Thursday, April 30, 2009

Triples at HT

This week at Harris Teeter, they are tripling coupons up to .99
This is the super sale of sales because when you combine triples, coupons and sales you have the trifecta of deals and can save HUGE amounts on your groceries. Going once a day for the week, I can usually bring in several hundred dollars worth of groceries for pennies on the dollar.
Here is an example of my shop:
Breyers Ice cream .44
Pace Salsa .87
Ortega refried beans - free
Grande Tortilla chips - free
daisy sour cream - free
Kelloggs waffles - .54
McCormick garlic powder - free
1 lb beef(used peelie off chips) - .31
dawn dish detergent - .25
Ortega taco shells - free

After spending a little over $2 for these groceries, a $3 off beef coupon came out of the catalina machine. I can use that to fill tacos later next week!

Tips on couponing can be found all over the internet and I will post tips on this blog. My first article on the way I do it is here. Its really a matter of getting organized, keeping up with sale ads and remembering one simple rule:
If you don't have a coupon and its not on sale too, don't get it.
By following that rule alone, you will have plenty to eat and your costs will be cut in half and more.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

farmer wannabe

I love my garden. Its a good thing, because when it gets this hot, you have to love it or you would never venture out in the muggy mornings to see what's there. I have a small garden in the scope of farms. I like to use the Square Foot Gardening method because it is easier on me and my back to keep it weeded and grow enough for my family to eat. The 4' wide blocks are easy to manage and I have 2' paths between each bed to provide access to the entire area. Several years ago we have added chickens to our life, so they are now aiding in the entire process. They are allowed into the area whenever I have finished harvesting and they are let in on occasion to scratch up the paths, weeding and ridding the area of bugs. They leave behind fertilizer and I regularly clean out their coop so I can add it to my compost pile. When they are not in my garden they are foraging for food in their own yard. We have Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Australorps, an Aracauna and a Silver Dorking. We also have two Bourbon Red Turkeys.

I let the ladies in to "garden" quite a bit. I can block off areas I don't want them to eat in and send them back to their plot of land when they start causing trouble or I want to close the area off for the evening. This summer we got an early start with two liter bottles as mini-greenhouses. I had squash and tomatoes flowering long before I have before and it was much easier to transition them to the garden because I never had them inside in the first place. Most of the seeds I had from previous years, but I always order from Pinetree or Fedco seeds in the winter to try new plants. Pinetree offers seed packets in sizes I can use. I have never found a need to plant 50 zucchini plants and I don't see much point in purchasing that many seeds when I will only plant about 6 of them. This year we have a nice selection of tomatoes. I try to plant a variety of open-pollinated varieties and then save some seeds each year from the plants that we like the most. When we moved to the mountains, I had to reassess what I was growing since the climate is so different. This year we have some new squash and pumpkins that are more naturally resistant to powdery mildew since that decimated my squash plants last year. Outside my "garden" I also have various fruit vines and bushes and several varieties of herbs that I can harvest almost year around. This didn't all happen overnight. Some of the cuttings were started from plants at our previous home. Some were purchased over the past year. The land here needs a lot of attention. While the woods are healthy, the areas where plantings and grass were added are suffering from too much round up, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This will take years to undo. The deadly combination not only kills unwanted pests, but the good ones too. It destroys the helpful, disease-preventing microbes that survive in the soil and the natural process of rebuilding its nutrients is lost. So, we must improve the soil by NOT using pesticides and chemical fertilizers and then continually compost, plant cover crops and use other sustainable gardening methods to make the earth rich with nutrients and good to our plants. The results are where we are today. We still battle bugs, but I have found that with diligence it is manageable and we have a wonderful garden that feeds us well. My hope is to work toward not just feeding ourselves, but selling, trading and bartering our wares with others as well.

One Income Worksheet

A lot of parents question how it could possibly be feasible to have a one-income family when they can hardly get by on two incomes. It stops them dead in their tracks when they consider homeschooling and realize what it means for them financially.

If you step back and look at your individual situation you may find that it would not be all that difficult. You would be surprised at how much it COSTS to work full time! Consider this worksheet when figuring out whether it is feasible for you to quit working and home school your children. Take your income per month and subtract the following:

• Gas to and from work (ouch!)
• Eating lunch out with co-workers
• Corporate Wardrobe
• Dry-cleaning Corporate Wardrobe
• Meals your family eats out because you don't have time to cook
• Day care or Before/Afterschool care for children
• Convenience foods to save you time because you work
• Maid service?
• Kid's lunches at school

Now get rid of all those costs and add in these cost benefits

• Your children no longer need "Brand X" to stay cool with their peers
• You can cook from scratch lowering your food bills dramatically
• You can clip coupons and actually use them
• You can shop at a sale because you have the time
• Your tax base lowers

In addition to the cost benefits think about these things You have more time for your family

• Your kids spend the day with you instead of other adults who you may or may not know
• Your kids spend less time with unkown peer groups and peer pressure
• You have regular meals at home together rather than on the go in the car on the way to who knows where

In our situation we were better off with me home. My job required numerous lunches out with clients and a horrendous dry cleaning bill. I never would have gotten to know my children the way I have if I wasn't homeschooling them. I can't say that I miss the deadlines, the long hours or the pressure either!

Doughs of the "Play" variety

I thought I would share some recipes for a basic fun dough that my kids loved to
manipulate when they were younger. I will also share a few other recipes you may not have tried. Each kind has different colors, scents, and textures and these doughs provide a smorgasbord of sensory stimulation!
Playing with dough has proven to be therapeutic and calming
for people of all ages, as well as helping to develop manual
dexterity and hand strength. So, dig out the dough when the
kids need to settle down. You can refrigerate it to make it last longer when not in use, but most of these will mold if left out for days at a time.

Basic Dough
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
2 T. cream of tartar
2 cups water
1 T. mineral oil
*food coloring if desired

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat,
stirring until stiff. Allow to cool. Knead until smooth.

You can add flavored extracts to this mixture at the end, for
a variety of scents.

* Paste food coloring gives a more intense color, but is also
more expensive than the liquid. Tempera paints are usable and some people use packages of powdered, unsweetened drink mix or jello. Other more natural options include turmeric, cinnamon, cocoa powder(below) as well as colored powders from chalk or a natural food store.
I myself am not a big fan of artificial colors and find the kids will work fine with the plain dough(no colors) or natural options we can find.

Chocolate Dough
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup salt
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp. cooking oil
1 cup boiling water

Mix together dry ingredients. Add liquid ingredients. Stir
quickly and thoroughly. Cook over low heat until mixture forms
a ball. Knead when cool.

Fall Fun Dough
1 cup water
1 T. oil
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or use 1/2 ginger and 1/2 nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
a brown or orange form of food coloring

Mix together all ingredients. Cook mixture until it forms a
ball. Knead when cool. Add more flour if needed.

For Christmas dough, you could omit these seasonings and add
peppermint extract and a red or green food coloring.

Oat Dough
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup oil

Mix until desired consistency. You can add more water or flour as needed. Again, the texture is appealing to some children. I like the smell of this one too.

Coffee Dough
2 cups used coffee grounds
1/2 cup salt
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
Mix all together and add water to moisten. This produces a very grainy type dough. The texture may be very appealing to some kids and may be annoying to children with sensory issues.

Hardening Dough
2 cups baking soda
1 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water

Combine all ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring
constantly, until the mixture thickens. Cool and then knead to
a smooth texture. You can shape this dough and let it dry
overnight. It can be painted after it hardens.

Edible Peanut Butter Dough
1 cup Peanut Butter
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cup powdered milk
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Truly edible, so this
would be a good one for toddlers who like to taste everything.

Miscellaneous Favorites

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp. Alum

Combine flour and sugar in a saucepan. Slowly stir in cold
water until smooth (a whisk will help). Slowly add boiling
water. Stir to break up any lumps. Bring to a boil, stirring
constantly, until thick and clear. Remove from heat and stir
in alum.

2 T. sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 cups cold water
1/4 cup dish liquid
tempera paint

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a sauce pan. Slowly stir in water.
Cook and stir over low heat until smooth and transparent.
Remove from heat and cool. Stir in the dish liquid. Divide
into a few containers and color each with the food coloring or

3 cups water
1 cup dish liquid
1/3 cup corn syrup
Mix together. Keep in a jar and use within a couple of weeks.
*Finally a use for corn syrup!

Sparkle Finish
1 large jar of hair gel
1 small container of very fine glitter

Stir together and paint over any finished art project for a
beautiful sparkly finish.

Friday, April 24, 2009

KFC Unfry Day April 27th

KFC will offer free pieces of their new grilled chicken next monday. Here are the details...

Since Kentucky Grilled Chicken was introduced last week, America has been UNTHINKING what they always thought about KFC; there's a lot more to us than fried chicken! Now, America will get to UNTHINK their definition of "Monday," as KFC introduces "UNFry Day."
KFC is so confident America will love our new Kentucky Grilled Chicken, we're inviting you to sample our newest mouth-watering menu item on “UNFry Day,” Monday, April 27. Consumers are encouraged to stop by KFC throughout the day on “UNFry Day” and receive a FREE* piece of Kentucky Grilled Chicken.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to make Lard

In an effort to reduce costs and find healthier food, I recently went on a quest to find pure lard. You can't find it in the stores anymore; it doesn't exist. Now you get white glop with trans fats and hydrogenated oils from various sources. I wanted real lard. The kind that makes the best biscuits and fries chicken to perfection. So my journey began...

I wanted to make sure the pigs were grass fed and that the grass they ate was not treated with any chemicals or pesticides. Pure lard is much better for you when it comes from an animal that eats from its natural diet. Lard is actually high in Vitamin D and is mostly monounsaturated fat. I located a farm and found that he had fat. It was a mere $1 a pound, so I purchased 20lbs and brought it home.

Not wanting to go the traditional route of cooking over an open fire in a kettle in our yard, I started cutting up the fat into manageable chunks. I filled three crock pots on my counter with the stuff and turned the crockpots on high.

Not wanting a fire, I added a small amount of water in each crock pot; advice I found online. Before I knew it, liquid fat was forming in the bottom of the pots. I set up my straining process. Taking quart mason jars, I put coffee filters over each one and attached with rubber bands.

Then, using a small scoop, I removed melted fat from the crock pot and poured into the filters. I discovered later that I could use the jar lids to hold the paper filters in place that that they needed to be replaced periodically to keep the fat flowing through the filter quickly. Otherwise the fat gelled up and wouldn't drain. I also lowered the crock pot to low. At high, the fat was boiling due to all the water in the fat and I didn't want a big mess on my counter top.

As I filled each jar, I used a hot lid and put on top, making sure I wiped the jar rim well first. The fat was hot enough that it allowed for the jars to form an airtight seal. The cooled fat is now in storage in our basement. It is a beautiful clean white fat and I am happy to report it not only fries chickens and potatoes well, it also makes a wonderful flaky pie crust and the best biscuits ever!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A day in the life of a homeschooling family…

I wrote this several years ago, but it still pretty much describes our day. Not any two home schools are the same. There are even books out there that tell what each family is like. The key is to be yourself. Do what works for you and your family and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.

There are so many myths out there. This is what I have learned...I am not a public school and I don’t NEED a separate classroom. I don’t NEED a row of desks and chalkboard-my children have not and will not fail miserably because I let them sit on the couch to read their science book. And guess what? We often before breakfast had a history lesson (reading) in bed and in (gasp) PJ’s! You don’t need a BS in Education to know what your children want to learn about, how they understand instruction best or that they do better learning at night than in the morning. It's one on one and its the ideal environment to learn...with Love!

A typical day...
The alarm usually wakes me about 6:15am. I set it a little earlier or later depending on the day before and what is in store for us that day, but today, it’s typical. I shuffle to the laundry room and throw a load of laundry in the washing machine, get a loaf of bread started and hit the start button on the coffee maker. Fully awake now I can settle in my seat on the sofa with my Bible for a few minutes of undisturbed reading. Five minutes into my dream morning, my son flies into the room and lands on the couch with a decidedly earth shattering landing. I put my Book away and cuddle with him for a few minutes.

My coffee machine is soon making its gurgling noises which signal that my cup of energy is moments away. By the time I have my cup of coffee and am back on the couch with Brandon, Savannah appears with a sleepy grin and joins us. The two siblings battle for a position closest to mom and we cuddle until Brianna, my oldest, makes her way out of the bedroom and into Daddy’s recliner. Once everyone is seated, we discuss our dreams. Not a planned activity, but it has become a trend in the morning. My daughters discuss their bizarre dreams with vivid detail and Brandon always has a story to tell that, while he claims is his dream, bears a close resemblance to a combination of all of our stories. We always get a good laugh out of his vivid imagination.

By now, it is near 7 and I am ready to read from our devotional. This year we are reading from the “One Year Bible for Kids” which has taken almost two years to read! After reading and a short prayer for a good day, we read from my latest choice of historical fiction. Today it is Memories of Anne Frank. The girls sit still and listen, but Brandon can only make it through our devotion before he is ready to play on the floor, so he transitions to the carpet to drive his construction vehicles through a newly found pile of Lincoln logs and I read until almost 7:30.

After reading, everyone is up and off to do chores. I flip on the radio or cd player to add some music to the house and make breakfast while the kids get dressed and do anything from feeding the dog to emptying the trash baskets in each room. We have used this time to listen to specific composers, types of music or music with the time periods we are studying. Today we are enjoying a contemporary Christian station that we love and Focus on the Family is just starting as we sit down for a good breakfast and then finish up with chores after we eat. At this point I usually make a beeline to the computer to see if any “emergencies” need my attention and address home schooling emails with my “support group leader hat”.

At the beginning of each week I print out a sheet of assignments for the girls(Brandon isn’t ready for that kind of structure) from my Homeschool Tracker software. So, the girls know what to do and choose how to do it and in what order. Generally I try to have them do the “strenuous” brain stuff early on in the day so they don’t fizzle out before they get through Math U See and Analogies. Both girls are doing Wordly Wise 3000 for vocabulary and Savannah is using Daily Grams 2 / 3 and Brianna is using Rules of the Game 1 for grammar.

For science, Brianna, is working through Apologia Chemistry. For biology, she attended a lab with several friends about twice a month at a close friend’s home. I wasn’t particularly worried about teaching the lab, but when my friend, who has is an RN and has a Masters in Biology offered, I was more than willing to turn her over to a professional! This year, the labs are done at home if she desires to do one. Since she already met her lab requirement for science and isn’t planning on pursuing a career in Science, I don’t push it. Savannah and Brandon receive no “formal” instruction in science. Anotherwords, we don’t do text books. Brianna didn’t even know what one was until she was old enough for Apologia General Science and transitioned without incident. I like to let the kids explore topics of interest and we frequent parks for nature walks with our NatureHike Backpack and have created living quarters for numerous critters using the tips outlined in the book “Pets in a Jar”. I never push a subject and allow them to pursue it to their hearts content. We once spent six months on Astronomy and followed it up with about 2 days on spiders! Whatever they are interested in drives our learning. We currently have two Ladybug Lands occupied with ladybugs and our butterfly bush in our herb garden is filled with Yellow Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails and two other species they have yet to identify. We have watched Praying Mantis emerge from egg cases in this same bush and seen mockingbirds hatch and learn to fly from it as well. Life is full of opportunities for learning, so I try not to bog them down with too many required books when there is so much out there to pique their interests for free! So while Brianna finishes up a lab sheet, the two younger ones go out to feed the fish in our pond and check for toads and other critters in the front yard.

Soon Savannah is back in for some tablework(its too hot” she says) and Brandon wants to watch his Rock n’ Learn and Leap Frog videos. I tell him he can after he plays quietly for a while. I am trying to teach him to use his own skills to occupy himself more often and let him play on the floor for about 30 minutes with beads and shoelaces before we pop in his ABC video. He has learned all his letters, colors and numbers with these DVD’s and although my initial reaction to his ambivalence toward my teaching was to take in personally, I soon found that the key to him learning was music, colors and action. So we give him that whenever we can. He isn’t big on sitting still either, so we learn without seats most of the time. I am introducing him to Handwriting without Tears because it uses stuff he loves like play doh, water and magnets. It’s a good fit for a kid that can’t seem to handle a pencil very well and he likes it.

Lunch is soon upon us, so we whip up some sandwiches and pack our bags for the afternoon. Both girls take music lessons every other week, so they pack some things they can do in the car and get their music books together. Today we are listening to Focus on the Family’s presentation of The Hiding Place in the car. I have a small library of audio tapes and CD’s that present historical fiction and literature in a refreshing way. I LOVE Jim Weiss’ tapes and we all adore his renditions of Shakespeare and the GA Henty books have been wonderful. We listen on the way to lessons and on the way back, the girls read from the historical fiction reading lists I have given each of them. I present history in segments somewhat like in the Well Trained Mind and give them lengthy lists of “Living Books” to choose from for structured reading. We are studying modern times at the moment. 30/45 minutes minimum must be spent on this type of reading, but I find the both girls read much more than that. They love the books we choose from a wide variety of sources. They can spend additional reading time on books they choose to read(unstructured reading). Savannah is currently reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by CS Lewis again. Her first time reading this book was in anticipation of the movie release. They cannot see a movie remake of a book unless they read the book first, and of course, the movie has to be acceptable as well. Brianna is reading “The Lord of the Rings” by Tokein and working through the Lord of the Rings Literature Unit by Amelia Harper. She is looking forward to watching the first movie after she finishes the unit she is currently working on.

After lessons, I make a side stop for a few groceries. I started couponing a few years ago and got really serious about it last May. I read a book called “Smart Spending” and have saved at least 50% on my grocery bill every month since then by refining a few of the ways I was shopping. It has made a huge difference in our grocery bill and as a result, we can attend more activities outside the home when we want to. As soon as we are home, Brianna is on her laptop doing research for her Debate class with The Cultural Commission and Savannah flops on the couch to read. Both girls finished their table work before we left the house at noon, so I sit down to check their work before I start dinner. Brianna is using the computer a lot more this year for school. In the past, she did an Alpha Omega Switched on Schoolhouse course of High School Health, took a research writing course with ‘Write at Home” online and has learned the value of a good search engine. We use Earthlink Kid Patrol to help protect her experiences online and time is limited to 1 hour per day. It leaves little time for email and we don’t do chat rooms. She is on a closed forum for her debate class but it is strictly moderated and is a safe place for her to reflect on her faith and the issues our country is facing in today’s world. If she wants to chat with a friend, she can call her friends on the phone after dinner. All computer time is spent in the living room with everyone around as an additional precautionary measure. My husband and I both want her to learn everything there is to know about technology without getting an eyeful of all the undesirables out there.

I start dinner about 5:30 and the girls assist in getting the table ready and fixing side dishes. Sometimes, when we aren’t going out on errands or lessons, I organize shopping lists, spot clean or work on my website. When we don’t feel like work, we play educational games. Some favorites are “Blink”, “Equate”, “Bethump’d” “Scrabble” “Mancala” and “Payday”

Brandon is busy with blocks at this point on the floor and I ask him to pick up his trucks from the morning if he is going to play with blocks. Daddy comes home around 6 and we have dinner and clean up and get ready for bed. Then we have “settle down time” We turned off our satellite some time ago. Instead of paying that fee every month, we invest in DVD’s of our favorite television shows. Our latest investment was in the first season of "Little House on the Prairie." They are all new to my kids and Charles and I love them. We watch one episode each night. My husband recently planned out a TV programming schedule for us which is posted on the fridge …”Sunday is Extreme Home Makeover, Monday is Little House, Tuesday is “Andy Griffith”, Wednesday is Little Rascals, etc.” I think it’s a wonderful idea! The kids are off to bed around 8:30 and the older ones can read in bed if they aren’t too tired, but I want no complaining the next morning if its hard getting up. After they are in bed, I finish grading and prepare for the next day. And, if it’s before 11:00pm when I turn off the lights, it’s been a GREAT day!

Frugal Living is Fun!

It really is, but you have to have the right attitude. As it almost becomes a necessity to watch all your dollars and cents, living a purposeful frugal life keeps the stress to a minimum. Spending your money carefully and frugally doesn't always mean giving up life's daily pleasures. You could put away your savings to splurge on a family vacation, for more weekend getaways, or dinner out with the family on Friday nights. Remember, stretching your budget is smart. It is an attitude. Embrace it and start planning that trip to your favorite vacation spot!

1. Analyze those utilities.
Check your house for ways to cut energy costs. Fix leaky windows, add more insulation in the attic, switch out light bulbs with new compact florescent bulbs when they die. Fix leaky faucets, turn down the water heater, etc. Your energy suppliers will have surprisingly wonderful ideas to help you cut costs. Some have rebates on energy saving upgrades, different billing options from averaging to Time of Use discounts. Ask and find what they have for you and your family.

2. Negotiate with phone companies.
You can cut your phone costs with packages, but don't get sold on more than you need. What good is 250 channels if you only watch three of them? Check with competitors and negotiate those rates. You can usually keep the rate you have when they hike their rates with a little negotiation. Take good notes so you can call them back if they fail to come through on a promise.

3. Pay off debt
I know, I know, everyone says that. Really you should try to avoid it to begin with, but if you pay off the credit card each month, or stop using it when you have a balance, you will bring those balances down quickly. Eliminate the highest interest debt first. Pay as much as you can each month. When its gone use that money to eliminate the next one. Then, start a budget for those things you want and need. By putting away money now, you will have the money when your 10 year old car dies and you need a new one. Pay cash for it and start saving for another one. Putting a little toward each wish item makes a lot more sense than paying some huge credit company for 20 years for the television you couldn't wait to buy.

4. Homemade is less money.
Pack your lunch, watch for coupons on, use a rewards card(that is paid off) to earn gift cards to your favorite place to eat. Eating out can be the biggest expense in a home if you are not careful. Plan ahead and use your crockpot. Double up recipes and freeze the other meal for another night. Even those hot coffees on the way to work can add up. Try getting a nice travel mug and taking your own. If you spent a little more on a good ground coffee at home, it would save you tons of money over getting a drive-thru java each day.

5. Coupon
Yes, coupons. You can save a lot of money clipping them and using them wisely. I typically save over 50% on my shopping and try to stay around 75%. This type of shopping is not going to be a weekly event but as sales present themselves. We work with what is in the house. This makes meal planning easier and keeps impulse buying down as well. I will explain this system on my blog as I have opportunities.

6. Save.
When you start cutting costs and saving money, put that money away. Don't spend it on the first thing that strikes your fancy. Make goals with your family. Short term and long term. Let the kids participate too. Take the spare change you have at the end of the day and start a vacation jar. When its full, cash it in and make a deposit toward your family vacation goal. Apply whatever you can save in other ways and make life better. My initial coupon savings got us a deep freeze. Then I could stock up on freezer items that were on sale and not be limited in purchasing because I was out of space. Now the savings gets us through a difficult financial crisis with the economy, but it was our Friday night out money. We got to eat out, together every friday night with what I was saving and we were putting money away for vacation with it too. Set your priorities and make it a family goal. You'd be surprised what you can do!