Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Grocery Budget Tip – Monthly Shopping May 20, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 8:11 pm

I hate grocery shopping. I don’t like the “sticker shock” that I get each time I am at a store and notice how much prices are going up. Sometimes, it seems as though they change the prices every week. I almost never use coupons. How clever of the food industry to never make coupon for the foods that we actually use! (please insert the necessary amount of sarcasm here) I have never found a coupon for the pantry basics. If you don’t buy the packaged or the more pricey foods, then you are out of luck when it comes to utilizing coupons as a way to cut costs. It is only on the rare occasion that I find a coupon that is for something that I actually do need.

With that in mind, I go to the store with a well planned list of what I need for the month. Yep, you heard me right. I do a month’s worth of shopping at a time. The only exception being perishables that I am unable to home can. Luckily, those items are very few. It takes a lot of planning to shop this way. At first, you may only want to do 2-week’s worth of grocery shopping at a time. This would be in consideration of the expense of monthly supply runs. You can, however, prepare as though shopping for a month’s supplies.

I started by making a list of our family’s favorite meals for evening dinner. I started out with a couple of sheets of paper sectioned into columns. Each column was a different category of meal. Some categories are: casseroles, soups & stews, various ethnic foods, and any other category that you can come up with. Under each heading, I started making the lists of meals that we like. Some are ones that we have eaten a lot, while others are meals that we enjoy less often. You may even have seasonal favorites!

From these lists, I started planning weekly menus. In the warm months, I have menus that take advantage of the gardening season when produce prices are lower or when a family garden is producing. In cold months, I have much more of the casseroles, soups & stews on the menu. I also take advantage of late autumn produce. I write up as many combinations of meals as I can think of without using the same meal more than 3 times. If you eat a lot of meat, try to avoid having too many different types of meat in a week.

Once I have the weekly menu planned, I write a grocery list for that menu on the back of the menu. I don’t list each and every ingredient as much as making sure I have noted the main ingredients that are not a regular item in my pantry. I make note of the amount of each item listed to make the week’s meals. This helps me later on in planning the shopping trip.

Once I had a good selection of weekly menus to work with, I chose out 4 of them. These would become my monthly menu. I place then in the order that I want to use them. Next, I start writing up the shopping list. Using the ingredient lists on the back of the menus, I make a list of everything that I need for that month’s meals. For items that are repeated, I add the amounts together so that I am able to purchase enough for the entire month.

By making the monthly shopping list, I am able to save money. I can buy larger quantities which are broken down into the amounts needed for the individual meals after I get home. Being that I home can, I may buy 2-3
bags of frozen chicken breasts. I roast them in a roasting pan with a bit of water. Once they are nearly done, I cut or shred the meat and process it in canning jars with it’s broth added. This gives me a ready supply of fully cooked chicken that is ready to add to a meal. The night that I am doing this, we like end up having roasted chicken breasts for dinner. Sometimes, I will shred the meat and add BBQ sauce to it before processing in the canner. The shredded BBQ chicken makes great sandwiches or as a topping over a large baked potato!

When I began planning and doing my shopping in this way, I dropped our monthly grocery expenses 1/3 from what we had been spending. I was shocked at just how much the savings added up. We have been able to feed our family on far less than what we used to spend. It takes planning and discipline on my part. Once I shop for the month, I have to stick to the plan and not keep changing my mind on what to make. This doesn’t mean that it is not flexible. It only means that I have to be certain to not incur extra grocery expenses that month. It works great for our family. If you don’t do home canning but have a nice sized freezer, you can still do this method. Instead of canning the extra meat, simply put it into containers and freeze them.

Enjoy!

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Winter Preps – Already? April 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 2:54 pm

Spring is trying to ease it’s way into summer. Okay…..on some days the temps make me think it is trying to bulldoze it’s way into summer. Either way, it may seem a bit odd to be thinking of winter preps for next winter season. In reality, it is the perfect time to take stock of your resources as they are packed away.

Rising costs in heating a home can be a problem. There are simple things that can help ease that financial burden. One of the simplest of the easiest ways to help cut costs is to use quilts. This technique has been around for many generations. We do it in our home and have great results.

First, is to find quilts at a yard sale, thrift store, or other retail store. If you buy a new one, get a large one that can be cut down the middle to give you more for your money! A queen size quilt is wide enough to cover 2 standard sized windows. A quilt is hung up in the window to act as a heavy curtain as well as an insulating window covering. To turn a quilt into a window covering, add a pocket or casing along the top of the quilt’s backing to slide a rod through. A wide quilt, such as a queen size, can be cut in half down the center, giving you two pieces wide enough to cover most standard width windows.

Another place that we use heavy blankets or quilts is in doorways. Hanging a drapery rod (the dowel types are best) along the top of the doorway works well. Hang the quilt just as you would over a window. These will help keep the heat in the areas that you need it. We used these especially when we heated only with wood stoves. We hung the quilts on windows and in the entry to the pantry, which had no door. The heat from the wood stove stayed in the front room, children’s bedroom, and kitchen. My bedroom, which is in the very back of the house, has a quilt in the doorway that is it’s only door. In the coldest of winter nights when I used a kerosene heater to take the nip out of the air, the quilt kept the heat in the room. It worked so well that I could heat the room for about 2 hours and shut the heater off completely. The room was very warm to start with, but by morning it was only a little chilly. I slept comfortably all night long.

This time of year is when you see the quilts and other heavy blankets being sold. Often, you can find them on clearance shelves. If you plan to make them, starting now gives you ample time to get several made before cold winds begin to blow again. Recycle old blankets or fleece to be used as the middle layer of the quilts. Add a pretty fabric and you can have beautiful window quilts in very little time. They don’t have to be made fancy, only functional. A tied quilt works just as well as a machine or hand quilted one.

When finding fleece on clearance, consider buying extra to use as a covering over a bed sheet. Many a night, prior to using the kerosene heater in my bedroom, I have slept in between 2 fleece blankets. They kept me very warm and I never had to get in between 2 cold bed sheets. I layered more blankets on top, but sleeping in between the 2 layers of fleece really made the biggest difference. I could very comfortably sleep in a completely unheated bedroom on the coldest nights without any problems.

As you go to yard sales or second-hand stores, keep a thought towards next winter. By thoughtfully planning the preparations now, you will find yourself more than ready for winter when the time comes.

 

A Living Fence April 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 5:42 pm

The weather lately is becoming even more reliable for gardening. I now have potting soil and plenty of little containers for starting seeds.
As soon as the raised beds are ready, I will have the little plants ready to transplant. In previous years, the last frost occurred in late
April. With the mild winter we had, our planting season began a month earlier than usual. Already some families have planted their root crops
and a few salad greens. It seems unusual to me to think that in mid-April I am already behind in my garden planting.

This year, we are doing our garden in a completely new way. We are switching to the method of raised beds. One reason being that
it will be far less work for me to maintain. I won’t have to bend down or get on my knees in the garden to weed or manage the plants. The
second reason is that we will have more control over the critters that like to use our garden as their personal buffet. We are recycling old
shipping crates and pallets to make the garden. The garden beds will be about waist high and lined with the leftover black weed barrier plastic
from last year. The plastic will hold in the dirt while still allowing the extra water to drain through.

I have a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening, which I bought last summer. In the book, he gives his “recipe” for a no-weed soil planting mixture. It contains peat moss, vermiculite, and composted soil. The peat moss and vermiculite loosens the soil as well
as providing retaining moisture. This is a big concern if you live in a drought area. The composted soil provides nutrients the plants need. One of the best parts of his soil mixture is that it makes the gardening much easier to manage. You have a relatively weed-free garden. The only weeds that it may produce are those grown from seeds that may have blown into the raised bed on a windy day. I used the square foot gardening method years ago when I lived in an upper desert region. It was very successful. I had a much larger harvest than when I tried gardening in the traditional way. This year’s garden may be much smaller than I would have planted in the ground, but as we are able to add more raised beds, I will have an expanded garden area to use.

An extra benefit to this garden is that my husband is having it set up as a fence line along one side of the children’s play yard. We are going to
let each of them plant a few vegetables in their own little garden beds. Our youngest daughter and oldest grandson, who are both 6 yrs old, have each picked out a couple of favorite vegetables that they would like to plant. I am excited to watch them plant and tend their little garden areas. It will be fun to see them get excited about the plants blooming and producing the veggies.

Having this growing fence line is such a wonderful idea. My darling husband is such a clever man to think of it! We plan to plant cherry tomatoes and possibly some strawberries that the children can snack on if they get hungry while playing in the yard. Both our little girl and grandson love strawberries and cherry tomatoes. Who knows? We may end up having to plant a strawberry bed and a cherry tomato plant for each of the kids so that they all get enough to snack on.

I am amazed that the garden is only going to cost us the price of the nails and the soil mix. The recycled crates and pallets are free from a
lumber yard in a town about 25 miles from home. If you ask around, you may find old pallets that are being given away. Businesses that receive their order shipments on a pallet have to pay to have the old ones hauled off when they are done using them. If you ask, you may find that they are willing to give away the old pallets for free or ask only a very small price for them. The lumber yard that we got ours from gives
the old ones away but sells new pallets for $6.00 each. Prices depend on the business. You might find some through Craig’s List or the local newspaper.

 

Canning BBQ Beef March 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 5:40 pm

Had a brain storm that turned out to be a great idea. My dear husband drives truck and is gone from home quite a bit. I have been home canning foods for him in pint or half-pint jars, depending on what the food is. While at the grocery store, I bought a couple of pounds of very thin sliced roast beef from the deli. I am mixing this with BBQ sauce and then jarring it up for him. It is SO good! In a pint jar, he has enough to make a couple of very meaty sandwiches. A half-pint jar is enough for a topping over potatoes or rice.

I am now thinking of other deli meats and how I might be able to do the same with sliced turkey. Sliced ham would be good with a glaze-type sauce. Roasting up some boneless chicken breasts to shred up and can in BBQ sauce is another good option for the sandwiches. I am considering trying to do up some sweet & sour chicken or beef for him to have over rice also.

The ideas are flowing. Now to go through my recipes and see what can be jarred up and used for his meals away from home.

 

Musings March 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 7:33 pm

Sigh….. 49 years old. I remember when I was a kid and 49 seemed so old. I mean the “one foot in the grave” old. Now, I am facing it looming up upon me. Next month, I will be having my 49th birthday. Yeah, it will be an epic moment in time for me. I will be 1 year away from that half century mark. I don’t know if I am ready for that. LOL

I have quite enjoyed having my husband and I both being in our 40’s. Oh the vanity! This will be the last year of that. Then I will be officially that older woman with a husband who’s age is a totally different (and younger) decade. Yes, I married a man who is 6 years younger than myself. I have quite enjoyed that we have both been in our 40’s at the same time.

It is rather interesting to me. I know some people lament the passing years. I am finding that with the years comes a sense of peace. I know who I am and what I want to accomplish in my life. The goals that I may have had 20 years ago are silly now. I had a total respect for the old ways that my Grandmother had spoken of. Some of our neighbors when I was a child were horse & buggy Amish. I loved learning about their lifestyle and way of doing things. I was in awe of them and their ability to be so self-reliant. Being young, I had dreamed of living as they did, but wasn’t sure that I could give up the technology that I enjoyed. I look at my life now and am comfortable with the balance that we have found.

Like the Amish, we do most things using methods that have been done for decades/centuries before electricity became so commonplace. We do laundry by hand and dry it on the clothesline. I have a wood burning stove to cook meals on in cold months. My sewing machine is a treadle type. Our lighting is from oil lamps. Propane refrigeration and kitchen stove round out the appliances. Even some Amish use propane for refrigeration and stove.

We differ from the horse & buggy Amish in that I have the netbook computer and we drive a car. I have a cell phone. A year ago, we set up a small solar power system using 2 panels the size of cookie sheets to give us the ability to charge the cell phone. It has been a blessing to have that. My eldest daughter & her family are living with us due to a job loss. They also have cell phones and my youngest son has an I-pod that he uses daily. Those are charged on that same solar power system. Yes, it is a bit eclectic thinking but it works for us.

At this age, I now see so much wisdom in the way of life we have chosen. Bless his heart, my husband was willing to go along with this lifestyle when I suggested the benefits to it. We are getting so much more from it than we had originally planned on. Not only are we healthier, but there is a constant rhythm to it that is calming for our youngest. He has enough time around technology to be able to learn to adapt to the external stimuli. At home however, he is able to have a rest from it. With that, the autism stims and other behaviors have lessened. He is able to have a calm environment to learn and grow in. With the calm surroundings, he is able to better focus on his therapies and preschool activities.

Our youngest daughter is homeschooling and growing to love our life here. Once her homeschooling is done, she is outdoors most days. Nature study is a daily thing when you have so much of nature literally just outside your back door. Every day, she will find something new for us to look up and find information about. Trees, plants, flowers, insects, birds, and so much more.

Not having a TV, we have so much more time to spend together doing fun activities as a family. We play games at the kitchen table in the evening or on rainy days. We read to the children. We do crafts together. We go on walks. Some days, we go to the library and spend most of the day there reading, letting the children play games on their children’s computers, and checking out books to read at home. We go on outings. Spend an afternoon at the lake or going to a museum. Without the TV at home, we don’t become distracted by what is on the TV. We have more time to devote to our family and friends.

Yes, it is interesting looking at my life as I approach the end of the decade called your 40’s. I can say with all honesty that I love my life and the blessings that I enjoy each and every day.

 

Getting Organized February 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 4:27 am

It is finally acting like winter here. Last night and tonight are having temps in the low 20’s or upper teens. Times like this, I especially love the wood cookstove. I can certainly understand why a woman generations ago would have enjoyed working or sitting near the stove or hearth. It tends to be my favorite place also.

Next winter, we will have added a different heating system to the house. We have been considering putting in propane heaters in the home. We are finally in a position to be able to afford it. When the prices come down after winter season is over, we will be buying the heaters. By autumn, we will have a large propane tank and the heaters installed. We have always heated the house with wood. We are seeing where, as we get older, the option of using propane is becoming more appealing. My dear husband drives a truck and is only home 2 days per week. This severely limits his ability to help with firewood cutting. So, the propane heating will be best for us. I will still use the wood cookstove in winter. By using it, I will save on the propane usage. I also enjoy cooking on it.

I am reworking the pantry. A local hardware store had a sale on heavy duty shelving. These are metal shelves that are made to hold 200 lbs per shelf. Once shelving unit I purchased is shown to hold 250 lbs per shelf. These will be perfect for the pantry. They will easily hold the home canned foods as well as the 20 lb buckets of flour, rice, sugar, etc. A grocery store in a town about 40 miles from home sells cans of vegetables for a very low cost. I am able to buy a flat of 12 cans for only $5.50 each. Typically, I will buy 12 flats at a time which provides over 3 months supply of vegetables for about $63. I am sorting the flats of vegetables to be stacked on the new shelves. These heavier shelves will free up the lighter weight ones for paper goods and such.

Now that I am getting a good start on the pantry, I am getting antsy to start on other areas. Homeschool supplies are always an issue. My dream is to have a single supply cabinet or shelving unit to hold everything. I like to purchase school supplies in bulk when they are on sale. I stock up and keep the extra in baskets or bins currently.

One big task that I am going to do is write up an inventory of what we have both in the pantry and in school supplies. This will require a lot of time, but once done, it will be easy to maintain. I am wanting to have a running list of what we have so that when sales are taking place, I will know what we are in need of. This will also help me to be a better steward of the financial resources that we have available to us.

 

Spring Gardening Plans February 1, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 6:41 pm

I have been loving this mild winter. I have a couple of small shallow wooden bins that I am going to plant garlic into. They are just the right size and depth for garlic or onions to grow in. Tomorrow, I will buy the supplies to make a batch of good raised bed garden mix. The book by Mel Bartholomew, “Square Foot Gardening”, has the instructions in it for making the soil mixture that he recommends for the raised beds. I am hoping that by using this mixture in my raised beds, the garden will do better this year.

The seed catalogs have begun to arrive. The first to reach my mailbox was Heirloom Acres Seeds. I have bought from them before and loved the seeds I received. I enjoy that I can buy a packet, or they offer several weights of packaging to choose from. Each is very low priced in comparison to most of the other seed companies. Their seeds are open pollinated.

The other company that I buy from is Baker Creek. They also have the open pollinated seeds. They carry many of the varieties that are more rare or unusual to find in addition to the old standards that most companies carry. They also have very good prices. I always look forward to seeing their catalog. It is filled with such a wide array of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. If you are curious about trying something completely new in your garden, they would be my first place to go.

The sweet potatoes have been bought. I cut them in half and placed them, cut side down, in a tray of water to grow their sprouts. In about a month, I will have sprouts to place into a jar of water to grow roots. These will then be ready for the kids to plant in their deep buckets and for me to plant in a large container for the garden.