year, near the end of the year, they visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. For the second year, I've been invited to chaperone the trip. It is the highlight of my year. This year, though, we got to take a motorboat out into the bay:
The shoreline
Isn't it gorgeous?

The headquarters of CBF. It was the world's most green building when it was built in 2000.
Where I ate lunch!!!
After the motorboat, we got to canoe in a backwater creek. Of course, I couldn't take nearly as many pictures there. But they are gorgeous as well!

I couldn't post a whole lot of pictures on here because many of them had school kids in them. Trust me when I say it couldn't have been a better day for a field trip.

I am so blessed!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure is the Chesapeake Bay. I went with a school field trip to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We went out on a decent sized boat, did water testing, then netted some bay creatures to study. We had lunch on a gorgeous beach, then canoed in a back water creek that leads to the bay. I saw a gorgeous heron. I will post pictures asap. It has been one looooong week.

Yummy Giveaway

The lovely blogger over at Adventures in Self Reliance is giving away a really nifty looking breakfast pack. Check it out: Adventures in Self Reliance give away

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Buying for the Right Reasons

This year, the lovely lady at Tomato Soup Cake has been on a no-spending spree. Essentially, she hasn't been buying anything aside from absolute essentials like food. This is an endeavor I would eventually like to try. For the most part, aside from pantry items, gardening supplies, and paying off debts, I haven't bought a whole lot lately.

There is one notable exception. And I didn't even pay for it. But I do love it.

A few weeks ago, my dad was complaining that I have Teflon coated pans. Even my pots were Teflon coated. Honestly, I hated them, too. I got them for my college graduation, and asked for them because they were blue. Talk about a lame reason. My pans were flaking, and I already had to throw one pan out because of the extent of the damage. My dad offered that if I found stainless steel, copper bottom pans that weren't ridiculously expensive, he'd get them for me. I found them, and he bought them. I now have a 10 piece set of Paula Deen cookware.
I will admit that the fry pans are not stainless steel. Try as I might, I could not find any that were. But something is better than nothing, and I'm sure the coating is a better quality than the ones I had.

*B* and I cleaned out our pan cabinet today so that we could put away our new items. I've always griped about the cabinet because things come flying out at you when you open it. As we started pulling things out of the cabinet, I realized that I haven't EVER used half of the things in it. I've never used the glass tops for my casserole dishes. A ton of the things in there belong to my mom. So I got rid of my awful, flaky Teflon pans and will be replacing the whole stressful cabinet with only 12 items (I had one copper bottom pot with lid already). Even though it involved spending money and temporarily increasing the amount of stuff we have in our house, it eventually ended in saving money (in not having to buy new pans every couple of years) and getting rid of the stress that that cabinet caused.

I'll let you know how they work out!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pure Heaven!

I am a genius. *B* and I had some granola from the organic market a few months ago and really liked it. Rather than buying it at $5 for a 1 lb bag, I decided to take the bag to the bulk foods section and pick up all the ingredients. It may have been the best decision I've ever made. This is my recipe for shear bliss adapted from Michele's Granola Pumpkin Spice.

I gathered an unknown amount of these things in the bulk section:
  • Rolled oats
  • Flax seeds
  • Pecans
  • Raw almonds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
In a roasting pan, I combined twoish cups of rolled oats with a handful of flaxseed, and a handful each of pecans, raw almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds roughly chopped. After mixing them up, pop them into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Stir every two minutes to keep it from burning six times (12 minutes total).

While that's baking, line a baking dish with wax paper. Spray all of the wax paper with cooking spray. Set it aside.

On the stove, combine two cups of brown sugar with 4 tablespoons of butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and a squirt of blue agave nectar (honey would work too).

Stir constantly while heating over medium heat until it becomes melty and bubbly.

Without burning yourself (important), dump the toasted bits into a bowl. Dump the sugar-glue on top. Mix REALLY well.

Before mixing
After mixing

Then, dump it into the lined baking dish. Fold the wax paper over it. Use the bottom of a bowl, cup, or measuring cup to tightly pack the granola. Don't use your hands. They will blister (trust me, I know).

If you have willpower, let it sit on the counter for two hours or so until it cools. If you're me, wait until the pan gets mostly cool and throw it into the fridge to harden. Regardless, when it is cool to the touch, either break it or use a knife to cut it into bars. Then, use a towel to wipe up the drool.

It is amazing. No joke. Thank me later.

Creating a Pantry

Lately, my pantry has been getting pretty cramped. Since it's about time that we reevaluate our storage system, I've decided to talk about creating a useful pantry.

When we lived in our apartment, we had a gorgeous pantry closet. We actually put my brother in there to sleep when he stayed with us - it was that big. It was right off the kitchen, too. And what did I keep in there? Boxes with nothing in them, a bike, and furniture we didn't want. Now, when I think back, I kick myself. People would have killed for that space! But, when we moved into our house, we found a solution that worked for us.

Step 1: Identify a Space
Finding a good space for your pantry needs is really important. For example, you do not want to put your food storage into your attic - it's way too hot. Make sure the temperature is on the cool side, no more than 80 degrees at any given time. You also want to be able to get to it easily. Don't create your pantry where you have to push loads of toys and boxes out of the way to get to the food.

For us, we had an empty closet under the stairs that the previous owner had built. SurvivalMom has her food storage in a spare bedroom. Other people use the tops of closets and underneath of beds. I've even seen people put #10 cans behind couches. It's all up to you to decide where you can store items and be able to use them regularly.

Step 2: Create a Menu
I learned how to build a pantry from Safely Gathered In. I created a menu for two weeks worth of meals: chili, chicken parmesan, tacos, stir-fry, etc. Make sure these are meals you actually like to eat regularly. Also, be sure they are nutritionally complete. Don't forget fruits and vegetables. Beans and rice get very boring after a while. Start with a dinner menu and work your way up to breakfast and lunch menus.

Then, I created a sheet in Google Docs detailing the ingredients needed for the meals, and tallying how many cans, boxes, and bags of those ingredients I'd need for three months worth of food.

Step 3: Create a Storage System
Given that *B* and I had just bought a house and are still in varying stages of school, we are living pretty frugally. I could not afford to go out and buy nice shelving. So we decided to build our pantry out of 2"x12"s and cinder blocks. It turned out well, and in an emergency, the pantry can be broken down for building materials. For you, though, it might be more useful to buy plastic or metal shelves. Or maybe you have old, very sturdy bookcases lying around.

Whatever you use, it must be stable and able to bear a good amount of weight. You do not want to hear a loud crash in the middle of the night and come down to see your canned food busted open and flour everywhere. Don't put supplies directly against concrete. Raise things off the floor and keep them away from non-insulated walls. Temperature variations wreak havoc on food storage.

Step 4: Start Buying Supplies
It was just our luck that a few weeks after we moved in, our local grocery store had a customer appreciation sale. I was able to get Del Monte canned veggies at 50 cents a can. I bought 20 cans of each corn, peas, and green beans. Again, I can't stress this enough: buy food your family will eat. Don't go nuts buying canned beats if no one will touch them. However, if they like them, go for it.

Aside from shopping the sales, pick up a little bit of food for the pantry every time you go to the grocery store. When I go on my regular shopping trip, and I see that canned fruits are on sale, I'll pick up anywhere from 2 to 6 cans depending on what I need. Occasionally, we go to Costco to get bulk items like flour, sugars, and rice.

Supplies don't just mean food. Gamma buckets are the love of my life. They store my rice, sugar, and flour. Keep extra toilet paper and paper towels. Stock up on cold medications and basic first aid supplies. It's handy to have extra tin foil, saran wrap, wax paper, laundry detergent, and propane. For those of you who have kids or have family with kids, throw a box or two of diapers in there. I also store ammo (not in my pantry, but elsewhere). Think about your needs and plan appropriately.

Step 5: ROTATE!
I cannot stress this enough. If you do not rotate your food, you are wasting money. Everything that you eat and like, rotate it through. In my pantry, we take food from the front left and add food to the back right of each item. Check dates when you buy food and keep an eye on them as you eat your supplies. Also, keep a tally of what gets eaten when. Have you had that same box of pancake mix in there for six months? Don't buy more. You can't keep cereal on the shelves? Pick up a little bit more at a time.

There are ways to get rid of food other than eating it or throwing it away though. Say, for example, you buy a case (12 cans) of canned potatoes. You open one can and decide you don't like the texture. Donate it to a food bank. You bought too much for your family to eat and you're three months before the expiration date? Donate it. There are starving people out there who would love our discards.

Step 6: Make it Your Own
As time goes on, living off of a pantry should be less a survival tool and more a way of life. Stock it with your family's favorites. Don't forget sweets - it's really nice to be able to make a cake or brownies without having to go to the store. And during times of crisis (personal, national, or otherwise) those comfort foods are wonderful. Remember to stock up on foods for sick days like crackers and Gatorade. I had the flu this winter and lived off of Club crackers, Gatorade, and Spaghetti O's from my pantry. I wasn't able to drag myself to the store or stomach regular food, but this worked for me. Don't make a pantry to the specifications of others, because no one else will have to use your provisions but you.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Working to Live or Living to Work

In my quest for self-reliance and a simpler life, I've found a sticky point where work and life intersect. How much is enough? For me, going back to a slower way of life is ideal. But in our society, work has taken over our lives. 100% effort is not enough anymore. We tabulate our sick days and personal days. We accrue overtime hours to save for the vacations we never take.

Earlier this year, I decided to put a cap on the work that I do. I am not decreasing my efforts, but attempting to make both my work time and personal time more productive. If I don't give myself time to relax at night and on the weekends, my work at school will suffer. It becomes a negative cycle in which I am neither happy nor productive. I still have a nagging feeling that I'm slacking off because, unlike other teachers, I do not stay until 5 or 6 pm and I don't come in at 6 am. Sometimes I feel like I am giving less than my best because I am not pushing myself to the breaking point.

How does one reconcile a strong work ethic with the desire to enjoy one's life?

Inspiration in the Weirdest Places

After a rather rough day, *B* and I sat down to watch a movie. It's an old but good one - Men in Black. I haven't seen it in a long time, but I like it a lot. While watching it tonight, I caught a quote that spoke to me:
A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.
- Kay, Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black

I really do believe this to be true. We've all done it at one time or another. We freaked out over nothing at all just because a bunch of other people are upset. Case in point: Y2K. Was the world going to end because computers wouldn't work? No. It was a coding error, and governments were not about to let coding issues cause a nuclear apocalypse. Yes, you can argue that it helped a lot of people become much more self reliant and prepared for disaster. But it also means that people may have spent money and energy on something totally unnecessary.

The only way to negate this mob mentality is to think slowly and carefully. In a lot of cases, people are unable to do this because they are unprepared. For example, the blizzards this past winter. I know many people who went to the store just because they knew the storms were coming up. They didn't need anything, but they bought milk, bread, and toilet paper anyway. I did a little venture out to shake off cabin fever after the snow stopped but before going back to work. The stores were EMPTY. People were freaking out about not having food and necessities. If they had been prepared beforehand, the people who unnecessarily bought out the supplies could have logically analyzed their supply and made rational decisions, and people who really had no supplies could have gotten them.

When do you get caught up in the "people" and forget to be a "person"?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday

I have TWO simple pleasures today.

Number one is getting out of debt. My tax return hits my account tomorrow! Our closing costs on the house will be paid off this weekend. I am sooo thankful! *B*'s parents were also very generous and forgave some of our debt. I have $4300 to put toward the wedding now. And God knows I needed it.

Number two is seeing new plants sprout. My garden has had both ups and downs lately. I think we've gotten a couple of frosts lately. Yes, it's my fault for planting so early.

Chocolate Mint, Rosemary, and Chives

Regular Old Mint

Red Leaf Lettuce

Parsley and Basil

Leftover Parsley/Cilantro/Lavender and Nasturtiums and Marigolds

Snap Peas, Sunflowers, and Tomatoes (I think)

Buttercrunch Lettuce (I think the frost killed it) and a Pepper

Random Seedlings: Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Cilantro


Tomatoes and Lavender
Buttercrunch Lettuce (yes, the same batch as the dinky ones)

Red Leaf Lettuce

Shallots (take a good look at the top left side to see them)

Peach Tree (I think I can see some buds)



Buttercrunch Lettuce

Red Leaf Lettuce (the little ones haven't grown at all in weeks)

Salad Mix (an experiment)

Snap Peas

Sweet Peas



And just because it's gorgeous, my Alabama Crimson Honeysuckle

Mystery Game - Part 3

Mystery Plant A

Mystery Plant B
Mystery Plant C
Mystery Plant D
Mystery Plant E
Mystery Plant F
Mystery Plant G

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It Never Fails

It's been a little while since I've posted. Things around here are crazy. On Friday night, *B* and I had rotisserie chicken for dinner, and we ate all the white meat as usual. I put the chicken on the stove to pick, but I had to make a cake first because I was having all of my department over for a barbecue on Saturday. I eventually forgot about the chicken.

The next morning, *B* asked if I put the chicken away, and I realized I had forgotten. It's not on the stove anymore. It's not on the floor. In fact, it's not anywhere. Hailey must have pulled it off and taken it somewhere. So we search the house, four hours before my colleagues are to come over, for a chicken carcass. It was no where to be found, until we saw it: the one piece of string that held the legs together in the middle of the living room floor.

She ate the WHOLE chicken! Bones and all! Can you believe that???

Since then, we've been feeding her rice as well as her normal dog food to help cushion the bones. But she decided she needed more than that. She has gotten into the trash at least four times in the last four days: baked beans, potato salad, and the same dinner roll twice. I need to find a different trash can.

So until further notice, I'm on poo patrol, making sure that she doesn't have permanent damage from the chicken. I would be really angry at her, but just look at that face...

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Most Perfect Wedding Presents

Since I've been working on wedding plans again, I've come to the point where my checklist says to start creating a registry. Sure, there are things that *B* and I want or need. But my ideal wedding presents can be found on no registry.

I want history.

Ideally, I would like to receive old family recipes and photographs and genealogies from all of my family. I know my maternal line back to 1775 (my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother). I know my mother's paternal line to my great-great-great grandfather. On my father's side though, I know only to my father's maternal and paternal grandmothers. So, though my family doesn't read this, I'm going to put it out to God and the cosmos that these are the gifts I would most wish to have on my wedding day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday - Wedding Frugality

My simple pleasure for today is finding a way to cut corners on my wedding. I had no idea planning a wedding was so expensive! I was planning on buying the flower girl's dress, even though they are around $100 each!

The other day, a woman at work had sent out an email saying that she didn't need her daughter's first communion dress anymore and anyone could have it for free. So I got it! Isn't it pretty?

It even comes with veil and shoes, and though the shoes won't fit, Summer can have them for when she's older. I'll probably have to take the dress in a bit, and I plan on putting a red sash on it, but it's perfect, and it saves me a fair amount of money! I'm so thankful for the generous people at work.

Backyard Harvest

Last year, I read about dandelion digging from Choosing Voluntary Simplicity (CVS) here. At the time, I was so excited. I SO wanted to do that, but we were living in an apartment, and I have no idea what was on our lawn there. So I vowed to dig dandelions our first spring in our house.

Here it is, it's spring. Had I done anything with the dandelions? No. I was hemming and hawing, and pretty much wrote it off. On my way home today, I saw a field with blooming dandelions and I sighed to myself. I'd have to dig dandelions next year when they're not bitter.

Then, I read Momzoo's post on dandelions here. I didn't know they were so good for you. And that was that. I was digging dandelions - tonight. And here we are!

While it's not 8 quarts like Shirley at CVS talks about, I think that's a fair amount of greens for my first pick. When I picked them, I grabbed them at the base and twisted, which gave a fair amount of the root. I washed everything and separated out the good stuff from grass, dog hair, and dead leaves.

I chopped the roots off and held them aside. I have to do a lot more research on what to do with dandelion roots. I don't trust them as much as I trust the leaves.

Speaking of leaves, I washed these for probably about 20 minutes. Call me paranoid. We've only had the house for 7 months, so I don't know if and when they were last sprayed. But I'm pretty convinced that we'll be okay.

So there you have it. My first harvest of the year is dandelion greens and roots!

On a similar note, I identified another feathered friend frequenting our feeder. Say that five times fast! This little guy is a tufted titmouse:

His Face

His Side

I only remember seeing him once, but lately I've just been letting Hailey out the door without looking first. Hailey LOVES to chase anything moving: my cats, birds, and especially squirrels. I'm at least trying to break her of chasing the cats, but at least she gets exercise in the meantime.