Friday, December 28, 2007

Leftovers Are a Busy Mom's Friend and They Can Be Your Friend Too

Yesterday evening I rounded up all the leftovers in the hopes of creating something that would use them all up without leaving any leftovers (except enough for Jim to take for lunch) of the new creation. (No matter how delicious anything is, it loses appeal when eaten three days in a row.) For any of you who are still eeky about combining leftovers, here's the technique I used.

I started by chopping the leftover pasta with sauce and egggplant into small, almost unrecognizable, pieces. Next I tore up the leftover bits of Easy No-Knead Crusty Bread into small pieces about the size of croutons and threw them in with the pasta mix. The remaining stuffing was next in the bowl (there wasn't a crumb of gluten roast left to add). The chickpea roll was crumbled, which broke my heart since the pastry shell had held together so well during cooking and serving, and added to the bowl.

I took a moment to mix this all together because the next two additions required tasting before actually adding them. I wasn't sure if the leftover chickpea and olive spread flavor would meld or clash with everything else. The easiest way to check this is to take a taste. I put a bit of the mix on a spoon and then added a bit of spread to it and tried it. It wasn't bad at all, so in it went. After mixing this around, I repeated the same tasting process with the leftover gravy. This also went well with the rest of the mixture so into the bowl it went.

Somewhere along the way, I had decided that this would become a loaf. To bind it together, I added in some flaxseed meal and a bit of water. I pressed the mixture into an 8"x8" pan and baked it at 375 degrees for about an hour. (I might have used a higher oven temperature and a shorter cooking time, but I had to run to the train station and I didn't want anything to burn.)

I've often said that serving something utilitarian like this loaf is best when paired with something fun. In keeping with that philosophy, I made baked French fries to accompany it. I also made a miso soup with shredded carrots and the last of the leeks. I love to have soup with meals this time of year.

I did wind up with just enough leftovers of last night's dinner for Jim's lunch today. For those of you wondering about proportions, interestingly, we ended up with almost equal amounts of leftovers of each of these things I used. Now the only remnants of Christmas left in the fridge are some winter squash puree (which will be used in muffins and pancakes this weekend) and some pumpkin pie (which probably won't last much past lunch time).

It seems I'm not the only one who views leftovers as ingredients. Omnivore readers will enjoy Melanie's post on the same topic.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thoughts on the New Year

It's that time of year when we look back on what we have accomplished and what we haven't. It's time to make a plan for the next year. Whether you call them resolutions or goals, now is the time to start thinking about them.

There are a lot of craft projects that I'd like to tackle this year. I'm anxious to do more sewing projects. If I can just muster up the nerve to make the yoga pants I bought the pattern for. You'd think replacing that zipper would have given me a bit more confidence but making clothes just scares me! (I still find it hard to believe that I made the skirt that I wore for my high school graduation.) I'm also excited about giving tote bag making a try.

Then of course there are the "orders" my family has placed, a pair of knitted leg warmers, a knitted blanket using yarn leftovers (I"m going to try that log cabin pattern) and a denim quilt for each daughter. It seems they've moved past my homemade creations being uncool. Now they want theirs!

Another goal I have is to include more pictures of my projects on my blog. I love the pictures everyone else has. Now I just need to get the tutorial from my daughter again!

Of course there are a myriad of goals surrounding my fledgling yoga career but more on those another time. I'm off to make cookies with the boys. BTW, crushed candy canes make a nice addition to chocolate chip cookies.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Spreading Animal Friendly Cuisine, One Muffin at a Time!

I must have been out of my mind when I agreed to teach three classes in a row the morning after Christmas. Waking up this morning to drive Jim to the train at 5:40am, I felt as though I had already had quite a workout after all the cooking and entertaining of the last few days. (I even went so far as to crawl back into bed once I got home from the train station.)

Now that the three classes are behind me, I've had some time to reflect on this years holiday experience. Overall, it was a good holiday. The gifts were well matched to the recipients (I don't just mean mine, I mean everyone who gave a gift.) My sister even liked the Complete Tightwad Gazette! Everyone, even the kids, were happy getting well thought out gifts rather than mountains of stuff.

Since teenage girls are so difficult to shop for, my daughters find themselves in possesion of quite a bit of shopping money from our extended family. We're planning a trip to Plato's Closet this weekend. It sounds too good to be true but we shall see.

As always, food was a huge part of the last two days. Here's what I made with links to the recipes whenever possible. I am well aware that there is a huge amount of food on the list below but I like to think of the holidays as a huge vegan outreach program. I make yummy food. You taste yummy food. I give you some yummy food to take home. Next thing you know, you're asking me for the recipe for the yummy food and viola, you've added a vegan meal to your repertiore with no brow beating or diatribes on either of our parts. I'm spreading animal friendly cuisine one muffin at a time!

Gaia's Chickpea Roll

Baked Gluten with Stuffing and gravy- this was my own creation combining the ever popular Seitan O'Greatness recipe with pre-packaged vegan stuffing and shredded carrots, diced celeriac and leeks. I baked the whole thing together in a huge roasting pan with a lid. We served it with gravy on the side. This was amazing! (And no one asked about the missing Tofurky!)

Pasta with Tomato sauce and eggplant

Easy No-Knead Crusty Bread served with Olive & Chickpea spread

Amazingly Delicious Crustless Pumpkin Pie (I can't remember who's blog or website I got this from so if anyone knows, send me the link and I'll post it.)

Coconut Custard Pie from How it All Vegan

Banana Bread from the Compassionate Cook

Pumpkin Muffins with Currants and Walnuts from Vegan with a Vengeance

Monday, December 24, 2007

What's Your Holiday Motivation

There are moments when you realize the plans you've made aren't going to work. I had one of those moments this weekend when I sat down to make ornaments with the boys. The dinosaur ornament kit I'd planned to use was too complicated for them to do, especially with the pre-Christmas jittery-wiggly-pants they both had. Time for plan B, except I really didn't have a plan B.

For me, there is a certain stubbornness that goes along with my frugality. Its part "no, damn it, I can find a way to do this" and part "f---you" (not a very Christmassy admission but its true). My mother lovingly called this quality of mine "motivation" when I was a teen. (Once again I say, sorry Mom!) Whatever you want to call it, it gets me into sticky situations every now and again but it also helps me bail out of the same situations too.

No matter how down to the wire I find myself, I will not make/give/buy crap. Function ranks pretty high on my list of things I look for in a gift, even when planning ones my kids will give. An ornament is a good gift from a child because it has a purpose and a place to go. Its also small and takes up very little additional space.

Once the original ornament idea fell through, I went for a dig in the craft closet and discovered a stash of potholders that date back to a holiday project several years ago. In my opinion, potholders are another good gift because I frequently ruin mine and I suspect strongly that I'm not the only one. (Honestly, who hasn't turned the stove on with a potholder on the burner or dropped on on the oven element while taking something out?)

A little more digging revealed green, black, blue, red and purple fabric paint, as well as, 3 unpainted, wooden Christmas tree ornaments. The boys looked at me with anticipation and I dove right in. (Who says improv is reserved for late nights in smoky dive bars?)

Rob was assigned to draw wreaths on seven of the pot holders and Christmas trees on the other seven. Kyle was in charge of painting the trees and wreaths green. While Kyle did this, Rob began painting the wooden ornaments. Once the ornaments dried, Rob added blobs of glue which we sprinkled with glitter to make balls. (If you have several colors of glitter like we did, only put a few glue blobs down at a time and sprinkle them with glitter. Repeat this with each color of glitter and you can create different colored balls.)

Kyle added different colored balls (or maybe they were lights) to each of his wreaths/trees using the other fabric paints. We did this one color at a time as well. It seems to keep the mess down to a minimum. I helped by adding painted bows to the wreaths but Kyle put the stars on the trees. Rob also made a beaded Christmas tree pin that was a real pain in the tush to do. It was a joy to see both boys so deep in their projects. They worked hard and were rightfully proud of the results. Their efforts made the whole process fun for me. This morning, now that everything is dry, my little artists will sign their work.

The point of this post is not to brag about how creative I am (I'm not!)or how saintly my kids are(they're not!). The point that I take away from this is, if a child, the same ones that all the commercials on tv are marketed to, can feel the joy of creating and giving simple gifts from the heart, then shouldn't we as adults be able to do the same?

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to All!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ashes, Ashes, We Don't Fall Down?

Aside from the supposed black plague reference , which seems to be an urban legend, it seems there is another untruth in the actual words to Ring Around the Rosie, at least the ashes, ashes, we all fall down part.

It was my neighbor who brought it to my attention when he asked if I had any extra ashes from our wood stove. (Let's see, we're heating almost exclusively with wood. Yeah, I think I do!) Jim brought out a big bucketful and watched as he sprinkled them over his path and driveway for traction in the icy mess Mother Nature left us. Curious, Jim sprinkled some on the iciest part of our path. The results were amazing.

I did some internet searching and discovered these references to this use of wood ashes as well.

Thrifty Fun

Google Book Search

Symptico at MSN (look under the section titled Be Ready For Trouble)

Mother Earth News (check in the comments)

So it seems that if we use ashes, ashes, we will not fall down! We'll also do less harm to the environment, save money and not bother our pets feet. Just remember to wipe your feet well so you don't track wood ash into your home.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lumping Leftovers Together

Frugal living means looking at every meal as a potential ingredient for another meal. I hadn't realized how efficient I had become at this until I went away for a week and came back to discover a fridge full of leftovers. The obvious solution to leftovers is to use them as lunches. However, if you've had something for dinner and then for lunch the next day, do you want to be able to recognize it in that night's dinner? Probably not.

Here's an example of how it works at our house. One night last week I made chili. The next night I made a gluten stew. The following night I combined the leftovers of both and added acorn squash and some spices to create an entirely new entree that we served with quinoa. There were no leftovers of this. That's one of the goals.

The important thing to remember is, make sure you're combining flavors that will blend well. When I'm not sure about this, I've been known to take a little bit of each on a spoon and taste it.

If you begin to think of leftovers as the base of your next recipe, you'll discover two things. First, you'll get your leftovers under control. Second, you're cooking time is likely to decrease a bit. If you're keeping track, you might even discover your food bill going down, especially if you routinely through out leftovers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Living Room Redux & Holiday Thoughts

We spent this past weekend moving furniture around. It all started with me coming back from my yoga training in NYC and announcing that I wanted to clear out a room in the basement to use as a yoga studio, albeit a very small yoga studio. Fortunately, Jim is a patient man!

But wait you might be shouting, I thought you had cleaned out your computer room for the same purpose. Its true, I did try this but its a very small space. Its ideal for just me or me and Kyle but not more than that. Plus, the cat box ended up in the corner of the room. Just for the record, kitty poo is not condusive to yogic peace. (Like the dog suddenly needing attention when I practice yoga, the cat suddenly needs to poop.)

We managed to create a whole new look for the living room by ecycling our couch and recliner, moving chairs and a futon from downstairs upstairs, staining the futon frame (which we meant to do 8 1/2 years ago) and buying a new futon cover. In the process we cleared out the basement room. Interestingly, we now have more seating in the living room with a less cluttered look because the "new" furniture is smaller.

There's always a moment during these big events where I freeze mentally and wonder if I'm screwing everything up. It usually occurs when it's too late to change paths, like when the ecyclers had loaded the couch and recliner into the back of their truck. Then, that feeling of angst in my gut propels me through the rest of the job at hand. I wonder how many times people are paralyzed into inactivity because of this same cycle of feelings? It can be hard to go against popular culture (ie, why don't you just buy new furniture?) but everytime you do, it gets a little easier. This is probably why, with Christmas barely a week away, I can't get stressed at all. I'm still knitting at my usual pace and enjoying the process immensely.

For anyone who's still feeling the stress of the holiday shopping pressure, I suggest you refer to the Complete Tightwad Gazette where Amy Dacyzyn talks about whether or not kids need new toys (page 664). Let's forget the stress on monetary amounts and get back to "its the thought that counts!" Stop letting the advertisers steal your holiday joy! (For that matter, don't let anyone steal your holiday joy. Go stand out on your porch and sing a rousing chorus of "I Did It My Way" if you need to.)

Rhonda Jean over at Down to Earth had a great post on holiday giving yesterday. Its far more eloquent than my rantings.

Here's a simple pleasure we discovered over the weekend, Scrambled Eggless Eggs from How it All Vegan. Its a simple but tasty recipe. I added some chopped veggies and a little tvp to soak up some of the excess liquid. I did garnish it with the gamashio as suggested and it was delicious!

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Shameless Bit of Self Promotion

I confess, I entered the Just Start Grant Contest. Entrants were allowed 250 words to explain their small business plan/goals. To see mine, just click on the link on the upper left side of my blog. Voting by the public will help determine the winners, so go check out my entry and if you like it, tell your friends to check it out too!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

He's Got a Ticket to Ride

The snow hasn't started yet but school is already cancelled for the day. Jim opted to take the train/bus to work to avoid the nightmare of commuting home in a blizzard. In fact, Jim's decided to take the train/bus for all of January, February and possibly March.

Aside from not commuting in crummy weather, it also decreases his carbon footprint and, we've just discovered, it cuts his commuting expenses as well. The county bus company near his job offers a combined bus/rail ticket deal on monthly passes that saves quite a bit. (This wasn't very well advertised. He only knew because he got the heads up from a coworker.)

Since I drive Jim to the station, an unintended perk is that I can drive Jim's little buggy which gets 38-40 mpg rather than mine which gets 20-28 mpg. Jim's return train gets in at the same time that swim team/swimming lessons for the boys begins and the station is only 2 minutes from the Y. That certainly is convenient.

The only down side is, this mode of transportation adds time to his already ridiculous commute. The time is fast approaching for a change to be made. This is a thought we keep returning to.

A snow day is the perfect day for some holiday projects with the kids. I think we'll give those dinosaur ornaments a try. Here's a simple knitting project I plan to try for my little nephews.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Oatmeal Outrage

There can be a great deal of truth to the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Around our house, this is particularly true when dealing with food. Yesterday I fiddled where I shouldn't have. Here's my confession.

Bless me father for I have sinned, I tinkered with the oatmeal yesterday. Instead of just making steel cut oats which everyone likes, I added in some amaranth in an attempt to use it up. The result was less than stellar. My penance? Figuring out what to do with four cups of unappetizing goo. (Frugality prevents me from just throwing food out and I'm pretty sure even the dogs wouldn't have touched this.)

Salvation came in the form of the Use it All cookbook by Jane Marsh Dieckmann. This cookbook is set up in alphabetical order by ingredient. I peeked under "cereals" and was rewarded with the recipe for Hearty Breakfast Bread. I veganized it and here's my version:

Hearty Breakfast Bread
leftover cooked cereal (up to 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups soy milk
1 1/2 Tbs dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 Tbs blackstrap molasses
1/4 canola oil
1 tsp salt
8-9 cups whole wheat bread flour

Combine leftover cereal with soymilk and blend well. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the remaining wet ingredients to the cereal mixture. Pour in yeast mixture. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the yeast to bubble a bit. Add in the salt and half of the flour and mix well. Add in remaining flour 1 cup at a time, until dough is no longer sticky.

Knead about 10 minutes (especially if you're using whole wheat flour, if you use a combination of white and whole wheat you can knead a bit less.)
Cover and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled. Divide into 3 loaves and place in greased pans. Cover and let rise another hour or until doubled. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.

The resulting loaves made great toast and bore little resemblance to the mess that had been breakfast. BTW, I still think Barbara's whole wheat bread recipe is the best tasting, most versatile home made whole wheat bread.

The thing about the amaranth is, I can't find a good use for it! We used to buy amaranth cookies and amaranth cereal which everyone loved. So, I happily got amaranth last time it was on sale at the coop. I used it in a granola recipe and everyone hated it. I ground it into flour and tried adding a bit to some quick bread recipes everyone complained about the taste. Adding it to hot cereal obviously wasn't a hit either. So my quest for a recipe to use the excess amaranth continues. In the interim, I'll keep sneaking a little into pancake batter. Shh, don't tell!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pants, They Aren't Just for Wearing Anymore!

The thing about living frugally is, you just don't look at the world the same way you once did. Everything you would have thrown out or donated in the past gets a second look. Every jar is a potential container or glass or scoop or... Every outgrown or unfashionable piece of clothing is a potential rug or quilt or tote bag or...

This past weekend we were given two lovely pairs of pants that were too big for any of us. My daughter's friend makes tote bags out of jeans keeping the top portion relatively intact. If a 15 year old can do it, so can I. I'm on the lookout for a pattern/instructions for something like that, so if you have a link, please share it. I did stumble across this tutorial for a lovely tote bag.

Personally, I think I'm aiming to make two grocery totes out of them. That means my design will be open on top (no zipper), although a zippered inside pocket could be really handy. I don't think this will be completed in time for Christmas but I know someone with a January birthday who would appreciate it. Come to think of it, I know someone with an April birthday who would too!

I think a DIY lifestyle is addictive! This is precisely why time is more important to frugal living than money. Now go and create something wonderful!

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's Under Your Tree?

Apparently, Mondays mean 2-hour school delays here in NY. This is the second Monday in a row that this has happened!

Now that the kids are all at school, I plan to spend the rest of the day knitting and organizing the gifts I've already completed. This will help me find any holes in my planning and leave enough time to fill them in.

Many people I encounter view handmade presents as either "work" or "almost as good as store bought" or both. I really hate the perception that hand made is somehow inferior to store bought. Wasn't there a time, not so very long ago, when the comparisions ran the other way? As to it being work, if it is, then it is a joyful toil. I pick my projects with the recipient in mind, trying to match up the gift with their personality. Its a challenge that I enjoy very much.

In many ways, I think the availability of low cost products has ruined the holidays for us. As givers, we no longer invest the time to spend with the recipients of our gifts. Instead, we buy and give lots of "stuff" as we scurry on to our next commitment. As recipients, we no longer readily appreciate the time and effort put into a gift whether hand made or hand picked. I believe we are guilty on both sides of the equation.

I challenge everyone to slow down and look at their holiday giving/recieving style. What changes do you want to make this holiday season? Would a box of home made cookies be a more meaningful gift than what you had originally planned? Could giving less "things" really mean more to the people on your list?

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Jacket Project is All Zipped Up!

I finished putting the new zipper in the jacket! I can't believe it actually works. I find it hard to explain what a rush it was to get this completed. Go out and tackle a project you thought you might not succeed at and you too can feel this rush.

Now I'm off to start another hat!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sew, Stitch and Simmer

My dogs are having some kind of world class wrestling match in the living room. They are so goofy. My brother calls it "zoomies" when his dog does her version of this game which basically involves lapping the living room at top speed while periodically and randomly jumping on the furniture without changing speed. Its hysterical to watch although you don't want to get banged into by a dog performing "zoomies". It hurts!

Last night I just about finished another hat (two rows to go.) I found some really cute ornament kits at the thrift store yesterday for only $.50 to do with the boys. How can you go wrong with dinosaurs wearing Christmas hats? The boys wanted to know if they really had to give them away?

In other frugal news, I'm replacing my first zipper in a winter jacket. Its tedious but rewarding. I feel like I'd be able to go much more quickly if I ever had to do it again. Jim got a really heavy winter jacket for work this past summer at a yard sale. The second time he wore it the zipper pull completely broke off. I harvested the zipper from his worn out winter jacket to replace the broken one. Just to make sure I was on the right track, before I started I read the section on replacing a zipper in the Complete Tightwad Gazette.

I still need to pin the second side and do my basting before I can machine sew the jacket back together. Fingers crossed and positive thoughts in my head, I should be able to finish it tonight or tomorrow at the latest. The thing that gave me the courage to try replacing the zipper was, even if I failed miserably nothing had been wasted. I wasn't taking a functional jacket and ruining it. I was taking two non-functional jackets and making one (hopefully) functional one out of them. The only expense was matching thread for the finishing work, under $2.00.

In frugal food news, I made cream of celery soup last night. I still had a lot of celeriac and some celery in the fridge so it seemed like a good idea. I used the recipe in a regular cookbook as a guide. I sauteed the celeriac, celery and a potato. Then I added dill, onion powder, nutritional yeast and a little seasoned salt. I covered this with water and cooked until the veggies were soft. I cheated and used the pressure cooker to do this quickly. Then I pureed the veggies and pureed silken tofu into the broth. It came out pretty well, although I should have pureed it a bit more since some of the celery strings were still evident. Overall it seemed like a great use of celeriac.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christmas is for Giving

Its time for me to really start finalizing Chirstmas gift giving plans. I'm going with a knitted theme this year. (Gee, who saw that coming???) So far, I've got hats completed for 3 people (almost four actually) and matching scarves for 2 of those hats. There are also 2 scarves completed for hats yet to be made. That leaves 5 hats and 3 scarves to go. I also have to make 2 pairs of leg warmers (by request of course, having lived through the 80's once I can't imagine why you'd want to revisit that fashion faux pas!) I can do it!!

I have to confess, I am way too thrilled with my newfound ability to knit hats on circular needles. In fact, I'm just way too fond of circular needles in general. Ok, let me further confess that I enjoy knitting far more than I ever anticipated. Hi, my name is Katie and I'm a knitting addict.

Since switching to grab bag giving with my siblings, I have only one sister to shop for. We don't include our parents in this. They put up with us during the teen years, they've clearly earned a Christmas present from each of us! Nieces and nephews aren't included in the grab bag either. Each year we try to have the kids come up with a gift they make themselves to give to their aunts, uncles and granparents. I'll be brainstorming with the kids over the next few days to come up with this year's gift.

The flaw with my hat knitting addiction is the sibling I drew in the grab bag lives in Arizona! There's not much call for winter hats out there so I think I'll be making some knitted dish cloths for her. I love the Complete Tightwad Gazette so much, that I'd also love to get her a copy (Overstock has them for $14.83 with free shipping) but I'm not sure if it would offend her. I'm torn, its got so much info that would benefit her. I'd love to hear what others think about this.

BTW Isa fans, Veganomicon is selling on Overstock for $17.24 with free shipping.

One final thought for today. When I reread posts written this time last year, I am so grateful to be done with that chapter of my life. Managing the gym sucked the life out of me and affected everyone in my family. I had little free time to enjoy the holiday preparation and as a result I bought more to make up for it. This year, we have less money coming in and yet we don't feel the pinch at all because I can really devote myself to the frugal lifestyle. The best part is we are all happier because of it (even the grumpy teenagers!)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Who Killed the Electric Car? ***UPDATE***

Last night Jim and I watched Who Killed the Electric Car? What an interesting and upsetting movie. It seems unthinkable that a functional, greener technology was systematically rounded up and destroyed. It seems big oil has its tentacles in so many places. That having been said, I liked the way the movie showed everyone's culpability. Its a must see. (BTW, so is Supersize Me, although I can't seem to link into the official website anymore???)

My personal reliance on cars really bugs me. It gives me the itch to move to a place that's designed for pedestrian living. A place where things aren't sprawled far and wide. At the same time, I have no use for the high cost and affluence (or perception of affluence) of NYC. The wheels in my head are turning...

I forgot to mention, I did do some "cooking" in NYC. I made a variation on the Date Nut Pop'ems. They are so easy to make. Its a no bake recipe which was perfect to make in our tiny hotel room. Its not a very exact recipe but here it is:

about 1 cup cashew nut butter (I used unsalted)
about 6 - 8 date rolls (these are the dates that are already pitted and rolled in coconut, you find them at natural food stores)
about 3/4 cup of chocolate chips (I used semi sweet)

Put the cashew butter and the date rolls in a bowl and let them sit at room temp for about 15 minutes. Then mash them together, I used a fork for this. Once they are well combined pour in the chocolate chips, mix together and shape into a log. Break off pieces and roll into balls. Place these in the fridge and serve cold.

We ate these in the hotel and on the train ride home. Yum!! I also had enough to give to my family when they met me at the train station. It was the best souvenir a mom could bring home!

In my opinion the links section of the Who Killed the Electric Car website was a little challenging to find. To help rectify that, I linked directly to it above and here are a few of the links to get you started.

Plug-In Partners

Plug In America


Monday, December 03, 2007

NYC on the Cheap

It's amazing how quickly you get right back into things once you get home. Although I haven't gotten into laundry yet and boy do I need to! We've got our first delayed opening of the season for schools in our area. Its a welcome treat that's allowing me to just ease into the week. I thought I'd share a little more of how we kept costs down in the big city this past week.

First of all, I wound up sharing a room with a friend who had taken the first class with me over the summer. (Her mom recommended the hotel we stayed at.) The cost of the hotel included a continental breakfast each morning, coffee or tea, fruit or juice, and pastry or bagel. It was also in walking distance to the yoga studio which meant no transportation costs. The room also had a fridge which allowed us to do a little grocery shopping so we could pack a lunch and snacks each day.

Of course you couldn't go to NYC without checking out some veggie restaurants! We ate at Natural Village on Greenwich Ave and Integral Yoga Institutes Natural Food Store. We also had really good luck at the Westside Market. It had a nice mix of vegetarian and vegan options. There was a really cute diner with really nice service and a great veggie burger, somewhere in the vicinity of West 17th and 6th Avenue. We ate there on our first night but were so delerious with exhaustion that I couldn't tell you the name of it.

If you want to look at the best aspect of spending a week in NYC, it was the fact that we could walk everywhere. Our only transportation costs were train tickets and cab fare to and from Grand Central.

The worst aspects, aside from being away from my family, were the high cost of things, particularly foods, and our limited kitchen.

As with so many things when you want to live frugally, planning is everything. I'm breathing a sigh of relief that I alotted myself enough cash to get through this entire experience, even the hotel bill!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I'm Back!

I've just gotten back from a week of Advanced Level 1 Yoga for the Special Child training at the Integral Yoga Institute in NYC. Considering the cost of spending time in the big city, I think I did a pretty good job keeping it frugal.

I shared a room with a friend at the Chelsea Inn. Total cost for accomodations for 5 nights, $432, meals, $77 (we had to check out a few veggie restaurants!), supplies ($45), and transportation ($38).

It was an amazing training but now its time to reconnect with my family. I'll give a more detailed rundown soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Hiii madre will not be able to blog this weeek. she will blog again this weekend so stay frugal =]

...her daughter leen <3

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Thanksgiving Promises

I just discovered 100 Mile Diet website. The goal of Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, creators of this diet, was to eat foods and beverages produced within a 100 mile radius of their home. Their website has lots of great resources, especially if you're just starting out. I liked their 13 reasons for eating local. I find it exciting that the concept of eating locally keeps popping up in various media. The more voices that talk about living a more earth friendly life, the more likely we are to be heard!!

In non-envrionmentally friendly news, I find it somewhat torturous to listen to radio and tv this time of year. Just reading a newspaper peeves me. Everything this time of year is about consumption. It starts with the inherent gluttony associated with Thanksgiving smattered across sales fliers, pushing everyone into a grocery store frenzy. I defy you to find an empty parking space or a free shopping cart in a grocery store today.

If we stop to breathe and think long enough, we might remember that Thanksgiving is about being thankful. It should be a time for families and friends to gather together and enjoy each other's company, not a time to empty the shelves of the local grocery store.

Tomorrow morning we will be assaulted with advertisements that have become the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Don't misunderstand me, I really enjoy the parade itself. I even like the silly, at times obviously scripted, banter between the hosts. I just can't stand the number of commercials that one must endure during the parade. I can't stand the obnoxious way kids make demands in commercials. I can't stand the fact that we are expected to spend, spend, spend. If you're short on cash, not to worry, those nice folks at visa, mastercard, disover and american express will help you out. Grrr!!!

The other day at school my daughter's teacher announced that it was impossible to be an Amercian and not be in debt. My daughter took exception to that comment and informed the teacher that her parents were not in debt. She told her teacher we didn't have car loans or credit card debt. Her teacher refused to believe her. Leen got indignant and told the teacher all we have is our mortgages. The teacher was gleeful, essentially saying I told you so. Leen was so pissed off.

"So if you were renting you wouldn't be in debt??" she asked me. I told her technically not, but you'll alway need to pay for the place you live in and we're less than 9 years away from owning both houses outright. That doesn't sound like traditional debt to me. She shook her head and said something like, my teacher doesn't believe people like you exist.

The entire holiday season caters to people who don't believe you can be frugal and happy. No wonder Leen's teacher couldn't fathom our lifestyle choices. So.......

I will not go to a grocery store today.

I will not be taken in by the slick commercials that bombard me tomorrow morning.

I will not become inpatient with my children, especially the younger ones, when they begin to get the screaming-I-wants after viewing the parade.

I will not be made to feel guilty about not participating in the "let's get up at 3 am to wait in the parking lot, coupons in hand, until the big box store opens so I can get a great price on ____."

I will make my Thanksgiving meal using foods already in my home, many of which were locally grown.

I will enjoy the company of my family and friends.

I will encourage my family to take holiday buying down a notch.

I will enjoy creating handmade holiday gifts for the people closest to me and I will encourage and help my children to do the same.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Coat Coup!

Today I hit the thrift store jackpot. First, I was able to find dress shoes and dress pants for my 7 year old to wear for his chorus concert. (The teacher who thought up the no sneakers, no jeans rule for concerts obviously hates parents. Who has dress shoes for a 7 yr old boy??)

At a second thrift store I was able to get a toaster oven to replace our broken one. Yeah!! Nothing makes my family happier than toast, especially Jim. Since thrift stores often sell appliances as is, I asked to plug in the toaster oven before I bought it. I always find the staff is very willing to let me do that, no matter what thrift store I'm at. In fact I often find thrift store staff much friendlier than retail store staff.

My final find was a winter coat for me. I almost didn't try it on because it was missing a button. It turns out the missing button was in the pocket! Can you see me doing my happy dance? I always get a kick out of the fact that I wind up wearing much higher end clothing by shopping at thrift stores than I ever did buying retail. I mean I'd never by myself a Jones of New York coat off the rack at Macy's and yet I just bought one that looks brand new for $4.99 today!

The catch is, the coat is wool. For me, this is the great conundrum of being vegan and frugal. It is where two sets of ideals smack head first into each other. While I would never buy a wool coat new, I have less trouble buying it used. This is reinforced by the cost of some animal friendly options like Pangea's non wool pea coat . I'd love to buy it but I can't justify spending $169.95.

Then too there's the green aspect to consider. The energy has already been expended to produce the coat I bought at the thrift store. Since its a local purchase requiring no shipping (i.e. gas) it becomes a significantly greener choice in my book.

There's so much to consider when making a purchase but I'm pretty pleased with this one. Does that make me a bad vegan?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Since When Does Thanksgiving Come So Early?

I just looked at a calendar and was alarmed to discover that Thanksgiving is next week! Aoogah!! Sound the alarm, I'm totally unprepared! Actually, I feel no stress at all about planning my holiday menu.

I'm not on valium, so it must just be the calm that comes along with eating and cooking a particular way over a really long period of time. I have plenty of food in the fridge, freezer and quasi root cellar (that's my cute way of saying where I store potatoes and squashes in baskets in my basement.) I also have a fairly large repetiore of recipes. I feel confident that a plan will naturally unfold this weekend. Just in case, I'l peruse my archives under vegetarian holiday cooking.

Once again, four Tofurky and four Tofurky gravies were purchased for our day after Thanksgiving family feast. Its really grown into a tradition around our house. With the discovery of the baked seitan recipe, I really think I could make my own Tofurky-like roast but I've been over ruled. My day will come! BTW, I experimented with baking the seitan in a covered pan rather than foil and it worked out very well.

Now I'm off to cook dinner, drive a child to work, clean a little, knit a little and chill a little.

Happy weekend to all!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Worms Crawl In the Worms Crawl Out

Its a rainy NY day. The kids have left for school, Jim's still sleeping (he's working nights this week) and I'm typing by the light of the monitor while I sip my coffee. Even the dogs are still sleeping! If I didn't have to teach a class at 10:00, I swear I might go back to bed as well!

There are projects that I get so involved in that need to be set aside for one reason or another. Time passes and you begin to wonder, what ever happened with the...indoor worm bin?

We ran into some major compost problems this past summer. The main problem revolved around a humungous beehive that got built inside my outdoor compost heap. Since we were away for the summer and Jim was living off of food I prepared and froze, no one was going near the bin for all of June and July. By the time Jim noticed the swarming bees we were in big trouble. Although I despise pesticides, we had to use a combination of them and boiling water to finally end the problem.

You may be thinking why not just wait it out and deal with it in the colder weather? Unfortunately, this compost heap was conviently located about 6 feet from my garage door and 20 feet from my back door. With my kids running in and out constantly, it wasn't worth the risk.

The worm bins, on the other hand, were less eventful. Those little buggers just plod along, working their way through whatever you give them. The trick is, you have to stop filling the bin once its full. I know that sounds idiotic but I also know I'm not the only one who's tempted to fit just a little bit more in! (I'm like that with the washing machine too. I really have to resist the urge to add just one more shirt!)

We had begun composting the guinea pig bedding in the worm bin and I was curious to see how that went. (Yes I confess, I had definitely overfilled it. I had packed in guinea pig turd encrusted newspapers all the way up to the lid. I'm a bad worm mommy. I need a support group where I can go in and say, "Hi, my name is Katie and I'm an overfiller.") After two months of no peeking, the results were amazing. The bedding is gone, just a few canteloupe rind remnants remain. I'll be putting some of this compost on my rather anemic looking houseplants later today.

BTW, the reason over filling the bin is a bad idea is because when the organic matter gets so too abundant and the worms can't keep up, you get bugs. Bugs in the worm bin generally escape into the room, which makes everyone who comes in contact with them think worm bins are disgusting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

You Say Potato

After years of dial up connections to the internet, we've finally upgraded to fios. This means I can finally check out things that my slow dial up connection made impossible.

My first stop was the Post Punk Kitchen. I wanted a peek at the shows that grew into Vegan with a Vengeance! I watched the first two shows last night. I still don't like sushi, vegan or otherwise. I can't get past the fishy taste of the nori (sorry all you sushi lovers!) but it was great to see a cooking show that resembled cooking in my own kitchen, makeshift double boiler and all. Although, I drop a lot more stuff on the floor. (The dogs stay near my feet to catch shooting carrot coins as I drop them.)

Speaking of Isa and VwaV, I made her knishes this weekend. I made all three kinds, potato and onion, potato onion and spinach (although I used bok choy because I was out of spinach) and sweet potato. The potato ones were demolished quickly and I presume them to be a big hit. The sweet potato ones were ok but had a more desserty taste than I expected. I'll definitely make the two white potato recipes again. Now if only I could remember to call them knishes and not pierogies!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Got An Itch?

Jim's in the process of making a scratching post for Otis. Here are some DIY links he's using for inspiration:

Dollar Stretcher Scratching Posts

WikiHow Cat Scratching Post

Some tips on getting your cat to use the post you've made

A really elaborate scratching post

Jim also used the sawbuck for the first time last night with amazing results. By making the cross piece of sawbuck the size we need the wood to be, he elminated any guess work as well as time wasted on measuring. I love it when things work out so well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

When Your Sheet is Shot

In the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure how high up this little annoyance of mine really ranks but today's the day I solve the problem. The elastic on the corners of fitted sheet on our bed is dead. This means the sheet frequently comes untucked. It drives me crazy but not crazy enough to buy a new fitted sheet.

Last year I bought some bias tape for the mittens I made last year. I also have a variety of elastic leftover from other projects and salvaged from clothes used for projects.

The plan is to make a little sleeve on each corner of the sheet using the bias tape and then slide in the elastic, sew it in place and sew the little sleeve shut. It sounds deceptively simple but I've often found that working with elastic is a pain in the rear. I'll do it early in the day before I become cranky and fatigued.

Here's an odd frugal tip that I stumbled upon last night. We were setting up Jim's lunch and breakfast for today since he had to work. Jim was putting together the morning coffee so all he had to do was plug it in this morning. Unfortunately he plugged it in last night and before we knew it the aroma of perking coffee filled the kitchen at 10:30pm. I waited for it to finish and put it in a thermos figuring it might stay warm enough for me to enjoy with just a little shot in the microwave. Imagine my surprise when I poured it into a mug this morning and it was still steaming hot!

Remember to peruse your root cellar (or gee lets pretend this is a root cellar)veggies weekly, one bad apple will certainly spoil the whole bunch otherwise. Today I'll be cooking up some squash and apples that aren't holding as well as I'd hoped.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Knitting & Cooking

I've made it to Friday, I'm so grateful. This week was beginning to feel like it would never end. Of course its going out with a bang. Tonight, Rob's got a practice swim meet at the Y followed by a little party. On the positive side, I'd have to at least stop by there twice anyway to drive Tasha to and from work. I look upon the evening as a gas saving venture rather than a time sucking one! Actually, its a great opportunity to do some knitting. (There's a lot of down time at swim meets, even practice ones.)

This week in knitting class, I made my first practice heel flap for my sock. Its was exciting, and a bit stressful. I'm caught up in so many different knitting projects. I even started knitting a hat while I was waiting for Leen to get out of lifeguard training the other night. Can this obsession be healthy? Sure it can, its stopping me from eating all the Halloween candy.

In food news, we're finally coming to the end of the lettuce in the fridge. Now I just need to find something yummy to do with the daikon radishes. I welcome any suggestions. The funny thing is, despite the multitude of veggies I've used this week the fridge remains PACKED!

We made our first batch of candy chip cookies last night in celebration of Rob's report card. Kyle was so cute mixing the batter, tasting it every so often and exclaiming, "It's really very good!" I love that being vegan means never worrying if your kids eat raw cookie dough or cake batter. (Oh, and I can nip some of the batter too.) I think any time you cook with kids its a good idea to eliminate potential sources of salmonella and ecoli. I taught a nutrition program at a preschool for 10 years and we made all sorts of foods with the kids. I always used egg replacer and no one was the wiser. It gave me peace of mind.

Its already 1:15 and I'm still searching for dinner inspiration for tonight. I'm leaning toward something involving sweet potato (because I have them) and red lentils (because they cook up quickly). Right now I'm going to sneak off to the living room, where the wood stove is burning and the air is warm, to get some knitting done before I have to be mom again.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Using What I've Got Veggie Wise

Wednesdays are such a hectic day for us. Its one of those days where everything seems to intersect. We've got swim team 6:00 - 7:30pm, lifeguard training 6:30-10:00pm, and knitting 7:00 - 9:00pm. We've pretty much gotten it down to a science but it still has us feeling like we're in perpetual motion. Thankfully, we've only got a few more weeks to go.

Dinner last night was going to be leftover pasta baked with some home made cheese substitute but when I went to get it out of the fridge I discovered a hungry child had demolished most of it after school! I had to make an alternate plan and I had to do it quickly. My solution was unorthodox but it worked out pretty well.

I took a bit of leftover split pea soup, mixed in the remaining pasta with sauce and added a bit of water to thin it out. I set this on the stove while I popped leftover veggie burgers into the toaster oven. (I had made the veggie burgers the day before using leftovers of a Garden Vegetable Borscht recipe from one of Sarah Kramer's books.) I enlisted a child to rinse and chop lettuce while another child made French dressing (vegenaise and ketchup mixed together). I scrubbed and chopped a few carrots to brighten the salad and add some nutritional punch. In 15 minutes we had a meal on the table and it was quite good, although nothing like what I had in mind. At least it used up some more of the lettuce!

Chile posted this recipe in yesterday's comments. Barring unforseen disaster, I'm planning on trying it tonight.
Lettuce & Peas Chiffonade
10 outer leaves of lettuce, stacked and rolled into fat tube. Cut into fine even shreds.
1 onion, diced
1 c frozen peas (may omit or substitute!)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tbs soy milk

Saute lettuce & onions in a little bit of water until lettuce is limp and onion is translucent.
Add peas and cook a moment.
Season and stir another minute.
Add soymilk. Stir and cook on low heat for 30 seconds.

Last night, I set up steel cut oats in the slow cooker. In the interest of adding both fruit and variety to our day, I chopped up two apple, with skin left on, added a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and tossed in a half cup of sunflower seeds. The smell this morning was divine and it tasted good too.

I put dried lima beans in the larger slow cooker last night. This morning I'll be adding in the ingredients for Cider Baked Beans from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes, mainly because I have a lot of carrots and celery on hand and the recipe calls for it. How's that for menu planning?

In decluttering news, I was able to stop by the thrift store and donate everything from our closet organizing event. It felt so good to totally complete that job.

Would you believe I found a bag of the jar sprouting lids that I love for only $1.00. This will allow me greater variety in my sprouting or even continuous sprouting when my veggie stash gets low or boring!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cleaning Out the Closet

Jim was off the last two days, hence my erratic blogging. With the kids at school, we were able to power through several projects that had been mocking us. One of the biggest projects was cleaning out and organizing our closet under the stairs. That particular closet was a catch all for miscellaneous things. It was also the place where many of my craft supplies resided.

In organizing this closet, I took a long hard look at each thing I came across. A giant box of brand new fabric from freecycle was a keeper for future sewing projects. A half done latch hook rug was put in the pile to be donated. Lanyard that had been lying around for eons went in the donate pile. The more I dug my way into the closet, the more I discovered that really needed to be donated. There were 10 x 13 picture frames that I passed on to my daughters to use for collages of friend's pictures. (The largest pictures I ever get are school pictures and those are 8 x 10.)

Jim installed some shelves (plain pine board and L brackets) on one wall of the closet and now we have a much more functional, organized and less cluttered space. Suddenly, we can find all the leftover paint for touch up work!

Jim was so inspired by the lack of clutter that he attacked his record collection, finally sorting out the records he didn't want. I'll head to the thrift store to make a donation on my way home from work today.

Yesterday was our last CSA pick up of the season. My fridge is stuffed, my freezer is stuffed and I've got baskets of squash and potatoes in the cooler locations in my house. I think we're pretty well set with local, chemical free produce for the winter. YEAH!

Now, the cooking challenge really shifts to using what I have on hand. I have to put my thinking cap on while looking at recipes not forgetting to vary things or risk being left with a freezer full of some less loved veggie to slog through day after day.

The first thing I intend to use up is the lettuces, mainly because they are the most perishable. I don't really care for lettuce in the colder weather but its here so I'll us it. I like to make it a little heartier by toasting some sunflower seeds in a dry cast iron pan and sprinkling them over the top of my salad.

More on working my way through the fridge over the next several days.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Frugal Victories ***with a Little Update***

Frugal victories come in all forms. Sometimes it's a price that rang up wrong at the grocery store and you get the item free, like the coffee pot. Sometimes, it's a find at the thrift store, like the cast iron muffin pan that I paid $2 for this weekend.

Sometimes, it's walking into a car showroom, test driving a used car you like (that you've already done all your homework on), making a cash offer that is silly low and still having it accepted. This frugal veggie mama no longer owns a minivan! I also do not have car payments and my insurance actually went down a few dollars. (If you squeeze your eyes shut really tightly, you can see me doing my happy dance!)

I now drive a 2000 Mercury Sable wagon which still seats 7 but gets 5 miles more per gallon and doesn't have all the impending illnesses that my Odyssey did. My goal is to downsize my car even further in about two years but in the meantime, I have to remember I do have four kids to haul around.

Sometimes good planning is the key to a frugal victory. Just this past weekend we drove to Long Island for my son's swim meet. We packed food and drinks for the road. This allowed us to eat healthier (why do they always serve hot dogs at these things???) and save a ton of cash. I confess, I smuggled a few granola bars in despite the signs saying no outside food but the majority of our eating we did out at the car.

Now I need to get busy to make a few more frugal victories occur. What frugal victories have you had lately?

Just a Little Update:

Speaking of the "new" car, Ruthie asked,"Will it get you to the Adirondacks with the dogs, bird, pigs, and cat? Oh, and kids? :-)" She asked in a joking way but a lot of people have asked without the smile in their voice. I thought I'd share a bit more on this.

Certainly the space of a minivan is much more ideal for long trips like that but when it comes right down to it, can I justify buying a larger less efficient vehicle for what essentially amounts to 22 car rides in a 12 month period? (BTW, the 22 car rides include the trip up and back.) For Jim and I, the answer was no.

So how will we make the big exodus without a minivan to haul all of stuff? We'll have to bring up more things in the months/weeks prior to moving up for the summer. This is ok with me. Even if it means making an extra trip, I'm always looking for an excuse to head up.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

It Must Be a Tradition

I was just looking back in my archives to see if I had posted my leftover Halloween candy solution and I discovered that I made the exact same meal this year as last year! Apparently vegan sloppy joes are a Halloween staple at my house. Who knew?? I guess this underlines the need to have a repertiore of a few quick and easy meals to pull out for nights that spiral out of control.

This year I served the sloppy joes with baked potatoes instead of bulgur. I used homemade ketchup that I made and froze this summer in the recipe. The boys loved it more than storebought ketchup. Jim did not but he ate it anyway. (The girls ate at friends' houses so I have no input from them yet.) That's how it always goes!

Ruthie posted a Quick Raisin Bread recipe that I'm itching to try after work today. Conveniently, we've run out of quick grab breakfast items so it fits in nicely with my plans.

After a week of running around like a mad woman, my errands are all done. I've even put the car issue to bed and I did it all by myself. (Ladies, let's all stand up and sing a rousing chorus of "I Am Woman Here Me Roar") I have to confess, after 17 years of marriage, I prefer working as a team to flying solo on big decisions. (Although Jim was involved in the research at home, I was the one doing all the leg work.) I'm glad that's over and done with.

BTW, speaking of women roaring, does anyone else hate the image of the very pregnant woman that cafemom uses in all its ads? There's something about it that just irritates me. There's never a mom with a child, just a very pregnant woman. We're not all pregnant, all the time. It reminds me of a book Jim's been reading, The Terror Dream, about how images of women in post 9-11 America have been presented.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Accomplishing Things in My Head

As the tag sale season dwindles in NY, here's a great article on how to spot a good used bike. It might help you spot an end of season deal.

There's not a lot of time to accomplish things today. Its not only Halloween but a half day at my sons' schools as well. I can't believe they made today a parent teacher conference day! I also can't believe I signed up for one of the conferences! What was I thinking??

Most of the things I accomplish today will be in my own head. No, I don't mean they'll be imaginary! (At least I hope they won't be imaginary!) As I scurry from one thing to the next, I'll be trying to plan a few things out. For example, the chore system that we've had in place for years is no longer as functional as it once was and needs to be revamped.

As it stands right now, the girls have the large majority of the chores and the boys have very few. With the girls out of the house more for work and school and the boys getting older and more capable, the boys need to begin to help out more. Up until now I've just been asking the boys to fill in but the response is often, "That's HER job!" I've grown a little weary of that response.

The solution is for me to make a new game plan, run it by Jim and then present it to all the kids at the same time in a family meeting. Then, there is the challenge of implementing the new plan.

Its interesting to me how each child responds differently. The boys prefer to have their chores written out so they can look and see what they've done and what they need to do. Rob likes to take it one step further and be able to check off what he's already done. Nothing is more torturous for my sons than forgetting a chore and being reminded it still needs to be done. I feel there is an excel spreadsheet in my future (complete with check off boxes for Robert).

The girls, on the other hand, hate lists to the point where they wouldn't even look at them if you made them. They insist they can remember it all and would rather have me do my best impersonation of a broken record if they forget. Yuck, I like lists better. I feel there will be nagging in my future!

Here's an idea I've been using for getting an unloved chore done. Biscuit is a lab mix who has enough energy to power a large city. Robert is a child with a similar amount of energy. Both can be destructive when their excess energy is not burned off. Here's my solution. Together, they are doing laps around the block everyday after school. The minimum is 1 lap but they can do as many as they want, providing its still daylight and homework is done. When Rob & Biscuit reach 100 laps, Rob's been promised a new watch. Running with the dog is a lot more fun now!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Speaking of Logs ***UPDATE***

The CSA season is coming to a close. This is a good thing because my freezer is packed to near bursting! I seem to be getting better at sticking primarily to locally grown foods. I'm constantly amazed at how many local options we have.

Just stopping by the three or four different farmers' markets that I explored in various towns this summer, I discovered local low spray orchards, wineries, hormone free dairies and meat processing. Personally, I'm not a fan of the meat or dairy venues but at least small local operations have a better chance at more humane conditions and they leave a smaller environmental footprint.

Speaking of smaller environmental footprints, we used the wood stove again last night. Its efficient enough that the two logs I put in before bed were enough to keep the house comfy right through this morning. Some of the logs we had delivered were too long for the opening on our stove. This has been an ongoing issue and we've never found a good way to anchor the logs to cut them.

I remembered something my father had used to hold logs for cutting when I was a kid. It was made of wood and looked like two x's conected by several cross pieces to make it freestanding. The log sat in the v created by the top portion of the x's. I tried to google search this but had no luck. If plans for something like this are out there, I'm betting James can find them. I'll be looking for your input in the comments!

Last night Jim put together his own version of this using leftover 2 x 4's and other scrap wood. He sized the cross pieces so that just by sitting a log on it, you know where to cut to fit it in our stove! He's so ingenious! Don't worry if you can't imagine this, I'll put pictures of this up later on.

I haven't been very food inspired lately. Right now its all about using what's in the fridge and getting on the table by 5:00pm. Its exciting to watch the girls begin working but shuttling them around to jobs is exhausting and time consuming. This, of course, bring me back to the need for alternative transportation options and viable public transportation, as well as, communities designed with these things in mind. Just on the other side of our town, things are much more walker friendly but we live just off of a very busy 6 lane road (can you still call it a road if its 6 lanes across?) that I can't in good conscience let my kids try to cross.

Hindsight is 20/20 but as the kids grow and we begin to plan future chapters of our life, these are things that will have an impact on our decisions.

Although James didn't let me down, it was actually Ruthie, that google goddess, who first came up with the name and links to plans for making the log device I described. Its called a sawbuck. Here are some links:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Baby Its Cold Outside

This morning when I woke up, there was frost on the ground. I don't mean a little frost, I mean real frost. The current temperature outside is 27 degrees! So, for the first time this season, I started my morning by lighting the woodstove. It's so hard to get up in a cold house. (The thermostat said it was 60 degrees inside.)

Despite the extra work, I'm glad the cold weather is here. I like the feeling of slowing down and settling in for the winter. I like perusing projects that I've wanted to start or finish but haven't had time for. The wood stove draws everyone to the living room and I like that as well.

This morning we enjoyed steel cut oats, already hot and waiting for us, in the slow cooker. What a welcome sight it was! If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it on cold mornings. The ratio I use is from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes. It calls for 1 1/4 cups steel cut oats and 4 cups of water. Everyone adds their own soymilk in the morning to cool it down a bit. It does take a little longer to eat than a muffin or quick bread that you can take in the car but sometimes we need to force ourselves to slow down.

However, instead of slowing down today, I'm going to be extremely busy. There is a laundry list of errands to be run and things that must get completed before the day ends.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sew You're Ready For a New Challenge?

I really liked Rhonda Jean's post on living small. Its definitely worth a read.

A few weeks back Ruthie posted about making her first and second pair of yoga pants. I was inspired by her post. Lately, I've got a lot of "well if she can do it, I should be able to do it too" in my personality. I even went so far as to follow the link to the Simplicity pattern 7229 that Ruthie used. That's pretty much where my research and ambition ended.

The pattern cost $7.75 and I knew I really didn't have time for it right now, especially with my multitude of knitting class projects currently underway. I mentally filed my desire to make yoga pants in the someday category. Then fate intervened.

My gym used to be located in a small strip mall that included a Joann Fabric. I frequented Joann's when I needed something for a knitting class, not because I loved the store or thought the prices were so amazing but simply because I could walk to it from work. As I mentioned before they also send out 40% off coupons with amazing regularity.

When I was in buying my stitch gauge/needle sizer they were giving out coupons for an upcoming 50% off sale. I stuffed the single page flier in my purse and didn't give it much thought.

While the car salesman went bantering back and forth with his manager the other day, I decided to explore my purse and I came upom the flier again. Imagine my surprise when I discovered all Simplicity patterns were on sale for 99 cents! Of course there were a few exceptions, but the pattern I wanted didn't seem to be one of them.

I headed over after work yesterday, tentatively pulled open the enormous file cabinet of patterns and began the search for pattern 7229. My heart sank when I came upon a cardboard divider with that pattern number on it. I thought for sure it was out of stock. As I pulled the carboard forward, there was the actual pattern!

I did my mental happy dance all the way to the register, where once again the cashier looked at me like I was nuts. My bill came to under $2.50 and that included a large ball of cotton yarn which I used my 50% off coupon on. I guess no one spends that little anymore.

I must confess, I still don't think I'll get to making the yoga pants before the holidays but I'm so excited that I have the pattern already. I think I even have stretchy fabric in my giant box of fabric. Some snowy day I'll dig through and find out. Thanks Ruthie for letting us know about the pattern. I promise to use my tape measure before I cut and sew! (Just for the record, I haven't used an acual sewing pattern since I made the skirt I wore to my high school graduation 19 years ago. I'm scared!)

I've been blogging a lot lately about knitting. Interestingly, today's Ideal Bite Tip is on eco-friendly knitting. It must be the cooler weather inspiring us all to knit.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Will it Take For Me to Get You Behind the Wheel?

Cars give me a pain in the posterior. The days of loving, really loving a car are so far behind me that I find it hard to conjure up the memories of the emotion. If I search way back in my memory, the last car I loved was a red 1989 Nissan Sentra, my first new car. Now I couldn't care less if I ever owned a new car again. In fact, if I could magically transport my family and jobs to a more alternative transportation friendly environment, I would in a heartbeat. Someday we'll get there but it will take time to get that plan in motion. In the interim, we need two cars. Which brings me to an observation I made yesterday.

It seems my little buggy will need some hefty repairs in the near future if it is to continue as the primary mode of family transportation. The pros of fixing it are its paid for, it seats all 6 of us and the repairs are normal wear and tear issues. The cons are its got 134,000 miles, some rust, a history of transmission troubles (all covered by warranty up to this point) and more than a few quirks. Plus, its a minivan that gets a maximum of 22 miles to the gallon.

Like any frugal minded person, we're exploring our options before doing anything. Part of yesterday's exploration involved a trip to test drive a smaller used station wagon at a local car dealership.

I often feel like an anthropologist observing another culture in situations like that. Its so interesting to observe the way its all arranged, from the layout of the showroom to the "I've got to check with my manager" schtick that the salespeople do. It seems to me, they make you wait endlessly while they check this and that to make you more anxious and feel less worthy so you're more likely to jump at anything they offer. The poor guy got more than he bargained for when I walked in.

I came in armed with the Carfax sheet on the car, pricing info from Edmunds and Consumer Reports and the knowledge that this car could work but it didn't have to. Remember, I still have a functioning vehicle. I also took the time to figure out the value of my car using those same resources.

So what was the outcome? I'm not sure yet, big decisions take time to make and despite the industries desire to "put me behind the wheel" I'm not sure if I want to be there.

I do know this. I don't want to "put $1 down with no payments until February." I do not have "no credit or bad credit" so I don't need them to "work with me." I also do not "deserve a new car" or "need a new car" despite what all the radio commercials tell me. Being frugal has given me options. Having options gives me power. Having power means I get to make the best choice for me and not take the only option available to me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spotting & Fixing Errors

Thanks for the ideas on how to use those t-shirts. I'll let you know what I decide to do. I had totally forgotten but my neighbor used to do a lot with wonder under. She used to take her kids character bedsheets when they were worn out in the center and use the rest to decorate canvas bags for projects at her kids' birthday parties. I'm going to pick her brain before I try anything.

In knitting news, I love the way the cabled scarf pattern is turning out. It is definitely a pattern that is best done while the kids are at school. There's too much counting to lose track of when everyone is around. I fouled up a row of my lace scarf last night but, thankfully, I can show it to my teacher tonight and she'll know in a second how to fix it. I think that's the best part of taking classes. I'd like to develop that eye for how to fix my knitting errors.

I hadn't thought about it before but that's something I already have with cooking, although its taken me years to cultivate it and most of the knowledge arrived as a result of screw ups I made along the way. Honestly, who among us hasn't made bread bricks or muffin hockey pucks?) I've gotten very good at diagnosing the problems people have when cooking and what to do about them.

I think that makes it easier for me to be confident when I make recipe substitutions, which ultimately makes it easier for me to be both frugal and healthy when cooking. Let's face it, I make almost as many substitutions to make ingredients healthier (ie. whole wheat flour for white, oil for margarine, pureed dates for sugar, etc.) as I do to make a dish vegan.

Speaking of fixing my own errors, here's something I discovered years ago but was reminded of when a new kitty joined our family a few weeks ago. Don't vacuum up used kitty litter that somehow makes it out of the catbox. The stench inside the vacuum will make you want/need to change your bag sooner than necessary. Instead, use a stiff broom and a dustpan to get as much up as possible, even if its on a rug like mine is. When you've gotten as much as you can by this method, then get the vacuum out.

If you're wondering how used kitty litter magically flies out of the cat box then you obviously don't have a dog who thinks the catbox is his personal snack bar. Consider yourself very lucky and ignore this last bit of wisdom. As for me, I'm on the lookout for a kiddie gate to stick in the doorway so the cat can come and go while the dog can not.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Holiday Planning

Even though its not quite Halloween, I've been thinking about hand-made holiday gift giving. This was something that I desperately missed last year.

Here's an interesting link that describes how to make several of the pricey items in the Pottery Barn catalog and generally encourages the reader to use catalogs as a source of inspiration rather than actually buying the merchandise. Thanks to Meredith at Like Merchant Ships for the great ideas.

I've really been using my knitting class as a source of inspiration for holiday gifts. I did buy my sock yarn and circular needles this weekend. Chile suggested checking out thrift stores for knitting needles for future projects. I agree totally. That is exactly where most of my needles come from.

To make purchasing used needles easier, you might want to consider purchasing a stitch gauge/needle sizer. This nifty little gadget sells for under $2 at most craft stores and lets you figure out what size unmarked needles are. Its small enough to carry in your purse which I find particularly useful.

I got mine at our local JoAnn Fabric using one of the 40% off coupons they always have on the back of the sale flyers. I always use those coupons on the most mundane but necessary things, like a particular color thread I've run out of. The cashiers look at me like I'm nuts. I guess everyone else uses them to buy a new sewing machine or some other big ticket item.

Today, I'm allocating one of my half hour chunks to get starting on a reversible cable scarf pattern my instructor emailed to us. There's also apple butter on the agenda and lots of laundry.

In other frugal crafting news, my daughters have been cleaning out their closets and have given me a challenge. They have a bunch of shirts with sayings that they no longer wear but they like the sayings. They want me to make something out of them. They are very thin, low quality material so I don't think quilt squares are the best option. Do you have any ideas?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Here Comes the Weekend

I'm 37 years old and I still welcome Fridays like a kid in grammar school. I love the anticipation of the weekend arriving and the work week/school week ending. It begins to creep into my thoughts the middle of the week. When Friday mornings finally arrive, they are so full of promise.

My weekends are a fresh start, a chance to catch up on things that slipped by me during the week. Perhaps best of all, the weekend gives me the opportunity to be with my family which makes any task easier to accomplish. Even folding laundry can be fun when doing it with another person.

The weekend is actually chock full of things to do. There are apples to can, veggies to freeze, wood to stack and much more. I even have to get up early tomorrow morning! Even so, I'm planning to sneak some knitting in on the car ride to our CSA pickup. For you non-knitters, be warned - knitting is addictive!

In not so frugal news, we're starting socks next week in knitting class! How is this not frugal? Well, I have to buy two sets of size two circular needles and a particular type of sock yarn. I look at learning to knit socks a lot like cooking. The first time I try a recipe, I tend to follow it closely. After that, I feel comfortable to experiment. The yarn store is on the way to my brother's house and I am going there for a party Sunday. At least I'm not driving out of my way! (How's that for a frugal justification??)

Happy Weekend to All!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Recipe Roundup

I've had some recipe successes as well as a notable flop recently. Here's the scoop.

The granola bars I made were a definite success. For the most part they hold together and what doesn't hold together is willingly gobbled up as cereal. Try as I might, I can't find the source of the original recipe but I suspect it came from the Vegetarian Group. Naturally I tinkered with it so it only vaguely resembles the original recipe anyway. Here's my version:

Granola Bars

Combine the following on an ungreased cookie sheet:
2 1/2 cups uncooked oatmeal
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup flaxseed meal

Set your oven to 300 degrees and place the cookie sheet in your oven for 20 minutes while its preheating.

Heat the following in a small saucepan:
2 Tbs canola oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup pureed dates

Place 1 cup of raisins into a mixing bowl. Pour in dry ingredients and stir to combine. Remove wet ingredients from heat, stir in 2 tsp of vanilla extract* and 1 tsp cinnamon and then pour over dry ingredients. Quickly stir until everything is coated.

Continuing to move quickly (because this beccomes a sticky mess rather quickly) press this mixture into a greased 8 x 8 pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool slightly and then cut into bars. Let the whole thing cool completely before attempting to remove from pan.

*I skipped the vanilla extract because I used vanilla sugar.

I did finally make a very mild baba ganoush a few days ago. Everyone liked it but I had made a lot, far too much to use in sandwiches. I sliced two onions and cooked them in a bit of water until they carmelized. Then I added a can of black olives and some chick peas. I tossed these around until they were heated through. Then I added in the leftover baba ganoush and again let it heat through before serving it over pasta. The result was really tasty and everyone took leftovers for lunch the following day!

Last night, it seems, I was feeling a little too kitchen confident because part of last night's dinner won the stinker of the week award. Our Tuesday CSA pickup had a small amount of broccoli pieces in it, perfect for cream of broccoli soup. Having never made vegan cream of broccoli soup, I headed to the cookbooks. I wound up using the Broccoli Cheez Soup recipe from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. Visually and texturally, the soup was perfect but the taste was a little too intense. Everyone ate it but they requested it never reappear on the menu.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Let's Try That Again

Yesterday, I mentally broke my day into 1/2 hour chunks. (Don't you wish you had my mind powers?) Doing this helped me balance what I needed to get done with what I wanted to spend time on. I also tried to time things so that I was doing something enjoyable during a passive moment in other more necessary activities. For example, I showered while the laundry was washing. I knitted while the granola bars were baking.

I wish the knitting had gone better. I was still working on that really complicated lace pattern I mentioned here. I got frustrated because the mistakes were really evident because of the repetitive pattern, so I took a break and tried one of the simpler patterns we had been given. Things were going well until I apparently lost count and purled when I should have knitted. Next thing I knew, I had done about 8 rows backwards!

In a moment of temper (or unrestrained PMS) I ripped out all 30 or so rows and started over. Thank goodness the each row has only 25 stitches! Am I getting to be a knitting snob? I don't think so. I'm making this scarf for my aunt and I'd prefer if my screw ups occured in the section of scarf that wraps around her neck rather than on the edge where everyone will see!

On the other hand, my very simple scarves made using eyelash yarn and knit stitch only, have come out very well. I'm using Copacabana for one and Cotton Candy for the other. I've finished one and am quite a ways into the second. Shh, these are holiday presents for two very fashionable young ladies. Eyelash yarn is tricky to deal with at first because of all the stray pieces folding over the needles but it quickly gets easier.

While doing all that laundry yesterday, I tossed in the felted purse project inside a pillow case. I left the top of the machine open so I could let it agitate a few extra times. It worked pretty well. I blocked it and set it to dry so I could blanket stitch the sides shut and add a button to close the top today. As I mentioned earlier, my purse seemed very long and narrow. When I added the loop described in the pattern, I just wasn't convinced felting would solve the narrow, pencil case-like look of this purse, so I added a second loop on the shorter side.

As I suspected, felting made the whole project smaller but didn't change the proportions of it. The good news is by adding the second loop, I can turn the project on its side when I fold and sew it to create a more normal shaped purse. The second loop will be the one that anchors over the button to keep the purse closed. The other loop sticks out the side of the purse and, once I add a key ring to it, will become a place to put your keys. Not a bad salvage job if I do say so myself! (BTW, if you hated the key ring idea, you could just cut the loop off and it wouldn't show at all.)

I'll post the granola bar recipe I mentioned earlier tomorrow. I'm still trying to track down the original source of the recipe I used.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why I Subscribe

The last child just boarded the school bus and the quiet is just amazing. Moms don't get enough chances to experience quiet so I really savor these moments of sipping coffee and planning my day.

Its laundry day around my house. Conveniently, the sun is shining so I can get some laundry hung outside. These fall days when its not cold enough to light the woodstove can be challenging for getting things to dry without using the dryer.

My mention of the HomeEconomiser Newsletter prompted Meredith from Like Merchant Ships to ask the question: "How does it compare to reading blogs for information?"

Although I did respond in yesterday's comment section, I thought everyone might be interested so here's my response:

I do like the HomeEconomiser but you ask a really good question. I subscribe for two reasons.

The first is to get information concisely, in one place without having to search for it.

The second is to support frugal living. I'm just one woman sitting behind a computer typing away about frugal living. Most people stumble upon my blog by accident. I guess that means I'm passive in my spreading of frugality.

Steve and Annette at HomeEconomiser, on the other hand, are actively getting the word out giving interviews and with public appearances. They're are telling people who never considered a frugal way of life about it. My subscription money ($12 for 6 issues) helps allow them to do this. I think that's a worthwhile cause to support.

I think of it the same way I think about paying more for Seventh Generation toilet paper because it uses 100% recycled paper, with a minimum of 80% post-consumer materials. Sure it costs more but its something that I want to support.

Ultimately, do I think you could find comparable information through blogs? Probably. You might want to give their freezine a try.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It All Comes Back to the Bread

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, portions of your world fall apart. Last year, as I spent a huge amount of hours working, the inner workings of my house began to fall apart.

Piles of paper appeared as children emptied their book bags. Mail came and items to be saved, like IEPs and report cards made more piles. Magazines that I never had time to really read filled a basket to overflowing. (A word on the mags, the only subscriptions I pay for are VegNews, Mother Earth News and HomeEconomiser. The rest just seem to magically appear.)

Although I thought I sorted, outgrown clothes remained mixed in with the boys' winter clothing that I packed away at the end of last season. Clothing and shoes given to my daughters by their ultra cool aunt got added to their closet without being gone through first, creating massive piles of things they never planned to wear but hadn't gotten around to going through.

With my new schedule, we've been steadily regaining ground since the beginning of September. This weekend was amazing in terms of what we were able to accomplish both inside and outside the house. It really helped that the kids all pitched in, even when pitching in meant just playing nicely with friends and giving mom and dad time to focus. The girls even began to clean out their room and closets, resulting in about 7 bags of clothes and shoes to be donated! Can you imagine?

I change my rules of conduct during times of intense cleaning like this. Normally, I prefer to freecycle items but during times like this, bulk donations to a local thrift store make much more sense. The last thing you need after cleaning up piles is to create more piles as you wait for people to show up. I also don't save clothing for craft projects during these times, except for denim - I always save denim.

I even got caught up on all my freezing, even those turnips that I never could seem to get to! While I was chopping and blanching, Jim cleaned the inside of the fridge. Seeing progress was addictive, so we just kept barreling on.

We did take time to enjoy a big brunch Sunday, making extra pancakes for Monday and Tuesday's breakfasts. Then, while Jim repaired the dogs' 25 foot run leash that he accidentally severed with his lawn mower a few weeks ago, I made a batch of Barbara's whole wheat bread for the first time in a very long time. As I turned the handle of my bread bucket, I felt euphoric, like I had regained something very special to me.

Do you have to bake bread to be frugal, certainly not. For me, baking bread and making other foods from scratch, isn't just about frugality, its about feeding my family the most wholesome foods that I can. As I worked in the kitchen yesterday making snacks to fill lunch boxes, I felt very satisfied that I was doing just that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Monkey Wrench Factor

I think I've begun to pin down what exactly makes people give up on frugality. I've deemed it the "monkey wrench factor." Here's an example of it in action that happened to me only yesterday.

After work, I went through the fridge and got out all the greens I could find, except lettuces, and began steaming and freezing them. My fridge was getting clear, my freezer was getting full and I was feeling good. I had plans to move on to turnips when I realized I had to pick up Kyle from intramurals, a free afterschool gym program.

I left the kitchen a work in progress, or a mess in progress depending on your perspective and headed to pick Kyle up. Since I was already out I planned to head to the DMV to pick up the driving manual for my daughter, who's been begging for it since 9/19. My daughter was in the car because the plan was for her to run in and pick up the manual while I looped the block rather than pay for parking and walk a huge distance in the rain.

The plan went off without a hitch. Tasha was waiting for me as I came back around. Just as she got into the car, Jim called. This was odd since he should have been 2/3 of the way home by that point. He was driving home when his alternator died and could I meet him at the service station 45 minutes away? So much for turnips.

I stopped home, dropped off Tasha, told the girls to eat the leftovers for dinner, made a few sandwiches for the road, let the boys hit the bathroom and away we went. The boys happily ate sandwiches and played travel Uno as we drove. We picked up Jim and reversed the route stopping briefly for a roll for each of the boys and an extra large coffe for Jim & I to share. (There's no time to brew coffee yourself when you know your honey issoggy and waiting for a ride.)

Once home, we too ate some of the leftovers. Jim supervised homework while I finished with the greens. Forty five minutes later the boys were in bed and Jim was making plans for how to get to work today. In the end, despite my promising start, I didn't get half of what I wanted/needed to get accomplished done.

The monkey wrench is not the car repair or the tow bill as you might suspect. The monkey wrench is the event itself and the time spent rectifying it. In frugal living time is a precious commodity. When time is short, we become tempted to do things we wouldn't ordinarily do for the sake of convenience, like get takeout. Throw a few monkey wrenches into your week and frugality can go out the window.

I confess, I pondered takeout when Jim first called. Then I quickly thought about ways to avoid it. We don't enjoy takeout enough to spend money on it and I had leftovers at home that would work for a late dinner. The sandwiches would tide us over, the rolls were a little treat for the boys and the coffee was just plain necessary. I was willing to make a $3 investment but not a $30 one. Questioning your first reaction to a situation is the first step in living a frugal lifestyle.

All of this brings me to the decision I made back in June to dramatically cut my work hours and responsibility. For me, having more time, even though it is coupled with less income, makes it easier to be frugal. I think too many people are fearful of trying to do things because of just the kind of day I had yesterday.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

An Odd Dinner Inspiration

A while back (in 2005 to be precise) I posted about discovering discount grocery stores. Darrylvkjust just let me know about a directory of discount and salvage stores. It doesn't include stores like Aldis, Price Rite or Save-a-Lot.

Speaking of food, our dinner time has been in a state of flux since school started mainly due to 5:15 - 6:00 swim team practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday for Rob. This past week he got moved up to the next level which means 6:00 - 7:30 swim team practice Monday, Wednesday and Saturday practice from 1:00 - 2:30. This is good news for us. If dinner is ready at 5:00, we'll have time to eat before we head to practice. It also gives Jim the opportunity to exercise while Rob swims rather than going to the Y at 5:30am. I just have to get into a rhythm of having dinner ready by 5:00.

On Tuesday evening, due to more veggies than my fridge could hold, I put a huge bunch of chopped celery, a pound of chopped tomatoes and 3 eggplants (I salted and rinsed these first) into the slow cooker on low. The cover wouldn't close all the way so I added a bit of water and told Jim, with a lot of false confidence, that it all would cook down and fit easily. Imagine my surprise and delightwhen I woke up in the morning and it actually had!

I added some red lentils to the mix, along with some nutritional yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, a half teaspoon of seasoned salt, some onion and garlic powder. To serve, I made some pasta and toasted a handful of chopped walnuts in a cast iron pan. I mixed the walnuts into the eggplant mixture and served it like a sauce over the pasta. It wasn't bad for a meal built totally out of a lack of storage space!