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.