Thursday, May 18, 2017

Taking a Blogging Break

If you haven't noticed, I'm in the midst of a blogging break.  It is spring rodeo season, I'm trying to put my garden in, Songbird will be graduating from high school in a couple weeks and we will also have new kids arriving around that time.  When life slows down a bit, I'll be back.  Until then,

May God Bless You and Your Family,

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My Culinary Tour

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I am a "foodie".  I love to talk about food, grow food, cook food and eat food.  There have even been times in my life when I've dreamt about food.  For me, the most difficult aspect of moving to rural Montana, has been the tremendous lack of culinary variety.  Yes, I am able to cook many of my favorite foods and cuisines, and cook them quite well.  However, sometimes it is a great pleasure to be pampered by someone else who produces a product just as good or better than I can cook myself ...  a luxury that I do not get to indulge in on the Montana prairie. 

Visiting our new grandbaby down south afforded me an opportunity to indulge in a few culinary delights that are simply not available on the Montana prairie.  The Montana prairie is cattle country and boasts of their perfected steaks and prime rib.  However, I must honestly say the best steak I've ever consumed was NOT in the state of Montana.  Here's a look at a few of the amazing culinary indulgences not available on the Montana prairie that I enjoyed during my travels.

Sauceman's BBQ & Grill located in Charlotte, NC is a multiple winner of the BBQ PitMaster contests.  I must say, they deserve every single award they've ever won!  The general manager, Edmar was a delight.  He served us up TWO sampler platters overflowing with BBQ chicken, smoked brisket, pulled pork, fried green tomatoes, homemade onion rings, and fresh cut French fries.   Since Charlotte is located on the boarder of N. Carolina and S. Carolina, Sauceman's serves three traditional BBQ sauces; a North Carolina vinegar based sauce, a South Carolina mustard based sauce and a sweet hot combination commonly found in the Louisiana/Texas region.  This was absolutely some of the BEST BBQ I've ever ate.  Thank you, Edmar!
DON'S Seafood located on the Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, LA has been in business since the 1930's.  80 years of business says something about the quality of food served at this fine seafood establishment.  Montanan's don't even know what it is and since it was in season, I couldn't resist indulging in that Gulf Coast delicacy, crawfish.  I relished a huge bowl of crawfish etoufee served with piping hot and crusty buttered French bread.  OH MY WORD!  Six years without crawfish ... how have I survived? 

The Cadillac Bar located on Shepherd near I-10 in Houston, TX, has been a Mexican food landmark for the Heights and River Oaks areas for more than 25 years.  My first encounter with its mouthwatering menu was more than 25 years ago when I worked in the Heights.  Whenever, our company's corporate executives came into town, they ALWAYS took lunch at the Cadillac Bar.  I was thrilled to introduce this Houston landmark to my sister friend, Mrs.A, also a native Texan, who commented that it was the best Mexican food she's ever ate.  Yes, KNOCK YOUR BOOTS OFF YOUR FEET  Mexican food is the reason the Cadillac Bar has continued to be a thriving business in the heart of the Mexican food capital of the U.S. for nearly three decades.

Although the best Italian restaurant I've ever eaten at was located in New York City's Little Italy, there is a hidden gem in one of Houston's suburbs.  Italiano's Resturaurant is located in a strip center on the Eastex Freeway in Humble, TX. This family owned restaurant has been a local favorite for about 15 years.  The Chicken Marsala was always my favorite and after being gone for six years, it was as good as I remembered it.  The garlic knots are also still served fresh out of the oven, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and seasoned to perfection.  I finished off my meal with a generous portion of my favorite desert, tiramisu.

Since I mentioned dessert in the above paragraph, I have to tell you about Gigi's Cupcakes located in Kingwood, TX.  My sister friend, Mrs.A introduced this little shop to me. If you are looking for an amazing gluten free cupcake, Gigi's is the place. We tried the gluten free  triple chocolate torte. It's moist, brownie like texture and indulgent dark chocolate flavor is AMAZING.  It was the best gluten free baked good I've ever tasted!  I give this little shop two thumbs up.

65 years and counting, Luby's cafeteria style restaurants have been a life long landmark in the state of Texas.  They serve good old fashioned comfort food one will generally find on Grandma's Sunday dinner table.  I was about 9 or 10  years old when my grandmother wanted to go there for a special Mother's Day meal.  I don't remember what I ordered during that 1st visit, but my grandma ordered the pan fried liver and onions smothered in brown gravy.  She shared a bite with me and from that day forward, Luby's liver and onions has been one of my favorite comfort foods.  As a matter of fact, I genuinely do not remember ever ordering anything but liver & onions smothered in brown gravy, green beans and mashed potatoes from a Luby's restaurant.  Luby's liver and onions is the only liver and onions recipe I've ever liked and I am so glad I was able to satisfy my craving for this favorite childhood comfort food.

Of the 26 countries our Middle Child has visited, Greece and the Mediterranean cuisine he found there was one of his favorites. Savvas Greek Cuisine and Grill located in Atascocita, TX serves up authentic Mediterranean cuisine.  The Middle Child says it's just like what you'd find in Greece and since he's been there ...  Their marvelous pita is baked fresh daily and was the best I've ever eaten.  This little "hole in the wall" restaurant has become a favorite of the Middle Child and my sister friend, Mrs.A.  If I get another visit to the Houston area, a return visit to Savvas Greek Cuisine and Grill will most definitely be on my list of "must eat" places.


Pontchartrain sauce is another KNOCK YOU OUT OF YOUR BOOTS culinary masterpiece and Papa's Seafood House is the only place I've ever been able to find it.  Pontchartrain sauce is a shrimp, crawfish and mushroom brown-butter sauce that is generally served over Texas red fish.  My personal favorite is when I can get it served over blackened flounder, but I will never turn my nose up to grilled red fish.  Papa's Seafood House is another one of Houston's landmark restaurants and has been busy 7 days a week for more than 40 years.  Today, I believe there are 4 or 5 Papa's Seafood House restaurants in the Houston area.  I recommend the pontchartrain sauce - you can decide what you'd like it poured over.

There were a couple other places on my list of "must eats" but a family emergency summoned me home before I had an opportunity to enjoy them.  Until my next visit down south, I will crave the menus at these missed restaurants and dream of BBQ, Mexican and Seafood.

Disclaimer:  I was not compensated in any way for any of these reviews or endorsements.  All opinions are my own and based upon my own personal experiences.

Monday, April 17, 2017

As A New Grammy ...

... I just can't resist sharing our Easter Sunday photos.

Musician, his Bride and their little Gbear

Gbear all dressed up in her new Easter dress.  And what does any perfect girl do during her 1st Easter photos shoot?  Nap, of course.

First photo with my new Granddaughter, Gbear

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter

Or as I prefer, Resurrection Sunday because He lives.

I am so very pleased I get to spend our GBear's first Resurrection Sunday with her!  Because our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, gave His life, our little GBear will have the opportunity to accept Jesus as her personal Savior and have everlasting life.  This is a gift that is also available to you.

John 3:16-17 says, "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. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved."

I pray your Easter Sunday is filled with LIFE.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Country Life - Finances ...

... & other resources.

Although I am on the road, I wanted to post the next topic in my series about Country Life.  Yes, Mr.B and the littles are "holding down the farm" while I'm visiting our new grandbaby.  I am a little nervous of what I'll find upon my return home. But if I am to enjoy myself, I must have confidence that Mr.B will ensure the house is still standing when I get back. 

When we lived down home, there was an auto dealership commercial that boasted, "Trucks and eggs are cheaper in the country."  Lending the illusion that a country lifestyle is an inexpensive lifestyle. Um, not so.  It costs a lot of money to move to the country. And, once there, depending on your vision of a country lifestyle, it can cost a lot of money to get your place going and established.  I will say that, in general, the farther one lives away from a metropolitan area, the cheaper land and houses seem to be. But that is where one needs to have a clear vision of the type of lifestyle they desire to lead.  Do you want to live close enough to the city to commute to your current employment?  Do you plan to change careers, take a local job, start your own business?  If starting your own business will you need access to the diverse demographics a metropolitan area offers? As mentioned in my first post in this series, Country Life - Family Dynamics, nearly every family in our community has at least one adult working away from home.   Unless you are very wealthy, it is likely someone in your family will also have to work away from home.

Once there is an established vision of what we desire our future country lifestyle to look like, we have to figure out a way to pay for it.  This is a Reality Check. Winning the lottery or one of those "get rich quick" schemes found on late night television advertisements are unrealistic financial plans for one's future, no matter what sort of lifestyle one dreams of.  Those who are serious about obtaining any life long dream or goal need a serious and methodical financial plan on how to get there.  I think the first step in obtaining one's long term financial goals is to eliminate all debt outside of one's mortgage, and maintain a debt free lifestyle.  You can not save the capital needed to finance any dream or goal by dragging a truck load of debt behind you.  Eliminating debt is not complicated, maintaining self-discipline to accomplish it is the hard part. 

Back when I did a little bit of "debt elimination counseling", I found that most urban folks are really, really addicted to the urban financial drains that keep the wheels of an urban economy turning - fun things like smart phones, eating out, movies, bowling, snacks and expensive to-go coffees, put-put golf, kayaking, vacations, home décor, symphonies, playhouses, bars, newer cars, boats, motorcycles, etc.  It was shocking for a "simple life" sort of girl, like me, to realize how much U.S. households spend on entertainment and luxuries annually.  Try this for one year ... eliminate any entertainment or luxuries that costs money.  Put all the money you would have spent doing all that stuff, toward paying off the debt those things bought you.  Yes, you heard me right, all of that entertainment and those luxuries bought you a truckload of debt.  Many respond with, "But what about all the memories we made?"  1. Memories will not finance long-term dreams and goals. 2. There are TONS of free memory making activities. We just need to utilize our creativity.  3. When you move to the country, you won't have easy access to those money sucking venues anyway. So, why not get used to living without them now?

Dave Ramsey, Larry Burkett's Crown Financial Ministries, Howard Dayton's Compass 1-Finances God's Way, are only 3 of the plethora of financial resources available to help people get of debt and stay out of debt.  By the way, if you peruse any of these web-sites and decide to purchase one of their books to help you get started on your journey to eliminating debt, please check out a library, used books stores and re-sale shops for copies of their books.  It makes no sense to spend unessary money on books that teach others how to save money.  Mr.B and I began listening to these guys on their, free to us, radio programs when we began our journey to a debt-free lifestyle.  It wasn't until we had been living debt-free for nearly two years that I purchased one of their books, from a re-sale shop for less than $2. Mr.B and I did not spend any money on learning how to get out of debt. Instead, we paid close attention to the snippets of "free to us" information we could glean from these time tested and proven financial mentors.  Nowadays, when I give away copies of their books, I purchase them, deeply discounted, from re-sale shops.

Once all the debt, outside of a current mortgage, is eliminated, you can then begin a financial savings strategy to finance your dream of country living.  The above resources will also be of assistance when mapping out and working toward that plan.  In addition to cold hard cash, the investment of your current home will most likely be a significant financial resource when it comes time to make "the move".  One just needs to decide, should I sell my home and use the capital to invest in my "country estate", or would we be best served by using our current home as a rental property to generate some semi-passive income?  Of course, if you find yourself moving very far away from your current location, like Mr.B and I did, a rental property may not be an easy long-term situation to deal with.  Because we moved more than 1,700 miles away, we chose to use the sale of our previous home as part of the capital needed for our current country lifestyle.

Before I move on to discussing other resources, please pay close attention to, and take, the following advise.  Please DO NOT EVER take money from your retirement funds or plans to finance a dream lifestyle.  There is nothing adventurous, exciting, noble or interesting about living in abject poverty or being financially dependent on one's children and grandchildren during retirement years.  In today's economy social security purchases nothing above a poverty lifestyle.  I dread to see how much worse it will be in future decades.

While working toward the necessary financial goals needed to finance a desired country lifestyle, there are other useful resources, or knowledge and skills, one can, and should, develop prior to moving.  Gleaning as much knowledge and developing as many skills as possible before making a move to the country, will contribute to minimizing the culture shock of moving into a rural lifestyle.

Vegetable gardening is one of the most common activities associated with country living.  Tackling a DIY edible landscape project or a back yard vegetable garden at your current home is a great way to find out if gardening is your "cup of tea".  I always encourage folks to begin small by doing something like using the annual landscape maintenance budget to fund a DIY edible landscape project. There are many, many books on this topic that can be  borrowed from a local library.  The huge resurgence in back yard vegetable gardening is a bonus for beginner gardeners because it's easy to find others with lots of advise and suggestions. When the whole family gets involved, all may find it's a fun, educational and "free" memory maker. In addition gardening is a healthy and purposeful exercise program. Best of all, everyone gets to enjoy all sorts of "good for their bodies" vegetables.  It has also been noted that children are far more likely to eat, and like, vegetables they've grown themselves. If you currently employ a lawn maintenance service, let them go, and involve your family by learning to maintain your home's landscape yourselves.  Landscape maintenance is a DIY when living in the country anyway.

It has been my personal observation that when urbanites have country living dreams, those dreams generally align with what's commonly known as a hobby farm; not a full-time career, multi-section crop farming or ranching enterprise.  Which introduces my next skills topic, livestock.  As mentioned, most urbanites are most likely not dreaming of several hundred cow/calf pairs, but they do dream of a few chickens, a dairy goat or milk cow, and maybe a couple hogs. In my opinion, chickens are a great introduction to the management of livestock.  They are inexpensive and very easy to care for.  Best of all, their composted droppings are great fertilizer for the aforementioned vegetable garden.

Rabbits are another backyard livestock option for urban folks. Especially those who are interested in learning animal husbandry.  They are another "easy keeper" in the livestock arena.  They are very quiet, which makes them an excellent fit for urban areas.  Raising back yard rabbits will provide one with a great education about providing weather appropriate housing, breeding records, sales, processing, etc. Rabbit droppings are a FANSTASTIC garden fertilizer that doesn't need to be composted prior to use.  Rabbits are also an excellent food source, another aspect of country living that one should familiarize themselves with, even those who don't plan to raise and process their own animal proteins. It is very likely some neighbors will and thus, it only makes sense for one to have a firm understanding of this aspect of a country lifestyle.

I know someone who lives less than 10 minutes from downtown Charlotte and there are two households in their neighborhood that have a hen house and chickens in their back yard.  They don't have roosters, but a hen doesn't need a fella around to lay an egg.  She only needs one to fertilize her eggs.  Like Charlotte, there are urban cities all over the U.S. that are beginning to allow chickens, and other, small livestock, in back yard settings.  I recently read an article where Minneapolis has passed a new city ordinance that allows residents to keep "back yard" type livestock.  Wherever you live, please review and adhere to the local ordinances before setting up any animal housing or purchasing any stock.

Of course, urban "farming" isn't exactly the same as country living, but learning some of the skills associated with a country lifestyle will better prepare everyone for the future move. Or maybe when all the entertainment and luxury venues are eliminated and everyone's toiled for months putting in, maintaining, harvesting and preserving in a decent sized back yard vegetable garden and cared for a half dozen chickens for a year, all that may bring a dose of reality prompting a decision to exchange the country lifestyle dream for something more suitable for your family.  For those who find they love all the rewards, challenges and adventures associated with "urban farming", it will only encourage them to enhance their financial disciplines so the dream of a Country Life will become a reality.

I hope this short Country Life series has provided all those dreaming of a country lifestyle a few realistic topics to consider and explore prior to making the big commitments associated with obtaining and living the Country Life.  If you have questions or would like more information on how our family achieved our goals of a rural lifestyle, please inquire in the comments section and I will do my best to continue sharing our family's personal experiences with you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

It's Official ...

... I'm a Grammy and Mr.B is a PopPop!

G Bear 6lb.5oz. 20.5 in.long
I think she's BEAUTIFUL !!!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thrifty Thursday - Homemade Sewing Patterns

When I was living with Grandma as a young girl, I consistently observed her re-use, recycle and up-cycle all sorts of things.  But I was always most impressed by her skills at the sewing table.  One thing she did that I found so very impressive was gratefully accepting bags of old clothing that others had donated and re-using the buttons, hooks & eyes, zippers, biased tape, etc. out of those old clothes.  She also re-used all the fabric from those old clothes.  Fabrics that were not torn or stained were used for sewing projects, often a certain  little girl's clothing.  The stained or tattered fabrics were cut into cleaning and mop rags.
The second impressive talent she displayed at the sewing table was making homemade sewing patterns.  Although I observed Grandma make some pretty intricate, multi-pieced patterns, my tutorial of simple a baby's bib describes the 5 basic steps to making a homemade sewing pattern.

Step 1 - You'll need some sort of paper for your pattern.  I personally prefer recycled packing paper, but  paper grocery bags and newspaper also work well.

Step 2 - Use a hot dry iron to make the paper of your choice as smooth as possible.  If using newspaper, the heat from a dry iron will "set" the newsprint so you won't have to worry about it rubbing off onto the fabric.

Step 3 - Draw the pattern, adding a 1/2 inch, onto the paper.  I used a store bought bib that I had saved from when I used to babysit and traced around it.  Very IMPORTANT, when tracing or drawing out your pattern, make sure you draw the cutting lines an extra 1/2 in. larger than the finished product for seem allowances.

Step 4 - Cut out the pattern pieces.

Step 5 - Label the pattern pieces making sure to note any special instructions.

Most of my homemade patterns are simple 1-4 piece patterns, not any more complicated than this baby's bib.  But the process of making a multi-pieced pattern, is the same 5 steps for each pattern piece. 

 As a girl I watched my grandma make large multi-pieced patterns for intricate articles of clothing and many other items.  With the high price of sewing patterns often costing more than a store bought item, I think taking the time to make homemade patterns is a very thrifty practice.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Water Supplies

Our Farmer Boy used to watch those "doomsday prepper" television programs and would frequently advise me about additional items I needed to add to our pantry and barns.  Although we are not "doomsday preppers", I do maintain a store of food, hygiene, healthcare items and water.

Today, we needed our water supply.  We did not experience any weather systems or natural disasters that usually cause the power that pumps our water well to go out.  No, our power has been working fine all day.  Instead, one of the galvanized couplers in the down hole casing rusted and gave way causing a lack of water to our house, barns and pastures.

When we realized our water well was not working I began asking myself questions like, "How long will we be without running water?" and  "How much will the repair(s) cost?"  The length of time and cost to repair water wells greatly depends on the issue.  Sometimes it costs only $25 and 45 minutes while other times it may take weeks and more than $10,000 to drill a new well.

This is an example as to why a well stocked pantry and emergency water supply is important. Clean potable water is the most important resource we all use.  Not only do we need it to prevent dehydration but we also need it for hand washing, bathrooms, washing dishes, cooking, laundry, wound and healthcare, etc. 

I know most U.S. households do not live in rural areas and are not dependent on water wells for their daily water supplies.  So, many may think my situation does not apply to them and think only a long term power failure would be of concern.  But I think an emergency water supply is even more important for urban households because when the water supply is interrupted in an urban area, EVERYONE is out of water.  Since our power was not out, today I could have gone to a neighbor for water, if I had failed to store any.  But in an urban area, if the water pumping station fails, all the neighbors are also out of water.

In the few hours our well was out, I used more than 15 gallons of stored water for drinking, cooking, hand washing, egg washing, dishes, and toilets.  Fortunately, our water well repair was not expensive nor time consuming.  But I was very glad I have my water storage available. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You Know She's Country When ...

... her prom shoes are cowboy boots.

Our Songbird and date.  2017 Prom

Monday, March 27, 2017

Make Over Monday from the Sewing Room

I'd like to begin this post with a "shout out" to Mrs. Rhonda at "If You Do Stuff, Stuff Gets Done" blog.  She usually begins her week with a "to do" list and seems to consistently whittle away at it.  She accomplishes quite a bit.  I'd like to acknowledge her because as of late, I've been battling some situational depression.  As such, I've found on some days accomplishing much of anything is a struggle.  However, her blog has been a great source of inspiration to me on those "difficult" days.  I follow her lead and make myself a list of things that need to be done, should be done and / or things I know I would enjoy doing or accomplishing under normal circumstances.  So, Thank you Mrs. Rhonda for encouraging  me!

Some of you may remember the Best Birthday Gift Ever! post from September 2016, where I shared that our Musician and his beautiful Bride announced they were expecting their first baby and our first grandbaby.  The sewing and crochet projects I listed in the "Post Holiday To Do's" entry back in January 2017, were all about goodies for the new addition to our family.

Here are photos of all the sewing and crochet projects I've completed for our little G-bear.

Four reversible bibs

Three reversible burp cloths
These bibs and burb cloths were made by recycling flannel receiving blankets found at the thrift store for only $0.25 each. I purchased 7 coordinating blankets and after finishing these bibs and burp cloths, I still have enough material left over for 1 or 2 other projects.
Infant sized granny square afghan.  Grey, yellow and white are the colors selected for G-bear's nursery.
Although I did not use left over or recycled yarns for this crochet project, I do have some left that will eventually find its way into, what I call, a scrap-aghan.  The yellow centers surrounded by white reminds me of daisies - my favorite flower.

Crib sized strip quilt
This feminine crib sized strip quilt is a very frugal gift.  I spent less than $5.00 on the quilt backing.  The pieced top and batting were scraps from other projects.

Nursing cape with "cupped" opening and handy storage pouches.

A young friend of mine has a nursing cape with a "cupped" opening at the top.  When I saw hers, I decided I would have to figure out how to make one for my dear daughter-in-love. I decided to add pouch style pockets for things like a pacifier, teething ring and a toy. This fabric was originally purchased for another project that I never got around to making.  Instead of allowing to it sit on my fabric shelves for another year, or so, I decided it would be perfect for a nursing cape that matches G-bear's nursery theme.  I used free plastic box strapping from a recent mail order shipment to make the "cup" form at the top of the cape.  The sunflower button for the neck strap is recycled from one of  Songbird's nursery projects - 18 years ago!

If you choose to follow my lead by turning recycled materials into gifts, please don't ever be ashamed or think you've given a "cheap" gift.  Anyone who crafts, sews, paints, etc. knows that hours, days and, sometimes, months of ones time is invested in a handmade gift.  The hours, care and prayers poured into a handcrafted project by the artisan is a priceless gift to the recipient.

What can you find in your closet, scrap pile, garage or basement that can be made into something new?

Post Holiday "To Do's"

3/27/17 -
I am happy to report that nearly all the projects listed on my "Post Holiday To Do" list have been completed.  Since the littles will be in charge of housekeeping while I'm visiting down south later this month, I decided to wait until I return to deep clean the kitchen.  I've finished the mobile kitchen island. We are now waiting on the countertop to be cut and delivered from Fargo.  I'm excited about posting a photo of the finished project once the counter top arrives.  The next post contains photos of my completed sewing and crochet projects.
1/10/17 -

I cleaned and organized the basement today.  I will now have an indoor work space to build the mobile kitchen island.  I also listed the extra washing machine for sale in our local newspaper and local on-line sites. Hopefully, it will sell quickly.

1/7/17 -
Marked a couple more tasks off my winter to-do list ... HURAY!

1/6/17 -
Autumn and early winter, like spring and summer, is a very busy season for us.  Not only do we have numerous projects we try to finish before winter, homeschooling becomes a priority. Adding to all that, we also have the business of the holiday season with harvest festival(s), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year celebrations. 

Consequently, by the time things slow down for winter, I often think I'm exhausted.  If I don't make any plans to get everything cleaned up and organized, it would be very easy to find myself overwhelmed and napping 2 - 3 hours each day until spring.  As temping as hibernating through the winter sounds, it really is the best time of year to indulge in some of the indoor hobbies I enjoy and any indoor projects that need to be completed.   Experience has taught me that our insanely busy spring and summer will leave me regretting unproductive winter naps.

Here is a short list of this winter's priorities.  I've already completed a few!

 Finish homeschool lesson plans for winter months 
Put all Christmas gifts in their new homes
Build and install second coat rack in entry
Pack & deliver donations to thrift center
Pack & store Christmas décor 
Write & mail thank you notes
Have the kids write and mail thank you notes
Deep clean kitchen & dining room
Clean and re-organize basement
Prepare the basement for spring thaw
Sewing project(s)
Crochet project(s)
Build mobile kitchen island - Cabinet finished, waiting on counter top
Sell extra washing machine - listed for sale 1/10/17
Patch the chandelier hook hole in the kitchen ceiling
Patch the door stopper hole by the upstairs bathroom
Select and order business cards for the farm

What are your plans during these winter months?  Please share, I would enjoy reading about them in the comments section.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

Instead of posting a frugal meal plan today, I decided to share my most recent monthly grocery haul. Although I plan out our weekly meals, I do not grocery shop for those weekly plans. Our meal plans are constructed around the products stored in our pantry and freezers or the week's harvest during gardening and butchering season(s).  So when I shop, I shop for re-stocking purposes and fresh produce during winter & spring that is on sale for less than $1 lb. Occasionally, I will splurge and purchase produce, like fresh asparagus @ $2 lb. or less, but that only occurs a couple times per year.  Re-stocking a deep pantry is the key strategy I use to save so much money on groceries and household products.

I have maintained a $400 per month "grocery" budget for nearly 20 years.  I say, "grocery" in quotations because our non-edible household products, annual gardening & canning supplies and butchering expenses are also included in that $400 limit.

When it comes to restocking, I use the sales flyers and purchase only deeply discounted items from the flyers that are needed to replenish our annual supply.  One of the grocers in our area offers a case lot sale twice per year.  These case lot sales are the only times certain items are discounted by 50%, or more.  I've briefly shared additional money saving tips here and through various posts listed under the "Budgeting and Planning It Out" section on my "Mrs.B's Farmhouse Cookbook" blog page.  So far this month I've spent $271.34 of my $400.00 budget.  Unless butter goes on sale for $2.50 lb., or less, I will not spend any of the remaining $128.66 left in my budget.  It will be put back for butchering expenses and gardening & canning supplies this coming autumn.

Here are the items I purchased to re-stock our pantry and freezers today:

50 lb. flour (case lot)
50 lb. sugar (case lot)
20 lb. frozen boneless chicken breasts (case lot)**
16 lb. frozen cod fillets (case lot)**
25 lb. various cheeses (quarterly sale)
6 gallons white vinegar (case lot)
5 lb. dried kidney beans (case lot)
4 lb. various dried pastas (quarterly sale)*
2 cases (24) canned Albacore tuna (case lot)
2 cases (24) canned chicken (case lot)**
4 lg. mayonnaise (quarterly sale)*
4 qt. beef broth (quarterly sale)*
1 lg. box Rice Krispies (reduced for quick sale)**
2 box Lucky Charms (quarterly sale)**
1 canister panko bread crumbs (dollar store)**
1 bottle vanilla syrup (dollar store)*
1 pound cake (dollar store)*
2 boxes instant flavored coffees (dollar store)***
4 cases bottled water (quarterly sale)**
4 lg. pkg. feminine hygiene products (quarterly sale)*
30 roll bath tissue (quarterly sale)
2 parchment paper (dollar store)**
1 plastic cling wrap (dollar store)**
1 foil sheets (dollar store)**
1 pkg. cheese cloth (dollar store)
12 foil to-go containers (dollar store)**
1 pkg. facial cleansing cloths (quarterly sale)***

In the above list you will notice that I purchased a few items from a dollar discount store.  Our closest dollar discount store is more than 130 miles, one-way.  Because of the distance, I keep a mental list of items I need from the dollar store so that when we are driving through that area I can stop in.  Sometimes, it may be an entire year before I have an opportunity to go to a dollar store. So, it is important that I always leave a little extra in my budget so I can take advantage of the opportunity when it arises.

If finances were tight, there are about $80.00 worth of items on the above list I could have omitted; either because I can make it homemade (*), substitute a more economical option (**), or the items were simply a splurge (***).  In the event of a financial crisis our pantry and freezers are so deep I could skip the grocer for an entire year if necessary. I'd still have gardening, canning and butchering expenses but could slash my "grocery" expenses by more than 75% if necessary.

It took two years of patience and perseverance to stock our pantry and freezers on a $400.00 per month budget.  It was worth all the work and I encourage you to steadily work toward building a deep pantry as well. I think the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can feed your family, and feed them well even in the midst of a crisis, is priceless.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

You've heard me say it before, "More than grocery sales and re-sales shops, a frugal lifestyle encompasses avoiding waste in all it's forms".  That's why today's Frugal Feasting Friday post is about using up something most will pour down the drain.

We consume fresh milk that is not pasteurized or homogenized.  Non pasteurized milk only lasts about 10 days under refrigeration.   Although we date the milk, my family does not always pay attention to the date sticker on the lid and will bring the gallon jars up from the basement out of order. Thus, sometimes I will find a gallon that has turned.  That's exactly what happened this past week. There is no way I can bring myself to pouring an entire gallon of milk down the drain, even if it is soured.  So, I decided to have a baking day.  Yes, a baking day ... Soured milk is the perfect substitute for buttermilk in any baking recipe.  Best of all, these baked goods freeze well and re-heat in a jiffy.  With Farmer Boy's 6:30 AM Driver's Ed classes, these pre-prepared breakfast foods will be a blessed time saver.

Hotcakes, Blueberry & Apple Cinnamon Muffins, and Coffee Cake

My recipe for Sour Milk Hotcakes can be found here.

Sour Milk Muffins

1 1/2 c. sour milk
1 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs
4 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar
6 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease bottoms of muffin tins.  Mix together sour milk, vegetable oil and eggs.  In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add liquid ingredients to dry. Mix until just combined.  Evenly divide batter among muffin tins.  Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 18-20 minutes.

Variations - Blueberry Muffins:  Fold in 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberry to batter.  Apple Cinnamon Muffins:  Add 1 tsp. ground cinnamon to dry ingredients.  Fold in 2 grated apples (including skins) to batter.

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

Sour Milk Coffee Cake

5 c. flour
2 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 c. sour milk

Strudel Topping

1 c. chopped pecans
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease three 8"x8"x8" baking pans.  In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In a smaller bowl mix together oil, eggs and sour milk.  Add wet ingredients to dry; mix well.  Evenly divide batter between baking pans.  To prepare strudel topping, combine all ingredients cutting in butter.  Sprinkle strudel topping evenly over each cake.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cake tests done.

Makes 3 8x8x8 cakes

Having a baking day utilized sour milk that many would simply pour down the drain.  By freezing everything I will also save time over then next couple weeks.  Time is often the most precious of resources for our busy lives. Remember to always cool your baked goods completely before freezing them.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

Although much of the food our family consumes is home grown or wild harvested, there are some things we purchase from the local grocer.  For instance, I love chicken breasts and thighs, but I'd have to butcher 2 dual purpose hens (and loose 2 egg layers) anytime I wanted to cook a recipe that utilizes only chicken breasts, or thighs.  For this reason, I keep an eye out for one of those really good "three time per year" sales that is available in our area on chicken breasts and thighs.  I also utilize the "reduced for quick sale" bins for convenience foods that are discounted by 60% - 90%.

Utilizing the 3 time per year chicken breasts & thighs sales, the "reduced for quick sale" bin, and homegrown broccoli and tomatoes, today's Frugal Feasting Friday menu comes in at only $1.49 per person.

On The Menu:  Crockpot Smothered Chicken Breasts, Uncle Ben's Herb and Rice Blend, Broccoli in Browned Butter Sauce, Seasoned Roma Tomato Slices and Warm Potato Rolls.  This company worthy meal serves 8 people and is a cinch to prepare.

Crockpot Smothered Chicken Breasts

4 large chicken breasts, halved butterfly style, makes 8 portions ($7.27)
1 prepared batch of Cream of Anything Soup  ($0.20)
salt and pepper, to taste

Lightly grease the bottom of the crockpot.  Lightly brown chicken breasts in some reserved bacon fat.  Place 4 of chicken breasts halves in bottom of the crockpot.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Pour 1/2 prepared soup over chicken breasts.  Layer the remaining 4 chicken breast halves, season with salt and pepper, and pour remaining soup over chicken breasts.  Cook on low 5-6 hours.

Serves 8
In addition to frugal shopping skills, portion control is also an important aspect of maintaining a frugal grocery budget.  In this recipe the 4 large chicken breasts are halved, reducing the cooked portion size to 3-4 oz. each, roughly the size of a deck of cards.  Nutritionists recommend our plate contain only a "deck of card" sized portion of animal protein, 25% of our plate should reflect grains or starches and the remaining 1/2  should be filled out with vegetables and/or fruits.  Regarding fruit, I like to live by the old saying, "Fruit in the morning is gold, fruit in mid-day is silver, fruit in the evening is lead."  Thus, our family usually consumes fruit prior to the evening meal.

Broccoli in Browned Butter Sauce

2 lb. homegrown broccoli (free)
4 Tbsp. butter ($0.31)
salt, to taste

Steam broccoli until crisp tender.  In a small sauce pan combine butter and salt.  Over low heat melt butter, stirring occasionally, until it begins to lightly brown.  As the butter melts, watch closely because once the butter begins to brown, it will burn very quickly.  We are looking for browned butter not burned butter.  Pour the salted browned butter over the broccoli and toss.

Serves 8

Seasoned Roma Tomato Slices

2 sliced homegrown Roma tomatoes (free)
1/4 tsp. dried basil ($0.02)
salt & pepper to taste

Arrange tomato slices on serving plate.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried basil.

Serves 8

Here's today's cost breakdown:

Crockpot Smothered Chicken Breasts ($7.47)
Broccoli in Browned Butter Sauce (homegrown $0.31 / store bought $2.29)
Seasoned Roma tomato slices  (homegrown $0.02) / store bought $0.66)
2 "reduced for quick sale" boxes Uncle Ben's Herbed Rice Blend ($2.80)
8 "reduced for quick sale" potato rolls ($1.33)
Total cost for 8 people:  using homegrown vegetables, $11.93 OR only $1.49 per person

If I were to purchase the broccoli & tomatoes, or other fresh vegetable(s), I would pay a maximum of $0.99 per pound.  Thus, if the broccoli and tomatoes for this meal were store bought at $0.99 lb., the cost for 8 people would still be very frugal at $14.55 OR only $1.82 per person.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

After a recent trip to Billings where Farmer Boy and I decided to eat at a national seafood restaurant, I decided a Frugal Feasting Friday post was long overdue.   The total bill for the lunch portions, no desserts and water as our beverage, came in at a whopping $43.46, tip included.  That's a total of $21.73 per person!  By cooking a similar meal at home, you could see a savings of more than 85% per person. 

So, on with a new Frugal Feasting Friday recipe for you and your family to try.  Let me know if you like it.

Parmesan Crusted Fillet of Cod served with Asparagus Bundles and Herbed Mashed Potatoes

Most of you already have a favorite homemade mashed potato recipe.  To "herb" them, simply stir in chopped fresh parsley and chives.  The asparagus bundles  (link)  are Mrs. Trisha Yearwood's recipe from the Food Network website.

Parmesan Crusted Fillet of Cod

4 cod fillets, patted dry ($6.64 ea.)
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise ($.0.10)
1/2 tsp. mustard ($0.01)
1 oz. parmesan cheese, grated ($0.60)
1/4 c. homemade seasoned bread crumbs ($0.11)
salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly sprinkle cod fillets with salt.  In a small bowl combine mayonnaise and mustard.  Generously spread the mayonnaise mixture over the cod fillets.  Combine the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  Pat the breadcrumb mixture over the cod fillets.  Bake at 350 degrees until top begins to lightly brown and fillets are flakey, about 18-20 minutes.

Serves 4

Here's the breakdown:

Homemade Herbed Mashed Potatoes:   $0.95
Parmesan Crusted Fillet of Cod:  $7.46
Grand Total:  $11.81 OR $2.95 per person for a family of 4

This Frugal Friday Feast used store bought ingredients, only the parsley and chives were homegrown. But as always, the purchased ingredients were found at deeply discounted prices.  When maintaining a frugal grocery budget, one has to be flexible and creative.  For instance, if asparagus is not in season and on sale, substitute a fresh vegetable that is on sale (broccoli, yellow squash, sliced fresh tomatoes).  If your grocer is charging more than 20 cents per pound for potatoes, substitute herbed rice.  Since the fillet of cod was 40% off at the seafood counter it was prepared the same day it was purchased.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Country Life - Personality Traits vs Character Traits

One of my readers left a comment in the "Country Life" introduction post, "Country Living magazine doesn't mention all the dust and mud, all the wild critters that come visiting, all the crazy neighbors with no zoning laws to rein them in, ..."  and she is so very CORRECT in that statement.   Because of these, and many other realities, one needs to honestly assess the answers to questions like, "Am I an introvert or an extrovert?  Am I an independent problem solver or quick to hire a professional?  Am I a perfectionist or  more laid back?  Am I a clean freak or do I  lean a little more toward the messy side? ...  

Me?  I lean toward the clean freak, perfectionist, hermit type extrovert, independent problem solver who has enough life experience to know when I need to hire a professional.  How is that working out for me in an isolated rural setting?  Honestly, I have my good days and my bad days ... just like when we lived in a more urban area.

Moving to the country is much different than moving from one urban area to another.   In urban areas the neighbors inquire about what brought you to the area, where you are from and follow up by sharing the same.  Often, they invite you and your kids to the park for a play date.  However, when we first moved to the Montana prairie many of the locals thought things like, "Here's another bunch of city folk who think their Mother Earth magazine has taught them how to garden, hunt, fish, and raise livestock.  They also think they are gonna come out here and teach us some sophistication."  Depending on one's character traits, this type of cautious, at best, welcome can be enough to cause one to pack up and run back to the city within a year.

It was late summer when we moved to our little place.  Mr.B had enough sense to know that we would possibly need some sort of snow moving equipment for that coming winter and would need a small tractor for various other work come the next spring. In short order, he purchased our little orange tractor with a bucket.  That little orange tractor and the ability to clear our own drive was enough for one or two folks, however, most remained skeptical.  The following spring, I set up an improvised "chick brooder" in our basement and purchased chicks for the littles 4-H project.  While most assumed all the chicks would die, one person stopped by for a look.  When they saw our set up they were won over.   Our first April the locals found me with my brand new walk behind tiller ripping up the ground just west of my kitchen.  Many thought, they'll be gone by summer's end.  But a couple more stopped by sometime around July and witnessed a thriving 40' ft. x 70' ft. garden filled with a grocers variety of produce and herbs.  One said to the other, "Wow! Someone knows how to garden!"  The following autumn, found my homemade pickles and other home canned produce on the buffet at a local pot luck prompting a hand full of  others to re-evaluate their preconceived ideas about us.  Our second summer found one of the local farmers asking us if he could rent a couple of our granaries to store his wheat seed.  Since we only use a couple for storage, we offered to gift the remainder to him for the season.  This tiny act of generosity, brought most around to thinking we might just make it out here.  We've only lived out here six years but the locals have watched us make improvements on our place, become involved in a local church, witnessed our youngin's excel in 4-H, and be helpful to our neighbors and community when possible.

Ultimately, anyone who moves from an urban area to a rural area will have to have enough drive and stamina to "prove their salt".  The locals are not going to teach urbanites how to live in the country.  Folks who are new to a rural area must have enough gumption to take the initiative to become involved in the community. When doing so, they must also have enough humility to volunteer for the jobs no one wants, like cleaning the bathrooms and picking trash up out of the parking lot during the county fair.  The locals will not invite a newcomer to join their church, sign up for local youth activities,  sit on various local committees or participate in the fair parade.  Relocated youngsters who excel in sports will have to patiently and consistently outperform "so and so's nephew" by leaps and bounds before he can ever "get off the bench" or "play the infield".  Regardless of how many movies Hollywood produces about the outsider breaking down the genetic code of nepotism within rural communities, locals will never allow this to be accomplished in the real world.  Relocated city folks must possess enough self assurance to be satisfied with earning the place of being only a peripheral part of the community and never becoming a full fledged member of the community.  Locals have lived in rural areas for generations, which by birthright makes them a "big fish in a small pond", and they will not give up that power or influence by allowing outsiders to be thought of as "one of their own."  If your family chooses to remain in the area for decades, your great-grandchildren may someday be considered "local".   Because close relationships are hard for outsiders to develop, independence is a key character trait.  Country folks are renowned gossips who enjoy the company of other gossips. Anyone within your family who is a gossip, will be privy to all the dirt on others in the county.  But, remember, gossip is always quid quo pro within rural communities.  Rural residents who enjoy privacy, are tight lipped and gossips have no boundaries.  This often makes it difficult to form close relationships within rural areas.  We've lived here six years and we have developed friendships but not what I consider, close friends.  I doubt we will ever have friendships as close as we did when we lived down home.

In my opinion, one's character traits are far more important than personality when it comes to living in the country.  My personal experience has taught me that perseverance, patience, humility, consistency, initiative, self assurance, and independence are some of the beneficial character traits that are required for the successful transition into a rural lifestyle.  It will behoove anyone who is dreaming of a country lifestyle to seriously contemplate their character traits before making that big move. 

If you decide the realistic transition to a country lifestyle may be too difficult for your family,  remember, that's Okay.  You can still have a bite of country living right where you are ... even if you are an apartment or townhouse dweller.  Decades ago when I lived in an apartment, I raised rabbits on my patio and maintained a few containers of fresh herbs.  More recently, our family has grown lettuces and spinach in plastic storage tubs under two fluorescent grow lights in our basement.  We also use decorative containers to grow fresh herbs by the south facing windows in our mud room during the winter months.  By utilizing the modern inventions of grow lights and container gardening, many urban residents are successfully enjoying tiny bites of country living even when they don't have any outside space.

Next time we will explore some of the financial realities of a rural lifestyle ... tootles!