Archive for January, 2014

Living Frugally

January 20, 2014

fru·gal

: careful about spending money or using things when you do not need to : using money or supplies in a very careful way

: simple and plain

(according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

From a very young age, my mother called me frugal. I always hated the word as a child, equating it in my mind with being cheap. I am not cheap! It was only over time that I came to appreciate the label for what it truly is. And mom was right, I am frugal. I spend money on good things but I am not wasteful, and I am a simple, plain woman. I don’t use makeup (except on very special, rare occasions), I don’t fuss over haircuts or clothing, I can count how many pairs of shoes I own on one hand (to Daughter’s great despair). I save things for future use, I use things up, I re-purpose things. I always have, even as a child.

It wasn’t behavior that I was taught. My parents were well-to-do, and my dad spent money like there was no tomorrow. No one picked up a dinner tab if he was at the table (I almost had to come to blows with him when I wanted it to be my treat, even if he had agreed before dinner). I saved my allowance for special purchases, hidden between the pages of books in my room that my sister pilfered on a regular basis.

Being frugal is very helpful now.  While I am sometimes at a loss to figure out how the electric or phone bills will be paid when there is no money coming in, I am resourceful and they do get paid. The house is reasonably warm, and I eat well. The universe provides what I truly need, if not the things that I would like. I am grateful, happy even, living my frugal life.

Two things this week make my point very well. Kid the Younger, Fiancée and Roommate came over for the weekend last week. While it meant giving up going to my spinning group and seeing friends, those were easy sacrifices. I pulled a chicken out of the freezer and mom & I planned a feast. Main course covered, she did sides and I cruised the web for a new dessert to try out using what I had on hand. Came up with a Pineapple-Banana Cake which will definitely get more play around here! Pineapple from the pantry, eggs from the chickens, bananas from the freezer. It is not overly sweet, which I really like, and it lasts for days (not that it really had a chance to). The glaze is pineapple juice and powdered sugar. Mom and I discussed some possible modifications to the recipe to change it up a bit.

pineapple banana cake finished  Ready to roast

This is the chicken before it went in the oven (forgot to take an after picture, oops). Very simple roast chicken, salt & pepper, fresh rosemary from mom’s garden, a couple of leftover lemons in the cavity. We ate a lot of it that night, and I left several slices for mom. I made several meals off the meat over the next few days, and then the carcass was used to make soup which will feed me for several days also. The pantry supplied all the spices and goodies I need to make a filling soup: a can of chicken meat, one of tomatoes, potatoes from the Free Potato Day, carrots from the fridge, onions. Simple, plain fare, but filling and satisfying.

My other example isn’t pretty, at least to start with. I love my hand-knit socks, but I am not easy on them. I tend to wear just socks on my feet in the house during the cold months. I should use slippers to save wear and tear on them, but I don’t. Sadly, this is the result. Sock repair reason to fix I have worn huge holes into the feet of both socks. I don’t know how to darn holes (it’s on my list of things to figure out). Yet the legs and heels of the socks are fine, and I have the leftover yarn (there’s that frugal thing again). So I cut off the toes of both socks, picked up stitches, and am in the process of reknitting the toes. Faster than knitting the socks all over. I’ll have to weave in a couple of ends (no biggie), and my socks will be useful again. As an added bonus, it has freed my mind from the fear that has been keeping me from completing my vest which has stalled out over the idea of cutting the steek. Yay!

Sock repair ready to pick upSock repair stitches picked up

Up until today the weather has been lovely. Today, we are a foggy, cold mess. I am thankful that there is little need to be outside today, other than chores this afternoon. No lambs or kids yet, though bellies are swelling. I finally sealed up the hole that Myrtle was getting out through. Fencing is always a challenge with a thinking goat. She’s still looking for a new way to escape, silly girl.

Dreaming for the Future

January 8, 2014

The wind is howling outside, throwing frozen rain against the side of the house. Inside after doing chores, I am warmed by the old fence posts I cut this afternoon with the chain saw. The wood pile is long gone, so I am scavenging wood off the farm now. Luckily, there is enough, for now at least. I am resourceful if nothing else.

A blustery day is the perfect time to gather the seed catalogs and to start dreaming. I would love to have an abundant garden, but living in the High Desert makes that a challenge in the best of years. Still, I am starting with a good base. Fairy God-daughter gifted all her Fairy Godmothers with an enormous quantity of seeds left over at her work last fall, so there are only a few holes that need to be filled in. And the dreaming is the best part of gardening! No weeding, no hungry insects or loose chickens to prey on the tender plants, no weather to contend with. Just the beautiful pictures of ripe produce, promises of the bounty that could be mine. Even an over-abundance of zucchini isn’t a scary idea at this time of year. Bring on the vine ripened tomatoes, tender carrots and beets smelling of fresh dirt, peas and green beans waiting to be steamed lightly and enjoyed. Luckily, I just put a lamb shoulder roast in the oven to cook with some of the bounty of potatoes from Rainshadow Organic’s generosity and a few carrots, onions and a bit of oven-roasted garlic from the freezer, so all the dreaming will be well fed in an hour or so.

I also dream of planting an orchard. I love fruit. Even as a child, during the season I would forego spending my allowance on candy in deference to fresh cherries. I have planted several fruit trees over the years, but gave up when Sweetie kept insisting on using the weed whacker around them (he girdled and killed at least 10 trees). I have one lone sour cherry tree that survived the carnage, having lost apples, peaches, pears, apricots and the sweet cherries. I have never gotten any cherries from it but remain hopeful. It bloomed well last year, but we had a cold spell immediately afterwards. I keep thinking I should move it to try to find a place where it will be happier but probably I never will. I am going to be more aggressive about pruning it this spring, to get rid of the abundance of dead wood that it has (which is destined for the smoker).cherry blossoms close

I look at blogs of gardeners in warmer climes and envy them their early springs and long summers. In cleaning out the barn (which hadn’t been done in a few years, and has yielded some lovely compost), I have created some new garden beds. I think that they will be devoted to growing squashes this summer. I have 3 kinds of pumpkins to play with, and several other including summer and winter types, plus a couple of ornamental gourds. A girl can dream, right? All the existing beds will be well fertilized as well. I am ready to get my gardening mojo back after a lull of the last few years.

I do need to report a successful foray into the making of hard cheese! It isn’t finished yet, since it needs to age for at least a couple of months, and it won’t win any beauty contests. I jerry-rigged a press using the steamer basket of my Revereware. The sloped sides of the steamer means that my cheese isn’t pretty, and the sides aren’t pressed as well as the middle. A little chunk broke off when I turned it (all right, I helped it escape into my mouth!) and it already tastes like cheddar! I am super excited about the possibilities. The goat girls are all showing signs of definitely being pregnant, so in a few months I will need to step up my cheese-making efforts. Hard cheese is the best way to preserve milk, at least as far as I’m concerned. I have an idea for a better press , but hadn’t solidified my ideas when this one was ready. I also made ricotta from the cheddar whey with some very interesting results. It didn’t make nearly as much (12 ounces vs the 1+ pound I got from the mozzarella whey), and the texture is much finer, making a smoother ricotta. I don’t think I’ll notice a difference when it’s cooked, though. pressed cheese

New Kids on the Block in the New Year

January 4, 2014

I am not sorry to put 2013 in my rear-view mirror. I know that I am up to the challenges that life throws my way, but I am tired of doing it. If I were not such an eternal optimist, I would have curled up in a ball. Not saying I didn’t do that a bit, but for the most part I kept on dealing with reality.

So what made 2013 so hard, you might ask. Lack of work was huge (and continues to be, at the moment). It isn’t that I don’t have plenty to keep me busy. I have never understood folks that can’t find things to do to keep themselves amused. And with the animals and property to care for, there is never a shortage of chores that need doing. But with no paying job, that means no money coming in to take care of those things that require something other than physical labor. I am continuing to look, but am getting very tired of hearing that I am over-qualified. I have never understood why an employer would not want to hire the most qualified person they can get for the money they are offering.

But my biggest challenge was the one that went on for way too long – no running water. My home runs on a cistern. Just before Thanksgiving, it ran dry. When it refilled a few days later, I could not get the pump to hold a prime and run. Yikes! This coincided with a deep freeze that gave us some of the coldest temperatures the area had experienced in a very long time (down to -30!). I spent several weeks bringing home jugs of water from my Mom’s house, and accessing cistern water for the animals via bucket brigade. That is a workout that I am not eager to repeat, but at least I was up to the work. Just call me Pioneer Woman. Just after the Solstice, a friend’s boyfriend came over and got the pump figured out. Yay! I filled the animals waterers, and went off to celebrate with a soak at the Turkish tub.

But of course, that was too easy. When I got home from my soak, we discovered that there was a major leak under the house. So the pump got turned off again, and I went into major denial. I am not afraid of plumbing repairs, mind you, but I had a severe case of the “I don’t wanna’s”. Luckily, my friend offered up her boyfriend again, and a few days later he came back. There was a major break in the metal pipe that ran from the hot water heater to the kitchen sink. He ended up cutting out the old pipe and replacing it. Yes, I could have done it, but it was so nice to be taken care of! The only down side was how much water emptied out of the cistern during the 6 or so hours that the leak went undetected, but time will remedy that.

I know that in much of the world having no running water is the norm. In the grand scheme of things, being without was merely an inconvenience. I am lucky that my Mom lives close enough that I could go over to her house to fill up all my jugs and take a hot shower. Being in an old mobile, I long ago developed the habit of entering winter with at least 15 gallons of jugged water in the house to guard against those times when the pipes freeze for a day or 2. At least I had a roof over my head, and enough wood to battle the cold. My ordeal made me even more thankful for what I do have, and on a quest to figure out what I can do to help those that don’t. I can’t even wrap my head around the idea of being homeless with children in the winter around here.

The New Year has started well. A local farm, Rainshadow Organics, was also hit hard by the deep freeze, which hit their stored potatoes. Rather than seeing it as a complete loss, they invited the public to join them on January 1st to go through the potatoes, sorting out the rotten ones and taking home as many free potatoes as you could carry. These were several beautiful heirloom varieties, and I made the drive out and joined the crowd. Folks were also invited to help sort out spuds that would be donated to local food banks. This is my loot, after I had given away several pounds to friends and family. I don’t know that any will survive to be planted in the spring, but I will be ordering some different varieties to grow.

potatoes from Rainshadow Organics

After I got more potatoes than I could really carry, I went off to gather up 9 gallons (yes, gallons) of raw cow’s milk that had not been picked up from the dairy. No sense in letting it go to waste, so I am playing at cheese again. I have already made mozzarella and ricotta, trying a little different method for each, and now I am ready to try my hand at cheddar and jack. It is nice to have such a quantity to work with, but a bit daunting too. I am being good about keeping notes on what works, which I think will be even more important with the hard cheeses since they have to age for so long before you can taste them.

Yesterday I went to Laura’s. I took her potatoes and cheese and picked up the newest flock members (the “New Kids” referred to in the title) – ducks. A mutual friend was disbanding his farm, and she had collected 13 ducks from him. They are mostly Runner crosses, which makes them a little odd looking, but the females should be laying soon. After doing a bit of research online, I got one of her Muscovy males (the white duck below) to try my hand at breeding moulard ducks for the freezer. We thought we had sorted out 4 females for me to bring home, but in talking with their original owner last night it turns out that the big, beautiful black is also a male. I don’t want the girls to have the option of breeding with him, so I will be separating him out of the group in the next day or so. They are all a little skittish right now, what with 2 major moves in as many days, so I will give them a little time to settle down. I am very excited about having duck eggs to work with, especially for pasta making. Yum!new ducks

I have also made a decision about recreating the shawl that was stolen last summer. I’ve been working on some commission spinning this fall, and talked the woman into letting me do a yarn with silk noil added in. It turned out very pretty so I made up some for me too. I am doing one ply of the black alpaca/black American top/dyed silk noil and one of the American top, both spun very thin. This is a very dense yarn, so I’m not getting the yardage that I’d hoped for, but I think it will be spectacular knit up. This was the last yarn I made in 2013, about 350 yards. Since I will need about 2000 yards, I have quite a bit of spinning left to do! I’d like to get it done in time for Fair, so I have my work cut out for me. I’m hoping I have enough of the black alpaca left (fingers crossed). black alpaca silk lace

I don’t make resolutions for the New Year, but I do set goals. So my goals for 2014 are:

  • Continue my weight loss/get healthier campaign. I am very happy that I have managed to maintain my weight through the holidays. Didn’t lose any more, but I didn’t put any back on either, so I count that as a win.
  • Blog more often. I compose wonderful posts in my head as I’m doing other things, but then I get in front of the computer and do other things. I admire folks that blog every day or so, but that isn’t me. Once a month is too little though, so I will just say “more often”.
  • Make more art. I have tons of art supplies that sit unused, and I need to stop that. It doesn’t have to be great art (and I’m pretty sure I can promise that it won’t be), but I need to get over the idea that it needs to be. I started this morning. Don’t count on seeing any of it shared here, unless I get really brave.
  • Sew more. Again, I have tons of supplies that sit unused. Even if I just make a pile of quilts to donate to the homeless shelter, it would be good to clear out some of the stash.

What are your goals for the coming year?

newyear