Saturday, October 19, 2013

Budgeting Software

I know I mentioned this somewhere, or I meant to-silly Lyme or old age, whatever.  Anyway, I have used the same $9.99 budgeting software on clearance for $5.00 for at least 15 years.  It made it through all the computer upgrades up to Vista then wouldn't work anymore.  After hours of desperately searching for any patch, user fix, update, or new version of this software (Home Budget for Dummies by Anuman Interactive), I gave up and sadly went in search of something else to take its place. With much trepidation, I looked and tried many free online versions of budgeting software made by wonderful and generous individuals.  However, because our income fluctuates greatly with all my random jobs, I really needed (and have come to rely on) the ability to see a forecast graph to show possible red dips in our income or bills over the year.  I like to plan way ahead for gifts, trips, or high ticket repair items, and this allows me to 'dream' budget.  Beside this vital function, I also needed to be able to input my data into a monthly calendar-like format to balance bill paying dates according to that same fluctuating income.  I never knew the goldmine I was offered with my age-old software, and almost gave up the search, until I found online-based  Calendar Budget.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when it had all the same functions and more, including my oft-pined for feature of downloading bank transactions directly into the program.  I have not run into any bugs yet, except of my own making, when I re-title an expense or something sloppily. When this happens, it kindly lets me know where I went wrong and I can fix what I will inevitably do.  I have mixed feelings about it being an online-based program as opposed to housed on my computer.  Online-based allows me to login and do finances from anywhere and saves my data if my computer crashes; this is a once every 5 year issue with us. Otherwise, I am hoping my data is safe.  Since I download bank transactions to a computer, save there, then upload, I assume my actual bank info is safe.  If someone really wants to know how much I spend on groceries or gas, that point really doesn't alarm me and maybe it would induce a donation, lol.  All in all, it is a free program/service that is feature-rich and well worth recommending!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Probiotics

During Lyme treatment, I was put on an antibiotic. I am easily susceptible to yeast infections, so I started eating high quality yogurt every day. This was ok, but not enough. Hubby purchased Ultraflora for me and I took this 3 hours after the antibiotic. This was better but despite an almost gluten free diet, the yeast was still an issue. I noticed this mostly first thing in the morning, so I added a cheap version of probiotic at night as well. This worked better and I have continued this for weeks following the antibiotic to ensure a healthy repopulation of good bacteria. Using an opened capsule topically, mixed with water to a loose paste, was a great one-time alternative to the creams out there.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Top 10 Mud Run Tips

We accomplished a very fun day doing the Dirty Girl Mud Run and all the training we did came in very handy.  Not all mud runs are created equal and this one was by far the easiest, however, there were some things that either did help out a lot or would have been a great idea... 

1. Consider wearing leggings or knee pads under the leggings to protect your legs/knees when crawling through obstacles.  Some of the crawling was just mushy mud, but some was definitely coated in gravel.

2. Unless you want to be dripping mud down your clothing, even after you rinse off, do not dunk you head if at all possible.

3. Do not bring bottled water with you to save time at the rinse station.  We never used it and carried around 3 gallons in my gym bag all day for nothing. 

4.  Wear clothes you do not care about and can ditch right after or be ready to spend some time hand scrubbing with a terrific stain remover:
       1/2 blue original dawn dish detergent (I don't usually use many things with man made chemicals, but this one works!) mixed with 1/2 hydrogen peroxide. Most people clean their 'mud duds' right when they get home, but we were visiting relatives out of town for another 2 days and didn't want to clog up their machine.  So, they sat in a humid car in a musty garbage bag until we got home.  I hosed everything off as well as I could, and this took considerable time.  Then I soaked them in a tub for 1 day in water, another day in water and some stain remover solution, then went at it scrubbing on the third day.  They are not new looking, but presentable considering what happened to them!

5. Use shoes you can donate at the end of the race for the same reason and check off a good deed.

6. At the rinse station, strip off to your underwear (its all girls at this one) and bring a bar of soap.  You'll have to be quick to ward off the evil eyes as its meant to be a quick rinse, but the soap will shave quite a few minutes off your rinse.

7. Bring someone along to take pictures and video of the race... you'll preserve some great moments!

8. On that note... Smile, jump, wave, be silly and strike a pose at every obstacle... there appeared to be hidden professional photographers or cameras set up at each one.  Really wished we had hammed it up a tad more now:) Be sure to wipe off your runner tag each time you get muddy; its the only way they can tag you later and you can find your pictures!

9. Tie your shoes on snugly, as you WILL lose them on the first deep pit if you don't!

10. Tie something wacky on your bag like you would do for luggage at an airport.  It makes finding your black duffle bag MUCH faster amidst everyone else's black duffle bags!

Bonus... if they give you a promo tshirt (and especially if it's white.. put it into a plastic bag and leave it till you get home.  DO NOT wear it thinking you are clean after the rinse station.  You are NOT! lol!)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mud run training

For my first mud run, I'm doing the 'wimpy' one with the inflatables, among other things as opposed to fire pits and barbed wire (not off the table for next year, though!)  Because I' ve never been able to run across the street, never mind in a race...it was a lofty goal, but I wanted to celebrate my twins 16th and my fitness comeback with something that we could do together and have fun doing it.  Sis and I started at the gym nearly daily since late March doing the elliptical and treadmill, working up our pace and endurance. We tried to attend a bootcamp class twice a week,but it didn't always work with our schedule, so the last few weeks we added regular abs and arms. I lost gym time for the 3 weeks leading up to the race due to work, so I added trail running (with walking when I couldnt run anymore). This added experience with terrain, weather, and humidity.  I was shocked to find a new love in trail running;  it's not hard on the knees and it's so much more enjoyable than the road or staring at a treadmill...30 min literally disappears! Today it was pouring, but we're doing a mud run no matter the weather, so we went anyway. 
Positives:
  • Running in the rain gives you more mileage on much less effort. 
  • Kids get downright giddy getting soaked to the bone and sloshing through mud and deep puddles with permission. 
  • Shower is optional after.
  • My $2 clip on camera case that I use as a wallet and phone holder actually was waterproof in the end.
  • There are no bugs when it rains.
Negatives:

  • If you trail run without bug spray when it's not raining, you cannot stop, ever.
  • If you don't want your car soaked for a couple days, plan ahead and bring towels.
  • If you don't want to be blind most of the time,wear a baseball hat or swim goggles.
  • Flash flooding on trails makes navigating roots, rocks, and sticks impossible, as well as running.
  • Feminine protection of any external kind gets waterlogged, grows to 5X it's original size, and feels like a diaper.

Lessons learned. Now that I'm  dry, I'm going to add a tip from another runner, situps and pushups, 3 sets each to failure. With a few days left, I'm giving it all she' got, Captain! What do you do to train for an event?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Skunks

What we thought was an abandoned baby skunk living under our shed turned into at least 6 baby skunks who really liked our yard.  I love animals and don't really mind the nocturnal kind that keep to themselves, but I love my kids more and the many friends that gather at my house.  Since these guys were quite comfortable stumbling around during the day, testing their natural abilities, we had to evict them.  It was the kinder choice since the nuisance guy would not only charge us $50 each, he would have to euthanize them  because no relocation area was available.   Needless to say, I got digging around the internet.  Thankfully, the first and least invasive appears to have worked...playing loud music in the shed 24/7.  However, your visitors may not be so accommodating, so you may want to trap and relocate, put mothballs in the area, or soak rags in ammonia around the den area, place motion sensor flood lights near the den, place flour at the mouth of the den and when the tracks show they've left for the night, block up holes with stone or buried chicken wire because they will dig. Last option is to humanely shoot them if local laws and your conscience allows. If you use mothballs or ammonia, do not let children or pets near the area!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Balloons!!!!

After trying to purchase balloons for my oldest's 16th a while back, I was modified at the cost of 16 latex balloons at my local supermarket.  This year, I thought id be smarter for my twins' 16th and get the tank at my local warehouse store, which halved the price.  Today, I found a better deal at 5 Below.  Foil filled balloons were $1 each and latex 3 for $2.  If I remember correctly, the Dollar store offers something similar.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Customer reviews

I love consumer reports, but they tend to be so glossy and 'big corp' looking that their trust value in my eyes is not top notch. I tend to rely on amazon reviews or just plug in 'customer reviews' and add the item I'm looking for, to get some unbiased feedback. However, I just found a neat site while looking for a label maker...they cover electronics, home, garden, kitchen, food, and many other interesting categories to help you find what you need...check it out at www.consumersearch.com

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Works- Wild Foraging, YUM!

Here's where I may lose a few of you to my weirdness.  I love all things natural and I have always been interested in wild edibles. However, I have been tempered by a healthy sense of fear and the chance I would poison myself, or worse, my family.

Today, I was overwhelmed with curiosity as I found so many tender shoots and leaves coming up around my yard that I HAD to try it. I already knew about burdock and dandelion and collected those.  I looked up a list online of more I could try, like violet leaves and chicory.  I have a plethora of 2 other kinds of 'weeds' that I would LOVE to start eating, but do not know what they are yet.  If anything, it would reduce the sheer quantity around my yard.  Those are yet to be researched, but I will do it with glee.

In my little adventure, I found a site that was a goldmine of information.  It is here...  It covers so many kinds of plants, flowers, and cooking methods.  They have online classes and youtube videos, as well. I'm DYING to try some of his acorn ideas! And noting that all North American grass seeds are edible makes me want to try to add them to flour for bread or pancakes, or cook in oatmeal, etc.  Oh boy, this site is dangerous to me, lol.

Back to my foraging... I took all my greens, cleaned them of random grass blades and old leaves, soaked them in cold salted water in case there were hitchhikers, rinsed well, and steamed in the microwave.  We were going to eat a quick meal of ramen noodles today, so I added my greens and 1/4 c shredded mozzarella cheese to the noodles.  They were good! They tasted a lot like spinach and collard greens, but fresher and 'greener.' Needless to say, they camouflaged ramen into something that appeared and tasted healthy :)

Caution: Do NOT eat anything unless you are completely sure of its identification.  There are copycat weeds that grow near edibles and it would be good to take a wild edible class or two, read books, and watch more you tube videos until you are very confident that what you are picking is the real thing.  Also, double and triple check the sources.  Some sites have conflicts with others regarding the edible parts or status of certain plants.  You could always check with your local cooperative extension office for advice and identification help as well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kitchen essentials.... really basic equipment

Talking about equipment in the kitchen for people just starting out or wishing to pare down, we could all disagree about what is necessary, but since I am the one blogging, I'll share what is in my drawers and cupboards :)  The basic food list will follow in another post. I have other posts that shared specific equipment that are shining stars, but this is a 'staples' list.

Fist I'll start with 'Can't live without.' **disclaimer: I am NOT talking about a survival/emergency situation for those who might be ready to jump on me about being frivolous ;) ... we could all work with aluminum foil, a sharp knife, and a sanitized stick for most things in that situation. Also, remember I have a large family to feed, so my list may require more things than yours. I am sure I missed some things, so this list may morph a little over time...

Baking-
Measuring cups/spoons (Nothing fancy- dollar store plastic does the same job as stainless)
Fork for whipping or as a simple pastry blender
Bread pans can be used for baking bread, vegetables, meatloaf, small roasts (stainless or glass last longer, aluminum is cheaper, but hazardous to your health)
9X13 can be used for casseroles, large roasts, poultry (I have one ceramic and one glass- both work great and release stuck on food well in cleanup)
Large bowl (My favorites are a very large stainless one I use for mixing everything including food and natural detergent- see other posts... the other is a large plastic Rubbermaid type with a lid for serving/storing salad or bread dough)
Large spoon for mixing/serving/measuring
Sharp knife for prep/serving/measuring/peeling
Strong hands and arms for kneading/blending (since a Kitchen Aide blender is NOT on the necessary list. Don't worry, if you don't have them yet, you will)
Potholder or dishtowel for hot pans
Cookie sheet for toast, bread loaves/cookies/breadcrumbs/dehydrating
Rolling pin or something with round sides like a can of vegetables

Cooking-
Pasta pot with cover (stainless steel chef-ware type pots last forever and through many 'burnt on' projects... I know this from experience)
Saucepan with cover (I've had the same one for my whole marriage of almost 22 years, and it was second hand- makes coffee/hot cocoa as well as sauce, etc)
Frying pan (cast iron is my favorite, my other favorite was a chef-type that finally broke a handle after 20 years-makes skillet bread/desserts as well as frying foods)
Sharp knife (from above) prep and serving
Large fork for lifting roasts or stirring/separating pasta
Large spoon from above for stirring sauces
Baking pans/mixing bowls as listed above
Potholder or dishtowel from above
Meat thermometer
Can opener

Serving-
Large mixing bowls from above
Pans from above
Large fork, spoon, and knife from above
Potholders from above for the table if food is coming from the oven

Cleanup-
Soap (grated pure soap works is multiuse for body and sink)
Dishrags made from anything- cut down old towels or facecloths are fine (reusable saves money)
Onion bags or aluminum foil (use as pot scrubbers (do not use foil on fine surfaces)
Baking soda for soaking/scrubbing
Vinegar for degreaser to add to sink or for soaking

Not so basic, but nice to add...
Pastry blender (pastry blender is faster and works for meatloaf as well as pie crust if the blades are 1/4" or more thick vertically)
Hand mixer
Manual chopper or blender
Toaster for smaller servings
Sponges with scrubber side
Bottle brush
Candy thermometer
Microwave
Colander
Muffin pan
Rolling pin
Cooling rack
Peeler

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What works in the garden

My favorite spot is the garden.  There are so many things that can be done here free or cheap, believe me, I know. 

A couple years ago, I got the homesteading bug. My kids called me Amish, it was so bad.  Some days, it still is, and they still call me Amish.  I put everyone to work hand sawing and nailing old boards into raised beds.  (Hubby wasn't home and I didn't know how to work the circular saw.)  Also, I couldn't find the wood saw, so we ended up using a metal saw.  It was tough work, but it did work!  However, there is something to be said for the right tool for the right job, lol.  Anyway, the first year, we ended up with some pretty nice raised beds and used the rocks from digging and leveling the ground to border the edges. Donated fencing was used around it, but I splurged on mulch as a reward for all that digging!


 
This year, I wanted to add a few more beds, but save some labor.  Since we broke a couple of dressers during the winter, we used the rest of the drawers as premade raised beds after the boys drilled holes in the bottoms. (Make sure to use real wood, not pressed or treated board.) It is best to set them out in the fall and use leaves and other raked debris to fill and break down over the season.  By spring, the compost will decompose and you will have a good start of soil mix to plant in.  My drawers never made it out last winter, so I used all my clippings from clean up this weekend to fill them.  I will mix this with potting soil and keep refilling it with compost over the growing season as it breaks down. I do this every year in the raised beds pictured above and they work fantastic. 
 
Hollow concrete cinder blocks make great planters as well as a raised bed edge in place of boards (or drawers!)  I will use 6 of them to plant green beans that will climb over a hog panel.  This is going to act as a trellis when placed on its end with one side bent to sit under my porch edge.  It's easy picking beans when they can hang down overhead.
 
Old mini or venetian blinds work well when cut to size and used as plant/seed markers in the ground.  Use permanent marker and take in after the growing season or the writing will fade with the snow. 
 
Cut up pantyhose or knee highs work terrific as plant ties as they give a little without harming the plants. 
 
Cardboard pizza boxes and newspaper work wonders to start new beds or kill weeds in larger areas. 
Place the cardboard over the area and weigh it down for the winter season.  I even started new flower beds over established lawn by covering the area with layers of newspaper, wetting it down well and allowing it to kill the grass off.  You can wait for this to happen over a season or use it right away.  Just dig holes through the newspaper and ground beneath, then tuck the plants in.  Finish by placing mulch over the newspaper.  Last year, I had tall perennials (involuntary spilling over from my neighbor) growing in the area I wanted to plant in this year.  I cut them all down to the ground as best as possible, but because they left a couple inches of stubborn and sharp stalks, I placed cut-open black plastic garbage bags over the whole area. I was at a loss what to keep it down with though, when I remembered all the mason jars my friends gave to me.  They held it all in place most of the summer until I could rake leaves and other yard debris over it in the fall.  By planting time, I should be able to remove the plastic out from under it and turn the soil.
 
Conservation centers, colleges, and County Extension offices usually offer soil testing to see if your area is safe to grow in, better suited for other kinds of plants, or missing critical nutrients.  If you are not doing raised beds or making your own soil mix from scratch, then testing your ground is an important step.  It is cheap to do, usually $10-15 a sample, and easy.  They usually instruct you to dig about 8 inches down for vegetables and collect samples from 8-15 areas within the area you want tested.  I took this pile of samples, mixed it together, took out a couple cups of it and dried it on newspaper for a day.  Then we mailed it in a plastic sealable bag with the appropriate form, and of course, the fee.  They send the results back within a week or two. 
 
I mentioned this before, but your compost pile and beds will benefit if your kids have any small pets that do not eat meat.  It counts as the dry component, especially if you use shredded office paper like we do.  Rat, hamster, rabbit, mouse, bird, and guinea pig litter can be applied directly without aging right onto your beds, as well as chicken poo.  Use caution when using bird litter as the uneaten seeds will probably offer a few volunteers in your garden. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

What works- Fitness

My journey has evolved from couch potato to gentle yoga lover to gym rat in just 3 short months.  I never thought I'd be one of those, but a nudge from dear sis-in-law was enough to get us both there daily.  For anyone who has yet to make the immense effort to begin their journey, I understand! I think it's harder to start than to stay going... something about momentum.  This is why we go daily.  If we take a day off because we are sore (not injured) or tired or deserve a day off, we know we will begin the downward slide back onto the couch cushion.  Neither of us want that, can afford that, or deserve that.  As much as it scared us to take the leap, we found that 2 weeks passed by very quickly and we are well on our way to developing a new lifelong healthy habit. I have surprised myself daily to find my limits are mostly imagined and I am able do more than I ever gave myself credit for. I am not promoting joining a gym, because I know not everyone can do that, but if you can get a workout, walking, or healthy eating buddy, there is so much more energy added and staying power is multiplied.

Music!  Oh the joy of music!  Use a mp3 player, plug in to Pandora, or turn on the radio to set the pace faster than you would pace yourself and make the time go by so much faster. Without music, I found I was concentrating on the wall in front of me, to the random numbers on the equipment, and especially the clock.  It would tick tortuously slowly.  Today, sis and I plugged into Pandora with a splitter and laughed the hour away listening to 80's cardio; oh the memories!  Definitely helped us go faster, push harder, and we added a good 30 minutes to our usual routine easily.  It also works in the opposite direction for cool downs and stretching/yoga to slow down and breathe deeply as you ease into your day or slip into bed.

Workouts don't come without a price (and so many rewards), but the price is what you feel first.  Sore muscles and fatigue are normal and a part of the process.  Not a lovely part, but a part.  I tend to repeat Tom Sobal's saying over and over, especially after we started an Arms/Abs/Tush class twice a week: "Pain is weakness leaving the body."  Ps, you have to read his story- what a guy! http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1006053/1/index.htm  Anyway, I found an article of things to try when you get sore that may spark an "Aha" moment for you here... http://www.livestrong.com/article/422215-how-to-naturally-relieve-muscle-pain-from-working-out/

Variety is the spice of life and getting fit must include all the spokes of the wheel in varying degrees.  You will find that some will come easier than others: Eating better, sleeping well/long enough, giving the mind time to daydream/wind down, working up to a sweat and breathing hard (not asthmatic, just enough to know you are working hard), and endurance/strength exercises.  Also, this is probably part of the 'mind' part, but get out into nature at least once a week.  Hearing the sounds outdoors, getting some sunshine, and breathing fresh air does wonders. If you don't feel like you've gotten out of the old habits just yet, try to do each one of these things just once a week, and probably not all in one day ;)  In a month, you will be wanting more and the hard spokes will be easier.

I am going to say it again, yes again:l logging/journaling makes a huge difference between success and failure.  When you cannot see, in concrete numbers, the expense of what you are eating, the balance or imbalance of nutrients, or how much activity you are getting, you WILL lie to yourself about how good you've been, OR you will excuse yourself into bad habits. Let me go another degree and say that, if you have buddies doing it with you, and everyone accountable to everyone, you will behave better when things get tough. 

Lastly, my favorite excuse prior was not having enough money to do things 'right.'  But all of it can be done as simple and free as the outdoors for a long walk, or using gallon jugs/canned food/body weight for lifting..  If you are online reading this, there are millions of classes and videos here for free for anything under the sun.  I even learned Qigong and Tai Chi here at one point. You can find and learn any activity you feel like you can do- just be sure to use all your major areas upper and lower. There are online logging sites mentioned in my previous posts, and music here as well to wind up or down with.  If you have trouble sleeping, two tricks sis and I talked about this week were to count down from 300 by 3's (worked for me the other day in 20 counts flat) and breathing deep in and out for a count of 2, then 3, then 4... up to 20.  The eating part, well, you decide what you will trade up for this week, water instead of soda?  Wheat instead of white? Fruit instead of cookies? You get the drift...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What works- Automotive

We've had our share of issues with used cars over the last few years.  This led us to purchase an extended warranty on the car before this one, as our transmission died on the one before that!  It was quite an added expense, but it was our first used car and we didn't want to take any more chances.  Sooner than later, we had electrical issues and lock issues that the warranty covered.  We also had some issues that the warranty did not cover; $1000 of uncovered expenses that were not only downright inconvenient, but threatened to leave us on the roadside.  This brought us to our next purchase. Though we were hesitant to spend that kind of money again and not use it, the thought of something really big going bust was enough to convince us to do it.  Some of my family thought we were ripped off, but I'll tell you what happened next.  Within a year, our transmission went unexpectedly, again.  It went into the shop, and the warranty covered a 'reconditioned' transmission and a rental until it was repaired.  This took 2 weeks longer than expected, but we loved having an almost new van (and less miles added our old van) while we waited.  After, we were very grateful to have the van back and repaired for free, but that wasn't the end of the story.  I never got home from picking up the van before the engine light went on again. I brought it back and they couldn't figure out what was wrong.  They made some adjustments, and again the light came back on a few days later.  This time, they found shavings in the pan, which anyone will tell you is NOT good.  They made us see the dealership this time.  The dealership got us another rental and kept our van for many weeks after this.  Come to find out, they went through 3 more 'reconditioned' transmissions with the same result.  Finally, they bit the bullet and gave us a brand new transmission!  The extended warranty was paid for almost 5 times over when it was all said and done, and we have a practically new van under the hood that may actually last us beyond the last payment this time.

Rainex works wonders on your windows, but do not get it on anything else!  It leaked in my car and ended up eating through the box and the plastic bag it was kept in. 

Drygas is cheap and works fabulous for hard New England winters and keeping the engine humming.  Follow the directions for use.

Hang a plastic shopping bag on one of the arm rests between the front seats by one handle.  An easy access garbage comes in handy.

Make friends with a mechanic.  Find someone either related to you, related to someone you know, or a mechanic who values the business of someone you know.  The relationship ties will make it easier to find an honest technician who will advise you when you can put off repairs, find a cheaper option, or tell you the cold, hard facts.

AAA coverage is worth the money, even if you use it once.  One tow or unlock service will pay for itself.   Like the warranty, the peace of mind is also worth the money. Knowing if you get stranded somewhere- and it's never when you expect it- that someone can bail you out, without having to go through everyone on your contact list. With this membership comes lots of other perks as well, like free battery tests, discounts everywhere, and student coverage for free their first year.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Works- 5 Minute Bread

I am promoting a process that Mother Earth News wrote on here.... I made a half-batch about a week ago because the last time I tried this, and forgot it on my counter with a full batch in a too-small pot. This is what happened.....

 
 
 Because I don't trust my memory to put it away after first rise, I wanted to be safe, so I chickened out and made a smaller batch.  I will make a bigger batch tonight because its all gone and I never want to be without almost-instant homemade bread again. 



Anyway, if you love sourdough like we do, you have to try this.  It is super easy, only uses four ingredients and no kneading.  It is ready to use right away or you can continue to use the refrigerated dough over the next 2 weeks.  It makes rolls and loaves that your family will rave about.  One of my daughters even traded some of her potatoes for another roll- and if you know her, you do NOT get between her and potatoes!  So give it a try and see how great it is.  You will never be timid to make your own bread again, or sigh at the process of kneading, rising, and rising again, etc.  Note: The first loaf, if baked right away, will be less sourdough flavored; it comes with age in the refrigerator.  Dough is much easier to handle if chilled overnight, as well. You can incorporate any herbs/cheese you like into the dough with each batch as you like before baking. Scroll through the pages to see more ideas... baking/storage info is on page 4 of the article above.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Works- Self Publishing

I tried my hand at writing a book, or make that three.  I was tinkering with the idea for the last few years and have some future books still milling around my head, but with some milestone events coming up, I had to push out a few in short order.  Granted, 2 are personal picture books with a little history thrown in here and there, but the last is my first, albeit short, outright written creation.  I am super pleased with the results, though I would definitely take advantage of my proofreading friend next time.  There are a few sites around the web that will catch your eye, but one in particular won my heart, Blurb.

Not only do they NOT require you to purchase 300 of your own books with the first printing, they do not start at $1000.00 either.  You can print one or many, it's up to you.  And softcover, 20 minimum pages, starts around $20.00.  You pick the paper, colors, sizes, etc.  I just received my first ones in back in the mail from sending it off to them on 3/4/13, so they have quick turn around time, too.  Shipping was not bad and I could have ordered an electronic version for another $5.00 each. Not only that, but if you want, you can sell your book online through their site for free.  You pick your selling price, they do the shipping.  What a deal!  Best of all, they give you quite a few free software gadgets to help you get your book started.  I used the one that is an add-on for Word.  I constructed it there and uploaded right from there as well.  It was rich in features and super user-friendly.  I definitely would not have known where to start, otherwise. Needless to say, I love Blurb and will use them again when the next book itches to be let out of my cramped head.  Yes, my sister, I know... I am working on THAT one too :)

The final reason I am blogging about Blurb?  They sent me an email today with a $20 credit on my next book, and the first book for my special friends in the US. Sorry international followers... I hope they extend to you as well in the future!  I was thrilled to receive this present in my mailbox and know it would have spurred me to write sooner if I got this last month.

What's holding you back from putting your thoughts, public or personal, on paper or ebook?  Make a personal family cookbook, calendar, photo collage, how-to book, or memoir for future generations :)  Here's the link... http://bit.ly/YeOLDA

I also have to note my very good experience using www.123RF.com for the clip art photography in the last book.  It was easy to purchase credits and not as expensive as elsewhere online.  The quality of the photos I used came out as beautiful in print as they looked in layout on my computer.  The site was not as user friendly in design, but you can figure out what you need if you look around.  Don't spend hours of time trying to figure out the licenses like I did, though.  Bottom line, if its just for you, use the standard print license, for sales under 10,000 items, use the extended print license. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bathroom Cleaning 2

I just emerged from my bathrooms after doing a shower scrubbing with my favorite cleanser, baking soda and water.  Besides costing pennies, I forgot how wonderful it is to stay in the bathroom to get the job done instead of leaving every few minute to breathe.  Even better, I found a new reason to love cleaning this way.

Before, when I would do the showers, it would be with a variant of a bleach type formula because that was what was needed to power through our 6-person accumulation of residue.  So, not only would it cost more healthwise, it would cost double because of the cleaner cost plus the clothes I would invariably ruin.  Call me lazy, but I don't have a day set aside to clean, or even a few hours; it comes when I cannot stand it any longer and I am able to put something else off a few minutes.  Because of this time constraint, there is no way I am changing into 'play' clothes and back again. BUT, I pay for that because I end up with droplets of bleach stains in the weirdest places, no matter how careful I am. 

Today, I am happy to say, that though I found droplets of cleaner on my shirt and pants again, I just brushed them off!  No residual or permanent stain!  Woohoo!  Score one for the lazy girl! Baking soda and water rocks!

I also found a use for the /back/body shower brush that has seen better days.  I am a shortie and this came in handy to reach the top tiles and generally made the scrubbing part even easier.  The whole job seemed to go by faster this way.   Because I had about 1/2 cup of the cleaner and some minutes left over, I went to my kitchen sinks and did a quick scrub with the rest. 

I will go over everything with homemade disinfectant from the first post and everything will sparkle.  Ps, toilet bowl cleaning update....pour 1/2 cup of any of the following into the toilet bowl before bed and let it sit overnight.... borax, baking soda, vinegar, or lemon juice.  This site has some info for using just vinegar on the toilet with much more detail.... http://www.howtocleanthings.com/bedandbath/how-to-clean-toilet.htm 

Speaking of vinegar, I just read that there is a difference between supermarket vinegar and the kind you can purchase at the feed store.  Whaddya know... the supermarket one is watered down and not as strong. Something to think about and check out next time you visit the local feed lot :)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Going Poo-less 2

If just baking soda and water was just not attractive enough for you to make the switch, try this instead.  I vacillate between both of these, depending if I run out of one or the other mid-shower ;) This came from Homestead Community Post's website, though I do not remember which member donated this idea.  I am going from memory and from my own tweak, so it may vary from the original post somewhat.

When my garden was up and running, I harvested as much herb as possible and filled a mid sized pasta pan with rosemary, mint and lavender cuttings.  I covered this with water and boiled for 15 minutes.  I then put a cover on it and let it cool to room temperature.  While this was cooling, I poured household borax into a rinsed milk jug until there was about 1" at the bottom.  When the tea was cooled, I strained this and poured the 'tea' into the jug and filled the rest with water.  This jug was sloshed around until the borax was well incorporated; it will not totally dissolve).  This sat overnight and was ready for use the next day. Essential oils are optional. Pour it into smaller squirt bottles and use as a shampoo rinse.  Scrub your scalp well with this formula and rinse well.  Your hair will feel super clean and the herbs will bring health to your scalp and hair.  Note: If you have light hair, use chamomile instead of rosemary to brighten your hair.  The gallon lasts a LONG time!  Pennies per wash :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What Works- Weight Loss Update

Are you wondering, 2 months later, if the ideas I posted still work?

I've lost 15 lbs so far. Let me restate that...I shed 15 lbs so far.  I KNOW where those pounds are- they are in what I am not eating anymore.  I'm heading to my goal weight by May, just in time for to see what summer clothes do not fit me anymore ;) 

What did this when I've steadily gained weight over the last 11 years with a couple of very unhealthy downturns here and there? The main credit and motivation I apply to God.  I was finally desperate enough to beg for His help to conquer this animal, not for vanity sake this time, but for health sake.  I want to be around a long time and I've not been able to keep up with my kids thus far.  With one graduating high school and 2 more almost there, it was a sad recognition and I will not get those years back.  My second reason that I took to God was the fact that it was extremely unhealthy for me to walk around every day loathing my own body.  I spent far too much time hating myself and knew that was a destructive attitude.  With everything I am, I want to be a God pleaser, and it went against the command to be thankful for 'all things.'  I could not be thankful for my body on my own, so I asked for a better attitude, even if I never changed on the outside.

When I approached weight loss in the past to see results in the mirror, I failed every time because my own confidence was based on my own efforts and a visual approach.  Without that motivation coming from the mirror every day, the other things that I needed to do did not last.  But, when my health is the main focus now, with God's help, the mirror and the scale are no longer my enemy and results are happening faster than I could have imagined. At this point, because I was 30 lbs overweight, the scale is my biggest motivator when I see a difference every day.  And when it doesn't show, I know why already when I had a larger feast day than usual in my log previously. When I then look in the mirror, I know that it will come eventually there too.  And it does... suddenly, some days... like today- where did my stomach go???

The tool that has been the underlying support for all this loss so fast, and really painlessly, is the Lose It App.  It was an easy habit to establish, to get on the app first thing and weigh in.  I then spend 5 minutes planning my meals and any exercise.  It is super easy and I know exactly where every calorie is coming from, so I make much better choices than if I didn't log.  I still eat whatever I am in the mood for, but because I am honest with my log, and I know anyone could see it, my cravings do not turn into binges anymore.  Early January before Lose It?? Yup, I ate whole bags of salt and vinegar chips in front of the computer.  If I have them, which is rare because my cravings have virtually disappeared, 15 or so now seems enough and definitely makes me feel the edge of yuck from all the junk in them.  Become my friend there and you can see everything I do (because I chose to show it- you don't have to). Exercise was a bit of a pressured thing until I started counting my very physical work as some.  Now I can do it on my days off and actually enjoy it.


A book that cemented my motivation is "Younger Next Year," by Chris Crowley.  He put into words the 'why' I need to get healthy, and NOW.   I can see the common philosophy of 'deterioration is normal' in so many people around me that it was scary.  If you read anything this year, read this!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

More things that work in the laundry and kitchen

I wanted to submit some ideas, but didn't have enough today for one particular category, so here is a smattering of some great things that have worked best...

Laundry:

Cheap/dull/used razors.  Any of the above will do... Before you throw them out, 'scuse me... recycle them...use them as sweater shavers next time you have a 'pill' problem.  Works awesome!  Note: Rusty ones work as well, but use caution on light colors. 

We can never find a lint brush when we need it, but always have duct tape or postal tape laying around.  We wrap our four fingers with it, sticky side out.  No more lint or hair!

Static- do not waste money on static spray.  If you lightly rub your legs with damp hands before you put on your skirt or pants, the static will be diminished or disappear.  Hairspray also works.

Kitchen-

There was a traveling salesman in one of my stores today that made me have a v-8 moment.  He was highlighting one of my favorite tools.  You've heard them called TV knife, Ginsu, or Forever Knife.  I personally have the TV knife.  Bought my first one 20 years ago at an identical demonstration.  Thought I might have been a sucker, but I have used that knife almost exclusively for EVERYTHING.  Yes, even PVC pipe, plastic bottles, and wood when I was in a desperate moment.  They really do last as long as they say.  I replaced mine for free about 10 years ago and I was chewing my nails in anticipation of its return because it was sorely missed.  Low and behold, it came back, brand new and I still have that same one.  I could return it again, but it still works great, and I am not sure I could do without it again, even for a little while.  Bottom line, the cost is worth it!

Another purchase I have not regretted is glass storage containers.  We switched from plastic last year for health reasons.  It has since saved me many rolls of plastic wrap and aluminum foil and the leaching of chemicals they are known for.  Best yet, you can store food, duh, freeze food, BONUS, and cook food in them, DOUBLE BONUS.  I really like multipurpose :) When you purchase them, make sure they are oven, freezer, and dishwasher safe.  Otherwise, you will not get the most use, and savings, from them.



Monday, March 4, 2013

1 Week Challenge- Eat what you've got!

I did one of these from one of my favorite sites, where we were instructed to try to live off what we already had in our fridge, freezer, and pantry.  We were not 'allowed' to use the grocery store except for milk, bread, eggs, and butter... and those were only in an emergency.  Like a 'cannot-use-anything-else-instead' kind of situation. 

In most households, there is a surprising amount of food that is not used to feed us, it is used only as a marker of when items are getting low.  For example:  I could have 4 cans of green beans on my shelf, but when I get down to 2 (not zero), I get more.  Why do we do that?  Are we undergoing a famine?  Are we preparing for the next y2k? Will we poof into an alternate universe if we finally use that last can of green beans? It is absurd when you think about it.  I hear it all the time in the grocery stores as I scan; I am like an invisible stalker, listening to your conversations as you shop.  "We only have 12 cans of gravy left, and it's on sale, so grab 6 more, will you honey?" "Yes, Ralph, I know we have enough soup, but it's buy one get 2 free... it would be a waste of money NOT to buy them now." And so on it goes to one extent or another for most of us who find ourselves in the grocery store one or more times per week; not those who purposely plan for months, and yes, sometimes years ahead.

When I took on this challenge, I found that I had to use my noodle about 5% more to figure out what could go with what, but I was rewarded to find I had enough food to last at least 2 weeks, not one.  I found buried treasure at the back of my cabinets, I was given a unique opportunity to clean the bottoms of the shelves, got out of the rut of the same old dinner menu, and I learned a thing or two about my shopping habits. It was actually fun!

My challenge to you is to not just read this post, but to vow to act on it starting whenever you read this.  Pick out what you will make for dinner and post it here, nothing elaborate, just a basic list of items.  Then come back tomorrow and do it again.  See how long you can make it last.  You just might save up enough money to go out to eat at a special restaurant when it's through, or finally trade all those ancient spices for new ones, or buy a label maker for your newly organized shelves.  Make it fun!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Essential Oil Uses

Some of the obvious things I have used them for recently is in soap and other body products.  I use some for when we are sick as an inhalation therapy in a bowl of hot water with a towel over our head or a couple drops on the shower floor before a hot shower.  Same goes with the bath for sickness or just relaxation reasons.  I just read somewhere that you should always follow the dosing recommendations though, even in a bath full of alot of water, because they do not dilute and stronger doses may not be safe, depending on the oil.  There is a wealth of information at http://www.aromaweb.com/essentialoils/default.asp that defines each oil by common name and gives information you should not be without, but my favorite resource is http://www.100pureessentialoils.com/pages/properties-uses.html because they give the properties and, if you are looking for scent information and are lost as to what to mix with what, they have a top, middle, and base note info for each scent.  No reason to waste your precious oils competing with each other or getting lost under a super strong one.  They also list common illnesses and the appropriate oils to use for aromatherapy or other ways.  Please read as much as you can before using them for safety reasons.

That being said, when you go to purchase them, you will have many options including organic.  It is a good option because you do not want pesticides getting a free ride into your system.  Quality varies with the company and some do dilute their product.  Again, read up!  This has been a really fun part of making my own products.  I am saving up for a particularly expensive one that knocked my socks off at the local organic market last week for use as a perfume.  Make sure you smell them at places like this before you buy for soap or body products unless you need it for therapy reasons and have to get what you have to get... just sayin.  Its also a great place to find out what all those mysterious ones really are like. 

You will also find that there are mixtures of oils already put out there for relaxation/nervous tension, alertness/focus, or other mood changers.  Just do a quick read at one of the sites above to know properties they have, you may find they may not be the great mix you thought or they are even better than purchasing them separately.  Have fun!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Links that work- Goldmine

Going through my favorites gave me the idea that I should share some of the gold mine sites that I've stumbled across in my travels.  Maybe save you a trip or two down the internet maze....

http://www.manualsonline.com/ I have used this to find instructions for a yard sale food processor, side of the road elliptical, and my very old convection oven hand-me-down.  Also used it to download (print to pdf) a digital copy of manuals I already have to my computer.

http://www.instructables.com/ How-to's for all kinds of things from crafts, to diy, to survival stuff!

http://www.budget101.com/ Nice all-in-one 'do it cheap' site.

http://www.homesteadcommunitypost.com/ All things homesteading for all levels.  The videos in the store are worth the money. The information in the forums are priceless.

http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/ More frugal 'running the house' information.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/ How to do anything green or greener.  My favorites include links on this site for 5 minutes a day for homemade bread, homemade ketchup, etc.

***Ps, this is ditto for any magazine you enjoy- look online for almost all archived articles and save money!

http://www.bulkherbstore.com/ Cheap/good herbs and herbal primer/recipes.

http://www.myfridgefood.com/index.php Plug in what's in your fridge/pantry, get recipes... when you're really stuck for ideas....

http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/ Sustainable gardening ideas for your backyard

http://www.grit.com/ Basically like MotherEarthNews for gardening/farming

www.pinterest.com When you need ideas, instructions, or a 'wow' moment- WARNING- major addiction element!  This site was in 'invitiation only' mode when I joined.  If this is still the case, email me and I'll invite you...












Friday, February 15, 2013

Things that DON'T work/comparatives

Thought I'd take a detour and give you a short list of things I've tried, in an attempt to save money, that were NOT worth the effort. 

Garbage bags... Store brand sometimes are ok, however the 'super generic' roll-type bags or value boxed bags are not worth the money. They tear and do not hold much and you will be determined to finish the bag/box before replacing them, guaranteeing about a months worth of frustration.

Toilet paper.... if you have a large family like mine, the 1000 sheet rolls are a must.  Name brands do not matter here as the store brand usually has a 1000 sheet roll or set of rolls.  They last 2-3 times longer than the other rolls.  No, they are not as stiff as 'parochial school brown sandpaper' toilet tissue either.  Don't even think about trying the $1.00 four packs.  They evaporate when no one's looking.

Buy one, get 2 free deals if they tripled the price just in time for the sale.  Nuff said.

Cheap digital cameras.... if you have a  semi-serious photographer in the family, the quality will really suffer.  Better to get a midline model on sale pre holiday or post holiday.  We found a nice waterproof digital camcorder for half the price of our old vhs camcorder this way. 

Super Saver shipping on Amazon... really check on each item if you are actually saving shipping.  Most raise the base price to cover this.  This works best on multiple heavy or larger items.

Alternative/cheaper charger cords for Nooks, etc.  Though these technically work, they usually charge much slower and do not fully fit the ports.   What DOES work is getting the warranty to cover the Nook, etc and getting cords that actually fit replaced for free if/when they do break.  We've replaced 3 cords this way on the same warranty.

Cheap vacuums.... I got a Kirby once many years ago, and my husband still teases me about it.  It didn't last a lifetime like I expected- only about 10 years, but I replaced the cheaper ones almost every year prior to this.  Since moving away from the local dealer/repair shop, I've had to revert to a canister one and I've already clogged it because of our heavy use.  Again, warranty to the rescue. Rule of thumb: Over $50, warranty it!

Cheap sheets... like bargain basement cheap... they are scratchy.  If you are not picky, they do work, but they do not last and it will take years to become soft and only once they are threadbare.  Flea markets sometimes have the nicer ones in a higher thread count that are cheaper than main stores, but be aware they may be seconds and not fit correctly. 

Cheap sneakers... I vacillate on this one because I have 4 kids who grow out of shoes faster than they change grades.  We did the walmart thing every year, but they wouldn't last 3 months before they would come apart BEFORE they grew out of them.  Very frustrating.  On the other hand, mine last forever... must be a kid thing.  But for them and me, the nicer brands are better on your feet and last much longer.  We have outlets nearby that we can get the second pair half off, so we shop the clearance racks and get 2 nice pairs for not a lot more than we would for two at wallyworld.

Cheap tax preparers... got an instant $50 for walking in to a particular office last year.  End result?  Our taxes were messed up for months and we owed a surprise $700 in August. Best bet, get word of mouth referrals, and if you cannot afford a tax person at all, look into the program Tax Slayer or similar programs.  We did this one year when our taxes were simpler and it was easy, fast, and cheap.  Otherwise, some communities offer free volunteer tax preparers to middle and low income families. 

I'm sure some have missed my list, so I will do another one in the future.  Hope you enjoyed and feel free to post your bad experiences- we can all learn and save our money!







Thursday, February 7, 2013

Free Ebooks

Just a quick note today.  Was given a head's up from my favorite homesteader site www.homesteadcommunitypost.com about free ebooks for our kinda style :)

Here's the link and have fun! http://pamspriderecommendations.com/

These change daily or occassionally, so keep checking back for new ones!  You do NOT need a Kindle to take advantage of these, you can download the app for your computer or android...

Hugs all!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kitchen esentials...tools

While making brown sugar blueberry muffins this morning, it occurred to me I have not yet touted the great aspects of some things that are necessities in my kitchen and how I use some of them as time savers.  (Real bakers, beware, you may gasp at my process)

One tool I have never regretting paying a lot of money for and it has paid for itself 10 times over.  It is my favorite workhorse, the Vitamix.  At the time, I had a cheap food processor, a hand mixer, dough maker, and a blender when I stumbled across the infomercial...yeah, I'm a bit of a sucker sometimes.  After some research and reading the reviews, I decided to Ebay all my other pieces and an upright toaster to have some to put toward this.  Well, that was 13 years ago!  Granted, the wet canister has since kicked the bucket in the last 3 years and I have not replaced it, because I have used the dry one for everything since.  It no longer purrs, it growls, but believe me when I say that it does everything.... it makes smoothies, chops veggies, crushes ice, makes ice cream, mayonnaise, grinds spices/coffee, and makes bread dough among a million other things.  Here's the real baker's shocker... when I bake anything, I put all the wet ingredients, sugar included, in the vitamix at once, blend, and add this to all the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Do I make souffle's often? No.  Ever? No again.  But, for everything else that is not finicky, it works.  Ie, muffins, cakes, breads, doughnuts, you get the picture.   It also makes fantastic gravy with no lumps. If anything in my kitchen has helped goad my trip down natural lane, this is it.  It has made making food from scratch much more attainable.

The second was a more recent gift from my mom, a Kitchenaid Mixer.  This was on my dream board for a couple years and something I was working toward. Not sure why because I was making all my doughs by hand.  Actually, maybe that was why.  Anywho, when I received it, I was well aware of its worth and broke it out immediately.  I use it exclusively now for bread making.  Can't tell you how great it is to proof yeast in the bowl, add the flour, and let it knead for 10 minutes while I do other things.  I also use this occasionally when we make meringue because the vitamix is a bit harder to see when they are done before they are overdone. 

Third, my little dynamo, is a Pampered Chef small spatula.  It is the only tool we use to get out brownies, strata, cookies, pizza, and scrape burnt stuff off cookies sheets.   This is another one that has been in my drawer for years.  Add to this another of their items, the dual liquid/dry measuring cup, and my needs are met ;)  I melted my first one and my second has threatened to be melted after putting it on a stove top too soon.  Yes, another one of my fire hazard stories.  I may have to use it on my brown sugar blueberry muffins as I just realized they have been in there 20 minutes too long....OK, not so bad... and glaze covers a multitude of computer evils!

A recent acquisition from cleaning my mom's kitchen, is a small rice cooker.  I've had the microwave types before and used them, but the way they looked after a while made me wonder exactly what was getting into my rice.  That and I am not too sure of the safety of microwaved foods either. This little wonder is a cinch to use and I don't burn the rice- yes, that has happened too.  Add the rice, cover with water or broth, put the cover on and press the button.  It turns itself off at just the right time and keeps it warm after. LOVE it!

Lastly, but not a complete list, is my canner.  I use this thing all year, because I can all year.  Almost wish I had two because when I get going, I really make it worth it.  Sure, you hear the horror stories about pressure canning, but it is a breeze if you do a quick check before starting to ensure the parts are working and again, worth the money. 

Most of these items I put on the Amazon links below.  Some are not exactly what I have since my things are somewhat ancient, but I found similar ones...



Friday, February 1, 2013

Free and Almost Free....Groceries

The first way to achieve this is obvious: coupons and rebates.  I like to think my late father-in-law may have been the inspiration for Extreme Couponing 20 years ago.  They would drive to the next state to get the Sunday paper because they had different coupons than we had here.  Then they spent some of time cutting, sorting, and adding them to their impressive pile.  They combed the sale flyers of the 3 local markets to see what could be matched and who offered triple or double coupons, then made their list.  On one trip, they filled up a cart to overflowing with items that were on sale and buy one/get two deals.  After they handed over the coupons, instant rebates, and triple coupon vouchers, I heard the clerk say the grand total....about $3.00.  If I wasn't mystified enough, she meant the store owed him approximately $3.00!  They also had mail in rebates that they received checks for down the road from this same trip.  Did they buy only things they needed at that time? No. Did I reap the benefits of them storing extra items? Yes! But, as hard as I tried, I couldn't wrap my brain around this process. So, if you have space for storage and time to plan, this might work well for you. As for me, I need more brain storage, maybe after the kid era.

What I can handle is a warehouse membership, that is if I can make the initial cost worth the savings I receive during the first month.  The best part is that I have receive many more items in a box/bag than at regular stores for almost the same price, and sometimes for less.  This way, some are technically free.  I have actually found some organic items for less than the regular store-brand items.  Juice and school snacks fall into this category. Plus, I have been able to use store and manufacturer coupons together to make other things even cheaper like supplements, razors, and natural yogurt. 

My other favorite thing is finding the day-old shelves for produce and bread in the regular stores.  Since my resolution, I have been able to procure some awesome veggie deals and nice bread for the rest of the family for 1/3-1/4 the regular price.  More for free!  Yes, some things are worth passing up, but it is a tragedy what stores throw into their composter, and not because they are actually stale or past prime. Believe me, I have seen beautiful organic produce and gourmet deli breads tossed out because of a stamp or because the greens on the carrots were not as bright.  Whole heads of lettuce were tossed due to one bruised outer leaf that would be removed anyway, apples because a new batch shipped in, and grape tomatoes because one in the container was slightly wrinkled.  The breads are almost always still soft and made by the bakery, not mass produced like the rest of the items in the bread aisle.  We got fresh garlic bread the other day for .70 because the bag was wrinkled when it was put on display.  Really?? I would like to make more of my own, but time is my enemy lately.

Another trick in my bag is to grow some of our own food.  When we bought our house, I had the plans for my first garden already in hand.  The first summer was spent leveling ground, building beds, getting compost started, and putting fencing in place- all with second hand tools and materials. It's not Better Homes and Gardens, but it grows food!  By the second season, I had also received donations of canning jars from many kind friends' attics and basements.  I have put many of these to good use, but not all from my garden.  I am still getting the hang of making the harvest last longer than the season.  However, I do purchase carrots, green beans, potatoes, yams, poultry, beef, pork, and squash when they are less than $1 a pound and process those for later use.  In November, I especially look forward to turkeys for .50-.60 a pound.  I cook up most of these, can the meat, cook the carcasses, can the broth for soup or gravy, and freeze a few for later in the year.  This removes some cost and cooking time from my weekly needs for many months.

As a side note, it is worth mentioning that if your family has had to choose between paying the mortgage, keeping the heat on, or buying groceries, there are community groups that offer free groceries weekly or monthly.  Some ask for income information for verification, some ask only for what other assistance is received, ie fuel assistance, and others ask for no verification.  Some of these same groups also offer free hot meals daily or weekly with no questions asked.  I hope the other methods work for you, but I would be remiss to not mention the help others offer when you've done all you can do. 

How have you saved money on groceries?

 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shower essentials

I already told you about the homemade shampoo and rinse I use in a previous post, but I wanted to mention a couple other things that are very useful, frugal, and healthy to use in and after the shower. 

I make my own soap and experiment with this every once in a while.  I've made exactly 2 batches from a basic soapmaking book, so I am no pro, but the results were awesome.  I collect waste fats from chicken and beef in a large plastic sherbet container throughout the year and keep it in my freezer.  I render this using a basic soapmaking book when I am ready for a batch.  If I am not ready to make a batch yet, and I run out of room in the container, I render this anyway and can it for later use.  I understand this could be used for homemade candles as well, but I am banned from making candles because I am a firehazard in my own right.  More about that another time ;) Anywho, the batch of soap I made the second time has lasted me two years and counting, as I have only used half. The bars last FOREVER!  I am super content to know that I am not bathing myself in chemicals when I shower.  It also works as a shampoo if you really want to economize, but it can be drying unless you make a moisturizing bar; mine was basic lye soap. 

The second vital thing I use is virgin coconut oil.  I use this as a salve to prevent shaving bumps/burns and it is very soothing, moisturizing, and antibacterial. 

I made homemade deodorant out of this with baking soda, arrowroot, and essential oils.  This is my favorite product as it has worked better than any deodorant I have ever tried, including many natural store-bought options.  And yes, it also is missing harmful chemicals. 

Lastly, I did a cleaning and threw out all my store bought creams, moisturizers, gels, lotions, and treatments.  Instead I made up a batch of raw shea butter, virgin olive oil, and essential oils as a facial/hand/elbow/kneecap/foot moisturizer.  Not only did it make my rough skin go away, but it makes my face feel like velvet.  I think it is plumping up my fine lines on my face and neck as well. I really love how it feels throughout the day.

 If you want more exact recipes, I am happy to post an update.

***UPDATE***I tried to link most products I've used at the Amazon link below especially for harder to find items...

Hand cream (useful for everything else!) is as follows:

1/2 c Raw unrefined Shea butter
1/2 c Cold pressed virgin olive oil or almond oil
1-2T Virgin Coconut Oil
5-10 drops cedarwood essential oil
10-15 drops orange essential oil

Place shea butter and coconut oil in microwave safe bowl and melt 1-2 minutes at a time, stirring occassionally, until all lumps are gone.  Put olive oil in a blender and place on low speed. Pour in the shea butter mixture in a slow stream until it is all incorporated.  Pour this into a container and add the oils to your liking.  I found that the olive oil has a strong aroma and it is hard to completely wipe it out.  Not a bad thing and it doesn't linger on your skin, but if you are not partial to it, use almond oil.  I like the healing effects of olive oil though, so it stays in my batch.  Let this set a few hours until is stiffens some.  Use sparingly up to what you need, instead of slathering too much initially.  Update how it's worked for you!

Me

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cleaning Part 2

It's still January, so I just made it to add another resolution: a way to stay on top of my house cleaning.  With my new found cleaning solutions in hand, I went back to an old faithful system that has my favorite motivators, lots of tools and gadgets! 

Flylady.net has garnished a lot of attention since I first discovered her a few years ago, so you may already know about her and her systems.  I read her sink book and it revolutionized how I approached housecleaning.  That is, when I approached it at all..  Like the weight loss and exercise apps I found recently, her system asks only 15 minutes a day and helps to get into a mindset of clean-as-you-go before bed and planning at the start of a day; basically staying on top of everything before it becomes a monster.  She has way too many helpers and lists and ways to go about this to go over here, but in reality, it is very simple: stay in one area/room of your house for a week in addition to a once over (basics) for about one hour a week. You get to everything you might in a spring cleaning fling or so, but in manageable chunks that won't make you go hide under the covers.  Within about 1 month, if you are buried like me, you will have a 'moment's notice' clean house that you won't mind having company drop in on.  Ask my family... I have a heart attack at the mere mention of it and rush the 'fake house.'  Honestly, I am sick of the fake house and want a sigh of contentment when I walk into my house from work and wake up feeling good about it as well. 

Another great thing is that she has recently collaborated with Cozi to produce an online calendar that syncs everyone's activities and appointments as well gives the ability to add school calendars and sports practice itineraries directly into it.  Every family member can access this online and from the phone.  All family members can add events or items to grocery lists, send notes to each other, and get reminders.  I had an online calendar that worked, but the best part is that the flylady schedule is right on my daily things to do.  Before, I would have to jazz myself up to get on the website and figure out what 'zone' I was supposed to be in and then find the lists and missions separately.  They are now right on my calendar!  I just click on it and there's my 15 minute activity. 

Did I mention it is all FREE??? C'mon, you should know me by now ;)  The signup is here

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gardening....tools and equipment

Seems that there is a trade off when it comes to gardening, unless you plan well ahead and have time to shop around.  The trade off is sweat or money.  Yes, you can have a beautiful garden for free and take the time to dig, build, compost, salvage or reuse materials, and save seeds/trade with neighbors, or you can buy everything premade or pregrown. Since I have more excess calories to offer than dollars, I go the sweat route most times and draft some extra free labor, aka kids who are better builders and more regular harvesters than I.

Sometimes I have gotten a steal on items that would usually cost a bit, such as topsoil with almost-full-cost rebates and heritage seeds on recycling websites from y2k'ers.  The dollar store and hardware stores have seeds 10-20 cents a packet at the end of the season, but one has to be vigilant about looking for those; I am too sporadic a shopper, so I rely on alerts from friends.  I have also found name-brand red and black pruners, lobbers, and an expandable hoe at a local dollar store for a quarter of the price of the local hardware or depot store.  Other tools like shovels, lawn furniture, wheelbarrows, and canning jars have been located faithfully in the basements, garages, and attics of estate sales.

Otherwise, recycling websites and the closest curb have yielded some great finds for me such as window boxes, hanging pots, landscaping flats, various tools, hoses, bricks, fencing, leaves and paper shreds for compost/mulch, and netting.  Thrift stores have provided me hand tools, yard clogs, and a school sports equipment stand that perfectly holds shovels, hoes, rakes, etc.  Grocery deli and bakery departments have been fantastic about providing food grade 5 gallon buckets that I drill holes in and use for potato planters.  Donated untreated wood was cut down to size with a handsaw and nails found in the basement of our recently purchased house to make raised beds.  To start new beds, my own recycling bins have provided all the newspaper and pizza boxes I could ask for. 

Another source of free items could come in the form of gifts of labor and materials from loved ones, like my 40th birthday gift for a sorely needed landscaping project.  Though I never thought to ask for this specifically, it wouldn't be a bad idea for a large or daunting project. Over eager family has also been a neat supply of excess plants and seeds when their eyes were bigger than their plots.

The gardening bug has officially hit me as of yesterday and I am smitten, so there will be more about gardening, maybe more than you want to know.  I may need to start another blog ;)

Friday, January 25, 2013

When we're sick.... stomach, fevers, etc

Again, please refer to the first sick blog for FDA disclaimer....

If we get hit with a flu like bug that sends us to the bathroom for one reason or another, we first ensure they have a comfy place on the 'sick couch.' Sometimes, just knowing we are being cared for in a special designated place helps recovery.  That, and its much closer to the bathroom and saves me some cleanup time ;)

Seriously, though, we have used Brioshi (below in amazon links) to keep the last meal at bay with some success.  Mostly, I head for the spice cabinet and brew up a simple cup of ginger tea.  It quells nausea fast and also works as a quick pain reliever. During recovery, we make them sleep as much as possible to help the body go into healing mode, sipping water or real ginger ale or weak sweetened tea occasionally until they can tolerate broth, soup, or dry crackers.  If I am out and get nauseous, I keep a pack of ginger gum handy and it works the same. 

We do not worry much about fevers, unless they are super high or of unusually long duration.  I am not one to run to the cabinet for a fever reducer, as fevers combat the bad bugs and I want to help it along as much as possible.  I come from a long line of fever phobians, so I understand the panic, but give it some space to do its thing :)

If the issue is the 'other end,' I give them a chewable probiotic according to the directions or yogurt a few times a day.  Fibrous foods and water are very important, too. I noticed that if I get an intestinal issue that would normally make me want to take that little white pill, the probiotics seem to work just as fast and are just as effective, and I'm helping my body retake enemy territory :)

Pet care

We have had a menagerie of animals over the last 10 years that have included almost every house pet outside of lizards including dogs, fish, turtles, hamsters, mice, birds, rats, rabbits, and guinea pigs.  No cats because dad's allergic, but otherwise, we are happiest with our furry or somewhat slimy friends.  At this point we are down to 2 rats, a bunny, and some fish. However, there are somethings we do now or have done that could help control costs and benefit the health of your animals. 

Pet litter: For mice, rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs, use shredded paper.  Newspaper is ok, but the colored pages are a no-no. The long shreds work best as they can burrow into it to stay warm and explore, but the cross cut works as well.  Since we broke our 3rd shredder, we get donations from extended family and a recycling advocate on freecycle.  Before this, I took bags of it home from the office I used to work in. Check with your local businesses as they may be thrilled to not pay a shredding disposal service.  The next cheapest option was wood shavings by the bale at a farm supply store.  This was about $6 each and lasted a while.  For pets on a leash, we reused plastic shopping bags instead of the purchased rolls.  Free again.

Pet food: For vegetarians in a cage, I approached my local grocery stores for their culled veggies.  Most said they supplied pig farmers, but one was glad save them for my critters if- 1. I provided a bin and 2. If I would be faithful to pick it up on time. No problem! The critters had good, free food for quite a while.  I actually ended up having to get creative with drying methods and making longer lasting items from it to not throw the excess into my compost pile. For other animals that prefer grains, some wild bird seed mixtures are cheaper than the pet store formulations with virtually the same ingredients except maybe pellets.  Those can be purchased in large bags from the farm supply store as well. For birds, there are recipes for bird 'bread' that is good enough for us to eat if it weren't for the egg shells.  Ask my mother in law, who mistaked a fresh pan on my oven for banana bread ;) For the dog, I made my own food, following online recipes that included the scrap meat from poultry carcasses after making broth, rice cooked in broth, sweet potatoes or carrots, olive oil, sage, parsley, crushed egg shells, kelp, and oats. He loved it and I knew he was getting good food instead of byproducts. *If anyone has tips on rat food, other than table scraps, let me know.

Pet health: I purchased food grade diatomaceous earth and we rub down the furry critters with it regularly, especially in flea season and it can be added to food for internal parasites. WARNING: Be sure to get food grade! I also made up a bandana for the dog with various essential oils that were pet friendly, yet flea/tick aggressive. Any minor cuts or abrasions calls for our colloidal silver spray for quick healing.  For larger wounds, like when my mini pincher attacked the neighboring pitbull, we kept EMT gel handy (on the amazon site below).

When we're sick #2....Pain relief

Please refer to my other post for the FDA disclaimer before reading on if you haven't yet....

I tend to get migraines about monthly for the last few years.  My mom described hers to me and I am glad that I could refer to that when I got my first one with an aura about 15 years ago.  When I get an aura, I thankfully don't get the pain with it, but I get it at a different time in the month.  I just can't see right for a couple hours until they fade. But when the pain comes, it takes over my whole head, starting as a kink-like tightness at the base of my skull, traveling to the sides of my head, into my ears/jaws, and then down both jugulars.  Worse, if it is during the night, it travels to whatever side my head is resting on, making sleep impossible. It is unbearable, and for this I sometimes do resort to aspirin, naproxen sodium, or ibuprofen out of desperation.  These work sometimes, but mostly I have to do various things to get relief.  I first make ginger tea (cup of hot water, 1/4-1/2 t ground ginger, honey to taste) and it usually makes a dent in the pain, if not removing entirely it for a while. I also made a rice sock out of a new tube sock with the stripes and everything. At least this makes me laugh when I pull it out. I filled it with a couple pounds of white rice out of my cupboard and tied a knot at the end.  You might want to put some essential oil on the sock and worked it in because hot rice smells like, well, hot rice.  I microwave this for 3 minutes and use it wherever the pain has traveled.  If these is not entirely effective, I also massage a menthol muscle salve into my scalp.  Yes, it is a bit messy on the hair, but my image and smelling like sushi cough drop is the last thing on my mind. Besides, the almost instant cold tingling is such a break from the pain. On that note, the menthol gel works great anywhere there is pain from headaches to muscle/bone aches and is a natural alternative to messing with your gut.  However, not all are the same, so read the ingredients. I have read about using cinnamon, mustard, or cayenne for the same effect, but do some research as they can be irritating to the skin. As with anything, do not put anything near your eyes, or on the skin surrounding your eyes.  The skin there is the thinnest on your body and absorbs right into your eye; protect your vision for as long as possible! 

Another use of the rice sock is, of course, when we strain a muscle, or just have a hard time getting into a cold bed :)  It can also be placed on an ear for earaches as the moist heat is very soothing. The rice sock has it over a heating pad because it does not produce electromagnetic fields and it is not a fire hazard, unless you warm it too long.  I might need to start a blog on how many times I've been my own fire hazard...but I digress. For more about the dangers of heating pads, see this.... 

I also seem to have issues with an ovarian cyst rupturing abnormally every few months.  It hits me without warning a few minutes or hours after starting my day and sends me to bed in pain that reminds me what early labor was like.  Not cool, as I am a textbook example about how you 'forget all about the pain.' My rice sock and ginger tea come to the rescue again as I lay as motionless as possible for a few hours.

My last pain reliever is for splinter removal or addressing an infection around a nail, etc.  We use the cheapest throat spray analgesic or baby teething formula on the area, leave it for a minute, and then go at it.  Works terrific!

***UPDATE: Cold sores: Make lemon balm tincture ahead of time and use on spot the minute the tingling starts.  Also, rubbing an ice cube on the tingling spot can quelled an outbreak.  Lastly, if it ruptures or threatens to, grind an aspirin with a drop or two of hydrogen peroxide to make a paste and dab this with a clean cotton swab a few times; let it air dry preferably when you do not have to go out.  This made a very angry, weepy one go away overnight with minimal residual redness. Note: this stings a little bit, according to my 11 year old, but is not painful. 



When we're sick...Colds, etc

Business first... FDA Disclaimer
The statements and products referred to throughout this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health condition or concern, consult a physician or your alternative health care provider. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing new exercises. We recommend you educate yourselves on the scientific / nutritional facts. Again, I do not want to get into trouble with the FDA, so what I've used is simply that . Please do your own research, make wise decisions, and use products at your own risk. 

First, it would be helpful to know that none of us takes prescription drugs or otc items of any kind regularly.  I can count the times on my hand that we needed prescription antibiotics and those have been mostly for one kid with a revolving issue with an infected toe.  Further, it is only because he has not faithfully take the rounds with regularlity.  We are fairly healthy and mostly have complaints from aches, but we will get to what we use for that. We do not take multi's regularly and one of us uses natural supplements daily for focus issues, but again, we will get to that as well. I do try my best to stay away from otc and prescription medications as much as possible.  The side effects and way they mess with our systems instead of working with them is just not desirable.  Here is an interesting article about the effects of antibiotics...

We will start with the common cold and associated symptoms. When any of us starts sniffles or a sore throat, the first thing we go to is vitamin c and zinc. Note: there are chewable versions of both. Our loose rule is to take 2 c's and one zinc in the morning, then more c's throughout the day at least 2 more times.  We do this until the symptoms are gone.  We notice that they definitely last fewer days and are of a lesser intensity when we do this.  If congestion is an issue, we brew up a strong tea of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg with honey.  If coughing is an issue, as with a chest cold, or just a nagging cough during the night, we use a chest rub product (natural ingredients) on the bottom of the feet with socks overnight.  It stops the coughing and helps us sleep deeply.  If a sore throat is a nagging issue, we pick the most desirable of one or more of the following: gargle with salt water, spray colloidal silver at the back of the throat and gargle for 30 seconds then swallow, or use a mixture of honey and lemon juice as a gargle.  I found natural horehound cough drops to suck on that my grandmother used to give us as kids in a novelty general store. I have persuaded the kids to use a honey, lemon, and onion juice mixture as a cough remedy, but they balked at it- should have started that one a bit younger ;)  It's too bad because onion juice is a strong opponent to bad bugs.  On that note, I have heard that a cut onion placed in the room of the sick person disinfects the air, and when I tried this recently, that very day was when I felt more like myself- but that could be the timing. Speaking of food, I regularly make broth with poultry carcasses, vegetable ends, turmeric, rosemary, thyme, sage, and egg shells. To this broth, I add vegetables, the meat from the bones, some noodles, and process jars of it in a canner for a rainy day. Some of my family members rebel and still grab the red and white label soup and use regular cough medicines to lessen symptoms, but everyone has to decide what is best for their body, I just try to influence them to make the healthiest decisions possible; that is to help the body heal and not just cover up symptoms.

Should one of us have more drastic symptoms, like the beginnings of strep or a sinus infection, we definitely go right to colloidal silver (a natural antibiotic in my faves below and on the amazon site). For throat issues, we gargle many times with silver and swallow the rest over the course of a few days.  If the pain is intolerable, we will use a analgesic spray until it lessens and we remove the person from others.  This usually takes care of it in a couple days. For sinus infections, we use the spray as an inhaler multiple times a day as well.  Though the silver is not inexpensive ($14 for about 2 oz), we find it is effective on so many things, it is worth it.  Ps, one 2 oz bottle lasts all of us months at a time, so I guess it is still cost effective considering prescription and dr visit copays.

Oddly enough, one of my kids develops the beginnings of pink eye whenever he begins a cold.  We spray the silver in each eye once, 2-3 times a day. We usually only have to treat it for one day, sometimes two, but any itchiness and redness is gone almost immediately after the first spray.  I think this covers the basic cold approaches we do, but will update if any slipped my mind :) 


Weight Loss tools #2

Before starting with Lose It and Daily Workout apps, I used the Sparkpeople.com program.  Since I have been looking for lots of things to do, and my extended family is a fan of Weight Watchers, I looked into it, but the cost and time to go 'check in' was prohibitive.  I understand the rationale on the check in's, but it wasn't going to work for me.  Did I mention the cost was a factor?  I REALLY like free.  So, about Sparkpeople... they offer a comparative program that offers tracking of weight, foods, and exercises that is quite comprehensive with lots of reports, and I think, meal planners.  They have a vibrant community and offer challenges and your own website to express yourself.  I liked it, but I never really lost weight and I wonder if it was due to the fact it allowed me 500-700 more calories than I have now on the Lose It program.  Many people have had great success with it, but Lose It just fits me better and is more 'on the go' friendly for my lifestyle.  So, if you are not a fan of Lose It, check out Sparkpeople.  Did I mention it's free????

Today, I was looking for a calorie converter for my treadmill workout of 3.0 at a 7 incline.  No, my beloved Lose It did not have anything more fancy under walking/treadmill other than minutes walked.  I know I worked harder than that.  A quick search on my phone brought up a site that asks your weight, time worked out, and you pick from an extensive list (that included speed and incline.) Granted, it had 6.0 incline instead of 7, but I could live with that estimate- the rest is gravy ;)

The site was www.mygraphite.com/free-tools/exercise-calorie-calculator

 I know there are others out there, but this one worked in a pinch.  Give it a shot!