Monday, April 30, 2012

Gardening for Grandmas & Un-Trendy People

This is my favorite picture of my grandma, with my son at 3 weeks old
Ok. I know that gardening has had a big revival lately – and that’s awesome. Really, I’m happy that people are gardening more. Gardening is a wonderful thing.

BUT. I need to vent.

It’s not like it is fresh, novel, new, innovative, ground-breaking, or any other buzz words you come up with. (OK, it is technically "ground-breaking," but you know what I mean.) People are acting like no one has ever gardened before. It’s trendy. Ugh. And you know what happens when something is trendy, it becomes a thing and people go a little nuts.

"...a time when “green roof” wasn’t a buzz term or a reason for a tax credit, when Brooklyn hipsters weren’t farming acres of kale on tops of warehouses and when the owners of multimillion-dollar SoHo penthouses weren’t laying in multimillion-dollar “instant” gardens..." via the New York Times.

It reminds me of the foodie trend that hit hard a few years ago. All of a sudden it became so uncool to make normal food – everything had to have goat cheese crumbles and sprigs of dill. But maybe you didn’t want to be cool, you just used them because that’s what you like to use.

Gah! The hype, the pressure, the chance of succumbing to goat cheese crumbles. It's not a big fricken deal, my peeps!

It makes me feel uncomfortable to think that I might be succumbing to a trend – because I don’t want to be trendy. I just want to be me, you know what I mean? I love gardening, I have since I was just a wee baby and was eating dirt and who-knows-what while dad weeded. Will others judge me because I garden? Because I use certain methods? Because I choose to rototill hay into clay soil instead of "lasagna" gardening? (didn’t you know that the world revolves around me and what people think about my actions in the garden?)

So, my reality check is this: Everyone gardens where I live. It’s the norm, and has been since the land was forested and turned into fields. The goat cheese crumbles of gardening are a way of life here. If my grandma does it, it can’t be trendy, right? Right. No need to worry.

Ranting done (I think). Here are things that grandma does in her garden, and therefore cannot be trendy:

She composts
She uses worms and worm casings
She fertilizes with cow poop and compost
She deters rabbits with night soil (aka pee-pee from the chamber pot)
She sticks fallen branches in the ground to prop up her massive cherry tomato plants
She saves seeds to plant next year – or just allows plants to reseed themselves
She grows herbs just to look at
She uses boards and fallen leaves as mulch
She makes the occasional raised bed, and always out of materials she has on hand
She uses organic methods because that's how she learned to garden
She yells at animals trying to eat her veggies (and sympathizes with my woodchuck plights)
She uses various items as plant pots - if it holds dirt it qualifies as a planter
She container gardens
She tries at least one new variety every year, and loves it when I give her fun tomato seedlings
She has issues with throwing away plants
She has made the most beautiful soil and wonderfully eclectic gardens out of heavy clay and lawn with time, patience, and a deep love for gardening

So, if you do any of the above things fear not: You are not trendy. You just like to garden. Unless you want to be trendy, then more power to you. Go forth and use all of the buzz words you want to. I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me, kay? (and ignore that I'm wearing glasses that look suspiciously like the ones that Tina Fey wears in 30 Rock)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Growing Potatoes in the Family Room

I thought I'd update you on my potatoes. I now have two bags going - yes, both are cat food bags. What can I say? Our cats are pigs, we go through a ton of cat food. (don't worry they're not overweight, just big, like 11 and 13 pounds big. their vet is impressed)

Here's what the potatoes look like as of a couple of weeks ago. Last week the vines got so tall that they flopped over and are getting more than a little unruly...

I've been adding soil as needed and am within a few inches of the top of the bag. Once the weather warms up and stays warmer I'll move them outside to the deck and top off the bags to an inch from the top.

Not bad for a bag or two of potting soil, two empty cat food bags, and some old potatoes!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

DIY Shoelaces

I got tired of typing Frugal Luxuries... but there you go, I typed it anyhow.

I got Max a "new" pair of shoes at Goodwill recently. Toddler size 9. He has gigantic feet (he's two months shy of his second birthday). They were a little dirty though overall in great shape - however the laces were hopelessly tangled, knotted, and frayed. Definitely not salvageable.

I cut out the laces, threw the shoes through the washer, and then the shoes sat while I totally forgot about buying shoelaces diligently looked for reasonably prices shoe laces.

Then I had a duh moment - I have awesome yarn, a crochet hook, and mad skillz. I used worsted weight cotton yarn and a size 6ish? crochet hook to make a long single chain the length of a shoelace (probably 3 feet). I left a 4" tail, threaded it through a darning needle, and laced/threaded the shoes. Then I knotted the ends enough so they wouldn't come through the holes, cut the tails, and voila! Awesome shoe laces!

The second best part? They don't come untied easily. The cotton is not a slippery yarn, and the bumps in the laces helps to keep it tied when not so little feet are running. (I joke, but I want it very clear that I adore my son's feet)

The absolutely best part? The color. You can't buy laces that awesome. And they pop so fantastically against the black shoes. :) I may have to make some for myself...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Frugal Luxuries: Cooking Versus Take-Out

NOM - frozen pizza...
Yes, I'm still going on this Frugal business. Once I started thinking about it (and doing it) the ideas just kept flowing...

Cooking at home is way cheaper than eating out. If you don’t believe me crunch the numbers. We were eating takeout for several lunches and dinners through the week, and even occasionally breakfast (both of our offices have cafeterias). That makes for an expensive habit!

Making extra of dinner and bringing leftovers for lunch, or making a giant crock of soup or stew and portioning it out for the week’s lunches is easy.  There are tons of articles out there on how to make cooking easier. You still have to put in time and effort, but a lot of it is prioritizing. What’s the most expensive thing and how can you do it for less? What just isn’t worth the time (either to make it or wait for it)? For example (of the not worth it), chopping or shredding carrots is an absolutely dreaded chore for me that I decided was not worth the kitchen time, but I hated the idea of spending that much more per pound when I could do it myself. I’d buy whole carrots and have them wilt in the drawer, waiting for me to chop them, which is just silly and wasteful. I finally gave in and bought precut matchstick carrots (with the excuse that Max likes them) and it was so worth it.

The most expensive things we eat and our two major dinnertime hang-ups: pizza and Chinese take-out. I already make a good pizza, I just needed to make it more convenient – enter flatbread. My fried rice was lacking, but I spent some time last week perfecting my method (including time spent researching other recipes and consulting a friend) and now have a good system, start to finish is all of 15 minutes!

Sunday I spent a huge amount of time in the kitchen in the name of quick and convenient. J Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? In reality, the time spent in the kitchen was relatively minimal – it’s not like I stand and watch the bread rise, I do something more productive (or relax, it is my day off after all) during those 45-60 minutes. But the kitchen was busy all day to make:

Chicken Broth – see the tutorial here, this time I added thyme and tarragon to the mix for added flavor. This is the base for my daily lunch of soup or stew.
Frozen Individual Pizzas – make a flatbread (I like this recipe), top with pizza sauce and shredded cheese. Freeze individually on a square of parchment paper, when frozen stack them (still with the parchment paper) in a gallon freezer bag and put back in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave approx 4 minutes (careful, it’s hot!) or in the oven at 425-450 for 8-10 minutes or until done. Hubby lives on frozen pizzas for lunch, and these are much cheaper than the $2.50 apiece he normally pays for the “healthy” kind that are full of sodium.
Naan flatbread – again, I like this recipe. We use some store bought sandwich bread, but frankly all of us prefer the Naan for our bread needs, especially Max who will eat a whole piece on his own in record time.
Rice – 12 cups of it (cooked). We got a bag of rice at our favorite bulk store quite some time ago and it’s high time I used it. Between fried rice, and hubby likes to eat plain rice drizzled with a little sweet and sour sauce, I’m keeping this staple ready to go in the fridge.

The fridge/freezer is now stocked with frozen pizza, rice, bread for sandwiches, soup, and the regular staples like milk, eggs, cheese, fruits & veggies. That’ll take us through the week, and for less money!

(BTW, I recently started Atkins, which out of all of the above things only the broth applies. I’m still figuring out how to do the diet as inexpensively as possible, I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, at least my boys eat frugally!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Frugal Luxuries & Natural Solutions: Spring Cleaning

It’s that time of year – Spring Cleaning. Yes, that deserves caps. Spring Cleaning doesn’t have to break the bank or add toxins to your house. There are tons of articles out there, but I thought I’d share some of my favorite tips.

My favorite cleaning products are these: Four Homemade Cleaners and Method. They’re inexpensive (especially the DIY ones) and very effective. As a side note, I don’t know about you, but the house doesn’t smell clean until it smells like lemon Pledge. But because I love to use natural, DIY cleaners I get the same effect by putting lemon oil or lemongrass essential oil in all of them to make them smell right. If you also have scent hang-ups, try a few drops of essential oil.

I recently (as in sometime in the last year or two) got a dust mop – and I had no idea what I was missing. It has a removable terrycloth scrubbing pad that you throw in the wash when you're done making it very reusable with very little waste. If for some reason I wear out that pad, an old towel, some elastic, and a little ingenuity would get me a new one. Gone are the days of a mop and bucket – now I spray the floor and mop away. Glorious. It’s super handy (dry or just slightly damp) for dusting up around the ceiling and the walls, especially in the stairwell when there’s no way in heck I’d be able to reach otherwise.. And of course I can use it dry to sweep/dust the floors. I got mine for less than $10.

Speaking of dusting, a professional cleaner recommended tying a rag (think old t-shirt) around your duster and then spraying it with an all-purpose cleaner or dusting solution to make it slightly damp before doing your major dusting. Of course it won’t be up to fine detail work, but it will do great on the tops of ceiling fans, around the doors, the tops of the blinds, etc, and make your duster last longer.

Spring Cleaning isn’t all about cleaning away dirt, btw. It’s also the time to go through your stuff. Declutter, organize, get your groove on, you  know the drill. As I go through the house the yard sale pile is growing ever larger…

How’s your Spring Cleaning going?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Frugal Luxuries: Use What You Have, aka In-House Shopping

my pans aren't pretty, but they work
It’s a simple concept: Use what you have before buying something new – or even <gasp> don’t buy it even if you think you do need it. I love the Non-Consumer Advocate’s catch phrase, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!” I don’t know about you, but I need to take that phrase to heart more often. Go check out her website for inspiration, you’ll be glad that you did.

So I’m walking around the house and looking at my stuff. Now that I’m making a point to look at what I have in the interest of finding out if I can use it for its intended purpose or in a new way, I’m finding all sorts of things that I either overlook or have outright forgotten about. It’s like I live in a department store…

I have some nice clothes. I could totally wear those shirts more often, and that one with the stain on the front could be fixed up with some fabric paint and a cute stencil. Hubby’s worn/faded shirts could be fixed up too… And for all of those socks that have cute patterns but aren’t frequently wearable because of said cute patterns not really being work appropriate, I have some black fabric dye hanging around.

I took my nail polishes out of the closet and lined them up on a shelf in the bathroom – they add an element of pretty and remind me to pamper myself with a mani/pedi. Since I did that I’ve had painted nails almost constantly, and I get a little ego boost every time I glance at my fingers.

I found rolls in the freezer that had been there too long so I made bread pudding as a Sunday brunch treat. That saved food that might have been wasted, fed my family for cents, and cleared a spot in the freezer where I can put some of my batch cooking efforts.

Going through the freezer further inspired me to see just how long I can go with cooking from what I have in the kitchen (excepting perishables). I’ve already gone two weeks, and another week will be easy as pie (mmm, pie). Maybe a full month? Longer? Regardless, my goal is to eat down the food stores.

What else can I find while shopping in my own home? We shall see. How about you?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Frugal Luxuries: Excuses, Excuses

Maybe it’s the spring weather, but I’ve been doing a lot of non-essential spending lately. The article Shopping for the Sake of Shopping by Get Rich Slowly really hit close to home, I was so close to falling back into that pattern. As my great-grandma used to say, I could go broke on these sales!

Some of the more acceptable excuses I was using: It’s for Max, so it’s ok. It’s to save money in the long run. It’s food, we have to eat don’t we? I work hard (at work and life) and I’m tired and stressed out and I deserve it.

In reply to my excuses:
Yes, Max needs stuff, but not as much as I’ve been getting him. He’s not even two years old – he doesn't need the latest toy, he’s just as happy (if not more so) with a wooden spoon and Tupperware. For the things he really does need, can I make it? Can I improvise from what we already have?

Spending money to save money – sometimes yes. But most of the time not so much. My latest culprit was the clothes line. I wanted to line dry our clothes which saves money, but I convinced myself that I needed to buy the pulleys and a new rope. Will the pulleys and rope make it easier? Yes. Could I have made do with the eye hooks and rope that I used last year? Yes.

Food doesn’t have to be that expensive – I need to be creative and suck it up and cook more. (Hubby’s version of cooking is asking me how to cook the frozen food when the directions are printed on the bag… though he is finally confident with chicken tenders) Flour, rice and beans are super inexpensive and very adaptable.

I deserve it… I deserve to not have our finances stress me out. I deserve to laugh with my son as he “helps” me cook. I deserve the personal pride that I get when I see him wearing clothing I made – and when people compliment his outfit. I deserve the luxury of putting my feet up and relaxing with some knitting after knowing that I put in a solid day of work. I deserve to make use of the great things that I already own.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Frugal Luxuries: Forcing My Own Hand

image source
I had a mild panic attack the other morning when I looked at the checking account and saw that there was a pretty darn low balance in there – as in not enough to cover the mortgage payment. Commence freak out.

Then I remembered that I had loaned my other checking account a big chunk of change for a couple of weeks and had just forgotten to pay back the first account. Silly me…

(We have two checking accounts at two banks – one bank is online and has the better features/rates/etc but also has no local branches, so we have a local bank as well.)

A hasty transfer later, the balances are back to normal and I can breathe again. But, as I was looking over our spending I realized that we had really slacked off. Lots of eating out is one of the major culprits, as well as random spending. Hubby likes to have a daily soda from the convenience store (almost $2 a pop), I like to browse garden centers, and we both like to get lunch from the cafeteria. Things that we just don’t need, but that we like to get. Mindless spending.

So with that wake up call, I’m determined to be better with my spending and hubby’s trying also. We’re making small changes that will have a significant impact on our wallet – my first, and biggest, change is cooking all of our meals. I used to cook all the time, but excuses abound resulting in a serious lack of cooking. Another change is to make the majority of Max’s clothing so we don’t have to purchase it, or when it’s cost effective buying used clothing. No new clothes for me or hubby either – if we need something we get it used, but that’s been the norm for a while.

This next week I’ll be going over some of the things that I’m doing to save a few bucks. What little (or large) things do you do to save money?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Flowers

A young lady that I (peripherally) work with made these beautiful paper flowers out of book pages and twigs. Stunning, aren't they? And so simply but beautifully displayed in a dark green bottle.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Work Hack - Clip It

yes, that's a green paperclip in my hair
Paperclips are your friend.

~ Did your hem fall? Paperclip it for a quick fix. (or use a stapler, staples hold longer)

~ Need a bobby pin or a small barrette? Paperclip it.

~ Food stuck in your teeth? Well, perhaps that's going a bit too far.

Other helpful ideas?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jewelry Box

And by jewelry box, I mean literally a box.

We had a jewelry swap at work, and since I cleaned out a pretty massive amount of jewelry I wanted it to be displayed cheaply but relatively attractively. I thought about stretching a piece of lace across a picture frame, but that’s too much effort. I thought about using a piece of foam board, but I’d have to spend money. I considered covering a pizza box and propping it up… but again, too much effort.

But you know what I did have? A little box that an exterior light came in. So I carefully took it apart, turned it inside out, taped it back up, and with a few thumbtacks had myself a display.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Frugal Luxuries: Revived Towels

Mom, stop reading this. I'll never hear the end of it... (my mom affectionately calls me Rainbow whenever I do something she considers crunchy or Martha when I do something crafty - and this qualifies as both)

I have a lot of mis-matched towels. Are you with me on this one? You know, all of those random towels that you picked up 2 at a time because they were pretty and on sale but didn't match your current towels, or the stray ones leftover from your parents/roommate/ex that are perfectly usable, but might be a little ratty/discolored/faded?

When I got married I thought I'd have matching towels. It just seemed like something you had when you were married, matching towels. Not so much. Though I give major thanks to my Aunt L. who gave us white towels for a wedding gift - they're the wedding gift that I use the most frequently and I think of her often. And it makes the bathroom look so much nicer with a white towel drying on the bar instead of the once-blue towel with the frayed edges...

I've been thinking about trying out fabric dye, and what better fabric to test it out on than my old (not-white) towels? Perhaps if they're all the same color I'll stop hiding them from guests?

So I used a bottle of blue and a bottle of green (because I love me some turquoise/aqua/blue-green) and went to town. Well, before I went to town I used a packet of color remover (which did nothing) and then a round of bleach (which did something, but not a lot).

On to the color part! I followed the directions and let the washer fill with some water (not as hot as it should have been, thanks old house) added the dye and salt, and then added the towels. That I forgot to wet first. Whoops.

But, hey, the results were pretty awesome! They didn't turn out the same color by a long shot (what's up with the bright green one???) but they're all in the same color family, finally. You'd never know they started out life as pink, purple, blue, orangey-green, tan, etc. Well, except for that purple-ish one on the bottom, that one obviously started out purple. And they look lovely next to my white towels. The ones that turned out blotchy did so in an interesting way like I did it on purpose. Which I must have, of course.

For less than $10 I have "new" towels - and since I rinsed the dye bottles really well they went into recycling so there was no trash involved. Woo!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Coffee Canister Redo

 I drink a lot of coffee at work with the help of my French press. I’d been keeping my work coffee in the bag that it comes in, but I wanted something a little prettier.

Enter: The cookie can (courtesy of Mimi, hubby’s grandmother)

With a few coats of spray paint left over from another project…

Viola! Pretty, practical, and free.