Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Accomplishing Things in My Head

As the tag sale season dwindles in NY, here's a great article on how to spot a good used bike. It might help you spot an end of season deal.

There's not a lot of time to accomplish things today. Its not only Halloween but a half day at my sons' schools as well. I can't believe they made today a parent teacher conference day! I also can't believe I signed up for one of the conferences! What was I thinking??

Most of the things I accomplish today will be in my own head. No, I don't mean they'll be imaginary! (At least I hope they won't be imaginary!) As I scurry from one thing to the next, I'll be trying to plan a few things out. For example, the chore system that we've had in place for years is no longer as functional as it once was and needs to be revamped.

As it stands right now, the girls have the large majority of the chores and the boys have very few. With the girls out of the house more for work and school and the boys getting older and more capable, the boys need to begin to help out more. Up until now I've just been asking the boys to fill in but the response is often, "That's HER job!" I've grown a little weary of that response.

The solution is for me to make a new game plan, run it by Jim and then present it to all the kids at the same time in a family meeting. Then, there is the challenge of implementing the new plan.

Its interesting to me how each child responds differently. The boys prefer to have their chores written out so they can look and see what they've done and what they need to do. Rob likes to take it one step further and be able to check off what he's already done. Nothing is more torturous for my sons than forgetting a chore and being reminded it still needs to be done. I feel there is an excel spreadsheet in my future (complete with check off boxes for Robert).

The girls, on the other hand, hate lists to the point where they wouldn't even look at them if you made them. They insist they can remember it all and would rather have me do my best impersonation of a broken record if they forget. Yuck, I like lists better. I feel there will be nagging in my future!

Here's an idea I've been using for getting an unloved chore done. Biscuit is a lab mix who has enough energy to power a large city. Robert is a child with a similar amount of energy. Both can be destructive when their excess energy is not burned off. Here's my solution. Together, they are doing laps around the block everyday after school. The minimum is 1 lap but they can do as many as they want, providing its still daylight and homework is done. When Rob & Biscuit reach 100 laps, Rob's been promised a new watch. Running with the dog is a lot more fun now!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Speaking of Logs ***UPDATE***

The CSA season is coming to a close. This is a good thing because my freezer is packed to near bursting! I seem to be getting better at sticking primarily to locally grown foods. I'm constantly amazed at how many local options we have.

Just stopping by the three or four different farmers' markets that I explored in various towns this summer, I discovered local low spray orchards, wineries, hormone free dairies and meat processing. Personally, I'm not a fan of the meat or dairy venues but at least small local operations have a better chance at more humane conditions and they leave a smaller environmental footprint.

Speaking of smaller environmental footprints, we used the wood stove again last night. Its efficient enough that the two logs I put in before bed were enough to keep the house comfy right through this morning. Some of the logs we had delivered were too long for the opening on our stove. This has been an ongoing issue and we've never found a good way to anchor the logs to cut them.

I remembered something my father had used to hold logs for cutting when I was a kid. It was made of wood and looked like two x's conected by several cross pieces to make it freestanding. The log sat in the v created by the top portion of the x's. I tried to google search this but had no luck. If plans for something like this are out there, I'm betting James can find them. I'll be looking for your input in the comments!

Last night Jim put together his own version of this using leftover 2 x 4's and other scrap wood. He sized the cross pieces so that just by sitting a log on it, you know where to cut to fit it in our stove! He's so ingenious! Don't worry if you can't imagine this, I'll put pictures of this up later on.

I haven't been very food inspired lately. Right now its all about using what's in the fridge and getting on the table by 5:00pm. Its exciting to watch the girls begin working but shuttling them around to jobs is exhausting and time consuming. This, of course, bring me back to the need for alternative transportation options and viable public transportation, as well as, communities designed with these things in mind. Just on the other side of our town, things are much more walker friendly but we live just off of a very busy 6 lane road (can you still call it a road if its 6 lanes across?) that I can't in good conscience let my kids try to cross.

Hindsight is 20/20 but as the kids grow and we begin to plan future chapters of our life, these are things that will have an impact on our decisions.

Although James didn't let me down, it was actually Ruthie, that google goddess, who first came up with the name and links to plans for making the log device I described. Its called a sawbuck. Here are some links:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Baby Its Cold Outside

This morning when I woke up, there was frost on the ground. I don't mean a little frost, I mean real frost. The current temperature outside is 27 degrees! So, for the first time this season, I started my morning by lighting the woodstove. It's so hard to get up in a cold house. (The thermostat said it was 60 degrees inside.)

Despite the extra work, I'm glad the cold weather is here. I like the feeling of slowing down and settling in for the winter. I like perusing projects that I've wanted to start or finish but haven't had time for. The wood stove draws everyone to the living room and I like that as well.

This morning we enjoyed steel cut oats, already hot and waiting for us, in the slow cooker. What a welcome sight it was! If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it on cold mornings. The ratio I use is from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes. It calls for 1 1/4 cups steel cut oats and 4 cups of water. Everyone adds their own soymilk in the morning to cool it down a bit. It does take a little longer to eat than a muffin or quick bread that you can take in the car but sometimes we need to force ourselves to slow down.

However, instead of slowing down today, I'm going to be extremely busy. There is a laundry list of errands to be run and things that must get completed before the day ends.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sew You're Ready For a New Challenge?

I really liked Rhonda Jean's post on living small. Its definitely worth a read.

A few weeks back Ruthie posted about making her first and second pair of yoga pants. I was inspired by her post. Lately, I've got a lot of "well if she can do it, I should be able to do it too" in my personality. I even went so far as to follow the link to the Simplicity pattern 7229 that Ruthie used. That's pretty much where my research and ambition ended.

The pattern cost $7.75 and I knew I really didn't have time for it right now, especially with my multitude of knitting class projects currently underway. I mentally filed my desire to make yoga pants in the someday category. Then fate intervened.

My gym used to be located in a small strip mall that included a Joann Fabric. I frequented Joann's when I needed something for a knitting class, not because I loved the store or thought the prices were so amazing but simply because I could walk to it from work. As I mentioned before they also send out 40% off coupons with amazing regularity.

When I was in buying my stitch gauge/needle sizer they were giving out coupons for an upcoming 50% off sale. I stuffed the single page flier in my purse and didn't give it much thought.

While the car salesman went bantering back and forth with his manager the other day, I decided to explore my purse and I came upom the flier again. Imagine my surprise when I discovered all Simplicity patterns were on sale for 99 cents! Of course there were a few exceptions, but the pattern I wanted didn't seem to be one of them.

I headed over after work yesterday, tentatively pulled open the enormous file cabinet of patterns and began the search for pattern 7229. My heart sank when I came upon a cardboard divider with that pattern number on it. I thought for sure it was out of stock. As I pulled the carboard forward, there was the actual pattern!

I did my mental happy dance all the way to the register, where once again the cashier looked at me like I was nuts. My bill came to under $2.50 and that included a large ball of cotton yarn which I used my 50% off coupon on. I guess no one spends that little anymore.

I must confess, I still don't think I'll get to making the yoga pants before the holidays but I'm so excited that I have the pattern already. I think I even have stretchy fabric in my giant box of fabric. Some snowy day I'll dig through and find out. Thanks Ruthie for letting us know about the pattern. I promise to use my tape measure before I cut and sew! (Just for the record, I haven't used an acual sewing pattern since I made the skirt I wore to my high school graduation 19 years ago. I'm scared!)

I've been blogging a lot lately about knitting. Interestingly, today's Ideal Bite Tip is on eco-friendly knitting. It must be the cooler weather inspiring us all to knit.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Will it Take For Me to Get You Behind the Wheel?

Cars give me a pain in the posterior. The days of loving, really loving a car are so far behind me that I find it hard to conjure up the memories of the emotion. If I search way back in my memory, the last car I loved was a red 1989 Nissan Sentra, my first new car. Now I couldn't care less if I ever owned a new car again. In fact, if I could magically transport my family and jobs to a more alternative transportation friendly environment, I would in a heartbeat. Someday we'll get there but it will take time to get that plan in motion. In the interim, we need two cars. Which brings me to an observation I made yesterday.

It seems my little buggy will need some hefty repairs in the near future if it is to continue as the primary mode of family transportation. The pros of fixing it are its paid for, it seats all 6 of us and the repairs are normal wear and tear issues. The cons are its got 134,000 miles, some rust, a history of transmission troubles (all covered by warranty up to this point) and more than a few quirks. Plus, its a minivan that gets a maximum of 22 miles to the gallon.

Like any frugal minded person, we're exploring our options before doing anything. Part of yesterday's exploration involved a trip to test drive a smaller used station wagon at a local car dealership.

I often feel like an anthropologist observing another culture in situations like that. Its so interesting to observe the way its all arranged, from the layout of the showroom to the "I've got to check with my manager" schtick that the salespeople do. It seems to me, they make you wait endlessly while they check this and that to make you more anxious and feel less worthy so you're more likely to jump at anything they offer. The poor guy got more than he bargained for when I walked in.

I came in armed with the Carfax sheet on the car, pricing info from Edmunds and Consumer Reports and the knowledge that this car could work but it didn't have to. Remember, I still have a functioning vehicle. I also took the time to figure out the value of my car using those same resources.

So what was the outcome? I'm not sure yet, big decisions take time to make and despite the industries desire to "put me behind the wheel" I'm not sure if I want to be there.

I do know this. I don't want to "put $1 down with no payments until February." I do not have "no credit or bad credit" so I don't need them to "work with me." I also do not "deserve a new car" or "need a new car" despite what all the radio commercials tell me. Being frugal has given me options. Having options gives me power. Having power means I get to make the best choice for me and not take the only option available to me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spotting & Fixing Errors

Thanks for the ideas on how to use those t-shirts. I'll let you know what I decide to do. I had totally forgotten but my neighbor used to do a lot with wonder under. She used to take her kids character bedsheets when they were worn out in the center and use the rest to decorate canvas bags for projects at her kids' birthday parties. I'm going to pick her brain before I try anything.

In knitting news, I love the way the cabled scarf pattern is turning out. It is definitely a pattern that is best done while the kids are at school. There's too much counting to lose track of when everyone is around. I fouled up a row of my lace scarf last night but, thankfully, I can show it to my teacher tonight and she'll know in a second how to fix it. I think that's the best part of taking classes. I'd like to develop that eye for how to fix my knitting errors.

I hadn't thought about it before but that's something I already have with cooking, although its taken me years to cultivate it and most of the knowledge arrived as a result of screw ups I made along the way. Honestly, who among us hasn't made bread bricks or muffin hockey pucks?) I've gotten very good at diagnosing the problems people have when cooking and what to do about them.

I think that makes it easier for me to be confident when I make recipe substitutions, which ultimately makes it easier for me to be both frugal and healthy when cooking. Let's face it, I make almost as many substitutions to make ingredients healthier (ie. whole wheat flour for white, oil for margarine, pureed dates for sugar, etc.) as I do to make a dish vegan.

Speaking of fixing my own errors, here's something I discovered years ago but was reminded of when a new kitty joined our family a few weeks ago. Don't vacuum up used kitty litter that somehow makes it out of the catbox. The stench inside the vacuum will make you want/need to change your bag sooner than necessary. Instead, use a stiff broom and a dustpan to get as much up as possible, even if its on a rug like mine is. When you've gotten as much as you can by this method, then get the vacuum out.

If you're wondering how used kitty litter magically flies out of the cat box then you obviously don't have a dog who thinks the catbox is his personal snack bar. Consider yourself very lucky and ignore this last bit of wisdom. As for me, I'm on the lookout for a kiddie gate to stick in the doorway so the cat can come and go while the dog can not.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Holiday Planning

Even though its not quite Halloween, I've been thinking about hand-made holiday gift giving. This was something that I desperately missed last year.

Here's an interesting link that describes how to make several of the pricey items in the Pottery Barn catalog and generally encourages the reader to use catalogs as a source of inspiration rather than actually buying the merchandise. Thanks to Meredith at Like Merchant Ships for the great ideas.

I've really been using my knitting class as a source of inspiration for holiday gifts. I did buy my sock yarn and circular needles this weekend. Chile suggested checking out thrift stores for knitting needles for future projects. I agree totally. That is exactly where most of my needles come from.

To make purchasing used needles easier, you might want to consider purchasing a stitch gauge/needle sizer. This nifty little gadget sells for under $2 at most craft stores and lets you figure out what size unmarked needles are. Its small enough to carry in your purse which I find particularly useful.

I got mine at our local JoAnn Fabric using one of the 40% off coupons they always have on the back of the sale flyers. I always use those coupons on the most mundane but necessary things, like a particular color thread I've run out of. The cashiers look at me like I'm nuts. I guess everyone else uses them to buy a new sewing machine or some other big ticket item.

Today, I'm allocating one of my half hour chunks to get starting on a reversible cable scarf pattern my instructor emailed to us. There's also apple butter on the agenda and lots of laundry.

In other frugal crafting news, my daughters have been cleaning out their closets and have given me a challenge. They have a bunch of shirts with sayings that they no longer wear but they like the sayings. They want me to make something out of them. They are very thin, low quality material so I don't think quilt squares are the best option. Do you have any ideas?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Here Comes the Weekend

I'm 37 years old and I still welcome Fridays like a kid in grammar school. I love the anticipation of the weekend arriving and the work week/school week ending. It begins to creep into my thoughts the middle of the week. When Friday mornings finally arrive, they are so full of promise.

My weekends are a fresh start, a chance to catch up on things that slipped by me during the week. Perhaps best of all, the weekend gives me the opportunity to be with my family which makes any task easier to accomplish. Even folding laundry can be fun when doing it with another person.

The weekend is actually chock full of things to do. There are apples to can, veggies to freeze, wood to stack and much more. I even have to get up early tomorrow morning! Even so, I'm planning to sneak some knitting in on the car ride to our CSA pickup. For you non-knitters, be warned - knitting is addictive!

In not so frugal news, we're starting socks next week in knitting class! How is this not frugal? Well, I have to buy two sets of size two circular needles and a particular type of sock yarn. I look at learning to knit socks a lot like cooking. The first time I try a recipe, I tend to follow it closely. After that, I feel comfortable to experiment. The yarn store is on the way to my brother's house and I am going there for a party Sunday. At least I'm not driving out of my way! (How's that for a frugal justification??)

Happy Weekend to All!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Recipe Roundup

I've had some recipe successes as well as a notable flop recently. Here's the scoop.

The granola bars I made were a definite success. For the most part they hold together and what doesn't hold together is willingly gobbled up as cereal. Try as I might, I can't find the source of the original recipe but I suspect it came from the Vegetarian Group. Naturally I tinkered with it so it only vaguely resembles the original recipe anyway. Here's my version:

Granola Bars

Combine the following on an ungreased cookie sheet:
2 1/2 cups uncooked oatmeal
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup flaxseed meal

Set your oven to 300 degrees and place the cookie sheet in your oven for 20 minutes while its preheating.

Heat the following in a small saucepan:
2 Tbs canola oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup pureed dates

Place 1 cup of raisins into a mixing bowl. Pour in dry ingredients and stir to combine. Remove wet ingredients from heat, stir in 2 tsp of vanilla extract* and 1 tsp cinnamon and then pour over dry ingredients. Quickly stir until everything is coated.

Continuing to move quickly (because this beccomes a sticky mess rather quickly) press this mixture into a greased 8 x 8 pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool slightly and then cut into bars. Let the whole thing cool completely before attempting to remove from pan.

*I skipped the vanilla extract because I used vanilla sugar.

I did finally make a very mild baba ganoush a few days ago. Everyone liked it but I had made a lot, far too much to use in sandwiches. I sliced two onions and cooked them in a bit of water until they carmelized. Then I added a can of black olives and some chick peas. I tossed these around until they were heated through. Then I added in the leftover baba ganoush and again let it heat through before serving it over pasta. The result was really tasty and everyone took leftovers for lunch the following day!

Last night, it seems, I was feeling a little too kitchen confident because part of last night's dinner won the stinker of the week award. Our Tuesday CSA pickup had a small amount of broccoli pieces in it, perfect for cream of broccoli soup. Having never made vegan cream of broccoli soup, I headed to the cookbooks. I wound up using the Broccoli Cheez Soup recipe from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. Visually and texturally, the soup was perfect but the taste was a little too intense. Everyone ate it but they requested it never reappear on the menu.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Let's Try That Again

Yesterday, I mentally broke my day into 1/2 hour chunks. (Don't you wish you had my mind powers?) Doing this helped me balance what I needed to get done with what I wanted to spend time on. I also tried to time things so that I was doing something enjoyable during a passive moment in other more necessary activities. For example, I showered while the laundry was washing. I knitted while the granola bars were baking.

I wish the knitting had gone better. I was still working on that really complicated lace pattern I mentioned here. I got frustrated because the mistakes were really evident because of the repetitive pattern, so I took a break and tried one of the simpler patterns we had been given. Things were going well until I apparently lost count and purled when I should have knitted. Next thing I knew, I had done about 8 rows backwards!

In a moment of temper (or unrestrained PMS) I ripped out all 30 or so rows and started over. Thank goodness the each row has only 25 stitches! Am I getting to be a knitting snob? I don't think so. I'm making this scarf for my aunt and I'd prefer if my screw ups occured in the section of scarf that wraps around her neck rather than on the edge where everyone will see!

On the other hand, my very simple scarves made using eyelash yarn and knit stitch only, have come out very well. I'm using Copacabana for one and Cotton Candy for the other. I've finished one and am quite a ways into the second. Shh, these are holiday presents for two very fashionable young ladies. Eyelash yarn is tricky to deal with at first because of all the stray pieces folding over the needles but it quickly gets easier.

While doing all that laundry yesterday, I tossed in the felted purse project inside a pillow case. I left the top of the machine open so I could let it agitate a few extra times. It worked pretty well. I blocked it and set it to dry so I could blanket stitch the sides shut and add a button to close the top today. As I mentioned earlier, my purse seemed very long and narrow. When I added the loop described in the pattern, I just wasn't convinced felting would solve the narrow, pencil case-like look of this purse, so I added a second loop on the shorter side.

As I suspected, felting made the whole project smaller but didn't change the proportions of it. The good news is by adding the second loop, I can turn the project on its side when I fold and sew it to create a more normal shaped purse. The second loop will be the one that anchors over the button to keep the purse closed. The other loop sticks out the side of the purse and, once I add a key ring to it, will become a place to put your keys. Not a bad salvage job if I do say so myself! (BTW, if you hated the key ring idea, you could just cut the loop off and it wouldn't show at all.)

I'll post the granola bar recipe I mentioned earlier tomorrow. I'm still trying to track down the original source of the recipe I used.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why I Subscribe

The last child just boarded the school bus and the quiet is just amazing. Moms don't get enough chances to experience quiet so I really savor these moments of sipping coffee and planning my day.

Its laundry day around my house. Conveniently, the sun is shining so I can get some laundry hung outside. These fall days when its not cold enough to light the woodstove can be challenging for getting things to dry without using the dryer.

My mention of the HomeEconomiser Newsletter prompted Meredith from Like Merchant Ships to ask the question: "How does it compare to reading blogs for information?"

Although I did respond in yesterday's comment section, I thought everyone might be interested so here's my response:

I do like the HomeEconomiser but you ask a really good question. I subscribe for two reasons.

The first is to get information concisely, in one place without having to search for it.

The second is to support frugal living. I'm just one woman sitting behind a computer typing away about frugal living. Most people stumble upon my blog by accident. I guess that means I'm passive in my spreading of frugality.

Steve and Annette at HomeEconomiser, on the other hand, are actively getting the word out giving interviews and with public appearances. They're are telling people who never considered a frugal way of life about it. My subscription money ($12 for 6 issues) helps allow them to do this. I think that's a worthwhile cause to support.

I think of it the same way I think about paying more for Seventh Generation toilet paper because it uses 100% recycled paper, with a minimum of 80% post-consumer materials. Sure it costs more but its something that I want to support.

Ultimately, do I think you could find comparable information through blogs? Probably. You might want to give their freezine a try.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It All Comes Back to the Bread

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, portions of your world fall apart. Last year, as I spent a huge amount of hours working, the inner workings of my house began to fall apart.

Piles of paper appeared as children emptied their book bags. Mail came and items to be saved, like IEPs and report cards made more piles. Magazines that I never had time to really read filled a basket to overflowing. (A word on the mags, the only subscriptions I pay for are VegNews, Mother Earth News and HomeEconomiser. The rest just seem to magically appear.)

Although I thought I sorted, outgrown clothes remained mixed in with the boys' winter clothing that I packed away at the end of last season. Clothing and shoes given to my daughters by their ultra cool aunt got added to their closet without being gone through first, creating massive piles of things they never planned to wear but hadn't gotten around to going through.

With my new schedule, we've been steadily regaining ground since the beginning of September. This weekend was amazing in terms of what we were able to accomplish both inside and outside the house. It really helped that the kids all pitched in, even when pitching in meant just playing nicely with friends and giving mom and dad time to focus. The girls even began to clean out their room and closets, resulting in about 7 bags of clothes and shoes to be donated! Can you imagine?

I change my rules of conduct during times of intense cleaning like this. Normally, I prefer to freecycle items but during times like this, bulk donations to a local thrift store make much more sense. The last thing you need after cleaning up piles is to create more piles as you wait for people to show up. I also don't save clothing for craft projects during these times, except for denim - I always save denim.

I even got caught up on all my freezing, even those turnips that I never could seem to get to! While I was chopping and blanching, Jim cleaned the inside of the fridge. Seeing progress was addictive, so we just kept barreling on.

We did take time to enjoy a big brunch Sunday, making extra pancakes for Monday and Tuesday's breakfasts. Then, while Jim repaired the dogs' 25 foot run leash that he accidentally severed with his lawn mower a few weeks ago, I made a batch of Barbara's whole wheat bread for the first time in a very long time. As I turned the handle of my bread bucket, I felt euphoric, like I had regained something very special to me.

Do you have to bake bread to be frugal, certainly not. For me, baking bread and making other foods from scratch, isn't just about frugality, its about feeding my family the most wholesome foods that I can. As I worked in the kitchen yesterday making snacks to fill lunch boxes, I felt very satisfied that I was doing just that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Monkey Wrench Factor

I think I've begun to pin down what exactly makes people give up on frugality. I've deemed it the "monkey wrench factor." Here's an example of it in action that happened to me only yesterday.

After work, I went through the fridge and got out all the greens I could find, except lettuces, and began steaming and freezing them. My fridge was getting clear, my freezer was getting full and I was feeling good. I had plans to move on to turnips when I realized I had to pick up Kyle from intramurals, a free afterschool gym program.

I left the kitchen a work in progress, or a mess in progress depending on your perspective and headed to pick Kyle up. Since I was already out I planned to head to the DMV to pick up the driving manual for my daughter, who's been begging for it since 9/19. My daughter was in the car because the plan was for her to run in and pick up the manual while I looped the block rather than pay for parking and walk a huge distance in the rain.

The plan went off without a hitch. Tasha was waiting for me as I came back around. Just as she got into the car, Jim called. This was odd since he should have been 2/3 of the way home by that point. He was driving home when his alternator died and could I meet him at the service station 45 minutes away? So much for turnips.

I stopped home, dropped off Tasha, told the girls to eat the leftovers for dinner, made a few sandwiches for the road, let the boys hit the bathroom and away we went. The boys happily ate sandwiches and played travel Uno as we drove. We picked up Jim and reversed the route stopping briefly for a roll for each of the boys and an extra large coffe for Jim & I to share. (There's no time to brew coffee yourself when you know your honey issoggy and waiting for a ride.)

Once home, we too ate some of the leftovers. Jim supervised homework while I finished with the greens. Forty five minutes later the boys were in bed and Jim was making plans for how to get to work today. In the end, despite my promising start, I didn't get half of what I wanted/needed to get accomplished done.

The monkey wrench is not the car repair or the tow bill as you might suspect. The monkey wrench is the event itself and the time spent rectifying it. In frugal living time is a precious commodity. When time is short, we become tempted to do things we wouldn't ordinarily do for the sake of convenience, like get takeout. Throw a few monkey wrenches into your week and frugality can go out the window.

I confess, I pondered takeout when Jim first called. Then I quickly thought about ways to avoid it. We don't enjoy takeout enough to spend money on it and I had leftovers at home that would work for a late dinner. The sandwiches would tide us over, the rolls were a little treat for the boys and the coffee was just plain necessary. I was willing to make a $3 investment but not a $30 one. Questioning your first reaction to a situation is the first step in living a frugal lifestyle.

All of this brings me to the decision I made back in June to dramatically cut my work hours and responsibility. For me, having more time, even though it is coupled with less income, makes it easier to be frugal. I think too many people are fearful of trying to do things because of just the kind of day I had yesterday.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

An Odd Dinner Inspiration

A while back (in 2005 to be precise) I posted about discovering discount grocery stores. Darrylvkjust just let me know about a directory of discount and salvage stores. It doesn't include stores like Aldis, Price Rite or Save-a-Lot.

Speaking of food, our dinner time has been in a state of flux since school started mainly due to 5:15 - 6:00 swim team practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday for Rob. This past week he got moved up to the next level which means 6:00 - 7:30 swim team practice Monday, Wednesday and Saturday practice from 1:00 - 2:30. This is good news for us. If dinner is ready at 5:00, we'll have time to eat before we head to practice. It also gives Jim the opportunity to exercise while Rob swims rather than going to the Y at 5:30am. I just have to get into a rhythm of having dinner ready by 5:00.

On Tuesday evening, due to more veggies than my fridge could hold, I put a huge bunch of chopped celery, a pound of chopped tomatoes and 3 eggplants (I salted and rinsed these first) into the slow cooker on low. The cover wouldn't close all the way so I added a bit of water and told Jim, with a lot of false confidence, that it all would cook down and fit easily. Imagine my surprise and delightwhen I woke up in the morning and it actually had!

I added some red lentils to the mix, along with some nutritional yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, a half teaspoon of seasoned salt, some onion and garlic powder. To serve, I made some pasta and toasted a handful of chopped walnuts in a cast iron pan. I mixed the walnuts into the eggplant mixture and served it like a sauce over the pasta. It wasn't bad for a meal built totally out of a lack of storage space!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Change Begins At Home

Chile & James have both nominated me for the Change Begins at Home award! To quote Melanie, the creator of the award, "This is given to bloggers who live what they preach, who try to make the changes in their own lives that they would like to see in the world."

Thank you both so much! Its gratifying to know that others appreciate what I'm sharing. I've always felt that I could have the greatest impact on society through my personal everyday actions. If I want society to change then, for me, the best course is not to yell and shout about how wrong things are, although there are days when I'd love to. Instead, I prefer to show people how things can be done and used differently and still be wonderful. The best learning opportunities come when someone comments on a particular project like the bedspread curtain or the denim quilts.

The award rules are:

1. Nominate three bloggers who epitomise "Change begins at home"

2. Link back to the person who nominated you, and link back to this post

3. When you receive the award, you may display the "Change begins at home" button on your blog.

Its still a learning process for me. Here are three bloggers who help me in that process and I would like to nominate for the Change Begins at Home Award:

Ruthie at frugal, sustainable and happy

Crystal at Vivacious Vegan

Barbara at Frugal Portland Living

Friday, October 05, 2007

Felting & Fixing

I was thinking about felting yesterday. Since felting essentially creates a fabric out of the wool,why would you need to reknit something? Couldn't you just shrink the sweater you were planning to unravel first and then cut and shape it into whatever you wanted to make?

To answer a question like this you need to go to a place where the frugal fold gather. I started by checking Dollar Stretcher but had no luck. Next stop, Thrifty Fun where I hit the jackpot. Check out the Cheater's Felted Purse if you're a non knitter and still want to give felting a try.

Here are instructions for felting using a washing machine, which is the prefered method. Here are hand washing instructions for felting.

My project is ready to be washed but I'm having a hard time finding the time to do it. (I feel guilt about running the washer and I don't have time to hand felt.) There's a good chance it may sit until next week sometime. I didn't really look at what I was knitting as a whole before finishing it off and I've just noticed it looks like my purse will be very wide and very skinny. Maybe I subconciously made a knitting needle carrying case instead! I'll see what happens when I actually felt it.

I feel this urge to create things right now. I'm just enjoying seeing projects begin, come along and finally come together. Sometimes short term projects, like last nights backpack zipper repair, are really gratifying.

Kyle has a double zipper on the top of his backpack. Both of the ends of the zipper had begun to unravel and one zipper pull actually fell off yesterday. Getting the zipper pull back on and the teeth of the zipper lined up again proved the most time consuming and frustrating portion of the process. Once it was reattached, I sewed across the zipper so the pull couldn't go that far down again. Then, I proceded to sew in all the frayed edges. After half an hour, we had a functional backpack, a happy child and a victorious mother.

When I embark on a repair project my mantra goes something like this:
I can do this!
I mean I should be able to do this.
There's got to be a way to do this!
Isn't there some way to do this?
If _____ can do this, then I can do this!
Oh, this is how you do this!
Next time, I'll be much quicker at this!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wait, I Thought We Were Making Socks!

Do you remember the feeling in high school of walking into class both late and unprepared? I experienced it again last night when I walked into my knitting class. My evening had already been hectic. I had to take Rob to swim team, go to Tasha's BOCES Cosmetology open house and then head to my knitting class.

I got to knitting about 45 minutes late. This was great considering its a two hour class and I thought I'd be much later. I had also gotten all but two rows of my project done so I was feeling pretty good. BTW, don't try to knit while watching the swim team practice, the yarn sticks to your sweaty little fingers and begins to feel like razor wire.

When I walked in, I discovered we had moved on to learning to read the pattern for a very complicated lace scarf, not socks as I had thought (socks are coming later in the course). To add to my confusion, I wound up sitting next to a very nice, but very loud, woman who talked constantly as I struggled to get the stitch pattern right. I had to go deep into my own head to focus, which, after a long day, isn't really hard for me to do.

I was able to get the pattern right, although I did have to write it out stitch by stitch. The asterisks, parenthesis and small print the pattern used were making me loopy. Several people in the class agreed that this was a good technique to use.

As we wrapped things up for the night, our teacher informed us that this was an example of a badly written pattern and if we could master this, we could do anything. Our assingment is to finish our felted coin purse and to work on our lace scarf pattern. I think I might just start the scarf. I hate making samplers, they make me feel like I'm wasting my yarn.

The thing that I notice more and more is the amount of money that can be spent or saved by knitting, or any DIY project, depending on how it is approached. My yarn comes primarily from thrift stores and yard sales. The highest I've paid is $.50 per skein. In some cases I've paid much less. By the time I finish unraveling the sweater, I think I'll have the equivalent of 3-4 skeins of yarn at a total cost of $.25.

Many people in my class talk about how much they spend on yarn and its a lot more than what I'm spending. Ironically, I've frequently gotten compliments on the yarn I use. I guess there are a lot of people who buy higher quality yarn and then never do anything with it so off to the thrift store it goes!

I'm hoping to add some pictures of my projects in the next few days.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Time Out

My yoga time out yesterday really helped me get my head clearer. I had already begun clearing out my computer room/office to make it my personal yoga space as well. Moving the coffee table out of the way so I can spread my mat out in the living room has gotten a little tedious for me. Has anyone else ever noticed how their dog can be sleeping peacefully on the other end of the house but as soon as you get into downward dog or triangle they need love and attention immediately???

Having a dedicated space also makes it easier when I'm doing yoga with Kyle. Having a door to shut out the distractions of the world really helps him focus. Of course at the moment, there's no door on the room in question. There had been one but when the boys' bedroom door fell apart a few weeks ago, I moved my door onto their hinges.

If you're wondering how a bedroom door can break, you obviously don't have two sons. Sons can deconstruct ANYTHING!! The door literally fell apart (the support pieces from the inside fell out the bottom leaving two flimsy pieces of wood that periodically jammed shut) from little boys hanging on the doorknob and riding it as the door opened and closed. The demise of the door was further helped along by a little temper fit or two slamming it shut.

So getting a new door is now on my to do list. For anyone who was inspired to try doing yoga with their kids after my posts about Yoga for the Special Child but has become frustrated with the process, let me suggest mini yoga sessions. Kyle has been resistant to doing yoga since school started, really resistant. You can't do yoga with a screaming child, it defeats the purpose of it.

Instead, I've begun doing 10 minutes of yoga with him before school each day. I believe Sonia Sumar says in her book Yoga for the Special Child that a little yoga everyday is better than a lot of yoga once in a while. Sticking to 10 minutes means 1 quick round of chanting, and basically 1 movement for each directiont he body can go in (forward, backward, sideways and twisting) and the fastest relaxation you ever imagined. As he becomes less resistant, I'll begin increasing the time we spend.

Tonight is my knitting class and I've got 23 rows to finish! If only I'd remembered to grab my knitting bag when I took my son to swimming lessons yesterday. Actually its not that big of a deal at all. I discovered that taking a sweater apart is actually a lot more time consuming than you'd think. I haven't unraveled the whole sweater yet, only enough to make this project.

To finish the purse you need to blanket stitch the edge. Here's a more visual explanation of blanket stitching.

If felting really results in such a durable product, I might use the rest of the sweater to make a larger tote bag.

I made a huge batch of vegetable soup yesterday to use up the veggies in the fridge. I've frozen it all in anticipation of the cold winter ahead. Yesterday, I went through my cookbooks in search of a turnip recipe that tickled my fancy. In the past, I've roasted them with beets which is very nice but I was looking for something different. There was a turnip puff recipe that intrigued me. Since most of the recipes I found called for mashed turnips, I think I'll probably peel, cook and mash all the ones I have, especially since they're taking up two drawers in my fridge.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Inner Peace?

I'm sitting, sipping coffee, still in my pjs as I type this. The mania of packing bookbags, lunches and the inevitable scurry to catch the bus is over for this morning. I need to catch my breath before attacking the rest of my day.

Ruthie's yoga revelation yesterday reminded me how much I could use to slow down and take some time for my own yoga revelation. Actually, I'm not looking for a revelation today. I'd settle instead for a feeling of calm and well being. I think I'll roll out my yoga mat and sneak some yoga in before I hit the shower. You won't rat me out for not being overtly productive for a few minutes, will you?

I love all the frugal things I do. I enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to deal with problems, food and otherwise. Right now I just need to recharge.

This past Sunday the womens gym I managed closed. I'd been a member since September 2001 and an instructor since September 2003. Seeing that gym almost completely empty was the saddest thing I'd seen in a long time. It was a place where we made friends and shared with them joys, sorrows, successes and failures. Together we had babies, nursed family members through sickness, lost family members and watched our kids grow. We tried new things and held onto things we loved. Ultimately, we became a family.

Now moving day has come and gone. All of our equipment and classes have been moved to the main building. In fact, a good portion of the equipment is still sitting in the lobby. The floor in our aerobics room won't be done until Friday so we're teaching classes in a huge echoing gymnasium. Our members are feeling angry and displaced. There's only so much PR work I can do because I'm feeling angry and displaced too.

Change is inevitable and its not always bad. I know in a few weeks this won't be such a big deal and there certainly are positive aspects to working in the main facility. Most staff have been very kind and supportive to us and even though I gave up managing, everyone wants my opinion on how to make things better for all. Later, when I'm not feeling so raw, I might see this as a really positive change. But right now, I need to find some inner peace and calm, so to the mat I go.

Later this morning, I intend to go on a freezing binge that includes the hot peppers and tomatillos that have been mocking me since last Tuesday.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Crabapple Success

I used some of the cooked crabapples in apple bread yesterday and the results were really good. I had initially added 1 cup of sugar to about 6 quarts of spiced crapapple butter. I personally thought they were still pretty tart, bordering on sour, although my son loved it.

The apple bread recipe I used called for 1 cup of sugar per loaf. Generally, I think that makes a loaf that is too sweet but in this case the proportions were just right. I'm excited about future crapapple endevours!