Spend Less on Groceries Don't Pay Regular Price

Frugal Grocery Guide Part 1: Don’t Buy at the Regular Price

Spend Less on Groceries Don't Pay Regular Price

What is the Frugal Grocery Guide?

As a newly married college student, I was baffled by the concept of the grocery budget. I wasn’t completely clueless about buying groceries; I’d learned a few things at home about which foods were more economical, and how to cook from scratch. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to stay within an allotted grocery budget. For years my family’s grocery budget varied substantially from month to month, and it always seemed to be increasing.

Finally I reached a crisis point. Our family usually lived on our previous month’s income (thank you scholarships and grants), but after graduating from college and experiencing a series of life transitions, our one-month buffer was gone. We truly were living paycheck to paycheck for the first time, and it’s not something I would ever choose to go back to! I added up the numbers and knew that unless I could cut back significantly from the grocery budget, we couldn’t pay our bills. Resignedly, I filled the slow cooker with dry beans, then sat on the floor and cried. (I really like good food, okay?)

I knew that I needed to finally wrap my head around grocery shopping so that I could keep making nutritious, tasty meals for my family, but spend less. (For the record, we didn’t live off of rice and beans those months. I don’t remember precisely how things worked out, but they did.) I read this book, put its principles into action, and continued to glean advice from online sources and more seasoned shoppers.

While I certainly haven’t perfected my grocery shopping and frugal food fixing, I am much more in control, and spending substantially less than I was two years ago. We even eat a greater portion of fresh fruits and vegetables than we used to. Now I’m going to share everything I’ve learned with you, in the sincere hope that you need never shed tears over a pot of beans. I don’t know every trick or strategy out there by any stretch of the imagination, but I hope this quick guide will help you if you need a place to start like I did. Look for a new installment each week in the Frugal Grocery Guide! Happy shopping, and more importantly, happy eating! And please, share your own grocery shopping knowledge and experience in the comment section!

Frugal Grocery Guide Part 1: Don’t Pay the Regular Price.

If you want to slash your grocery bill, resolve not to pay the regular price for food. Buy only when it is on sale. This requires the following:

Know your prices.

If you don’t know a sale price for eggs from a regular or high price, you have no buying power. You need to create a catalog, in your mind or on paper, of the prices you see each week. I know that this sounds really tedious, but it forms the foundation for smart shopping. I’m going through this process again because we just moved to a new city in a new state, with new stores. Make a list of the most common items you buy and start tracking the prices you see each time you shop. But first, look at the weekly ad and see who’s got the best price this week…

Shop a variety of stores.

No one store will have all the lowest prices, despite claims to the contrary. Often a store will have consistently low prices on certain goods—for example, I buy almost all of my spices at a store that specializes in bulk dry goods. But the meat there rarely features low prices. Even stores that are typically more expensive or present themselves as “high-end” will run loss leaders or special promotions. Loss leaders are items sold at such a low price that the store isn’t making a profit on them. They’re hoping to bring you through the doors so you’ll be tempted to buy more marked-up groceries. Case lot sales are another opportunity to buy in bulk for extra savings.

You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the common prices and marketing styles of your local stores. Know who usually has the best prices on canned goods, pantry items, meat, and produce, who runs great promotions and case lot sales, and who advertises the sharpest loss leaders.

Stores draw on our love of convenience, and they want you to buy everything you need in one trip. Don’t be fooled by the “it’s not worth the gasoline” myth. While in some cases this may be true, don’t make assumptions. I used to make a 42-mile round trip to a larger city in order to access a wider variety of grocery stores and their lower prices. Each trip cost roughly $7 in gasoline, and I would travel there twice per month for a total of $14. The amount I spent in gasoline was less than I saved on milk and cheese alone over buying from the nearest grocery store! Planning ahead and combining errands in the same area into one trip also minimizes the gasoline impact.

Read the Ads.

You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by reading the weekly ads before setting on your grocery store safari. Most stores have their ads online now. Loss leaders are advertised as well as promotions, seasonal items, and case lot sales. The purpose of the ad is to get you through the door, so the ad will display the best sales of the week. Plan your meals and list around these sale items (more on this topic to come.)

If you want to shop a store that doesn’t run ads, try this strategy. Write down the sale items you are interested in from other stores’ ads. Then go to the ad-less store first and see if it has lower prices on those items. If it does, great, get those groceries there. While you’re there, see if the store has great prices on other items you regularly use. If it doesn’t, move on to the stores you have listed. Loss leaders are advertised as well as promotional or seasonal items.

Become familiar with sales cycles and promotions.

Grocery items tend to be “on sale” every 6-8 weeks. Once you have a grasp of what is a regular versus a sale price, you’ll be able to plan your purchasing around these sale cycles. You’ll want to buy enough of shelf-stable or preserve-able groceries to last until the next sale price. This is called stocking up, and we’ll talk more about that later.

Promotions are typically related to holidays and seasonal events. Groceries that are commonly used during these events will be sold at especially low prices, often even lower than regular sale-cycle prices. For example, baking goods such as pumpkin, canned milk, flour, oil, sugar, and baking chips are typically sold at for the lowest prices of the year around Thanksgiving and Christmas. The week before St. Patrick’s day you’ll find corned beef briskets for far less than their typical price, and Mexican-style foods will be advertised around Cinco de Mayo. In addition to holidays, promotions will center around big game days in the football and basketball seasons. Be aware of grand openings and store-specific promotions as well, which also feature special deals.

Don’t Be Discouraged

If spending less on groceries seems like a lot of work, you are right. It is. Give yourself time. It takes time, preparation, and energy to explore new stores and to learn what prices to expect for different foods. And of course, you have to experience seasonal sales and cycles to know what prices will be, a process of months. Don’t expect yourself to master these skills overnight (I certainly haven’t mastered them)! However, as you make efforts to follow the principles in the Frugal Grocery Guide, you will start to see your grocery bill drop, even if it happens slowly. You can do it!

More from the Frugal Grocery Guide:

Part 2: Stock Up to Save

Part 3: Meal Planning

Part 4: Eat From Home

Part 5: Managing the Meat

When Being a Mom Means Kissing This

When Being a Mom Means Kissing This

 

When Being a Mom Means Kissing This

Motherhood is full of surprises. Every day I am faced with the reality of my own selfishness. Some days I am overwhelmed by the mistakes of the day and the need to do better, and to be better, for my kids.

This though, is a story of unselfishness. I am excited to report that in this most unexpected happenstance, I acted in my child’s best interest despite my personal circumstances.

So here’s the story…

I had just put the kids to bed. Finally. The 3-year-old was wearing pajamas (yay!) and my 1 ½ year old daughter had a fresh diaper and nightie. A few minutes later I heard shrieking from the one in princess jammies. I entered the room, with only dim evening light peeking through the blinds, and approached the crib. I was greeted by a puckered lip and a little hand outstretched toward my face.

Ah, I thought. She pinched her finger and needs a kiss better. So I kissed the tiny digit.

It didn’t…smell right. Daughter gave me a perplexed look. I took another sniff of her pink hand.

It was coated with poop. Runny, hard-to-see poop. I lifted up the child’s nightgown to find vile runny stuff up her back and down her legs. She was wearing Huggies, but I doubt whether even her trusty cloth diapers could have contained this one.

This was obviously a painful case for my little girl, so I hurried her to the changing matt and cleaned her up as gingerly as I could. Her bottom was flaming red even though she’d filled the diaper just minutes earlier. I spoke to her soothingly as I slathered her skin with rash cream, then fitted her with a clean diaper.

Next I carried the child (much happier now) to the bathroom, where I washed her hands with soap.

And now I remembered. I still had you-know-what on my lips. I scrubbed them vigorously in the water, than tucked my purple-clad daughter into bed.

When my husband came home from work, I recounted to him the events of the night. You know what he said?

“Uh, now I don’t feel like kissing you anymore.”

This is the kind of thanks I get after such devotion to your offspring??? (But really, who can blame him?)

And now I am proud to tell you that in spite of my many mothering mistakes, in the stinkiest of moments, I put my child first. I think we mothers don’t realize the depth of our love until it is put to the test, and the lengths we will travel for our kids.

Nevertheless… I really hope I never kiss poop again.

 

Linked at: The Weekend Re-Treat

How to Sew Fitted Crib Sheets

How to Sew Fitted Crib Sheets

How to Sew Fitted Crib Sheets

My children’s sheets were transparent. As in, the sheets I was using on their beds were so thread-bare that you could literally see through them. They were from the two-pack of crib sheets I had been given shortly before my first child was born, and were the only sheets used for my two kiddos. They weren’t super-fancy sheets to begin with, and they’d been washed a few times. You know, just a few.

Several months ago, well okay, maybe more than a year ago, I was given some nice baby sheet fabric, enough for two standard crib sheets. I finally came to terms with the near-non-existence of my children’s bed sheets a couple months ago and sat down at the sewing machine to construct them some new ones. Thankfully, they aren’t very complicated to make, and if you can get fabric for a decent price (or free) you’ll save a pretty penny sewing your own crib sheets for your little ones. Turns out that even cheap sheets are a little pricey.

Because crib mattresses actually vary in size, I’ve written these directions with a formula and diagram so that you can plug in your mattress’s measurements and end up with a sheet that fits precisely. It looks more complicated than if I were to give you the measurements I used, but the results will be better. Don’t let the diagram and formula scare you. Once you wrap your head around the concept, you’ll find that sewing fitted sheets is really a simple and straight-forward project, as sewing goes. I initially tried making a sheet using measurements from another blog rather than measuring my mattress, and lo and behold, the sheet did not fit well. Just grab a measuring tape, measure your crib mattress, and plug the numbers in as shown.

Materials needed:
2 yards of 60” wide, non-stretchy fabric
3 yards FOE (fold-over-elastic)
Thread
Sewing machine

For your reference:
W is the width of the mattress.
L is the length of the mattress.
D is the depth of the mattress.

All measurements are given in inches (“).

Instructions:

  1. Measure your crib mattress and calculate the measurements of the rectangle you need to cut from your fabric.

 The width of the fabric after you cut it should be the width of the mattress + twice the depth of the mattress + 10”. In other words:

Cut width=W + 2D + 10”

 The length of the rectangle should be the length of the mattress + twice the depth of the mattress + 10”. In other words:

 Cut length=L + 2D + 10”

  1. Cut your fabric into a rectangle based on your mattress measurements, as stated above. If you can, have the fabric cut to this size for you when you purchase it. Fabric stores have the luxury of large cutting tables which makes cutting a sizeable piece of fabric much easier than doing it at home (like on my bedroom floor, ahem).

cut fabric rectangle

  1. Take a corner of the rectangle and fold it in half with right sides together so that the raw edges are lined up. Pin in place. This makes a pointy triangle corner triangle. Pencil a line perpendicular to the raw edge of the fabric such that the line measures D+5” from the raw edge of the fabric to the folded edge, as shown.

Fold over cornerpencil line

  1. Stitch a seam along the penciled line. Repeat step 3 with each remaining corner.

stitch

  1. Cut off the “triangle” outside the seam, leaving a ½” seam allowance, as shown.

cut off triangle

  1. Finish the seam with a serger or a zigzag stitch. You want your sheet to withstand many washings! Repeat steps 4-6 with remaining corners.

finish edge

  1. Sew on the FOE. To do this, fold the FOE over the raw edge of the sheet, so that the edge of the fabric is touching the center “line” of the elastic. Set your machine to the 3-step zig-zag (elastic) stitch. Begin stitching the FOE, backstitching several times at the beginning to anchor the elastic. Then stretch the elastic from both directions, as much as you can, as you sew. Be careful to keep the edge of the sheet fabric all the way tucked into the folded elastic as you sew. Stitching slightly over the edge of the FOE prevents it from curling up. I highly recommend practicing applying some FOE onto scrap fabric first if you are using it for the first time. It can be tricky to get used to.

FOEFOEFOE

  1. When you reach the end of the sheet edge, backstitch and cut off the loose FOE, leaving a little extra length on the mattress edge. Fold this extra length over at the end and stitch it down over the beginning of your FOE hem for a finished edge.
  1. Turn your sheet right side out, wash it, and put it on the mattress!

finished crib sheet

This is the underside of one of my sheets. You can tell I’m not the greatest seamstress, but hey, it’s functional!

Rainy Day Activities for Young Children

Surviving Rainy Days with Young Kids

Rainy Day Activities for Young Children

When you can’t take your little ones outside to play, the day can be long indeed. With more (much-needed) rainy days ahead in our local forecast, I needed a reminder of what I can do with my kiddos besides plugging them into the computer screen. Here are some of the things I love to do with my 3-year-old and 18-month-old on a rainy day. Nothing on this list requires screen time or electronic devices. I hope you find something you can enjoy with your children next time it rains!

  • Bathtime
    A warm bath is tons of fun on a cold day. Throw in some containers and waterproof toys to play with. If you really want to make things exciting, whip up some of these simple homemade bath paints.
  • Color pictures
    Grab some scratch paper and crayons, markers, or pens and be artists.
  • Wash windows/walls
    My kiddos really enjoy helping me wash windows, doorframes, baseboards, and walls. We just use washcloths and water, no chemicals necessary.
  • Ring Around the Rosies
    This is one way I participate in active play with the kids indoors. Yes, I’m aware of the history of this tune. It’s still a fun game. Also, there is a second verse to get everyone up off of the floor. It goes like this “Cows in the meadow, eating buttercups. Thunder, lightning, we all jump up!” Everyone stomps their hands on the floor as you say the words, then everyone jumps back up to repeat the game. This continues until mom gets too dizzy…
  • Balloons
    If you have a balloon, you can provide endless entertainment by blowing it up and letting it go (don’t tie it off). When you get tired of blowing up the balloon over and over again, tie it off and play a game of “keep the balloon in the air” by bouncing it up and chasing it.
  • Peanut Butter Playdough
    Make a batch of peanut butter playdough for the kids to sculpt and enjoy.
  • Bake Something Together
    My kids love to help me make things in the kitchen, like bread or cookies. Plus, baked goods make the house smell great, and are warm and comforting on a stormy day. I let the kids help put the ingredients into the mixer as I measure them. When daddy gets home from work, my son loves to share the goodies and talk about how he made them himself.
  • Read books
    Curl up on the couch or bed and enjoy some stories together.
  • Call a Friend
    My children love when I dial a grandparent, aunt, or uncle, then hand them the phone.
  • Go to the library
    When I have a car, my kids love a trip to the library. It’s free and in addition to fun books, our public library has fish tanks to watch and toys to play with.
  • Fast Food Playplace
    Occasionally for a special treat, I’ll take my kids to a fast food establishment with a playplace for some rainy day fun. I buy them something small like fries or a parfait (they’re always more interested in playing than eating anyway), and let them enjoy themselves. I consider the price of the food their “admission” to the playplace.
  • Cut up paper
    A pair of kiddie scissors and a piece of paper provide pretty solid entertainment for my pre-schooler. My daughter is just as content to rip paper into pieces.
  • Play in the rain
    Why not enjoy the elements instead of hiding from them? Some of my best childhood memories are of playing and even washing my hair in the rain with my siblings. Of course, that was in Florida and Puerto Rico, and it’s a little more enjoyable to play in 80*F rain than 40*F. Still, there’s nothing wrong with bundling up and letting the kiddos experience nature. It’s really me that wants to stay in out of the rain, not the kids!
  • Do Hair
    Pull out some brushes and hair accessories and “fix” each other’s hair. At age 3, my son finds this just as entertaining as my daughter. He’s totally game for having a pink bow in his curly hair.
  • Dance
    Storm or no, dancing with children is always a blast and a great way to be active indoors. If you want some suggestions, take a look at my “Dance Party Top Picks” posts. Just be warned that our tastes may be a little out of the norm.
  • Blanket Architecture
    Get out your stash of blankets, quilts, and sheets and use them to make tents or caves by draping them over furniture.
  • Edible Finger Paint
    To make edible finger paint, all you need is a package of instant vanilla pudding, milk, and some food coloring. Prepare the pudding as directed, then divide it into separate bowls and dye each bowl a different color with the food dye. Give each kid a baking sheet with some pudding colors in the corner, and let them create artwork with their fingers, and eat it too.

And finally…

Splash in the Puddles
When the rain stops, don’t miss the chance to take everyone out for a romp in the puddles. Then you can repeat bathtime.

Mud Puddle

Puddle Walk

Puddle Jump

What are your favorite activities for rainy days? How do you keep your children happy and busy when they’re stuck in the house together?

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less

Peanut Butter Playdough

Peanut Butter Playdough

While a college student with a toddler son, Peanut Butter Playdough1it occurred to me one day that it had been way too long since I had eaten peanut butter playdough. And that it might be fun for him to play with. But mostly that I really wanted to eat some. I could remember that taste and texture so vividly–soft, chewy peanut-butter-and honey goodness. This playdough is fun and you can stir it together in seconds. It tastes way, way better than regular playdough, obviously, and has the perfect texture for molding into imaginative shapes.

This isn’t an original recipe by any means, but it’s definitely one to have in your arsenal of fun activities and treats for kids, as long as your kids don’t have peanut allergies of course. You can enhance the fun and tastiness by serving things like chocolate chips, raisins, marshmallows, pretzels, M&Ms, etc. alongside the playdough to aid in construction.

It only takes three ingredients: honey, powdered milk*, and peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Playdough Ingredients

Measure them into a bowl and stir them together until they form a cohesive, moldable dough. It looks funny at first.

Peanut Butter Playdough Ingredients

Have faith and be persistent, people. Keep stirring until it looks something like this.

Peanut Butter Playdough Mixed

The texture of your playdough will vary depending on what brands of products you use and the climate you live in, so here are some adjustments you can make until you have the texture you want. Brace yourself, this is complicated.

If your playdough is too dry and crumbly, mix in a little more honey.
If your playdough is too sticky, mix in a little more powdered milk.

There you go, peanut butter playdough ready for the taking. It will become smooth and shiny as it is played with. Do try not to eat it all before your kids touch it.

*As far as the powdered milk is concerned, make sure to use nonfat dry milk, and not instant milk granules. Dry milk is a fine powder that will give you a smooth-textured dough. Instant milk is made of little round-ish granules that will make your playdough rough and crunchy. So unless you enjoy crunchy playdough, stick with the dry powdered milk.

Please remember not to feed recipes containing honey to children under 1 year of age.

Peanut Butter Playdough

Peanut Butter Playdough

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter

Instructions

Measure ingredients into a bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. If the dough is too dry and crumbly, mix in a little more honey. If it is too sticky, mix in a little more dry milk. It will become smooth and shiny as it is played with.

Not safe for children under 1 year of age because it contains honey.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/peanut-butter-playdough/

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less

Gardening Without a Yard

You Can Garden With No Yard

Gardening Without a Yard

Have you ever wanted to garden but you don’t think you have the resources? I’m willing to bet that unless you live in a dark tunnel in a parched desert and never see the light of day, you can indeed grow something. And if you grow something, you are a gardener. Even if it only grows for a little while, it counts in my book!

Expanding the Definition—You Don’t Have to Have a Yard!

When we hear the word “garden” we tend to think of the traditional garden, lined with rows and rows of veggies. The trouble is, this spacious, horizontal style of gardening isn’t a possibility when you live in a home or apartment without a yard, or at least not a yard you’re allowed to till.

So let’s expand our definition of gardening. When I speak of gardening, I’m referring to growing anything that is edible, even in the smallest quantities, and even indoors. I encourage you to try your hand at growing something to eat, whether a full traditional vegetable garden or a small container of herbs or green onions on your windowsill.

Over the course of my life, I’ve been party to a number of different gardening styles, depending on the living situation of my family. Here are some suggestions to help you find a gardening method that will suit your needs:

  • Utilize your windowsills. Some plants require very little space and sunlight to produce what you need. Try growing a fresh herb like basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, thyme, or oregano in a small container on a windowsill. You needn’t purchase anything fancy. An empty yogurt container, ice cream bucket, or any other waterproof container will do. Just be sure to poke several holes in the bottom for drainage, then sit the container on top of a shallow container, such as a lid, to catch the runoff. You will need a small amount of potting soil for your container. You can even purchase living herbs from some grocery stores. These come ready to be watered and used continually. Just using one fresh herb in your cooking can really make a regular meal taste like fine dining!
  • Take advantage of your patio. For a few years of my childhood, my family lived in a townhouse boasting only a cement patio. We used 5-gallon buckets that had previously held laundry detergent to grow tomatoes. Reuse old bins and containers to turn your patio into a garden. Burpee has even engineered a variety of corn specifically for growing in containers.
  • Scout out small areas that could be used to grow food. One year my husband and I rented a mobile home. We didn’t have the resources or permission to till into the yard for a garden, but noticed that there were some small beds by the front door which had been filled with decorative rocks and had been overgrown by ugly weeds. We ripped out the weeds and rocks and used the space to grown several pepper and tomato plants. Edged with marigolds, it looked a lot nicer than weed covered rocks!
  • Eavesdrop! Actually, please don’t drop. Hang. That’s right, eaves-hang. You can grow tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, spinach, small peppers, and herbs from hanging baskets just as you would flowers. Use existing hooks or install strong hooks in your eaves, or hang containers from trees, awnings, or fences.
  • Consider a shared or rented plot. In some communities you can actually rent a space in a community gardening area. Where I live, the local university offers garden plots to students, along with a kit of seeds, for only about $15 per summer.
  • Negotiate with neighbors and friends. Do you know anyone who has space for a garden but doesn’t want to take on the work solo? See if you can strike a bargain and grow a garden together. Perhaps in exchange for using their land and water, you will be responsible for all of the weeding. Then split the harvest amongst yourselves. Or do all the work and offer to share the harvest in exchange for using the land. When my husband and I lived in a small apartment, we were able to grow a garden together with our relatives who own their own land.
  • Don’t forget your fences. There are climbing and trailing fruits that can put your fence to good use. Grapes are great at hiding an ugly chain-link fence. The taste of Concord grapes always reminds me of my great-grandmother and grandfather’s home, because their fence was covered with grape vines. Plus, grapes are perennials, which means they come back year after year.
  • Ask your landlord or HOA. If you are renting a space that includes a yard (or own within a home owner’s association), don’t assume your landlord won’t let you grow a garden. Ask him or her to be sure. Right now we are living in a rural area, and our landlord was perfectly fine with us tilling up a section of grass to use as a garden plot.
  • Consider a fruit tree. If you can’t or don’t want to disrupt your turf, you may still be able to plant one or more fruit-bearing trees. You can even purchase genetically-engineered dwarf varieties that won’t take over your space. You can buy fruit trees that are already a couple years old so you won’t have to wait long to bite into some juicy, homegrown fruit.

Hopefully this has given you hope in your ability to grow something even if you don’t own a yard. What ways have you thought of, or used, to put gardening within your reach?

Why Grow Your Own Food?

Why Grow Your Own Food?

Why Grow Your Own Food?

When you can buy food at almost any store, why would you want to bother growing it yourself?

There’s no denying that gardening is dirty work in its truest sense. It requires dedication and commitment, and it takes days, weeks, and even months before you can taste the rewards of your efforts. Our society often tells us that it doesn’t make sense to do something yourself when you can pay someone else to do it for you. Here are a few reasons why growing a little (or a lot) of your own food is worth the time.

Gratitude

Do you know where your food comes from? Do your children know where it comes from? (And I don’t mean the refrigerator.) Yesterday I watched my son sit in his grandma’s strawberry patch, eagerly observing the green plants and waiting for strawberries to appear. I had told him he would have to wait a while for the strawberries to grow, and he was exercising all the patience a 3-year-old could muster! Whenever I pull the shredded zucchini from our freezer, he reminds me that we got it from our garden. Zucchini happens to be one plant I always manage to grow prolifically (and I’ll bet you can, too.)

When you grow your own food, even a small pot of herbs in the windowsill, you become aware of the intricate process that must occur for the plant to thrive and produce. A variety of variables must happen correctly—water, light, and nutrients must all reach the plant in proper balance. If you’re gardening in the outdoors, you’ll become painfully aware of the effects of weather on your precious greenery, not to mention insects and wildlife. You come to realize that it’s no accident or stroke of luck when food makes it to your table, or to the supermarket shelves. Growing our own food helps quell our expectation of instant gratification and increases gratitude for the abundance we enjoy.

Survival Skill

Many of us live in a time of plenty, when we don’t have to doubt whether the local stores will have the food we need on a daily basis. What would happen if our stores could no longer supply food, for whatever reason? If someone handed you a packet of seeds, could you make it grow into something edible?

Before the industrial revolution, settlers carried seeds to new frontier lands, counting on their ability to supply the nourishment necessary for survival by planting those seeds and harvesting the results. In spite of the complexity of our economy and the remarkable advances in technology and science, our produce and grains still originate from seeds that are planted, nourished, and harvested. This natural order will remain in place until the advent of replicators (a la Star Trek.)

If you learn to garden, you’ll have the basic skills to provide your own sustenance in time of need (although I hope that will never be necessary.)

Wholesome Work

Those precut green beans at the grocer might buy me an hour to watch a movie or play a game with my kids. But am I really doing myself and my kids a favor? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for watching movies and playing games in moderation. An hour weeding and watering the garden, though, gets us working together as a family and spending time out-of-doors. My parents made my siblings and me help with the weeding, rock-digging, and watering growing up, and though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I do now. Even my small children can help with tasks like moving rocks and watering, and pulling weeds with some guidance. My children are at an age when they would much rather be outside playing in the dirt than doing anything in the house. Kids and adults have an inherent need for work. And besides, that movie will be so much more enjoyable when you’re worn out from digging in the garden!

Personal Responsibility

In our day-to-day lives, many of the consequences of our actions aren’t very tangible. Good work at school is rewarded (or poor work punished) by marks on paper. Good work in our occupations is generally rewarded by a larger number on our paycheck (at least we hope).

In the garden, we can see and touch the results of our actions. A plant that isn’t watered will shrivel and die. Weeds that aren’t pulled will choke out our vegetables. A loved and cared-for garden will deliver the fruits of our steady labors with ripe and juicy fruits and vegetables. This kind of work can help children learn that their actions inevitably lead to consequences, good or bad. The lesson in a garden is more clear and direct than seemingly-arbitrary school marks or parent-imposed consequences for breaking or keeping house rules.

Companionship

I’m saying this a little tongue-in-cheek, but if you’re feeling lonely and don’t want a pet, you might try a plant! It will never argue with you or relieve itself on your carpet. It will only show you its appreciation for your loving care and conversation. Or it might wilt if it doesn’t like you. But probably not.

Quality

It’s true that we enjoy a much wider variety of foods than our great-grandmothers did. But while the variety of produce available to us is immense, the quality is generally inferior to what great-grandma might have eaten! Take tomatoes, for instance. I almost never buy fresh tomatoes at the store. You know why? Because they don’t taste good. Even farmer’s markets usually don’t carry tomatoes that taste like the real deal. If there’s one reason on this list that really motivates me to grow a garden, it’s the taste of a homegrown tomato! The only way to get that genuine, sweet and sassy tomato flavor is to grow them yourself or beg them off of someone who does!

The same principle applies to other fruits and vegetables as well. Most homegrown produce outperforms its purchased counterpart in flavor and nutrient count. In addition, you get to control the environment your food comes from. If you aren’t comfortable with pesticides or have specific dietary needs, to can have confidence in the methods that are used to produce your food, because you grew it yourself! You can have organic food without the big price tag if that’s what you want.

Cost

Growing some of your own food can save money. It depends on what you grow, how you grow it, and a little bit on luck. An unexpected late-summer hailstorm can definitely do you in. Here are some principles to improve your chances on gardening to cut costs:

Choose plants that grow well from seeds. Some plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, take some special care and technique to start from seeds. The less-experienced gardener (like me), or those who don’t want to bother with seeds, will buy young plants from the store and transplant them to their gardens.

There are many plants that actually grow better from seeds sown directly into soil. Summer and winter squashes, green beans, lettuce, spinach, chard, and carrots are good examples. Onions can be grown from inexpensive sets. Considering that one 50 cent pack of zucchini seeds will produce more zucchini than one family can eat, requires no special equipment or care, and is very easy to grow, you can almost bank on saving money with this vegetable. I rarely find zucchini at the store for less than $1/pound.

On the other hand, I live in a cool, short-season climate, and it is difficult to grow tomatoes without using somewhat-costly protective devices such as walls of water. The tomato plants also do not reach a very large size due to the lack of warm nights and hot days. Thus, the monetary return from growing tomatoes may not be substantial, or I may even lose money if I fail to care properly for the plants, or disaster strikes. I grow tomatoes anyway for reasons stated above.

Freezing or canning excess produce is also a great way to make the most of your harvest and spend less at the grocery store. Green beans, chard, spinach, summer squash, onions, and carrots can all be frozen for later. Winter squashes will stay good on the shelf for several months in a cool, dry place.

I look forward to gardening more than almost any other summer activity. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’re thinking that gardening has to be a huge project, or that you can’t grow your food without any land, stay tuned! I’ll be redefining gardening in an upcoming post to show you how almost anyone can grow their own food.

 

Linked at: Living Well, Spending Less

Housework with Kids Daring Parenting

Daring Parenting: What I’ve Learned from Daddy-Style Cleanup

Housework with Kids Daring Parenting

On any given day, if I had to name the most frequent sentence to leave my almost-3-year-old’s mouth, it just might be this:

“I want to help you!”

And if I had to name the most frequent response, it would be:

“No.”

You moms of teenagers are probably wishing that was what you were hearing all the time, and you probably wouldn’t be saying no!

The truth is, I shouldn’t be saying no so often. My mom always told me that moms who don’t make their kids help clean are the lazy ones, because it takes more work to have a child help than to just do it yourself.

Here I have two young children literally begging to help me, and I tell them no. How sad! I realize that it isn’t practical to let little children help with every task, every day, and some things are too unsafe for them to participate in (like putting chemicals in the washing machine, for instance.) Too often though, I give in to the temptation to just be efficient and do everything myself—the dish washing, the laundry, washing the counters, the floors, and picking things up after bedtime. I’ll wrack my brain to come up with some new toy or activity to keep them entertained for a few more minutes while I prep dinner or dive into the mayhem of mess.

When I get too entrenched in this bad habit though, I get a reminder. From who?

Daddy!

Occasionally when I return from running errands, dreading all the chores that will surely have piled up in my absence, I find things like this:

A toddler in the sink.

Toddler in Sink Washing Dishes

Everyone on one chair washing dishes (and water everywhere!)

Washing Dishes

Kids Washing Dishes

And a little boy meeting me at the door holding a washcloth, mopping everything in sight.

I can’t help but smile as my boy tells me how he “washed the windows and the dishes and the floor with Daddy!” Everyone is happy—Mom’s chores have been taken on (if not yet completed), the children are having a blast helping out now that Mom wasn’t around to stop them, and Dad is happy because Mom is pleased.

It’s easy enough to see why I’m reluctant to get the kiddos involved in my work. It means moving clothes from washer to dryer one article at a time, folding the same laundry more than once, mopping up dishwater from the kitchen floor, and wiping up spilled flour and salt from the counters (and eating bread with a little less flour and salt sometimes). It means re-sweeping the same crumbs that were just enthusiastically catapulted out of my pile by someone else’s sweeping. It means wiping away the “help” from the windows that appear as soon as I finish a pane.

With all the extra work it takes, why is it worth the effort for the kids to be involved in household chores?

  • It encourages a good attitude about taking care of each other and our home.
  • It teaches the kids necessary life skills—I won’t be showing up to sort their socks when they’re 20!
  • It creates awareness of how a home works—they come to realize that groceries must be purchased and put away, food must be prepared before it gets to their plates, clothes must be washed or there will be nothing to wear (not that they ever complain about that, haha).
  • It teaches sequences and processes—first carry the dish to the sink, then scrub the dish with soap, then rinse it, next dry it, last put it away. 1-2-3-4-5…
  • It forces me to spend quality, interactive time with my children as I supervise and instruct their efforts.
  • It prompts thinking and many questions—particularly WHY questions. And mom has to think to come up with the answers! Why can’t yellow duck (a pillow pet and beloved friend) swim in the sink and help us wash? Ducks like the water…
  • It’s a great energy outlet for the kids, especially in the winter when it’s hard to play outside. And let’s face it, the extra exertion isn’t so bad for mom either.
  • Their cheerful enthusiasm brightens up tasks that I normally find mundane and repetitive, helping me to see the joy in what I do as a mom and homemaker. It makes the kids feel good to be mom and dad’s “helpers.” I think it gives them a sense of importance in the home. My son likes to remind me that he is my “big helper.”

So the hard truth of the matter is, I need to take a leaf out of Daddy’s Book of Daring Parenting. I need to put aside my laziness and my desire to accomplish too many things more often, for the benefit of my children (and myself). And when I forget, I’m glad I’ve got their dad to remind me!

How do you involve your kids around the house? Is it a battle to get them to help? Or like me, do you find yourself just wanting to do things your way? What strategies work best for you?

Linked at: Homemaking Linkup, Living Well Spending Less

Easy Homemade Bath Paints

Homemade Bath Paints

Easy Homemade Bath Paints

My kids are marathon bathers. If I let them they would stay in the tub for hours, and take more than one bath in a day. Not kidding. But it can be a challenge to keep them from picking on each other in the tub for entertainment (read: 3-year-old dumping water on his sister’s head, and being bitten in return). Then there’s the massive amounts of water that get splashed out of the tub just for fun (read: to annoy Mom because that behavior is expressly forbidden.) And let’s not get going on just how many toys are in the tub at any time. I have to clear the battlefield of toys before I can shower. Or just shower with them. It depends on the day. Sound familiar to anyone?

I was excited when I found this simple recipe for homemade bath paints at Forgetful Momma. I’d never heard of bath paints before, but it sounded like some colorful bath-time fun. I don’t have regular paints for the kids to play with, and I liked the idea of experimenting with paint within the confines of a water-proof bathtub–much easier than trying to keep other parts of the house safe from paint.

I let my son help me make the bath paints. Now truly, this is the dangerous part. The paints left no staining whatsoever on the bath area or wet little bodies, but clothing is a different story, and food coloring is rather volatile if even the slightest drop escapes where it shouldn’t—a little goes a long way!
The end result was that the kids had a blast with the colorful tub paints, and a 100% contention-free bath-time. The paints were very easy to clean up. They came off quickly with the moveable showerhead, and by wiping. Just make sure you don’t have any light-colored towels on the floor by the tub, and don’t wear clothes you care about in case any gets on you.

The one drawback is that now my son asks for bath paints every time he takes a bath, which is not going to happen. If you’re up to letting your kids have a wild time with colors in the tub, try this recipe. It’s simple and uses cheap household ingredients.

Homemade Bath Paints

Recipe from Forgetful Momma

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup children's body wash
  • 5 TBS cornstarch
  • food coloring

Instructions

Mix together the body wash and cornstarch. The exact texture of your paint will depend on the brand of body wash you use. Divide the mixture into separate containers and use food coloring to dye as desired. Start with just a drop or two--a little food coloring goes a long way. Mix thoroughly and carefully transport to the bathtub for some washable painting fun.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/homemade-bath-paints/

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less, The Weekend Retreat, Flour Me with Love

How to Sew a Comfy Neck Pillow

How to Sew a Comfy Neck Pillow

Pattern: Neck Pillow Pattern

I always fall asleep in the car on trips. Travel Neck Pillow No, not when I’m driving. But my husband drives 90% of the time, and I get an achy neck 100% of the time that we take a trip because I fall asleep in the car.

So, I finally decided to learn to make neck pillows. The typical horseshoe shaped type was what I had in mind, but then I saw this one from Sew4Home and it looked so different, and so comfortable. It’s a bone-shaped pillow, how cool is that? Plus, it looked like it could be great for tucking under a baby bump or maybe even to use as a nursing pillow. Right now I’m not pregnant or nursing, so I can’t speak from experience on those uses.

But, I know as a mom, I like to sleep whenever I get the chance, even if I’m sitting up. So this would make a great gift for yourself or anyone else you know who wants to travel comfortably.

I altered the pattern from Sew4Home to make a slightly smaller pillow (you can print the pattern scaled to a larger size if you want a bigger one). For one, I’m a smallish person, and for two, I wanted to make it from a minky crib bumper. I was given a beautiful, plush minky crib bumper when I had my son, but unfortunately the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using them because apparently they are a safety/SIDS risk. But there was no way I was going to let go of that lovely minky fabric and batting, so I’ve kept it just waiting for the right re-purposing opportunity.

On the off chance that you also have a soft crib bumper lying around that you want to use for just such a neck pillow project, you should know that this pillow can be made from a crib bumper measuring at least 9 ½ inches wide (tall) and at least 34 inches in length, assuming it has the desired fabric on both sides. If for some reason it only has soft fabric on one side, you need 52 inches in length.

So without further ado, here’s how you do it:

Materials needed:

  • Download and Print the Pattern: Neck Pillow PatternPrint 4 copies, actual size (100%) on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper*. Do NOT scale to fit the page. Cut out along dotted and solid lines, place pieces edge to edge and tape together to form a bowtie-shaped pattern.
  • A sewing machine. A walking foot is nice with stretchy fabrics, but not essential. I don’t have one and did fine with minky.
  • ½ yard of soft fabric such as minky, microfleece, or strong cotton
  • 1 foot of ¾ to 1 “ ribbon
  • One medium bag of polyester fiberfill
  • Thread
  • Fabric Scissors
  • Needle for hand sewing
  • Straight pins

*If you want to make a larger or smaller pillow, you can scale the pattern size up or down when you print it. For example, under printer properties, print at 110% of normal size, or 95% of normal size, etc.

Instructions:

  1. Print 4 copies of the Neck Pillow Pattern (at actual size, 100%, on 8 1/2 x 11 paper), cut the pieces out along the solid and dotted lines and tape them together so that the lines connect and form a bowtie-shaped piece. Don’t overlap the pieces; just place them edge to edge.

*If you are using a crib bumper for your fabric, carefully cut the binding off of the edges, then cut the fabric away from the batting/lining at the seams by sliding your scissors between the batting and the fabric.*

2. Pin the pattern to your fabric and cut around the edges, cutting notches into the fabric along the small marked triangles. Repeat this step two more times so that you have 3 bowtie-shaped fabric pieces. I don’t recommend cutting through more than one layer at once if you are using a stretchy fabric like minky. If you are using cotton, you should be fine.

How to Sew a Neck Pillow

  1. With right sides together, place one layer on top of another, matching raw edges, and pin from one notch to the other notch. You will only be sewing the seam on one side of the piece, as shown. Use extra pins with stretchy fabric to prevent it from shifting as you sew.
  1. Sew from notch to notch where you pinned, using a ¼” seam allowance. Remove the pins as you go.

How to Sew a Neck Pillow

  1. Place the third pillow piece right sides together with one of the other pillow pieces, and pin along the unsewn edge from notch to notch. Be sure not to catch the remaining layer; you are only pinning two layers together. Keep in mind that the pillow will be forming a triangular shape.

neckpillowstep5

  1. Cut your ribbon into two 1-foot lengths. Fold each piece in half to form a loop. Remove the pins by the notches and insert the ribbon between your fabric layers, matching the raw edges of the ribbon with the raw edges of the fabric. The center of the ribbon’s width should line up with the notch in the fabric. Do this with both pieces of ribbon, pinning the ribbon in place.

neckpillowstep6How to Sew a Travel Pillow

  1. Sew along the pinned seam from notch to notch. You are only sewing through half of the ribbon’s width at this point (end at the notch). Backstitch over the ribbon at the beginning and end of your seam to reinforce it.
  1. Pin the remaining raw edges of the pillow, right sides together, and sew from notch to notch, again backstitching over the ribbon. Be sure to leave a 3” opening in the seam so that you can stuff the pillow (and be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the opening). Leave the opening somewhere in the middle of the seam so that you are machine-stitching over the ribbon and to make the pillow easier to stuff.

How to Sew a Travel PillowHow to sew a travel pillow

  1. Turn your pillow right side out. Use a long, thin object, like the blunt end of a pen, to reach inside and make sure the seams are turned out completely.
  1. Stuff your pillow with the polyester fiberfill. Use small balls of fiberfill at a time, teasing them with your fingers rather than leaving them in hard clumps.

How to Sew a Neck Pillow

  1. When your pillow is comfortably stuffed, slipstitch the opening closed.

Enjoy your comfy pillow!

How to Sew a Comfy Neck Pillow

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less, The Weekend Retreat, Flour Me With Love