Simple Living

Ax Skills for the Homestead & Wilderness DVD Winner

Drawn by a random number generator….. Cass is the winner!  I will email you, Cass, with instructions on how to get your DVD.

If you didn’t win, make sure you visit oldfedco.com and order a copy for yourself.   Thanks again to Alex and Old Federal Ax Co. for this awesome giveaway!

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Categories: DIY, Giveaways, Simple Living, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Giveaway: Ax Skills for the Homestead & Wilderness Survival DVD

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Alex Leavens, a survival instructor in the Portland, Oregon area, asking if I would review his DVD, “Ax Skills for the Homestead & Wilderness Survival.”  He thought that my readers here might be interested in his DVD.  After checking out his website, OldFedCo.com, I agreed.

The Review:

I’ve never seen such a detailed “how-to” DVD.  Alex meticulously covers everything from safely handing an ax, chopping wood and making kindling, to sharpening your ax and replacing an ax handle.

I really loved how clear he was about safety.  The graduated 4-Her in me also couldn’t help but think that the instruction on the DVD would really help in the making of a blue ribbon, Grand Champion 4-H project.  I would be totally comfortable having Henry watch this DVD  because it is so thorough and emphasizes safety so well.  This is actually not that surprising though, since in his bio, Alex states he was an Eagle Scout.

I was totally impressed with Alex’s accuracy in splitting and reading wood.  Since it’s easy to impress a beginner, I brought Rick in to watch the DVD with me.  Rick has chopped a fair share of firewood.  He’s not an expert on axes, but he  knows a bit about sharpening tools and safety.  I wanted his point of view on the accuracy of the information presented in the DVD.

It was cool watching the chapters on sharpening and safety and hearing Rick pipe up with plenty of “Yep! That’s the way,” as well as having him tell me what he was learning as we watched.  I liked the chapters on hanging an ax (replacing the handle) because my grandpa gave Rick all of his old tools and this DVD will be a great reference tool on caring for and maintaining them.

It is obvious while watching the DVD that Alex really knows his stuff and is also passionate about teaching.  The DVD is extremely thorough.  There are great close-ups of what he’s doing to sharpen his ax, as well as shots from many different angles showing exactly what is happening and how to do it yourself.   It made me feel like I could choose and buy an ax, use it with confidence and maintain it myself.  Check out some of the clips of the DVD on Alex’s site for some examples to see what I mean.

The section on using an ax in the back country was really cool.  I liked seeing how he set himself up using what was in the woods to split wood, make kindling and make stakes.  He even shows you how to make an in-field sharpening station.  Plus, I loved that even in the woods, he was very consistent and followed all his own safety rules.

Alex makes sure to cover every aspect of one topic before moving to the next.  There is no rushing through anything, and the pace is good for a newbie.  The chapters on the DVD are organized in a logical way, and once you grasp a skill, it’s easy to skip forward on the DVD to the next skill if you are ready to do so.

In the end, while pressing the eject button on the DVD player, Rick commented that he was pretty happy to have a good reference tool on the shelf next time he needed it.  I’m excited to use some of the skills I learned about sharpening and maintaining hand tools on Vera, my grub hoe.

The Summary:

This DVD would be great for:

  • Beginners, new to homesteading and/or hand tools.
  • Those who want to add to their skill set, especially sharpening and maintaining their own tools.
  • People with a wood-burning stove or fireplace.
  • People with a giant wood pile.
  • Youth clubs like 4-H or scouts.
  • Homeschoolers interested in teaching traditional skills.
  • Survivalists, backpackers, hikers, hunters or others that spend time in the woods.
  • People interested in hand tools, restoring old tools, reusing instead of buying new, and/or geeking out with their grandpa’s hand-me-down tools.
  • People who are intimidated by using and maintaining an ax.

This DVD would not be good for:

  • Our great-grandparents who grew up learning these skills.
  • People who are into “more power” or using a chainsaw for everything.
  • People who want to do things quickly instead of correctly.

Disclosure: I received a free DVD from Alex to write this review.  The thoughts and opinions expressed here are honest and my own.

The Giveaway:

In addition to being an authority on axes, Alex is a wilderness and survival expert.  He is a former backcountry ranger, firefighter, and survival guide.  He teaches classes in the Portland area, as well as offering ax sharpening services for locals.

Did I mention generous?  Alex promised to give away a copy of the DVD to one lucky reader!   

To be entered into the contest, please post a wilderness or survival question in the comments here before midnight, MST on November 21, 2012If you are new reader here at The Lazy Homesteader, or have been lurking for a while, this is your chance to come out of the woodwork.

I’ll double your chances if you ‘Like’ Old Federal Ax Co. on Facebook and share this post with your friends (tag @The Lazy Homesteader or use one of the buttons at the bottom of this post).  Come back here to leave a second comment telling me that you did so. 

I’ll announce the winner in a separate post, so make sure to subscribe to the LazyHomesteader.com/feed or follow me by email or on Facebook/Twitter by using one of the buttons on the sidebar (above, right).

You have two weeks to enter and spread the word.  Ready, GO!

The giveaway is now closed.  Thanks to Alex and Old Federal Ax Co., and congrats to the winner!

Categories: DIY, Giveaways, Hunting, Recommended Reading, Simple Living, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 22 Comments

No Spend October: Wrap Up

So… weeks three and four.  Let’s just say that No Spend month has been a very revealing project for me.

The month did not really go as I planned, but we still spent a lot less than we would have otherwise.

We spent $257.85 on groceries these last two weeks.  Add to that a tank of gas ($46.02), the pumpkin patch outing ($60) and favor’s for H’s birthday party ($14.44) and we spent $378.31 in two weeks.

Total spending this month so far: $624.62

My original budget was $335.  So we blew it by $289.62. 

I’m really bummed that I couldn’t manage to stick to our original budget.  I don’t know whether I just set the bar too high for us, or I just… lacked the self-control.

Besides going over out budget though, I have one major disappointment: I didn’t save anything.

WHY?

Because last month, our spending was so out of control, that all this no spending has done was allow us to catch up.  While we did blow the budget out of the water, we still spent about $700 less than we do in a typical month.  Because of No Spend Month, we’ve gotten well caught up and in a great place to rebuild that savings account and for the holidays.

Overall, the project was a success.  Next time I think I’ll set more realistic goals.  In the mean time, we’ve hit the reset button on spending, so that next time we attempt a no spend month, we can really sock that money away.

Did you attempt no spend month?  Have you saved anything?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

No Spend October: Week Two

WHEW!   I think I need someone to talk me off the edge!  This No Spend thing is hard.

While Erica is up there in Washington not spending, I’m here in Denver struggling.  For some reason, I’ve found this challenge to be much more… um, challenging than I expected it to be.  The only reason I can think of is that my habits have gotten quite relaxed and pinching pennies has become painful for me again.

The Good: Rick stuck to his budget for the hair cut, and we got into the football game for only $10 instead of the twelve I budgeted for.  We had to use cash for the game of course, so we pulled a twenty.  Rick used $7 of that for bread at the bakery.

I used card stock, scrapbook supplies and envelopes that I already had around here to assemble invitations for H’s birthday party.  I only made four of them; one for each of his grandparents and great-grandparents, and one for me to keep.  The rest of the guest list got email invitations.  Total cost was zero (well, three stamps, but I already had those).

The Bad: Originally, I had hoped for wiggle room in the grocery store budget.  Unfortunately, we ran out of toilet paper.  And, C got a diaper rash which pushed me to use disposables for a few days.  We also use disposable diapers at night, so we needed more of those too.  Yeah… that’s twenty bucks down the crapper.  Seriously?  Two-thirds of my grocery budget for poop?

Last week, I mentioned that I forgot to budget for buying chicken feed.  Because our co-op is so far away, we buy eight weeks of feed at one time.  That was $60 that we did not include in our original budget.

The Ugly: My grocery receipt contained toilet paper, diapers, milk, butter, 1 can of coconut milk, cornmeal, and cheese.  Rick got home, burst out laughing and asked where the fruit was.  I didn’t feel bad, he stole three dollars cash from the money we pulled out for the football game and spent it this week.  He won’t tell me on what, so I’m pretty sure it was candy or, more likely, a pastry.  I’m insanely jealous over that three dollars.  I’m coveting the pastry.

Oh, and then he tells me that he’s in charge of breakfast for his Friday morning meeting, and his company is buying breakfast burritos from my favorite place.  I think I hate him.

What did we spend this week?

$  50.42 on Groceries (and a damn pastry)
$  36.00 on Gas
$  60.00 on Chicken feed
$  30.00 on Rick’s hair cut
$  10.00 on Entertainment (the football game)
$186.42 total this week

Plus last week: $59.89

Total spent so far: $246.31

That leaves $88.69 for the month.  Ouch.

I am worried.  I don’t think we can make it.  I’m really debating about transferring the chicken food money from our savings account and not counting it in the month’s budget, but I don’t know if that’s cheating or not.

As it stands, we have just over half the month to get by on a quarter of the month’s budget.  If I add that sixty back in, we’re looking at 44% of the budget left for the next two and a half weeks.  My goal was to save $1000 this month, so that’s really just robbing Peter to pay Paul, right?

I’m totally open to suggestions on salvaging this project.  Thoughts?  Ideas?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

No Spend October: Week One

Ok, so I had planned on doing this wrap-up on Monday, but since NWEdible is doing wrap-ups on Fridays, I thought I better bust it out.

Budgets are hard. 

I’m usually a pretty good budgeter, but in this short first week, I realized I missed a few items in the budget for the month.

Considerations I skipped:

  • Our chicken feed co-op went out of business in September and we didn’t get any food at the end of the month as planned.  We found a new co-op, but they are in North Boulder, so we had planned to make a large feed purchase this weekend.  I completely forgot to include money for this in our budget.
  • Halloween.  The boys already have costumes, but C didn’t.  Luckily, I came up with something for her (and Rick and I) that won’t cost me much, if anything.
  • Halloween (again).  My sister is coming to town and we have a tradition of visiting haunted houses.  They are totally expensive and frivolous.  I found a Group*n for our favorite one though, and it will be the one and only this year.  $15 not budgeted.  I know.  Bad, bad, bad.
  • H’s birthday.  His birthday is November 1, so I was thinking November.  Not thinking about invitations, etc, that will have to go out this month.  We’ll see what I come up with on this one.
  • Hunting.  We planned the hunting for the year in November, but Rick got offered an opportunity to go with a co-worker at the end of the month.  The license money is already taken care of (he had it set aside months ago), but we didn’t factor gas money for an extra trip.  Another item we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Enough blathering on about things I forgot to account for.

I did have some success this week.  I went to a kids’ resale shop to look for shoes for H.  I also took some clothes to sell with me.  After what they bought, I was able to get H some shoes and the store paid me $4.76.  WOOHOO!  E also badly needed new pajamas.  All the ones he had were waaaay too short.  Like belly-sticking-out-of-his-shirt too short.  So I used that savings to buy him new pjs.  They were $16.26.  I deducted the $4.76 from that, so we did really well in the clothing budget category.

What did I spend this week?

Grocery store:  $33.36
Clothing:           $11.53
Entertainment: $15.00
Total:               $59.89

That means that there is $275.11 left in my budget for the month.

I know.  The haunted house.  It’ll be a toughie to make up.  And I’m feeling guilty for buying it.

What about you?

How are you doing with your budget?  What successes or challenges did you meet in your first week?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

No Spend October

Have you all seen the No Spend Month that NWEdible is heading up for October?

The premise of the challenge is to set a budget for one month, not including your regular bills (mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.), that allows you to save a bundle of money by… not spending it.  The budget should include money for food, gas and whatever household expenses you normally have.  But this budget is radical. You are cutting your expenses way, way down.  Down to nil, or as close to it as you can manage.

Like, instead of spending $750 on food for the month, you are only going to spend $120.  Instead of racking up the miles in your SUV, you rack up the miles on your bike, because that gas costs money.  Instead of getting coffee at the drive through, you brew it at home.

Then, at the end of the month, you have a pile of money that you saved.  Maybe enough to jump-start that emergency fund or make an extra house payment, or pay off a credit card.

To join the challenge, you have to do three things: one, set the budget; two, track your expenses; and three, set a goal for what you save.  It’s been a while since I’ve joined in on a challenge.  This one seems a bit overdue for us.  Doing a no-spend month is a great way to hit the reset button on out of control spending.

I read about the challenge over the weekend and decided to go for it.  But I didn’t actually get off to a great start.

Yesterday morning, it started raining at 6:00 am and Rick wanted a ride to work instead of getting soaked on his bike.  So I took him.  The boys, used to going to the bakery on mornings we drive Rick, begged for pastries.  I, weak from lack of coffee, gave in and spent $10 on the way home for buttery, flaky goodness.  Later, as I was cleaning up the crumbs, I remembered it was October 1st!  ARGH!   It’s NO SPEND MONTH!  $10 in the hole already.

It’s ok.  The whole month isn’t shot because of one slip-up on the first day.  I know we can make the ten bucks up later.  We actually used to run a really tight ship around here.  But as we’ve paid off various debts (two credit cards, a car loan and a student loan done!  Woo!), we’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about our spending.

Our budget for October is $335.  We are a family of five, and to be honest, I think we could go lower.  However, we have a few commitments for the month already involving friends and family from out-of-town, that I just don’t feel good about backing out of.  Even so, this will allow us to save $1000 this month.

I plan to put that $1k in a separate savings account towards an emergency fund.

Because I’m always curious how others come up with their budget numbers, I’m going to share mine more specifically with you.

For food, I know we can mainly eat out of the pantry and freezer, except for dairy and flour.  So I budgeted $30 per week for food.  This actually allows for some wiggle room, but I figure that’s a good thing.  I’m hoping I can get some Halloween candy to give away out of this too.

For gas, I cut what we normally spend in half.  This pretty much has no wiggle room, and I think it will be the toughest category for us.  Especially if we get some bad weather.   $60 is about a tank and a half for the month, plus the 3/4 of a tank right the 4Runner is at right now.

Our dining out budget would have been a zero for the month, but since I already blew that yesterday, I accounted for the ten dollars already spent.  Otherwise, we’ll be cooking at home and Rick will brown bag it.

I budgeted $30 for Rick’s hair cut.  He’s been putting it off for a couple of months and is getting pretty shaggy.  When I proposed doing the No Spend month, his only request was an allowance for a hair cut.

E and H both just hit a growth spurt.  H needs new shoes.  I’m budgeting $20.

Now comes the previous commitment part.  We had already committed to a high school football game (cheap), a double date (yay – it’s been so long), and a pumpkin patch (it is October after all).   I figured $12 for the game if we fill the kids up before we go and bring snacks from home.  I’m budgeting $50 each for the date and the pumpkin patch.  That’s cutting it a bit close, but I really want to try to stick to it.

If you add all that up, it’s $362.  I also have $90 in swim-lessons coming up for the kids this month, which Erica says is exempt from the budget.  Together, that’s $973 less than our average monthly expenses.  I wanted to make it an even $1000 in savings, so I’m going to see if I can make up that $27 somewhere.

I plan to keep track of how we’re doing and report here on it once a week.

What about you?  Are you down with No Spend this month?

Please comment and tell me if you are going to join in on the challenge, what you are budgeting (you don’t have to get all specific if you don’t want), and what you want to do with your pile of saved dough.

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Bee Birthday and Easy Mason Jar Drink Lids (with Tutorial)

This weekend we celebrated C’s first birthday.  I ordered cupcakes from a wonderful, local, all- organic bakery that makes a to-die-for flavor called “Bee-titude.”  It’s a lavender cupcake with honey-lemon butter cream frosting, and it was the inspiration for C’s party theme: honey bee.  The party colors were yellow and lavender, and it turns out that this was a really fun theme to put together.

I also made a few discoveries for decorating this party that eased the green-guilt that sometimes comes along with me decorating.  I found spools of colored tulle at the craft store that I can easily roll up and reuse for another occasion instead of the crêpe paper streamers I usually use.  And I bought two yards of inexpensive broadcloth for the table-cloth that would match the party theme.

I used various glass plates and jars to decorate and filled a vase with lavender and chamomile flowers.

I have a gorgeous bee skep-shaped drink dispenser that my mom bought me for Christmas last year and I filled it with honey-lavender lemonade.  I was surprised that the lavender flowers turned the lemonade pink!

And I used my canning jars as glasses.  Pints for the adults with ribbons and tags to write names on, and half-pints with lids for the kids.  And here was my eureka moment.  Ball jelly jars are durable and their lids don’t leak.  And I used a HOLE-PUNCH to make them into drink lids.

Here’s how:

First I traced old jar lids onto patterned paper and then cut out the circles.

I used double-sided tape to stick the paper to the top of the lid.

Then I used a regular old hole-punch to punch holes in the tops of the lids.  This was surprisingly easy.  I did it with one hand and minimal effort.  The punch still worked great on about twenty paper tags after punching six lids.

I used a cheapy plastic straws with about an inch cut off the end to make the kids’ tumblers complete.

Not a single jar got broken between six, three- to seven-year-olds.  They even took them outside.  I wrote each kiddo’s name on the top of their jar, so there were no mix-ups.  It was really easy and completely free, since I had all these supplies lying around the house.  Henry even helped cut out the circles.

I plan to just swap out the paper circles and straws for the next party.

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Pros and Cons of a Push-Reel Mower

Like many people around the country last week, we mowed our lawn for the first time this season.  The difference between us and our neighbors, however, is I talked on the phone while I did it.

We have a push-reel mower.

Last summer, I sold my husband’s shiny, red, super-charged, front-wheel-drive, 9 billion horsepower, mulching power mower for this little green machine powered by ye ole chevrolegs.

Now I love this thing, and truth be told, Rick hates it.  He teases me all the time about how I’m saving approximately 6 gallons of gas a year.  If that.  And, pretty much, he leaves the mowing to me now, where before it used to be solely his domain.  I think he’s embarrassed.  But I like it anyway.

In case you have been considering getting one yourself, here are the pros and cons (yes, there are some) of a push-reel mower…

The top five things I love about the push-reel mower:

  1. It’s quiet.  I really did talk on the phone while I was mowing the lawn last week.  My mom asked me, what that sound was, and I said, “Oh, I’m mowing the lawn.”  Then we both laughed.  I was talking on the phone while mowing the lawn.  Preposterous!  I could mow at six in the morning or ten at night and the neighbors would never know.  It’s the stealth mower.  I actually like the sound it makes.
  2. It uses no fuel or oil and takes little to no maintenance.  By the time my neighbor is done checking his oil and fuel and pumping and priming, reconnecting the spark plug and whatever else, I’m ¾ the way done mowing my lawn.  One time, no joke, with the old power mower I stood outside for like 15 minutes trying to start the thing before I realized the spark plug was disconnected (hubby did this for safety’s sake).  The neighbor had to come over and point it out. 
  3. It’s lightweight.  All the power it uses comes from your legs and arms pushing this machine; it’s easy to maneuver and I can easily lift it up the couple of steps to our front yard and takes up very little space in the garage.  With the old machine, I could barely get it up the steps, and had to go up all backwards and strategic.  It was super heavy and could chop off my arm – the little label on the side said so.
  4. There is NO string pulling to start it up.
  5. There is no exhaust.  No stinky fumes makes me feel all green and hip and environmentally conscious.  And also the lack of fumes keeps me from feeling sick.  I know six gallons (or whatever) of gas per year is not much, but I don’t mind mowing the lawn now, because I don’t get a headache from the noise/fume combo.

Five things I don’t love:

  1. You can’t mow over sticks.  The power mower mulched and could chop up a stick or a twig that had fallen from the tree in the front yard, but the push mower can’t.  I send the boys out in the yard before I mow with the mission to pick up all the sticks.  If I accidentally mow over a stick, I have to stop to get it out of the mower, because it will jam the blades.
  2. Sharpening the blades will be a challenge.  Not many places know how to sharpen the blades of a push-reel mower anymore, and those who do charge a lot for it – almost as much as the mower cost.  Since the blades will stay sharp a long time though, we at least have a while to learn how to do it ourselves.
  3. It doesn’t always get every piece of grass in one pass.  Because of this, it is really important to overlap or mow two ways.  Otherwise your lawn looks like it’s received a haircut from a barber half in the bag.
  4. The neighbors look at us funny.  When I first bought the mower, I thought people would think we were so cool – all hip and eco-friendly.  Turns out, they either think we are crazy or too poor for a “real” mower.  Hmm… this must be why Rick is embarrassed to use it.
  5. You can’t be a lazy lawn keeper.  If your grass gets too long, the push mower is a real bear to use.  In fact, there was a time last summer, when we first got the mower, that we had to borrow our neighbor’s power mower because we had waited a couple of weeks too long to mow and the push mower, literally, couldn’t cut it.  Lesson learned.

I feel like the push mower and the power mower take about the same amount of physical effort to use.  The push mower is all pushing, which isn’t that much work (hey if I can handle that giant cart thingy at Target I can handle the mower).  The power mower took more effort for me in the starting, holding down the lever thing, and then holding it back from running my flowers down (since it pulled itself).  I think the trade-off of putting the kids on stick patrol and enduring funny looks is a pretty good one.  Plus, I can catch up with my mom on the phone while I’m at it.  ;)

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , | 29 Comments

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