Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Plaster Stenciling - wall accents on the cheap

I decided to post a few pics of what we're doing around the house during construction.  The pictures are lousy, for some reason everything at the top is slanted (!!) and the color is really off (!!), but figuring out what's wrong w/ the camera is not my department, nor can I zip right out to buy a new one.  Dang, a disposable camera probably would have given me better pictures, but here they are anyway.

I found a great site for plaster stenciling at http://victorialarsen.com/ .  Make sure you go there when you have time to really take a look around.  Wow.  She has some great stuff and step by step directions, reader's project pictures and tips, etc.  I ordered some stencils and had them in a flash!

The plaster stencils are thicker than the craft ones that you get for paints.  And the plaster?  It's just joint compound.  I'm in love with this technique.
The first picture is at the bottom of our stairs, looking up.  The tree is 15' tall.


 The picture above this is the top of the same tree.  This is what you see when you're upstairs.  You can look down over the railing to see the entire tree.  There's another one on the other wall, you can barely see it in the picture.
The picture below shows a pot of 'something' that I freehanded, filled in with joint compound and used a teardrop hand sander to define the edges.  I used a notched trowel for some accent on the pot.
You can also see some 'blocks', walls of sorts.  That was all drawn on, then doped for texture.  Lousy, lousy picture.  The railing really is straight.  You should see the pic I took of the house!  LOL  The upper story looks like it's close to falling over!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More progress - Got the library painted!

Bill and I are pretty tired of construction.  I usually can't force myself to do some of this unless the spirit says 'move'.  While Bill and Dan (our oldest son who's back from India) hung some drywall, I got the library painted.




The color is a bit off in the pictures (it's a better brown shade), plus all the pictures I took today have this weird slant at the top.  Bill thinks I was leaning.  :o)  Anyway, I love the ceiling trim.  We used a good grade of plywood for the ceiling part, 1 x 4 on the walls with quarter round below and at the top of the 1 x 4.  In the corners, we used a inside corner trim usually seen for floor trim.  It's just cut down a bit shorter to fit in this space.

The windows are framed with 1 x 4 scrap, plywood scrap for the triangle part at the top, cove moulding on the inside and outside edges of the trim.  You can't see the bit of plaster stenciling on the window trim, but you can barely see some on the first picture - it's at the top of the arch doorway.  Not that you can see what it actually looks like.  :o)

Usually I'm all about using recycled stuff, but this room doesn't have any....yet!  It's probably the only room that I don't have a light fixture for, either.  I snagged up almost every light for this entire house from the clearance aisles of various home improvment centers.  Something will come along.  Anyway, along one of the short walls, the plan is to have short, built in bookcases with doors made from old, double hung windows.  I'd love to have an eggshell mosiac on the top, but I don't think I'll live long enough to complete it.  So I'll come up with something else.

For flooring, I'd like to try messing around with some tempered masonite, doing some kind of simple faux treatment, then a few coats of urethane.  I don't know how much time I'll spend on the flooring design as the bulk of the floor will be covered by a Persian rug that Dan bought for us in Bahrain.

I mixed the paint using brown from another part of the house and some leftover off whites.  I usually hit the oops carts for paint that wasn't mixed the right color.  Most of the paint I have cost $5 to $10 per gallon.  I just mix up plenty for the job, save some in a labeled jar, then use what's left for the next room, adding whatever I need for another shade.

More updates later.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cooking on a Wood Stove Meant for Heating

Now that I have the wood burners fired up, it won't be long until I start cooking on the one in the family room.  It's designed for heating, not for cooking, but it gets the job done.  The stove is steel, not cast iron, so it doesn't get quite as hot, but it gets hot enough.

I started to cook on the stove a couple years ago.  My first attempt was some soup.  I put a pot on the top of the wood burner around 2:00.  By 6:00, I had warm broth, raw veggies and rice, so it went on the kitchen stove to cook.  That night in bed, I had an 'ahaaa' moment.  I wonder why those moments often come while I'm supposed to be trying to sleep?  Anyway, I thought 'think slow cooker'.

So the next morning, I put hotter burning firewood in the woodburner and put another pot of soup on the top by 10:00 a.m.  Now, that worked!  I was eating soup in the afternoon, feeling rather smug about using 'free' heat to cook it.  I also had plenty of soup to put in the freezer.

That first success spurred me on to try lots of things.  Early on I knew I had to come up with some kind of work station without having it look like I had a kitchen there.  I had an old wrought iron plant stand that I moved close to the stove.  With a couple of ceramic tiles on the top, it gave me an area to put a plate for a spoon or spatula, salt, pepper, pot holders, etc, whatever I am going to need.  It's easy to clean and things are handy.  I always keep a big stock pot with water on the other side of the stove for added humidity, so I decided to take advantage of that, too.  I started with clean water in the mornings and used it later for washing a few dishes (Bill was giving me 'the look' at first).  When it was really cold and the wood burner was really cranked up, the water would be simmering.  One morning I browned up a small roast, put it in a smaller stock pot and put it into the bigger pot of water.  The handles on the smaller pot held it up so it didn't drop down into the water.  A few hours later I added potatoes, carrots, etc.  Perfect.

I did some searches for campfire cooking and found a bunch of recipes I could use.  I love skillet bread!  Bacon wasn't the best idea though.  It did fry up just fine, but I had grease splatters all over the place.  Potatoes wrapped in foil then baked in the coals are the best!  You have to keep an eye on them and turn them with some tongs so they don't burn on one side, but wow.  Worth the effort.

Last year I found this information at http://www.wikihow.com/Cook-on-a-Woodstove .  Personally I won't cook on a couple layers of foil, but there are some good tips.  I don't use a canner, but I do use my heavy bottom pans with no problem.

Below is a copy and paste from the Wiki site:

How to cook on a wood stove meant for heating:
1 Heat up the stove by building a nice fire in it with the damper(s) wide open.

2 Get your cooking gear out and the ingredients ready.

3 As you heat up the stove, put a kettle or pot of water on to heat as well. You'll need it for soup, stew, tea, coffee, dish washing...everything. It also serves as a heat-storage measure so use a big kettle. A canner works well.

4 Test the top of the stove by tossing a DROP of water on it. If the water sizzles and danced, the stove is pretty much ready.

5 To make soup, put on a pot, let it heat up well (keep the stove hot, adding wood as necessary and opening/closing the damper to try to maintain a temperature), fry whatever you want fried (meat, onion, etc) and add some boiling water or soup stock. If you add cold water it will take forever to heat up again...that pan of hot water is crucial.

6 To "bake" something, put it in a pan (cake, bread) or in foil (potatoes) and if the top of the stove is VERY hot put foil items on a trivet or a bit of crumpled foil. Then cover with a larger pan that goes all the way down to the stovetop. Big metal bowls also work for this sort of make-shift oven.

7 You can use the fire-box of the stove as a sort of broiler or tandoori oven. Wrap whatever you want to cook in heavy foil and put in the coals after things have cooled down a bit (warning...you may turn your food into charcoal).

8 To fry on the stovetop, use a thin pan. Cast iron pans on a cast iron stove take forever to heat up so might work for soups and stews left all day, but not great for frying. If you don't have a thin frying pan or sauce pan to use, back to the heavy-duty foil! (a coffee can will work too!). Set the pan on the stove, oil it up well. Test for hotness with a drop of water and fry away.

9 When done cooking, turn the dampers down and let the stove cool a bit, but keep that pan of water on there. You never know when you'll want a cup of tea.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Heating with wood

Winter is getting closer so we have been working with firewood.  A guy we know has been by four times to drop off some Osage Orange branches that we could cut into firewood.  The bulk of it has been small stuff, but we have gotten some 6" to 8" rounds cut and split from it.  Any free firewood is a good thing.  We use about 6 cords per heating season in our wood burning furnace and the wood stove in the family room.

I have this love/hate relationship with the wood burners.  I love the fact that we can have heat for the cost of running a few fans.  I love the fact that for us, it's cheaper to heat with wood than our alternatives.  I love the flickering fire, feeling all warm and cozy when the snow is blowing outside.  I even love cooking on the darn thing.  Potatoes, wrapped in foil and baked in the coals are terrific.  For some reason, soups and skillet bread taste just a bit better if I cook it on the wood stove in the family room.

By February, I'm flat hating these things.  I'm tired of hauling firewood, looking for twigs and other kindling and being cold in the mornings.  The gardening bug has already bitten and I'm ready to get outside and play in the dirt.  Such is the seasonal cycle of my life.

Most of what I learned about heating with wood was from http://woodheat.org/ .  Great site, tons of basic information and tips.  One slick tip was how to build the top-down fire.  You put the biggest wood on the bottom, layer it up getting smaller as you go up, then light the newspaper on the top and walk away.  It doesn't get any easier than that!

Img6-TDF6

I snagged this image from their page at http://woodheat.org/build-maintain-fire.html

Oh, and the easiest firestarter for me?  Cardboard egg cartons.  They burn longer than wadded up newspaper  or the Nantucket Knots shown in the picture.  I break off two or four egg...holders?  Parts?  Sections?  You know, where the egg sits in the carton.  Anyway, I'll break off part of the carton, put in a dab of wood chips and light 'er up.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cat think and what's happening here today

I have been trying to come up with something to blog about with little success.  For the most part, it's been life as usual around here on the farm.  So, here's what's happening -

Frank, my beloved barn cat, apparently tangled with another cat and ended up with an abcessed toe.  By the time I could get him to the vet, his paw was swollen twice the size it should have been.  I had closed him in a room in the shop with a litter box of pine shavings, thinking it would be cleaner than him scratching in the dirt.  I also fed him chicken, eggs, all kinds of good stuff with plenty of water so he'd stay hydrated.  After a few days of antibiotics, his wound is healing well and he's back with the herd.  He also keeps walking to the shop door when it's chow time.  And gives me that look when he sees that it's back to basic chow.  I'm going to take him back to the vet in a couple weeks to have him neutered.

We got maybe 1/3 cord of free firewood from a guy we know.  Yay!  Yesterday, Bill busted out the chainsaw and we got most of it cut up and stacked.  Our hearts/backs just weren't into the idea of doing it all, ya know?  Mostly our backs.  Note to self:  don't try to pick up the dog again.

I still have green tomatoes on the vines and two boxes of tomatoes in the kitchen in varying stages of ripening.  I'm getting rather tired of dealing with tomatoes, but I know I'll be happy in February when I'm still using homemade spaghetti sauce.

We picked up 10 bales of straw and made the barn cats a great winter condo with three apartments. I have these grand plans on converting the back part of the old garage (it's attached to the house) into a cat habitat.  The driving force behind this is so I don't have to make the trek through the snow and craaaap to feed said cats out under the pole barn - twice a day.  There's also electricity available so no huge extension cord for the heated water dish. 
In trying to understand 'cat think', we realize that we can do all kinds of work, including cutting out a couple areas for a big door and a couple windows, cat door, framing, etc...moving a bunch of.. uh... collectables... Bill calls it junk...well, we can do all kinds of work and THEN the cats won't use it.  But there's always hope, you know?

We're still working upstairs and getting closer to being able to put down flooring and calling it done!  I started putting primer on the stair railing, staining and urethaning doors.  The bathroom still needs two cabinets built and the floor trim, but it's definitely functional now and beats the bucket brigade when I had to whiz in a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat in the middle of the night. 

Because of the number of critters in the house (the livestock), we opted for flooring that is critter friendly.  We used vinyl planks that look like wood in the bedrooms, plan on using them in the hallway, carpet tiles in the hang out sun room and porcelin tiles are already in the bathroom.

The planks sure aren't your grandmother's peel and stick crapola, either.  A note about resell value - we live in an area that people go 'ewwww, vinyl', but I figure they wouldn't like whatever flooring I had down anyway, so they can put in whatever they want.  This works for us and our current lifestyle.  It's softer and quieter than laminate, easier to install, too.  Honestly, I never understood the love affair that people have with laminate.  It's pretty much a picture with a plastic coating over a thin piece of wood.  And while no flooring is bulletproof, the cool thing about the planks and carpet tiles is that if one is damaged, you can easily replace it. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frugal living or not - two sides of the coin

I came across a website the other day that challenged everyone to eat on $1.50 per day for five days - http://livebelowtheline.com/

So I gave it a shot.  You can see how I did on a thread at the Simple Living Forum - http://www.simplelivingforum.net/showthread.php?2731-My-personal-Live-Below-The-Line-Challenge

Kara (Treehugger on the Simple Living forum) commented on that thread that she budgets $100 a month for both her and her husband.  Wow.  That's $1.66 each per day.  Every day!  She doesn't have chickens, and it sounded like she didn't get much from the garden this year. She explains how she does it on the thread. And I thought I was doing pretty good by staying under $250 a month for the two of us, with a goal of $200 a month. I think she's my new hero.

You might think that $1.66 per person, per day is easily attainable.  What surprised me in the $1.50 challenge was how much all the extras added to the total - things like butter, sugar, seasonings, even tea, coffee or a glass of milk.  It wouldn't be much different in the $100 a month budget, either.

Now then, the flip side.  Some people we know dropped by the other day.  She's definitely not into the frugal living/make-it-from-scratch lifestyle.  Look in her refrigerator and you'll see a wave of take out containers AKA doggy bags, most of them with food that's not exactly edible.  Once in a while she throws it all away and starts over.  I always thought it was kind of comical and I'd tease her about it.

So the conversation was about the guy applying for a better paying job.  I said that my goal was to live well on less than $1000 a month. (A moment of silence - then lots of laughing and 'good luck with that' with some 'you poor dear' insinuated.)  They said that they need $7500 a month to live!  I didn't know my jaw could drop that far.  They don't live in a McMansion and have talked about financial problems in the past, so I know they have a boatload of debt.  What's scary is that they're 65-ish, so time isn't on their side any more.

So she's sitting there eating some of my homemade yogurt, almost yelling in her best 'holier than thou' tone:
I WANT to take my credit card to the store to buy what I want,
I WANT to use my credit card when ever I want, etc.

Me: *blink blink* (thanks, OFG).  I didn't say much but I was thinking that I kinda didn't like her any more.

It's all about choices.  Personally, I'd rather not have the pressure and I don't want Bill to have to work forever.  So my choice is to stay on the frugal side of life, challenge myself to lower the grocery bill each month without having to buy Beano (can I get it to $50 per person??) and pay off debt.  And of course - to enjoy the journey along the way!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Keeping the cats out of the dog's space

The barn cats are causing hate and discontent on a regular basis.  They keep crossing the border from the 'cats' space to the 'dogs' space, aka the Kill Zone.  ACK!  I have almost gone nuts having to check for cats and the peacock, then get them out of the back yard before I open the door for the dogs to race out.

The area is fenced with T posts and 5' tall 2x4 welded wire fencing.  But there are two places that Bill put wood posts and a kennel panel on heavy hinges.  Then we can walk through the door of the panel, or open the panel completely to drive the pickup into the yard or drive the big riding mower through.  Cats don't do well climbing wire fencing, but hey, the big round wood posts are pretty easy for them to scale.

I feed the cats out under the pole barn, not on the porch.  I also have temporary steps that are getting fairly wobbly.  Having two to four cats under my feet as I'm trying to navigate the steps was (and still is!) risky business.

The fenced area runs completely around the shop, so if I don't see the peacock out front, I have to check all around the shop before I let the dogs out.  This was getting old.  I had to do something.

So, we bought one of these gadgets.  It's called the Scarecrow.  It's a motion activate sprinkler system that shoots a 3 second burst of water from the impulse sprinkler on the top.
Contech Electronics CRO101 Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler

The cheapest place I found to buy this thing was at Amazon.  http://www.amazon.com/Contech-Electronics-CRO101-Scarecrow-Motion-Activated/dp/B000071NUS

$42 and free shipping, not bad for some peace of mind.  The scarecrow uses one 9 volt battery, so you can set it wherever you need it without having to run an extension cord.  The area where we wanted to place it used to be a rock drive, so it was hard to chisel out a hole for it. We eventually put ours in a 5 gallon pail with some brick scrap and rocks to hold it upright.  Now we can easily move it for mowing, too.

It worked really well!  Bill could look out the window while he was sitting at his desk and see cats and dogs getting sprayed with the water.  He kept chuckling every time something got it.  Cats took off as the water sprayed through the fencing. They didn't even try to come over into the yard.  Dogs got to the point where they hit the brakes before they got to the fence.  It was great.  Life was good.

I was really laughing when Bill came in the house with water dripping from his face.  He was really laughing at the big wet spot on the back of my t-shirt when I forgot about it.  Our daughter and grandson were really laughing when both Bill and I got it in the face at the same time.  It's not too pricey for the entertainment factor.

Now then, fast forward three weeks. 

Cats are amazingly smart sometimes.  I watched one of them slooowly climb the pole and come down as slooowly as she could.  Then she slooooooowly took one step at a time towards the porch.  She did that until she got two steps past the Scarecrow, looked over her shoulder at it, then trotted to the back porch.

The dogs decided that getting a spray or two of water was okay...even kind of nice on the hot days.  They're primarily house dogs, but they'll lay outside for a few minutes...if they have to.  And they check often to make sure there aren't other critters in their space.

This morning  - I let the dogs out before it's light, so I turn on the porch light to check for cats in the immediate vacinity.  The peacock is still roosting in a tree out front.  Let dogs out.  Let wet dogs back in.  Towel off dogs.  An hour later, feed dogs.  Take cat food out to pole barn with three DRY cats under my feet as far as the fence, then 4 grown cats and 6 kittens under my feet the rest of the way with the peacock wandering around in the middle of the pack.

I did remember to turn off the Scarecrow on the way, so it wasn't all bad.  The plan today is to move the bucket so it's at a slightly different angle and set the sensitivity to high. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunflowers and tomatoes!

Our tomatoes are still growing, but the sunflowers in the garden are what catches my eye!  Sunflowers on the left, tomatoes on the right.



The tomato plants are almost 6' tall, so you can see how much taller the sunflowers are.
  They are just huge this year!



And plenty of these flying critters!  The bees don't bother us when we're searching for tomatoes.

It's getting towards the end of the season for tomatoes.  I'm picking them before they're ripe because the peacock keeps flying over the fence and pecking at them.  Picture of that idiot is below...


He's awfully pretty, isn't he.  He came visiting a few months ago and decided to stay.  I didn't have enough to do anyway.  It's pretty cool when he's out trying to impress the hens.  He was just starting to molt in the picture below, but he's still pretty showy.  Now he should be embarassed.  He looks like a big, white turkey...with a crown.  Technically, they're more closely related to a pheasant.



Back to tomatoes and sunflowers!  What's worked the best for me to ripen tomatoes in the house is to put them in a cardboard box and close the lid.  I put a single layer of tomatoes on some newspaper in case I have a gooshy one later and let 'em sit in the dark.  I check them every day, but for late fall ones, about every two or even three days is enough.  I pull out the ripe ones and leave the rest in the dark.  They may not taste quite as wonderful as that perfect, sun warmed, vine ripened tomato, but darn near.  And they sure are a lot better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.

We built our coop and enclosed run so it's next to the garden.  That way I can poke cut up hunks of tomatoes and cucumbers through a small opening in the fence for the hens.  It's also easy to get the girls into the garden for fall cleanup.

Which brings me to the sunflowers.  I'm probably the only one around here that leaves them.  Besides being pretty, it's free chow for the hens.  They scarf up the seeds as fast as they fall.  The hens always miss a few, so there's some for next year.  I pull up the errant ones in the middle of the garden and leave the perimeter ones. 

Works for me!  Happy Labor Day!

Friday, September 2, 2011

What's cookin' today - Screaming HOT Salsa

Today I literally had to force myself to deal with some tomatoes.  Not that it was any big deal, it's what was to follow that I was dreading.  This was the dreaded hot salsa day.  Really hot salsa.  Screaming hot salsa.

It's my opinion that eating shouldn't be painful.  I fully admit that I'm a real pansy when it comes to salsa.  I like to taste the blend of flavors, not just feel the burn, you know?  The earlier batch of salsa has what I'd call medium heat.  But Bill's been craving hot salsa and a guy gave him a little bag of peppers - mostly jalepeno, a few habanero and a couple unknowns, but they look suspiciously like Thai Hots.  If you've never had one of those - well, Bill took a teeny bite of one a long time ago.  He said it made his teeth hurt, it was so hot.  Here's a picture of those bad boys - I got it from farmerfred.com.  Honest.


I have this love/hate relationship with my food processor.  I love it when I need to chop or blend or mixitalltogetherinaflash.  I absolutely hate to clean it afterwards.  Especially after chopping up jalepeno peppers...or even worse, a couple habanero peppers added in with the jalepeno peppers. 

What I have always done in the past:
I stand there looking at the pepper remnants in the bowl, knowing that at some point I'll have to reach in to remove the blade thing.  My rubber spatula will only remove so much.  Rinsing first only does so much.  I know that the evil oils are still in there.....a good rinse and into the sink of soapy water it goes while I try to look busy doing something else. 

Finally I take the plunge and get to washing.  Wash, rinse, dry and put away.  Wash hands again because there's this slow burn all over them.  This time I wash up a little higher.  Dry hands.  More slow burn, even up a little higher.  Wash hands again, even higher.  Dry hands.  Slow burn is almost up to my elbows now.  Change towel!!!!  Wash and dry hands.  Bitch about it for a while.  Talk about wearing gloves next time. At least it's just a once a year thing.

This year?  I took a different appproach:
First thing I did was to say 'screw the food processor'.  Bill likes his salsa a little on the thick side without chunks, so I always hit the cooled salsa with a stick blender before I jar and freeze it.  I sliced up the onion, then cut the slices in half, threw them into the pot.  The bell pepper got cut into big chunks and into the pot.  The evil peppers?  I carefully cut off the stems, slowly sliced them lengthwise, keeping my fingers on the outside of the pepper, and dropped them into the pot.  The one habanero I just cut the stem off and threw it in.  Rinsed the knife, put it in the sink so if I needed to cut up anything else, I'd get a clean one. 

Now, I'm cooking the crap out of it.  I want those peppers to be mush before I take the pot off the stove.  After it's cooled, I'll hit it with the stick blender (they call it an immersion blender for a reason - I still change into a red shirt before making salsa or spaghetti sauce) and it should be good to go.  I can't/won't do any taste testing, but it should sear Bill's taste buds off for him.  With some luck, in a couple hours he'll be chowing down, sweating profusely, with a smile on his face.

Our oldest son, Dan, likes things even hotter.  The medium heat salsa that I made?  He asked (seriously, too!) if I had forgotten to put jalepeno's in the batch.  He eats a lot of Indian recipes, most of which are totally foreign to me.  I came home late one night and went scrounging in the frig.  There was a big pot of some yellowish, chicken and rice and herby type looking stuff.  I stabbed a chunk of chicken and ate it.  Man, that stuff was good!  I was aiming for a bowl and spoon when the heat hit.  Holy Momma!  That stuff just lit me up!  It burned for a long times afterwards, too.  I'm glad he was already in bed.  He would have enjoyed it a little too much.  :o)

Oh, if you were expecting a salsa recipe, here's what I use:
For the screaming hot salsa, I just add more seeds and hotter peppers.

Two minutes after I posted this, Bill got home.  He dipped two chips into the boiling hot salsa that's still cookin'....looked at me and said, "See me sweating?  It's goooood!"  Should be hotter after I get it all blended!

Updated the next day:  After I got it blended, Bill ate some on a chip.  It was hilarious!  He croaked out 'Good', the best he could.  He immediately got the hiccups and started sweating.  Later when he could talk again, he said it was some really good stuff.  LOL  He must like pain.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homemade Windshield Washer Fluid

Windshield washer fluid is pretty cheap in most areas, but if you get in a pinch, one of these recipes might work for you.

Most of it is a copy and paste.

For warmer climates you can use:

- 25% Windex and 75% water and a teaspoon of liquid dishwasher fluid, or
- 9 cups of water, 1 cup of isopropyl alcohol, 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid, or
- one gallon of distilled water and one cup of glass cleaner (Windex, etc)

For colder climates you can use:

- one gallon of distilled water, one cup of glass cleaner and one-half of a cup of isopropyl alcohol (anti-freezing agent), or
- mixture of one part vinegar and three parts of water

Most popular windshield washer fluids on the market today are made up of 90% water and 10% methanol. To get best results you should use distilled water as it is free of the impurities found in tap water. Methanol can be found at an industrial supply store (it's nasty stuff) or you can use a larger quantity of ethanol (drinking alcohol - I'm against wasting booze). To test the right mixture leave it in the cooler over night, if it doesn’t freeze, you’ve got yourself a homemade, eco friendly windshield fluid.
____________________

I never buy Windex plus I'm cheap, so I'm aiming for the 9 parts water and 1 part rubbing alcohol and adding a bit of Dawn.  A tablespoon of Dawn for that recipe sounds like a lot, (wouldn't it be sudsy with that much?) so I'd probably start with a teaspoon and add more if necessary.  I'm okay with adding more rubbing alcohol if needed since it gets really cold here and I'll absolutely do the freeze test first! But since I'll need it before it gets freezing cold outside, putting some in the freezer overnight would work (oh, is that what he means by 'cooler'?).  I'll use the filtered water from our pricey RO system instead of distilled....and I'll bounce this off of Bill first, as it's his department.

I'm still wondering about the vinegar and water recipe. I'll have to do the trial test on that one, too.  I'm still not convinced that the vinegar won't freeze.  My freezer pickles recipe has vinegar in it, and it sure freezes solid.
I think you could possibly end up spending more for ingredients than what a gallon jug of washer fluid costs.  You'd have a little less plastic in the recycle bin or trash, and depending on the recipe used, it'd be more eco friendly.

But if you end up buying a jug of the fluid, I was told that it makes great window washing solution.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Make your own Gifts in a Jar

A new friend and I have recently been talking about gifts in a jar.  There are so many creative things that people can do!  They've been around for a long time, but now there's new ideas a-brewing on the web. And before you go out and buy canning jars, remember to just look around to see what you have on hand.  Practically any clear jar with a lid can be used for some of these ideas.  If the lid is all scratched up, give it a coat of paint (on the outside, of course!) or sand all the paint off of it and then clean it well.  Don't be too shy to ask friends and relatives if they have any they want to part with and there's always the thrift stores and auctions.  Grab up the little 1/2 cup or 1 cup jars for spice mixes, too. 

New lids and rings for canning jars will run you about $0.12 for each jar, so that's not bad.  You could also spray paint the rings, red or green for Christmas, red or pink for Valentine's Day, black or orange for Halloween, etc.  I love the ol' curling ribbon on the spools.  Also rafia and jute.  You can get so much mileage from that stuff if you stick with the basic or neutral colors.  Wrap it around the jar, tie a knot or bow, glue on a button, cinnamon stick piece, little do-dad if you want, add the label (and cooking instructions if needed) and you're done.  Make several at a time while you have the mess and you're good to go later.

Buyer beware!!  Use your nose before you buy anything from the thrift shops.  From now on I'll pass if they already smell like perfume or aftershave.  I bought a really cute bottle at the thrift store a while back.  The plan was to put some vanilla beans and vodka (homemade vanilla) in it for my daughter.  Honestly, I tried everything I could think of to get that smell out of the bottle and cap, including soaking in full strength vinegar for days.  It still smells like aftershave.  I got to thinking that when you buy something from the thrift shops, you really don't know what's been in there, so food things probably are best put in food type containers, ya know?  I later did some vanilla for a friend using a bottle from when Bill had bought some tea when he was working.  That was smarter.

So, take a few minutes and browse these links.  There's more than just the standard cookie mixes and soup mixes in these jars.  Gift ideas for about any occasion and some have printable labels, too.

http://www.tipjunkie.com/jar-homemade-gifts/ - 48 gift ideas in jars, some printable labels offered.

http://www.craftbits.com/gifts-in-a-jar - lots of different ideas for jars and mugs including some nice sounding herbal stuff.


http://www.budget101.com/frugal/jar-gift-mixes-190/ - offers suggestions for presentation.  There are also links on the right side of the page for gluten free mixes and diabetic mixes.  Gobs of spice mixes for little jars, too.

Got a dehydrator?  My sister dried a bunch of apple slices, and filled a pretty apple shaped jar with them for a gift for our mother.  Mom was thrilled!  Unfortunately she ate all of them in two days...then couldn't get too far away from the pot for the following two days.  :o)  But I thought it was a great idea.

Beef jerky is really expensive to buy.  But you can get a roast on sale, ask the guy at the meat counter to slice it for jerky and make your own.  Stuff some in a jar for a gift.  Send one to Bill.

Need a gift for a cook?  Real vanilla is another thing that's expensive to buy.  Around here, the beans are $7 PER BEAN.  I spent $28 for 200 vanilla beans online.  That's enough to keep me in vanilla for the rest of my life with plenty to spare.  You can put 6 or 12 vanilla beans in a jar for a gift, too.  Then they can add the booze of their choice - vodka, rum or brandy are all good choices. I bought mine at  http://www.vanillaproductsusa.com/servlet/StoreFront
Infused oils would be nice - a few garlic cloves, or some fresh rosemary, etc in a fancy little bottle filled with olive oil.  There's some ideas here:  http://homecooking.about.com/od/condimentrecipes/r/blcon3.htm
Homemade flavored vinegars, like baby lemon vinegar or these: http://busycooks.about.com/library/recipes/blflavvin.htm sound good, too.

Got a gardener in the family?  A gallon plastic jar filled with good potting soil, a ribbon with some packets of flower seeds, or a pair of gardening gloves, or a little shovel (think kid's toys) would be cute.  Or forget the potting soil and put the gloves, etc in the jar instead.  If you can gather the flower seeds from your own flowers, you can put them in envelopes, label those and gussy them up with stamps, stickers or magic markers (where ever your creative abilities lie) to put in the jar, too.  Now's the best time to get gloves and other gardening stuff since it's the end of the season.  If you have a lot of flower seeds you can gather, you could fill little jars with the seeds.  Don't forget to label so they don't end up with mystery stuff unless you're doing a wildflower mix.  If you remove the staples from newspaper slicks and run them through the shredder, you'll have colorful packing stuff for filler and to hold stuff in place in the big jars.  They can also use the shredded paper for mulch.

Thanks, Little Rooster!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Low Tech Termite Traps

Here in Kansas, termites are the norm.  When we lived in town, if one house in the neighborhood had their place treated for termites, the following year the neighbors had to, then down the street it went.  When the cycle started in the neighborhood of our friends, they had the outside of their place treated right away and signed a contract for monthly checks of bait traps.  I don't know how much they pay each month, but this has been going on for several years now.  I bet he's spent $1000 for those monthly checks by now.  Ouch.
Edited to add:  I talked to my friend yesterday.  She said they spent $800 to $1000 just to have the Tox-eol bait traps put around their house.  The cost is determined by the number of traps they say you need based on how large your structure is.  Now they pay $250 a year to have the traps checked monthly.  Double ouch.

The termites serve a purpose in nature, being part of the decomposition cycle.  That doesn't mean that I like them.  And even though I try to do the green thing, I'm not willing to risk my home and hard work by spraying with soapy water and keeping my fingers crossed. Termites were in a couple areas on our property when we bought it, so we considered it a 'known termite area' and acted accordingly.

After we got our foundation done, I bought several boxes of borax (20 Mule Team, Borateem) and threw it all over the crawl space area plus inside and outside of the foundation (before and after backfilling).  One neat thing about borax is that it keeps working for 2-3 years after it gets wet vs. DE that is ineffective after it gets wet.  A couple years later we were in the crawl space and saw one spider, that's it.  I was impressed. 

Fast forward two years and we're adding on to the side of the house and attaching to the old garage.  Bill thought he saw active termite activity on the back of the garage.  *Sigh*  So we called the local pest control guy and paid him $700 to treat the outside of the house and garage.  Come to find out, it wasn't termites that Bill saw.  I wished I would have done the borax thing around all the outbuildings and then just kept an eye on them, you know?  But at the time, we thought we'd be tearing it down in the future.

I learned from the termite guy that ants hate termites.  In the areas where we know there was active termite activity, there was also major ant activity.  He also told me that the purchased termite baits were 'iffy'.  Sometimes they worked, other times they didn't.  Well, he also makes a living spraying and doesn't live in the cheap seats in town, either.  But if they are 'iffy', I might as well make my own and check them myself.

So, instead of doing commercial bait traps, here's how to make your own.  Simple stuff.  First, dig a hole at least a foot deep, about 6' away from your building.  Throw in a chunk of wood, like a hunk of scrap 2x4.  Put a short piece of 1" PVC or any kind of metal pipe in the hole.  You want it to be long enough to reach the wood yet short enough so it's not really sticking out of the ground too far.  Pour sugar water on the wood, let it soak for a bit, then fill the hole back up with the dirt. The only reason for the pipe is so you have some way to add some more sugar water every once in a while.  PVC will degrade over time in the sun, but use what you have around there.  If your bait trap is in an area where you mow, obviously you want it short enough to mow over it, or have it stick way out and mow around it.

If there are termites around there, they will be attracted to the wet wood.  The sugar will attract the ants initially and they'll take care of the termites.  Next year, dig up one and see what ya got.  No termites and ants?  Good deal.  Put the trap back together.  Repeat on the next trap. The traps aren't going to create termites, but hopefully if there are any in the soil, they'll aim for the trap instead of your house.

Is this a sure fire thing?  No.  Will termites that are already in your building leave for the homemade trap?  No.  But it's cheap, green and it might save you a few bucks.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

And even more ways to save money

Here's a few more things to save money - I don't think I've listed them before, but a million other bloggers have...

Crank out the vacuum cleaner and hit the things you normally don't think about vacuuming - the refrigerator and freezer coils, anything with a fan.  This one I probably have listed before.

Canned air is great for some things, but not always great for your computer.  I use the vacuum instead (sucks dust out instead of blowing it deeper inside of some sensitive parts) BUT use some caution.  You don't want to suck out any sensitive part, either.  I put my hand loosely over vented areas and then vacuum on top of that hand.  Bill (on the other hand) just goes to town with the vac.  He had to retrieve his keyboard's G key from the bag one time.

Replace the furnace and a/c filters often.  We buy the cheaper ones and try to remember to replace it once a month.

Save your sugar and flour bags.  Cut off the bottom and up one side and you have a heavy, flat sheet that can be used to drain bacon, etc.  I was using a coffee filter for a while, but it's just not quite big enough.  We have bacon a lot during tomato season, so now I'm going to save all those bags during the baking season.

Do you buy cold cereal in boxes?    All of the following I found at http://frugalforlife.blogspot.com/ .  The link is to her home page.  It's a pretty interesting read.

Here's what you can do with the wax paper liner:


Store bread ends for bread crumbs
Cut to the size of your cake and then put the frosted letters on the liner and freeze, then peel off the letters and place on your cake
Roll into a funnel and pour your spices into the little jars
Crush nuts and graham crackers in them
Use as a cover for nuking items in the microwave
Line the top of cabinets that don't go to the ceiling for easier cleanup
Cover your cutting board with a liner or two to cut down on meat juice soaking into the cutting board
Wrap a piece of liner around the cork to cooking wine for easier removal
Use in freezer to protect food products from moisture and preserve freshness
Easy to wash and reuse due to their sturdiness
Freeze meat in them
Place food on to cool, such as cookies
Use for your lunch to place your sandwich in
Roll out your pie or cookie dough on an opened bag
Use to separate meat, cheese and other food products
Cover your hand and push down rice krispy bars


Now as for the cereal boxes here are a few items to try:

The standard use as a magazine holder. Just cut diagonally in half.
Cut them up into hundreds of bookmarks, punch a hole in the top and add a ribbon
Open them up, tape the creases open and you have a temporary placemat or something to color on.
A mystery gift box for clothing
Fill with shredded paper and use as a lightweight box filler when shipping
Give them to kids for playing house and shopping
Great for the block builder in your family, and cheaper too.
Cut off the back and flaps and use as a temporary tray
Store your plastic bags, printer paper and other desktop items
Use them as backing in frames for posters and pictures
A quick file folder or mouse pad

Monday, August 15, 2011

How to make rose petal jewelry


I saw a rose petal necklace years ago.  It was at least 40 years old and still had the rose fragrance.  The beads were matte black and rolled into several sizes, then strung with fake white pearls in between. 

All you need is a bunch of rose petals, water and time (this isn't a last minute gift idea).  It doesn't matter if the petals are fresh or not.  Even dried roses that are ancient will work. For the black beads, use a cast iron pan. Lighter shades will result in a lighter bead.

If you're of the artsy-craftsy nature, this sure would be a unique thing to have or wow!  Talk about a special gift!  You sure don't have to string a necklace like this, do what you like.  You'll have what is basically a pan full of clay-type stuff, so play around! 

Here's a link that gives you the basics to make these simple, yet elegant beads:

This gal's blog has pictures and a more updated way to do it, using a food processor and dehydrator:

A search on Google Images will show you what other artists have created (past and present).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Switchel - A different way to drink that ACV

I first saw this recipe on the Sufficient Self website.  I tried it, tweaked it for my own personal taste (less ginger and for sure NOT the oatmeal) and now I'm hooked on the stuff.  I also use my homemade apple cider vinegar as it has a bit more apple-y taste.

I'm doing a copy and paste from Hillbilly Housewife:

Switchel
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (yes vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal (optional)
  • tap water to make 2 quarts
This is a very old recipe, imported from our Yankee neighbors to the north, and before that, from Nova Scotia. Did you ever wonder what folks used to drink in the days before soda pop, and when lemons were out of season? Why Switchel of course. Instead of lemon juice, it uses a tangy combination of flavorful apple cider vinegar, molasses and ginger to make a summertime treat which will whet your whistle better than any modern thirst quencher I’ve ever run across.

First get out a two quart pitcher. Measure the vinegar, molasses, sugar or honey and ginger into it. Add cold tap water to fill. Stir to dissolve everything and serve in tall ice filled cups. Traditionally, oatmeal was also added to the mixture, to give it a little body, and improve the flavor. I am ashamed to say I have never prepared it with the added oatmeal, so if anyone does, please let me know what you think. This beverage takes a little getting used to. It is strongly flavored, nothing bland about it. It tastes best when it has mellowed overnight, blending the ginger with the molasses. It does quench your thirst better than anything else on a hot summer day though, and of course, costs next to nothing to prepare. I have also tried heating it in the winter time and drinking it as a hot toddy, it is actually quite delicious this way.

Barb:  Blogger still has issues (that might never go away!!), so I'll continue to add my comments up here. 
Yes, I use a lot less ginger than the recipe, too.  I was even thinking that maybe this winter I'd try it heated (without the ginger) and add some cinnamon to a cup.  My theory on stuff like this is that it can't be any worse than bad.  :o)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What I'm doing with the potato harvest

We're digging spuds again.  Since we had so many volunteer plants, they are in all stages of growth.  Not necessarily a bad thing, you know?  I like to take plenty of breaks while I have stuff going.

So right now, I have 3/4 gallon of milk in the slow cooker destined to be yogurt, potatoes cooking in the microwave and potatoes cooling on the counter.  In a few minutes I'll start some dehydrated sweet potato treats for the dogs (edited to add that they aren't digging them.  O well).

I don't have a basement or cold room to store potatoes, so it's best for me to get them to the point where I can put them in the freezer.  Even if you didn't grow them yourself, if you snag a bunch on sale, here's what you can do that doesn't seem to heat up the kitchen too much:

Scrub potatoes that you're going to use right away as the peel comes off very easily when they are really fresh.
I take all the small potatoes, cut them in half or leave them whole if they're really small.  Spray a pie pan or other microwave safe shallow dish with cooking spray.  Put the potato pieces in the dish, spray them lightly with cooking spray and zap for around 8 minutes on high.  Let cool and freeze on cookie sheets (or in my case, pizza pans).  When frozen, put them in freezer bags, squeeze out the air and put them back into the freezer.  That way you can pour out as much or as little as you want and they won't all be stuck together.

The bigger potates get cut in half or quarters lengthwise, then sliced into chunks.  You can use whatever shape or size that you want, just make sure that they're all about the same size on the pan, and all the same size in the freezer bag.  You may need to adjust the time on the microwave, too.  More on the plate or bigger chunks require longer cooking time.  You just need to get them cooked about 3/4 of the way done.

The small whole potatoes (and halves) I use with roasts, pork loins, baked chicken.  I just put them in frozen when the meat is almost done.  The chunks I use when I make potato soup, cottage fries, etc.  I boil them for smashed potatoes as our bunch likes the peels in it.  I also have finished cooking them in the microwave or boiled them for potato salads.  The smaller chunks are used for southern style hash browns, other soups, etc.

You can also make a big batch of mashed potatoes and then freeze them in meal size containers.

If you don't mind turning on the oven, I have also cut long wedges of potato and diped them in melted butter.  When the pan is full, I sprinkled seasoned salt (use whatever you like) and baked at 400F until they just started to brown.  Cool and freeze in bags.

I've never tried freezing shredded potatoes.  A friend of mine tried it and the next day she had several bags of black, icky potato shreds.  I think she didn't cook them long enough but she swears that she did....??  So you're on your own with those.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Links for frugal recipes AKA eating on the cheap


“The remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” ~Calvin Trillin  (Copied from another site, but I forgot where I saw it!)
______________________________________________

http://www.leftoverchef.com/  Wonderful site that lets you type in what ingredients you have around the house, then gives you recipes of what you could make with them.

http://busycooks.about.com/  Tons of info and recipes here.  One of my favorite sites to get the recipes to make your own convenience foods and so much more.


http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/  Lots of recipes and information for the frugal minded.



These links should keep you busy for a while.  I'll post more as I come across them.  Let me know if you have some that are favorites of yours!

Tomato overload and lots of tomato paste

Yesterday morning I counted the tomatoes on my table.  51 of them, but not all of them were completely ripe.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful that I have them as this isn't the best tomato year for many of my friends.  I did the 'tinkle and sprinkle' fertilizing on them, but I sure can't tell people that around here.  :o) 

If you don't know what 'tinkle and sprinkle' is, it's diluted urine.  You have to get past the ewww part of it, but it sure seems to work.  I just whizzed in a bucket and added 10 parts water or so to every one part whiz.  I poured the diluted urine close to the plants when they were still smallish and then watered to make sure it wasn't too strong and to make sure some got down to the roots.  Now it's almost shocking how big and full my plants are compared to everyone else's around here.  Okay, enough talk of pee and back to the tomatoes.

I always shoot for growing enough to last us until next year's harvest.  I didn't get nearly enough tomatoes last year, but this year I might make it.  Yesterday I made 10 pints of salsa, 3 cups of ketchup (Heinz ketchup clone recipe) and 2 cups of pizza sauce.  The rest of the tomatoes are slated to be spaghetti sauce and more BLT's.

Two items that I always buy in the big, institutional size cans, are tomato sauce and tomato paste.  Where I live, it's a huge savings to buy the big can over a bunch of little ones.  The tomato sauce isn't too bad to deal with as I can ladel it into different size containers and pop them in the freezer.  The tomato paste is different.  You just usually don't need too much of it at a time.  I had to open the can as I use some in my salsa, then I just stared at the rest of it for a bit.  I'm rather low on little containers right now.  Then the obvious hit me (only took a few years) - I could just blop big spoonfuls out on some freezer paper or wax paper on a cookie sheet, freeze the blops and then store them in a couple gallon freezer bags. 

The ketchup and pizza sauce were afterthoughts.  Both use tomato paste.  We're a Hunt's ketchup family, but I haven't found a recipe that tastes close to Hunt's.  So I use the homemade stuff in cooking (goulash, meatloaf, etc) and save the pricey stuff for hamburgers or whatever.  The pizza sauce is fantastic, I could just eat it with a spoon.

Here's what I used:

I should add that I don't follow the pizza sauce recipe exactly.  I don't use anchovy paste nor do I add all the separate spices.  I love the taste of Tone's Spicy Spaghetti Seasoning, so I use a teaspoon or so of that instead.  I also use the parmesan/romano blend (the kind of powered cheese in the plastic jar), plus I simmer it for a few minutes.  Use the seasonings that you love.

And the salsa?  Everyone seems to have a different opinion of what 'good' salsa should be.  Mine is thicker, no chunks with a touch of sweetness.  After cooking, I let it cool and then hit it with the stick blender.  I used to can it, now I just put the jars in the freezer.

20 - 22 peeled and cut up tomatoes
Two 6 ounce cans of tomato paste

OR

An institutional size of tomato sauce

Then add:
3 big onions
2 bell peppers
1 cup of white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup salt
9 to 14 jalepenos, half with seeds (more or less, depending on heat level desired)

Rough chop all vegetables (except tomatoes) in food processor.  Mix all ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.  Can in jars or freeze.  Makes about 10 pints.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Homemade Orange Oil Cleaner and Cleaning Paint Brushes!

I have a new appreciation for orange peel.  Usually I just throw the peels into the garden or if I need a major sugar fix, I'll make candied orange peel.  A couple of months ago I decided to try making Orange Oil Cleaner. 
*There is another post about ways to use orange and other citrus peels, too.*

It sure was simple enough.  I filled a glass quart jar with orange peels and poured white vinegar to the top of the jar.  Screwed on the lid, put it on a shelf away from light and I was done.  Every so often I gave the jar a shake. After about a month, it was starting to look thicker, and since I had more orange peel, I filled another quart jar with them.  Recipes vary, but from what I read, you're supposed to wait up to three months before you use it.  Just strain the liquid into your container of choice, then cut it with up to 10 parts water when you're ready to do some cleaning.

If you're going to use it in a spray bottle, you need to strain it really well.  Try a coffee filter.

You don't have to eat all those oranges at one time.  Just add the peels (and more vinegar) as you get them.  It also doesn't have to be just oranges.  Any citrus fruit will work - grapefruit, lemons or limes.  If you just want a small batch, put the peels of one piece of fruit into a quart jar, add vinegar, wait at least a couple of weeks and then cut it with 3 parts of water when you're ready to use it.

Okay, so now I have two jars of weird looking orange peels.  On another shelf I had two good paint brushes that were ruined.  One I had used with urethane and didn't get all of it cleaned out (I hate that stuff).  The other I had used with oil base primer and it was drying before I tried to clean it off the brush.  (I really hate that stuff.)  I had tried soaking them in straight vinegar and had no results, but for some reason, I still hadn't thrown them away. I figured that I had nothing to lose, so I stood both brushes in a wide mouth mason jar and poured in some of the orange cleaner without adding water.  I added just enough to cover the bristles of the brushes.  I put the jar into a couple of plastic grocery bags, wrapped them around the top of the jar, trying to make a seal around the handles of the paint brushes.

The brushes have been soaking for three days now.  I just checked them and voila!  Both are bending when I push down on them!!  There are bits of primer in the solution now, so it's gradually taking that off the brush.  I'll check them again in a couple days.  With some luck, I'll be able to salvage the brushes.

I'll post the end results.

Update!  2-4
Well, the brushes are toast.  I did check them about a month after I put them in the orange oil cleaner.  They were a little better, but I doubted that I was going to be able to salvage them.  Then I forgot about them.  Now months later, most of the orange oil has evaporated despite my efforts to make it as air tight as I could.  More of the urethane came off, but the metal parts of the brushes are naaasty.  Amazing what vinegar will do to some metals.  :o)  I had read that you could get latex paint off brushes with vinegar, but if it's oil based?  Doubtful.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Cost of Working Calculator

Years ago I was working a job that I truly hated, but felt I had to keep since we needed the extra paycheck.  It was one of those things that I couldn't even enjoy my two days off, as one of those days was spent in dreading the following work day.

Then we did our taxes.  I was in the middle of check registers and paper shuffle when it hit me.  I went through the check registers (pre-debit card and computer era), adding up everything that I had spent for the year that was even remotely associated with my job.  Most of it was eating out because I was too tired and too disorganized to put a meal together.  There were a few checks written for clothing and I figured in the extra gasoline.

So, how'd I fare?  Drum roll please....I was actually clearing $1.35 an hour.  That sucked.  I don't know that it would have felt any better if I had actually loved the job.  I stuck it out for a few more months until I decided that I'd rather sit out on the curb with a 'will work for food' sign.

Here's a nifty little calculator that will help you decide if it's worth working a crappy job, or any job for that matter.  Make sure you subtract what you pay in taxes before you enter your amount in the 'net income' field.  http://www.anycalculator.com/costofworking.htm

This still won't give you the total picture.  There's the wear and tear on your vehicle to consider (oil changes, tires, tune ups).  Sure, you'll still have those expenses whether you work or not, but a set of tires will last you many years if you're only driving 5000 miles each year.  Okay, maybe you aren't in hermit mode like I am.  Last year I drove 1750 miles.  But you see what I'm talking about.

There's also the flip side to consider.  If your employer pays for part of a health insurance plan, you probably get cheaper rates from the group insurance plan.  Buying health insurance on your own is really expensive.  Or you can go without it.  Many people can't afford it.

Would you go nuts staying home?  I thought I would, but I was going nuts working crappy jobs, too.

Things are different today than what they were years ago.  The internet has tons of information available with some mouse clicking.  I could have learned how to save that couple hundred bucks that I was actually clearing each month and not stressed about it. 

Maybe this will help you decide if it's time to quit working for someone else, live a more self sufficient lifestyle, or if it's time to look for a better job.

Monday, August 1, 2011

And more dog food chat + homemade Frosty Paws recipe

As I said in a previous post, my neighbor has championship dock diving dogs.  These dogs are her life, actually ALL her animals are!  She made a comment the other day that her animal housing is always cleaner than her own house.  :o) 
She was the one that told me about the race meat at the local greyhound supply place.  The race meat is $0.49 per pound, packaged in 5 lb. tubes like what you see in the grocery store.  They have a fattier grade, called 'farm', that is $0.39 a pound, packaged in 10 lb. bags.  The fattier grade has about the fat that we see in 90% lean ground beef.  All this has a thick layer of charcoal laid down over the meat while it's ground so it sure isn't something that you'd want to throw on the grill.  I bought the cheaper grade for my first experience...and freaked out.  It smelled really weird and messing with a 10 lb. frozen chunk was just more than I wanted to deal with that day.

Anyway, she also told me that she orders a case of either pork or beef neck bones from the grocer's meat department.  I ordered 30 lbs of pork neck bones.  They were huge!  Another freak out day.  But they were $0.80 a pound.  Bill cut one in half on his band saw (or some kind of saw) and the boxers were in hog heaven (no pun intended) that evening.  The next day boxers were upchucking all over the house.  Oh joy.  So I browned up the remaining 29 pounds in the oven, then used every stock pot I had to make bone broth.  I was kinda hating pork there for a while.

The beef neckbones were better, kept the dogs occupied for two full hours and no one threw up.  I think Bill wanted to, though.  They were $1.39 a pound.

Now then, Stacy (my neighbor) feeds her dogs ANY vegetable, including cooked asparagus.  They are especially fond of canteloupe and other fruits.  This time of year she has to keep a closer eye on them as they have snagged cucumbers from her garden.

She feeds her dogs eggs.  The entire egg.  Cracked me up!  (Again, no pun intended.)  She just handed each dog an egg and told them to get off the deck.  They went down to the grass, cracked the egg and ate it, shell and all.  I offered my boxers a little pullet egg today.  They both sniffed at them, then stared at me.  That's okay, they got the inside, the hens will get the crushed shells later.

Barb mentioned in her comment that she gives her dogs yogurt.  It reminded me of a recipe for homemade Frosty Paws - and this sure is the time of year to make them!

32 fluid ounces vanilla yogurt
1 ripe banana, mashed or one (5 ounce) jar banana baby food  
2 tablespoons peanut butter 
2 tablespoons honey

Blend all ingredients together and freeze in 3-ounce paper cups.
Microwave just a few seconds before serving to your pooch.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Figuring out this dog food business again

Blogger still has some issues, so I have to comment to anything you post up here in this field.

Barb left me a comment on my last post that really had me thinking half the night.  I loved her idea of budgeting $1 per pound for meat.  She also feeds each of her dogs about a pound a day or a little more.  When I feed the dogs raw meat, I have been giving them a lot more than that.

Fact:  My dogs are very overweight, 75 and 85 lbs.  The average weight of boxers is 60 to 70 lbs.  So I'm not doing them any favors by feeding them the volume of chow that I have been feeding, raw or dry.

Unfortunately, they're used to that amount. Twice a day.  This morning I cut back on the dry to one cup each, and added some homemade chow.  After they ate, they looked at me like I was nuts and went back to licking the now empty bowls.

Fact:  When my dogs were eating more raw food than kibble, they started losing weight and coats got really shiny.

Time for a change.

Here's some info I found on the web:
Dogs lack the digestive enzymes to properly break down plant cellulose and absorb the nutrients from raw fruits and vegetables. These should be cooked or run through a blender first if you want your dog to derive full nutritional value from them. However, if you simply want to give your dog low-calorie, fun treats, raw fruits and vegetables are fine too. Dogs often enjoy broccoli stalks, carrot, celery and summer squash chunks. Virtually any pitted fruit or berry makes a nutritious snack. Yams and sweet potatoes, though sugary and starchy, are good for dogs. Some of the new grain-free kibbles include sweet potatoes as a major ingredient.

Read more: Fruits & Vegetables for Dogs | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_5382588_fruits-vegetables-dogs.html#ixzz1Tgj0byxv

So, here's some other ideas I'm using to suppliment with good stuff while my fat pooches get used to less food.  This might be on the cheap for you if you have a bumper crop in the garden:

I have hens, so eggs are a given.  An egg a day.
Green beans - I was surprised to see that the huge, institutional size can really wasn't much cheaper than buying regular size cans.  But if you can stock up on them when they have a sale, that'd be pretty cheap.

Again, this is just MY take on how to give my obese dogs a healthier diet instead of dry kibble and bacon grease.  I swear, if you have ever seen dogs that were fed raw meat and veggie/fruit treats, it'd make you a believer in it.  The last time I gave each dog just one chicken thigh and leg, I put dry kibble in the bowls.  Hardly any was eaten throughout the day.  I figured they were just holding out for the good stuff.

So tomorrow I'm heading to the greyhound supply place and picking up a case of race lean meat.  Current price on that is about $0.50 a pound = $1 a day, if I do what Barb does, giving each dog a pound.  That's affordable, about the same price as feeding them Purina. Right now my dogs are used to the bulk of a lot of chow, so I'll add some veggies to their diet, too.

Will I pitch the kibble?  No.  I don't live that close to the supply place and I want my dogs to have something if I run out, ya know?  I'm going to take a couple gallon freezer bags of kibble and put them in the freezer.  During the winter, I can get snowed in here for a few days at a time.  I'll also keep making bone broth occasionally, so I'll have that in the freezer to go with the kibble when they get that.  I added some half cooked grated carrot and zucchini to the bone broth and mush that's in the frig now.  They'll get a lot less kibble today and more homemade.  I should get into the routine easily enough, so maybe the kibble will end up being peacock and chicken feed in the end.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pet food: Extra mileage from chicken

 
I have done a lot of reading on the web about making pet food. I think the best site I have come across for cats is http://www.catinfo.org/  

The best source I have found for dogs is my neighbor. She has championship dock diving dogs.

Both sources advocate feeding raw (or mostly raw) meat and I agree with them. The only thing is that I can’t afford $80+ a month to feed two dogs raw meat from the Greyhound Supply place - 5 pounds of meat a day for my boxers. It’s a lot more if they get raw chicken, beef neck bones, canned salmon, etc from the grocery store. Ditto when I’m feeding 5 indoor cats. I use Lisa’s recipe (Lisa Pierson DVM from the above link) when I can, but again, sometimes the budget just won’t allow it. Almost all of our animals are rescue critters - I never dreamed I’d have this many pets!

Is my recipe complete? Absolutely not. Is it better than just pouring dry chow into their bowls? I think so. This stuff drives Lisa and my neighbor nuts.  I am also not a pet nutritionist, so proceed at your own risk.

So, my bunch will have to suffer with Iams (for the cats) and Purina (for the dogs) plus whatever else I can add to help their diet be a bit better while not going broke feeding everyone. All their coats have gotten shinier, and even the ancient cat has perked up tremendously by the addition of homemade chow and occasional raw.

Yes, you can feed chicken bones to dogs. Raw bones don't splinter, they break into pieces. Cooked bones will splinter, but if you cook them with apple cider vinegar and water, they will turn to mush. See bone broth link.

Okay, here’s what I do to get extra mileage from chicken -
I picked up two whole chickens and a package of chicken thighs at the grocery store for about $13 (on sale). First I cut off the entire breast from both whole chickens and put them into the freezer (future meals for Bill and me).

I gave the raw wings to the dogs who were sitting there guarding me. A bit of raw thigh meat went to the ancient cat.

The thighs and hind quarters from the whole chickens went into the stock pot along with water to cover the meat. The raw backs and gizzards went into the slow cooker with water.

After some cooking time in the stock pot, I took the chicken out of the pot and ladled out five pints of chicken stock for cooking. I then added the chicken livers and cut up hearts. The remaining stock was hot enough to cook it. After the meat cooled a bit, I pulled it off the bones, put it back in the stock pot and mushed it up pretty good adding some water. This is the basic cat chow.

The bones were added to the slow cooker along with a bit more water and a glug of apple cider vinegar to make bone broth. This is the basic dog chow.

I divided the mushed cooked chicken into 7 containers and popped them in the frig. The next morning, there was bone broth in the slow cooker, so I added some of that to the containers, stirred them up a bit and popped them into the freezer. I add some bone broth to the cat food for some added calcium and liquid.
The bones in the slow cooker won’t be done yet (if you can mush up the end of the leg bone or cut it easily with a fork, it’s done). It usually takes about 24 hours in my slow cooker. About half way through or the next morning, I’ll add another glug of apple cider vinegar and more water if necessary. The dogs will guard the kitchen for you.

I used to mush it all up too, but now I just let it cool then ladle it all into two or three plastic coffee canisters. As long as the bones easily mush up when you squeeze them, there’s no harm in letting the dogs eat them as they are. They seem to enjoy the added texture. Anyway, then those go into the freezer.
I have added chopped green and yellow veggies sometimes. I used to add egg, a bit of barley or oatmeal, but usually don’t now. My cats seem to like it better without the egg.

Okay, for my $13, I got:
2-4 meals for Bill and me, depending on what I make with the breast meat.
5 pints of chicken stock for cooking
A month’s worth of chow for cats
2 weeks of dog chow - more or less.

If you really want to take it the extra mile, you can take most of the chicken fat, render it and use it in the pastry for chicken pot pie or frying. You can also season and fry the skin to make chicken crisps - like fried chicken, but without the chicken.

Please remember that I have dry chow out for the cats all the time. I offer homemade stuff on a separate plate, same with Lisa’s recipe when I make that. The hounds get fed twice a day, dry and homemade together, just less of the dry. It’s not a bad idea to give everyone a vitamin if you're going to use your own recipe.

One cool thing about adding homemade to the dry dog chow is that they eat every speck of it. If they have just dry, they usually are walking around with that last bite and there’s dog food all over the floor.

Barb, Blogger still has issues and I can't comment underneath your comment.  My neighbor told me to figure about 3% of their weight for raw.  I think it came out to 4.75 lbs daily, maybe a bit less.  Since both boxers are overweight, she said they'd still lose weight even eating large portions of meat.  And she was right.  Both started sliming down as long as I kept them on the raw.  With the chicken hind quarters, that's sure the way to get 'em!  I buy three bags when they have them here, about every three months.  But then the dogs get three hind quarters a day (could do two, I bet).  She does three for each of her dogs, but they aren't the couch potatoes that mine are.  My boxers weigh 75 and 85 lbs.  The dogs are starting to look like us.  No, it's the other way around.  :o)