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More photos today…

Home Tour! 022It was foggy outside on Saturday morning, but I’m not sure how the mist got into our front hall.

Home Tour! 010The living room.  This is Elijah’s favorite chair, but when we bought it it was going to be MY favorite chair.  The print above the chair is an old photograph of Gloucester, Virginia, my husband’s home town.  I found the lamp at a garage sale for $5.  The table is an auction purchase, a 1970s/80s Thomasville Furniture piece that I painted black.

Home Tour! 011The dog’s favorite chair, with washable slipcover.  Is it any wonder I never get to sit down?!  This is one of a pair of wing chairs we inherited from my parents.  My dear friend Kim made the quilt for our wedding.  The print above this chair is by a local artist, Flora Schinkle, and it’s the church steeple and water tower in the last town we lived in, Richmond, Minnesota.  It’s part of a series of small town steeples and water towers that she’s painted.

Home Tour! 012I took many of these photos in the early morning before the Home Tour started, so they are dark.  It was a foggy start to that day.  The living room walls are “River Rock” blue/gray by Behr and do not normally look periwinkle like this.  We painted both the front and back porch ceilings the same blue.  The trunk/coffee table is an antique with the name Jules Thorner carved into it–likely it traveled from Scandinavia to America in the late 1800s.  I bought it when I was in college and already an antique lover (have been since jr. high, really).

I sewed the curtains the day before the tour, and they turned out lovely.  They are upholstery fabric I’ve had for ages, with a backing of light blue gingham sheets I’ve also had stashed.  These are so easy to make, just put the front and back wrong sides together, sew around all sides but leave a little opening so you can turn them right side out.  Turn in and sew up that little bit, then hang from clip rings.  I got many compliments on them so I’m glad I got them done and hung.

Home Tour! 013

The print above the bookshelf is by a local St. Cloud artist, Nona Huyler, and it is ice skaters on Lake George which is our neighborhood lake and is just a couple blocks from our house.  I framed both the Richmond and Lake George prints in cheap 16×20 frames and mats from Michaels.  You can see we are just using cheap tray tables from Bed, Bath and Beyond for end tables on either side of the couch.  We also use these for lunch and weekend breakfasts all the time because I grew up eating lunch in front of Sesame Street at my grandma’s, so it’s kind of nostalgic for me–bad parenting or not.

George used shoe polish on the leather couch the night before the tour, covering up the cat scratches which were bad but not horrible.  I saw him doing it and said, “that better look good in the daylight”, and it did.   A new idea!

Home Tour! 056The dining room, later in the day when the sun shone through the west piano windows.  George made the table during a weekend class several years ago at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  It is a family heirloom now, with a pine base and a top made from huge fir beams from an old Lutheran church in Wisconsin.  The benches were bought for half price at World Market, and at $100 each they were much cheaper than buying six chairs.  I sewed all the curtains in here the day before the tour, as well, with fabric I’d had-again-for ages.  The bookshelf in the far corner was a dumpster dive freebie; it was ugly plywood that I painted Cranberry (the paint was also free, from our county’s hazardous waste site where they give away paint that has been brought in for disposal).  It is now just a nice basic bookshelf that holds a lot of stuff.

Home Tour! 036Here I have just sewed a bottom from the calico fabric onto cheapie Target tab-top curtains that came with our house.  I was going to do something fancier, but then I came up with this idea at the last minute, saving time and actually looking better than my original idea.

Home Tour! 039And more curtains made at the last minute, inside this old cabinet/secretary desk which was a $25 auction buy.  It came with no doors so I had them made (roughly) for $65 and then painted it the same Cranberry color.  You can see we have french doors between living room and dining room, and from the living room into the hall.

Home Tour! 017The freshly white-painted back porch.  I promised a photo of a window seat with cubbies a few posts back.  Well, here’s how it went.  George had the top cut out of an old ping pong table from the neighbor’s trash pile.  He was making a frame from some oak 1x2s from another neighbor’s pile.  Sitting in bed the night before he was going to install it, I said, “Now,” (and you know how that “now” went), “the window seat will have a base, right, so it can sit up off the floor with a 1×4 as a baseboard around the bottom and then quarter-round and stuff?  Right?”

Well, somehow I had not been clear enough when I telepathically showed my husband my vision for this window seat (which I had to stop calling a bench because it was to be taller than a bench so that had been confusing him all along).  And as you can see, the window seat/bench/cubbies that were to hold these blue bins and NOT SHOES, no not shoes or boots or anything like that because that wasn’t what I wanted either.  Well, anyways…you can see I made do with a bench from the front porch to hold the bins (which I hope to replace with similarly-sized cuter baskets someday).

Home Tour! 021And the kitchen.  You’ve seen this angle, but here it is with mums and lemon balm in the pitcher, and a bowl of tomatoes on the counter so you know it’s now September.  I also added a little Tirolean wood carving/wall hanging of Mary and Jesus to the wall.  I’m not even Catholic, but I got this recently in a box at a neighbor’s auction and I think it’s so sweet and adds patina to the wall.  Also, it adds a 5th item because any grouping should have an odd number of items, correct?  Well, who cares.  I still need more old stuff in my beautiful but too-shiny kitchen, though.

Home Tour! 043And another kitchen angle, now that the windows are in and painted.  On top of the fridge I have an old crate with my cookbooks in it, something I’ve done in all our houses.  The basket is from an Amish woman’s home in Harmony, Minnesota.  The curtains are a $2 garage sale find.  The cookie jar is Goodwill.  The breadmaker is $5 garage sale.  The toaster was purchased with wedding money 14 years ago and is still going strong.  And George thought $65 for a toaster was too much!  My kids and I are huge toast people, so it was an investment.  Ha Ha.

Oh, and where it looks like there’s a hole under the sink, it actually WAS a hole because that piece of cabinet keeps falling off.  But George put a double layer of hardware wire/chicken mesh in there, spray painted the same brown as the cabinet handles.  It is dark so maybe we’ll paint it the cabinet color someday.

So there you have the main floor of our 1925 Foursquare here in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  This type of house is very common in Minnesota and we have tried to do both its history and present usage justice.  It’s fun to have it “done”.

Soon I’ll show you the second floor.

The other day I wrote about how we have just 77 bucks for gas and groceries (and spending in general) for the next two weeks.  A big part of that is because we had the unusual expense of Rose’s choir tuition, a couple hundred bucks for the year of choir (a bargain in kids’ activities, really).  We actually have a little money in savings, and even some more in the checkbook, but all that is untouchable except in an emergency!  I can make do on that 77 dollars because of a few tricks I’ve learned on how to stretch a dollar, so I’m really not worrying about it.  Well, maybe we worried a little when the final tally came in, but not much.

In the not-too-distant past, when we had a shortfall like that, we would’ve made up the difference with a credit card, “just until the next paycheck comes in and we’ll pay it back”.  Well, when the next paycheck comes in, invariably there are a million other things to spend that money on and the credit card bill hasn’t arrived yet, etc. etc. and eventually you’re up to your eyeballs in credit card debt just because of a few large and lots of little “oh this doesn’t count” purchases.

Been there.  Done that.  Much of my “adult” life.  And we’ve got to change our ways!  Is it really worth taking out a mini loan and paying big interest to that huge bank just to have that meal at Taco John’s?  Or those school supplies which are “on-sale-now-and-won’t-be-in-two-weeks” when I actually have the cash?  (Could you hear me hyper-ventilating with fear there in those quotation marks?  Our consumer culture loves to have us quaking in our boots about sales, “buy now!”, “get it today!”, “prices will NEVER BE THIS LOW AGAIN”!)  And you start shaking and think, I’d better get these notebooks now while they’re only 10.cents.each!!!

Oh my gosh, have I fallen for that one.  I was RAISED to fall for that.  Weren’t we all?  Those of us in our pre-teens, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s seem to have been, at least.  At least since the 1940s.  Since TV, maybe even before.

George and I are really trying hard to stop it, though.  He has a better background than me, having been raised frugally, but one can’t say he’s been the perfect “Frugal Freddie” either (I made that up).  Both of us really know how to stretch a buck, though, when needed.

Some helps I have found are, first, Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette.  I read this early in our marriage, when we were trying to merge two people with huge school debt (mine) into one income (his).  What I got out of Amy’s books wasn’t so much about how to use juice can lids in 101 different ways, or what to do with old tinfoil, but more a philosophy of thinking.  A philosophy I’ve only been sometimes good at, because sometimes you just gotta rebel and spend some money, eh?  She calls that “spendthrift” thinking, of course…But the main thing that won’t leave my mind from The Tightwad Gazette’s pages is the questioning of each purchase, “is the value of this item to me worth the effort it took to earn the money for it?”  I try to teach my kids to ask the same question.  Do you love it?  How much does it cost you in time to earn/get that money?  Fortunately, I think my kids are really good at it!  Hopefully better than their parents…

Some online sites I’ve found very helpful are:

Hillbilly Housewife–I actually took the time and ink to print out her entire $45 a week meal plan (though those recipes were priced just a few years ago in 2006, in 2009 the same items cost $70 a week–there’s some major inflation for you and no wonder we all feel strapped!) and all the recipes for that menu.  I love her Rock Bottom Salmon Patties, even more than my old Salmon Patty recipe (the most searched for post on my old blog, The Zahn Zone, by the way).  Hillbilly Housewife has lots of good recipes and ideas for feeding the family on a low budget.  For us, of course, having a pantry stocked with good foods purchased on sale, and gardening, has made a big difference in our budget.

Frugal Girls! and Money Saving Mom have been helpful for some “fun” freebies and coupon deals that I otherwise wouldn’t know about.  For example, through them, I heard about and signed up on the Noodles and Company website and got a free birthday meal and a BOGO coupon for another meal, which allowed for some fun lunches out I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

I also love Brenda’s pantry posts at her blog, Coffee Tea Books and Me.  Brenda and her husband live on disability and occasional jobs, and she’s very forthright with how they do it and still have a bit for those “simple pleasures” in life, such as coffee, tea and books (the very same “simple pleasures” that I will spend my last dime on!).  She has many links to her pantry-stocking posts, and other frugal living sites, on the side of her blog.

And lastly, I got most of my stocking the pantry motivation from Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book.  There are reasons other than saving money to have a full pantry, and if you want more information on that do some searching through her excellent blog.

I also like to decorate my house on the cheap, as you know from my kitchen post.  And in thinking about how I’ve learned to do that, I have to say most of it comes out of my own imagination.  I do search for bargains in fabric, or at garage sales, but a lot of it comes down to imagination.  I get a big rush from making something look nice for very little money.  Whereas some people paint, or play music, or scrapbook, making my home look pretty (with as little sewing as I can get by with!) is my “art form”.

Fortunately, I have a husband who’s a willing participant in my art form.  He can take a piece of old ping pong table plywood from one neighbor, some oak 1×2″s from someone’s scrap pile, bead-board we got through freecycle, and some free paint from the county hazardous waste site, and transform it into the back porch window-seat-with-cubbies of my dreams…You’ll see photos of that hopefully after this weekend!  Having a handy husband is essential to my decorating “cents”, though I suppose I could learn to do that stuff myself.  Nah, I’d just do more garage sale shopping and make do with what I found.

Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Do without.

~old New England saying

I love that one!

The morrow was a bright September morn;
The earth was beautiful as if new-born;
There was that nameless splendor everywhere
That wild exhilaration in the air.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After a break from this for quite a while, I’m going to post an Independence Days update as I used to do on my former blog, The Zahn Zone. Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book is the originator of these posts and she put one of her own up the other day, at this link here…I didn’t do much gardening this summer because I didn’t feel well (sometime I’ll write about my surgery for hyperparthyroidism, but not yet…all went well).  I’m feeling much better now, more energy and ability to get things done, so I am able to do more just in time for harvest.  Yay!

This summer George did most of the garden work in our own yard.  We still have the four 4×4′ square foot gardening-style beds in the front yard, and a larger garden in the back yard.  Things are growing well out there.  We have green beans coming, cabbage ripening until the first frost when it will taste better to harvest, potatoes waiting until we dig them up, and peppers and tomatoes slowly ripening.  It’s been a cold summer, and our yard is not the sunniest so we don’t do so well with tomatoes.  And that’s one reason we also participated in two community gardens this summer–one at our church, Bethlehem Lutheran, and another just a few blocks away at St. Cloud State University.

So here are the Independence Days categories and what we’ve been working on.  I have no idea what Independence Days week we’re in, but I know we’re into the second year of this.  Time to start keeping track again!…

Plant something:  Nothing new has been planted this week, but we should get some lettuce seeds in the ground.  It’s been such a cool summer the kale and greens have kept right on growing when we only cut off stalks and don’t pull them up by the roots, so we still have some cool-season crops coming without a new planting.

Harvest something:  George filled a 5-gallon bucket with tomatoes from our church’s garden last night.  We have put them in the freezer, washed and in zip-loc baggies until we can get to making sauce (which will be AFTER our house is on the home tour on Sept. 12).  We also harvest green beans, carrots, tomatoes and peppers, herbs and beets from our garden as needed for meals, and every day this summer my little Tristar strawberry patch has yielded enough berries for each of us to have a small bowlful.  I harvested several quarts of grapes from our own grape vine and so far have made a couple batches of jelly, but there’s more to be made.  Maybe today…Oh, and we’ve had basil, zucchini, a watermelon and cucumbers from the University garden lately.  I also picked eight little apples off a neighbor’s tree, with his permission (thanks John!), to share with the kids.  They are yummy!  And of course, we harvest eggs from our four hens every day.  (Thanks, ladies!)

Preserve something:  With the 6 packed cups of basil leaves we got from the Univ. garden, I made pesto with one cup of pine nuts that have been waiting in my freezer forever, some garlic and olive oil.  I froze this in 4 oz. mason jars, with a 1/2 inch of headspace and a thin layer of olive oil on top.  The headspace prevents too much expansion and therefore glass breakage, and the layer of olive oil is supposed to keep the basil from turning black in the freezer.  As I said, the tomatoes got washed and had bad spots cut off and were stuck in zip-loc bags and into the freezer until we have harvested all of them and have time to make and can big batches of sauce and salsa.  We got enough cucumbers from the church garden to make refrigerator pickles, which are going fast even though they can last in the fridge all winter!  Oh, and the grape jelly which is added now to the gooseberry and raspberry jams I’ve already made this year.  There are also some beet pickles on our shelves, which George and his mom made back in July when she visited and I was recovering from my surgery.

Waste not:  George got a new composter built from scrap pallets I picked up earlier this summer.  We have a black “city compost” unit-thingy, but we wanted a double bin system that the chickens could walk in and out of to scratch around, eat and poop and generally help keep the compost going.  So now we have that, right back by the chicken coop.  Does this mean we have “country compost” now?  Chickens and pallets…

Want not:  Well, I’ll tell you the truth, after the bills have been paid this week (which included Rose’s choir tuition) we have a total of $77 to buy gas and groceries with.  Yes, 77 dollars for the next two weeks!  This stinks, but we’ll make it.  In large part because of the stocked pantry I have amassed over the last couple of years.  And the mentality of stocking up on things when they’re on sale.  And the home and community gardens we participate in.  We have all the produce we need.  We have flour to make breads and scones and cookies and oats to make granola.  We have tortillas and bottles of grapeseed oil and lots of canned and dry beans from buying club bulk purchases made in months past.  The main things I’ve had to buy are following, and yes I broke down and shopped at Wal-Mart last night because I need just for now to stretch the dollar as far as possible…

butter–2 lbs. at $1.92 each
cheddar cheese (have mozzarella in the freezer luckily)–2 lbs. for $5.98
Saltines and graham crackers for snacks (I couldve gone w/out this, I know)–2 boxes Saltines for $1.12 each and 1 box grahams for $2.50
toilet paper–12 rolls for $6.24 (we could use cloth like Crunchy does, but we don’t!)

Those were the Wal-mart purchases.  I still need lunch meats, which I usually buy nitrate-free but that’s more expensive so this week I’m going to Target where I have Target coupons (printed online) for $1 off Hillshire Farms meats.  It’ll have to do, and the kids love this junk anyway…with school starting next week I need lunch meat.  I also need laundry detergent, and after finding the borax/washing soda/grated castille soap homemade solution made our clothes grimy after a while, I’m back to using store-bought stuff.  I’ll either go to our scratch and dent store and see what they have cheap, or K-Mart which has double coupons this week and I have a Tide coupon (I’ll get Tide free and clear because I can’t do perfumes).  I’m getting all the coupon and savings information lately from online sites Money Saving Mom and Frugal Girls!.  They are great, though in all honesty I try to buy local, organic stuff much of the time, and/or store brands, all of which don’t usually have coupons.  But when money’s tight, as it will continue to be for much of this winter as we pay down debt and save for both an emergency fund (to avoid any more debt) and a hoped-for trip to England next summer, I do make compromises to get my kids (and us) fed, so it’s store brands and coupon items when they’re the cheapest option.

I’m so glad we can depend on, number one, the garden and community garden produce and, number two, our freezer and pantry for when times are tight.  I’m sure others out there are in a similar boat at times and could really be helped by having these things set up.

Eat the Food:  Despite a lack of grocery money at present, boy do we eat well.  Summer squash sauteed in olive oil, steamed green beans just out of the garden served with only butter and salt and pepper, watermelon just off the vine, diced tomatoes and pesto in pasta, carrots just out of the garden, and the sweetest, juiciest, reddest strawberries picked daily from the front yard 4×4′ bed.  Milk from our local farm is just $3 a gallon when we make the drive out there, and from that I usually make 2 quarts of yogurt.  Eggs are “free”, of course, just for feeding the chickens two cups of food per day, which costs pennies.

Build Community Food Systems: I started a blog this summer for my city’s community gardens, The St. Cloud Community Gardens Network.  Next summer I will do a lot more with it, I promise!  George has done more of the garden work in the two gardens we help in, but I’ve done a little when I had the energy (and yes, I’m amazed how much more energy I have now, one month post-surgery!), and we plan to do more next year.  I attended some meetings of our network, and a local foods dinner in August.  I hope to help with a canning class in September.  We are so grateful for those who’ve started these gardens, and they’ve been a huge benefit to us already!  We’ve met some great people through them, as well.  Community gardens are about more than just the food.  We’ve shopped at farmer’s markets when we needed to, and we’re delighted that almost every day of the week now, there is a farmer’s market taking place somewhere in our small city or its surrounding towns.

If you want to read more of what others are doing for the (food) Independence Days challenge, head on over to Sharon’s post and read not only her post but also the comments section.

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