Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Few Lessons Learned

This was a rough year for us as far as homesteading due to the drought and prolonged heatwave in our neck of the woods, but we still managed to maintain in most areas and even slightly improve in others.  Experience is such a great teacher and we definitely learned a couple of things this past year.    

Expiration Dates  They're not set in stone, but there is sometimes a trade-off.  When we initially stocked up in December 2010, we were just guesstimating how much of any one item we would need for a year.  We had a pretty good start on the food storage but our goal was to beef it up to the point we had at least a 12 month supply of everything.  Well, we tended to over buy on a couple of things but so far it hasn't resulted in any waste.  The best example this year was store-bought ketchup.  I'm the only one that eats it, and I only eat it on certain things ...meat loaf and stuffed bell peppers are all I can think of right now.  But Yeoldfurt knows I don't like to eat those things without it, so he set the goal high to ensure I would have it when I wanted it.  Well, we apparently way overestimated because a year later, I have three bottles left that are a couple of months out of date.  They still smell fine and taste fine but it's no longer that bright 'ketchup red' color's more the color of bottled bbq sauce, kind of reddish brown.  It won't go to waste as long as it seems edible, I don't really care what color it is.   But I've also noticed the plastic squeeze bottle it is packaged in has started to degrade.  It is apparently composed of two layers of plastic and they've sort of started to separate.  When you squeeze it and then let go, the outer layer returns to it's originally intended shape but the inner layer is much slower to go back into shape.  With three bottles still on the shelf and one in the fridge, I'm thinking I don't need to buy ketchup until possibly 2013!

Repurpose Value of Wood Ash   I knew you could make lye from wood ash and I knew it generally wouldn't hurt vegetation so could be spread on a lawn or garden.  But I had no idea it was actually very beneficial to compost pile.  Apparently, high acidity can be a problem in composting, slowing the decomposition process.  Wood ash helps to neutralize the acid, thereby facilitating faster decomposition.  I dumped a bucketful on our compost pile a week ago and turned everything over with a pitch fork this evening ...I can already see an improvement and it's only been a few days.  

Tweaking the Pantry Inventory List  We still use the spreadsheet that Yeoldfurt put together, but added some intermediate steps that make it easier to maintain and (hopefully) more consistently accurate.  I used to print it when I went shopping.  But being several pages long, that was cumbersome and a waste of paper.  Then I started just reviewing it before I went shopping and adding to the shopping list what items I thought we could afford to stock up on.  I still do that but now I also keep a small notepad, a pencil, and a Sharpie marker on the shelf in the pantry.  When I go down there to get one thing, I invariably come back with one or two other things ...spur of the moment.  So now I list what items I'm taking on the notepad as I gather them together so I can take a complete list back to the house with me.  Also, for each item I bring back, I do a quick count of how many are still remaining in storage, then write that number in parentheses next to the item on the list.  That way when I give the list to Yeoldfurt to update the spreadsheet, he can spot check the 'amount on hand' to make sure it's still accurate.  It's not a perfect system, but it's evolving into a pretty good one.

Making Pennies Squeal   I've always been frugal and budget-minded but circumstances the past few years have made me even more so.  If you asked me a year ago whether we were getting all the mileage we possibly could out of every dollar, I would have said yes with very little hesitation.  But we've found a couple of new ways to significantly stretch those pennies recently that make me wonder if there aren't more ways we just haven't discovered yet.  The biggest savings comes from Yeoldfurt and I being able to adjust our schedules so that we can carpool to our jobs 40 miles away.   With each of us driving separate vehicles 80 miles/day five days/week to and from our jobs, our fuel bill was equal to our mortgage payment was outrageous!  But when the transmission went out in one of the vehicles, we adjusted our schedules for a week while the truck was in the shop and were able to get permission from both our bosses to keep our schedules that way.  By doing so, we cut our monthly fuel cost in half.  Over a year's time, we'll also save significantly on replacement tires and oil changes for the vehicle that sits in the driveway most days.  Conservatively, I estimate of our savings the first year to be approximately $5000.  We also started keeping a Walmart gift card with $100 balance on it and using that to buy gasoline.  Walmart's price is always the same or lower than any other stations in our area ...sometimes a dime or more lower.  By using the Walmart card to pay, we get an additional 10 cent per gallon discount.  I paid $2.80/gallon for regular last Friday.  I don't know about prices in your area, but around here, that's pretty darn good.  Since we use about 1400 gallons per year just driving back and forth to work, 10 cents per gallon is significant.  Of course, since we have three geriatric vehicles, all that money saved will probably go into mechanical repairs over the course of that same year ...but at least we'll have the money in savings to take care of those expenses when they come up.  

I'm sure there were other little bits of knowledge accumulated this year, but these were the ones that stood out to me when I was contemplating writing this post.  It seems to me that the intangible things we gain every year ...the knowledge, the skills, the little tricks that make every day tasks easier ...are the real bounty in homesteading. 

I hope the coming year is better all the way around.  I hope we have normal temperatures and rainfall so we can have a garden, fewer mechanical crises so we can get a break from diverting so much to vehicle repairs, and a decent man in the White House so we can as least slow the decimation of our economy, our country and our values ...maybe even begin to rebuild some of what the past four years has destroyed.  I don't know what the future holds, but I never want to become so discouraged that I no longer believe a bright future is possible.  So at the close of this year and hopefully the beginning of a better year, I leave you with this poem that says better than I can what I feel and hope for tomorrow.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due

I posted this picture a couple of weeks ago as a lead-in and illustration of the 'cowboy up' attitude I think we could all use a little more of nowadays.  If you missed it, click here.

As I said in the post, I got the picture in email from Yeoldfurt and he had received it email but couldn't remember who sent it.  Come to find out, CoolChange of Tranquility Lost posted it on his blog the day before my post.  So at least in a round about way, it came from him and I want to give credit where credit is due.

If you have not checked out CoolChange's blog, I encourage you to do so.  I knew as soon as I saw the badge on his sidebar that reads, 'Invest in precious metal, buy lead the 2nd Amendment' that he shares at least one of our fundamental values.  I'm following his blog now and have added him to my blog roll.

They say we all only separated by six degrees ...simply stated, we all know someone who knows someone who knows someone else who knows someone else who knows us.  The connectivity of the worldwide web is making that more and more apparent.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Wishes and a New Recipe

This will be an especially joyous Christmas for us because we will have all three of our grandchildren here at the same time, for the first time ever.  With one more on the way, next Christmas promises to be even more special.

I'm sharing below a poem written in 1976 by Norman Wesley Brooks.  A friend posted it on Facebook.  Thirty-five years after it was written, it's still a good message. 

Let Every Day Be Christmas
Christmas is forever, not for just one day, 
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away 
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf. 
The good you do for others is good you do yourself. 

Let us always remember the reason for the season, 
and let us each do our best to let every day be Christmas. 

Photo credit to Dan at

I seldom make desserts except at the holidays or on special occasions, so it's fun to try something new once in a while.  Yeoldfurt came home with a recipe for Caramel Apple Cheesecake the other day.  He got it from a co-worker who just raved about it.  Since we will have a full house for Christmas this year, I decided this would be a good time to give it a try.  It's in the oven now and smells wonderful.

Graham Cracker Crust
1-1/2 cups graham crackers, finely crushed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

The recipe called for regular graham crackers but I used cinnamon grahams.  Combine crushed graham cracker crumbs and sugar, add melted butter and blend well.  Press evenly into a 9-inch pie pan, using the back of a spoon to press the crumbs up the sides of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Set aside to cool. 

Cheesecake Filling & Caramel Topping
1 21-ounce can apple pie filling
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened 
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 eggs
1/4 cup caramel topping

Reserve and set aside 3/4 cup of the apple pie filling.  Spoon the remaining filling evenly into the cooled pie crust.  Combine the softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy and smooth.  Add eggs one at a time and continue beating until well blended.  Pour cream cheese mixture into the pie crust and spread evenly over the apple pie filling.  Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees or until center is set.  Cool to room temperature. 

Mix the reserved apple pie filling with the caramel topping.  Next time I make it, I will dice the apple slices to make it easier to spread them evenly over the top.  If the mixture is too thick to spread evenly, heat in a saucepan or microwaveable dish for approximately one minute.  When smooth and spreadable consistency, pour evenly over the top of the cooled cheesecake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

The above is the original recipe, which fills a 9-inch pie pan and supposedly serves eight.  Whoever wrote the recipe obviously doesn't know how much my husband and son-in-law like cheesecake.  I doubled the ingredients and made it in a 9x13 pan. It still looks yummy, don't you think?

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What It Means to Cowboy Up

Yeoldfurt sent this picture to me in email, I'm not sure where he got it.  I had to crop the caption off the bottom of the picture because it was too small to read, but it said, 'Keep smiling big boy ...I got 8 seconds to kill and I'm all jacked up on Mountain Dew!'
That kind of encapsulates the meaning of the phrase 'cowboy up' that you hear these days.  No matter what trials you're facing, no matter what seemingly insurmountable obstacles are in your path, you stand up, square your shoulders and forge ahead.  Anything less and you're just guaranteeing your own demise.  

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the news and in the blogs lately.  Lord knows there's plenty of things to be worried about, but there are plenty of things to be grateful for as well.  I think it's wise to keep an eye on the horizon and know what you're next challenge is going to be.  I think it's important to prepare yourself and your family to ride out the hard times with as little discomfort as possible.  But lets not forget that every day is a gift.  When the going gets tough, the tough cowboy up!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Politics as Usual ?

On Friday, November 4, 1949, a newspaper in Manhattan, New York, The Daily Times, published the following article.   Over sixty-two years have passed since it was published.  But other than a few intricacies of grammar and punctuation, it doesn't look to me like much has changed in all that time.  I don't know whether to be fascinated or frustrated by that realization.  Read it yourself and see if you don't agree.

Mr. Truman's St. Paul, Minn., pie-for-everybody speech last night reminded us that,at the tail-end of the recent session of Congress, Representative Clarence J. Brown (R-Ohio) jammed into the congressional record the following poem, describing its author only as "a prominent Democrat of the State of Georgia."

Father, must I go to work?
No, my lucky son.
We're living now on Easy Street
On dough from Washington.

We've left it up to Uncle Sam
So don't get exercised.
Nobody has to give a damn-
We've all been subsidized.

But if Sam treats us all so well
And feeds us milk and honey,
Please, daddy, tell me what the hell
He's going to use for money.

Don't worry, bub, there's not a hitch
In this here noble plan-
He simply soaks the filthy rich
And helps the common man.

But, father, won't there come a time
When they run out of cash
And we have left them not a dime
When things will go all to smash?

My faith in you is shrinking, son,
You nosy little brat;
You do too much damn thinking, son,
 To be a Democrat.

Hat tip to my friend at Wildriver Blog for 
sending this newspaper article to me in email. 


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Always Something

November was a vehicular nightmare for us as far as maintenance and upkeep goes.  I already mentioned this is a geriatric fleet we drive.  The 'youngest' one of the bunch is a 2001 F250 and the other two are 1998 and 1996 models.  Last month we put two new tires and a rebuilt transmission in the 1998 and cv boots (both sides) on the 1996 was a $2000 month.  We are only 3 days into 'this month' and we're looking at another mechanical problem. 

I had a list of town errands this morning and decided to take the F250 to give it a little exercise.  I guess it was jealous of all the attention the other vehicles have been receiving lately stalled on me just going down the road.  Fortunately, I was on a little residential side road.  It started right back up when I turned the key, but then stalled out again within seconds.  It's a big truck, extended cab, and when the engine quits, so do the power brakes and power steering.  That's not a problem I wanted to deal with on the highway so I called Yeoldfurt.  I was already in town so we decided to have it towed to the shop just a mile or two up the road.  

I have the phone number for the wrecker driver saved in my phone.  The wrecker driver, Trey, is a local guy and we're on a first name basis.  That's one of the perks to driving old vehicles get to be on a first name basis with the wrecker driver ...and the mechanic.  I told him where I was and which vehicle it was this time and he said could be there in 20 minutes.  I called Yeoldfurt back to let him know and he said he was on his way too. 

Trey turned onto the side street where I was stranded and I flashed my lights to let him know where I was.  As he was positioning his truck, I tried to start my truck again started right up.  I left it running and told Trey what it had been doing.  He said if I wanted to try to drive it to the shop, he would follow me. I said, 'Okay, but I'll pay you anyway.'  He laughed and said, 'Not if you roll in on your own, you won't ...let's see if it will make it.'  Did I mention he's a good guy? 

Half a block on this side street, I had to make a left turn at a traffic light onto the state highway.  It's only 40mph on that stretch of highway and no more turns except into the shop parking lot, so it was worth a try.  I had to wait for the green light before turning onto the highway and only made it about 100 yards before the truck stalled.  I had a little momentum and was on a section of the highway with literally NO SHOULDER instead of hitting the brakes, I dropped it in neutral, gave it some gas and turned the key.  It fired up right away and I goosed it up the hill.  We only made it another 100 yards or so and it stall again.  This time, I was right next to a big gravel parking lot on my right and faced with crossing a major highway intersection up ahead.  I didn't want to push my luck any further and cranked it into the gravel parking lot.  We tried but Trey ended up having to tow me the couple of blocks.  He only charged me $30 and said it sounds to him like a clogged fuel filter which is a relatively cheap fix ...I sure hope he's right. 

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