Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Still Getting Ready for School

My sons' room has been decluttered, vacuumed and generally readied for school to begin. I've begun to check through their clothes and will finish weeding out the things they've outgrown.

My technique for dealing with outgrown clothes has changed over time. If it no longer fit anyone in the house, I used to just put it in a bag and toss it in my car to take to a Goodwill type bin the next time I passed one. In the last year I've begun really looking at each piece of clothing and reviewing my current craft/household projects. Could I use the fabric from this in something else? In the case of my fickle teenage daughters, could I alter this to make it more fashionable? You'd be amazed at how much you can reuse. A fair amount still goes to those bins but at least I've thought about it first.

My teenage daughters' room is a far more tedious go. They are about half way done and the closet is part of the not yet looked at half. We've hung stuffed animals on the side of their milk crate shelves to give more floor/bed space. We're developing a "no junk on the desk" policy to keep it clear for future homework. Hopefully things will be clear by this evening.

This will be the first time in three years that I haven't had to drive a child to preschool. Its good timing considering gas prices but it also gives me more time for food prep in the morning. As in the past, I will begin making muffins for easy breakfasts. Since I can get bananas at a discount grocery for $.29/pound, I think the first week of school will include banana muffins. I'll also freeze a bunch for down the road. Apple picking is going to help expand the breakfast menu in a frugal and fun way.

You can keep your muffin costs down by using cooking water from pasta or potatoes in place of all or part of the soymilk in recipes. I do it all the time and it works really well and helps to stretch our soymilk budget. I've also made the ricemilk recipe from How It All Vegan for use in baked goods. I don't care for the taste to drink, but it works very well in recipes.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Countdown to School Begins

I'm back home for the first time in 27 days so my daughter can attend her high school orientation. I feel positively jet lagged even though I've only traveled 2 1/2 hours. Things are moving so much faster here than I've grown accustomed to! I have to use a car to do anything. This summer I've only used my minivan once a week at most. It doesn't help that school starts in 10 days and we're going away for one last end of summer fling in 3. When we get back this time, I go back to work and school starts the next day. We've got a lot to do. Time for a plan of action!

The first thing I noticed upon entering my house is the amazing amount of clutter. I thought I'd gotten that in check a long time ago but living in much closer quarters for the summer and having it seem more spacious has proven this thought wrong. We need to go through each room and we need to determine what's useful and what's not. I suspect there will be much freecycling in our future.

On the clothing front, we need to pull out the boxes of fall/winter clothes and sort through the summer clothes. This I've gotten pretty good at but its where my daughters need the most help. There are parts of their closet that hold clothes they have never worn and never intend to wear. I'd like to help them get that under control.

School supplies for my middle school and high schooler remain a great mystery. I'll hold out for the first day of school and the specific list rather than guess, although looseleaf paper, pens, pencils and folders will already be in the house. For my sons I already have the lists. Today I will go through my stashes of school supplies and tomorrow I will get the missing items. Thankfully, all the back packs from last year held up well. Here's a tip that helped the back packs last, line the lower half of the packs with a heavy material (I used the legs of worn out jeans) to prevent the weight of the school books from wearing through at the bottom corners.

Lunch bags need to be decorated or at least labeled. We got a dozen of the canvas lunch bags from Oriental Trading last year and they worked out well. At the end of the week they go in with the laundry and the food funk is cleaned away. My kids all dislike the bulkiness of insulated bags and since this mimics a paper lunch bag it seems to be a good compromise. They never kept those insulated bags clean anyway. I can still put a freezer pack in the bags which gives us some flexibility. We're still short on sandwich containers but I'll be hitting the thrift store circuit one more time before school starts.

For lunch the kids have asked for peanut butter and jelly with pretzels on it and hummus. When I pressed them for more options they all announced that this was what they liked so, for now, this is what it will be. Snacks will include popcorn, pretzels, sesame sticks and fresh fruit(I'm hoping to squeeze in a fun frugal trip to the orchard for some apples this weekend.)

Now its time to refil my coffee and get started!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Let the Canning Begin!

I haven't had much time to blog lately. We're trying to hang on the the last days of summer while trying to prepare for the fall. I put up 6 pints of tomato sauce yesterday and have another 7 quarts about to go into the canner tonight. Its a great feeling. We're planning a major trip to the apple orchard in the next few weeks with lots of canning action to follow.

Canning for the first time is scary but once you do it a few times its not stressful at all. Its just empowering.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Its Tomato Canning Time!

There's a nip in the night air. The temperature will be dipping into the low 50's in the Adirondacks tonight. Tomorrow's weather is only heading up to the mid 70's. What perfect weather for canning the massive amount of tomatoes we got from the CSA today!

I know many think of canning as a forgotten chore from long ago, but I believe it is really a chore worth learning. There is a sense of empowerment, knowing that your pantry is full. The August/September issue of Mother Earth News has a great article on how to get canning. Check it out at your local library or online at

Monday, August 22, 2005

My Neighbor & Her Surplus Zucchini

Everyday a neighbor down the street puts her surplus zucchini on a table by her mailbox with a sign that says free and bags to carry the load home. My kids have gotten in the habit of strolling by just before dinner time as they walk the dogs. By that time of day most people have already taken what they want so my kids pick up a bunch and leave a thank you note.

The extra produce has been great. Just the other day we used some of that zucchini to make zucchini bread. We sent some across the street to our elderly neighbor who watches our house whenever we're not around. The ultimate frugal thank you!

Inspiring Frugality in Our Kids

I'm nearly done sewing the third panel of the curtains I've been working on. I just three more to go. My daughter has embarked on a sewing project of her own. She's making a skirt from a pair of jeans that no longer fit by cutting out the inseam and adding in a fabric panel in the front and back. She got the idea from a book called Do It Yourself Girl.

I have to wonder if her project is inspired by one of our many frugal, recycled item projects. I hope so!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The $3.00 bag Sale

Our local church thrift store was having a $3.00/bag sale on clothing this week. I almost skipped it. The store is tiny, crowded and tends to be pricier than the Salvation Army thrift store I favor. Its also not as nicely organized.

When my husband had to make an emergency run to the hardware store for wood putty, I hopped in the car on a whim and asked him to drop me off at the thrift store which was on the way. Five minutes after he pulled away I was in bargain heaven!

When he came to pick me up 25 minutes later, I was filling my second bag. I pushed him in the direction of the mens clothing and urged him to look quick as we only had five minutes left before closing. It was like that crazy shopping show where you had a limited time to fill the shopping cart with the groceries.

When we left the store with our two bulging bags (hey, she said we could stuff them) we felt we had gotten our $6.00 worth. Here's a peek at what we brought home:

9 pairs of jeans in beautiful condition (brands included Gap, LEI, Levis, Lee)
9 shirts in like new condition (brands included Old Navy, Gap)
1 pair of like new hiking boots
1 skirt
1 bathing suit cover up

The moral of the story? I will not be a thrift store snob and I will keep my eye out for the next $3.00/bag sale (which will be at the end of the winter.)

My Review of Miserly Moms

I just finished reading Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy. She's got some fascinating information on the cost of utilities, some decent sounding vegetarian recipes and a very extensive list of resources in the back of the book.

It's not a book that I'd purchase but its definitely worth a read. I think of books like The Complete Tightwad Gazette and The Encyclopedia of Country Living as books worth buying because there is always something new to learn or reference in them. This book made great points but once you write the recipes you like down, make note of ways to cut your utility bills and grocery costs you're pretty much done with it. Check it out at your local library.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Finding the Discount Grocery Store

It pays to listen to your elders! Just yesterday I met up with an older neighbor at the library. She gave me a heads up on two discount grocery stores in our area and suggested I give them a try. I didn't know about either one of them. Since they were across the street from each other and less than a mile from the store I had intended to go to, I decided to check them out.

My first stop was Sav A Lot, Bananas were $.29/pound, a gallon of white vinegar was $.99, toilet paper $.49/1000 sheet roll. (Bananas are the one fruit I compromise on and buy non-organic sometimes.) There were some other good prices but all on stuff I don't buy. I do remember a time when I would have been tempted by the cheap cereal.

My next stop was Price Rite, I couldn't find a website when I did a google search. I'd check the phone book if I were you because they had half gallons of Silk for $2.49! That made the trip worthwhile!

Both these stores, as well as Aldi's charge for bags. All have box bottoms that you can use for free stacked in front of the store. I just throw my canvas bags in the car and transfer from shopping cart into them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What I'm Reading

I just checked out a copy of Jonni McCoy's book Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two Income Economy. I've seen her name pop up in various other frugal publications so I'm curious to see what she has to say.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Low Flow Toilet Solution

Low flow toilets (and RV toilets as well) are great for saving water but they aren't always so great for getting all the residue off the sides of the bowl. An old ketchup bottle, cleaned of course, filled with water and kept in the bathroom is a great solution. You just point and spray at the offending stain and away it goes. We keep one in the cabinet above the toilet.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

My Curtain Project

Looking ahead to the fall and winter the heating bills promise to be high. In an effort to decrease heat loss, which is really money loss, I'm working on a set of insulated curtains for my sons' room.

I got the idea from the book Quick and Easy Quilting by Bonnie Leman. Its from 1972 but its got some really good basic info which is what I was looking for. It mentioned window quilts which were commonly used to keep rooms warmer in the winter. I like the idea and changed it to suit my needs and the supplies I had on hand or could get cheaply.

I'm using a set of heavy cotton king size sheets that I got for $3 at the thrift store. (I had specifically bought these to use for curtains.) The sheet fabric will be the front of the curtain that you see from the room. For the backing and to provide the insulation, I'm using old fleece blankets.

I've already cut and pinned the first one. The most important thing now is to make sure that all the other panels match, especially in length.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Lunch List

No matter how vigorously I deny it, summer is more than half over. Talk around the table has turned to school lunches. With one child in high school, one in middle school and two in elementary school we need a plan. In general, the kids aren't fond of taking leftovers because they might "look wierd" or worse, "smell wierd."

Tonight I gave the kids an assignment, come up with a list of acceptable lunches and we'll see what we can do. The murmurs I've heard so far aren't at all outrageous, peanut butter and jelly, hummus, "cheese" spread. We'll see what they present me with over the next few days.

Meanwhile, I'm hitting the thrift stores and tag sales to make sure everyone has a water bottle and sandwich container. Last year we lost several sandwich containers to the mold monster that grows in middle school children's lockers. To combat this, everyones lunch containers will be labeled. If one is missing, at least I'll be able to figure out who's book bag to check in.

For carrying the lunches, we're using canvas lunch bags from Oriental Trading Company. I bought them last year and they held up well. Once a week I tossed them in with the regular laundry to keep them from getting scary. I've offered insulated bags but no one wants to carry them and they get funky in the corners if they aren't cleaned out well each time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Experimenting with Sprouting

Recently I've given sprouting a try in an attempt to decrease the amount of time it takes to cook dried beans. I came across this suggestion in one of the solar cooking cookbooks and it does seem to help. It also seems to give the beans a nutty flavor which is pleasant.

I follow the jar sprouting directions in Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living and they seem to be right on target. Best of all, you only need a canning jar, cheesecloth and a canning band.

The New Kitchen Towel Rack

Oh the problems of a frugal veggie mama! Some well meaning person threw away the empty roll of paper towel that I've been using as a kitchen towel drying rack. What's a girl to do? I do still keep a roll of paper towel in the house for emergencies but I'm certainly not going to make it an easy grab by hanging it where it belongs. (The last roll of paper towel we had lasted several months because, in our house, most spills can be handled by the dish cloth, mop or kitchen towel.)

Anyway, I've been searching for that perfect towel bar, rack or hook without any luck. I did come across a black metal fish with several hooks that would work for the dish towels but I just didn't like it. Besides, towels get funky smelling when they stay wet and I didn't think they would dry too well hung close together on the fish. I needed something black, metal and small to fit in with the kitschy, country, wrought iron decor.

This morning I had a brainstorm. In the garage I had several grates from barbeque grills that I had scavenged (the why of it all is a long story that I'll save for another time.) With hacksaw in hand, I cut off the first three rows of the grate. This created what looked like a miniature ladder, which I painted with the leftover black rustoleum that I always seem to be using. Because the grate was pitted from use, it gave the whole thing a wrought iron look which was nice. I then unscrewed the paper towel rack and predrilled holes under the cabinet for the hooks that the new rack would hang from. Once the hooks were screwed in, I painted them as well.
It really looks great.

I think the best part of it all is the lessons my kids learn from watching a project go from idea to execution. For my girls, its the notion that you don't have to wait for Dad to do something, you can do it yourself. For my boys, its the excitement of helping with tools and watching seemingly useless things be transformed into functional items.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Some Websites to Check Out

One of my favorite websites is
Peek into my home and you will see I'm an avid freecycler. Just yesterday, for the price of two new ink cartridges, I have a printer that prints like brand new compliments of a freecycler who upgraded her printer.

I've just discovered this website
In fact I'm printing out the sample issue on the above mentioned printer as I type. I can't really tell much until I read through it but the website and its founder were highly recommended to me.

I'm new to this group but if you aren't using your crockpot for veg cooking, it may be the place for you. With school starting in just a few weeks, now's the time to get your time saving strategies in place. My slow cooker is a blessing on those hectic school nights.

Favorite Frugal Pastimes

My boss called the other day. She wanted to know if I wanted to come back to work before the summer was over. She asked what I did to keep busy. I sounded like an idiot when I tried to explain the simple things that we were doing to amuse ourselves. Perhaps my responses will be more relevant to you.

We go outside and enjoy the mountain air. We ride bikes, scooters and other wheeled things. We play basketball (not well) in my sons' Fisher Price grow to Pro basketball hoop. (You don't know what goofy looks like until you've seen adults play with a Fisher Price hoop.) We walk to the library for story time and to borrow books and movies. We walk to the beach and stay for hours. We walk to the free Tuesday night concert in the park-so far we've enjoyed concert band, oldies, and barbershop. We've borrowed kayaks and pedal boats to enjoy the lake even more.

What about rainy days, everyone wants to know about that. How does a family of six stay in a small space without getting under each other's skin? We keep busy with books, puzzles, games, an awesome 8 in 1 game table that has pool and air hockey (a gift of course!) movies, crafts, coloring and other very basic things. We don't have cable or video games here but no one misses them. Sometimes we all work on some larger household project.

The kids all seem happy so I guess we're doing something right.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Tomatillo Salsa

The tomatillo salsa recipe in The Ball Blue Book of Canning is so delicious! I had a great deal of company today and someone brought tortilla chips but no salsa. Since I had quite a few tomatillos from this weeks CSA pickup, I decided to make the salsa (without cooking it) to serve with the chips. It was quite a hit with everyone. I'll use the leftovers in tomorrows dinner, black beans and rice.

FYI, for anyone who is new to canning, it is imperative to follow the directions in a reputable canning recipe book to avoid illness/death. If I was planning to can this salsa I would have followed the directions to the letter. I often give recipes a try before canning, as I plan to do with those watermelon rind pickles.

Friday, August 05, 2005

My Thrift Store Coup

I've been on the lookout for a shelf to tuck behind a chair and put my printer on. I'd pretty much given up and decided to build one, mainly because the spot I needed it for was an odd size. Today, while poking around in the local thrift store, I discovered what I thought was some shelves that were perfect. When I went to pick them up, I made another discovery. They weren't shelves at all. They were very simple end tables stacked on top of each other! I got them for $2.00 apiece!

For me, the lesson of the whole experience is; remember to look at every possible way something can be used before dismissing it as unusable. I would never have thought to stack end tables to solve my shelving problem.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Watermelon Rind Pickles

In my latest efforts to let nothing useful go to waste, I am attempting to make watermelon rind pickles. I just discovered the recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Canning. Since this weeks CSA pickup included two watermelon (pesticide free!) I decided this was the perfect time to give this recipe a try.

Canning can be a bit labor intensive so I'm just making a small batch to try now without actually canning it. If this is a hit with the family, I'll be canning all future rinds. Remember, its not a bargain if no one will eat it!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Thinking About School Snacks

I just placed my August food cooperative order. I'm still having a hard time believing that I had to think about school snacks while deciding what to order. Where is the summer going?

My approach to school snacks is fairly simple, I started by asking my kids what they liked. My kids have a few favorites like muffins, pretzels, popcorn and the caramel popcorn recipe from The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Apples spread with peanut butter are a favorite fall snack.

Even at their young ages they've all figured out that fruit roll up type snacks, even when made of real fruit, don't have much bang for the snacking buck. They all know better than to ask for candy. In general, my kids want a substantial snack that satifies their hunger as well as there snacky craving needs.

In the interest of not overdosing on or running out of one snack or another, we're setting up a loose schedule to keep the snacks rotating. I can't stress enough how important planning is to maintaining a frugal lifestyle.