Sunday, September 28, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - September 22nd through 28th

That cold really took it out of me, so this is a couple of days late.  Sorry!

- Mr. B and Miss F made a cold frame out of our neighbor's old windows, pieces of a broken picnic table, and some wood found from the side of the road.

-Mr. B cut me some lovely sunchoke flowers from our yard.

 -I made cinnamon rolls out of some leftover pizza dough.

 -Mr. B harvested the rest of our carrots for the season.

-We chose to end our relationship with our real estate agent in order to work with an agent that can meet our needs more completely.  A post about this to follow...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Giving a Cold the Cold Shoulder

We've been hit by a nasty little cold at our house.  It started (as it usually does) with Miss F.  When she gets sick, it never really diminishes her energy or enthusiasm, but the nasal effects are obvious.  She's been having a runny nose on and off for a while now, but it didn't seem like anything viral, really.  Then, Mr. B started feeling the effects a few days ago. 

I had been reading up on essential oils anyway, so I started casually using them when I could - specifically I put just a little medieval oil (generic brand thieves oil) into Miss F's bathwater.  The four of us would sit in the bathroom during bath time to get some secondhand effects.  Mr. B and I also rubbed a couple of drops into the soles of our feet one night.  It either didn't do whole lot of good (probably because I wasn't consistent with it) or it staved off what was coming down the pike a couple of days later.

Yesterday, I got hit hard.  As is the case when one has a one month old, I haven't been sleeping well.  The last two days, I've woken up earlier than usual for the day, too.  So yesterday, when the perpetually runny nose and sore throat started, I decided to do something about it.  The first thing I did was sanitze our handkerchiefs.  They always get washed, but I added tea tree oil to help kill off anything they might be harboring.  I assigned each of us certain colors so that we didn't accidentally cross contaminate anything.  Three of us (all but Miss F) sleep in one room, so we ran a cool mist vaporizer overnight. 

This morning, I woke up feeling terrible.  I'm the primary caretaker of two very needy people, so that just won't do.  I broke out every natural remedy I could think of.  I started with a thyme vinegar gargle.  Mr. B made thyme vinegar as a method of preserving thyme from our very prolific plant.  It's just thyme stems and leaves steeped in vinegar (with the mother) for a few weeks, then strained.  I added 1 T to about 6 oz of room temperature water.  Each sip, I gargled and then swallowed the drink.  When I started, I couldn't taste it at all, but by the time I was done, I noticed the very strong smell and flavor.  My sore throat felt significantly better already.

I decided ginger tea was going to be my next go-to remedy.  I cut up about 1/2 of ginger into thin slices and steeped it in 8 oz of hot water for about ten minutes.  I added 1 tsp of local honey for sweetening and its cold-soothing properties.  While I was waiting for the tea to steep, I was boiling some pumpkin seeds on the stove, so I breathed in the salt water steam using that standard chemistry technique - wafting.  By the time the seeds were done, the tea was done.  The longer the ginger tea sits, the spicier it gets, so I've been sipping it slowly. 

I had planned to drink some chicken broth for breakfast, but when I opened it (canned last year at some time - how did I forget to label those?!) it smelled funny.  I can't trust my nose, but I don't want to drink something potentially dangerous.  It looks like I'll be having soup for lunch, as I'll have to defrost some from the freezer to ensure it won't have gone off.

Right now I'm about two hours post-wake up, and I feel much better than I did right after I woke up.  Before, I was considering asking Mr. B to take a sick day, but now I feel like I can make it through the day.  Thursday is our Friday, so he'll be able to help with the kids tomorrow when I need it.  My plan of action going forward is bone broth for lunch, hot liquids throughout the day, more vinegar as needed, and some rest (if I can).

What's your go-to remedy for colds?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Putting Food Up

Preserving, for me, has become part hobby and part mission.  I enjoy canning food for my family for the winter months, but I also feel like it's how I earn my keep.  Mr. B and I try hard to improve skills that allow us to be self-sustainable.  If anything were ever to happen like a job loss or something worse, I feel like we know how to grow or hunt our food, preserve it, and cook it.  We're learning to identify plants in the wild that are edible or medicinal.

In years past, I've made some attempt at canning and preserving foods.  I think my first year was probably just canning applesauce and maybe peaches.  Last year, I stepped it up and preserved:

6 quarts beef broth
5 pints and 1 quart of chicken broth
6 quarts of green beans
16 quarts and 15 pints of peaches
16 half pints of strawberry jam
14 half pints of peach preserves
12.75 quarts of tomato sauce
6 half pints of tomato paste
41.5 half pints of apple butter
3 bags of peach pie filling (frozen)

This year, even though I've been pregnant and now have a newborn, I've been a preserving machine.  In the last couple of months, we've put up:

1 ½ pints honeysuckle syrup
2 pints elderflower syrup
7.5 half pints “hard” strawberry jam
9 half pints “soft” strawberry jam
5 12 oz jars “soft” strawberry jam
4 12 oz jars strawberry jam/syrup
3 lbs frozen blueberries
12 oz maraschino cherries
8 oz cherry pit liqueur (including pits)
4 cups frozen cherries
1 ½ gallons of frozen raspberries
½ gallon raspberry liqueur
1 ½ cups dried apricots
3.8 gal of sumac concentrate  
46 heads of garlic
2 quarts of sage leaves
1 cup of thyme leaves
1 cup of winter savory leaves
1 quart of oregano
9 pint jars of peaches
7 24 oz jars of peaches
35 quart jars of peaches
12 pint jars of spaghetti sauce
5 quart jars of spaghetti sauce
26 quart jars of tomato sauce
5 pint jars of tomato sauce
15 quarts of applesauce
5 pints Pumpkin and Sausage Soup

Some of that which we put up has already been consumed, like the honeysuckle syrup and most of the elderflower syrup.  We have a lot left to do before winter comes, too, so this list will change rather dramatically in the next few months.  Now that apples have come in, I'll be canning (hopefully) a total of 24 quarts of applesauce.  I'll be making and canning a ton of broth and cooked beans when it gets cooler and around the holidays.  I’ve just started experimenting with meats and soups, so hopefully I’ll be able to can more of that as well.  The only problem I'm running into at the moment is storage space, but that's a great problem to have.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - September 15th through 21st

-I saved gas by visiting my mom while in the area.  She gave us a home grown cantaloupe during our visit.

-We canned 15 quarts of applesauce from the apples we bought last week.  We kept the skins on to increase yield and nutrition.

-I made a sugar scrub from 1 part coconut oil and 2 parts sugar.  It's amazing.  It might actually get me to take another crack at the oil cleansing method.

-I made a gallon of water kefir and a gallon of ginger beer for an event we're hosting next week.
-I used onions to beef up some taco meat that I made when a friend and his daughter came over for dinner.

-Mr. B picked greens from the garden and made peach salsa from items on hand for burritos.

-I met a friend for coffee.  She just had her fourth child and I just had my second, so we spent some time reconnecting away from the kids.  It happened to be buy one get one free for fall flavored drinks, so the coffees were essentially half off.

-Mr. B made a greenhouse from some old sliding glass doors we had lying around.

-I saved seeds from our French Brocade marigold.

-We made 12.5 oz of mozzarella cheese from a gallon of milk and kept the whey for other applications.

-I froze 3/4 of a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough that we made in honor of the Letter C to be eaten another day.

-Mr. B picked up 2 bushels of #2 tomatoes for $40.  We canned 26 quarts and 5 pints of tomato sauce.

-Mr. B picked basil from the garden to make margarita pizzas.

-We went to the Rennaissance festival all day without buying any food or drinks.

-I was given a window that was being replaced by a neighbor for the lid of the coldframe.

-A friend brought me and Miss F lunch and spent time with the girls because she knew we were having a hard time adjusting.

-I baked a pumpkin that from a volunteer plant.  The puree became Sausage and Pumpkin Pasta, it was saved for doughnuts tomorrow, and I am toasting the seeds as snacks.

Friday, September 19, 2014

First Foray into Mozzarella Cheese

We've been meaning to try to make mozzarella cheese for a long time now, but we've always been a little nervous to try.  Our milk is really expensive at $7/gallon *cringe* and we didn't want to waste any on an unknown quantity like cheesemaking.  But I found some liquid rennet at the local organic grocery store and bought it a few weeks ago.  Last night, after stumbling on a quick how-to, we took the plunge.  

It was super easy!  All we had to do was heat the milk, add citric acid (which I keep on hand for canning anyway), heat the milk some more, add the rennet, then heat and let it separate.

When the curds stuck together and there was clear separation, it was ready.

 We strained the curds out, added some salt to the whey, and heated the leftover whey back up to almost boiling.

We cut the curds into four pieces.  We ladled hot whey into a Pyrex dish, then Mr. B kneaded the curds in the whey bath. 

When they were hot throughout and stretched nicely, he lightly salted it and formed them into balls.  We put them in a lidded Pyrex bowl in the fridge.  

Tonight, we used that mozzarella with homegrown basil, local tomatoes, and homemade pizza crust to make two amazingly delicious deep dish margarita pizzas in #8 and #10 cast iron pans.  Yum!!

The Letter C

This week we learned about the letter C.  We read It's C! by Oona Gaarder-Juntti a couple of times.  We talked about words that started with the letter C (like Miss F's little sister's name!).  We watched The Letter C Song and C is for Cookie from Sesame Street. Everything's been really lax, but today I decided to do something more special and purposeful:  chocolate chip cookies in the shape of the letter C!  What could be more c-tastic than that?

We made the cookies together - I'd scoop ingredients and Miss F would dump them in the KitchenAid.  We even had a learning moment for both of us when I was at the cabinet getting more ingredients and she turned the mixer on all the way up to 10!  I haven't moved like that in a while - I was hurdling toys left and right in the 20 feet to the mixer.
We made three C's and an A because Miss F requested it.  I'm posting a before picture because the after picture was (unsurprisingly) four large blobs of cookie not at all resembling the letters we made.  They were tasty though, even if I might be regretting pumping her full of sugar an hour before naptime... :o)


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Recharging and Appreciating My Family

My mom had knee surgery a week ago Monday.  She lives about 45 minutes away, so I don't get to see her every week, but I do see her frequently.  We had a pediatrician appointment halfway between our houses yesterday, so we went to visit.  She was out, so we beat her there by about half an hour.

Before my mom got home, I was on my last nerve.  Miss F had a very pooey diaper, so I was trying to change her.  But no amount of bargaining was making this diaper go well.  Miss F was arching her back, stomping her feet, trying to roll over, and driving me nuts.  I threatened her (we'll leave before Grammy gets here), begged her (PLEASE just stop moving), and generally griped at her.  I got her diaper on, then had to go wash it out.  My mom's water pressure is atrocious, so it took me ten minutes to wash it out.

Meanwhile, Miss C is screaming.  I kept asking Miss F to give her a pacifier, but she was busy getting into things.  When I came out of the bathroom, she was trying to use pliers on my mom's dog.  Thankfully, she was just opening and closing the pliers near the dog and did no harm.  One kid screaming, one kid getting into trouble, and I was fried.  I hated all the yelling and pleading and threatening, and I knew it wasn't working.  When my mom came home, everything had *just* calmed down.  I was about to lose it.  So Grammy, eight days post surgery, and Nana (my grandmother) decided to have Miss F stay the night with them.

Last night, Mr. B and I used the time to get some canning done and it was past Miss F's bedtime by the time I got off of work anyway, so we didn't really notice the difference.  This morning, though, was a totally different story.  I've had time to think about how our family's been living the last five weeks or so.  I know I've been really snarky with Mr. B, even though I know it's not right.  To some extent, I feel like he's been too sensitive, and in some ways, I know that my "jokes" are cheap shots for no reason.  I have no idea why I've been behaving the way I have, except maybe hormones and stress.

So I've taken this morning with Miss C to really appreciate her this morning and to think about how life has been since her birth.   She was wide awake and pretty darn happy.  Usually when she's like this, I don't notice because I'm too busy dealing with Miss F or working on housework.  This has to change.

So I'm going to try a project.  I love projects if you haven't noticed.  I need to appreciate my family more and communicate what I need and want more often.  Every day, I'm going to make it a point to tell Mr. B that I appreciate something he's doing.  He does SO MUCH for us.  I'm so lucky to have him.  He never complains about being asked to do something - changing a baby, washing dishes or diapers, cleaning, he does it all.  We believe that if we both try to give 100%, then we'll end up somewhere 50/50. 

I'm also going to spend some one-on-one time with Miss F while working on being present.  I need to stop worrying about things I need to do, I won't put her off for the baby (if I can help it), and I'll let her direct the time.  I'm sick of nagging her when it doesn't really work anyway.

And I've got to spend some one-on-one time with Miss C aside from midnight nursing sessions.  She deserves the time and attention that Miss F got as a baby.  Right now, I've been handing her off to Mr. B or putting her in a cradle as soon as she's done eating or being changed.  She's waking up and growing now that she's a month old, and I haven't noticed at all until today.

Every day I shape my family, and I don't want to wake up one day with a henpecked husband, a tantrum-throwing and attention seeking toddler, and an ignored baby.

Miss C looking happy to see me this morning 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - September 8th through 14th

This week flew by.  I know we did things this week, but I'm not sure if I could tell you what it was.  This'll be a relatively short list.

-Organized the pantry and the freezer so that we can tell what food we have and use it more effectively.

-Hosted a game night for five friends and made homemade pizza to feed the group.

-Picked up a half bushel of very nice seconds peaches for $7.50.  We canned them and got 9 quarts and 9 pints (not including two more pints that shattered while processing-we need new jars.)

-Bought more apples for applesauce.  Since we had a nice family day and picked more than 20 lbs of apples, the price dropped by $0.10 per pound.  I'll have to can the apples either during the day or on Wednesday, because I ran out of jars and we have a showing today.  I'm buying more quart jars this afternoon.

-Made it through a whole day of antiquing and walking a street festival without spending any money.

-Mr. B and Miss F made a batch of beer from a kit Mr. B got for Christmas while I slept in (until 8) on Friday morning.  This will give us about 50 bottles of beer in 6 weeks or so.

-Took all of the air conditioners out.  Since there's no gap in the window now, we'll be saving more energy.  Our biggest heating/cooling expense is our baseboard heat, so I'm hoping to put off turning them on until December.

Friday, September 12, 2014

B is for Beer!

Mr. B's work schedule is changed so that he's home on Fridays and Saturdays, and works Sunday through Thursday.  So today begins our weekend.  He was very sweet and let me sleep three hours longer than usual this morning while he took care of the girls.  When I woke up, something smelled different - good, but different.

Turns out he got up at 5:30 (roughly his normal wake up time) with Miss C and decided to finally bite the bullet and brew some beer.  He's had the ingredients since my dad bought it for him at Christmas, but he hasn't had the time.  Each five gallon batch makes about 50 bottles of beer.  While the physical brewing is hot and time intensive, I love the bottling process near the end.  When the primary fermentation is done, I'll post on the progress of the batch.

 Miss F looking mischievous as Daddy checks the temperature of the brew.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Letter B

Our letter of the week "lessons" have settled into a flow where every day has at least a reference of the letter, and it's very laid back. On Monday, we read Ben, Billy, and the Birdhouse by Cecilia Mendin and Joanne Meier.  We've actually read it probably 30 times already since getting it from the library last week, but it was our official activity yesterday.  On her own, Miss F sang the "buh" sound to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  I think I'm going to count it, even though - or especially since - I didn't come up with the idea.


Miss F has been asking for pancakes lately, so today, for the letter B, I made blueberry pancakes.


For good measure, I also made a lowercase b out of batter.


Apparently, I took too long, because Miss F filled up on pears while I was making pancakes and wouldn't touch them when they were ready. But we still talked about B making the "buh" sound, blueberries, and other things that started with B. I think I'll freeze the letter I made and break it out for the letter d :o)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - September 1st through 7th

I've been reading the blog The Prudent Homemaker for a couple of years now.  She posts, among other things, a weekly list of her frugal accomplishments.  Since I'm the type of person who needs to have a record of accomplishments in order to stay motivated, I'm going to try to keep a record of the little things that we do to keep our expenses down.

-Cooked up bacon and saved the grease for future cooking.  One pound of bacon yielded one cup of grease, which will keep us at least a month.  The bacon was local and nitrate free bacon that we picked up at the farmer's market.

-Cut herbs from our front yard: oregano, chives, sage, thyme, winter savory.  Chives and some thyme were put in vinegar.  Everything else is hanging to dry.

-Cleaned and re-seasoned a new-to-me cast iron chicken fryer.  It needed to be done, but it also served as practice before I re-season a rare waffle maker that my dad found for me at a flea market.  I've started re-seasoning the collar of the waffle maker as well.

-Made cloth diaper detergent for the first time.  With two in cloth, Rockin' Green (at $15 a bag) got to be too expensive.  I wish I would have looked for a recipe sooner! It seems to be working really well.  It's just 1 cup of borax, 1 cup of washing soda, and 1/2 cup of OxiClean Free.  That small amount of ingredients that I happened to have on hand will wash 20-40 loads of diapers.  Woo hoo for not leaving the house AND not spending any extra money!

-Gleaned 25 pounds of apples from my grandfather's yard.

-Gleaned 18 Bartlett pears and 5 Asian pears from my dad's yard.

-Received one honeydew melon from my mom's yard.

-Used a rotisserie chicken carcass and garlic papers to make chicken stock.

-Stored 1/3 of a loaf of bread that accidentally got left out and went stale to use later as bread crumbs.

-Foraged a handful of grapes from a local park. We missed the season this year :-(

-Changed our cell phone plans so that we save approximately $30 per month.

-Harvested five jalapenos, two pumpkins, and three figs.  There is one more mostly ripe fig and a few unripe ones on the tree.  This is our first year with this tree - not a bad haul.

-Found a 2 year old boneless chuck roast in the freezer (oops) and cooked enough pot roast for dinner, 2 lunches for Mr. B, and 2 pints of meat for other meals.

-Cooked down 1 bushel of Roma tomatoes for spaghetti/pizza sauce.  The herbs and some of the garlic used in the sauce were collected from our front yard.  We canned 11 pints so far with more on the stove right now.

-Inventoried the pantry.  I need to find a system that works for us that allows me to see how much we actually eat.  There are some things (creamed corn) that have been there forever, and some things (jam) that we ration because I'm afraid of running out.  If I know how much of things we eat, I can buy more or less when it's on sale, and we'll end up saving money.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

You Win Some, You Lose Some

When we were in the hospital with Miss C, Mr. B's mom drove his car back to our house and left his lights on with the keys locked in the car.  The battery was dead by the time we got home, so he jumped his car from mine.  As it turns out, my alternator was on its way out, and jumping the car fried it.  We didn't learn this until all of the battery-dependent systems (including lights and windshield wipers) died...while driving on a the pouring rain...with two kids in the car.

We researched how to replace an alternator ourselves, but we really couldn't do it without a good possibility of ruining something else in the process because of how my engine compartment is set up.  So I found a reputable car repair shop, and it cost us over $500 to replace the alternator.  It had to be replaced, but it was rather a painful expense.  It always seems to go that we make a little headway with our finances, but get knocked back on our rear ends.

Thankfully, Mr. B had just volunteered to change his schedule so that he made time-and-a-half on one of his work days, and I'm starting to tutor again.  I'm trying to tell myself we'll be back to where we were in three months or so, but it's difficult not to be discouraged.

BUT, some things have gone our way. Right after picking my car up at the shop, we ran to meet a member of a natural living group from Facebook that I had been talking to. My water kefir grains have been prolific, so I've been giving them away to strangers and friends alike. I met this woman at a local farm with a CSA program. She was so grateful for the grains that she gave us some much needed eggs from her CSA share. I hadn't mentioned that we needed them, but we really did need them.

I realized the farm was really close to my grandfather's house, so we called him on our way out. He had us come over to pick apples from the tree in his yard. The apples were just spoiling on the lawn and attracting deer and bees. He has an old picker that he made himself. It's three metal bars wire tied to a garden stake with an old onion bag on a circular wire.


He can't find an onion bag to fit it anymore, so he's been taping it back together over the years.  I mentioned that our local farm store had a picker for sale, but he just said his father's picker was homemade as well.  I think he liked to carry on that tradition.  We got over 25 pounds of apples for just an hour worth of work on Mr. B's part and an hour's worth of visiting on mine. A lot of the apples have large bad spots, but they're free, and they'll be great applesauce.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Day Two Success

Today was a good day for the letter A!


Grammy came over to spend some time with the girls, and she reread It's A! with Miss F. When she left, Miss F and I took some homemade play-doh outside and made letters. I was pleasantly surprised when Miss F identified A without any prompting! Of course, I prompted her a couple more times just to make sure she could do it :o)

I made her an apple out of the play-doh, and we talked about things that started with the letter A.  Then, I gave her free play time with the play-doh while I made some lunch.

I'm not going to post every homeschooling activity we do, but I was rather pleased with the goings-on today.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Our First Day!

Our first day of homeschooling started out with a whimper on a casual note.  Our letter of the week is A (obviously).  A lady for whom I tutor gave us some animal crackers for Miss F yesterday, so I took advantage of the opportunity.  Miss F found the baggie today, and we counted out crackers for her snack.  We talked about "A is for animal crackers" and tried to identify the animals as she ate them.  As a kid, I remember the animals being much more distinct, but we gave them all names anyway.

We got several books from the library, and read the first one:  It's A! by Mary Elizabeth Salzmann.  It's a nice little book about the sounds A makes and the words that start with and include those sounds.

While at the library, I also picked up Let them Play by Jeff A. Johnson and Denita Dinger.  It's funny, since I'm trying to institute a somewhat vaguely structured learning experience, and at the same time, I am interested in and am actively pursuing learning through play.  I can't wait until we move, because poor Miss F has been stifled in the play arena due to the nature of our yard.  Since almost everything in our yard is edible, she tries to rip up and eat everything she can find.  That means that I have to watch her constantly - not because I'm afraid that she'll hurt herself, but because I'm afraid we will have no plants left when she's done.  Everything that's not gardened is on a steep slope.  So she can either play on the hill, or on the very splintery deck.  Poor kiddo.

Tomorrow is Mr. B's first day back to work since Miss C's birth, so I'll get my first full day experiencing life as a SAHM of two.