Search This Blog

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!


Thursday, March 9, 2017

It Happens Every Spring!

Hello dear friends!  Something about March makes me crave maple.  Maybe it's seeing the clouds of steam coming from the local sugar house or maybe it's the memories of field trips to the maple sugaring shed when I was in grade school.  Whatever the reason, I cast away all the thoughts of calories and dieting and bake something maple.  This year it was maple-oatmeal scones, which I adapted from several different recipes.  I know that scones have a reputation as being dry, but these are nice and moist, perfect with some Maple Sleigh coffee, as long as you are going to go overboard, might as well go all the way!
Maple-Oatmeal Scones

2 C. flour
1/2 C. oatmeal
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
sprinkle of salt
1 C. (2 sticks) butter
1/4 C. buttermilk
1/4 C. maple syrup
1 egg

Combine dry ingredients.  Cut in butter until fine crumbs form.  Stir in the buttermilk, maple syrup and egg until just combined. ( it's the layers of butter and flour that make pastries flaky).  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a round, 3/4 inch thick.  Cut into eight wedges.  Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  While still warm, frost scone with this glaze and sprinkle with  some additional oatmeal, if desired.

Maple Glaze

3/4 C. Confectioners' sugar
 2 tbsp. maple syrup
enough milk or cream to make a thin glaze

 Well that's it for today.  Just wanted to share in case you were having a maple craving too.  Hope that you all have a wonderful weekend!


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Miscellaneous March

Hello dear friends!  Hope the sun is shining on your part of the world today!  First, before I get any further, I want to thank all of you that took the time to opine, comment and leave kind words about cutting my hair in the last post. I heard from so many of you that around my same age that have long hair, I guess it isn't as unpopular as I thought.  Comments left by Cate and Bless, who have lost their hair due to chemo, really touched my heart.  I guess I'll keep the long hair for a while as a symbol of the blessing of good health that our Creator has bestowed upon me.  So thank you all so much!  Now hopefully, the discussion about hair is a closed chapter. Ha!

Well, March didn't come in like a lion or a lamb, more like a lion cub, with spurts of snow squalls throughout the day.  We took a ride through the countryside and the sight of the fields of corn stubble peeking out of the snow with the crows silhouetted against the pale gray sky made my heart swell.   All the old barns and farmhouses made  the world look like  a  Billy Jacobs painting.  This land, this place, is where my heart belongs.  There's such a serenity that comes from knowing you are where you should be, it reminds me of the Shaker song, Simple Gifts.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
  'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Above is my little Easter vignette on my dining room table.  I love to create these little scenes, although I think Ran and Jamie get annoyed with them, just something to remove from the table before dinner.  What the menfolk have to put up with!   That bundt cake isn't real but is a scented salt dough one that I made just for looks.  I'm trying not to bake as much, it is not good for my health, but I  do love to see plates of cookies and cakes in the house.  It just makes a place look homey, in my opinion, so I had fun "baking"  this faux spice cake.  Here's the direction on how to make  one:

"Faux" Spice Cake (do not eat!)

2 C. flour
1 C. kosher salt
1 C. coffee (the stronger the better)
1/3 C. cinnamon
3 tbsp. cloves

Combine all the ingredients, spread into  your cake pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  You can "flour" the pan with more cinnamon or any spice, if desired.  Make sure to fill the pan all the way up, as these "cakes" don't rise and spread the batter in really well because the ingredients don't melt. Bake at a very low oven, 175 degrees, for 4-6 hours depending upon the size you are making.  They should be dry to the touch and the batter should be pulling away from the side.  Remove from the pan.  I like to sprinkle mine with some of that oil used in those diffuser reeds for added scent.  Smells great! And prettier than one of those scent diffusers, I think. You can use different spices too. It's a fun project and an easy craft. Only problem, it makes me hungry for real spice cake!

Another Craft

What a joy it was to get out my sewing machine!  I love to knit, but sometimes it's nice to have a project that can be finished in a matter of hours rather than week (or months, in my case). I sewed this butcher-style apron, using an old sheet. 

I cut the fabric to take advantage of the decorative border.  It's cute but next time I'd make it smaller, the top part gaps, and I'd make the straps longer, as the darts and waist do not hit me where they should.  Glad I didn't waste any money on it!  Here's the vintage pattern I used:
As you can see by the illustration, that this apron can be worn as a jumper.  I'd say that if I were to use it for that purpose, I'd make it out of  a cotton jersey or other drapey  fabric.  Where the ties criss-cross  in the back gets kind of bunchy and the stiffness of the cotton fabric is not the most flattering thing in the world.  It sort of looks like a glorified potato sack! But the pattern certainly lived up to it's claims of being quick and easy to sew!

The One Thing I Like About Lent

To me, Lent is not a season of happiness, it is a season of atonement, mourning and regrets, but there is one thing I do love about the season and that is that fish becomes very affordable.  Yesterday, I bought pollock for $1.69/ lb.! Here's my recipe for my very favorite way to prepare it:

Pecan Crusted  Orange Whitefish

1 lb. any whitefish (catfish, pollock, whitefish, cod)
1/3 C. orange marmalade
1 tbsp. prepared mustard
1 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1 C. cornflake crumbs or breadcrumbs
1/2 C. chopped pecans
1 tsp. Cajun seasoning

Place fish fillets on a broiler pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Broil until fish turns white and starts to flake (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and turn over the fillets.  Combine the marmalade, mustard and 1 tsp of Cajun seasoning in a small bowl.  Cover the fish fillets with the marmalade mixture.  Combine the remaining ingredients and top the marmalade covered fish with it.  Return to the broiler and broil until the fish is cooked through and the topping begins to brown and the marmalade begins to bubble.

 I know that this may seem like an unusual combination of flavors to some, but oh boy!, is it ever good!   Combine this with some oven-fried sweet potato fries and a nice green salad, and you've got yourself a meal!

Don't Buy It, Make It

No need to buy those expensive bottles of Cajun seasoning, it's easy to make from spices every kitchen should have on hand. There's a ton of recipes on-line and they are all the same, just combine:

2 1/2 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. black pepper

Thrifty Things We Did This Week

We actually hung the laundry outside on the line one day.  Halfway through the drying, it began to snow and we had to rush to get them off the line before they froze, but they still got that nice outdoor fresh smell.  Ah! Springtime in Michigan!

Bought fish for $1.67/lb.

Sewed an apron from an old bedsheet.

Bought half a dozen old magazines at a thrift store 3/$1.  Best entertainment I could find for $2!

We didn't need to buy groceries this week (except for the fish), as I'm trying to work down my pantry and freezer. Some of the meals we had were beef stew, lasagna,  and pizza.

Renewed my Walgreen's prescription plan. This saves us a lot of money on my thyroid medication.

Got a good report from my doctor's appointment.  Those that don't think diet and exercise  matter, it matters!  

My computer crashed, again. Jamie managed to get it up and going, without having to buy a new one.  I thought for sure this time it was a goner.

Picked up all the bottles and cans we found along the road as we walked and returned them.  Made $4!  Maybe not enough to live on, but surely enough for a couple of bags of beans or rice.  PLus the roadsides look cleaner too!

So that's it for another week at the old Zempel boarding house.  I hope you all have a joy filled  and contented week!