Sunday, October 19, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - October 13th through 19th

- I made meringues and ginger syrup for a friend using ingredients we had on hand.  Miss F, Miss C, and I went over to her house for a playdate and had lunch there.  She sent us home with delicious, homemade watermelon rind pickles.

- I used leftover rice from one of our chicken meals to make rice pudding for Mr. B.  It's one of his favorite desserts.

- I finally got back around to making fresh bread.  We had been working with frozen bread for quite a while.

- I made pancakes for lunch (Miss F has been asking for them for a VERY long time), and froze a batch.

- I made oatmeal pancakes for the freezer.  They'll be a much heartier breakfast when it gets cold.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - October 6th through 12th

- We bought two firethorn bushes for the price of one.  Right under the front windows, they will lend both security and beauty to the front yard.

-Mr. B separated one solomon's seal plants into two to add symmetry to the bed.

- I repainted the bulkhead and one wall in the kitchen to make it look fresher for the pictures of our house online.

- Mr. B planted ornamental-but-edible purple kale in our garden to make it more appealing to buyers.

- I took two kids to the grocery store by myself.  Frugal?  Maybe, maybe not.  Accomplishment?  Certainly.

- We were gifted three boxes of warm winter clothing for Miss C, as well as a car seat cover.  Miss F was born two months earlier than Miss C, so her three month clothing was all summer related.

- I reserved homeschooling books for Miss F for the next three weeks through the library.

- I treated a rash/chemical burns on Miss F caused by a sensitivity to disposable diapers with coconut oil and neosporin with good results.

- We bought 10 very large onions (~11 lbs) at $1 a piece at the farmer's market.  This is a good price for local onions.

- We bought sustainably raised sardines on sale at Costco.  We had never tried them before but knew they were a healthy food.  We loved them and plan on stocking up.

- We bought windshield wipers at Costco at half of their normal price.  Mr B's wipers were so bad that half of the rubber was detached from the wiper on each side.

- Mr. B stripped, caulked, and repainted the front door's frame where the paint was badly peeling.

- I used OxiClean free to soak out the stains in some of the old baby clothes before they are to be put in storage.

- We donated some clothing that is out of season given our girls' birthdays.

- I made roast chicken and root veggies and broke down the bird for five days worth of meals.

What frugal accomplishments have you undertaken this week?

One Chicken, Five Dinners

A few days ago I got the bright idea to start up Sunday roasts again.  Though Mr. B works on Sundays, I'm free during naptime about three hours before dinner time, so it seems like a good time to cook solidly healthy food.  Whenever I moan and complain about the price of local, humanely raised chickens (about $20 per chicken), I think about all the meals that one bird's life gives us.  All food included, we can feed three people (two adults and one toddler) for five days for less than the cost of going to McDonald's twice.  I think that's pretty darn good.

Today, I made Ina Garten's perfect roast chicken.  We're not huge fennel fans, so instead, I threw in chopped parsnips.  As I was prepping the carrots, onions, parsnips, and garlic, I threw the peels into a ziploc that we keep in our freezer.

I made the chicken in my cast iron dutch oven.  I've never done that before (I always use a roasting pan), but it turned out really well.

Night One:  I pulled the chicken out onto a platter to cool while we ate the legs for dinner.  After the chicken was cool, I stripped every bit of meat off and portioned it out into pyrex bowls.  The breast meat is kept in two large pieces.  The thigh meat and various bits will be chopped up when we use it.

The carcass went back into the dutch oven with the veggie scraps from the freezer, a little apple cider vinegar, and enough water to cover it.  It'll simmer on the stove for the next few days.  Add water as necessary to keep the levels up.

Night Two:  Half of the breast meat will be panini for tomorrow night.  I use homemade bread, a little mustard, an apple sliced thinly, colby cheese, chicken slices, and whatever greens we can find in the yard.  I fry it up in a little butter in a #8 cast iron skillet.

Night Three:  The thigh meat will be made into chicken shepherd's pie.  Yes, it's a recipe from my old Weight Watchers days, but it's tasty nonetheless.  You can use the chicken broth that's been simmering on your stove and add back a little water to the pot.

Night Four:   The other half of the breast meat will be made into burrito bowls.  Even though it's already been cooked, you can season it with cumin, cilantro, and oregano, and it'll be just like it was cooked from fresh.  If you add a little broth in during reheating, it keeps it from drying out.

Night Five:  Chicken noodle soup of course!  Ours is really simplistic - strained broth, noodles, carrots, celery, and the last of the chicken - light, dark, or otherwise.

That will bring us round to Friday, which is already our traditional homemade pizza-and-a-movie night.  Next week, we'll make a beef roast, and see how many great recipes we can make out of that.

What do you do to make the most of your food budget?

Monday, October 6, 2014

A "Reel" Good Find

For weeks now, my dad's been telling us we should go to this massive outdoor flea market that he and his girlfriend like to go to in West Virginia. We kept agreeing that we'd go sometime, but we only finally got to go yesterday. It was absolutely huge, with a decidedly country feel to it. There were old tools, kitchenware, kids' toys, and military surplus among other things. My big draw was the cast iron. I'm in need of at least a chicken fryer lid and a dutch oven that go with my Wagner Ware collection. While I didn't find those, I did find a cast iron bundt pan, which is very difficult to find a good price. Mine cost $30, so I picked it up on the spot.

As we continued to walk around, the old tools started to catch Mr. B's eye. He found vices and hand drills, and other things that would be nice to have, but decided not to get them because we're trying to move. A couple of small gardening tools he couldn't put down - he bought a dandelion digger and a folding pruning saw. We assumed that we had each gotten something both practical and desired and that the day was a success.

In the last row, though, we found something that made us both giddy. It was an old reel mower that was in great condition. We've talked about getting a new one for a few years, but they're expensive and you can't try them out. This one was priced at $25 and as far as they cared, you could mow the grass near their stall all day if you wanted. It was surprisingly easy to push, and makes this great sound somewhere between the pull cord sound of an electric mower and an old sewing machine.

$22 later, and it was coming home with us.  As soon as we got home, Mr. B had to try it out. He got two rows into the yard and asked if I wanted to try. I found it so much fun that I finished the yard off for him.

I feel great pride in our new purchases. I don't usually shop much, but these directly contribute to our household productivity. They  make our home feel more like the 1930s lifestyle that we like to try to emulate. I'm excited for the day that we can find a house with a wood stove to cook with my cast iron on and come a little closer to living our dreams.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - September 29th through October 5th

-We made it through the month of September having spent only $5 on food consumed outside of home.  In August, we spent $214.

-I finished our accounting for the month of September and we discussed where we can make further cuts so
that we can continue for me to stay home.

-To clean out our fridge, I made "garbage soup" out of pot roast drippings, homemade beef stock, pasta, frozen leftover kidney beans, and leftover green peas.  Garbage soup is always random leftovers, but rarely tastes bad :o)

-Mr. B helped a local woman get rid of a pile of debris by bringing it to our house.  He got an 8 foot 2x4, six lawn refuse bags full of yard waste, and a large pile of wood to use for a fire in our chiminea.

-I picked up two more tutoring students to help pay bills.

-I made ketchup and Mr. B then made cocktail sauce to go with fish and chips for dinner.

-Mr. B made a pepper jack like cheese tonight.  Out of the whey, I made ricotta, then soaked some black beans in whey leftover from the ricotta.  $3.95 plus existing ingredients got us 12.5 oz cheese, about 1 cup of ricotta, and a ton of leftover whey.

-Mr. B's company had a catered lunch (Chipotle) with a lot left over, so he brought home a large bowl of carnitas and guacamole for us to eat for dinner.

-Mr. B gathered some wood from a local park to make borders in our garden to better define the beds.

-We helped an acquaintance dig out her sweet potatoes.  In return, we got 1/4 bushel of sweet potatoes, a massive amount of fresh parsley, a huge bunch of rosemary, and two grocery bags full of apples.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Letter D

Due to the family being ill, last week's activities for the letter D were mostly comprised of watching videos (Letter D Song and Letter D Song) and reading books (Dan's Darn Dog by Joanne Meier and Cecilia Minden.

By Friday, we were well enough to make some pumpkin spice doughnuts, but not well enough for me to remember to take pictures before they were eaten :o)

The Super-Long Saga of Real Estate Woes and New Hope

Our house has been on the market since May.  When we decided to sell it, we asked the agent who sold it to us to sell it for us, and she accepted.  Given that we've never sold a house before, we didn't know what to expect.  We knew that her commission was the standard rate, so we signed a contract.

We spent the month of May working on the house - new shutters, new paint in the first floor rooms, cleaning carpets, and packing up and moving our things to my dad's house.  We told ourselves it would only be for a few months, and we very quickly found a house we wanted to move into.

We soon had some reservations about the process.  The pictures that the realtor took (some with a cellphone) were blurry or at odd angles.  I retook the pictures with my camera and emailed them to her.  It would take a couple of days for her to email us back with any question or comment we had.  Our first open house had only two visitors.  One was immediately uninterested (they had severe cat allergies and would have to rip all of the carpeting out).  The other, we were told, was considering a contract!  We packed and moved MUCH more of our things anticipating leaving at any time!  But we had patchy communication from our agent, and two weeks later, found out the interested person chose to continue renting her house, which is fine.  Next one, right? 

We had two showings.  After each showing, we had to keep hounding our agent to give us any feedback at all from the showings.  What could we do to sell this house??  We were facing a very scary deadline - I was due in August.  We wanted certainty about where this baby would be born.

We scheduled another open house six weeks after the first, and no one came at all.  We had three more showings.  Again, no communication from our agent.  I've been asking since July - should we drop the price?  Put in new carpet?  Offer closing cost help?  She was very non-committal about all of it.  Mr. B and I put a lot of work into making flyers for his workplace (nearby with about 200 workers) and posting on Facebook about our house, but we couldn't do it often.  Was this what people usually have to do when they hire someone to sell their house?  All in all, we had five showings in four and a half months with no contracts and no real feedback.

The final straw came when our neighbors put their house on the market last week.  They put it on at $5,000 more than ours, but with an extra half bath, hardwood floors, and central air.  Over the fence, I saw their real estate company taking pictures - a real camera!  And I looked at their listing online.  Their house looked amazing.  I've been inside of it before, it's not *that* different from ours.  After all, we're in a townhouse.

I was despondent.  We'll never be able to lower our price enough to attract a buyer.  We started looking into refinancing, but that would add $10,000 back to our loan, and put us right back where we started with this house five years ago.  Not to mention, we only have two bedrooms and there are four of us now, with hopefully more in the future.  I asked our realtor to give specific steps that she has taken and will take to sell our house.  She posted the listing in a couple of little papers (though not the major papers in the area), and listed them online with places like Zillow and  She said she might considering taking different pictures to put the listing back up the top of the sales pages, and maybe dropping the price more.

I'd been avoiding looking at our listing, but I wanted to see what we had compared to the neighbors.  I looked at the pictures online, and I was appalled!  Those were not the pictures I sent her.  They were completely washed out, blurry, and cropped.  They only showed half of the front of our house (the bottom half). 

We solicited selling agent recommendations from friends, and one came over Monday night.  For the same commission, they have a staging service tell you what needs to be done, moved, painted, etc.  They have professional photographers come with lights and special lenses to accurately capture the room.  They use social media to promote the house and the events associated with it.  They call or email us at least once a week to check in and give a progress report.  The list goes on.

While I felt badly about letting our agent go, we had to do what was best for our family.  Monday night we asked to terminate our contract, and will be pursuing a new contract with a different agent.  While I have been stressed about this house for MONTHS now, I'm finally feeling hopeful.  Someone can guide us and tell us what needs to be done instead of me fumbling in the dark, always feeling inadequate and wondering "should we repaint that again?  Take more things out?  Replace carpet?"  Rather than thinking we might have to pay for someone to take our house, we might break even or - dare I say it - make just a little on it.  I don't need a lot, I just need out.  And, God willing, we might be able to stop living out of boxes at my dad's house and call a new place home before Miss C has her first birthday.