Recommended Reading

Cleaning Neurosis

josie-in-her-clean-bedIt’s another marathon cleaning day for me, I guess.  I started off the day (as I do many other days) with dishes and a load of laundry.  But, the thing is, I had already done most of the laundry yesterday.  So today’s laundry was the once in a while stuff.  The dog bed (ok, so that’s only a little less than weekly), curtains, rugs, bedspreads.  I don’t know where this cleaning bug has come from.  And I really don’t feel like I’m far enough along to count it as “nesting.” 

I also started cleaning out my closet and dresser, and that long forgotten bin of clothes under my bed.  It held clothes from before my pregnancy with Henry.  I just put that whole thing in the Goodwill pile, since I obviously forgot about it completely.  No sense in it taking up space.  Valuable space at that!  Like Katie Jean, I live in an old house without much storage, and we get creative about where we put things.  No room for junk! 

ridiculous-pile-for-the-goodwillAnd after finishing that, I moved on to Henry’s room.  Cleaning it out once again.  Seriously, if this keeps up, the poor kid will have no clothes or toys at all by the time I’m done with this pregnancy.

So where did I put all this *stuff*?  Well, we have an ever growing Goodwill pile down in the basement.  And, Rick and I have been discussing actually taking it to the Goodwill for some time now.  So that is where I’m headed after this post… to the basement to gather and load the Goodwill pile into the car to take to the Goodwill!  No room for junk, I say!

Yikes. 

On another note, I read a very interesting post today over at Crunchy Chicken on The neurology of spending.  It’s quite thought provoking.  I really am not a big spender, I find a lot of satisfaction in seeing how little I can spend at the grocery store, or re-purposing something I already have into something new that I needed.  But I AM kind of an emotional spender. 

Last week, for example, Rick and I got into an argument.  It was about nothing really, but those pesky pregnancy hormones kind of blew it out of proportion for me.  So I left the house, practically in tears, determined to see if I could get into the salon to get my hair done… a $60 + expense that I haven’t taken care of since October because, honestly, we just didn’t have the cash.  Fortunately for me, and the household budget, I couldn’t get in.  And I was spared the wrath of a husband and bank who would have definitely been upset by us not being able to pay out bills. 

That’s not always the case.  I’ve gone out to buy coffee, clothes or various other non-necessities under emotional stress in the past.  Sometimes it causes a lot of financial damage, but usually my “insula” (see the article for an explanation) kicked in and kept me out of too much trouble.  Even if the $4 coffee wasn’t in the budget, it usually doesn’t break us. 

Anyway, I enjoyed reading about why we are sometimes tempted to spend and what sometimes keeps us from doing so.  Do you ever spend in reaction to emotions?  What usually stops you?  And do I have an excuse other than nesting for this cleaning frenzy?? 

Tomorrow’s post (Thrifty Thursday) will be on cheap dates, in honor of Valentine’s Day.  ;) 
xoxo

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Categories: Recommended Reading | 3 Comments

Sprouting Ideas!

I recently read this post on the Green & Clean Mom blog about Sprouting.  I have never heard of this before, but it’s something I can’t wait to try! 

I love the idea of quickly growing something edible in the kitchen during the winter months.  I know I would certainly eat more greens throughout the winter if I had them fresh and readily available in my kitchen every couple of days! 

Check out Green & Clean Mom’s blog for a basic overview of growing all kinds of bean sprouts in your own kitchen.  It’s very inexpensive (especially when compared with the cost of a little box of organic sprouts at the grocery store), and it looks very easy.  And for more info, just put ‘sprouting’ into Google and you’ll find tons of how-to and DIY sites that can lead you through, step-by-step as well. 

I’ll post a picture of my own sprouts in just a few days!

Categories: Food, Garden, Recommended Reading | Leave a comment

Frugal Friday: Menu Planning

Ok, it’s another late Thrifty Thursday… Happy New Year by the way!

When I first heard the idea of the Thrifty Thursdays, I immediately started writing down different ideas that I had to share.  Then, being my crazy, list-making self, I organized the list into monthly categories.  For the month of January, I originally thought I’d focus on Budgets and eliminating bills, since it was the new year, but I’ve had lots of questions from friends recently about one specific expense: cutting the grocery bill.  So you’ll have to hold on for the budget stuff I guess… I’ve moved up my May topic to this month:  Meals, Menu Planning and Marketing.

Our grocery bill varies through the year, but during the winter we keep it under $100 a week (usually closer to $80), and during the summer it hovers around $60/week, with a few bonus weeks that won’t top $35.  That is not factoring in the price we pay for our CSA membership, of course, but more on that in another post (as if you haven’t heard enough about it already).  ;)

There are a lot of factors in keeping this particular bill down.  A lot.  Sometimes I only take cash to the store, so I CAN’T go over budget.  Some of the burden is relieved by Rick hunting for a lot of our meat, or buying meat in bulk.  In the summer, the garden helps immensely (and you can bet you’ll see more about that one too).  But I know not every family is part of a CSA, or hunts, or gardens.  So the tips I’ll focus on this month are ones that every family can use. 

menu-planningThis week: Menu Planning!  I usually plan a month of meals at a time.  I know that it can seem overwhelming to a lot of people to do that… even planning for the week is hard for some people.  But I do think planning for the month cuts the grocery bill a lot for us.  First I’ll share what I do each month, and then why I think it works for saving money.

First up: inventory!  Specifically the freezer and any meat I’ve picked up through the previous month(s).  I make a list, on a post-it, that usually ends up looking like this:  

  • Deer steaks. 
  • That whole chicken buried way in the back. 
  • Bacon.
  • Oh, look, a couple of tilapia fillets I forgot about. 
  • When did I buy bratwurst?  Well, add it to the list. 
  • Pork roast, enough for two dinners.
  • Etc., etc. 

Then I inventory the cabinets for grains (how long have I had that rice??) and whatever veggies I have, frozen, fresh or canned. 

Next, I open up Excel, to a saved monthly menu I have.  I’m happy to email this to anyone who asks for it!  I change all the dates for the upcoming month and either I start typing in meals or I print it and hand write them in (or a combination of the two). 

The first items I add to the menu are, unsurprisingly, the things I found in the inventory.  I think this is a lot easier then starting from scratch.  It’s a good jumping off point, and it guarantees that my grocery bill will be lower in the first couple of weeks when money is tighter for our family, since I’ll have to buy less. 

Each time I add something to the menu that was on my inventory post-it, I cross it off the list so I don’t accidentally add it twice.  Also, I usually try to do one meatless meal a week, and one left-over meal (or a cook once, eat twice meal, as I’ll explain).

Once I get through the inventory or if I have a lot of something in particular, let’s say pork, for example, I will pull out a couple of my “go-to” cookbooks, past menus I’ve made, and a few favorite websites.  These help with the ideas, and keeping things fresh and from getting boring. 

My “go to” cookbooks are: Glorious One-Pot Meals by Elizabeth Yarnell, and my new fave, Everyday Food: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart Living.  More about these at the end of the post.

A good website to check out, especially if you are a beginner at the menu planning is Woman’s Day Magazine’s site.  They provide a Month of Menus each month, along with shopping lists, and cooking instructions for many of the meals, all posted in one place on their site.  It’s a good starting place.  I wouldn’t recommend using their menu as is if you’re really trying to save money, because I don’t see much savings when I look at the grocery lists, but it’s a good place for new ideas if you get stumped.

Anyway… blah blah blah, fill in all the squares of your menu.  Then, comes the shopping. 

I think this method of menu planning (monthly, as opposed to weekly menu planning) saves our family more money, and this is why: 

  1. I use what I have first, easing the grocery bill during the first weeks of the month.
  2. Most grocery stores have what you need on sale at least once a month.  You can look ahead, and if something you need later in the month is on sale this week, you can buy it cheap.
  3. I make a list, and don’t buy anything I don’t need.  I stick to this, with one exception:
  4. If there is an amazing sale, or if I make a trip to Costco, I stock up on the good deals.  This provides the jumping off point for the next month’s meals. 
  5. The rest of inventory for the next month comes from any meals I was too lazy to cook the previous month (hey, we all have those days, right).

The last piece is the meatless meals and the left overs (cook once, eat twice).  Meatless meals are less expensive.  And they are faster to prepare… great when you have plans in the evening or get off work late.  With a little practice and some spices, your family won’t even mind one vegetarian (think spaghetti and a big salad with fresh mozzarella) meal a week.  I promise! 

The left overs, or the cook once eat twice meals work like this.  Everyone deserves a night off, even you.  And if you’re like my family, that doesn’t mean ordering a pizza, since pizza money isn’t always in the budget.  So let someone else do the cooking one night a week (it’s usually Friday or Saturday for us).  Reheat the left over soup from Wednesday, or when you make pork roast on Tuesday, make a little extra to shred for BBQ pulled pork sandwiches on Friday.  Left overs don’t have to be the same meal twice.  Use the left over roast chicken to make chicken salad.  Be imaginitive.  I especially love this in the summer… cooking once for two meals means one less day with the stove on.  We don’t have A/C, so that’s important!

Menu planning is not that hard once you get the hang of it.  And you can use the same menu over if you really don’t want to come up with something new each month (except you still need to do the inventory part… there really is a lot of savings in using what you already have).  Be flexable with it.  If your husband is late home from work one night, make that night your meatless meal, and swap it for whatever was planned later that week.  You might even enjoy having an answer when your kids (or hubby) asks what’s for dinner.  :) 

If you are not bored (or full) yet, keep reading.

I wanted to take a minute to share why Glorious One-Pot Meals and Great Food Fast are my go-to cookbooks.   Both books use fresh, wholesome ingredients.  No condensed soups or pre-packaged foods.  In other words, they are healthy.  I know people who are not used to this kind of cooking might think it’s more expensive to buy fresh, non-convenience foods.  Well, it looks that way on the surface, yes.  But, if you look at the true cost of what you’re eating, you might change your mind.  But that is actually a whole ‘nother Oprah for me. 

Another reason I like these books are because they are convenient.  The Glorious One-Pot Meals book is somewhat self explanatory… one-pot.  Less dishes.  And I use a big pot and usually double the recipe, which gets me left-overs, good for another dinner or at least two lunches.  It also uses whole grains and lots of veggies… both of which are always hard to get enough of, so it helps me remember to do it! 

The Great Food Fast book has prep times listed on every recipe.  And it is arranged by season.  This is important because food is less expensive and more nutritious when you buy it in season.  So in January, when I’m stumped with what to put on the next menu square, I can flip through the winter section and know I’ll find a meal that is healthy, not expensive, and all the ingredients will be there in the grocery store. 

Be sure to check the other blogs for more Thrifty Thursday tips!  And if you decide to join in, just let me know… post a comment already!
Genny, Katie Jean & Tracy

Categories: Menu Planning, Recommended Reading, Thrift | 3 Comments

Good Friends, Good Ideas

snowballLast week, while reading through my friends’ blogs, I came across this post by Genny, that was so clever, so ingenious, I simply couldn’t believe that no one I knew has thought of this before!  The idea is called “Thrifty Thursday Tips,” and Genny got the idea from her sister, who was doing this, inspired by an old school mate. 

These women all have two kids (or one with one more on the way), and are trying to make it in this day and age on only one income.  So, like our family, they are always looking for more ways to be frugal, and stretch their family dollars.  After a phone call to Genny to rave about her idea, she told me she wouldn’t mind if I shared the idea of Thrifty Thursdays on my blog too. 

Genny’s first Thrifty Thursday Tip was on making your own liquid laundry detergent.  The cost of making your own deterent is something like $0.007 cents per load.  That means if you typically buy a container that washes 64 loads, you could wash the same amount of clothes for only $0.45.  That’s right, 45 CENTS!  You can bet, I’m going to try the recipe.

I know so many families like ours, trying to cut it on one income, always looking for ways to get just a little more bang for our precious few bucks.  And in this economy, I think all of us, kids or not, married or single, could use a few new ideas to save some cash. 

I started thinking, why not put it out there… what Tips do you have to share?  What does your family do to cut costs?  I will be brainstorming some ideas to share weekly too, but I would LOVE to hear what YOU do to save!

Categories: Community, Recommended Reading, Thrift | 1 Comment

Everything in Moderation. Including Moderation.

My friend Genny always has her fingers on the pulse of the natural vs. artificial debate.  Check out her blog here for a couple of commercials put out by the Corn Refiners Association promoting High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), along with a spoof on the commercials promoting the Nazi political party.  Pretty funny, and at the same time, not at all funny. 

The commercials at the end say “Get the Facts” at SweetSurprise.com.  Please do.  You can connect to that website and another one called HFCSfacts.com through the Corn Refiners Association web link provided above. 

There is a lot of controversy surrounding HFCS.  There is debate over whether it is a “natural” sweetener or not.  It comes form corn, yet has to be incredibly processed to make it into HFCS. 

There is controversy over the environmental impacts of the corn industry and over the government’s involvement in the industry both politically and economically (the farm bill, in particular). 

The results of the most recent studies (as stated on any of the Corn websites) is that HFCS is safe to consume in moderation, just like table sugar.  Yet, there is controversy over it being addictive, contributing to the surge of obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol in America since the 1980’s.

Here are a few articles (not studies, mind you) that I found interesting on the subject.  They address the health issues, economic controversy and the environmental impacts of the High-Fructose Corn Syrup industry. 

     Washington Post      New York Times      Mayo Clinic      Advanced Health Institute

Happy reading.

Categories: Food, Recommended Reading, Urban Homesteading | 4 Comments

Going Batty

Click to EnlargeSo I found this interesting article yesterday in the paper!  Yesterday I was reading the Sunday Denver Post (a rarity for me), and I found this great story about a high school student, Rex Morgan, trying to earn his Eagle Scout badge using bats!  (Click here to read the article). His idea was to build bat houses to attract bats to eat the West Nile carrying mosquitoes in Weld County. 

The best part of the article is that it included this plan for building your own bat house!  This is something I’ve been hinting at Rick doing for a looong time now (since before we ever got chickens).  But armed with an easy to read plan, and the first hand bat catching experience of last week, I just may get one! 

Bats are so cool.  First off, they can eat more than their body weight in mosquitos and other insects.  Second… well they’re cute.  And third, I LOVE seeing them swooping around on summer evenings. 

I know just the place for the house too.  On the east side of our garage.  I’m so excited!!  I’ve seen a few bats over the years in our neighborhood.  I’m hoping our bat house will attract a few more!! 

Bats have gotten a bad rap due to movies and vampire legends.  But really, they are so helpful!  I once read somewhere that a small bat can eat 1200 insects in one hour!  Holy Schmokes!  If that’s not someone you want hanging around your summer evening barbecue, I don’t know who is.  And, their guano makes great fertilizer for the garden. 

Just another way to be pesticide free and solve a problem.  Three cheers to Rex Morgan for his green thinking, and cheers to the Denver Post for publishing a story about it!  We need to hear more about people thinking of natural ways to solve problems.  Hooray! 

 

Picture from http://www.denverpost.com.   For more info on bats, check out http://www.batcon.org

Categories: Recommended Reading, Urban Homesteading | Leave a comment

Crunchy: Redefined

So, today marks day five on working on this post… by far the longest I’ve ever worked on a single blog entry (originally posted as “Define: Crunchy”).  Two days ago, I started off talking about how I lost a potential friendship over religion and politics.  The forbidden subjects. 

And then I proceed to wind my way into something that basically said I’m politically somewhere to the left of the Republican party, but in no way am I a Democrat either… only I did it in this weird train-wreck of a blog entry that I agonized over for the entire 5 to 8 hours I had it published on my site. 

So after pulling the post off the blog to rethink and edit it into what I intended it to be originally, this is what I have come up with.  And my thanks do go out to loyal friends like Rach & Genny who encouraged me to be myself, despite barfing my political and religious stances all over the world wide web. 

For me, an organic, holistic lifestyle flows naturally from my Christian beliefs.  It’s an extension of my religion, which includes taking care of our bodies and the earth.  I believe that women’s bodies are capable of giving birth without a doctor or hospital, that we can be healthy by eating good food and not having to take loads of processed vitamins, that we should respect the earth and be good stewards of it for our children’s sake. 

I generally consider myself to be a Republican, though, I admit the party has it’s faults, and many of them are not minor.  I take major issue with many of the Democratic views as well, especially on certain controversial issues, and I would not give myself the titles Democrat or a liberal.  But I can comfortably say, I am a “Crunchy Con.”  I’m a conservative that firmly believes that we can and should as a society, go back to our roots, live simpler, work less, be happy and take care of our families and communities. 

I feel that Rick and I have been striving for this lifestyle for quite a while now.  With our big garden, and chickens, and cloth diapers and our little house.  But not until I picked up Rod Dreher’s book recently, did I know that this lifestyle had a name. 

The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to RootsCrunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots.

It’s a political book written by a journalist from the National Review. The back of the hardcover edition reads: “When a National Review colleague teased writer Rod Dreher one day about his visit to the local food co-op to pick up a week’s supply of organic vegetables (“Ewww, that’s so lefty”), he started thinking about the ways he and his conservative family lived that put them outside the bounds of conventional Republican politics. Shortly thereafter Dreher wrote an essay about “crunchy cons,” people whose “Small Is Beautiful” style of conservative politics often put them at odds with GOP orthodoxy, and sometimes even in the same camp as lefties outside the Democratic mainstream. The response to the article was impassioned: Dreher was deluged by e-mails from conservatives across America—everyone from a pro-life vegetarian Buddhist Republican to an NRA staffer with a passion for organic gardening—who responded to say, “Hey, me too!”

From there Dreher was encouraged to write the book about “How Burkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican party).”

I’ve just started reading the book, but it’s been amazing to find camaraderie in such a diverse group of people.  From what I’ve read (and I’m not finished yet), it feels like the author has been extracting my own thoughts on the world and America and putting them down in his book.  It is certainly worth reading, whether you consider yourself Republican, Democrat or somewhere in between. 

With chapters on food, consumerism, home, education and the environment, Dreher addresses many of the ways Americans have neglected ourselves and our families with our strides towards efficiency, technology, and convenience.  He calls the GOP on the carpet.  Often, it’s party that so regularly spouts religious and conservative ideals, yet conveniently forgets those ideals as they head into the Super Walmart.  Something many of us are all guilty of.

Dreher speaks of being conservative in a whole different way.  Of actually conserving the things that matter.  And not just bowing down to the almighty dollar.  The economy is important, but not more important than life, family, etc.  He challenges the idea that acquiring goods and services at the lowest possible price is a fundamental social value.  He questions how one can be a traditional-values conservative in a society which finds and expresses it’s identity through the consumption of products.  He denounces destructive materialism which often causes capitalism to come before conservatism.

In the chapter on Home, this is abundantly clear as he addresses the lack of community and isolation in suburb living, sacrificed to the sprawling homes with vaulted ceilings, detached garages and big screen TVs. 

The chapter on food was amazing.  And eye opening even for a “gun-loving organic gardener” like myself.  And for the record, if Rick didn’t shoot it, or we didn’t grow it ourselves, or if it’s not free-range & organic, we will not be eating it.  It’s amazing and frightening what has been sacrificed in the food industry to get meat into the stores faster and cheaper.  “Conservatives tend to ask how we can be more efficient, not how we can be more effective.  You can be very efficient in the wrong thing.”  And the government regulations make it almost impossible for the little guys to make it.  We need them more than ever.

Dreher talks about the Slow Food movement and interviews small local ranchers and farmers.  And I have to admit, it is more than encouraging and attractive to me to hear the way these people left their corporate jobs to do what felt right to them in their soul, despite the regulations. 

A Crunchy Con Manifesto

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.

3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.

5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.

6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.

8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

My favorite quote so far: “You know, once you start asking questions, it’s a slippery slope. Those questions lead to these conclusions, which set up new questions that lead to these conclusions.  Conservative, liberal, or whatever, I think people who are starting to change their lifestyles and the way they eat are people who realize that you shouldn’t believe everything you’re told now, that you really should investigate it on your own.”

Categories: Recommended Reading, Urban Homesteading | 1 Comment

Books & Bees

Rifle season is officially upon us, and Rick is up in Kremmling hunting for an elk (Oh how I hope he gets one!  It would be so nice to have meat in the freezer… enough for the whole year)!

So while he’s gone, I’m passing the time by surfing the net and playing on Amazon.com.  I should be cleaning, I know.  I just can’t bring myself to do work, while he’s out there playing.  :) 

If you didn’t know it, Amazon has a cool feature… Wish Lists.  I’ve been filling mine up as a reminder of stuff I want to buy if I ever have extra money to do so.  And how will I get said extra money??  By selling stuff on Amazon, of course!  I’ve decided to give it a try anyway.  I’ve listed a few books, so we’ll see what happens. 

Last week I was invited to join a long distance book club… a group of women will be mailing each other books to read each month.  Not the same books, just a book they’d like to pass on.  I love the idea.  I can’t wait until we start… I can’t wait to get a book in the mail!  And I’ve been picking out a couple books that I think I’m ready to send on too.  It should be lots of fun! 

I recently borrowed The Secret Life of Bees from a friend, and I really enjoyed it.  It’s a short book, an easy read.  But it was a fun one, and I hope to get a few more fun books in the club.  I wish I owned The Secret Life of Bees, just so I could pass it on in the club!

(image of Ukrainian Beekeeping Stamps… apparently, one in 1000 people in the Ukraine keep bees!!)

Something endears the characters in that book to me… maybe it’s because I’m fascinated with bees.  I am always telling Rick how I want to try out beekeeping.  Maybe if we ever get some real land, it’ll be my next project. 

I have no fear of bees.  I so love hanging out in my flower gardens and seeing all the different kinds of bees, busily collecting pollen.  I love that they are enjoying my flowers as much as I am.  Even the neighbor comments on all the bees in my flowers!  I love it!

“First chickens, now bees?”  Rick would say.  “Yep,” says I.  “Can’t you just imagine how great your own home grown honey would be??”

Categories: Beekeeping, Garden, Recommended Reading, Urban Homesteading | 3 Comments

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