No Spend Days

Hello, again my friends! I’ve been offline for a while, but hope to get this railroad back on a paying basis, so to speak.

I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s blogs and folks are doing an event called the “No Spend Days,” where in order to save money, you designate certain days as”No Spend Days.” Each week you try to add an additional day, if possible. Eventually, just like training for a 5k, you take the (flourish of trumpets, please) “No Spend Month Challenge!!!”

So, for this month, I have randomly marked days as NSD and with exception of buying petrol or paying on a bill, no money can be spent. In addition, as an extra challenge, I need to do a money transfer to a “No Touch” savings account.

I saw there is an online bank called Qapital which has no fees, actually pays interest (although not much) and is insured through Wells Fargo. There is no minimum balance to keep and to assist with savings, you can set up “rules” through an app called IFTTT. Some rules are things like, “Whenever a satellite goes by overhead, transfer X amount of dollars to my savings account;” or “Every time President Trump tweets, transfer X amount of dollars to my savings account.” There is, in addition, weekly or monthly auto transfers; a round-up transfer, where when you buy something, it will round up the amount to one you designate, such as the nearest dollar or nearest $3 or whatever; a freestanding transfer where you manually transfer money

So, I started this app, Qapital, in the middle of August. I’ve set several goals to save towards: Christmas gifts; trip to Alaska and Donatello’s College. (I want to send hubby back to school for his Master’s Degree. We refuse to take out student loans, so he’ll be taking one or two classes at a time and paying for it as we go.)

Anyway, the app has been working rather well for me. In less than two months, I’ve siphoned close to $500 into it, by saving a buck here and a buck there.

Back to the No Spend Day.

On certain days, which you designate ahead of time, you vow to not spend anything. Not on coffee. Not on a Dollar-Menu burger. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Instead, you look what you have already in your freezer and pantry and cook dinner from that. This week, I’m on my third NSD and yesterday I remembered that I had class that night, so I wouldn’t be home to make dinner. To keep hubby frim being tempted to grab a fast-food dinner, I found some jars of tomatoes I’d canned the previous summer and some bell peppers languishing in the crisper. In a separate pan, I fried some ground sausage to cut down on the grease going into the sauce, as well as increase the flavour. Most of the grease was dumped into my grease can and left a tablespoon in it for a can of mushrooms and chopped up onion and garlic. Fried those quickly, then dumped it into the pot with the tomatoes. Tossed a frozen hot sausage in the sauce, but I wanted to clear the fridge and stretch the sauce a bit more. Found a quart of cooked rice in the fridge and dumped it in. Now, instead of just one meal for my family of four, we can squeeze two meals out. Hubby texted me to say he made spaghetti and dumped some of the sauce over it. The kiddies went nuts over it and had two bowls.

Give it a try, even just for a month. Designate 10 days as No Spend Days and see how much you can save.

Will you give it a try? Tell us your tips for staying on track!

 

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Saving the fruit trees from freezing

Hi everyone and Happy Tax Day! Yeah, I know, no one is happy on tax day except the federal government, but I still want to wish you all a good day. This past weekend, here in Southwestern Illinois was in the 80’s, breezy, sunny and just downright glorious. Monday morning was cold, rainy, windy and just yucky. High was almost 40 degrees. Several times, it sounded like sleet, rather than rain, falling. My fruit trees were budding; my peach tree that I purchased from Wal-Mart last summer, had three pink blooms on it. My struggling cherry tree finally decided to bud out. Then I get an alert on my phone that snow was expected and temps in the mid-20’s, for Monday night. So much for watching the lunar eclipse! So much for my fruit trees! Well, an old friend from boot camp, Katrina, called and reminded me to cover the trees, and if I couldn’t cover them, to make sure I get out there with a hose and spray the trees down before the sun hit the leaves, with the frost on them. She said the sun will burn the leaves, but if I spray them down, before the sun rises, they will be okay. I figured I’d try to cover them and if it was too windy, or the trees were too delicate for a covering, I’d spray them.

Now I know it’s too late for this year, but keep this in mind for next spring:

I ran to my local Dollar Tree and purchased ten cheap vinyl tablecloths. They are the type you use for a kid’s birthday party. I bought the jumbo sized ones; I think they are 54 inches by 108 inches. I only have four trees and three are rather small, but in case one got ripped, or I needed more than two per tree, I wanted extra. I bought the dark-colored ones, so even though it’s cold and cloudy, the dark tablecloths would absorb a little bit of sun and warm the trees. I didn’t want to tape the covers, because I hope to re-use them. So, I clothes-pinned several together to make a larger one and draped it over my peach tree, with a great deal of help from my tall husband. I had read that if the weather is going to be very cold, another thing to help keep your plants from freezing is to cloak them, but ensure the drape goes all the way to the ground. Put a bucket of very hot water under the drape. The hot water will help humidify the air as well as warm it, which will give your plants a little extra help. Another method, my friend, Eve, mentioned is to put Christmas lights over the trees, which give a bit of warmth. We don’t have any light sockets in the back of the house and Don vetoed the idea of a bunch of extension cords stretching from the garage to the trees, because of the wind and rain (I know they have outside extension cords, but the back door to the garage would have to remain open for the cords, which means we could be robbed, or rain could blow into the socket. So, anyway, I went for the cheap tablecloths. Garbage bags work well, also, but I’d have to tape a bunch together, or cut them open and then they aren’t nearly as large as the tablecloths.

My peach tree covered with four large plastic tablecloths.
My peach tree covered with four large plastic tablecloths.
My two apple trees in the front yard, draped with tablecloths
My two apple trees in the front yard, draped with tablecloths

I put my head under the peach one, to see how my blossoms fared, with the wind and stuff. It was nice and toasty warm under the drape. I know it’s supposed to reach mid-40’s today, then below freezing again, so I’m just going to leave the drapes on for the day. As cold and windy as it is, I don’t think there will be a great deal of pollinators buzzing around for the peach blossoms. Tomorrow the temps return to the 60’s, so I can remove them, then.

I realize this isn’t a huge revelation, using tablecloths which are larger than garbage bags, but in case someone hasn’t thought of using them, perhaps it may help them.

This Spring, as you are cleaning, how about going through your cabinets and look for canned goods that are still within the expiration date, that you probably won’t use in the next two or three months and donate them to a food pantry? Got too many seeds to plant this year? How about going to your social media of choice, like Facebook or Twitter and asking if anyone local would like to swap seeds? This is a time of renewal, so how about renewing people’s faith in each other? We are all going through a struggle; some are able to be seen and other struggles are internal. Some people struggle with staying away from the bottle or memories of a lost loved one. Some struggle feeding their families and wonder where next month’s rent is going to come from, while others struggle with being haunted by things they experienced while serving our country. Some of us are going through a divorce or the loss of a child. We can help each other to make it through these things by giving people a shoulder to cry on; an ear for them to bend. When someone posts a rant about something on social media, rather than calling them a troll, think about what crisis did that person experience to make them have a hard heart. Perhaps volunteer, even two or three hours a month on a crisis hotline, or at a soup kitchen or animal shelter. Go through the nice dress clothes you have and will never fit again and donate them to a woman’s shelter in your area. These women have escaped a life of abuse and are trying to get their life together. Nice clothes for an interview would help them get their life back. Perhaps buy a pack of cards at the dollar store and write encouraging notes in them and leave one in the bathroom at Walmart; on a water fountain at the mall; perhaps at a table in the food court. Just write, “I know times are hard, but you can make yourself better. You’ve been through worse things. Stay strong for yourself and the ones who love you.”

I mentioned to a friend, yesterday, how some of my loved ones don’t quite understand my way of living: using a woodstove; canning; growing a garden; hanging up clothes to dry and she said, “You do put these things out in public for everyone to see,” and she’s right…I do. But I don’t do it to be teased or ostracized, but to help others. Perhaps someone is struggling along, thinking how bad they have life. Then, they read my posts and say, “Well, we don’t have it near as bad as her,” and feel better about themselves. Then, I have helped someone and my goal has been accomplished. Maybe someone is newly divorced or widowed and they aren’t sure how to make ends meet.  Maybe my posts help them to see around corners or ways to survive they never even thought of. Again, my posts have helped another. We don’t have to donate a million dollars to a charity to have a legacy. Your legacy can start with one person that you help overcome an obstacle.

What’s YOUR legacy?

 

Starting seeds cheaply

Good morning friends! I am trying to find a post I made and published accidentally before it was finished; then I finished the post and somehow it was deleted. Not cool, Mr. Computer. Not cool at all!

Oh well. Tuesday here in southern Illinois was gorgeous. Really, really nice. Blue sky, temps in the mid-70’s and my little Beaker at my side. She stayed home from daycare, because she had a fever two days before and wasn’t sleeping well, because she was so congested. So for two days, she was my shadow. I know it’s a bit early to be starting seeds for the garden, but I’m hoping to get everything ready, so at the first hint of warmth, the seeds will have a head start on growing. Since the woodstove will be retired (hopefully) for the season, Beaker and I grabbed a bunch of the toilet paper tubes we had reserved for making DIY starter logs. (If you are curious about that, I put the link here for you: https://mommyjen365.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/diy-starter-logs-for-fireplaces-and-woodstoves/   ) So armed with our seed packets, tubes, roll of toilet paper, cardboard egg cartons and potting soil, we were ready.

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First, poke a hole in the bottom of each egg holder. Use a sharp pencil, or the pointed end of the scissors or a knife. Not a huge hole; just enough to aid water in draining and to help the roots expand easier. Separate the lid of the carton from the bottom. Put a few tablespoons of potting soil into each egg cup and shake it gently to level the dirt.

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For the toilet paper tubes, cut each one in half, so you have two short tubes.

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A large leaf can also be used in the tube. The idea is to make it easy for the growing plant to push through the bottom of the biodegradable tube.
A large leaf can also be used in the tube. The idea is to make it easy for the growing plant to push through the bottom of the biodegradable tube.

Take a single square of toilet paper and poke it into the tube, so it acts like a plug. Don’t wad it up; just lay the single square over the top of the tube opening, and gently use your finger to push it into the tube. You can also use a large leaf or a few pliable smaller leaves. Hold the tube in your palm with the toilet paper plug against your palm on the bottom and gently spoon soil into the tube, leaving approximately a half-inch space from the top.

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Put the tube into a sturdy container, standing up. I used the plastic containers I’ve saved from when I buy chopped meat. I wash it out thoroughly, scrape the clear plastic wrap from the top and use them for my garden. They are sturdy and free. Fill each tube, standing them up, so they support each other in the container. After filling with dirt, be careful when you transfer it to the container, from your hand, so the “plug” doesn’t fall out and your dirt spills out. Don’t pack the dirt in the tube, either. Just spoon it in, give a shake while supporting the bottom, and spoon in more soil.

Dollar store "under the bed" storage container is now a cheap, portable greenhouse.
Dollar store “under the bed” storage container is now a cheap, portable greenhouse.

I needed a greenhouse, but no way can we afford it, so at the dollar store I found a zip-up “under the bed” storage container for storing blankets or other junk. The item is collapsible, the sides and bottom are a cheap fiber, so excess water can drain out. The top is made of clear plastic. It’s perfect to use as a cheap, portable greenhouse. I used a few pots that were tall enough to hold the plastic off of the egg crates, in the corners.

I then put the seeds into the individual egg holders and toilet paper tubes. This year I am attempting to grow Roma tomatoes; Brandywine Pink tomatoes; jalapeno peppers; sweet peppers and mixed peppers. These all need individual containers, so I use the egg carton container bottoms and toilet paper tubes for these. In the lids, I cover it with potting soil (if the openings are large, you can lay a single square of toilet paper over the openings and cover it with dirt. Then scatter the seeds that you can use a flat for, like marigold seeds. Once you have your seeds planted the correct depth, and lightly covered with soil, support the bottom and press out any air pockets. On the end of the carton, make sure you write what the seeds are, date planted and approximate days until maturity. When I cut apart the lid from the bottom of the carton, I leave the tabs on, which are used to secure the carton shut. I write on the tab the information I need.

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Afterwards, use a garden house set to “mist” and give those seeds a good watering. Don’t dump water on it, because those seeds will just float up to the service and float off. Use a good heavy mist and water the containers. Wait a few minutes and mist heavily again. Wait a few minutes, which is giving the soil a chance to drink in the water and mist a third time.

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Once the seeds are nicely watered, zip up the top of the “greenhouse.” It’s handy to slide a board or several sturdy large pieces of cardboard underneath the entire greenhouse, after zipping it closed, to hold it steady as you transport it to the place you want it at. NOTE: If using cardboard, Don’t have the cardboard striations all going in the same direction. This means, alternate the striations. Use two or three pieces and alternate the direction, so they don’t all fold on each other, together. Supporting the bottom, carefully bring the greenhouse to the area you are using. Ensure it gets plenty of sun and is sheltered from wind and cold.

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Water the plants, with the hose set on mist, at least twice a day. Since the greenhouse is made of fiber, water will not collect in the bottom of it, and turn moldy or rot the seeds. The seedlings will emerge from the top, but the edges of the tube will protect the newly emerged seedlings from the top of the greenhouse.

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When the seedlings are ready to be planted in the soil, dig a hole slightly larger than the tube and plant the whole tube into the soil. (Do not plant the plastic container that you had the tubes standing in, of course.) The cardboard will disintegrate. The egg carton cups can be cut or pulled apart, to create a separate biodegradable pot, for each seedling. Again, just dig a hole and plant the entire egg cup. The cardboard will help protect the roots from the colder soil and will add nutrients to the soil. The flats can be planted as is; just dig a shallow trench and place the egg carton lid into the trench. After planting your seedlings, water them thoroughly, and protect them from any extreme temperatures. If a sudden frost should be possible, cut open several large, black garbage bags, place short stakes in the garden so the plastic doesn’t lay directly on the seedlings and break their delicate stems, and lay the garbage bag over the seedlings. Anchor the edges, so a breeze doesn’t blow the plastic back.

Congratulations, you have your garden ready for almost pennies!!!  You are using stuff from around the house that would normally go into the trash or recycling. The Jiffy cardboard pots cost about $4 for a dozen and then you have to pay more if you want the plastic “greenhouse.” For two dozen little pots, with the greenhouse, I’ve seen them selling for over $17. The ones we just made are free. You can buy a huge 20 pound bag of Miracle Gro potting soil for $4. The dollar store greenhouse fits more flower pots and can be hosed down, dried on the clothesline and stored for next year.

I’m looking at the junk mail we get and wondering if I can tear up the paper, soak it in water with added nutrients so it becomes a slimy mess, and then using small terra-cotta pots as a mold, “paper-mache” the pots with the slimy newspaper and let it dry, This way I am re-using newspaper and other paper and turning it into a biodegradable pot for larger plants that will go into the ground. Interesting thought…I will try this when we have a bunch of paper saved up; of course I will let you know if this was a great idea or a failure.

Smile at the bus driver when you get on board the bus. Give your little one an extra hug before they leave the house. Pack a surprise treat for your loved one, in their briefcase. Hold the door for the person behind you. Text or better yet, call a friend and just say hi. Wave to your mailperson; donate an old bedspread or comforter to the animal shelter. We all have problems and times we don’t want to smile or be happy. Try and be positive for the person next to you. We are all a gigantic family on this planet. Be good to one another. Until we meet next time, I wish you peace and happiness. Peace!!

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.

organizing our house

Good morning, friends! I am sorry for not posting the past few days. There was a lot going on, between taking my husband to the hospital for being ill and dealing with two crazy kids. So glad to be able to sit down with you, enjoy a hot cup of tea and relax as we chat.

Today, I wanted to talk with you about organizing the house. Now don’t get me wrong; we all have days when we want to keep the curtains closed, lest a neighbor or door-to-door salesman get a glimpse of the extremely localized tornado that swept through our house. I’m not talking about those days; I am meaning everyday living. The main reason to keep your house in decent shape, besides, knowing where stuff is, not having to shove an unexpected guest out of the door, or telling your husband he can’t bring home his boss for dinner, but actually for safety reasons. At least once a week I read stories about elderly people who injure themselves and the emergency services were unable to bring in their stretcher, or were unable to locate the victim through the mounds of stuff. A scary thought: what if your home had an emergency? Can emergency crews easily gain access to all parts of your home? If a fire were to start, could you easily access all parts of the home to put out the little fire, before it turned into roaring, all-consuming flames?

So today, a little bit at a time, we are going to get our house in order. We aren’t going to take a whole weekend and do it, because most of us would get burned out by lunchtime on Saturday. So, a little nibble here, a little nibble there, a big old chomp another time and voila! The furnace repair guy can just show up, without our requesting 48 hours notice while we throw everything into huge Tupperware and hide it.

We can start with your choice of rooms, but it’s actually going to be 30 minutes per day for the main room we selected, and fifteen additional minutes for each other room. The average house has about five rooms, so about 90 minutes a day, TOTAL. Not all at once, but ten minutes in the morning before the kids get up for school; ten minutes while they eat breakfast (put your coffee in a “to go” mug and start the washing machine); fifteen minutes while they are changing out of their school clothes, after school; five minutes while they wash their hands before dinner; ten minutes while they fight over whose turn it is to clean the cat litterbox or walk the dog; ten minutes while the family gets ready for bed, and maybe the last fifteen minutes after the kids are in their room reading before bed. Get a small basket and get into the habit of carrying it around with you. As you travel, room to room throughout the day, items that you find that are in the wrong room, toss into the basket and carry it around until you reach the correct room and put it away. Warn the kids that if you see the same item three times out of it’s proper room, it’s gone for good, then carry through on the threat. My kids have been warned repeatedly that I don’t want toys on the kitchen table. Over and over, as they would reach for a toy, they would knock over their glass, or the toy would hit the corner of their plate, flipping the plate over and onto the floor. Now, when I find toys on the table, I just toss them into a black plastic garbage bag in my closet. When it is halfway full, pull it out and donate it to a charity. Don’t open the bag and peek what’s inside, or else you are liable to start pulling stuff out. Just realize that once it’s in “THE BLACK HOLE” it will never escape. Make it a point that for every item of clothing you purchase, you take three items out of your closet or drawer and donate it. Some friends like to have a trading game, in which they clean out their closets and kids’ toyboxes and swap those items with another friend for something else. That doesn’t really help to get RID of the clutter, but REPLACES the clutter. The purpose is to rid ourselves of it.

So today, I spent 15 minutes clearing the dishwasher and putting the dishes away and re-loading the dishwasher. I cleared off the table for ten minutes. I spent ten minutes wiping out the bathroom sink and sink counter; living room gets the tile floor swept and lightly mopped and putting everyone’s shoes into their bin. So, the living room received it’s fifteen minutes of attention and is done for today. I spent 10 minutes making the bed and clearing dirty tissues off the side of the nightstand, then five minutes pulling laundry to be washed out of the basket. Master bedroom is done. (This was while I was gabbing on the phone to a credit card company asking if due to being on time with my payments, they would reduce my APR.) Next I got the kids up and their breakfast was ready, while I pulled dirty laundry from their room. Break up an argument over who has more icing on their strudel, and back to bringing laundry down to the laundry room. Comfort my daughter, Beaker, when her brother, YumYum tells her that we are taking her back to the hospital and trade her in for a toddler that doesn’t cry as much, then back to cleaning. As I walk around, I see items and put them back into the places they belong. I wash, dry and put away three dishes as I wait for the water to boil for my tea. Put the tea in a “to-go mug and sip it as I run the sweeper in the kitchen. Little things like this can knock off a lot of housework. Before bed, I try to do the things that I didn’t manage for the day: run the washing machine if I have a full load; set the timer for the dishwasher if I have a full load; check my ice cube tray in the automatic cube maker. If the tray is full, I pull it out (I do this once a week) and dump the ice cubes into my planter trays. Overnight the ice melts and waters the plants. Wipe off the table and make sure the coffee pot is filled and ready. If I have run out of milk, I use the dried milk and make a half-gallon and let it chill overnight. I add a dash of vanilla, so no one recognizes it’s not regular milk. Reconstituted milk is much cheaper than regular milk; easy to keep and with a dash of vanilla, your family won’t know the difference.

When you look at a job you must do, you want to make it manageable, not overwhelming. If you open your mail near the recycling container, you can eliminate some paper clutter by preventing it from entering the house. Open the circulars (or don’t even open them. We are really tight for money right now, so I don’t open the circulars from K-Mart or other stores, because often I’ll want to run out and purchase stuff. Little things like this can make the jobs much easier on weekends.

I went to the dollar store and bought my kids their own small broom, foxtail and dustpan. They picked out their own and are responsible for it. Now, each morning, they know they are each responsible for sweeping up small messes. Beaker sweeps the dust bunnies that collect behind the bedroom door and Yums sweeps along the edge of the banister. When they finish those chores, they are allowed to throw a cup of birdseed out for the birds or put dry cat food out for the stray cat I feed, outside.

Most of all, when you have little ones helping, even if they make their bed sloppy, don’t go behind them and re-do it. By praising them, they will want to help more. How would you feel if you helped a co-worker file a bunch of papers and they pulled out all of the papers you did and re-filed them? Or if you helped them by putting a stack of invoices in order and they sighed loudly and said to another person, “Well, I guess I have to put this in order MYSELF?” Would you want to help that person again? But if you praise your child or spouse, “Awesome! I was getting ready to do that and you already finished it for me! You did it better than I could!” the child will be happy to help you with something else. Your partner or spouse will say, “Well, it wasn’t really hard and it didn’t take me long to do.” Organizing your house will show you where repairs need to be made on your house as well as help you repair any tiny fissures in your relationships by encouraging others.

Have you made someone smile today? Given a person a compliment? Told another driver to go, despite it being your turn, at the stop sign? Did you tell the barista at the coffee shop that she did your coffee, perfect? Did you greet a co-worker in the parking lot and hold the door open for them as you both walked in? Wave a dog-walker across the street he was attempting to cross? How about wave to a bunch of little kids looking out the back window of their schoolbus? What did you do, to make someone feel good about themselves today? Until next time, remember we are all living on this planet for a reason, whether we are tall or small. Peace!

 

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!!

DIY starter logs for fireplaces and woodstoves

Good morning, friends! I hope you all are doing well. I am loving this weather, today. My old Marine room-mate Eve called it, “a postcard from Spring.” (Don’t you LOVE that? She’s a professional writer, so she has an awesome way with words.) The temps today are high of 52 deg. Tomorrow has a 90% chance of thunderstorms and high of 61 deg. (My cousin, Joey, laughs because in all my Facebook posts, at least once a day, I do a full weather report. Maybe in a former life, I was a meteorologist. 🙂 ) Anyway, this weekend the temps are supposed to drop to below freezing again with snow and freezing rain. Bummer. That means the wood stove has to be fired up again.

My hubby, is amazing when it comes to starting a fire in the wood stove. I swear, the man can start a roaring fire with one match and a bunch of wet logs. On the other hand, I can have several dry branches, 15 newspapers, a flamethrower and I’ll still wind up yelling up the stairs and asking Don for help. In fact, when he knows I’m going to attempt to light a fire, he starts hanging chicken and hunks of beef around the room and calling friends saying, “Hey, anyone want a smoked chicken? Smoked beef? Jen’s lighting a fire, so everything should be fully smoked in about 30 minutes.” He also calls our local fire department and informs them the huge amount of black smoke coming from our house ISN’T a fire, but “just my wife attempting to build one,” then he issues gas masks to the kids as they sit back and laugh, while I keep wadding up newspapers and attempting to start the fire. Many times, as I sit there, choking and gasping I remember a story my English teacher had us read in ninth grade by Jack London, “To Build a Fire.” That story haunts me at odd times, not just when I’m struggling to light the fireplace. It’s about a man who is alone on the Yukon and how in -75 degree weather, he struggles to build a fire to save his life. Like all of Jack London’s stories, it’s excellent.

Anyway, I was telling a friend last year, about how I needed to find a store that was selling the Duraflame starter logs, since most of the local stores were sold out, due to the nasty weather. He replied, “Why? Just make them yourself. I do, every year. It’s easy.” Then he explained how to do it. This is a project that you can do a bit of, as you go along, throughout the year, or you can make them on a rainy day with the kids helping.

DIY Starter Logs

empty toilet paper rolls, or empty paper towel rolls

the ends of candle wax (after the wick has burned down, there is always about a tablespoon or so of wax at the bottom of the container)

lint from your dryer (FINALLY, a use for lint. Preferably lint from only natural materials, like cotton. I don’t use the dryer much, so we don’t have a lot of lint. The reason i say to use only natural materials like cotton is, nylon and polyester, although do not give off much lint, when burned can create carcinogens.) or newspaper ripped into pieces. I have also used dirty tissues, junk mail, cardboard boxes from food items, old schoolwork from the kids. You don’t even need this, you can just fold up the toilet paper rolls and stuff them inside one another.

starter log 2Here is my tub of toilet paper tubes and other items that are originally rolled around a cardboard tube (like waxed paper; aluminum foil, etc.) I have an empty tissue box that I keep scraps of candles in, chunks of wax from crayons that have been broken so far down and I haven’t the patience to make new crayons from them (yep, I’ll tell you more about that in another post) wax from cheese (like the Bonnie Bell and Baby Bell cheese) etc.

starter log 1If you don’t have any lint, or really shredded dishcloths (yes, even my shredded dishcloths are used for something) will work, used tissues, junk mail, scraps of paper, newspaper that you shredded into easier, smaller pieces (about 12 inches across, is good). If you lack all of that, you can roll up another tube as I did here and stuff it inside another tube.

I usually save all my tubes throughout the year and stuff them all inside one another, as they are collected. It helps save space, since I may save up close to a hundred over the course of spring through autumn. Then, when it starts to get chilly out and we will be lighting the stove soon, I pull the rolls out from one another and start packing them with stuff.

starter log 5If you tear up a newspaper, or junk mail, etc, wad it up gently, and stuff it into the center of the cardboard roll. The wax that is left over from candles I will scrape up or if it was a pillar candle, break it into hunks and put a good chunk inside the cardboard roll. Continue to stuff newspaper, or raggedy dishcloths into it. Once it is full, let a small piece stick out, like a tail.

starter log 1Keep adding paper, or dryer lint or raggedy material into the rolls and adding a chunk of wax with each one, until they are all full.

starter log 6starter log 3If I have to melt the wax to get it out of the glass container it was in, I will usually dunk the end of the roll into the melted wax, after it is stuffed. The melted wax dries and hardens and kind of locks the material inside the tube. Make sure if you melt the wax, DO NOT put the glass container into the microwave. Many times the candles have tiny metal prongs at the bottom to hold the wick. NOT a good idea to microwave metal. Using a spoon, scrape the wax out of the original container, so you can have a good look, then using the double boiler method, melt the wax.

Once you have your tubes ready, just prepare the logs as you would, normally. But put one of these amongst the logs. Then, light the tail that is sticking out. You may need two or three of these to assist in starting a fire. Those starter logs that cost almost $10 for about 20 of them are just sawdust and warm wax, that is compressed into a shape. The ones we are making are literally free. Each of the items you are putting into this project is actually an item you would throw away (or recycle.) The cardboard lights easily. The wax melts and helps to hold the flame so it burns longer and thus will ignite the branches and logs easier.

Like several of my posts, this is an item you need to save up for…but not money-wise. Like the suet, which is grease which you would be normally throwing away, stale peanuts, eggshells…all items you normally would throw away, now becomes a winter treat for birds, these starter logs can help you start a fire on those cold nights. Tomorrow, I will show another way for starting a fire, but you’ll have to finish your morning coffee and scrambled eggs, first. (hint, hint.)

Remember to follow me as we journey together in our quest for finding ways to live off the grid, live frugal, turn leftovers into new-overs, organize our lives and our homes.

What have you done to help another person out, today? Perhaps put a quarter into someone’s dryer, at the laundromat, when you see it has stopped turning. Give the paid-for wagon at Aldi to another person, and not ask for a quarter in return. Take a walk at lunchtime and smell the fresh air and notice the clouds. Buy a soda for a co-worker and leave it on their desk in the morning, before they come to work. Bring in a canister of coffee for the coffee pool. Give an extra two or three dollars tip to a waitress. Tell a veteran, “Thank you for serving.” Pull over and give right of way for a funeral procession, or an ambulance, taking a moment of silence for the victim. Buy a few cans of cat or dog food at the supermarket and drop it off at your local animal shelter. Stop by for an hour at a nursing home. Even if you don’t know anyone there, some of them would be so grateful for a visitor, since their own families rarely visit. Better yet, bring your child. Some of the elderly miss their own grandchildren and they can pretend your child is their grandchild. It would make them so happy. Make a simple, easy to heat meal and pack it in freezer-safe containers and bring it to a new mom. These little things can mean so much to another. Have you made another person smile? What was the reason YOU woke up this morning? Until we meet again, my friends, remember we are all living and breathing under the same sun, moon and stars. Be kind to each other, big and small, great and tall. Peace!