Monday, October 15, 2012


Sorry for the long delay. My precious children are such good sharers... even when it comes to cooties. I think I'm over the cold now, though.

I have been thinking of the value of patience lately. It applies in so many ways with regard to thrift.

I'll give an example from just this past week. I've been hankering for an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator for a while now, probably a year or more. This is the one I wanted. I've looked online, seen various retail prices, scoped out Ebay, peeked on Craigslist from time to time. I've found 5-tray models. I've found lots of 9-tray models but way more expensively than I was willing to pay. Finally, about 10 days ago, I blundered across a 9-tray model (without timer) on Craigslist for $140. The not-so-squee-worthy part was that it was down in Connecticut.

Now - remember the post about asking for help when you need it? Being willing to be blessed, without concern about keeping score? The ad for the dehydrator stated that it was located in the same town in Connecticut as one of my best friends. Donna is another thrifty, creative type, and I know if she needed my help, she'd ask me. So I called her, immediately. Within 24 hours, the Excalibur was in Donna's hands, waiting for me to come get it. (I hope and trust that it has been thoroughly tested in her kitchen in the meantime)

I also think about the value of patience in the garden. Hands, now -  how many of us have put out our tomatoes earlier than we should have, hoping that it'd all work out ok, and lost them to a late frost? How many of us have sown seeds that have rotted because the soil was too cold and wet? Put in our seed potatoes and had NOTHING come up, because they turned to mush in the garden? Yeah, I thought so.

A friend of mine is buying his first house, and is incredibly excited. He took his time, and found exactly what he wanted, at a price that worked for him. He was describing it to me, and we got to talking about clothes lines. He said something about how great they are, except you need a dryer for when it rains. I recall looking at him kind of oddly and saying simply, "I don't do laundry when there's rain forecast." While I do have to invest some brainpower in planning my work, honestly, it's not that hard (most of the time, barring August 2011-type weather, when we got 18 inches of rain in 6 weeks) to make my laundry chores work the way I want them to work. It can require patience, though. My children are well acquainted with being told, "No, I won't be doing laundry today; the forecast isn't good."

Patience can also apply to routine shopping. It's just not that hard to wait until Baker's chocolate goes on sale before stocking up. Most folks shop around for weeks when looking for a car or a house - why should smaller expenditures merit less care? I'm not advocating tying yourself up in knots over every little decision, just suggesting that being willing to hold out for what's important to you can really save you a lot of time, money, frustration, productivity. It's all part of living a thrifty life. Try it!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

thinking about thrift...

I was reading on yesterday and the writer offered a definition of thrift. I'll copy and paste it here:
"I think it includes:
  • earning and saving a portion of money and keeping it over time
  • establishing an emergency fund
  • thinking before buying
  • differentiating between needs and wants
  • evaluating the quality of what you buy and sometimes paying a little more
  • seeing if an item you now own can be repaired and deciding if it's worth it
  • paying with cash, not with a credit card
  • giving generously to worthy causes instead of being stingy
  • appreciating people who agree with the above"
I'm not sure I agree with her entirely.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary (unabridged!) offers this definition of thrift: "Savings accumulated through frugality... careful management esp of financial affairs, good husbandry, wise frugality in expenditure," and provides the origin for the term, which came out of Old Norse via Middle English: well being, prosperity - and refers us to the Modern English word thrive.

Any of you who know me well know that I'm a total language geek, having studied Classical and medieval Latin, Old English, Old Norse, Middle English, and several modern languages. I think it's often very useful when seeking to understand a concept to dig into why the concept has the name it does. That's certainly true with thrift. I mean, seriously - thrive? "To improve steadily, prosper, flourish" - that all sounds good to me! (American Heritage Dictionary)

So - thrift. Ms. Blatzheim's discussion is largely about what thrifty actions might look like, with a dash of the sort of attitude behind such actions. Her article got me to wondering about wants and needs - and where the line crossing into greed is found. 

Back to Webster's - I need glasses just to see the entries! - greed: inordinate or all-consuming and usu. reprehensible acquisitiveness esp. for wealth or gain: extreme or voracious desire esp. for food or drink. It comes from Old English/Old High German for hunger, or 'to long for.' 

Christianity and Judaism both condemn greed, though I did not find a definition for what constitutes greed: Psalm 10:3 He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. Proverbs 29:4 By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down. (still timely!)  Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

I guess what's bothering me right now is where that line is. If I think I live thriftily, what am I using for my comparison? I think it's generally agreed that as a nation, Americans have more, and want more still, than any other People on earth. If I'm thrifty compared to other Americans, well, that's hardly a great accomplishment, is it? 

Oh well. I don't think I'm able - and certainly not willing, Lord forgive me - to live like a resident of a third-world country. It might come to that in a generation to two, but I'm not there yet. So, going back to Ms. Blatzheim's list - I think the most salient point there is about differentiating between needs and wants (though thinking before buying is certainly good advice). How much of what I think I need do I actually need? At what point is it morally wrong for me to have more than what I genuinely need, since my consumption has such wide-ranging effect on everyone else on the planet? (note: I disagree with the bit about not using credit cards... but I agree that cards MUST be used responsibly, for items you would purchase anyway, not for impulse buys, and they MUST be paid off in full EVERY month! Surrounding yourself with like-minded folks is nice, but not mandatory, especially if they're hard to find)

I don't think I'm going to try to reach a conclusion to this post. It's more about the thinking than the conclusion. I welcome thoughts from everyone, though - how do you define thrift? Is it purely economic, or is there a moral aspect to it? If you think about such things, what's your approach to having and not having?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A time to every purpose under Heaven

I had so many possible titles for this post - "Make hay while the sun shines," or "Semper Gumby" (always flexible) were the other top choices. But I figured, hey, an awesome classic song could only make things more fun - and I'll never turn down a chance to quote Scripture. To wit:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 -King James Version

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Yeah, ok, so what?

This goes back to my menu planning ideas - it's really, really helpful to have a plan, to know what you're going to do and when. And, at the same time, it's also really useful to plan to be flexible rather than rigid, so that when things come up (and when don't they?) you can accommodate the disruptions. If you refer back to your Laura Ingalls Wilder, you'll see that her Ma taught her the classic scheduling mnemonic -
"Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday."

It's incredibly liberating to know what to expect when. Now, I don't follow the traditional schedule - but I do check the weather every morning, so that I know whether and when to plan to do the laundry. This week, I washed clothes yesterday, and won't do so again until Thursday, due to rain in the forecast in between. It's especially tricky in spring and fall, when days are short and cooler, since I often need two days on the line to get everything dry.

In my regular weekly schedule, I should be heading over to Northampton this morning to get my allergy shots, and to run any errands I need done while I'm out. However, my eldest wasn't feeling well last night, and is still asleep this morning, despite the other three getting off to school and intermittent barking from the puppy. He's been asleep 13 hours already, so he must need the rest. I hope he's just tired, and not actually coming down with the flu, which I was thinking last night. I have a back-up plan, though - if I can't get over for my allergy shots today, I can go on Friday morning.

Having flexibility is useful in other ways, too. Say you've got a garden, and you've got regular times scheduled to tend it. (if you do, I commend you - with a bit of envy!) Then let's say that there's a frost forecast for tomorrow night. If you're so rigidly scheduled that there's no 'give,' you might not be able to get out into that garden to bring in whatever's ripe or almost ripe, or to cover your tomato plants and that row of green beans.

The saying "Make hay while the sun shines" really sums up what I'm trying to say here. By all means, you should be planning to make hay - but when the forecast shows you three or four sunny days in a row, be flexible enough to be able to use that window of opportunity to make the hay.

This relates to thrift in so many ways... it's about canning extra tomato sauce when you happen upon a cheap source of extra tomatoes. It's about making time to go pick up a dozen free laying hens. It's about staying late at work if a chance for overtime comes up. And it's about having a backup plan for when things go awry - like my allergy shots being postponed due to my son's illness. See, thrift isn't only about money. It's a way of life, of making the most out of what you have.

[digression: I think this is a large part of the failure of the 'austerity measures' in Europe at present. Imposed thrift, without the internal attitude I hope we all share, can't succeed - it doesn't feel like thrift (a choice) but like privation (imposed from without). God bless our European brothers and sisters who are struggling, and may we plan ahead well enough to be spared that pain!]

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Coupon or not to coupon?

I've read articles about Coupon Queens; I've heard about TV shows that showcase extreme couponers. You probably have, too. So - do I use coupons? Should you?

The short answers are: occasionally, and maybe.

The thing about coupons is that they're trying to sell you something by making that something a little less expensive. The hope of the marketer is that once you've tried their product, you'll either like it well enough to buy it again (full price) or you'll recognize it and buy it out of habit. They probably don't care which.

I have a few problems with coupons. For example, I might find a coupon for, say, Cascade dishwashing powder. Swell, right? I mean, I use my dishwasher. According to my mother, I come darn near to violating the laws of physics or the universe or something with the kinds of things I run through my dishwasher. However, the store brand of detergent works just fine for me, and is less expensive than Cascade, even with the coupon. It's always tempting to use the coupon for the rush of getting something less expensively, so ALWAYS do the math!

As another example, let's say I want to serve potatoes for dinner. I might find a coupon for Betty Crocker Potatoes au Gratin, but I seriously doubt I'll find a coupon for a 10-pound bag of spuds. I can't even say that I "prefer" spuds... it would never enter my direst nightmares to use a simulated food-like substance like boxed potatoes. I shudder at the very thought. There's another coupon that's useless to me.

A corollary to the boxed potato example is that if the item is not something you'd buy and USE anyway, getting it with a coupon is no savings at all.

However, very rarely, I blunder across a coupon for something I actually want. Sometimes it's for an ingredient (chocolate chips, say) and other times it's for something like Milano cookies or Pepperidge Farm cheddar goldfish. Oh, how I love those fish! Then I'll dance for joy and use the coupon.

Best of all is when you can use a coupon for something that's on special at your local store - if I have a coupon for $1 off two packages of Milanos, and my store has them buy one, get one free... I'm golden! Also, some stores in certain places double the value of coupons. Around here, coupons under $1 are routinely doubled, and periodically the stores will have a few "double your $1 coupon" coupons in their weekly flyers. Those are really nice if you have a coupon for your favorite... whatever - toothpaste, cookie, other brand name treasure.

My final thought on this is this: it's almost ALWAYS less expensive to buy ingredients than to buy whatever products are offered on coupons. I'd rather buy chicken, broccoli, and cheese, and make my own chicken/broccoli alfredo than buy a frozen dinner with those ingredients. I'd rather buy flour, butter, and sugar, and make my own cookies than buy Keebler's cookies. The added benefit there is that I know that there is no high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated fats in what my family and I are eating. Yes, actual cooking does require a modicum of planning, some time, and a very little bit of skill. It's so worth it! My mother always says that if you can read, you can cook. I'm inclined to believe her - but I'm understandably biased. But honestly, friends - it just ain't that hard to chuck a few things into my crock pot! Cooking is a life skill, and I encourage everyone to learn it and practice it.

Is anyone interested in recipes? I don't think of anything I make as especially fancy, but as I always tell guests, nobody starves in my house.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sorry, the TV's off for the day (week, year)

As a kind of a follow-on to my last post, I want to add in another whole category "that to which I say no." That would be my television. If I had even a modicum of computer/YouTube savvy, I'd find a clip from the Harrison Ford/Julia Ormond remake of "Sabrina" and show you where Ford's character says, "No, I don't want to buy another network. There's never anything good on TV anyway!"

There are loads of reasons why I don't watch TV. In passing I'll mention a few: the interactions in many shows are demeaning and stereotypical; the fast-action, flashy cinematography is disorienting and implicated in neurological developmental damage, leading to shorter attention spans in children; the language is rude, crude, and nothing I want to listen to, nor have my children hear and think normal and acceptable.

The thrift-applicable reasons for shutting off the TV are the real focus of my thoughts here today, though.

First - the cable bill. Talk about a racket! I get only the very most basic cable, and that in a package that includes local phone service and cable modem access to the internet. It still runs almost $100 a month. When I inquired with my cable provider about adding two additional channels whose content I found acceptable, they told me that I couldn't pick them out a la carte, only in packages. I guess that enough people find that acceptable for them to get away with it! I told them to pound sand. I can't see paying another $30 a month to get two channels that I might watch once a month or so.

Second - the opportunity cost of the time. I am always appalled when I read statistics about how many hours the average household has the television on per day. How do folks get anything else done? Or... do they get anything else done? The hours I don't spend in front of the tube I spend reading, tending my livestock, working in the garden, knitting, cooking, baking, and enjoying the company of my children.

Third - and this applies especially to households with children - marketing. There aren't many things that I think I want. There aren't many things my children think they want. But I listen, and I hear other children wanting all manner of "stuff" - fast food, cheap plastic crap, new clothes (and by 'new clothes' I don't mean socks, underwear, and enough changes of clean clothes to get from laundry day to laundry day - I mean, poorly made, high "fashion," trendy garbage that pretends to be actual clothing) and other status symbols that are simply made-up "needs" that some marketing slob decided to push so that come huge corporation could make more money.

Fourth and finally - attitudes. This ties in with marketing, I suspect. I mean the kind of attitude that pretends that new stuff will make us happier/prettier/more desirable. I also mean the kind of attitude that demeans those who opt out of consumerism as somehow weird. I know my 7th grade daughter struggles a bit with this - she tells me that the more time she spends with other girls in the middle school, the more she feels that we are 'weird.' I do my best to explain to her that in 2012 terms, yes, we are weird. However, in the longer term, we are the normal ones, and her peers are the weird ones. I'm not sure how well she's absorbing that message, but one can only try.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just Say No, Thank You

This adage applies in SO many ways!

"Would you like to supersize that?" - No, thank you.

"Would you prefer Stoli to the house brand?" - No, thank you.

"Look at my new widget! Don't you wish you had one just like it?" - No, thank you.

"But your car is three years old! Wouldn't you rather drive a new one?" - No, thank you.

"Will you be ordering dessert to go with your meal?" - No, thank you.

There are just too many different ways to benefit from this attitude. Part of the mindset is about gratitude - what I have is fine, thanks, and I don't want or need more or newer. Part is about choosing to consume less, whether of calories, or of prestige, or of resources. Part, too, is about saving money. Each of these examples offers an opportunity to be grateful for what we have, to be mindful about how we consume from our environment, and to be thrifty. Sounds like a winner to me!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just a quickie today

I kind of feel like I'm reaching for low-hanging fruit here, but so be it.

I read recently, and no, I can't remember where, so I can't cite it, that in the US, we now spend more treating obesity than on food. EDIT: Great minds, apparently... Sharon Astyk wrote about this same topic today right here. I swear I didn't read her post until after this one was published.

With all that we understand about nutrition, health, the dangers of carrying excess weight, the health consequences of poor dietary choices, we are still increasingly increasing. Now, I know that much of this has to do with lack of access to healthy food, lack of education about food, lack of education with regard to meal planning and preparation. I get that. But for someone like me, there's really no excuse. So while I hope that those other factors can be ameliorated, and am doing my small part to make that happen, I'm addressing myself here to others like myself - we who know, yet do not act.

Eat more vegetables and fruit. If they're expensive, make room in your budget. Leave the potato chips or bottled water out of your grocery basket, and get some veggies. If you drink coffee, make it at home and carry it with you in an insulated mug, instead of stopping for coffee at a premium. Use the funds toward actual food.

Plan ahead. It's a pain in the posterior up front, but having a meal plan is SO liberating! If you can't force yourself to plan one, then just grab a blank calendar page, or a blank piece of scrap paper if you don't care about pretty, and keep track of what you have for dinner for a week or two or four. Once you get some idea of what you *have* made, it's much easier to plan what you *will* make. If there's take-out in there, because you were tired or short of time, planning ahead can rescue you from those emergencies. Furthermore, if you make dinner at home, YOU control what goes into it. If you eat take-out, you almost certainly get lots more calories and fat.  Plus it costs a lot more than cooking at home. Is time a challenge? Make friends with your crock pot. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but the relief of looking at the calendar at 6 AM and knowing what's for dinner is immeasurable. Sometimes it might mean chucking the fixings into the crock pot, but that's ok. It really doesn't take very long. (if it does, amend your recipe!) You have the bonus of being greeted by the scents of the food cooking as well - and that's supposed to increase your digestion... something about the smell causing your digestive juices to flow more abundantly. No, I can't remember where I read that, either. Good thing I'm not in grad school any longer!

In keeping with "plan ahead," make your time work for you. I've read over and over about how it's much more fuel efficient to do all your errand-running in one trip. It's also a LOT more time efficient. And, if you plan it right, you might even be able to plan your errands such that you can use your bike, or combine public transit with the shoe-leather express. By doing some of this kind of planning, you can free up funds (gas money), time (doing all your errands at once), and possibly even get some exercise in as well. You can re-direct the time and funds toward planning what you're going to eat - and the benefits snowball.

Now - so that you know that I have some cred in this regard, I'll share with you how I managed to keep my family fed decently while raising four children by myself and going to graduate school.

Every August and December, I dragged out a calendar, and planned meals for the entire semester. Once I finished the plans, I made a shopping list and bought everything I'd need (except for fresh produce and milk) and put it all in the freezer or pantry. I am absolutely positive that this planning enabled us to eat actual meals instead of cold cereal or sandwiches! Yes, it was kind of a nuisance. Yes, it was a pretty large expenditure up front (which could be mitigated by following weekly grocery store flyers and stocking up on staples when they're on sale). But it was totally worth it. The money I didn't spend on pizza or Chinese take-out more than made up for the initial outlay.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's so obvious... but not always easy

After - I wasn't clever enough to take a 'before' picture

I had a mountain of firewood on my driveway that was too long to fit into the firebox of my cookstove. Not only had I paid for something I couldn't use, but it was blocking access to part of my yard, meaning I had to schlep stuff the long way around the house. That gets to be a nuisance when you're moving 500 pounds of animal feed, let me tell you. I didn't particularly want to have to hire someone to cut it down for me... I mean, I already paid for the wood once, right? It's not like I have spare cash floating around, alas. Plus, I don't have a chain saw, and I don't plan to obtain one. It's a safety thing for me. So - what to do?

Well, raise your hand if you've never heard that it's more blessed to give than to receive. I hope we all know that. However, if we're too stubborn/proud/short-sighted to ask for help, then how will the givers be able to experience that blessing? I had to get over this many years ago as an effectively single parent with four small children. Good thing - because it wasn't long before I was an actual single parent with four small children. I could not have managed daily life, much less graduate school, without the help of many, many friends. And though I often felt awkward about asking, to a one, everyone I asked for help said yes, and seemed glad to have been asked.

The cut-off ends all piled up
I asked for help with my woodpile. I put up a post on Facebook asking for some time from someone with a chain saw, and yesterday, someone came and cut it all to size for me. And, though I made a (really nice!) omelet for lunch afterward, he wouldn't accept anything else by way of thanks. Not even a jar of jam or a quart of applesauce. Wow.
Woodpile - many rows deep

The new wood is a different color

Now, this man is not anyone I had known before Facebook - he's a FB friend of the brother of a schoolmate of mine. And yet when I asked for help, he said yes. Think about what kind of answer YOU might receive if you ask for help!

The natural corollary to this is, of course, to be someone who says yes when others need help. After all, it's more blessed to give than to receive!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brief thoughts on tying together the Livestock and Dinner posts

This occurred to me just now as I was sorting tomatoes for freezing; I'll cook and can them later when the weather is cooler.

As a body, Americans waste an appalling amount of food. Alas, food is wasted every step of the way. Crops rot in the field, due to weather, or insect damage, or disease, or just bad timing for harvest. Gleaning efforts in many places - including Amherst! - seek to recover some of the bounty lost in the field. Once harvested, potentially edible food is chucked for numerous reasons... it's the wrong color or shape, for example, and doesn't meet the 'standard' for saleability or further processing. I'm sure there are means of recovering this waste, but I am not familiar with them. Once food is shipped to stores, some items are bruised, or spoiled, or otherwise imperfect. Chuck! Some stores allow farmers to collect this 'waste' for livestock use (note: look into this!). Food is put out on display, and sometimes, is not bought in a timely manner. My local Stop & Shop will package up slightly post-mature produce at a discount for quick sale - I love buying bananas this way, as they're less expensive and ideal for banana bread/muffins. At some point, I suspect, more of this produce is tossed. While there are means each of us could take to redirect some of this loss, I want to focus on the food that actually comes into our homes, and how livestock can help us make use of every last bit.

I doubt that there's a single person among us who has never 'lost' something in the fridge or at the back of a cupboard, or had an infestation of pantry moths (SO disgusting) or ants. What do you do with the leftovers that nobody's going to eat? What do you do with a five pound bag of flour or oatmeal that's lousy with bugs?
Option 1: toss it in the garbage. Boo! Hiss!
Option 2: compost it. Better...
Option 3: take it out to the chickens (or rabbits, or goats) and let them consume it and turn it into meat, milk, eggs, and/or manure. I like this one best!

Although I'd love to tell you that I never, ever waste food, I'd be lying, and you know it.

I have pulled partial bags of frozen vegetables from my freezer and sighed because they're freezer-burned. I have forgotten bags of lettuce. I have faithfully kept leftovers from dinner and despaired when nobody wanted to eat them. So... I take them out to the hens and goats. They don't mind! It's awesome!

Then there's prep waste... for instance, I made spaghetti sauce on Monday. I cooked down a bunch of tomatoes and ran them through a Foley food mill (LOVE this tool, btw) and had only skins and seeds left over. Now, I could have tossed those, or composted them, but instead, I took them out to the hens. Yum, yum, yum, they cackled! There wasn't a speck left when I went back later. We celebrated a friend's birthday here this week, and after we'd gobbled up all the cake, there were still crumbs in the pan. Out it went, with whatever else needed to go out, and the chickens cleaned it up very nicely... made it much easier to wash, too. I cooked, juiced, and drained my grape crop a couple of weeks ago, and was left with skins and seeds. I hope I got all of the useful bits - I will be making jam soon! I took those out to the hens, and to my amazement, they just scoffed at them. The goats, however, thought they were fabulous.

This won't save the world, but it will reduce waste, reduce feed bills, and reduce the nagging guilt we all (should) have over our part in food waste. Considering the magnitude of my animal feed bills (I use about 1,000 pounds of layer pellets per month for JUST the hens... then there's rabbit and goat feed, too!) anything I can provide my girls that nourishes them and reduces both waste and cost is a HUGE plus.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Making dinner be also making lunch

Yes, that's a complicated title - grammatically dodgy, but work with me here, ok?

My daughter just started middle school (eek!). The first day of school, she brought home information from the cafeteria that detailed all the costs - regular school lunch ($2.50), french fries ($2.00, available only WITH a lunch), and a la carte items ranging from 80 cents to $1.50. Amanda was aghast when she realized that buying JUST lunch for 180 days of the school year would total up to $450. If one added in the fries and something off the cart, it could be as much as $990 a year, or almost $6,000 for all of middle and high school. As the saying goes, that starts to add up to real money!

Some families don't think anything of $5 or so a day for lunch. After all, that's less than most restaurant lunches would be, and many working folks eat out every day. However, since this blog is about thrift, I thought I'd share my response to the cost of school lunches.

My four children each have their particular tastes. Three love grilled cheese; one can't stand it. One likes ham and cheese sandwiches; the other three prefer peanut butter and jelly. Three love oven baked chicken; the fourth only likes it cold for lunch the next day. However, I've heard alleged that variety is the spice of life. Therefore, I try to keep sandwiches in reserve for times when there isn't anything I can warm and put in their thermoses for lunch.

That brings me to dinner menus. Now, I cheated... I handed a four-week calendar to my children and told THEM to fill it in. That way, they got to choose what they would have for dinner, and they took responsibility for planning ahead for leftovers of meals they particularly like to re-run in their lunchboxes.

What I ended up with is just what I wanted... a reusable dinner menu that provides building blocks for yummy lunches. You'll notice that there's a lot of pasta. I stock up when it's not too extortionate... I remember when my go-to price was 20 cents/pound - now it's advertised as 'on sale' at $1/pound! However, the store brand 3-pound box of both spaghetti and elbow noodles is $2.89. 1 1/2 pounds of pasta makes dinner for five plus 8-10 lunches. I have never tried to make up a lunch using leftover mashed potatoes, but I have used rice.

When I'm ready to put together lunches in the morning, I start by boiling a kettle of water. I have a whole bunch of one-cup-capacity thermoses I've picked up at yard sales and thrift stores over the years. I pre-heat the thermoses with the boiling water, so that the warm food goes into a warm container, and doesn't cool off immediately. I put whatever food I'm serving that day into a Pyrex measuring cup and warm it in the microwave. Then I use a canning funnel to fill the thermoses without making a mess of the rims. I put the lids on (the 'keeps closed' lid and the 'use as a bowl' lid) and then turn to the rest of the lunchbox. If there is pasta involved, I need a small Gladware or Tupperware container of parmesan cheese. I keep a stash of plastic cutlery that we've received at various times and that I've washed for re-use. I pour a drink into another insulated container, add some fruit and a sweet, and it's lunch. By the end of the school year, the sweet is often store-bought, but so far I'm trying to bake a couple of times a week so they can take homemade sweets. My younger two (10 and 9) have discovered the joys of scooping banana muffin batter into muffin cups, which is great for me, since that's my least favorite part of the baking!

Week 1:
Monday - roast chicken and mashed potatoes
Tuesday - beef burgundy, cooked in the crock pot, served with egg noodles
Wednesday - breakfast for dinner (scrambled eggs, homemade pancakes, bacon, fruit)
Thursday - rabbit with special sauce, cooked in the crock pot, served with rice
Friday - sandwiches
Saturday - oven baked chicken and mashed potatoes
Sunday - spaghetti

Week 2:
Monday - chicken pieces and summer squash pennies simmered in broth, served over noodles
Tuesday - meatloaf and mashed potatoes
Wednesday - children eat dinner at their father's
Thursday - chicken cooked in broth in the crock pot, served with rice
Fri/Sat/Sun - children are at their father's

Week 3:
Monday - beef burgundy, cooked in the crock pot, served with egg noodles
Tuesday - chicken pieces and summer squash pennies simmered in broth, served over noodles
Wednesday - spaghetti
Thursday - oven baked chicken with mashed potatoes
Friday - rabbit with special sauce, cooked in the crock pot, served with rice
Saturday -  chicken cooked in broth in the crock pot, served with rice
Sunday - spaghetti

Week 4:
Monday -  chicken pieces and summer squash pennies simmered in broth, served over noodles
Tuesday - corn chowder with bread
Wednesday - children eat dinner at their father's
Thursday - breakfast for dinner (scrambled eggs, homemade pancakes, bacon, fruit)
Fri/Sat/Sun - children are at their father's

Lunches: PB&J, or noodles with chicken broth/summer squash/bites of chicken, or bites of rabbit meat with sauce mixed with rice, or beef burgundy and gravy over egg noodles. Parmesan cheese, milk or water, diced cantaloupe or raisins, and a muffin.

Inexpensive and yummy! And no complaining about their lunches, because they chose them.

What do you like to make/take/serve for lunch?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Livestock and gardens work together to multiply productivity

Lincoln is still weeping here!

Today I'm going to write for a while about livestock in addition to gardens. Having livestock adds immeasurably to the productivity of my little farm. We produce our own milk (dairy goats), meat (rabbits and chickens), and eggs (laying hens). From the gardens, we produce tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, cucumbers, and zucchini. We have perennial plantings of raspberries, peaches, apples, jerusalem artichokes (sometimes called sunchokes), grapes, and blueberries. How can these work together toward thrift?

First of all, think about the waste. The primary waste from the livestock is manure, and that feeds the garden soil, making for great growing conditions. Rabbit manure in particular is fantastic for the garden. It's a 'cold' manure, meaning it can be used in the garden immediately, without composting it first. So - no storage, no delay. I've also found over the past several years that rabbit manure is just amazing for retaining water in the garden. It acts almost like a sponge. This summer we have had long periods without any rain at all (not that I'm complaining... it was much worse other places!) and my gardens have done really, really well. There is one bed next to the driveway that doesn't have much rabbit manure yet, and it's the only bed I've had to water. And even so, I think I've watered it four times all summer. The manure from the barn is great, too, though I use it differently. It's hay and wood shaving bedding mixed with chicken and goat waste. I have used that mostly as a thick mulch, to keep weeds down, and to help reduce water loss from evaporation.

Next, consider the 'waste' from the gardens. Around here at least, the primary waste product is weeds. SO many weeds.... When I want to share some greens with the rabbits, I use two buckets - one for plants I can identify as safe for rabbits (pigweed, lambs' quarters, crab grass) and one for everything else. I did try just giving them everything I pulled out, but I noticed that a bunch of junior rabbits in growout looked bloated afterward, so now I am more selective. The rabbits each get a fistful of the weeds I know they can eat. The rest of the day's weedings I put in the pasture for the hens and the goats. For instance, I had dozens of volunteer cherry tomato plants this year. I've been working on getting them out of the way for weeks, it seems! When I dump those plants into the pasture, the hens come running, and the goats saunter along behind them. The hens gobble down the fruit, ripe or not, and then start on the leaves. The goats eat the leaves. Yes, I've read that nightshade-family plants can be bad, but in small quantities, my critters do fine. By the following day, all I have left are stems. As another example, I've had some mammoth lambs' quarters grow here. The goats ADORE them. If I want to give the goaties a real treat, I'll bring in some of those.

Combining livestock with gardens doesn't make for free anything, but it sure can reduce costs. I don't fertilize my gardens, and I almost never have to water them. I still buy feed for the animals, but every bite they eat from the waste from the gardens reduces the amount of purchased feed they need. It all helps! And the results are delicious, and in many ways much more satisfying than anything I could buy.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Washing day thoughts

I'm doing laundry today. I am fortunate to have a very, very nice Maytag front-loading washer. Thrifty point #1 - it's no savings to choose the cheap version if 'less expensive' also means 'crappy quality.'  Then again, some folks use a washboard, or clean their clothes in a bathtub, often by necessity rather than choice. I'm going to be inadvertently snobby here and assume a washing machine of some sort.

Why am I doing laundry today, as opposed to any other day? Well, aside from the fact that I'm here today, and I'm not always at home, I chose today because the sun is shining, and that means I can hang my laundry out on the clothesline to dry.

Now, lots of folks carry on about how great a clothesline is. I'm inclined to agree. However, I'd like to articulate WHY a clothesline is so great.

Item: my clothes are dried for free. That's a huge plus.

Item: using a dryer dramatically shortens the life of clothing. It's a hard gig, being cooked, pummeled, and tossed around. Elastic particularly hates that kind of heat - and that means saggy socks and ill-fitting underwear - and life's way too short for uncomfortable knickers. That lint filter, when it's full, isn't just dog and cat hair (though that is perhaps one of the better uses of a dryer!) - it's little bits of the fabric. Me, I'd rather have those bits still attached to my clothing and linens, thanks.

Item: you just can't buy the scent of line-dried clothes for any price. The scent is amplified if the clothes are left out overnight so that dew accumulates on them, then dries.

There are possible drawbacks to line-drying, though:

Problem: clothes can fade in the sun.
Solution: dry clothes inside-out

Problem: clothes can be pulled out of shape on the clothesline, especially sweaters.
Solution: I hang my sweaters by the waist hem, putting the entire hem over the line by several inches, and put clothespins every 2-3 inches, to disperse the pressure points.

Problem: pollen allergies.
Solution: toss clothes into the dryer once dry, using the 'air dry' or 'fluff' cycle, for 5 minutes or so, to remove the worst of the pollen.

Problem: cold and/or wet weather in winter
Solution: this one can require a bit of space, and possibly also a tolerance for looking at clothes-drying racks. Clothes can be hung in various locations - from hangers on shower curtain rods, from bedroom window curtain rods, from door frames. You can use a folding drying rack. One of my girlfriends has a frame with half a dozen lines run through it, which she winches up to the ceiling once loaded. My house was built in the mid-90s, and the default heat is baseboard hot water, which is VERY drying. We used to raise sparks off of the dogs in the winter! I have 6 clotheslines in my basement for winter use. I put a fan at each end, just to keep the air circulating. This offers the double benefit of line-drying and of raising the ambient humidity in my house. I do NOT use this in rainy weather in summer, though, as my basement in summer is humid enough to need two dehumidifiers.
Caveat to Solution: Clothes sometimes take a couple of days to dry fully.

Problem: physical limitations can make lifting and hanging difficult.
Solution: I'm sure there is one, but it won't be a one-size-fits-all fix. I trust you to be creative, if you're determined to be. Ask for help, if you can - most of us don't like to ask, but remember: if it's more blessed to give than to receive, there MUST be someone to receive, or there won't be anyone for the givers to bless!

Ok - that's low-hanging fruit, obvious stuff. Let's think a bit further... and this is much less glamorous and self-evident. WHY are you washing what you're washing? Is it truly dirty, or was it worn for a few hours and removed while still clean? I'm here to tell you, if it ain't dirty, I don't launder it. Now, I live on a small farm. There are times when a garment barely lasts an hour before being shucked for, shall we say, unscheduled contact with livestock fecal matter.  However, a pair of jeans worn for running errands can go a week without being dirty enough to need laundering. Bath towels hit the wash about every 2 weeks, or when they develop an objectionable 'pong.' I am amazed, and not a little horrified, that some folks wash their towel after a single use. I mean, really? You were CLEAN when you used it, just wet. Let the thing hang dry on a towel rack and carry on!

This can be problematic if other household members aren't on board, especially of the sub-genus "teenagerus lazius." I have one teen, one proto-teen, and two ten-and-unders. I get this. My answer is to give it a quick visual inspection, and, if appropriate, a sniff-check. If it passes both, it goes back into the CLEAN laundry basket. I make an obvious point of this, by the way; I don't try to hide what I'm doing. I want my children to understand what I'm doing and why.

Next up - let's consider what we use to clean our laundry. I don't use commercial detergent any more, but neither do I make my own. Some folks do, and that's awesome. Of commercial detergents, I insisted on "Free" - no dyes, no scents. I mean, honestly... I can identify the ownership of clothing left here by my children's playmates by the smell of the detergent used. Gain = one household, Tide = another. When I realized that I could run a load of wash through the 'rinse' cycle and STILL have a full complement of suds, from residue on the clothes, that was enough for me. I have tried Charlie's soap and liked it fine. It was hard for me to source locally. I also tried Norwex laundry detergent and have LOVED it. Norwex seems to be a multi-level marketing company, though I consider that a plus rather than a detractor. I order through Marilyn Moll, whose name you might have heard via her business, The Urban Homemaker. This product has recently had its package size reduced and price proportionally increased, but I still love it. A 1-kilo bag will last me about 4 1/2 months and costs $21. I don't use fabric softener. I do bleach socks, underwear, and hand towels, though.

Consider your washer's water requirements, too - if you have town water and sewer, you pay for it coming into your house and going out. If you have well and septic, you still have to pay the opportunity cost of using drinking-quality water for cleaning clothing. Other choices can include harvesting rain water to use, at least in the first part of the cycle, putting a bucket into the shower to collect the 'not-hot-yet' water, and in summer, re-purposing dehumidifier water for the washer (it's distilled - just keep the reservoir clean). Is it a bit of a hassle? Sure. But if you're really thrifty, free is free, as long as you don't do in your back in obtaining the free stuff.

Finally, and this requires a bit of forward thinking, LOOK at the tag before you buy clothing. It doesn't matter how cute that dress is, nor how low it's been marked down, if you have to dry-clean it. Another suggestion along those lines is to buy second-hand (which merits its own post) but in this case for the reason that if it were going to fall apart on first wearing or laundering, or bleed color, or shrink, it will already have done so.

Ok, friends - what have I forgotten? What clever ideas do you have that I haven't considered yet?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why does Lincoln weep? Because he feels the pinch as he passes through my fingers.

I learned at the knee of my mother, who learned at the knee of HER mother.

My grandparents were married in 1932, in the depths of the Depression. They lived in LA at the time (I wish I had photos!) and went to the Los Angeles Olympics during their honeymoon. Six years later, they moved to Brazil for my grandfather's work - Grandma went cross-country by train with a 4 year old (my Mom) and an infant, and four years' worth of gear - diapers, formula, sanitary supplies - that she would not be able to buy in Brazil. They sailed to Brazil and only visited the US a few times in the next ten years. Grandma was the queen of making things last or doing without.

My parents were married in 1955. Mom was in her last year of college, and Dad in his first year of graduate school. My brothers came along in 1958 and 1959, and things were tighter than a debutante's corset for my folks. I showed up several years later, when they were settled here in Massachusetts and Dad was tenured at the University. Still, the corset didn't leave much breathing room.

Now I'm the mom, raising four children by myself on very little, and I hope I know a thing or two about making do, using less, and stretching everything. That's what I want to share here. Please share your wisdom and experience in the comments section - we can none of us figure everything out, but we can all of us come up with amazing ideas.