Thursday, December 20, 2012

You Might Be A Fledgling Tightwad If...

A month or so ago, a friend blessed me with my very own copy of "The Complete Tightwad Gazette."  I cannot say enough about how much I appreciate this book.  If you or someone you know is struggling to make ends meet, see if your library carries a copy or purchase a used version of it.  (I should probably write a complete review on it, but time doesn't permit right now.)

(I should also probably refrain from using so many parenthetical statements, but I don't see that happening, either.)

All side-tracked parenthetical thoughts aside, I started thinking about the things we've tried as a family to cut back on expenses.  Some are pretty silly and I thought a few of you might enjoy reading through a compilation.  (However, please don't assume that we've mastered the tightwad lifestyle or that we never waste a penny; our financial fiascos are many and we have a long way to go toward learning to be better stewards of our resources, financial and otherwise.)

You might be a fledgling tightwad if...

...your Christmas cards, if you even send any, end up being New Year's cards because you were holding out for a free photo card deal that never materialized. figure out how to make your food processor function after the safety valve snaps off the lid by holding the valve in place when you want to run the machine.  (The valve then gets stuck in its intended slot and the machine keeps running even when you remove the lid, thus allowing all contents to be showered all over your kitchen counter.  It then dawns on you why the thing was not supposed to run without the lid firmly in place, and you realize it's probably time to break down and purchase a replacement for safety reasons, if not for a cleaner kitchen.) feel a sense of patriotic duty when you have to replace an old, broken toilet with a new, low-flow model that promises to save gallons of water, thus reducing your water bill while protecting the environment.  (You then discover that it takes 4 flushes to actually get the thing to function the way the old-school-style toilet did, thus negating any possible water bill slashing and actually increasing your monthly costs.) are blessed with a gift of Swiffer Dusters, and to extend the life of such a novel present, you throw the duster heads in the wash and reuse them time and again rather than throwing them away. hook up your computer to your television so that you avoid "needing" any sort of Netflix, Cable, or Uverse subscription.  (You almost enjoy the horrified look on some people's faces when you explain that, without the computer input, you'd have no TV reception or DVD-playing ability whatsoever.) use a paperclip or segment of yarn (or both simultaneously) to repair a broken toilet flapper chain. get miffed when the other toilet flapper chain also breaks and isn't repairable by the above-mentioned methods. then resort to sticking your hand in the back tank of icy, slimy (though clean) water and lift the broken flapper manually so that you don't have to purchase a new one immediately.

...your sweet husband salvages the hard drive from an expensive-but-totally-dead computer and three years later finds a use for it, possibly saving over $100 in the process since purchasing a new one would have cost at least that much.  (And to think I would have tossed the thing on multiple occasions had he not prevented me!) can quickly mentally calculate the true price of gas at Arco when including the $0.35 Debit Card fee as disbursed over the amount of gallons you need to purchase, thus deciding whether or not it is truly cheaper to go to Arco versus the other two options on the opposing street corners.  (You usually forget to bring cash with you so that you can avoid the debit card fee all together.  Note to self:  you might want to work on that.) survive a mild winter without fixing the broken furnace and instead rely on a space heater only in dire temperatures and multiple pairs of socks and sweaters.  (We only did this twice:  the first year we were married when the landlord didn't want to pay for repairs, and the year before Lauren arrived when our current furnace died.  It wasn't worth repeating the following year; we opted to pay for the replacement part and then for the cost of running the heater and have been much toastier ever since.) decide not to take your customary family drive to Half Moon Bay because gas prices are through the roof and, as much as you enjoy visiting, it's just not worth the cost.  (But rest assured you go the very next time prices drop to a reasonable level.) get a thrill from combining free shipping rates, sales, gift cards, and coupon codes to obtain an item for free or nearly free.  (Swagbucks really does pay off!)'ve never used a brand-new baby crib, even though you've had four of them.  (You never feel slighted, however, since two of the four were extremely high-end cribs that would have each lasted through all four kids had you not had children so close together in age that you needed more than one at a time and had you not prematurely given away all of the baby stuff and needed yet another one.)

And, of course, you may NOT be a full-fledged tightwad if... opt to purchase the 8-seater SUV instead of the 5-seater SUV.  (The following year, you find out that Baby number 4 is on the way and that had you purchased the smaller vehicle, you'd now be searching for the bigger one, thus proving that it actually was a tightwad move in the long run). cannot bring yourself to take icy showers to save on your heating bill. invest in a high end blender that you've lived without for the previous eight years of marriage. (You use it enough and it brings enough satisfaction in its multiple capabilities that it was worth the investment, and of course you searched for several months prior to purchasing to get the best deal.)

...for safety reasons, you opt to purchase high-end, brand-new car seats for each of the kids.  (There are certain things for which it is perfectly reasonable to spend more than the very cheapest version allows, as was proved by two car accidents and the unharmed Spark Plugs who emerged from each smooshed vehicle.) pay a higher fee for faster internet. enjoy takeout meals every couple of weeks. have a growing affinity for Starbucks' Peppermint Mochas. indulge in an occasional fountain Pepsi, despite the frivolity and health deterrents of it.

While we are definitely not true tightwads (using that term to mean someone who attempts to save as much of his paycheck as possible, not someone who withholds unduly from another), it's fun to see if we can come up with a creative alternative to certain situations.

What are your best-loved tightwad attempts?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Most of you know that I've really enjoyed Crystal Paine's MoneySavingMom web site.  Right now, she's offering her newest ebook for $0.99, plus check her site for a huge giveaway!!  The giveaway ends tonight.  Hope you win!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some Summer!

I cannot believe that we're already into our second eighth week of structured schooling (obviously, it took me a while to complete this post).  The past three months have crawled by for me (more on that in a moment), but summer simply flew!  Here's a photo fly-by of some of our warm weather activities we enjoyed:

To celebrate our last day of the 2011-2012 school year, we made "healthy" cookies.  They flopped, but we had fun experimenting!

We tried coconut sugar, coconut oil, coconut flour, and shredded coconut in various ways.  Results:  coconut sugar, while a little less sweet than sucrose, works well in nearly every recipe.  Coconut oil that is not expeller-pressed (meaning that it retains its coconutty flavor) is best used in non-edible recipes, such as homemade deodorant, sunblock, and toothpaste.  We have yet to find a satisfactory recipe for coconut flour; I won't say how many batches of bread, muffins, and pizza crust we ended up throwing away!

However, these Flourless Peanut Butter muffins made for many a fabulous, easy, gluten-free, high-protein breakfast.  Best flourless recipe we've tried to date!

One of our biggest experiments of the summer was a worm compost bin (please note that some photos below may not be suitable for those with squeamish tummies - you have been warned!).

We drilled holes all over a Rubbermaid tub I purchased for $2.88...

...added shredded newspaper (and jammed up our little shredder three times in the process)...

...tossed in some decomposing veggies (please note that onions do NOT make good compost material!  We learned this the hard way.)...

...and added $7.50 worth of earthworms.

Which we killed.

Along with two subsequent batches of worms.


Thankfully, after moving the bin to a cooler location, taking care not to overwater, and starting with a new batch of healthier worms from the nursery instead of the bait store, we now have a happy, active worm bin with big, fat worms.  (Jon says they make the best fishing bait.)

In keeping with Jon's fishing theme from above, here is a photo of the bait tank he helped the boys set up.  It consists of a 27-gallon bucket they bought for $13 and a Penguin filter we ordered on discount.  Can't beat the price of this setup, since most tank equipment runs hundreds of dollars! 

Since the leopard sharks that Jon loves to catch have an affinity for live bait, he and the boys keep this tank stocked with Bullhead, long-jaw mudsuckers, and gobies, all of which they catch from a local river.  Jon taught T and K all about each species of fish:  its habitat; its scientific and common names; and its food source.  They even attempted making their own bait.  While it didn't seem to work, they put a lot of thought and energy into it and all enjoyed the project.  Everyone is learning more about the salinity of fresh and salt water, the nitrate cycle, and fish health through this project.

Our next summer project was making a solar oven.  Who knew there were so many designs available?  We decided to go with the double-insulated box method, since we had all the materials on hand.  The kids had great fun assembling it!

Phoenix thought she'd get in on the fun as well.  After we placed a piece of glass on top and set the whole thing outside, we discovered that this particular setup, even when faced directly in the sun, would only heat up to 140 degrees F.  While it was never hot enough to cook or bake in, the fact that we did get it to more than double the outside temperature was good enough for our purposes.  (Now, I just need to go get it from the back yard where it's been languishing ever since.  I can't imagine what our neighbors think of all our junk lying around from these various projects!)

We planted herbs, some of which actually grew and survived, as well as a tray of tomatoes we bought from Costco.

I'd meant to grab a tray of Beefsteak, but when we got home, I realized I'd accidentally picked up a tray of Romas.  Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, Cherry tomatoes grew!  I've since heard from other people that they experienced the same thing after purchasing Costco Romas.  Quite comical, really!

I canned seven jars of Apricot jam and thirteen jars of Nectarine jam after my sister-in-law's parents graciously let us glean their fruit trees.

We came up with an amazing recipe for gluten-free, soaked oatmeal, blender waffles.

But, of course, I forgot to write down the recipe.  Am I the only one who does this???

Imagine our surprise to find this possum living under our porch one night.  He may look cute (or not) in this photo, but he was NOT happy to have been routed out of his home.

My brother Stephen came to stay with us for a weekend so that the kids could spend time with him and so that he and Jon could get in some good fishing.  Kyle is Stevie's buddy!

Before curiosity runs rampant at the above photo, let me explain:  we tried our hand at home-made vanilla extract.  Having no experience with Vodka types or prices, I asked my brother-in-law (who prides himself on his vast knowledge of such beverages) for some guidance.  Every online tutorial said to get the cheapest Vodka available, but Andrew recommended Kirland Vodka since it is actually Grey Goose Vodka in a Kirkland bottle.  Apparently, Grey Goose is the premium Vodka of choice.  Andrew got me this intimidatingly-large one.  (I'll admit that I was thankful not to have to go through the checkout line with this in my basket, especially with three spark plugs in tow!)

We added vanilla beans, cut down the center, to the Vodka.

A certain Spark Plug in a green shirt looks just a bit too eager about this project!!  The vanilla extract hasn't been curing long enough to taste it yet, but it already smells amazing, and I have high hopes that it will meet or exceed all expectations.

One of our final summer activities was swimming lessons for the boys.  We had them take two weeks of instruction through Sparkle Swim School, run by a friend of ours, and we were thrilled that Tyler learned to swim quite well and Kyle became much more water safe.  Looking forward to having all three take lessons next summer!

And just before the start of the new school year came the best surprise of all:  A new baby on the way!  While this pregnancy has not been very conducive to my being the best wife, mom, or teacher ever (and is why I said at the start of this post that the past few weeks have gone by very slowly), we managed to muddle through the first tough weeks together and are now trying to catch up on a few things that fell by the wayside.  I was very grateful to have gotten done as much this summer as we did, since we now have a more flexible school schedule as a result.

Eventually, I'll get back to blogging about more home school endeavors, but for now, I think this monster post will do!

Friday, September 7, 2012

All the Pretty Zebras

It's been said that if you hear hoof beats, you should expect horses, not zebras.  While we've had our share of scares that have indeed turned out to be horses, I've come to learn that in our family, zebras aren't all that rare. 

I've shared in other posts about Jon's CSF leak.  Two surgeries - one major, one outpatient - later, it's back...again.  Early in the summer, he had a day of intense headaches and leaking, but when nothing followed, we thought that perhaps it had sealed on it's own (we believe it's done this at least one other time previously).

Last night, possibly brought on by the thunderstorm since barometric pressure causes him headaches, the leaking resumed.  Jon's surgeon has been hesitant to move forward until Jon could submit a sample to conclusively prove that this is another leak.  It took some hard work, a call to an advice nurse, and asking permission to jump ahead in line at the lab this morning, but we were finally able to submit a sample for testing.  Even if the lab cannot prove that this is CSF, we know without a doubt that this is what we're facing.

Part of me is shuddering at the thought of what might lie ahead.  I hate inconvenient doctor's appointments.  I hate hospitals.  I hate needles and surgeries and blood and all the other grossness that accompanies these things.  (The irony that I'm pregnant and will be facing much of these same things myself is not lost on me.)

And then I remember the promises found in God's Word, promises that the Lord will never leave me, that everything He does is for His glory, and that He will not send trials without giving us everything we need to get through them. 

I'm always amazed at myself when I realize that I so eagerly accept from His hand the blessings in life while simultaneously groaning over the things I consider to be a curse.  But should I accept the bitter cup with any less thanksgiving, knowing that He will never give me anything that is not for my ultimate good? 

This new baby?  A blessing!  The return of my health after a severe Vitamin D deficiency?  A blessing!  Yet another CSF leak?  Human logic would call this a curse.

But is it really?

I would venture to say that the CSF leak itself is NOT a good thing.  It jeopardizes Jon's health.  It causes him pain.  It frustrates us both.  It's a nuisance to the entire family.  It's just not fun.

On the other hand, if we have to live with it, I believe that it can bring about benefits that we would not have noticed otherwise.  It causes us to trust the Lord more fully.  It increases our prayer life.  It reminds us that life is precious and that time is valuable.  It makes us thankful for good health when we have it.  It's helped us appreciate the intricate workings of the human body and to see more clearly how only God could have designed us.  It teaches us to find things for which to be thankful even when it's tempting to gripe and complain about a given situation.

It teaches us to find beauty in the zebras even when the world insists that there is loveliness only in wild mustangs. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

By Request - Homemade Yogurt and Cream Cheese!

Since Jon is out fishing and the spark plugs are in bed, I finally have a moment to post about my homemade yogurt and homemade cream cheese.  These are actually one and the same recipe; the cream cheese only requires an extra step or two after making yogurt. 

I first made yogurt using this recipe:  Yogurt in a Crockpot

It's really that simple.  Honestly!  I've used both whole milk and low-fat milk with great results.   However, I'm the type of person who needs to know the "reasons why" behind the "how-to."  I'll go through the steps with explanations.

Q:  Why heat the milk on low for 2.5 hours?

A:  Heating the milk for that length of time allows it to reach a temperature high enough to kill off all the potential bad scoobies in the milk.  While we're after the good bacteria found in yogurt, we don't want any evil counterparts populating right along with the good guys.

Q:  Why let the crockpot sit for three hours after heating?

A:  Once heated, the milk will be too hot to receive the good yogurt-producing bacteria and will kill off these wanted good guys unless the milk is allowed to cool. 

Q:  It says to incubate the yogurt bacteria for 8-10 hours.  I forgot my crock of yogurt overnight and it incubated 18 hours.  Is it still good?  (Rumor has it that this actually happened to me.)

A:  Yogurt can culture in as little as 4 hours and up to 24 hours without spoiling.  However, the longer the yogurt cultures, the more lactose (milk sugar) the bacteria will consume.  Thus, a longer culture will produce a more bitter but more digestible yogurt.  If you are not lactose-intolerant, you may prefer a sweeter, shorter culture.  If you struggle with digesting dairy, try a full 24-hour culture and see if you get better results.  (A special thank you to Kitchen Stewardship for answering this question when I overcooked my yogurt...or thought I had.)

You can stop at this point and enjoy your homemade yogurt.  Don't forget to save a serving to use for starting another batch of yogurt!  It's been said that you can only use one generation of homemade yogurt starter before having to purchase a new, store-bought starter, but others have said they've made several generations of yogurt before needing a fresh starter.  I've not tried the multiple-generation approach, so please do so at your own risk. 

If you want homemade cream cheese, you'll only need some cheesecloth, a colander, and a large pot or bowl.  I used my stainless steel colander and dutch oven, but then I read that you shouldn't use any type of metal because it can react with the yogurt.  Mine turned out just fine.

Layer several thicknesses of cheesecloth over the colander and dump in the yogurt.  (Note:  for my cream cheese, I used an entire gallon of whole milk.)  Tie up the ends of the cheesecloth, taking care to tuck the ends inside the colander instead of letting them hang over the edge.  Wardeh from Gnowfglins says that if the ends aren't tucked inside, the whey will drip out of the pot and all over the counter - yuck! 

I put the lid over the colander/pot combo and set it in the fridge overnight.  I poured off the yellowish liquid that had accumulated at the bottom.  This is whey, which can be used for many different uses listed here, and which can also be frozen if you can't use the entire amount in about 6 months.  Mine stores nicely in mason jars in the refrigerator. 
You can sort of see that there is a bit of yogurt at the bottom of these.  I used 6 layers of cheesecloth, but I'd recommend trying 8 to see if fewer yogurt granules make their way into the whey.  (Whew, these homonyms are getting tricky!)

After letting the yogurt-turning-cream cheese sit another day in the refrigerator, enough whey had separated to leave a lovely knot of cream cheese sitting inside the cheesecloth.  The consistency was just perfect, and Jon said the taste was about 80% there.  I added a dash of sea salt, and if I'd put in a bit of sweetener, I think it would be almost exactly like the storebought stuff.  Since I'm cutting back on my sugar intake, though, I didn't try adding any sugar.  I like it just as it is. 

This is the now-nearly-empty tub of what was once a nearly-full tub of homemade deliciousness.

And this is why that once-full tub is now so nearly empty!  The only thing better would have been to use a homemade bagel instead of a Costco one. 

Although yogurt and cream cheese take many hours to culture, there isn't much work other than waiting patiently...which, for me, is hard work!  I hope you get to try it.  If you do, post pictures!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Healthy Perspective

Most of you know that I've been experimenting with some less-than-usual, natural-ish changes in diet and lifestyle.  It's been fun and interesting, but lest anyone get the idea that I've completely converted to being a "crunchy mama" (a term I only recently learned and one on which I shall refrain from sharing my thoughts), I do still eat McDonald's occasionally; I would never refuse the offer of a grilled, stuffed burrito from Taco Bell; and all Pepsico ethics concerns aside, I have been known to blissfully indulge in a fountain soda from time to time.

With all of that said, you might see why this soft-taco-loving-and-Pepsi-drinking girl has had a pretty rough go of finding helpful, healthful information.  After lots of time scouring the web, contacting friends who are of the unprocessed-foods mindset, and taking a tour of a local health(ier) grocer, I've finally compiled my go-to list for acquiring the information I seek.

Below are links to my most frequented blogs, with a half-hearted attempt to place them in order of preference and to include a brief description.  Here goes:

GNOWFGLINS - this fermented, whole-foods blog with an unpronounceable name adheres pretty strictly to the science of traditional food preservation.  I rather love this blog.  Some day I'll learn to fluently say "guh-NOWF-glins."

Kitchen Stewardship - this blog covers topics from grinding your own flour to cloth diapering.  The posts are fairly lengthy, but she does a great job of testing and sharing in-depth conclusions.

Whole New Mom - if you want to learn about dehydrating foods, trying alternative medicine, or working with severe allergy issues, this blog has you covered.  She occasionally goes off the beaten path and welcomes a bit of bantering and constructive criticism in her comments sections.  She'll also answer each and every question posted.  Love that part.

Chocolate Covered Katie - not sure how I feel about the title of this blog, but this unusual "healthy, delicious desserts" blog has some amazingly creative recipes on it.  And, no, I'm not vegan, even though she is.

Heavenly Homemakers - this blog balances healthy eating with biblical motherhood.

Passionate Homemaking - another blog that combines biblical living with healthy eating.

Keeper of the Home - this blog is one of the most gung-ho blogs on whole foods, ridding your bodies and homes of toxins, and living as naturally as possible.  It's a bit overkill for me, but I've gleaned some insightful tips here and there.

At this point, some of you are probably wondering how I can possibly follow all of those blogs without letting my children sit glued to the TV for hours on end, so let me assure you:  I don't read every post that each blog offers.  If time permits, I'll quickly zoom over an interesting post or two that catches my eye IF I have time to even visit one of the sites to look.

Nearly all of these sites (as well as other resources - I'll post more at the bottom of this post*) adhere to the popular book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  I own a copy, and it's fascinating.  For me, though, it is not Gospel, and I've found that some of these ladies seem to think that what Ms. Fallon has written should be set in stone.  Personally, I'm not comfortable with consuming raw dairy products or uncooked meats, and I'm discovering that as healthy as fermented foods might be, I just don't like most of them.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share the very best post on all things whole foods that a friend shared on Face Book just this morning.  The timing could not have been better.

Stacy Makes Cents:  Food Is Not Your God

I'm enjoying this new learning curve, but I'm not consumed by it.  I plan to incorporate more whole-foods choices in our menus, and I want to try my hand at making home-made cleaners and a few other health-conscious changes, but I won't kill myself if I feel that a tablespoon of bleach will do a better job than a tablespoon of vinegar.

And I have not the least doubt that I've yet to completely rid myself of that once-in-a-while fountain soda.  :)

Additional resources:

Online whole-foods distributors - VitaCost, AzureStandard, TropicalTraditions

Farmer's Markets in the Bay Area - Mountain View, Sunnyvale

Free-range, ideally-priced whole chickens in the Bay Area - Sigona's

*If you have any favorite blogs, tips, or stores you frequent for healthier alternatives, please share in the comments section!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Blessing of A Curse

As far back as I can remember, I've heard Romans 8:28 quoted with cliche-like repetition:  "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."  I'm certain that I memorized it long ago for one Sunday School class assignment or another, but only recently have I come to better understand the full meaning of this Scripture passage.

This new life lesson began last November when the onset of my third documented kidney infection brought with it an intense fatigue that far outlasted the 10-day course of antibiotics.  For a while, I simply tried to wait it out, convinced that, soon enough, it would dissipate.

It didn't.

From last December through this past March, I visited several doctors in an attempt to feel better, backing out of other engagements along the way because I was just too wiped to get out of the house.  It wasn't terribly fun, but I was grateful that it was only fatigue and nothing worse.

As it turned out, the fatigue was the result of a vitamin D deficiency combined with a strained muscle in my back (probably triggered by the infection).  Neither was serious, but the combined symptoms made for a long winter.

At first, I had no idea what I should be learning from this minor trial.  Before we'd reached a diagnosis, though, I started reading about a whole-foods lifestyle and began incorporating some of the recommended eating habits in an effort to feel better.  Jon graciously went along with my odd and sometimes unpalatable kitchen creations, which says a lot since he's a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy.

The new diet didn't seem to do much for my health, but the surprising result was that Jon felt a lot better.  He seemed to have more energy, fewer headaches, and fewer upset stomachs (all things we wrongly assumed were just normal for him).  In the end, we concluded that he is either wheat or gluten intolerant (and I don't even know if there's really a difference between the two), and that by eliminating wheat, he feels great.

And suddenly I knew what I needed to learn from my health woes:  God certainly does work ALL things together for our good and His glory.

Is intense fatigue fun?  No.

Was it easy feeling lousy for four months?  Not at all.

Could God turn it into a blessing?  Absolutely.

Did He?  Yes!

Had I not gotten sick, we'd never have thought to start altering our eating habits.  Jon would have continued eating wheat and dealing with the symptoms that he'd had most of his life because we wouldn't have figured out that they were food-related.  And especially now that I'm feeling better and having more energy, I can be thankful for the vitamin deficiency and strained muscle.  What started out as an annoyingly-frustrating "curse" eventually proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Not all problems will resolve into blessings so easily, nor will we always be able to see the blessing in the curse this side of Heaven.  But in situations like mine where we can clearly see the truth in Romans 8:28, we can be grateful that the Lord really is doing what He promises to do, and we can be confident that He's also working in the situations where we cannot see His handiwork as vividly.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Whole Foods - Whole Flops!

For health reasons, I've been trying a new whole foods, low-gluten diet the past several weeks.  I've read a lot about substitutions and healthier options, and I've felt inspired to try out some things.  Sometimes I have success in my new endeavor, but more often than not, I learn what NOT to do.  

My first attempt was rice milk.  An inexpensive alternative to paying $3.50 or more for a gallon of cow's milk greatly appealed to my food budget, so I pulled out my little 8-year-old, inexpensive blender and set to work.

We've made the switch to eating all brown rice, and since it's supposed to have superior nutrition in addition to being high in fiber, I chose the brown rice over the white for this experiment (a mistake for someone without a high-powered blender, to be sure).

You can see in the photo how all the little rice pieces settled to the bottom of the blender, leaving a thin, milky-white watery substance at the top.  This stuff tasted even worse than it looks, and not even the sweetest of smoothies could cover up it's obnoxious flavor!

Whole foods: 1.  Me:  0.

My first flop behind me, I was eager to try something else. 

I came across this recipe for black bean brownies (I skipped the first paragraph of the post and moved right on to the recipe below).  I was intrigued, so I cooked up some black beans, tossed them into the blender per the recipe instructions, and went about trying this rather odd recipe.  The reviews raved about it, so even though at first I was skeptical, by the time I pulled these from the oven, I had developed high expectations.

My biggest worry was that the consistency would not be right for brownies - I mean, isn't the gooey, almost-cooked-but-not-quite-done goodness the best part of brownies??  When I cut into these and discovered that, amazingly, they seemed to be extremely brownie-like, I was thrilled.

Until I tasted them.

I do admit that I probably used WAY too much spinach (I think I remember accidentally dumping in close to double what the recipe called for), but I don't think even using half the spinach that I did would make up for the bitter, green taste of this...stuff.  I don't even know what to call it, since "brownie" doesn't come close to describing the odd flavor.

We tried again, this time using Food Network's black bean brownie recipe.  These were much more palatable (though I exchanged the oil for butter - yum!), but even these, without spinach and a very small amount of black beans, didn't cut it for us. 

My conclusion?  Black beans don't belong in brownies.  Eat black bean burritos for dinner and indulge in a regular brownie.  If you're concerned about health, eat a smaller portion of chocolately goodness, because a "healthy" brownie leaves a LOT to be desired.

Despite these first two setbacks, we persevered in trying to include more whole foods in our diet.  The easiest way we've found to do this is to drink smoothies for breakfast.  We found a decent recipe:

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I make my own in the crockpot, which saves a ton of $$)
1/2 cup milk (or to taste - we like a thinner consistency and add a little more)
1 banana
1 cup (give or take) any fruit of your liking (we use frozen strawberries or frozen raspberries)
1 T ground flax

Blend it up, and you're done!  

This was working really well for us.

Until the frozen strawberries flying around in the blender cracked the plastic carafe. 

And delicious strawberrie smoothie goodness ran down all over the base of the machine and shorted out the motor.


We ended up investing in a bare-bones VitaMix blender, and we're very happy with it.  So happy, in fact, that I might - just might - be willing to try making rice milk again.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Homemade Deodorant

Commercial-grade deodorant and I don't get along.  Even if I didn't have concerns about aluminum and parabens, my skin reacts to most anti-antiperspirants.  Over the years, I've tried many variations of deodorants without antiperspirants and come up empty-handed. 

Tom's of Main doesn't do much other than add an annoying fruity scent. 

Adidas cotton-blend worked fairly well, but they discontinued making it. 

Arm and Hammer had a decent deodorant, but stores stopped carrying it. 

For a while, I resorted to Arm and Hammer's antiperspirant, since it didn't seem to cause the irritation that other antiperspirants did, but between the fact that it has an even higher concentration of aluminum than other brands and that Jon hates the scent, that's no longer an option, either.

So what to do?

Enter homemade deodorant.

After doing some research online, it appeared to be a fairly simple process, and as an added bonus, it's frugal, too!  I grew excited to try it and finally settled on this recipe from Tammy's Recipes.  (I used corn starch instead of arrow root powder, partly because I had the corn starch on hand, but mostly because I have no idea what arrow root powder is.  I'm assuming I could find some at a health food store, but I'm not even certain about that.)

The results?

So far, so good.  Since it's not hot here yet, I can't definitively comment on its effectiveness, but Jon likes the scent, it seems to be okay at wicking moisture, and most importantly, it doesn't irritate my skin (as long as I don't rub it on to heavily, that is).  Most importantly, it made a great hands-on experiment for the spark plugs and me to do together! 

One thing I did that Tammy didn't find helpful:  putting it into an empty deodorant tube.  While this is a little messier than commercial deodorant simply because the coconut oil melts a bit from body heat, it's got to be less messy than applying it with fingertips!  It works well enough for me, even though it isn't quite as neat as the store-bought stuff.

Since coconut oil liquefies at 76 degrees Fahrenheit, I've been keeping my deodorant in the fridge, which sometimes amounts to my forgetting to apply it.  This should be fairly easy to overcome, though, and it's much better to have it there rather than worrying about melted oil oozing throughout my bathroom drawer.

For a good (albeit lengthy) homemade deodorant review, check out Kitchen Stewardship's blog post here.  I think she does a good job of answering the many questions that naturally arise with DIY deodorant, such as staining and refrigeration.  I think she also suggests the use of essential oils for custom scents, but since I don't own any and I like the mild, tropical coconut oil, I didn't see the need.

At any rate, this is what's working for me, right now, and I love that it's so gentle on the budget despite the fact that coconut oil can be costly (I bought mine from Amazon to keep cost down).  Can't beat a cheap and (for me) healthier alternative!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Um, That's Different...

Seeds in my sprouter

For quite some time, I'd wanted to incorporate a healthier diet into my lifestyle, but with the high cost of whole grains and organics, this desire hadn't materialized.  Several weeks back, though, a friend introduced me to the concept of sprouting.  I hadn't known that it was possible to sprout so many seeds so effortlessly.  You don't even need soil!  I was hooked and began researching more on sprouting.

Researching sprouting led me to soaking grains, which led me to sourdough starters, which led me to kombucha, and somewhere in between all of those I found recipes for home-made deodorant and brownies made from black beans and spinach.

Are you grossed out yet?

I promise I'm not becoming some rogue health nut, but some of these concepts intrigued me to the point that I tried them.  Some, like the sourdough starter and kombucha, I've yet to try, but I do hope to experiment with them in the near future.  Stay tuned for those. 

All that to say, I didn't plan on 2012 turning into my year for trying new, do-it-yourself (DIY), frugal (and sometimes crazy!) ideas, but I'm having a lot of fun.  Some things have proven to be wonderful, while others have done nothing but given me a good laugh.  I'm excited, though, at the prospect of inexpensively incorporating healthful living into my current routine.  My next several posts will focus on these new endeavors, both the successes and the failures.  If you're interested, come learn with me.

No doubt that this will be a fun, odd, and occasionally awkward adventure!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fixing the Broke

We've all been told, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" but my friend D pointed out in her post here that occasionally things do need to be modified or updated.  So it was with my scheduling and couponing systems:  what had once worked was no longer effective.

A couple of years ago, I started with a coupon binder that I got with gift cards I'd earned on some money-maker deals.  It worked for a little while, but I quickly tired of the time it took to get the coupons in and out of the sheet protectors.

After reading through several coupon-compiling methods in The Money Saving Mom's Budget, I settled on the coupon box.  I was eager to put this together, and since we were studying finances and stewardship in school, I had the kids help.  Educational fun - what a great combo!

All three spark plugs had a great time helping me sort and prepare the envelopes.

We followed the example pretty closely, not because it's a perfect model, but because it was a place to start.  I'm learning that if I wait until I've worked out everything perfectly in my mind, I'll never start anything!

A few things we did change:  I used legal-sized envelopes instead of the smaller size; I put the empty envelope box in the back for holding unsorted coupons; and we added our cash envelopes that I made last year based on the "prettified" version, explained here.

Yep, I made those!  It was fun to work with all of those lovely patterns and flowers.  I had decided a while ago that if I had a hope of sticking to the envelope system (and honestly, I mostly use these to file receipts), it should be attractive enough to warrant the constant viewing.  :)

Lastly, I made some space for a pen, scissors, and a grocery list so that I have everything in one spot.  I won't take all of those cash envelopes with me, but it's nice to have a place to store them.  And to solve the issue of 152-coupon-pickup when the box gets dropped (the biggest drawback to using a coupon box), we picked a box with lid locks. 

So far, this method is working well.  I find it quick and easy to toss the coupons right into the envelopes instead of letting them stack up, unfiled, on the top of my microwave (I can't believe I'm admitting that I actually do that).  Less clutter makes a happier me, so this is a complete win-win situation in my book!

In addition to updating my coupon storage, I was struggling with home organization.  I love lists, but making impractically-long "to-dos" on random pieces of paper did nothing but frustrate me and clutter my house further.  I have a homemaking binder, but I kept forgetting to reference it.  I also tried using digital lists to minimize the scraps of lists that followed in my wake, but I do much better with a physical, tangible list.

I recently found the answer to my need for a sensible, paper list:  the Motivated Moms Chore Planner.  I'd seen it advertised on Money Saving Mom, but it wasn't until my friend A purchased it and gave it a more in-depth review that I felt confident in spending the money on it (I don't like to spend money on things that I could make on my own, especially when purchasing the item still requires me to print it out and thus increase expenses with more paper and ink).

The result?  I LOVE it.  It's simple; it's sensible and realistic; and it even reminds me to do things like feed the cat and trim the kids' nails.  It was definitely worth the $7.  It also suggested something I'd never thought of:  cleaning the bathroom over a few days instead of the whole thing in one fell swoop.  Since cleaning the bathroom is one of my most hated chores, I tend to put it off.  But if I look at it from the standpoint of cleaning the mirrors on Monday and wiping down the sink on Tuesday, somehow that is more manageable for me (and oddly enough, I often get the whole thing cleaned on Monday and free up time later in the week).

Coupon binders and scribbled lists were a great start for me.  As my needs have changed, though, it's been nice to find better solutions that fit my current situation.  Not every change in life will be as easy as these were, nor will each change transition as smoothly as I hope these will.  My hope, however, is that by implementing small bits of positive change, the larger upheavals won't be as earth-shattering as they could have been.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Avocado Attack!

I've tried many frugal adventures in the past few years.  While I've never purposely taken showers without hot water, I have glued shoes (it didn't hold), made laundry soap (so much fun!), and sewn fleece jammies (better to leave that to the experts for now).  However, pitting and peeling 95 overly-ripe avocados has to rank up there on my "unusual frugal finds" list!

When a limb from Jon's parents' avocado tree came down just before Christmas, it showered down over 300 avocados in the process.  A hundred were too bruised to be salvaged; Jon's brother kept a hundred; and we were blessed with the last 95 (yes, I counted them all).

The above photo does not do justice to the situation, since there were only about 45 left in the box by the time I decided to photograph the endeavor.  It took hours of sitting on the floor of the kitchen, getting covered in guacamole-esk avocado guts, to get through the pit-and-peel process.  Although I was tired and sore after doing it, Jon figured out that since avocados on sale are 2 for $3 and I was pitting them at a rate of one avocado every 2 minutes, I was getting paid a handsome hourly wage!

We all love guacamole around here, but we're not often willing to pay the price for avocados.  So, even though it took a little elbow work and a few hours of my time, this was definitely one miserly attempt that went well and produced good results.

Over 30 pits in the sink (yep, my sink is nauseating chartreuse)!  After we got the avocados divided and frozen, I decided that I'd like an avocado tree of my own and saved 6 pits to sprout.  That part of the avocado frenzy didn't go quite as planned.

I'm currently saving up the money I don't have to spend on avocados to buy a tree next year.  :)