Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Message For a Tuesday Morning

As I centered down in the quiet of the early morning, the message that was pressed upon me was this: There is a need today for gentleness, for quiet spirits, for drawing close and not allowing fear or selfishness to rule our hours. We must keep the light within visible, sharing it with others as kindness, concern, and caring. Always must we remember that we are love made visible and we are here to share that love and light. George Fox may have said, "Let Your Life Speak", but we must remember that our lives speak regardless of whether we let them or not. Let our lives speak love, light, and kindness today.

(I believe that this message was personal for me; I had awakened twice in the night, once with a sleepwalking child and once with a feverish, shivering, achy husband. I knew the day ahead of me would be filled with opportunities to either snap or be kind, and I wanted to choose kindness.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Simplifying the Schedule

Our home learning year has been going really well in terms of rhythm and daily learning, but I found that the Charlotte Mason Method practice of breaking up the books through each term and the entire year wasn't working for us, so we aren't going to do it any longer.

We need things to be simple enough that we will keep up with them and not feel overwhelmed, but also interesting enough that we are not wasting our time. We also need the learning to feel natural, not forced.  Breaking a book into 12, 24, or 36 weeks just isn't how we work around here; we tend to dive deeply into each book and read them in every spare moment until we've finished.  Truthfully, in my own life I have found that any book that doesn't pull me in and make me want to keep reading is one that will probably never be finished.

I like block learning and find it simple to plan, even with all the daily subjects we are doing. We are able to devote 4 hours per week to our chosen block, plus extra time reading and watching film adaptions and documentaries.

(As a side note, Charlotte Mason Education skews toward British writers, especially for literature. I think we'll bring in more United States authors and world literature next year.)

2014 - 2015 Blocks

October: Emma, Pride and Prejudice
November: Little Dorrit, Hamlet
December: Miracle at Philadelphia
January: The Taming of the Shrew
February: Four Great Americans
March: Microbe Hunters
April: Character is Destiny
May: Arguing Slavery

June: The Count of Monte Cristo



Monday, October 27, 2014

An Update

We're more than a month in to this home learning year, and overall it's going well. I feel comfortable with the amount of time spent on the required subjects and I'm even starting to divide some of the subject work into mini-blocks.

For the first time, we have equal amounts of time spent on subjects (including music, but not PE nor biology) in the mornings and afternoons. We work from 10 -12 and again from 1 - 3, with me as a helper in the morning hours and a facilitator in the afternoon.  It looks like this:

10 - 11  Geometry (I do mine earlier so that I can help)
11 - 12  30 Minutes Music / 30 Minutes Spanish
1 - 2      Guided Lesson Work
2 - 3      30 Minutes Music / 30 Minutes Writing

PE happens in the mornings for now, along with some afternoons, but when weekday practice begin we'll drop some of the mornings.  I have no concerns regarding PE: the riders on the team who are high school are allowed to substitute regular PE with team practices so I know we are doing enough. More than enough actually as we'll add in another 3 hours of riding on top of practices each week. Right now, with practices not yet started, the boys are riding at least 10 hours per week.

Biology happens during guided lesson work and evening/weekend labs. It's another 8 - 10 hours weekly.

There are approximately 5 hours of Geometry weekly, along with 5 hours of music (plus J's weekly piano lesson). I don't count the time spent in the car listening to and discussing classical music, which is the only thing we listen to now while driving.

Spanish gets 2.5 hours weekly, plus informal practice.

We spend about 5 hours weekly on Language Arts, and about the same on Social Studies, but there is some overlap. We pull writing topics from Literature, Social Studies, and Biology.

On a day like today the boys will spend approximately 7 hours on required subjects, with a heavy emphasis on PE. Tomorrow they will spend 7.5 hours but it will be weighted toward biology as it is a lab day. Wednesday will be an easy day at 5.5 hours, Thursday 7.5 hours, and Friday 5.5 hours. I never imagined that we would spend so much time on focused learning, but that is because I keep hearing about how schools wasted so much learning time, etc. Now I'm not so sure I believe that; I find myself wishing we had more hours in the day to learn everything we want to learn.

About those mini blocks; Charlotte Mason education, at least as modeled by Ambleside Online, breaks books down into tiny chunks and the students are studying many of them at once. I'm finding that to be a good strategy for the books they don't love (although I don't think we need to be reading books they hate), but it falls apart when they do like a book. J read Pride and Prejudice in a little over a week once I assigned it even though I had planned it out over 10 weeks (T, on the other hand, is plodding through with it as assigned).

But what inspired me to experiment with mini blocks was Hamlet; the idea of stretching it out over the term (12 weeks) wasn't working for me. Instead we are giving it our full attention for the next two weeks, leaving all the other assigned reading for other mini blocks.

Blocks are what I loved about Enki and Waldorf education because I believe that we learn naturally by immersing ourselves in whatever we are interested in. I don't read the books I want to read a chapter a week - I dive in!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Happened on Day 2?

We don't have a history of fantastic second days. Based on that, this year's day 2 was okay. At least our issues weren't concerning attitude or motivation.

We started out stressed, as Papa and I were still trying to pull together our biology resources and figure out what the boys needed to do before the evening's laboratory. The boys were a little pokey eating their breakfast and getting their morning chores completed. We needed to take the dogs to their grooming appointment. All in all, the early morning was more rushed than I like.

Out academics went fine, however. The boys dug into their reading, and while they didn't enjoy Swift's Battle of the Books they made a good effort with it, along with How to Read a Book and the character descriptions from Hamlet. We did geometry, discussed our reading, and planned out the written narrations (at this age I am asking what they would like to narrate, and because they are new to it - but not really because Waldorf incorporates summarization - I help them work through it orally by asking questions). They also worked in a biology workbook (together since T still can't write). Workbooks aren't Waldorf or Charlotte Mason or even very holistic, but working with lab science is very different from the science we have done previously.

Things went downhill after that, however. After picking up the dogs I managed to turn my ankle and fall in the street. Ouch to my ankle, shoulder, hip, and wrist. It was a minor injury but caused problems just a little later, because while chopping potatoes for our main meal soup I was a little off-balance (favoring the ankle) and managed to cut myself with the sharp chef's knife.

I grabbed a cloth to apply pressure. I suppose it is true that injuries don't hurt as much at first because I then finished chopping potatoes with one hand and started the pressure cooker. The cut appeared to be deep, but I couldn't tell for certain because every time I took the cloth off it would bleed. I texted Papa and asked if he could come home to take a look at it for me. By then it was really hurting so I got in the car and went to get him.

His opinion was that the cut was deep and that we needed to go to urgent care. Ugh. I set the boys to doing their Spanish lessons and their written narrations and we headed out. (It is very nice to have teens who don't require a babysitter.)

Luckily the wait wasn't too bad; I was triaged quickly, seen by another nurse and the PA, and then had to wait for the PA to see attend to several patients before she could sew me up (most suture cases are not high priority and I understood this). I ended up with four stitches in the tip of my left index finger, along with an admonition not to bathe or shower for 24 hours and a request that I not do dishes or other wet cleaning for the duration of the stitches.

We had to pick up lunch so that Papa could get back to work, but before he left Papa helped me finish the soup that I had been working on when I cut myself. It made a nice supper and it was nice not to have to cook because my finger was in significant pain.

Papa and the boys did their biology lab after Papa got home, but before we ate our late supper. They learned about keeping scientific notebooks and also learned the basics of using a microscope. The notebook work is going to be difficult for them, at least at first, but we consider it an important part of doing scientific experiments accurately.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We Changed the Plan ...

... because this is our homeschool and we can do what we want, right?

I loved the idea of Big History, but I hated the implementation.  The main site for educators is clearly designed for classroom. The Kahn Academy adaptation was a little better, but not much. The site (and series) for the general public barely skims the surface and does so in a frenetic manner.

I don't know what made me think that all of a sudden short little videos and classroom style activities would work for us. I suppose I wanted it to work because I loved the idea of telling the history of the universe. But I don't think a holistic home learner can easily get on board with quick and slick videos for learning. Where it the depth? Maybe it works with students who have never been taught to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes. The BHP seems to try to cram as much information as they can into the students as quickly as possible.

Deciding to toss the BHP led me to rethink what we were doing in every area, even though we had just started our home learning year. I had wanted to bring in literature that would tie to the BHP, but no longer needed to do that. Papa expressed a desire that the boys continue with classic literature and that we make an effort to weed out the less-than-stellar books that they love to read over and over again.

I didn't want to do Waldorf style main lessons; now that we are in the high school years I want less spoon feeding and more discussion. And then it hit me ... Charlotte Mason.

Charlotte Mason education has appealed to me all along, but in the younger years I preferred Enki and Waldorf. In the light of our changes, however, I decided to take a look at CM high school and liked what I was finding. It includes many subjects so that the student has the opportunity to be well-rounded. The studies are gentle, but in-depth.

We also decided, last minute, to do lab biology this year. We had thought to put it off one year, thinking that T might be fine with two years of lab science before he graduates, but moving it to this year keep alive the possibly that J can graduate early and still have three years of lab science.

(By the end of J's junior year he will have completed algebra, geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry and either precalculus or calculus, as well as biology, chemistry, and physics, and all his other subject learning will far surpass anything he would learn in high school so will we decide at that point if his maturity is such that he would benefit from moving on the college.)

I spent a week scrambling to create a lesson plan for the year.  Since I have one child in grade 9 and one in grade 10 (although J child did grade 9 coursework last year) I leaned heavily on the Ambleside Online curriculum plan for completing grades 9 - 11 in two years. I took out the books that didn't fit in with our worldview (I see no reason to fear teaching secular history and science) and added in more US history, taking out the British history (it will get incorporated into world history). We ordered books (both paper and kindle) as well as a great microscope and a lab kit to go with the biology text we chose (CK12).

It is amazing to me how well CM education fits in with what I want for my boys in their high school years. I want them to read high quality books, both fiction and nonfiction, and to be able to discuss them orally and on paper. I want them to be well-grounded in Shakespeare just as much as I want them to have a firm grasp on mathematics and science. I want to continue with subjects such as nature study, music appreciation, and the like (those subjects that have been pushed out of public schools).

Today was our first day, and we traditionally have great first days, but today felt different; it was better than great. Compared to last year I felt more engaged as the boys' teacher.  Our day looked like this:

  • Wake up, care for dogs, eat breakfast, do chores.
  • Have second breakfast (my boys always have their breakfast in two parts, a fruit smoothie early and then a whole grain based food an hour or two later) and discuss together how our day will look.
  • First hour: assigned reading in biology, geography, and government
  • Second hour: geometry. We are also supposed to do a short penmanship/copywork lesson during this time, but with a child in a cast it will be postponed for another month.
  • Third hour: This was supposed to be our time for current events, map work, and time line work; however, I had forgotten about an orthodontist appointment so we'll get it started next week. I didn't have a newspaper or map at hand anyway.
  • Fourth Hour: Spanish and written narrations (switching off between rooms/computers)
  • Lunch
  • Music practice for 45 minutes
  • Free time
  • PE: weekly recovery road ride for 90 minutes
  • Late dinner
  • Reading and bedtime

Amazingly, that is 6 hours and 15 minutes of homeschool work, but it didn't feel like it. The boys will have between 5.25 - 6.25 hours of homeschool work on weekdays and an additional long PE session on Sundays. It seems like a lot, but this is high school. They work the first hour independently while I accomplish morning chores (baking bread, laundry, etc.) and then I spend the next two hours actively engaged with them. For the final morning hour I prepare our main meal while providing support as necessary.

I am taking the geometry with the boys as I feel that I didn't learn it as well as I could have when I was in high school. I am also doing their readings with them, excepting biology; Papa is teaching them biology and I only assign the reading and any narrations I want to pull from it. I plan to catch up to where they are in Spanish and continue forward with them; it should be easy as I did take three years of Spanish and did rather well in it. I could simply say that I have already learned these things and to step away, but I think that being engaged in what they are doing is the key to them enjoying it.

I'll check back in soon with an update on how it is going!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Project #2: Hooked On Napkins



My completed napkin

This project builds on the Fruit Tea Towel by introducing mitered corners and edge stitching, along with adding a loop for hanging. I don't see any reason to have a loop on a cloth napkin and would have preferred this be added to the tea towel, but I did it anyway because I have a little bit of darling 1/16" ribbon leftover from two decades ago when I was into making those straw hats decorated with moss, silk flowers, and ribbons. I think the spools of ribbon were 5 for $1, so they were certainly frugal, as was holding onto them for all these years.
The itty bitty ribbon

I'm just going to say it: I couldn't figure out how to miter the corners following ELB's diagrams. Theoretically it made sense, but I couldn't do it in practice. I looked up instructions on the web and tried and failed again, and then I found these instructions at Skip to My Lou and finally I was able to miter the blasted corners. This is what I mean about feeling I have gone backwards, however, because I have mitered corners in the past and yet I felt like this was the first time.

(Papa suggested that sewing when one has been ill all day and is running a temperature might not be the most prudent thing to do.)

I used my 1/4" foot and piecing program to hem the napkin, and then my blind hem foot with the needle in the far left position to edge stitch it. I oopsed on the hemming so my bobbin thread ended up on top of my fabric, but I didn't want to tear it out and start over.

What did I learn? That I don't want to make napkins with this method, double folding and ironing all the hems. I am motivated to give my rolled hem foot another try. I also need to pay attention to what thread I have in the top and the bobbin; if I had done that I wouldn't have made the mistake with the hem thread. I do find that I like the edge stitching on the napkin so I would do that again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Project #1: Fruit Tea Towel


I am making every project from the book 1 --> 2 --> 3 Sew, and first up is a set of little kitchen towels that are supposed to be stamped with a piece of cut fruit. While I appreciate the suggestion to gussy up a plain towel, I decided that I have had enough stamping experience in my life and that I do not want a towel stamped with fruit in my kitchen.

Plus, I am trying to sew frugally, and the only plain white fabric I have that would work for this project is a plain muslin, and I think it is a bit thin for a towel. I actually stood in front of my fabric for some time trying to choose a fabric that was the appropriate weight and size, that I didn't really care about using (meaning I haven't earmarked it for another project), and that I liked enough to actually use the towels. Since the project calls for 1 yard of fabric I cut a two yard piece in half and went forward from there.

(What is it about a project that makes us want to run to the fabric store and buy fabric for a specific project rather than using our stash? Or rather, what is it that makes us buy fabrics for our stash if we aren't going to want to use them later?)

I did see that without some sort of embellishment these towels would likely look like oddly shaped napkins; luckily, Ellen Luckett Baker (from here on out referred to as ELB) made an allotment for people such as me, as evidenced below.
See where ELB says "Forgo the fruit stamps and instead use trim ..."?

I pulled out my trim box and chose some rickrack. I had hoped to used one of the packages of vintage rickrack I had purchased for a song at a thrift store, but those were all too small so I had to go with a vintage rickrack that I purchased years ago from April at April 1930s. It's time to stop hoarding, right? (Unfortunately it looks like April no longer sells rickrack, although she states that you can email her to see what she has left.)
Vintage rickrack from my stash

Then I thought of another hiccup: I have a towel with rickrack on it and the trim curls after washing. I decided that I needed to sew the rickrack down firmly, so I went searching for a decorative stitch and fiddled with the spacing to get it to work with my rickrack. When I actually sewed the rickrack on (after using glue stick to baste it) the stitches didn't line as well as they had with my sample, but I decided to Let It Go*.)

I sewed up the sides, top, and bottom as instructed (I think I did, because I read the directions a couple of days ago) except I decided to use a zigzag stitch, and while it is a cute towel, it is small. I guess I should have gotten that from tea towel, eh? I decided not to move forward with making a set of them; I will cut the other three pieces of fabric into squares and move on to the napkin project.
 The decorative stitching on the rickrack
The completed towel

Did I learn anything? Yes! I learned that it is really easy to make my own kitchen towels and that the corners don't have to be mitered to look nice. I learned that sewing heavy cotton rickrack to lightweight quilting cotton can result in some puckering. I learned that this pattern results in towels that are smaller than I like (so I will note that in the book, suggesting that I start with 1.75 yards of fabric cut into rectangles 22 x 31"). I also learned that I probably won't use rickrack as an embellishment again; my next try will involve a solid cotton or linen and I will use several rows of decorative stitches as the embellishment.

* I read that you have to be bad at something before you can be good at something. I've gotten really hung up with my sewing because I find myself not wanting to sew if I can't sew well, so my new mantra is Let It Go ... let go of the desire for perfection, let go of the fear of doing it wrong, let go of the fear that something will turn our ugly. Let It Go reminds me to sew for the process, not the product.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why I Don't Spend Much Time Looking For Online Deals

Every now and then I want to get inspired, and that means I want to read frugal blogs that I haven't found yet. However, most of the time what I find are blogs that are constantly updating with deals and freebies.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy a quick peak at MoneySavingMom once or twice a day, mostly because I like to know about free Redbox offers (I don't know why they can't just send them to me since I am signed up for emails and texts) and because I do like Crystal's inspirational posts and some of the reader testimonials. But mostly, I find these sites encourage shopping.

I say this because I used to hit MSM multiple times daily, getting all excited by the offers. This was during my pseudo frugal phase a couple of years ago; I knew that we needed to pull back on the spending, but I didn't really want to give up the things I knew I should, like eating meals out.

Over time I realized that MSM (and blogs like it) were providing me with shopportunities, and I was gladly taking them. Similarly, Papa realized that looking at FatWallet and other deals sites aimed more at men were encouraging him to want more than what he already has.

In addition to the shopportunities, the freebies require signing up, which means giving your marketing information out which results in more people trying to sell you things. You can do your best to opt out of marketing but it isn't perfect, and your information is in a database that could be breached. So now I ask myself if a couple of free tea bags is worth giving up my information for.

This isn't to say that I don't shop online or do significant research looking for the best prices on items I have already decided to buy. It just means that I don't jump at the chance to buy an infinity scarf for $5 shipped (or whatever the deal is).


Monday, September 8, 2014

I Feel Like A Beginner Beginner

When I first signed up at a major online sewing website I listed my experience level as Advanced Beginner. It made sense to me; I'd sewn many projects off and on over the years. Plus, I had read a lot of sewing books and blogs, and that makes everyone more experienced, right? As it turns out, maybe not.

I recently cleaned up my sewing space, a.k.a. the dining room, and now I am faced with having both the time and space to sew. The sewing machine sits there under her big plastic cover, the ironing board is in place, the armoire full of fabric beckons, and yet ... I'm not sewing.

I pulled out some of my books on sewing and each one of them has somewhat interesting projects, but I stop in my tracks each time I see the words zipper, bias tape, or french seam (which is odd as of these three I actually have done a french seam before). Most of the books seem more complicated that I remember them being when I bought them. Maybe I'm not an advanced beginner after all? Maybe I am someone who can cut and sew in a straight line. Maybe I am a beginner beginner with more book knowledge than is useful. Whatever I am, I am stuck -- I may even have gone backward.

I blame part of that on having a new-to-me machine, a gift from Mr. Oh Sew Frugal last year. I think my hesitation with the machine is one reason that I am feeling cautious about all sewing. Sewing on my old White (which I sold to a friend) or a vintage mechanical machine was decidedly easier than working with a machine that has a screen and programs. Oh, it sews beautifully, but it isn't exactly intuitive. The machine beeps at me a lot.

And so, to commemorate being a beginner beginner I've decided to sew my way through Ellen Luckett Baker's book, 1--> 2--> 3 Sew, and I'm going to blog about it, because I can't be the only one who is stymied about learning to sew. I don't expect to love every project, but I do intend to make them, in order, so that I can get some of the basics under my belt.

Up first? A stamped kitchen towel.

Made It Myself Monday: Vegetable Broth Powder

This is a double batch of broth powder; I estimate that there are 4 cups of powder in the jar.

If there is one thing that I truly miss from the few years of my adult life when I wasn't vegetarian or following a plant-cased diet, it's chicken broth. Most other animals foods can be replaced or omitted entirely and still yield delicious results, but broth has been a stumbling block for me.

A good broth or stock really makes a recipe, but I had mostly given up on recipes that called for stock because I was never entirely happy with any of the vegetable stocks I made or purchased. I think now that I understand why.

It occurred to me that there must be a way for me to make a broth powder at home, so I did some searching and found a few recipes. Most called for so many different types of dried herbs and spices that I put the project on the back burner because I didn't want to buy a lot of herbs/spices that I wouldn't use. Then one day I saw an organic no salt seasoning at Costco that had so many herbs and spices in it that I thought it might work as the seasoning base for a broth powder.

I saw this recipe at Blender Babes and decided to use it as my inspiration. I realized that it included dried mushrooms and nutritional yeast to increase the umami, which is what makes chicken broth is so good and plain simmered vegetable scraps so not. I increased the mushrooms because my hunch was that they add a lot of flavor. I left the salt and nutritional yeast amounts the same and then figured out the rest by myself.

Vegetable Broth Powder

1/2 C. dried mushrooms (I used porcini mushrooms that were gifted to me)
1/3 C. sea salt (I used Redmond's Real Salt)
3/4 C. nutritional yeast (Bragg's because that's what I had)
1/4 C. dried minced onion (Costco)
1 T. granulated garlic (Costco)
1/4 C. organic no salt seasoning (Costco)

I just put it all into my Vitamix, started it on 1, ramped up to 10, and let it pulverize to a fine powder. Use 1 teaspoon of broth powder to 1 cup of hot water to make 1 cup of broth.

I don't have exact numbers for this, but I know it is far cheaper than buying prepared vegetable broth or vegetable broth cubes/powder. For me, the biggest expenses are the nutritional yeast and no-salt seasoning, as the porcini mushrooms were purchased with a gift card. Even if you have to buy dried mushrooms, I estimate a single batch to cost less than $5 to make, and it will make a lot of broth, as it makes approximately 2 cups of powder which is 96 teaspoons. Compared to purchased quarts of vegetable broth it would be equal to 24 quarts. I don't know about where you shop, but around here I would spend $2.50 for a quart of vegetable broth, so the savings are significant! That $5 versus $60! Plus it stores in a much smaller space and you eliminate tons of packaging.

But the real question is, does it taste good! The surprising (to me) answer was yes, it tastes good enough to drink by itself, which is more than I was hoping for. I'm looking forward to having this powder in my pantry to boost the flavor in my soups and casseroles!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Frugal Entertaining ... Brunch

A brunch buffet from last year.

Brunch is one of my favorite meals to host; brunches are usually relaxed affairs and give people an opportunity to eat foods that they might not indulge in often. Also, brunch foods are generally low cost if you are making the baked goods yourself.

Depending on who is attending, I have a few basic brunch menus I turn to. Papa's family is full of adventurous eaters, and we aren't the only plant based adherents, so I make a Mexican themed brunch based on scrambled tofu. The menu looks like this:

Scrambled Tofu
Frijoles de la Olla
(a fancy name for beans from the pot)
Roasted Breakfast Potatoes
Homemade Tortillas
Fajita Vegetables
Green Salad with Cilantro-Pepita Dressing
Fresh Fruit

All of these foods are inexpensive to make; the dressing and fruit cost the most but are offset by how inexpensive beans and potatoes are.

My family isn't so adventurous, which is okay too. For them I make a more breakfast like brunch, with a menu similar to this:

Waffles
Roasted Breakfast Potatoes
Muffins
Cinnamon Rolls
Fresh Fruit

It doesn't feel as well-rounded to me, but if I made scrambled tofu for them it would be politely declined, so I don't bother. My family is also more into sweets, hence the cinnamon rolls and muffins. Papa's family hardly touches sweet foods if I make them, so I serve fresh fruit for dessert instead.

For friends I might make a mix of the two meals, with this menu:

Scrambled Tofu
Roasted Breakfast Potatoes
Sauteed Greens or Vegetables
Cinnamon Rolls
Fresh Fruit

For everyone we have orange juice, tea, and coffee, plus water, of course.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

I Wore Flip Flops and Pearls to My Anniversary Dinner

My anniversary pearls

Yes, I did. I had planned to wear my little black dress, tights, and heels, but I didn't. Let me backtrack ...

We wanted to have a frugal anniversary this year. Perhaps not as frugal as 2009, but H1N1 flu can put a damper on celebrations and that year we used a gift card and voucher for childcare to spent 1.5 hours at a restaurant while Papa really should have been home in bed. Or the hospital, take your pick.

But in general, since 2008 we have done our anniversaries in a big way because we have grandparents who say things like, Please, go away for five days and we will watch the boys. We haven't always gone away for that long, but with the exception of the swine flu year we have taken a short trip for every anniversary starting in 2008. Santa Barbara, Encinitas, Laguna Beach, San Francisco,  and Santa Barbara again. I won't deny that it has been wonderful to have an almost yearly trip away with just the two of us, but this year we realized that we needed to hop off the expensive anniversary train.

We could have kept it really simple and just gone out to dinner, but we still have the standing invitation for the boys to visit their grandparents for our anniversary, and we know that this trip has become less about us being set free to celebrate (because we can certainly leave teens home while we get dinner) and more about the boys spending several days with Grandma and Grampa (that is how the teens spell it).  So, the day before our anniversary I put them on a train (because you can do that with teens) and fretted for an hour and half until they arrived (because I am a mom). And then we were free.

That first day? Papa went to work. I made split pea soup and fresh bread for lunch, and we had sandwiches for dinner. We went to the movies using ticket vouchers we purchased at discount sometime last year, taking our own snacks and water bottles. (Some movie theaters really frown at this; while ours has a stated No Outside Food policy I have never been hassled and I don't feel guilty because I have food allergies and need to be sure that I don't go into respiratory distress in their theater.)

On our actual anniversary we went crazy, going out for not one, not two, but three meals. Breakfast was at our local little market hangout, although they didn't have anything vegan that appealed to me so I had my beverage and ate a homemade cinnamon roll at home (which even Papa thought was outstanding and far better than the vegan scone at the little market).

We then got ready for the day and headed to a little town we like for a plant-based lunch. The food was good, but honestly, not eating out frequently makes me prefer my cooking even more. Then we walked around, bought a package of (needed) guitar strings, then drove to another town to visit a park from Papa's childhood. He had packed chairs so we sat under a big carob tree for about an hour. Then we drove home and Papa played guitar and we sang and it was laid back and enjoyable.

We'd planned our anniversary dinner at a local Thai place that is nice enough that you wouldn't feel funny dressed up, and as I said, I had planned to wear a dress and heels. However, I realized that I couldn't walk to the restaurant in heels, and Papa didn't feel like changing out of his shorts and shirt (nice shorts and a nice shirt), so I put on a lace blouse, jeans, and flip flops, plus my pearls and my grandmother's pearls, and off we went.

We could have driven, yes, but the restaurant is half a mile from our home and it is a nice walk.

Over the past couple of years I've realized that I really just don't care anymore what other people think or that the cultural expectations or standards are. I didn't wear makeup, put in contact lenses, or shave my legs for the occasion (because I no longer wear makeup or shave my legs). I don't care if there is an unwritten, or even written, rule that one isn't supposed to wear pearls and flip flops -- who gets to decide that for everyone else anyway?

We had decided not to give each other gifts, but we each bought the other a card and a little something; I bought him a really good vegan chocolate bar from the 99¢ store and he bought me an Abba Zabba, plus sunflowers from Trader Joe's.

Altogether we spent almost $100 on our meals out. If I had it to do over I would have skipped the lunch meal out and packed a picnic for the park, and I would have planned to eat breakfast at home as well.

And the pearls and flip flops? I totally rocked that look.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Fall Menu

It's possible that I am certifiably insane. After all, while Labor Day has passed and the calendar says September, the reality is that it was 98° Monday and will probably hit 100° by the time this posts. September can be our hottest month of the year.

But it's September ... and time to plan the new basic menu for the season (a guideline rather than a hard and fast plan). September means fall, and fall means soup, right? Soup even though it will be 98°. Soup because I love soup; it's cheap and easy to make and provides leftovers for another meal.

I also wanted to tweak things a bit; I really want to dedicate one day of the weekend to rest and leisure rather than working through both days, because the reality is that there is always something that needs to be cleaned, organized, weeded, painted, washed, etc. I realized that we only have a couple of months before mountain biking once again dominates our weekends and that I want to make the most of those months.

When the boys were younger we had what we called Family Nature Day; one day on the weekend that we dedicated to family time and being in nature. We would go on picnics, small hikes, beach trips, and more. Fall and winter are the perfect months for us to be outside, so I want to reinstate this tradition. Well, it didn't really go away, it just changed into a mountain biking thing and I was left out. But no more - family nature day means the whole family, including me!

This means I need easy meals for both weekend days, so that is where I am going to put our soup meal.

And so, here is the new basic plan, based on the season, the riding schedule, and our expected commitments for the next three months.

Sundays
Pinto Beans, Brown Rice, Vegetable

Mondays
Vegetable, Bean, and Rice Tacos

Tuesdays
Pizza or Pasta

Wednesdays
Something Different

Thursdays
Beans, Cornbread, Vegetable

Fridays
Casserole, Vegetable

Saturdays
Soup and Fresh Bread

Frugal Victories

Friday:

My boys watched a movie that I rented using a free DVD code from Redbox.

I baked banana muffins (bananas were very spotty, which happened quickly when the house is so warm) and a loaf of sandwich bread.

For our main meal I made french toast with leftover bread.

We moved a rug from the dining room to our bedroom, a decorate with what you already own strategy. Now I don't have to worry about pins on the rug when I sew, I can easily sweep up any fabric and thread bits, and my bedroom has a new luxe look to it while also giving us something warm to step onto as we get out of bed (when the weather gets cold).

Saturday:

We started our major fall declutter and organization push. I believe that cleaning and organizing our home helps us remember why we fell in love with it to begin with, and also ensures that we don't feel crowded into our space and thus dissatisfied with our home's size.

There is nothing like helping your children pare down their belonging to make you realize how much money has been spent on toys. We did some research on Lego set prices and the guys are going to separate some of the Legos back into sets and sell them to earn spending money for bike accessories / upgrades.

Sunday:

I packed a picnic and filled an Igloos with ice water and met the boys at the beach for a picnic and afternoon spent with friends. (They rode their bikes to the beach!)

The driver's side mirror slowly fell off my car while we were driving(!) and was left dangling by wires. We got off at the first exit and went to a Dollar Tree to buy duct tape for a temporary repair.

Monday:

Today we appreciated having medical insurance, as we had to take T to urgent care. Upon learning that he was hurt I quickly defrosted two banana muffins and filled his water bottle so that he wouldn''t have to wait while hungry. That was a good call as we were at urgent care for four hours. We came home to the rice and beans that I had prepared for our main meal.

Tuesday:

Because we spent the early part of the day at the orthopedist I didn't get bread baked; we put together a dinner of salad and leftovers.

We did our monthly Costco shopping, after carefully inventorying what we had on hand and looking at the calendar to see how much of each item we have been using per month.

We purchased boogie boards for our boys for $25 each.

Wednesday:

I baked bread and rolls.

The boys went to the library for books, magazines,  and audiobooks.

Today was the day-before-braces for J. I gifted him with a pack of Starburst (his last for a couple of years) that I purchased for 50¢ on sale.

Thursday:

I baked bread and biscuits.

I made such a big batch of soup Wednesday that I decided to serve it again rather than making a new meal and risking not getting the leftovers eaten.

Braces day, but we didn't resort to fast food shakes to sooth J's sore mouth. We made smoothies, pear sauce, and mashed potatoes at home.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

On Loving What You Have

I love jewelry! Maybe that isn't the most frugal confession to make, but it is the truth.

I love my engagement ring stacked with my wedding and anniversary bands. I love the pendant made with a diamond that my grandmother gave me, from a ring she had purchased for herself. I love the pearls that were given to her by my grandfather for their 25th wedding anniversary, and the pearls that Papa gave me for our 25th in honor of that! I love the little moonstone ring the guys gave me for Mother's Day (inspired by the moonstone necklace in The Mists of Avalon). I love the smoky quartz ring that I pulled from the leftovers of Papa's grandmother's jewelry, the stone and setting separated but easily put back together, perfect for wearing on fall days. I love all the pairs of dangly sterling silver earrings that I own. I love my Lisa Leonard circle necklace engraved with my husband and my names and the basis of our wedding vows.

Of course, like anything else, sometimes something we enjoy can become a hobby, and last year I indulged myself with several new jewelry pieces, mostly little bands that I can mix and match and wear stacked for fun. But at this point, the fun money (part of an inheritance) is gone, and I can't indulge in the shopping side of my jewelry love.

I think this is where we figure out what our hobbies really are. A couple of decades ago I got into scrapbooking, and while I did make about 10 albums, I knew deep inside that the bigger thrill came for shopping for the scrapbooking supplies. I was a paper craft junkie and I loved collecting stickers, patterned papers, card stock, etc. Today I can say that other than what I actually used in the albums, I gave away at least 90% of what I had purchased, and from that I learned a big lesson.

(Of course, before I learned that lesson I created a huge yarn and knitting needle stash, collected many vintage sewing notions, purchased a lot of fabric, and set myself up with a sweet little embroidery floss palette, but at least those are all things I still do, whereas digital photography killed my interest in paper scrapbooks.)

As for the jewelry, I found that I was becoming less and less satisfied with the beautiful things that I had, and more and more interested in the thrill of searching for unique vintage pieces at bargain prices. And so I stopped cold turkey. I stopped hanging out at the online places where jewelry/fashion lovers hang out. I stopped searching ebay and other sites for jewelry pieces. I unsubbed from the Lisa Leonard email list. Finally, I put most of my jewelry pieces away for almost two months.

I wanted to get a sense of what I really loved, to see if everything was worth keeping or if I would forget I even owned certain things. I kept out my engagement and wedding rings, my Lisa Leonard pendant, a right hand ring, and a few pairs of earrings, but everything else went into hiding.

I'm happy to report that when I opened my jewelry box after my self-imposed break it was like reuniting with long lost friends. My engraved sterling bangle from Hawaii! My super bargain green garnet band! My pearls! My red stackers for the holidays! My antique cocktail ring! I oohed and ahhed over almost every piece.

I can say now that the break was exactly what I needed! The urge to buy new jewelry is gone; I have a box full of pretty trinkets, a garden of jewelry to pick from, as a friend puts it.

It can be so easy to get caught up in what we think we want rather than what we have, but the reality is that most everything that we have we chose to purchase, so we must have liked those things at some point. Some things do wear out, of course, but many things do not.

And so I have to stop myself when I find myself wanting things that I already have. It's important to me that I ask myself why I am wanting those things. If I am looking at dishes I remind myself that I already have dishes, and that new dishes won't do anything different. If I hear about a sewing machine for sale and my interest is piqued I remind myself that I already have more than one sewing machine, and I can't use more than two at a time (I can use two at a time because one can be doing an embroidery which doesn't require me to be hands on with it once it is set up, other than to change thread colors). If I stop and look at puppies ... well, Papa probably has to drag me away and remind me how much work and expense is created by the two dogs I already have.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cabbage is the Real Superfood

Green cabbage after a quick story fry in my wok.

I've written before about my love for cabbage, but recently as I was sautéing cabbage for our main meal I realized that it deserves its own post.

There are plenty of popular superfood greens out there: kale, spinach, and chard come to mind as the big three. Romaine lettuce and arugula get some media attention. But poor cabbage? Barely a mention.

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, and for decades now we've been told how important it is to eat from this group of vegetables. Heck, I remember George Bush Sr. going on record as not liking broccoli back when research about cruciferous vegetables and colorectal cancer was grabbing headlines.

(Kale is a cruciferous vegetable as well, which is one reason it is the darling of the superfood world right now.)

I do like kale, spinach, and chard, although spinach doesn't like me as it is high in oxalates and I get oxalate kidney stones.

But my main issue with these greens is that they cook down small. I can fill a 13 quart stock pot with kale leaves and end up with under 1 quart (by volume) of cooked greens. Boo hiss. Spinach is actually the worst in terms of how small it cooks down. Spinach, once it has cooked down, makes me feel like I got cheated at the grocery store. I end up wondering Is that really all there is? and realize that if it had been in a little container already cooked I would have passed.

Also, my family doesn't like kale, spinach, or chard raw. Papa and I like the occasional massaged kale salad, but not enough for me to do the work, especially when the boys won't touch it. The boys also don't like how raw spinach and chard feel in their mouths.

And, oh, the cost! Papa really does likes cooked dark leafy greens, so once a month I will buy a 1.5# bag of organic kale at Costco for $5. This, my friends, is a good price, but it is still very expensive. Kale, spinach, and chard are not cheap vegetables at the grocery store, and now that they are diet darlings the prices have only gotten worse. (I have had success with them in the garden, however, so I think that growing these foods is worthwhile and that they can add a lot of nutrition to a healthy diet.)

Cabbage, however, does not cook down small, does taste great raw, and is cheap cheap cheap.

Most of the time I quickly stir fry cabbage in my wok, and it doesn't even shrink down by half. Take that, spinach!

Cabbage makes an excellent salad. You can go fancy and make a cole slaw dressing for it, or you can do what I do most of the time and dress it lightly with extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. One large cabbage makes enough salad to feed a crowd, making it an excellent picnic or potluck dish! For my own family of four I use only 1/4 of a large cabbage to make salad.

I regularly buy cabbage for 49¢ per pound. From one large cabbage I have the vegetable for 2 - 3 meals.

Cabbage keeps, too. After two weeks in the fridge it is still good, so I like to have it on hand to stretch out the grocery shopping trips. Just today I stir-fried half a cabbage and served it with rice and beans. The produce bins are nearly empty, but there is my friend cabbage, waiting to save the day.

I love cabbage in soups! It gets soft and almost tastes like noodles to me. Or rather, it feels like noodles; I don't think it tastes like much of anything once it has been cooked in a soup.

If you haven't tried thinly shredded cabbage as a topping for tacos I encourage you to do so!  We eat lettuce almost daily, so lettuce on tacos doesn't excite us. Cabbage, on the other hand, adds a crisp cool touch to the tacos.

My absolute favorite way to eat cabbage is sautéed and served with potatoes, whether they are baked, roasted, or mashed. Cabbage and mashed potatoes mixed together is a traditional dish called colcannon and it perhaps one of the culinary wonders of Europe.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why Do You ... Use Drying Racks?

Sometimes I get questions about why I use a certain product or do things a specific way. Recently a friend asked why I use drying racks instead of a clothesline, and since I thought it was a good question I figured I would answer it here as well.

From what I have read, it is generally less expensive to set up clotheslines versus buying drying racks, especially as high quality wooden racks are in the $100 range. But I think it actually depends on whether or not you have something to attach your clotheslines to and how much you spend on your racks.

When my boys were younger I had a basic clothesline. It went from a palm tree to a portable basketball hoop to a crepe myrtle tree, making a L. Using it blocked the garage and made playing basketball impossible while I had a load hanging, but we managed. I couldn't hang all of our laundry on it, but still, it helped cut our gas bills.

Young boys get older and bigger, and soon there was a risk that playing basketball in the area between the garage and carport would result in broken windows. We moved the basketball hoop to the driveway. Because there isn't a clear line from the palm tree to the crepe myrtle I had to take down my clothesline. The only tree in my backyard is an orange tree, and it isn't tall enough for a line anyway. So to have a clothesline out back I either need to pay to have T posts sunk or install a Hills Hoist (which start around $200 and go up from there).

Costco has clothes drying racks most of the year, and they are $30; however, at least once a year they go on sale with a $10 instant rebate. I have purchased all three of my Costco racks this way. I like Costco racks because they have a swing up portion for hanging shirts from. I also have a more basic metal rack that I purchased at a discount store for about $25.

But cost isn't the real reason I use drying racks; I use them for convenience. My little laundry room is just steps from my carport area. I prefer drying most of our clothing under the carport when the sun is intense so that I can reduce fading. Under the carport is also great for drying clothes on drizzly days. If I need the power of the sun I move the racks.

If it rains, especially for several days (which it did not do last winter, not at all), I bring my racks into the house and dry clothes overnight in the family room. I also bring them inside if I do a last minute load before we head out of town overnight, just so my laundry isn't hanging outside for days.

Also, those swing up rods for hanging shirts? I love them! I dry our shirts on their hangers, making it that much easier for me to hang and put away clothes. I can also arrange a sheet over that rod and have it hang over the rest of the rack. If I am drying a comforter I swing it down out of the way.

So, for me, the racks make more sense right now, both for the convenience and because I would have to invest in T posts or a Hills Hoist to dry on clothesline in my backyard. We have discussed putting T posts or a Hills Hoist up when we reinvent out currently empty (except for that orange tree) backyard.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Be Prepared ... Bake For Your Freezer

Since I started baking burger/sandwich rolls in advance I haven't needed to purchase them even once!

Several days a week I bake something more than just sandwich bread, and almost always on those days I am baking extra so I can store food away for another day.

Basic muffins are the most obvious; I bake 24 muffins weekly, choosing between banana, applesauce, pear, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato depending on what I have, with banana muffins being made most often. Muffins are great to grab if I need to pack a lunch or want to throw together a quick picnic. They also round out fresh fruit breakfasts and are eaten as a quick pre-breakfast if the guys are riding very early.

I also bake other items ahead.  Cinnamon rolls are wonderful to have fresh, but a family of four doesn't need to eat an entire pan of them in one morning, so I freeze the extras. I do the same with burger/sandwich buns, scones, and anything else leftover from a meal that won't be eaten that day.

Often, I will double a recipe on purpose as doing so increases my yield without increasing my time spent or the clean up involved. If I am making a pan of cornbread to have with beans I will double the recipe and bake the other half in muffin tins, then freeze them. I do this to make a future meal easier; I can put on beans, grab the corn muffins and a frozen vegetable, and serve a meal that took me almost no time to prepare on the day I serve it. I don't like to exercise this option very often, but you never know when an morning invitation will arrive to sit at the park and visit with a friend -- it helps to have a meal I can pull out with ease.

(I will hang my head and admit that in the past I might have accepted an invitation to spend time with a friend and then not cooked our meal, resulting in us getting takeout.)

When the cooler weather arrives I bake my sandwich bread in the oven and make more than one loaf at a time, thus saving me time per the week. A triple batch of dough will make three big loaves; if I bake sandwich bread twice a week I make six loaves. We'll really only eat four or five, so I end up with several extra over the month. This is really helpful when we have a trip planned; I bake as usual and still end up with bread to take with us. (If I don't want extras I can eliminate them by using some of the dough for cinnamon rolls or burger buns.)

Desserts are great to freeze extras of; my brownie recipe makes a 9x13 pan, and again, we don't want to eat a lot of sweets so we each have one and I cut and freeze the extras, individually wrapping them once they are frozen solid. I do the same if I bake cake or cookies. Then if we have a special occasion, plan a picnic, or have drop-in guests I can defrost a few desserts and we are good to go. One of my favorite desserts to bake and freeze is individual pumpkin or sweet potato pies!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Frugal Entertaining ... the Labor Day Edition

Cherry pie baked in a cast iron skillet.

Ah, Labor Day, the three day weekend that marks the end of summer (but not really for us in terms of the heat) and the return to lessons, practices, etc.

When I think of Labor Day I think of picnics and BBQs. Sometimes I stop and think of how my dad would spend a fortune making a big BBQ serving everyone huge steaks and giant baked potatoes; the cost of the meat alone might feed a small, very frugal family for a month. But it's his money and I don't begrudge him offering his hospitality in the way that brings him pleasure. (This tradition started well after I left home.)

Still, there has to be a way to have a Labor Day celebration without breaking the bank. Here are some of my ideas.

Have a potluck or picnic! I think a lot of people do this, but I think it bears repeating.

If you eat plant based, bake your own burger buns and either make your own veggie burgers or go ahead an splurge on the brand that your family likes. $1 for each veggie burger patty isn't going to blow the budget, and having occasions where you really do it up can make them feel special. (If we ate veggie burgers every week then it wouldn't feel special.)

Make baked beans from scratch.

Round out your meal with simple salads. If I haven't made beans I like to make a basic potato salad with the inexpensive reduced fat (plant based) mayonnaise from Trader Joe's, or even better, homemade mayonnaise. Potatoes, celery, and green onions are generally very low cost. (If I have made beans I find that having a substantial salad such as potato really isn't necessary unless I am feeding a lot of people).

Another option is a grain based salad. Quinoa is nice, but rice works as well. Add some chopped vegetables (carrots plus red and green onions are inexpensive) and some small cooked beans and perhaps sliced black olives. If I use red quinoa it is nice to add chickpeas. Dress with a homemade citrus and olive oil dressing.

Cabbage is the bang for you buck salad green. Slice it thinly and dress with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Watermelon is often on sale for Labor Day; that makes it the perfect frugal fruit to serve.

For dessert I like to make homemade brownies as they are very inexpensive to make whether you eat eggs or not. I adapt this low cost brownie recipe to be plant based (using flax seed) and leave off the chocolate chips on top as they aren't necessary and only add to the cost. I'll also admit that when making several pans of these for a crowd I will use white flour and sugar, to bring down the costs. For my immediate family I use freshly ground soft white wheat flour and sucanat.

Pie is another great Labor Day dessert -- bake it in individual pie tins if you are headed to the park or beach.

This year the guys participated in a bike ride to the beach on Saturday; it was about 80 miles and took around 5 hours to complete. I ran support and provided transportation back home. I packed a cooler for our meal at the beach, along with an Igloo full of ice water. The cost of this activity was the gas to and from the beach as well as the parking fee, but I think it was worth it to give my guys the opportunity to challenge themselves this way. Plus we got to spend a Labor Day weekend afternoon at the beach with friends!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Frugal Strategies ... Stay Home

Our dining / learning / making room.

I've found that one of the best ways for us to save money is to stay home. It isn't very popular in today's culture, but it works for us.

For instance, we don't sign up for many field trips and we don't take outside academic classes. We're home learners, not car learners (although that works for many families). Field trips and classes almost always cost money, even if it is just in gas to get there.

We do our best to eat at home, saving restaurants meals for special occasions or social gatherings where we have no other choice. Cooking our own meals is much less expensive than restaurant meals, and is healthier too.

Speaking of those social occasions, I do my best to suggest that we meet at our home (or someone else's) and have a potluck instead. (Unfortunately, I do get turned down most of the time unless people want to come here.) Even if I provide the entire meal I still spend less than I would to feed my family of four at a restaurant.

We try to hang out with friends at the park or at home. I have never found it enjoyable to try to visit with mamas and kids at a bookstore, toy store, coffee house, or pizza parlor, and I think habitually hanging out at places of business without making a purchase is unfair to the businesses.

We watch movies at home. Using Netflix or renting a Redbox movie is so much less expensive than going to the movies at the theater, even with discount tickets. (We do use the discount tickets to take the boys to one or two highly anticipated movies per year, and about once a year for a date night.)

We entertain ourselves at home. We can listen to records (or other music), play board games, watch a recorded TV program, or have a family music night, all for the money already spent on music, games, a TV system, and musical instruments.

Of course, being home results in savings so many other ways. If I am home I have time to cook and bake, to sew and mend, to make gifts, to grow food (I'm working on this), to clean my own home, to hang laundry, to do small repairs, and much, much more. If I worked outside the home then being home as much as possible other than work would be that much more important in order to live a frugal life.

I hope I have helped my boys to feel deeply connected to home and absolutely satisfied to be here. I don't want them thinking that everything good happens somewhere else. That is one reason we make a point of enjoying our evenings together by playing games, listening to or making music, and doing other active things together (versus only watching TV which is very passive).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Frugal Victories

Friday:

I went to bed thinking that I would make mujadara and Chapati for our main meal, but at 10:30 I realized that I hadn't made rice (I usually make a "cheater" mujadara with precooked rice and lentils).  Oops! I remembered that I had a bag of precooked quinoa out in the chest freezer and used that instead of rice. That actually helped me with my Friday goal of using pantry and freezer foods.

I baked a loaf of bread, made granola using piloncillo sugar, and made a batch of hummus. I also made quinoa pudding for T's race, along with his recovery drink.

I continued with Operation Declutter and Organize.

Saturday:

I packed a lunch for the all-day race (6 hours of racing split between T and and friend!), making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing fruit and muffins, along with T's chia pudding and recovery drink. They took a 3 gallon Igloo of ice water with them.

I baked muffins since we had bananas that were spotty and had started to break open.

I made homemade vegan broth powder, which I then used to make the lentil-rice casserole from the Tightwad Gazette. The recipe is an old favorite.

Sunday:

We had a low key day at home, cleaning the house and hanging out together.

I prepped my planned leftovers for Monday's main meal.

I baked bread.

Monday:

I baked bread.

The guys took J's bike to the shop and found out that his entire shifter will be replaced under the extended warranty since they can't just get the one piece that is broken.

Tuesday:

I went to the 99¢ store to buy a card and chocolate bar, along with a few other snacks. I found Ore Ida Grillers for 50¢ per 20 ounce bag and Earth Balance vegan crackers, plus portobello mushrooms and cucumbers. I bought a silicone pastry brush; I loved the one I had before but the Puppy Girl stole it from the dishwasher and ate it, and I had decided that they cost too much for me to replace it. I didn't expect to find one at the 99¢ store, but I did. I also bought a package of Scuncii No Slip Hold elastics, which have gotten harder and harder for me to find, and I never paid less than $3 before.

We went to the movies using ticket vouchers purchased from Papa's employer at discount last year.

Wednesday:

This wasn't an actively frugal day, but it wasn't frivolous, either. We did typical low key frugal activities for us, such as hanging out at the park and having a sing along.

Thursday:

I did a happy dance because our electric bill is $67 lower than the same period of time last year, despite our having added another refrigerator. We used 292 fewer kilowatt hours than last year! Even compared to last month, which had similar weather, we used 177 fewer kilowatt hours and the bill is $41 lower. I am so proud of my family for stepping up and helping me reduce our electricity usage.

I went back to the 99¢ store to buy more frozen potatoes, crackers, and chocolate. They were out of the crackers (sad) and almost out of the chocolate; I had to go searching for the last five bars by a checkout stand. However, they had soy chorizo, which they didn't have Tuesday, and Smart Balance Purely Better margarine tubs which are plant-based, non GMO, and non-hydrogenated.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

15 Ways to Save When You Shop

1) Have a list. This one is a no-brainer, and yet how many times have we gone to the store "knowing" what we need and coming home with a lot more than that? Make lists for stores other than the grocery store.

2) Do not take your children with you if you can at all help it. When they are little they just don't like shopping, and that is okay. But their misery will spill over to you and you might buy things you didn't really want, or you may forget something and have to go back.

3) When you do take your children shopping with you DO NOT teach them that they can pick something out because they were good (or because they whined, which is worse). If you grocery shop with your children weekly this is 52 items per child that you have purchased. If you buy them candy then that is 52 candy bars or bags of candy, and they just don't need it. Likewise, don't buy them junk toys from the dollar store just because they are cheap (and the children whined). Don't buy them something every time you go to Target.

4) Do not shop recreationally, and don't teach your children that shopping is a form of entertainment.

5) Likewise, don't teach your children that shopping is such a chore that they deserve to be rewarded for it.

6) Do not take children into toy stores or toys sections of stores to browse. If you aren't there to buy something then don't take them! This really is just mean, and it sets you up for meltdowns that you deserve.

7) Likewise, don't take yourself into stores to browse, especially if it is a store full of items you have a hard time resisting, such as fabric, yarn, books, kitchen gear, etc.

8) Do not buy your child a toy just because you are picking out a gift for a friend or sibling. This teaches a bad lesson and takes away from their opportunity to learn how to give. The focus should be on the other person, not the child; how can their minds be on thoughtfully selecting the best possible gift for a friend when they are thinking about themselves?

9) Don't get fooled by marketing. If a supermarket is selling limes 5 for $1 and you only need one, then buy one for 20¢. Know that not all end cap items are priced on sale. Pay attention to price signs; some grocery stores will put green grapes at 99¢ per pound right next to red grapes for $2.99 per pound. They do this on purpose; you might grab the wrong one and not notice until you are home. Look high and low for lower priced products; marketers often put the most expensive items at eye level.

10) If you are shopping for clothing, wear good undergarments and an outfit that you really like. Smooth underwear and a supportive bra will help you see how the clothing looks on you. Wearing something you feel good in helps you not be tempted to buy something just because you feel frumpy.

11) Go to thrift stores first! Almost anything you need is probably available at second hand store.

12) Be flexible. If you have low heeled black dress shoes on your list and come across a great pair of black flats at a thrift store, ask yourself if black flats will serve the purpose you wanted the heels for.

13) Plan your shopping wisely. People often hear not to shop hungry, and that is good advice, but you should also time your shopping so that you don't run into meal time, thus keeping you away from home when you should be preparing your meal and instead tempting you to get food out. If you must be away from home all day for shopping be sure to pack a cooler with your meal. I like to pack snacks if we will be out longer than two hours.

14) Speaking of coolers, take one with you if you will be going to several grocery stores and the weather is warm. You can take along ice packs or sometimes ask the store for ice in a plastic bag (if they are a store that puts items on display over ice). You don't want to risk anything spoiling, as that would be a waste of your hard-earned money.

15) If you see something that you really want, take a picture of it (if you have a cell phone). I do this with books and then order them from the library if possible. I also use the photos to jog my memory at the thrift store; a photo of a mannequin with a cute red t-shirt and jeans reminds me to look for cute red t-shirts at the thrift.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

While I Always Make a Meal Plan, and Why I Almost Never Follow It 100%

My meal planning style is pretty much pantry principle rather than plan a week and shop for what you need, but I still make a weekly meal plan. For me, waiting until the night before to decide what to make might work, but I am a planner so I like a little more organization than that.

What I don't do is shop weekly or base meals off of sales flyers; the basis of our meals is legumes and grains and those are purchased in bulk and stored in my pantry. We don't eat meat, fish, dairy, or eggs so I don't have to worry about sales on those food items. I cook from scratch; a loss leader sale on boxed macaroni and cheese or canned soup means nothing to me. Once a month I make sure I have all the pantry and freezer staples (oils, sweeteners, grains, legumes, seeds, yeast, baking powder, spices, herbs, frozen fruits and vegetables, dates, etc.) I will need for the month and order or buy what I am low on. I buy basic and loss leader produce every two weeks or so and use those to round out our meals

For planning, I make a master main meal menu and then I customize it for each week.  Right now the master plan looks like this:

Sundays:
Pinto Beans, Brown Basmati Rice, Vegetable

Mondays:
Legumes, Grain, Vegetable

Tuesdays:
Burritos (Homemade Tortillas)

Wednesdays:
Variety

Thursdays:
Pinto or Black Beans, Cornbread Muffins, Vegetable

Fridays:
Use It Up

Saturdays:
Pizza or French Toast

Sundays are my personal rest day; I do the basic tidying chores (bed making, etc.) but don't do laundry and don't cook a labor intensive meal. The beans are made in the pressure cooker, the rice in a rice maker, and the vegetables are a mashed avocado and either a cabbage salad or a seasonal vegetable that has been prepped ahead of time.

Mondays are the day I plan to use the various legumes I have in the pantry that are NOT pinto beans. I might make mujadara, split pea soup or a bean soup, baked beans, a legume based casserole, etc.

Tuesdays I plan on burritos because my family loves them and I am working my way through 25# of einkorn flour so I need to make tortillas regularly. I use planned over beans and rice from Sunday.

Wednesdays I reserve for making something that isn't part of our weekly repertoire; it might be a brand new recipe or a favorite meal that doesn't appear that often. For example, if potatoes were cheap at the last grocery shopping I might make Indian spiced potatoes served with rice and dal. I call this our Variety day.

Thursdays I make beans again, pinto or black, and cornmeal muffins so I can make sure I am getting through my bulk popcorn bucket.

Fridays are my Use It Up Day. I check for leftovers that might need to be used, refrigerator items nearing their expiration dates, and pantry items that have been languishing uneaten.

Saturdays we either make pizza as a family, or I make French toast with leftover bread from the week.

Here is an actual weekly menu:

Sunday:
Pinto Beans, Brown Basmati Rice, Cabbage Salad

Monday:
Mujadara, Sautéed Zucchini, Green Salad

Tuesday:
Bean Burritos with Mexican Rice and Sautéed Mexican Squash and Onions

Wednesday:
Scrambled Tofu, Field Roast Sausages, Breakfast Potatoes, Sautéed Zucchini
(The tofu and sausages were at their expiration dates)

Thursday:
Pinto Beans, Cornbread Muffins, Roasted Carrots

Friday:
Miso Soup, Soba Noodles, Cucumber Salad
(Using soba noodles that have been in the pantry and the sale cucumbers I bought)

Saturday:
PB&J
(The guys weren't home at main meal time, and we attended a party that evening)

It might look like the schedule is set in stone, but since it is pantry based I can be very flexible. If Thursday is a bean day but I see too many unused leftovers I can change the menu on the spot without worrying that anything will go bad. I still decide the night before what the vegetable will be for the next day's meal, checking the produce we have to see what might need to be eaten soonest; I might plan for sautéed cabbage but then see that the zucchini is getting soft, so we'll eat that instead.

I do change the master menu, usually seasonally. For example, in the cooler months there is always a soup night. If I notice the family fatiguing on a meal I will swap it out for something else; recently we all got tired of pasta every week so that has moved into my Variety category. I added the second bean night with cornbread muffins after I did the math to figure out how much popcorn to use weekly and realized I wasn't going to get it used up if I didn't bake a corn-based bread weekly.

I don't bother planning more than a week at a time (I have in the past) because there are too many variables involved and I would inevitably be changing the plan. A week at a time works best for me :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Food Snobbery and Using the Food You Have

This year I decided to commit fully to making 100% of my family's bread. I had been buying bread for the boys, approximately 22 loaves per month, and I wanted to save money and increase the nutrition of my bread.

However, last spring we did a mostly gluten free challenge, and I ran out of einkorn, so I placed an order for 40# of einkorn berries and 40# of einkorn extraction flour. Of that I still have 25# of einkorn berries and 26# of einkorn flour.

I'm not going to lie; I find baking with modern wheat far easier than using ancient grains. Einkorn can be tricky in terms of how it absorbs water and it gets very sticky. It doesn't rise well, either. Given my choice I'd prefer to bake with modern wheat only. For instance, I've found that 100% soft white wheat makes a lighter muffin than 100% whole einkorn does.

And then there is the einkorn flour. I don't think it is unhealthy, per se, but it isn't a whole grain. Extraction flour has some of the bran sifted out.

However, that is 51# of einkorn in my house, food that I paid good money for, and it would be a shame to waste it. I could give it away to an einkorn using friend, but in monetary terms that is $153 worth of food. $153 is nothing to sneeze at.

I've decided that we will simply use the einkorn berries as we would soft white wheat berries; it should take about three months to use them up. I'll also use them in einkorn porridge once the weather cools; truly it is my favorite porridge.

As for the flour, I'm not going to waste it. I will use it for tortillas, biscuits, brownies, cookies, etc. as well as half and half in waffles. These aren't the healthiest foods anyway.

It is tempting to decide that you want to go in a new direction and to toss out everything that doesn't fit in with the new paradigm, but it is expensive too. If you are making the transition to whole grains and sugars I suggest you go ahead and use what you have. There is no way that I would put $153 in cash into the trash can, so why waste food?

Food is a precious thing! Even a bag of white flour, or white sugar, or a jug of plain vegetable oil is precious to someone. It is a gift to eat and we must always remember that. It is an even greater gift to be able to choose whole foods, but that doesn't mean we should become food snobs.

When someone offers me food I try to never make comments about the ingredients. A white flour tortilla offered in love or friendship is still a beautiful gift; to mention that you only eat whole grain tortillas would be a slap in the face, especially if you mention how having a white flour tortilla is such a treat. You are not "being bad" by eating refined foods, you are sharing a meal with someone. Don't judge what they serve you. Don't ask if they used white flour or if the produce is organic. Don't tell them you usually eat brown rice, or only use extra virgin olive oil, or that pasteurized vinegar is dead.

(If you have severe food allergies or celiac disease, by all means ask questions to make sure that the food being offered is safe for you. And if you follow a plant based diet for ethical or health reasons then feel free to let people know that ahead of time.)

This is also why I don't say no when someone offers me leftovers that aren't of the quality of ingredients that I would buy or use, or to accept canned foods that might have BPA in them (sometimes my SMIL will send us home with extra canned fruit that she has purchased, especially if she had the boys for a day or two and bought it for their visit). Food never belongs in trash cans if we can possibly help it.

The biggest thing that helped me really eliminate food waste was to visualize putting dollar bills into the trash can every time I found food in my fridge that had spoiled. Now I have this mental image that is repulsive and I do much better as using every bit of food we buy.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Use Your Bulk Foods!

I thought I would share how I plan and store my bulk foods.

My main storage containers are food safe 5 gallon buckets with Gamma Seal lids (from Lowe's), 1 gallon glass jars with metal lids (from Azure), and 2 quart Ball jars, but I also use smaller glass jar repurposed from holding purchased foods.

Brown Rice:

Some bulk foods, such as wheat berries, can store for quite awhile, depending on how you store them and the temperature where they are stored. Some, however, like brown rice, don't store nearly as long. From what I have read, brown rice has a storage life of about six months before it goes rancid.

The best way to make sure you use brown rice if you buy it in bulk is to figure out how much you need to use monthly to use it up in six months.

We were going through a lot of brown basmati rice, so I went ahead an ordered 25#. However, right after that we started eating a lot more bread. I wanted to make sure we would use the rice in a timely manner, so I did some math.

25# of rice divided by 6 months is a little over 4# per month, so that is my target. One full batch of rice in my rice cooker uses 1.25# dry rice. If I make a full batch every week I should go through the rice on about 20 weeks, or five months.

So, I know that I need to make a full batch of rice each week. That is easy; I usually make pinto beans twice a week and we like to eat those with rice. I make a full batch of rice for one meal, then I sauté the leftover rice in a little oil with garlic powder, onion powder, New Mexico chili powder, salt, and pepper and put it away for a second meal. Any leftovers after that are free for the taking at supper time (not our main meal).

Wheat Berries:

As I mentioned, wheat berries have a long storage life, but that doesn't mean that I want to keep the same wheat berries in my house for years! I believe that quick turnover lessens the risk of developing pantry moths.

Most of what I have seen online says that there are 2 cups of wheat berries per pound. I weighed 2 cups of white wheat berries and they weighed just about 15 oz. so I suppose it will depend on moisture content from harvest to harvest (or maybe it is my measuring cup or scale). For the sake of keeping things easy I will use the 2 cups = 1 pound measurement.

Currently I use approximately 55# of wheat per month, mostly hard white wheat berries, then hard red wheat berries, then einkorn berries (I am using these until I run out and then I will buy soft white wheat berries as I think they perform better in baking). To figure out how to use my bulk grains and know when to order again I need to separate out what I am using and do the math that way.

I make sandwich bread 5 times a week; sometimes it is 6 times but it is never less than 5 times, so that is my safe number. I grind a 2:1 ratio of red wheat berries to white wheat berries for each loaf. That is 5# of hard red wheat berries and 2.5# of hard white wheat berries per week, or 20# of hard red and 10# of hard white per month.

I use hard wheat to make dough for pizza (3# per week), hamburger buns (1.5# every other week), and cinnamon rolls (1.5# every other week). I estimate that at about 18# per month.

In addition to that I make at least one double batch of muffins per week, using 1.5# of einkorn berries, which is 6# per month. I also use einkorn berries for waffles about once a month, using 2.5# of einkorn berries.

So I use approximately 20# of hard red wheat per month, 28# of hard white wheat per month, and 8.5# of einkorn berries. I just received 50# each of hard red and hard white and I have 25# of einkorn berries. I can shift things around a bit with the red and white and even that out to 25# of each per month. My einkorn should last about 3 months.

(Knowing these numbers is really important for determining my grocery budget as well. Now I know that I use about $50 in wheat berries per month.)

Oats:

Whole oat groats store longer than rolled or cracked oats., but quick oats and rolled oats still have a storage life of several years. I like to buy no more than I will use in six months.

Popcorn:

Popcorn also has a long storage life, but in my experience popcorn does go stale, so if you want to pop some of it (vs. only grinding it for cornmeal) then once again it is better to use it faster and not store it for years. I have read that it stores indefinitely but I have also read that it is best to use it within a year, so that is the number I am going for.

I have 25# of popcorn that I want to use within 12 months, so I need to use a little over 2# per month. I weighed my popcorn and 1 pound is definitely 2 cups. Right now I might pop 1/2 C. of popcorn per week, which would only be 1# per month. I also grind popcorn for cornmeal, but not very often. So now I know that I need to find a few more recipes that call for cornmeal. Cornbread muffins once a month would probably use the that other pound of popcorn.

Pinto Beans:

The same principle applies here, unless you use pinto beans often, as I do. Because I buy my pinto beans from Costco and don't have to order them, and because we eat them so often, I just add them to my list when we are running low.

All other beans:

I like to have a variety of beans and other legumes, so I don't buy these in significant bulk. I bought 25# of split peas once and we ate them for a long time. So now I generally buy between 2 - 5# of other beans and legumes.

Sucanat:

I bought 25# of sucanat recently. I've never had it go bad and I have stored it for over a year.

Piloncillo:

Piloncillo is an unrefined cane sugar product from Mexico. Sugar cane is pressed for the juice and the juice is then boiled and poured into cone molds; it isn't centrifugally spun as for granulated sugar. In terms of nutrition, all the minerals are intact in piloncillo. In that it is very similar to sucanat, but it isn't a dry, free-flowing sugar so it does require some labor to use.  For small amounts many people grate it. I buy it in cones, and store it that way until needed.

Honey:

Honey doesn't go bad; it might crystalize but you can heat it gently to dissolve the crystals. I have bought honey in 5 gallon buckets a few times before (because I was able to do so locally before the local honey processing plant was purchased and then they suspended retail sales), but I must admit that transferring it was so difficult that I no longer choose to buy it that way. As for types of honey, sage and orange blossom are my favorites :)

Oils:

I don't like to buy oils in bulk; I like them to be very fresh and will pay more for that. If you want to buy them in bulk be sure to do the math and make sure you will use them before they go rancid.

Salt, Baking Soda, Baking Powder:

Salt doesn't go bad, so go ahead and buy it in bulk to get the best price, especially if you like Redmond's Real Salt. I've read that baking soda does go bad as may be evidenced by a bitter taste, but have never experienced it myself. Most of what I have read says it stores indefinitely. Baking powder, on the other hand, does go bad, as evidenced by failing to work :( I buy it in the small cans so I can be sure that it is very fresh.

Yeast:

My favorite yeast is SAF Instant; I buy it in one pound pouches and always keep it frozen. To ensure that I don't run out I store my opened package in a glass jar and I have one unopened package. As soon as I transfer that unopened package to the jar I buy a new package and freeze it.

Odds and Ends:

I buy flax seed, hemp seed, and chia in bulk, but not more than a couple month's worth at a time. I keep most of it frozen.