March 30, 2011

A Wee Bit of Sewing

Looky what I made.
I got it into my head that I wanted a "vintage"ish half apron. And that making said apron would be a good way to practice some sewing. So made the above half apron.

I don't like it.

Well, I do. But not completely. The light blue fabric was so terribly thin that it needed a backing fabric, which made it poofy and heavier. Not that light and airy feeling I prefer in aprons. I also didn't have a coordinating bias tape, so it doesn't look "finished" to me, on the edge at least. (And the lack of bias tape contributed to the need for a back fabric.) But I was working with what I had on hand.

I also don't like the extra pointy points. Next time I will make them less sharp. And wider, to add more pleats. I was trying to mimic these aprons, which I think are adorable, but when I was drawing up the pattern I wasn't looking at the picture, so it was an experiment.

I do, however, stinkin' love this tea fabric. It was a fat quarter I had and it was just enough for two pockets and the short tie. Love. It. I'm really hoping they are selling this by the yard at the fabric store and I that I can get some more of it whenever I get around to buying fabric.

Not bad for a "Hey it's been awhile since I've dusted off the sewing machine, let's make up a pattern and try something."

Happy Sewing,

March 29, 2011

Finished Knit: Chinook Shawl

I finally got around to weaving in the ends.

I rather like these colors.

You can't see the light color changes very well from the pictures, but it's really pretty in person. Knit Picks did a nice job choosing colors for this shawl.

Pattern: Chinook Shawl by Knit Picks

Yarn: Knit Picks Merino Silk in "Bare" - 33 grams/290 yards
Knit Picks Alpaca Cloud in "Smoke" - 36 grams/317 yards
Knit Picks Shimmer in "Cumulus" - 38 grams/334 yards
Knit Picks Shadow in "Basalt" - 36 grams/316 yards
Knit Picks Shadow in "Soot Kettle Dyed" - 37 grams/325 yards
Knit Picks Shadow in "Oregon Coast" - 42 grams -369 yards
All held double throughout

Needles: US 8/5mm Susan Bates circular

Knitline: February 21st - March 21st. Exactly a month! I didn't know I did that until just now. 

YTD Mileage: At 1,954 yards total, my new mileage is 2.09 miles!

Happy Knitting,

P.S. Don't ever watch Steel Magnolias unless you wanna cry your eyes out. Sheesh.

March 26, 2011

What's Cookin': Yogurt

Here it is! My first attempt at yogurt making, following the crock pot method. (Go there for the actual recipe.)

My sis-in-law wanted pictures, so I snapped a few on the way.

You start out with milk in the crock pot. The recipe called for half a gallon, but I didn't want to waste that much if it flopped, so I cut it to one quart (4 cups).

Set it to low, then let is sit for 2 and a half hours. Then unplug it and let is sit for another 3 hours.

You'll need a plain flavor yogurt starter that contains "Live/Active cultures". At the risk of squeeming you out, it means the little beasties are alive and will multiply into the rest of the milk. If you don't have active cultures in your yogurt you'll get... milk with yogurt in it. I used 1/4 C (remember I'm cutting the recipe in half.)

At the end of the 3 hours, mix the yogurt starter and about 2 cups of the warmed milk together.

I've heard that making yogurt this way usually comes out a little thin, and Ben prefers a thick yogurt, so I added a half packet of gelatin to the starter/milk mix. Add the mix back into the crock pot, stir and recover.

Then wrap your entire crock pot in a heavy towel (I actually used two... and forgot to take pictures). Listen to husband ask questions about what is living on our counter. Let it sit over night, or for 8 hours. Once I got to it, it had actually been about 11 hours.

In the morning, if all went well, you have yogurt! I have to say, I was quit amazed it actually worked. I was kind of skeptical. It's very tart, and very bland. I thawed a few strawberries, mashed them up and mixed them into about a half cup with a tiny bit of sugar for sweetener. It was quite tasty, despite the fact that I really don't like yogurt (it's a texture thing). I'll probably be using this mostly in smoothies, since Ben said the taste was good, but it's still not as thick as he likes. Maybe more gelatin if I do it again, or I'll go the "strain through cheesecloth" route with this batch.

Now for the fun part.

We buy yogurt in the little 6 oz thingies. They're easy for Ben to take to work that way, and I know buying a large container would go to waste before we ate it. He prefers store brand, which are $0.33 each ($0.06/oz).

Milk has been $2.70 a gallon (128 oz) lately = $0.02/oz
The live culture plain was $0.40 for a 6 oz = $0.07/oz

I used 32 oz of milk = $0.64 (32 x $0.02)
I used 2 oz of starter = $0.14 (2 x $0.07)
I am not counting the gelatin since I'm not sure I'll use it every time.
So, 32 oz of homemade yogurt costs me $0.81 to make (not counting electricity, but I'm not that anal), or $0.03 an oz. Half price!

Add in the fact that you can make a new batch using your previous homemade as the starter, it reduces the price even more, until about the 3rd batch where it evens out to $0.72 (give or take a bit for the price of milk) per batch from there on out.

Happy Eating,

March 25, 2011

Back To Basics :: The Road to Self Sufficiency

The only three tomatoes I got from our tiny (failed) attempt at gardening last year.

Self Sufficient
–adjective to supply one's own or its own needs without external assistance: The nation grows enough grain to be self-sufficient.

One of my big goals this year is to become as self sufficient as possible.

One reason is to save money to pay off our debts, and save towards future goals.

Another reason is that I think we, as a society, have lost the "art" of taking care of ourselves, and now rely on others - be it grocery stores, department stores, fast food restaurants, government, whoever - to take care of us. I don't know about you, but the idea of needing to rely on someone else makes me uneasy. I'm not saying getting things from other people is bad, I just think it's not a good idea to rely solely on others and not on one's self.

And being self sufficient goes along with my thinking of "the fewer steps it takes to get into my body, the better". Super cooked, super preserved, and super processed foods just... ick me out.

So along with the bread making and scratch cooking, I've already been doing, there are a few things I'd like to try, or have started trying, in an effort to support ourselves for - need and enjoyment. Because I really do like being an old fashioned "homesteader", if you will.

Cheesemaking - I've already started this with a small batch of Ricotta. I created a batch of buttermilk last night, and I'm starting a batch of yogurt as I type this. I've ordered some rennet so that I can start making "hard" cheeses. I'm very intrigued by cheese making and I'll be posting progress, as well as price comparisons as I go along.

Bread (and other "grain") making - I am already pretty good at basic breads. I'd like to expand and get better at french bread, try my hand at some other rustic breads, and start making others. Tonight, I'll try homemade corn tortillas, and I need to try flour tortillas and pasta again - it's been a few years since I've done those. I figure the more I can make, the more I can take off our grocery list. (In fact, I have a pasta attachment for my kitchen aid that I really need to figure out how to use.)

Gardening - This is the year! Ben told me "Oh no, we are getting a garden this year!" when I started talking about waiting until next year. I have plans for a at least large tomato crop to supply our tomato sauces, dry shelling beans (like pintos) to dry and eat in soups and other dishes, and then the ridiculous amount of other veggies to eat fresh. I am hoping to not really buy much but dairy and maybe the occasional meat once our crops come in.

Sewing - I don't really sew. I made a Halloween costume when I was 17, and I can patch jeans, and sew a straight line if needed. But I'd like to start making more of our things around the house. Like pillows (and pillow cases) maybe try making a few t-shirts for the boys. It's a basic skill that I need to refresh on and have around, just in case.

Do you have any plans for becoming more self sufficient?

Happy DIY,

March 24, 2011

Things Finished

The Chinook shawl, freshly blocked, but needing the ends woven in before I do a finished post.

My first attempt at cheese making! A nice little batch of Ricotta that tastes wonderful. Sharing of the experience to come soon.

Also done, but not pictured, a fresh batch of buttermilk ranch that turned out delightfully, despite my not having chives and having to sub.

Next stops: Yogurt making and mozzarella (eventually)!

Happy Thursday,

March 22, 2011

Extreme Grocery Experimentation

Picture by MFinderup

I've been thinking about this idea for a few weeks now, and it was solidified last night.

Ben & I were talking about how we're trying to pay off the car this year (the original loan would have gone to 2014!), and how we might need to get a little extreme to do it, and I was telling him my idea for our grocery budget.

Every month we take our income and tell it where to go in our budget. What exactly we will spend it on. X for Mortgage, X for Utilities, X for Gasoline, etc. And it clicked in my head: Why can't I do the same with our grocery budget?

We've been doing groceries on about $400 a month for the five of us. My usual way of doing things has been "Ok, I have $400 so let's just get whatever we need until I hit that limit". Which sometimes leads to $50 left for the last week of the month.

I've been a bit better lately, with only buying for the meals of the week and sticking to a weekly budget, but that hasn't allowed for stocking up and keeping extras on hand - which I like to do.

So we've decided that for the month of April we're going to try this experiment.

I've looked over the things we've bought in the last three months and added up how many of each item. How many gallons of milk, cartons of eggs, etc. From that I've picked an average number and we will be buying ONLY that amount of items in April. If we run out, we have to wait until the next month.

For example, I can get 8 gallons of milk (2/week), 14 cartons of eggs, 1 25lb bag of flour, 4 lb pasta, 15 lbs of meat at $1.50/lb (that's usually the price I buy it at, if not lower).

By going through it last night, we figured out we can drop our budget by $50 so far. We're keeping a lot of our "luxury" stuff for now just to make sure we don't hate the process. I figured we can try it for a month or two and if we feel like it, cut back even more. Or go back up to our usual budget.

Ben brought up that this will allow me to stock up on our non-perishables and freezer storables quit easily and quickly. If I am buying a big bag of rice every month, or 4 pounds of pasta every month - whether I need them or not - then we will soon have a surplus. Either allowing us to get through a lean time if it comes, or letting me cut the budget of a future month so we can put the extra on debt.

I'm really excited about this plan, and can't wait for April. I'm hoping we can soon cut down even more. The garden we have planned will help a great deal with this as well.

And I think this will play a big part on the road to my goal of self-sufficiency... But that's another post.

Happy Tuesday,

March 18, 2011

Finished Knit: Loop Hat

This is Ty's silly little hat. Ridiculously hilarious.

The boys are always finding hats and wearing them. I've only knit one hat for them (until now) and decided they needed some more.

I remembered a picture of a hat like this that my sister had shown me, so I made one up. And of course as soon as I cast on Ty starts talking about it's "his hat". He hasn't taken it off in the last two and a half hours since I gave it to him.

Jack wants one in orange.

Pattern: Loop Hat made up as I went along

Yarn: TLC Amore in "Light Thyme" - 64 grams/ 105 yards

Needles: US 8/5 mm Susan Bates DPNs

Knitline: March 10th - 18th

YTD Mileage: This hat brings me to .98 miles!

March 16, 2011

Random Wednesday

We have color in the backyard! Our Wisteria has popped out a couple blooms. I was hanging laundry the other day and it smells heavenly. I can't wait until our whole pergola is covered with them.

I finished another pair of Emilies in blues, I just haven't gotten around to taking good shots yet. And today is dark and rainy, so it won't be for awhile still! But just know, I do have things being finished.

Like this! I'm nearly done with the Chinook shawl. I started the border last night, and I am merrily working along on it. I had put it down for a few days to be distracted by other things ( like a silly little hat for Tyler that I'll share later). Never fear though, I have another shawl pattern waiting to begin. It's a Mystery shawl, and you know how much I love those. :)

 I made Orange Chicken from total scratch the other night (as opposed to using the popcorn chicken cheat) and my, how I had forgotten how good it is freshly fried. I had also forgotten that it takes me 2 hours to make. Oy.

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's day! Do you have your Corned Beef?? I DO! And I'm so excited. I've been waiting for corned beef since January!

The Great Backyard Landscape of 2011 continues. Ben has the garden curbs completely finished, which means half the curbs are left, as well as sprinklers. It was very difficult for me to not buy seeds at the grocery store today. (Although knowing I could get them cheaper somewhere else helped.) I want plants so badly. We've been making a list of things to plant, and I've been making a planting chart. My Spring fever is incurable!

It's Wednesday! Half way to the weekend, baby.

Happy Wednesday,

March 15, 2011

Repost: The Tax Refund Debate

 Hey guess what time of year it is? Tax time! Aren't you excited?? Those in the United States only have a month left to file their tax returns. Remember that if you owe money, you need to file the return even if you can't pay the money right now.

If you are getting money back, though, I have a post for you!

We filed our taxes already and got our refund. It's not as big as last year of course, but we used it to put a sizable chunk towards paying off the car, and the rest is being used for the Great Backyard Landscape of 2011 project. I'm re-posting last year's Tax Refund Debate post, for anyone who might be getting a refund and is trying to figure out what to do with it.

The Tax Refund Debate
Now on to the taxes! Because we are first time home buyers we get the $8000 homebuyer credit. Which means combined with our amount for having three kids and one income, all the other stuff, etc. we are getting a sizable refund. So naturally, we've had to figure out what to do with it all. 

BLOW IT ALL ON TOYS! WOOOHOOO! Heh. Yeah right. As much as I would like to get all the "toys" we've been wanting, we have to be responsible adults (damn).

We knew for sure we wanted to build up our savings. Ideally we will have at least 3 months expenses saved so that if the unforeseeable happens (such as a job loss or medical expenses) then we'll be able to float for a period of time. Be realistic for your situation. It usually takes longer than a month to find a new job, and not all medical companies will let you put your bill on a payment schedule. Save up a sizable amount.

Even with saving 3 months of expenses that still left us with quite a bit, and our list of things we would like to do. I'll share with you what I did so that maybe if you're facing the same dilemma (be it tax refund or other windfall) then you can use the same idea. All the following figures are fake.

I had originally just sat down with Ben and said, "OK, this is how much we're getting. What do you want to do with it?" But that... didn't go so well. Poor planning on my part. I forget that I need to spend my time thinking about it and making visual presentations to give him a better idea of what I'm thinking, rather than thinking out loud and not making sense. The next day I pulled out paper, a pencil and calculator as well as our current debts and wish lists and went to work. Then I threw it all into Excel to make it pretty and to be able to change numbers and have it auto-update the rest.

I set up possible scenarios for spending the money. In each scenario I listed certain things to do (like paying off the truck) and the total of them, then subtracted that total from our refund amount. After that I calculated how much one, two, and three months worth of savings would be based on what our monthly expenses would become after paying off certain debts. Once that was done, I then subtracted each amount of possible savings from the amount left from paying off debt. So my worksheet looked like this.

At the top you see the refund amount and monthly expenses based on what we would or wouldn't have to make payments on. Then for each scenario you see the item(s) to be payed off, the total of that, as well as the total of each month of savings. The bold numbers in the colored sections are what is left after all the math is done. This is money to either play with or additional money to put into savings. Our first choice is Scenario III with 3 months of savings. But that depends on what else comes up between now and then. We will probably use the leftover money to take a wedding anniversary vacation in May and hopefully build the shed and chicken coop with it. Or something like that.

2011 Update: Once we finally got our refund, we used it to pay off the truck, the credit card, put two months of expenses in savings, and start paying off a family loan (that we payed off completely in November!). 

Are you getting a refund this year? What do you plan to do with it?

Happy Taxing (unless you have to pay),

March 13, 2011

This Day In History

On this day 4 years ago, at precisely 10:45pm, Ben and I welcomed our twin boys into this world.

Three months before they should have been here.

It was scary. I've written about it before. But today, aside from being a bit on the small side, you can't even tell they were so early.

We had a nice get together with family to celebrate and the boys loved having everyone over.

My favorite part was when I brought the cake out and Tyler started singing Happy Birthday to himself. Hehe.

Now, can someone tell me how to get them to stop getting older? Four came way too fast.

Can't believe I've been a momma this long,

March 8, 2011

Back To Basics :: Menu & Grocery Planning

I'm not sure if this could really be considered a Back to Basics post in the sense of it being a "back to our roots" kind of thing. But I think it's a good practice that allows one to live a basic, simple, less hectic life more easily. My life runs so much smoother when dinner is already planned out.

One of the nice things about removing most of the internet from my life means getting back to the things that I really enjoy. In this case, menu and grocery planning. Yes, I actually do enjoy the planning. I figured I would share how I do it.

I shop on Wednesdays, which means planning happens some time on Tuesday (or maybe Monday if I'm feeling frisky.) Unfortunately, our grocery flyers come out on Wednesday, so it makes shopping the sales a little difficult, but it works out.

Here's the Short List, for those who don't want to read the long post:
  • Print out blank calendar and write menus on that.
  • Print out grocery list and use to mark weekly needs.
  • Review items needed for meals and mark things on list that we need, but don't have.
  • Mark unplanned essentials/staples on list like milk, eggs, flour, etc.
  • Total up price/estimated price of items to see if they meet budget for week.
  • Go to store! If there is room in the budget, get sale items, usually meat, to stock up.

Now, the long version.

I start out by printing a blank month's calendar from my email program at the beginning of the month. Just from the 1st to the last day of the month. In this case, it's March. I print it without the bills or other scheduled things, but leave birthdays and holidays on so I can plan for those. I have tried weekly one-sheet planners, but I have found that this works best for me. It allows me to see what we've had recently so I either don't repeat too often, or I can get inspiration from the past meals that we liked.

Also at the beginning of the month, I print out a few copies of my prefilled grocery list that I created. (It looks like that^.) It's a list of the things we use the most, or what I like to keep on hand. It stays on our fridge through the week and as we run out or need things, we mark them on the list. It comes up again later after I plan the menus for the week.

Then on Tuesdays I sit down, sometimes with the help of Ben, and write in our dinners for the coming week onto the calendar,  including any sides or special things I want to fix. Usually I'm planning for Wednesday to Wednesday. For example, tomorrow is Tacos, Thursday is Spaghetti, Friday is homemade pizza, etc.

I try to plan my menus with what I have on hand first. We've been having tacos a lot lately because I was able to get a mass of ground beef on sale. (And Ben loves tacos.) If I have chicken the in freezer I will plan meals with that, or pork, or whatever. My goal is to not only use what I have because it needs to be eaten, but it means a smaller grocery bill for the week.

Once my menu is filled out I go through, meal by meal, and mark on my grocery list what I don't have for the meal and I need to buy. This week, I have ground beef, tortillas and onions for tacos, but I need to get jalapenos so they go on the list. I also need to get a jar of spaghetti sauce for Thursday, and a package of cheese for pizza on Friday.

Then I go through the list and mark down any essentials we need, like milk, eggs, flour, sugar, snack produce, etc. I created the pre-filled list so that I wouldn't forget to check things. Rather than just writing on a blank page and getting back from the store and remembering I needed to get sugar.

Next to each item I've marked on the list I write the price if I know it, or the estimated price if I'm not sure. Then I total them all to see if I've met my budget, blown it, or am under. If I've met it, cool. If I'm under then I know I have room to grab a couple sales items and stock up - typically meat to use in the future. If I'm over I have the choice of either taking away superfluous items we don't need, or taking it out of next week's budget. I typically worry more about the month's total budget (which is all I get), rather than week to week since it can change depending on the meals.

And that's how I do it! It's a bit different than the "oh shop the sales and plan from that", but it works for us and I feel I stick better to the budget this way. It took me awhile to get to this system, so if you're trying to come up with the perfect strategy, just keep trying!

If you'd like a copy of my grocery list you can download it via Google Docs here:

Grocery Shopping List

Just select "download original" from the file menu in the top right corner if you'd like to change it. Once you've opened it in your word processor you can change the items to fit your family. Or, you can print it as is from Google using the "Print (PDF)" option in the file menu. Once printed it folds into fourths to accommodate fitting into a purse or pocket.

Happy shopping (and eating),

March 4, 2011

Hey, It's Been A Week

The beginning, after a few color changes.

And I could totally stay away from the internet forever.

Gosh, it's been such a nice week. Ben told me Tuesday that I've been so much more suppressed. I feel so relaxed. And just opening my browser to write this post is kind of making me edgy.

I've knit a good lot on my shawl - half way through in fact.

I've read and read and read to my boys, and they've loved it.

I've borrowed some garden books from my grandmother and have enjoyed reading them and thinking about the garden to come.

 The massive aloe vera box that Ben removed and separated, and we're now trying to get rid of the plants to loving homes.

My house is freakishly clean. I even cleaned my microwave! I think that's the first time since we bought it last year. (Please don't look down on me. We hardly use it.)

I've made 6 loaves of toast bread, a loaf of potato bread, and a batch of Rocky Road Brownies. That much baking has been wonderful, and I haven't thought "oh man I don't want to make more bread right now" at all this week.

I have reconnected and refocused on some things I lost sight of.

I'm so calm and relaxed. And more patient. Way more patient.

My brain feels alive.

 The Chinook shawl progress as of today. I am on the second to last color, not including the contrasting shawl. Seeing the color progression is quite delightful.

I knew it was time to cut myself off when I felt so crazy any time I got online. I told Ben that I felt like I was spending way too much time worrying about everyone else's problems and lives and not enough about my own. I pushed my kids off because I was "reading something!". And I couldn't sleep at night because my brain was always on from the information overload.

This week has been wonderful!

So, I think I'm going to be mostly staying off the internet for an indefinite period. I'll read and keep in touch with the blogs that are closest to my heart. I'll keep the blog mainly for my finished projects, the occasional recipe, and maybe a thought or two when I feel like it. I'll update my Etsy shop when I need to, and not worry about pushing it too hard. And I don't think I ever want to go back to Facebook.

I don't need to be popular. I don't need to have a bunch of people coming to my blog or buying my stuff.

I just need to be popular with my family. And I can't worry about anyone else's life at the cost of my own, lest I go off the deep end.

Love you all and see ya on the flip side,

P.S. I have the best daddy ever. He knows why.
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