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Monday, October 22, 2007

A Challenge For You . . .

Ethan and I are getting to the point where we would like to take a step and move from our house in town to a spot in the country. The last couple of years we have been watching the housing market in the area and crunching numbers. We have figured out that at best, we can afford a place that has has a nice amount of land but a small house or a place with not very much land but a little larger house. We haven't really seen anything come around in our price range with a nice amount of land and a large house.

So the question that has been bouncing around is how much land will we need to do some farming and what size of house will we want for comfortable living. Right now I feel like we are outgrowing the house we are in. We have 3 tiny bedrooms (one is serving as an office, one is our bedroom, and one is for Caleb and Hannah), a small living room/dining room area that has room for 2 chairs, a couch, and our table, and then the kitchen and bathroom of course. There is no garage, but there is a dungeon basement only used for storage although I really don't like to use it for that since mold grows well down there.

I have come to realize, however, that maybe the reason we feel like we are outgrowing our house is not so much because of us, but because of our stuff. Just so you know, I am far from a pack rat. I have often been accused of not having enough stuff and the house looking bare, yet the closets continue to fill to the brim with tubs of things to be stored.

With Christmas coming up, I am getting a bit worried about the inflow of gifts from gracious givers and how we will be able to work our new gifts into our house. So I am starting a project that seems to happen every year. I guess you could say I am rampaging through the house. During this time I purge the house of anything I can give away, throw away, or sell in order to make more room in our house for the boxes of new things that will appear come December.

So here is my challenge to you . . . a declutter challenge. To get started, just think about the older farm families (like my dad's) who lived in a 3 bedroom house with 11 kids and no basement. Consider the cost of all of that stuff that you really don't need - the stuff that takes up precious space causing so many people to think they need bigger houses and garages when really they just need less stuff. Think about the time wasted juggling worthless stuff around. Then think about what you can give away, throw away, or sell (we love e-bay!).

Here are the rules:

Set up three boxes/bags/containers in an out of the way spot. Label them give, throw, and sell. (Throw away things do not include day to day trash. It is things that you have actually been storing that can be thrown away.) Until Christmas, whenever you come across anything that fits in one of those categories, put it in it's appropriate container. Keep your eyes open as you walk around and every time you open a closet, drawer, or box. If you have time, start digging through storage areas too.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself that will help you find things to sort out of your house:

  • Would getting rid of this be more beneficial to me than keeping it? (Rather than selling it, is it tying up money that I need or could use elsewhere or is it taking up too much of my time shuffling it/dusting it?)
  • Was I surprised to see it or realize I had it?
  • Have I used it in the last year, or do I have specific plans to use it again? (Preferably within the next year, but there are exceptions.)
  • Can this be replaced easily for close to the amount I can sell it for or for very little if I give or throw it away?
  • Would this be more of a blessing to someone else than it is to me?

    Once you get going, do not look in the containers after you start putting things in them. In other words, don't second guess yourself. If you put it in, leave it in. After just a little while of doing this, I think you will be amazed at the sheer volume of stuff that you actually have in your house that you do not really need. I am every time I do this, and I do it at least once a year. I will warn you, however, that you might find many things that you have boughten and realize that maybe you shouldn't have. If they fall under the "clutter" category, still get rid of them even if it means you wasted money. I guarantee that if you do this activity often enough and after you toss enough of those kind of things, you will start to become wiser in how you spend your money.

    I will try to remember to post around Christmas time and let you know how much stuff I came up with, hopefully having a picture to show too. I would love it if you join me in the challenge and drop comments on how your boxes/bags/containers are filling up.

    My whole reason for doing this is to keep our house from being overcrowded with stuff that we don't need, and hopefully when the time comes for us to buy a place to do some farming in the country we will be able to look for a house to fit needs according to our family and not according to our stuff.

    (authors note: To see my results, click here.)

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  •  Tools of My Trade
    This kit is one we have used and is worth every penny you will spend on it! Even if you have a good grip on your finances, there will be things you can take away from this study that will be a blessing to you.  As Mr. Ramsey says in his radio show when it comes to figuring out how big of a mortgage you should take out on a house, "You want your house to be a blessing, not a curse."  I believe that this advice fits with all purchase that are made.  In addition to not having them be a curse by needing to make payments, we also need to keep them from becoming curses down the road by using up money that could have instead been set away for emergencies or more important purchases.  This plan helps you figure out how to budget your money in a way that you will move more and more from finances becoming a curse in your life to more and more of them becoming a blessing.

    If you just want a very helpful, but not as in depth version of Mr. Ramsey's financial advice, the Total Money Makeover is another wonderful resource. We have a large number of friends who have used this book to help turn their finances around. You may be able to find a used copy of the book through e-bay or You can also pick up a new copy from the link below.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Let's Talk Oatmeal

    Last winter my husband and I finally got around to getting a life insurance plan. We had been putting it off but decided that it might be a good idea now that we have kids. I think that the best thing that came about through the process was that we found out my husband's cholesterol is AWFUL. At 27 years old, his cholesterol was 267 (Under 200 is desirable. Over 240 is high risk), and his LDL was 192 (Under 100 is optimal. 190 is very high risk). Ethan is not overweight, but his cholesterol is too high.

    If he would go on meds at this point in his life, his liver would take quite a beating. And so we began the quest for ways to lower his cholesterol. Since we had an interest in farming, we started doing more research on grass fed beef and pastured chickens (and eggs), which has helped lead us to where we are so far in our farming pursuits.

    Another thing that seemed like it would help is oatmeal. A couple of the 6 major health benefits of oatmeal is that it helps lower LDL - the bad cholesterol, and it also helps reduce the risk of heart disease.

    In my last post I received a question about oatmeal in my comment section so I thought I'd make a new post on oatmeal. I'll share what I know, and I'd love to hear what you know.

    Since my husband has very particular taste buds, I tried to make an oatmeal he would enjoy eating. He is able to choke down the maple and brown sugar prepackaged oatmeal, so I tried to make a copy cat. This is what I came up with:

    1/2 c oats
    2 tsp maple syrup
    1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
    1/8 tsp salt

    2/3 c water

    Microwave 1 minute 30 seconds

    While I was experimenting, I learned a lot about oatmeal. First of all, I learned that the texture can be completely different depending on how it is made. You can leave it as it is in the box or chop it up in the blender. Microwaving or boiling it will change its consistency, along with the amount of water you put in it. Also, you can change the texture by how you boil it. You can add the oatmeal in the water before you put in on heat, after it is boiling, or somewhere in between. And all this makes a difference in how it turns out. Quite complicated when you are trying to please a choosy eater.

    I also learned something when my parents were visiting once. They eat oatmeal. For some reason I never knew that growing up. But also, I saw them eat it like you would cold cereal. They cook it and then pour milk all over it until it is floating. I was quite confused when I saw this, but maybe it is not that uncommon. I guess you can also cook it in milk too instead of water.

    And for add ins - the sky is the limit. We like to add bananas, applesauce, raisins, berries, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spices, etc.

    If you just can't bring yourself to eat it at breakfast, you can always try to work it into your baking. I like to substitute 3/4 cups of oatmeal for 1/2 cup of flour in my baked goods.

    I would love to hear any oatmeal suggestions or favorites you might have. Please leave some comments if you have any!

    I guess the point is that oatmeal is really good for you, and it isn't terribly expensive. With a bit of tinkering around, hopefully it can be worked into diets a bit more - including our family's.

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    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Start Your Morning Right

    I am a big believer that breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. It gives you energy for the morning and gets your metabolism jump started for the day as well. It also helps ward off the desire for extra evening snacks, which sometimes take the place of the third meal when breakfast isn't included in the morning - and these snacks aren't nearly as nutritious as breakfast probably would have been.

    When I was growing up I always had Cheerios for breakfast. If I don't fry up a pan of eggs from our chickens, I continue to have my Cheerios at breakfast time. Actually, we have Toastios or Tasty-o's. They are close enough but also get to be expensive. I would like to be able to eat oatmeal to still get my whole grains, but I never had it growing up and find it hard to enjoy now. Thankfully, both of my kids eat it.

    In addition to the oatmeal providing whole grains for them, I also take the opportunity to fill some of their fruit requirements for the day. As I boil the water, I drop some raisins in. After I cook the oatmeal, I stir in some applesauce. Fruit and whole grains are something that I think is left out of a lot of diets, so I feel like this is a good breakfast for them, and they love it.

    Adding the raisins and applesauce, however, raises the price of their breakfast. I don't want to sacrifice their nutrition for money so I set my mind on canning some applesauce this year.

    We were visiting my parents on Tuesday, and they have been saving apples for me from their tree. My mom and I worked through the evening canning applesauce. We sliced the apples, cut out the bad spots, cooked them down, blended them up, and canned them.

    I left the skins on the apples for added nutrients and flavor. They cooked down nicely. I chose not to add any acid to stop oxidation, but with leaving the skins on, the jars have a nice red blush to them - although the photo below doesn't catch it well.

    This is the first time I have canned apples, and I am really happy with what we ended up with. The taste is incredible! Much better than store bought. Although we won't have enough for the year, the 20 pints we canned will last quite awhile. I am excited to do more next year, and I just might start eating oatmeal for breakfast myself now.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Keeping Hands Busy

    Last week the house kind of fell apart as my poison ivy blisters got somewhat out of control. My left hand became useless. It was so blistered and swollen that I couldn't even move my fingers. I wrapped it in towels to keep it from being painfully bumped against something. I just did the basics as the week went on - making food and changing diapers. I even switched from cloth diapers to disposable so I wouldn't have to mess with laundry.

    Because the house was starting to become quite a mess, I sought ways to keep the kids busy. They are great at picking up their toys, but I was afraid the toys would get lost in the rest of the mess.

    One of the things that I came up with to keep them busy was to have them help me with my compost. Our tub outside the door was needing some carbon (browns). I had been adding quite a bit of nitrogen (greens) with our kitchen scraps and things were becoming a bit off balance. I could tell by the fruit flies that had turned the compost tub into the neighborhood hangout. So I pulled out our old newspapers and let the kids shred away as I got supper ready. They had a blast, and now our fruit fly problems are taken care of.

    As for my poison ivy, I finally got some steroid pills to take for my blisters and swelling from the emergency room over the weekend. I know what you are thinking. "You went to the emergency room for poison ivy blisters?" Well, I actually went in for the blood poisoning I got through my poison ivy blisters - revealed by the 18 inch red streak that was crawling and branching up my arm. After I got an antibiotic shot and antibiotic pills for that, they decided maybe I should have something for my poison ivy too. I am much relieved to say that all the meds seem to be working and, now both of my hands can be busy again.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2007

    Canning Beans

    Two summers now I have planted green beans for canning, only to have my crop destroyed by insects. This week I was finally able to can some, thanks to my fall planting.

    I went out to the garden earlier this week and picked an overflowing bucket full. I know that it isn't nearly the amount that other people get, but I was excited. I was mainly doing an experiment to see if beans planted for fall would be better than my summer crop, without using chemicals still. Being able to can some would just be a bonus to my experiment.

    As it turned out, the gallon of beans that I picked were clean and without insect damage, so I was able to can 3 quarts. I had wanted to put them in pints, which would have given me 6 jars, but I forgot that I was needing to by more lids for my jars and only had 3 left. Thankfully I was able to fit all of my beans into the quart jars, and we will just save them for when we have guests over. I still have lots of beans on my plants too so I will probably still be able to can more as pints.

    I now plan on doing fall beans again in hopes that every fall will produce this nice of a crop. I don't know if this year, with its higher than normal day temperatures, is an exceptional year for fall plantings, but I do know that the cool nights stopped my insect problems. I have now had my first opportunity to can some beans.
    Tools of My Trade

    Beans must be pressure canned due to their low acidity in order to kill all bacteria that would cause dangerous food born illnesses. They can be safely canned by using the recommended times and pressures given for your altitude. I have a couple older Mirro pressure canners given to me that work wonderfully, and my mom has a newer one that she loves as well. If you do some asking around, you might find someone who has given up canning and has one available, or you can look for one like the one pictured below. It should hold around 9 pint jars or 7 quart jars.

    I also have some canning tools that are invaluable. The wide funnel helps keep messes to a minimum when filling jars. When I heat my lids, I just drop them into the hot water of my canner and then lift them out with the magnetic wand. The jar lifters are great for getting those hot jars out of the canner as well. You can buy these tools separately at many stores, or you can purchase them in a kit which contains other useful canning tools, such as the one pictured below.

    Monday, October 1, 2007

    Poison Ivy Tree

    Last year I saw what I thought to be a poison ivy tree. I always thought that poison ivy was a ground cover, but I was certain that I discovered a poison ivy tree and discovered it growing adjacent to our yard in the railroad ditch. I had a hunter I knew check it out, along with some other people, but they all said they were pretty sure poison ivy didn't grow that way.

    As I sit typing this though, my fingers on my left hand are so swollen that I can't put them together. I have blisters and oozing bumps (yeah, I look kinda gross right now) not only covering my fingers, but also on my hands, wrists, forearms, neck, face, around my eye, on my lips, and even some in my mouth. There is also a spot on my ankle and maybe one or two showing up on my back. Yup. Poison ivy trees do exist.

    Okay, so I may be stretching the story a bit. Not with my poison ivy rash - I really do have all of that, but with the tree. It is actually a big, dying tree covered with massive poison ivy vines which pretty much cover up the tree. Here's a picture of it. If you click on the picture you can see the leaves of 3 and the way they turn color before most other plants. Also, take note that the tree itself is wide enough that I couldn't put my arms around it if I tried (which I didn't, and I won't!). That will give you somewhat of an idea of how massive this vine is.

    How did I get the poison ivy if I didn't hug the tree? Well, that is my own fault. I was cleaning out our overgrown railroad ditch again at our walnut dumping spot - this time quite a ways away from our raspberries, but about 10-15 feet from our poison ivy tree. Even though others disagreed, I had a suspicion that the tree had poison ivy on it so I should have been watching out for it on the ground too. It turns out that whole part of the ditch has poison ivy on the ground. And I found it. Before I saw it.

    I thought I would share some of the things that have worked for me to keep the itch bearable. My favorite is to run as hot of water as I can stand on the spots as long as I can stand. I guess it overloads nerve receptors and turns them off for awhile. This lasts around 4 hours. (edited 5 '08 to add: Although this feels REALLY, REALLY!!! good, it might actually make the poison ivy worse - opening up pores and causing it to go deeper.) For the spots that I can't burn with water, vinegar helps take the itch away a bit. Also, a paste of oatmeal left on until it dries feels nice. I also have heard that rubbing the inside of a banana peel on the spot helps. Feel free to share your favorite home remedy. Also, I would love to hear how to get rid of this stuff.

    So now I guess that I am going to have to find another spot in our yard where I can play. I'm starting to run out of options of cheap outdoor things to work on with our lot in town. Thankfully though, our yard has 5 or 6 really large walnut trees on it so I can comb the yard for walnuts for awhile if I can't think of anything better. I will just have to watch out where I dump them.

    Here are Caleb and Hannah helping me pick up walnuts. I am so glad they didn't get into the poison ivy as we were dumping them.

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