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Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
~John 3:16~

Hello dear friends!  Just an update on how my seeds that I started earlier this month are doing.  Here's a picture:
As you can see, they are all growing into beautiful tall plants.  Does it pay to start your own?  Well,  since I save most of my seeds, the only ones I needed to buy were for celery, cauliflower, broccoli and onions for a grand total of less than $16.  And as you can see, I have over 200 beautiful plants growing here.  How many garden plants can you buy for $16?  And what varieties are available?  So yes, it is well worth the effort to start your own plants, even if it means you have to live with an extra table crowding your space. :)

On another note, as you may have noticed, I haven't been about as much as I used to be.  I'm trying to cut back on the time I spend on the computer.  I hope you will understand if I do not comment as often on your blogs  as I did before.  Doesn't mean I don't still appreciate your writing!  I intend to write only once a month from here on out.  Hopefully, the posts will be more interesting and filled with information on thrift for you that way.  So I hope to see you here on May 1st, Lord willing and the creek don't rise!  May you all have a joy-filled and blessed Resurrection  Day!


Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Joy of Ordinary

Hello dear friends!  Hope this post finds you all safe and sound.  First, I 'd like to thank Leslie and Ran for filling in for me last week, March has been a difficult month for me and truth be told, I'm not sad to show it the door. My thyroid has been bothering me for the last several months.  Although the tests come back normal (with medication) I was feeling like a zombie.  My get-up-and-go got up and went!  Plus I was starting to gain weight in spite of only eating 900 calories a day and walking between 3-6 miles daily. To say I was not a happy camper would be an understatement.  Well, no help from the doctors, they just look at the numbers and assume you are not telling them the truth, so Ran and I had to do our own research on the matter.  It pays to have a scientist for a husband, because my brain was so foggy I couldn't comprehend what I was reading, but since Ran has been doing research for his entire life, it was a piece of cake for him.  After doing research, he set me up on a regime of various vitamins and minerals and almost immediately I began to feel better and I started losing weight (five pounds this week).  But the best thing is that I now feel alive again!  There's so much joy in just waking up and feeling rested.  Once I felt more with-it, I did further research and discovered that many of the vegetables that I love and eat daily, such as broccoli, cabbage and kale are all big no-nos for people with thyroid conditions; they inhibit the thyroid.  Who would have thought such healthy things would be so bad for you?


Anyhow, in the meantime, we've been working on making our home function better.  Once again, I rearranged the living room to make it work for us.  You see, this room must serve many purposes; sitting room, guitar studio, sewing room, dressing room and on occasions a guest room.  That's a lot to ask a little 12 X 14 room!  We figured out a way to have a sitting area and a place for the guitars, plus enough open space  for one of those air beds for guests.
We brought furniture down from upstairs and took some from downstairs up.  At the end of the day, there wasn't a room that  hadn't been untouched.  To me, making a house a home is such a joy!  BTW, the pretty hyacinths are a gift from our dear friend Mary.  She stopped by last weekend, just as I was finishing up a big baking spree.  We love to "take tea" in the evening, it's one of our little rituals of our marriage that  we enjoy.  In the evening having a cup of tea or coffee and perhaps if we aren't being to stringent on our diet, some little treat, we sit and discuss the day, politics and plans.  No TVs going, no outside distractions.  Do you know that the average married couple only talks to each other 17 minutes per day?   I think a lot of marriages could benefit from taking tea!


So I had the idea to bake up a lot of tea goodies and freeze them in tins, then when someone stops by it would just be a matter of popping a few things out and defrosting them in the toaster oven (we don't have a microwave). 
I baked lemon tea breads, Spanish bar cake (without the frosting), fruit squares, and a lovely almond tea cake.  The plan was put to an immediate test, as I just took the last loaf from the oven, Mary stopped in, and we all tested out the new seating arrangement and goodies. It was so nice to have something to offer, as I try not to keep too many sweets in the house (and when I do, they don't last long).  Keeping tins of teatime treats in the freezer is something I will definitely continue to do.

 Almond Tea Cake
1 C. butter
3/4 C. sugar
1 egg, separated
half of one of those 8 oz. packages almond paste (found by the pie filling in the baking aisle)
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. butter extract
2 C. flour
handful of slivered almonds

Cream the butter, almond paste and sugar together,  (you'll need a mixer for this).  Add the egg yolk and extracts.  Add the flour and mix until just blended.

Spread the mixture (it will be very thick) into a lightly greased 8" round cake pan.

Beat the remaining egg white until frothy.  Spread over the cake batter and sprinkle with the almonds. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool and cut into wedges.

This is a very heavy substantial cake, but oh boy!  does it ever taste like almonds.  Would be good served with some fresh fruit. Maybe for Easter brunch?

Our little tea and coffee repasts are so important to us, that we even have a little coffee station set up in our kitchen to make it easy to prepare a cup of coffee or a pot of tea.
Everything we need is located in that one spot.  Makes for simple impromptu tea parties.


Well, we have our first sign of Spring, the rhubarb is starting to come up!
Good old rhubarb, if ever there was a dependable plant, this is it.  I think it was put on Earth just to make us gardeners feel good about ourselves.  And here's a peek at how the lettuce in the cold frame is coming along:
As   you can see, we just slit the bags and planted the seeds.  Now anyone can do that!  And when the lettuce is through, we'll just pull it and throw the soil into the compost bin.  It never ceases to astound me that these little seeds  sprout and flourish in the cold weather.  Today is the first day the temperature has climbed over the fourty degree mark!  Feels so good, we've been outside without a jacket on.  Ran and Jamie are working on cleaning up the flower beds while I write this.  Inside, we transplanted most of our tomatoes and cauliflowers to bigger pots and soon some of the perennial flowers will need repotting.

I spotted this cute craft on YouTube.  I wish I knew where, to give them credit, but you know how it is when you're clicking on one thing and soon you wonder how you arrived at the channel you are on.  Macrame is popular again.  Who would think that fad would ever make a comeback?  But apparently young hipsters haven't lived through the 70s so they don't have the hindsight to know that the 70s were really an ugly era,  they think it's groovy (we actually never used the term "groovy" in the 70s, we said beaucoup).  Anyhow, I thought it was a pretty way to display yet another doily.
You simply take a doily and attach it to a branch, then add tassels of cotton crochet thread.  Decorate the branch with sprigs of greenery.  I have mine hanging a my very dark sewing cupboard to give it some lightness.  I'm conflicted with what to do with this cupboard.  It's an antique and made of quarter-sawn oak, which is not my bag, baby. Ha!  It has pretty Art Nouveau carvings on it, and as I wrote it is antique, but it's so dark.  I've thought of painting it, I only paid $50 for it at a garage sale, but on the other hand, you don't see too many pieces from this period, so maybe I shouldn't.  For now, I guess I'll just leave it alone.  When in doubt, do nothing, is my credo!


Ran fixed my medical problems by doing research on the internet.  A few dollars in vitamins and some red meat, and I'm feeling a million times better!

Ran sold two of his guitars that he never played on Craigs list.

Made a decoration from a doily I had and a stick from the yard.

Continued to eat from our pantry and freezer, except for fresh vegetables and the red meat, we haven't shopped for groceries in months.

Knitted some more on my temperature blanket using up more of my yarn stash.

Cleaned out my closets and gave four bags of clothes to charity.

Tonight we'll put some things up for sale on Ebay.

Used our points to get a free sub from Subway.

Entertained ourselves by visiting with neighbors (the snowbirds are coming back)

Basically, just stayed home, ate what we had and made do or went without. There is joy in ordinary days.

Well, that's it for another week here at the old Zempel boarding house.  I hope that all your days are sunny and filled with joy!


Friday, March 31, 2017

Successfully Starting Seeds, Part 2 (A Guest Post by Ran)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Guest Post By Leslie

Hello dear friends!   Frequent readers to this blog might recognize Leslie. She comments often and has a very interesting story of homesteading and  raising eight children.  I thought you might enjoy reading how she feeds her large family.

   Hi, my name is Leslie. I am a wife, and a homeschooling mother of eight.   Jane asked if I would share how I fed my family of six on $40 a month.  Now, this was for about 6-9 months back in 2008 when times grew very lean. Also there were only two adults, 2 elementary age children, a preschooler and a toddler. So the toddler wasn't eating much but mashed veggies and bread. We did have a milk goat so that brought our costs down considerably. Also we did grind much of our own flour with a grain-grinder (that we picked up during the Y2K scare). But we did have to buy wheat to feed us and the goat, which was $8 for a 50 lb. bag.
     I was on an email list called The Dollar Stretcher.  It included an article by the Hill Billy Housewife. You can see that article here. She has done all the calculations for you. Now, years ago, this article claimed $20 a week. I used most of her recipes except when it came to the tuna dish, I made Tunisian Tuna on couscous (find this online).  I made my own flour tortillas.  Also don't bother with a tortilla press, a rolling pin works well. Another change I made was using hot dogs diced in my lentils. My kids still love this dish. Also hot dogs in your stir-fry is not bad. I chose not to serve mac n' cheese with our sandwiches as it was just the children and I at lunch. My homemade bread was very filling and the kids love baby carrots.  So besides some substitutions, I shopped exclusively at my local scratch and dent store. Sometimes they didn't have rice or cornmeal but I made do. Also the above menu is simply a frame work. I must say the cheapest and most filling breakfast is cornmeal mush. I know, terrible name but its buttery taste is heaven on a spoon!  One piece of advice, always buy flour rather than cake mix or cornmeal rather than corn-muffin can do so much more with the raw materials. Also I cooked my beans in the crockpot in homemade stock (that too made in the crockpot). So much more convenient, esp. when you're a busy mama.

Hope this helps! Planning is the key. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How To Sucessfully Start Seeds

Hello dear friends!  Since I had several comments  in my last post that it was hard to start seeds, I thought I'd let you in on how we do it.  We successfully start a couple hundred plants every year for the past four decades, so I guess our system works.

First refrigerate your seeds for at least a week.  We keep our seeds in our garage, so they are naturally refrigerated.  What you are doing is fooling your seeds into thinking they have  experienced a Winter.  Then when the are planted, they think it's Spring and begin to "wake up".

Next use a good quality starting soil.  We use the one from Miracle grow.  Starting soil is not the place to cheap out.

Moisten the soil, but don't saturate it.

Plant in one of these covered planting trays:
Or create your own from old enamel pans and some sort of plastic (even plastic wrap) to cover them.  We reuse the same ones over and over each year so it's worth the outlay of money for us.  You can find these sort of things at estate sales, also.

Use warming pads under the planting trays. 
These can be purchased inexpensively on-line and are well-worth the money.

Once the seeds begin to sprout, crack the lid a bit, it keeps the plants from becoming too wet.

Once they sprout, remove the plastic cover and  use a grow light for  10-12 hours a day.  Place it just a few inches from the plants.  We bought one of those grow light contraptions, but when the grow light burnt out, we replaced it with  fluorescent lights, one is "cool" and one is "warm"  (it says on the package).  This mimics natural sunlight.

Mist your plants with a plant mister.  Avoid getting the plants too damp.

Once the plants get bigger and leggy, transplant to 3-inch  pots. Once they get this big you can begin watering them. If your plants are leggy, plant them deep into the pot.

Harden off your plants, by putting them outside, first in a shaded sheltered area, gradually increasing their time outdoors and in stronger sunlight, until the are ready to  be planted.  About  four weeks before our last frost date, we place ours in a cold frame so they become accustomed to the cold nights.

The minor expense of a few pieces of equipment such as the grow light and warming pads net really nice plants, and the cost is nominal over the course of years.  An added advantage to starting your own plants is that you get to grow the varieties you want and not be dependent upon the commercial varieties that most garden centers and nurseries offer.  Hope this helps!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Another Jumbled Post

Hello dear friends!  Did you have a fun St. Patrick's Day?  About all we did to celebrate was to eat some Irish cheese that I had purchased at Aldis and I wore a green sweater, but I wear a lot of green, so I'm not sure that counts. Oh! and McDonald's Groceries handed out free root beer floats in honor of the day. Is anyone else having a hard time adjusting to the time change?  It seems like it is always 7:00 pm!  Well, at least it is still daylight out at that time.  Call me crazy, since we haven't had Spring or Summer yet, but the thought occurred to me that in six more months it will be Fall.  I know, I know; I'm nuts.  But I already lost one week this month.  When I went to write out the check at the dentist's office, I was informed that it was the 15th not the 8th.  How did that happen?  It reminds me of these two old farmers I overheard while on a ferry years ago, they were talking and one said, "What is it? The nineteen-eighties?" It was the nineteen-nineties. At the time I thought how on Earth could someone lose track of an entire decade , but now I can see this happening.  Still haven't gotten used to writing 2017 on my checks!


We started our seeds this week.   I once heard a  a so-called frugal expert on a podcast say that gardening didn't pay because by the time you buy the plants and all the soil amendments, you could have just bought the vegetables anyhow.  Well, I don't know how this lady gardens, but I beg to differ. Firstly, you don't buy plants, you start them from seed, many of which are saved from last year's fruits.  Even if you have to buy seeds, a packet can be had for as little as 25 cents at the dollar store. How many vegetables can you buy for 25 cents?  Plus there's the added pleasure of discovering truly old-fashioned goodness.  Fresh vegetables are the best.  And when you start your own plants you can experiment with the heirloom varieties, which I've found to have much better flavor then the commercial varieties.  People that say they don't like vegetables probably have never tasted an heirloom tomato; such as German Strawberry or Opalka (my two favorites) or a nice heirloom squash such as Mooregold.  

I don't know what soil amendments the expert was speaking of, but the only additions we make to our garden soil is good old-fashioned compost from leaves, peels, ashes from the wood stove, and garden debris. It costs nothing to make, just patience.  For the sake of your health, I'd caution anyone from using commercial compost or manure, many of it has pesticides  and herbicides in it from what the cows ingest.  I've even heard of people's gardens being ruined from it.  I do put compost on my flower gardens that I get from the village, they compost the leaves in the Fall, but I don't like to use it on my vegetable plots.  I always say error on the side of caution.  If you don't know what's in it, don't use it. You can plant a cover crop in late Fall and till it under in the Spring, also. Start small with just a little plot, big enough for a couple tomato and pepper plants, a couple of rows of lettuce.  Amend the soil with your own compost and extend the plot as you become more experienced,  a bit at a time. What you are working for, is nice dark soil that is friable;  you should be able to stick your arm into the soil up to your elbow.  If you have a lot of clay in your soil, you can add sand to make it less dense. In a way, we were very fortunate, because our area has some of the richest soil around.  But on the other hand, I wouldn't buy a piece of land without looking into the soil first, which is why I would never own beachfront property.  Too sandy!  But I suppose if you own beachfront property, you can afford to buy your fruits and veggies from the farmer's market.


I never can resist buying those cute little embroidered doilies that I find at garage sales.  I'm always thinking about how much time and love someone put into them.  Unfortunately, most have either stains or holes in them.  But for a dime or quarter, who can resist?  The other problem is that I live  and have always lived with a household of men and boys.  Men and boys and doilies don't mix.  So I cut the good parts out of the ones I had and made them into the vintage-looking  banner.
Here's a closer look at it:
Tied up and across the window, they lend a cheerful look to the bleakness that lies outside, plus no one can lay their tools on them up there.  I think I might sew some rick-rack around the edges, if I work up enough ambition.  I also found this very pretty knit fabric at the St. Vincent's thrift store this week.
Two and one-half yards for $1.  There's so many possibilities with that much fabric, I'm not sure what to do with it.  I work better when I have to make-do than when I have too many choices.  Another project I'm working on, is a temperature blanket. My dear friend Matty introduced me to the idea. In a nutshell, you knit a row  (I'm knitting two rows) each day, a different color me each ten degree increment in temperature.  By the end of the year, you should have in interesting patterned blanket.  I'm using the knitting pattern I gave here for the dishcloths, except on a much larger scale, of course. It sounds like a fun way to use up some of my yarn stash.  I might have to figure out a color for fifty degrees by the end of the week!


Cabbage is cheap, cheap, cheap this time of year.  I've seen it as low as twenty cents a pound and three pounds for a dollar is common around here, any time of the year.  One of the ways, I learned to make it, growing up was in Polish cabbage.  I grew up in a community that consisted of mainly Poles and Germans, two very thrifty ethnicities. It was where I learned how to make a penny stretch. 
Polish Cabbage

4 C. cabbage, chopped
8 oz. egg noodles, boiled
1 large onion, preferably yellow, chopped
1/4 C. butter
1 tbsp. caraway seeds
1/2 C. sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions in a skillet with the butter until brown and translucent.  Add the cabbage and continue cooking until the cabbage is limp and cooked through.  Stir in the egg noodles, caraway seeds and sour cream.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add more sour cream if desired (and who doesn't desire that?)

This reminds me, the other day,  I had purchased some sour cream from the reduced-for-quick-sale bin at the grocery store and it was the best sour cream I ever tasted.  Now, I can hear some of you saying, "sour cream. big whoop." but if you can delight in the little things like tasty sour cream or pretty thrifted fabric, then you don't need to go searching for the next big thrill.  It is the little things in life that bring me joy.  You'll never see me jumping out of an airplane or rappelling down a mountainside!


Started a knitted blanket form my yarn stash.

Started our plants, many from saved seeds.

Sewed a banner from stained and torn doilies.

Watched  some Yukon TV on YouTube.  Finally!  Some people that end their questions with "eh?" as much as I do!

Made a huge pot of refried beans .  They are so tasty.  Much better than the ones that come out of a can.  And thrifty too!

Bought two and one-half yards of fabric for $1.

Found some more pop and beer bottles to return for the deposit.  So far about $7 this month.  That's enough for seven pounds of bean or rice for the pantry, for those that say they can't afford to stock up their pantries.  And I live in a little village of of 200 people in Winter.  Imagine how much more I could find if I lived in a more populated place.

Well, Ran is waiting for me to make some chocolate pudding (from milk I found in the reduced-for-quick-sale bin, intended for the cats).  So there you have another week at the old Zempel boarding house.   I hope that your week will be peaceful!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sweet Briar Cottage Journal: Hope Springs Eternal

Hello dear friends!  I truly hope that you are having a lovely first day of "daylights saving time".  We certainly could do with some of that saved daylight.  March is a bleak, dreary month here.  Snow is a welcome sight in late November and December, but in March, not so much.  While the cold single digit temperatures are brisk and invigorating in the depths of Winter, in March they are just annoying.  We had plans for the weekend, but when we awoke and saw the snow on the ground, we decided to stay put, little did we know the snow was only confined to the village limits, later in the day when we ventured out, we discovered just five minutes down the road, they hadn't seen a flake! Lake effects snows are so deceptive.   March is not my favorite month!

To idle away some of the hours, I've been doing a bit of sewing.  I made this little sundress for my granddaughter Violet, hope springs eternal!  Do you think we will ever be in need of a sundress this year? 
The fabric says "life is just a bowl of cherries" and has little bunches of cherries on it.  I bought it at the St. Vincent's Thrift Store for 75 cents.  The rick-rack was picked up at a garage sale for a dime.  The pattern is a vintage one, McCall's 6501, a very easy beginner pattern.  I still have to hem  and press it and sew a button on.  No hurry, I'm sure we won't be needing Summer clothes for a while.

It seems everyone is baking lemon things these days.  Or maybe I'm just noticing them more.  To top it all off, I got the King Arthur Catalog and it was chock full of lemony things.  This recipe  for lemon streusel coffeecake caught my eye in particular.  Just reading the reviews now, I see that many people don't understand that a coffeecake is supposed to be dense.  Coffeecakes are not cakes, more like giants muffins.  Anywho, the list for ingredients was ridiculous and expensive, so what I did was substitute some lemonade powder drink mix (which I had)for the lemon powder in the recipe and used lemon extract  (bought for $1 at the dollar store)for the lemon oil.  I also halved the recipe and baked it in a 8-inch cake pan.  Well, I liked it. Maybe I'm the only one.  Here's what mine looked like:
Having a cup of coffee and some little pastry in the evening is a tradition at our house.  I haven't been baking much, for the sake of dieting, but we always end up eating some store-bought thingies, which are always disappointing.  It's so much nicer to have something home-made,  I truly believe we eat less that way.  It's just more satisfying.
Our  little experiment of starting lettuce seeds in the cold frame is a success!  The seeds have begun sprouting.  I don't know how they are managing to find enough warmth, last night the temperatures were in the single digit, but they are.  We were very lazy about it.  Just threw a bag of potting soil into the frame, slashed it open and planted the seeds.  If we a get a jump on our Spring lettuce, that would be nice.  Green leafies are our major grocery expense in the Winter for us.  I also stuck the bottoms of some green onions that I had  into a pot and they are coming along too.  A gardening failure was forcing some pussy willow branches.  They just never did bud out.  But I might try forcing some forsythias.  Hope springs eternal! 

I've had  several friends and family members come to me in the past couple of weeks with worries.  Seems a lot of people are going through life changes at the moment.  I always get the question of  how we knew it was the time for Ran to retire. All of life's decisions are difficult, whether it's what to major in college, to whom you should marry, to when or if you should have children.  Goodness!  If you overanalyzed everything, you'd be stuck in inertia.  Everything in life that matters, seems to take a major leap of faith.  I always tell my children you'll know it's time for a change when the misery of being in the situation overcomes the fear of the unknown.  It helps to have a belief in something far, far greater then ourselves, but I realize some people don't.  One of my favorite Psalms that I turn to often, is this:

121 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
Psalms 121

Just had the prompting that someone out there needed to read this today.

Blogging has been difficult for me lately.  Maybe you've noticed that my post have been a little dull?  There's not much going on here, as we wait for warmer weather.  Winter is too long in Michigan.  I feel I have written just about everything there is to say about thrift.  How many posts can I write about pantries, canning, grocery shopping and gardening?   So if you have any suggestions for things to write about, I'd certainly welcome them.  Also, I have stopped moderating my comments.  I lost too many of them between the time I hit the publish button and the time they appeared.  Hoping this makes it easier for you to comment.


Sewed a sundress for our granddaughter form thrifted fabric, trimmings, pattern and thread.  Total cost less than $3.

Made a huge pot of chili from things we had in the pantry.  We ate it for two days as chili and on the third day as taco salad.  Three days of meals for less than a dollar.  We love chili, btw, so it wasn't a hardship for us.

Ran bought a brand new with tags still on them pair of Jesse James shorts for $3 at the local thrift store.  Guess he's expecting Summer to arrive. Jamie found two video games.

Went through a bunch of books and gave them to a charity.  Also cleaned out my closets and gave two bags to charity.  While cleaning the closet out I discovered a penny rug that I had been working on and shoved in there to get it out of the way.  So now I'm finishing that project up.

Stayed home from the trip we were planning, it was too cold and windy.  I'm sure that decision saved us at least $100.

Renewed our Walgreen's prescription plan.  This saves us a lot of money on prescriptions, as we have such a hugh deductible on health insurance.

Made a quiche for lunch today.  Extra large eggs are 69 cents/ dozen!  Now's the time to dust off all those egg recipes. 

Well, that's about it for another week at the old Zempel boarding house.  I hope your week is filled with sunshine and fun!