True North is:

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Michigan, United States

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Happy New Year 2009

I wanted to start the new year off right, what better way than to do it frugally. Above is my totally free decorated table setting I did for our dinner party with my cousins Bobby and Sarah. The only thing I paid for was the food, which I bought all on sale at previous times, consisting of; herb red skinned potatoes, buttered asparagus, barbecued pork and a wine and grape spritzer. I used the following for the table decor; a feather boa and a top hat from our Halloween box. Confetti from a previous party held years ago when we paid for A mask worn at our close friends Dennis & Amy’s masquerade wedding. Glass beads Pat uses for his card games. I have a decent collection of crystal that I have collected over the years, and used a lot of that. Place mats were black and red construction paper criss-crossed. Napkins were nicely folded free, fast food restaurant leftovers. A crystal bowl with glass bulb ornaments off my Christmas tree. A few strands of plastic Mardigraus beads from a party my daughter attended. A got a few tips from Like Merchant Ships She is so helpful with tips in keeping things inexpensive or even free, but still classy and elegant. One tip I used was to transplant all food, wine and condiments into pretty dishes instead of using the package you bought it in. Works every time and even seems to make the food taste better! The night was fantastic and a great start to our brand new year.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Up in Smoke

Melissa touched on this topic in an earlier post, but I think I'll expand upon it because like it or not...our tobacco use is a big part of our lives; both economically and emotionally. If you've never been addicted to nicotine, I'm glad for you and hope you never travel down that road as it only leads to physical and monetary slavery. If you are shackled by the unforgiving leaf then you know what I'm talking about.
For years we have smoked name brand cigarettes regardless of their costs. My reason was pure stubbornness..."If I'm gonna smoke," I'd say defiantly, as if I'm winning some unseen conflict, "then I'll smoke what I want!" Yeah, brilliant! That theory was literally costing us $1000's each year. Obviously, quitting is the best approach, but for now it's all about reducing our costs.
We have a two front attack: First we are buying the cheap tobacco and filters and rolling them ourselves. This has reduced our carton costs from $40+ a carton to under $10. Big savings. The second thing we have done is reduced the amount we smoke.
Melissa has never really smoked that much and can make a pack of smokes last for awhile, but I on the other hand was easily smoking a pack a day. Bad on the health...bad on the pocket book. So I've adopted a new strategy. Pipe smoking.
My older brother used to smoke cigarettes and then switched to pipe. After smoking the pipe for a little while he was able to lay it down and quit smoking altogether. I'm guessing it has something to do with nicotine delivery, and the pipe smoking reduces the amount going into your body. Regardless this is now my plan. How is it working you might ask?
Well, I still smoke occasional cigarettes, usually in the morning and after dinner, but I am smoking so few now...sometimes as little as three a day (as opposed to 20) that I know the pipe is helping. I enjoy the pipe, and since a bowl lasts for awhile I don't smoke it very many times per day. Hopefully I will get to the point where I only smoke the pipe, but until then I can take satisfaction that I am smoking way less in general, and our tobacco costs have been extremely diminished. Never quit quitting!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pat's Bakery

Christmas this year inspired me to try my hand at baking. Not really sure why, it was a spur of the moment decision, but as Melissa was talking with her cousin about our Christmas dinner I blurted out that we would bring an apple pie…the whole time I was thinking that this wasn’t going to be some factory processed dessert, but instead a delicious treat that I would craft from scratch with my own hands. Sounded great…the only problem, I had never baked anything before. I was going to need help!
First thing I did was call my mom. Years of making incredible apple pies couldn’t be disregarded, and her apple pies were my favorite…I needed her recipe and her tutelage if my apple pie was going make the grade. I also knew I was going to be relying on Melissa’s baking prowess also, but for now I was keeping her in the dark as to my plans for recruiting her into Pat’s bakery.
After a quick email and a couple of phone conversations I was armed with my materials list and a warning…a warning I couldn’t take lightly. My mother suggested buying a crust! I was shocked when she spoke those words, for it was my every intent to take basic ingredients and form them into a masterpiece of culinary delight. No, there would be no buying of a frozen, dull, and unloved crust. My mission would not be thwarted by the faithlessness of my own mother.
Because of Melissa’s baking we had many of the ingredients already on hand, but apples had to be purchased. Too the store we went, and yes, Melissa came with me, and it’s a good thing she did. My mom’s recipe called for Gala apples, but at the produce section there were many apples and try as I might I could not discern the differences between them. I became agitated as I inspected each bag looking for the illustrious pronouncement of Gala, but it was useless…the bags only said “Apples”. Until, of course Melissa pointed and said “See, right there, under the word apple; it says Gala.” And so it did…who ever thought that red printing on a clear bag filled with red apples was a good idea.
With the shopping finished the day of baking was now at hand. I had my mother’s recipe, I had a Betty Crocker cookbook and I had my materials, but there was one thing missing; an expert hand to assist me on this endeavor. Simple solution you might think…ask your wife, she’s baked plenty and would be happy to help, and of course you would be right, but such a request could not be handled so flippantly. You see, I couldn’t just ask. Such a sign of weakness at this crucial moment could damage both my own wavering confidence and perhaps even snatch away the entire project as Melissa might fear an inferior product at her family’s Christmas dinner. I would have to handle this delicately and with careful guile.
I entered the kitchen, and slowly but in obvious fashion gathered my tools and edible components, and I listened. I didn’t take long. From the living room came her voice…like the soft whisper of a baking angel. “Hon, would like some help?” Hell yes I want some help I almost yelled, but with years of practiced reserve I replied half-heartedly “Sure, if you want to.”
And so it began, I and Melissa elbow deep in flower and apples, running around the kitchen like crazed bakers. It was fantastic, and through it all…the joy, the tears and the laughter…we had an APPLE PIE! It was beautiful. It was glorious. Now, hopefully it would taste as good as it looked. Two days till Christmas dinner, when relatives would tear through the delicate lattice top and devour the golden goodness inside. The wait was excruciating.
At this point I’ll save you all the gory details, but in the end the apple pie was pretty darn good. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, but there was definitely room for improvement. Not quite the ending I envisioned, but satisfying none the less. Perhaps next year will be the masterpiece I had planned, but if not…there’ll always be another holiday and another apple pie.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Good tidings, comfort and Joy

Christmas was fantastic this year! We thought it would be scary going into our first year not having MOUNDS of gifts for ourselves and family, but it wasn’t , it was as good or even better than previous years! We truly enjoyed and appreciated everything we got this year and so many family members really took our “homesteading” to heart and got us some great things to help us on our quest. Normally for each family (my side and Pat’s side) we draw names, that saves a lot of $$ instead of buying gifts for everyone and we continued that tradition on Pats side. However on my side we didn’t do gifts at all (which was great), we just had dinner and spent time together, we all discussed that we didn’t need to spend money on frivolous things, it was the time that counted the most. And we had soo much fun!! I do have to make note that my Aunt Nancy doesn’t follow the “ no gift giving” rule…lol. She bought us some really cool homesteading stuff and even “re-gifted” a painting I did years ago for her and had it framed. It was so thoughtful and I forgive her for breaking the rules :o)

Gabrielle and I spent over 5 hours baking this year. In previous years we baked cookies and made fudge in half that time, but we always bought the semi-homemade stuff , you know the cookie dough that rarely makes it to the oven, most of us just eat it straight from the package, (please tell me I’m not the only one who does this…lol). Anyways, this year we did it all from scratch. Made dough, rolled dough, cut cookies, baked cookies, and decorated the cookies. I even made homemade frosting this year. It saved A LOT of money, in previous years I would have spent at least $60+ on everything. This year I spent under $10. It took more time, but it was worth every minute, Gabrielle and I had so much fun, she really did most of the work! Thanks Bean!

That makes "CENTS"

I wanted to share some of my money saving tips I’ve done so far. Not all have been thoroughly tested but they seem to make CENTS…lol

When I do a load I set the wash time down to the lowest setting, example if it washed for 12 minutes before now I put it to 6. I also wash in only cold water, and I use ½ detergent of what the back says to use. Haven’t had any differences as far as cleanliness is concerned. Still ALL clean! However this has not been tested on deeply soiled items, just day to day wear. When drying I set the timer to 3o minutes and check, if its done take it out, if not put it on for 10 more. I also use the dryer lint to start our fires. I the summer I plan to mostly hang outside to dry. I also wear my outer clothes (sweatshirts, pants etc) more than once if they are not soiled, usually I’m just around the house working and cooking so it really doesn’t matter. I also hang out towels to re-use all week. I’d like to eventually make my own laundry soap.

Oh boy I could go on forever in this category and there is still sooo much I need to learn. I have yet to learn to can, that is probably the number one thing on my list before spring comes. I did get a bunch of new canning stuff for Christmas from the family ! Thanks Mona and Norm! So far what I have done is bread and leftovers. I’m not baking my own bread yet, however I will be very soon. But the bread I have now I get really cheap about .50-.75 a loaf. So when the ends are left or it’s a bit stale I turn it into bread crumbs or croĆ»tons. Leftovers I have found to be pretty easy. There are so many resources online to find recipes for leftovers, it’s almost silly that anyone would ever through stuff away! One of my experiments was spaghetti casserole. It was delicious. If you want the recipe contact me. I can’t wait to get started on the garden this spring, that is when I will have many more money saving tips to share.

Kitchen…well here I have quite a few things. First we unplug anything that is not currently in use (micro when not being used, coffee machine, etc.). We no longer use the electric can opener at all, we removed it and I’m selling or I'm going to Freecycle it. I try to mix by hand (instead of electric mixer) when baking, sometimes that’s impossible though with my lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow). I reuse zipper bags (washing and drying on a cool rack I have) only if meat was not stored in them, those I toss out. I wash all containers of anything that was purchased and reuse them for storage and leftover storage, including bread bags. You’d be surprised how many I have actually gone through! Eventually I won’t have as many because we won’t be buying as many. So I’m saving them all now. Paper products…GONE, all of them. I no longer purchase any paper products for the kitchen. I have cloth napkins which I think are better feeling and looking. For nasty spills I use a rag from my "rag bag" filled with clothes and towels that could not be repaired and were torn up for convenient size use, they work great. This way no kitchen towels have to get stained, just a rag! I stopped using kitchen top cleaners and quick mop sprays, old fashion mop bucket, hand and knees and some elbow grease is the ticket now. I use a lot of vinegar and baking soda to clean, it goes A LOT farther and it gets the job done much easier. I have yet to go through the gallon of vinegar I bought 2 months ago for $2. And if anyone knows me, my house is clean…lol

Free samples!! (pictured below is 3 weeks worth) LOVE THEM! If you are already online doing homesteading research or what ever you do, take the time to fill out a few lines of your name and address and get a free sample! I have been doing it for over a month and they are pouring in now. I get at least 6 or 7 a week. I have had countless free things. A free pot of coffee, free load of laundry, several free hair washings, free food samples, I can’t even begin to name all the free stuff I have given to me. Here are some links to sites I have used.,
Paper. I reuse it all. The backs of it anyways, if I can’t write on it I save it for starting our fires (well at least some of it) I cut it up in small pieces for quick notes (kinda like the post-its) the difference is mine doesn’t My mother-in-law Sally gave me a stack of scrap paper notes that were stapled, I thought what a great idea! It’s like a little notebook. I keep one in my purse. All the junk mail I keep and use the backs. I have even used the envelopes to scratch stuff on if I need to.
FreeCycle. There is A LOT to get on these sites, however I found that there are many more that want it. So far we have gotten only one response from it, a really nice coffee table and end table set, but that's not from the lack of trying (emailing). It just comes down to, a lot of people are looking for stuff, and there is only so much that is being given. But all in all I can’t complain, it’s a great service intended to keep items out of landfills and it seems to be working and of course it‘s all FREE. We plan, as we go through things, to sporadically put some things on there.
Dumpster Diving. We just started looking into this so I can’t share our experiences as of yet, however we have found there is a whole community out there dedicated to it! It’s exciting and I hope to be back with more details on that soon.
Smoking. Yeah I know a nasty habit…but we do it. Pat’s seriously trying to quit, I’m half ass trying. Michigan has one of the highest prices for cigs. For premium you can pay almost $50 per carton and of course that’s what we smoked. So I decided to take the plunge and start rolling smokes. Pat started smoking a pipe instead. So we invested $60 into all our supplies. Pipe and cig tobacco, rolling machine, filter tubes, and pipe. The smoke shop was very helpful and even allowed us to sample different tobacco types before we bought. It was strange smoking right in a business…haven’t done that for years! Anyways as far as the cigarettes go it costs $12.70 for one carton of smokes now (tobacco, tubes and tax)!!! AMAZING!! Luckily I only smoke about 5-10 cigs a day so it’s roughly about $5 per week. Pretty damn good!!