25 April 2011

Learning to Enjoy Doing Without- Or At Least Not Disliking It So Much!

Use it up- Wear it out- Make it do- Or do without!

Lately I've been feeling the weight and guilt that comes from spending too much money for unnecessary things. Too many unplanned "quick" trips to the store, too many little splurges here and there that add up WAY too quickly! And I despise the feelings (guilt, fear, failure) that accomany these money binges!

We have a "big picture" plan of getting out of debt that we are enthuisastic about, but it is easy for the smaller (and sometimes not so small!) day-to-day expenses to become the proverbial monkey wrench in our plans. We have a budget and are getting pretty consistent with it. We even have a small amount in our checking account that is set aside for emergencies. The problem is, even though I don't include that amount in our balance, I still know it is there! It is too easy to dip into that "just this once" and make up for it with next week's paycheck. The problem is, something always comes up that seems to require the money intended to eliminate the deficit.

So what should be done? Two things in particular come to mind-

Oddly enough, it is when I am not being diligent with the checkbook that the money seems to begin slipping through our fingers like sand. This is probably our biggest defense against our spontaneous spending- keeping track of the funds. When I worked as a bank teller during college, it was easy to jot down the charges that came through daily. Now that I have to make time to complete this task, I am not as disciplined as I once was! Growing up, I noticed how my mother would never leave a store's checkout stand without writing the new sum in her checkbook and carrying the balance forward. I am making a commitment to do the same thing (or at least writing it down as soon as I get in the car). Keeping a true current balance right in front of me will help me to stop spending the amount I think is there, over and over and over.

The other thing that I know is necessary is to stop rationalizing purchases.  Just because something is a good deal, or just because I've had a bad day, or just because it's payday, that shouldn't justify me spending money for things that we don't need. I firmly believe in treating ourselves occasionally, but somehow I am really good at finding excuses for "celebrating!" really, really often. These feelings are typically shortlived, however, and they are replaced by guilt for not using the money more wisely. It's just not worth it!! I need to be more like my mom and grandmother who take pride in finding ways to live and celebrate daily life without spending more money!

Use it up- Wear it out- Make it do- Or do without!   It's my new mantra.

How about you? Any suggestions for reining in the spending beast or keeping those feelings of entitlement at bay?

23 April 2011

Easter Saturday

Saturday- the waiting game. Christ's death occured the day before & it seemed all hope was lost. Waiting. Wanting a miracle, but too afraid to hope for one. Ever felt like that? Waiting for an answer. Waiting for a chance. Waiting for some closure. Waiting for healing. Don't give up!! Easter morning IS just around the corner!

"But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31

12 April 2011

Life As We Know It

I think homesteading and an old-fashioned lifestyle are often viewed through rose colored glasses. I know I am guilty of romanticizing things for which my great-great grandmother would probably call me crazy.Hanging laundry on the line? Making meals from scratch? Growing food? Canning? Keeping chickens? I imagine she would be surprised to know how many people today think of mastering those things (among manyothers!) as an ideal to reach for. As if, once we acquire enough skills and have a big enough garden and on and on, we somehow acquire the status of a "real" homesteader- urban or otherwise. Instead, I imagine she would tell me that these things are just life. It's not about showing off our mad laundry soap making skills or feeling like a fraud when the sourdough starter dies. It's about living day to day, doing things that provide for our families in the best ways we know how. In my case, that definitely requires learning new skills, but even people in "the old days" had to learn these things too. They also had crop failures. They burned the sweet potatoes. They battled weeds and bugs and less than fabulous gardens. They faced too many bills with not enough money. They mothered sick children and also fought their own illnesses. They splurged on sweets. They lived and loved and worried and worked and hit their knees. They just lived life.

This was on my mind the other day while watering the peas struggling to survive the hot, dry spring we've had. I decided to try something. Rather than compare my life to others, trying to live up to their amazing accomplishments (while typically failing, by the way) and coveting the homesteading elements that have not yet materialized for us, I will aim to think of these things as my great-great grandmother would have. Doing the dishes everyday is just a part of life. So is sweeping and laundry, picking up the toys and cleaning the bathroom. Those sometimes mundane tasks are just as much a part of life as growing your own tomato plants can be (though, admittedly, a sun-ripened tomato often seems to be a sweeter reward than a clean floor!). Hanging laundry, cooking healthy meals, gardening, preserving food- I am learning to do these things as well as I can to provide for my family, not to validate my status as a homesteader or to gain praises from others for how "super self-sufficiently sustainable" I am. Pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). I need not feel like a "fake" if not everything I plant actually sprouts, or if I use the dryer on a busy day. Those things too, are just life. I will keep going, keep learning, and keep working. Rather than cultivating my own glory, I will strive to do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)- just as my grandmothers did.

09 April 2011

Preparedness Challenge

This week for the preparedness challenge at Homestead Revival, I…

Evacuated! Seriously!

We have had hot, dry and windy weather the last couple of weeks, which is a perfect recipe for wildfire. The acre we live on is in a neighborhood on the far edge of the city, largely surrounded by great swaths of fields and groves of trees covered in bramble.

Smoke drifting aross the sky

With fire threatening about a mile and a half northwest of us, we made the decision to pack up and head out. Because the wind was driving the fire straight east, we were fairly certain our house would be okay, but since the fire department was recommending evacuation and you can never predict which way the wind will shift or where a new hot spot will flare up, we thought it would be better to be safe than sorry.

Thankfully, our house and property was fine. Not everyone was so fortunate, however. Several houses and outbuildings succumbed to the flames, as did acres of land that cows, horses, goats and many other animals depend on for pasture. There were no lost lives, however, which was such a blessing! Police and fire crews worked for hours and hours battling the blaze. I could not IMAGINE walking into that inferno, yet they did it willingly to protect the community. They are truly heroes.
These pictures were taken as we left our neighborhood - thankfully, firefighters were able to save this home

Here’s what I learned for my family: We are not NEARLY as prepared to leave in a hurry as we should be! I knew we should be grabbing things and getting out of there, but I was so scattered that we stayed much longer than we should have. I was missing one VERY important item….. a list!

Now, posted by the front door is the following list of what to grab, assuming there’s time. If there’s not time (for example, if your house has caught fire unexpectedly) the most important thing to do is get the family to safety!

Last Minute List:
Kids & People
Dog (with tags!)
Diaper Bag (don’t forget the security blankets or stuffed animals!)
Wallet & Purse
Phone & Charger (I keep mine in my purse, and a charger in the car would work too!)
GOODY “Get Out Of Dodge, Y’all!” Bags (including clothes, shoes, toiletries, and snacks)
Vital & Medical Records Binder
Pictures (I keep the albums in cloth grocery sacks in the living room cabinet)
External hard drive or flash drives
Family Bible
Old Family Recipes (1 binder & 1 notebook)
Computer CPU

Even though we eventually left the house without forgetting any of the items (except the CPU- like I said, we were pretty sure it would be okay and I had just recently stored all of our digital pictures on the external hard drive anyway), it took us WAY too long! I found much room for improvement- for example, I need to get my act together and finish scanning our pictures into the computer. Even though I already have the albums in bags ready to grab, there were way too many, they were too heavy and it would not be easy to grab them if we had to leave in two minutes or less. It would be heartbreaking to lose the originals, but if I get them scanned then at least the pictures would be preserved! My preference would be to save the scanned images on an external hard drive or on flash drives which would then be stored at our bank safety deposit box (I try to do this routinely with our digital pictures also). The same goes for vital records and recipes. You could also upload pictures to an online service- many of them offer free accounts. A digital and/or hard copy stored in an off-site location means that you don’t have to give that stuff a second thought while fleeing for your life!

As for the wallet, keys, purse, phones, diaper bags etc., we try to make it a habit to put these things in the same place every day (such as a coat rack or shelf by the door) so that we don’t waste time looking for them. I am still compiling our GOODY bags, and those will go in the front coat closet.

Not only is the threat for wildfire ongoing, but tornado season is also looming! More than once we have fled our home when severe weather was upon us. I fully recommend an practicing an evacuation drill with your family. Make a plan, try it out, and time it! You might be surprised how long it takes to grab everything you are planning on taking. If you do your drill when you are planning on leaving the house anyway, it won’t seem like such a hassle. Trust me, it is much better to work out the kinks now than when a life and death situation is threatening.

What do you think? What am I forgetting on my list?

08 April 2011

Not Of My Doing

As I watered my garden yesterday evening, I was thinking about the life that I desire and how disheartened I can be when I feel like things are not progressing as quickly as they should. My garden isn't marvelous- my peas are struggling to make it after a string of unseasonably hot, dry, windy days with highs in the mid-eighties. My potatoes are popping up, but the strawberry roots I planted never even humored me with a sprout. A neighborhood dog decided to dig in the only spot in the entire garden bed where I had anything planted (a garden fence is going up this weekend!!). Needless to say, there weren't any carrot sprouts either. Miraculously, the two raspberry canes I planted have shot up some sprouts during the last couple of weeks. I was afraid the soil was too compacted and hard. The onions and garlic I planted last fall seem to be doing okay- I even have a few volunteer onions in the yard from where I moved the beds last year. I need to do something about my seedlings- they are starting to get a bit cramped, but I worry that planting them now would leave them vulnerable to the weird weather we've been having. I've only been at this gardening thing for a couple of years- learning many lessons the very hard way- but sometimes (as in last night, for example), I am hard on myself for not doing better. My garden is not self-sustaining and at this rate, it will definitely NOT be our sole source of veggies for the year! But I still wish that it could be. I want my grandiose dreams to be a reality.

A passage from 1 Corinthians hit me like a ton of bricks last night as my husband read our devotional during a late supper of pizza (the funny thing is, I think the devil was trying to stop me from hearing it, because I was suddenly distracted at that same moment and just barely caught the words):

So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:7

I know Paul is speaking of spiritual matters in this passage, but the Bible often uses examples of what is true in nature to demonstrate how God works in our lives also. God gives the increase in my garden, not me. I must trust in HIM to provide, not in my novice gardening skills. God gives the increase in my life and relationships, not me. I must trust in HIM to help me love others (and for others to love me!) with a supernatural love, not in my own beauty or charm (ha!) to hold onto a person's affections. No matter what the situation, it is GOD who is the determining factor. We can do this and that and definitely should try to discern and follow His will for our lives, but ultimately, we must leave the matter in God's hands. Once we release our controlling grip on the issue, God can freely take our problems and wishes and dreams and work them and give them back to us in ways we never could have fathomed in our limited plans. Perhaps one day God will allow me to have a flourishing garden and homestead that is literally flowing with milk and honey, but in the meantime, I am learning to take it slowly and to be thankful for the potatoes and onions even when I'd rather have carrots and peas. And a few strawberries wouldn't hurt either.

02 April 2011

Preparedness Challenge

This week for the preparedness challenge over at Homestead Revival, I….

Made olive oil lamps! This was actually easier than I thought it would be- the instructions can be found here on the Mother Earth News website. These would be very nice in the event of a power outage if you did not have or want to use a battery powered flashlight.  One of the BEST things about these in my opinion, is that if they tip over, they immediately extinguish since olive oil has a high flash point (we actually knocked one over in the kitchen sink just to test this out- sure enough, the flame disappeared right away!). This was very important to me since I have a two little ones who love to grab at anything shiny. Of course, these should be put out of reach of anything flammable or anyone not old enough to play with fire, but I appreciate the safety feature just in case! My husband would tease that this particular aspect would be more likely to keep ME from burning the house down than the KIDS…. But moving on!! J

Yes, I know olive oil can be expensive, but I used the cheapest stuff I could find- a 1.5 liter bottle of store brand oil only cost me about ten bucks- and it goes a long way! The only other required materials are a glass canning jar (any sturdy glass container would probably work, but these refract the light really well! Plus, when these are not in use, you can simply put the lids on for storage), a piece of flexible wire and a strip of 100% cotton twine or cloth (I cut a few strips from a cheap dish cloth) that has been soaked in salt water for about thirty minutes and then air dried. Two tips that we learned while doing this- it is important to keep the wick no longer than a quarter of an inch long, and the oil needs to be level with where the wire is holding the wick. If you want the jar to appear fuller, try adding some water to the bottom of the jar before adding the oil and wick.  The first lantern took about 10 minutes to put together, but once we got the basic premise down, we started experimenting with other jars and were able to assemble each lamp in less than three minutes!

My two year old even enjoyed this project, as he sat safely in his high chair singing, “happy buh-day to tooooooo!!” every time we lit a match!

Notice how the brightest lamps are the plain pint jars- a quart jar might work even better!

Please head on over to Amy’s blog at Homestead Revival and check out some ideas for getting prepared for whatever may come!

01 April 2011

Functional Art

Shortly after we moved into our house a couple of years ago, my husband built an enclosure for our deep freeze which added a nice stretch of counter space to the kitchen (the freezer rolls out on caster wheels). However, the wall above the freezer has remained empty because I could not figure out what could adorn such a large space with grace (a framed bowl of fruit was NOT the look I was going for!) One day, after I was fed up with rummaging through too-deep cupboards for a sauce pan, it hit me (an idea, not the saucepan). I (sweetly) asked my man for some help in the kitchen, and after tossing around a few ideas, here is what we came up with:

The wood and screws cost less than $15, and it only took my husband about 30 minutes to assemble (I, however, took at LEAST that long arranging the pans "just so"!). How's that for a cheap piece of art?

Small Steps Toward the Bigger Picture

I am most definitely a dreamer. One who craves a more sustainable lifestyle. Simple, but not necessarily easy. There is infinite value in hard work. A hot meal never tastes better than when it comes after a long day of manual labor. But dreams occupy my brain space much of the time. Simmering on the back burner, flirting at the edges, until slowly, one by one, I gain the knowledge, the resources, and most importantly, the courage to start transforming those dreams into reality. I often (such as now) get impatient, wishing that everything could be just so, right now. Then I get annoyed at myself when I realize that the instant gratification I was wishing for is exactly the sort of mindset I am supposed to be battling against. To everything there is a season.

When I look back at how far we've come in a relatively short period of time, I really have no room for complaint. Sustainable living is a journey, and, especially when one did not grow up living this way as a daily lifestyle, sometimes it can feel like a slow, grinding journey. However, small changes have really had a large impact in the grand scheme of things. When I look back on everything together, it seems like a lot. Here are some things we are doing:

  • Homemade chicken stock (SOO easy with a crock pot!)
  • Purchasing grass-fed beef (most recently in a frozen bulk order. Ever seen how much meat makes up a quarter of a cow?)
  • Eating truly cage-free, free-range, pastured chickens
  • Buying eggs from the farmer’s market (what? Eggs aren’t supposed to be thin & watery??)
  • Reading food labels – trying my dandiest to avoid high fructose corn syrup and GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
  • Regularly shopping at the farmer’s market
  • Eating new vegetables (who knew cabbage could be so tasty?!)
  • Planting a garden
  • Starting seeds under grow lights instead of buying all transplants
  • Using heirloom seeds
  • Using unbleached and whole wheat flour
  • Learning how to work with sourdough
  • Made the switch from salt to REAL salt (it’s prettier anyway!)
  • Experimenting with more “whole” sugars such as Sucant, Rapadura and honey
  • Threw out the pancake syrup in favor of real (to die for!) Vermont maple syrup
  • Buying local and in season as much as possible
  • Buying USDA organic items as much as possible to avoid pesticides and GMOs.
  • Stopped going to most fast food places (haven’t had a McDonald’s burger in almost a year! Woohoo! Can’t even remember the last time we went to Taco Bell?)
  • I did not buy one “fresh” tomato all winter
  • Froze corn, okra, and strawberries (sauce and jelly) for some summer treats during the cold weather
  • Stopped using shortening
  • Made the switch from margarine to butter
  • Started using more olive oil
  • Using USDA organic canola oil for high heat stir frying. Still researching a possible switch to coconut oil
  • Started using whole fryer chickens instead of just parts
  • Began baking more things from scratch- including assembling typical “convenience” food items- in my own kitchen
  • Started seasoning and using cast iron cookware
  • Make homemade laundry detergent and use vinegar as softener
  • Using a clothes line for drying as much as weather allows
  • Purchasing whole milk instead of 2%
  • Paying (Please, prepare yourself) up to $9 a gallon for whole, cream-top, un-homogenized, certified organic, low temperature pasteurized, grass-fed milk. Plus, I am even considering driving about an hour one way to purchase straight-from-the-farm-fresh milk – a.k.a. “raw” milk, though I greatly dislike that term. You don’t call your fruit “raw raspberries”)
  • Considering the possibility of investing in a few laying hens.
  • Plans for learning how to water bath and pressure can (my current preservation repertoire involves freezing and a little bit of dehydration)
  • Clearing clutter out of my home and attempting a more natural, "wabi-sabi”style
  • Reading, reading, reading! I read so much about this stuff that sometimes I feel like that’s ALL I’m getting done! Building a homestead in my head! But I guess you have to start somewhere!

Strawberry freezer jam from last year, & a daylily from my front yard

These changes have come slowly over the course of the last year. Most of them just get incorporated into the daily routine so that the "change" was as simple as switching out one thing for another. Others take a bit more forethought and deliberate action, such as remembering to thaw out the beef instead of picking up a package from the store, or taking the time to go outside with a two year old and ten month old and hang laundry on the line.

Often, I feel like these things don't add up to very much in the grand scheme. Half Acre Homestead said it perfectly- I often feel like an "urban-homesteader-wannabe"! I don't have my own goats or cows or rabbits or bees or chickens (yet!). I don't brew my own gasoline or spin my own wool. I don't even have a wood stove. Some days it's all I can do to remember to feed the dog and comb my hair. BUT, I am willing to learn, I have a lot of research under my belt and am willing to do a lot more, and I have a HUGE desire to pursue these endless dreams. I am learning (very, very slowly) to be content with where I am, while slowly building up to the simple, self-sufficient lifestyle we desire. That's the best I can do right now, and that's okay.