Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Campbell Community Garden

We just got our Campbell University magazine in the mail. Campbell is both mine and my husband's Alma Mater. They send us a magazine about once every month or two sharing what's happening on campus. Eric was looking through it and showed me an article near and dear to my heart. I was so proud to see that Campus Ministries started a community garden as an outreach project.

Community gardens are wonderful projects. Some are for the needy, like the one at Campbell, giving the produce to families who need assistance or ministries who feed the hungry. Others are for people who don't have the land or other resources to have a family garden. In these gardens, if you show up so many hours per week and help work the garden, you can reap some of the harvest when it's ready.

I love that people are becoming more passionate about growing their own food! Here are some reasons to find and participate in a community garden:
  1. Grow healthy, natural food
  2. Gardening is great exercise
  3. Meet new people in your community
  4. Save on your grocery bill
  5. It's a great ministry
If you want to find a local community garden you can join, visit the American Community Garden Association's website. Enter your zip code and they will give you a list of community gardens near you.

When Will This Heat Wave End?

If you live around here, you know, it's been a hot month. And I mean hot. Most every day is in the mid to upper 90s. Personally, I prefer summer to winter, I love the heat and hate being cold, but this is ridiculous. Everything is suffering from this heat wave we're having.

The vegetables in our garden look so pitiful. They are wilted, the squash and zucchini plants are yellowing, and I think our blueberry bushes are dying. We water in the evenings after the sun has gone down giving the plants time to soak up the water overnight and I think that is the ONLY thing keeping them alive. This heat is even slowing our tomato production.

I think the only thing that is thriving are the weeds. It's been so hot, I haven't been out there getting rid of the weeds like I should be and they are taking advantage. Our rows are full of grass and prickly weeds of all kinds. I guess I need to make more of an effort to weed the garden in the mornings before it gets too hot.

We have actually pulled up a few squash plants that just didn't make it. The unused space makes me wonder if there is anything I can plant that will do well in this heat and has a short growing season. I know hot peppers do very well in the heat, but I'm not sure what I'd do with them once harvested. I guess I could pickle some jalapenos for Eric - I won't eat them.

Okra however, I will eat - and so will Eric. It matures in about two months and loves the heat. I also found a site showing me how to freeze them. They can be canned as well, but with a water/vinegar solution and as I'm not too keen on pickled anything, I'm leery of that preserving method. So, here's to beating the heat and still having a nice crop by the end of summer.

All You Grocery Challenge - Week 1 continued

When planning this week's menu, I completely forgot about the Holiday weekend coming up. We have some friends and their two children coming up for a couple of days. So, this morning I headed off to the grocery store again. I didn't need much, but what I needed I didn't have coupons for. Thankfully I stayed within my budget!

I spent $38.59

Loyalty Card -$4.66
Today's total $33.93

Previous total $38.28

Total for week: $72.21

For my first week, I guess that's not too bad. I'm under budget. I want to do even better next week. But, with no more Super Double Coupons we'll just have to see how it goes.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

All You Grocery Challenge - Week 1

A new week has begun and I've already gotten started on my All You Grocery Challenge. I know I'm a week behind the actual challenge, but that's ok. This is more about finding out if I can do it or not. Normally, I would do my grocery shopping on Monday mornings, but Caitlin has her 15 month check-up and shots. Not knowing how she would react to the shots, I decided to go ahead and get my groceries tonight.

I don't normally shop at Harris Teeter - only when they are having Super Double or Triple Coupon weeks. This week they are having Super Doubles meaning they will double coupons up to $1.98 (the normal policy is to double coupons up to .99). I used the Southern Savers blog to plan my attack. They have a list of items that are free after using your coupons. Thank you Southern Savers!

I spent $75.74 before discounts.

Loyalty card -$7.23
Coupons -$30.23

Total Spent: $38.28

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Free Cable TV

In order to save up enough money for our dream property and house, Eric and I have been looking for ways to cut back and reduce spending. We have looked at our grocery budget, child care costs, clothing budget, and bills. I think bills are the hardest to cut back on because they are usually some of your more essential things, like water and electricity. TV however, is not. I know this, but I confess, I'm a TV junkie. I always have been.

While I love the idea of giving up the TV completely, I just don't think I could do it. And on top of that, having cable has taught me to rely on DVR. I love recording the shows I want to watch because I can watch them when I have time instead of on a set schedule and I don't have to miss anything. Thankfully, technology has evolved to support my TV addiction. We can now watch all the TV we want, use DVR and not have to pay for cable or satellite. And no, we aren't stealing it from the neighbors. :) I am not the technology guru in our house, so please hang in there with me while I try to explain this to the best of my ability.

If you have a computer with Vista or Windows 7, there is a program already installed on your computer called Windows Media Center. This software and a little device in your computer called a TV tuner card allows you to watch TV on your computer, pause play, and record - just like a cable box. (Here's the tuner card we got.) Now, this is just your regular, over air, local TV. So, what about all those great cable channels? Hulu is the answer. Hulu is a website that allows you to watch hundreds of TV shows. It's great! It's got your regular over air station shows, cable shows, shows you haven't seen in years, and even some movies.

If you don't want to watch TV on your computer or plug and unplug your computer into and out of your TV all the time, you can buy a small little computer you plug into your TV and leave there. It's just a box; your TV is the screen. That's how we set ours up. You can access the internet, Media Center, Hulu, and Netflix. This set up costs about $300. I know that is expensive, but if you cancel cable, you make up for it in 5 months (assuming you pay $60 per month). After those 5 months, you're saving $60 a month!

It took me a couple of days to adjust to the new "navigation" just like if you switch cable companies, they have different menu guides. Now, I am happily adjusted and loving not having to pay that $60 a month.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Recipes - Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

In my last post, all of two seconds ago, I mentioned that we made our own spaghetti sauce. If you are anything like me, you love to get in the kitchen and try new recipes. It's a new challenge and something new to add to your cooking repertoire. So, I think I will post a new recipe each Friday as something fun to try.

This week, try out Frank's Italian Sauce from foodnetwork.com. The recipe comes with instructions for meatballs too, but I haven't tried those yet.

* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 garlic clove, chopped
* 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
* 2 (28-ounce) cans ground tomatoes
* 3/4 (28-ounce) can water (from empty ground tomato can), or 21 ounces water
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

In the skillet, heat the reserved oil, add the onion and garlic and saute for approximately 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Fill the empty tomato paste can full of water, add to the skillet, and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from heat and set aside.

In an 8-quart saucepan, add the ground tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Fill the empty ground tomato can 3/4 full of water and add to the saucepan, along with the tomato paste mixture from the skillet and the reserved browned meatballs. Mix thoroughly but carefully with a wooden spoon so as to not break the meatballs. Add the salt, ground pepper, and parsley and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, then cover and cook on low heat for 2 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes to prevent sticking and burning on bottom of pan. Serve over al dente pasta and sprinkle with some grated Pecorino Romano cheese.



Instead of canned tomatoes, we used tomatoes from our garden last year that had been blanched and frozen. Our first try at this recipe turned out a little thin for my tastes. Because we had blanched and frozen the tomatoes, there was already plenty of water - we didn't add any water and it still turned out thin. So, the next time, we removed some of the water and it was perfect. Enjoy!

Canning

In the past, I have always blanched and frozen any extra produce our garden has yielded. This year however, I really wanted to try making and canning our own spaghetti sauce. And I'm so glad we did!

First, we yielded so much zucchini, our freezer is full. Second, the spaghetti sauce turned out so yummy! And I'm learning something new.

Before embarking on this new process of canning our food, I did some research like a good little girl. I learned that there are two different canning processes; water bath and pressure. Water bath canning is perfect for high acid foods like tomatoes and fruits. Pressure canning is a MUST for anything else; low acid vegetables and meats. The reason is pressure canning creates a higher heat and kills off bacteria that you don't kill off with water bath canning. With high acid foods, it's ok to use water bath because the acid in those foods kills the bacteria. Although my intentions were to can tomatoes, I wanted a pressure canner for any other vegetables we might like to can later. I was hoping to can our green beans, but they don't seem to be producing well this year. But that's a completely different post.

Canning for the first time was a little intimidating. In fact, I had Eric read the instructions and do it the first time and tell me what I was supposed to do. :) The steam began pouring from the vent, we put the regulator cap over it, and watched the pressure gauge rise. Now, we have canned 12 quarts of spaghetti sauce, 24 pints of corn, 8 half pints of strawberry jam, and today I'm working on more corn.

After I finish canning this batch of corn from the farmer's market, we'll have enough canned corn for almost a can a week. I can't wait for our tomatoes to start producing so we can make more spaghetti sauce!

Life with a Possum writes about her first experience canning pickles. She and I have always heard how difficult it is to can - but we both found it to be much simpler than we thought. Have you tried canning your food? How has it turned out?

For tips on canning, here's a link to one of my favorite blogs. Eartheasy Blog - Canning tips you may not see in the manual.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Recycle, Reduce, Compost

Eric has been wanting to compost for a while now. Unfortunately, our Homeowner's Association doesn't allow for compost piles. I guess they are afraid people will put the wrong items into them and the compost will smell. So, we bought a compost bin that is completely enclosed. Unless we told you, you'd never know it was for storing compost.

Ideally, we would just use some chicken wire to create a compost bin and a yard fork to turn it over. That would be the cheapest way to do it, but since we have the HOA to deal with, we feel this is an acceptable option. The bin claims to create three compost cycles per season and with a 60 gallon capacity, that mean 180 gallons of compost per season. Even though we had to pay $100 originally, we will make up that cost because we won't have to buy manure to enrich our soil.

Composting has actually gotten me thinking about other ways to recycle or reuse our household waste. For instance, I get the Sunday paper for the coupons, Eric might read an article or two, and then we put it in our recycling bin. However, I had a friend remind me the other day about how well newspaper cleans windows. Here I am buying paper towels to clean windows, when I have something better already sitting around my house waiting to be used. I am going to start saving my newspaper for cleaning and reducing my need for paper towels. I save money not buying paper towels, I can put the newspaper in the compost bin when I'm done and it will help reduce smells in the compost bin. Talk about a win win situation.

Here are other ways to reuse your newspaper before composting or recycling. I particularly like the vegetable drawer and seed pot ideas. I will post other ways to recycle or reuse household products as I find ones I like.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Homemade Bread

Today I made my first loaf of homemade bread! It was awesome seeing the dough rise and bake into a golden brown crust. Such a simple thing and so very few people do it anymore. And why don't we? Homemade bread is cheaper than buying a loaf at the store, it's gratifying and really doesn't take that much time. I mean, it does take a couple of hours for the dough to rise before baking, but you don't have to stand there and watch it. Do something else while your bread rises.

I really want to reduce the amount of processed foods we eat. I'm not perfect, I will still buy and eat things that aren't all natural, but the more I can eliminate the junk from my family's diet the better. Making homemade bread is just one more step to get us eating healthy preservative free foods.

The recipe I used was incredibly simple and turned into a tasty bread. We made sandwiches for lunch and it was great! Good taste, good texture, not too light, not too dense. And because it's a basic recipe you can add/change a few things here or there to make wheat bread or Italian bread.

Thanks to my friend at The Cheap and Choosy for sharing this recipe. I will definitely be making this bread again.

My next bread-making goal is biscuits. I've tried making them a few times before but they keep turning out heavy instead of the light fluffy biscuits of my dreams. I've got to figure out what I'm doing wrong.

All You Grocery Challenge

I read on another blog, Brilliant Moms last night about the All You Grocery Challenge. While, I will be a week behind the challenge, I'm going to try this out for 4 weeks and see how I do. The goal is to spend $25 or less per person over 12 months of age in groceries and personal items each week. For our family of three, that means $75 or less each week. Normally, I spend $80 - $100 per week and that's WITH coupons. So, how am I going to do it? Here is my plan to reduce grocery spending.

  1. Work harder at finding coupon deals and matching them with sales
  2. Use what we already have in the pantry/freezer
  3. Cook as much from the garden as I can
I already plan my menu each week, or else that would be part of my extra efforts. I'll post how I'm doing each week. Join me in this challenge even if it's not the same dates as the All You Challenge and let me know how you do.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nicotine for Your Garden??

Cabbage moths destroyed our early spring crop this year. In an effort to prevent them, we applied our usual method of pesticide - Sevin. Upon researching this highly toxic, highly used pesticide, my husband decided to try a different type of pesticide used in organic farming. There are some pesticides allowed in organic farming because they are derived from natural resources. The one we used is nicotine based. They create it by steeping tobacco leaves in water. You then spray the tobacco water onto your plants.

However, I have been doing some research on natural pest control and didn't see anything about this type of pesticide listed on earth friendly websites. Apparently, this type of pest control is still considered highly toxic. You are supposed to wear gloves when applying it to keep it off your skin and wash your crop thoroughly to get rid of any residue that may be left.

In trying to manage the garden, Eric has also looked into herbs as natural pest control. I think this is the route we will try next year. It's safer, effective, and best of all - tasty. These are the herbs I have found to deter pests:
  • Basil for mosquitoes and flies
  • Cilantro (Coriander) for aphids
  • Garlic for red spider mites
  • Horseradish for potato bugs
  • Lavender for ticks and mice
  • Mint for cabbage worms and flies
  • Oregano for cabbage butterfly and cucumber beetle
  • Rosemary for fleas, bean beetles, and mosquitoes
  • Sage for cabbage butterfly and flies
  • Tansy for ants
I'm sure there are many other herbs that repel pests, but these are the ones I have found so far. Here is a website that gives information on natural pest prevention, good insects, and homemade pest remedies. I'd love to hear some of your pest control remedies.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sew Wrong

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to learn how to sew. My mom sewed clothes for me when I was a kid and of course, I didn't really appreciate it. What kid wants handmade clothes? She even tried to teach me how to sew and I didn't have the patience for it. How silly I was.

Now I see the value in having such a useful skill. I mean clothes tailor made to fit - who DOESN'T want that! Plus it keeps your clothing budget low and is a great outlet for any creativity you have.

Well, instead of signing up for lessons, I found some online lessons. I thought, "I'm pretty good at following written directions, so why not." The lessons started out with some simple pillows. I already knew how to sew a straight line, but went through them anyway and did learn a few things. Like how to add piping to the pillow. Things seemed to be going well, then it was time to make my first piece following a pattern...

I bought the material and other necessities for the project; a bathrobe. The plan was to have the robe finished in time for Father's Day. Three days before Father's Day and it looked like I was going to be able to finish it. I was so proud of the work I had been doing. It wasn't perfect, but for a first project it looked pretty good. That's when I got to the sleeves. I had cut out two pieces of the sleeve pattern. But what I didn't realize was that those two pieces were the front and back of ONE sleeve and I was out of fabric.

I felt so sick over it. I can't believe I didn't see that I was supposed to cut out 4 of the sleeve pattern. I had bought all the fabric in that pattern the store carried and they didn't have that fabric online. Now I have the weird sleeveless robe you see on the right.

I'm going to go back to the store to see if they restocked the fabric, but I have my doubts since it wasn't online. Next time, I have to pay better attention to the directions and buy 1/2 a yard fabric more than I think I'll need.

Hey if nothing else, it'll make a good shepherd's robe in this year's Christmas play.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Journey Thus Far

I grew up in the country. My parents had a big garden every year, we had chickens and collected the eggs, we burned wood for heat in the winter, and I hated it. I couldn't wait to grow up move to the city and live an urban life. I wanted to be Ally McBeal - cute, thin, living in NYC, briefcase in hand on my way to a trial. However, in college I realized that I didn't want to work 70+ hours a week with no time for a family. (Not that all lawyers work that much or have no time for a family, it's just my priorities were already beginning to change).

I got married one semester before I finished college, graduated, and got a job. I suppose you could say that my husband and I are your "average Americans." We have a comfortable house in a comfortable neighborhood, my husband has a good job, I am blessed to be able to stay home with our 14 month old daughter, and for a long time we lived without thinking much about the environment.

The birth of our daughter, Caitlin, triggered a huge change for us. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom and we lost my income. Initially, we were just looking for ways to cut back costs of living, but still maintain our "normal" life-style. I began cutting coupons, started coloring my own hair instead of going to the salon, things like that and after 6 months we switched to cloth diapers.

Now, we are thinking about solar power, rain barrels, compost, chickens, dairy cows, and electric cars. All that I hated growing up are now the things I want to do.

My husband, Eric, and I have both evolved our desire for frugality into a complete lifestyle overhaul. We want to buy 10 - 20 acres of land, build a house designed to be energy efficient using solar power, have at least a 1 acre garden, house chickens, maybe a dairy cow or two, become self sustaining.

I believe that God charged us with the care of this earth. I've always believed it, but now I want to live it. And I believe that now, taking care of our earth is more important than ever. We are using up its resources faster than the earth can provide them. This blog is one family's journey toward our goal. What we learn, how we save, and encouragement for others looking to do the same. We are not "tree hugging hippies," just average people looking for a better way to live.
 
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