Monday, July 29, 2013

If You Give a Mouse Some Chocolate... will want to live in your pantry forever.

We've been seriously deep cleaning and decluttering our house for about two weeks now.  There are a lot of items that haven't had a place in the rooms we've been clearing out, so they ended up in the pantry.  Namely, three large bags of gift bags, some mason jar boxes that I wanted to keep to organize the freezer, a winter blanket, a mattress pad, and some bulk kitty litter, baking soda, and vinegar.  They make it difficult to get into the pantry, but we've been eating a lot of fresh food, so it didn't matter too terribly much.

I went down to get some rolled oats for Oatmeal Pancakes a la Momzoo, and I saw something very disheartening:  two chocolate bars had the corners gnawed off.  I was just down there getting a bar of chocolate the other day and they were fine.  A closer look showed mouse-sized teeth marks.  It could have possibly been our cats, but I doubted it.  The door is always shut and latched.

Then I saw this:

And this:

We do in fact have a mouse (or mice).  When I started pulling things out of the pantry, Wicket got excited.  She jumped all over everything, sniffing it.

And when she had her fill of that, she visited the back of the pantry itself.

We left the door open for the cats to peruse the pantry at their leisure.  I expected to wait a few days before anything happened.  But *B* and I were watching TV tonight when the cats were pouncing around, and we heard a squeak.  There he was!  In our living room, a whole floor above the pantry.  *B* and I sprang into action and scooped him into an empty kitty litter bucket.

He is so CUTE!   *B* liberated him in a strategically distant location.  I'm hoping that he was the only one for two reasons.  One, I don't want to have to worry about having mice in the house.  Two, if there are more mice, there is a greater likelihood that the cats will finish them off before

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The "Sweet" Smell of Chemicals

It's been about three months since we got rid of the chemicals in our house - poisons, cleaners, shampoo, non-natural soaps, etc.  I haven't really noticed how the smell of our house has changed in that amount of time.  But apparently, my nose has been noticing.

Thanks to FlyLady, I've been decluttering my house for the past week.  I'm finding things that I haven't seen in years (and we've only lived in this house 3.5 years).  In particular, I found three little TSA-approved bottles full of soap, shampoo, and something unidentifiable (more soap or shampoo?).  Since we aren't using these products anymore, I dumped them down the drain in the tub so that I could reuse the bottles.  Immediately, the smell of these three little 3 oz bottles overwhelmed me.  My bathroom smelled so bad.  It was a sickly sweet and decidedly chemical smell.  I couldn't wash the stuff down the drain fast enough.  The bottles have been soaking and drying for the last day and my bathroom still smells bad.  It gave me a pretty bad headache.

I'm now acutely aware of other people's perfumes, soaps, and deodorant.  When ever my future sister-in-law (*A*) holds Miss F, she smells like *A*'s perfume for the whole day.  There are some women in my exercise class who reek of deodorant - not perfume, deodorant.  I never would have noticed that smell before.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Housework with FlyLady

The other day, I had casually glanced at a friend's frantic plea on Facebook.  Her house was out of control and she needed help.  Many women who responded to her said "FlyLady.  She changed my life!"

So I decided to check it out.  I popped over to FlyLady's website.  It's really overwhelming if you take it in at once, but I wandered over to the BabySteps section.  BabyStep One:  shine your sink.  So I did.  And wouldn't you know, it felt great.  Once my sink was shiny and clean, I started cleaning my stove top.  Then the counters.  Then the cabinets.  That one little shiny sink spurred a clean kitchen revolution.

BabyStep Two:  Get dressed all the way down to lace up shoes.  Again, I didn't think this would be a big deal.  But I was MUCH more productive after putting on those shoes than I was before.  Maybe it's because I couldn't feel the crumbs on my feet, or I didn't mind walking out onto a hot deck to do laundry.  Or that I felt like I was doing a job rather than hanging around my house.

There are many more BabySteps (31 in all) but those two have been the most influential for me so far.  As proof, this is what I did today:

  • Washed and dried bed sheets and bathroom floor mat
  • Put out recycling for pick up
  • Washed outdoor trash can
  • Washed indoor recycling can
  • Made breakfast
  • Scrubbed toilet
  • Scrubbed tub floor
  • Cleaned bedroom
  • Vacuumed bedroom
  • Washed and dried diapers
  • Sorted dirty laundry
  • Put stain remover on stained clothing
  • Put frozen onions into jars
  • Made and froze peach pie filling
  • Froze peach peels for future jam
  • Made the bed with clean sheets
  • Baked bread
  • Made black bean soup for lunch
  • Got a shower
  • Ate lunch
  • Did lunch dishes with Miss F
  • Colored with Miss F
  • Read with Miss F
  • Swept the kitchen floor
  • Picked up Miss F's mess
  • Put clothes away
  • Made dinner
  • Went to work for four hours
  • Scrubbed half-bath toilet
On top of that, I probably did five loads of dishes throughout the course of the day.  Compare this to my normal day: maybe a load of laundry, a couple of loads of dishes, and cooking/reheating three meals a day.  If I was lucky, I'd sweep the kitchen floor as well.

I don't know if it was thanks to FlyLady, but I'm very optimistic about all that I can do in the coming days, weeks, and beyond.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Finally Over Ants

I was desperate.  Every year, around June, we get ants in our kitchen.  We've tried commercial products, but we didn't like having them near the cats and the baby.  So I ignored them as best as I could and kept the counters clean.  But they were persistent.  I was flicking off of me every time I worked in the kitchen.

Finally, I decided to make my own traps.  I had asked *B* to make some, but he hadn't gotten around to it.  So I googled it, and wouldn't you know, there were tons of recipes.  I used one from Stacy Makes Cents: sugar, water, and a little borax melted together, cooled, and poured into jar lids.  I let the lid sit there for a little bit and nothing happened.  But I accidentally trailed some on the counter, and they came swarming.  I made a long streak for them

This is just a little bit of the ant activity we got yesterday.  You can see the outline of the trails given how the ants are distributed.

And today?  I've had very few ants.  It's not perfect, there are still some wandering around.  But it's no where near as many as I had before.  I'm very happy with the results given that it was made out of things I had lying around the house.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who's Having Seconds?

A local farm has a fruit market out of which they sell mostly their produce, a small amount of produce from other farms (near and far), their baked goods, and some housewares.  There are three things I LOVE about this place:
  1. They have the best peaches ever.  My mom makes peach cake out of them.  Drool...
  2. They have a snowball stand in their parking lot.  It's a ridiculous cup full of shaved ice and chemicals, but it reminds me of my childhood.  It is different from a sno-cone in that it is mostly sugary chemicals, not mostly ice.
  3. They have an amazing section full of #2 grade produce.
*B* and I decided to go visit them today, which is about a 25 minute drive from our house.  It was totally worth it.  He bought me a snowball as a treat (he doesn't like them).  It might have been my last snowball ever.  They were exactly what I remember, but no longer as appealing as they used to be.  All I could think of was the names of the artificial colors that went into it.

This is the produce we bought.  None of it was full price.  We got 11 bags of produce from the 50 cent rack. 
In those bags, we got 7 heads of cauliflower, 3 ears of corn, 2 green peppers, 1 head of lettuce, 4 celery bunches, 3 bags of carrots, 5 onions, 3 lemons, and 2 large bags of apples that weigh almost 15 pounds.  All of that food cost $5.50.  The onions, carrots, peppers, and celery will be chopped up and frozen.  The cauliflower will be blanched and frozen for vegetable curries in the future.  Apples will become applesauce and apple butter.  I'll can them for use in the future.  The corn, lettuce, and lemons will be used in food in the next week.

There are four five pound bags of potatoes on the right front corner of the table.  Each of those five pound bags cost $0.99.  I'll be cutting, blanching, and freezing those in the next couple of days.

On top of all of that, we also bought 2 half-pecks of #2 grade peaches (white plastic bags).  They were the most expensive at $4.95 per half-peck.  But that is much cheaper than their normal peaches.  The girl at the counter dropped the peaches when trying to get them into the bag (oops) so they were more than badly bruised.  I had to deal with them right away.  So I peeled them and sliced them as best I could.  I have three bowls:  peach flesh, peach skins, and inedible parts.  Out of the peach flesh, I'll make pie filling and other tasty treats.  Out of the skins, I'm going to try to make peach skin jam.  And the inedible bits go out in the compost.

My back was starting to hurt from standing over the sink about halfway through the peaches, so I took a break (ha) and chopped onions instead.  I put all of the onions in a rough flat layer on a cookie sheet.  It went into the freezer tonight, and will be transferred into a jar in the morning.

Grand total for all of this food:  less than $20.  Our total bill was $28 after buying a ton of no-sugar pectin (to fix the strawberry jam I made a month ago), a knife for Miss F, and a treat for *B* since he didn't like snowballs.  The knife was a little bit of an impulse buy.  It's a small, blunt, crinkle cut knife with a black handle.  I saw it just today on How We Montessori.  There was only one there, and I had never seen it before, so we decided to pick it up.

So...wasn't your goal for the month to not buy groceries?
I'm learning a lot out of this month's project.  If I were still buying groceries every week (or more often) as I had been, I probably would have stopped to think about it.  *B* and I have talked about it, and we've determined this:  we want to market as people used to do in "the old days."

Weekly, we'll purchase fresh produce.  We're determining whether or not milk falls into this category.  We consider this the same thing as going to the market.  

Monthly, we'll go to the grocery store for sale items.  Our grocery store has sales that last a month instead of a week.  For the month, we'll make up a list of items we need that are on sale.  When we go, we stock up for our pantry.  We think of it as going to the general store to fill our larder.  Our first trip there at the end of July will include things that are not on sale to help fill voids we've discovered in our pantry, but we will then stick to sales-only in August.

Bi-monthly (or longer term), we'll go to Costco to get big bulk items like kitty litter and toilet paper.  And even then - toilet paper?  Talk of family cloth has been bandied about, but we'll see what happens with that later.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Frugality versus Ethics

I am holding a lot of ideas about how I want to live in my head all at once.  Sometimes, they are contradictory.  Or at least they seem as if they are.

When I read blogs, articles, and books about whole, organic, local, sustainably raised foods, I get inspired.  I vow to see where our cow lived, or only buy produce from the farmer's market, or get organic, local milk.

Then, I start reading about frugality, and I get inspired again.  I think about shopping with coupons, dollar deals at the supermarket, buying food just before it goes off.

Right now, I'm stuck in the limbo zone between the two.  In one respect, I've got it all figured out.  In another, I have yet to set down priorities.

What We Do Right

In order to make our food maximally organic, local, and sustainable, we are growing and foraging our own food.  I know that our potatoes are organic because I didn't put anything on them.  I know they're local because they're 30 feet from my stove.  I know they're sustainable because *B* puts a lot of work into making sure the soil is fertile and the beds are well rotated.  And for the native perennial foods that we've planted, they're very happy with and grown for the soil and water conditions of the area.

When we forage, it's in our little town.  We choose places that we know aren't sprayed with weed killer.  And since they're wild, there's no pesticide on them.  They were there before us, and they'll be there after we're gone since we go through great lengths to try not to disturb the ground around the plants and leave enough for other wildlife and future propagation.

What I Need to Decide
It's our staple foods that are causing me the most problem.  Things like bulk beans, wheat, sugar, and meats are tossed between finding the best deal and finding ethically raised products.  As of right now, we buy a cow with my family every year from a lady who works with my mom.  The cow lives in her backyard.  While it's grain finished for the last two weeks of its life (which we wouldn't like), it lives in a pasture, and has access to both grain and grass, rather than being force-fed grain.  The meat is $1.85 per pound carcass weight.  That's not too terrible when you look at it.

We bought a pig last spring from a local farmer dedicated to raising organic, free range, happy, and healthy animals.  The pig was $3.85 per pound carcass weight.  That is significantly more expensive than beef for us - it was $1000 for a whole pig.  But the pig lived as it was intended, munching on acorns and such in a grove of trees.  We know that for a fact since we had to walk by the surviving pigs when we picked up our order.

But let's take black beans.  There are SO many options.  Bulk for a good price from who-knows-where.  Bulk organic for double the price from who-knows-where.  Grow them yourself and only eat a pound of beans a year.  In this case, I can't seem to find a local farmer (organic or non-organic) that grows these beans.

So as of right this moment, until I change my mind, my priorities go as this:
  • Organic, local, and free! (foraging)
  • Organic, local, and inexpensive (usually seconds - produce going off)
  • Local and inexpensive
  • Organic and local
  • Local
  • Organic and inexpensive
  • Organic
  • Non-organic, non-local, and inexpensive

What do you look for in your food supply?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Foraging Gems

Now that we're into July, raspberries should be coming into season in our neck of the woods.  *B* and I kept talking about going out and foraging for berries and some more sumac, but nothing was coming of it.  Thursday, it was "do or die" day.  

*B* cut about six cones of sumac from the side of the road on his way home from work.  That makes 6 cups of sumac-ade, or can be reduced down to make a lemon juice-like substitute.  We're looking into how to best store them for the next couple of months, whether it's dried as a cone or in liquid form.  There's a great stand of sumac that I want to cut, but it's off an exit ramp, and I'm nervous about taking Miss F there.  It might be a project for a day when she's home with *B*.  I could probably gather 20 or more cones just from that one stand.

We went for a walk in a local park where *B* had seen some berries a few days ago.  As soon as we drove in, we started spotting the raspberry bushes.  Most of them were unripe, which is great news.  It's better to be early for berry season than late.

Unripe raspberries

As we walked the trail, we saw tons of raspberries, but we started seeing blackberries as well.  Many were good sized ones, like you'd get from the grocery store!  We probably walked around the park for two hours, but by the end, we had a ton of berries:  2 cups of blackberries and 6 cups of raspberries.  And that's not counting the ones Miss F ate (we forgot to pack her a snack and it was dinner time).

I figure that 8 cups of berries at $4 per half pint (going rate at our organic market) yielded us $32 worth of free berries.  That's the equivalent of paying ourselves $16 an hour to have a walk outdoors as a family!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Navigating the Choppy Financial Waters of Insurance

As I thought about this post, all I could think of was the beginning of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:

*B*'s parents bought him a used car when he graduated from college.  They've been making payments on it as well as paying the insurance since then.  They just paid it off, so now it is our responsibility to start paying insurance, which is more than reasonable.  I got a quote from the insurance agent that my parents have used since I was a very young child.

But something told me to shop around.  I learned that another insurance company cost less than half what I pay for the exact same coverage.  I'd actually save money after having added his car.

Which got me thinking about life insurance.  This same agent had talked me into buying whole life insurance when I was 20 years old.  Everything I've read has said this is the worst type of insurance to have.  It's very profit heavy for the agents while very light on benefits for the consumer.

So now I'm stuck between loyalty to a company that I've done business with for over ten years and saving money.  I was really conflicted until I realized this:  the money I save was roughly equivalent to two months salary for me.  TWO months.  Do I really want to work at night, missing my husband and daughter, out of loyalty to a guy that I see no more than once a year?  I feel guilty that I'm going to sever that relationship, but sometimes you put your big girl pants on and do what needs to be done for your family.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Most Delicious (and Free!) Summer Drink

When talking about foraging a few months ago, my aunt had mentioned a red cone that can be made into a strawberry lemonade-like drink.  She didn't remember what it was called, but it didn't take long for us to figure out.  Staghorn sumac (not poison sumac) is native to the US and produces red cones of berries in the summer.  There are tons of these trees on the side of highways near my house, but I was always leery of stopping on a busy roadway, especially with Miss F.  But I was thrilled today when I noticed a sumac during my outdoor exercise class.  I took Miss F back after class, and we cut two cones to try this experimental brew.

I put these two cones in about four cups of cold water and mushed the berries up a bit with my fingers.  The berries are hairy, and you need to get the flavoring off of them.  I let them sit for about an hour, and *B* strained off the lovely pink juice.

The juice is very sour.  Even *B*, who no longer uses sweetener in his drinks, had to add some maple syrup.  But with sweetener, a little extra water, and a bunch of ice, this is a fantastic and refreshing summer drink.  This lovely little concoction costs only 6 cents per glass or less depending on sweetener.

Tomorrow evening, when *B* is home with Miss F, I will be stopping on the side of the road to cut as many cones as I can.  The extract will be stored and used as a lemon substitute.  A local and frugal source of citric acid - who can ask for any better?!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Project Updates

I've got quite a few projects running, as detailed in the list on the right hand side of the blog.  This is a quick update on their progress.

July - No Groceries (starting 7/7)
Since this is new, it's obviously going quite alright.

June - No Air Conditioners (except baby)
We've done very well on this count.  There was one day since we've started that we've used another air conditioner at home.  Miss F's birthday party was held at our home, and we put in a second air conditioner just for that day.  While I didn't think we needed it at first, I realized we had an 87 year old man and two very pregnant women amongst a house full of people who needed relief from the nearly 90 degree heat.

May - No Microwave
Our microwave is still stowed in a cabinet after two months.  We've used microwaves at other people's houses, but I don't miss mine anymore at all.  We will be giving it to my grandmother, who is moving in with my mom this fall.

April - No Clothes Dryer
Like the microwaves, we've used clothes dryers when not at home.  For example, at the lake, we did not have access to a clothes line.  Miss F's diapers never would have dried at the townhouse without a line.  But we've stuck with this one even though it is very time consuming.  It's been made especially difficult because we've had a very wet summer.  I would like to get a drying rack to keep inside for wet and cold days once we can afford it.

April - No 'Poo or Antiperspirant
This is my favorite project.  I will admit that I catch myself getting a smug sort of satisfaction from this one.  I haven't used any shampoo of any kind (other than baking soda) since April 1st.  I love that I don't have to clip coupons, run out to the store when I run out, or stock pile chemicals.  I will never go back to that old way of life.

March - No Artificial Sweeteners
This project is hard, but I feel it is worthwhile.  Every now and then, I crave a diet soda.  But it's becoming less and less frequent.  I feel healthier, I have seen changes in my weight loss (though it is a bit slow), and I spend less money since I drink more water.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Month Without Groceries

A few months ago, my future sister-in-law (*A*) suggested that we get together over the July 4th holiday.  She knew someone who had a townhome at a lake in the mountains.  We didn't discuss cost or anything, but we were thrilled to go.  *B* missed our river trip last week, and I thought this would be a very nice vacation for our family.

Well, in that time, our budget became very constrained.  *A* had already paid for everyone, and I couldn't leave her in a lurch.  There was no one to take our place.  We explained our situation, and gave her everything we could afford at the moment (1/3 of our cost).  Except for $20 worth of groceries purchased there, we brought all our food with us.  Gas was still expensive, and we were almost down to the light before we even left the lake.  While everyone else went to lunch today, we had to gracefully bow out of it so that we could afford gas.  And really it wasn't as hard to do that as I thought it would be.  Rather than getting a little gas and some fast food or gas station food, we slathered peanut butter and jelly on leftover hot dog rolls and gassed up as much as we could.

When *B* and I were driving home on that three hour trip, we talked about our financial situation. Rather than despairing, we saw it as an opportunity to do something great.  Another project, another experiment. 

So here it is:

We're going to avoid the grocery store for a whole month.  This project has an exception - we will visit the farmer's market every Wednesday (as we already do).  This will supply us with eggs, fruits, and vegetables that we don't already grow ourselves.  We have a fair amount of beans, rice, grains, and canned veggies stored in our pantry.  We also have a fair amount of frozen food like ham slices, turkey wings, thighs, and legs, kale, snap peas, soup, and commercial frozen veggies.

So today is day 1.  I'm happy to report that we've bought no groceries, have a menu plan for the week, and we're doing just fine.

 Click to see our weekly menu plan

Monday, July 1, 2013


The river trip this weekend was very relaxing and gave me a chance to think a lot about my life.  My mother took care of Miss F during the six hour trip down the river.  I kayaked down the river without flipping in Compton's rapids (a big deal considering they sent me to the ER three years ago).

A large part of the times, I was floating along side *B*'s parents or my brother and his friends.  But the other part of the time, I just got to take in the surroundings, breathe the fresh air, and just be by myself.

I enjoyed the beauty of the river and felt a pang of envy as I thought about how amazing it could be to live in the area.

But it was later that night in the campsite that I really felt contentment start to set in.  One of the girls on the trip stepped in poison ivy at our lunch stop.  Her lower leg was red and itchy.  No one had calamine lotion, and she was complaining about the pain and itching.  I popped up, spotted some plantain, and told her to chew (or rather pound due to the mud on the ground) the leaves into a paste and apply it.  I knew it worked on bug bites, but I wasn't sure about poison ivy.  Sure enough, she reported that it didn't itch anymore!

I was happy to be able to help, and I enjoyed the surprised looks I got from the "adults" of the group - 50 years old and better.  They had no idea such a ubiquitous plant did anything other than grow.  It was just a weed to them.  Rather than relying on plants for cures, we've been relying solely on pills for over fifty years.

As the trip went on, I found myself talking a lot about my knowledge of plants.  From dock to treat nettle stings to chicory as a coffee substitute, I was able to hold forth on a variety of medicinal and edible plants.  I was spotting stands of sumac trees and looking to find ripe berry clusters.  We're looking forward to making tea of those berries in the next month or so.

I realized on my way home, that I'm actually making measurable progress in my goal of being able to identify many common plants and their usefulness.  I want to be that old woman (one day, not yet) who can go out to her garden to pluck a cure for what ails you.  I want to be able to go out and forage a little snack from my surroundings.  As our garden grows into the garden of our daydreams and my knowledge base grows, I feel more and more at ease with the life I'm carving out.