Thursday, March 31, 2011

Easy Menu Planning

Most of us have heard from our families of our grandmother or aunts (or moms) serving the same meal on the same day each week. I am talking about a spagetti on Tuesday, meatloaf on Wednesday form of menu planning.

These menus sound repetitive and boring to us, but for the mothers of big families with fewer grocery choices than we have, it made sense. In fact, it didn't only make sense, it was a form of survival for a busy mom.

Think of how easy grocery shopping would be; the same list every week with only a few add on items. This is why grocery stores could automatically deliver the same food every week without change.

We can use a version of this old fashioned menu plan for ourselves. How about this: roasted meat on Sunday, recipe using Sundays leftovers on Monday, pasta Tuesday, ground meat recipe on Wednesday, soup Thursday, fish Friday and ethnic Saturday.

Your grocery list would have one whole meat product to roast, ground meat, pasta sauce ingredients, frozen fish (or buy fresh Friday morning) and one ethnic meal base. Add to this the fresh ingredients to serve as sides, any special add ons and the food basics in your pantry.

In this way we are enjoying the simple way families used to do menu planning and providing a little diversity of flavors. So, let's menu plan like grandma and enjoy the bounty available to us today.

God bless,

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen: Basic Tomato Sauce

Most of the time people think of cooking tomato sauce for pasta as a day long cooking experience, using a recipe with many ingredients and a long, slow simmering time.  But most Italian cooks have a much simpler recipe that they make in the summer with ingredients straight from the garden.

All You Need For Great Tomato Sauce
In a large frying pan add several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.  Bring up to a medium heat.  Use very fresh ripe tomatoes for this next step:  peel tomatoes if you wish, halve tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds.  Place the tomatoes cut side down in the hot oil.  Peel two garlic cloves, put them in the oil whole.  By not slicing or chopping the garlic you will get a much more subtle flavor.

Let the tomatoes cook until they have broken down.  You can help a bit with a spoon, but not too much, this is rustic.  Remove the garlic cloves.  Add basil leaves, lightly chopped if you wish.  Stir and cook for only a minute more.  Add salt to taste.  If tomatoes are very acidic add a teaspoon of white sugar.

Serve this sauce over pasta for a quick summer meal.  If you want to gussy it up you can begin to add ingredients such as capers, olives, or ground anchovy.  A good additional seasoning would be red pepper flakes.  You can also top this pasta with the grated cheese of your choosing.

This is a simple and very personal dish.  Every family has their favorite version.  Make it the way your family will like it or the way grandma did.

God bless,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gym Offers Aerobics For Babies

Yesterday I was amazed to see on the news that a local gym is offering aerobics classes for infants. On comes video of six month old children lying on their backs with their parents, following an instructor's instructions, manipulating their arms and legs for them. Oookaaay!

Let me tell you about frugal homemaker baby aerobics; baby proof the family room, lay down a large quilt on the floor, lay baby on quilt, sit on couch and watch baby do it's thing.

Babies are beautifully made to do their own aerobics, using their body weight and the floor's resistance to strengthen their muscles. Plus their natural movements are age appropriate, avoiding injury.

I used to lay on the floor and let dear daughter crawl all over me. Sort of a mommy jungle Jim. She had fun and I was resting.

Unstructured play time is essential for children's development. Most children in today's society go from one scheduled activity to another with precious little time for free play. Please, let's not add infant aerobics to the mix.

God bless,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good Reads: Never Say Die

In "Never Say Die" Susan Jacoby discusses the aging, or should I say the denial of aging, of baby boomers. We are a generation convinced that we can live into our extreme old age with the same health and energy levels as we had in middle age. All we have to do is exercise, eat right, take supplements and have age defying surgery, right? Wrong!

Despite medical science increasing the number of years we live, it has not found a way to stop the degeneration of the human body due to aging. Unfortunately, this leads to people living well beyond their working years, exhausting their savings and their quality of life.

How do we prepare for old age? First it helps to have a realistic view of aging and how it will affect our lives in the future. Read this book for an eye opening dose of reality therapy.

I want to apologize again for the lack of active learning content in my posts this week. My mother is extremely ill and may be passing soon. Thanks for being patient.

God bless,

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen: Lemon Artichoke Pasta

An easy dinner made even simpler by the fact that the pesto sauce can be made in advance.  All of the ingredients are easy to find and reasonably priced.

1/4 cup cilantro
6 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 - 1/4 cayenne pepper to taste
1 cup walnuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup canola oil
Salt to taste
8 oz. package frozen artichokes, quartered
1/2 cut parmesan cheese, grated

Old Reliable At Work Again

Place first 8 ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Process until smooth.  Cook pasta according to package directions; add artichokes for the last 5 minutes.  Drain, but hold aside 1 cup of the pasta water.
Pour pesto into large bowl.  Stir in pasta, artichokes and cheese.  Thin sauce with some of the pasta water if needed.  Garnish (if you wish) with more cilantro and parmesan.

Finished Pesto
This is a great dish with pleasant mouth feel and subtle flavors.  Except the garlic; you may want to cut down on it if your family doesn't like alot of garlic.  Tastes rich and creamy.  Do use the garnish as it can look pretty plain on the plate.

Sob!  So Plain
God bless,

A Personal Sense Of Responsibility

I was driving dear daughter to school this morning when I saw a woman that I have seen many mornings. Today her presence and what she was doing resonated with me.

First of all, the neighborhood where I see her is extremely modest; a grouping of duplexes and small apartment buildings. They are rental units, but fairly well maintained.

So, what was she doing and what does she do every morning at 7:30. Sweeping the sidewalk in front of her building in her housecoat. Taking pride and responsibility for the appearance of the city sidewalk and the front of her rental home. Caring.

I though with chagrin about the leaves on the front walk by the porch of the house I own. How I have been seeing them every day, but not taking the five minutes to sweep them away. Not owning the responsibility. Not caring enough.

How does this effect our other actions. Do we ignore the homeless we see sleeping under the overpass? Do we care about the kids going to school without breakfast? Are we doing everything we can to take personal responsibility for our surroundings and the people around us?

God bless,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen: Easy Smoothies

Everyone knows how to make smoothies.  Here is a quick, after church, smoothie to get you moving onto an afternoon of visiting.

Start with fresh fruit. I chose strawberries as we are at the height of strawberry season in Florida.

Sweet and Ripe
Place them in the blender.  This blender was a wedding gift and is 30 years old.

Old But Good
Add milk.

Organic Please

And thick yogurt.

Greek Style Yogurt
And honey or the sweetener of your choice.

Also, add ice chips and a pinch of salt (to highlight the flavors).  Then blend.

Ready To Go

Unfocused, But All Done

Try To Pour And Take A Photo At The Same Time

Enjoy your healthy smoothie!

Dear Daughter Enjoying
God bless,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Not Very Frugal Medicine Continues

My mother was scheduled for surgery this morning. After traveling to the hospital I couldn't find my mom. I ask around and finally found someone that knew something. She had been transferred to another hospital at 10 p.m. No one had bothered to call me.

So I drive across town to the other hospital to find out that she had already had her surgery and was in recovery. Now I am sitting in the waiting room (yay wifi) waiting and blogging.

Mom was transferred because of the way she answered one of the screening questions in her pre-operation interview. I am sure that with her mild dementia that she had no idea of the possible consequences of her answer.

What are the results of this fiasco? A seriously injured elderly woman transported in the middle of the night. An additional ambulance expense. New labs at new hospital since they don't accept the other hospitals test results. My additional time, gas expenses. Mom's emotional upset.

Anything frugal, humane or even vaguely reasonable here? Nope. I have already complained to the head of nursing at the first hospital. I will write a follow up letter. I will also be calling her doctor on Monday and may change her to a different doctor once this is over.

Vent over. I feel better now.

God bless,

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Frugal Garden: Homemade Insectide

Today my friend Sara jogged my memory by asking if I have a good recipe for a natural insecticide.  So, I am happy to report that this insecticide is not only effective, but it is easy to make.

The Main Ingredient
Grate a bar of Kirk's Castile soap, then dissolve in a gallon of water.  You may need to heat the water on the stove to help the soap completely dissolve.  Now you have a gallon of concentrated insecticidal soap.

In a garden sprayer filled with a gallon of water add 1 - 3 Tbsps. of the soap concentrate.  If you are doing preventative spraying add 1 Tbsp.; if you are fighting an infestation add 3 Tbsps.  Mix this well, then spray liberally on your plants.  Don't spray your plants when the sun is at it's highest.  Mornings and evenings are best.

This Kirk's based insecticide works well on insects.  If you have worms you need to move to a BT based product.

Spray your garden once a week or after rain to keep insects at bay.  Use it more frequently if you are seeing insect damage on your plants.

God bless,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Mother Broke Her Hip

The title of this blog tells it mother fell this morning and broke her hip and ankle. She will be going through surgery tomorrow. She is frail and weak. I am worried for her.

So, I want to apologize in advance; I will not be posting as frequently over the next week or so. I was going to post on making strawberry jam and pickles. My refrigerator is filled with a ton of strawberries and cucumbers. Maybe we'll just make bunches of strawberry shortcake and summer salad.

Please keep Mom in your prayers. Thank you.

God bless,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Frog TV

See the world from a frogs point of view: a slightly mutated, environmentally conscious, highly intelligent frog that is. You can view Frog TV at

I would watch these episodes first to determine if they are appropriate for your children. I can see Tweens loving this quirky frog and his message.

God bless,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Frugal Medicine: Sunscreen

Did you know that melanoma is the second most common cancer in women? We are about to spend hours getting our spring gardens started and even more hours outside in the sun maintaining them. Are you remembering to wear sunscreen?

As a fifty something woman living in Florida I have already had several skin cancers removed. These cancers were directly caused by sun damage and could have been easily avoided by the use of sunscreen. I could have saved myself the expense and discomfort had I taken the time to slather and spritz.

Find a type of sunscreen that you like and buy it on sale (with coupons). I prefer the newer spray ons (no greasy hands) and a lip balm with sunscreen. I use a SPF (sun protection factor) 30. Apply your sunscreen thirty minutes before sun exposure to give it time to activate. Reapply if you get wet or very sweaty.

Don't forget to apply sunscreen to your lips, hair part, top of your ears, and every other exposed area. Wear it even if you are wearing a hat and long sleeves; UV rays reflect up from water and other surfaces and clothing only partially blocks these rays.

What can be more frugal than avoiding cancer by buying a tube of sunscreen? When you are fifty you'll thank me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Good Reads: Mama Makes Up Her Mind

Whenever I am down and I need a good laugh, I go to my bookcase and pull down "Mama Makes Up Her Mind" by Bailey White.  You might be familiar with Miss White's monologues on NPR.  She is a southern lady, cared for her elderly mother and is an elementary school teacher.  She also has an amazing sense of humor.

"Mama...." is a set of short stories, so it is easy to pick it up, read a story, laugh a bit and get on with your day.  I always fill lighted hearted afterwards.

This book revolves around Miss White's experiences living with her eccentric elderly mother.  I think I identify so strongly with her since I care for my elderly mother who lives in assisted living.  Somedays you have to laugh or you will cry.

A light, fun read that makes you think a bit about life.

God bless,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Frugal Garden: Growing, Harvesting and Drying Lemon Grass

Lemon grass is incredibly easy to grow and a wonderful multi use plant to have in your garden.  It can be a dramatic focal point in a decorative garden and a necessary herb if you wish to prepare Asian food.

When you purchase your plant it will look small and unassuming.  Don't be fooled!  Lemon grass can grow to be 3 feet tall with a 3 foot spread.  Choose a spot in your garden with plenty of room, at least six hours of sun a day and good drainage.  Once you plant it just stand back; it will grow very quickly.

Lemon Grass With Spring Growth
After it reaches full size and has begun to develop swollen bulbs at the base of each stem it is time to divide it and harvest some of the stems.  Dig the plant up with a shovel and pull off the stems you want to harvest.  Replant the younger stems; they will grow to full size before you know it.

Cleaning lemon grass is like shucking corn.  There are many dried leaves to pull off until you get to the green and white center.  When you think you are done, keep peeling.  You only want to use the very tender, center section of the bulbed end of the stem.

Peeled And Soaking In Water
Much like leeks, lemon grass can have dirt hiding under the layers of the bulbed stem.  Be sure to soak them in water, then soak them a second time.  You will be surprised at how much grit is in the bottom of the sink.

Ready For Slicing
Thinly slice the white and light portions of the stems.  Discard the green leafy areas.  I will take thin stems and slice them lengthwise rather than in rings.  If the bulb is hard to cut, then it is too tough to eat.

Leave Plenty Of Space Around Slices

Lay the sliced lemon grass on your drying trays.  Remember to leave plenty of space for air circulation.  Dry them until crisp, following your dehydrators instructions.  Store in a tight container in a dry, cool place.

Into The Dehydrator
When cooking you can add the dried lemon grass directly into a soup or stew, but you should put them in a cheesecloth bag to allow easy retrieval before serving.  When a recipe calls for diced lemon grass, rehydrate in water, then dice.

Lemon grass can also be steeped for tea or used in it's dry form for potpourris.  The scent is lovely and as fresh as spring.

God bless,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Keeping Our Elected Officials Frugal

It is one thing for us to maintain a frugal lifestyle and home, but as frugal homemakers we need to keep our elected officials frugal.  Trust me, this isn't easy.  Who is it that said "power corrupts"?  It seems that as soon as a congressman is elected they are sucked into a "money is everything" way of thinking.

Senate Yesterday

We may feel powerless and small in the big scheme of government, but no matter our economic or social level, we all have one vote.  And we all have a voice.

My plan is to put all of my government representatives e-mail addresses into my contact list.  Then I am going to start sending out short e-mails expressing my opinions on each days current events.  How many e-mails do we send to friends each day?  Adding one or two more can't be that time consuming.

Senate Today

Get on Google, or your favorite search engine, and find the addresses of your congressmen and governor.  One site is  Then get started using your hard fought right to express yourself.  Catharsis is good!

One of my first subjects to vent on will be the ridiculous idea two senators have to build golf course resorts in Florida's beautiful state parks.  What's your beef?

God bless,

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rest In Peace Old Hammie

Today I had to have "Grandpa" our adopted elderly hamster euthanized. She was quite old, but she had a good three weeks here in our home.

She was as active as a three year old hamster could be and liked her carrots, but in the last week she began to fail.

We have an obligation to our animals to put their needs ahead of our emotions. It is hard to put an animal down, but it is the human and humane thing to do.

I like to think that Grandpa is in heaven with a full coat of fur, no itchy patches and all of the energy she needs to dig, run and play.

God bless,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Favorite Mennonite Magazine

Yesterday when dear husband brought in the mail I was instantly cheered when I saw that I had received the Spring edition of "Keepers At Home" magazine.  I can't describe how fulfilling this magazine is to read.

Keepers At Home is produced by two Mennonite families with articles by family members and friends.  It is up beat, spiritual and empowering.  It is also visually lovely.

When I receive "Keepers..." I like to wait for a quiet time when I can curl up in a warm, comfy spot (like a cat) and immerse myself in it.

Keepers At Home is a quarterly magazine which costs $14 a year or $26 for two years, in the U.S.  In Canada and other countries the cost is $21 for one year and $40 for two years (U.S. funds).  Their address is 2673 Township Road 421, Sugarcreek, OH  44681.

God bless,

Monday, March 7, 2011

Frugal Medicine: Iatrogenic Disease

This is going to be a controversial post and it reflects my experiences/beliefs about medical treatment.  Specifically, medical treatment in the United States.

We have a strange revolving door syndrome going when it comes to our medical treatment.  Doctors are paying exorbitant malpractice insurance fees - which go up if a doctor is sued - causing doctors to be over cautious about patient treatment - which causes doctors to over treat, prescribe and test patients - which leads to iatrogenic disease/illness - which leads to malpractice suites - which leads to higher malpractice insurance costs.

Iatrogenic disease is any disease or medical condition caused by medical treatment.  Heart disease and cancer are the top two causes of death in the United States; the third is iatrogenic disease.  A quarter of a million people in the U.S. die each year due to iatrogenic disease.  Approximately 12,000 of these deaths are caused by surgical interventions.

Fuzzy, But You Get The Picture
How does this affect frugal homemakers?  We are paying for unnecessary treatments and tests.  Paying, not only with our money, but with our health.  It is imperative that we question our doctors on the necessity of each treatment/test, then go home to research it ourselves, before WE make the decision to proceed.

I know a few people that never go to the doctor or receive treatment.  I am not suggesting this.  I am suggesting that we need to take control over and lead our healthcare.  Trust me, this doesn't always make you the most popular patient, but it may save your life.

Let me give you a personal story.  I decided several years ago not to receive invasive tests if I am asymptomatic.  I do get blood work (barely invasive), mammograms, EKGs, PAP smears and needed x-rays.  My doctor has been after me to get a colonoscopy and I have declined.  I have no symptoms, there have been recent problems with patients receiving serious, chronic diseases because of improper cleaning of equipment (this is nationwide, research it), and there is a risk for silent bowel perforation.  Now the risk of perforation is only 1%, but I don't want to be one of that 1%.

When I discussed this with my doctor he asked me if I was depressed!  Apparently, refusing a doctor recommended test must be related to a patient's emotional condition, not a patient's research and thoughtful consideration.  This is not a decision caused by fear and it may be a decision that I someday regret, but it is MY decision.

Each year medical costs and medical insurance costs rise.  We are not only paying for testing and treatment, but our insurance companies are charging us for the possibility of future testing and treatment. Another revolving door.

See, I warned you this would be controversial.  I am open to debate.   I just want people to see how our current medical systems are affecting us.  I am not trying to sway your medical decisions, I just want YOU to make those decisions.

As an Amish minister said in Family Life magazine, "Why are God's people spending so much time and money to avoid seeing him?".

God bless,

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Frugal Garden: Transplanting Tomato Plants

Yesterday I decided to add a couple of grape tomato plants to the door yard garden.  Commercially grown tomato plants are a good option if you are growing a limited number of tomatoes or it is too late in the season to start the plants from seed.

Be sure that you choose disease and insect free plants with no fruit.  If a tomato plant is already putting energy into forming fruit it will not do well forming roots when it is transplanted.  Buy good quality; larger is not better.

Add an organic soil amendment to the area where the tomatoes will grow.  Now look at the plants.  Remove all stems and leaves on the stem except for three or four sturdy stems at the top of the plants.  Plant the tomato plants deeply with only those top stems above the soil surface.

The reason for this is that every bit of stem that is underground will sprout roots to help your developing tomato plant.  You will get a nicely developed, extensive root system on the plant.

Not Planted Deeply Enough

Just Right!
Soon your plants will recover their height and reward you with a plentiful harvest.

God bless,

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Frugal Garden: Micro Irrigation Troubleshooting

Earlier this week dear husband informed me that a connector had failed on the front micro irrigation system.  I fixed the connection, BUT I missed a critical step.  I should have removed the end clip from the poly tube and flushed the system to remove any dirt that entered the system.

So, we turn on the system the next day, it runs for two minutes, then every sprinkler head died.  I mean every single one.  I knew I had messed up and today I had to pay penance.

But I do get to share with you how to make this type of repair.  Plan on getting very wet!  I mean very, very wet.  Wear old clothes and put all electronics in a safe, dry place.

First of all flush the entire system to get any dirt and hard water deposits out of there.  Next you need to take apart the connection that attaches the riser to the main poly tubing.  It should unscrew.

Two Piece Connector From Riser

Most people don't realize that inside these connectors is a small filter.  This is the first place debris will accumulate.  Remove the filter with a unbent paper clip and use the paper clip to make sure the hole in the center of the filter is not clogged.

Filter In Connector

Filter Removed

Turn on the water to purge the end of the connector still attached to the poly tubing.  Stand back, it's going to shoot aways.  Reassemble the connector and it's time for the next step.

Turn on the water.  Is the sprinkler working now?  If not, the spray head itself may be clogged.  Unscrew the spray head from the riser.  Use your paper clip to be sure that the spray head is not clogged.

Spray Head Removed From Riser

Spray Head Disassembled
After being sure that the spray head is not clogged, reassemble it and screw it back onto the riser.  It should be working at this point.  If not, you may need to replace the spray head.  If that doesn't work you will need to try a new riser and spray head, but this is a rare occurrence.

Now your system is up and running.  Since you're so dirty and wet you might as well pull some weeds and dream of future plantings.

God bless,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Summer Salad Recipe

This is a cucumber salad that my family traditionally served during the summer; hence it's name.  I like to serve it with hot, spicy foods to provide a cooling element.

Finely Slice Cucumbers
Summer Salad

2 cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1 small onion
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. white sugar
3 Tbsp. white vinegar
pepper to taste

Thinly slice the cucumbers and onion.  Separate the onion into rings.

Then The Onion
Add the salt, sugar, vinegar and pepper.  I use red pepper flakes when serving Asian food and black pepper for American food.  Mix thoroughly, cover, then allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.  It is best if made a day before serving.  Stir it several times while it is marinating.

Ready To Marinate
This is one of dear daughters favorite foods.  It is inexpensive and easy to make.   Frugal with time and money!

God bless,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Micro Irrigation Installation

Now that you have your equipment and plan in place, it is time to install your micro irrigation system.  An hour before you plan on starting lay the roll of 3/4 inch poly tubing out in the sun.  It will be much easier to work with if it has softened.

You can attach the system directly to the faucet or you can attach it to your hose when the system is needed.  If you want to use a timer attach it to the faucet, then attach the backflow preventer and the pressure regulator.

Irrigation In The Garden

The pressure regulator has a compression fitting on the end.  Use that fitting to connect the 3/4" poly tubing.  Lay the poly tubing in the garden in proximity to the planting areas.  There is an array of T and cross shaped connecters that can be used.  These also use the pressure fittings.

When I installed my first system the poly tubing came in black and the vinyl tubing was green.  Now you can buy these in many colors to match your garden environment.  The same is true of the risers.

Riser With Sprinkler Head

Now decide where you need to attach the 1/4 inch vinyl tubing to the poly tubing.  Use the hole punch to push a hole into the vinyl tubing.  Attach the risers, bubblers or drip heads to the poly tubing by pressing their connector into the hole you made.

If you punch a hole by mistake just use a goof plug to repair it.  You can also reconfigure your layout in the future by plugging unneeded holes with the goof plugs (love the name).

If you are using a riser you can attach many types of spray heads:  full circle, 1/2 circle, 1/4 circle.  There seems to be more types available each time I go to the store.

An Array Of Sprinkler Heads

When done crimp the end of the poly tubing.  There is a simple plastic piece for doing this.

Turn the water on low to test the system.  Even with the pressure regulator it is possible to blow parts of the system off by turning the water on full blast.

You will need to run the system for 45 minutes every other day.  In Florida's intense heat when there is no rain, I need to run my systems every day.

Once or twice a years flush the system by removing the crimper on the end of the 3/4" poly tubing and letting water to run through.  This will remove any hard water build ups or dirt that has gotten into the system.

I have found that my micro irrigation systems have saved me money on my water bill during the growing season, plus it has reduced my problems with fungus by reducing the amount of water hitting the leaves.

Good luck with setting up your own micro irrigation system.  You'll find that your garden maintenance is much easier and enjoyable.

God bless,