about the dustmop

Update on yesterday’s post, wherein I yearned for a dust mop to swipe up the furballs: I don’t currently have a mopless handle, as it turns out, but a nice person on Freecycle is going to give me one, and my nice friend LisaPie says I can crochet a mop top out of cotton yarn, of which I have aplenty. So I will not be buying one. It was just a momentary flicker of lust and desire…a new dust mop…(swoons).

Lovely reader Heather was telling me about her indoor laundry-drying system, and how she also uses wool balls in the dryer. I’m like, wool balls – huh? She sent me this link, and says these felted (handmade) wool balls cut your drying by about 40% in the dryer. Who knew?Guess what I’ll be working on?

These are some other goofy things I’ve been doing lately, Compact-wise.

  • I’ve been using the extra sticky strips on packets of stamps as tape to hold the envelope closed. The other day I had a large (reused) manila envelope to mail, and at the PO, realized it was not sticking. I was going to ask for some tape, but I spied someone’s trash from a packet of stamps on the counter. All the sticky in-between strips were still there. So I didn’t have to buy a roll of packing tape nor ask for the borrow of some. Cheapskate me, huh? Well, it worked. And then I found a penny.

  • Just got a tasty recipe for some protein-filled snacks, made from our cheap friend, the lowly garbanzo bean. This recipe courtesy of April, a friend from high school, who posted it on Facebook the other day. I buy garbanzos dry, then soak and boil. April buys the Costco-size can, rinses, then makes them into snacks. So overnight I soaked, today boiled for 30 mins, then drained, and proceeded with the snack: drain well or pat dry with a towel. Arrange in 1-2 layers on a cookie sheet (no need to grease sheet). Sprinkle with your choice of seasonings — salt, pepper, taco seasoning, onion or garlic powder, chile lime salt, chili powder, whatever. Put in the oven at 350 for about 2-3 hrs til dry and crunchy. A whole potful filled a cookie sheet double layer, then baked down to a single layer and filled a 2 lb peanut butter jar. And the guys are eating them by the handful, like peanuts. I think that potful of these crunchy beans cost about 50 cents, and they are pure protein, plus a little salt. No fat!

  • Looks like the season for appliances to poop out, and last night it was the rice cooker. Mr Husband has had it 20+ years, and it warms things but doesn’t cook rice anymore. So I might keep it as a warmer for a while. Or plant something in it. I cooked the rice on top of the stove instead. It was just as good.

  • I’ve noticed in the great Coupon Savings Challenge that almost every single time I buy something at the store, on sale or with a coupon, that at least one price is wrong. I get so flustered in line when it’s busy, and they go so fast. We used to have to call out the prices (a million years when dinosaurs roamed the planet and there was a class called “Beginning Cashier Training” in high school). But they don’t do that anymore. You’re supposed to watch the checker/machine – but also watch the baggers who keep trying to give you plastic bags because it’s easier on *them*, and then seem incapacitated by the problem of where to put the gallons of milk. Um — they don’t need a bag. So while I’m keeping an eye on the bagger, the checker just jams everything through, and then I have to read the receipt and catch booboos after the fact. It’s a little annoying because I feel like The Problem Shopper, always complaining. They see me coming and their faces say that they recognize me — not that happily, or am I imagining it. Doh! But what the heck? They ought to get their advertised prices right. If it says 2 for $4, they ought to charge you that price. Just thought I’d kvetch about that a little bit.

  • Still eating our way through the pantry and freezer. Interesting that we’ve been eating better now that I have to work harder to make a decent meal out of the weirdest stuff. (Although we cooked apparently bad bacon on Sunday and made Mr Husband sick. Oops. Sorry.) But they keep telling me, “Great dinner!” I made a different 3-bean salad out of last summer’s frozen green beans, more of the garbanzos (boiled, not baked) and some edamame. It’s pretty, healthful and tasty. Last night’s Chinese-Japanese-Korean dinner included more of the frozen edamame, brown rice (dead cooker), stir-fry veggies with everything in it (clean out fridge), some Aidell’s chicken-pineapple meatballs (freezer), and a fruit salad I made out of fresh oranges, 1 persimmon, 1/2 a grapefruit, the last pomegranate, and a can of tropical fruit in juice. Plus green tea and some vegetarian “pork” buns that I had made and frozen a few months ago. Very tasty, all of it.

Here are a couple of photos of the dead garden just now. One shows the hot pepper plants under glass with 3 hens having a dig for worms.

Happy days, keep your fingers warm, and don’t forget to floss.

keeping track

This is a year of keeping records on what we’re growing, how much we’ve produced, where we’re saving and how we’re getting out of debt. I’ve been doing all these things for a while but now I’m actually tracking them. And you, Dear Reader, will get to follow along as I pinch pennies, pick up grains of rice and glean fallen apples. Doesn’t that sound enticing? Well — trust me. I’m excited about it.
   I hate to call them resolutions, although I’ve resolved to live this way. These are more like over-all goals and ways of being. Being rather than doing. A context rather than a rule. So here are the ways of living for 2011, in no particular order, and weighing equally in importance. More or less.

1.  Compact living. (Continuing my fourth year…) That’s the pledge of not-buying-new and not using up as many resources as possible, a la most Americans. Conserving electricity, water, recycling, thrifting, gleaning, getting rid of stuff and living more simply, eating locally, less waste in food and avoiding excess packaging, making do or doing without, debt reduction and cash living…all that kind of thing. Just more of it. Interested? We’re a dedicated bunch — more than 10K of us yak regularly at The Compact. Join us.

2.  Savings Challenge: This is the year of saving $25,000. That is, we will be $25,000 richer a year from now. Doesn’t mean a pile of gold, my friends, but it does mean we will pay down bills, and thus save in interest payments. We’ll add to our 401K and get the company match, which is free money. We’ll make donations, save pennies, and avoid avoidable fees, and in the end, by Dec. 31, 2011, we will be $25K better off, somehow. I will tell you that this is already going well. As of Jan. 1, I made a few adjustments to bills that put us close to the $1,000 mark already — by paying off a bill with a high interest rate and making a donation and changing our insurance coverage. Look for occasional posts on this topic, not as bragging, but more as crampons on the icy slope toward financial freedom. And believe you me, if we can do it — with 5 kids, two divorces and years of struggling single-parenthood, assorted debts, college loans, and just one income — anyone can. By the way, I made a spreadsheet for this.

3. Fat Ass Challenge. OK, as I type this I am eating holiday M&Ms. So how badly do I need this challenge? I would like to shed 20 lbs but I can’t seem to get off my fat ass, so this will be an ongoing battle. It used to be easy for me to blink and lose 10 lbs. But I had a year of disability during which I moped, and did not exercise, and the blub has settled. I gotta move my ass. That’s all there is to it. And stop eating candy, fer crap’s sake. Willpower, my ass. Literally.

4. Garden Production. I have a garden and some chickens. So what? I’d like to know how much my little farm is producing and what that is worth to me in the food budget. So I made a spreadsheet for that, too. I stole the idea from the Dervaes family of Little House in the Suburbs — they are some fine folks and I recommend you check in on them once in a while to see how you could make your suburban plot of land completely arable and productive. They chart their progress and I shall, too.
This ends up in the plus column, because if I am getting eggs at the rate of 3 a day, then I am saving $10 a week by not buying 2 dozen organic brown eggs. My eggs and veggies are worth something, and not just their own intrinsic value. They are worth barter or trade value as well. If I trade eggs for something instead of cash, so much the better.

5. Meal Planning.  I was given a month-by-month desk calendar that no one else wanted and it seemed perfect as a meal-planning calendar. I have been planning meals a week at a time for a while but this helps me keep track of what we eat all month, and I can look back to see what we ate last month, etc. This is not just about budgeting and keeping our health on track. I am also trying to eliminate food waste in the house, and using leftovers or using up what we have is easier if there’s a plan for it, and you know what you’re doing day to day. I know how my brain works, and if I don’t know by noon what is for dinner, then it is not happening. I get slower and slower and lazier and more lethargic — maybe just more tired — as they day ebbs, and I will end up ordering a pizza ($10-$20) or Chinese ($35) or sushi ($50) if I don’t plan and stick to it. So how often can I blow my budget with sushi? Not much, if I intend to get us $25K this year. It’s all part of a Master Plan.
     This week’s menu includes finishing up the holiday ham. We didn’t eat much of it when The Vegan was here, but she went back to NY so we’re eating meat again. We had mac-n-cheese-n-ham bits on Monday. I made a ham-yellow pepper-cheese frittata in the oven in my cast iron skillet tonight, and tomorrow will be white bean soup with the last of the ham. The beans are doing a passive soak overnight.

6. Coupon Saving. Yes. I’m one of the crazy coupon ladies. But I’m a clever crazy one. I don’t buy sh*t that we don’t eat. I don’t buy cleaning supplies and Airwick candles. I don’t buy Pampers. There are TONS of coupons out there for that kind of crap. However, with judicious use of coupons for real food (plain cereal, cheese, milk, yogurt, veggies, cat food, health foods), and combining with store sales and rebates, I saved easily 40% on my grocery bills the second half of 2010. Our Christmas was one of the “richest” ever, despite spending less, because of coupons, sales, rebates and deals. So…I started a spreadsheet to track my savings. What I don’t blow on paying full price at the store will go into the savings column on my Master Plan spreadsheet. If I save 40% every week, that’s a significant amount of money not wasted at the store, and that we can spend on debt reduction, investing elsewhere, and so on. It’s a Master Plan, I tell you. (cue evil laughter)

7. Homemade Throwdown. Damn that Max Wong. She challenged us on The Compact to an ALL HOMEMADE year. Make it or fake it til you make it. No buying gifts, etc. Make it all. EEE-gads. Well, OK. I guess I can do that. So watch for this goofy little challenge to rear its ugly head somewhere in the future, probably when I’m drooling to buy something that I could make but am feeling lazy. Like pizza. Or some cute vintage red Italian pumps.

Are seven challenges enough? Yes. But wait…there’s one more.

8. One-Car Family. Yep. The old Isuzu died, and we decided not to go into further debt to buy a second car, and also that leasing a car would be a total waste of money with nothing to show at the end. We might as well just go out for an expensive meal every night for the next two years, if we’re gonna just throw money away. We will share the one car that we have — a 2004 Mitsubishi Outlander that gets good mileage and has about 93K on it. Here’s to riding my bike, taking the bus, walking — and, I hope, walking my Fat Ass off. I’ll be writing about these adventures this year.
Plus — children, chickens, writing, the world, and my ongoing quest for spiritual fulfilment in the garden.
Can you dig it? Say yes — and email me at suneditrix@aol.com if you want me to send you any of these spreadsheets for your own use.
Ciao, bellas.

still life with yarn, harvest and sneezes

We added another hen to our flock, a cull from another flock across town. This one is also a golden-laced Wyandott but she is altogether darker than Violet; we’ve named her Dahlia (which we liked better then Waffle, her previous name). All of our “flowers” are prospering, still enjoying daily run of the backyard, grass, worms, bugs, seeds, and household leftovers. In return, a clutch of eggs for the house, and companionship. There’s nothing like a chicken looking in the door at you and asking for food to make you feel wanted.

I had been making crafty gifts to sell at Sunday’s craft fair at Temple Israel, and so looking forward to it, but I caught Fabienne’s cold and am still in the middle. Since the sale is tomorrow, I would have spent today baking and labeling, but instead I’m drinking tea in my bathrobe and reading old National Geographics and wishing I could bake and label. Oh, well. Clearly the Universe is telling me to chill out. So I chill.
I’m not much for television, but I did watch a little Food Network yesterday and mildly enjoyed Paula Deen and Rachel Ray and Giada de Laurentiis. I think I liked Giada the most and Rachel the least — but cooking is fun and it’s nice to watch masters (mistresses) at work. I wish they’d say “I’m gonna compost this” and that they’d use the “unpretty” parts of vegetables — I saw Giada throw away half of some scallions that were perfectly usable — they could have a stock pot for vegetable bits or a compost bucket somewhere, but nope, not very green, any of it. Rachel Ray was serving veal, which I have never eaten and never will, and a truckload of garlic, which I don’t eat too much. Paula was very entertaining and I loved her homey accent and cheerful count of how many sticks of butter she had used thus far, but I couldn’t eat like that and I don’t think anyone should, really. Talk about gilding the lily.
So there’s my assessment of the only daytime TV I could stand to watch — aside from a little PBS international news. That was also instructive — to remind me how many people there are in the world, and those on the edge of poverty don’t give a rat’s ass about composting or recycling; they just want to get by. It is terribly alarming, actually, looking at numbers in China and India, where people who drove rickshaws and bicycles now drive cars that need gas and spew exhaust — the smog, pollution, toxins, fuel consumption and other issues are just frightening. And then I go get into my car and tool around town buying stuff and playing chauffeur, and how is that any different? It isn’t.

So many troubles in the world. [deep sigh]

I’m not the sickest I’ve ever been — the Swine Flu 18 months ago was the worst — but when I have a snootly-sneezy cold, I ought not to be in the kitchen handling food. On the counter is a bowl of tomatoes asking to be made into sauce, and a bag of apples that really want to become a pie, a cake and some muffins. I hear their little voices calling me, and I can’t answer — wait a few days, I think, but the fruit flies race for another meal, and pretty soon it will all end as chicken feed. So I feel a little sense of urgency to recuperate. And I would have liked to have done that craft fair, dang it, because I have the stuff to sell, and that was gonna be our Christmas budget, and instead we’ll have to reach deeper and find more pennies and resources. Disappointing, to say the least, and the table fee is non-refundable.
Well, that’s the way of it sometimes. Happy weekend to you, and start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas and how to stay warm and be jolly. If jolly’s what you do.

November already?

I’ve been on the road in the past month, and trying to catch up after travel is like trying to stop the salt from flying everywhere when you refill the shaker. Even if you use a funnel, it still spills, and you have to throw pinches over your shoulder just to keep the luck flowing. At least, this is what happens when I do the job.
And here I am in November, with another only-in-California warm spell that makes me want to go work in the garden. Our weather is so weird anymore — climate change is real, chickadees. Really, really real.

Speaking of chickadees, we had a brief interlude of joy with an adorable yellow chick called Buttercup. She was a rescue chick, given to us by a teen friend who took the chick away from a child in the street. No idea where s/he came from originally (an egg, I presume). She was about 2 weeks old, very small but seemed lively enough. The one issue I could see was that she had no down on her belly. This led me to believe that s/he had been kept in dirty conditions. I set up a box in the house, got out the warming light and gave her food and water. We let her out to run in the grass, and she was adorable, following us, sleeping in our laps, peeping constantly, either loudly or very sweetly and conentedly. We enjoyed Buttercup’s visit for just one week, but found her cold in her box one morning with no apparent reason for her death. Sad faces all around. Poor little Buttercup. At least we made her happy for her final week, whatever her little life was like before that.

As my friend Alana said, “Even little lives matter.” True that.

more later.

of mice and moles

Hidee-ho, fellow inmates! 

Today we have an urgent task ahead of us, which is raising the fence between the garden and rest of the yard. My hens have learned how to fly over and have torn up several vegetable beds in the past week or so. Really annoying, as I watched my English peas, baby collards, sprouting turnips and carrots get scratched into oblivion. I could trim the feathers on one wing of each hen, if I could catch them, but I can usually catch just two of the four (Poppy and Rosie like to be petted). The other ones (Violet, Bluebell) seem to loathe the touch of human hands and will really run fast. So the fence has to go up a few more feet. Then I can replant. But I’ve lost 3 weeks of warm sunshine, quite annoying. (The hen at the window there is Poppy — chief instigatrix.)

We had a very tasty tomato pasta sauce last night, half made with green tomatoes (I added a little sugar to make up the sweetness). Squirrels are running rampant in the yard, and pulling tomatoes off the vine before they’re ripe. I have rescued some of these vegies and threw them into the pot yesterday. I was calling it Stoplight Pasta Sauce, for the red, yellow and green tomatoes. I rather like that. Consider it trademarked.

There’s a small pile of cucumbers, zucchini and apples (thanks, Annie and Stew) on the counter, awaiting processing. I think I’ll shred the zucchini, pickle the cucumbers and dry the apples. I pulled out the last of the green beans, and was enjoying watching my fall crop of green beans come up, anticipating some fresh baby beans.

But in the last week we have had a visitor — a mole, who has eaten off the taproot of several sunflowers and half the luscious bean plants. It is like watching a disease spread — these beautiful healthy plants here, and then next to them, wilted, dying plants. Really sad. I put some mouse bait way down the hole and then covered it back up so that no one on the surface could get near it. The carnage seems to have stopped — I think. This tells me that the other boxes will need mesh/chicken wire put down before I plant anything else.

More life in the food chain – the other day I saw my cat playing with a mouse in the back yard (in the photo she is inside the coop, sniffing around). Not my favorite sight, but part of the circle of life, I know. But my cat is afraid of the chickens, who are pretty beastly. They don’t know that Fifi is Queen of all She surveys. I let the chickens run loose in the yard — as long as they stay out of the garden. Anyhoo, one of them scared Fifi away from her mouse, and then the blood-fest began. One hen grabbed the mouse and then there was a crazy free-for-all of grabbing the mouse from each other and tearing it apart. It was pretty grisly. I knew intellectually that chickens were good mousers, but seeing it with my own eyes — sheesh. I think I’d have preferred death by cat than death by chickens.

We’re getting 2-4 eggs a day and I am getting another hen in the next few weeks from a local gal; transitioning in a new hen will be interesting. The garden is still giving about 2 cups of yellow grape tomatoes per day, 1 zucchini, one small head of lettuce (enough for a day’s worth of sandwiches, or a salad if I save it up), and 3-4 medium to large tomatoes. I am ready to start freezing whole tomatoes; this year we were finishing the last frozen tomatoes in June, just as the new crops were getting ready to pop. I have beets, lettuce, peas (if they survive the chickens), beans (if they survive the mole), onions and peppers still growing, and also a few more spaghetti squash still on the vine. I have 3 spaghetti squashes in the house demanding attention — I will bake, then freeze the strands.

Fifi, Queen of all She Surveys

On the job front, I am now officially off disability after a year, and now just unemployed — or underemployed. I am picking up freelance work every week or so and can continue to build that up. Not sure exactly what is on the horizon, but it won’t be full time newspaper work. That hardly exists anymore and it is really poorly paid. Newspaper reporters were the lowest paid white collar workers in America, but now you can hardly find a full-timer around. Most papers have cut their staff, then rehired them as independent contractors, without benefits. It’s a terrible decline in the industry. That being said, I have no interest in chasing firetrucks and politicians anymore, either. So I’m back to reviewing theater (a terrific perk because I get to see live shows for free — usually 2 tix for me are free), writing short bits for regional magazines, and possibly doing some theatre PR. These things I can do from home and also tend my garden, flock and family (not in that order).

We are still enjoying our German exchange student, Fabienne, whose presence brings us great joy, and I signed us up for another student when this one leaves in January. I look forward to continuing that trend. One more person is no trouble at all, and she is eager to be here. That makes it very pleasant indeed.

Coupon Update
Coupon and grocery-wise, we are doing fabulously. I think I finally figured out the trick of coupons. I have a friend who gives me coupons — a 6-inch stack of them about once a month (thanks, Laurel!). This is interesting to sort through, because I have to wade through sometimes 3-year-old coupons, but the end result has been good. I am not one to buy crap food just because there is a coupon. I buy “whole” food — pasta, milk, cheese, etc. Occasionally canned food or a hair-care product (and only with a coupon!). And I NEVER buy cleaning products, scented candles, frozen dinners or Koolaid, which is what I see most often in cutting coupons.

My strategy is to read the sale papers of all 3 grocery stores (Safeway, Lucky and Nob Hill-Raley’s) plus CVS/Longs. I look for who has what on sale, and then I match that to the coupons I already have, sometimes multiples of coupons, and then I shop at 1-3 stores, using a detailed list and hardly ever deviating from it. My results are that I’m spending about $75 to $125 a week to feed 6 people, but I’m saving as much as 35-50% on what I buy. So I’m bringing home a crazy amount of fabulous food for what I’m spending — and “unaffordable” stuff like California-grown olive oil, good bread, organic chicken, nice cheeses, etc. Because we live on an island, about 6 miles x 1 mile, nothing is very far away, and I drive just one day a week. I do all my errands on one day and end up driving about 10-12 miles total. All the savings have been earning me 10 cents off at the pump at 2 stores, another really fabu savings.

More money stuff: By squeezing every penny and meticulously tracking all expenses, I have managed to get us in the best shape financially we’ve been, ever. Money is tight — but — we are on top of bills, paying off depressingly old stuff like back taxes and legal bills from our divorces (9 years ago! Ugh!). Within 3 months, I will have 3-4 more bills paid off and am refinancing my daughter’s school loans to make them more manageable. We are almost to the point where we can start reinvesting in Mr Husband’s 401K, which has a company match, and building up savings and The Boy’s college fund. Almost there. I can see it just down the road. That’s a nice place to be. Very nice, after several years of single parenting (both of us) and then catching up from those difficult days.

Other than that, I’m starting to consider keeping bees, and otherwise still writing and sewing and knitting and thinking about what’s next in the great adventure of life. Enjoy this blessed autumn (sniffs deeply and appreciatively at fall’s crisp air).