Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Resetting Our Focus February 23, 2016

Filed under: homesteading,organization,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:44 pm
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Over the weekend, hubby was home for his time off from the truck. What a LONG 8 weeks it was that he had been gone! Luckily, this isn’t always the length of time apart. We sure have enjoyed the family time though. As always, it goes by far too quickly for us.

I awoke early today. Long before sunrise and much earlier than my usual. It is surprising when I consider how tired that I was after yesterday. Sunday was our “Family Day” when we just had fun together. We had celebrated a joint birthday party for the kids at a children’s museum. They had a lot of fun there. Being a trucking family, we are having to be creative in our celebrations. Little Miss’ birthday will arrive before Daddy’s home again, and Pookie’s birthday will arrive just after he heads back out on the truck. Looking at the calendar, we realized that Daddy’s next home time will be Easter weekend. That would not have worked out for a birthday party. To wait until the next scheduled hometime would put the kids celebrating late April/early May. So, we had the party on Sunday instead. On their actual birthdays, we will have cake and presents. This was simply a special gathering to have fun with friends and family.

On Monday, we had a work day. I had cleared out the back room as much as I could without help. There were boxes that Hubby had to sort out and lifting that I cannot do. So, he helped me with that portion. What a task! Thankfully, it got done. We are only keeping an extremely small fraction of what was there. About 90% of it is either being donated or was put into the burn pit.

It has been frustrating to see the amount of damage the field mice had done over the past 2 years that the room was used for storage. Blankets, quilts, sleeping bags, clothing, were damaged. We will definitely be investing in more storage totes in the future. Many of the bedding items were old, so I don’t feel as bad as if they were new. It is still an expense that we will have to make though in replacing it all.

Now, the last of the room can be finished by me. Mostly clearing out a large antique desk and sorting through the bookcases. The closet will be another project for Hubby later since it contains only his things. Being so close to done is very rejuvenating to me. When first faced with clearing out a packed storage room, the task can seem overwhelming. You literally can feel drained just thinking about it. Now that it is nearly completed, I am eager to finish the job. During Hubby’s time out on the truck, I will be getting the room ready to move the kids’ bed into it next time he is home. Then, we will move into the kids’ old room.

I am really looking forward to getting the front room rearranged back into a nice area for homeschooling and relaxing. It has been too long since we have had that. I also am going to love having more useable space in the house. For many, the idea of purging over half of your belongings can seem crazy. Let’s face it, we live in a society where having more seems to be the goal. People want to have the best of everything and more of it.

This brings me to the topic I wanted to touch upon, Setting Our Focus. When we choose to simplify our lives, we have to reset our way of thinking. First, we have to consider just how we got to the place we are in. What choices did we make that led us to the lifestyle that is needing changed? We have to find those answers within ourselves before we can move forward in the simplifying. To skip this step is to set ourselves up to fail. We will be making the same choices and mistakes that caused up to be living in a way that brings about stress and financial worry.

Most often, the greatest obstacle that people have is in their purchases. Our society has the idea that you need the newest and best of everything. That is the complete opposite of those who seek a more simplified lifestyle. Yes, we want the best, but only in the fact that we are wanting something that will last. One example would be a wheat grinder. There may be cheaper ones for sale, but buying one that will last for many years of hard use is preferable in that it won’t need repairs or replacing very quickly. Cookware is another purchase where better quality is the preferred. Again, this helps to prevent having to replace items after only a couple years of use.

The purchases that we try to especially avoid are the impulsive ones. How often does a child ask for a toy at the store, only to forget about their new toy within a week of buying it? Clearance sales can be a nightmare. The impulse to buy something because of the lower price can entice you to spend money on something that you wouldn’t purchase if it were regular price.

The money spent on the frivolous and impulsive purchases can best be used to either pay down a debt, build up your food pantry or other needed supplies, or to simply put away in a savings account. Here is a personal example. Recently, Hubby and I were out running errands and bought coffee. We went to Starbucks as a treat. I spent $11 for two venti (20 ounce) size cups of coffee. At a grocery store, that same $11 could have bought a 25 lb bag of flour with $3 in change left over. This is why I refer to Starbucks as a treat. It isn’t something that we do on a regular basis. We also are aware that the cost takes away from something else.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot have fun and take the kids on outings if you are simplifying your spending. On the contrary! We are able to do more. A good example is the children’s museum. To get a family of 4 into the museum costs $32 for one day. Now, if that same family were to buy a yearly family pass, it would cost about $80. Just 3 trips to the museum would more than pay for that fee. When buying the annual family pass, there is an option to pay and extra $40 to get an annual pass that will get you unlimited admissions into 5 museums in our area. One of the museums is a large science museum that is quite pricey to attend if paid by the day/visit. Add the annual pass for the museums package to the $65 cost for an annual family pass to the zoo, and you have spent less than $200. This means that your family can go to all these places, unlimited number of times, for a year at that one price. The kids love going to these locations and it is worth it for us. I realize that not everyone would enjoy it, but this gives you an idea.

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Simplicity Goals – Kitchen February 21, 2015

Filed under: family,organization,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:40 am
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As promised, I am going to be posting more details about the decluttering I am doing in our home.  I know that some will find the extent that I am going with this to be extreme, but that is the beauty of this.  You can feel free to take from the ideas whatever you need that will fit your own lifestyle.  I am going to be posting this as a short series, one room per post, so that I can go more into exactly what I am doing and why.

As I have often stated before, I absolutely loved touring an old home that was on display at a historical museum.  The complete calm that I felt as my husband and I walked through the rooms was a sweet balm to my soul.  The thought kept coming to me that this was the feeling that we should have when we walk into our own home.  It is often stated that the family home is a place you can go to get away from the stresses of the world.  Yet, how often do we allow our homes to become influenced by that stress?  How many times do we fall short in that feeling of being at total peace when we walk through the door of our home?

This historical home, like so many others of that time, was very sparsely furnished.  The items on display were ones that spoke a story of the family’s life.  When we entered the home, we were in the largest room of the house….the kitchen.  Along one wall was a huge fireplace with an oven built in to the wall.  In the center of the room was a large wooden table.  The chairs were neatly arranged as was a long bench that ran the length of the table on each side.  Items most often used were carefully placed around the room.  A hutch for storing dishes, cooking utensils, and linens stood on one wall.  A butter churn in a corner next to a chair.  A firewood box was set up near the fireplace.  There were other items as well which decorated the room, but each item held a specific purpose.  Looking around, you could see that the family who lived in that home was likely a farming family.  The old farm kitchen was truly the center of the home.  Often times, it would be the only room to have heat in the winter.  For this reason, it was the place where the family was always gathered.   In many of the older Amish homes, this is still the case.  Our Amish neighbors, Levi and Katie, had one large room in the main level of their 2-story home.  On one end was the kitchen/dining room and at the other end was the living room.  I remember how simply it was arranged and have always wanted to recreate that level of simplicity in my own home.

The following picture is of an Amish kitchen that I found online.  I don’t know who originally took the picture, but it shows the best representation of what I love.

Amish Kitchen

Amish Kitchen

In this picture, you can see how sparse the furnishings are.  The room is small, but very functional.  Do you notice the lack of cabinetry?  That is typical of older homes.  In fact, our home has no cabinets at all!  In this little kitchen, a Momma can do all her cooking, canning, and other tasks without any problem.  I absolutely would love to recreate this kitchen in our own home!

Above the table is a simple oil lamp suspended from a chain attached to the ceiling.  The other lighting option, which happens to be a popular one with the Amish, is propane gas lights.  You can see the propane tank in the opened cabinet.  These lights are just as safe to use as a camp lantern.  Storing the propane bottle in the cabinet box makes it safe around children, especially with the lantern up so high from a child’s reach.

A wood burning stove for heat as well as cooking makes the kitchen cozy in the winter.  The gas stove provides a method of cooking in summer months when it is too hot to use a wood stove comfortably.  It also provides a steady heat source when using a canner to jar up your harvest.  A baker’s cabinet holds the items needed for any baking that is done each day.  The family’s dishes are kept in the upper portion of the baker’s cabinet.

Compared to a “modern” kitchen, this one definitely lacks the conveniences that many women enjoy today.  There are no small appliances, such as a microwave or even a toaster.  Yet, to the woman who cooks in this kitchen, it contains everything she needs.  Extra dishes have no place in this kitchen.  It only holds what is essential.  Extra place settings of dishes, the canner, and other items that are not used daily may be kept on a shelf in the pantry until needed.  Once the need is gone, they are returned to that location.

Our kitchen is larger than the one pictured.  Though it is larger, it has had it’s times of feeling more crowded than the picture above.  This has been one of the driving factors in my wanting to cull out the excess.  When a room in our home looks too cluttered, I get very tense.  It directly impacts me.  I get overwhelmed and stressed.  I just can’t seem to function well in that environment.  Being as I spend so much of my time in the kitchen, it is the logical place for me to start when it comes to decluttering.

When I think about exactly what items I am needing in my kitchen, I take into consideration two things.  First, the number of people in our family.  Second, the frequency in which I use any item in the kitchen.  For all practical purposes, I only need the following to make my kitchen fully functional.

Dishes & Silverware:

1 complete place setting per person (plate, bowl, dessert plate, silverware)

1 glass per person for cold drinks

1 mug per person for hot drinks

Bakeware:

1 cookie sheet

1 muffin pan

1 (9×13) cake pan

1 (8×8) cake pan

2 pie pans

1 roasting pan with lid

1 casserole dish

Cookware:

1 stock pot with lid

1 large sauce pan

1 small sauce pan

1 large skillet

1 griddle

Food Prep Items:

1 large mixing bowl

set of wooden spoons

soup ladle

metal spatula

wire wisp

set of measuring cups

set of measuring spoons

measuring cup for liquids

sifter

rolling pin

knives

meat mallet

pastry knife

potato masher

rubber/vinyl spatula

Additional items, such as the extra place settings, cookie cutters, and canning supplies can be stored in the pantry.  I also keep the table linens on a shelf in the pantry.  The items listed above are the ones that are used most often.  The fact that they can all easily be stored in a single baker’s cabinet, such as the one in the above picture, is a great space saver.  I don’t have a cabinet like that, but the wire shelving is more than sufficient to store it all with shelves left over.  As I go through my kitchen supplies, I am finding that much can be packed away in a box.  Anything in the box that isn’t needed within 6 months, can be donated.  It is literally that simple.

Now, I do want to mention that when you cut down your dishes to a full place setting per person, this means that you have to stay on top of doing dishes immediately after each meal.  Otherwise it can be a pain in the backside to have to hurry up and do dishes so you can set the table again.  Some may find that it is too tempting to go grab up the extra place settings, especially if they don’t want to run a dishwasher that is not full.  In our family of four, it doesn’t take long to do the dishes if done right away.  We get the wash water ready just before sitting down to the meal.  My darling husband made it a house rule that each person has to clear their own place at the table and hand wash their own dishes.  This makes it even easier to stay up on it.  After the dishes are done, the table is wiped down so it is ready for use again.  It is really just a matter of setting up a routine and sticking with it.  Things don’t always go as planned, but the effort to stay on top of it is at the forefront.

What I have found over the years has been that the excess “stuff” in your home can be as stress inducing as anything outside of your home.  You have to maintain and store all those items.  When things get too cluttered and you run out of space, the intensity of your stress magnifies as you try to cull out what you are able to do.  Yet, at the same time, trying to hold on to as much as possible.  In having few things, you are free from that burden.  Cleaning is much faster and easier when you have less to deal with.  As I go through our home and remove excess, I am finding that my personal stress level is dropping.  I have more time in the day to pursue other things.  By removing unneeded items, I gain space for items that we do need.

Like the historical home, we want the items in our home to have purpose and function.  We want to be deliberate in what we buy and keep.  Though our home is much larger than what is termed a “tiny house,” we are wanting to adopt that way of thinking.  As we plan the remodeling yet to be done, we are looking to open up the front of the house back to its original floor plan.  The wall that separates the kitchen from the kids’ room will be taken down again.  Originally, it was all one large kitchen/dining room.  The pantry is a separate room just off from the kitchen.  In the entry area of the pantry nearest to the kitchen, there is shelving that can easily become storage for the extra dishes and supplies.  This will further leave the kitchen space more open and clutter-free.

I am still working on the process of scaling back in our kitchen.  It is taking time as I have to do it around my other daily tasks.  I am enjoying the results though.  Each bag or box of stuff that leaves the kitchen gives me a sense of relief.  It has been so eye-opening to realize just how badly we let the attitudes of society to take control.  In our country, people seem to have the attitude that if you have few things, you are poor and disadvantaged.  Yet, I am finding that by not catering to that attitude, we are actually going to be richer in our lives.  Instead of having to maintain so much stuff, we will have more time to really enjoy each other as a family.  We can pursue the interests that we have without distraction.  Best of all, we will save money by not getting all that stuff in the first place!

 

Recipe Organizing Ahead December 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 6:56 am
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Can you tell that I am getting on another organizing binge?  Lord help me,  I swear that every time I think I am doing good at this, I find another area of my life that is in need of reorganizing.  It never seems to end.  This time around, it is my recipe collection. What a mess! I have been jotting down old recipes for years in various notebooks, scraps of paper, and recipe cards. Now, I am finding that it is becoming hard to locate a recipe when I need it. Guess it is time to take time to properly organize the collection. I am looking at a variety of ways to preserve the recipes. A simple recipe card file or maybe a binder are two of the options. All I know is that I want the recipes in a central location. I don’t want to have to remember which notebook I write a particular recipe in.

I have enough recipes that I easily fill up several spiral notebooks. For the immediate solution, I could take the pages out of the notebooks and place the recipes by category into a binder. That would work for some of the collection. I also have the recipes written on scraps of paper and index cards to get organized.

I have used the recipe card files before but my collection could easily fill several of them. I am not a huge fan of the index card method though. My biggest fear is the thought of someone dropping the file and all the cards scattering. The thought of having to retrieve and refile all those recipes gives me the shudders.

My recipe collection is more than just the ones I make for meals. I also have recipes for homemade mixes and seasoning blends. Then, there are the recipes for home canning which includes recipes for everything from condiments to meals in a jar. Other categories of recipes which I have include my home remedies, homemade cleaners, massage oils and lotions, tinctures and infusions, and aromatherapy blends.

With this recipe collection, I can already see that I will need at least two large binders if I go that route. One binder for the food type recipes and the other for remedies and all non-food related recipes. It is going to be a large undertaking. I didn’t realize how large my collection was until I tried to find a recipe recently. I spent way too much time trying to find it.

Something that I am finding out about myself is that I am a recipe hoarder.  I save every recipe that looks yummy or peaks my interest.  I have 2 years worth of Vegetarian Times magazines which are filled with nothing but more recipes.  Let’s not forget the plethora of recipes that I have found on the internet or in the cookbooks that I seem to have a hard time passing up at yard sales.

In reality though, I have two basic cooking styles: warm weather and cold weather.  In the warm months, we eat much lighter meals.  It is too hot to be making stews or casseroles.  Instead, we eat a lot of salads or foods that are grilled outdoors.  One of our mainstays in warm months are grilled vegetables.  By contrast, in the cold months, I make more soups, stews, and casseroles.  I got to thinking about all of this and faced a truth.  I could easily glean my recipes down to about 45 entrees, a variety of side dishes, and a few favorite desserts for each of the two cooking styles.  This would considerably but down the recipe collection.  I would start with the basics that we eat on a regular basis.  Next, add a few more recipes that we enjoy less frequently.  In thinking about it, I could easily set up two separate recipe binders.  One binder of recipes for the cold months and the other for the warm weather recipes.  My non-food recipes could go into their own binder, as could my health & beauty recipes with includes my home remedies.   I may even add one just for my canning recipes and homemade mixes.  That means that I am looking at setting up at least 5 binders!  Yikes!!!!!

I wonder if their is a recipe collectors anonymous with a 12-step program I should be looking into.  LOL

 

Organizing My Crochet Projects December 14, 2014

Filed under: Crafting,organization — ourprairiehome @ 9:40 am
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It seems as though I am always looking for a better way to get my crochet and other projects organized.  Lately, I have been on a binder system binge.  I bought one binder to keep all the household records, menu planning, and such all organized together.  I like the way that is turning out and decided to take on another area that needed to be worked on….my crochet & knitting supplies and patterns.

Years ago, when I was a scrapbook and rubber stamp art instructor, I had a great system that I used for keeping track of all my supplies.  I wanted to do something similar with the crochet and knitting that I now do.  The first step was a search online to see if anyone else had put together a journal for their supplies and projects.  I didn’t want to have to reinvent the wheel if there was a good system already out there.  I was thrilled to find a free printable journal for knitting and another for crochet at Katheryn Ivy’s website.   The two journals are separate downloads.  She also has free printable pages for tracking your supplies, upcoming projects, and shopping wish list page for making larger purchases when taking advantage of sales.  In project planning, she also offers a page for joting down notes and another for making sketches of projects that you would like to make.  The final page is one that I especially love.  She includes a printable chart of all the knitting needle and crochet hook sizes which can help you keep track of what sizes you already have.  Armed with these free printables, I am able to put together a binder that will help me stay far more organized.  I will be able to see at a glance which projects I already have purchased the supplies for.

I am thinking about having the binder set up in sections.  One for crochet and the other for knitting.  For each of these two sections, there will be subsections using the above listed forms.  This will allow me to keep the two craft methods separate.  I did a search on Pinterest for crochet stitch charts and found some great printable graphs and charts that I can print off and add to the binder as well.  Some of the charts I found include the cross-reference charts for US and UK stitches, stitch pattern diagrams, and a nice stitch sampler that shows & labels each of the basic stitched used in crochet.  This is a great resource to have for those times when you set aside a WIP only to forget which stitch you were using.  Similarly, I found some great reference charts for knitting as well on Pinterest.

While I was at it, I found reference charts for making hats, slippers, and blankets sizes.  For example, a head sizing chart for making crocheted hats in sizes newborn to adult can be found on the Tot Toppers website.  These charts will make a nice quick reference for me to have on hand when making or planning a project.

Some extra forms that I am including in the binder are: Yarn Ball band labels for those times when you lose one, Yarn Stash inventory sheets, and my own Pattern Index form to keep track of the patterns.

I am looking forward to having this binder all printed out and completed.  It may not help me to finish my projects any faster, but it will cut down on the number of times that I inadvertently make a duplicate purchase of my basic supplies.

The journal will also be a great companion binder to my patterns binder.  Currently, I have a 3-ring binder which I am storing the patterns that I have printed off from sites like Ravelry.  I have them organized into categories with the first section being my WIPs.

 

Planning a Stress-Free Holiday Season August 31, 2014

Filed under: Crafting,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:43 pm
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I know that to many, it is way too early to talk about Christmas. Actually, the holiday is only 4 months away. If you have always wanted to simplify your holiday and make it into something far less stressful, then early planning must be involved.

In our home, Christmas is always a simple celebration. We have always wanted to focus to be on the meaning of the holiday and not the stacks of gifts or the stress induced by the over scheduling of parties and gatherings. Another tradition we have established comes from one I have done for many years prior to meeting my husband. We give handmade gifts more often than store bought.

For me to enjoy a no-stress holiday season, I start early. By this time of year, I already have made notes on what I am going to give to others at Christmas. I designed a gift list and a planning form for handmade gifts that is available as a free printable Gift Planning Pack.

I have started a “wish list” for each child on Amazon so that if anyone asks what the kids need, I can refer them to their lists. This is very helpful with family who live a distance away. The lists contain things that the kids are interested in or are in need of. Pookie’s list contains therapy toys and items that he likes to use at his therapy sessions or art supplies that he loves to use and runs out of quite frequently. For him, art is a communication tool as well as a fun activity. Little Miss also loves art, but in a different form. She also has other interests, such as being a book worm! She reads for several hours every day just for the enjoyment of it. Between now and the end of October, I will be gradually buying the kids a few things off their wish lists to add to their Christmas stockings.

Some gifts take time to make. Things like an afghan are not made in a day or two. They have to be planned out. One thing I am making is homemade vanilla. This takes only minutes to make, but has to sit for a couple of months for the flavors to blend properly before use. Homemade soaps, if you are not making the melt and pour type, need some time for the bars of soap to fully harden. If used before they have hardened completely, the soap melts away too quickly. The harder the bar of soap is, the longer it will last. So, I like to let them cure for a couple of months. The same goes with any other specialty type items like bath salts or lotions.

Having a list of things that you are wanting to make also gives you a checklist for planning your supply purchases. I can calendar when I have to make items like the vanilla, then make sure I purchase the supplies ahead of time. You can take advantage of sales and buy the supplies when the prices are cheaper or you have a good coupon to use. Having the list also gives me a checklist to mark off as I go along so that I can see at a glance what still needs to be finished.

Yesterday, I bought some yarn and a tote to store the supplies in. I wanted to be able to keep everything close at hand. Now, if I have a few minutes to sit down during the day or after the kids are in bed at night, I can take out a project and start working on it. As soon as the project is done, it can be wrapped and placed in another container until the holiday. I love this method of holiday prep. It gives me the time to get things down in a relaxed manner instead of having to rush around later.

If there are people on the gift list who will be getting a purchased gift, I have plenty of time to look around for a good price. I know that at the holiday sales, there are often deep discounts, but for me the headaches of dealing with traffic and large crowds just isn’t worth it. That is one reason why I love shopping online. Another is that it saves on fuel. To shop for holiday gifts, I would have to travel at least 40 miles to the town where I grocery shop, or at least 70 miles to a large city.

A fun aspect of starting the preps early is that we have plenty of time to make cards and decorations. A search on Pinterest will yield many ideas for holiday decorations and gift ideas for kids to make. The kids and I can sit at the table and make crafts for the season or upcoming holidays once a week for the next two months. This will give us plenty of decorations for our tree or gifts to give to others at Christmas.

Another area of the holiday preps that I like to plan out ahead of time are the holiday meals. Having the meals planned out ahead of time allows you to be able to start gathering ingredients in advance. In the past, I have kept a box in the pantry area just for storing the extra ingredients that I purchased for the holiday meals. This insured that they were not used ahead of time. I remember one year when I purchased pumpkin a month in advance. That year, happened to be one in which it became hard to find cans of pumpkin. We were lucky in that we bought it early. If I gradually buy the ingredients that I need to purchase, then when the holiday arrives, I will only have to buy the last minute items such as the meat which goes on sale for a great price right before the holiday. In some years, because of buying the bulk of the ingredients ahead of time, I had enough grocery budget to buy two turkeys at Thanksgiving. This allowed me to have more than enough meat to home can and add to the pantry.

Whether you make gifts or buy them. Planning ahead will help make the season go easier. If you have tips on how your family makes the holiday season stress-free, feel free to add them to the comments.

 

Homemaking Binders January 22, 2014

Filed under: family,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 3:21 am
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Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working on a homemaking binder for this year. A little late, but I am working on hand drawn pages for now until I can get pages printed out in town.

Using the hand drawn pages had been a blessing. I am able to make adjustments as I go along. Once I have the format set the way I want, I will draft a copy on the computer.

I started with the basic sections:  Bible study, Important Info, Calendar, Daily pages, and Menu/Grocery.

Bible study is my daily devotionals.  It is a record of what I read each day and my thoughts about that passage.

Important Information includes vehicle & homestead equipment records, insurance, address book pages that include some to be printed onto yellow paper for my personal yellow pages phone list, and family information pages to record special days, clothing sizes and preferences.

Calendar contains a yearly calendar and monthly calendar pages.

Daily pages will be its own section.  These pages will be the most often used pages in the binder.  On the pages, I can record tasks to be done as well as notes for homeschool lessons.

Menu/Grocery section will contain my weekly menus with their grocery lists, my pantry goals list for stocking the pantry, and recipes for each week’s menu.  The section will also include a price book section for listing most often purchased groceries with their current price & store found for doing price comparisons.

Additional sections that I am considering are as follows. 

Cleaning & Maintenance – this would contain a weekly cleaning/maintenance schedule for the home and homestead.  There will also be pages that list the steps to be taken. For example, how to check fluids and tire pressure on the lawn tractor.  This particular page would include the type of oil used, oil filter part number, and other information to purchase parts for a tune-up.

Gardening section – garden plan, seed purchase order, planting schedule with estimated harvest dates, seed/plant variety sheet to record notes on how each performed in our climate.

Canning records – not only would this section help me plan and meet my canning goals for our pantry, but it would also help me track what we use.  I may also include favorite canning recipes.

I considered including the main homeschool records in this binder, but decided against it.  The homeschool records include not only Little Miss’ daily lessons, but Pookie’s TEACCH tasks and therapies. These would make the homemaking binder quite cumbersome.  So, these records will be kept separate.

I am busy drafting the forms currently.  I will be making them available one all are finished.  As soon as the binder is completely assembled, I will take pictures and post a tour of the binder.

A separate binder tour that I will be doing in the coming weeks is a tour of Little Miss’ binder.  She saw me working on mine and wanted one of her own.  Her binder includes daily devotions, daily chores, homeschool schedule, progress sheets for her Keepers at Home program, and a contact list.  Here is a brief explanation of her binder sections.

Daily Devotions includes a reading log of what she read that day.  I am including a section on the page for her to record “how I can be a blessing to others today”. The purpose for this is to teach her to think of others, which is often a hard one for kids.

Daily Chores contains a list of what needs done each day. There will be a sheet for each day of the week so that weekly chores, such as dusting her bedroom, can be included. There will be “how-to” sheets to tell her step by step how to clean her bedroom, for example.

Homeschool schedule will have her daily lesson schedule so she know ahead of time what subjects will be expected to be done each day.  This is separate from the visual schedule that she uses at her desk.

Contacts – Little Miss loves to make and send cards, so I will have the addresses most often used in her binder.  With each address, there will be birthdays listed for each person.

I may not include a calendar in her binder.  She had a wall calendar that she uses to keep track of birthdays and activities. If she requests a calendar section, I will add one later.

I love the idea of her having her own binder.  It is an easy way to start training her in how to make and follow routines.  It will help teach time management skills that will serve her well later on as an adult.  I am so humbled that she requested one at her young age. She will be 8 years old in a couple of months.  By staying with a binder now, she will be far ahead of the game of learning basic organizational skills and self-discipline.

 

Monthly Grocery Shopping January 2, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:16 pm
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A few years ago, we would do a once a month grocery shopping trip.  It was great.  I would plan out the menu for the entire month and write out the grocery list accordingly.  Life happened and we got out of that habit.  I am amazed at how our grocery bill has risen since that time.  Not only have prices gone up, but I was not as well planned as I needed to be in order to get the best use from our budget.

We are going back to that method of shopping.  In part to lower our grocery costs, but also to save me the extra trips to the city.  The closest grocery store is 10 miles away and over-priced.  Being the only grocery store within 20 miles of their location, the store can pretty much charge whatever they want and people are stuck paying it.  The produce quality is the topic of a long running joke.  Its quality is what most stores would be weeding out of their displays, yet this store charges full price.  We learned quickly to buy only fresh produce if we planned to use it that day.  If you wait much longer than the day of purchase and you will run a high risk of the produce spoiling.  To get good quality produce, we have to travel about 45 miles or more from home.  If we want good deals on the prices we pay for our groceries, we have to go to the larger cities 80 miles from home.  Needless to say, making a monthly shopping run is much more cost effective than weekly trips.

The first step in setting the shopping trip up is to write out a menu.  Some people like to make a monthly menu but I prefer to write up weekly menus.  I plan up to 8 menus for each season (warm and cold weather) which I can choose from.  For any given month, I simply pick out 4 weekly menus and put them in the order I want to use them.  For your convenience, I have a printable Weekly Menu Planner with the shopping list form for free download.

As I write up each menu, I keep a list of the ingredients needed for each meal.  I write each ingredient on a sheet of notebook paper and keep a tally of each item.  I don’t record each individual seasoning or spice unless it is a seldom used one that I would need to purchase.  Once I have tallied all the ingredients for the menu, I write the grocery list for that week on the weekly menu grocery list form.  I keep the menu with its shopping list in a sheet protector in my household binder.  Recipes that are in cookbooks are noted on the menu with the cookbook name and page number.  Recipe cards for my own recipes are placed in the sheet protectors as well.  This keeps it all well-organized for me later on.

When I am ready to plan a monthly menu, I choose 4 of the weekly menus.  Each is placed in the order in which I plan to use them.  I then write up a monthly grocery list by copying the grocery lists on the back of the weekly menus.  I add up how much of each item is needed.  This gives me an idea of what bulk size package to buy.  For example, instead of buying a couple packs of boneless chicken breasts, I would buy a large bag of frozen boneless chicken breasts and break it down into the amounts needed once I got it home.

Now, you may be wondering how I manage buying bulk packages of meat when we don’t use a freezer.  I home can the meat once I get it home.  Let’s say I needed 4 meals with chicken.  I would buy 2 bags of frozen boneless chicken breasts.  From that, I can parboil the bags of chicken until nearly done and slightly pink in the center.  I would cut or shred up some of the chicken and pack meal size portions into canning jars.  You could also place whole boneless chicken breasts into quart size canning jars.  I love to cut up a chicken breast into a canning jar and pour the broth over it.  This makes a great soup base.  Another idea is to shred some chicken and mix with BBQ sauce before canning.

For ground beef, I have browned it until nearly done before draining and rinsing the meat to remove the fats.  I spoon the ground meat into canning jars and fill to about ¾ full.  Add sautéed diced bell peppers, onion, and minced garlic for a great meal starter.  Often, I will can the meat up plain so that I can use it in any recipe.  For beef stew meat, I brown it well, then place into canning jars.  You can use broth over the meat or not.  It all depends on how you plan to use the meat later.

If you have access to a freezer, you would simply break down your packages of meat into meal size portions, wrap well, and freeze.  The main idea is that through purchasing the bulk packages, you save money over the month.

One of the blessings of shopping this way is that we make less trips into the city.  Not only is it costly for fuel, but it always ends up being an all-day event.  Shopping alone with two young children, especially when one is a special needs child who cannot walk the distance of the store, can be a real challenge.  We plan the shopping trips for when my husband is home.  We go as a family and load up the back of our vehicle with groceries. By going together, we have plenty of hands to help make the shopping easier.  I can push our son in his medical stroller/wheelchair while my husband handles the shopping cart.

The only drawback to our way of shopping is that it requires self-discipline.  You can’t go into the pantry and make anything you want, whenever you want it.  For example, a package of tortilla chips may look like a fun snack, but if eaten as a snack, you now don’t have any for that Nachos dinner later on.

I always plan out snacks as well as the meals.  The kids have learned that they have a free shelf in the pantry.  Anything placed on that shelf is for them to eat whenever they need a snack.  Items there usually include granola bars, trail mix, popcorn for me to help them pop on the stove, or some type of sweet like a fruit filled breakfast bar or cookies.  I buy the large boxes of granola bars from Sam’s Club and then place only a few on their shelf at a time.  Trail mix is measured out into snack size baggies.  This limits the amount they get out at a time. Like many kids, if given their choice, they would pick their favorite items out of the trail mix and leave the rest.  By making up the little bags for them, they are limited.  The small packages are great for a grab-n-go snack when we are going on an outing or they are going outdoors to play.

Overall, by using this planning method, we end up saving at least 50% each month off of our grocery costs.  I estimate the cost of each week’s menu and we budget accordingly each week.  The money is set aside in a bank account until it is time to go shopping.

The hardest month to do this is always the first one.  Luckily, I have always been good about keeping a somewhat well-stocked pantry.  Even at its worst levels, I have had a month’s supply of food.  We may be eating a lot of dried beans and lentils through that month, but we eat well.  Once we start buying for the monthly menu, the pantry can begin being built back up again.  I simply budget an extra $25 or more a month to be used strictly for building the pantry.

Some food items bought for the monthly menu may carry over into subsequent months.  One good example is dry active yeast.  I buy it from Sam’s Club for about $4.00 for a twin pack of 1 pound bags.  Those 2-pounds of dry active yeast will last the average family about a year if they bake all of their own breads, rolls, pizza crusts, etc.  Just a quick note:  I did a price comparison 4 years ago of what it would cost for that same volume of yeast if I had bought the little jars or packets from the grocery store.  The savings added up to $196 for a year’s supply through buying at Sam’s Club.  Other purchases that will likely carry over from one month to another are corn meal, sea salt and seasonings, rice, pasta, and dried beans & lentils.

I hope that this helps to explain the monthly shopping a bit better.  It takes a little practice, but the time spent is well worth the effort.  Allow your family to get involved.  Have each person think of some of their favorite meals and include those on the menus.  Maybe have a theme night menu.  If you have a night that is especially busy each week, consider always having a crockpot meal that night.  One fun tradition we have had is homemade pizza & family game night on Fridays.  If you enjoy the once a month cooking style of meals, this shopping method lends itself to that as well.

If you do bulk meal planning and shopping, I would love to read your ideas and thoughts.  Feel free to leave a comment.  If you have blogged about this topic and how you implement it in your family, share the link in the comments as well.