Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Random Wondering

I was going to do another coffee chat but I don't have anything much to say that warrants a proper I thought I'd do one of my random thoughts posts instead.  I'll try to have a decent chat with you next week.


We were sitting here this afternoon watching TV when the big platter on the wall fell.  I'd noticed it was slightly askew yesterday and had decided then to ask John to straighten it for me since it was 10 feet up on the wall.  We've examined the nail which is just fine and was actually in a stud (wonder of wonders on that!). The platter, in falling, smashed the little dogs figurine I'd picked up on a whim in the flea market because I found it oddly appealing.

When I recounted the incident later in the evening on facebook, a friend said "I'd have cried."  I may have sounded a bit hard when I said I didn't cry over flea market and antique store items, but it's truth.  I always feel I'm just a temporary keeper.  I've chosen to share whatever history is in one of those pieces unlike the true family heirlooms.

I don't mind saying I shall sincerely miss the little dogs.  I'm not usually one to buy dogs at all.  I lean more towards birds but the dogs had a look of age about them that seemed to be greater than perhaps than they actually were.  They were obviously oriental.  And there was just something sweet about them, the way the puppy leaned towards the mother dog.  I can easily replace the platter if I choose.  After all there were dozens like it listed on eBay at the time I bought that.  But the dogs will be irreplaceable, not unlike the real ones that came into my life and passed on.


So that leads me to my brother's little jack russell terrier who has been coming up here for the past two months or so and waits to be invited to come up and eat.  I shared awhile back that Taz had been coming up to for years to mark territory and went on about his business but as my brother was home less and less over summer, Taz was more likely to stop and wag his tail at me, before going on.  Eventually my brother was spending less time at his home place.  Taz is very much a country dog and not fit for staying in town with my brother...but Taz misses that human interaction.  He's been quite the pampered doggy in his lifetime and right now he's short of folks to pamper him routinely.  So he started begging for an invitation to come onto the porch for a bite of food, even though he has food at home.  He just prefers to share his meals with others.

For many weeks now he's shown up for three or four meals a week.  In the past week, I've noticed that Taz is there no matter what time I come to the door.  This morning I looked out the window and he was lying under the Faith Tree watching the sunrise, just as I was.  I smiled, thinking of how he was waiting on me.  I thought, "Well I guess he's adopted me."  And that made me cry, because adoption is a powerful thing and unless you've seen it face to face you just can't fathom how great it is.

Adoption is a heart thing.  Cats are quite good at adopting you, or not, as they see fit.  With a cat, you never have a real say.  We've had Misu for six years, but it's only been this summer that she's become my cat.  Up until then she was Katie's cat, plain and simple, no matter how long between visits.  But this year, she made a choice to become my cat which surprised me and pleased me.  Every morning now she comes to me for petting and love.  She insists upon it.  Maddie has learned that she must share my attention with Misu.

Now Taz is there, too.  At first he would wag his tail, look me in the eye and trot off after eating.  Then he started coming to sit near me with his back to me...He wanted his back rubbed with the sole of my foot, a habit that Granny began years ago with him.  This week I'd suspicioned  he was waiting on me but this morning I knew it for fact.  And this morning Taz made it plain that he was adopting us.  You see, when I was feeding him this morning, John came out and Taz went to sit with his back to John...a major move on Taz' part as he is not fond of men overmuch.  Yes, we've been adopted.

I have been up to see sunrise every morning this week thus far.   It's been a wonderful time to focus on Creator and ponder on His word.  There was a tear welling reaction to adoption yesterday morning.  This morning I thought about how I sat there in front of the dark window waiting on the sun.  I knew as I sat there that the sun would rise and even if I didn't see it I'd know the change had occurred by the fact that the sky was lighter.  That led me to think about how much faith I had in the sun rising every day.  And why I sometimes get so stuck and hung up on wondering if prayers will be answered. Where's my faith then? Well prayers are always answered...I just might not prefer the answer I get.  "No" is hard, but "Wait" is the toughest of all.  "Yes" may well come with a learning curve that stretches me to grow.  And other times, the answer is so quick and so wonderfully yes, that I am awed.  So why do I doubt an answer will come?  As surely as the sun rises, and the moon, too, an answer will come to every prayer.

I was up at sunrise Sunday morning.  Actually I was up a good bit before sunrise and had already had one of those blissfully happy homemaking days well started.  I stopped to rest at sunrise which was gentle and soft and lovely and just the break I needed before jumping into more work.  I did so much that I was astonished at myself.  I haven't worked so hard and so freely for the longest time.  I had the TV tuned into a movie, "Anna and the King" with Jodie Foster and I listened to the whole thing.  I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue...which is something I do more often than not anyway.  I do enjoy watching movies, but I am happiest listening to a movie as I do any number of other things.  "Anna and the King" is one of those beautifully made films with costumes and sets that take the breath away.  It is also exceptionally well written so the dialogues are sufficient to give you a full idea of the events in the movie without ever seeing a single frame.

I saw "The King and I" many years ago and it is a delightful musical but I was curious when I came across a copy of "Anna and The King" in the library.  I was shocked at how little that musical had to do with the book.  I would love to read that book once again.  I believe the movie is somewhat closer, but of course, for the sake of film and story line, liberties were taken with this version as well.

That blissful happy morning in my home went on for hours, until well after lunch.  I cleaned and rearranged and polished and changed and worked entirely too hard.  I loved every minute of it.  It was during this lovely day of pine scented rooms that I wondered at people who take no pleasure in the simple (but not for sissies) task of homemaking.

And for all that I got done on Sunday, I was right back at it Monday morning, though not quite so early.  I did see sunrise but I watched that as I had my first cup of coffee and then I got busy. Happy all day, happy all morning.  I so love my job!
One of the most endearing things my husband does?  Periodically, even if things have been going along quietly and well, he will stop and ask me, " everything okay?  Are things going well?  Anything you need to talk over?  Are you okay?"  I love that.

It's too easy to lose touch in the midst of every day, especially when things are going well.  We tend to be like most any other couples except we spend a great deal of time together.  And perhaps it's because we spend so much time together that I find it so touching that he checks in with me now and then.  It's so easy to take for granted that all is going well, when in fact, one of us might be struggling hard with something.  It really opens the doors of conversation.

I posted about this on facebook.  I've been following a few young people's posts there.    No, it's not the same morals of my youth.  In some ways theirs are more lax and in others theirs are far far better than the ones I and my peers lived.

Because John enjoys politics and news, I hear a good deal too much of both.  I feel heartsick at times to hear some of the politically correct ideas and the sheer stinking stuff that comes out of the mouths of our media and representatives.  There is no regard for the viewpoints that I personally hold due to my own experiences and assumptions are made simply because I might consider myself conservative Christian viewpoint.  I lose heart and I mean that sincerely.  I lose heart.  I wonder where the America I knew has gone...

But today I found myself reading a few posts that changed my mind.  I forget how conservative my own children are at times, and am truly surprised to discover that others their age are just as conservative.  I forget that there is a whole generation of young people who are coming up in this world and will replace the current leaders and the current thoughts with leaders who share their own ideals...and it makes me feel good to realize that while I may not currently admire the atmosphere of America, it's still America and there's hope.

Lest you think I'm one of those who cries out "The good ol' days were sooo much better!", I'm not.  There were many things about the past that made me hang my head, even as a child.  There are things best left to the past and prayerfully they will stay there and never again be seen.  There are a world of hurtful things, hateful things, that we don't need to load up and carry forward.  I believe in growing and moving on and leaving some things right where they are.

But there are things from the past that we'd do well to remember and rekindle.  Like true neighborliness and I mean for our next door to us neighbors.  I think sometimes we get too caught up in what we can do to make a big show for others to prove our 'humanity' and we forget that truly compassion begins here, right in this spot next to us,  and then should be carried outward.

Christ's very message was that charity begins at home..and what is charity but love and kindness and generosity and understanding and uplifting?  Think of it like ripples on a pond.  One small pebble dropped in causes the ripples to form.  The first ripple is small but they become wider and wider as that one small thing affects the whole pond.  I think (and it is about what I think, so if you don't, it's okay) we forget that small things have big and lasting impacts.  We think because we can't see the last big ripple it is nothing.

Apparently I need to clarify this portion: NOwhere in the Bible does it say that Christ said "Charity begins at home" nor did I intend for anyone to read the above statement as Christ literally saying.  I should have said the gist of  a great many of Christ's teachings that charity was something we ought to give to those closest to us.

And I guess that's about enough wandering about inside my own head!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Retirement Remedies: Fighting Back

  Grocery Savings, Part II

In Part I, I shared food savings.  In Part II I'd like to share how I hope to save money on the rest of the grocery budget.

#1.  On a roll. Toilet paper, paper towels, aluminum foil, waxed paper, parchment paper, plastic wrap...If it's on a roll it's probably in our homes.  I tried years ago to cut down on paper towel and it worked rather well, to the point that now a 2-3 roll  package of paper towel might well last us 6 months unless we have a really big messy mess.  I started weaning us away from paper towel by putting a big bowl (you could use a basket as well), on the counter, filled it with dishcloths and put the roll of paper towel under the counter.  It worked very well and later when I found the vintage paper dispenser (it says paper towel, waxed paper and foil on the front of each holder) I removed the dish cloths and hung that.  Again out of sight and mostly out of mind.  I highly recommend hiding the roll and offering up dish cloths unless you are blessed to find one these handy vintage paper dispensers. (which abound on eBay though none are quite like mine...nor half as well priced as mine was either!).

It was interesting to me that this vintage holder won't hold a roll of foil over 25ft, so I buy the tiny rolls to put in it. Those big super thirsty rolls of paper towel...don't fit either.  We're back to skinnier store brand rolls. Waxed paper hasn't changed size in the past 60 years that I can tell so they still fit perfectly.  It's also interesting that not only do we now use less paper towel, but I use far less aluminum foil and when I do use it I've gotten very accurate at measuring about what I'll need, whereas with the big boxes of rolls I often pulled out far too much and just used it anyway.

In my home, I've never used plastic wrap.  All I ever did was fight those silly things anyway, and the last box I bought some 20 odd years ago I tossed right into the trash and said 'No more!'  I don't miss it, I really don't.

I use waxed paper lightly, usually about a roll every 9 months.  I mostly use it to put between anything I wrap in foil for storage.  Parchment paper is another light use item in my home.

Toilet paper is pretty much one item we're probably going to keep using.  Since we don't have kids at home we're not using loads of the stuff but that said, I have noted a tendency on my part to use more than I need. I am not referring to getting super chintzy (in the South that means stingy and cheap which really is maligning chintz badly as it's so pretty).  I won't be counting off sheets by the 1s and 2s by any means, but I do tend to wind it around and around and around my hand when I'm dispensing it and it's unnecessary and wasteful. This is one area I can address and am trying to be more conscious of need versus mindlessness.

Last, I want to say that any time I can buy in bulk and save I plan to do so.  Target has some especially good buys about once a quarter on Charmin, Angel Soft and Up brand toilet paper and Bounty, Viva and Up brand paper towels.  It's well worth the little extra time it takes to visit the store and stock up on toilet paper. For me it's  the most reasonable and insures we get a septic safe brand (Angel Soft for us) that doesn't cause an allergic reaction.  I haven't always planned my shopping to include this even when I knew it was on sale.  I will remedy that in the future months.

#2.  Building Pantry Muscle.  You'd think, since I addressed the pantry in the foods section I'd be satisfied to let it go at that.  I've done well at stocking my pantry with food despite letting it get a little low at present but I've ignored several areas entirely: stocking up on paper, personal care, pet and cleaning items.  I did one stock up this year on laundry detergent.  I used a CVS sale, coupons and ECB rewards to buy 6 jugs of laundry detergent for $2.59.  That's enough to last us about a year (I have three on my shelf at present).  And there's no reason why I should not be able to stock up on the rest of these items (with the exception of pet needs) free or at very low prices if I pay attention and work the deals.

I have made a few cleaning products that work exceptionally well.  I'll keep making those.  Other's I'm cautious of overusing as I find the vinegar is corrosive on some surfaces.  I have worked deals on window cleaner and Pinesol and have enough to last another year easily.

I've tried making my own laundry detergent.  We have very soft water here and it creates a world of problems all it's own with clogged drains which limits us in what soaps, shampoos, detergents we can use. When I find a product that works well for us, we just keep on buying it until they change the formula and it doesn't.  We can't use any type of powdered detergents at all, so I am limited in what I can buy/make but not in how I buy it.

Shampoos, razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes, facial cleaners and moisturizers, soaps...I have had limited amounts of these in stock but again, a year's worth would be nice and if bought on sale with coupons can be stocked for free or very low prices indeed.  It's all about paying attention to sales, seeking out coupons and making the effort.  And I am well aware that just consistently sitting down to attend to this will eventually net me a stock even if I don't do one huge bulk buying session.  I do believe in little steps equalling great journeys!

#3.  Storage Wars.  I have given up buying plastic containers for food storage.  The few I have now either came as packaging for a product or were given to me with food in them.

I save glass jars.  Wide mouth salsa and pickle jars are the bomb for food storage.  They are clear, so I can see what is in them, I can reuse multiples of times, they are sturdy and the wide mouth helps me get stuff in them without spilling.  I have one clear vintage stackable glass container.  It was fairly cheap ($3) but every one I've found since has been about four or five times that!

I suggest caution when freezing foods in glass jars. I've had them crack more than once even with plenty of headroom.  I generally use a proper canning jar if I'm freezing an item and make sure it says it is okay for freezing.  You can just imagine the sick feeling I had when I opened my freezer and found four badly broken (but solidly frozen) jars of milk.  Never again, I said.  And I almost made it to never but recently (stupidly) froze chicken broth in a non-canning jar and it busted, too.  Hopefully I've made my way round that learning curve.

This year I bought a dozen wide mouth canning jars at Tractor Supply and have used them for dry storage in the pantry which is very handy.  I find it prudent to repackage a good many foods since ants sometimes attempt to make inroads into my stored foods.

For John's lunch bag I often use smaller jars (about 1/2 cup) that I buy pimentos in but half pint canning jars would also work well.   I have five Anchor Hocking glass containers with plastic lids that I have used.  Those are handy but don't keep a tight seal for wet items and the lids do break down.  I'm currently researching to see if I can replacement lids reasonably. So far they are too high to suit me.  If not, then I'll look for other container options in which he might heat food and be safe.

I tend to use my lidded casseroles for food storage in the fridge too, but it does tie them up so I can't use them.  I have to plan carefully when they are in the fridge!

Zippered plastic baggies are handy and convenient but costly.  I have learned to reuse them many times, washing them between uses, which makes them far more cost effective.  I do use them in the freezer to store meats.  I do not re-use those.  Recently I've made the decision to stop buying the sandwich sized bags.  All too often those are the flimsiest and the least used size and it will net a small savings.

I am going to start saving bread sacks as well, something I did long ago.   Those will become my 'meat bags'. Typically I package meat in a smaller zippered bag then place the same types in a large zippered bag, for instance, all chicken breasts are packaged 2 to a package and then put in a zippered bag marked 'breasts'. In future I'll use bread sacks for the first packaging step.  I use labels now in the kitchen and I can put those on the bread sacks as well just in case there are strays from the bulk packaging.

#4.  Potted Garden.  I've played at gardening thus far.  A handful of peas, a few tomatoes, some herbs, lettuce, 8 carrots..that's all I've grown thus far.  I've had enough success to feel I can do this and do it better and more consistently than I have thus far.  John and I have acres of land here, at least 3 of which are clear but we don't have the equipment nor the money to buy it, to make a garden.  Rentals would entail having a truck to haul the items to the house and our truck is not the most reliable.  We're reluctant to take it any further than town.  So for now, potted garden is the way to go.  I am slowly collecting five gallon and galvanized buckets and plan to start a compost bucket or pile so that I have good fertilizer.  My goal is to grow something 12 months a year.  I live in a relatively mild climate so this doesn't seem impossible.

#5.  Gleaning.  Pecans, blackberries, wild blueberries, scuppernongs, muscadines all grow wild here.  I've noted signs for free pears this season, as well.  Occassionally a producer will allow gleaning after harvest. I once gleaned 25 quarts of peaches from a commercial orchard.  Gleaning is one of those things I used to do.  I'd put up enough of these items in the freezer (or make jams and jellies) to last us the rest of the year. I mean to return to those 'old' ways of mine and use them to expand my food storage.

#6.  The Art of Preserving.  Canning is another skill I've not used consistently in the past few years...Time to re-learn it.  I put up butter beans for the freezer this year and peaches but here's where I fail to be consistent.  I made no effort at all to go buy corn in bulk this year and put up corn.  When I glean, or purchase seasonal foods in bulk, or grow them, I'll want to be able to preserve them if I have more than we can eat at one meal.  And of course, I could can small batches.  I don't have to be big bulk buys.  Canning, freezing, making jams and jellies, are all things I want to begin to do once again to extend my food storage and to decrease my food costs.

#7.  Use What I Have.    I have a pressure cooker that will hold pint jars, which is the most we shall need for just the two of us.  Pressure cookers are also wonderful for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat...It's a tool I've had in my kitchen that is sitting there unused.   I'll learn how to use the thing instead of letting it just sit.

I have crockpots (smaller and regular size), a blender, cast iron dutch oven, a waffle iron, a meat slicer, an ice cream maker.  Every single one of these is a tool, as much as my knives and cutting boards, my pots and pans and my mixer.  I mean to learn how to use them all and let them help me with the savings they can bring.

#8.  Coupons and Sales.  I've let this skill lie fallow the past couple of years with the exception of the laundry detergent purchase at the first of this year.  Time to pull this skill back to the forefront.  True I can't use them at Aldi but I don't do all of my shopping at Aldi.  I want to apply a principle to purchases that I used to use with some success in one of my jobs: buy on sale, in bulk if possible and never pay full price.  I'm not talking about the extreme couponers sort of stocking up but I am talking about saving as much money as I can for what we can reasonably use.  It won't upset me to have a year's supply of toothpaste or worcestershire sauce.

#9. Planning Committee.  Having bulk foods on hand, combining sales/coupons with needs and building a stockpile, canning, cooking, using up leftovers means all involve planning, planning and planning.  I'm going to start planning meals twice each week, as suggested in a 1930's Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  The second planning session is meant to use up those leftovers.  I might not want to put them on my menu, but I can use my leftover makeover plan to put an entree in the freezer for a future meal.  I want to plan to shop weekly in order to take advantage of sales and coupon combinations.  I also want to know what our usage of items is so that I don't overstock and generate unnecessary waste.  I've already shared that I plan to take pantry inventory more often in order to closely monitor expiration dates.  All of this takes time and planning to make it happen.

I want to plan carefully what I'll buy.  I've made the mistake more than once of buying some new item in bulk and then we didn't like it as well as I thought we might.  I'd rather buy one and try it and stock up on next sales cycle.  My second mistake in stocking up?  Buying what someone suggested I ought to have on  a food storage list somewhere online.  I will buy what we actually eat and use, not what I wish we did, not what someone suggests we ought.

I want to carefully plan what I put up.  Many foods are not good for much more than a few months in the freezer.  So knowing what we will reasonably use is going to be very important. And I might add that actually using  it and not saving it indefinitely (a very bad quality of mine) should go into that planning process as well.

I want to plan carefully so that my time and energy are not exhausted.  It's important to me to balance work with play and rest.  I'll have to plan my time carefully for that, too.  I've watched many a woman work herself into exhaustion and then savings went right out the window.  So you see there's a savings in keeping tabs on myself as well as my stockpiles.

#10. Recycle Water.  After my current dishwashing liquid clogged our kitchen drain, I went back to the old fashioned habit of a dishpan in my sink.  I've been taking that water out to pour over plants at the end of the day.  While it might not seem a savings habit, for us it is: the more water runs the more likely we are to use electricity.  Watering plants with recycled water (from glasses, dish pan, steaming veg, boiling eggs) is a great bonus for plants and if I'm going to have a container garden I'm going to need water for sure.  So I want to get in the habit of recycling our water and keep the habit going.

Growing up here on the property some things were a lot different than they were at home.  Granny filled the bathroom sink about 1/3 full of water.  That's where all seven of us grandkids washed our hands before we ate.  A bucket of water and a dipper was our drink station.  There was no opening and shutting the fridge a dozen times nor did we run water for glasses of water that might potentially be sipped from and then poured out.  I am sure a lot of these things were hold-outs from her growing years when water was hauled to the house by the bucketful countless times a day, but Granny saw it as a savings on electricity as well.

#11. Separation Notice.  I started this about two months ago and I did it for very good reason.  I started keeping a can or two of all the food items in the kitchen and the bulk of the pantry stock items IN THE PANTRY. I found that when I had bulk portions of food in the kitchen I used more than I might if I had the mindset of "Oh I only have two cans of this."  It's a hard line to draw, especially since I mean to start keeping track of pantry stock monthly, but it's a necessary mindset for ME.  If you have loads of control then by all means, set up foods wherever and however it best suits you.  Since my pantry is located in the guest/craft room this works for me very well.

#12. How Low Can I Go?  With the work schedule John has now, we have one regular pay period a month.  The second pay period?  That is what we refer to as the 'short' one.  There are fewer hours in that pay period and unless overtime opens up and John's feeling up to taking it, it stays short.  So I'm thinking that for 1 week each month I will do a pantry freezer challenge instead of randomly doing one every few months. It should offset the 'ouch' factor of that pay period since we have about half as much money for groceries during that time.  If I can manage a "produce/dairy/bread/completely out of/" trip during that time frame, we should be able to manage far better.

I read an item by Frugal Queen this week and she suggested the questioner pull every single thing from her pantry/cupboards etc.  and use them.  Well that's my intent.  To use that pantry challenge week to use about to expire items, items that  for whatever reason I've let just hang out in my pantry, freezer, etc., use up the personal care items that are almost but not quite empty...You get the idea.  I had a moment to try my hand at it tonight preparing supper.  I needed a little onion but we have no onion in the house.  In fact, we ran out of onion last weekend.  I'd meant to buy more while out with Mama and we didn't go near a grocery.  I avoided going into town to our local grocery...I dug about and found some dried minced onion and rehydrated 1 tbsp of that to use.  It worked fine.  Well enough that I might just possibly get another bottle to keep in the pantry for future needs.

I have more suggestions but can't think of them at the moment.  This is going to be an ongoing thing, so we'll catch up and add those items I've left out at another time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tried and True: Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

A few years ago I had an awesome chocolate cookie recipe and somewhere along the way it got lost. I found this one on Pinterest.  I think the link said it was a Martha Stewart recipe.  Reading through it reminded me a great deal of that lost recipe, with the exception that the dough is rolled in a spicy sugar mixture.

I made just half a recipe, but the recipe below is as it was written.  My half recipe made 2 1/2 dozen so expect somewhere around 5 dozen from the recipe.

The recipe calls for a 400F oven which seemed hot to me and the cookies agreed.  The first batch got a wee bit dark on the bottom  but I was sure I'd timed it just right.  The second batch I did time and they were even darker.  I cut the heat back to 375F and baked for 11 minutes.  They might have gone 12 but it definitely cut out the burnt bottom.  My oven typically doesn't run hot, so take that in consideration if you try this recipe and do a test batch to see how it works for you.

Note that this cookie calls for cream of tartar and not baking powder.  I keep this on hand as I find it makes biscuits light and fluffy.  It keeps the cookies a little soft and that's what makes these so awesome. You can use baking powder but I recommend that you add at least 1 tsp cream of tartar anyway.

The cookies taste great.    I'd like to try these with chocolate and cinnamon chips in them and with fresh chili powder instead of the old chili powder I had.  I'd like to try this with a better quality chili powder next time. I'll definitely enjoy tweaking and playing with this but it's very good just as it is...I had to hide them!

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp  baking soda
1/2 cup cocoa

1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder (I highly recommend fresh chili powder)

Preheat oven 400F (I found 375 worked best for my oven and pan)

Mix the flour, leavenings and cocoa.

Beat butter and sugar on medium speed  two minutes.  Scrape bowl, add eggs and beat until everything is well blended.  Lower mixer speed and add the flour mixture.  Stop beating when all ingredients are blended.  At first this appears too dry but just let it mix in well.  It comes together in a soft dough in a minute or two.

Combine the sugar and spices in a small bowl. Roll cookie dough in small balls (about 1 tsp) and roll balls in sugar spice mixture.  Place 3 inches apart on parchment lined cookie pans.  Bake 10 minutes, until cookies flatten and crackle on top.  Remove from pan to wire rack to cool.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

This Week: Menu and Job Plans

  The windows have been open each day and there is something about open windows that just connects one with nature.  Here in the South this time of year, there is a soft continuous trill that goes on all afternoon long, so the day is never truly quiet.  It's an aliveness of the air, perhaps a cricket or some insect that sings, but it's just part and parcel of Fall.  A week of lovely autumn weather just behind me and frankly I am loathsome to see warm days return.  But it is indeed returning, at least for a few days and then we'll go right back to being cool.  I'll go back to AC on in the afternoons and grateful for it.

The freezer challenge continues.  I've some breathing room after this past week.  Some of the space will fill right back up when we shop for groceries this week.  I'm thinking this whole freezer thing could go on quite a bit longer and I mean that sincerely.  I've barely made a dint.

I've decided, in my retirement remedy planning that I need to do a Pantry Freezer challenge at least one week per month.  So you'll see my little lady above at least once a month in the coming year.  In the meantime, we've one more week of this freezer challenge so we'll see how well I can do.

Breakfasts:  Eggs and Toast (X2)
                      Butterscotch Oatmeal
                      Sausage Gravy with Biscuits
                      Cheese and Cinnamon Toasts, Grits
                      Egg Breads, Fried Apples
                      Hash Brown Casserole, Toasted Biscuits

Suppers:  leftovers (X2)
                 Cream of Potato Soup
                 Chicken Salad sandwiches
                 Egg Salad Sandwiches
                 Mini Pizzas

Dinners:  Cream of chicken and rice soup, PBJ
                 Red Beans and Rice, Coleslaw, Corn Bread, Baked Apples
                 Creamed Hamburger over Toast, Mashed potatoes, Green Beans
                 BBQ Chicken, Cheesy Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts
                 Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches, Chips, Pickles
                 Leftovers on my own
                 Takeout on my own

Jobs This Week:
last week:
Get the pictures, sconces hung in guest room.

Take a load of stuff to the shed.

Tag and Sort items for booth.

Get Christmas stuff for booth gathered and tag it  so it's ready to place in November.

Plant Daffodil bulbs and iris.

Finish clearing empty pots off back porch.        

This week:

Defrost big freezer in kitchen

Mop the floors

Tag Christmas stuff

Tag a few new items for the booth.

Plant Daffodil and iris

Buy a picture hanging kit

Finish guest room as near as I can and start the next big project.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Living Frugal, Living Well

 My frugal bit of autumn decorating.  Silk picks from years past (plus one new stem) a vase that didn't sell in the booth and is temporarily having a time out here at home and a pheasant I've had for years, another thrift store pick.

Saturday:  John made breakfast this morning.  I've determined that once a month I will splurge on a can of his favorite refrigerated biscuits.  I make awesome biscuits from scratch but he considers these a real treat.   He wanted to make biscuits this morning.  I suggested he save three of the uncooked biscuits to use for our supper.

Easy dinner for today: leftover fried chicken, warm potato salad, sliced tomatoes.  It was easy, tasty and there were no leftovers.

I boiled three eggs, 1 for the potato salad, 2 to use for salad later this week.

I cooked four potatoes, but put two potatoes worth of cooked cubes in the fridge.  This will go in gravy and diced roast beef to make hash.

It was a little cool to us.  When the AC came on in the afternoon I turned the temperature up.  It came on again later but was starting to feel a little stuffy in the house by then.

Gave myself a pedicure.

Supper was Pigs In Blankets.  That finished off a packet of hot dogs and the last three biscuits.  We had deli purchased macaroni salad with it.

I prepared John's lunch for work tomorrow.

Worked on a long list of ideas for saving money in my home.  If I have a list to refer to, I can read through and be re-inspired.

Washed a full load of dishes in the dishwasher.

Sunday:  Sometimes I just need to stand back and really think.  We've been wishing I had bought three sets of silverware when I got new last year.  I pulled out the best set and added it to the basket and that was a help but it still gets slim just before the dishwasher is full.  While in the shed the other day I found a stainless pitcher sitting on the floor.  It was smack full of the old mismatched silverware...

Double whammy, because I'd been considering purchasing a larger pitcher.  I love my old fashioned glass ones but they aren't large enough for a company meal.

I won't use the mismatched silverware everyday but it's in the silverware drawer and available if needed between dishwasher loads.

Washed two full loads of laundry.  I hung one load to dry and used the dryer for the other, since the line was full and I needed the mattress pad to remake the bed, I decided to go ahead with the dryer.

After hanging out laundry, I fed the pets.  I saved some cooking juices and cooked the turkey gravy packet and set that aside for the pets.  They loved that addition to their morning meal.

Came indoors and opened the windows.  AC didn't kick on until 5pm.  I decided to just cut it off and turn on the whole house fan.  That pulled in enough cool air as the sunset to reduce the stuffy feeling from the late afternoon sun.

I was up super early with John this morning.  I packed his lunch and made him breakfast before he went off to work.

Was hungry by 6:30 so made my breakfast.  By 10:30 I was ready for lunch, lol.  I held off until 11:15 and then ate.   Mid afternoon I made myself a snack of crackers (free product test item), grapes and cheese with a cup of coffee. That pushed me past supper and into evening, so I opted for milk and cookies for a late supper.

I used a coffee pod to make a single cup of coffee.  This is a small additional expense but it's a consistently good cup of coffee which means more to me than the savings.  Don't mess with my coffee!

Spray painted frames for the guest room pictures.  I couldn't take one of the glasses from the frame.  I used a straight razor blade to remove paint from the glass.

Rearranged pictures in my bedroom.

Monday:  John was supposed to stay at work for a meeting but he came home in the time between his shift ending and the start of the meeting.  I figure the savings on gasoline we'd have had was minimal anyway, so didn't complain.  I made him a quick breakfast and then dressed to go back to his work town with him.  I have a great book that I'm reading and was happy to have the extra quiet time to do nothing but read.

We combined that trip with one to the town where he likes to get his hair cut.  He just changed barbers...that meant I wasn't running into the grocery to pick up sausage, which is good and bad.  Good because I think we're eating too much sausage even if it is turkey meat and bad because now I'll have to make a trip into the chaotic store nearer Aldi when I DO need sausage.  Good incentive also to want less...

We stopped at the little old 1920-30's gas station/general store where the Mennonite lunch counter is in the back of the store and got burgers.  These are real meat with fresh lettuce and tomato burgers and substantial things.  Our meals were under $10 with sodas and fries.  John paid out of his pocket cash.

We filled his car with gasoline in the next nearest town.  Gas is $.20 a gallon cheaper there.

John washed a small load of clothes and hung to dry.

We had to toss his leftover salad after spending the day in the car.  It was a smaller bag and he'd eaten most of it, so not a huge loss on that.

I knew John would want a little something sweet, not snacky...I pulled the banana poundcake out of the freezer once again.  This time we'll finish it off over the next few days.  I am not putting it back into the freezer!

Tuesday:  It was chilly in the house this morning.  We're holding out a bit on lighting up any heaters...Will we make it to November?  We'll see.

Butterscotch oatmeal hit the spot this morning.  John told me he was hoping that was exactly what I'd make.

We ate from the freezer today: burritos (low meat) and corn on cob.

We went to vote.  While out I made sure to do a couple of errands.  We took off trash, voted, went by dollar store and then to the local grocery.

I had a list for the dollar store.  I didn't stick to it very well.  I bought two more baskets and two small lamps that weren't on my list.  The basket replaced two other storage pieces (enamel pots) and neatened  up the look of the chiffarobe in the kitchen.  I like it much better now that it looks less cluttered and more organized.

The lamps fit the bill for the guest room.  I haven't found anything the least bit as suitable or well priced.  I knew I had shades at home to go with them.  What clinched it?  The recommendation was for 13 watt CFL. I knew we had two of those bulbs at home.

Stopped at the grocery to buy vegetarian baked beans on sale.  There were none of the brand that was on special.  I discovered an alternate brand for just a few cents more per can.  I bought them for an upcoming event here and one at John's work place.  It's a bonus to have them now at a decent price and not later at a much higher price.

I found two steaks in the meat counter marked down to $4 each.  It was a splurge yes, but not one we make often.  I thought we'd have them for supper tonight and boy were they good.

Wednesday:  Packed John's lunch and made him breakfast.

Made sure to have my own breakfast since I knew I was going out with Mama this morning.

Went prepared today with a list of things to purchase if I found them.  A t-shirt and cardigan to go with the maxi skirt I bought this summer will extend that piece through the cooler months and give me several options for looks.  I am officially finished with clothes shopping for the fall/winter.  Time to give shopping a rest.

I knew my all occasion gift bags were gone.  I found some on a clearance end cap today for less than $1 each.  Always nice to have a few in my stash for future gift giving.

Opened a stack of mail I'd set aside as junk.  Results:  1 Forever Stamp, 2 different sets of coupons.

Turned off ceiling fans when I left this morning.  Turned them on right away when I came in.  The house felt a bit stuffy and moving air always helps move the air, making it feel cooler.

Got our electric bill today.  We dropped $64 over the past month.  There's a winter rate change (drops) as well as the decrease in air conditioning usage.  That rate drop will cover the propane tank rental this month.  A nice balancing act for the budget.

Thursday:  Made waffles for breakfast. I went ahead and made a full recipe.  We'll eat the leftovers this weekend.

It was cold this morning indoors and out.  I turned on the heater but made sure to turn it off as soon as the chill was gone from the house.  I wore a sweater and layered shirts in the first couple of hours but was soon reducing the layers as the morning went on.

We opened windows this afternoon to cool off the house a bit when it began to warm up.

Made roast beef hash using leftover baked potatoes, leftover roast and gravy.  It's a good economical dish. I added in a few portabella mushrooms that were in the fridge, which extended the meat nicely.

I shopped at home: spam, grape juice, bread from freezer.

Repurposed a sturdy low cardboard box in my pantry to help corral bags of coffee that didn't want to sit upright. Now they do. That netted me enough extra room to fit the bulk purchase of baked beans on the shelves.

Tried an idea for the craft room window that involved a lace panel and a cream panel.  It didn't work, but you know it cost nothing to try.

Painted another picture frame and finished off a can of paint.

Scooped ice cream rather than eat from our pint containers. It should last a bit longer this way.

Friday:  Used a muffin mix to make a quick blueberry coffee cake for this  morning's breakfast.  It took no longer to cook than muffins would have done.  We'll be much more likely to eat the coffee cake as a snack than we would the muffins.  I don't know why this is so for us, but it is.

Filled the mixing bowl with warm soapy water.  That is all the water I used for cleaning up the dishes after the meal, even rinsing those for the dishwasher.  I am seeing that I can change many things in my kitchen to create a savings.

John washed a full load of clothes and hung them to dry.

The heater was turned on this morning but ran only one cycle and was done.  We  opened windows about noon and won't have the AC on either today.  I love this time of year when we're not heavy on electricity usage.

foodwaste this week:  1/2 cup buttercream frosting from too long ago to mention.
1 cup cornmeal batter that I'd meant to make cornmeal pancakes with for breakfast.  Too old to date.
Garlic cheese topping for toast.  I can't remember when I made this up either...
4 slices summer sausage John didn't eat in his lunch twice.(This went to dogs and cat who were happy to have them).

Saved heavy syrup from a can of pears.

Set aside time this morning to do nothing but work on surveys and Swagbucks.  It's a small amount of time, perhaps an hour I give to it but the earnings eventually add up.

Had no clue what we might have for dinner today.  I messed up and didn't take out a thing to thaw.  I also didn't realize I'd no solid plan until nearly dinner time when I scanned this week's menu and we'd used up all our options but the solidly frozen chicken.  I made rice (extras went into fridge for another meal) and added to canned cream of chicken soup  along with a few small pieces of turkey.  It really made the soup far more substantial and filling.  I made club sandwiches to go along with it.

I cut the sandwiches into halves.  I couldn't eat the second half of mine so wrapped it for John's work lunch.

Made Challah bread for Shabat. We ate one loaf as snack and supper and I put a third in the freezer.  Lest you think we were being silly eating so much bread, the recipe makes one loaf, which I divide into three smaller loaves when making.

Ate leftovers of hash for supper.

Living well

It's another happy occasion.  This afternoon my son, his bride and their little one went off to the courthouse and made their love and faith in one another official...I am so happy for them and for all of us.  Bess has proven herself a caring sister, a loving daughter, great mom and a true helpmeet over the past year.  My son, who is a great brother to his siblings has proven himself a man worthy of being a husband and is a terrific hands on father.  I couldn't have asked better for either of them or be happier to see our family grow by one more.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Coffee Chat: October Blue and Gray

Coffee anyone?  Never fear...It's not quite cool enough yet to hide indoors.  We can take it on the porch again if you'd like. There  are spice cookies too. Tempt you much?  Have a seat and join me.

We're having a lovely October and I don't mean the weather.  That has been weather, which means it's been changeable as weather usually is, and is often one thing or another.  No, the lovely parts have been non-weather related.

John worked  Friday a week ago so I'm going to start there...He worked and I went off to buy two more blinds while the $10 off $50 purchase card was still good for Lowes.  I don't know about now but Lowe's has/had clearance prices on their drapes and some of them were pretty good (50%) and some were Amazing.  I couldn't find 2-6 of any one type of panel I liked to do any window/room in my house, so I looked for naught, but it was fun to imagine getting such a great buy on curtains.

It was stinking hot and the air was heavy and humid.  Ugh. I'd thought I'd do a bit of thrifting but it was so unpleasant that the idea of getting in and out of the car half a dozen times  and wandering about in humid buildings (why is the air con always on the blitz in these places?), then getting in car just long enough for the air conditioning to start cooling before the next stop was not appealing in the least.  Instead, I headed back home and stopped off at the flea market.

Well things hadn't changed much there.  I went in and the place was fairly busy, as it had been last week.  The woman who runs the place was out for a moment, but her husband was standing in for her.  He's a talky sort which is nice but I wanted to look about a bit.  I never made it much past six feet from the counter for the first twenty minutes I was in the store.  I found a curtain panel and three picture frames in the sizes I wanted for my guest room, so perhaps it's as well I didn't wander too far.

It was one of those small town things there in the store.  The man chattering away, running into an acquaintance who chatted, listening to gentle bartering, exchanging pleasantries with others...It was just nice, but stopping in to check on my booth took me roughly 35 minutes...that too is a small town thing.

Saturday morning, after John came in from work, we headed to Athens and a weekend long visit with the two youngest children.  It was still warm, quite warm, but beautifully sunny.  We sort of meander when we're heading up and honestly that is a nice way to travel. By meander I mean we aren't in a hurry and drive slowly.  Personally, I'd love to do a more or less loiter and stop at every interesting little old town and antique/thrift shop along the way, of which there is a plethora all along that route.   No one I know is ever interested in loitering, but at least John will usually savor the drive.

We stopped in the nearest town to us to drop off an item at the post office, stopped at the store to purchase a couple of items that were necessary.  I walked across the parking lot to buy boiled peanuts.  In the South, this is perfectly normal this time of year, just as roasted chili peppers abound in New Mexico.  Usually run by older men, generally small farmers who are retired, they set up shop with a big steel pot of water and a propane burner, green peanuts and boxes of salt.

I knew Katie and Sam loved boiled peanuts as much as I do, so I bought three bags, all warm and lovely from the pot.  I enjoyed talking with the man who told me the cost was $3 a bag but with three I'd save a dollar.  I told him how much I appreciated that dollar these days.  He informed me his wife was a coupon queen.  So our small talk was established and we shared our earnest concerns about the current economic situation, our great appreciation for the long years of thrifty living that help us get by now, and laughed comfortably together over our love for boiled green peanuts.  I suppose this man must have been in his late 70's and possibly even early 80's.  "I eat them all the time.  I eat them every day.  I don't ever tire of them."  And as I paid him, "Ah...Now Mama has a little more money for Christmas presents."

I'm not in the least surprised that the man eats his peanuts every day.  And he'd no doubt credit it with his longevity.  A friend's grandfather lived into his mid-90's.  He said his secret was eating a sweet potato every day.  Honestly?  I think working and resting and eating good plain foods are all helpful in living long.  Granny always said "All things in moderation," and she meant it.  Sweets, fats, greens, fruit, vegetable, meat...I think coffee was about the only thing she ignored keeping in moderation and had you asked her she'd have said it was moderate for her.

We stopped again outside of Watkinsville at a fruit stand, this time to buy apples, specifically Winesap apples.  Winesap are not such a popular variety in supermarkets but I do love them!  The apples are grown here in the northern part of Georgia (that's the apple region) and it's one of the bonuses of having the children live in Athens.  I bought an extra large basket of apples this time.  I planned to make an apple pie, wanted to give some to the children, wanted some to eat out of hand.  I chatted a bit with the ladies there as I made my purchase but it wasn't quite as easy as the chatter with the old farmer.  The apple stand was a good bit busier than the peanut stand had been.

I got to spend some time with that newest grandson that afternoon.  He smiled at me, dimpling his cheeks.  I was pretty pleased but then he needed to express himself a bit better so he spit out his pacifier and grinned from ear to ear at me.  Well, my heart pitter pattered an extra few beats.  Nothing like a little boy's grin is there?  The monkey actually laughed out loud at his grandpa.  John made up a song and sang it to him.  The hook was the exclamation of 'Grandpa!' and each time he said it, he'd bring Josh up close to his chest which made him chuckle and finally laugh out loud.  Well Grandpa wasn't giving up the little fella anytime soon after that!  I did have time to hold him a bit more and sought his smiles, which were sweetly given here and there.  He kept chewing on his tongue and I put my finger in his mouth and felt a swollen lump on his gum. He is apparently cutting an incisor first.

Samuel made dinner for us, individual pizzas of various types and Bess came in from work in time to eat, though she'd been meant to work all evening.  Seems more people went out of town than they'd expected, so work was light and workers in too plentiful supply.  It was a  pleasant and happy visit topped off with wonderful news of a very soon to be marriage, already booked with the local Justice of the Peace for Sam and Bess.  John and I were deeply joyful over this news.

We headed to our hotel which was downtown and did right well getting there.  The instructions insisted there was a fork in the road and a left hand turn that we never did come across.  We just shrugged our shoulders and were glad we found the hotel without any trouble.

I won't say much about the hotel.  It was neither the best nor the worst place we've stayed and it was neither the most restful or the least restful.  It was a hotel and it was conveniently located between both Sam and Kate's homes.  It was packed when we arrived and cleared out somewhat on Sunday.

We'd been informed of a change in time for the game John was to attend so he got to spend some time with Katie the next morning when she came to pick me up.  My girl looked lovely and was glad to see her parents.  We left to go to lunch with her mother- and sister-in-law.  The ride was lovely and Katie assured me I'd be even happier when I saw our destination.  It was well within view of the foothills of  the north part of the state and absolutely beautiful.  It was, at that time, cool and rainy.  We had brunch (at least her mother-in-law and I did, the girls ate proper dinners) in a lovely restaurant.  It was delicious and we enjoyed our visit.  I like Katie's in-laws quite well.  They are just nice people and the world has far too few of the sort of folks that are just plain nice.  Her mother-in-law and I are of the same age range and were quite comfortable chatting away while the two girls talked.  The food was delicious, perfectly prepared.  After dinner we opted for coffee.  I was much amused when I asked the girl for decaf and Lisha turned to her and said "And I'd like coffee."  I knew full well she meant caffienated by the inflection, which made me chuckle.

Then off to do some shopping.  The area there is a little odd. You ride through long stretches of country and then you come upon a shopping center, a nice upscale sort of place, then lots of cookie cutter, look alike houses perched in a barren looking area and then more country roads before you come upon the next shopping area.   It is not at all like my area where you run across homes in the country but seldom a neighborhood and never a shopping center, but that is all considered more or less suburbs for Atlanta there and not at all like here.

Katie and I enjoyed our little bit of shopping, which was nothing much, then she said, "Mumsie I'm going to take you for a ride."  The skies cleared, the humidity lifted, and the temperatures dropped.  We let the windows down to blow through our hair, put on our sunglasses and off we went.  A rambling sort of  ride is something we both enjoy.  We drove little narrow paved roads with sharp "S" curves that meandered through proper small towns.  She pointed out the prettiest patches of goldenrod, and a becoming lake and slowed at a country store that was also a butcher shop and a gas station and a fishermans' supply.  Here and there we'd come across a clear space and there were the foothills before us.  That girl knows just what I like, all too well, and the ride was made that much more enjoyable by her happy chatter.

Along about evening she proclaimed herself tired.  We stopped at a grocery to pick up items for supper (mine was a frozen dinner and a handful of things for next morning's breakfast) and she dropped me off at the hotel where I spent several pleasant hours reading the paper, working on the puzzles, watching TV and such. I got along quite well by myself at first but as the evening dragged on, I began to worry.  I'd heard nothing from John since early afternoon and it was about 10pm.  I texted him but got no reply.  I waited twenty minutes and then called his phone and he assured me he was coming into the hotel parking lot at that moment.  Perhaps it was silly of me to get worried, but I did. He was in downtown Atlanta, you see, and I know nothing about Atlanta at all except that it is a big city and not a small hometown.  And then he was 2-3 hours from Athens, so there was a long road to travel and I wasn't sure how heavy traffic might be.  I should have known he was fine, since he was well prayed over and he was with Samuel who is all too familiar with all the roadways between Athens and Atlanta, courtesy of his job.

John and Sam attended a pro football game (Falcons versus Bears) and John was as excited to share all about his day.  He absolutely loved every moment even the not so pleasant bits (walking uphill and getting blisters on his feet after a heavy lunch) and then climbing into the sky for his seats.  He and Sam always have a load of things to talk over and they talked their fill on the ride to and from the stadium.  I shared all about my day with Katie and before we knew it, it was midnight.  I don't think John did more than lie down before falling fast asleep and he slept all night long.  I, on the other hand, lay awake.  Love mid-life.

But it was more than a little too much caffeine and humidity that kept me awake.  It was truly a lovely weekend from start to finish, even the not so nice bits (minor things).   I could hardly sleep for thinking about how nice it had been.  It was one of the first trips from home I've made without a mini crisis of my own in nearly three years.  That made it remarkable for me right there.  And everything was just so nice, from the moment we left home until the end of the day Sunday.  The game was courtesy of tickets given to Sam.  Lunch was a surprise treat from Katie's mother-in-law.  The children were so welcoming and so obviously glad to have us for more than a flying visit.  The weather changed from hot and humid to cool and lovely.  That was nice as well.  

We left early Monday morning.  It was a lovely ride home with lots of cool air and fog that slowly burnt off as the day warmed a little.  We rode with the windows down and I begged John to pull over and let me get my sweater from the trunk.  There's nothing cozier than a sweater when it's really really cool.  At one point we were driving down a forested roadway and a single tree of beautiful burnt orange showered leaves slowly down.  It was almost as though the world had slipped into slow motion speed, that's how they fell...and that moment as we both turned to look was slow motion, too.  It got clearer and warmer the closer we got to home and by the time we reached the house, the air conditioning was most welcome.  We had only minor things to do at home and spent the afternoon talking about how lovely the weekend had been.  And it was.

Tuesday was a memorable day, too.  I woke at 3 am to thunder and lightning and pounding rain and it kept it up all day long.  I meant to clear up the kitchen really well, which needed it, but somehow I found myself arm deep in making apple pie.  Not a bad thing to do on a very rainy Tuesday, but definitely not cleaning.  I find baking cathartic and I was a little tense,  awaiting news from Katie of a medical test result.

The apple pie recipe was not difficult, but not exactly as 'easy' as the title suggested either.  It involved making a sort of butterscotch sauce.  I think wet weather and overcooking just made mine a mess. Perhaps I should have left it as it was when it went slightly solid, because when I reheated it, the butter separated from the brown sugar.  I was supposed to top that with a pie crust, but mine fell in the pan when I got the much awaited text from Katie and was all catywampus and the hot butterscotch was not cooperating with straightening out the shell so I just left it.  Everything from that point went into the pan with tears so thick I was blinded.  I put the pie in the oven and sat down and boohooed hard for several minutes before texting back to Katie. Nope not crying over the silly pie.  I knew it would be edible no matter how bad it looked.  I cried over Katie's news. Katie's news was good...she's expecting a baby and after two miscarriages this pregnancy appears to be completely normal.  We saw the heartbeat and fetus via ultra sound.

I took a faith step a couple of weeks ago and bought a onesie and two changing pads and carried them to Katie this past weekend. My girl was afraid to accept that this was a viable pregnancy until the appointment this week but I just felt in my bones I needed to move ahead in utter faith...It wasn't a sense of relief that overwhelmed me to tears it was pure gratitude and joy.  Well I wasn't the only one to cry.  Bess told me she'd been changing the baby's stinky diaper and burst into tears over the text.  I'm afraid baby boy looked askance at her, thinking he certainly hadn't done anything worth tears.  Niece Ashley promptly replied that she too was mid-diaper change and was moved to tears.  I'm not really sure what these babies must think of Mama's who can't change a diaper without crying, but I know full well what my husband thought of this Mama who couldn't put the apple pie in the oven without weeping hard!

Well the week from there wasn't remarkable, just lovely as could be.  Friends came by while doing us a favor. We had a late Harvest day, we bought groceries, we exclaimed over the glorious weather, we watched deer.  John hung my new set of blinds.  We messed up and didn't change the really badly broken one in the living room window for the one better one in the dining room window and didn't discover what we'd done until we'd carried them to the dumpsters.  We had a sweet Shabat, a restful Saturday and a visit from my brother and then the week off was done.  We might not have had 'vacation' this October but it felt like a vacation.  It was more than we expected.  I think we smiled all week long and I mean that sincerely.

I didn't work hard on projects  last week but I did do a few things.  I switched a few pieces about in the living room and decorated for Fall in a small way.  Want to see?
I added a bit of blue this year.  I like it!
                                                  (I just noticed the books coordinate...)

                                         For all that my house is bright, some areas just                                                                                                           photograph dark

                             Acorn Salt and pepper from Target, bought weekend with Katie

                                               I moved the dogs and lamp to the mantel

It's not much but I like it as it is.  I used to be over the top decorating and even did a full blown thing for most all of the holidays but with no children at home (and it really was mostly for their benefit), I prefer something that nods at this season.  I confess that if we had more color in our part of the world I'd probably skip this, too, but I do like something that looks like autumn by the time October arrives, much as you will find fresh flowers in my home when March is nearing and Spring just around the corner, but nothing is blooming in the yard.

I walked into the kitchen one evening last week and heard Maddie bark.  Curious, I looked out of the sitting area windows and there were deer standing in the corner of the wooded area that is nearest the house, peering curiously into the house.  Obviously we were both mutually curious.  Maddie barked some more and finally decided to lunge forward as though she was going to give chase.  They all turned on a dime, put up their white tails and bounded off, completely hidden by the trees in two leaps.

I had another encounter this week at dawn one morning.  I was opening the blinds and there were five deer on the opposite side of the fence between properties.  I watched as the four larger ones leaped effortlessly over the fence and the fifth, smaller one, decided that after all she could as easily step through.  This time they just strolled along.  John watched them yet another evening as they walked casually and easily up the driveway and it wasn't until they were nearly out of sight that Maddie decided after all she might chase them a bit.

Seeing the deer has been lovely.  We often do see them this time of year and all through the winter but seldom in summer when they are tending to fawns.  I was thinking that what I seldom see this time of year is rabbits.  I might see one or two but nothing like the dozen that visit the lawn morning and evening in summer months.  I have no idea where they all go. Rabbits are not migratory so they should still be here, but we won't see much of any of them until next summer when it's warm once more.

Nor do we see much of the turkey or quail.  In spring and summer we hear them call out to one another and there's something very peaceful about the shrill whistle "Bob White!" and the gentle gobbling sound.  But this time of year there is none of that.

I have been reading the loveliest book.  I spent quite a long spell reading over the weekend trip to Athens and then picked it up this week for a long day of waiting for John at a work meeting and later getting his hair cut.  It is Tamar Adler's book An Everlasting Meal with the subtitle, "Cooking with Economy and Grace".  I am definitely going to be looking for more of her books.  I love a good narrative type cook book but find them few and far between.  Adler waxes poetic over every thing related to cooking, preparing, and eating with an economical outlook.  No fancy unpronounceable and expensive foodstuffs, nor complicated cooking methods and terms, just plain good cooking.

There are proper recipes though it is not recipe heavy and there are narrated types of recipes where she describes dishes in such a way that you might as easily use it as a recipe.  The sound good sense of  her cookery is what is most striking.  Technical cookery is not her forte, it is instinctive cookery and she explains how she uses every last thing that comes into her kitchen from market to table to leftover, to scraps.   I highly recommend this book as reading. It shall have a spot on my bookshelf for quite a long time and be picked up frequently to be read again and again.

Earlier this past week, inspired by what I was reading in An Everlasting Meal, and at the same time inspired by my new all time low in the grocery budget struggle, (I spent less than $275 this past month and that is $100 less than I allotted.  I was so pleased and determined to make that happen again and again)  I sat down and made out a list of possible future savings to make.  I am also inspired by how close we are to repaying the amount we took for the back porch.  I can pay it off in full within the next 5 weeks, which is a full month earlier than I'd hoped I might and four months earlier than John expected we should.  We've already spoken with my brother about moving up the start date on the front porch renovation. I'm going to have a new series of posts based on the notes I made to amp up savings still more in my home.  I'm leading with savings from the kitchen, followed by savings in other areas...It's a work in progress at the moment but the first post is up with the title Retirement Remedies.

I'm slowly, slowly making progress in the guest/craft room.  I'm still looking hard for bedding, would like to get risers to lift the bed a bit and a bed topper to soften the mattress.  I have an appointment with the chatty disorganized husband of the antique market to look at a bed that's been on his front porch for months.  I'm not sure it's 'the' bed, or if his price is affordable, but having seen the bed on the porch all these months I do feel I have strong bargaining power to get the price in my range if indeed I do like it.

I bought a drop cloth to use as a table cover for the craft table.  The room is still a bit of a mess but I've got a date with a trip to the shed to store some of that stuff away.  I try to do some little thing every day or two to bring it a little further along.  This week my pictures, plates and shelf are ready to hang, and I wrote that down as a goal but I need picture hangers.  So instead,  I hope to get excess stuff put in the shed and the tablecover on the table.  I picked up lamps at the dollar store this week, pulled the shades from the shed last week, so that worked out very nicely and not too expensively.

I've already decided my next focus area of work when I'm all done with the guest/craft room will be the front porch.  I had planned to paint the porch this fall and I still want to do so, at least up to the point where the porch will remain as it is.  I figure if I buy enough paint I can have the extra needed to make the new boards match the older ones.   I also want to put fresh paint on the furniture and  make it pretty once again.  And I'm thinking of changing up my colors out there instead of leaning on the red/white/blue theme I started with...Lots of plans as you can see.

We didn't get to go to the fair this year.  It was the trip to Athens for the weekend or the fair but not both.  However, I was curious to read a local nutritionist's column about fair food this week.

Now John and I are not the sort that go to the fair to indulge in the food.  We pretty much stick to a burger from the VFW booth and perhaps a square of fudge and that's it.  I know many people however, who simply must eat all sorts of goodies.  This guy suggested that people go and indulge themselves.  What he had to say about it made good sense so I want to share it with you.  It might not be the fair but some other event where good food abounds (holidays are coming up!) and it is useful information I think.  First he said, plan what you will indulge in.  Skip a meal prior to going and eat those things you planned to eat.  Drink lots of water and take along some Benefiber or Metamucil or any one of the fiber supplements and drink that while at the fair.  He said it binds the fatty foods and will help to reduce bloating and tummy upset.  He said walk a LOT (we always do when we're at the fair).  Last he suggested that if you felt you really overindulged that you skip another meal or two and  then return to your most healthy habits for a week after.  You see?  Good sensible advice.  I thought it far better than listening to some stupid news program telling us how many HOURS we must exercise to rid our body of calories from one small bite of cotton candy.  I just think this guy has a sensible approach overall, don't you?  It's refreshing instead of hearing all this chatter and talk and such about doing things perfectly all of the time.

Tomorrow my youngest son and his lovely fiancee are getting married...It's sort of the topping on the cake for the past two weeks.   I shall like having Bess as one of my own family.

I referred to her at Katie's wedding as my daughter-in-law to be.  I couldn't think of "fiancee" to save myself that day.  Someone spoke up and asked "Is that even a phrase?  I just refer to my brother's girlfriend as my sister in law..."  I am a little old fashioned perhaps.  As it happened the brother did marry his girlfriend but I am hesitant to give someone the status of family right away as much as I might like them.  I feel it brings unfair pressure to bear upon a couple to too quickly absorb them into a family.  Much as I might like them, what if things don't work out?  What if they try to live up to my expectations and forgo what they know in their heart of hearts is not the relationship for them?  What if we all get terribly close and they break up and it doubles everyone's pain?  I liked Bess the moment I met her, but she and Sam did break up for a time.  I was saddened but I trusted God's wisdom in what was right for each of them.  As it happened, they did get back together.  And now there's a little boy with dimples to love on who will always be part of myself and tomorrow a lovely girl whom I'm glad will be family, as well.

Gracious!  It was good to sit down and catch up once again.  Time for me to get busy once more I'm afraid. There is much to be done, but with all this fresh air, a nap might be in order.  Wasn't it lovely?  I am so glad that you stopped by!  Talk to you again soon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Retirement Remedies: Budget Battles

It's been two years of struggling and trimming and cutting back, but it finally paid off.  The past two months I've spent less than $300 on groceries for each month.   Honestly, now that I can see I've made headway, I'm more than ready to hit it all a little harder.  I don't know about you but I'm about tired of being bossed around by my budget.  I want some wiggle room!

I sat down this weekend and wrote a long list of steps to implement (some of which I've recently started doing and want to continue).  I thought perhaps some of you might be interested to see where I'm planning to try to cut back a little more. There's nothing really new or earth shattering here, but perhaps it will be a good reminder of things you might do, can change, can adjust to suit your needs, etc.  And for anyone new to trimming the budget, perhaps it will truly be a revelation and a help!

I'll start with grocery savings because that is the biggest variable area of our budget.  There are other places to trim and cut and a few places to earn, and I'll share those with you as well over the next couple of weeks. In my home, the grocery budget includes food, pet foods, paper products, cleaning products and personal care items.  It all falls into the area of spending that I am solely responsible for so I'll break the grocery category down into those areas.

The More Frugal Kitchen

#1.  Give.  I'm going to share this first because I truly believe it's made the biggest impact of all on my budget.  Back in the spring of the year, I decided to consistently give a small amount to a food bank or soup kitchen each month.  I set aside a little money from my grocery funds and send that off to a favorite soup kitchen.   I've watched in amazement as our foods have lasted longer, we've had less waste overall and our food supply often seems to multiply.

#2. Buy Whole Poultry.  Given the choice, I would much rather have chicken breasts or chicken wings.  I've come up against two things of late: breasts and wings are mighty high in price ($3.79 a pound for wings when I priced them this week!). Bone in breasts are as much when not on sale and we won't even discuss the boneless breasts costs.  Chicken leg quarters are mighty cheap because breast and wings are more in demand.  That has two drawbacks for me: I don't want to eat dark meat only.  Nine times out of ten I must buy ten pounds of leg quarters in order to get the best sale price.  I either don't have room or we're back to number one: I don't want to eat dark meat only.  So my next best option is to buy whole chickens.  I have two sources for whole chickens that are reasonably priced and carageenan free.

I learned in my early years how to cut up whole chicken into parts. There are dozens of videos on to watch and see how to do this if you'd like to learn.   Most store butchers will do it for you too, but I prefer my own way of cutting them up, as I get two extras from the chicken: the wishbone and the back. Too often the butcher quarters a chicken.  The few who cut pulley bones from the breasts generally do what is called 'restaurant' cut on the rest of the chicken which means there is no back.  It's split and becomes part of the thigh and breasts.  I prefer to have my backbone separate from those pieces.  Believe it or not the back has more meat than you might think and the meat is neither white or dark.  That's where all that good tender meat comes from when you boil the carcass of a whole chicken.

4 whole chickens, cut into parts will net me: 8 wings (enough for a meal of wings for the two of us), 8 legs (2 meals), 8 thighs (4 meals if decent sized, 2 if chickens are smaller), 8 breast halves (4 meals), 4 pulley bones (1 meal or 2 cups of cooked meat for casseroles) and 4 backs (at least 1 - 1 1/2 cups of cooked chicken meat).  That's between 12 and 15 meals for us from 4 whole chickens depending on which recipes I choose to use.  And while I might not particularly like dark meat, I have found a few recipes that I prefer dark meat when I prepare them, so I'm learning to like it a little more and will not completely ignore the cost effectiveness of leg quarters if found in smaller than 10 pound packages.

I like to buy a turkey breast rather than a whole turkey but I'm going to seriously reconsider this and look at purchasing whole turkeys, too.  A few months back I found a great bargain on turkey thighs (turkey dark meat is far more tasty in my opinion than chicken) and used them to make turkey and dressing.  At holiday I often boil legs to make soup meat.   Even in non-holiday season whole turkey are less per pound than most meats.  In autumn/winter whole turkeys are the best buy around and may be purchased fresh and unfrozen.  I guess if I can cut up a whole chicken I can cut up a whole turkey just as well.

#3. Eat Less Meat.  I've been practicing this one for a number of years and I still find it worth repeating: reduce the meat in recipes.

I made a pasta dish this weekend that we really like.  It calls for 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef.  I make it exactly as the recipe states but I've never used more than 1/2 pound of meat in the recipe.  It was a mistake the first time.  I simply forgot that when we buy our ground beef we have it packaged in half pound portions. I realized when I was sharing the recipe that I'd cut the meat by 2/3...and we all loved the recipe as I'd made it.  I do the same with many other recipes that call for ground beef, even when making meatloaf.  I make an awesome meatloaf from one pound of ground beef.  We typically get two or three meals from it.

Poultry also can be reduced as long as a recipe calls for diced cooked poultry.  I seldom put four cups of chicken in a recipe where three or even two will do as well.

#4. Eat Less Meat, II.  I want to make more meatless meals.  I'm going to comb my recipe books and Pinterest and then test run meatless recipes.  I'd like the option of doing one or two meatless meals each week of good tasting foods that we enjoy.  John doesn't mind a meatless meal as long as it doesn't look meatless.  If I serve a vegetable plate for dinner his first response is always, "Soooo...we are eating vegetarian now?"  whereas if I serve a casserole or burritos or enchiladas that are vegetable based he eats happily and never comments on the meatless state.  I am often fumbling for ideas of meatless meals once a week and sometimes I just rely on leftovers of meat meals and skip the meatless option because it's hard to think of good options. I cannot deny the savings in skipping just one meal with meat.   I'm going to create a list of options to choose from.

#5. Get Creative with Salads.  I want to build a repertoire of salads that aren't lettuce based.  I have a few, a very few, ideas that we use now and then but I'd like more.  Lettuce gets kind of high cost when it's not in season.  I've discovered two things over this past year: a raw vegetable or fruit (usually in salad form in our house) helps make you feel full, is good for your digestion, teeth and gums.  I've had a struggle lately with John's desire for bagged salads and my aversion to them.  I really don't want to see even a portion of them go to waste since they cost as much or more than a head of lettuce,  but I really find the aroma and taste just off somehow.  It's gotten so I dread eating salad.  It oughtn't be that way!   I've also continued to buy the same amount of lettuce (2 heads per week) despite the fact that he has leftover salad each week to use up. Last week I tossed one head of iceberg and two hearts of romaine that had spoiled.  That's when I realized that I need to change tactics slightly.  HE can have his leftover salad, I'll have fresh.  I'll buy less lettuce so there's little chance of spoilage.   But I'm going to look for recipes that use other vegetables and fruits to compose a salad, too, because I don't always want to feel I must run to the store and buy more lettuce when we have other foods that might make an excellent salad.

#6. Eat Raw.  I want to up our raw food quotient to twice a day.  Again, it's filling, it's good for digestion, teeth and gums.  I don't care if we eat a second salad or a piece of fruit in it's natural state, anything that fills us up and isn't meat/fat/dairy based is a good buy!  Remember we're only talking half an apple or 20 grapes or 1 cup of salad (could also be vegetables on our supper sandwich).

#7. Cut out Luncheon Meats.  I've been using this one for the past 8 months and it's been a huge help to lowering our grocery budget. It also allows me to control salt and fat content.  And honestly when you consider the costs of luncheon meats over all (and we're not even talking  the much better tasting deli meats!), it costs far more per pound than roast or turkey breast.  I'd rather cook a beef roast or turkey breast and make my own sliced meats.  I find they taste so much better.  But I can do better.  I want to work on being a little more creative with sandwich fillings.  When John wanted only sandwiches in his lunch I figured out pretty much our current core of sandwich fillings: pimento and cheese, peanut butter (with a variety of toppings), turkey, chicken salad, egg salad.  These are fine but I can get a few ideas reading my vintage Womans Day magazines and the cookbooks.  We can test a few new fillers and hopefully add to our menu.  I might indulge in the occasional purchase of beef bologna from a deli but it will be rare thing and well enjoyed when we do.

#8.Use it ALL.  I've dabbled in this area and then I ease off.  Reading the book An Everlasting Meal is a great reminder that we truly can use all of our foodstuffs.  I've saved onion tops and bottoms, the ends of celery stalks, tops and tails of carrots for making broth and I save bread end pieces...But as Adler points out, we can use the liquid we steamed or boiled vegetables in, save the shells of beans and peas to boil for a delicious vegetable broth, eat them raw as part of a salad, etc. Potato peels would make delicious snacks. How silly is it we'll pay a premium price for potato skins at a restaurant but turn up our nose at them and toss in the trash at home?  I mean seriously to think hard about what I'm throwing out.  At the very least, I should be able to compost the truly inedible things and that will still be netting me a benefit!  Just think of all the healthy plants I can grow with the addition of good compost.

#9. Ask the Right Questions:
Is the store brand comparable?
Can I make it myself?
Is it made from basic ingredients I already have on hand?
Will I need a pricey item that can be used in more than one way?
Will it cost less?
Will the flavor difference make it worth the extra cost?
Is it labor intensive?
Will the flavor difference be worth the extra effort?
Can I substitute something else for this item?
Does John (and do I) prefer the bought or homemade version?

I've been asking these questions a lot over the past few months.  It was really a purchase of bread that led to the gist of this for us.  We bought bread at our Publix store.  5 loaves.  We paid $22.  I told John then 'We have to do better than this.  That's $44 a month!"   I can make acceptable bread at home but it takes time. John asked that I continue to buy bread because he felt it was just one more thing for me to do.  I don't mind making bread but you must stay with it when it's rising and ready to bake.  There are no spontaneous trips away from home that take hours upon hours. I also had not found a bread recipe that held up well to sandwiches, so there was that to consider as well.

About four months ago, John pointed out some new loaves of bread at Aldi.  They are artisan breads and have all the flavor of homemade with a texture that is a little more suited to sandwiches.  I love the better flavor and texture compared to commercial loaf bread. These artisan loaves stretch to about two commercial loaves worth of bread and cost the same as one loaf, so well worth the exchange. We've lowered our bread costs to $22 a month.  Huge savings. I make Challah for Shabat evenings now and then because I can make it once a month in smaller loaves that are better suited to our small household. I store it in the freezer. One recipe will make 3-4 small loaves.  It's an additional small savings of about $3 a month. Not huge but it decreases our bread cost.

Here of late I've made cream of tomato soup substitute by combining a small can of tomato sauce with 1 tbsp of flour which thickens the sauce nicely.  Add in a 1/2 tsp of sugar and it tastes like condensed cream of tomato soup and suits any casserole that calls for a can of tomato soup!  The cost of a can of Campbell's tomato soup is $1on sale,  store brand is $.69 on sale. One can of tomato sauce is $.39 at Aldi.  I haven't tried eating it as a soup yet but just as an ingredient substitute.

The last question is really important. I can make homemade yogurt and I really like it.  BUT...John prefers blueberry yogurt and I've yet to find a recipe that suits his taste buds.  I learned to reduce the yogurt recipe so that it makes 1 quart and not 4 which means it's more viable now as an option for me.  I just find it easier and as cost effective to buy the yogurt he prefers.  By the same token there are some things he likes and I don't.  Life is too short to choke down foods you just don't care for so learning to strike the balance is the best and most cost effective way to go.

#10.  Homemade Snacks.  I have a doughnut pan that I've used once.  Doughnuts are one of John's favorite snack items.  You'd think I'd use that pan more often, wouldn't you?  Well I'm going to!  Homemade cakes and cookies are tastier.  I've made it my habit to make two cake layers and freeze one, rather than make a big 9X13 size pan.  I will say this has been one of the areas where I'm about 75% happy with where I am.  I just need to make that push to 100%.

And let's go back to those potato skins...why not make them for a snack.  I recently purchased a jar of regular popcorn.  No more microwave bags.  It pops on stove top in the same amount of time, costs less and allows me to determine how much butter (or not) that I want on it.

Back in the summer, I re-introduced Koolaid to our household.  It's less costly than soda and just as refreshing on a hot day.  I've always made it with less than half the sugar called for on the packet.  Iced tea is refreshing, too and can be enhanced with ginger root, orange, lemon or peach slices, or with mint leaves.

I'm not saying we'll stop buying soda...nor are we likely to give up potato chips or pretzels, but we can certainly stretch those things out with homemade snack foods that fill, taste good and satisfy cravings as well or better than bought snack foods.

#11.  Reduce the sausage.  I like sausage meat and while we now eat exclusively turkey sausage, it's much, much more pricey than pork sausage ever was.  I spend about $.50 per patty for the best tasting turkey sausage we've found.  Yep, pricey.  I'm going to change my thinking.  I'm going to only have turkey sausage once a week and we'll eat a smaller portion (1 patty instead of 2).  It's one of those blind spots in my budget.  I just never stopped until this week to figure out the real cost of the stuff and now I have.

I have tried making my own sausage, but it's none of it been very satisfactory. I will continue to try recipes for homemade sausage. There are less expensive options but it's not very good.  I'd rather have the good stuff in lesser quantity until I find my homemade recipe that suits us perfectly.

#12.  Shop at Aldi.  Aldi has been the boon that my grocery budget most needed.  I can't tell you how awesome a place it is.  I bought a huge bag of grapes the other day for $2.49.  We'd just been to Publix minutes before and the grapes were $2.99 a pound.  I am sure there were three pounds in the bag I bought at Aldi.  I have reduced the number of stores I visit and consistently come in around $100 every two weeks at the store.  There are only a few items we can't buy there or that we don't like.  I've learned to follow their sales cycles and stock up on those items they deem seasonal (baking powder and corn syrup, for instance). We do perhaps 85% of our shopping there and I think it's the best move we've ever made.

#13.  Better Pantry Control.  I need to have a monthly inventory of my pantry items.  I've opted to do quarterly inventories up until now.  Every quarter I find a few items that are expired, and that's not a great thing, although most are canned items and I feel perfectly safe using them right away.  Now and then something is long expired and I end up tossing it.  This is easily remedied by doing inventory more frequently, making it a point to use those items that are due to expire and just being more consistent in tracking usage of items and not over purchasing those we are slower to use.

#14.  Have a 6-12 months pantry.  I've let our pantry get lower than I'd like.  I think there's a two months supply of food (including freezer contents) but it's not where I want to be.  I've said before that in my book, there's an emergency fund and there's an extension emergency fund: a full pantry.  It's like the difference between $200 and $2000 to cover an emergency.  2 months or 12 months?  Many and many a friend has weathered a storm of illness or unemployment and relied on their food stores to see them through and seldom was it a short period but a much longer one.  This of course means I need to be especially careful to follow #13.

I think I'll stop here this week.  I'll post part II, which mostly deals with the non-food portions of my grocery funds next.  In the meantime I hope I've given you 'food' for thought!