Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Taking a Little Break

I've been quiet the last few days as I ponder the beginning of this new chapter in my life. I'm relishing the taste of freedom I'm feeling as pressures and responsibilities that have been heavy weights on my shoulders gradually lighten. It feels great! I'll be posting more regularly by the end of the week. For now I'm focusing on tying up some loose ends and enjoying my sister's company (she's visiting from California).

On the frugal front, I've begun working on the cross stitch bib for Jim's pregnant coworker and I think I've come up with a frugal yet useful end of year gift for my sons' teachers. I'm leaning toward making them pot holders, using fabric scraps of course. I'm thinking of having the boys put their handprint into the center of each potholder with fabric paint.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Time Won't Let Me

AS many of you figured out, it came down to time. Working every day left me with very little time. The time I had left had to be divided up into time for kids and family, time for frugal living activities and time for chores like laundry.

The worst part was the unexpected time commitment that my job entailed. If an instructor couldn't cover a class, I got a call (and often had to cover a class). If desk staff had a question, I got a call. If my boss needed the latest membership numbers and I happened to have that day off, I got a call. I almost had to cancel our trip to Ithaca because of one of these last minute calls. If the ceiling started leaking, I got a call. You get the idea.

As you might imagine, when I'm spread that thin I don't really exceed or succeed in any of the areas mentioned. Projects that I love, like knitting my nephew's blanket barely got done. My house was a perpetual mess (although it may still be a perpetual mess, I'm a messy packrat at heart. At least it will be a clean mess.) Most importantly, I didn't have the time or energy to adequately deal with the daily challenges of raising four kids.

On the positive side, we were able to pay off my car loan and eliminate all of our credit card debt thanks to the extra income. Interestingly enough, without those bills hanging over us, it makes it even easier to walk away from the job. I can go back to practicing active frugality with no excuses.

The event that crystalized the importance of me taking this step is unimportant, mainly because it is different for everyone. The important thing is, I recognized it was time for a change. The woman I job share with returns 6/5 (she's the summer manager, I was the rest of the year manager). Once she gets here my hours will drop down to morning only for a total of about 8 - 10 hours a week and gradually decreasing, until I leave on 6/20.

I'm glad I took the position but I have no regrets leaving it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I Quit

Today I made the hardest decision that I've had to make in a very long time. I gave my notice at the gym. I will continue as manager until 6/20 but when summer is over I will go back to being just a fitness instructor. The needs of my family have to come first. I'll share more about my decision tomorrow.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Freebies - Cross Stitch Patterns

I spent much of Thurdsay organizing my fabric stash. I've begun cutting squares for my denim quilt. The cut fabric takes up so much less space than the full pair of jeans. I also came across some bibs that are meant to be cross stitched. Jim was looking for a little something to give a pregnant coworker and the bibs fit the bill perfectly. It also is the reason for my quest for free cross stitch patterns which is the focus of this Friday Freebies.

Jenny's Free Cross Stitch Pattern Links

About.com's Cross-Stitch - links to many free cross stitch resources

Cyberstitchers.com - This is my favorite site of them all so far. Click on free patterns for a plethora of patterns.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


This past weekend we planted the lingonberries that I ordered earlier in the year. Its part of the edible landscape that we are setting up at our summer getaway.

We've planted the lingonberries just above our rock wall with the blueberry bushes in a row about 4 feet behind them. We're hoping that they will help with erosion as well as provide fruit. The highly acidic soil of the pine forest often leaves us with bare dirt because grass just can't grow in such acidic conditions. On the other hand the blueberries and lingonberries are thrilled with a mulch of pine needles.

I checked on my strawberry patch and it was doing very well also. My chives were returning too. There are currently no signs of life from my basil and mint but I didn't move the mulch around to see what was going on underneath. Perhaps by next weekend I'll see some activity.

At home, the Jerusalem artichokes haven't made a showing yet. I'm wondering if they survived the winter.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Wants, Needs, Haves

This is the time of year when you finally take the heavy quilts off the beds and put a lighter bedspread on. The boys have the denim quilts that I made for them. Jim and I put on a thin bedspread that was given to us by a friend around 1994. Its just enough for those cool spring nights. Its also a bit tattered and smaller than our bed (its a full size, the bed is a queen.)

Enter yesterday's sale fliers where summer weight quilts and shams are on sale in a myriad of stores for $19.99 all sizes! I want it. Its already made. There's no work involved in it for me. Let's stop on the way to work today and get one before all the pretty queen size ones sell out.

After thinking about it for a few moments, I still wanted it but I knew I didn't need it. The set up we have right now is functional.

This got my wheels turning as I wondered what did I already have that I could use to make my own summer weight quilt? The answer is I have lots of denim squares, taking up lots of space. If I use what I have then I will not have spent a penny, I'll be cutting down on the overall cost of the quilt (I'm thinking environmental cost here ie trucking and possibly crummy labor conditions/wages for workers as well.)

Finally, I enjoy creating things which makes tackling some of these projects much easier.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Freebies & the Promised Menu

As promised here's the menu for last night's early Mother's Day dinner. We had:

Whole wheat pasta with Garlic and Basil Tomato Sauce
Bakes Seitan in Tomato Sauce (think Italian sausage)
Tosses salad with homemade Catalina French Dressing
Homemade Breadsticks
Pineapple Walnut Bread
Tortilla Chips & Pretzels

I was able to get a ton of laundry done and all of it hung on the line to dry. I filled another bag of outgrown clothes to bring to my friend and another two to go to the donation bins. I even cleared out a drawer to store my fabric scraps in, although I never actually put the fabric scraps into it but later today I will!

Here's a link to Nutrition, on the Cheap which was part of this weeks Meatless Monday. I like the spirit of the post although last time I checked being your own butcher and eating fish and poultry weren't vegetarian.

Another interesting article is Eat To Live: Junk Food Linked to Cancer. Both studies in this article aren't conclusive but making positive dietary changes couldn't hurt.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Vacation All I Ever Wanted, Vacation Had to Get Away

That GoGo's song is just banging around in my head. I am so ready for life to simplify and summer to begin. Unfortunately, before summer can come, I've got a ton to get done around here. My preparation this year has been a series of false starts complicated by the responisbilities of daily life and my job. Thankfully my summer manager returns June 5th which will cut my hours and responsibilities way down until I actually hit the road three weeks later.

But right now I've got to get it in gear. I've been vigilant about setting aside meals for Jim for his summer bachelor meals. So far he's got ten dinners and twenty pumpkin muffins. I'm really pleased with this. Other things are not going so smoothly.

I am perpetually behind on laundry and my bedroom has become the dumping ground of all the "homeless" items in our house. (Where does the vacuum cleaner and carpet steamer belong??) I'm also way behind in my outdoor flower bed gardening. I've got to get them weeded really soon.

Jim's got a big list of things he wants to get done as well. There's stuff to be brought to the Adirondacks taking up space in the garage. The list goes on and on.

Today, I'm off but we've invited my mother over for an early Mother's Day dinner and I've got to go see Rob in his school play at 10. I'm hoping to make a big dent but I'm trying to remind myself that little steps make a big impact. For example, I made a big run to the clothing donation bins on my way home from work the other day, which helped, but its looking like I'll need to do another very soon. I packed two big bags of outgrown boys clothes to my coworker who's son is a few years younger than Kyle.

Cooking today will have to be long on stove time short on prep time. I'll share my menu tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gardening, Guinea Pig Greens & Grooming

I'm always looking for a simpler way to garden, especially when it comes to weeding. Check out this online article from Mother Earth News about using newspapers as mulch. It sounds like a great idea.

We had chili with cornbread last night. The chili was made in the slow cooker and was ready to eat when my very long day was over. I put the cornbread in the oven and then went for a walk with the boys, Jim and the dogs. When we got home, the cornbread was done. I love it when things work out the way I've planned.

The boys have gotten in the habit of picking bunches of dandelions to give to our guinea pigs. They seem to love them. Here's a little tip for other people with guinea pigs. Don't feed them cabbage leaves. We learned just yesterday that guinea pigs get gas too! Honestly, the room just stank after they ate the cabbage leaves. On that same subject, don't let your dogs eat broccoli.

Despite our spending freeze some money had to be allocated so Mel, our bichon, could get a haircut. Usually we do it ourselves with a flowbee but this time he was so matted that we weren't getting anywhere with it. I had to break down and take him to a groomer. The plan is to give him a trim every other week with the flowbee so we never get to this point again.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Navajo Fry Bread

The other night I made an interesting concoction. First, I made the Red Lentil Spread. I had planned to have sandwiches for dinner Thursday night but I wanted a "fun" bread to make them with. Naturally my inspiration for "fun" bread didn't occur until a half hour before dinner, which severly limited my options.

I perused the More With Less Cookbook and decided to try Navajo Fry Bread. This simple quick bread uses only flour (I used whole wheat flour bread flour), salt, baking powder, water and soy milk. You're supposed to divide the dough into balls, flatten it and fry it in several inches of hot oil. I cooked it on my cast iron griddle with just a light coating of oil and it came out great. The bread had the consistency of the bread they use in gyros. It was a really nice treat.

We topped the bread with the Red Lentil Spread, the leftover sprouts, shredded carrots and some home made Catalina French dressing. It was a big hit.

I put together an oatmeal pie crust but instead of baking it, I just browned in a cast iron frying pan. I topped this with apple butter that I heated up in the microwave. It made a delicious dessert.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Peek at my Projects

Here's pictures of my two recently completed projects. First a picture fo the hooded blanket that I knitted for my nephew.

Here's a picture of the plastic bag holder and the two pot holders that I made for my sister's birthday. I made these out of an old pair of jeans. My daughters especially loved that I incorporated the pockets into the pot holders.

Now I'm working on a doll size version of the hooded baby blanket for my niece.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday Freebies

Thanks to the Ideal Bite tips that I get daily, I've just discovered Earth 911. Its a great site with lots of information on how and where to recycle all sorts of household items. The timing was perfect since Jim just started changing his own oil this past weekend and we were wondering where to take the used oil. You juts pop in your zip code and local resources come up.

I just saw a mention of the South West Trading Company in the newspaper this past weekend. In addition to traditional wool, they make their yarns our of soy, bamboo and milk. I'm so intrigued by the soy and bamboo yarn. They also have free patterns on their site which include the first sock pattern I've ever seen that doesn't require double pointed needles. Maybe I will be able to make socks someday!

Speaking of knitting, I FINISHED THE HOODED BABY BLANKET FOR MY NEPHEW!!!!! I'll post pictures of it soon.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pantry Overload with an Update

So far the spending freeze has been a ho-hum affair. One thing I've discovered along the way is that I have a ton of non perishable food in the house, probably too much. A side benefit of our decreased spending is that we will wade through some of this excess and reclaim some storage space.

There are certain staples that we just go through by the truckload, mainly whole wheat bread flour, whole wheat pastry flour, and oatmeal. These turn up so frequently in our cooking that I need to stock up on at least every other month if not sooner. Most other dry goods I don't need to buy more than once every 6 months or so (bear in mind I buy these in 25 or 50 pound bags.) You would think after buying in bulk for so long I would have this down to a science but its still just a work in progress.

We are running low on veggies and soymilk, as I suspected we would. I'm going to head outside and pick some dandelion greens before Jim mows the lawn. It always freaks the kids out when they discover that I've harvested our own dandelion greens yet they don't blink when we bring them home from the CSA. Ultimately, as long as I do it before any school children arrive home they're fine with it.

I used some of the sprouts yesterday. I'm not sure if its my imagination but I swear they were crunchier than the sprouts from our winter sprouting. The reamining ready sprouts will be used in sandwiched tonight. I defrosted what I thought was apple butter but it turned out to be broth from seitan (remember back in the old days when we boiled seitan???) I'll be using it to make Red Lentil Spread. I did eventually find the apple butter and I'll use that in a dessert, although I'm not sure what. I think I'll peruse the Use It All: The Leftovers Cookbook for ideas.

In gardening news, our currant bushes have sprung to life over the last few days. They look like they'll be very productive this year. I'm really pleased, epsecially considering the traumatic uprooting they endured this time last year. I'm anxious to see how the blueberries are doing.

I've just stumbled upon the socially acceptable way to gather dabdelion greens without having your teenagers moan and groan about all the ways you are ruining their lives. All you need to do is send out one of their younger siblings to gather them for the "guinea pigs"! Of course you have to actually give some to the guinea pigs and this excuse won't work as well unless you have guinea pigs.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Unmotivated Cook

I've noticed that after a weekend of intense cooking, I sometimes have trouble getting in the mood to cook dinner for a few nights after. I think its because I get caught up in projects that I didn't have time for while the massive cooking was going on. It also is linked to days where I don't get home until after 3pm and I have to immediately get involved in homework help.

I've always felt that if its 5pm and you've just begun to think about making dinner, you're in big trouble. Yet I've found myself in this position the last two nights. I've rebounded from it but it hasn't been easy. Today I'm taking no chances. I'm putting some red lentil soup into the slow cooker before I leave for work. I find if I have part of the meal cooked its easier for me to get motivated and fill in the blanks when I get home.

Last night I combined Sunday nights leftover split pea soup with Monday nights leftover pasta with sauce and the tomato juice leftover from Friday. I threw in a teaspoon of celery seed and wound up with a very delicious soup to go along with the veggie burgers that I made last night. Always test your combinations before dumping things together. I put a little bit of everything I'm considering combining on one spoon so I can taste and see if the flavors blend, or don't blend.

I used the veggie burger recipe from VwaV as a springboard. (I know I've said it before but this is an awesome recipe!) I had neither the time nor the ingredients to follow the recipe to the letter so instead I measured out the water, olive oil, tamari, mustard, spices (substituting garlic powder for the garlic and onion powder for the onion), and subbed ketchup for tomato paste. I whisked this together, added in the dried tvp and a few tablespoons of flaxseed meal. I microwaved it for 2 minutes, to get the tvp rehydrated. I used an ice cream scoop to shape these into equal sized balls which I pressed into burgers on a hot cast iron griddle.

I'm thinking about premixing the dry ingedients of these burgers together to decrease my kitchen time during the summer, or any other hectic time. My fear is that all the spices would wind up in the bottom of the container and you'd get some bland burgers and some overpowering burgers. Perhaps I'll do them in single batch containers.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Frugal Living Updates

I kicked off our spending freeze by making a few batches of granola, several loaves of Barbara's Whole Wheat bread, and several loaves of Cornell Bread. The Cornell Bread makes a great quick grab breakfast. To veganize the recipe in the link, make the following changes:
use 1 tbs flaxseed meal for the egg
use blackstrap molasses instead of honey
use extra soy flour or Better than Milk in place of powdered milk

I also began to peruse Use It All: The Leftovers Cookbook which I found in a thrift store on our trip to Ithaca. This cookbook is arranged by main ingredient. Its not a veg cookbook but so far the recipes seem to lend themselves to veganizing. I made Pineapple Pecan Loaf but substituted walnuts for the pecans since I didn't have pecans in the house. I chose this recipe because of the plethora of pineapple juice I had in the freezer.

I also made a few batches of the pumpkin muffin recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance and Baked Seitan .

We tried the baked seitan in Isa's Jerk Seitan recipe from VwaV. It was amazing. I also served it with a container of Tofurky gravy that had been hidden at the bottom of our freezer. This was equally delicious.

I'm sure one or two of you are scratching your heads trying to figure out if I've gone carb crazy with all the breads and muffins. Actually, I'm just getting our staples in place. All the extras have been tucked into the freezer for future use. Jim's stash of summer bachelor meals is growing nicely.

The sprouts are nearing completion. They sprout more rapidly in the warmer weather which is a nice bonus.

I'm relieved to report that the check engine light was an emissions problem not a transmission one. The repair bill came to $400. I'm grateful, I thought it was going to be much worse. Of course it doesn't change all the other expenses we have so the spending freeze continues!

I'm wrapping up two projects I've been working on. The baby blanket is almost done. I just need to make the hood portion. I'm finishing up my sister's birthday present, a creative endevour involving an unwanted pair of jeans, as well. I'll post pictures of these as I complete them.