Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Silent Night

(To see enlarged view, click on the picture.)
Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Getting the Holiday Spirit

You know, that spirit of happiness and friendliness; the one of smiles and helping hands, red bows and snow, eager children and candy canes. That spirit doesn't always come automatically, but it does come - whenever you're really ready for it.

Here are some frugal ways to open yourself to it!

1. Be the first to say 'Merry Christmas!'
2. Each day give at least one heartfelt compliment to someone.
3. Add something handmade to your decorations this year.
4. Smile at someone who looks grouchy. Don't let your feelings get hurt if they don't smile back.
5. Give the bank teller a candy cane.
6. Wave to Santa at the mall.
7. Tell your kids or grandkids what Christmas was like when you were a child. You might not think things were so different, but they are to a child.
8. Have an informal open house instead of a formal party. Put out some food, light the tree and enjoy your company.
9. Offer home made hot chocolate (Keep a pot ready to heat) to everyone who comes to your door, including the mailman.
10. Wear a sprig of holly, a small ornament or a plaid ribbon on your lapel or in your hair.
11. Go caroling. Look around for groups to go with if you can't round up enough enthusiasts on your own.
12. Take part in a local tree lighting ceremony.
13. Decorate your car - hang an ornament from the rearview mirror, or wire a wreath on the front.
14. Sing 'Jingle Bells' while cooking dinner.
15. Help elderly neighbors, family and friends put up decorations. (Don't forget to help them take them down again later!)
16. Sign your Christmas cards with a red or green pen.
17. Hug a child.
18. Turn off the lights, the tv and the stereo and sit quietly in the light of the Christmas tree thinking about why you celebrate it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How to make a paper gift bag

You'll need a piece of heavy paper like wrapping paper, wallpaper, freezer wrap or something similar. If you want to decorate it, do it before you start to make the bag.

You'll also need a form with a rectangular or square side, to wrap the bottom around. Use a cake mix box or anything packaged in a box or you can stack two or three books together.

Besides that, you'll need tape to secure the seams. You can use glue if you prefer, but a tab of tape here and there will help hold it while the glue dries.

Place the form on the paper as if you were going to wrap it. Use the "sheet corner" wrap to close one end of the paper. This article shows the method. Go to Step 7 and click on the image to see what I mean.

Fasten the end with glue and/or tape, then secure the seam, which should be more or less centered on a flat side.

Remove the form, fold the sides and crease to resemble a brown paper bag. If you want the bag to look "store bought," fold the bottom up to resemble a paper bag and crease it, then fold about a half inch to the inside of the top.

Trim the top, make sure the seams are secure and there you have it. You can glue cord or use a hole punch to punch holes around the top to lace a cord. Add a small card or name tag to the cord.

A more frugal note: Practice with a piece of scrap paper first.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Dinner Tips

Here's an idea that came to me last night as I was drifting off to sleep: You know all those Christmas catalogs that show up in your mail box? And you know how you have to plan where to set the hot dinner rolls and other hot dishes to keep from ruining your tablecloth on Christmas?

Put the two of them together! I haven't tried it yet, but why not wrap a catalog with a cloth, fasten it with tape and use it for a hotpad? Or maybe you could find a way to use part of the colorful pages without it looking like you just plopped an old catalog on the table! Ideas? I'd love to hear them.

A couple of other tips for the Christmas table:

If you don't have enough matching cloth napkins for your guests, mix two sets and stack them for a buffet or divide them evenly for a table setting. For instance, put a red one at the first place, then a green one at the next, a red one at the next, etc. Stack them for a buffet in the same way. People will think you went to a little extra effort to make your presentation cheerful.

If you don't have a big enough table cloth when the leaves are added, use a bed sheet or even a lightweight bed spread. If it's too big, fold it to fit. With the colors and types of sheets and spreads, no one will know the difference.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Snow and Frost

Early morning, frost falling from the air, fingers tingling with cold, silver blue sky... winter in Colorado.

Frugal thought? This picture only exists on my computer. No film, no processing, no slick paper printing. The camera was a gift and my internet access is free for personal use, since I need it for work.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

House? Debt? Interest? No Christmas?

"In the past, when times were tough, she would borrow against her home's equity -- that's no longer possible."

Ah... (insert bleeding heart strings here) This Christmas, she can't borrow any more money because she owes more on her house than it's worth.

No, I'm not that cold hearted, but how much sense does it take to know that you can't keep borrowing against a house without having to pay for it?

This was a story from CNN this morning, "Have yourself a subprime little Christmas". Yep, they're blaming it on the interest. Doesn't have a thing to do with poor money management. Nope, nosireee.... it's "them" out to get us.

I know. I know. The housing thing along with the interest thing and a few other things are hurting some people. Most of the hurt I see is brought on by over borrowing - by too much debt, by not enough financial maturity.

It may be time for some people to grow up the hard way.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Frugal Christmas Decorating

There are a lot of ways to decorate at Christmas time without spending all the money "they" think you should. Here are some of my favorites:

A bowl or basket of pine cones and small ornaments
Leftover, old garland wound through every day decorations like figurines and pictures.
Candles in the appropriate color. (You can buy them cheap right now and even cheaper after Christmas.)
Old Christmas pictures, displayed in hand made frames and brightened with small tufts of (fake) evergreen or holly berries.
Red and green anything: I bring out the afghans, the rugs, the vases and bowls and cups. It all says Christmas when the season is right.

There are more ways, of course. There's a thread in the Dollar Stretcher Community about frugal Christmas decorations that has some good ideas. There's also a good piece at Organized Christmas.

One thing I almost forgot - newspapers and magazines are full of Christmas pictures right now. Find a theme, maybe Santa Claus, or stars for instance, and cut each figure out then paste them onto pasteboard, filling it completely. Then cover the whole thing with a thin layer of white glue and set it on a piano or display it on a wall. You could even cut a silhouette of a tree and glue cut out ornaments. Now, that's frugal!

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Price of Baking Soda

CNN had an interesting report this morning: Baking soda could help save planet, which has me wondering if the price of baking soda will go down in the future! (I can dream, can't I?)

Coupled with another article I read at Dollar Stretcher this morning: Homemade Dishwasher Detergent wherein someone said they added baking soda to their $2 a box Dollar General dishwasher powder, I couldn't help but wonder if a little number crunching was in order.

Baking soda is a great help in doing many things - too many to list here - and it seems inexpensive, but it does cost money. I don't know how big the large box of dishwasher detergent is, but if she uses it in equal portions with baking soda, she may be paying more than if she wasn't using baking soda at all, which is still around 50 - 60 cents a pound. To put that in different terms, that's about a cup full. How much does a cup of cheap dishwasher detergent cost?

You'll have to help me out here. I don't own a dishwasher, so I don't pay attention to those things. How many cups are there in a normal size box of dishwasher detergent and how much does it cost?

Hopefully, we'll see the price of baking soda drop in the future so that using it in the dishwasher really will be frugal. It's frugal enough for other things, like brushing your teeth or absorbing odors, but it pays to check the actual cost.

Baking soda does have some very good properties. It won't hurt plumbing or you or your kids or pets and it's versatile, doing everything from softening water to removing black marks from the floor and a lot in between. Just don't confuse convenience and safety with frugality. '

Don't get me wrong. I use baking soda all the time and wouldn't be without it. If we're going to count pennies, though, let's do it with our eyes open.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lehman's and Rockefeller Center

This is a record or something - two posts in one day, but I just couldn't let this one slip by. Read this post: A Very GREEN Christmas in Rockefeller Center

Isn't that cool? You probably know that Lehman's is my favorite store for "old time" things. (Things that I use or want to use) I was excited to know that the traditional tree for Rockefeller Center in NYC was cut by a two-man crosscut saw from Lehman's store.

It's probably already been lit by the time this is posted, but better late than never. Sarah has a couple of good posts on it over there: Lehman's Country Life

Christmas Trees

I'm sorry; I can't help it; I love Christmas. Just so you'll know, that will no doubt be a recurring theme for this blog over the next few weeks.

I kind of got caught up in reading when I found the Christmas section at Dollar Stretcher. There are some cool articles there and I like the stories that Gary Foreman writes about John and Mary. It's absorbing information painlessly, something like learning fractions by baking a cake.

Anyway, my favorite is right at the top of the "Holiday Decorating
...for Less!" section, called "Oh, Christmas Tree!". John figures out how big of a tree they really need, and they find out... well, go read it. It's a short and easy read.

I use an artificial tree for a few reasons, but the smell of a real tree really makes Christmas special. If you, too, yearn for the smell of the real thing but can't have one, stop by a Christmas tree lot and see if there are any broken branches - even very small ones - they'll let you have. Bring them home and cut a small piece from the ends to release that fresh real Christmas tree scent.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time for Gingerbread

You may know that this is my very favorite time of the year. Making new Christmas memories rates right up there with remembering the old, but one of my favorite old memories is when my oldest daughter and I decided to make a gingerbread house.

Yep, it's a little crooked, and nope, it's not fancy. It sure was fun, though.

I've learned a little since then, but one of the things that works just as well now as it did then is the "royal icing" that is used to "glue" the pieces together. If you don't have this recipe, here it is:

  • 3 medium egg whites
  • 1 pound of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar

Beat egg whites together until frothy. Mix sugar and cream of tartar together, then add to egg whites and beat until stiff, 5 to 10 minutes.

This hardens, so don't make it until you're ready to use it and keep it covered while you work. You can add a drop of food coloring and/or flavoring like vanilla or peppermint oil.

Gingerbread recipes are easily found on the internet, so I won't post one here, but it's good eating and easy to make. I don't think I'll go for a gingerbread house this year, but definitely cookies and... well, maybe a little gingerbread storage shed...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What's Good for the Goose...

...isn't always good for the gander. Take, for instance, the recent drop in the interest rate. It's good for those who want to borrow money. It's not so good for those who utilize savings accounts and money markets.

The same thing is applicable to gas prices. It's not so good for the end consumer, but someone is making money, so it's good for them.

Since tomorrow's Thanksgiving, I guess we should be thankful that sometimes we're the goose and sometimes we're the gander.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Day After Thanksgiving

Some people call it "Black Friday," some call it "Buy Nothing Day," and some call it the biggest shopping event of the year. The Friday after Thanksgiving when sales are almost mandatory is not a day for the faint of heart.

There's always a story or two about shoppers being hospitalized (or worse) by the sales-crazed crowd as they jostle, push and walk over each other to get the best prices on merchandise that will sooner or later be out of stock.

As a frugalite, I used to feel a little guilty for not getting out there and getting my share, but no more, especially this year. The sales started early, so if you haven't started shopping for Christmas, you may have already lost out on some of the best. If you shop year 'round for gifts you won't have to worry about any of it.

The Day After can be spent doing important things like eating Thanksgiving leftovers while putting up the Christmas tree. You might opt for attending local tree lighting ceremonies or Christmas parades or concerts - all kicking off this "most wonderful time of the year."

However you do it, even if you go shopping The Day After... welcome to Christmas! It's on its way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Wonderfrugal Radish

I am unashamedly stealing a word from a charming poster from the Community at Dollar Stretcher, latte4me2day. "Wonderfrugal" seems to describe certain things so well that it should be in the dictionary.

Anyway, you've seen the pictures of my runaway radishes. Planted in June, harvested in October (or was that November?) these French breakfast radishes grew and grew and grew... I left them alone because I wanted to get seed from them. They didn't set seed until it was too late and the tender tips froze, but the huge roots were... well, huge.

Curious, I dug and pulled them up, chopped off the tops and put them in a pan of water, wondering what in the world I was going to do with them.

A day later my sister came for dinner and I decided to slice off some of the root to see if it was edible. It was, very much so. Mild and crunchy, it tasted pretty much like radish, but a little like a turnip, too. My sister wondered if it could be cooked like a turnip.

Since I could never eat all of them, I decided to try. Today, I cut a couple of pieces off and cooked them. Oh, it was good! Just a hint of the bitter edge that puts me off turnips, but with a wonderful, edgy bite to it. I decided that I'd cut up the rest of the two radishes and cook them and might try to freeze them for later (they really were huge - one was about 18 inches long, the other slightly shorter and 3 to 5 inches through the middle).

One of the roots had divided about half way down and when I pulled them apart, the center was eaten out, woody and yucky looking. I sliced off a piece from an outer knob and accidentally dropped the rest to the counter top.

Now, I'm not prone to screaming or squealing at creatures of any kind, but I was surely tempted. A big, fat worm was wriggling desperately to get back to his "safe" hiding place. I don't have anything against worms - I love them in the garden, but on my kitchen counter??!

I scraped off the rest of the radishes into the trash and took it outside. I was brave enough to put three pieces on my plate for supper. I only ate one. I know that's silly and I'll eat the rest later when the picture of that squirmy, wiggly thing has faded a little from my memory.

And wonderfrugal though they may have been, I'll harvest them sooner next time.

Washing Clothes and Other Frugal Entertainment

Well, I let a whole week slip by without posting to this blog! Let me see... what's my excuse... oh, yeah, I've been busy, as you can see by this piece: The Benefits of Washing Clothes by Hand

Now my comment:

So washing clothes by hand isn't for you? What about growing wheat? Or making potholders? Or knitting rugs from rags? Surely you can find something you'll like to do and save money doing it.

A frugal life can be fun, so why not enjoy it? Even if it's something off the wall or something you think no one else would do (a lot of people do funky things!), go ahead and have fun. Experiment, give it a try. Go ahead... have fun and be frugal, too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's almost Thanksgiving!

It's kind of slipping up on us, so I thought I'd give warning. :)

I'm going to be very honest. I know I should think first about the things I'm thankful for - or maybe I should think about family getting together, or about those without family or homes. But the first thing I think about is a turkey.

A big, roasted turkey, to be more specific. I love turkey and I always get one that's 'way too big so I'll have a lot of leftovers. I've already bought one this year - a 21 pounder from Safeway, where they're on sale already. $6 for 21 pounds of meat is a pretty good deal even if part of it is bone.

I need to clean out the freezer so I can get another one while they're on sale. Or maybe two. Well, if I got three, I'd have enough meat for the next two or three months for $18... hmmm...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Shopping Sales the Easy Way

I'm not much into coupons, but I do watch the sales. Right now, with prices rising faster than a kite on a windy day, shopping the sales is the smartest way we can buy food.

If you can get the wheel turning right, you never have to pay full price for most of your food. Even if you don't have much to spare, you can still stock up a little every time (even $5 worth will help) there's a good sale, and you'll have the product next time you need it - at sale price. If you do this constantly, you'll soon have a pantry full of products bought on sale and you can "pantry shop" (choose what's in your pantry rather than what's in the store) before going to buy groceries. That cuts way down on what you need to buy.

Shopping the sales sounds like a complicated job, but it's really not. Most newspapers run grocery store ads midweek, so that's a start. Not every store puts in their ads, though, and not everyone subscribes to a newspaper. Cheaper and easier: Find the sales online. Most grocery stores have weekly sales listed for your area. You still have to go and hunt down each store, but it's cheaper than a newspaper subscription and you don't have to wade through paper ads scattered all over the table.

Even better than spending a lot of time going to individual sites and looking up the ads, there's a place where you can find them all at one time, faster and easier, with a couple of clicks.

MyGroceryDeals.com really does deliver the sales ads. They've recently had a site facelift, so if you've been there before but had trouble with navigation, you'll love it now. It's all out and upfront so you can see where you want to go and get there right away.

They've added nutrition information and (what can be really helpful!) allergy popups that tell you when you're choosing food that contains whatever allergen you've put in your profile. Super neat.

And, no, I don't get paid to say this; I think the site fills a need we all have: getting the best deal for the best price for the least effort. Can't beat that.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Those radishes...

They don't look very pretty, do they? By the way, that's a piece of yarn in tne foreground that I tied onto them so I'd know which ones to save for seed. No seed, they just kept growing. The tape measure with the one foot mark is for comparison.

Another view. I never have been accused of doing things half way! (Click on the pictures for larger images)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Enter: The Holidays

It feels as if we're racing headlong into the winter holidays! Halloween today and then it's time to plan for Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving is Christmas - or so it seems.

It could be that Christmas comes before Halloween, though. According to some stores, it's been with us for awhile already. I do love Christmas from the beginning to the end and (shhhh... don't tell anyone) I listen to Christmas music now and then throughout the year. It's especially appealing in July and August when the weather is hot and all I want is a cool spell. "Jingle Bells" and "Winter Wonderland" brings on visions of snow and ice - perfect antidotes to sunburn and perspiration.

Be that as it may, I'm not quite ready to decorate for Christmas in October, much less September, when the first of Christmas hit some of the retail shelves!

It's a big season for businesses, of course, but I'm wondering if they'd sell just as much if they took each season as it came and waited until we were in the Christmas mood to hit us with all those bright and beautiful baubles?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dehydrating Food

Sometimes articles about dehydrating food make it sound way too complicated! Drying food is one of the oldest ways of preserving it, and you know they didn't have electric, fan forced, enclosed for safety and nutrition dehydrators a thousand years ago. They didn't even have them a hundred years ago... so what are people thinking, to create charts and thermometers and expensive dehydrators to ensure the food is dried properly?

Beats me.

Anyway, here's a piece that's a little more low key:
Simple Dehydrators and Other Ways to Dry Food

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Digging Potatoes

We finally got a hard freeze the other night and the volunteer potato plants wilted, so it was time to dig and find the treasure nature had stored underground. These late emerging plants had come up in the midst of a new compost area, so I worked around it all summer long, letting them grow as much as they would.

The first crop, if you can call four hills a crop, was dug a month or so ago, and part of the bounty already eaten, so I was looking forward to a few more before having to go back to grocery store potatoes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for those holey plastic bags that carry clean, well formed potatoes from faraway fields to my grocer's shelves - never mind that there are many potato fields starting only a mile from my home - but fresh potatoes straight from the garden can't be beat.

So, for not having planted these late growing potatoes, it was a pretty good harvest. Three big bakers, a couple of in betweens and a half dozen small new boiling potatoes. For free, that's not bad. That's a few more meals straight from the goodness of sunshine, earth and rain in my own backyard.

I think, with a little more effort and a little more yard dug up, I can grow a real crop of potatoes. Since I don't have a good place to keep them through the winter, I'll be happy if I can grow enough to last through Christmas dinner - a project for next year.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I got the sudden urge for biscuits and gravy this morning, so on my way home from an errand, I decided I'd just go home and make some. It took me many years to learn to make biscuits "the way Mom does," but I'm pretty confident about making them now. Mom made them different from most recipes I've found in that she never added fat to them. When I'd mention this, people wouldn't believe that you could make a good biscuit without fat added.

I might have believed it myself, because, as I said, it took many years before I could make them. I watched Mom from start to finish, I asked for measurements, I tried and tried and they just never turned out good. I don't know how many pans of hard biscuits, doughy biscuits and otherwise inedible biscuits I tried to pawn off on the dog. Sometimes the chickens wouldn't even eat them.

In desperation, one day I thought I'd do it exactly like Mom - hardly thinking of what I was doing, just doing it. I set my mind to other things, got out the flour and salt and baking powder and threw them together in a bowl. Was that enough? Maybe just a little more... a little more. There, that ought to do it. Now, the salt... sprinkle, sprinkle... a little bit more. More? Ok.

I mixed it up, poured in some milk, mixed and patted it out on the table to be cut into biscuits, just like Mom did. That's the first time my biscuits tasted just like Mom's. Not too light, not too heavy and just right to sop up some milk gravy or dripping butter.

I learned the gravy the same way, too. Don't worry about it. Put in some fat, some flour, stir it up and let it cook a minute, then dump in the milk. Really. It worked for me, anyway.

This morning's biscuits though were a little different. I was using leftover powdered milk and didn't have quite enough, so I decided to use the dab of leftover reconstituted condensed milk. As I rinsed the container, I realized it was a little sour - too late. The biscuits were mixed and cut, waiting in the pan. Oh, well...

Then I noticed a flame in the bottom of the oven. I'd baked fruitcake and forgot that it had risen over the pans and spilled onto the oven floor. Baking soda put the flame out quickly, but the oven smelled like... well, like something had burned in it. I aired it out a few minutes, and turned the heat down 10 degrees, hoping that the fire wouldn't start again.

It turned out pretty good, after all. The biscuits rose without baking soda and the fire stayed dead with it. What more could I ask? :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some posts...

Some posts spawn a lot of comments, some none. It's hard to tell which one will do what - at least for me.

The one titled "Predictions," a post or two below this one, got a lot of them. It could be that the topic is one that's on a lot of people's minds right now. There's some very good advice in those comments. They're worth reading.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Homesteading in the city

Want to see a picture of what I've been up to?

My hobo bag

That's not all, of course. Yesterday, I gathered lambsquarter seed to try in bread. I've never tried it before, so this will be something new to me. I can't decide what would be the best way to separate the seeds from the husks or whatever those tiny green coverings are. The seed is very small, so it's going to be interesting.

Also, I made yogurt cheese for the first time, then I made chip dip from it by adding chives from the garden. Haven't tasted that yet, but the cheese is pretty good!

We've had a couple of light frosts, but it hasn't hurt my raised bed gardens. My nephew is coming whenever I call him to pick the rest of the green tomatoes and pull up the vines. There are still green peppers out there, too, besides the monster radishes and finally bolted lettuce.

I pulled the onion I planted from a bunch of green ones - got three nice onions from it, very large for green onions, small otherwise, but it was a definite increase over what was planted. The tops were well over 2 feet high. I cut and dehydrated the tops and will do the rest today.

I guess I'll just homestead here in the city. ;)

Monday, October 15, 2007


Maybe they just meant to keep us on our toes, but it seems like we worried a lot last summer over things that didn't happen.

The first was that terrorist "chatter" seemed to indicate a major attack on the US during the summer Either Homeland Security really is doing a good job, or it was all a political ploy - or the chatter was misread. Maybe they meant someone else's summer?

The second prediction to worry us was that the hurricane season would be worse than usual for the US. It hasn't happened. Granted, we're not at the end of the season yet, but it won't be long. Let's hope and pray we can continue treading water until it's all over this year.

Here's one you do need to worry about. Well, not worry, but prepare: If you remember my column at About.com, I predicted that the cost of groceries would continue to rise due to weather and natural disasters. If you've been in a grocery store lately, you know that one has come true.

The economy is on a crash course. It may not happen this year or even next, but it will happen. Since food costs aren't included in much factoring of the economy, it looks like we're doing all right. We can look like anything we please if we use a political mirror to behold ourselves in.

I'm still giving the same old advice: Get out of debt, tighten your budget, diversify everywhere you can, and by "everywhere," I mean everywhere from food storage to investments.

Don't just keep "getting by." If everything blows over and nothing happens? The worst will be that you're in better financial shape than ever.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's too early for Christmas - isn't it?

I can't help it. I keep thinking about Christmas. It's one thing to plan ahead and another to obsess about it - one thing to stash a few things throughout the year and yet another to want to finish the shopping right now and put up the tree!

I just hope this "Christmas spirit" either lasts (maybe not) until Christmas or that it goes away and reappears at a more appropriate time. Usually if I start too early, I'm all worn out of the mood come Christmas Day. That would be heresy at the forum at My Merry Christmas, one of my favorite Christmas sites. They're always ready for Christmas over there. I don't spend a lot of time there, but I can't resist the temptation to slip in now and then when the mood strikes.

Frugal is as frugal does, though, and all this talk about Christmas makes me put on my frugal thinking cap at last. What shall I give? What to make? What bargains to look for? Where to look? It's a lot more fun when we have time to really work it over.

It's a great frugal satisfaction to know that you've found quality gifts and food and entertainment for the lowest price. Getting it done early is great, too, because we can relax and enjoy the holidays instead of scrambling to do everything we think we should do.

A couple of threads at Dollar Stretcher Community about Christmas plans are My plans for Christmas and Stocking stuffers. They're fun threads with lots of good ideas.

Well, I'm rambling, but it's nearly 4 AM. Lots of nights are split into early sleeping and late sleeping now. I guess I just have to accept it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

From the Rag Bag

I've got a new post at Lehman's Country Life blog - it's moderated and I'm limited to once a month or less... whenever they want me to write. Anyway, this post is Real Rag Rugs, about making rugs from real rags. Or real rag rugs. Or real rags, made into rugs.

Look over the rest of the site while you're there. There's some good reading (and I'm not just saying that because... well, you know.)

About those rags: I hope you have a rag bag or basket to work from. Rugs, patchwork, cleaning cloths, grease rags or whatever you use them for, don't throw them out. Hem the ones you want to use to clean with and they last a lot longer, besides not leaving ravelings in the washing machine. Heavy or nonabsorbent material makes good grease or workshop rags, but save the "good" stuff to make things from - and not just rugs, though that's a good place to start.

Potholders, patchwork table cloths or curtains or aprons or... or quilts. Placemats, coasters, dresser or table scarves, headscarves...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Garden, Again

I haven't been posting much here lately! Sometimes it seems like just getting through the day takes all the energy I can muster, especially this time of year, when it seems like plans and projects are at every turn. Getting ready for winter, finishing off the garden and yard chores, thinking forward to the holidays, putting away summer things, and on it goes.

I haven't quite finished with the garden yet. I keep thinking I should just tear up the plants, shovel under what I can and be done with it, but it just won't stop and I can't bring myself to destroy plants that are still producing. I found two ripe tomatoes today and the beans that I let dry are blooming again. They're not supposed to do that; they're supposed to die once they've brought seed (dried beans) to maturity. And the lentils I didn't get harvested in time are growing new plants.

And then, there are those radishes. That's a five inch retaining wall in the foreground.

And here's a very poor version, with a coffee cup... I don't know why I didn't think to put the cup with the other pictures, but I ran out of time to experiment by the time I thought of it.

I don't think I'll get any seed from them because as they bloom, a seed pod starts forming, then disappears. It could be insects or birds or squirrels, or it could be the weather, the soil or the plant itself. I should just dig them up, but...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Decorating simply, naturally and frugally

I'm not a real nut when it comes to decorating my home, but I enjoy nice touches as much as anyone.

This little fall bouquet is made up of "weeds" from my backyard, in a large coffee mug, as you can see. I like the way it turned out. It's made from grasses that were allowed to seed out, lavender seed heads and a few odds and ends.

Cost? Nothing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Frost Tonight

They're predicting the first frost of the season for us tonight. I picked a half bushel of green tomatoes and quit. I have almost that much in the house, ready to make juice or sauce. I've already made enough tomato sauce, but I'll make some more anyway and figure out some way to use it.

I picked the green peppers - what a bounty my one green pepper plant grew! There are a half dozen on the table right now and a few more small ones that I picked. I left the smallest on the plant just in case it doesn't frost. If the frost doesn't get them, they'll be good for dicing for the freezer. Some of the bigger ones will be halved and frozen for stuffed peppers.

The onion is still growing strong. I'm going to leave it and see what happens. There are three more acorn squash on the vine, not quite ready to pick. If the frost is hard at all, it will kill the vine, but the squash should be ok. The last of the potatoes are near the house so a frost shouldn't hurt them.

Throughout the summer, I froze plenty of green beans for the winter and have enough dried beans for three or four pots, which makes eight to ten meals. Not bad for a handful of beans that were so old I didn't want to cook them.

I'm feeling snug (or smug) and secure and rather frugal. Summer's been good, but I'm ready to move on.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Variation on a Theme: Candle Stove

Note: The pictures here are poor - no excuse. I didn't take the time to find the right lighting, I was more interested in the candle stove.

After discovering this Tea Time Candle Stove, I wanted to make one to see how well it would work, but of course, I'm too cheap to run out and buy tea lights and corks, so I scrounged around the house and came up with some alternatives. I'm pleased to report that the open candle stove worked very well. Here's how the experiment went:

Instead of using a hanger, I used a rack I already had, from a long gone electric skillet. I found a broken candle while rummaging for possible forgotten tea lights, so I cut that in lengths and used it. It was a cheap candle, so it burned faster than tea lights would have, but it was "free" from my stash.

I put the candles on a sheet of (used) aluminum and set the rack over them. Height is important, but not as much as I thought at first. Shorter candles seemed to cook as fast as taller ones. I did have trouble with cutting them too tall at first because when I set the pan over them the flame went out. I let them burn down a little then they were fine.

If you're familiar with campfire cooking, this is very similar. At first, I tried to keep adjusting the candles for the best heat, but since I had to remove the pan each time, I found it cooked faster when simply left it alone.

First, I tried boiling water. In about 10 minutes, it was simmering quite well, but never came to a full boil. Still, it was hot enough to make a cup of tea. Ramen noodles or pasta would have cooked in it and it would have cooked frozen vegetables or heated canned foods easily.

I raised the front of the aluminum foil to keep wax from getting on the range where my candle stove set, then thought that it might help concentrate the heat to lift the foil on every side, which I did. It seemed to help, but I'm not sure if it actually did or if it was wishful thinking on my part.

I thought the toughest test would be frying, so I put a couple of pieces of breakfast sausage into a small cast iron skillet. In a few minutes, it started sizzling. It seemed to take awhile to cook through, but maybe I was just hungry - I forgot to watch the clock on this part.

The proof is in my tummy - I had sausage, fried sauerkraut and tea for lunch. (That's my favorite mug, an Exxon Tony the Tiger advertising mug made by Fire King. It's "vintage, but I'm not sure exactly what years they were made.)

Notes: There will be lots of soot, so be aware of that. The candles can't burn cleanly under the circumstances. Use of a lid made all the difference in how quickly water came to a boil as well as how fast the sausage fried (from listening to the sound). I went through several matches before I learned what height of candle would keep burning. About a half inch from the rack seemed to be best.

Note to myself: Buy more candles!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kerosene and petroleum

I have this thing about lamps. Not electric lamps, but lamps that burn olive oil or wax or bear grease or the more modern "lamp oil." I own several of these oil burning lamps, some made when the oil was called "coal oil," and was the only light many houses had.

Coal oil has undergone changes through kerosene to lamp oil, but it's still basically liquid fuel. Coal oil was extracted from coal, while kerosene is a distillation of the new-at-the-time petroleum industry. Kerosene burned brighter and cleaner than coal oil, so it soon took the market. Later, kerosene was further refined, deodorized, made clear and renamed to lamp oil.

Ok, so that's our history lesson for the day.

I like to use the lamps now and then and it occurred to me that it might be wise to stock up a little on kerosene or lamp oil. I'm sure the price has gone up since I last bought it and I'm just as sure the price will continue going up.

I don't often stop to think of how much the oil industry has changed our lives. Many things are produced from petroleum that we take for granted. It would hurt if it were not so commonly available.

Plastics of all kinds, including the keyboard I'm typing on as well as 95% of the printer sitting here - everything from seat covers to writing pens and from dog dishes to thermostats... petroleum jelly and all the products made with it, and of course, gasoline and diesel and the roads we drive our vehicles on.

It may seem like a long leap from kerosene lamps to blacktop highways. Unfortunately, it's not. Anything having to do with petroleum is up for price increases, so if there's anything you can logically stock up on, it makes frugal sense right now.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Old Ways

It always amazes me how many people think like I do... or how I think like so many other people. It never seems like it until certain ideas come up, like enjoying "old ways" in reality and not just nostalgia. A thread at the Dollar Stretcher Community about using treadle sewing machines and another about Luddite tendencies helped spawn a new forum called Self Sufficient Living and then... the coolest new blog I've seen in a long time appears! It's from Lehman's, the nonelectric hardware store (that's really a lot more than that), and it covers a LOT of things. If you enjoy hands on living, you'll really like it. The blog is Lehman's Country Life - quite fitting. :)

Of course, I have an entry there, but that's beside the point. ;) I'm kidding. I do have an entry there, but I thoroughly enjoy reading the other entries and I think you will, too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beautiful weather for frugal people

I'm loving this transitional weather between summer and winter. It's been cool enough to not need the air conditioner and warm enough to not need heat - a frugalite's dream. No comfort expenses and lots of simple pleasure. I've been wandering around outside on breaks and just soaking in the good feeling of early autumn.

It's too early to worry much about keeping warm this winter (although I have some things to do to batten down the hatches before then) and the garden isn't quite finished yet, so I don't have to clean it up and put it to sleep for the winter. It's just right to enjoy.

Besides wandering around outside, I've been writing a few more Wyoming memories and publishing them at Gather.com, as well as working with the community at Dollar Stretcher and writing a few other things. Mostly I'm looking forward to more wonderful weather. (Like snow!)

The First House: Cleaning the Well

The First House: The Skunk in the Glass

Monday, September 10, 2007


I don't do much canning any more, because there's just one of me and I don't have that much of a garden, either... but when I used to put up a lot of food for the winter, it was always a challenge to find equipment at a good price. If you wind up paying too much for jars, canners, and canning toys like lid lifters and special tongs, canning your own food can cost you more than you can save.

I have an article on Dollar Stretcher about how to buy used canning equipment, so I won't go into it now, but watch your costs and don't forget to include the fuel it takes, either.

Because things used to save money in the past is not guarantee that they still do. Using a wood burning cookstove to cook all day may not cost much in real money, but keeping an electric or gas kitchen range going for hours does cost.

It's not always easy to back up and look at things the way they really are, but if you make the effort, you'll be dollars and cents ahead!

Saturday, September 8, 2007


I was thinking yesterday that there must be people who are into renaissance re-enactments, but don't know what a party line is. When we got our private line in, our bill didn't go down a bit. The question I had was, "Were we paying too much for the party line all that time?" A question with no answer, I guess.

Telephone communication has been one of those areas where it's very hard, if not impossible to save much money, until lately. With new technology, like VoIP, we are more in control of our communications expenses. With that and the popularity of cell phones, landline phones may very well be dinosaurs on their way to extinction.

Many people, especially young people, have opted to not even have a landline phone in their home. It isn't the "necessity" it was once seen as being.

Why, then, does the presence of a landline telephone have anything to do with your credit score? Inquiring minds want to know...


Thursday, September 6, 2007


Starting about this time of the year, if you live around farm country of any kind, you can sometimes gain a frugal coup by gleaning harvested fields.

We have gleaned potatoes, corn (which we fed to three huge turkeys - great Thanksgiving dinner that year!), onions, carrots and more. If you decide you want to glean, be sure and ask the farmer first. Some will let you, but some will not. Don't trespass without asking.

Also, if you live in farming country, keep your eyes open for produce spilled on the roads - especially side roads at corners where spills more frequently occur. I love to hop out and grab an onion or two when I see them, but it takes two people to do it right. The driver will pull up and stop, the passenger will jump out, grab the goodies and jump back in and the driver makes a getaway. Or something like that. :)

Spills will get you split or broken produce a lot of the time, but as long as it's fresh and you use it right away (dehydrate, can or freeze it), it's good food and it's free.

Is that extremely frugal, or just good sense?

"Frugal Subversive"

I've been tagged for this award:

Thank you very much. I'm proud to be subversive. ;)

I'll keep the rules of the meme and tag three more bloggers:

1. Dawn, at Frugal for Life - I love her attitude.

2. Terre, at Frugal, Single Mom. This is a newer blog but Terre's not new to blogging.

Well, ok. I tried. Who's going to be number three? And if I gave the award to someone who already has it, I apologize. I don't get around the blogging community as much as I'd like!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More memories

I'm getting into the swing of things here! ;)

Maybe not.

Anyway, I just published three more articles about The First House.

The First House: A Real Swinger

The First House: Inside the House

The First House: Outside the House

All of those are fun, but the reality of it is that during those times and later, I learned to make do with whatever was available. Mom and Dad raised 8 kids on a ranch hand's salary and we never went hungry, never were cold or did without clothes. Mom was from a farm in Oklahoma and Daddy was from just over the border in Kansas. They both knew how to stretch a dollar and pinch a penny and then some.

Sure, we were poor, but we were happy and life was good.

Friday, August 31, 2007


I posted this to my other blog, "17 Ways From Sunday," then thought I should put it here, too:

I've been inspired to start a series of short, short stories of growing up on the ranch in Wyoming, where my Dad was the hired hand. These stories might read like something you'd expect from a hundred years ago, instead of a little over fifty years ago, but this was very rural, rough country. I loved it then and I love it now.

I posted the first story before it occurred to me to write more. It's called "Mouse Story." The second one is actually the first in the series, called ""The First The First House: The Beginning."

I am writing them because I enjoy bringing up the memories, but I hope you find something to enjoy in them, too.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Candle Stove

By request, here are the instructions for making an emergency stove from candles:

This is a simple emergency stove that will boil water, cook a stew and provide a small amount of heat. You'll need an empty, clean paint can or something of similar size, hammer and nails, and candles.

Find a board or other solid piece that just fits inside. The idea is to keep the can from bending or collapsing as you put several holes in it, one to two inches from the bottom, with a nail and hammer.

Turn it upside down, and put three to five nails through the bottom. These will hold candles upright.

Set the can upright again, and punch several more nailholes about an inch or so from the top, then remove the board.

Spear the candles on the nails at the bottom, and using a twisted or folded length of paper as a torch, light them all. When they're burning well, place a pot or bowl over the open top of the can. If the flames go out, punch more nail holes at the bottom; then if they still go out, punch more at the top.

Trial and error will get it right, so spend some time on it now instead of waiting until you really need it.

A variation of the candle stove is to place candles in a row or group on some nonflammable surface and make a reflector of foil behind them. This puts out an amazing amount of heat, but be very careful with open flames. You'll need to watch constantly with this method in case of accident. Keep water nearby.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Baking bread

Now that the days are getting shorter, I think ahead to making those wonderful winter time foods. One of them is home made bread. I enjoy making it and eating it more than any other food I can think of. It's frugal, too. Homemade bread can cost much less than store bought and it tasted much, much better.

I've been baking bread for around 50 years now, so changing a recipe, adding or subtracting ingredients doesn't bother me. That's part of the fun of it.

Start with a good basic recipe and once you've mastered that, you can make some changes. A word of warning: Don't make too many changes all at once. Try just one thing and if you're satisfied that it works well, then make another change.

Here's the very basic recipe:

1 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons fat (any kind you prefer)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon or 1 package dry yeast
3 - 4 cups of flour

Mix sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Warm milk and fat until it's about the same temperature as hot tap water, add to the bowl and mix well. Let it set for a fee minutes for the yeast to become active. Add flour, a little at at time, stirring.

Keep adding flour until you have a dough that's too hard to stir. Turn it out onto a floured board or table top and knead flour into it until it's smooth and not sticky. Cover and let rise, then punch down and place in greased bread pans. Let rise a second time then bake at 400 about an hour. It will be done when the top, when tapped with your knuckles, sounds hollow.

Have fun!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How they get us

The first cake mixes were complete failures because they had all the ingredients in them. Housewives felt guilty using them, so they wouldn't buy them. When someone realized this, they made mixes that needed to have oil and eggs added - and their success was assured.

This is a good example of how marketing evolved over the years. They've come a long way since then - at our expense. Pun intended.

You can now buy cakes, pies and more ready for the table. All you have to do is thaw them out. My, how much we have learned.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Freebies and freebies

Frugal confession: Some time back, my daughter worked at a 7-11 store and when they cleared out some old merchandise, she brought home a very small clipboard type of thing that had edible sheets of "paper" (I know, it sounded weird to me, too). The paper was pretty useless, but I still use the little plastic clipboard and fill it with free note size paper from junk mail.

I tear the paper into eighths and it fits perfectly.

Yep... that's my stubby little pencil, about 5 inches long now. :)

Blame the article about junk mail on Dollar Stretcher for this post.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cooling down

It seems like the thermometer got stuck. It was on 70 when I looked at it not long after I got up this morning; it's still on 70 nearly 4 hours later.

A little cool rain; a little mist... after all the heat, this seems like heaven. It sure has me looking forward to cooler days ahead, and that has me thinking of warm clothes and bedding. I've been working off and on (more off than on) through the summer, on widening a knitted blanket that I made last year. It's wide enough to keep me warm, but it would look nicer if it were wider.

Isn't that silly? It's a blanket, for heaven's sake. It's going to be under the bedspread where no one will see it! But I can make it nicer and I'm going to, just for me.

There are other things no one sees but me, and I don't care about those things... but this blanket is mine through the virtue of many hours spent creating it. There's just something about creating an item that makes "ownership" take on a whole new meaning. It's a peculiar kinship with the created thing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bounty from a little garden

"Almost" in one day... the two small raised beds and a 4 X 4 corner of the yard is yielding well this year - better than last year, when it was all new.

Plums, chocolate mint, tomatoes, dill seed, green beans and squash (I cheated; the big zucchini isn't mine, but I couldn't resist because it fit so well - the acorn squash is mine, though) are coming on now. There is still a bit of lettuce besides green peppers, garlic, chives, one onion and a few potatoes.

Oh, and a couple of enormous radishes that won't go to seed. Same kind as last year... I'll get a picture of them this year.

The beans were from an old package that didn't look fresh enough to eat. They grew well, though. The squash was a "2 for 1" deal I got at the nursery late in the season. Potatoes were from the potato bag this spring. Lettuce was old seed from last year as were the radishes. I bought the tomato plants at full price when they were about 4 inches tall. The chocolate mint escaped from a pot last year and settled in comfortably this year. Garlic is from a forgotten bulb I dug out of the pantry when I cleaned it this spring. The onion is one of a bunch of green onions I couldn't eat fast enough.

A pretty frugal garden, if I do say so myself. :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Extremely Frugal #3

Here are a few more frugal tips I came across that some find "extreme."

Don't throw away a plastic coated table cloth. Although it may not be good enough for your table, you can still use it for picnics, or drop cloths when painting, or cut it up and make place mats from it. Make bowl toppers by sewing a length of elastic around circles of various sizes cut from it and you have frugal, reusable covers for bowls or plates.

Rather than buying cheesecloth to tie spices in when cooking stews or other dishes, use a teaball. Even if you have to buy one, you'll save the cost many times over, since it should last you a lifetime.

When coating chicken or other meat to fry or bake, an old trick is to put the pieces in a paper sack along with the coating mix and shake. However, a vigorous shaking can rip the bottom out of today's wimpy paper sacks. For a frugal substitute, use an empty (washed or not) chip bag. They're much sturdier, and when you're through, you can roll it tightly closed and tape or tie and freeze the remainder for the next time.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Bloggers do the darnedst things

And this is one of them:

Over at Ashwin’s blog, you will find one crazy blog owner!! You can win $2500!! To enter just copy this text and paste it in your blog!! But hurry, this competition will not last long! So get posting!

I just pasted that from his blog. If you've got a blog, why not get in on it? If you don't, you can wish me luck. ;)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Frugal Thoughts About Dish Soap

Do you buy generic or thicker name brand dish detergent? Which really is cheaper? It's a serious quandary for a frugal soul!

I decided to sacrifice a few dollars and get one two-dollar bottle of name brand and one one-dollar bottle of generic dish soap to experiment with. My conclusions may not be absolutely right, because part of it depends on how hard your water is, how greasy your dishes are, how fast you wash them and hot the water is.

Washing dishes quickly in the hottest water you can stand will complement the qualities of any dish soap, but if you have very hard water, you're going to use more - there's no way out of it. Unless you soften the water with a little baking soda. A half teaspoon per dish pan or sink should be enough.

Rule of thumb: If the generic is less than half the price of brand name thicker dish soap, the generic is cheaper, even though it will take twice as much to do the job. If the generic costs more than half the price of brand name, the brand name is cheaper. If the generic is exactly half the cost of the brand name, take your pick; they'll both cost the same in the long run.

That's IF you discipline yourself to use half as much of the thicker liquid. A simple way to do this is to pour half of it into another container, then mix each half with the same volume of water - in effect, creating your own, cheap, generic version.

So... that was my frugal piddling around for the weekend. How'd yours go?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Solar Powered Clothes Dryer

If you'd like to help save the environment and save money for yourself, this technology should interest you. It's a new/old idea that if no other state than California of the continental US would embrace, would save so much in electricity that we could shut down part of our nuclear and coal fired power plants.

Not only will this solar powered clothes dryer help clear the air from the pollutants of those power plants, it kills germs on your clothing and linens as it works, providing a far healthier method of drying them than traditional clothes dryers.

It's even been said that in places where this solar power technology is used, the common cold and influenza are experienced at a low level, depression is lifted, and it helps with weight loss and general physical fitness.

That's a tall order, but studies have shown that these claims are true.

What's even better news is that a clothes dryer that does all of this, has a price range that's within the reach of at least 90% of Americans. As a matter of fact, it costs less than traditional dryers and lasts longer, with only a few inexpensive parts that may need to be replaced over time.

Are you excited yet? Solar powered clothes dryers should be approved by environmentalists soon, now. Hopefully, they'll help to sway local governments and housing associations to change laws to allow more solar powered technology.

Until then, just be frugal and use your clothesline anyway.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

It's Raining!

Ok, so that may not be so thrilling to everyone, but it is to me. I love rain and we haven't had much of it here lately. Rain and snow are known as the "poor man's fertilizer" and it really is.

Gardens and lawns don't do well without a rain now and then, no matter how much treated water you pour on them. Tap water has chlorine in it, which isn't good for plants, so they don't grow as well as they do when they get rain water.

Besides that, it's cheaper.

How's that for a frugal take? ;)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a cheap fix for a lot of things. Here are some of the most frugal uses of it, from tips readers sent in:

Carpet deodorizer - sprinkle on carpet, and leave overnight, then vacuum in the morning. Offending odors will be gone.

Put a generous amount of baking soda in a dish. After using steel
wool, wring out, and store it in the dish of baking soda. Cuts down
on rust, and is ready to scour away!

This reader says: I add a little baking soda to my facial cleanser instead of using facial scrubs. The little grains are round and tiny, so are very gentle. It's wonderful!

Add 1 T. of baking soda to 1 gal. of homemade organic rose/garden spray. Works
as an excellent fungicide. (Works on lawns, too.)

Make a box of baking soda do double duty by using it first to deodorize the refrigerator, under sink or wherever you need it, then use it to clean and polish with.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Way Things Really Are

I drive an old car. Is that a surprise? :) It's 11 years old, with almost 83,000 miles on it. Not bad, considering that I bought it 7 years ago and it had 62,000 on it then. I don't drive much, but I do need a car, so this is the perfect answer. Occasionally, I'll get the New Car Envy, but that's a different post.

Anyway, I had some work done to the car this week, and since it was going to be an almost all day job and I couldn't get a ride otherwise, the owner of the garage gave me a ride home.

It was an interesting conversation when he started out with the comment that people complained about $3 a gallon for gas on their way to a $7 cup of coffee! Yeah... kind of silly, isn't it? Smart mechanic.

My thought: When people stop silly overspending, that's when we'll know that gas prices are really starting to hurt.

We get so used to the "way things are" that sometimes we don't see things the way they really are.

Plums, sugar beets and other good things

A good year for plums! This is the first year my little plum tree has really borne a lot of fruit but I think it's making up for lost time. I'm so looking forward to making plum butter!

As a matter of fact, I'm looking forward to all sorts of autumn things. Winter squash, cool nights, school buses, farm trucks wallowing along under their loads of onions and carrots and the first sugar beets.

I made sugar beet molasses one year that was fun. I wouldn't do it now with nothing but an electric stove, but at the time I used a wood burning stove so it didn't cost much at all to keep it going for hours. To do it right, you need a fire outdoors. (In case you want to know, just chunk up the sugar beet after a good scrub and cook it in water until it becomes soft, then remove it and continue cooking the liquid until it thickens. Chickens and pigs love the cooked beets.)

One thing I discovered was that grated and dried sugar beet tastes just like dry coconut - the kind you buy in plastic bags.

But back to the plums... aren't they pretty, hanging there? Every time it clouds up I pray we don't have hail!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Internet Connection Troubles

Do you have any experience with ISPs, cable, wireless? Terre Parker, over at the Frugal, Single Mom blog has computer troubles! Or rather, internet troubles.

If you think you can help (or just want to be sympathetic) the blog post is Frugal home computing As you can see, it needs to be a frugal fix.

I remember when we first got cable internet. We'd been using dial-up for years (since that's the only thing that's available in the country) so the change was mind-blowing. Downloads seemed to be at lightning speed and I could travel all over the internet, two, three or more pages at a time without timing out.

Technology is a wonderful thing... until it doesn't work the way we need it to.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Extremely Frugal, #2

Here are some interesting tips from my "Extremely Frugal" list.

  • You won't have to make crumbs for toppings and fillings if you save the bread crumbs from the bottom of the bread bag. Empty the bag onto a clean counter, and put the crumbs into a freezer container. It won't take long to have enough to top a casserole or use in a meat loaf or dressing. Cracker crumbs take longer to accumulate this way, but why throw them out?
  • Instead of buying plastic wrap or bowl covers to keep food fresh in the refrigerator, split a bread sack down one seam, leaving the bottom intact. This will slip over most bowls and pans, even glass cake pans. Twist the other end and slip it under the bowl or pan to keep it closed.
  • Water in which you've cooked potatoes can be used in place of milk in many recipes, especially breads and white gravies. Be sure to drain it from the potatoes before you add margarine or salt, though. My advice: Don't keep it in the refrigerator for over a week before using for either one.
  • When you use cornmeal or flour mixtures to coat fish, chicken or vegetables, instead of throwing it out when you're through, put it in the freezer, labelled plainly, and use it again the next time. It will stay fresh, and any small pieces of food left in it won't spoil, being frozen. Just be sure to use it for the same thing each time.
  • 'Soup bones' that you find at the grocer any more don't have much food value at all, but you can boil them and crack them to get the marrow, if you can find them cheaply enough. Mix the marrow into the boiling liquid and use this a base for soups. If you add barley or wheat to your soup along with the marrow, it will taste like a meat stew.

What do you think? Are they too extreme?

Monday, July 23, 2007


Ok, so it doesn't take much to thrill me. I went to the Goodwill store the other day and found a rubber spatula, the old fashioned kind, made of real rubber, not plastic. It was only 79 cents, too. Then I found a really cute little teakettle. It holds about 3 cups and fits perfectly on one of the small burners on the stove. That means that it doesn't waste energy while heating up.

Super finds, huh? :)

I know... some people (maybe even you) wonder how in the world I can crow about something like that. Well, pennies being pennies, I saved a few. Why not? A few pennies can turn into a few nickels, then a few dimes, then a few quarters and a few dollars and so it goes.

My pennies (and by default, my dollars) are put into a savings account with a good rate of interest (INGDirect.com) and there they stay, ready for me to do whatever I want with them. They add up faster than you'd think.

The next time you save a penny, don't just drop it back in your pocket. Put it somewhere so it can grow and you'll be surprised at what happens.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I couldn't have said it better myself...

Fun with frugality is anything but frivolous fun. It's a serious look at what consumerism is doing to our world.

Or at what we're doing to it, rather, and why? The question needs an answer.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Raised Bed Gardens

The circled plant in the foreground is a green onion from a bunch I bought at the grocery store. I planted it because I couldn't eat all of them before they went bad. The rest of the first row is beans, with a few lentils planted at the end. Both beans and lentils came from grocery store packages.

In the back bed are a couple of tomato plants (bought; sorry), a small stand of lettuce and one lonely pepper plant. That's a volunteer amaranth circled - one my daughter planted a few years back called "Dragon's Tears." I suppose you could eat the seeds as well as the leaves on this variety, but I haven't tried it.

At the end, spilling onto the walkway, is a patch of purslane, which is a very good wild vegetable. There's some of it in the beans, too. I let it grow, they do well together.

You see clearly that my garden and yard are not the perfectly trimmed kind that looks like everyone else's. ;)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rice Milk, the Frugal Way

Have you ever priced rice milk? Bought it, even? The price is ridiculous! You can make rice milk for much, much less and it's not even hard to do. Here's how:

1/2 cup of rice, white or brown
8 cups of water
Flavoring to taste. (Vanilla is good, or try almond.)

All you do is cook the living daylights out of the rice, then puree it along with the water it was cooked in, add flavorings and that's it. Really, that's all there is to it.

Don't boil it hard because the water will boil away. Simmer it with a lid on (it takes two to three hours) or cook it overnight in your crockpot, which is cheaper and easier. Keep it refrigerated just like you'd do with the expensive kind.

You can use rice milk in place of cow's milk in most recipes if you use a minimum of sweetener. I use about 4 tablespoons of white sugar for 8 cups of milk, but try brown sugar, honey, molasses or stevia. You might like those better.

If a recipe calls specifically for whole milk, add a teaspoon of butter per quart of rice milk. That's a quarter teaspoon per cup.

Easy enough?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Someone told me about Berate My Blog, a blog that does reviews of other blogs, so I went to look. Being duly impressed, I asked them to review this blog, which they graciously did.

Read the review and let me know what you think. I don't want to rename the blog because I don't know how to keep from losing the content that's here now, but I might look into it.

On another note, I had to do some grocery shopping over the weekend and had sticker shock all over again. It doesn't make sense. The price of gas is high, yes. We've had some weather problems, yes. I know that it costs more to truck food when fuel prices are high, but that much more?? It's summertime, for heaven's sake. We always have weather that affects crops.

I have a suspicion that someone, somewhere, has taken this opportunity to line their pockets at our expense (pun intended).

The only way to fight back is to clamp down even more on spending money. Oh, they say... that's hard on the economy. Like the economy isn't hard on us? And if by our spending we could keep the econony going strong, we'd have the strongest economy in the world. Stroll through a mall any Saturday afternoon and you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Semi Retired? I'm working on it

Semi-retired?? Ha. I just can't quit, it seems. I keep getting up and walking away from the computer, then I come right back. Surely I can do this... later.

New content on Associated Content: Used Coffee Grounds - This is a rewrite, update, retake on a popular topic from "back when." Don't throw out your used coffee grounds!

Another one: Frugal Summer Food - Have Your Summer Cookouts and Save Money - Three "recipes" that can make your cookout memorable for very little money. (More on AC here.)

Coming up soon on Country Life is a piece about buying and growing watermelon - my favorite summertime treat. (Growing them in Colorado is a challenge!)

And then there's the Community at Dollar Stretcher - yep, that keeps me busy, but it's all good.

If I go into full retirement, maybe I'll have time to write a book...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cooking during hot weather

I don't like hot weather. but I probably don't need to say that again! One of the reasons (of many) is that cooking heats up the kitchen so that we need to limit the time spent with the stove on in any way we can.

Gas stoves are better for summer cooking because they stop producing heat as soon as the flame is turned off. Electric stoves, by contrast, retain heat for long moments after being turned off. If you have an electric stove, you probably won't want to replace it with gas just for that reason!

Here are some tips on how to reduce the excess heat when you cook.

1. Use thinner pots and pans. Heavy cast iron or club aluminum hold heat much longer than thin stainless steel or enamel pans. That's a good thing when you're trying to save electricity in the winter because you can turn the stove off and food will continue to cook for a time, but in the summer, having a hot pan on the stove, radiating heat is the last thing you need.

You'll have to watch and stir a thin walled pan a lot more than a heavy one, but it won't retain the heat to heat up the air around it.

2. Make food that cooks faster. For instance, if you like chicken breasts, cut them into smaller pieces and stir fry. Stir fried foods developed because of a shortage of fuel. Use a thin skillet over medium high heat and cook smaller pieces of any kind of meat or vegetable this way. A small amount of oil in the pan will keep it from sticking.

3. Make full use of alternative ways to get food done. Use the outdoor grill or solar cooker whenever you can. If you can only get food partially done, then finish it (or start it) on the stove, you're ahead of the game.

When you use your stove as usual during hot weather, you're costing yourself in more ways than one. First, the obvious: cost of gas or electricity. Next, you're probably paying for the electricity to cool the air you just paid to heat.

That doesn't make much frugal sense, does it? :)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Save the Internet

This may not be a good place to take a political stand, but then again, maybe it is. From the Save the Internet web site:

"The nation's largest telephone and cable companies — including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner — want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all.

They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors."

Isn't this taking things a little too far? What happened to free enterprise? Worse, what happens to freedom for you and me?

Save the Internet: Click here

Does this have anything to do with being frugal? You bet it does. If the free flow of information is stopped or slowed to a crawl, there won't be any small frugal web sites or communities or blogs... but wait. We have some pretty powerful allies. I can't see Google or Yahoo standing for it. Why should they have to pay fees to do the same thing they're doing now? Is this for real? Can it really happen or even be vaguely possible?

I don't know. All I know is that if something like this does occur, the internet and the world will be a much poorer place. I will be shocked if it does, but I've been shocked by this world before.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Did you ever grow radishes that turned woody before you could eat them? Or that didn't form good roots and went to waste? Growing radishes in hot weather is taking a chance that they won't be edible at all. Without enough water, they become hot and tough.

Even then, they're salvageable, so don't throw them on the compost heap or the trash. Scrub the woody roots, cut the larger ones in two and cook them gently for a few minutes. They taste like... well, like a very mild radish. If you boil them for a minute and freeze them for later, they make great additions to stews and soups. If you have a lot of them, just serve them as a vegetable side dish with a little salt if you like. You might enjoy them with butter and salt, mashed like potatoes.

Radish tops can be cooked like any other "green." Wash thoroughly, chop and cook in enough water to barely cover until they're tender. They cook down like spinach or turnip greens, so it takes a lot, but you can do them in small batches and freeze them to include in other greens.

Radish tops can be eaten raw but they have a funky texture. If you want to serve them in salad, chop them fine and the texture isn't noticeable. They add a little tang to the salad.

Did they go to see while you weren't looking? Great! Use the seeds in salads or breads, or, if the seed pods are still green, eat them just like they are. Seed pods make a good addition to salad, too.

Now... guess whose little radish plot went wild?

Expensive water

This time of year, finding ways to save on the water bill seems to take priority, but water is still cheap - at least when you get it from the tap. When you buy it in spray bottles or plastic jugs mixed with other ingredients, it can be very expensive.

(Ok, I can hear you thinking out there. I haven't flipped my lid. Not yet, anyway.)

Here's the deal:

Instead of buying water that way, get it from the tap, then mix your own ingredients to create your own product. It's a lot cheaper.

Do it this way:

Put about a quarter cup of sudsing ammonia in a spray or squirt bottle. Empty dish soap bottles are perfect for this. Use scented ammonia to make the smell more pleasant.

Add a teaspoon of good liquid dish soap.

Add a cup and a half of (cheap) water.

Stir with a long handled spoon or a butter knife. (Don't shake to mix because this is a high sudsing product.)

Use it to clean the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, the bathtub, woodwork, floors, walls, outdoor furniture, whitewall tires, toys and whatever else needs cleaning. It even works as a spot cleaner for carpeting or upholstery.

See? No more expensive water in spray bottles.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Skills we may need

A very long thread on the Dollar Stretcher Community brought out the fact that so many don't feel the need to learn skills that will stand them in good stead, should we, individually or collectively, face a severe economic downturn.

Not everyone thinks that anything like that is in our future so it isn't suprising that they don't think it's important to be prepared, but life changes for us all and it's not always for the better. Those who have only known a time of prosperity are at a disadvantage compared to those who have lived through personal or general bad times... but there I go, opinionizing again.

Some of the skills I can think of that can help ease a bad situtation:

  • Know what weeds and flowers are edible for your area.
  • Know what plants in your area can be used medicinally and/or have a well stocked medicine cabinet.
  • Be able to wash and dry clothes without electricity.
  • Know how or have the means to purify water.
  • Have some basic skills in cooking without a gas or electric stove.
  • Know how to make things like soap, candles and blankets/quilts without having to buy anything for them.
  • Have some sewing and mending skills.
  • Own nonelectric appliances and tools.

There are more, but that's something to start with.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

I mistakenly held the Shift key when I typed in "4th" so it looked like "$th". Something about that... anyway, I hope you don't overspend and you don't get sunburned and you don't wear yourself out so it's hard to finish the rest of the week, but I DO hope you have a great 4th of July. (That day is also known as Independence Day, for those of you who are not from the USA.)

If you haven't yet, stock up on hotdogs and ground beef and BBQ sauce and picnic supplies. They're traditionally on sale right about now. Both hotdogs and ground beef keep well in the freezer, so take full advantage of those sales.

Have some free fun, too! July 4th can be a frugalista's heaven. This day offers free parades, free fireworks, cheap meals and lots of outdoor activity.

It can be costly if you opt for the carnival which many cities have this time of year. Take only what money you can afford to do without, because the chances are that you'll come out with nothing left. Eat before you go, drink lots of water so those expensive soft drinks don't appeal right away.

You don't need to spend a lot of money to have a lot of fun.

In all that fun, don't forget what the day is all about. This is still a great country, regardless of our problems and fears. There isn't a nation in the world like it. Celebrate that.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Water, water, everywhere...

As a reader commented, I've been pretty slack about posting here lately! I apologize and promise to do better.

To start off my new promise, here's my weekend story, but a rather unfrugal one.

My sprinkler system sprung a leak sometime last week and I couldn't get anyone to turn off the water. (I tried, but couldn't reach it.) I'm estimating the water ran full force for about three days. I'm not looking forward to paying the water bill.

I had a man lined up to come on Saturday to dig it out and make the repair, but he wound up in jail (long story), so my brother in law and nephew came and did it for me.

Not a good weekend. So, I've been thinking of even more ways to save water and try to make up a little for the waste. Here's what I've come up with so far.

1. Even shorter showers!
2. Handwater the garden and skip the lawn at least once a week. (We have to water three times a week here.)
3. Be more consistent about saving rain water to use on the garden or anywhere I can use it.
4. When I'm cooking, I'm using a small bowl of water to rinse off my hands instead of turning on the water every time. I put a dipper in the water to use instead, so it won't get murky.
5. I'm a lot more conscientious about not leaving the water running while I brush my teeth, scrub my hands, etc.

I think that just being more aware of the cost of water is helping me to find ways to save it. I already do quite a few things to save water (How to Save Water), but if you can think up something more, let me know!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Simplest Way to Save

I keep getting asked, over and over, what is the single best frugal tactic. Considering so many different lifestyles and needs, there are countless ways to save money and one of them may be the best for you while it won't work at all for someone else.

BUT... since when did I let impossibilities stop me?

Here's what I think is the absolute best tactic ever: Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Don't go shopping. Don't go anywhere. Don't turn on the TV or snack or do anything to run up your water bill.

In other words, don't consume anything.

I don't mean that you should sit staring out into space with an empty tummy and an empty head. Have a meal, but make it simple and inexpensive. Borrow a book from the library and read. Go outside and watch the birds, the traffic... watch the grass grow. Just don't consume anything that costs money.

Try it. You might actually like it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Home made ice cream

With an old fashioned hand cranked ice cream freezer, my uncles would sit beneath a shade tree on old stumps and on the ground and pass it around, taking their turn in cranking. Salty water would begin to drain from the ice cream freezer and the handle would turn slower and slower until at last it stopped.

Grandma would bring out the bowls and spoons and a big spoon the likes of which I have never seen since.

My mouth waters in anticipation just thinking about it!

I don't know what memories, if any, home made ice cream will bring to you, but if you'd like to make your own, you can use about anything for an ice cream freezer that will fit into about anything else!

The container, into which you will put your ice cream recipe, must be completely sealable. Metal is best, but glass will work, too. Plastic does NOT work, as it doesn't conduct the cold very well.

A small coffee can with plastic lid works well for this, but you'll need to tape or tie the lid down. Place it in a larger coffee can, (or something similar) and put in enough ice, alternating with layers of rock salt two or three times, to completely fill the cavity between the two cans.

Seal the larger can well, then go play 'kick the can' with it, or roll it back and forth between kids, or just hold and jiggle it like you would to hand churn butter for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

To check for 'doneness', you can take off the lid and stir. If its not solid enough, drain the water caused by melting ice, repack and shake or roll again.

Recipes for homemade ice cream vary from the super smooth, egg-and-cream-rich ices of the old south to the plain milk and sugar kind. The plain kind is safer unless you have access to real fresh eggs.

Plain Ice Cream

* 2 c whole milk (add cream or powdered milk to 2% or skim milk)
* 1/2 c sugar
* 1 tsp vanilla
* Flavoring, such as chocolate or fruit syrups, or powdered drink mix.
* 3lb coffee can with plastic lid, or something similar
* 1lb coffee can with plastic lid, or something similar
* 3/4 c rock, pickling or plain salt (larger crystals last longer)
* crushed ice

Mix everything but the salt and ice, and stir well. Follow the instructions above for making ice cream in a home made ice cream maker, or follow instructions for your own ice cream maker. Makes 3 to 4 generous servings.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pay the money first instead of last

Do you charge major purchases without thinking much about it? As in, "If I don't get it on credit, I'll never get it"?

Let's think about that for a moment. Where's the money coming from to pay back the loan? Out of your pocket, right? So, if you can pay for it, you can pay for it.

The key is paying for the item first instead of last.

When you make payments to your savings account in anticipation of buying something you want or need, the interest involved is yours, but when you make payments to a loan or credit card company, the interest involved is theirs.

Pay the money first - before you get the item, instead of last, after you've got the item, and the interest you save is your own.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


A thread on the Dollar Stretcher Community joggled some memories! It seems that we go through this every so often. "This" meaning the downsizing of products, effectively upsizing the cost, and doing it in such a way as to make it as unnoticeable as possible.

Anyway, I wrote about this the last time we went through it, so I'm going to republish part of it here:

Doing a little "in between" shopping, I looked for the generic bleach - the one I always buy for 89 cents a gallon.

The jug looked a little... short. Then I noticed that it was three quarts, not the four quarts of a full gallon. And it was a penny more. It doesn't take high mathematics to figure that at ninety cents for three quarts, it would cost a dollar and twenty cents for the same gallon I last bought for eighty nine cents. A thirty one cent raise in cost.

I suppose we're not supposed to notice that we're spending more money for less product. At least there wasn't any "New and Improved!" stuff splashed all over the place on this one (unlike the name brand of the same size), which really makes me think they were just trying to slip one by without our noticing!

Have you ever heard the phrase "It'll nickel and dime you to death"? A few nickels and dimes poorer won't hurt most of us now and then, but if it's a dime here, a dime there, a nickel here... thirty one cents there, the money adds up quickly.

It may not seem like such a big deal, but it's like a water pipe with a pinhole leak that doesn't seem critical until damage is done.

Remember when they started making smaller candy bars for the same price? The 12 ounce can of coffee? The four pound bag of sugar? Downsized products, all, and for the full price of the old, full size.

Sure, you could say it's inflation and everything has to rise in cost, but this is sneaky marketing. They're sure not shouting that there is less product in their containers - especially not for more money!

I posted some ideas to the Community that might help keep you from paying these "new and improved" prices for awhile longer. If you have more ideas, we'd love to hear them. Consumers, unite! :)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Woo-hoo! Another believer

I don't get around the blog community as often as I'd like, so I didn't get to this one when it was written a few weeks ago: Second-hand suits me by Greg Karp, who writes the "Spending Smart" column for The Morning Call, a Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Yes, he writes a money column and no, he'd never bought clothes at a thrift store before. I don't know exactly what challenged him, but he bought a suit of clothes and wore them to tape segments for TV. He said he was surprised at the good deal he got.

Hmm... have we been talking to ourselves all this time? Greg, if you read this, listen up. I have a lot more good advice for you! :)

But I'm kidding. Greg has a good handle on things, money-wise. A guy who is humble enough to confess he's still learning (just like we all are) is OK. And he's worth reading, too.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Second hand treasures

It's hard to believe that it's this late in the year already. I suspect I've said that about as many times as I've heard it, but it's still true!

It's going to be the winter holiday season before we know it, with gift shopping or making, decorating and entertaining and trying to stay organized. It may be hard to really get enthused about Christmas or other cold weather events when the sun's beating down so hot, but if you're frugal and smart, right now's the best time to make up a gift list and start looking, if you haven't already.

There are sales year 'round, but I hardly pay attention to them unless I'm looking for something in particular. Where I look (now, don't turn up your nose) is at garage sales and thrift stores.

Why? Well, I'm not THAT cheap that I give everyone used stuff... but I'm not so stupid as to pay premium prices for collectibles, antiques and special interest things.

Need an example? A vinyl record album in great condition by Elvis Presley singing hymns. Thrift store price? $2.00 Of course it's used; but it's a collector's item. I have a friend who is one of those Elvis fans who thinks he never died. She'll appreciate the hymns and yes, she does have a turntable. How's that for perfect?

I'm not saying you'll find a treasure just like that, but I've seen decorative items still in the box, collector's mugs (fill them with candy, tea, etc.), odds and ends like silk thread on a wooden spool (thread comes on plastic spools now), very old embroidery scissors, silver teapots and chafing dishes, unopened craft kits...

When you start thinking "Christmas in July" (it's coming right up!), think unique and very special gifts at a very special price. It's fun, too!