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Sounds strange, I know, but I had 1.5 lbs. of honey that had started to crystallize and needed to do something with it, so I decided to brew some cough syrup. I scooped the honey out into an enamel pot, added one chopped, strong white onion, and two cold care tea bags from my ample tea supply. It’s been cooking over low heat for the past four hours. I’ll check it again before bed to see if enough of the juice from the onions has reduced for it to be strained and ready for bottling. Once it’s cooled, I’ll add some echinacea/goldenseal extract to it. I find the syrup to be handy for coughs and that under-the-weather feeling during cold season. You can make it with just onion and honey or even garlic and honey for a soothing simple syrup, or you can add more herbal ingredients for whatever cold symptoms plague you most. If you cook it down to a very thick syrup, you can either pour it into candy molds or pour it out on a silicone mat, let it cool, score it into pieces after half an hour, and have your own homemade lozenges. I may go down and add some fennel fronds to mine just for flavor here in a bit.
There was a local produce sale at my neighborhood store, so I went over to check it out and came home with some nice hot and sweet peppers, onions, and corn. I made some salsa with the peppers and onions and some tomatoes I had on hand from the CSA delivery. Tomorrow I’m taking some to share with a friend when I go to visit her. I might make and can some fennel onion relish in the morning before I leave. I haven’t done nearly as much canning as I’d have liked this summer and I’m feeling inspired after my parents brought several jars of home-canned salmon to me when they came to pick up my daughter for the week.
I plan to do a lot of cooking and preserving while she’s away. Mostly to keep myself from missing her so much, but also to have a head-start on easy meals for when she goes back to school. I’m going to prepare muffin batter and freeze it in the paper liners so that I can bake them the night before for an easy homemade breakfast when served with sliced fruit and a glass of milk. I also want to stuff potatoes to freeze for quick and easy dinners, as well as freezing plenty of soups, stocks, and pesto. I’ve also had more apples drying so that we have plenty for school snacks. I might do some pears as well for variety.
I’ve spent much of today pondering my attraction to the slow lifestyle. What makes a woman with ready access to all manner of urban conveniences go out of her way to make as much of her own stuff as possible? A large part of it is quality. I can be a quality snob and yet I’m still a pennypincher, so it’s always made the most sense to me to do as many things as I was capable of myself so that I would be pleased with both quality and price. I’m also a perpetual student. I love to learn new things and, since science and history are two of my favorite subjects, learning how to do things the old-fashioned way or knowing why it is that a certain process works is very satisfying. I’m also not someone who has an easy time sitting still, so the handicrafts give me a way to sit a spell and still get something done. Do a granny square a day on the bus and pretty soon you have a blanket. I prefer to use my time doing things that are either very useful or make me very happy, even better when I can combine the two. Last, and one that has become so important to me since becoming a mother, the projects that I do relax me and give me a creative outlet. Sure, it can be a pain to have to come home after a long day to make a loaf of bread for the next day’s lunches, but once I start working the dough and get into that rhythm, it seems like so many of my cares just fall away and, by the time I’m pulling the loaf out of the oven, I’m calm and happy again.
I like this slower pace. Americans spend so much time dashing around that we forget about the small pleasures of life, the little things that make a big impact and bring us happiness and contentment – that’s why so many of us are sick and stressed out. An hour in my little garden or in my kitchen is worth a dozen psychiatrists and personal trainers. And now that I’ve done some research on various DIY topics and put them into practice, I’m more conscious of my impact on the world around me, how the choices I make affect others not only in my immediate neighborhood, but around the world. Sometimes I make it a game to see how I can reduce my impact even more. What else can I make or do differently?
Believe it or not, for all of my ambitious tendencies, I’ve spent much of today relaxing with a crochet project and a selection of documentaries, getting up to stir a pot or move dishes and clothes around, then back to my yarn. I love days like these. I made a big, delicious glass of apple/carrot/beet/spinach juice about midday with some yogurt on the side, then had a delicious dinner of soft polenta with fresh tomatoes, mixed mushrooms, fresh basil, and roasted garlic while I listened to Haydn on the radio. It’s like a vacation without leaving home.
The weather was very mild today, the perfect day to do heavy work in the garden. I clipped the dead stems from the bunching onions, top-dressed them with compost from the worm bin, and re-seeded the soil since only one flower was produced this summer and there were bare spots between. We really love our green onions, they’re so nice to have and so easy to maintain all year long.
I have a hanging terra cotta pot sculpted to resemble a face. It used to have a thyme plant in it, but the finches laid waste to that earlier this year when they were looking for nesting materials. I decided to try it as a planter for chives, so I removed the soil that was in it and worked in some compost, then refilled the pot and seeded it before moving on to prepare a pot for bush basil that I’m planning to start outside in this nice weather and bring in as a window plant when the weather turns cold. Fresh basil in November would be a treat.
After puttering around out there a bit more, I washed up and went to the store to get dog food, check the clearance bins, and purchase a beautiful mint plant that I’d seen while walking by the day before. It’s nothing fancy, just common mint, but it’s big and abundant and needed a home with me – it was calling to me. I’m trying to decide which planter to put it in. Once it’s established it needs some trimming because it was allowed to get very leggy and unkempt; besides, trimming it should make it bush out a bit and fill a pot. It has some lovely flower spikes on it.
The clearance bins yielded canned salmon, diced green chilies, and whole grain pilaf – not a bad little haul. I bought a few other essentials, then carried my loot home. The people at the grocery store always look at me like I’m crazy when I ask them to try to divide things up evenly between the bags because I’m on foot. “But this is so heavy!,” the courtesy clerk said as he was handing me my reusable bags today. It really wasn’t bad, probably 30 lbs. divided between two bags. Are people really so soft that carrying 30 lbs. a few blocks is considered near-impossible? That just seems strange to me. I mean, I was happy to set it down when I walked through the door but I wasn’t in pain or gasping for air or anything like that.
We ate leftover lentils and rice for dinner with banana-orange-pineapple smoothies for dessert. Yum! Since then I’ve been sitting, nursing a bit of a low back ache from bending and stooping so much today. I’m making an afghan for my clerk because she got married a few weeks ago. A lovely scrap afghan made from Lion Brand Homespun in a variety of colors. I like how it’s shaping up; it looks nice and it’s so soft. I recently finished an embroidered dresser scarf for my daughter and I’m now making one for myself. The same daisy pattern but in different color schemes to match our personalities: her daisies in variegated purples with vivid yellow, green, and blue; mine in white with softer yellow, green, and red. Not sure what my next projects will be, but I’m trying to make a serious dent in my embroidery thread and yarn collections. It’s kind of a challenge to see what I can do with what I have here already. I may end up making more home decor items to gift in an effort to use up the low-end acrylic yarns I have in abundance from my thrift store purchases. I should do some more charity crochet, too, because I have some baby yarns. Make hats and booties for the pediatric hospital that saved my daughter when she had pneumonia a few years ago.
Productive today and more to do tomorrow. Hopefully my back cooperates.
After going through my daughter’s clothing while cleaning her room, I realized that we were giving over half of it to the thrift stores because she has grown so much over the summer. I plan to do some more sewing for her but the need for pants and shirts was truly more than I could sew since I’m still learning machine sewing. Then I remembered that I had a coupon for Value Village that gave me $50 off of a $100 purchase. That’s a deal, especially considering that I can usually buy at least three times as much children’s clothing at a thrift store than I can at a chain department store for the same amount of money. Today was no exception, I was able to buy several pairs of pants, tops, and an insulated vest for her – every piece of it from high quality labels. Now all she needs are school supplies, a winter coat, and maybe a pair of gym shoes to be school-ready.
I was also able to buy a few lightweight tops and a skirt for myself, two large pieces of fabric (one a light flannel perfect for lining winter clothes or patch quilting, the other a medium-weight stretch knit for pajamas, shirts, or sports wear), and some books for my daughter and I. And we got all of that for $60. I wonder how much non-thrifty parents spend on their children’s school wardrobes each year. I really have no idea because it’s so rare for me to buy something that isn’t secondhand or on sale. I tend to shop ahead, too, buying clothes out of season and a bit larger than she currently wears so that she can grow into them in the right season. About the only things I buy new for her are socks, underwear, shoes, and coats – but even those I tend to buy on sale whenever possible. I try not to pay full retail price for anything if I can help it.
Still working away at the pillowcase dress. I might cheat and use strips of fusible bonding material to attach the hem decoration instead of stitching so that she can wear it sooner than not. The weather is quite hot here and I know she’d be comfortable in her cool, cotton pillowcase dress. I just need to finish the second bias tape ribbon tie.
I also had a chance to stop at a fabric store to pick up some machine thread for future projects. I had a 20% off an entire purchase coupon (I’m willing to sign up for newsletters if they yield such bargains) so I was able to save $13.00 on six large spools of thread, more tailor’s pencils (including a pencil that marks on dark fabrics, a decorative iron-on for a blank t-shirt my daughter has, a remnant of polar fleece that is large enough to make a hat, vest, and scarf, maybe even some mittens for my daughter, and an ironing mat since I have yet to figure out where I could hang an ironing board around here without it being in the way.
If I finish the dress tomorrow, I may spend some time cutting pieces for the capri pants and tank top pattern I have for my daughter. I forgot to buy lining fabric at the craft store because I was a bit bedraggled from heat and hunger or I’d start in on the vest and shorts set she’s in love with. I’ve never tried making a lined garment before; I think it will be an interesting challenge. I hope to keep improving my sewing skills because my daughter is eager to learn as well and I would love to teach her and learn more with her. She and I need to work at our knitting skills some more, too, we’re at about the same level there still.
Tomorrow is about cooking and laundry. But tonight is about snuggling, sewing, and watching movies with a bowl of air-popped popcorn together.
With the financial difficulties we’ve faced in the past year, we’ve eaten quite a ways into our food storage and, as things slowly stabilize, I’ve been trying to rebuild our supplies.
Today a routine trip to the grocery store yielded a few finds: Clif bars for a dollar each, organic granola from the close-out bin, whole grain pasta, and Tasty Bites pouched meals for less than two dollars a box. All good things to have in dry storage. I was hoping to find some canned goods. Maybe next trip will yield more finds.
The card table I’m currently using to hold my sewing machine is problematic because of wobbliness. It’s also not good for cutting, so I need to keep my eyes open for something sturdier with enough space to cut and piece. I have some cute patterns for children’s clothes that I’d like to make for my daughter before school starts again.
Came home, turned the remaining Easter eggs into egg salad for lunches for the next few days and made a loaf of whole-grain bread to put it on. I have some crochet projects to work on and fabric to strip for rugmaking, but first I have to wade through take-home work from the office because if I put it off and go do fun, creative things, I just won’t get to it.
This summer looks like it will be offering some camping opportunities and that means I need to start window shopping for a bit more gear. Now, I am decidedly not a gear freak. I have a good knife, compass, binoculars, a frighteningly large tent (it can sleep up to eight), a sleeping bag, and a camp stove, but I really could use a sleeping pad and a lightweight cookware set at the very least. A new daypack and some better hiking shoes would be wonderful, too. I’d like to spend a lot more of this summer outdoors, hiking and camping, getting in great shape in case someone wants to go snowshoeing next winter. I would love to take another crack at the Ikenick Loop, it was so beautiful up there.
I was talking with my dad about going out fishing and clamdigging with he and my mom this year, which would be fun that potentially provides food – even better. I also want to connect with local people who might want to hit farmer’s markets and u-pick places for maximum canning opportunities while the produce is cheap and abundant. I put up a lot of apple and pear products last fall, but I think I’d like to do my canning in smaller batches more often than doing the exhaustive, large-scale preserving (unless I have plenty of helpers).
It was absolutely beautiful here today. Sunny and warm but not too hot. I spent the morning and a bit of the afternoon in the garden. I prepped a half-barrel planter that is going to become my tomato and basil garden later this summer, breaking up the dirt with my shovel, working in some aged compost from the worm bin and half of a brick of coconut fiber to loosen the soil. I think I still have the other half of that old vinyl table cloth to use as groundcover when I put the plants in. I also put in strawberry slips to replace the ones that were killed by a heavy mid-spring hailstorm a few weeks ago. I planted marigold seeds in a pot, mostly for color since I love marigolds, but we can use the petals in salads and skin salves, too. The last thing I did was plant chive seeds in the half-barrel that holds my sage, thyme, and rosemary. One of my hoity-toity gourmet loves is chive blossom vinegar. It’s gorgeously pink and full of vibrant flavor, great for splashing on summer salads. To make chive blossom vinegar, you gather a big handful of chive blossoms, wash them, and put them in a clean jar, then you heat white wine vinegar to just under a boil; pour it over the blossoms and let it steep a few days in the refrigerator until the vinegar takes on vivid color and the pleasantly mild onion taste of chives.
Tonight I need to scald a seed-starting tray to start my cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. Now that I’m eating more of a whole foods diet, I may finally have enough recipes to keep up with my summer squashes.
Last month I won a bag of muesli from Bob’s Red Mill and when it arrived in the mail, it came with a catalogue. Now, Bob’s Red Mill is local to me and I love their products, but having a catalogue gives me a handy database for making a shopping list. I need to order some food-grade plastic buckets because if I can get whole grains in quantity for cooking and baking, that’s the way for me to go. I still need a grain mill for grinding my own flours, but I’m doing more and more cooking with whole grains in general and it’s much cheaper to buy it in quantity from the source than to pay through the nose for it in the gourmet section of the grocery store. Now I just need to find someone local who wants to make a grain pilgrimage with me.
Nature photography and more from your favorite suburban survivalist is now available at CafePress. Just a few items up now, but expect more soon since I’m currently busy designing t-shirts.
The quilting shop near my house closed. Walked by today and saw it sitting empty, which made me sad because I liked that place, they had such beautiful fabric. Four businesses have disappeared from the little shopping area near my house in less than six months. I hope my little grocery store stays open. They have so much stuff discounted to sell that it all feels a bit grim even with the good bargains we’ve managed to snatch up.
Our financial picture is also grim. I get through bills and such on a day-to-day basis and I’m looking for more corners to slash to keep all of the important stuff paid. Thankfully I have lots of food on hand so our needs there are minimal beyond fresh stuff. I’m now looking at holidays like Easter and wondering what I can make for my daughter rather than what I can buy to put in her basket. I think I’ll crochet a bunny for her and maybe some hair bands and arm warmers in bright spring colors, then I’ll bake and decorate cookies or make candy to put in her basket alongside them.
I’ve been relying a lot on online freebies, coupons, and contests to help round out the budget. Just today I got a coupon for a free bag of Riceworks rice chips and a BOGO coupon for sundaes at Baskin-Robbins. I also received a free sample of feminine hygiene supplies by mail today and a packet of liquid foot powder. I really don’t know how most people survive without coupons and a sharp eye for deals, especially now with money getting tighter for a lot of folks.
I’ve been deep cleaning the kitchen today, scrubbing the stovetop and burner pans, clearing the counters and washing them down, trying to figure out ways to store everything and rearrange the pantry items in the cupboards. I was sick a lot this winter and busy with work and my online class, so neat and tidy my home is not but it’s a big job so I’m taking it one room at a time. One of the perils of living in a small space is that any extra thing that comes into the house can quickly become clutter, so as I’m cleaning, I’m trying to get rid of unnecessary items and bag them up for donating to a thrift store. The grocery store has a clothing drop outside and I think that I’ll make use of it by putting aside clothing in a special bag to haul over there.
My reusable bags from the store are all starting to come apart. Shoddy workmanship and materials – so I’m going to make some new ones. I have a bunch of odds and ends of wool yarn that I might mix with jute twine to make market baskets and string bags.
It’s about time to get the garden started. I’m lazy this year and I’m waiting to buy plant starts since I end up with so much surplus from seed packets. More herbs this year, I think, along with some beans, tomatoes, and a lemon cucumber plant. Maybe some greens. I want to leave enough room on my deck for the solar oven so that we can put that to use during the summer.
So much work, so little time. The only way to do it is to break it down into manageable chunks. I think I’m going to need to go buy some more big jugs of white vinegar to help with all this cleaning.
Entering sweepstakes is such a rewarding hobby. It’s what I do when I can’t sleep. And once again my insomnia has netted a wonderful prize. Northwest Mom Finds was giving away a FiFi Knitting Clutch Bag from Persnickety Knits and I won! I’ve already wound some sock yarn into balls in anticipation of getting my prize (I chose red, of course, it’s my favorite color). It will be so nice to have something fancier to carry my small crochet and knitting projects in than a plastic grocery bag.
I was excited to come home the other day and find that the books I’d won from Bookloons had arrived. I won copies of Rock Bottom: A Novel, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, and Beat the Reaper: A Novel. New books just when I was almost through everything I had on the shelf (in addition to my weekly library finds). I’m a voracious reader, so books are always a welcome treat.
My fella and I went out on a rare date for Valentine’s Day. In keeping with our agreement to spend money on doing things rather than buying things, we went to the Portland Art Museum to see the current exhibition of Rococo paintings. It was really fun. For all of my practicality, I deeply love art. I confess, though, that I’m far more impressed by beautiful everyday objects like decorated combs and dishes and pitchers than I generally am by paintings and sculptures. I like architecture a lot, too. Beauty and function working in harmony. And it always makes me happy to see things that have survived the centuries, it makes the biographies and history books I devour that much more vivid in my mind.
Then we took some books in to trade at Powell’s Books. I was concerned that they’d take fewer trades given the current economy and I was right. There were lots of people there looking to trade and I ended up only selling about a quarter of the books I’d brought in where usually I can get rid of more than half. I imagine, though, that lots of people are selling off books and movies in an attempt to either trade for new or make some spare cash. I did end up with $19 in store credit, though, and I was able to pick up a copy of Crochet Bags!: 15 Hip Projects for Carrying Your Stuff which has a few designs that I love, especially their version of a string shopping bag. Very cute and practical and not bulky so that I could toss a bunch of them into my backpack when I go to the store or the farmer’s market. There’s also an evening bag, a little wristlet, that I’d love to make for those times when you go to a party or formal event and just want to take the bare minimum (which, for me, still generally includes a pocket knife unless I know they screen for such things at the door). Plus there’s still some credit on my store card for the next time I need a quick gift for someone or a reference book for myself.
My experience selling books today has me looking into websites where I can sell as a used book seller on a small scale, mostly using it to go through the books and media that my daughter has outgrown or that I just no longer use. I’m going to do some more research to see what my options are, but this could be a nice little income stream that also helps me clean out my home.
We had a forgettable lunch at a Greek cafe today. Not bad but bland, Greece’s vibrant cuisine – it’s truly one of my favorites – dulled down to fast food quality. The dolmas were good, the rest was just sustenance. But we went to Moonstruck Chocolatiers for hot cocoa and a mocha later, so my inner foodie was sated with a Creamy Malted Caramel Hot Cocoa, which was fantastic.
A rare day out but much needed and much appreciated. There are times to be frugal and times to treat oneself. I think that it is indeed better to spend your spending money on having fulfilling experiences than buying useless clutter and, unless you’re buying necessary supplies and equipment, so many things are just clutter, which I’m avidly trying to cut out of my life. As we progress into spring, I’m going to be paring down more and more because what I need most and have the least of is useful working space for my various sewing, craft, and gardening projects.
I hope that you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.
Especially if your belly is full of kale chips. I got a gorgeous bunch of purple kale from my CSA this week and was poking around on the web for something new to make with one of my favorite greens when I found this recipe. I was immediately intrigued. I tore up my kale, tossed it with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and some coarse sea salt, then popped it into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. The results were as addictive as promised. Crispy, crunchy, they taste vaguely like a cross between potato chips and Veggie Booty. Next time I’d use a touch less salt but they could easily replace potato chips in my world. I’m already thinking of flavor combinations: rice vinegar and sesame oil with wasabi salt; sesame oil and Moroccan spices; hot n’ spicy; garlic and basil oil. Yum!
We took some bags of items to Value Village today. I’m sure there is plenty more to get rid of, I need to go through closets and the storage area soon. Of course we went inside to look around. I found some wool fabric for rugs and a generous amount of lavender lace fabric that might make nice princess accessories for my daughter – she wants to be a princess for Halloween and wants me to make her costume. Being a decidedly amateur machine seamstress and one heck of a devoted mommy, this feels like a challenge I should start on as soon as possible. Also found a pair of designer pants for $2, a soft and cozy sweater, a new deep-sided skillet, about $50-60 worth of brand new math manipulatives for $10, and some clothes for my rapidly growing girl.
We came home hungry, so I made homemade baked beans, cornbread, and fried potatoes served with the remnants of the mushroom gravy. Sometimes I miss that good country cooking so much. It’s nice to be able to make healthier versions of my favorite foods from childhood. We all left the table pleasantly stuffed.
Worked in the garden a bit today. Four of my strawberry plants survived the cold weather. I surrounded them with several handfuls of dead leaves to help keep the roots warm. My oregano, marjoram, one thyme plant, and the sage all succumbed to the cold, though I think the sage might come back since the base of the stems just above the ground still feel supple and green. Already my green onions and garlic greens are coming back even with the intense cold.
I’m changing my gardening scheme this year. The intense temperature extremes and wind exposure of a second story deck garden make growing most fruits and vegetables a challenge, so aside from some must-haves such as tomatoes and greens, I think I’m going to devote most of my garden space to culinary and medicinal perennial herbs. Of course I’ll make plenty of room for basil since fresh pesto is a household staple but otherwise I’m going to buy more half-barrels and large pots, then fill them with useful herbs that we’ll have for years to come: horehound, chamomile, mint, lavender, oregano, marjoram, and more.
It’s just about dandelion harvesting weather. I need to find an unsprayed area to harvest from since dandelion greens are so tasty in the late winter and early spring. Wilted with a bit of vinegar and butter, they’re so good to eat and great for you, especially after all of the heavy foods you eat in winter. I should dry plenty of the young leaves for medicinal tea, too. I also need to go find a ready supply of broadleaf plantain so that I can make some salve for chapped skin. It would be better if I could find some sweet violets to add to it, too, but I don’t currently know anyone who has them growing in their yard. I wonder if I could find some at the nursery and put a window box out front where it’s all shaded. I should look around. It would be nice to have violets for candying and salads, too.
Tomorrow I’m going to make butternut tomato soup to freeze and the weekly bread and maybe something sweet for our lunchboxes.