Friday, 29 January 2016

How We Saved Money Jan 24-30, 2016

As I mentioned, we tried to keep our 6 year old's birthday party reasonable in both expectation and cost. Yes, we are tightening up our budget around here, but I'm also conscious of setting an expectation in my children's minds. When everything you do is lavish and on a grand scale, it gets hard to have ordinary days of work and play. It is my goal to teach my kids to enjoy work and to recognise a feeling of accomplishment when something is followed through from beginning to end. When you live a simple life, do a day's work and go to bed tired, it is easier to appreciate time spent with friends in genuine conversation, a warm fire, a homemade meal. I am not interested in competing with other people's lifestyles, although I respect their right to live as they choose. I am also not interested in trying to outdo last year's costly and elaborate birthday party with something even more costly and elaborate this year. I'm pleased to report that the other moms felt the same and I sensed a sigh of relief when I pulled out cookies as parting gifts and said "I don't expect my kids to bring home a toy from a birthday party"! I know that making all the food and cake myself saved us money, but compared to last year when each child got to take home the superhero plate he or she ate off, I'd say sending home cookies saved me about $25.

I called our cell phone provider to try to downgrade my cell plan. Although our combined plan is cheaper than Husband's individual plan was when we met (for real!) I don't feel that I use my phone enough for it to cost me $65/month. Truthfully, I should go "pay-as-you-go" because I dread talking on the phone. However, I text like a bandit and sometimes our internet phone doesn't work very well, and those seem to be the days I need to use the phone. So after half an hour on the phone with them, I decided that when my contract is up I will have to shop around for another provider with cheaper plans. This of course got me patched through to a supervisor, who after another 30 minutes and the same declaration was finally able to come up with a plan that is $50/month. I will now have 1 gig of data instead of 5 (my usage was never over 1 gig anyways). I think for a $15 savings I can stay off the internet when I'm out and just use wifi at home. If I need something googled I will just have to (gasp!) ask a stranger. So downgrading my plan, combined with cancelling the insurance on the phone, saves me $21/month.

I also cancelled the package policy on an older truck that Husband will no longer be using for work. It would have been easy to forget, but the extra coverage is not necessary and costs $544/year. So cancelling it saves us $45/month. The truck still has insurance, mind you, just not the lowered deductible and special coverage that it used to.

I have not gone to town for groceries. That saves me $10 in gas for the week. I want to make it until February 1 before I get groceries again and I have meals planned so that I can do just that. I've been baking bread and cookies and only just ran out of butter. My mom had a pound I could have until Monday when I get groceries, and she also found cauliflower for $4 and it was a HUGE head that she shared with me. We always share food back and forth so when I find something that is a good deal I will return the favour.

All in all, I spent $101 less this week than I might have, but more importantly I eliminated $46 $66 (don't ask. I am soooo mathematically challenged!) from our monthly bills. That's a savings of $552 $792 in a year. A good chunk out of an extra mortgage payment, or a really good addition to an emergency fund. Or almost a month worth of groceries. It feels good to reduce our spending, and I have only just begun!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Thrifty Thursday: Practice Your Hobbies for Less

It's been awhile since I've written a "Thrifty Thursday" post. I like to post some frugal ideas when I think of them in hopes that they inspire others who are possibly trying to save or reduce spending.

I think it's fair to say that modern day society is geared towards spending money in free time. Never mind family vacations that might be saved for and occur annually, how much money do we spend simply because we have the time and feel "bored"? Shopping as a pastime is driving household debt through the roof, not to mention creating homes overflowing with clothes and "stuff" and a society that is stressed out and working ever-harder to pay for a lifestyle that brings them little joy.

I think that hobbies and non-work related interests are what truly enrich our lives and bring a gratification well worth the cost in time and effort. Some hobbies can be costly, true, so I wanted to examine how a person can learn and practice a hobby/skill without it becoming a financial burden.

  • I had my first garden while I was pregnant with my first child. I removed myself from Facebook the following year, feeling that it wasted my time and prevented me from learning more about the things I was interested in. Instead of spending my time creeping on FB I began reading gardening blogs and books about landscaping and permaculture. Fast forward to building our acreage and doing our own landscaping. I derive such joy from my yard, visiting nurseries, buying flowers. This year I want to focus on reducing the cost of this hobby. I plan to:
    • tour my neighbours yards rather than cruising nurseries for plants. My yard is filling in now and there will only be a few specific things I add. Rather than tempting myself with the possibility of spending more on plants I think I'll get my fix of beautiful flowers by visiting the talented gardeners nearby.
    • Offer to plant swap by dividing perennials and trading with friends and neighbours. This way I will achieve variety without the added cost
    • Experiment with more plants from seed. I don't have terribly good luck starting things from seed, but I figure with more practice my odds will improve.
    • Trade fellow gardeners for their excess produce. Perhaps someone will have pumpkins they would like to trade for potatoes or beets. Even if I'm not able to grow everything under the sun, asking around might develop a bartering relationship that benefits everyone

  • It's no secret that I love fabric. LOVE. FABRIC. There's been a moratorium declared on buying more, however. This year I plan to make scrappy quilts using flannel sheets as batting and thrifted sheets as backing. What was becoming an expensive hobby (considering I like to give away what I make) can still be practiced using what I have and what I can find at thrift stores. I've already gone through my mom's stash and my own and started a lovely morning star scrappy quilt. I still get to practice one of my favorite pastimes but without the guilt of spending too much!
  • Husband likes to take the kids to the movie theatre for a movie once in awhile. It just really costs too much, though. I think the last time it was $60 for the three of them including drinks and snacks. We can borrow movies from the library or find something on Netflix for free or next to nothing. Throw in a homemade pizza and stove-top popcorn and you've got a special family night at no extra cost. Better yet, skip the movie and play board games and really interact as a family.
  • Try to take your hobby to the next level. We have some sheep now and in the spring they will need sheared. I've volunteered to help the neighbours with their shearing day so I can learn how and shear my own. Who knows, but this little venture might end up actually earning us some money if we can eventually shear for others. Aside from that, I have big plans to learn to spin wool and hope to work off the cost of lessons rather than having to pay cash. 

  • Get to know the hobbies available near you. I enjoy doing pottery and would one day like to take another class. It's rather costly, though, at $220 for six evening classes. I know of a couple local potters who might be interested in giving pointers and allowing me to use their pottery wheels. Perhaps and arrangement could be made to trade/barter for lessons. 
  • Make a plan and make it happen. For a couple years I've been talking about building an outdoor pizza oven in our yard. I'd like to find salvaged bricks and build it myself but usually get too busy to really look for what I need. Although there would be some cost to the project, dedicating the time to finding used (cheaper) materials would be a challenge and something to do in my free time. Although, looking back on the list there is probably not going to be much of that!
Having a hobby is a great stress-reliever and enriches our lives. Some things we have decided to try as a family are: rather than going to a movie, go fishing at the river or for a picnic at the park or go riding bikes. Rather than take the kids to the fair (very costly) we could visit the museum or art gallery (much cheaper) and do some follow up activities to learn more about what we see. This summer I want my boys to play on the informal--and free--local ball team. There are many hobbies to be had that do not need to cost much money if you are creative. Have you got any low-cost, high entertainment hobbies that you could add to the list?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Sweet Annie's Chocolate Cake

We recently celebrated my 6 year old's birthday with a sliding party with his little chums from school (plus siblings). My decision to give each family cookies instead of loot bags was a great hit, by the way :) We also did "Happy Face Pizza" where each child got to decorate their own personal pizza with peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni etc to look like a face. That part was a little hectic with 9 little excited bodies in my kitchen clamoring to have their turn. But I survived and a good time was had by all :)

I made a chocolate birthday cake with chocolate icing and served it with ice cream to the kids and parents for dessert. The recipe is special to me for a couple of reasons and it's such a good cake I wanted to share it here. When we first moved into this house a friend kindly brought us the most fabulous chocolate cake to thank us for food we had taken her when she had a baby. No such thank you was necessary but boy did we enjoy the cake! I told O, then about 20 months old or so, to say thanks for the cake, and he waved and said "Fank you cupcake!".

When I told my friend how much we loved the cake she told me the recipe belonged to our mutual friend's mom, Ann. Unfortunately, Ann passed away last spring. She is sadly missed by many, many people. I thought of her all day as I prepared the cake and shed a tear or two thinking how unfair it is that she is gone. Ann had a wonderful laugh and was always positive even though she was often in pain. I learned something from her whenever we were together. She showed me how to stitch in the ditch and how to prune an apple tree. She made wonderful bannock and apple pie and never had a bad thing to say about anybody. I could go on. Suffice it to say that she's the type of lady and mom that I aspire to be.

Making Ann's chocolate cake got me to thinking about how recipes are passed on, and how when we share our recipes we share a bit of ourselves. My granny's zucchini relish takes me back to being in college and her sending me to her basement to bring up jars of relish, jam, even canned potatoes. Her and grampa put up a bunch of extra food that year and had extra supplies because of Y2K. I have her old recipe books, many that are handwritten, and seeing her writing especially makes me feel closer to her now even though she is gone. I know these women would like the idea of people enjoying good food together and exchanging favorite memories and stories. It's what I'm doing now.

Sweet Annie's Chocolate Cake

 Preheat oven to 350F. In small bowl mix:

2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup oil
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

In large bowl mix:

2 2/3 cups flour
2/3 cups cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Boil 2 cups of water and, alternating with wet mixture, add to dry. Mix until smooth. Bake approximately 40 minutes in a greased 9"x 13" pan. Ice with ganache-type icing or buttercream.

I have other recipes from friends and relatives and relatives of friends. Our favorite salsa recipe came from my cousin's husband's gramma. Another of the significant moms in my life passed away last year. I have a few of her recipes and was very touched to have been given some of her excess canning jars. It is nice to think of the recipes we love being enjoyed in other homes and passed on. It's a wonderful way to honour the cooks in our lives and remember them as we prepare that special food. Do you have a favorite recipe that was given to you by someone special? 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

January's Grocery Spending

Although it is not yet the end of the month, I had the time this morning to study my receipts and analyze this month's grocery spending. I made up a spreadsheet so that I can track, month by month, the different categories in my grocery list. I broke it down into:

  • Pets/Feed: we have 4 sheep which receive a supplement, 2 cats and a dog who receive some leftovers but primarily purchased food, and 2 rabbits who, for the winter, eat pellets with a bit of hay and lettuce scraps as treats. The cats are good old fashioned barn cats and share a heated dog house with our dog, so I do not buy kitty litter. The bunnies are in cages in our car garage for the winter and I have plenty of straw that keeps them warm, at no cost to us. I'm still debating whether or not to include pet feed in my grocery total...for now I will leave it because I primarily buy the pet food (not sheep supplement) at the grocery store and because I had always intended my monthly groceries to be $600/month including pet food. Now that we are acquiring a menagerie of animals I may move this to its own section in our budget!
  • Cleaning/household: in this category I include things like light bulbs, toilet paper, napkins, cleaning products, dish soap, dishwasher soap, laundry
  •  Dry Goods: I don't have time (or specifically care) to break down the dry goods groceries into sub-sections. Canned goods, dry lentils/beans, flour, pasta, even items from the bakery fall into this category. More or less anything that isn't in a different heading is considered dry goods.
  • Meat: I didn't include canned meat (ie Tuna--called that a dry good) but did include processed packages of meat (ie pepperoni and sandwich meat). Frozen chicken and pork are our main meat aisle selections as we do usually have free beef from the farm.
  • Dairy: self explanatory, oui?
  • Produce: includes any frozen fruit and veg, and anything fresh from produce section
  • Health/Beauty: feminine products, shaving, Epsom salts, prescriptions, vitamins, band aids, that sort of thing
  • Ready-to-Serve: I added this section because it is interesting for me to know how much extra it is costing me to have the occasional frozen meal on hand. We don't often pick up ready-to-serve items but I do prefer it over take-out. I am giving it its own section because I want to know how much extra I am spending on convenience.
  • Take Out: I don't include this in my grocery spending but I plan to track it alongside my food budget, again, to see how much extra "convenience" is costing

I found this exercise to be very illuminating and I think I can keep up with it especially if I enter each receipt as the month goes on. There were a number of factors that will throw off the results somewhat, but I am more interested in a general overview of our spending so that I can "trim the fat". For instance, 2 receipts were unaccounted for, for a total of about $70 (I'm going to go ahead and blame Husband for that LOL) so I can't say exactly how much was spent in each category. The point is, this gave me a good indication where the money is going and also some ideas to reduce costs. I should note that we stocked up on pet food in December so I have only bought rabbit pellets and dry cat food in January. My monthly total was $22.96 but I didn't need dog food yet. Again, as I track this monthly I can get a better idea what it works out to/month. We have also been using stockpiled flour, coffee, cooking oil and soup. Soon it will be time to replenish those stores but their costs are not reflected in this month's tally. 

Assuming that I don't spend more this month (it will be a challenge not to spend anything in the next 10 days as I am accustomed to weekly grocery shopping), we have spent $617.55 this month on groceries--including $22.96 on pet food. I shouldn't need anything from the store so I feel (somewhat) confident that this will be the final sum (although we lost 2 receipts they show up on the credit card bill as two separate amounts at grocery stores so I was able to include those amounts in my final total). The key is for me NOT to go to the grocery store before the end of the month and drop, say, $200 more on groceries simply because I am used to shopping for food every week.

Of course, there are some problems with deciding to eat down what we have until February. I am immediately uneasy at being low on food in the winter months. Should we be hit by a bad storm and snowed in (or roads too icy) it could be extra days without being able to go for food. That is not smart and it's not what I'm striving for. I'd like to keep a well stocked pantry at all times and THEN stick to replenishing it and my fresh food for less that $600/month.

Another difficulty with resolving not to go to town for the rest of the month (it saves us so much on fuel because it is a 45 km drive each way) is that the winter can get depressing if we aren't seeing people. So rather than relying on my weekly trip to the grocer for a dose of "don't want to see people again for awhile", I need to make more of an effort to take the kids out visiting and concentrating on not spending on "other" items when we are out.

All in all, this was a helpful exercise and it highlighted some things I already knew:

  • I can trim more costs by not buying bread/buns and bagels. If I get bagels for my son to have before school I also get cream cheese spread--these are luxuries, not essentials, and they are now off the list. Also, I can make healthy bread here for a fraction of the cost. I will be more strict with myself from now on.
  • We spent approximately $90 on dairy in January (I include my 6 year old's almond milk in this total. It is expensive but it was recommended that we take him off cow's milk). I have stopped buying the kids the cheese sticks that they love so much. They are expensive and I'm not even sure they are food. I'm concentrating on using less cheese and won't need to buy buttermilk until next winter when all our birthday cake baking happens again (seriously, our family is one birthday after another from Nov-Jan. My recipe is delicious and calls for buttermilk). Any cakes from now on will be made with regular old skim milk (sorry O!)
  • Keeping an eye on how much is spent on convenience, either take out or ready-to-serve, will be a good incentive for me to prepare homemade meals ahead and freeze them for those days I want something quick. Menu planning can also really help with being prepared and less apt to overspend.
  • We eat too much meat. This is my fault, as the cook. I confess that I'm a protein hog. I could live on salad and meat. I NEED to live on more salad, less meat. We have free beef from the farm but have been out for ages. Buying all of our protein really allowed me to sit down and look at what it is costing us. I will gladly accept the free beef when it comes, believe me, but I'm determined to go meatless on Mondays to help refine our tastes and to save money. We will buy less chicken and pork and, at the same time, stretch the free beef out further so we don't run out so soon.
  • As well as reducing how much meat we eat, I also aim to reduce how much we have to purchase. I plan to fatten two weaner pigs over the summer and add chickens to our repertoire. I hope that everything goes as planned (I dislike blogging about high hopes and then not following through on them!). I am also tempted to raise 10 or 12 turkeys to sell, but all of these ideas will be reevaluated nearer to spring.
  • I need a bigger garden. I've been planning this anyways, but the skyrocketing price of fruit and vegetables (seriously, $5 for a cabbage, $7 for cauliflower) has me doubting Canada's food security. We are too reliant on food shipped in from other countries. I need to grow more, store more, and possibly become a source of fresh food for some friends and neighbours.  If I can sell a bit in times of glut it will offset the cost of purchasing when my stores of food are used up. 
  • Foraging wild and local food will continue to be a way to save on groceries. Using frozen fruit for smoothies is healthy and cheap, considering I have bags of frozen Saskatoons and raspberries leftover from summer. 
I feel much more organized and determined to meet my goal of spending $600/month on food. For a family of four this is by no means an impossible challenge. But it is a fact that I used to spend much more. And we used to grab takeout much more. Using the blog to discuss ideas and hold myself accountable has helped me curb my spending. I hope to continue that trend :) Have you noticed the rising cost of food where you live? Is it something you are trying to reduce and, if so, can you make any suggestions?

Friday, 22 January 2016

Making Birthdays Special (without spending a lot of money!)

Money can't always make you happy.. Sometimes not having everything is the best value of all:

It seemed easier to keep birthday parties for my kids realistic when they were smaller. We had usually one or two children (Whose mother's I am friends with), a little lunch, cupcakes and a play. I always do a family supper, as well, because I always had one when I was growing up and because it's a nice reason to get together and my parent's appreciate it.

While browsing on Pinterest for cake ideas I was stunned to realize that some people hire event planners for their children's birthday parties (one that I saw had invited 80 guests to a one year old's party). That just doesn't happen in this neck o' the woods, and I'm glad not to have that pressure. In fact, I'm going a bit rogue and defying the convention of giving little gifts to the kids that attend my son's 6th birthday party this Sunday. It's not that I don't like all the little folk that will come to slide on our hill and play in our basement. It's really just that I feel someone needs to give the other moms permission to stop spending a whack of money on other kids when they might be struggling to buy a gift for their own child's birthday. Even if they aren't struggling (and no one wants to admit that they are) we have a resource-based economy and whether we like it or not we are all dependent upon it. The price of oil has dropped dramatically, food banks are seeing 20% more traffic, breadwinners are being laid off and sent home from jobs, all at the same time as the price of produce at the grocery store has jumped by 13% (heard that one on the radio this morning). This isn't a post about the economy, though. If the local economy wasn't struggling I would still be trying to talk sense about the spendy customs we are creating for our kids and neighbours to uphold. We are spending money on cheap "stuff" because it is expected of us--stuff that as moms we all hate having more of in our homes--and we are doing it out of a need to keep up or out do. I'm just not getting on that train. I've opted this year not to buy little do-dads for gift bags for the kids; I'm not contributing my money to "Made in China" junk that will wind up in the land fill. But as an offering to the families who are so kind as to spend their Sunday afternoon with us, celebrating the birthday of our special little 6 year old, I'm sending home a dozen homemade gingersnap cookies. A treat that won't get broken and thrown away or cause clutter, noise and be lost amidst a sea of other plastic toys. I hope the other moms approve, and we are simple country people so I'm sure that they will. But even if my choice is considered cheap or thoughtless, I am hoping my decision gives another mom permission to do something similar so that we can stop teaching our kids to expect something new every time they go anywhere.

Other ways that I'm trying to keep the cost of birthdays down is having a sliding party in our yard rather than renting a venue. The weather is supposed to be nice so we will have a fire and marshmallows and sliding until 4 when each kid gets to build their own smiley face pizza (J's request, it's something we used to do and I was touched that he wanted to have that for his birthday supper with friends). The pizza crust recipe is from my America's Test Kitchen cookbook, as is the cake that I am making for tonight's supper with my family. Sunday's cake recipe is one from my friend's mom. All of the food will be homemade because I have the time and enjoy doing it, and because it saves us loads of money. The cost of 2 purchased cakes would be $50 or more. I'm sure I can pull off both meals for just over that amount.

Last but not least, we surprised J by putting a birthday announcement on the radio station that he hears while riding the bus to school. The driver texted me that he was thrilled, and I do believe he will remember hearing his name on the radio all of his life. That didn't cost a dime, and it's important to teach our kids that feeling happy doesn't have to cost any money and it doesn't come from getting "stuff". Love is all around us if we are taught to feel it, not expect it to come in gift wrapped packages with large price tags :)

from The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents by William Martin:
From The Parent's Tao Te Ching (via Pinterest)
Happy Birthday to a wonderful little boy that has taught me so much about patience and how to look at the world with new eyes. He has been through quite a lot and he's been happy even as I struggled, strong when I couldn't be, and brave even while I was so afraid. I've learned so much from this child in 6 years I can only imagine what the next 6 will bring. Love you little monkey!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

How We Saved Money Jan 10-16, 2016

As I've mentioned, it is a goal of mine to stick to a tight kitchen and household budget in 2016. Reporting my spending here on the blog has proven to be a great motivator and really holds me accountable, if only to myself. So I'm going to make an effort to report each week on 1) how we saved money 2) what we spent on groceries and 3) weekly menu plan.

1. We have a humidity problem in our home (totally rare on the prairies as it is usually too dry here in the winter. The problem stems from the home being built elsewhere and moved here, onto a concrete basement that had barely enough time to cure before having a house plopped on it. The cement basement floor is poured after delivery of the home, resulting in a LOT of moisture that must go somewhere as the concrete dries out over the next few years). This is all fodder for a future post regarding Ready-to-Move homes (RTMs) but for now my issue is keeping a fan blowing on the glass exterior door that leads from our master bedroom onto a small deck. The humidity inside combined with the cold temps outside is a lethal combination that sees water drip down the door and freeze, eventually rotting the wooden door casing. Now to the point: we have 3 portable fans and suddenly all of them were seized up and wouldn't turn. The larger ones are used by the basement wood stove to circulate the hot air and warm the entire basement (and thus the floor of the main floor). Without these fans functioning my floors are cold and water runs down the glass door. Husband was able to dismantle the 3 fans and remove dust and grease the tiny parts so that things work again. I almost gave in and went and bought new fans as it is important to circulate the air here, but we have bought some time with our old fans instead.

The kids broke a blade off one fan last year. We kept the motor and cage part because the blades and stand from our other fan fit, so we have a back up motor. Both of them quit at the same time (they run constantly) but they are now back in action. To the right of the fans you can see the table that was fixed. Durned kids! LOL

2. My son (3) climbed onto my Duncan Phyfe coffee table and broke one leg off it before Christmas. Husband was also able to fix the leg, saving me from taking it to a furniture repair shop in town.

3. Cauliflower has skyrocketed to $7 a head here. The Canadian dollar is in a tailspin as is our oil-based economy. I am checking the "quick sale" rack in the produce department before I buy anything and got a perfectly fine head of cauliflower for 30% off. The cauliflower is still too expensive but nice to have for a stir fry. You can bet that I will be comparing bags of frozen next time I am in the store!

4. My mom's chickens are laying eggs like gangbusters and she has instructed us to quit buying eggs in town. Having free eggs will save us over $5/week, at least, and gathering eggs is one of my kids' favorite chores at the farm. Win-win!

5. (edited to add) I finally put our satellite TV subscription on a seasonal break. We have 180 days to decide if we will cancel it altogether. I should have done this a year ago and we have talked about it many times. This saves us $75/month--$900 a year!--and we were only really keeping it out of habit. I don't like to let the kids watch much TV (basically a show while I do outside chores) but we do have Netflix and they usually have a show while I make supper. That $75/month can now be used for groceries, bills or an emergency fund.

6. I'm returning to menu-planning and checking the flyer before I get groceries, and am sticking to a strict list. More posts to come!

Have you noticed an increase in the cost of food where you live? Have you been able to save any money this week?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Dill Pickle Soup on a Freaking Cold Day

We are experiencing winter now, real winter on the prairies. The temperatures over the weekend have been BELOW 30 below...with the slight wind it is nearing 40 degrees below Celsius (which is 40 below Fahrenheit). It is biting cold, something you can only understand if you have experienced it. If you dress for it and stay out of the wind it is not the end of the world but I am glad I don't have to go anywhere and that my morning chores take about 10 minutes. In the meantime there is plenty to do inside and we are staying close to the wood stove.

I'm determined to use up leftovers and stick to a tight kitchen budget in 2016. I bought a 2 lb package of hamburger the other day (we are currently out of home grown beef) for $6.50 which was on special at the butcher shop (right now hamburger is $4/lb). I got over 3 meals out of it by having shepherd's pie two nights in a row and making the leftovers into Dill Pickle Soup. If you have never heard of such a thing, you are not alone. My brother introduced us to the soup after having it somewhere in Alberta. I was hesitant to try it but I really do like it (although it isn't something I could eat all the time). There are many versions of the recipe online and I only referred to them for the general idea. Interestingly, I've always had it with ground beef in it but none of the recipes I saw had meat in them. I would compare this soup to potato soup that someone was dunking their burger in while they ate. I can imagine that after pieces of the beef and pickle fell into the soup someone got the idea to add the two intentionally. Anyways, that's what the soup tastes like to me and you can make it either with meat or without and can add more or less pickles to your own taste.

I began by simmering about 3/4 c each of onion, celery, and shredded carrot in a cup of water with 1 Tbsp chicken OXO. I had no homemade broth on hand and hadn't considered how salty the soup would be with pickles and pickle juice added. Although it didn't seem too salty when I ate it, I was thirsty all afternoon! Once the vegetables were tender I used my stick blender to puree them into a more smooth consistency. That step is not necessary but I had the time. 

I made this soup as I always make homemade potato soup. I microwaved a cup of skim milk before adding it to the pot. Normally I would add leftover mashed potatoes at this point but in this case it was about a cup and a half of leftover shepherd's pie. There was corn and peas in the casserole so that made it a nice consistency and the potatoes and milk made the soup nice and creamy without adding cream or flour. At this point your soup is ready and it was delicious. I debated even adding the pickles but in the end I put about 1/3 c of homemade dill pickles in my food processor and added just a dash of pickle juice to the soup. Because I added very little it just gave the soup a certain "je ne sais quoi"--tangy but not overpowering. I have had the soup with much more pickle (most of the recipes call for a cup each of pickles and juice) and I like it both ways. 

We enjoyed the soup (kids wouldn't touch it!) and it is just something different to break the monotony of being indoors in cold weather. Have you tried any new recipes or improvised any new meals lately?

Thursday, 14 January 2016

A Quilt for Christmas

I don't remember If I mentioned getting a quilt top finished in the days before Christmas. It was for my sister-in-law and they live about 5 hours away. I knew I wouldn't have time to get the quilting done and bind it before Christmas but I knew she wouldn't mind waiting for the finished blanket. So we wrapped the quilt top and I explained that I was having it quilted after Christmas and would deliver it when the baby comes late-January or early February. Yesterday I picked the quilt up from the long-arm quilter that I've used before and I was very happy with the results.

I am not sure what fabric I will use to bind with. I fear it may require a trip to the fabric store (cringe!). The project has certainly cost enough already and professional quilting is not in my budget in the future. I do quilt baby quilts myself but it is hard with my little machine. I will have to practice a lot before I attempt to quilt a larger size on my own.

Hopefully the blanket will be enjoyed for many years to come and keep a family snug on the couch on cold winter evenings. Are you working on any projects to get you through the cold winter months?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Christmas Shopping Already?

Who on earth would want to begin the Christmas craziness so early in the new year, you ask? Well, possibly the very thrifty. 

Yesterday I spotted $5 Christmas decorations on at 90% off. I got two at .44c each. This is the way I've bought most of our Christmas decor--after season sales on great discounts. But in an effort to reduce the wanton consumerism of the whole thing (why get another wreath just because they are reduced? Don't want more stuff to store 11 and a half months of the year!) What's special about these decorations is that they say the year and there is a spot for a photograph so I've put a picture of each of my boys in the decorations and I'm kicking myself for not getting a set for each of the grammas. A meaningful, thoughtful, easy-to-mail gift for under $1. 

Happy to report that indeed I did quarter a chicken for supper the other night. It was not a perfect job and I'm now on the watch for a good cleaver. I've wanted to break down a chicken for frying but was put off by the actual cutting it up. Anyways, I can stroke that one off my bucket list and hope that a better knife makes the job easier. Let's add "learn to properly sharpen knives" to the list instead. 

In other random news a moose strolled past our yard yesterday. We've seen her before but not so close. She was unperturbed by the dog and I was glad. 

Husband wants to start hunting but J (5) and I agree it must be far from home. Somehow the wildlife that passes through feels more like family than food. I know, not at all the attitude a farmer's daughter should have towards her groceries. It's a contradiction that I will work to reconcile. 

I've been peacefully sewing. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child, a boy. I'm so happy for them and it takes me back to when we were waiting for J to arrive. I did not know the love I was capable of--had no idea the depths of fatigue that a human could reach, nor the joy that could catch me off guard and leave me immobilized with emotion, choking back tears. It was so intense. I can't imagine anything I do having such an effect on me now and I'm not sure I'd want it. But I'm excited to see my brother and his wife fall this deeply in love with their child and I'm glad that now I understand some of what they will need. Help, but space and solitude. Sleep. Groceries. Dishes done, some meals prepared and frozen and all our excitement but not for too long. I'm making a quilt and the pattern is called "the Bonny Scotsman". It suits my brother so much as we are of Scottish descent and I call the baby the wee bonny lad. May he be healthy and bonny indeed. I hope you are having a weekend that you will remember fondly. 

Friday, 8 January 2016

Some Un-Resolutions for 2016, and Reflections on 2015

So much for a post about how fun and meaningful our Christmas was this year--our Internet has been down and the mood has passed. Last year I didn't get time to do a post about what I hoped for the new year. Oddly, the year had that same sense of unspoken intentions...we had a productive, positive year and advanced in everything that I wished for but I never put my wishes into words. Our progress was the result of much hard work. Husband has remained busy throughout an industry-wide slow down and for that we are very grateful. We are on the same page financially-speaking, now more than ever. We both want to save money and prepare for the worst as our economy flounders. Perhaps most important of all is the fact that 2015 was book-ended by health concerns for our 5 year old. As the year began he was receiving what were, to me, devastating treatments to put his childhood nephrotic syndrome into remission. As the year ended, he relapsed and once again had protein in his urine (the sign that his kidneys are malfunctioning). To our unending relief, his little body handled the relapse on its own and he did not require treatments aside from antibiotics for a throat infection. This progress, alone, in 2015 makes it the year we became free of fear and began to live fully in the moment with gratitude and grace.

There are many posts out there about hopes and intentions for 2016, all of them more eloquent and succinct than I can muster here. But it is important to me that I outline my plans for the year. I've realized of late that the areas where I am most easily flustered and frustrated (paperwork! saying no to people!) are the areas where I must allow myself to learn and grow. Putting things off and allowing them to take up space in my mind is just not working for me, and it is not how 2016 is going to roll. So with that, here are a few family, personal and business goals for 2016.
  • Get Better At Keeping Records
Papers and files grate on my nerves and unfinished paperwork weighs on the back of my mind. It is not the doing of the work, it is the procrastination and dread that leads up to it. Every month. This stems from the fact that I have no real system of keeping track of receipts, invoices, warranties, etc and I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of even getting started. For Christmas, Husband bought me an antique filing cabinet that I had been longing for. Not only is it beautiful but it is going to play an important role in taking the stress out of keeping track of our files. In the next week I plan to get files colour-coded and moved into the new-old cabinet.  done!

Aside from tax/work related files, I also need to improve my record-keeping in the garden and for this blog. Every year I intend to record what I plant and try to keep track of the yield and what worked/didn't work. Perhaps taking a quick picture of seed packets as I am headed out to the garden would help. Generally I end up using the packet to mark my row, which doesn't work because it degrades to the point of being unable to read it when I want to remember what variety of seed I had used. My kids are more independent now so I have no excuse not to be more methodical in keeping track of my garden and home. Related to the blog, I MUST get better at reporting on my kitchen budget and filing all receipts/tracking spending. Likewise, a return to menu-planning and lists, lists, lists! The last few months of 2015 became completely unorganized and directionless, although the rough tally I kept in my mind led me to believe that I was spending less on groceries and doing better at stockpiling and using in-store coupons. Although I felt I was doing okay with it, I would like to share my results in this space and that can't happen when receipts are lost in the bottom of the big ole purse! My first step towards a better record-keeping system is 1. download a bookkeeping software and learn to use it and 2. learn to do spreadsheets. I MUST schedule some quiet time in the next week where I can concentrate and get this done. Found a bulletin board with wire baskets for sorting mail/bills. Now, where to hang it?

NOTE: it seems like blogger has changed something and I can't figure out how to add pictures now. So I will add "get current on blogger" and "take better pictures" to the list of things to do!
  • New Learning Experiences
It wasn't that long ago that I worried there would never be time or money for me to pursue my own interests. For a time with little babies it is true that a mother's needs are waaaay down the list of priorities. But I recognize now that nurturing my creativity and interests is not only healthy, it is essential to being a complete and happy person. In my case, my interests and pursuits are of the homesteading/crafting/farming variety. I have an ever-growing list of things I want to try in 2016 and I am excited to get started! Today's challenge: break down a chicken into pieces for baking :) Perhaps I should keep a list of all the new things I try this year!
  • Make Better Use of My Evenings
True, I do some wintertime crafts and quilt bindings in the evening while I watch TV. Some gardening jobs in summer might happen in the evening. But all too often I get my kids to bed and sit in front of the TV with a cup of tea and proceed to waste a couple hours of time before bed. I want to give myself half an hour of exercise in this time slot, and read more instead of watching TV. I think if I schedule 9-10 pm my only TV time I will be happier, more fit and productive!

  • Concentrate on Things That Make Me Feel Good 
Something about getting older, perhaps, but feeling rotten after eating fast food or "pub grub" is just no longer an option. I want to fuel my body with food that makes me feel full and invigorated. I MUST spend more time doing yoga, Pilates, walking and exercising (how many times have we heard that?!) I want to visit people that inspire and motivate me to learn and do better. I want to give more, learn more, do more. People and activities that suck the energy out of me will continue to be pushed to the margins of our lives. This is an area that really progressed in 2015 and I expect more of the same this year. I vowed to "invest in people that invest in me" and I worried less about why some friends always left me feeling used and unappreciated. By taking the focus from those relationships and putting my energy into relationships that make me happy, I felt the toxic anxiety fade away. Friends, work and play that brings us together and leaves a lasting feeling of joy will be a permanent part of our routine. All of the things we have enjoyed in years past shall see more of our attention this year. We have picked a direction that works for us and every step of our journey has made us happier and convinced us that living simply and authentically is right for us. 2016 will be more of the same.