Passive Iced Coffee

Good morning everyone! I hope you all are doing well. I’ve been off the net for the past few weeks as I try to get my garden up and running; sort through old clothes the kiddies have outgrown and get them ready for donation and try to “remodel” my kitchen. I put the “remodel” in parentheses, because it means taking cabinets down and putting them in a different arrangement. We haven’t removed any yet, save two, which I have removed the doors and scrubbing them with some shellac remover. My goal is to paint the cabinets, since we cannot afford to go out and purchase several thousand dollars worth of cabinets. “Work with what you have!” Hopefully by changing the height of some cabinets, adding a shelf or two, it will make a difference.

While doing  all of this, I have a nice glass of iced coffee beside me. This morning’s glass of iced coffee was done the way most of us do…heat up your water, add the coffee, then add ice. I need my coffee each morning. Even my kids tell each other, “Don’t talk to mommy until she has had her second cup of coffee.” Well, sometimes with all of the rushing around in the mornings, I don’t get to make my coffee before the electric is shut off. Then I stumble around, trying to find a can of Pepsi to get me going or I just have the kids lead me around by the hand, because I’m unable to open my eyes beyond half-mast. By 0730, regardless if I have coffee or not, my body will be awake enough to drive my son to school and hold a halfway coherent conversation with his teacher and other moms. You might say, “Well, geez, Jen, just turn the power on and make the coffee!” Sure, I can do that…and what message and I sending to my kids? To myself? I tell my kids the power is being shut off in ten minutes, so they better be in the kitchen ready for breakfast, or else they will have cold cereal, rather than eggs and toast, or oatmeal. When they keep goofing off and arrive twelve minutes later to cold cereal, they realize they missed out. The rules are, the power is shut off at 0630. If you get to the kitchen on time, you get a nice breakfast. There are rules and they need to be followed. What message am I sending, when they cannot have what they want for breakfast, because they were slacking, meanwhile, I turn the power on for myself? I’m teaching them that rules don’t apply to everyone. So, the kids see that if mommy hits the snooze on her cell phone alarm once too many times, mommy doesn’t get coffee. Rules apply to everyone and my kids see that I will play by the rules. They abide by the law, “Get up, dressed, beds made and in the kitchen by 0615, and BOTH kids need to be in the kitchen, not just one, to have a hot breakfast.” This also teaches them self-responsibility and accountability. Life isn’t always about what YOU have accomplished. In school and work, sometimes there will be group projects. Even factory work depends on group work. I can’t get my piecework done, until you are finished processing your part and she can’t finish her work, until I am finished with the piece. In college, sometimes you have group projects. One person doesn’t pull their weight, the whole project can go down the tubes. My son knows he has to get up, wake up his baby sister; (who isn’t exactly a baby, but four years old) get dressed; make his bed; assist his sister in making her bed; tell her if her clothes are on backwards (she will dress herself, however the shirts are often backwards.) and then come into the kitchen for breakfast. He is accountable for her and she is accountable for him. If he starts playing around, swinging from the bunk bed, or running around with a pair of socks on his hands and underwear on his head, she knows it will set them both back and she will remind him that they won’t get breakfast if they are late. Life lessons can be taught in so many ways.

Anyway, if I am arguing with the kids, trying to get them up; trying to find a pair of pants that my son hasn’t torn the knees out of; finding him a pair and having him catch his foot in the hem and looking for another pair; trying to find shoes for him that aren’t muddy, etc. and don’t have time to make my coffee, or my automatic coffee maker wasn’t set, I usually have to go without. I read, recently about Thai iced coffee. It’s basically cold-brewed coffee. The blog was http://noshon.it/blog/2013/08/how-to-make-the-best-cold-brew-iced-coffee/

It explained how to make coffee, without using electricity, for iced coffee. Basically, using a glass jar (do not use plastic or metal; plastic can harbor flavors of foods that were previously housed in that jar and metal will give it a bad taste) like a mason jar or an old mayonnaise jar, put twice as much coffee in, as you would per six ounces of water. So if you normally use two tablespoons per six ounces of water, you would use four. The reason behind this is when you add your ice, it will be diluted. I love the idea of being able to make my coffee without needing electric. The off-the-grid idea was the driving force in attempting this.

My husband does a great deal of traveling for work and often the hotel rooms his work section puts him up in, have those small traveler’s coffee pots. My husband doesn’t drink coffee often (how he survives, is a mystery to me) so he grabs the packets in the room and packs them up for me to use at home. These are the ones I will be using for my passive coffee. I grabbed an old glass jar, added my cold water and the coffee, then let it sit on the table. It takes about twelve to eighteen hours to make, leaving the bitterness behind and bringing forth only the rich flavor of coffee.

Once the coffee is done, you strain it through a coffee filter that you have laid out in a small strainer, or you can use several layers of cheesecloth, add a bit of milk or sweetened condensed milk, some ice and you have a great glass of iced coffee. I will be using my coffee filter for this, so I can toss my used grounds around my blueberry bush and the filter itself can go into the compost heap. This coffee will keep for a week in the refrigerator. I am definitely looking forward to trying this method. I already make sun-brewed tea for my husband, so now I can have my cold-brewed coffee as well.

My favorite thing about this is, to me, it’s another way of staying off the grid. I can still have my coffee and have my electric off at the same time.

Have you helped another person out today? Held the door for someone? Paid the toll for the car behind you? Have you given a smile to someone, or called an old friend? When was the last time you waved at your neighbors on your block, or told your spouse you love them? Not every day is guaranteed. You could be living out your last few hours right now. What would people remember you for, when your name is mentioned? Would your name conjure up smiles and thoughts of a person who was never too busy to lend a hand? Someone who put others first? Would they reminisce about the time you bought a homeless person lunch, or gave a bag of groceries to the food pantry? When people spoke your name, would there be a long line of people wanting to speak about the things you did for them? What do you WANT to be remembered for? What will they ACTUALLY remember?

 

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Gardening to save money part 3

Good evening everyone! I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying that springtime has definitely decided to stay. Last Saturday night as I was looking out the window, I saw my first firefly! Yes, spring and warm weather is here!

We have most of our garden in the ground. This means the Roma tomatoes; red cabbage; beets; carrots; radishes; Parris Island Cos lettuce (Parris Island species, because Parris Island is where I was forged into a Marine! Ooh rah!!) and peas. The bush beans, pickling cucumbers and eggplant go in this weekend, as well as my jalapeno and sweet peppers. I just turned over another area, which will be for my pumpkins, the sugar pie kind. In containers, I have rhubarb; red cabbage; red, white and yellow onions (cabbage and onions were grown from stumps or cores) garlic (which I intend to preserve.) I will be sprinkling the seeds for my basil amongst my tomato plants and also marigold seeds. Basil is a companion plant to tomato plants.  Busy, busy, busy!

Potato barrel
Potato barrel
Potato barrel #2
Potato barrel #2
Potato barrel #3
Potato barrel #3
Potato barrel #4
Potato barrel #4
My potato barrels are actually old trashcans
My potato barrels are actually old trashcans

I am not an extremely talented person. My dad isn’t MacGyver and my mom wasn’t the Good Fairy Glenda. I learned all of these gardening things by reading and reading and checking out books, and reading, talking to people (especially ones from other countries, who have methods which aren’t often used here in the States, because it’s easier to do it the usual way.) Some of my methods I am learning as I go and they aren’t working. I adapt. We are on a severely limited income, so many of these ways, besides being fun, re-use items that would usually go into the trash. I love the challenge and to see that my way to get around the problem actually works…well, there is no better feeling. My kids love running to me, “Mommy! Here’s another toilet paper roll! We need it for the garden!” My kids love carrying the outer leaves from the lettuce heads, the carrot tops and cucumber ends from salads we make, in a huge bowl to throw in the compost heap. Old newspapers are laid out over the garden. Grass clippings from when hubby mows the grass, my kids sprinkle over the compost. The stand by and watch as I turn the whole mess over. (I do it the easy way: I use a manure fork and scoopful by scoopful, move it from one spot to another, about three feet away.) Sawdust from all of the wood we are cutting up for firewood is picked up and packed into small buckets for them to run back and forth: fill, run to the compost, sprinkle it, run back to the sawdust pile, re-fill. It’s a task they don’t get tired of.

Last weekend, noticing that my blueberry bush was looking a little reddish, I remembered that reddish leaves show that the soil lacks acid. So, I poured about a half-cup of white vinegar into about a gallon of water, and watered the bush. It looks a bit better now. Still reddish, but the leaves look a bit perkier.

Gardening is a tough job. It’s a labor of love. While everyone is watching television, or playing video games, we are outside pulling weeds; looking up bugs we find in the garden to see if the insect is a “keeper” or a “squasher.” We try to lure beneficial insects to the garden, because I don’t want to use any pesticides. I want to ask YumYum to go out and pick me ten tomatoes, and not worry if he devours two tomatoes, during his mission. I want to pull cherries off of the tree and let my little girl savor the tartness, without saying ” Ooh, no no. We have to wash these first.” I want to enjoy the fruits of our labor and if I have to share some with a few insects, so be it. But my kids are seeing that spraying is not always the answer, especially when insects are becoming more and more immune to the pesticides used, which means we need to develop stronger ones. No, not here. My kids watch me pull apart the tent caterpillar nest and dump the caterpillars into water with a squirt of Dawn dishwashing soap. (I use Dawn for my plants, because it’s environmentally safe.) They see and learn. Our greatest gift we can give our kids is a thirst and desire for learning.

What activity have you done with your child this week? Activity means “active” meaning “interacting” with your child. Play ball? Go for a walk? Pull weeds together? Did you perhaps cook dinner together, with you cooking at the stove while the child sets the table and just talk? How about walk around the house with a garbage bag and collect five items from each room to throw away or donate? They sound like little things, but to a child, they mean the world.

Container gardening
Container gardening

Gardening to save money

Good morning, my friends! I hope all is well with you. I am looking out the front window at the snow and wondering if spring will ever arrive. I keep looking for a glimpse of the crocuses we have planted, but as of yet…still nothing.

The front of our house faces due west. In the winter, it means the winds and cold hit dead on and in the summer the killer sun beats down on the front brick facade and heats the bedroom and living room to unbearable temperatures, since we had no trees in the front yard. We had a sweet gum tree that produces these pompom balls which give nothing but sprained ankles from walking on them; bruises, when the lawnmower shoots one out at high speed and it nails you and roots that get into the foundation of your home, the sewer system etc. Basically, beyond shade, it doesn’t do much. After it clogged up and collapsed part of our sewer line and cost us a great deal of money, we cut down the tree, ground up the roots and put in a tulip and lily garden, in the front yard. The first summer after the tree was cut down was horrible. The living room, which has two ceiling to floor windows, was turned into an oven. The thermostat would be set for 70 degrees and the living room temp would remain at 90 deg or above, even with lined curtains drawn, until sunset. After two summers, we found native wild cherry tree saplings that a friend was digging up. We took these tiny saplings, which were about two feet tall and planted them in front of the windows. In three years, they grew taller than the front windows and shaded the windows. They are native to Illinois, so the extreme heat of summer, drought and cold winters don’t seem to faze the trees much. In six years, they have reached their full height, of about eighteen feet high. In the summer, the front windows are completely shaded.

Front windows facing due west. In the summer, the sun would turn the living room into an oven.
Front windows facing due west. In the summer, the sun would turn the living room into an oven.
Native cherry trees are on the left side of the picture. They completely shade the porch and front windows.
Native cherry trees are on the left side of the picture. They completely shade the porch and front windows.

So that leaves the bedroom and playroom window exposed. I’ve been trying to think of how to block the sun, yet not have the neighbors whine that it looks trashy. I also want to take advantage of the long hours of sunshine. Therefore, I am putting up some trellises and planting sugar snap peas on them. The trellis will support the bean vines, which will in turn block the sun; look pretty so the code enforcement guy doesn’t get a call, as well as provide food for my family. The sugar snap peas have a very shallow root system, so they won’t interfere with any plants I already have in the area.

I’ve been looking for vegetables that I buy often (either fresh, frozen or canned) which I can grow in my garden. I go through a lot of tomatoes, for sauce, salads, salsa and soup, so that will be a necessity. In the summer, purchasing tomatoes may be cheap at the grocery store, but in the winter, they can be expensive. Peppers of all types are another vegetable we go through a lot of. Those are two plants that I purchase the small one-inch pots of and plant them. Some plants, rather than purchase seeds or the PLANT, I buy the vegetable itself and grow my garden from that. Last year, I grew Romaine lettuce (from the bottom part of the stalk) cabbage (again, from the core) beets (from the tops of the beet plant.) Unfortunately, the intense heat of the summer killed the lettuce and cabbage worms got the cabbage. The beets were doing well, and then disappeared. There are several vegetables that you can grow from the scraps of the ones you already have purchased, just by planting the tops or the cores: lettuce, cabbage, beets, celery, leeks, scallions, bok choy, lemon grass and onions are just some of the vegetables. Many are container-friendly, so you can grow them in the garden as well as a container for winter use.

Pineapple plant growing from the top of a pineapple I ate last summer.
Pineapple plant growing from the top of a pineapple I ate last summer.
Another pineapple top from one we ate last summer.
Another pineapple top from one we ate last summer.

Pineapple are not an item that can be grown outside (unless you live in a tropical area, like Hawai’i) nor do they grow and produce with a year. Most vegetables grown from scraps will produce within that year. Pineapple, though are a labor of love. I won’t see any fruit for another two years, if ever…but they are a pretty plant, even if they don’t produce.

Celery can be grown from the root. Simply take the entire stalk and cut off about the bottom inch. Place the bottom part, root-side down in a shallow dish of water. Use just enough water to cover the roots of the plant and place in a sunny, warm window. Keep enough water in the dish to keep the roots covered and within a few days, roots will form and a few leaf shoots on top. Plant in the soil, leaving the new shoots exposed. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated. In a short time, it will re-generate itself. Cut off the outer stalks as you need them, but leave the plant intact. You can have fresh celery all summer long.

Onions can be grown the same way. Cut off the root end and put it, root-side down, into moist soil. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated and in a warm, sunny window. The onion will grow into a new bulb. Do not let the plant flower, so this way the leaves will put all of it’s energy into giving you a nice, fat bulb. Pull up the onion, cut off the bottom and re-plant. Garlic is also done this way. Plant a clove, root side down. Keep the soil moist; keep a flower from forming and in a month or so, by cutting back the shoots, you will have a nice, juicy bulb of garlic. During the summer, I will plant my garden outside, but in the winter months, when I long for growing plants and fresh veggies, I look no further than the front window.

Once the ground thaws…IF it ever thaws, the trellises with the beans and sugar snap peas will help to block the sun, which in turn will cut down on my air conditioning bill AND cut down on my grocery bill. I am looking at sunflowers, which I understand, can also be used as a trellis for beans, as long as the sunflowers are the mammoth type. By growing our own sunflower seeds, it will cut down on our birdseed bill as well. We already grow a patch of Rudbeckia which feed the goldfinch in the autumn. Every little bit helps, right?

Until next time, my friends, I hope someone has made you smile today. If not, then bring an extra smile to work or school, so you can share it: shake a veteran’s hand; bring a neighbor’s trash cans in, before they blow into the street; stop for the crazy squirrel who attempts to cross the street as you are coming; hold the door for the person behind you; grab a wagon you see moving in the parking lot, before it hits someone’s car; throw your bread crusts out for the birds or squirrels. We all need to help one another on this planet, whether we are tall or small; two legs, four legs or no legs…we live together on this planet, so let’s love one another like a family should.

DIY coffee starter kits or logs

Good morning my friends! Today I woke up to the wonderful sound of thunder and rain pounding on my bedroom window. What a glorious sound! Spring is coming, people. The days are growing just a bit longer, the temperatures aren’t dipping quite as low (thank goodness for that; our wood pile is nearly gone); we aren’t needing to wear quite as many scarves, hats and gloves as we were a few weeks ago. The trees are beginning to get buds (I purchased several fruit trees and planted them last year. I looked at them a few days ago and saw tiny leaf buds at the end of them. This was a rough winter for many of us…I don’t know when was the last time I greeted Spring with such joy.

Well, as close as Spring is, it’s not quite here yet. This means some of us will still need to use our fireplaces, wood stoves or even fire pits. With the Springtime weather comes a lot of rain and wet logs. I mentioned yesterday how you can use some old candle wax to start a fire easily. Today, I’m going to talk about making coffee ground starter kits, suing materials you would normally just toss out. This is a fun project to do with the kids on rainy days. I wouldn’t have them near the grease or wax when it’s melted, but even little ones can help use a spoon to pack the coffee grounds. Enough teasing you…let’s get this project started!!

DIY Coffee Log or Starter Kit

materials needed:

old, used coffee grounds (you can even use the filter it was used with, for a wick) You can either use ones that you have saved, or stop by your local coffee shop, like Starbucks or Panera Bread Company. Just ask for the used coffee grounds; they are more than happy to give the used ones away. You’ll need about 4-6 cups of grounds.

wax leftover from candles (or use fresh candles, broken crayons, Gulf wax for canning etc) You’ll need about a 8 oz of wax to make one log. If you do not have wax, used cooking grease will work just as well. It does not need to be melted for as long, however, in the oven.

a few tablespoons of corn syrup, or molasses or maple syrup (this is to help bind the material together.)

An old bread loaf pan, or other oven-safe baking pan; preferably in the shape of a loaf, for the mold. A cake pan can be used as well, if you do not have a loaf pan handy. It just needs to be about an inch or more, deep. If you do not have a bread loaf pan, then you can use large soup cans or a large metal coffee can.

First, spread the used coffee grounds on a cookie sheet with raised edges; take the wax and chop it into large chunks. Put the wax into an oven safe pan to melt. You can use old soup cans to melt the wax in as well, or a metal oven-safe mixing bowl. Drizzle the syrup or molasses onto the wax. If using grease, just pile the grease into a deep oven-safe bowl or oven-safe dish.

Place the coffee grounds and the wax into an oven. Turn the oven to about 150-200 deg F and let the grounds dry out thoroughly. Stir the grounds every once in a while. It will take about 30-45 min for the grounds to dry, depending on how wet they were when you first put them into the oven. If using grease, you want it at the point it just starts to melt, not at the bubbling stage. If using grease, put the bowl into the oven at the last five or so minutes, before you take the dried coffee grounds out.

When the wax is completely melted, stir the syrup and wax mixture. Use a metal spoon, not a plastic one, since the plastic one will melt. Add about a half-cup of coffee grounds to the wax mixture and stir. Keep adding the grounds and stirring until the grounds are completely incorporated. It may bubble a bit, but that is the moisture in the coffee grounds reacting to the hot syrup. Scoop the grounds-wax mixture into the pan using a large metal spoon until the pan is about half-way full. Fold the dried, used filters in half and pack the grounds around it, so that a piece of the filter remains visible. Several of the filters can be used for this. These are your wicks. Keep adding the grounds-wax mixture to the loaf pan. When the pan is nearly full, using the back of your spoon, pack the coffee grounds into the pan, so there are no air gaps. You can also use a piece of waxed paper to lay over the top and using the heel of your hand, pack the grounds into the loaf pan, making sure to pack the corners. Once the coffee mixture is good and packed, let the pan sit out  for 24 hours or at least overnight.

After the grounds have set, using a plastic spatula, scrape the edges of the loaf pan to separate the “log” from the pan. You may have to put a dishcloth underneath it and bang it on the counter a few times to encourage the “log” to release it’s grip. Once it is free, you can use it in your fireplace or wood stove. Put some smaller logs around it, light the coffee filter wicks and enjoy! It may not last for two or so hours, but it’s enough to help get a fire started and start drying out the wood you put into the fireplace.

For a DIT starter kit, you will need:

wax (like leftover scraps of candles, crayons about 3 oz of wax is needed, or the equivalent of around 24 crayons) or a few ounces of used cooking grease.

used coffee grounds (about 2 cups)

a few tablespoons of corn syrup, maple syrup or molasses (as a binding agent)

a cardboard egg carton (if none is handy, you can use a muffin tin with paper muffin cups. You can also use custard cups and use the filter as the paper cup holder.

First, spread the coffee grounds on a cookie sheet with edges, just as you would to make a log. In an oven-safe baking dish, or a metal soup can, drizzle the corn syrup over the wax. Place the grounds and the wax into the oven and heat the oven to about 200 deg F for about 35-40 min, stirring the grounds occasionally. If using grease, put the grease and syrup into a deep oven-safe mixing bowl or deep oven-safe pan and put into the oven to melt for the last five minutes, until you remove the grounds from the oven. You don’t want the grease bubbling, just at the point it starts to liquify.

Once the wax is melted and the grounds are dry, mix the coffee grounds with the wax-syrup (or grease-syrup) mixture. Fold the dried coffee filter in half and then again in half. Put the lower part of the folder coffee filter into the first egg-holder of the carton and using a metal spoon, pack the grounds around the filter, keeping the top part exposed. The coffee filter edges are the wick.

coffee filter fire starter

If you are using a muffin tin and paper cups, or the coffee filter itself to contain the grounds, do not fill the cup up all of the way. Other items I have used:

empty cardboard toilet paper tubes which I’d cut in half, so they are short tubes. Stand the tubes up in a muffin tin, or pack them tightly into a cake pan, so they are all standing. Put a small wad of newspaper into each tube and push it down. This will act as a plug on one end. Fill the toilet paper tubes up with the coffee ground-wax mixture, packing the mixture down. Do not fill it all of the way, so the edge of the cardboard tube will act like a wick.

If you use the cardboard egg carton, fill each compartment of the egg carton, packing down the grounds-wax mixture. Allow the grounds mixture to dry overnight.

When a fire is needed, you can break off one of the egg carton plugs, or use a muffin cup or toilet paper roll. Light the coffee filter wick (or edge of the paper or cardboard roll) and place into your fire pit (or fire place, wood stove, campfire, etc.) You may need to use two or three plugs. Add the branches as needed, until you have a fire going.

So now you have it! A way that items that are normally going into our landfill (or composting, as I usually do) are being used further. THAT’S being frugal. My husband says he likes to “pinch a penny until Abe Lincoln screams for mercy,” and that is exactly what we do here in this house. Even throw-away items are recycled (and sometimes our recyclables are recycled, lol.)

So, now that I showed you a few ways to save money by using the “trash” you have around your house, tomorrow we can look at how we can start to organize our house, our mind and our finances. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. You know why? We are going to get each other through each day, TOGETHER. You are not alone in this world. Even when you feel like you have nowhere to turn, there is a way out of the dark tunnel. It won’t be night-time forever. The sun will come up…don’t you want to see the sun rise? Even if you can’t find a smile for yourself, find one to give to another…they may have one they can lend you. Tell the lady behind you she can go ahead of you on the line at the grocery store. Give your significant other an extra big kiss, before bed tonight. If your other half is deployed or working late or traveling, then jot a few kind words down on a Post-It note to give to them when they return, or in the next care package you send them. Check with a local underprivileged elementary school and see if you can donate a few boxes of crayons and construction paper, which you can pick up cheaply, at the dollar store. When sitting at a four-way stop, wave to the cars around you to go ahead of you. Walk around the house and grab 5 items you haven’t used in the past month, put them into a bag and drop off at your local Goodwill. Get five articles of clothing you haven’t worn in 6 months, or your children no longer like or fit and donate it. Call or text someone and just say, “I was thinking of you today.” Locate three happy news stories and send them to people who you think need a smile. Put on some music that makes you tap your feet, thump your desk and shimmy in your seat. We will get through our rough times together. We all live and breathe under the same sun, moon and stars, big and small, great and tall. Until next time, dear friends…PEACE!!