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Sunday, December 27, 2015


Hello dear friends!  I hope this post finds you all safe and rested.  Did you have a jolly Christmas?   The week before Christmas we traveled downstate to visit with our son and family.  And wouldn't you know it? It snowed so we had a very slow and slippery trip back home.   Hazardous driving is becoming part of our Christmas tradition. Ha!  But in a way, I got my white Christmas.   Strangely, I found it very peaceful edging towards home on the icy roads in the warm and toasty car, confident that my dear husband would deliver us safely to our doorstep.    On Christmas eve, we attended a free screening of It's A Wonderful Life at our local theater.  I've watched  that movie dozens of times but I always shed a couple of tears at the ending, sentimental old fool that I am.  What a treat to see it on the big screen! Christmas itself, was a very quiet and nontraditional affair; lots of conversations via the phone and Skype, no presents (we're saving for a new car), and our meal was a Cajun fish dish that we really love but rarely have because fish is not usually in our price range.   You know what?  It was a perfect day! But now it's back to our normal thrifty routine.


 Ran has been warding off a cold by making a tea of pine needles and rosehip syrup .  To make the tea, just steep the chopped up  needles from a  red pine tree (the red pine has two needles) in boiling water.   Strain and drink.


We rarely eat meat, and even more rarely eat red meat, but every once in a great while, my body tells me I need some.  I can't explain it except to say that I start to feel very fragile.   It's taken me almost half a century to become attuned to my body; I abused it for many years eating processed foods and sweets, but one of the greatest benefits of our thrifty self-sufficient lifestyle is becoming more healthy via all the organic and wholesome foods we now grow and eat.  Also, now that we can't afford to run off to the doctor whenever we feel ill, we've had to study natural and alternative remedies.  Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that my body was telling me that I needed some red meat (probably iron).   Fortunately our local butcher had a cheap cut of steak on sale that was cheaper than hamburger, so I made this:
Boarding House Ragout

a few rashers of bacon, diced
4-6 med. potatoes, sliced
3-4 carrots, sliced
3 medium onions, sliced
1 lb. round steak (or any other cheap steak) cut into strips
1 C. beef broth

In a Dutch oven or large cooking pot, layer bacon, steak, onions, carrots and potatoes  Sprinkle each layer with salt and pepper.  Pour broth over top.  Cover and cook over medium-low heat until meat is cooked through and carrots and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. 

This is one of the old recipes from the 1920s or 30s, back when there were boarding houses.  People weren't  supposed to cook in their rooms, but often they'd sneak in a hot plate to make soups and dishes such as this.  Where have all the boardinghouses gone?   I think in these days, when people are really struggling, it would be a perfect solution for the young single working poor. Guess we've all become too independent. BTW, I think some cabbage would be good in this too (plus add more filling).  Probably wasn't included in the recipe because the smell would have alerted the boardinghouse owner.


When we were out for our Christmas walk, we discovered a pile of lumber that was been thrown out at a home undergoing renovations. Well, Merry Christmas!  Beautiful old pine boards and pretty trim, some 16 feet long.   We have so much fun making cupboards, such as the one I wrote about here, and shelves from salvaged materials.  We also keep all the nice hardwood boards from free pallets.   Our garage is getting full. So many possibilities! At the very least, we can always burn it for heat, but that would be a shame.   We only half-jokingly remark that we have almost enough free wood to build a house.   More and more we talk of selling this place and building further away from everything.  Someplace where we can have a well and keep a few chickens and bees.   We always see windows and doors being thrown out, not to mention beautiful old porcelain sinks  (the old-fashioned kind with the built-in drainboards).   I bet if we put our thinking caps on, we could build a very nice little cabin very cheaply with salvaged materials.  That's when you know you are a true thrifter; when you see a home in somebody else' junk pile!


Speaking of salvaging, my dear friend Mary, gave me a large bag of Ralph Lauren woolen samples from an upholstery shop.(She also gave me four skeins of that very expensive Madeline Tosh merino yarn that she found at a thrift store for 99cents each, but more about that another day).  

Such beautiful woolen pieces!   There are several samples that are large enough to make the front of a vest or maybe pillows, I haven't decided yet.  With the smaller pieces, I'm making another penny rug.

 This time in quieter tones.   I might make a table runner in the same manner as I made my woolen quilt  that I made earlier this year or perhaps pillows.  So many ideas!  Anyway, one of the life lessons  I've learned from Mary is that it doesn't hurt to ask. What's the worst that could happen?   Perhaps you know of an upholstery shop that would be glad to give you their  samples that they are getting rid of?

I also knitted  this cap for Ran, using this free pattern from Lion Brand yarns and Red Heart fleck yarn.

I call it the cosmic brownie hat, after those Little Debbie brownies. It's chocolate brown with colored sprinkles.   Jamie and I can't eat dairy so we freeze them in the summer for a special frozen treat.

Another thing that I always do after Christmas is to cut up the Christmas cards that we receive  into small rectangles and glue a piece of plain white paper on the back.  Then punch a small hole on the top and tie on a ribbon.  These I use for next year's gift tags.


The after-Christmas sales are great for getting wrap and decorations for next year, fortunately I didn't need any. But I did need wrap and ribbons for other occasions, so  I found some very non-Christmasy  wrap in silver and some spools of ribbon that were not red or green.  I also bought those nice white gift boxes and packages of tissue paper that makes hand knit or sewn items look special when giving them as presents.   Besides that I found some little stocking stuffers to put away for the shoe box Christmas charity next year.    In the past, I've bought the plain solid chocolate (the ones shaped like Santa, reindeer, etc.) and chopped them up for baking with throughout the year.  Cheaper than chips!  I also have purchased Christmas cacti and repotted them in pretty pots for next year's gift giving.  I was unsuccessful in finding any battery powered twinkle lights, which was my main mission.   Oh well!  I guess I've gotten along this far without them!


Attended a free showing of It's a Wonderful Life

Bought wrap and ribbons at the after-Christmas sale.

My son in Wisconsin sent us a gift box of assorted meats from a well-known Wisconsin meat packer and another son gave us some of his home raised turkey and lamb so we are all "meated" up for the next several months.

Started a penny rug from free woolen samples.

The fruit market is closing down for the winter and they had some great sales.  I bought  bags of chocolate chips for  99 cents a bag!  So I bought six bags, enough for the entire year.   They also  had bags of shredded cheese for 99 cents, which I froze.

We ate soup  this week using the small ham that was included in my son's gift.  That lasted for several days.  The rest of the ingredients came from the pantry and cold storage.

Salvaged a large pile of lumber.

Foraged red pine needles for a home remedy.

Took advantage of Ebay's no-fee listing to sell five items on Ebay.

Skyped with long distance relatives.

Made macaroni and cheese with all the leftovers in the cheesekeep, the remaining cream cheese and sour cream from holiday baking.  It made  a very rich dish, but now we can enter the new year with a clean  and healthy slate.

In spite of it being the Christmas week, we did pretty much what we do all year long; heat with wood, hang our clothes to dry, bake our own bread, eat from the fruit cellar and pantry, etc.

Well, this has been quite a year, with the birth of a granddaughter, friendships made and other rekindled, and new knowledge learned.  There have been some financial setbacks, but that's small potatoes in comparison  to all that we have gained.  We are looking forward to the new year, once again to face a clean slate.  One of the biggest blessings of this year has been the support of you dear friends.   May you go into the new year confidently and joyfully.



Monday, December 21, 2015


Hello dear friends!  I wanted to take a moment to wish you all the most joyful and peaceful Christmas.   I hope the day will be filled with all the things you desire.

As you may know from reading this blog, and I hope it is no secret, that I am a Christian.  For me, Christmas is more a holy-day than a holiday.   I try to get all the baking,  wrapping, decorating and celebrating out of the way in the beginning of the month, so that as the day approaches I have plenty of time to reflect upon what Christmas means to me. 

I ponder about the humble beginnings of our Savior, born in a lowly stable.  I think of His mother, Mary.   Was she thinking of what He was destined to be as she gazed upon her newborn babe?  I think of the great sacrifice of God the Father, who loved us so much that He gave His only begotten son, to die for us.  Just think of that. As a parent I can't even imagine such a sacrifice.  I remember that the very first to hear the Good News of the birth of the Messiah, were the shepherds in the field, not royalty.  My heart is full.

There may be wars and rumors of wars, pestilences, earthquakes in diverse places, famines and economic collapses, but I am at peace.   Because I know that whatever may befall me, this mortal world is only temporary.  That everlasting life is waiting for me on the other side all because of a tiny baby born in a stable over two thousand years ago.  So I'll go out into the cold December night, look up into the starry heavens and send up a prayer of thankfulness.  Then go to bed and sleep in heavenly peace.

 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

~John 14:27~

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
~John 16:33~

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful
~Colossians  3:15


Peace and hugs,

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Hello dear friends!  Staying dry?   I can't believe it!   We actually had a thunderstorm today.   If I had known it was going to be this mild, I would have planted more lettuce!   I suppose we'll merrily glide along this winter with balmy temperatures and on the first day of spring we'll get a blizzard.   It never fails.   Winter always does show up.   I just discovered one benefit of snow, it brightens up the short dark days.   I feel as though we are living inside a coal mine these days.  Now I understand why the Druids brought evergreen boughs into their huts.   Anything to add a bit of cheer.

Here's a bit of greenery I made for our side porch:
A wreath I made from the rosehips I gathered this fall.   More and more I find that I want to decorate with handmade items and less store bought things.  It's funny, but when you are young, you want so many things, but as you get older, the less you want.  I was watching an old TV program the other day and one of the characters summed it up so well.  Happiness is within oneself.  It isn't what we have or how much we have that counts,it's how much of what we have that we actually enjoy. It's a gift to enjoy what you have, even if it is meager, and to share it.  I was reminded of this the other day when I saw the uproar on social media about a woman that posted a picture of her Christmas tree stacked to the top with presents.  I really have to wonder how many of those presents her children will enjoy.   After a while too many things becomes tiresome, like eating too many Christmas cookies.  The first is good, the second is nice, but by the time you bite into the third one, well, you start to feel a little ill.


Speaking of Christmas cookies, I've discovered that any cookie recipe becomes a Christmas cookie, if you frost it and add some sprinkles.
Put them in a tin with a doily or tissue paper and you have yourself a gift.   Long ago I learned presentation is everything.  I never spent much on presents, but taking care  in wrapping them and tying  on a nice ribbon (bought at the thrift store) impressed people. If you are going to be thrifty, you have to be clever!  A mug of hot cocoa is extra cozy if you add whipped cream and crushed candy canes (free from the local Santa).
Bonus points if your mug has a Grandma Moses illustration on it! (Or whatever you love)


Another homemade item that says "Christmas"  are homemade pomanders.  
I make a few each year from those oranges that get shoved to the back of the fridge and aren't discovered until they have become wizened.   All you need is a darning or knitting needle and some cheap whole cloves from the dollar store to make them.  Just poke holes in the rind and poke the cloves in.  Then just let them set out until the dry and harden.  I make a few each year, and store them in a plastic bag in the attic.   I also add dried oranges, pinecones from the yard, star anise and cinnamon sticks to the mix.   Boy does it ever smell wonderful!   They never seem to lose their scent.


I finally got my nativity set glued back together.  It is one of the focal points of our Christmas decor.   The stable was built by my grandfather during the Depression from scrap lumber he had lying about his farm.

Growing up, it had celluloid figurines from Woolworths that my grandmother had painted, but eventually they all broke and had to be replaced.   We were always allowed to play with the creche.   It's a wonderful way for children to learn the Christmas story, acting it out with the figures.

Years ago, I used to spend days decorating for the holidays but now I just do little touches here and there like this tannenbaum candy mold hanging from a ribbon with a sprig of red berries.
And I place small nativity sets and angels   here and there; reminders of the spiritual aspects of Christmas.


Another homemade decoration is paper snowflakes.  Here's  how to fold and cut them:

Step 1:  Fold a regular sheet of copy or writing paper to make a triangle, like this:

Cut off the excess paper at the top and save for making lists.

Step 2: Fold the paper into a smaller triangle.
Step 3:  Now take one corner and fold the paper to the halfway point of the triangle.
Step 4: Fold the other corner to match the edge of the fold on the other side.
Step 5:  Now cut across the paper at an angle.
You'll have this shape:
Step 6:  Cut shapes along all the sides.  The more shapes you cut the lacier your snowflake will be.
Step 7:   Unfold and behold! you have a snowflake!

This was one way we used to entertain the boys.  If you don't want to waste paper and are more techie, here's  a site for a fun on-line game for making snowflakes.  Warning!  It can become addictive!


Heated our house with wood.

Washed our clothes in the old wringer washer, saving on water and detergent.

Reused the rinse water for flushing toilets.

Hung the clothes in the woodstove room to dry, thus putting humidifying the air.

Baked cookies for inexpensive Christmas gifts.

Discovered it was cheaper to ship presents in our boxes, then those pre-paid ones at the post office.

Re-used Christmas card from the past (there's always a few left in the box, rather than ditch them, just put them away with your decorations at the end of the year.  In a few years, you'll have enough so you won't need to buy any)

Walked almost everywhere because we thought our car was having a problem.  Today we figured it out on our own saving us mega bucks at the mechanics!

Ate from the pantry.

Started knitting a hat from my yarn stash.

Watched a Christmas movie on Hulu for free.

Used our cash-back incentives at Walgreens to get our items (cashews on sale) for free.

So that's it!  Not the most exciting week, but that's OK, because sometimes we just need quiet!   Hope everyone is enjoying this Advent season.  Always remember that joy is within your reach!


Sunday, December 6, 2015


Hello dear friends!   Hope you all are having a jolly time.   Today we awoke to a heavy frost and yesterday we had a freezing fog, but no snow yet.  The weather  forecast, which is about as reliable as a dime store barometer,  isn't predicting any for the foreseeable future, either.   Bah humbug!  I just wish it wasn't so green out.  Looks more like spring than winter.  Green can become tiresome after a while.   Oh!  But we did spy several flocks of swans flying overhead and spotted a flock of about thirty grazing in a farmer's field.   That always gives me a thrill.  I'm so happy to live where swans stop by for a visit from time to time. Rejoice in the little things!


Another little thing I'm rejoicing in this week is that I found some great bargains at the grocery store.  At our bulk food store they had a bag of ends from the deli meats for $1.49/lb.   I took them home and sliced them with my handy-dandy  extra-sharp paring knife and we had enough for a dozen sandwiches from a two dollar purchase.  It was a mixture of different flavors, so we had fun with the different varieties.  Soup and half a sandwich is a grand meal.

The point being, be adventurous in your grocery shopping.  Don't just stick to the normal big name stores, whose names begin with a W. and  a C., if you catch my drift.  I find the best bargains at independently owned grocers, the big stores never have anything that is reduced-for-quick-sale except for bakery items, I've found.   Don't know what they do with the deli ends but they sure don't offer them for sale for $1.49/lb.  I always look at grocery shopping as a fun game.   It's exciting to see how much I can buy for the least amount of money.   It's time consuming, for sure, but since it has to be done anyhow, might as well make it fun!

Try different places, too.   The Middle Eastern grocer has the best price on rice, chickpeas and lentils.  The little Mexican grocer has wonderful prices on pinto beans and corn meal.   Big Lots has bargains on pasta, canned vegetables  and coffee.   Nobody beats Aldi's for cheese.  There's also the bakery outlets for inexpensive bread.  We practically lived off of that bargain bread when we were first married and budgeted $17.50 a week for groceries.  We'd buy those cheap meat pies (back then they were 4/$1 when on sale) and sop up every last bit of the gravy with outlet store bread.  We survived!  And didn't have any weight problems back then either!

Be adventurous!  Make a day of grocery shopping.  Take only a certain amount of money with you and see how far you can make it stretch.  Plan your menus on the fly, by what bargains you find.  You'd be surprised at how much fun it can be! Thriftiness can be a fun adventure or drudgery, it's all in your attitude!


Today we had one of those make-do meals, using up a lot of things in the fridge.  I commented to my husband that it tasted and looked like one of those meals that you see in vintage war-time rationing cookbooks.  Was it a gastronomical wonder? No, but it filled us up and was nutritious  with its brown rice and vegetables.  And isn't that what food is supposed to be after all?   Something to keep you from being hungry and supply you with fuel to keep you going?   With all the TV shows and magazine emphasizing  how grand food is, we sometimes forget  the purpose of food.   No wonder we have such obesity problems in this country.  Food has become our entertainment, companion and medication.  I shudder to think of what would happen if something catastrophic happened here and we had to start eating like  many people in third world countries do. I fear some people wouldn't be able to cope with a diet of rice, beans and vegetables from the garden.  I know one thing, I'd be a lot skinnier! Ha! Sometimes, good enough is good enough!


Soup is one of the most economical meals you can make; one large pot can last for several meals and it can be as soupy or as thick as you want.  My pastor used to tell me all the time, "you can always add more water to the soup.".  Plus it's a great way to get the kiddies to eat their vegetables.  We try to make at least one potful a week.

I saw a recipe for Lasagna soup, but couldn't locate it when I needed it, so I came up with my own recipe.  Oh!   That's another thing about soup, it's very adaptable to whatever you have on hand.  So I just guessed at the ingredients, judging them to be whatever goes into a nice vegetable lasagna.  I started by reconstituting some of our dried peppers and  mushrooms (whenever I find a good buy on mushrooms, we buy as many as we can and dry them), which I sauteed with some onions and garlic.  I threw that in a pot of home-canned vegetable broth along with some diced carrots.   I had a can of spinach that was reaching its expiration date and some cannellini  beans, so I tossed them in too.  Then I added a jar of my own spaghetti sauce and tomatoes.  Added some homegrown oregano, rosemary and basil for flavor.  By this time it was looking like a lovely soup, but then we decided to kick it up a notch by adding some stealth health by the name of dried kale.  Well!  That made for some ugly brown soup!  It tasted great but wasn't the prettiest, so I didn't take a picture.  We served it sprinkled with some Parmesan cheese on top and garlic toast made from stale bread.   You can leave off the cheese, if you prefer to make it fully vegan.  BTW, I never was much of a cheese eater until I became a vegan for several years.  It was the only thing I really missed and now I love the stuff!  Guess my Swiss and Dutch genes kicked in!


Can you believe it?  We're already one week into December!   I'm finishing up making goodies for Christmas packages, as they need to be sent off this week.  Candy has always been  part of our celebration because when my father was a youngster, during the Depression, the only treat he got was candy in his Christmas stocking.   To him, Christmas wasn't Christmas without a big box of chocolates.   Fudge is part of our traditions too.  My sisters and I would make it by the ton to give to everyone; teacher, pastors, neighbors and boyfriends.   It was our "go-to" present.  There were only two things my oldest sister learned to make in home economics class; Spanish rice and fudge. 
I've become quite an experienced fudge maker over the years and have picked up quite a few tricks on how to make the creamiest old-fashioned fudge ever.  This is one of the more economical recipes for it;  most things  can be found in a well-stocked pantry, with the exception of the buttermilk.  I always keep buttermilk in my fridge for baking bread and biscuits.  We buy ours from a local dairy and it has beautiful flecks of butter in it.   Great for making salad dressings too.  Anyhoo, here's the directions.  Make sure you have some strong arms available!

Old-Fashioned  Chocolate Fudge

3 C. sugar
1 1/2 C. buttermilk
1/3 C. cocoa
dash of salt
1/4 C. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 C. chopped nuts (optional)

1.  Combine the sugar, buttermilk, cocoa and salt in a pot that is twice the size of the ingredients.
     (The boiling mixture will expand)
2. Stir over med.-high heat until mixture comes to a full rolling boil.
3.  Stop stirring (important or your fudge will turn out grainy) and lower heat to low-medium, maintaining a full boil.
4.  Cook until temperature on  candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees or  soft ball.You can test by    dropping a bit into a cup of cold water.  If the mixture forms a soft ball by rolling between your fingers without falling apart, it's done. Start testing around 235 degrees.  I like mine to be just slightly under the 240 degrees on the thermometer, hence the 238 degrees.
5. Put butter and vanilla into mixture.  Do not stir.
6.  Place pot in a pan of cold water to cool.
7. Once the bottom of the pot has cooled enough to touch the bottom but is still very warm, begin  beating the  mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. (No metal spoons)
8. Stir in the nuts.
9. Beat until the mixture loses some of its glossiness and becomes thick like frosting.  If you pinch some together, it should hold together. (This is a long and labor intensive procedure.It's good to have help.)
10.  Pour into a well-buttered 8 inch pan.  Cool before cutting.


Getting my  gift knitting finished up.   Hopefully these mittens will be the last red thing I have to knit for a while.   This mittens knit up quickly, using bulky yarn and only two needles.  So if you have to make a quick last minute gift, these are for you.  It only took me a couple of hours to run them up. Here's the pattern:

1 skein  bulk weight yarn
1 pair size 8 knitting needles
2 stitchholders

Gauge: 4 stitches= 1 inch

Right mitten:

Cast on 28 sts.
1st row: P14, K2, P8,K2, P2
2nd row:  K2, P2, slip next 2 stitches to an extra needle and hold in front, knit next 2 stitches,
                 Knit the 2 stitches from the extra needle, slip the next 2 stitches to an extra needle and hold         in back, knit next 2 stitches, knit 2 stitches from extra needle, P2, K 14
Row 3:  Repeat row 1
Row 4:  K2, P2, K8,P2, K14
Repeat row 3 and 4 once more than repeat row 2
Continue to work this way until 3 cables have been made, ending with 3rd row.
Increase for thumb:  Work across 15 stitches, increase 1 stitch, K1, increase 1 stitch, K to end
Work stitches on back as they come
2nd increase:  Work across 15 stitches, increase 1 stitch, K3, increase 1 stitch, K to end
Work stitches on back as they come
Continue to increase this way on every K row  having 2 more stitches between increases  until there are 9 stitches on thumb gore.
Work across 15 stitches and place them on holder
Knit across the 9 thumb stitches, increase 1 stitch on last stitch
Place remaining stitches on holder.
Work the 10 stitches in stockinette stitch for 10 rows, ending with a purl row.
K2 together across next row.  Break yarn
Thread a tapestry needle and and run through the remaining stitches twice.
Sew up thumb on wrong side
Back to mitten:
Place first 15 stitches from holder on needle, pick up and knit 4 stitches across thumb base.  Place remaining stitches on needle and work across.
Continue in pattern until 8 cables are made, ending with 3rd row.
First decrease:
K2, P2 together, K8, P2 together, K2, K2 together, K8, K2 together, K2
Work back as they show
2nd decrease:
K2, K2 together, K6, K2 together, K2, K2 together, K6, K2 together, K2
Purl back
3rd decrease:
K2 together across
Break yarn and finish as thumb.
Sew mitten on wrong side

Left Mitten:
1st row:
P2, K2, P8, K2, P14
Finish left mitten to correspond to right mitten.


Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly Merry Christmas.
~Peg Bracken~


Knitted mittens for a gift from my yarn stash.  Been knitting for almost half a century, I have an awesome yarn stash!

Made fudge for Christmas packages from pantry staples.

Bought deli ends for $1.49/lb.  For $2 I had enough for 10 sandwiches.

Made a casserole from things that had to be used up in the fridge.

Attended some Christmas doings in town for free entertainment.

Bought some woodworking supplies that we needed at an estate sale for $3.

Made a big pot of soup that lasted for several meals.

Ran made a cute Christmas sign for the house from some free pallet wood and paints we already had.  Got the idea from one we saw one in a store for $18.

Only used the furnace for heating the house during the night.

Decorated our window box from clippings from trimming our evergreens.

Bought a beautiful sweater ($3.50) from the thrift store that came from the Sundance catalog. Expensive stuff in that catalog!

So that's it for this week.  Hope you have a jolly and bright week!  A happy Hanukkah to my Jewish  and Torah observant friends! Get out there and enjoy yourselves!

Hugs to all!