Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Afghans from Granny

I've lost the inspiration to post on the blog, it seems. No reason, just a change in routine lately and I haven't carved out the time for myself. Spring threatens to burst forth and then retreats beneath a layer of chill and snow-- such is March on the prairies. I'm learning to be more patient and haven't even begun my planning for this year's garden. There is plenty of time and I've found myself sewing in the quiet spells (infrequent as they are).

The other day I went to my parents and had lunch with my 99 year old aunt. She is a force to be reckoned with. I've never asked her the secret to her longevity but I'm sure if I did she would answer "eat your vegetables and walk everywhere you go". We took her to the mountains when she was in her 70's and she beat us all to the top. What a pleasure to visit her again. 

The same day I brought home the afghans my granny made for me and my boys. Mine, the dark blue and cream, she made when I was in my 20's. J's is the light blue and O's is light green. She was still crocheting it when she had a stroke. She ended up spending her remaining days in a nursing home and my mom had a friend finish the afghan for O. To say they will be treasured is an understatement. 

I am still working on my grocery budget--Ii shall try to post on the subject soon. I've cut carbs out of my diet for the time being (too much winter baking!) and I've been waivering between euphoria and despair for the last two weeks. I feel great now but the beginning was rough, which shows how I really was filling myself with too much homemade bread!

I hope that spring is finding its way to you--if not in the weather then at least in your spirit. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

So You Want To Live In The Country?

Country life is ideal for us. I have never really utilized the conveniences of the city, even when I lived there. Although I enjoyed museums, galleries, libraries and coffee shops, these were less important to me, always, than space, fresh air, and quiet. I can and do visit the library and, although trips to trendy coffee shops with friends are all too rare, I feel like what we gain from living outside of town is worth the bit of a drive to enjoy what is IN town.

When I began this blog it was with the intention of providing information on how to set up an acreage in western Canada, ie. what steps there are and where to find permits, green options and the like. I have a couple unfinished posts that I should return to and make available. But beyond getting power and water and dealing with the health inspector, there are other things to consider when you think of leaving town for the countryside.

Winter is long--you are in charge of your own snow removal

In our Rural Municipality the gravel road is kept plowed (when they can get to us, and there is only one other home on this road and the school bus does not yet travel here) but our road in is our responsibility. It is an option to have the RM plow our yard for a fee, but that is not an option every where and is something to inquire about. We have a 4 wheeler ATV with a plow which does a good job if we keep on top of the snow before it is too deep or heavy. The year before we moved here the snow was 14 feet deep where our road is now. Should that happen now we would be relying on family and neighbours to come get us out.

2013, the year of major storms and wind

Your well, your problem

There are acreages close enough to town that they are on municipal water and sewer, meaning that if there is a problem you can phone someone and they come handle it. It's a tempting proposition and one that costs a pretty penny. The proximity and convenience come at a hefty price tag, but if that's your thing then go for it. You can save a LOT of money, however, by going a few miles further out. In the country, though, you must consider your source of water and know that if you aren't capable of figuring out what goes wrong you will be paying someone else to do it. What goes in must come out, so there's that sewer issue too.

spring runoff in 2013. Dealing with water of any kind is a homeowners

We have a really good well. This is an old yard site and all the old timers tell me there was always ample, clean water here. It's a comfort. Because we are on a good slope we are able to have a bell and syphon septic system (no pump=fewer worries). Except, of course, the other night when it was -25 and a wind and our sewer began to back up into our basement. We have an alarm to warn us if the tank overfills but our electrician didn't install it. The pipe where the septic system drains got drifted over with snow and froze over, meaning that once the tank was full it had nowhere to go but back towards the house. We were lucky in several ways: Husband was home and on days off. He spent 3 hours out there, first with a torch and then with a steamer that my brother brought from the farm. We were lucky to have help and that I was not here alone with the kids. We were also lucky that we noticed immediately. Husband took an armload of wood down to the stove and saw water; had he not we would likely have gone to bed and I run the dishwasher on a timer so we would have had that water plus any morning flushes before we noticed. I am extremely glad it didn't happen on a day that I did 5 loads of laundry and didn't go into the basement for several hours. I had the mess cleaned up in an hour and the worst part was for my Husband and brother who were out in the cold for a few hours. We will be keeping an eye on the end of the pipe from now on! If an acreage owner did not have the skills, that incident would have meant calling someone and probably paying them to come and help. For that reason alone, I am very grateful to have 3 brothers, my dad, and several cousins nearby if I needed them.

Recycling/Garbage Pick Up/ Mail and Other Curbside Services

I have neighbours that get their mail at the end of their laneways, but new customers no longer get that option. We get our mail at a group box site (a stand alone set of mailboxes) at the junction of two roads. When we have parcels to pick up we get a notice and take it into the post office located in Shopper's Drugmart in town. Others go to the actual post office. It is nothing to have trouble ordering online because we don't have a street number. It is ridiculously hard to get people in big cities to understand that there are no streets here. I recently had a heck of a time sending in our central vac (purchased new and wouldn't work--had to UPS it back to be fixed). They would not honour their warranty unless I had a street address. I finally got my brother's girlfriend's address. As soon as I gave that, the girl in Edmonton emailed me the UPS label. Makes no sense.

We keep our garbage in a large wooden box with a plywood lid to keep from attracting wildlife. I compost and recycle so there is not much, but it does pile up because Husband works a 24 day shift and we only get to the local nuisance grounds once a month. I refuse to put it in the trunk of my car. It is an option to get a dumpster from town and pay a monthly fee to have a garbage truck come haul it away, but this is a simple way that we can save money. We have a system for storing recycling until we can take it in. It takes up minimal room in the garage and is just part of my routine. For some people, curbside services is one thing they say they couldn't do without. I wouldn't say that we have missed it at all.

Getting anyone to come out from town can be a struggle

It really depends on the economy. Our area is absurdly busy with oil and gas (well, it was before the price of oil dropped by over 50%) and most companies have all the work they can handle within the city limits so do not take jobs that require travel. This would not be a problem everywhere, but it is the case here and it has been a detriment to supporting local businesses. I opted to hire the nearby small town plumber to do our plumbing and heating. It took him 14 months to completely finish our furnace work. We spent most of a winter with only a couple heat ducts attached to our furnace and now have water damage on 2 exterior doors because we could not rid the house of humidity without proper heating. When we called to ask please, can you come finish the job? we were actually sworn at and the whole experience has been awful. I tried to get quotes from 4 alternate companies: 2 did not even return my many calls, one returned their quote so late I had already hired the local guy, and one "town" plumbing company came in at about the same price as the nearby guy that I hired. In the end I opted for small town and have regretted it, although one would usually expect better service from a small and local company. No matter where you live, you need to consider where you will hire the services you need.

What is peaceful to some is lonely to others

I can go weeks without seeing people. In the winter it can get isolating, but it is truly the way that I am wired. A couple visits with friends can last me a long time, and too much social activity leaves me plain exhausted and slinking off to my corner. That is not to say that I don't like to have people drop in. In fact, I'm quite used to my regular coffee guests and I'd sure miss them if they stopped coming. Play dates for my kids are treasured occurrences, especially since I've found some moms that are wonderful friends. But if you are considering a move to the country, consider whether the whole family can handle days at a time without social activity. If not, have you established ways to get your fix without daily trips to town? Or, are daily trips to town in the budget and part of your plan? If so, go for it! I recently heard of a family that pulled their children out of our local school and pay extra to drive them to town to school, since they are in so many activities there anyways. You might not find ballet and karate in your small local towns, but we have 4H and seasonal sports and school clubs. It is about choosing what is right for your own family and budgeting for what works. But if you haven't considered winter roads (I'm talking western Canada now) shortened days and a possible lack of your preferred amenities nearby, it can be a deal breaker for people that didn't expect to be "stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do". You have to find your own entertainment, nurture hobbies, and be brave enough to go meet your neighbours when you live in the country. Personally, I've always found that harder to do in the city. I would rather be alone with my thoughts in my yard than surrounded by strangers that I feel completed alienated from. That is what has brought me to the country, so what brings you?

the view from my dad's tractor when I packed silage for him this past fall.
Many, many happy hours of my lifetime spent listening to golden oldie country tunes in that seat, enjoying that view.
 And many, many more I hope!

These are just some things that pop to mind when I think of the difference between town and country living. We can't take cabs where we want to go. It is almost a 3 hour drive in either direction to get to a major airport, professional sporting events or other big city features. It is a 25 minute drive to our swimming lessons or to get groceries, so whe we go we try to get everything done in one trip. Our fun is playing with our kids, working together in the yard and house and enjoying good homegrown food with friends and family. There are some sacrifices when it comes to rural living, but none that I resent and the peaceful, authentic life we lead more than makes up for any inconvenience. What are your perceptions of city vs. country living? Are you drawn to small town/rural life or would you rather have the city amenities at your fingertips?

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Truth Is....

The truth is...

I spent more on groceries in February than I did in January, in spite of my attempts to reduce by at least 10%. The truth is...

I justified some "special" purchases as they were for O's 3rd birthday and Easter, all a good deal, all sensible purchases. But if we were in a situation where Husband was out of work and we were living on a very fixed amount/month, the truth is I would not have been able to buy extra chocolate and some story books for my kids.

The truth is, I haven't gotten around to doing a menu plan for this week. There have been several deaths in our community and the truth is...I haven't felt motivated or that my little organizing and budgeting adventures matter, at all, in the grand scheme of things.

The truth is, a childhood friend--we grew up together and were roommates when she was pregnant and had her first baby--has said goodbye to her daughter this week. Cystic Fibrosis, killer of the young--I remember being told that diagnosis shortly after getting my own place to live. Through tears, 18 years ago, my friend and I agreed that so many advances would be made in research and treatment in her daughter's lifetime that surely it would not be the life sentence it seemed. We had health problems ourselves last year, a scary time and one where I allowed my imagination to run wild and I felt fear--paralyzing fear--for the first time in my life. The truth is, that is what that family lived with for 18 years...every milestone bittersweet, plans for the future always overshadowed by reality. The truth is, nobody can know what that is like unless they have lived it. And now that her short life is over, no one can know what it is like to keep going until they have had to do it.

But you know what? The truth is, no one knows their future. There are simply no guarantees. If anything can be learned from my friend's daughter's short but wonderful existence...take nothing for granted. Dance while you can. Laugh. Laugh loud. Marvel at the sunset. Hold your children tight, so tight, and be gentle while they grow. Appreciate your family. Be there for your friends when they need you, for you will need them too. Savour the moments when you feel good. When you do not feel good and when there is worry or negativity or drama or fear...STOP...and ask yourself what is really important? How can you I best use the time that I have? What is the best use of my energy? If I knew there was limited time, how would I be reacting? Most of life's trivialities would not matter. The things that really matter become very clear: people over things, relationships that make us happy--move beyond the ones that don't, experiences and joy and laughter--none of which need to cost money--time, sweet time together. These are the things that matter. If we knew our time was up, wouldn't we all wish for more of these things? Wouldn't we wish we had never wasted time worrying about what people think?

The truth is, it has taken me a few days to get my game face on. It can be hard to visit the grieving, but it is always the right thing to do. I want to be the friend that I would need if the situation was reversed. I'll get back to budgeting and menu-planning soon (finally jotted down a quick plan for the next couple days) but for now, I have a couple cute little boys that are playing with sleeping bags on the living room floor. I must go camping. And try very hard to remember this moment in time forever.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Menu Plan February 16-22

We had a lovely day sleigh riding with family and new acquaintances yesterday. My brother is training a different horse to pull the sleigh. It was just the break we needed from being cooped up at home!

I seem to be over the hump of my February blues. Motivation has returned, and what feels like a busy week lies ahead. There are chores that I have left too long and swimming lessons start tomorrow. I want to have some quick easy meals to take the stress out of arriving home from swimming and having to make supper. Here's my tentative plan for the week:


Husband lunch: pb and j sandwiches (he actually likes them, but I do feel bad resorting to peanut butter and jam). The fresh food is getting low but I refuse to go to town until we have to go for swimming (Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next month) cans of fruit, all bran bars, puddings
Kids lunch: stirfry with left over rice
Supper: Pizza and tossed salad
major chores to do: clean ashes out of stove, haul wood to basement from garage and replenish supply in garage, all laundry, all toys tidied, vacuum, compost and garbage out, tidy front porch, tidy entryways, bake cookies and prepare a double recipe of new-york style pizza dough/ refrigerate half

Tuesday: (swim 4-4:30)

major chores: deep cleaning of all bathrooms, haul wood, prepare and refrigerate quinoa salad, get water and groceries before swimming lessons
H lunch: leftover pizza, veggies and dip, last of the fruit
kids lunch: grilled cheese, canned fruit, carrots and dip
kids snacks and drinks packed for town/swimming
Supper: chili I made last week thawed and put in slow cooker before we leave, buns, quinoa salad


H lunch: leftover chili and buns, fruit and veg, cookies
Kids lunch: play date here with little friends, fruit and veggie tray with grilled cheese sandwiches
Supper: taco night (roasted broccoli and chickpeas, spanish rice, enchiladas, guacamole)
major chores: clean my sittin' porch (dog and cats have made it a disaster this winter), garbage and compost out, laundry/washed and put away, wash kitchen and basement floors


H lunch: wraps/ leftovers, fruit and veg, etc
kids lunch: leftovers
snacks and drinks packed for swimming lessons
Supper: meatballs I prepared and froze last week put in slowcooker before we leave, fried rice and stir fry
major chores: cut veggies and cook rice before we leave for town, bake bread and cookies
Weather permitting we will spend the morning outside playing and/or at my mom's visiting and playing

Friday: (hopefully the first of Husband's 4 days off)
we may or may not spend the day running errands in town, doing things with the truck that I have not been able to accomplish. There are several light bulbs that need replaced in the garage, a honey-do list as you can imagine after a 24 day shift of work. I hate to bombard Husband on his first day off, but it is nice to get some of the list accomplished quickly and treat the kids to dinner out--then spend the weekend playing and relaxing)
Supper: pub grub (stuffed potatoes, caesar salads, wings, garlic fingers using the premade pizza dough)

Supper: pasta night

Supper: roast and all the fixin's

Saturday, 14 February 2015

February, you get me every time...

Ah, the winter blues...the grouchies....the blahs, the mama-hasn't-left-the-house-in-a-week-rants! February, you have done it again.

But it's not your fault, really. February, you have given me much to be grateful for:

  • My parents' anniversary, a nice gathering of family, 45 years survived and lived to tell about it. 
  • I have developed a real love of baking. I've always loved to cook but was not into baking. These days, the kids and I are enjoying turning out delicious breads and treats and sharing them with our friends. It is a pastime and a hobby and I'm grateful to be able to spend my days baking with my kids. 
  • A runny nose and cough for my littlest, which did NOT get my biggest sick and therefore did NOT result in a flare up of childhood nephrotic syndrome. My gratitude for that alone should make the winter fly. And in many ways, it does. 

I feel ashamed and disgraced that with much to be grateful for, I have still fallen into a wee winter slump and have been short-tempered and frustrated, particularly with my kids. In turn, they are short-tempered with each other and with me, and the whole thing can get disheartening. It is not what I wanted for my kids or myself. We do pretty good all winter but February seems to be the month where I let myself slip. So February? If you are listening, here is what I have planned to get us through the rest of your windy, cold house-bound days:

  • more exercise. I need to stop complaining about being stuck in the house and move my body. It always makes me feel better.
  • clean the house. If I'm stuck here, I should be cleaning one room every few days. No excuse that I "haven't gotten around to it"
  • in-house adventures for the kids. Play Play Play!
  • more self-care. At home spa-time: mani/pedi, facial, sunless tanner, and yes a little pruning never hurts. It makes a world of difference to take care of one's appearance such as it is!
  • more outside time. We have had a run of cold/wind, but on days where it is possible to be outside I need to come up with ideas to keep us out longer. Less time in the house=less time fighting!
  • returning J to play school, Tuesdays only. O will have time with gramma and I will help at school. J doesn't want me to leave him there, and I won't force the issue!
  • I'm investigating taking on some sort of a volunteer capacity that I can include my kids in. They are young to help at the soup kitchen, but I have been letting them each pick on item on special to donate to the food bank every week when we get groceries. I thought of us writing a letter/drawing pictures to send to a Canadian soldier. Then I read some negative feedback about women having strange motives for doing so and was left feeling disappointed with the whole idea. But I'm still thinking of ways to make it a sort of writing assignment for my 5 year old. At any rate, some sort of meaningful, community-minded activity would perk us up.
  • The kids start swimming lessons next week. I'm going to have to don a bathing suit and join my 2 year old in the water...those who know me will remember that I feel water is for showering in and THAT IS IT. It's important to me that my kids don't grow up to hate the water as I do. So...I won't put my bull on their fun. A friend told me this past summer not to let my body issues ruin their summer memories, and she was right, and I am trying. 
As of today there are only 2 more weeks in this dreaded month. We are getting dumped on with fresh snow today. When it warms up that will be lots of fun. Tomorrow my brother is having us over for a sleigh ride, our favorite winter pastime. Before I know it we will be into March and, whatever the weather might bring, I can handle it as spring comes near. Does February (or any particular time of year) get you down in the dumps? If so, have you any frugal suggestions for a pick-me-up?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Menu Plan Feb 9-15, 2015

 The purpose of my planning a weekly menu is threefold:
  1. Use up what is potentially going to go to waste from my freezer, purchased groceries, home preserves or garden
  2. Become better organized in order to squeak out more time for hobbies/ a deep cleaning of the house/ kids activities (translation: less cooking=more living!)
  3. Attempt to reduce the amount I am spending on food by using in-store coupons, points card at grocery store, doing without, and reducing waste
I'm enjoying following the blog Mortgage Free In Three. It gives wonderful inspiration to pay off debt faster, and recently provided a printable menu planning document. As Elaine suggests, it makes sense to menu plan starting on the day you get groceries--it works well for me as I am a once/week shopper. This week my grocery day fell on a Monday because there were a few things I wanted to do in town and we never drive to town without trying to complete all our errands. NOTE: this is being posted late as hauling wood/mopping floors/laundry and some serious teenage mutant ninja turtle play time had priority. Such is life!

This week's list:

  • fill 2 water jugs (forgot the jugs at home, but should make it til next week)
  • pick up parcel new cookbook, woohoo! Perhaps a post on that later :)
  • weather stripping for the garage door since the kitties have pulled a piece of it completely off and made a draft. Wouldn't you know it, the day after I buy weather stripping I open a closet and find the weather stripping that I thought we had used up in our old house. So I can return what I bought and save ten bucks! 
For my menu plan this week, I have consulted the freezer: some bits of pork chops, enough for a meal, still some roasts and a package of steak to use up, a package of hamburger, some chicken wings, bacon, a package of deer sausage given to me by a friend, perogies, green beans, spinach. Also there are some chicken breasts and shrimp.

In the fridge: lettuce needing used today or ASAP, peppers, some crushed tomato sauce, part of a cucumber, carrots, celery, red onion. We also have some asiago cheese and a bit of mozzarella, some cheese slices (Husband likes them but I try not to buy them!).

On special at grocery store: I got 2000 extra points (when you redeem 20,000 points you save $20) buying things I needed anyways, and I resisted buying anything that wasn't on my list. Normally I don't buy much juice but both kids are getting sore throats so I bought calcium and vit D added oj, and a 5 pack of juice boxes because by then both kids were thirsty and had already drank the juice I brought from home. Altogether, this week's grocery bill was $115.52. It helped that I avoided the meat aisle altogether so I couldn't impulse-buy. I don't go near the bakery because I make all our bread and sweets at home. I've also stopped buying more almond milk until I see if the kids are going to continue drinking it. At $4/2L jug it won't hurt my feelings if they go off it :)

OK, enough stalling. This week's grocery plan:

Monday Feb 9:

  • H lunch: leftovers and buns
  • kids lunch: popcorn shrimp and homemade fries
  • supper: pizza using leftover taco meat, cold cuts, crushed tomatoes (all of which were needing used up in the fridge)
Tuesday Feb 10:
  • H lunch: pizza and fruit
  • kids lunch: buns, fruit and veggies, can of chicken noodle soup, smoothies
  • supper: lasagna, focaccia, caesar salad
Wednesday Feb 11:
  • H lunch: beef buns, fruit and veggies
  • kids lunch: leftovers
  • supper: pulled beef, buns, whipped potatoes, brussels sprouts, salad
Thursday Feb 12: ,boil eggs for Friday)
  • H lunch: beef buns, fruit and veggies
  • kids lunch: grilled cheese sandwiches, smoothies, fruit and veggies
  • supper: slow-cooker pork chops in sauce with rice, green beans
Friday Feb 13:
  • H: egg salad sandwiches, fruit, veg, pudding
  • kids: curly pasta and toast, apple sauce and veggies
  • supper: deer sausage with perogies, layered salad, green peas, fried onions
Saturday Feb 14:
  • H: running out of inspiration, but by then something will come to me ;)
  • kids: likewise!
  • supper: butter chicken, rice, roasted veggies
Sunday Feb 15:
  • H: Chicken salad sandwiches, fruit etc
  • kids: leftovers
  • supper: steak bites, stuffed potatoes, garlic toast, salad
I may not stick entirely to the plan, but now that I know what I have available I hope to thaw/prepare in advance to give myself more time for other things. The weather is supposed to warm up by Thursday so I plan to be outside rather than in the kitchen--a good thing since the wood supply is running low!

What have you got planned for the week?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Make Your Own Gravy Mix

When I was growing up, we made all our gravy using the drippings from roast meat with some salt and pepper for flavour, the water from boiled potatoes/vegetables and some flour and water to thicken. At some point (enter Husband) I started trying to make a more restaurant-style brown gravy. Admittedly, it sure is good on fries and when there are no drippings provided by the cooking process (ie fish and chips) or just wanting to spruce up a bland au jus. Is it just me? I started buying those darned little packages of gravy mix back when they were around 65 cents each. The trouble is, they are now $1.65 on a good day and usually don't thicken. To add $1.65 to the cost of a meal when one is trying to cut expenses is counterproductive, particularly when it adds zero nutritional value and is exceptionally salty. Although we reduce salt in many areas of our diet, our kids don't like gravy so I haven't been as strict with it. However, I think that we are becoming sensitive to how salt affects our bodies and I have no desire to have swollen hands and feet at night! Basically, I would like to make a nice, tasty gravy for less, always have it on hand (soooo tired of not having the mixes!), and have some control over what is added.

Bless the world wide web! There were many recipes that were a variation of bouillon and flour, to which butter and water were added. But I also came across a site claiming to have hacked the KFC 11 herbs and spices recipe. Oh, I was all over it!

So thank you to Ron Douglas, said to have broke the code on the recipe, and "WonderHowTo" Food Hacks for making the intel available to "brilliantly lazy" home cooks like myself ;)

I happened to have both beef and chicken OXO on hand, and while I know there is nothing gourmet about it we are talking restaurant-burger-and-fries type gravy here. You can also adjust your salt content by adding less, which I might once I've had a chance to taste this a few times and tinker with it. But for anyone interested, here is how I combined a few different recipes to make a thick gravy without the use of drippings. 

Homemade Gravy Mix

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp bouillon (I used 1 part beef, 2 parts chicken for more colour)
1 tsp each: oregano, chili powder, sage, basil, marjoram, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder
1/2 tsp each: mustard powder, celery seed

I actually didn't have basil and I ran out of paprika when I made a second batch to give away. What I like about this is I can adapt the spices and amount of bouillon over time. NOTE: I ground the herbs in my mortar and pestle for a smoother gravy. 

To Make The Gravy

In a saucepan, brown 2 Tbsp butter over low heat
Whisk in 2 Tbsp gravy mix to make a thick paste
Add one cup of water slowly, whisking out any lumps as gravy thickens

We liked this gravy with homemade fries, and I used the gravy mix with extra flour and cornstarch to season and coat the chicken that I fried. We enjoyed it, and I hope that you do too! Have you ever tried  making your own sauces and seasonings?