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Sunday, February 21, 2016


Hello dear friends!   Hope you are having a wonderful Sunday!  Yesterday it was almost 50 degrees and sunny.  It was so good to feel the sun on my face again,  while being a mild winter, it has also been a very dark one.  The snow has started to ebb away and it fills me with hope that spring will soon follow.  Soon we will once again begin the process of starting the seeds and tilling the garden, but for now we will rest and enjoy the waning days of winter.  As many advancements that man has made, for us, we continue in the old cycles of life, just as our ancestors have done for centuries, sowing and reaping. 


I have several people inquire about more information on how we spend so little for groceries.  I think the most important task is to set up a minimal pantry.   I have written a few posts back about my bare-bones baking pantry, but I also have a bare-bones cooking pantry, although most of the items in it are not stored in the pantry.  These are items that use in almost every meal I prepare;  onions, canned tomatoes, carrots, celery, eggs, butter, salt and pepper, cooking oil,  milk and cheese.  While I like to buy these things on sale, if I run out of any of these items I will buy them at whatever price the store is selling them for, within reason,  still trying to get the best deal because without them, meals can't be made.  Fortunately for us, we grow enough potatoes and onions to see us through the year,  and when the stored ones are no longer edibles I resort to my dried onions and canned potatoes.  Ditto for tomatoes and carrots.  Out of the $150 a month I spend on groceries, I'd say about $30 of it goes to restocking the must-haves.
My bare-bone cooking pantry with home-dried vegetables.

 Another $40 goes for stocking up on items as they come on sale.   I know that in March, I will be buying corned beef if I can find it for reduced price after St. Patrick's day, which I will can.  I also know that butter usually goes on sale right before Easter for baking, so I try to stock up then and  freeze several pounds.  Ham is another item that can be found pretty cheaply around Easter and can be canned for future use. Pork is also inexpensive now.  All of these items probably will cost more than the $40 I have allotted  for stocking up, so the extra cost will come out of the remaining  $80.

The remaining money is spent on our meals for the month.  We only eat what is in season, can be bought cheaply or is on sale.  It's a fun little game for us to see how far we can stretch those dollars.  Our local butcher usually has some kind of meat in his reduced-for-quick sale  cooler and that determines what meat we eat for that week.  This week, we were fortunate to be paid for some work with some lamb chops and a turkey breast.  So this week we had the chops for Sunday dinner and then we took the bones and prepared a broth with them, which will be a basis for a soup using the carrots, onions and celery that is part of our bare-bone cooking pantry. This will make enough soup for two days, if we stretch it by serving half a sandwich or a good hearty bread and cheese.  The remainder of the week's meals will come from the pantry.  We always try to make soup as one of our meals each week because it is such a thrifty thing to do.  Plus it uses up all the meat scraps and the vegetables that need using up.
And we try to have a couple meatless ones too, such as a vegetable stir-fry, bean burrito or vegetable pizza. Eggs are usually a lost leader right before Easter and I'll buy several dozen and base a few of our meals on them; quiche, egg and ham pie, egg salad sandwiches, etc. 

All our toiletries come out of our grocery budget also.  However we spend very little upon them.  We make our own soap from fats that we collect during my massive meat canning sessions, the remainder of the fat is coconut oil that we buy from the bulk food store inexpensively.  The only other cost is for a container of lye.  The coconut oil makes our soap very moisturizing, better than any commercially made soap I've found.  All in all, soap costs us about $1 a pound.  From that soap we make our own dish soap.  I've tried making my own laundry soap in the past, but after doing the calculations, I discovered that it wasn't any cheaper that some of the commercially made laundry detergents, and I didn't like how it cleaned.  I buy a cheap brand called Sun from the discount stores.    The last jug  I bought was on sale for $3.99 for 166 loads, less than 2.5 cents a load.  Of course, I use less than the suggest amount and because we use an old-timey wringer washer, we re-use the wash water for a couple of loads, so we even save more.  A big jug of soap like that will last us several months.  I also buy the cheap Suave brand shampoo, conditioner and deodorant. I love their argan oil shampoo.  BTW, just because the directions say to wash, rinse, wash on the bottle of shampoo, it isn't necessary if your hair isn't that dirty, one wash and rinse is enough.  And it helps to pour your shampoo into a pump-style bottle so you don't use more than you need. So you see, toiletries are only a few dollars out of my budget each month.

Of course, once the garden starts producing, we spend even less.  Our meals are planned around what is ripe and needs using up in the garden.   We eat a lot more meatless meals then.  And I can everything I can get my hands on to see us through the seven months (our last frost date is May 18th) when our garden isn't producing much.  Basically, we eat according to the season and what we have.  For instance, this year we had apples coming out of our ears, so almost everything I've baked from October until now has been apple based.  I even grate them and add that to meatloaves and add chunks of apples to baked beans.  Would I like to have something besides apples? Sure!  But apples is what we have, so apples are what we eat.  It is only food after all, and apples are just as nutritional as some expensive fruit that is out of season this time of year.  In other words, we eat what we have. Hope that helps explain  it a little better!


My skin has been so dry lately.  Probably sitting fireside hasn't helped.  I have tried several moisturizers,  but they didn't seem t be helping.  In desperation I grabbed that pine salve I wrote about last week and slathered it on my face.  It's really greasy but it's abut the only thing that has kept my skin hydrated throughout the night.  You don't need to use the white pine for a salve, just heat some olive oil and add an equal amount of beeswax to bind it all together.  Cheap and right from the pantry shelf.

The other thing was finding a substitute for the microbead scrub I was using.   Here's a very easy one from the pantry: combine 1 cup white sugar with 1/4 cup coconut oil.


After spring cleaning, I wanted to do some sprucing, so I made this runner and mat for our dining room table:
I used a packet of the pre-cut charm squares  and it only took a few hours to sew and quilt the runner.  The mat was made from some quilt squares I had sewn and then lost interest in completing the quilt.  Speaking of quilting, I just love a good old country quilt shop!  Every time I visit one is like a mini-vacation for me.  When we lived in Wisconsin, they had a couple wonderful ones, with  wood floors and beautiful traditional style quilts hanging everywhere.  Never can resist buying some charm packs or fat quarters.  For me, it's an inexpensive luxury that gives so much joy.  Just goes to show you that you don't necessarily need a boatload of money to buy some happiness!


My husband was paid for some work  with lamb chops and  a turkey breast.

Sewed a runner and mat from fabric I already had.

Ate out at Subway on Tuesday when they had buy one get one free plus they had double points.

Watched the entire series of Wives and Daughters  for free on YouTube.

Made my own facial scrub from pantry items.

Found a new Amish discount grocery store.

Collected a large bin of things for our garage sale and gave four bags of clothes to charity.

It was a slow week.  I have been  having a bout of arthritis in my knee that's really been hindering my doings. :) It's nothing too bad, just annoying, probably due to all the wild swings in our weather lately.  Hope you all have a lovely week!


Sunday, February 14, 2016


Happy Valentine's Day dear friends!  Hope you are having a nice one!   It's beautiful and sunny here today, but cold.  The thermometer read zero when we woke up. 
But what does that matter  when the sky is such a pretty blue?  It reminds me of those old blue milk glass  candy dishes my grandmother had.  The other day we driving between Port Austin and the next town over when I was overcome with such a sense of serenity.  The snowy fields glistening , the red barns in the distant, the snow tipped pines and that beautiful sky; it was almost too much to take in!

Guess what I'm doing today?  Spring cleaning!   It finally looks like winter and I'm thinking ahead to the next season.   Ran went downstate to help our oldest son build chicken coops for his business and he took Georgie with him.   Which means it's the perfect time to clean and run the vacuum all day.  Corgis are notorious for the dislike of the vacuum cleaner.  I think they are trying to herd them.  Oh my!  Was this ever the year for the cobwebs!  Here's a corner of my spotlessly clean  kitchen bathed in the last of the evening sun:
Now no one better dare cook anything greasy in there for at least a month!


This is also the week that the local thrift store starts their big winter clearance.  Most of the clothes were 87 cents!   This is the time that I start to look for interesting fabrics and buttons on clothing and nice sweaters to unravel for the yarn.  I found a very pretty plaid shirt with a zillion buttons on it.  How much  does a card of four  buttons cost these days?  Probably more than 87 cents!  Plus the fabric was 100% cotton and very soft.  I made three handkerchiefs from it and monogrammed them.  Yes, we use handkerchiefs at our house.  You don't think I'd spend money on Kleenexes do you?  So for 87 cents, I got three handkerchiefs and a dozen pretty buttons.
  I also found a sweater made of lambswool and angora to unravel.  Nice thick soft wool in a pretty gray and cream marl.  Should make a dandy pair of slippers and mittens.  BTW, I was very good and didn't buy any clothes for myself.  Didn't even entertain the thought.  I'll go back and check for more buttons and wool, once they knock the prices down to 95%  off, which amounts to about 17 cents a garment.  While I'm there, I always check for 100% linen blouses.  I use them for making samplers, like this one I made for this Valentine's Day.


Speaking of knitting, while cleaning, I found my pattern for how to knit a ripple afghan.  These are great for using all those bits of skeins left over from other projects.  

Ripple Afghan

Cast on 210 stitches on your longest size 7 circular needles.

Row 1: Knit
Row 2: Purl
Row 3: Knit 6 place a marker then * K2 together three times, Yarn over, Knit 1 six times, Knit 2 together three times*  repeat between the *s 11 times. Place marker. Knit 6.
Row 4:  Purl 6. Knit to the last six stitches (the marker) and Purl 6.

Repeat these 4 rows until you have reached the length you desire, ending in row 1 and 2. Change the colors of yarn as often as you want.  8 rows per color is nice.

Another little project I just finished up this week is this cute little guy:

 The directions on how to make him can be found in How To Sew Little Felt Animals by Sue Quinn.  He's just a trial sample,  I couldn't find cotter pins in the right size.  I discovered that those little brass thingamajigs that you buy at the stationary store to attache several pages together work great in place of the cotter pins.  I hope to make an entire woodland family for my granddaughter for Christmas, but this little guy has some problems, so he'll be staying with us. 


One of the most economical and fun things to do is to start a scrapbag and button box.  Any time you have a piece of clothing that is no longer wearable, rip it apart at the seams, cut out the areas with stains and remove the buttons.  The pretty pieces go into a bag for making patchwork, sewing doll clothes and potholders and making cute little guys like the one above for free.   The ugly and stained stuff goes into another bag for using to clean up spills and in the workshop. ( I don't buy paper towels either)  All the buttons go into a button box.  I don't think we ever bought buttons  when growing up.  My grandmother  gave us her button box and it supplied  us with buttons for over four decades of sewing.   Living through the Great Depression, she knew the meaning of "use it up".  She even meticulously picked out all the stitches and  saved all the zippers and hem binding.  I sort my fabrics into two scrapbags; one for cottons and one for woolens.  Here's my pretty woolens just waiting for me to start a new project. 
My fingers are itching!  BTW, see that pretty Hitchcock style chair circa 1820 that I bought at an auction for $20?  No one knew what a gem it was, except me.  Pays to educate yourself!


The winds were wicked last week.   You could feel them slamming against the house.  Being in direct alignment with the lake, we get some pretty brutal weather as the wind travels across the great expanse of Lake Huron.  But one advantage for us, was that it  downed a lot of branches, some pretty big, including some white pine, which gave us the opportunity to make some white pine salve.  (I'm sorry I called it a tincture last week.  For some reason I always think of salves as tinctures, perhaps because I'm thinking of tin-ctures, something you put in a tin. A tincture is an alcoholic extract of a plant, btw.) Anywho, to make the salve, gather the inner, white bark of a white pine. Place the bark in a pan along with a handful of the needles and pour enough olive oil over just to cover the bark.  Gently warm the oil for around 24 hours or until the white  bark starts to turn a rusty brown color and the pine needles lose their color.   We do this by placing the pan atop our woodstove.  The oil should just be warmed, never simmered or boiled
.   Once the oils from the bark have infused the oil, strain the oil through several layers of cheesecloth.  Now measure your oil and add an equal amount of beeswax, gently warming to melt the beeswax.  Pour into clean jars.  This makes a wonderful antimicrobial ointment.  My husband has serious psoriasis on the palms of his hands of all places.   He's tried everything to get them to heal, but so far this has worked the best.  He applies it to his palms and then puts on cotton gloves overnight while he sleeps.


The other day while shopping I noticed a package of boneless pork chops on sale for $2.09.  It was slightly less than a pound.  Not enough for everyone but a great opportunity to make one of my son's favorite dishes, pork fried rice.   This recipe makes a lot and it tastes just as good as any you'd get in a Chinese restaurant.  The secret is in marinading the pork.  Here's the recipe:

First prepare the pork but cutting it into thin strips.
Next prepare the marinade:

Combine together in a quart sized zip-lock bag:
 1tsp. salt
3 tbsp.  brown sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
a dash of pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1  tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. ketchup
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. Hoisin sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder
and 1 tbsp. or so of hot water, just to thin the marinade a bit.

Add the pork strips and marinade over night.

The next day prepare the rice:

Cook 2 C. of white rice in 4 C. of beef broth until the rice is tender.  You may need to add more water (I also add some of my stealth health in the way of some powder kale, purslane and broccoli)

While the rice is cooling prepare the sauce by combining:
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. honey

Combine and set aside.

Next stir fry the marinated pork in a wok or large frying pan over high heat with a couple tablespoons of oil.   Remove the meat and add vegetables of your choice.  I use what I have on hand, mushrooms, green onions, carrots and celery.  Bean sprouts are great too, if you have some sprouted. Other vegetables that work are peas, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and broccoli.  Use as much and as many vegetables as you want.  The more you add the farther the dish stretches. Stir fry the vegetables until the are cooked but still crisp.  Add the meat back in with the vegetables. Add the rice and heat it through.  Now add the sauce and continue to stir fry until the sauce is incorporated and the rice starts to get crispy in spots. Add salt and pepper to taste.   There you have it! Pork fried rice and did I mention that it tastes better the second day? Make it a big meal by adding some vegetable egg rolls that a posted about a few weeks back.


I just saw on YouTube a great way to save over $1400 this year.  It's really pretty simple.  Just get out your calendar and number all the Saturdays of the year, one through 53 (there's 53 Saturdays this year) . Now get out  a coffee tin or other container and  every Saturday put in the dollar amount that corresponds with that Saturday.  You'll have to play catch-up bit that's pretty easy because so far it's only something like $15.  Of course it will be harder to make the deposits when it nears the end of the year, when you have to put in 50 - 53 dollars a week, but by then you should become accustom to saving and are making adjustments to reach your goals.  Just knowing that you have to save $50  a week in December, with Christmas and property taxes coming due, ought to keep you from getting caught up in all the crazy spending that happens that time of the year.  


Made pine bark salve from a fallen branch
Sewed a little doll from my scrapbag.
Unraveld a thrifted 87 cent sweater for the wool.
Made enough food from $2.00 worth of meat and vegetables that needed using up to last for three meals.
Made handkerchiefs from another 87 cent garment.  Salvaged a dozen buttons.
Found a frame at a thrift store for my sampler for $1.50.
Paid cash at the doctor's office and received a 10% discount.
Didn't celebrate Valentines Day
Got some free pallets for firewood.  Nice hardwood ones that burned for hours.
Got free shipping when ordering some plants from a mail order source.
Basically stayed home and therfore, didn't spend any money.

So that's it for this week!   Hope you all are enjoying the day and have a fun-filled and thrifty week!


Sunday, February 7, 2016


Hello dear friends! Can you believe we are already one week into February?  How time flies! Several friends have inquired what I did this week, and to be honest, I couldn't say, but I do know that I kept busy.  For instance, today we spent an hour fiddling with trying to get the printer to work.  We were out of magenta ink and even though we wanted to print in black and white, the machine refused to do it!  Modern technology that is supposed to make your life easier  just gobbled  up an hour of  my day.  And you know what?  Never did get that stupid thing to work.  No wonder I long to go off-the-grid! Looks like it's time for a new printer, because the ink cartridges cost as much as a new printer.  All this rigmarole just for the "pleasure" of doing our taxes!   Do you ever have weeks like that?

One of the silly things I did this week was to make maple chips.
I couldn't resist photographing them in one of my Sugar Maples teacups from my Friendly Village set.  Every year about this time, I start to crave maple.  I found a recipe for maple cookies that required maple baking chips, but after a thorough search, I discovered that no such thing exists, but I did find this link on how to make some.   I didn't microwave mine, but used an old-fashioned double boiler.  And next time I won't waste my time piping them onto wax paper, but instead just spread the melted chocolate on some wax paper and break that up into little bits.  You can always buy white chocolate after the holidays when those little bunny, Santas, and hearts go on sale for half price.  Anyway, this had me thinking of all the different flavors I could make.  I think I will try coconut next.  And maybe strawberry would be good in a chocolate cookie?


I was reading an article on-line about one of the most important steps young adults can do to prosper is to learn the value of money.  Today with electronic transactions, people often don't even think of money as money.  Just pull out the old debit or credit card.  That's why one of the ways people can learn to budget is to get actual cash, place it in an envelope for each expenditure, and when the money runs out, you're through spending for the month.  Nothing like a dwindling stack of cash to make you realize how little money you really have and how quickly it can slip from your fingers. I don't do that, but I check my checking account balance daily, and I keep lists of everything I spend money upon, even that fifty cent bottle of water when out shopping.  I make my own accounts book out of notebooks that I buy during the "back-to-school" sales.  On one page I keep my ledger and on the other page I keep columns for food, medical, utilities, clothing, etc. And I keep track of every penny.  This way, I can see where I need to do better.  Some things you just can't fight, I've discovered.  I was trying to keep my groceries at $75 for the month, but we eat almost that much in fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter. We try to eat green leafies every day.  I realized I really need to double that for a realistic budget.  Still $150 a month for three adults isn't bad.  That extra $75 dollars had to come out of one of the other categories,  in our case entertainment , gasoline and clothing.

One of the ways to help yourself from spending too much is to think of how long you have to work for each item.   Believe me, if you think that you have to  work three hours  (calculated on a wage of $20/hour minus the taxes) for that cute $45 sweater, the "cuteness'" sort of wanes!  Especially when you discover that you can buy ten just-as-cute sweaters from the thrift store for the same price.  A steak might sound tasty, but when you  discover you have to work an hour to have enough for you and your spouse, is it any better than a ten pound bag  of dry beans?  Enough beans for ten meals and ten sweaters or steak for one meal and one sweater?  It's a different way of looking at wealth, but you can be wealthy by wisely spending your money.

Not that I don't spend money foolishly from time to time!  This week we spotted a new to us thrift store on our drive home from the bulk food store  (had to stock up on flour, canning lids, and vegetable oil).  I found five skirts from the Sundance catalog at $1.50 each.  I figured I could sell them on Ebay if I didn't like them, but I do, so I'm keeping them.  I know that I have too many clothes! I also bought two pieces of fabric,  the plaid one is 3 1/2 yards that I plan to make an old-fashioned apron from and the cute one with the cherries  is slated to be made into either tote bags, potholders, or aprons for Christmas presents.


I'm sure you know people that seem to have everything, but never seem happy.  Conversely, I've seen some seriously poor people that delight in mundane things that most of us take for granted.  Little children in third world countries that are given  a simple rubber ball that most American children would turn up their noses at, furnishes them with many more hours of enjoyment than those expensive video games we buy or children.  Every year we select a child from a charity,  some of the things they ask for, truly humbles us;  a warm shirt, mittens, a shaving kit,  warm pajamas.We have so much in comparison.    True wealth is being content and finding joy in what you do have, not  in wanting what you don't or can't have.


We've been spending most of of our grocery money on stocking up on bulk items so we've been using a lot of home-canned goods  and things we have dried or are in the root cellar.  This week we had:

Chicken Cordon Bleu  Casserole (home canned  ham and chicken, dried mushrooms, onions from the  root cellar, and Swiss cheese  from the freezer)
Vegetable Lasagna  (cheese from the freezer, home dried peppers and mushrooms, home canned  spaghetti sauce and eggplant)
Beef Stroganoff (home canned sirloin and beef broth,  served on potatoes from the root cellar)
A ham, green onion  and cream cheese spread on homemade crackers with a salad (home canned ham)
A big pot of pinto beans cooked with a smoked ham hock on cornbread. (home dried beans, celery and peppers, onions from the root cellar)
Home made pizza (cheese from the freezer, home canned spaghetti sauce, home dried mushrooms and peppers, onions from the root cellar)

We serve most of our meals with a big green salad, which is where most of our grocery money goes. Can't wait for Spring, when we'll have our own lettuce once again!  In the mean time we are stretching our lettuce by adding our sprouts to the salad. Our  main meal of the day is lunch.  We eat the leftovers for dinner or I have home-canned soups in the pantry that we can heat up.
For dessert we made banana pudding and apple cake from the King Arthur website.

We're still working our way through the bushels of apples we picked last fall. This made a huge cake so we froze half of it for later.

Which just goes to show you, being thrifty doesn't mean you have to live poorly!


For this month's charity knitting  I couldn't resist making a pair of pink mitts in honor of  Valentine's Day. I had to take a photo before I was finished because I was losing the light, but they will be finished today.
The little sampler is one that I copied from Pinterest.


Found some more flagstones for our walk in the vacant lot.

Knitted a pair of mittens from my yarn stash.

Bought five Sundance catalog skirts for a grand total of $7.50.

Bought bulk canning lids at 12 cents a lid (a lot less than a box of 12)

Bought fabric at the thrift store, five yards was cheaper than one at the fabric store.

Sewed a doll for a Christmas present from fabric scraps.

Foraged for pine bark to make a tincture. (It's still in the process, I'll show you next week)

Snagged a free pallet for firewood.

Made banana pudding from milk and bananas that needed using up.

Made some pretty great meals from the pantry.

So that's it for this week at the old Zempel boarding house! Hope you have a wonderful week and hope to see you here again the next!