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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.

homemade raspberry and gooseberry jams

homemade raspberry and gooseberry jams

Yesterday my dear husband made two types of jam–gooseberry and raspberry.  I tried both on my toast this morning (Ezekiel 7 Sprouted Grain bread–I’m finding my tummy doesn’t get so bloated when I eat sprouted wheat as opposed to white or whole wheat).  And both jams were oh, so yummy I don’t know which one I liked best!  I’ll have to keep taste testing I guess…

Here’s the easy-peasy recipe for Gooseberry Jam using Sure-Jell pectin:

5 and 1/2 cups prepared gooseberries (which is 2 and 1/2 quarts of picked fruit; remove stems and blossoms)
1 box of Sure-Jell pectin (I’ve stopped using the low sugar variety b/c it doesn’t preserve the jam as well and what’s a few more cups of sugar to a recipe anyway!)
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine
7 cups sugar

our gooseberry bush--watch out, one is all you need for loads of fruit!

our gooseberry bush--watch out, one is all you need for loads of fruit!

From here, just follow the instructions for making a cooked jam on your Sure-Jell (or other commercial pectin) package.  George water-bath canned the jars for however long is required for jam–10 or 20 minutes I think.  I’m not at home to ask him!  But, it should all be in your instructions.

A few things I’ve learned about making jam in the last few years:

Low sugar jams don’t keep as long.  They will not look as good in color and their texture is more mushy.  This is especially true with strawberry jam, which gets really pale and mushy this way.  Since I’m only using a teaspoon or two of jam at a time and since sugar has only 10 calories per teaspoon, I figure it’s still a pretty low-calorie, low sugar food to have in my diet.  I’m not bothering with low sugar pectin and recipes anymore, even though to use more sugar than fruit as in some of these recipes seems a little outrageous!

It is not worth it to “save” a step and not water-bath can your jams.  Many old-timers have said not to bother with this step, that you can just pack hot jam into hot sterilized jars, put on a sterilized lid and ring and your jam will seal.  Well, in too many cases the lid does not get a good seal and then you’ll find moldy jam sitting in your pantry a few months down the road.  I get really depressed when all that work and all that yummy fresh local fruit turned into jam has to get thrown out!  Do yourself a favor and can your jam.  It’s really not hard, and it doesn’t need to be processed in the canner for a long time at all.

Jams make wonderful Christmas and hostess gifts, so you can never have too much!

Thursdays at my blog are supposed to be about books I’m reading, but since I’m too busy garage sale-ing, home remodeling, and keeping up with having both hubby and dear daughter home for the summer, I haven’t gotten through last week’s books. So I’m going to instead give you some links I’m loving lately.

First, I can’t get through a day lately without popping over to Chez Larsson for my daily dose of clean, pristine, beautiful and inspiring.  Benita, like me, is a Martha Stewart fan (though she, I would say, is much more of a fanatic than me–she keeps every issue of Martha in a cabinet whereas I always pass on magazines after a few months).  I think it’s the only “clutter” Benita has, though, and she certainly doesn’t let them become clutter–like everything the magazines have their designated place in her home.

She writes from her small home in Stockholm, Sweden.  Her English is perfect, somehow–someday I’d like to ask her about how she got to be so good at it, the slang and everything.  She is an organizer par excellence and she and her husband Martin and their teen-age son Willie make the most efficient use of their little Swedish house.  I get so inspired by all her projects.  And even just peeking into her kitchen drawers is a thrill!  (I think maybe you have to be a little bit of a neat freak, or at least long for neatness, to feel that way…)

Another blog I’m checking often is The Farm Chicks.  Being an “urban homesteader” and a farm girl at heart, I love that Serena and Teri celebrate the beautiful things about our nation’s farm heritage.  They, like me, love vintage aprons and all things “country”, but with a modern touch.

I had a chance to look through their new book, The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen: Live Well, Laugh Often, Cook Much, at Barnes and Noble the other day and I loved it!  In fact, I keep wanting to go back just to look at it and read some more.  They have great recipes and cute homey ideas, but I also loved the background stories of these two women.  Serena grew up with hippy parents and Teri grew up on a farm; they both tell their story well in this Country Living-published book.  I am definitely going to buy it come pay-day!

Some other fairly new-to-me blogs I’m really enjoying lately are Lizzy Lane Farm, Cherry Hill Cottage (I linked to Tina’s Chocolate Cobbler recipe yesterday), and The Nourished Kitchen, just to name a few.  You can see other blogs I like on my various blog rolls in the sidebar.

Have fun perusing!

chix and eggs 001

We are in the midst of egg abundance again!  Our hens, one-year-old Rhode Island Reds whom we adopted last July, are very reliable layers–as Reds are known to be.  Still, their laying slowed down to every other day in January, February and March this past winter.  From four hens, we averaged two eggs a day during those months, but once April and May brought spring’s longer days, each hen went back to laying one egg a day. 

Lucy, Danu, Lily and Goldie, one year old

Lucy, Danu, Lily and Goldie, one year old

What to do with four eggs a day for a family of four?  We have no problem figuring that out.  We eat eggs hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled, poached and baked.  We feed raw eggs and egg leftovers to the dog every day, and he loves them.  The other night, I revisited a wonderful recipe for Asparagus Frittata from the cookbook, Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice (a lovely, informative book about eating seasonally and locally). 

today's eggs in the laying box--focus on the beautiful brown eggs, not the mess please

today's eggs in the laying box--focus on the beautiful brown eggs, not the mess please

The frittata turned out delicious, as it always has.  Since both eggs and local asparagus are in abundance right now, we followed the recipe as printed.  But just about any vegetable could be substituted for the asparagus–spinach or other greens, mushrooms, etc.  Oh, I did change one thing–the recipe calls for leeks but since I didn’t have those on hand we replaced the leeks with one medium onion.  Be sure to use all the butter called for.  It helps the eggs to separate from the skillet, and it lends such creamy deliciousness to the dish!  This recipe is so easy…

I'm no food stylist, but this is how a slice of frittata looks

I'm no food stylist, but this is how a slice of frittata looks

The recipe:

Asparagus Frittata (slightly modified, but with credit to Jessica Prentice in Full Moon Feast)

3/4 pound asparagus
1 large or 2 small leeks (or one med. onion, chopped)
2 T. butter
4-5 eggs
1/4 c. cream, half-and-half, or milk (farm fresh whole milk, preferably)
1/4-1/2 t. salt
Pepper, freshly ground
Nutmeg–a little grated fresh, or 1/8 t. powdered
1/4 c. grated cheese, cheddar, Monterey Jack or crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Break off tough ends of the asparagus.  Cut spears into 1-inch pieces.
Slice leeks into thin rounds.  Put them into a bowl of cold water to soak clean.
Melt the butter in an oven-safe skillet. 
Saute drained leeks, or onions, until just tender.
Add asparagus pieces to the skillet, cover and cook 1-3 minutes until just tender.
Meanwhile, mix the eggs with cream or milk.  Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste and mix.
Pour the egg mixture over the asparagus and leeks in the skillet.  Add the cheese and press it gently into the eggs.
Let cook on the stovetop over low heat for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to the oven until the eggs are just set and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.  (This usually takes 5-10 minutes for me.  Check carefully so as not to brown or burn the eggs.)
Remove from the oven, cool a few minutes, then slice and serve.  Enjoy!

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