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Archive for August, 2012

One of Those Days

August 31st, 2012 at 06:07 am

You ever have one of those days where you don't feel like you accomplished anything, but you actually did a fair amount of stuff when you start thinking about it? Yeah, it was one of those days.

I spent the morning canning and now have an additional 10 pint jars of tomato sauce on my shelves (total of 17 canned, but we ate one already, so 16 on the shelves). I have the apples picked for making and canning a batch of applesauce tomorrow. My only cost will be for the sugar and cinnamon and that will be negligible. Apple sauce requires very little sugar and just a touch of cinnamon.

I picked a gallon of blueberries. I reorganized and inventoried one of the freezers. I read for an hour, took the kids to the library, picked up DD's new glasses, made three meals, and wrote for an hour. Why does a day like this feel like I did nothing at all? Clearly I wasn't as lazy as I feel I was.

Tomorrow I am setting up the September budget spreadsheet and finishing transferring everything from the checkbook into the August budget spreadsheet and will be updating the HSA spreadsheet with all of the medical payments made in the last two weeks. I'll also be balancing the checkbook.

I may or may not get another batch of tomato sauce going in the crockpots, too. We'll see how I feel after making apple sauce. I am thinking about buying some local Asian pears (easier to peel) to make pear sauce with, too, since DS is allergic to apples. I wish he wasn't allergic as I have all the free apples I can use.

At least pears are in season though, so buying them to process right now is inexpensive. Pear sauce can be used in any recipe that uses apple sauce to replace fat, too, with identical results. Apple sauce and pear sauce only take about 4 hours in the crockpot to make so I could do one in each crock and still be able to process both batches in one day. If I can find a really good deal on pears, I may can some wedges as well. DS really likes pears.

I need to go through the book lists WAVA has tomorrow. Right now I'm leaning towards My Side of the Mountain for one of the required 7nth grade reading books, but not sure about the other one yet. It's a long list. I am so mentally unprepared to homeschool DS this year. Fortunately they are running so far behind in the enrollment process, we likely won't be starting until mid-September. We'll make it up during one of the weeks off at Christmas and during the incessant days off that the public school system gives, but we tend to ignore.

I do wish things had turned out so that he would have been happy in public school this year, but with his concussion still not fully healed it's really not the right place for him. I still have to take back the viola he checked out over the summer and talk to his music teacher about if she knows of anyone who gives lessons, since most only teach violin. (I do have a viola he can use. He wasn't big enough last year, but has grown into it). If not, he'll take piano lessons instead.

Plastic Bag Ban--Inconvenience Means Buying Less Stuff

August 30th, 2012 at 01:15 am



Bit of a rant, sorry. On August 1st my city enacted a plastic bag ban, where you either need to bring your own bags to the stores or pay 5 cents for a paper bag. At first I thought it was just for the grocery stores. This pretty much did not concern me as I have been using reusable canvas or burlap bags for some time.

I also use reusable produce bags when I remember to grab them.



The stores still have plastic bags for produce, meat products, bulk bin items, and bakery or deli items, and they sell things like garbage bags and ziptop bags, so it's not a full on ban.

The thing that I did not realize at first was that it was for all stores in the city, including department and clothing stores. Now this I did find to be inconvenient when we were shopping for back to school clothes and school supplies. Most department stores have rules about bringing bags in. So do most mall stores. They are so worried about shop lifting they don't like you to bring any bags in. So if you have a cart that's not bad, but if you're hitting up a bunch of the regular stores and buying any amount of small things it starts to get difficult. And I don't like going back to my car after every purchase.

I do not like being forced into buying a bag, even if it's "only" 5 cents. You know my thoughts on "it's only" thinking. I don't like being nickled and dimed. It's the principle of the thing. I have a lot of mixed feelings here, because even though I don't much like plastic bags and will use totes when I can, I was always careful to reuse plastic bags when I got them. The big ones (which I rarely ever had, mostly at Christmas time) went in place of my kitchen trash bags and the small ones went as liners for garbage in the bathrooms or bedrooms. Now I have to buy them for the small cans and I'm frugal enough to resent buying new plastic as opposed to reusing plastic. At least this is making my actually recyle my toilet paper tubes and put the hair from the hairbrush in the compost bin. I am making every inch of my plastic bags count now.

It is a major hassle to come out of a store with a big pile of clothes and no bags. It is a major hassle to come out of a store with three pairs of shoes and no bag. It is a really, really major hassle to come out of a store with a year's supply of school supplies and no bags. I did put them in my reusable totes once I got them to the car, but I was frustrated with it. I mean, what happens when it is pouring down rain in another month and I need to make some purchases of things I don't want getting wet?

I think that I will end up buying less things in my city because of this. I am not an impulse shopper anyway, but I will rethink every purchase because of the inconvenience factor. This is a good thing as it will cut down on spending. I will likely do future larger shopping trips in the next county when we are down there for other reasons, which will mean thinking things through a bit more because I won't want to waste trips.

If this bag ban is making me buy more outside of my county, I wonder what it is doing to other shoppers. My county is highly retail oriented since shooting itself in the tax base and driving out the living wage industrial jobs about a decade back. It is a border county so it relies a lot on Canadians coming across and shopping here. But if I were doing that, I'd take the extra 30 minutes to go to the next county which also has a lot of retail. I think we're going to see a drop in the county's sales because of this. Even though intuitively it makes more sense to pay for the paper bags (at the stores that even have them, many do not) then to pay for the gas, the inconvenience factor and the "must pay for it" factor on the bags will cause a stubborn resistance.

I am trying to get over this stubborness, because I do know it is better for the environment. I just really don't like being told what to do. I came to my use of reusable totes at the grocery store on my own. I'd like the choice to do that otherwise. Or else the big stores need to get over their fears of shop lifting and let me bring my totes in. I guess my feelings on this are a...mixed bag. *snorts*

Very Cost Effective, Easy Egg Flower Soup

August 29th, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I don't have a lot of energy this week. Part of it is that I've been battling some kind of stomach bug off and on since coming back from vacation and part of it is putting food up for the winter. Today I made a very cost-effective lunch for my family that took me all of ten minutes, which is about what my brain could handle. Serves 4 (3 ladelfuls per bowl, DS had two bowls). You do need 3 hands for this or a way to prop the fork up later.



Egg Flower (or Drop) Soup

1 quart (4 cups) of chicken broth
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
5 eggs
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper (or black if you don't have white, it's just for aesthetics)
1 tsp corn starch (optional, for thickening, it didn't seem to make a difference to me so I will leave it out next time)

In a bowl take 1/4 cup of chicken broth. Mix in corn starch. Set aside.

Mix eggs well. You want them very runny. Set aside with the fork you used to mix them.

In a pot combine chicken broth, scallions, ground ginger, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute.

Have someone hold a fork over the pot or somehow prop it over the boiling broth. While stirring with one hand slowly pour the egg through the fork. Do not stop stirring while you pour. This creates the ribbon effect. Otherwise you will just end up with blobby eggs in the soup. Stir hard for one minute after you are done adding the egg, then add the broth/corn starch mixture and allow to boil for one more minute while stirring gently. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste (I added a bit more salt. This is by nature a blandish soup so salt is necessary.). Soup is done.

This soup probably cost me about 25 cents. That is because the green onions came from my garden, the eggs came from Mom's chickens (free), and the broth is stock that I made previously (and froze) from leftover chicken carcasses and vegetable peelings that I had saved in my freezer. But even if paying for it, it wouldn't have been too expensive and is a nice, high protein lunch.

One variation on this is to add peas and carrots. I didn't have any, but a cup or so would have been a good addition while adding about 50 cents to the cost of the soup. Just use the canned kind and boil for a couple minutes longer before adding the egg.

Pricing it out:

$0.39 for 1 bunch of green onions (farmstand price)
$0.85 for five eggs (based on a $2 dozen)
$1.99 for 1 quart of chicken broth
$0.15 for salt, pepper, ginger, corn starch (which is likely on hand anyway)
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$3.38 for four servings or 84 and 1/2 cents per serving.

Of course if you make your own practically free broth from leftover chicken carcasses and vegetable scraps and peelings you save from other meals, you will bring this down to $1.39 or almost .35 per serving. Not bad and surprisingly filling (from the egg).

Bits and Pieces

August 29th, 2012 at 08:07 pm

I sent for another $5 gift card to Amazon from Swagbucks today, so that should show up in a week. I have gotten $25 worth of free gift cards this month. This is the first month I've managed to do that in. Not bad for 10 minutes worth of effort in a day (if that).

I've qualified for a couple of the good surveys at ACOP this month. Will probably have a decent cash out next month.

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I have two crockpots full of tomato puree cooking down into sauce. I have decided I don't care that it takes longer, it's hands off and that makes it easier for me. The whole house smells like tomato sauce.

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I just found out that my mother invited two of my nephews up to stay next week. Starting on the first day of school. There has been the whole long summer to do this and she invites them up the first week of school? And the first week of homeschool for DS? Sometimes I don't think she thinks things through. My nephews are supposed to be homeschooled, but my sister is...lazy about it. Oh, they do get educated, but not on any kind of a schedule. This is just going to make things ten times harder for us. Oh, well, it's not like I can do anything about it. This is part and parcel of living in someone else's home.

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I hope our house sells fast and we come out of it with a good down payment. I really want to not be subject to Mom's whims. I feel like the dang thing is never going to get on the market, though. They were supposed to paint the outside of the house last weekend and the inside this. For whatever reason it didn't happen and now they are planning to paint it this weekend. The weather is supposed to be good for it, but I'm not sure about how much longer.

And for some reason or other they seem to want to paint the outside first. Even if it rains. This is not a good plan in my mind. *sighs* Since they are fitting us in around other people there is not much I can do about that either.

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We have close to $800 worth of eyeglasses to pay off in the next 3 months (same as cash, fortunately). If it isn't one thing it's another. Our vision insurance only covers glasses every 2 years instead of the industry standard of every year for lenses and every 18 months for frames. They do cover one eye doctor visit per year though.

Unfortunately both kids' prescriptions have changed so much that there was no way of putting it off for another year. Fortunately DH and I are not having any problems with ours and can wait another year. Personally I think insurance companies should take into account changes in the prescription and if there is a valid change, then pay for it or some of it, regardless of how long it has been. Just wanting different frames sooner is not valid, but the eyes changing enough to make a major difference is medical and should be covered no matter what.

Next payday I will finally finish paying the dentist for DH's crowns. Yesterday I made another $500 payment to DS's doctor. That leaves us owing them two more payments, or a total of $1000 left. Ugh. But no interest. I think I'm putting half of next year's tax return straight into the HSA next March.

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I borrowed $300 from the freezer fund which will be replaced over the course of next month (I hope). I needed to buy school clothes and supplies before school actually started and with all the extra medical I've had to pay from DS's head injury this summer, I couldn't budget enough for it. It was either that or take it out of the emergency fund, which I couldn't justify. That is okay, though.

Fortunately DS didn't need much because he's homeschooling, but he did need fall appropriate clothing as he has grown way, way too much since last fall to fit into anything he had. And DD had to have non-marking sole shoes for PE separate from her regular shoes. She has PE all year though and at least her feet have stopped growing. She should be fine except for snow boots (which can wait a few months) and she can always use mine if she has to. DS will need them if we have a bad winter, though. And DH said something about needing new work boots soon. It never ends.

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We got 3 duck eggs today. We were pretty sure we had 2 males and 2 females, but now it's looking like 3 females, with Patches being the one male. Because ducks don't lay more than one egg a day.

The Weather Has Turned

August 29th, 2012 at 04:02 am

One of the ducks laid a doozy of an egg today. In the photo here it shows 3 duck eggs of normal size and the extra large one.



The small duck eggs are still bigger than large chicken eggs. I should have put one in the bowl for comparison, but didn't. You can see the mottling on the shell. It really makes them look more dirty than anything, but this is with them clean. We are getting 2 duck eggs about every other day and 6 to 8 chicken eggs every day.

Although it has been pleasant during the day, our temps are around to 67 to 70 degrees during the day with a breeze, and about 61 to 63 at night. I'm not so sure what my tomatoes are going to do with that kind of weather. I found 3 volunteer tomato plants in a place where I'm not sure tomato plants have ever been planted, but when you have escape chickens and cheeky squirrels running about the place, things grow where nature plants them sometimes. Two of them have green tomatoes on them and they are not the same variety.

A stupid slug ate my bell pepper that was almost fully red. I hope it got major heartburn. I mean, seriously, a slug in August? No fair. I am finally getting flowers on some of the slicing cucumber plants. Still no sign of actual broccoli heads on the broccoli plants though they are full and lush plants. At least it is a cold weather crop so going into cooler weather is not a bad thing for it. I think they may have been some of the longer maturing varities. I didn't pay attention when I planted them and obviously I should have.

The green beans from the first planting that I had thought were done, surprised me by producing a bit more and there are some flowers on it still. I left the plants in because they are good at fixing nitrogen in the soil and got a surprise second harvest.

Today I noticed some blackberries ripening. The blackberries seemed to have been done two weeks ago or so, but maybe there are two varieties in there. The birds planted them so we don't know. It's only on one end, so there won't be much, but a few for fresh eating. And the raspberries are putting out again. I didn't realize it, but Mom says they produce twice. A big crop in July and then a smaller crop of much bigger berries, but not so plentiful, in late August/September. Huh. I knew they had strawberries that produced two crops in the summer (even if they call them everbearing, it's more like two crops, really), but not raspberries. I doubt I will pick them, though. The kids will for fresh eating.

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I made a very large chicken today for lunch. 5.65 pounds. After we ate some I pulled all the remaining meat off the bones and threw the carcass in the freezer with another one from before for future stock. We will get several lunches off this bird this week. I ran across this blog post today of how to get 22 meals (well, servings) off one organic chicken spending a total of $49 (which includes the cost of the chicken). An interesting read and gave me some new thoughts. I'm good at stretching a chicken, but this certainly gave me some ideas. It's here if anyone is interested: http://www.squawkfox.com/2011/01/31/1-chicken-22-meals-49-bu....

Meal Planning for the Week

August 27th, 2012 at 10:15 am

We haven't made it down to the farm yet this month and it's probably going to be a couple more weeks before I do make it there. I am trying to use up every bit of what we do have in the freezer as well as use up some other things, like bags of rice that are cooked but frozen and some veggies I overbought. Also trying to keep up with the food coming from the garden, so the menues will reflect that this week. I need to bake bread tomorrow. DH goes back to Alaska tomorrow.

Monday--
Spaghetti with homemade sauce (I have a bunch of tomatoes, an onion an some garlic to use up, not to mention fresh basil)
Homemade garlic bread
Meatballs (half beef, half pork)
Melon
Birthday cake

Tuesday--
Beef and broccoli stir-fry (will be throwing in fresh green beans and yellow zucchini as well as the broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery that need using up in the fridge)
Brown rice
Melon

Wednesday--
Lamb de Provence (sounds fancy doesn't it? It's ground lamb patties mixed with herbes de provence)
Fresh green beans (boiled with a slice of bacon)
Fresh bread with homemade jelly
Peanut butter cookies made with duck eggs

Thursday--
Fried chicken
Fried potatoes
Cole slaw
Berries

Friday--
Homemade pizza with Canadian bacon, pepperoni, red bell pepper, onion
Cole slaw

Saturday--
Bacon cheeseburgers on homemade buns
Homemade French Fries
Cole slaw

Sunday--
Beef pot roast (last one in the freezer)
Corn on the cob
Salad
Drop biscuits with homemade jam

Alternate dinner in case of laziness--Tacos.

Lunches will come off the roast chicken I made today and a meatloaf I will make when it runs out (we have a lot of eggs to use up this week!) and veggies from the garden.

Breakfasts will be eggs of some sort (probably omelettes with Canadian bacon, green onions, bell pepper, and cheese) and then kohlrabi or cucumber on the side. DS will likely have pancakes as well (he makes his own now).

Found a Possible House Today

August 26th, 2012 at 09:39 pm

I mean, we're not ready to buy and we're not going to buy right now, but that doesn't stop us from looking and this one would fit our needs in more ways than I expected.

First off it's nearly 3000 square feet with a separate living area MIL apartment set up. And it's on .62 acres, and partially fenced. So it would be perfect for raising and butchering rabbits or chickens in the city without freaking out the neighbors and still have space for a large garden and maybe a hoophouse. It has a creek bordering the property, but nowhere near the house, so no fear of flooding, and we could fish in season.

It has the right number of bathrooms. It has a small wood lot for the fire. It has the right number of bedrooms. It has a huge kitchen. It has space enough to not feel closed in and a place for me to write. It has a good garage. It is in the right school districts. It has a hot tub! (Not a necessity, but nice). And best yet is the asking price of $225,000.

So what's wrong with it? It's ugly. I mean...UGLY. It was built in 1951 and looks every inch of it. Heavy dark wood panelling in a couple of rooms. Heavy brickwork in a couple of places. And an aluminum roof. Yet the potential is huge. Most of it is cosmetic. There is almost always sheetrock under panelling. And bricks can be painted. And we could have a little farm in the city. It's a big enough lot we could raise miniture goats for milk if we wanted to (we don't, but we could!).

It is ugly enough that it may set there for a good long while. Maybe even until we are ready. But even if not, this house shows it is possible to find what we are looking for. I want to drive by it in person just to see if it is really as ugly as it looks. They don't show a full outside shot in the photos.

A Little Walk Around the Place

August 26th, 2012 at 01:59 am

I went out to harvest a few things and check up on a few others, and ended up walking an entire loop around the property.

The tomatoes are starting to come a little faster and the green beans remain steady.



Believe it or not, we still have blueberries, but they are finally winding down. Did you know chickens can jump vertically? There is nothing funnier than a chicken trying to reach blueberries three feet up in the air. I think we have another week and they'll be gone, so I better hustle and get the last of them picked.



Two types of apples are ready to be picked. I think I will make a big batch of apple sauce this week and can it. I have also read about canning sliced apples so I might attempt to do that as well.

The Italian prunes are turning purple. I think maybe another week and they will start to be ripe. The tree is so loaded with fruit. After last year with barely a fruit to be seen this will be a very nice harvest. I will dry some and can some, but most will be consumed fresh and in large quantities.



Patches loves the little pond. I swear ducks are the filthiest things though. We spray that pond out every morning and fill it with fresh water. It doesn't stay clean long!



He loves you to spray the pond with water. You can see the water literally rolling off the duck's back here. I can totally see where that expression comes from.



The two female ducks and the other male duck do not like to be sprayed, but they love to grub in the mud. We keep the whole section muddy for them. The chickens enjoy grubbing in the mud as well. I am not sure how Ecru manages to stay so white when she is constantly in the mud scratching.



Silver and Patricia love playing in the mud, too.



Queen is feeling better today but she is not up for the mud and was hiding out in the coop. I gave her a few blueberries.

My bell peppers are starting to turn color.



And I think we have the fattest squirrels around. They know there is plenty of fruit and chicken feed to eat. Between that and the neighbor's hazelnuts, they will be well set this fall.

We Almost Lost Queen

August 25th, 2012 at 08:46 am

One of the things about raising livestock is that despite your best efforts, you can get pretty attached. You wouldn't think you'd come to adore a chicken as much as a cat or dog, but it happens. I may not be particularly fond of some of the girls, but I like them all. Queen just happens to be my favorite chicken.



She is sweet and affectionate and curious and interested in everything you do. She gets into places where you don't want her to be and she was the first one to ever hop the fence. She likes to hide her eggs and gets quite annoyed at you when you find her secret stashes. She rules the roost and is a regular busy body and she has not been herself at all the last few days.

She had been lethargic and laying down more and more and we were really afraid she might go the way of Navi, who died eggbound. Well, after a nice warm bath and the massaging of an area you don't particularly want to massage on a chicken, she seems to be doing much better. She was alert and she very eagerly ate the canteloupe rind and seeds (her favorite) that were offered to her. She'll get two warm baths a day for the next couple of days just to be on the safe side.

Hopefully she will still be chipper come morning. She's one of the original flock, one of two survivors of every racoon massacre we've had. I think it would hit DS pretty hard if she went. Probably even DD (a duck girl) who usually only tolerates most of the chickens who barely tolerate her in return, but likes Queen, would be sad for a few days.

I've rolled off most of the chicken deaths in the past. Oh, they made me feel sick inside, but I wasn't particularly fond of any of them at the time. Queen's been around for a couple of years now though and we've bonded. I've tried hard not to get close to an animal since my cat died when I was 26. Somehow that silly chicken has managed to work her way into my heart though.

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In other livestock news, I can now get within six feet of all the ducks without them having a major freakout. I'd like to be able to walk among them, but I don't know if it'll ever happen. We didn't handle this batch as much as babies and it shows.

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DH and I are considering getting meat birds if we get a large enough lot when we move. Considering how much organic chickens cost these days, the good ones anyway, it would be quite a cost savings. We won't have layers, we'd leave that to Mom. We'd just do broilers. We'd do a chicken tractor and probably just do one ten week raising per summer of 50 birds (or 75 if Mom wanted some), so we wouldn't be tied down year round and still be able to go on vacations. DH thinks he'd be able to do the butchering. I'd be fine once they were dead, but I don't think I have it in me to do the deed, as close as I've gotten with layers.

Either that or meat rabbits. I'm going to get a butchered rabbit from a nearby farm so we can try the meat and see if we like it. Butchering rabbits is faster and easier than chickens and if the meat were similar enough, it might win out over chicken. And we could take the doe and buck over to a temporary hutch at the in-laws to be cared for if we went on vacation. We would plan it so there would be no kits or pregnancy at that time.

I am still a little hesitant, because, well, it's killing your own animals for food. At the same time, it's raising them in a way that you know is humane, feeding them organically, and giving them the best possible life before reaching the table. And you can investigate any farm as much as you want, but when you do it yourself, you KNOW how they lived. It might be a tough transition. But I know I can't raise a steer or a pig. I would totally get attached in the amount of time it takes to grow one to butchering size. With broilers or rabbits it'd not take that long and the chances of getting attached would be much smaller.

And then there are the kids. They would know from the start that only the doe and the buck would be long term animals. But you just don't know if they'd try to attach themselves to the kits. So...I don't know.

It's so much easier to get my meat in neat little packages from a farm that does all the dirty work for me. But...but, but, but, but. Should it be easy? Should that disconnect be allowed? We do want to be self-sufficient as much as we can. It'll be a hard step to take, but I think once we do, we will be okay with it. And we will respect and honor our meat animals for their gift to us. Or I'll do it once and run screaming from it and have to live with making other choices.

On Kids' Allowances

August 24th, 2012 at 08:18 pm

Ceejay74 posted a link to an article on kids' allowances today found here: http://shine.yahoo.com/work-money/survey-kids-65-month-allow... and after reading it, I have to say, it annoyed me that it drew some of the conclusions it did. It was assuming that children get their allowances on top of their parents buying everything else for them as well. Umm...in what universe? "Some experts say." What experts? They don't even say who says it. Hand-wavy journalism, I see you.

In the real world, the one I live in, parents don't buy their children everything else they want because parents live on a budget. In fact most parents won't even let children by everything they want with their own money. As in my family, children are expected to save up their money to get what they want and what they want still must be on the parental approval list.

They are assuming children do chores for about one hour a week to earn their allowances, though "some" parents require up to six.

I laughed at this. One hour of chores for $15 a week? No, I don't think so. Now, my daughter does earn $15 a week in allowance, a recent raise from $12, but she is 16. My son, who is 12, earns $10 a week. For their money they:

Take out the garbage (including to and from the curb on garbage day) (DD)
Take out the compost (DS)
Take out the recycling (including to and from the curb on recycling days)
Set the table (Both)
Clear the table (and wash it) (Both)
Load and unload the dishwasher (Both)
Scrub pots and pans (DD)
Clean off the surface of the stove when it gets messy (DD)
Clean out the refrigerator and scrub it or at least help (DD)
Clean the tub and shower stall (DS)
Clean the toilet (DS)
Clean the sink (DD)
Water the garden (DS)
Help with weeding (Both)
Sweep and vacuum floors (DD)
Keep rooms neat (Both)
Fold towels (DD)
Help with washing and drying clothes (Both)
Help harvest food from the garden (Both)
Help with canning (both)
Cooking meals at least once a week (DD)
Helping with meals a few times a week (Both)
Help with making bread or rolls (DS)
Makes all cakes, cookies, or other goodies (DD)
Cleans out the inside of the van (Both, their portions)
Helps with washing the van (Both)

In addition they both do chores for their grandmother (DS does yard work, mostly mowing and DD does housework) for an additional $5 a week. And DS collects aluminum cans from neighbors and in the park to earn additional money.

I seldom buy my children things other than nice clothing and a book or two. We do buy them events or experiences, like a trip to the zoo or the King Tut exhibit. On vacation they get a souvenir or two, but it's usually a t-shirt or sweatshirt or something practical like a book mark or necklace.

But for stuff? They've saved up for almost every big purchase they've wanted. If it's near their birthdays or Christmas I might go in halfsies with them as long as it doesn't go over their allotted amount.

I don't give my children music CD's or let them download whatever they want on my dime. They can pay for those themsevles and I have approval of artist. I might download a book if the whole family will read it. I don't pay for them to go to the movies unless it is a family thing. We go to the movies maybe once a year. We went to The Hunger Games together. It was a family outing. They don't go to see movies with their friends, but that has to do with approving content. If I approved content and they wanted to go then they'd certainly use their own allowances to pay for it.

Is it really that common for parents to buy them all this stuff above and beyond allowances? It wasn't when I was growing up and we were firmly in the working middle class. And I don't know any parents that do it now. Most of the parents I know can't even afford to give their kids allowances at all despite being firmly in the working middle class. They must not be getting their info from the middle or lower classes.

I don't think I'd have a different opinion if we weren't working so hard to get out of medical debt and had a ton of disposable income. I just don't see the point in giving children everything they want. I don't get everything I want even when we do have the money for it. I do see the point in having them earn it and save up for it. Maybe this is because I worked all through my childhood, every summer picking berries, and then when I was old enough, baby-sitting, and then regular jobs.

I do agree with the article that parents should talk to their kids about saving and about money. Do people really not do this in this day and age? I mean, I hear my kids' friends saying things like, we'll have to go to the park because we can't afford bowling or the movies. Or things like "My mom is broke this week because we bought school clothes, let's just go up to the lake." So it's clear they understand there is no money at the moment. And I hear them talking about saving up for stuff, too. I don't know.

Sometimes I think it's me with the disconnect, but most of the time I think it is the writer's of these articles using outdated information from when the economy was booming. But even then, I still didn't give my kids what they wanted. In fact back then they didn't even get allowances at all.

The Great Tomato Sauce Experiment

August 24th, 2012 at 04:06 am

So, a couple of days ago I blended up a bunch of tomatoes in the blender and dumped them into two crockpots to cook down into sauce. I've made tomato sauce before the traditional way several years back with Mom helping me to can it, but I wanted to try this new method that didn't involve blanching and peeling and chopping and cooking them down on a hot stove for several hours, hoping it would save time and make things easier.



Well...it does save time, but it took 24 hours for the sauce to cook down enough in the crockpots, so while it saves hands on time, I think it would be less irritating and more productive to just cook it down on the stove. Maybe. And the texture was a little weird so I went ahead and cooked it down into paste, which took another 12 hours.

I ended up with 7 pints of paste.



Most paste comes in six ounce cans and you can get 12 cans of organic tomato paste in a pack for $7 at our local Costco. That equals out to a little over 18 and a half six ounce portions for $10.65. It works out to about .57 per serving. The Costco cans work out to .58 a serving. So it's kind of a wash, especially considering I had to add 1 tbsp of lemon juice to each pint to make sure it was acidic enough to water bath can, but I am buying the tomatoes locally which makes me happier with the end result. Plus the flavor can't be beat. If I end up having enough in my own garden to can later on then of course it will be much cheaper.

I am going to try again by running tomatoes through a food mill, letting them sit overnight in the fridge, sucking the pale fluid that rises to the top off with a turkey baster in the morning, and then cooking them down in the crockpot and see if that changes the consistency a little. If not I will make more tomato paste and then try again with the stove-top method which I know works. But before I do that I am going to can diced tomatoes. I will blanch and peel those, though. I am going to get some yellow and orange ones for fun.

Also I can can the pale juice that is sucked off with the baster and use it as soup base later on or to boil pasta in. I will probably only end up with a pint of it or so per batch, but that is okay and I won't be wasting it. Normally that's the part that gets boiled away.

So, it's a work in progress, but I am learning as I go and as long as I end up with usable food in the end, I am happy with whatever results I get.

On Possibly Landlording

August 22nd, 2012 at 08:49 pm

DH called the insurance agent and he said landlord's insurance would cost $953 a year on our place. I was figuring about $100 a month and this is more like $80 a month. That would mean the amount to keep the house as a rental would be $142 a month and not $162 a month. Or $147 if we had to pay it monthly instead of in one lump.

He has also talked to his uncle who is both a realtor and a landlord of several places and he is going to get back to DH on what rentals should be going for in that area (he has an associate who has rentals in the area) and whether or not $1000 a month would be close to that.

We went out to see the place on Monday night and it sure looks different. They still haven't repaired or painted the house though. What has been done is to tear down the shed and take down the fences and get most of the landscaping under control. They have taken off the bad guttering and drain pipes and the roof of the porch. They are pressure-washing today with the hope of painting the outside of the house on Saturday and Sunday. And then the following weekend painting the inside of the house. Things can be very subject to change since they are working on it mostly on weekends with a few evenings, fitting it around their day jobs.

Today DH and FIL are emptying out what is left in the good shed, or at least they are supposed to be doing that. DH made a comment about only making one run today and I am not sure one run will empty it out. Since most of what is in there is big, bulky, but lightweight, it will likely take two runs. I wanted it to be done today, but who knows now if that will actually happen. Hopefully they can just fit it all on. They won't be bringing in the lawn mower or weed eater since those will need to stay. And if we do end up renting we will probably leave those there anyway, for the tennant who would be coming from an apartment to use and does not have any.

I am not going to make up my mind on what we are going to do with trying to sell or just renting until after all the repairs are made and the painting is done and the carpets are cleaned. At that point DH and I will make the decision. Possible renter is expecting us to try to sell it first, but if it doesn't sell wants to move in. And that's with seeing it how it is right now.

It would be nice to have the extra income renting would give us, but it would mean not having a down payment from selling it when we go to buy our next house. Yes, we can save it up, but I'd probably just work on paying off the mortgage first because I don't want to have that debt there when we go to apply for a new mortgage on a new house. Mortgage is currently at $16,432.02, so if we plowed all of the rental income into paying off the mortgage along with our regular payment it would be gone in about a year and a half or so. But we'd still be starting from scratch. *sighs* Well, I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. No use thinking on any decisions until the house is done.

First Batch of Tomato Sauce Underway

August 22nd, 2012 at 04:07 am

I've started my first batch of homemade tomato sauce going. DH and I cored and cut up 10 pounds of paste tomatoes tonight. They got pulverized in the blender and then poured into two crockpots (an eight quart and a six quart). I will be cooking them on low all night. They should be reduced by half in the morning which should give us about 5 quarts of tomato sauce. We didn't fill them up to the top as I didn't have enough tomatoes. Next time I will get 15 pounds as that should give us 7 quarts and 7 quarts is a canner load.

Right now the puree is bright pink even though the tomatoes were bright red. It will cook down to red though. I remember that from the past.

We went to the farm stand that carries only Washington state produce and quite a bit of it is local from Everson and organic. The tomatoes were from Eastern Washington. It is too soon to get large amounts of local tomatoes but in a couple weeks I can. Meanwhile I am happy to support any of my state's farmers.

I really liked the farm stand. The guy working it was offering samples of the fruit. He gave DH and DS big chunks of watermelon to try and offered peaches and nectarines as well. DD and I didn't try anything as we are both on an eating plan that only allows high carbs once a day. But I did buy some nectarines and had one with my dinner and it was excellent. And the boys thought the watermelon was amazing.

I will go back and buy more tomatoes tomorrow. They had some orange ones and some yellow ones as well and I think it might be fun to make some sauce in those colors or at the very least some diced tomatoes.

The paste tomatoes were well-priced so I think this is where I will get most of my sauce tomatoes, except what I am growing. It's still not quite as cheap as if I was buying the S&W organic canned sauce or diced tomatoes but until there is no BPA in their cans, this is the better way to go. I still consider it economical, though. Plus nothing beats fresh, home canned. And it is cheaper than the Muir Glen ones so it's worth it.

I'll post photos tomorrow of the finished product.

The Garden Exploded

August 21st, 2012 at 08:48 pm

Last week when we had temps in the high 80's and low 90's the garden put on a huge amount of growth. Today that growth culminated in a pretty decent harvest.



I picked my first yellow zucchini, my first cucumber, 4 tomatoes, my first bunch of bunching onions (not shown), a quart of blueberries (not shown) and enough green beans from my second sowing for two people to eat.

The tomatoes will go in my spaghetti sauce tomorrow, and I'll save the green beans for later in the week because there will be more to pick in two days and then there will be enough for everyone at one meal. The zucchini I will eat with my lunch tomorrow and the cucumber I ate for breakfast with eggs from our chickens. Delicious. Even though it is a pickling cucumber it still tasted great eaten raw. And really, how do you pickle one cucumber?

The ducks have started laying eggs! I don't have a picture of those yet, but they look like longer chicken eggs that are kind of grey and mottled. They are really good, too.

I love the fact that today's breakfast was completely homegrown. You can't get more local than a zero mile foodshed! Not that that is practical for most days, at least not yet, but it was still very satisfactory.

DH and I are going to check out the new farm stand that proclaims to have both local and organic produce today. I am hoping for organic, local tomatoes, as I will not have enough to put up for my needs for the year. I'd like to start with about 25 pounds of tomatoes to make into sauce and go from there. I have a feeling I will have to do that a few times, but I don't want to overwhelm myself by doing it all in one go.

I am definitely going to triple my tomato plants next year. I really want to be able to grow them all on my own eventually since it is really hard to find tomatoes that are not canned with BPA in the liner. Since DS reacts badly to BPA it's not worth going through another year eating something we know will hurt him. We use tomato sauce at least once a week so it's one of the first things that is getting my focus.

It might cost a little more to buy and can them myself, but it gives me a bit more peace of mind. If I didn't need them to be organic I could do it for cheaper. I still might, just depends on what I find.

Meal Planning for the Week

August 20th, 2012 at 06:33 am

Here's my menu plan for the week. We didn't have pot roast today because I forgot to thaw it out and put it in, hence it will be on tomorrow's menu.

Monday--
Beef pot roast
Corn on the cob
Coleslaw
Cantaloupe

Tuesday--
Bacon cheeseburgers
Homemade fries
Leftover coleslaw
Berries

Wednesday--
Spaghetti
Meatballs
Garlic toast
Salad

Thursday--
Toasted ham and cheese sandwiches
Homemade fries
Leftover coleslaw
Berries

Friday--
Homemade Pizza
Salad
Berries

Saturday--
Tacos
Nectarines

Sunday--
Roast chicken
Baked potatoes
Green beans
Nectarines

Zoo Trip Photos

August 19th, 2012 at 01:35 am

The actual day of our zoo trip was a balmy 92 degrees F. We slathered on enough sunscreen to keep Banana Boat in business. DD is one of those porcelain complected, hazel-eyed blondes who would not look at all out of place in Iceland and I have enough redhead in me that I will burn pretty easily without the stuff.

Our first stop was the polar bears. I was feeling pretty sorry for them, considering this sort of heat is not in their native habitat, but then again, they did have a nice, cold pond to swim in.



They have three males at the Point Definace Zoo and no females. They seem to get along pretty well, but they did keep to different areas of the enclosure. The biggest one was 9 feet tall when it reared up. You don't really realize the size of these animals when they are just laying on a rock.



Or how big they are until they lick the window in front of you because that's where the meat they were being fed bounced off!



The muskox was hanging out in the shade trying to get away from the heat. With that fur coat, I think she had the right idea.



I was definitely jealous of the seals and their cool waters.



And the penguins! Heavily shaded and they had plenty of water to swim in.



The elephant was giving herself a bath in lots of nice, cold water.



The anoa decided that being inside was the best way to escape from the heat.



As did these two:



The leopard seemed quite happy though to bask in the sunshine.



And the budgies also seemed to love the heat. The kids got seed sticks to feed them for $1 each. The birds land right on the stick or on you and eat the seeds.



The landscaping was also lovely. I'd love to have this flower in my garden.



And I actually do have these ones, just not blooming right now.



I haven't uploaded the aquarium photos yet, but here's my son being eaten by a shark that also, apparently swallowed a hardwood wall.



It was a great zoo all in all, though I think the Greater Vancouver Zoo in B.C., Canada remains my favorite.

Back from Vacation

August 18th, 2012 at 05:40 am

We are back from our short vacation to Tacoma. It was incredibly hot while we were there, in the low 90's each day. It was close to that here at home, but we really took a doozy of a time to go.

Still it was very nice to get away from home for a bit and to relax in a pool each night. The zoo was very nice, much better than Woodland Park Zoo. I have some lovely pictures some of which I will post when I am not so exhausted, but here is one.



I didn't actually ride one of the camels as my knee was acting up fiercely by the time we got to the camels (about 2 hours in)and I didn't think I could climb up the stairs to get on, but the kids and DH both did.

We stayed on budget for vacation which was something I was a little worried about. I took an extra $100 just in case, but I came back home with it.

There was a really great diner across from our hotel. We have lucked out quite a bit in finding excellent diners when we've been on vacation. We tend to shy away from the big chain restaurants most of the time if we can help it. This place, Elmer's, reminded me of the place in Port Angeles called Joshua's that we ate at several times on our summer trip last year. Elmer's is a very small chain, local to the PNW, but feels very homey and the food was incredibly good and locally sourced.

The kids got their school wardrobes (well, I guess for DS it was just getting clothes because he's outgrown everything since he's homeschooling this year) taken care of as well. Although DD still needs a pair of gym shoes for PE and a pair of everyday tennis shoes. And both kids need socks. DS's jeans will need to be altered as they are far too long, but we found ones that fit him well otherwise, which we couldn't even come close to doing last year. He's grown a lot in the last year.

I really hate the years between boyhood and teenage boyhood for finding clothes. If you are not a super skinny tall beanpole there is nothing for you in trousers between the XL 20 boys and the size 32 mens waist with a 29 inch inseam. That's 5 missing sizes. DS lived in sweat pants last year, but he hated it. There are tons of tween clothes for girls and you can at least make do with skirts for a few years if you have to. The choices for boys are extremely limited. A business taking advantage of that clothing gap would clean up. I am not the only mother of a boy I've heard complaining of this.

Still, with homeschooling he can get through the fall, winter, and spring on two good pairs of jeans and the hated sweat pants. He wears shorts in the house all the time anyway.

Pump up the Jam

August 15th, 2012 at 03:23 am

...or you know, I did more jam canning. I did one batch of apricots (the last!) and 1 batch of blackberry. I ended up with 3.5 pints of apricot (gave Mom the half pint) and 10 half pints of blackberry, 1 full pint of blackberry (which I gave to Mom) and then had about half of a half-pint that went straight into the fridge.

I am done with jam for the year. My stash does not quite take up the whole shelf, but it's plenty for our needs and with enough to give some away at Christmas. I will also be giving the chiropractor a jar of the blackberry next time I go in for letting us pick there.

New stash pic:



Hmm...I think I need to clean that one shelf wall.

I have strawberry, apricot, grape, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry jams and jellies. Plus mustard. I'd say that's a pretty good condiment stash.

As for the mustard, when I finish off this batch I am going to add cayenne pepper to the recipe. It is good as is, but I want a little more kick. Not too much though, so I will probably only add 1/8 tsp. I left it out thinking it would be fine. And it is. But I want it a little better than fine. Then if it's still not quite kicky enough, I'll add 1/4 tsp to the batch after that. Also, I think it needs a bit more in the way of liquid. It's a little thick so doesn't spread as well. Probably I'll just up the water and the vinegar by a few TBSP each.

Today the garden produced one very bright red paste tomato and a kohlrabi that were both ready for picking. When we get back from Tacoma on Friday I think we will have a few more ripe tomatoes. And if I don't feel dead on Saturday I will go to the Farmer's Market and see where the local organic tomato crop is at, because I just won't have enough for my sauce needs with what I grew myself.

I want to have 52 quarts of tomato sauce and 24 pints of diced tomatoes. I know 25 pounds of tomatoes equals a pint of diced. I'm not sure how much I will need for the sauce, though. Fortunately I won't have to buy it all at once and I can see how much whatever I do buy makes. I'm estimating I will probably need 75 pounds of tomatoes for 52 quarts of sauce and I will probably only be able to provide 25 pounds from my own garden. Next year I will plant a lot more plants.

I will also need a bunch of lemon juice, 2 tbsp per quart and one per pint so I can raise the acidity enough to water bath can it. One day I will have a lean-to green house attached to my home and it will grow a lemon tree. Hopefully.

I spent $45.21 at the grocery store today. It was a totally unnecessary expense, too. *sighs* My resistance was down and I did not want to cook. Not the best time to go into a store. With kids.

Reckoning

August 14th, 2012 at 01:46 am

I've been a little bit down on what I see as our lack of progress this year on getting the debt gone. I did a reckoning at the beginning of the year of what we'd paid off last year, so I thought I'd sit down and add up the numbers and see what we've really paid off this year so far. This doesn't include the car loan because I don't have the beginning numbers for the year and can't go look it up because it's no longer owned by the same bank it was at the beginning of the year.

Anyway:

$20228.79 Credit Card Balance at start of year
-14135.56 Balance Now
------------
$_6093.23 Amount Paid Off for Good

$18544.28 Mortgage Owed at start of year
-16432.02 Balance Now
--------------
$__2112.26 Amount Paid Off for Good

$87,000 0% Loan from Mom at start of year
-81,000 Balance Now
---------------
$__6000 Amount Paid off for Good

So I have actually paid off $14,205.49 so far this year not including the car loan (which I think is around $3000 to $3500 paid off this year). I guess we are making better progress than I thought. Still doesn't stop me from wanting it gone yesterday, but makes me feel a little less like we've accomplished nothing this year. And there are still 4.5 months to go.

Lots of Eggs and Blackberries

August 14th, 2012 at 12:43 am

For the last week or so we have been getting about 5 eggs a day, but today we had 8! We had to give away our first dozen in a long time. It's fun to have a rainbow of colors like this:



We spent about a half an hour picking blackberries outside our chiropractor's office. They don't spray. We got 1 gallon (me) and a half gallon (the 2 kids together).



Although I think it should have been more. They were whining about the tiniest scratches with no bleeding. Well, mostly it was DD. That's part and parcel with picking blackberries and they were sticking to the outsides while I was going in more where the real thorns were and drawing blood. They should have got as least as much as I did with two of them picking. DD is just not an outdoor worker. Maybe I'll just have DS help me next time and DD can stay home and clean the house. She's much more an indoor worker.

I am going to make jam from this, plus the one pint we got from the last of our own berries. Hopefully tomorrow morning, but maybe not until we get back from Tacoma. It's in the freezer. If I decide to make it in the morning it can be easily thawed out in the microwave.

I will probably go and pick some more next week when DH is home and the red ones will have turned black. He and I can get a lot more done in the same amount of time. I'd like to do a third batch of blackberry jam and also have some frozen for smoothies.

Right now in the store for non-sprayed blackberries it costs $13 for 4 pints. I much prefer my 13 pints for free (plus a little blood and sweat) price!

If I feel up to it tonight I will pick some more blueberries from the back yard, too. I think they are starting to wind down now and I'd like to not lose what is left from laziness!

On the non-harvest side of things I mended the pocket on my favorite pair of shorts. It was ripping away from the side seam and making a hole, so I hand sewed it closed. I used a blanket stitch to prevent unravelling. It's tighter than a running stitch, which would likely just come undone soon.



I also picked up two prescriptions and spent $27.68 for them. There was no other spending today.

I received my two $5 gift cards from swagbucks today and dumped them in my Amazon account, only to find the last two were missing. Turns out when DS ordered his Kindle book he clicked the wrong thing and it used the gift cards instead of taking the money out of my checking account. (He paid me for the book). So my balance is only $10, not the $20 I was expecting it to be. I told DS that I had to do all Kindle book stuff from now on. Not that it will be much anyway, most of what we get for the Kindle will be free.

I am less than 100 points away from getting another Amazon card. I've been doing a lot of searching this week looking for homesteading blogs and using their search bar to do it and I've been getting some big point amounts for it. I've also had the SBTV going while I read blogs, which I've done a lot of this week. It adds up. I might actually be able to get 5 $5 gift cards this month. $25 a month would sure be a nice take for something that doesn't take much time.

Bread Recipes

August 13th, 2012 at 08:35 pm

ThriftyRay asked for my bread recipe. I actually have two depending on whether I am making one loaf of bread or two.



One Loaf Recipe

1 cup warm water
1 T yeast
1 t salt
1 T honey (or sugar)
1 T extra virgin olive oil (or canola)
2 C white flour
1 C whole wheat flour

Mix together. I do it in a bread machine on manual or dough setting. I let it rise in there and then it is kneaded and then I take it out and put it in a large loaf pan and let it rise until it is about an inch or two over the bread pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from pan and place on wire rack to cool. Brush top with melted butter while still warm.

Two Loaf Recipe

2 C Warm Water
1 T yeast
1 1/2 t salt
2 T honey (or sugar)
2 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil (or canola)
3 C white flour
1 1/2 C whole wheat flour

Mix together in bread machine. Let rise and let machine knead then divide dough in half (I never get this quite even so one loaf is always a little bigger than the other, but they both turn out fine) and place in two loaf pans to rise. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from pans and place on a wire rack to cool. Brush tops with melted butter while still warm.

You can use all white flour and no whole wheat flour for either recipe, but if you try to substitute more whole wheat flour than what I've got above it will be too dense to rise properly.

The cost works out to about 50 cents a loaf these days.

Frugal Things I Did Today

August 13th, 2012 at 04:59 am

1. Baked bread. One loaf. And I waited until evening so it wouldn't heat the house up as badly.

2. Picked a gallon of blueberries from the back yard.

3. Balanced my checkbook. Why is this frugal? Because if you don't know what your balance is, you don't know where you stand financially.

4. Cooked dinner in the crockpot. No heating up the whole house with the oven and no eating out because I was too tired to actively cook.

5. Added chicken manure bedding to the compost bin. Eventually we will have lovely free compost.

6. Saved vegetable peels in a bag in the freezer for future soup stock.

7. Saved the bread crumbs from cutting up the loaf of bread I baked in a baggy in the freezer for making meatballs in the future.

8. Didn't spend any money or go anywhere so didn't use gas, either.

9. Did a $3 survey for ACOP.

Little things add up.

Looking Forward to November

August 13th, 2012 at 12:25 am

Sometimes it really feels like I'm living my life on hold; like I'm just putting my time in to get to the other side of something. Right now that something is my son's medical bills. We have three more payments to make of $500 each, one for August, one for September, and one for October. Then in November we can start slamming that extra $500 onto the credit card debt again.

It's been one thing after another this year. First my physical therapy, which ate up close to $3000 and then this whole mess happening with DS's head injury which is going to come in around $3000 when all is said and done. Part of me really wants to go after the other boy's family for medical expenses (not punitive damages, just actual costs), but they are poor and it would probably just push them into bankruptcy in which case we wouldn't be reimbursed for the injuries that boy caused anyway. We totally have a case, but it's probably just not worth pursuing.

The head of admin is trying to set up a meeting with the principal and the vice principal and a few other people. I am not holding my breath about them taking responsibility for this assault. I doubt there will be an expulsion of this kid either. He should not be allowed back in school after what he did. Not that it much matters since DS is homeschooling this year, but he could attack other kids in the same way. They have just handled things badly from the beginning.

It just bothers me, too, that without the extra medical debt this year, we'd be out of credit card debt by now. It's frustrating to me. I feel like I'm a whole year behind because of it all. I know we will get there, we are getting there, but I want it to be now.

I really hope that what DH has been told at work is true, that Christmas bonuses will be double what they were last year. Because if they are we will wipe out that debt in one fell swoop. And if not, well, the tax return we get this next time will as we have maxed out the HSA and will get to deduct the full amount. I know it's coming whether at the end of December or sometime in March. I just really want it to be now. That impatience to be done with it is strong.

We have had debt due to medical stuff for so long. I am used to living with it, but I want to be over. It's been such a long road. I can see the end, yet I know how far it is still to go.

I can't count on the house selling. Not in this market. It would be nice if it did, but who knows. I certainly don't.

What I Paid This Week and Vacation Musings

August 12th, 2012 at 02:55 am

Out of yesterday's payday and about $300 from short term bill savings, I paid the following bills:

__32.88 Electric
__10.59 Medical
_400.00 Mortgage for the old house
_301.30 to Chase (no interest for 18 months)
__90.00 Medical
_300.00 To Mom for her utilities
_757.82 Car payment (plus extra to principal)
_685.86 to BoA credit card (will pay more next week)
_176.09 Paid off computer (18 months same as cash)
__70.56 Internet
__44.87 Phone for old house (for security system)
_144.00 Water/sewer for old house
__49.91 yearly propane tank rental
_125.00 Cash for groceries
__25.00 Kid's allowances
------------
$3605.18

I just raised the kids' allowances from $7 and $12 respectively to $10 and $15 per week. They have really stepped up and started doing a lot more of the daily chores and helping with the gardening. I've told them that if they slack off though it's going back down.

I have $42 left of my grocery money for the week. Aside from milk I should not need to buy anything else this coming week. I thought I needed to buy chicken legs or thighs, but I did some digging around in the freezer and found 3 pounds which I cooked up for the next few days lunches. There may be more in the freezer. I do have two whole chickens and some boneless, skinless thighs.

It will be a short grocery week as we are going down to Tacoma on Wednesday, spending the night, going to the Point Defiance Zoo on Thursday, spending that night, and then coming home on Friday after morning rush hour. That wipes out our vacation savings, but we have nothing else planned for the summer.

Our hotel room has a microwave and a fridge and there is a Top Foods (like Haggen) nearby. We will bring a cooler with some food from home and our little egg cooker (which does boiled eggs or poached and our microwave bacon cooker, so we can have bacon and eggs for breakfast that we bring. I am going to roast a chicken on Tuesday and pick all the meat off the bones and we will bring that in the cooler. I will also bring along coleslaw and salad and a bottle of dressing and maybe a couple cans of green beans. And peanut butter, jelly, butter, and bread. We will probably eat out two meals (one at the zoo), but that is in the vacation budget.

Homemade Birthday Cake

August 11th, 2012 at 02:27 am

There's nothing like making a cake from scratch. I mean, sure, I could get it cheaper by buying a box mix and a can of frosting. These are not the deals they once were, but you can still get a box mix and frosting for around $3. However they are full of so many additives and preservatives and allergens that DS and I would never be able to eat them.

I've had good luck with making chocolate cakes from scratch but up until now the moist yellow cake has eluded me. Most of them call for applesauce to keep them moist. Well, DS is allergic to apples so that is out for this household. I had to search the web high and low to finally find a decent recipe and of course me being me, I dinked with it a little. Still, it turned out perfectly moist and delicious. I'd say it's the best cake I've ever made and better than even the best of the box cakes. Cost to me was about $5 and most of that is in the powdered sugar and butter. And that's still a far cry from a bakery cake at $18.

The eggs were from our backyard chickens so they were free and I had everything on hand in the pantry so there was no out of pocket expense for making it. The only problem with using fresh eggs was the yolks were so orange I didn't think we were going to have a yellow cake. We added a bit of the natural India Tree food dye to make it more yellow and less orange and also added a few drops to the frosting to make it pink, which is currently DD's favorite color.



Anyway, I'm sharing the recipe I ended up with.

2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour, unsifted
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 stick unsalted, softened butter
3/4 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350

Combine dry ingredients and mix together well.

Add milk, oil and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes on the cake setting of your mixer. Add eggs and beat another two minutes (this is when I added a few drops of natural blue India Tree food dye to counteract the orangeness of the fresh eggs).

Pour into two pre-greased (I used butter) round cake pans. Bake for 35 minutes. The original recipe I based this off of called for 20 to 25 minutes, but the toothpick was goopy after 20, 25, and 30 minutes. It wasn't done until 35. This was with a gas oven.

Allow to cool on wire racks for ten to fifteen minutes and then remove from pans and place directly on wire racks until cool, about 2 hours.

Frosting:
2 sticks of unsalted, softened butter (1 cup)
3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Few drops of food dye if you wish to color it (I used India Tree's natural food dye in red)

Combine butter, sugar, and salt and beat until well blended.

Add milk and vanilla and food dye and beat for 5 minutes. When it is smooth and creamy it is done.

Frost bottom layer of cake on tops and sides. Place second layer on top and repeat. Add sprinkles (we used India Tree's natural blue and pink sprinkles). Eat.

First Tomato and First Pepper from the Garden

August 11th, 2012 at 01:14 am

I've harvested quite a bit from the garden so far this year, but there is nothing like the satisfaction of picking that first tomato.



And my first bell pepper was ready:



The corn is starting to tassle. Most of the stalks never got very tall, about 3 feet, but they've got decent sized ears on them. This one is about 5 feet tall.



The Italian prunes have got some good size on them, but won't be ripe for quite some time yet.



The everbearing strawberries are getting ripe.



4 of the lettuce plants survived the heat wave. I will get a few more starts to fill in around them. Didn't get a photo of those as I haven't pulled the dead ones yet.

One of numerous apple trees that won't be ripe for a while yet, but the apples are well sized. We didn't thin them this year. Oops.



All in all the garden is doing pretty well this year. It's paid for itself twice over now and is close to three times. I am still picking blueberries and blackberries. I think I will be lucky to get more than 2 cauliflowers though. It's been pretty decimated though the kohlrabi and broccoli are doing just fine.

Grocery Shopping and Baking

August 10th, 2012 at 03:38 am

Today felt like a really long day. This probably has more to do with the fact that I am recovering from a nasty stomach virus than it does to do with my theory that someone actually fiddled with space/time and snuck about five extra hours in the day. And not just ordinary hours either, but the type that just...drag...by. But at last it is evening and the kids will be in bed soon and I can crash.

I probably did more today than I should have done, but tomorrow is DD's 16th birthday (her party is not for another week though and is pretty low key, how she wanted it) and I really felt like I should make a cake and not buy one. I found a fabulous looking recipe for making a moist yellow cake from scratch. I really hope it turns out. It looks great, but the proof will be in the tasting tomorrow. I think they got the timing off on the recipe though because I had to bake it a full 15 minutes longer than their 20 minutes until it was no longer goopy in the center and sides were pulling away from the pan. It smelled fantastic when it was finally done and still looked moist.

I will make the frosting tomorrow and then DD wants to decorate it with the all natural sprinkles we got from India Tree. I did two round layers, so it will be a layer cake with frosting in the middle.

We went out to Joe's Garden *(sustainable, no spray, but not organic certified) today and I bought enough produce for the week. They have these really freakishly large leaf lettuces. I mean, they are too big to fit in a standard produce bag. I had to put it in my largest mesh bag that usually fits things like carrots with all the foilage or a batch of chard or kale. When I got it home I transferred it to two Debbie Meyer greenbags and I kind of had to stuff to get it all in.

Anyway, I spent $25.23. For that I got 3 really huge super sweet onions (with the tops which I will use), 8 kohlrabi (they were .50 each, trimmed, untrimmed is $2.99 for 3 and since I don't eat the tops, this was a much better deal for me), the aforementioned gigantic green leaf lettuce, 1 quart of local strawberries, 2 really huge English cucumbers (one in the shape of an S and one that looked like a question mark), a big head of green cabbage, and some all natural sesame seed buns. Usually I make my own buns but with not feeling good this week, this seemed like a good option. I refrigerated them, though, as they have no preservatives.

I will need to bake bread tomorrow though. I just need to remind myself to only do one loaf this time.

I did eat my first kohlrabi from my garden and it was wonderful. I won't have another one ready for about a week, so I was very happy they had them at Joe's. I decided to leave the ripe tomato on the vine for a little bit longer, but will pick it tomorrow.

The menu plan has gotten all messed up for the week as I am making things that are easier while I don't feel well. So definitely some scrambling around, but no eating out and still cooking what we have. I have made it through the two week challenge and tomorrow is payday.

I had $22.88 left in my purse so that is going into the coin jar which eventually ends up in the freezer fund. I will actually be running over there to make a deposit tomorrow since that CU is by the farm stand that has corn and I want to pick up some corn on the cob and then hop over to Trader Joe's and get some cheese. Always trying to combine errands these days.

Budget Update

August 8th, 2012 at 11:00 pm

So from the last paycheck these are the bills paid:

$500.00 AMEX
__45.63 House Insurance
__84.72 Car Insurance
__39.53 Life Insurance DH
__32.70 Life Insuance Me
_153.00 Storage
__41.16 Security System
_267.40 Dental
----------
1163.14
+180.00 Medical (out of medical savings, not paycheck)
----------
1343.14 Total money out

I also $4.37 to the coin jar.

The house insurance has gone up from $41.25 to $45.63 a month. That's a difference of $4.38 a month. DH's life insurance also went up from $37.80 to 39.53. His birthday is this month and it bumps up a bit every six months since it's term insurance which gets a bit more expensive the older you get. That's a difference of $1.73 a month. Storage went down $2.

When we go to talk to the insurance agent about landlord's insurance later this month I need to ask him about the surcharge showing up on our stuff. We weren't supposed to be charged $5 a month for doing monthly payments if they took it directly out of our bank account, but now we are. So if they are going to do that the same as if they were billing in the mail each month, we will switch back to paying in a lump sum. We won't be able to do that until January, because we'll have to save up, but I don't like that being changed on us after 5 years. If they remove it (and they'd do it retroactively, too) then we'll leave it on auto-pay.

I've got the August budget set up and ready to go for Friday's payday, so it'll just be a question of sitting down and writing out the checks or making the online payments.

Financial Housekeeping--HSA and Medical

August 8th, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Today I added up all of our out of pocket medical expenses for the year so far and we've hit $7,371.89. I know we have at least $2500 more in out of pocket medical expenses to go this year, $1500 on treatment for DS alone, and another $1125 that will go to another doctor.

We all need to have our eyes checked and get new lenses before the year is up and DD wants to try contacts this year. We still owe $300 on DH's dental work which we will finish paying off in September.

I still need to get oral surgery to fix my two oldest molars, but am waiting until after DH's dental work is paid off. I would like to do it right before Christmas break so that I wouldn't have to worry about homeschooling DS while zoned on painkillers. But I may not be able to wait that long if they start to hurt too much more.

Either way our HSA is maxed out and we'll be able to deduct the full amount allowed on our income taxes this year. I just need to have DH run the money through.

Surprise Thunderstorm

August 8th, 2012 at 04:10 am

We got caught out in a surprise thunderstorm today. It brought with it about an inch of rain according to the rain gauge. It was nice not to have to water today and the rain barrels will have collected plenty from this hour of heavy rain.

The weather is supposed to go back to being sunny tomorrow but with more tolerable temps in the low and mid 70's.

I saw color on one of the paste tomatoes today, it's turning yellow. I was going to pick the brandywine tomato today, but didn't want to go out with everything still so wet.

I haven't gotten the second half of my garden photos taken yet. I was going to do that this afternoon, but even after it stopped raining the sky was dark so no good light for picture taking. But I thought I'd share some of the flower photos that I took the other day. These ones usually always have a lot of bees on them, and are great for drawing pollinators into the food garden.






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