Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Waterbed" from Play at Home Mom

This is just genious.  I can't wait until my baby is old enough to play on one of these Redneck Waterbeds developed by the Play at Home Mom.  If you haven't checked out her blog yet, she has a million and one ideas for things to do with kids other than watch television.  While some of her ideas are out of our price range, many of them use things you probably have around the house.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Prices Are Not Too High...

From Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture
Every week during the growing season, my husband and I cart our family’s grassfed meats to market. We sell pork chops for $11 a pound; ground beef goes for $7.50.
Every week, we meet someone who tells us the prices are too high.
In fact, at those prices, the average net income for our family members has maxed out at $10 per hour. But part of our job is to hold our chins up and accept weekly admonishment for our inability to produce food as cheaply as it can be found in the grocery store.

Read the rest...

One of the barriers to homemaking, whether supported by cottage industry, substistance farming, or a partner's income, is the cost of necessities.  How do we balance buying food from local farmers, which costs more than meat and produce from the grocery store, with the frugality necessary to live on a single income (or less)?  At the same time I want to support the homemaking efforts of my local farmers, I can't bankrupt my own household in the process.

I don't have a great answer to this one; if anyone stopping by has ideas, please comment below.  We've been trying to buy certain things (eggs, canned goods, some produce) from the farmer's market nearby. We are also considering participating in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, where you basically buy a "share" of a farm's produce for the year, and get a certain amount each week).  The problem is, the CSA will eat up pretty much our entire produce budget, so if we get a lot of collard greens, we'll have to figure out how to eat it.  On the other hand, it might make for some interesting, outside our comfort zone cooking.

Friday, February 3, 2012

On The Cheap: Getting Started with Meal Planning

One of the biggest ways we save money every month is by having and following a meal plan.  But we’re normal people.  When we tried to do something super-strict or super-frugal we just wound up eating out a lot.  When we tried to plan each meal with a vegetable, a starch, and an entrĂ©e, we would up eating out a lot because I got overwhelmed.  So, this post could easily be titled “meal planning for those of us who can’t meal plan.”

I recommend a phased strategy for meal planning.  Don’t try to jump in all at once.  Pick just one meal to plan (probably dinner).  Begin by identifying what leads you to eat out.  Is it when there is nothing in the fridge?  Then make sure you stock your pantry and fridge not only with what you plan on eating, but with a few backup microwave meals for use in a pinch.  When you’ve been eating the same thing for days?  Then be sure to alternate days for leftovers, or freeze them to be broken out again in a couple of weeks when everyone’s forgotten.  When you forgot to thaw whatever it was you were supposed to be cooking?  Then have a backup plan (microwave meals again!) for when that happens.  When the planned meal looked too healthy, too cheap, too… bland (*cough*… rice and beans… *cough*)?  Then STOP TRYING TO EAT HEALTHY FOR A MONTH UNTIL YOU’RE ON A PLAN!!! 

For us, we started meal planning several times before it finally stuck.  So just keep trying.  Once you are meal planning (and your initial meal plan might include multiple days that are microwave meals or soup from a can), you can begin to get more elaborate, whatever that means for you – better/more tasty food, healthier food, cheaper food, etc.

Here’s what works for us now (and has for the last few months):

Breakfast and lunch are fend for yourself meals here.  By that I mean that we keep some stock items on hand, and you can decide what you want.  This week’s breakfast options are homemade bread with homemade apple butter, cereal and soy milk, and coffee or tea or water.  Lunch is sandwiches – your choice of turkey/cheese/mayo or PB&J.  We also have some oranges and apples, cheese and crackers for snacks.

Dinner is more formal, and the planning is more formal.  But I’m still new to homemaking, so simplicity is key to success.  I only make one thing for any given meal.  For example, if I’m making soup, the soup will be a substantial one and will be with some homemade bread baked a different day (or some day old artisan bread from a local bakery).  If I’m making a main dish, the veggies on the side will be from a freezer bag.  You get the idea.  I make most of my main dishes all in one options – skillet shepherd’s pie, skillet greek lasagna, chicken and rice of various flavorings.  This coming week is

Saturday: Baked ziti
Sunday: Black bean chili with homemade bread
Monday: Chicken riggies (a Cook’s Illustrated dish that’s very tasty and easy)
Tuesday: LO Baked ziti
Wed: LO chili and bread
Thursday: LO Riggies
Friday: Beer and pizza (both home made)

Super frugal?  Not really, but lots cheaper than eating out.  Repetative?  Yes, but our family is okay with that.  I know some will have baked chicken early in the week and a cassarole later in the week with the leftovers, but I still haven't figured out what a cassarole is.  Which goes to show, if we can menu plan, you can menu plan.  Don't be afraid to play around a bit and see what works for you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some days are better than others

If you, like me, were never taught to meal plan, cook, clean, organize, budget, or care for children, becoming a homemaker is quite the lesson in humility.  You’d figure women have been doing this sort of thing for thousands of years and it would all just come to you as some sort of X chromosome linked birthright.  Not so much.

For example, the first time I baked bread (which was all of two weeks ago), I used a standing mixer as called for in the Cook’s Illustrated recipe.  My husband, who has more experience in the kitchen than I do, warned me about the potential for a suicide attempt on the part of this appliance when used to mix dough.  I was, however, behind in the dishes and needed the loaf pan, which I had used for the prior nights meatloaf.  After establishing that the mixer didn’t appear to be moving all that much on the countertop I turned my back on the standing mixer for all of thirty seconds.  Of course, I had the door to the dishwasher open to receive my soon to be cleaned loaf pan.  BANG!!!  The standing mixer hit the open dishwasher door on the way down, bending it pretty remarkably, as it crashed to the ground.  My husband came running.  Having established no one was hurt, he started laughing and did his best Ricky Ricardo “Luuuuuucccyyyyy!!!  What have you done?” imitation.  Thank God I married a patient man.  Who is able to fix dishwasher doors.  The bread turned out wonderful.
Ooopppsss....  At least I'm not the first to have more misadventures than adventures!

In retrospect, it’s easy to see I was asking for trouble.  Lessons learned?  First, don’t try to multitask when you’re doing something completely new.  Second, if you hear the word “suicide” and “appliance”, don’t turn your back for a second.  Treat it like a baby on a changing table.  Third, there is absolutely no replacement for a good humored, loving husband.

It’s slow going learning how to keep a home.  I read forums and books, talk to friends and, slowly but surely, figure out things along the way.  Even though some days feel like absolute disasters, I look around the house now compared to a few months ago, and it’s amazing what a difference it makes when I apply the time and energy I used to spend making money for my boss to making my home for my family instead.

We now have a meal plan every week, which we pretty much stick to.  No one wants to go out to dinner, because we have really good food here.  Our financial worries are minimal because the money we save by meal planning, line drying laundry, repurposing and reusing adds up.  Our debts are being paid off at a fantastic rate, even though we’re making less money than six months ago.

This post, of course, is inspired by today just being rough.  Rough in no particular, easy to nail down way that might be funny in retrospect like the bread thing.  Fussy baby (tooth number three appears to be on the way), cranky mommy, dismal weather, and a few minor crises.  I’m just trying to offer it all up.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Canning: An Update

Originally, I debated puting off my first attempt at canning until summer, when some sort of produce was in season and my co-worker could teach me how to do it.  However, I rescued a lavander Bumbo chair from the landfill, and bartered with a soon to be mom to get some canning jars in exchange.

Bumbo Chair Rescued from Landfill

Jars which were bartered for Bumbo
I then found a bunch of apples for a very low price from a local produce seller.  What do apples and canning jars mean to you?  To me they mean apple butter.  I had been buying a jar of apple butter from a local farmer every other week for about $4.  Now we have our own stock for about $5 for 8 jars. 
How do you can if you've never done it before and don't have any specialized equipment?  First, you can only can certain things without a pressure canner.  Since I used boiling water in a large pot usually used for brewing beer, I could only really do fruits, certain vegetables, and pickles.  Since apple is a fruit, I was okay for using my canning method. 

I found this You Tube video really helpful, although they have a bunch of equipment I don't have.  Specialized canning tongs, for instance.  Sheesh.  Just use a big pair of tongs that are sturdy enough to lift the jars.  Another site I found useful is the Food in Jars blog.  She has tons of recipes and instructions on how to can.  If you are lucky enough to live in Philadelphia and have some money floating around in your pocket, she also has courses which I hear are quite good.  In fact, the recipe I used for my apple butter is from her site.

Ready to boil

Apple butter ready to can
 In any case, the apple butter is wonderful, especially on home made bread.  And I no longer have to feel guilty for using so much of the stuff!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

“teach the young women to be wise, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, sober, having a care of the house, gentle, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”  Titus 2:4-5.
One of the things I am really thankful for is that just as I came into motherhood, I met a number of women in my community who were already practicing their vocation to homemaking.  They came from all political and religious backgrounds, and I am truly blessed to know them.  What amazes me about these women is that in spite of a huge cultural force against homemaking, these women decided to do it prior to becoming mothers, often as a founding principle of their marriage. 
As I mentioned before, I didn’t really have any positive models for homemakers in my life, and had never even considered that it would be my vocation.  I figured I would get married (although I did consider becoming a nun for a long time) and have kids, as people do, but that I would also continue to work.  I was really convinced I could have it all.  As that illusion started to fracture against the realities of motherhood and marriage, these women modeled for me another path, one that would work for my family.  They taught me what homemakers do, and how valuable their work is… and they did it for the most part without saying a word.
As I shift from high-powered career woman to homemaker who happens to work outside the home in order to keep her home secure, it has been so important to me to have the support of these women with their strong but gentle voices.
Thank you.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Currently, I live in a small urban apartment but I eventually want to move someplace where I can have a pretty extensive food-growing garden and put up some of my produce.  My husband has even started to get excited about this future project.  In preparation, I am going to learn how to can food.  In years past, I would have gone out today, bought a bunch of canning jars, a nice, high end pressure canner, a couple of books, and gone to town.  Right now, however, we’re in gazelle intense debt repayment mode (to use a Dave Ramsey term), and that simply isn’t in the budget.

I’ve been reading a couple of books from the library and watching some youtube videos instead of buying a couple of books.  I even managed to get my first lot of canning jars as a barter for a Bumbo chair that I rescued from the landfill!  We already own a huge pot which we currently use to brew beer, so I’ll use that as a water canner.  While boiling water canning rather than pressure canning limits what I can store to some extent, it’ll give me a chance to get my feet wet.  What I want to put up is amenable anyway.  Tomorrow I’m going to make apple butter!  I managed to find a bunch of very cheap apples which will be perfect for my purposes.  If I can manage, I’ll take some pictures.

One  thing I’m learning about doing things like this on a budget is that the more you talk about it, the more you find resources.  One of my coworkers has been canning, and owns a big pressure canner.  When the season starts, she calls all the local farms to find seconds and cut-rates and puts up enough to get her family through the winter on a shoe-string.  She agreed to let me come help her can this year, in exchange for willing hands.  I’m also excited to pick her brain for who she calls to get deals.

Before my decision to be a homemaker, I never would have taken the time to build community this way – money would have allowed me to buy my way out of making relationships with actual people.  In the end, though, that’s the choice we have: relationships with people and a life giving economy based in the home, or relationships with corporations using money and an extractive economy that tears us from our homes.  Part of the vocation of a homemaker is building community, and I’m surprised by how naturally that flows from focusing your life on the home.