Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Meatless Monday and the PB&J Campaign

Bill and I are carnivores.   And we rarely eat in restaurants.  When we do eat out, it's good advice not to get caught between me and the buffet tables.  But for an everyday life style, I don't need or want the Hungry Man size portion of meat.

If you haven't already heard about the Peanut Butter and Jelly Campaign, stop what you're doing and head to http://environment.about.com/od/greenlivinginthekitchen/a/peanut_butter.htm or PB&J Campaign .

As members of the PB&J Campaign  like to say, “You don’t have to change your whole diet to change the world. Just start with lunch.”

So in an effort to eat healthier with more plant based meals, we have Meatless Mondays.  We have our own hens, so eggs are a good fit in this plan.  So are bean burritos, salads, vegetable soups, etc.  There are great vegetarian recipes online.  The rest of the week?  I cut back on the amount of meat and see if I can add beans or veggies instead.  It works out pretty good.  Instead of getting 2 meals from that pot roast, I can get 5.

I also try to use as much as I can that has come from our own property -  potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, etc.  But not my chickens.  I can't eat Ozzie and Harriet (hens don't care what you name them).

Bill and the Country Bumpkins

Bill has been following my posts regularly.  He wants to make sure that I'm not going to blog anything bad about him, I guess.

He's been fairly amused by most of the entries.  Of course, he's living the life with me, so he knows all the details not posted.  But he also is nervous that people are going to think we're country bumpkins.  I think it was writing about cooking on the wood burning stove that prompted that.

No, we're city people that foolishly thought that living in the country would easy.  Har.

It's not that country living is hard, it's just lots of hard work.  There's always something that needs to be done.  Of course, we're always behind on something as we continue to work on building the house.  But overall, it's a great life.  You couldn't pay me enough to move back to the city.

I also think it's important to share all the things that went wrong, not just the successes.  I'm thankful that I am constantly learning new things.  And I'm really thankful that I can see a sunrise like I never did while being a city dweller.  It kind of makes all the chores worth it.

Considering Full Time RV Life

The thought of living in an RV for the rest of my days is weighing heavily on my mind.  Of course, Bill was excited when we were first discussing it.  He was talking, I was listening (in a state of panic)...this being the exact opposite of how it usually is at our house.  I continue to research on the Internet about the pros and cons of such a lifestyle.  The funny thing is that there are so many blogs about people that love it, but I have yet to read about anyone who tried it and then hated it.  I'm sure there are some, maybe they just don't write about it.

What has surprised me over the past couple of months is that I hear of more and more people that we actually know that are either considering it or actually planning to do it. Are the baby boomers growing up to be nomads in their old age?  Apparently some of them are.  Kinda makes you want to keep a sharper eye on the road when you're driving.

The one thing that no one misses with this life style is a snow shovel.  They probably don't miss pulling weeds, either.  But I do like to garden.  Bill suggested that I could grow potatoes in the back of the pickup truck, but it just doesn't seem ...well, right.  I don't know that one tomato plant in a pot would do it, either.

Some of us have roots and we like them.  I like the sense of 'home' and everything that's associated with that.  And I like my 'stuff'.  Could 'home' be wherever I hang my hat?  Maybe it could.  Maybe it's just different, something that I would love if I gave it a chance.

I did tell Bill that I would commit to one year RVing, but I would want an actual house if I didn't like it after that period.  I actually was okay with that at the time.  The next morning my mind was hitting the brakes with all kinds of 'what if's'.

Yes, today I am considering it.  That kind of move is at least two years away, so I have time to change my mind, too.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Passing through the Paper Aisle in the Store

I keep asking myself what people did before we had all these modern convenience things that we take for granted.   I also ask myself what I would do if this was the very last time I would ever have ____.  How would I use it?

The first product in this aisle that I stopped buying was paper towel.  Actually, it was pretty easy and painless.  Most of my 'rags' weren't even decent enough to keep around as rags.  So, into the trash they went and out came the scissors to make new rags of varying sizes out of Bill's old T shirts (shhhhhh) and some ratty old towels.  I keep them in a kitchen drawer, handy to grab whenever I need to clean up a mess.  Give it a rinse, and into the laundry room, no problem.

Napkins?  Well, I don't use many, and I can live without them.  I have some designated washcloths in the kitchen drawer that I'm comfortable using as napkins.  Bill?  Not so comfortable with that system.  Most of our friends and family?  Really not okay with that system.  What's the big deal here, people?  Granted, I don't expect you to carry washcloths or cloth napkins so you can wipe special sauce off your chin at the local burger place during your lunch hour, but is it so bad to use cloth instead of paper at my house or (gasp) at your own house?

Plastic wrap - I have a roll that has lasted several years.  Most of the leftovers go into refrigerator dishes that have lids.  If it's staying in the serving bowl, often times a plate will fit as a lid.  I haven't decided if I'm going to buy those reusable plastic things with the elastic yet.  For some reason, they remind me of my mother's shower cap.  I remember her using them when I was a kid, though...and I hated washing them.

Aluminum foil - I now buy the recycled foil, and I recycle it, too.  I use it as many times as I can before it heads to the recycle bin.  I still try not to use it though.

Freezer bags - When I have to buy them, I usually buy freezer bags. They are thicker, and I can use them many times before they spring a leak.  I had some that were almost three years old before they ended up in the trash.  I wash them and put them in the empty dishwasher to air dry (with the door cracked), or hang them on the Indian clothesline.  If they have had raw meat in them, they go into the trash.  But I try not to use them for that.  I usually keep a few plastic bread wrappers around here for when I bake bread, so sometimes other things can go in them, too.

Paper plates, cups, bowls, plastic spoons, etc. - I don't buy them, won't buy them.

Toilet paper - Ehhhhhhh, this is one thing that I won't ration or go without.  If I had to, I could do something else, but you know?  As long as I don't have to use rags, or leaves and grass, I'll probably keep buying this.  Ditto with personal products.

Tissues - I don't have a stash of hankies.  Bill does have a stack of hankerchiefs, but we both use tissues.  Funny, now that I think about it, it's been a while since I saw a hankerchief in the laundry.  I had to ask him  about it just now.  He said that he still carries one in his pocket for emergencies when he's working.  Like when he feels a sneeze coming on or thinks he has a booger hanging.  Ahhh, that's my Bill, he's very tidy.

Trash bags - I almost forgot about those.  I use plastic grocery sacks in the bathrooms and laundry waste baskets.  We take our cloth bags when we get groceries, but still end up with some plastic bags.  We also have friends that refuse to recycle, so I can get a mountain of plastic bags from them if I need to.  I do buy cheap kitchen trash bags, but since I recycle and compost everything, it takes a while before it's full.  Often times, I can just empty the trash and use the bag again.  I'd like to use a waste basket in the kitchen, (and of course, the 'free' plastic bag) but Bill thought he was taking out the trash way too often.

Did I miss anything?

The Quest for the Perfect Oatmeal

Bill has high cholesterol.  Period.  He was on the usual run of statin drugs, but had side effects so badly that he was miserable.  So now, we're doing the herbal thing.  I spent days researching on the internet, looking for proven OTC (over the counter) supplements and a better diet.

Most of us know that a high fiber diet is important, right?   We always had oatmeal around here, but Bill seemed to pick up the packets of flavored oatmeal when he made the grocery store run.  In my never ending journey to lower my consumerism, I kept thinking that I could make them for him, cheaper and they would always be on hand, right? 

It seems that he has a higher standard for what is acceptable oatmeal than what I do.  I'm perfectly content throwing a handful or two of old fashioned oats into a bowl, guessing at some water, nuking it, then adding whatever suits me at the moment - cinnamon and sugar, maple syrup or brown sugar, nuts, pour on some milk if it's too thick.  I guess I never really paid any attention to how he made his oatmeal.

So, I did my usual looking at recipes and then mixed up a single serving of oatmeal the way that I would eat it.  He said it was too much oatmeal.  The next batch had less oatmeal, but everything else was the same.  Not sweet enough.  Another batch - he likes the quick oats better than the old fashioned.. and on.. and on.  He's so polite about it, too. I guess he doesn't want to hit me with too much at one time.

This morning was the best so far.  He just had to add a little more brown sugar and it was fine.  So I'll make another serving in a little snack baggie for tomorrow and see how it goes.

What scares me is that this was just for ONE flavor - cinnamon bun. 

The final recipe:
1/2 cup oatmeal (quick oats)
1 Tblsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. powdered coffee creamer
pinch of salt
a few pecan pieces

Makes one serving in a little snack baggie. Your taste may vary.
10-12 - I got the appoval for this one, also:

Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal

In a quart bag, I gooshed up 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 tsp. Mapleine (maple flavoring) until it was well mixed.
For single serving bags:
1 Tbsp of this brown sugar/Mapleine mix
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 tsp. powdered coffee creamer
pinch of salt
a few walnut pieces

The only reason why I use the powdered coffee creamer is so it seems to have a little 'milk' for when he's out of town and only has water.  You certainly could leave it out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paring Down the Grocery Bill

My goal is to stay at $200 a month for groceries for the two of us.  We have grown kids and friends that visit, so there are snacks, desserts, and extra portions included in that goal.  To me, it sounds like a lot of money.  I have read that other families have kept their food budget that low, but I have yet to reach it...and eat what we like to eat.  Our grocery bill usually runs $225 a month.  I do stock up when something is on sale, but on the flip side, I'm using from my pantry on a regular basis, too.  A friend, who is really struggling financially, recently told me that she spent almost $350 for groceries for just her last month.  I don't know who gasped louder.. me, when she told me that, or her, when I told her what I usually spend for two people. 

I tried the OAMC (once a month cooking) and it just wasn't for me.   I don't have a Sam's or Cosco a block away.  We live in a rural area, with a little grocery store about 15 miles from here.  Running to the store for just a couple things...how do I say this... just ain't gonna happen.  I can't remember what I needed but didn't have when I started searching 'make your own _____'.  Wow.  Wasn't I surprised!  There are decent substitutions for practically everything you would use in every day cooking. You really can save money AND eat well!

I buy almost no convience foods at all now.  I do buy some things that I could make, but don't want to, like tomato soup (my homemade was so-so at best) and cream of mushroom soup (I don't use enough to warrant trying to keep mushrooms in my frig or yard, either). But I make a pretty good cream of chicken and cream of celery soup.  Soooo simple, too!  Oh, I do buy various cereals and some breads. I don't want to try to make crackers, but I have made flour tortilla chips.  The bulk of my cooking is from scratch...really scratch.

The point here is that there are tons of recipes for making about any convience food that you would buy.  You don't have to do it all at once, either.  I started out with cream of chicken soup mix.  The batch of mix equals 9 cans of soup (and only cost $1.25), so I didn't have to make it again for a while.  When I make noodles, I make enough for several meals and pop them into the freezer. Ditto with soups.  Most of the time I plan for leftovers that I can put in the freezer.  Then I have easy meals for when I don't feel like cooking. Make sure you label everything that goes in the freezer.  Things, especially soups, have a way of looking alike after a while.  I have a cool, low tech labeling system - masking tape and a permanent marker.

I really watch pricing in the grocery store.  When they first started coming out with bulk foods and bigger packages, it was cheaper per ounce to buy.  Now -  ain't necessarily so.  A 2 lb. bag of brown sugar is the most commonly sold size.  Two 1 lb. boxes are cheaper than the 2 lb. bag now.  But, it's cheaper yet in the 4 lb. bag, and I use enough of it to warrant buying that size.  (Edited on 1-4-2011 - I don't even buy brown sugar now, I just make it when I need it, really cheap!)  White sugar is cheaper per pound to buy 4 lb bags where I live.

I also have a garden every year and in a perfect world, I'd can/freeze enough goodies to last an entire year.  I keep trying, but Nature has a way of keeping you humble.

If you haven't tried looking at everything you can make from scratch, get your mouse clicking and head over to http://busycooks.about.com/  for a starter course.  Just type 'make your own' into their search bar and you'll be on your way to pages of money saving ideas.

Green Cleaners in the Kitchen

Baking soda is my best cleaning friend in the kitchen.  I use it to clean stains, cooked on crud on my glass top stove, in the frig to absorb odors (when I remember to do it) and down the drain before I pour the hot vinegar from cleaning my coffee maker into the sink.

I used to make dishwasher detergent when I made laundry soap - equal parts of washing soda, borax and powdered automatic dishwasher detergent.  Everything gradually started getting cloudy.  'They' say to use less if that happened. (Who are 'they', anyway?)  So I used less.  But Bill is from the 'if some works, more works better' school, so the glassware was getting really cloudy.  Not that I'm going to complain about him doing dishes every so often, but I had to come up with a better plan.  So now I have switched to 1 part baking soda to 1 part automatic dishwasher detergent and everything is getting sparkly clean again.

Automatic dishwasher detergent is good stuff, too.  When the baking soda won't remove cooked on food on the stovetop, a little detergent with a hot, wet cloth on top will do the trick.  I left it on overnight before on a particularly bad one, but it all wiped right off the next day.  I have also soaked dishes in hot water and dishwasher detergent to remove baked on stains.  Great stuff.  But next time I'm going to try something 'greener'.

I keep my labeled sprayers of vinegar/water, bleach/water and Dawn/water under the kitchen sink.  Then they're handy when I need them. I spray the cutting board, sink and my hands with bleach/water after I have been cutting up chicken.  I use the vinegar/water to help remove hard water stains, and the Dawn/ water for cleaning anywhere.

I have a foaming pump dispenser in the kitchen, too.  (1 part Dawn or dish soap of your choice, and 4 parts water).  Besides using it to wash my hands, I also use it when I need just a little soap on the dishcloth to wash a big pot.

Simple stuff, but it works.

The Cost of Green Cleaners and the Bathroom

I love making green cleaners.  They are so easy to make and work well.  I also feel so virtuous, doing what's right for the earth, and hey!  The added bonus is that they're cheap to make!  In one calendar year, I spent about $25 to make a years supply of:

Laundry soap
Laundry pretreat or stain stick
Fabric softener
Dishwasher detergent
Bathroom cleaner
Daily shower spray
Hand soap in pump foam dispensers for kitchen and bathroom sinks
Eyeglass cleaner
General cleaning
Wasp spray
Non toxic bug spray for plants

What I bought:
Zote laundry bar
Washing soda
Baking soda
Dawn dish soap (I'm a huge fan of this stuff)
Rubbing alcohol
Cheap brand of 'Jet Dry' type product

Now then, for the bathroom:

I have labeled spray bottles of the following that I use to clean the bathroom and general cleaning:
Dawn and water - tub, shower, sink and pot
Bleach and water - pot and to spray the shower pan and liner in between washings
Vinegar and water - ceramic tile floor

If there's something that needs a little extra attention, I have a designated box of baking soda for cleaning.  I usually keep some in the bathroom cupboard brush my teeth occasionally, too.

In a closet, I have several bars of bath soap unwrapped so they dry out.  I put them in a basket with a washcloth over them.  They gradually dry out and last longer when you use them.

Daily Shower Spray
The daily shower spray has been a big time saver!  I only have to actually clean the shower about once every 6 months if the spray is used faithfully.
Mix together one-half cup of hydrogen peroxide, one-half cup of rubbing alcohol, about six drops of Dawn, a capful of Jet Dry and twenty-four ounces of water. Using this on a daily basis will keep your shower and liner clean for a long time.

I'm experimenting now with just some Dawn water with alcohol in a spray bottle.  I still haven't decided if that works as well as the other formula.  You can use your regular cleaner that's diluted, too.

The easiest way for me to clean the shower?  Right before I get in it.  I spray the walls with Dawn/water mix, hit it w/ a wet cloth, then turn the shower on.  Undress, hop in to finish rinsing the walls and get to showering.  I wonder if Bill knows that I do that...  I wonder if I can get him to do that in the other shower...probably not.

Foaming Pump Dispenser Refill
Fill it 3/4 the way full with water and give it a good squirt of dish soap.   I like Dawn Green or 7th Generation, but use what you have.  My dispensers have the pump gadget inside the bottle, so I ended up overfilling it the first (two?) time I did this.  What didn't work for me was diluting the 'pearl' looking liquid hand soaps, or melting my own bars.  I put them in the blender and still ended up w/ pieces that would clog up the pump dispenser.  For a regular pump dispenser, the ratio is 4 parts water to 1 part liquid soap.

Eyeglass cleaner:
A safe formula no matter what type of eyeglasses or coatings you have on your lenses:
Fill a spray bottle (any size will do) with 3/4 rubbing alcohol and 1/4 water. Put in a few drops of dish soap.

Laundry Day and the Indian Clothesline

I make my own laundry soap.  I don't plan on ever buying expensive laundry soap from the store as long as I'm able to stir a pot.  There are a million recipes online, but they all use basically the same ingredients.  It's also not rocket science, so variations are allowed.

Our well water here is very hard, even with a water softener.  I wash almost exclusively with cold water, too, so decided to go with a liquid soap instead of the powder.  I also didn't want to mess with a five gallon bucket of glop.  I have used gallon milk jugs, the blue water jugs (from when we had to buy water from the grocery store) and vinegar jugs.  Use whatever you have.

The recipe I use is:
1/2 bar of Zote laundry soap (pink, grates easily)
1/2 cup Washing Soda (not baking soda, found in the laundry aisle)
1/2 cup Borax (20 Mule Team is a popular brand, also in the laundry aisle)

I put 6 to 8 cups of water in a big pot on the stove.  I tend not to measure this.  Heat it until it's really hot but not boiling and stir in 1/2 bar of Zote that you were grating while the water was heating.  Turn the stove off, and walk away for 10 to 15 minutes. 
When the soap has all dissolved, stir in the washing soda.  Then stir in the Borax.  Carefully pour half of this into each of your two jugs.  I use a big measuring pitcher for this, but you can eyeball it in the jugs.  You just want to divide the mixture between the two.  It won't matter if you have a bit more in one jug.  Be careful, it's still pretty hot at this point.  Add a couple cups or more of hot tap water to each jug, put the lid on and shake.  Let the steam out a couple times.  Keep adding hot tap water and shaking until the jug is most of the way filled.  You may have to let the suds settle a bit before you add the last bit of water.  Then just leave the lid off of it until it cools, and Wal-la!  2 gallons of laundry soap!

This will jell somewhat in your jug.  I usually have to take the handle of my wooden spoon to break it up a bit the first time I use each jug.  You need to leave some room in the jug to allow for shaking that first time, too.  After that, it's just a couple of shakes before I use it, measure out maybe 3/4 cup for each load.  Our clothes get pretty dirty here so sometimes I use a full cup.  Clothes that aren't grimy would only require less.  Don't expect to see a lot of suds in your wash water, but it's still working.

I have used the bar of Zote for a stain remover 'stick'.  I also just pour some of the soap onto our jeans that are really grimy for pretreating.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised after I did that first load of clothes.  I was so used to the perfumed scent of commercial laundry detergents, and I wondered if the clothes were actually clean.  They were.  They just smelled like clean clothes with a faint 'Zote' scent that was gone when the clothes were dry. 

Edited to add: And the cost?  At our little country store today (12-1-10), Zote was $1.05 (I'll get two batches, or 4 gallons), the Borax was $3.75 and washing soda was $2.55.  Using 1/2 cup each of Borax and washing soda for every two gallons of finished product...well, I'll get gobs of laundry done.

I don't buy fabric softener sheets, either.  I bought a jug of liquid softener, measured out one cup and added two cups of water.  I dampen a designated washcloth with this solution and toss it into the dryer for the 10 minute drying time before I hang them up.  Most of the time I can use it a second time before I dampen it again.

You might want to start labeling these jugs in case someone else does some laundry.

The Indian Clothesline

Our oldest son, Dan, has traveled overseas a lot.   He spent quite a bit of time in India on one of his first journeys.  Carrying what he needed on his back, everything had to have several uses.  He has a length of para-cord in his pack and he would use that for his clothesline.  He would tie loops, knots, whatever it took to put up a clothesline in whatever was in his space at the time.

While he was here one time, he asked if he could put a couple of small nails on the sides of the window trim in a room to string up his clothesline.  He tied a loop on one end, hooked that over the nail, stretched out the cord across the room to the other nail and made the other loop where it was needed.  Ta-da!  Portable clothesline, easy to put up and take back down.  That's the Indian Clothesline, plain and simple.

He doesn't use clothespins, even when he's here.  He straightens the clothes out and drapes them over the line.  A couple hours later, he'll take the clothes off one at a time and drape them the other direction so there's no crease in the middle.  And do it again.  By the time he takes the clothes off the line, there's no wrinkles and no crease.  I guess he's had a lot of practice.  I'll probably just keep using clothespins.

I wash only full loads, so one line wasn't enough for me, even with draping socks over the sides of the laundry basket.  I can get by with two lines by staggering.  I hang T shirts on the back line first, then go back and hang shorter items on the same line, staggering where I put the clothes pins.  If I run short on line space, I'll hang socks, etc, over the shirts.  If I want to do two loads, I'll put work shirts on plastic hangers and hang them on the line.  If there's shoulder bumps, I'll pat them down with a damp hand when I put it on.

What I like best about doing laundry this way?  I'm saving a boatload of money, doing the green thing, don't have wickedly stiff clothes (read post below and see how) and I can take the dry clothes off the line when it suits me.  I don't have to worry about rain, sun bleaching, blowing dirt, dogs, or wrinkles from sitting in the dryer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Putting our Electrical Usage on a Diet!

After the ice storm, Bill's thoughts of a pretty fireplace disappeared and he was okay with installing a basic wood burning stove.  The new ones all have blowers, but if the power went out again, we'd still have some heat.  I had read up on firewood, so I knew that in our area, Osage Orange (we call it hedge) was the hottest wood locally grown.  But no one had any for sale.  Go figure, everyone else got it before or during the storm.  Okay, so we toughed it out with whatever we could find and made plans for securing cords of wood for the next winter.  It was a good, steady heat..and dry.  So, a big pot of water went on top of the stove for humidity (no extra power used, right?).  Then the light bulb went on.. cook on it.  Okay, so a lot of people have already figured out that you can do that, but hey, we're new to this kind of stuff.  So I tried some soup.  I put it on the stove in the middle of the afternoon.  At supper time I had half cooked rice and not a quality soup by any means. 
That night in bed, I had the 'ahh haaa' moment - think slow cooker.  I put a frozen roast in a pot, hotter burning wood in the stove and started it in the morning.  At supper time, it was falling apart tender, complete w/ spuds, carrots, onions..and no extra power used.  Wahoo! Victory!

Now my friends are used to seeing a variety of cookware on the woodburner - the water pot for humidity, another pot with supper, maybe potatoes wrapped in foil, roasting in the coals and a little metal coffeepot keeping coffee hot - which is pretty nasty tasting when I forget about it and it burns.  I did a search for campfire recipes, camping recipes, that kind of stuff, and have several printed out to try this next winter. Overall, I love the little woodburner and I'm glad we live in an area where we can use it.

On the subject of burning wood - It's considered to be 'carbon neutral', meaning that the carbon produced by clean burning wood is no more than what the tree converted while it was growing.  Carbon is also produced while dead wood is decomposing, too. We try to use as much storm downed wood as possible, wood from trees being removed, but some wood we have to cut ourselves or buy.  Every year we plant more trees than we have used in burning.  I just feel a little better about it that way.   And the ashes?  I started spreading them out in our rock driveway last year.  It raises the Ph of the dirt, so weeds have a hard time growing.  Since I don't like to spray, this seemed to be a good idea.  The areas that had the highest amount of wood ash did have less weeds this past summer.

Other things I do to cut back on electricity:

1)  I have an electric clothes dryer, so when it's getting cooler, I vent the dryer into the house.  I don't put any kind of screen or filter on the hose any more.  The heating element burned out really fast when I used some old panty hose to catch the lint, and I was faithful about cleaning it every time I used the dryer.

2)  For the most part, I line dry clothes, but I don't like stiff clothes.  So I throw wet clothes in the dryer along with a couple of odd size dry towels designated for that use.  I set the dryer on low heat, let it run for 10 minutes, then hang them up to finish drying.  The dry towels in the load make a huge difference!  My washer spins clothes pretty dry and that helps.  Jeans and towels need a couple extra minutes in the dryer and actually, I prefer towels from the dryer.  I don't have a clothesline outside yet, but probably wouldn't  use it too much even if I did.  I live in the middle of Kansas farm ground, and constantly deal with wind carrying seed, topsoil, grain dust, etc.  So I have an Indian clothesline in the house.  More on this later.  Of course, I use cold water to wash.

3)  When I make coffee, I try to put it in the carafe or thermos right after it's done and turn the coffee maker off.  One report I read said that the electricity cost for the coffeemaker was $80 a year.  Uh, was that for 2 hours?  All day long?  Some of us really, really like coffee.  I don't use the dry cycle on the dishwasher, either.

4)  I love my slow cookers!  There are some great blogs and recipes online for slow cookers.  In the summer, I have taken it outside to plug it in so there's no extra heat in the house.  Other times I wrap a towel around it, turn it on low and it cooks like it was on high heat.  If you try this, watch carefully!!  I can do that with one cooker, but I almost melted the cord on the other one!  Scared me half to death, too!

5)  CFL's of course and energy efficient appliances.  I'm not afraid to do low tech, either.  I don't have an electric can opener, do have a bread machine, but usually I knead bread dough by hand and bake it in the oven, 3 or 4 loaves at a time.

6)  Unplug stuff!  I was amazed when I went room to room, looking for everything that could be unplugged.  There was a ton of stuff that I hadn't thought too much about, meanwhile it all was using electricity.  Bill was less than enthused about having to plug in the microwave everytime he wanted to use it.  Even less so when he went to get a newly charged battery for his drill and every battery was drained.  Okay, I didn't know that I should have pulled them out of the chargers, but now I do.  And I quit flipping the shop breakers off after he gave me 'the look' a few times...you know 'the look'.  Sometimes you just have to compromise.

7)  Turn off that office equipment!  Some will disagree with me, but I have not had one computer last longer because I left it on 24/7.  And there's no reason to leave the printer on when you are not using it.  I read a detailed article about the cost of the typical home office set up.  The annual electrical cost was over $200 if everything was left on.

8)  Cooking  - woodburner or solar oven first (I need to build a better solar oven!), slow cooker next, microwave after that, the George grill (George Forman type grill), toaster oven and then big, energy glut range last.  And cranking on the oven in the summer?  Hmmmm...no.  But we both love the scent of bread baking in the oven, and slabs of hot bread and butter, so I do use it when the weather is colder.  I just try to bake several things at once.  It uses just as much energy to bake four loaves of bread as it does to bake one.  Same with chicken, do at least two at a time.  Then bone the other one and pop it in the freezer for a future meal.  Then put the bones in a pot of water and cook up a batch of chicken stock to freeze.

9)  Landscaping or working on the micro climate  - We have planted a lot of deciduous trees on the south side of our house, but it's going to be a while before we reap the benefits.  We live in a windy area, so we're working on the windbreak trees on the north.  Did you know there's such a thing as a 'death hole'?  Three different trees, three different years, and all kicked the bucket.  Plenty of grass and weeds there, so it's not poisoned soil...the death hole.

10)  Wood burning furnace - Yes, another wood burner.  This is a big unit with ductwork to various rooms of the house.  Last winter was the first year in use and hey, it's great.  Lots of heat for the cost of running a couple of blower fans.

11)  Window coverings - Since we're still living in a construction zone, regular curtains are a long ways off.  So I made some 'shades' from a Velux blanket.  Worked great, added a layer of insulation over the glass of our windows.  The windows are Pella, but not their top of the line.  They do have the UV coating, so my houseplants just barely survive in the house during the winter.  The windows also are double hung, so there's an air infiltration in the channels.  I cut up a leftover piece of pipe insulation to make a little plug for each one.  Oh, the shades?  They really did work well until they were a year old and I washed them.  Then they turned into shreds and a million little pieces of fuzz and foam bits.  I'm working on Plan B.

12)  You already have your water heater turned down a notch, don't you?  And an insulated blanket around it if it's electric?  Everything caulked and insulated, like water pipes?  One of the hardest habits I have been trying to acquire is to not use the hot water handle on the sink when I don't really want hot water.  I'll have the cup/pan/whatever in my right hand and automatically turn the hot water handle with my left hand.  I'm just to give it a quick rinse, but it's still a little awkward to reach across to the cold water handle.  Sometimes I'll put the plug in the drain and leave the 'quick rinse' water in the sink.  Pretty soon it's full enough to give other dishes a quick rinse without using any more water.  Since we're on well water, every time I use water, I'm using electricity. 

Soon to come - my passion!  Passive solar!  Love the website http://builditsolar.com/ !  If you haven't been there, get on over fast.  Tons of projects and information.

Going Green and Saving Greenbacks

Winter here in the the middle of Kansas can be brutal, I'm telling ya!  Trying to heat a big house that's all electric is a challenge...especially when you don't have all the drywall on the walls.  We had heard that elecricity was very expensive in this area, but that was an understatement. Two years ago, our electrical bill was over $500 in both January and February.  It was not balmy in here.  I wore wool socks and was bundled up so much that I looked like a bag lady. We also had an ice storm in early December that left us with no power for 8 days.  We aren't on rural water, and for the most part, I love having well water, but when there is no power, there is no water, either. Hey!  No one told us that!  Talk about a wake up call!  Nothing funnier than city people moving out to the country...

So it was time to really start acting on the information I got from blogs, online articles, forums, anything I could find to read online about saving energy, simple living, sustainable living, frugal living, passive solar.. you name it, I was Googling it.  Then I discovered that I could make my own laundry soap!  And cleaners!  And cream of whatever soups!  My obsession grew.  The changes in our lives started gradually, and now are second nature.  We eat better than before and put the money saved into our pocket instead of giving it to Proctor and Gamble.  Our monthly grocery bill runs around $225 a month for the two of us.  I still stock up whenever something is on sale, but my goal is to get it to $200 a month...without Bill noticing it. And our electric bill?  Last January and February, the bills were around $119 each month.

How did we do it?  See 'Putting our electrical usage on a diet'.

Finding the Balance

Bill and I have been married for 38 years.  He's your basic, three bedroom ranch house kind of guy that's married to an extreme home, should-a been a hippie kind of gal.  So, about 5 years ago, we finally agreed on a 4 acre bit of neglected farmland and moved, determined to build a nice house by ourselves. 

I wanted something more 'green' and sustainable, like strawbale, he wanted something that he was familiar with  - like the building process - and more like what everyone else had. It's not that either one of us was right or wrong -  it was all about finding the balance that worked for us.

My passion is to live a more sustainable life, be kinder to the earth and lower my consumerism.  I do believe
whenever possible, use what Nature gives you.  Recycle, repair, reuse, rethink, repurpose - and reusing is more important than recycling.