Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden

I recently signed up with Blogging for Books!  They send me a book (which I get to request), I read it, and then I review it.  I get to say what I really think about the book that I read - woo hoo!  My only compensation for my review is the reading copy of the book.

My first request was for The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, by Karen Newcomb.  Below is my honest review of this book:

I have gardened for a very long time.  I grew up around gardens, and since I became a (supposed) grownup, I've almost always had one.  These days, I find myself in a rather silly situation - five acres of land, but the deer have gotten so comfortable that I can't garden here...well, I can, but the deer eat all the food we grow. 

The only success I have these days is in enclosed spaces, but enclosing a space can get expensive.  With some materials we had on hand, We have enclosed a small, 6x14 enclosure for gardening. 

Enter the book, The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, by Karen Newcomb.  It is written specifically for those gardening in tight spaces, including containers, flower boxes and small garden plots.  I thought this book did a good and thorough job of explaining the process, yet I never felt bogged down by 'too much information'.  I liked the information at the beginning of the book that provided some history about different forms of intensive gardening, and I like the way the book is organized through the seasons - preparation of site and soil, adding amendments and planting patterns that help you get the most from a small space, such as companion planting and inter-planting earlier and later crops.  Ms. Newcomb even provides specific plant variety recommendations to increase the chances of success, as well as sources for the varieties she recommends. 

To me, the overall message of the book is that there are a few different ways to succeed.  There are guidelines and suggestions, but no rigidity.  If you can't get one soil amendment in your area, there are suggestions of others that will have similar effect.  If you want to start your own seedlings, the information is there, but there are also some tips for purchasing ready-to-plant seedlings.  There are multiple layout ideas - none of which I would use precisely as shown, but all of which help illustrate the author's suggestions that you plant taller plants to the north (so they don't shade shorter plants), etc. 

I like this book, and I appreciate the flexibility it embraces.  Having gardened a long time, I have used different methods in different locations with varying results, and I think the author did a good job of presenting small-scale, intensive gardening in a broad and informative way.

The new title is a revision of a former book - The Postage Stamp Kitchen Garden Book

Monday, March 30, 2015

Our Menu, as March Turns Into April, plus preliminary Easter dinner plans

I've started planning my menu beginning with Sundays again.  Since Husband takes leftovers to work the next day for lunch, this is just easier somehow.

The black bean burgers with smoked provolone (last week's menu) were really tasty!

While I don't really plan breakfast day to day, I do know that this week, I need to make granola and yogurt - we are low on both.  I think I'll also make some muffins.  We are getting a lot of eggs right now, so I may try to do an egg dish too.

We are starting the week with a few leftovers in the fridge, so I don't think I'll have to make any lunch foods - we will find things on hand and eat those, or else make something simple like a peanut butter sandwich.

Last week's 'southern' supper - ham, blackeye peas, corn bread and green beans.

Suppers are planned as follows:

S - teriyaki beef, rice, sesame spinach, bean sprout salad, kimchee, seasoned nori, macaroni salad, pineapple rings, mochi  (We have had this meal at the time of posting, and it was really good!)

Sunday's supper....
...and mochi for dessert!

M - pulled pork on toasted buns, slaw, strawberries & pineapple

T - chicken enchilada soup, shredded cheese, sour cream, chips with salsa & guacamole

W - lasagna bake, green beans, garlic toast, sliced apples

R - Asian chicken salad w/ chow mein noodles, toasted almonds & mandarin oranges

F - omelets with spinach, cheese and ham, toast, fruit salad

S - leftover clean-up

Easter Dinner - I don't have things completely pinned down, but Husband has requested almond Danish for Easter weekend, and Daughter asked if we can have ham for Easter dinner.  I'd like to have scalloped potatoes....a salad with toasted pecans and thin sliced apples would go nicely with the ham and potatoes...but I will also wait to see what the sales have to offer (I wouldn't mind some asparagus!)  I won't plan a dessert, since we're having the Danish and I suspect there will be a bit of Easter candy.  I could add deviled eggs to the menu too...time will tell.

What's the meal plan at your place this week?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Blessings and Frugal Accomplishments - March into April

Hello!  It's been a busy, but frugal week!

I picked some daffodils from our yard to add some indoor cheer.

Last summer we picked up a nice swing set/climber from freecycle.  When we got it home, we unloaded it somewhere 'easy', but this week we moved it to a better location that is more private to the road but still nice and level.  Some of the carriage bolts were very difficult to use because the threads had been damaged by the previous owner.  Husband used a grinder to take off the tips of the bolts and they thread easily now.  Some time, but zero cost.

I was able to spend an afternoon with a dear friend.  It was so nice to visit and catch up!

I got several freebies in the mail.

Then, on the day we went to town, we got the freebies pictured below.  Daughter had received a post card inviting her to come get a free mini Lego set to introduce the new Lego Elves.  The others are free Friday downloads from King Sooper.

I have been reading about intensive gardening methods...which I have done before.  We looked around at materials we have on hand and chose a space to fence a small garden.  We have to fence and cover to protect from deer, but most of the supplies we need are on-hand.  I will need to order some PVC connectors, but I think we have enough PVC pipe on hand.  We have posts and cyclone fence, as well as some plastic netting for the top cover.  We used shovels to double dig the garden plot, and it dug quite easily.  We turned in rabbit manure and will add compost this week.

I went through our stock of seeds, and gathered all the ones we needed this year, and planted seeds in starter pots.  The trays are ones we had on hand from other projects.  The pots are made of newspaper.   I have a little wooden doohickey specially made to form newspaper into pots.  I got it at Goodwill several years ago for 79 cents, I think, but before that, I just used a soup can.

 The soil is organic gardening soil that I got free with a gift card at K-mart last fall, when we had transferred a prescription.  The seeds were all inexpensive, from stores like Dollar Tree, or purchased from Ace Hardware a few years ago on clearance.

The containers are loosely covered with plastic wrap to help keep in the moisture.
I made some fruit punch with the last of the syrup from a jar of home-canned plums, along with the juice from a can of pineapple that we opened.  I used far less sugar by substituting the syrup and juice.

We benefited from the spring cleaning of others and received some shelving, storage containers and a lovely park bench.

I sold some things we no longer needed on a local buy-sell-trade page on Facebook.  I also found an inversion table in like-new condition and very reasonably priced.  We have been looking for one for a while now - it's very good for stretching and relieving back pain.  They are somewhat large, but we spent a little time dis-mantling it on-site, and we were able to haul it home in our car, instead of one of us making a trip back in the pickup.

I cut back and trimmed up all the houseplants.  They had gotten scraggly over winter.  I think they will fill in nicely during spring.

I completed a survey for Pinecone Research.

This week was Spring Break.  We attended some fun, free library programs, played board games,  and did some other local activities.

The zipper on my wallet broke, and the whole think just sort of died. (Pieces flew in all directions!)  I went to Goodwill and found a wallet I really liked....but the zipper was broken on it!  Daughter has a wallet she has been using some - we got it at Goodwill a few months ago.  It is the type I use and like, so she gave it to me, and is using a small change purse with a zipper closure until I am able to find something else, or until she sees something she would prefer.  What a sweet girl!  Her wallet was missing the little pull, so I added a paper clip.

We also dropped off some donations at Goodwill, and we were able to find a pair of moccasins for Daughter, as well as sandals for summer.  She was quite happy about that.

Taffy started showing signs of a urinary tract infection.  I had to take her to the vet, because the treatment is a prescription of antibiotics.  I made some effort to keep costs down.  The vet wanted to do a urinalysis, and I asked her if she could prescribe the antibiotic without it, since Taffy's symptoms were so spot-on.  She said she could not prescribe until she confirmed that it was a UTI, and not some other issue, such as crystals in the urine (at least I tried!).  I had read that a urinalysis might be required so I managed to collect a urine sample at home, to take with us.  They said they couldn't use it, so I won't bother with that in the future (but at least I tried).  I was told the sample had to be 'very fresh'.  So....my sweet puppy, who had been needing to pee very, very often, was suddenly not the least bit interested in providing a sample.  The vet wanted to keep her there and give her a diuretic...for an additional $40....so I asked if they could try a bowl of water first, partly because of the cost, and partly because I hate to give her medicine just to produce a urine sample.  She did agree to that...and she didn't charge me the 'half-day hospitalization fee'...probably for fear that I'd go all DIY and give Miss Puppykins syringes of water until I got a sample in their parking lot.  The result of all this was that she did indeed have a minor UTI, and was given a 2 week prescription for Amoxicillin.  It didn't occur to me to ask for a prescription and take it to a pharmacy for humans, but the way it was done - the tech came out with the dog and the filled prescription bottle, so I didn't see the vet at all when we came back in the afternoon - there wasn't really an opportunity.  If I had done that, I probably would have saved another $10, but I saved about $100 just by asking the questions I asked.  I told Taffy that I was going to start adding cranberries to her treats!

Resting in front of the fire after her medicine...her fur was so warm!
There were good prices on a few grocery items - we stocked up on Planter's dry roast peanuts - $1.19 per 16 oz. jar after sale and coupon, and we got various flavors and types of tea for $1 - $2 per box.  Leaf lettuces were .88 per head and avocados were 3/ $1.  I got butter for .99 per pound, but I only had enough coupons for six.  I was able to get 4lb. bags of C&H pure cane sugar for 1.19, and strawberries for .88/lb. Those are just some highlights, of course - not everything we got this week! :)

Kohls sent me a post card for $10 off a purchase.  I chose this mini wax warmer (it's night light size, and plugs into the wall!) and one set of scent cubes.  Total out of pocket was 52 cents!

How was your week?  What did you do to save more, spend less and make do?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

From the Craft Table

(Is that a better post title?  I'm going for clever/interesting.  At least it's better than "Look What I Made!")

My main goal this week was to put up some Easter decorations.  It was also spring break, and that kept us busy away from home, so my 'crafting' was mostly sprucing up some things for Easter.  I had gotten this basket with moss and eggs and some flowers, secondhand, for $2.  It looked a bit scruffy when I got it, but I had some silk flowers and silk ivy at home that I added, until it looked like this:

I have it hanging in the entry:

The bird hooks are for hanging coats,
except when they have a basket of eggs on them, hee hee.

They have these printed chip boards at Dollar Tree this year.  They come with an outer cutout done up in purple glitter, which I didn't thing went with the old fashioned look of the chicks, the lettering...so I removed it.  The only other Easter/spring stuff I had to put out were the egg cups and the little chicky salt and pepper shakers, so I guess I'm done for now.

What's really taking my attention right now is this stuff:

Making space for seedlings.  

All the seeds we'll need for this year's garden.  :)

Meanwhile, there is a little bit of crafting I plan to do before Easter, but I think I can get it done.  Are you making anything these days?  Are you gardening this year?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Menu for the Last Full Week of March

Hello, Dearies!  This week is Spring Break in our neck of the woods (I mis-typed weeds, which is actually more accurate for the praire!).

We are having some rather nice weather, so we're working outside more, preparing for gardening and other outdoor activities.  There are some days we will be in town for special activities, Dr. appointments, etc.  I've switched to a Sunday to Saturday plan - I want to see if that works better for us.  Here is the menu plan for the week:

Breakfasts are mostly 'choice'.  This week we have:

hard boiled eggs
frozen blueberries
home-canned applesauce
fresh strawberries, apples, mango
eggs for scrambling or over-easy
peanut butter

Lunches are often leftovers from the day before.  If leftovers are not available, we can make:

macaroni and cheese, salad, fruit
bean & cheese burritos
pbj on multigrain bread, carrots & celery, apples

And this is the plan for Suppers:

S - beef broccoli with pan crispy noodles, fresh mango, applesauce cake
M - spaghetti w/meat sauce, garlic toast, zucchini saute', apple slices
T - white chicken chili (from the freezer), chips with guacamole
W - egg rolls (also from the freezer, I made lots last time), steamed rice, green salad w/Asian dressing
R - fish tacos, slaw, jello
F - leftovers - or - grilled ham, green beans, blackeye peas, hoecakes
S - black bean burgers, garden salad, apples

Finally, here are some ideas for Snacks:

dried figs and almonds
apples and honey roasted peanuts
cream cheese and crackers, juice
celery w/peanut butter
jam and bread

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Blessings, Frugal Accomplishments for the Third Week of March

Daughter thought playing indoors with Mama Hen would be a good idea.  I did not agree....
(She's really cute though, isn't she?)

My good friend often buys jeans that are my size.  Actually, we're the same size, but she is considerably taller than I am.  (This is true of most people.)  This week she gave me a pair of jeans she'd gotten on clearance that were too short for her, but fit me perfectly.  I gave her a pair I'd gotten at Goodwill that fit fine, but I was going to have to hem them.  Hopefully, they will work for her and we will both have pants.  She also shared a circular Knifty Knitter loom with me.  I had all of them except the one for baby hats, and I wanted to make a baby hat for an upcoming baby shower.

We had some good produce prices this week, and I was able to get mangoes for 33 cents, strawberries for 1.25 (until Wednesday, then the price was higher), leaf lettuces for 88 cents and roma tomatoes for .66/lb.  I found some salad dressings, mints and cookies on markdown as well.  I usually make our salad dressings (and our cookies), but it's nice to have some in the pantry for busy (or poorly managed) times.

applesauce muffins
I made multigrain bread, lasagna, salsa, various salads and sides, pizza,and applesauce cake.  I had planned to make peanut butter muffins, but Daughter explained to me that she likes peanut butter, but not foods that have peanut butter as an ingredient.  When I made the applesauce cake, I baked half in a 'brownie pan' and the other half as muffins.

Husband transferred his other prescription and got our final $25 store credit at King Sooper.

As it turns out, Taffy is a digger.  One day when we'd put her in her kennel, we later spotted her romping and playing across the street.  This week I took some concrete block that we had on hand (it was here when we bought the place) and buried them so that she can not dig out and escape her kennel.

This has nothing to do with frugality - it's more of a blessing - but I just wanted to share that Taffy had her first play date this week.  A friend of mine has Taffy's brother, Leo, and brought him by so we could see if they would enjoy playing together.  They romped and ran and cavorted the entire time, and she slept all afternoon.  We will likely be getting them together now and then.  It was fun for them, and fun to watch!

I received my first book for review from Book Blogger.  Stay tuned!

my $3 shoebox full of thread - woo hoo!
We sold some things we no longer needed, and I purchased all this thread for $3.  The local buy-sell-trade page is a good one!  I also gave away a few things on freecycle and took some donations to Goodwill.

Some folks get allergies every year - most years, I get garden fever.  I have an especially bad case this year, so I am doing a fair amount of planning, inventory, and digging about in sheds and barn stalls to see what I have that I can use to create a garden that is pretty, fun, and more or less animal-defensive.  Because this climate is somewhat arid, there is no lush greenery for the deer, rabbits, etc., so they tend to ravage the gardens.  I am looking to make that harder for them without spending a small fortune.  I'll share more as I find things I can use to that end.

We pulled the car over on the way home from town to observe a great horned owl in a tree.  We don't often see them in the middle of the day, so this was a special treat for us.

I hope you had a great week!  Are you planning to garden this year?  Share your frugal victories and garden plans in the comments, if you please.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Look What I Made!

That's got to be just about the goofiest title for a post.  If you have a better idea (surely, you must!) please share it so I can embarrass myself a little less!

It's been a pretty crafty week.  I've been invited to a baby shower next month, so I made this:
baby blanket - purple and furry on one side, soft gray jersey on the other
and this:
The colors match better (between the blanket and the hat) in person than in the photos. :)

And a card.....


I hope the mom-to-be likes them.

I had picked up some Dollar Tree solar lights to try this cute project.  It turns out that Dollar Tree solar lights are the teeniest bit smaller than the opening of an old blue mason jar, so I cut a piece of black cardstock and hot-glued it to each solar light, to make the whole thing work.

As soon as the hot glue was cooled, they were ready to go.  I love these, because they don't alter the jar in any way, so they aren't diminishing them at all.  These are fun night lights in my kitchen - I've enjoyed them a lot!

These glow quite nicely...but don't photograph very well....

I made a cute little something for a cute little someone's Easter basket, but I don't want to spoil the surprise.....

Now that the upper piece is repaired, these two pieces fit together....

I also used a little glue to repair this pumpkin cutout.  The upper piece had cracked near the center, but with some Elmer's glue and time, now it's good as new.

...like this!  I will put it in my fall decoration bin for next season.
Well, that's about it, from my craft table to yours!  I hope you're finding time and inspiration to create something too!

Monday, March 16, 2015

This Week's Menu

Happy Monday!  I'm still playing around with doing a little more planning with the menu for the week....here goes!

For breakfasts this week I'm going to have some boiled eggs and bacon ready to eat.  I want to try a new muffin recipe too, for peanut butter muffins.  I think they would be really good with strawberry jam.  We also have yogurt, fruit and granola, as well as oatmeal that I can cook up quickly.  I am not planning each day, just wanting to have some things on hand and ready to go for breakfasts.

Lunches will be leftovers from previous meals, plus I plan to have salad several days.  I am 'salad hungry' lately. :)

I had a dinner menu jotted down for this week, but I changed it last minute.  Sunday was a glorious, beautiful day, so Husband soaked some hickory and fruit woods and grilled chicken, turkey and ribs on the charcoal grill.  We ate some on Sunday, but we have lots left.  I will freeze some of the excess, but I want to work some of it into this week's menu as well....so here is the dinner menu for this week!

turkey legs - smoky and delicious
M -  smoky chicken barbecue sandwiches, steamed broccoli, sliced apples
T -   lasagna bake, salad, garlic toast, smoothies
W -  smoked turkey, rice, mixed vegetable stir fry
R -   taco salad, chips and salsa
F -   cheesy chicken-potato casserole, slaw, sliced apples
S -   steak on the grill, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, whole wheat brownies
S -   barbecue chicken pizza (we didn't get to this last week), carrot & celery sticks

ribs - yum!
Snacks will be popcorn, fresh fruit slices, fresh vegetables sticks, muffins, and crackers w/cream cheese.  I will make infused water too - it is my new treat!

What's on the menu at your place this week?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments and Blessings, Second Week of March

My dear friend and I went out for breakfast.  I printed a certificate from restaurant.com to reduce the cost.  It was really fun to get together, visit and catch up a bit!  When we got back to her home, she shared some beautiful roses with me.  They looks so cheerful this week in our dining room.

I completed a couple of surveys for Pinecone Research.

Rawr!  Daughter sold some of the dinosaurs she had outgrown.  Now she has a fund she
can use to buy toys and supplies that fit her current interests.  She mostly gets these
items second-hand.  We are hopeful that this is teaching her good stewardship with
We were able to sell a few more things we no longer needed on a local Facebook buy-sell-trade page.  We also gave away some items.  It is really nice to free up the space in our basement and make it more useful.

Daughter had some standardized testing this week.  Since she is enrolled in a virtual school, we had to travel into town to the testing site, so we did some errands on the way home from testing.  We packed food from home to save money (and have healthier choices).  We used a coupon for a free Jr. Frosty on Monday (for her) and we did stop for lunch on Tuesday, but it was Taco Tuesday (like in the Lego Movie!) and I had a coupon for a free bean/cheese burrito (for her), so the out of pocket cost for that meal was less than $1.25.  (I had packed food that day, but she had eaten it all during testing.)

I discovered 'infused water'.  This was a side-effect of waiting for Daughter at the testing site, which was a nice hotel.  They had stations set up for guests and visitors and had infused water available.  The first day was strawberry-blueberry, and the second day was cucumber-orange.  I struggle to drink enough water, but I really like the infused water.  They had 6-8 blueberries and 3-4 sliced strawberries in a 2 gallon container of water, and the flavor really came through.  So...now...I am making it at home, drinking more water,and enjoying it very much.  I can also toss the 'used' fruit into a smoothie.

I made 11 half pints and one quarter pint (plus a little extra that we are eating).
It is lower in sugar, but still plenty sweet.
Strawberries were 1.25/lb this week, so I bought some for eating...and some for strawberry jam.  The price of corned beef was really not what I hoped for, so I did not get any, but chickens were on sale for .88 a pound, so I put a couple in the freezer.  There were also good prices for pasta sauce (.69/jar after sale/coupon) and some other produce, like celery (.88/bunch) and cabbage (.20/lb.)  I found petite sirloin steaks on sale for $4 a pound and bought almost 7lbs....and wrapped and froze packages to put in the freezer.  That is the same price we are seeing for ground beef on sale, so if we need ground beef, I can always make some with a package of these steaks.  (I have a meat grinder attachment for my mixer.) Finally, I got a freebie (free friday download) and found some items on a markdown shelf that will be great for the Easter basket.

Homemade jam on homemade bread with homemade yogurt...topped with
blueberries and homemade granola.
I milled a few different grains for various whole-grain flours, then I baked bread and blueberry muffins.  Last Sunday I made grilled turkey steaks (brushed with barbecue sauce, and sprinkled with cheddar and crumbled bacon - yum!), baked potatoes and steamed broccoli and carrots for Sunday dinner - it was tasty, and really quite affordable. Throughout the week I made cheese enchiladas (also made the sauce!), Mexican rice, mashed potatoes, fried rice, bean sprout salad, grilled chicken w/pasta and vegetables, burgers, and potato salad.  We had salads and fresh fruit too, and ate leftovers for lunch when there were extras around.

We used a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables this week, and the chickens and rabbits benefited from the peels, cores, etc.  They enjoy these treats, especially in the cold months when there is not any fresh grass or bugs (bugs for the chickens, not the rabbits).

I'm working a little bit these days.  The library has contracted me for some chicken programs for kids, and I had my first chicken program today.  They are really fun, and I think the children and families had a nice time.  I learned this past week that I will be doing some bunny programs during Summer Reading, and I'm looking forward to those as well.

Daughter has a rainbow of soft, flowy pants for summertime.

This (second) order also had a yellow v-neck shirt,
which is in the laundry right now.
The items I ordered from Schoola came, and Daughter really likes them.  Our order was correct and timely, but my friend who ordered had one item the wrong size....Schoola made it right when she contacted them, and I'm glad to hear that they are making an effort to make things right if there is a mistake or error.  If you register with them you get $15 off your first order, with no minimum purchase.  I had one person use my link to sign up - she got $15 off her order, and I was given an additional $15 off as well, so Daughter is all ready for summer!  She especially loves the loose, flowy pants, because they are both pretty and comfortable.

This owl shirt turned out to be a freebie, and it's
cute with her freebie pants!
I bought a couple of items this week too, using some of the funds I got selling items we no longer needed.  Actually, the lady we bought this owl shirt from refused our money ($1)....we were supposed to meet at 10 and she got there late and insisted we just take the shirt.  It goes well with Daughter's pants from Schoola!

I also bought a piano lamp this week.  I am very happy to have this and I've been looking for one for a long time.  It is the House of Troy brand, which I had never heard of (I don't get out much when it comes to shopping), but it has a long cord and a heavy base, and it serves its purpose quite well.  It was $5.  When I went online to find out about the light bulbs, I learned that the ones like this one sell new for...$234 on Amazon.  YIKES.  I can't say that I saved that much, because I don't think I would spend that much for a lamp under any circumstance, but I'm hopeful that it means the lamp is high quality and will last a long time.

I washed our clothing with homemade laundry soap and dried everything on drying racks or outdoors.  It sure was nice to hang the sheets in the sunshine! We also used our wood stove as needed to help keep the house warm.

Did you have a good, frugal week?  Share your victories in the comments, if you please.  We can all learn from one another.