Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween - Star Trek Costume For Kids

In our home, Halloween is dress up like a Star Trek character day.

We're not big on Halloween because it's just not something we care about. We're also not anti-Halloween, because if we rejected all holidays with pagan roots, we'd be skipping Easter and Christmas, too. But we love Star Trek. And a day where the whole gang gets to dress up like the crew of the original series is a great day indeed.

What do you need?

Black pants or skirts for everyone
Long sleeve shirts, either solid red, green, yellow, or blue
Masking tape
Black electrical tape
Band aids (optional)

It's obvious what you do with the black pants. Put them on. Now, we're going to fancy up the shirt a little. The electrical tape goes around the collar. I just put it around the front.

I make a basic emblem cut out of two pieces of masking tape. I also rip the masking tape into strips to make the rank braid around the cuffs that show the rank of each officer. This one will be a lieutenant.

The band aids I use to wrap around the top of one child's ear, making a point. That's how we get our Vulcan, or Romulan if you want to be real creative with the Star Trek timeline.

Maybe this post would have been helpful before Halloween. For those of you without any ideas, this one is pretty easy.
What, if anything, are your kids going to be today?

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Tightwad Gazette Review - The Only Book I Recommend

I have read a lot of books on frugality and finances. It is a topic that fascinates and thrills me, so I devote a lot of time to learning about it. I read blogs about it. The ones I recommend for others are Being Frugal and The Simple Dollar, although I read more for fun.

I get several newsletters in my inbox on frugal living. My favorite is the Hillbilly Housewife Newsletter. The Hillbilly Housewife's site has a ton of frugal recipes and is a great resource. She also has set up Frugal Living News, which has an RSS feed of lots of frugal blogs and articles, including my blog.

But the only book I really recommend on frugality and finances is Amy Dacyczyn's The Complete Tightwad Gazette. This has The Tightwad Gazette, The Tightwad Gazette II, and The Tightwad Gazette III all in one volume. If someone were in a real dire situation, this is still worth spending your swagbucks Amazon gift cards on. (To those of you who may not own this book, you can save $0.01, based on the current Amazon prices, by buying the three books separately, shipping included, but I like having things more compact, so I splurged and bought the three-in-one volume.)

I've read it at least four times this year, cover to cover. I reference it weekly, and quote it often, sometimes to my husband's chagrin. I am one of those who talks about Amy as if we were pals.

The Tightwad Gazette changed my life. We were pretty frugal before we moved, as we still lived below the poverty level. When we moved to an area that cost more but we were getting a smaller income, I got some phone calls about mystery shopping; they needed someone in my area. I started picking up jobs and within a few months, was matching, even some weeks surpassing my husband's income. My kids came with me, but it wasn't fun for them, being dragged around from store to store. I felt like it was really hurting my relationship with my baby, Bobby, only a few months old. I began hating it.

I didn't know how well we could make it financially without it. Lynnae from Being Frugal spoke often about The Tightwad Gazette on her BlogTalkRadio show, so I bought a copy. I soon had the confidence to take a month off of mystery shopping, only taking the jobs I wanted, restaurants and clothing shops. It was nice to know I could go back to it if I needed to, but we started out doing okay. Here were the big lessons that are ingrained into my mind thanks to the Tightwad Gazette.

1) Track everything you spend for a month. Take a notebook with you everywhere if you have to. It won't be easy or convenient, but it must be done to curb frivolous spending. Even with my spending under control, this helps me spot places where I could do better.

2) Check your prices. Don't just check your prices on big things, like car insurance and rent. Check your prices on eggs and broccoli, too. When you find the lowest prices around, you will be saving each time you buy. I did this where we used to live, but hadn't since we moved.

3) Do it yourself. I am a big do it yourself advocate. I don't like that the American people are made to feel stupid so that we will pay others to do things for us. From basic car repairs to making tortillas, you are probably more capable than you give yourself credit for.

As I learned more of the nitty-gritty, and reread the book a few more times, I got better and better at living on a small budget. In the book that was written over a decade ago, she said that some people do need to make more money, that raising a family on $20,000 per year just isn't going to work. With her help, I have proven her wrong.

There are several things I disagree with her about, and I generally won't write about her unless it is to show something I have discovered that I disagree with her on. If I wrote everything I agreed with her on, that would quickly turn into plagiarism. The principles she has taught me have changed my life, and I am thankful. Has the Tightwad Gazette, or another frugal book, changed your life?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to do Alfalfa Sprouting

I have been wanting to try sprouting for a while, but I couldn't find alfalfa seeds anywhere. I was looking in garden stores, and every place, seemingly, where seeds are sold. One of my readers suggested Whole Foods. Duh. I had to get an associate to help me, but I finally found alfalfa seeds near the bulk bins.

$12.99 per pound.

Our produce rule is we generally won't pay over $1 per pound. So, I bought 0.02 pounds for $0.26. So, I am hoping for four ounces of sprouts. (To see any photos in color, click on them.)

I am going by the sprouting guide from The Farm. The first step is to take two or three tablespoons and look them over. Well, we only got maybe two teaspoons, so that is what we are working with. She suggests spreading them on a plate to check for stones.

The guide then suggests straining them in a strainer, but these seeds are too tiny, so I skip a step and put them in my jar. I cover them with about two inches of water.

Cheesecloth is suggested from the guide, but I used any old loosely woven material. I also picked out something pretty. It's going to be on my kitchen table for several days, so why not make it pretty? Also, if it's pretty, my eye will be more drawn to it and I will be more likely to follow each step each day. So, take out a small piece of loosely woven fabric, cover the jar, and tighten it with an elastic. I actually used a pipe cleaner, as someone has broken into my stash of elastics. A hair elastic would do as well.

Day One
Put seeds in jar. Cover with water. Leave overnight.

Day Two
Morning: Pour out water. Cover seeds with water. Pour out water. I left mine upside down on my dish strainer for a few hours.
Evening: Cover seeds with water. Pour out water.
Day Three
Morning: Cover seeds with water. Pour out water.
Evening: Cover seeds with water. Pour out water.

Day Four
Morning: Cover seeds with water. Pour out water.
Evening: Cover seeds with water. Pour out water.Day Five
Morning: Cover seeds with water. Pour out water.
Evening: Cover seeds with water. Pour out water. Around day five, probably midday, they seemed long enough, about an inch long. I weighed them and they were 3.25 ounces. That means they are $1.28 per pound. That's not a bad price, especially compared to store bought sprouts, which aren't nearly as fresh. We enjoyed the sprouts. The kids ate them plain. Daniel thought I was feeding them some kind of grass, but he liked it. I'm not going to sprout alfalfa seeds again, because I came across this piece of information since my sprouting experiment.

"Tests have shown that alfalfa sprouts inhibit the immune system and can contribute to inflammatory arthritis and lupus. Alfalfa seeds contain an amino acid called canavanine that can be toxic to man and animals when taken in quantity." Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon, p 113.
I have several other things I'm going to try sprouting, though, and I'll be posting about them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How to Start Home Hair Cuts

Kids seem to need more hair cuts than adults. I think it's because they have smaller heads. Their hair is growing just as fast, but it looks longer because they are smaller.
My sister was the first person whose hair I cut. My sister was the pretty one; I was the smart one. She figured that even though I was just a kid, I could cut her hair. As I said, she was not the smart one. Apparently, all it took was scissors to cut her long curly hair, and it came out fine.

I first cut Dan's hair when we were in college. We took Spring break together and I spent time with his family, then he spent time with my family. He needed a cut, so I got out the scissors and went for it. It was a little blotchy that first time, but not as bad as the time when he had tried to cut his own hair. There is always a silver lining.

The second time was better, not blotchy, but not stylish either. Now, he and I both love how his hair cuts come out.

I started cutting Daniel's hair not long after he was born, as he was born with some long hair. It looked shaggy around the ears and back from the get go. Bobby was born with less hair, and Thomas was born with very little. Still the ears and back are the places that need cutting the most. Teaching a husband how to cut women's hair is pretty simple, if you have a simple cut. Take a piece of paper, and tape it to your back so that the end of you hair is over the paper. Have your husband draw a line where the bottom of your hair touches. It should be a curved line. Then, move the paper up a few inches and have him cut along the curved line. After a few times, he won't need the paper.

I never think of a hair cut when my husband is at home, so I usually give one to myself. I generally only give myself a haircut when I realize I am tucking my hair into my skirt again. I have long hair. I pull all the hair over one shoulder and note the curve the ends make. I cut about an inch off, keeping the curve of the ends the same. Then, I pull it over the other shoulder and do the same thing. It isn't perfect, but it keeps my hair out of my skirt.

I don't actually consider this a savings, as it never occurred to me to ever pay someone to do this for me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Basic Sunday Ham Recipe

Our Sunday ham has been a tradition since we were first married. Dan's family always had Sunday ham as well. The Sunday ham has taken on different forms. For the first few years of marriage, we ate those prepackaged ham steaks, that were between $3 and $4 per pound, as that is how his parents served Sunday ham.

I then found ham butts for around $0.99 per pound from a local grocery store. They had a massive bone and were covered in skin. I had to cut it up raw into one pound increments, freeze them, and cook them in the crock pot each Sunday. Cutting it up was a real task.

Finally, I have moved to pork shoulders and call it Sunday ham. Pork shoulders have no skin and fit in the crock pot. At $1.12 per pound from Walmart, they are less work than the ham butts, but about the same cost as there is no skin and a smaller bone. It comes to about $1.40 for a meal's portion.
Depending on how big of a shoulder you can find, you have to manipulate the bone in the crock pot. I never get the biggest shoulder for this very reason.

On the Sunday that I cook the shoulder, I shove about a pound of chopped potatoes and a pound of chopped carrots down around the sides of the pork. If there's room, I like to put a halved onion in there too. All that cooks on low all day.

Ham, Potato and Carrot - $2.65
ham- $1.40
potato - $0.40
carrot- $0.70
onion- $0.15

The vegetables and some ham make that night's meal. I divide the rest of the ham into 14 ounce chunks and freeze them for future meals. For those other Sunday ham meals, I whip up some mashed potatoes and steam broccoli.

Ham, Potato, and Broccoli -$2.30
ham- $1.40
potato- $0.40
broccoli- $0.50

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thomas Quincy's Birth Story

"No one questions that labor and birth can be physically painful experiences for many women. Less well known is the fact that some women in all cultures have labors that are essentially painless."
- Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, p. 150

On Friday, I had my bloody show, but no real contractions.

On Saturday, more bloody show, and a few contractions each hour. They seemed to be coming closer together.

On Sunday, around 1 am, the contractions were about eight minutes apart and were strong. I called the midwives, who started their two hour trek, and I called the babysitting crew, my step-mom and step-sister. When the midwives arrived, they sent everyone to bed. I had to sleep sitting up, as laying down made the contractions excruciating.

I had one of those nights where I woke up for the peak of each contraction, but was able to sleep in between. In the morning, the midwives checked my dilation. I was one centimeter. One centimeter? After all that!

Everyone went home. I continued keeping rough track of my contractions, which slowed back down to a few an hour. My step-mom and Dad came over for the afternoon. My dad connected so well with my boys that we decided to add him to the babysitting team.

Dan worked second shift on Sunday and we went to bed late.

Around 2 am, the contractions started up again. I went to the couch to be upright. After an hour or so, I made Dan write down the times of each contraction. By 8 am, they were five minutes apart. I called my primary midwife who was able to listen through a contraction. She had the secondary midwife call me, who confirmed I was in real labor, and they, with the student midwife, once again started their two hour trek and arrived around 10:30 am. The babysitting crew, my step-mom, Tara, step-sister, Emily, and Dad, also came over.

The rest of the morning went fast. The baby sitting crew took Bobby for a walk. One of the midwives went and read in her car so there was less commotion. Everyone was kind of continually coming in and out.

It became clear that sitting was the best position for me. Standing made the contractions painful and laying down made them excruciating. The student midwife told me that I want to be in different positions, even though some are more painful. I could not bear lying down, so I took a shower, where I was forced to stand. I then alternated standing and sitting. I stood behind Dan and swayed back and forth through each contraction, clinging to him.

At one point, one of the midwives told me that all I could feel was the pressure, that there was no other feeling besides a strong sensation of pressure. For most of my contractions, this was true, even when I stood, if I focused on it.

With each contraction, I made a throaty "aaaaaaa" sound. The midwives thought I was singing, and they sang with me, which I found funny.

Dan, Daniel and I went for a walk with a midwife and the student midwife. We only got about a block and a half away before I started to feel very uncomfortable about being so far from home. It felt like every few steps, I had to stop, lean on Dan and sway back and forth through a contraction.

When we got back to the apartment, one of the midwives commented that with such powerful contractions and with them one on top of the other, the baby would be coming soon. I was thinking, these contractions aren't that bad, I hope the baby still comes soon.

We talked about checking my dilation again, which I was all for, except I had to lie down. I was six centimeters, and the baby's head was engaged low in the pelvis.

Things continued like this for a while. My primary midwife found a technique that really helped me get through the contractions. She would say positive, affirming statements and I would repeat them during the contractions.

At some point, my "aaaaaaaa" turned into "oooooooo" or maybe more of "aaaaawe". The midwives picked up on this, and told me I would be feeling the urge to push shortly. They wanted to check my dilation again, which showed I was about seven or eight centimeters and the baby's head was further in the pelvis. They became worried that the head being so low was preventing me from dilating fully. They were also concerned as they knew I was going to want to push soon and was not fully dilated.

They talked about the possibility of breaking the waters to get the dilating going more. They really don't like breaking waters, but prefer letting waters break on their own. I insisted they break my waters, as the baby was clearly in the right position, and I just needed to finish dilating. So, they did. In retrospect, I'm not sure this was the right decision. I just don't know.

Then, they had me go through some contractions on all fours. The student midwife gave me an herbal tincture to put under my tongue that would help me to dilate. Being on all fours was not my favorite, but not the worst either. The worst was what came next.

They wanted me to take a shower with Dan. I was a little uncomfortable with that with everyone in the apartment. They said us being close together would stimulate hormones to get the cervix dilated all the way. They said we could snuggle on the bed alone together instead. We had talked about making out during contractions, and had tried it before everyone got to our apartment and making out really does make you feel better during contractions. So we tried that in bed. But by now, I was in transition, which is painful anyway, and I was laying down, so making out did not relieve the pain at all. I screamed and screamed and Dan held me. Finally, after four contractions like that, I yelled that I couldn't take it anymore and I stood up.

They checked me again and I was almost to nine centimeters. My primary midwife suggested I push while she stretched open my cervix. Well, I forced myself to push once, but then pushing sort of overtook me. If I had ever had an out of body experience, this was it. I had no control. With each contraction, my body became a pushing machine. Fifteen minutes later, Thomas Quincy was born.

My birth was not painless, but it was not full of pain, either. It was not complication free, either. Along with my tricky cervical dilation, I needed three stitches for pushing too fast. The cord was around Thomas's neck, which happens in one in four babies.

My postpartum transition has been the easiest yet. Dan took some days off of work and school. Thomas is my best breast feeder and co-sleeper. I wasn't allowed to co-sleep in the hospital with either Daniel or Bobby, and neither of them took to co-sleeping at home, although both co-nap to this day. I don't ever see myself going back to hospital births.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Menu Clarification

I think there needs to be some carification on our menu.

I have not published all of my recipes. I think recipe posts are boring. I try to make them interesting with a story and a few sarcastic quips if I can, but generally, I find them boring. I force myself to publish about two a week because I know that the food budget is where most people can cut the most.

We have a fourteen meal rotation, but several nights are pretty open. Our chicken night, quesadillas and our mac and cheese night have a lot of room for creativity. I don't know if I'll ever exhaust the recipes I can try with chicken.

This is not a rigid rotation. I just found a recipe on Hill Billy Housewife's site that I want to try. It's a rice and beans recipe. I'm always on the lookout for good rice recipes, but usually am disappointed because I don't like rice much. I'm just going to skip one of the other meals for this one. I have that freedom whenever I want it.

We go out to eat once per week on average. Sometimes it's to a sandwich shop, sometimes it's to a steak house, and occasionally, we even go to a fast food joint. I wrote a whole post about how we can afford that.

Meals get switched in and out. Just this month, two meals were replaced, one for health reasons and one because I got sick of making it. There are plenty of recipes we like that we could switch in and out anytime if we wanted to. We've had the two week rotation for several years. A friend in Quebec gave us the idea when we were on vacation; she was making fun of her mother-in-law's two week rotation and I thought her mother-in-law was brilliant. I don't remember what our rotation looked like at first, except that Sunday is always a Sunday ham, Wednesday is always chicken night, and Saturday is Mexican.

My family is not deprived, they like my food.

The other day, while I was cooking supper I realized I was real hungry. Then I remembered I had forgotten to eat since that morning, as a post partum appetite can be a little erratic. I told my husband about that after work and he was amazed. "How can you forget to eat?" he asked, "Eating is the best part of the day." He went on to explain that he bases his whole concept of time around when he gets to eat again. He has a structured eating schedule and is not a grazer like the rest of us. That's my food he's eating, that his thinking revolves around, that he is looking forward to.

If someone looks at a picture of a meal and decides they don't like it, I would consider that close minded. If someone looks at the few recipes I've published and decides my family's diet is not varied enough, I would consider that ignorant. If someone reads a few blog posts, or even the whole blog of someone who has been blogging all of ten weeks and assumes they know everything the blogger does and does not do, that person is being a little presumptuous.

I love blogging, and find it a sort of brain splat, where you get a piece of my mind every day. Sometimes you get a big chunk and really get good a glimpse of my life as a whole. Sometimes you get a detailed look at a minute section. My brain has not been exhausted, and I still have much to say. Please, don't limit me to only what I have said, for if I had said all that there was for me to say, I would have nothing left to blog about.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

We've Come Into Some Money

Don't worry, I'll keep blogging.

A few months back, we got a solicitation from our bank to join a discount club that offered discounts on things we would never buy. The first 30 days were free and we would get a $40 Walmart gift card just for trying it. We could cancel any time and keep the gift card.

We signed up, got the introductory materials and immediately cancelled. The gift card arrived in the mail this week.
We had decided that there were some things around our home that could use replacing. Here is the list we compiled:

Spatula - The plastic handle came off the metal part of the spatula. The spatula's metal stub is still long enough for it to be usable.

Cheese Grater - The plastic frame is cracked and the metal part is a little loose.

Electric Frying Pan - One leg is loose, so it needs a new screw, not to be replaced.

Dish Strainer - It's bright red and the rest of the room is neutrals. It goes with the kitchen decor in our old apartment.

Kitchen Thermometer - This is not broken, it is just something I want so I can make cheese for Christmas.

Can Opener - The plastic handle is damaged, but still usable... for now.

Plastic Mixing Bowl - The plastic is cracked on the bottom, but it doesn't leak. A metal mixing bowl would be better.

So, what did we get with our gift card?

A new cheese grater, all metal this time.

I took a mystery shop for a cooking store and got a new can opener.

The kitchen thermometer and dish strainer are on my birthday list.

Everything else has some life left in them, and they are not ready to be thrown away or replaced. I may use this spatula until I die.

What will happen with the rest of our fortune?

Probably, we'll buy groceries with the remaining $37.20.

What would you get if you came into some money?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Natural Remedies for Flu Season

It is flu season, and the swine flu is what most of us are concerned with. It's what I'm concerned with.

My husband goes to college, but it's not filled with the usual snot nosed kids. It's a commuter college and most students are adults.

My husband works at Walmart. He is on "maintenance." That's a fancy name for a janitor. He takes out trash and cleans bathrooms. He handles the dirty stuff at Walmart. He uses lots of chemicals and washes his hands frequently, but I am still concerned.

We're an anti-vaccination family, and I know we're not the only one. Some people don't want the H1N1 vaccine because it hasn't been around long enough to be tested thoroughly. Others are skeptical about the list of ingredients. And some believe vaccines are part of a larger conspiracy to sterilize our children. Regardless, if you're not going to be vaccinated, you will still want to protect yourself.

So, here's what we do.

Wash Our Hands

This is the cheapest and most effective defense.

Raw Garlic

Garlic is anti-viral and it will stimulate your immune system. I have two sets of midwives: my birth day midwives and my local post-partum midwives. I asked both for advice about the swine flu and both said garlic will be just as effective as some of the more expensive herbal remedies. In order to get the most healing power from garlic, it needs to be consumed within 15 minutes of being chopped or crushed. I found a tip for kids and husbands: put the garlic in applesauce.

Vitamin C

Food with naturally high amounts of Vitamin C are immunity boosters and can even work as an antiviral defense. Oranges, broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes are all excellent and cheap sources of Vitamin C.


A high quality echinacea will boost your immune system to fight an infection. We always have echinacea tea on hand, but it takes much higher doses to make a difference in your immune system. This is more of an add-on for us.

There are many other remedies out there, andrographis, elderberry syrup, olive leaf extract, that you can look into. They are all more expensive than more basic herbs and remedies, so we aren't going to go that route, but they are beneficial.

Helpful Resources:
Three Herbal Healers
Foods for preventing A/H1N1 flu
How to Avoid Getting The H1N1 Flu Virus
Flu Season is Coming! Are You Ready?
7 Cheap and Natural Ways to Fight the Cold and Flu
How to Prevent H1N1 Flu Naturally
Boost Immunity and Beat H1N1 From The Inside Out

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to Make Ketchup - Cheap, Easy, Healthy Recipe

I originally found my ketchup recipe here. I've tweaked it a few times to steam line the process. I've got the taste to where my family loves it.

So, first, simmer until soft:

1 medium onion, chopped - $0.13
2 tablespoons olive oil - $0.18

When that is soft, blend it in the blender with 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar ($0.24) until smooth.

Simmer that with

1 can, 29 oz tomato puree (GV brand) - $1.08
1 can, 12 oz tomato paste (GV brand) - $0.75
1 teaspoon stevia (or 2/3 cup brown sugar) - $0.16
1/2 teaspoon salt - $0.01

I use canned tomatoes with one ingredient: tomato pulp. You can cook down fresh tomatoes to make tomato pulp, but it will take a while. Canned is way cheaper than store bought fresh tomatoes, and they are already closer to the consistency I want.

It needs to be simmered until it reaches the right thickness. I find a half hour on medium does it. It needs to be stirred, especially as it gets thicker, so that it doesn't stick to the pan. It should be refrigerated for a few hours before eating.

This doesn't taste exactly like store bought ketchup, so if you try it, you may need to tweak it to your tastes, adding either more sweetener or changing the amount of apple cider vinegar.

We didn't switch for cost, although the price is good for the amount this makes. We switched because we don't like the ingredients in store bought ketchup. My son loves this ketchup and eats it plain. I don't have a problem with him gobbling it down, as there is nothing in it that is bad for him. In fact, it's really quite healthy. (Click the picture to see color.)

I get between three and four cups from this recipe. That will vary depending on how thick you want yours. I put it in a jar and keep it in the fridge. I've never had a jar go bad, and it takes us a few months to go through it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting the Best Prices on Beef

In the past 24 hours, I have come across some amazing deals. I didn't quite know how to share them with you all, so I thought I would share them as stories. I love stories. I especially love stories about getting good deals, with the twists and turns and catches along the way. I hope you do, too.

My Beef Story

The first is a simple and less exciting story. I was at Walmart, shopping, and I found ground beef rolls at $1.09 per pound. Yes, you read that right, $1.09 per pound. The one pound rolls were $1.25, the ten pound rolls were $1.26 per pound, but the three pound rolls were $3.25 for three pounds, which is actually $1.08333 per pound.

Before everyone gets crazy saying this must be bad beef, let me explain. It has one ingredient: ground beef, the same as the ground beef you buy, unless you buy grass fed organic. It has a sell by date of October 29; I bought it on October 20. I fear Walmart is discontinuing their stock of this beef, but it is not bad beef. It is full fat beef, which is the way we want it. If we had all the money in the world, we would buy grass fed, organic, full fat beef.

My husband, when he met up with me after his shift, said I had a problem with hoarding discounted beef, because I do have a problem with hoarding discounted beef. Now we have over 70 pounds in our freezer. I bought fifteen pounds, and have been paying $1.30 for my beef, so I saved $3.25 over my regular price.

My Stevia Story

I have been looking into switching stevia brands. My brand is delicious, and a good price. It's processed naturally, and I'm quite content. But I'd heard about more concentrated stevia. I was thinking of giving it a try.

I pay $24 for 12 oz of stevia from Whole Foods. I buy NuNaturals, and that's the price that NuNaturals sells it for. This lasts around three months.

A reader alerted me to Swanson Herb selling my stevia for $14, which caught my attention, but I was still thinking I might switch and see if a more concentrated stevia would save money by lasting longer.

Another reader informed me that my stevia was on sale for $14 at Amazon. Well, with all my swagbucks Amazon gift cards, I thought that was worth seriously considering.

Then, I was told that iHerb had five pounds on sale for $44.99. This is where the story gets good. To buy five pounds from Whole Foods would have cost me $160. To buy it at Swanson's discount price from their website or from Amazon would have cost $93.33. So, I checked out iHerb.

Yep, there it was, five pounds for $44.99. I did a swagsearch for "iHerb coupon code" because you must always do that when shopping online. Retailmenot had one for $5 off your first order and free shipping on orders over $40.

Ah, the catch!

After the $5 was taken off, my order was $39.99 so I did not qualify for free shipping! They must have something for a penny, right? So, I went to their home page and saw a free sample section. They had a ton of stuff, booklets, sample packs of herbs, and pens. The first of any item was free, but you were charged for multiples. The pens were the cheapest, $0.15, so I took two, bringing my order to $40.14. I qualify for free shipping again! I also got some booklets and other samples; I couldn't resist.

Total Savings Over Whole Foods: $119.86

Total Savings Over Amazon/Swanson: $53.19

Lisa, who told me about the Swanson deal, I hope you're not reading this too late. Sometimes it's good to get the smaller package first to make sure you like it, though.

Tammy, big thanks for telling me about Amazon and iHerb!

For me, amazing deals are thrilling stories.

Have you found any amazing deals lately?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to Make Whole Wheat Pasta From Scratch - Cheap and Easy Recipe

I decided to write a pasta tutorial. I love pasta. I've just switched out my failing baked bean experiments with a beloved pasta dish in my two week menu rotation. That means that we have pasta roughly six times per month. I make whole wheat pasta for $0.24. I found whole wheat pasta at the store for $1.50; it may be less with coupons and sales. So I save $7.56 per month making my own pasta, and $90.72 in a year. That's a lot of dough for pasta.

My pasta tastes better than store bought whole wheat pasta because I use whole white wheat, and store bought is usually whole red wheat.

And it is so simple.

I start with a three to one ratio of flour and water.

1 1/2 cups flour -$0.24

1/2 cup water - $0

In the past, I suggested that you add a tablespoon of water to that 1/2 cup of water, but that may have been bad advice. After I mix the 3:1 ratio, my dough is flaky, and not all of the flour can be mixed in. I need more water, and end up adding a tablespoon. (Click on pictures to see the colored versions.)

I would recommend mixing the flour and water, and seeing where you are, then adding a teaspoon of water at a time until you get to the right consistency, which is a hard ball of dough, not flaky, and not sticky.

Now I like a thicker textured pasta, rigatoni or medium shells. The consistency of angel hair makes me want to throw up. You may feel the opposite. However thick you like your pasta determines how much you have to roll it. I divide my dough in half and roll it. If you want it thinner, divide your dough into three or four parts and roll it thinner.

So, to roll, start by flouring your rolling surface.

Then roll out the dough with a rolling pin.

I cut it into strips. If you want spaghetti or linguine, you can leave it as strips. A pizza cutter is the best tool for this.

I then cut the strips short into noodles. I don't aim for perfection.

Here is the whole batch in the pot.

Cover with water, put lid on pot and boil. It took fifteen minutes from the time I put the noodles and water on the stove until the pasta was done.

Check to see if it's done by tasting it. If it is still chewy in the middle, it needs more time. When it is done, it will have the same consistency as store bought pasta.

Then, you will have pasta to do with what you please.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why We Are Not Part of The Quiver Full Movement

We are not part of the quiver full movement. We have never gone to any meetings, nor met anyone else who considers themselves to be a part of the quiver full movement.

Wikipedia describes the quiver full movement adherents as those whose "viewpoint is to receive children eagerly as blessings from God, eschewing all forms of birth control, including natural family planning and sterilization"

Okay, yeah, we do believe that. But we signed on to that idea, not through a movement of other like minded people. It was quite the opposite in fact.

Before we were married, we were planning on limiting our family to five kids. We had names picked out for three girls and two boys months before my husband even proposed.

Before our wedding, we had premarital counseling. We read The Home by John R. Rice as a study guide with our pastor. Our pastor had selected chapters for us to read as assignments and then we were to come back and discuss. He omitted the chapter on birth control, where John R. Rice outlines his position against birth control.

Our pastor was pro birth control and said that if we didn't use it, we'd have too many kids. We remember him also saying he wished he had more, as his three were starting to head off to college.

True rebels that we were, we read the chapter on birth control. Some of the information was culturally dated, but the Bible verses were compelling, especially the one about the "quiver full."

"Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate." -Psalm 127:3-5
Since this time, God has instilled a desire in my husband and I to have a large family. At first, it was a little frightening, trusting him with this, but now it is thrilling. We are confident that he is far wiser than we are and is fully capable of making the right decision for us about how many children we have.

We have met a few other like-minded families. I connected deeply with a mother of eight in her her late thirties. She was a mentor to me, and I adored each of her kids. Another was a family with one adopted daughter. They couldn't have their own, and because they were honest about some of their beliefs, they weren't allowed to adopt more. A friend that Dan grew up with has been unable to have any children. He is in his late twenties, as Dan is, and is surprised not to have children after several years of marriage, but is still trusting God. Then, there is the family with three boys, aged nineteen, fourteen and nine.

We are like-minded even though our families look different. We are all letting god decide how many children we get and when we get them. It can be heart wrenching at times, and scary to trust God, but we are confident he knows better than we do.

Is this frugal?

Yes and no. The more kids you have, the lower the cost per kid, but overall, the cost is higher.

Should every Christian do this?

Yes and no. My husband and I err on the side of trusting God. I often think it would be nice if all Christians believed the same thing, but what I mean is that it would be nice if all Christians believed the same thing as me. I believe I am right doctrinally, but God, every once in a while, does change my view on this or that, so I guess I wasn't that right after all. I guess what I'm saying is that born again, Bible believing Christians don't agree on everything, and it's not my job to change that, it is the Holy Spirit's. It's my job to testify about what God has done in my life through his word and his Spirit.

Is this green?

Again, yes and no. We are going to instill in our kids our values to conserve, not be wasteful, and use alternative energy when possible. Each kid will have a smaller than average "carbon footprint" but our family as a whole will probably have an averaged size "carbon footprint."

For our family, being green is a matter of obedience to God, as it is being good stewards of his gifts and resources. Both trusting God with our family size and being good stewards are secondary to our main goal in life, which is serving, worshipping, and knowing our God.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Basic Bartering Tips

I met Sara when I moved into our old apartment in the mountain region of Maine. She was our first floor neighbor and I took her parking spot. We didn't have assigned parking or anything, but she wasn't too happy with me.

When I was pregnant with my first, her daughter was pregnant with her first. Sara often sat on the front steps smoking and would ask me about my pregnancy when I went to run errands. She would also update me on her daughter's pregnancy.

One day, after her car had broken down, she needed a ride to the hospital. It wasn't an emergency or anything. She had a doctor's appointment. We lived down the street from the hospital. It was an uphill climb, and Sara is overweight. She also has breathing problems due to her weight and smoking. So, I took her up on my way somewhere else.

Knowing that she didn't have a vehicle, I would ask her when I went to the store if she wanted to come with me. She often did. She told me everything about what was going on in her life and her daughters' lives. She adored my husband Dan, and desperately wanted him to be her son-in-law. She got a little cheated in the son-in-law department, or at least that's what she'll tell you. Her grand babies' dad is in jail.

When I had my first baby, Daniel, she would take care of him while I brought up groceries. I was on the third floor; she was on the first. This turned into her babysitting when we did teen ministries at church, including some overnight events, or when Dan and I went on dates, and even when I just wanted to run a few errands alone.

At some point she started to take the car alone to doctor's appointments and to run errands.

It was a system of deep trust and reliance, trading a car for babysitting. Some people were in awe that we would trust someone with our car. I was more in awe that I found someone that I could trust with my kid.

Sara is the same age as my mother, but she wasn't exactly a mother figure to me. Sometimes it almost seemed the other way around. We have lived very different lives, yet she is one of my best friends.
This is the only real example of bartering we have done. We both felt like we were getting the better end of the deal. She loves my son, and my son pretends to talk to her on the phone all the time. She also loved my car, and took care of it like her own. Sara and I are still dear friends. She wants to come and help with the new baby soon, and is glad to be featured on my blog. She had a list of suggestions about what stories I should tell about her, most involving odd ways she has gotten money.

The relationship we have is far more valuable to both of us than the bartering and the bartering would not have worked had that not been true.

Have you done any kind of bartering?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can You Make Money Blogging? - Month Two

It is my two month blog anniversary. I think a monthly blogging update will become regular. To read first month's anniversary post, check out Can You Make Money Blogging? It goes over why I got started and how much I made in that first month.

I want to reveal a little more of why I got started, because why is so important. My husband and I moved to where we are now to be closer to his school. We moved without a job lined up. He was getting $1200 per month in his old job. Our apartment was $400, utilities included, and we had one kid.

When we moved, I had just had our second kid. Our new apartment was $600 and my husband's job, at that time, was bringing in about $900. I was offered a job I could do with my kids and worked for the first few months. I was breastfeeding, but my baby was slowly needing more and more formula. He was being weaned. I was horrified when I realized what I had done, so around the New Year, I quit, wanting to build up my milk production. It was then we realized we were pregnant again. I wasn't going to go back to work, so, I started looking over our budget.

I have worked passionately since then to cut our budget further and further. I have learned a lot about living on a small budget, and I have a lot to say about it. So, two months ago, I started a blog. Earning money wasn't the sole focus of this blog; sharing my ideas was. But I wanted to see if I could earn money blogging.

So, how have I done this month?

Amazon referrals: $3.35
Swagbucks: 1040 bucks, or about $115.00 in gift cards
Adsense: $96.97

For swagbucks, if anyone has a blog out there, promote swagbucks. Their referral program is amazing. For everyone who signs up and uses swagbucks, they match you their first 100 search and win swagbucks. I didn't know it was such a sweet deal when I recommended it. I thought I would get some kind of a sign up bonus. You get nothing off of a referral that doesn't use it, you get nothing past the first 100 swagbucks, and you don't benefit if your referrals refer others. The Amazon gift cards are going to go a little to Christmas, but mostly to my husband's school books for next semester.
For those of you who don't know, swagbucks is a search engine that pays you back a part of the profit they get when you search. I wrote a whole post about it, Everyone Should Use Swagbucks.

Adsense has done real good, too. Next month I'll be getting a payout, which you need $100 for. That will be going directly into savings, which has been depleted from the midwifery expenses.

I only use an Amazon promotional link on something I own and use myself, and actually recommend other people buying. I prefer using Adsense and swagbucks, as I earn without you spending, and with swagbucks, we earn together.

My blog has grown in publicity, although I have halted putting my name out there as I once did. I've discovered my blog on many blogrolls and am tickled to find a few reviews about myself. Here are some of my favorite reviews:

Dogfood Provider referred to me as "real renegade".
The Art of The Take Down gave an amusing and pretty balanced view of my perspective.

So, can you make money blogging? Absolutely. The growth of this blog has astounded me, and it has been a challenging juggle with my family and regular routines. I still love doing it, and have plenty of unpublished ideas, so I have no plans to stop soon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Simple, Frugal Calzone Recipe - Can Be Made in CrockPot!

Yes, hot pockets. I had never tried hot pockets until we were married. They certainly lived up to my expectation of them, but my husband loved them. I used to get them for him as an occasional lunch treat. But they are around $2 for two small pockets, so there is no way I am going to buy them now. So, I made them.

I started with my tortilla recipe.

2 cups whole white wheat flour - $0.32
3/4 teaspoons salt - $0.03, if that
1/4 cup shortening - $0.25
1/2 cups water - $0

Mix all of the ingredients together. I divided this into four, as I wanted the crust a little thicker than a tortilla. I rolled each into a circle. Then I smeared them with tomato sauce, making sure I left space around the edges.

12 oz can GV tomato paste - $0.75
12 oz can filled with water - $0
1 tablespoon chopped garlic - $0.09
1 tablespoon oregano - $0.06
1/4 teaspoon stevia - $0.04
4 oz peppers and onions - $0.25

But I didn't use the whole batch, I used about a half of the recipe, $0.60, saving the rest in the fridge for convenient future use.

I fried up a half pound of my homemade sausage, $0.53, and divided that onto half of the tortillas. I added an ounce of cheese to each one as well, $0.50

Then, I folded the tortilla over and scrunched the edges together.

Four of these took an hour in the crock pot on high, so they would take maybe twenty minutes in the oven at 350. I had to stack my cake pans, just as I did in crock pot dehydration. I would call these calzones, but for my husband, they are hot pockets, because that makes him happy.

hot pocket 023

I am thinking they will replace red hot dog night on our menu rotation. I was stuffed after one, as was my husband. The kiddos split one. That leaves one for my husband's lunch. They could also be made in advance and frozen.

(To see the color versions of these photos, click on them.)

UPDATE: A wise reader tested the recipe in the oven and it took about 30 minutes at 450 degrees, not 20 minutes as I suggested.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How To Make Ricotta Cheese, Simple Recipe

Ricotta cheese is the easiest cheese to make.

I made this for lasagna. I used everything from my Pasta and Tomato Sauce recipe, just adding the ricotta and some cheese. I cut the pasta differently, into big squares, instead of little noodles. Turning Pasta and Tomato Sauce into lasagna brings it up to about $4.00, instead of $2.49, so I don't do it often. It is also more work. But it is one of my husband's favorites, so we occasionally do it in lieu of our the more basic meal.

I'm a little stingy on the ricotta, as I think it doesn't add much to the lasagna, but the mozzarella cheese I add generously. If you love ricotta, you might want to double this recipe.

Heat on low on the stove for ten minutes.

3 cups of milk - $0.48

Add 1/3 cup vinegar (maybe $0.05), and let heat for another ten minutes.

This is a picture of milk curdling. I'm not sure it is more appetizing in color, but if you click on it, you can see. Anyway, see how the milk is separating from the clear liquid around the edges? That's the idea. If the liquid is milky and not clear, add a few more tablespoons of vinegar, like three, and let it heat for ten more minutes.

Now, take a strainer and put some thin cheese cloth or cheese cloth like linen in it. Coffee filters will do, but you'll need a couple. The liquid is whey, which is good for milk in some recipes and also good for lacto-fermenting grains, if you do that (which I often do, but that is a whole other post). If you want to save it, put a large bowl underneath to catch the whey when you strain the curds.

The curds will need to be rinsed so that they don't taste like vinegar. Then, salt the curds. The curds are the ricotta cheese. I originally got this recipe from the Hillbilly Housewife, although she does hers with powdered milk. She has some amazing frugal recipes and tips, in case you haven't checked her out.