Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You Know She's Country When ...

... her prom shoes are cowboy boots.

Our Songbird and date.  2017 Prom

Monday, March 27, 2017

Make Over Monday from the Sewing Room

I'd like to begin this post with a "shout out" to Mrs. Rhonda at "If You Do Stuff, Stuff Gets Done" blog.  She usually begins her week with a "to do" list and seems to consistently whittle away at it.  She accomplishes quite a bit.  I'd like to acknowledge her because as of late, I've been battling some situational depression.  As such, I've found on some days accomplishing much of anything is a struggle.  However, her blog has been a great source of inspiration to me on those "difficult" days.  I follow her lead and make myself a list of things that need to be done, should be done and / or things I know I would enjoy doing or accomplishing under normal circumstances.  So, Thank you Mrs. Rhonda for encouraging  me!

Some of you may remember the Best Birthday Gift Ever! post from September 2016, where I shared that our Musician and his beautiful Bride announced they were expecting their first baby and our first grandbaby.  The sewing and crochet projects I listed in the "Post Holiday To Do's" entry back in January 2017, were all about goodies for the new addition to our family.

Here are photos of all the sewing and crochet projects I've completed for our little G-bear.

Four reversible bibs

Three reversible burp cloths
These bibs and burb cloths were made by recycling flannel receiving blankets found at the thrift store for only $0.25 each. I purchased 7 coordinating blankets and after finishing these bibs and burp cloths, I still have enough material left over for 1 or 2 other projects.
Infant sized granny square afghan.  Grey, yellow and white are the colors selected for G-bear's nursery.
Although I did not use left over or recycled yarns for this crochet project, I do have some left that will eventually find its way into, what I call, a scrap-aghan.  The yellow centers surrounded by white reminds me of daisies - my favorite flower.

Crib sized strip quilt
This feminine crib sized strip quilt is a very frugal gift.  I spent less than $5.00 on the quilt backing.  The pieced top and batting were scraps from other projects.

Nursing cape with "cupped" opening and handy storage pouches.

A young friend of mine has a nursing cape with a "cupped" opening at the top.  When I saw hers, I decided I would have to figure out how to make one for my dear daughter-in-love. I decided to add pouch style pockets for things like a pacifier, teething ring and a toy. This fabric was originally purchased for another project that I never got around to making.  Instead of allowing to it sit on my fabric shelves for another year, or so, I decided it would be perfect for a nursing cape that matches G-bear's nursery theme.  I used free plastic box strapping from a recent mail order shipment to make the "cup" form at the top of the cape.  The sunflower button for the neck strap is recycled from one of  Songbird's nursery projects - 18 years ago!

If you choose to follow my lead by turning recycled materials into gifts, please don't ever be ashamed or think you've given a "cheap" gift.  Anyone who crafts, sews, paints, etc. knows that hours, days and, sometimes, months of ones time is invested in a handmade gift.  The hours, care and prayers poured into a handcrafted project by the artisan is a priceless gift to the recipient.

What can you find in your closet, scrap pile, garage or basement that can be made into something new?

Post Holiday "To Do's"

3/27/17 -
I am happy to report that nearly all the projects listed on my "Post Holiday To Do" list have been completed.  Since the littles will be in charge of housekeeping while I'm visiting down south later this month, I decided to wait until I return to deep clean the kitchen.  I've finished the mobile kitchen island. We are now waiting on the countertop to be cut and delivered from Fargo.  I'm excited about posting a photo of the finished project once the counter top arrives.  The next post contains photos of my completed sewing and crochet projects.
1/10/17 -

I cleaned and organized the basement today.  I will now have an indoor work space to build the mobile kitchen island.  I also listed the extra washing machine for sale in our local newspaper and local on-line sites. Hopefully, it will sell quickly.

1/7/17 -
Marked a couple more tasks off my winter to-do list ... HURAY!

1/6/17 -
Autumn and early winter, like spring and summer, is a very busy season for us.  Not only do we have numerous projects we try to finish before winter, homeschooling becomes a priority. Adding to all that, we also have the business of the holiday season with harvest festival(s), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year celebrations. 

Consequently, by the time things slow down for winter, I often think I'm exhausted.  If I don't make any plans to get everything cleaned up and organized, it would be very easy to find myself overwhelmed and napping 2 - 3 hours each day until spring.  As temping as hibernating through the winter sounds, it really is the best time of year to indulge in some of the indoor hobbies I enjoy and any indoor projects that need to be completed.   Experience has taught me that our insanely busy spring and summer will leave me regretting unproductive winter naps.

Here is a short list of this winter's priorities.  I've already completed a few!

 Finish homeschool lesson plans for winter months 
Put all Christmas gifts in their new homes
Build and install second coat rack in entry
Pack & deliver donations to thrift center
Pack & store Christmas d├ęcor 
Write & mail thank you notes
Have the kids write and mail thank you notes
Deep clean kitchen & dining room
Clean and re-organize basement
Prepare the basement for spring thaw
Sewing project(s)
Crochet project(s)
Build mobile kitchen island - Cabinet finished, waiting on counter top
Sell extra washing machine - listed for sale 1/10/17
Patch the chandelier hook hole in the kitchen ceiling
Patch the door stopper hole by the upstairs bathroom
Select and order business cards for the farm

What are your plans during these winter months?  Please share, I would enjoy reading about them in the comments section.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

Instead of posting a frugal meal plan today, I decided to share my most recent monthly grocery haul. Although I plan out our weekly meals, I do not grocery shop for those weekly plans. Our meal plans are constructed around the products stored in our pantry and freezers or the week's harvest during gardening and butchering season(s).  So when I shop, I shop for re-stocking purposes and fresh produce during winter & spring that is on sale for less than $1 lb. Occasionally, I will splurge and purchase produce, like fresh asparagus @ $2 lb. or less, but that only occurs a couple times per year.  Re-stocking a deep pantry is the key strategy I use to save so much money on groceries and household products.

I have maintained a $400 per month "grocery" budget for nearly 20 years.  I say, "grocery" in quotations because our non-edible household products, annual gardening & canning supplies and butchering expenses are also included in that $400 limit.

When it comes to restocking, I use the sales flyers and purchase only deeply discounted items from the flyers that are needed to replenish our annual supply.  One of the grocers in our area offers a case lot sale twice per year.  These case lot sales are the only times certain items are discounted by 50%, or more.  I've briefly shared additional money saving tips here and through various posts listed under the "Budgeting and Planning It Out" section on my "Mrs.B's Farmhouse Cookbook" blog page.  So far this month I've spent $271.34 of my $400.00 budget.  Unless butter goes on sale for $2.50 lb., or less, I will not spend any of the remaining $128.66 left in my budget.  It will be put back for butchering expenses and gardening & canning supplies this coming autumn.

Here are the items I purchased to re-stock our pantry and freezers today:

50 lb. flour (case lot)
50 lb. sugar (case lot)
20 lb. frozen boneless chicken breasts (case lot)**
16 lb. frozen cod fillets (case lot)**
25 lb. various cheeses (quarterly sale)
6 gallons white vinegar (case lot)
5 lb. dried kidney beans (case lot)
4 lb. various dried pastas (quarterly sale)*
2 cases (24) canned Albacore tuna (case lot)
2 cases (24) canned chicken (case lot)**
4 lg. mayonnaise (quarterly sale)*
4 qt. beef broth (quarterly sale)*
1 lg. box Rice Krispies (reduced for quick sale)**
2 box Lucky Charms (quarterly sale)**
1 canister panko bread crumbs (dollar store)**
1 bottle vanilla syrup (dollar store)*
1 pound cake (dollar store)*
2 boxes instant flavored coffees (dollar store)***
4 cases bottled water (quarterly sale)**
4 lg. pkg. feminine hygiene products (quarterly sale)*
30 roll bath tissue (quarterly sale)
2 parchment paper (dollar store)**
1 plastic cling wrap (dollar store)**
1 foil sheets (dollar store)**
1 pkg. cheese cloth (dollar store)
12 foil to-go containers (dollar store)**
1 pkg. facial cleansing cloths (quarterly sale)***

In the above list you will notice that I purchased a few items from a dollar discount store.  Our closest dollar discount store is more than 130 miles, one-way.  Because of the distance, I keep a mental list of items I need from the dollar store so that when we are driving through that area I can stop in.  Sometimes, it may be an entire year before I have an opportunity to go to a dollar store. So, it is important that I always leave a little extra in my budget so I can take advantage of the opportunity when it arises.

If finances were tight, there are about $80.00 worth of items on the above list I could have omitted; either because I can make it homemade (*), substitute a more economical option (**), or the items were simply a splurge (***).  In the event of a financial crisis our pantry and freezers are so deep I could skip the grocer for an entire year if necessary. I'd still have gardening, canning and butchering expenses but could slash my "grocery" expenses by more than 75% if necessary.

It took two years of patience and perseverance to stock our pantry and freezers on a $400.00 per month budget.  It was worth all the work and I encourage you to steadily work toward building a deep pantry as well. I think the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can feed your family, and feed them well even in the midst of a crisis, is priceless.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

You've heard me say it before, "More than grocery sales and re-sales shops, a frugal lifestyle encompasses avoiding waste in all it's forms".  That's why today's Frugal Feasting Friday post is about using up something most will pour down the drain.

We consume fresh milk that is not pasteurized or homogenized.  Non pasteurized milk only lasts about 10 days under refrigeration.   Although we date the milk, my family does not always pay attention to the date sticker on the lid and will bring the gallon jars up from the basement out of order. Thus, sometimes I will find a gallon that has turned.  That's exactly what happened this past week. There is no way I can bring myself to pouring an entire gallon of milk down the drain, even if it is soured.  So, I decided to have a baking day.  Yes, a baking day ... Soured milk is the perfect substitute for buttermilk in any baking recipe.  Best of all, these baked goods freeze well and re-heat in a jiffy.  With Farmer Boy's 6:30 AM Driver's Ed classes, these pre-prepared breakfast foods will be a blessed time saver.

Hotcakes, Blueberry & Apple Cinnamon Muffins, and Coffee Cake

My recipe for Sour Milk Hotcakes can be found here.

Sour Milk Muffins

1 1/2 c. sour milk
1 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs
4 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar
6 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease bottoms of muffin tins.  Mix together sour milk, vegetable oil and eggs.  In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add liquid ingredients to dry. Mix until just combined.  Evenly divide batter among muffin tins.  Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 18-20 minutes.

Variations - Blueberry Muffins:  Fold in 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberry to batter.  Apple Cinnamon Muffins:  Add 1 tsp. ground cinnamon to dry ingredients.  Fold in 2 grated apples (including skins) to batter.

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

Sour Milk Coffee Cake

5 c. flour
2 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 c. sour milk

Strudel Topping

1 c. chopped pecans
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease three 8"x8"x8" baking pans.  In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In a smaller bowl mix together oil, eggs and sour milk.  Add wet ingredients to dry; mix well.  Evenly divide batter between baking pans.  To prepare strudel topping, combine all ingredients cutting in butter.  Sprinkle strudel topping evenly over each cake.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cake tests done.

Makes 3 8x8x8 cakes

Having a baking day utilized sour milk that many would simply pour down the drain.  By freezing everything I will also save time over then next couple weeks.  Time is often the most precious of resources for our busy lives. Remember to always cool your baked goods completely before freezing them.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

Although much of the food our family consumes is home grown or wild harvested, there are some things we purchase from the local grocer.  For instance, I love chicken breasts and thighs, but I'd have to butcher 2 dual purpose hens (and loose 2 egg layers) anytime I wanted to cook a recipe that utilizes only chicken breasts, or thighs.  For this reason, I keep an eye out for one of those really good "three time per year" sales that is available in our area on chicken breasts and thighs.  I also utilize the "reduced for quick sale" bins for convenience foods that are discounted by 60% - 90%.

Utilizing the 3 time per year chicken breasts & thighs sales, the "reduced for quick sale" bin, and homegrown broccoli and tomatoes, today's Frugal Feasting Friday menu comes in at only $1.49 per person.

On The Menu:  Crockpot Smothered Chicken Breasts, Uncle Ben's Herb and Rice Blend, Broccoli in Browned Butter Sauce, Seasoned Roma Tomato Slices and Warm Potato Rolls.  This company worthy meal serves 8 people and is a cinch to prepare.

Crockpot Smothered Chicken Breasts

4 large chicken breasts, halved butterfly style, makes 8 portions ($7.27)
1 prepared batch of Cream of Anything Soup  ($0.20)
salt and pepper, to taste

Lightly grease the bottom of the crockpot.  Lightly brown chicken breasts in some reserved bacon fat.  Place 4 of chicken breasts halves in bottom of the crockpot.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Pour 1/2 prepared soup over chicken breasts.  Layer the remaining 4 chicken breast halves, season with salt and pepper, and pour remaining soup over chicken breasts.  Cook on low 5-6 hours.

Serves 8
In addition to frugal shopping skills, portion control is also an important aspect of maintaining a frugal grocery budget.  In this recipe the 4 large chicken breasts are halved, reducing the cooked portion size to 3-4 oz. each, roughly the size of a deck of cards.  Nutritionists recommend our plate contain only a "deck of card" sized portion of animal protein, 25% of our plate should reflect grains or starches and the remaining 1/2  should be filled out with vegetables and/or fruits.  Regarding fruit, I like to live by the old saying, "Fruit in the morning is gold, fruit in mid-day is silver, fruit in the evening is lead."  Thus, our family usually consumes fruit prior to the evening meal.

Broccoli in Browned Butter Sauce

2 lb. homegrown broccoli (free)
4 Tbsp. butter ($0.31)
salt, to taste

Steam broccoli until crisp tender.  In a small sauce pan combine butter and salt.  Over low heat melt butter, stirring occasionally, until it begins to lightly brown.  As the butter melts, watch closely because once the butter begins to brown, it will burn very quickly.  We are looking for browned butter not burned butter.  Pour the salted browned butter over the broccoli and toss.

Serves 8

Seasoned Roma Tomato Slices

2 sliced homegrown Roma tomatoes (free)
1/4 tsp. dried basil ($0.02)
salt & pepper to taste

Arrange tomato slices on serving plate.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried basil.

Serves 8

Here's today's cost breakdown:

Crockpot Smothered Chicken Breasts ($7.47)
Broccoli in Browned Butter Sauce (homegrown $0.31 / store bought $2.29)
Seasoned Roma tomato slices  (homegrown $0.02) / store bought $0.66)
2 "reduced for quick sale" boxes Uncle Ben's Herbed Rice Blend ($2.80)
8 "reduced for quick sale" potato rolls ($1.33)
Total cost for 8 people:  using homegrown vegetables, $11.93 OR only $1.49 per person

If I were to purchase the broccoli & tomatoes, or other fresh vegetable(s), I would pay a maximum of $0.99 per pound.  Thus, if the broccoli and tomatoes for this meal were store bought at $0.99 lb., the cost for 8 people would still be very frugal at $14.55 OR only $1.82 per person.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Frugal Feasting Friday

After a recent trip to Billings where Farmer Boy and I decided to eat at a national seafood restaurant, I decided a Frugal Feasting Friday post was long overdue.   The total bill for the lunch portions, no desserts and water as our beverage, came in at a whopping $43.46, tip included.  That's a total of $21.73 per person!  By cooking a similar meal at home, you could see a savings of more than 85% per person. 

So, on with a new Frugal Feasting Friday recipe for you and your family to try.  Let me know if you like it.

Parmesan Crusted Fillet of Cod served with Asparagus Bundles and Herbed Mashed Potatoes

Most of you already have a favorite homemade mashed potato recipe.  To "herb" them, simply stir in chopped fresh parsley and chives.  The asparagus bundles  (link)  are Mrs. Trisha Yearwood's recipe from the Food Network website.

Parmesan Crusted Fillet of Cod

4 cod fillets, patted dry ($6.64 ea.)
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise ($.0.10)
1/2 tsp. mustard ($0.01)
1 oz. parmesan cheese, grated ($0.60)
1/4 c. homemade seasoned bread crumbs ($0.11)
salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly sprinkle cod fillets with salt.  In a small bowl combine mayonnaise and mustard.  Generously spread the mayonnaise mixture over the cod fillets.  Combine the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  Pat the breadcrumb mixture over the cod fillets.  Bake at 350 degrees until top begins to lightly brown and fillets are flakey, about 18-20 minutes.

Serves 4

Here's the breakdown:

Homemade Herbed Mashed Potatoes:   $0.95
Parmesan Crusted Fillet of Cod:  $7.46
Grand Total:  $11.81 OR $2.95 per person for a family of 4

This Frugal Friday Feast used store bought ingredients, only the parsley and chives were homegrown. But as always, the purchased ingredients were found at deeply discounted prices.  When maintaining a frugal grocery budget, one has to be flexible and creative.  For instance, if asparagus is not in season and on sale, substitute a fresh vegetable that is on sale (broccoli, yellow squash, sliced fresh tomatoes).  If your grocer is charging more than 20 cents per pound for potatoes, substitute herbed rice.  Since the fillet of cod was 40% off at the seafood counter it was prepared the same day it was purchased.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Country Life - Personality Traits vs Character Traits

One of my readers left a comment in the "Country Life" introduction post, "Country Living magazine doesn't mention all the dust and mud, all the wild critters that come visiting, all the crazy neighbors with no zoning laws to rein them in, ..."  and she is so very CORRECT in that statement.   Because of these, and many other realities, one needs to honestly assess the answers to questions like, "Am I an introvert or an extrovert?  Am I an independent problem solver or quick to hire a professional?  Am I a perfectionist or  more laid back?  Am I a clean freak or do I  lean a little more toward the messy side? ...  

Me?  I lean toward the clean freak, perfectionist, hermit type extrovert, independent problem solver who has enough life experience to know when I need to hire a professional.  How is that working out for me in an isolated rural setting?  Honestly, I have my good days and my bad days ... just like when we lived in a more urban area.

Moving to the country is much different than moving from one urban area to another.   In urban areas the neighbors inquire about what brought you to the area, where you are from and follow up by sharing the same.  Often, they invite you and your kids to the park for a play date.  However, when we first moved to the Montana prairie many of the locals thought things like, "Here's another bunch of city folk who think their Mother Earth magazine has taught them how to garden, hunt, fish, and raise livestock.  They also think they are gonna come out here and teach us some sophistication."  Depending on one's character traits, this type of cautious, at best, welcome can be enough to cause one to pack up and run back to the city within a year.

It was late summer when we moved to our little place.  Mr.B had enough sense to know that we would possibly need some sort of snow moving equipment for that coming winter and would need a small tractor for various other work come the next spring. In short order, he purchased our little orange tractor with a bucket.  That little orange tractor and the ability to clear our own drive was enough for one or two folks, however, most remained skeptical.  The following spring, I set up an improvised "chick brooder" in our basement and purchased chicks for the littles 4-H project.  While most assumed all the chicks would die, one person stopped by for a look.  When they saw our set up they were won over.   Our first April the locals found me with my brand new walk behind tiller ripping up the ground just west of my kitchen.  Many thought, they'll be gone by summer's end.  But a couple more stopped by sometime around July and witnessed a thriving 40' ft. x 70' ft. garden filled with a grocers variety of produce and herbs.  One said to the other, "Wow! Someone knows how to garden!"  The following autumn, found my homemade pickles and other home canned produce on the buffet at a local pot luck prompting a hand full of  others to re-evaluate their preconceived ideas about us.  Our second summer found one of the local farmers asking us if he could rent a couple of our granaries to store his wheat seed.  Since we only use a couple for storage, we offered to gift the remainder to him for the season.  This tiny act of generosity, brought most around to thinking we might just make it out here.  We've only lived out here six years but the locals have watched us make improvements on our place, become involved in a local church, witnessed our youngin's excel in 4-H, and be helpful to our neighbors and community when possible.

Ultimately, anyone who moves from an urban area to a rural area will have to have enough drive and stamina to "prove their salt".  The locals are not going to teach urbanites how to live in the country.  Folks who are new to a rural area must have enough gumption to take the initiative to become involved in the community. When doing so, they must also have enough humility to volunteer for the jobs no one wants, like cleaning the bathrooms and picking trash up out of the parking lot during the county fair.  The locals will not invite a newcomer to join their church, sign up for local youth activities,  sit on various local committees or participate in the fair parade.  Relocated youngsters who excel in sports will have to patiently and consistently outperform "so and so's nephew" by leaps and bounds before he can ever "get off the bench" or "play the infield".  Regardless of how many movies Hollywood produces about the outsider breaking down the genetic code of nepotism within rural communities, locals will never allow this to be accomplished in the real world.  Relocated city folks must possess enough self assurance to be satisfied with earning the place of being only a peripheral part of the community and never becoming a full fledged member of the community.  Locals have lived in rural areas for generations, which by birthright makes them a "big fish in a small pond", and they will not give up that power or influence by allowing outsiders to be thought of as "one of their own."  If your family chooses to remain in the area for decades, your great-grandchildren may someday be considered "local".   Because close relationships are hard for outsiders to develop, independence is a key character trait.  Country folks are renowned gossips who enjoy the company of other gossips. Anyone within your family who is a gossip, will be privy to all the dirt on others in the county.  But, remember, gossip is always quid quo pro within rural communities.  Rural residents who enjoy privacy, are tight lipped and gossips have no boundaries.  This often makes it difficult to form close relationships within rural areas.  We've lived here six years and we have developed friendships but not what I consider, close friends.  I doubt we will ever have friendships as close as we did when we lived down home.

In my opinion, one's character traits are far more important than personality when it comes to living in the country.  My personal experience has taught me that perseverance, patience, humility, consistency, initiative, self assurance, and independence are some of the beneficial character traits that are required for the successful transition into a rural lifestyle.  It will behoove anyone who is dreaming of a country lifestyle to seriously contemplate their character traits before making that big move. 

If you decide the realistic transition to a country lifestyle may be too difficult for your family,  remember, that's Okay.  You can still have a bite of country living right where you are ... even if you are an apartment or townhouse dweller.  Decades ago when I lived in an apartment, I raised rabbits on my patio and maintained a few containers of fresh herbs.  More recently, our family has grown lettuces and spinach in plastic storage tubs under two fluorescent grow lights in our basement.  We also use decorative containers to grow fresh herbs by the south facing windows in our mud room during the winter months.  By utilizing the modern inventions of grow lights and container gardening, many urban residents are successfully enjoying tiny bites of country living even when they don't have any outside space.

Next time we will explore some of the financial realities of a rural lifestyle ... tootles!