Monday, April 27, 2009

Talking to Herself...

...while munching carrots, my 7-year old said, 

"Carrots help you to see in the dark.... I thought lights were for that."

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I need this toner cartidge.  

But how is it more expensive than my current mortgage balance???

Don't worry, I think I found it cheaper elsewhere...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Goings On

Wednesday was over 80 degrees, and right now I'm watching snow blow in.  At least it's blowing fairly gently.

A couple weeks ago we got 50 (well, I think I counted 52.  But I paid for 50) Cornish Cross Broiler Chicks.  A.k.a. "Meat Mutants."  They're definitely growing!  We put them in the hoophouse (this post includes a picture or two of it), but this time Hubby rigged up a nifty system for me.  He put in some wood frames (old 'workbench' pieces, laid sideways) and put his black plastic pickup bedliner on top.  This makes it much easier for this growing lady to check on and manage them!  They're big enough to flap and get themselves onto the wheelwells, and possibly over and out completely, but, being mutants, they're content to sit and metabolize.  So far.

We (by "we" I mostly mean Hubby!) built two Square Foot Gardening Boxes - both 4'x8', but one is double-depth - for potatoes and carrots.  As I joked, we did indeed put plywood bottoms on them, and they ARE propped up on cinder blocks!  Not high enough to keep from bending by any means, but high enough to stay out of reach of the Evil Weed.  As long as I keep an eye out, that is...

I found some reasonably priced peat moss, and had been purchasing different compost mixes/blends when I found them, and only had to acquire the vermiculite for the 'special' soil mix called for.  I finally found it at one place - $30/bag and I needed 4 bags!  *cough choke*  I cried a little, but I bought it and got all 14 cubic feet of it into my trunk (along with a couple cf of compost!).  I spent Sunday sunburning my arms, neck, and ear, and mixing 1/3 of it for the shallow garden box.  Let's just say that I overdid it physically, and somehow tapped into my emotional energy, because Sunday was NOT a good day, unless you like dissolving in blubbering pools of saline...

I've planted 8 "squares" of lettuce, 13 squares of potatoes (Russian Banana, Yukon Gold, Red, and a couple Kennebec).  I'd like to do a few more of potatoes, if I can find some seed (not the tentacle-ridden russets I have in abundance), and haven't gotten around to the carrots.  Or starting a few necessary items indoors, either.  Though Big Sister is thrilled that the pinto beans she planted in a drinking cup have sprouted, as of today.  Maybe I should put her to work with the pumpkin, basil, and cilantro seed?

Hubby is going to rototill for tomatoes and corn and a couple other 'outside the box' things, but couldn't get the rototiller to stay running (what else is new?).  He decided it was having carburetor issues, so stole the carburetor off of our push mower (which *I* use to mow the, uh, weeds in the garden..), and that worked!  For the rototiller, anyway.  He hasn't done much of the tilling yet, but we have time before those things go in.

I rigged a simple pattern and made 2 little summery dresses for Organique yesterday.  The other girls have ordered the same, but I don't have any good patterns for theirs, so am trying to adjust a pattern based on some of their existing (hand-me-down) dresses.

More to do:

Soon I'll make more of the garden fence 'chicken proof' and install the Mutants in a penned off section within the garden.  Then we'll get some baby turkeys and maybe a few geese, and see if we can't keep them alive too.  

I'm dreaming about a motorized chicken plucker for Mother's Day (doesn't every Mama?), but while we have most of the parts to slap one together, the rubber "fingers" (kinda important) are about $100 - and we don't have those.  Complicating that dream is the fact that we still only admire the van as we walk past it (but we have the title now!), and both Hubby's and Little Artist's birthdays are within 2 weeks (I failed to get anything for my 14-year-old neice on Wednesday, and a cousin turns six tonight... gifted with things the girls wish to 'bless' him with. :[ ).  I'm thinking a box of Crayola 64 and some nice coloring books/pages might do it for the girl, but Hubby won't be so easy to please. :)  I don't think a new gas grill is in the budget, but my 'hates scrubbing broiler pans' gene would love for him to get one!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maple Syrup Substitute

UPDATE:  I no longer use or recommend this alternative!  Go here for more information.

I used to think maple syrup was made by using 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, bringing almost to a boil and adding a capful or two of 'mapleine.'  As I began to learn more about and understand whole and natural foods, I realized that only GOD can make maple syrup. :)  And while I once scoffed at people who paid a few dollars for a jug of something they could make themselves for cheaper, I began to search for the best deals - which were still several times as expensive as the fake stuff - on REAL maple syrup.  The kind harvested from maple trees.  The kind that was better for you and natural.  I enjoyed our occasional splurge, and was careful not to waste it.


Have you priced maple syrup lately?  It's really gotten out of hand.  A year ago I could buy a half gallon at Costco (sometimes organic) for about $20.  A few months ago it was available in quarts, for about $16-$17.  I choked, but I bought some anyway.  It was still cheaper than Azure, and there weren't any other options, really.  Then, when I needed it again (and oh, I needed it!), Costco was out!  I inquired and they told me the Maple Mafia or whomever were working out their pricing for this year's syrup, and they expected it by mid or late April.

I figured April 16 was time to check, and looked for it again.  Still nothing.  THIS time, my inquiry brought puzzled looks by the gals who searched through their mighty database.  Apparently it 'had been on order last week' but wasn't even listed anymore.

It's that Maple Cartel.  Those thugs priced themselves out of even Costco's market!  Argh!

But I think I've found a way around it...

I occasionally bought Agave Nectar for Hubby to use, and when it went on sale this month from Azure, I bought a 44 oz jug (that's weight... it's about a quart by volume) for $7.25.  I used it this morning on my pancakes and it was... not bad!  Not maple-y, of course, but if I was motivated enough I bet I could mix in a bit of maple flavoring in a pinch.

I think I'll buy a case of 6 jugs next month (it's still on sale in May - $39.55 for the case), and thumb my nose at the Maple overlords.  That would bring my cost down to $6.67/quart.

Oh, and the bulk price for maple syrup from Azure is almost $25!!

So, if you're hurting for something pure, natural, healthy(ish), but can't quite bring yourself to put a dollar's worth (or more) of something on each pancake you eat, I encourage you to give this a try.  And then tell me what YOU think!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Artist Improvement

Li'l Artist continues on in her endeavors to draw, color, paint, or otherwise fill up empty spaces in our home.

My favorite improvement so far has been the tendency to use paper, as opposed to walls or furniture.

She had 'saved' about 6 or 7 dollars from her commissions and some gift money, and we made a trip to a fantastic toy store.

Sadly, most of the prices were above her range (and oh, she was so close to that new My Little Pony!), but we finally found something that was right up her alley.  It was like a color book, only with larger pages and on better paper.  And they were landscape-oriented as opposed to portrait.  It was right up *my* alley because it wasn't a Disney Princess theme, or Hannah Montana or any other of a dozen 'licensed' characters.  But it was definitely girly.  From pictures of ballet equipment to little kittens, beautiful flowers and horses and mermaids (not Ariel!), it was just perfect.  She ended up tearing out several pages to 'give' to her sister and I to color, and I chose the strawberries.  I didn't get very far, however (they wonder why I don't color, and ask me this when I'm burning a pancake, answering the phone, dealing with a crying baby, and spilling batter all over the kitchen...?), and she eventually took it upon herself to work further on it.  The fact that we're entirely out of crayons (or have misplaced the rest) didn't faze her.

I think her staying within the lines has definitely improved, along with her patience at the project (but not when I interrupt her projects... ).  I can't believe she'll be five soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Last week I hung out some laundry, enjoyed the little weed-bouquets (see the purple flowers in the header?  They eventually turn into prickly little stickers, but they're nice in April!) my girls brought in, rejoiced over the "first" dandelion in the lawn :\, building my square-foot-gardening boxes, and other warm-weather springy things.  It was nice.

While it lasted.

Today we awoke to a winter scene.  There are a couple/few inches of snow on the ground, and more is falling.  The girls are scramblign to find their 'winter boots' and Organique is howling because it looks fun out there.  Poor thing.

Hubby was thrilled last night when the All Powerful Jury Message Machine let him off the hook for this morning (yes, he was called for selection again!), but almost wished he could spend the day indoors once he got up.

I guess winter doesn't want to let us go without one last throttle!

Friday, April 10, 2009


In our area recently, an 8-month-old baby died in the hospital.  The child had been found 'unresponsive' or something a month previous in it's daycare crib.  I assume it spent the intervening month in the hospital.

So often we hear about terrible abuses or accidents in daycares.  Sometimes they're just wicked people preying on children.  Other times it's good people, trying to do a good thing, and something bad just happens.

I don't choose to stay home with my babies because I fear some evil person will intentionally harm my child, or expose her to something damaging - although this IS a risk.  No, it's far more than that.  And one element of that decision is time.

When I heard about the infant who died in the hospital, my heart just broke.  I cannot imagine the pain of losing a baby at all, but how must that mother feel?  Now, I don't know the circumstances - whether she was a single mom and that daycare was the only option if her other children were going to eat in a day, or if she was in a critical time for career development - but circumstances aside, I'm sure her pain and regret must be keen.  I don't mean that the daycare was in any way responsible and she regrets putting her child into a situation that ultimately took his or her life (indeed, I've heard nothing like that), but that she certainly must regret the loss of so much time.

None of us know how much time we have left on this earth, and we certainly don't know how much time our children have.  We hope and pray that we all live long, fulfilling lives, but that's not always the case. 

 Her child had 8 months.

How many of those months were spent clinging to and savoring the sweet blessing that was her child?  Did she assume that she could "make up for it" later?  There is no such thing.  And whether her decision to put her baby in the care of others was based on dire necessity or mere convenience, it still cost the same in time.

How often do we let the moments slip by that we could be loving, training, building our children?  How much time do we lose?

And is it worth it?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Trusting God.

Trying to, anyway.  Sometimes I'm really bad at it.

Last weekend, when Hubby called the Authority Machine for Potential Jurors, his number was required to show up Tuesday morning at 8:45.  We both groaned, and vaccilated between valiantly doing his civil duty, and thinking up ways to reduce the likelihood of his selection.

Magic-marker a swastika on his mostly-shaven head?

Show up in Monday's clothes - which were distinctly "dairy" in their fragrance?

Answer each question in monotone with his name, rank, and serial number?

In the end, of course, the 'valiant duty' option was chosen.  He dressed nicely and took his motorcycle magazines and lunch and drove his work truck - so he could go straight to work when they released him.

Out of the 50+ people that were there, of course, he was one of the 13 that were chosen. *sigh*  And they put him to work shortly thereafter.  After the lunch "break" (which is an hour and a half!!!), court convened (they were given instructions) and they 'jurred' until about 3:00.  They told the jurors to expect to listen to testimony all of Wednesday (until 5:00), and that would wrap it up.

TWO days out of work.  TWO DAYS - which would amount to any and all of the overtime he might've earned this payday - lost.  And right when I'm frothing at the mouth to get our van road-legal! *boo hoo wah wah*

I'm such a baby, I know.  As though God doesn't know when the right time is for our van to be our main vehicle (or, more likely, the right time and way to teach me patience), and is subject to the whims of the Jury Selection Wizards.

By Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. Hubby's backside was really sore, but, naturally, the trial wasn't through.

Today is day 3.  I expect he'll call me during his "break" - when he sits in his work truck listening to satellite radio and eating lunch - and I hope and pray to hear that he's able to head out to a paying job site by now!

Oh that's right - he DOES get paid for his service.  A whopping and impressive ten dollars per day.


Update 12:05 p.m.  Hubby called to say the jurors are deliberating, and his number was selected very last, making him the 'alternate' juror.  He was told to 'stay available' but he was free to leave!  He's on his way to the shop, where he'll put his work bibs over his dressy clothes, and start work somewhere, hoping and praying that none of the jurors breaks any rules!

Is It Weird That This Made Me Cry?

Hubby listens to the 'composer' of this music on satellite radio sometimes.

Flashing through the portraits during that song brought tears to my eyes.  How could we have fallen so far?  Almost daily I imagine speaking with one of them - Washington, Jefferson, Madison... - and wondering what they'd think of 'nowadays.'  Would they have thrown in the towel?  Would they have forged ahead anyways?  Would they take my advice about writing 'killing the unborn for convenience will not be legalized' into one of those amendments?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


The phone rang the other night.  Not unusual in itself, but guess who was calling???


I swear to... uh, Him, the Caller ID said as much.


Sadly, it was a wrong number.  He was looking for "Maricela."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Guinea Fowl Pictures

Have you ever seen a guinea?  I mean, really close up?  They're so weird.  Trying to describe them for someone is quite a challenge.  "White and bluish and pink/red skin, horn, flaps..."  Some time ago I did a google search and couldn't really find any decent facial photos of guineas, so when Hubby plucked a sleeping one off of it's fencepost roost (too bad we weren't ready to butcher!) to bring in for Organique (oh yes, someone's always dragging a poultry product through the house for Baby's benefit), I took the opportunity to get some (very poor) pictures.

Not exactly your run-of-the-mill bird, if there is such a thing...

Monday, April 06, 2009

It's Ours (Mostly)

Well, we did it.  Or are doing it.  Kindof.  We're trying.

That is, the last Saturday in March we took a looooonnnnggg drive (just ask the kids) to look at a couple Toyota Sienna vans.  The first one, from a dealer who said, "Always buy from a dealer.  We change the oil.  We inspect it.  It's always the safest bet."  

He didn't know that all my growing-up years I'd point to some vehicle and my dad would say, "That's overpriced!"  

"How do you know?" I would inquire, thinking he knew the current market value of every new or used vehicle available.  

"Because it's on a car lot."

The van might've been a winner, except for a couple issues... Either the former owner or the current salesman seated in the passenger seat was a smoker.  I was afraid to ask which.  The other issue was the bright silver screws along the inside of the front wheel wells.  The front bumper had been removed at some point and we weren't sure why.

The second van we looked at made us a bit more comfortable.  I was happy to see that the dark photo online had tricked me - it wasn't white, but silver!  Yay!  It was a year newer than the first, had half the miles, and had all the 'necessaries' without many of the 'luxuries' (which I'll certainly miss in my Camry!)  We bought it... sorta.  That is, we wrote a check to the owner (or their credit union, more specifically) and drove it home.  Here it is:

No, not the torn-up greenhouse, or the old toyota pickup, or the nice Camry or the ancient tractor or the weary motorhome.  The other thing.  In front.

And it has been there, in front, since then.  And will continue to sit in front for a while yet.  We're waiting on the 'details' - the owners owed more than we paid them, and since we couldn't get a cashier's check on a saturday, their credit union had to hold our check for a time to be certain of the funding before they released the title.  Supposedly that happened last Friday and I hope to see a title show up in the mail soon.

At which point the title will find a nice little spot in a cupboard or drawer and sit a while as well.  Why all the sitting and waiting, when there are groceries to be bought and kids to be hauled?  We paid a private seller, see, and they don't exactly collect the sales tax.  The bill of sale, however, will have to be presented to my local Department of Motor Vehicles, at which point the Governor of the State will get excited and order extra-expensive cigars, because we will have to pay the sales tax.  And that's near $1000.  *cough, gag, ack*  I'm unwilling to dip into the 'emergency fund' - which the sale of Mary Jane (the Camry) will refill, so we're eating lentils and pintos for a time. :)

Obviously we spent the very upper-end of our vehicle budget on this one, but we feel it was a good deal.  The van (she has no name yet, but I'm fairly certain of her gender) is an '07 with less than 20,000 miles on it.  That should make it last quite a while for us.  Heck, we've never even test-driven a vehicle with that few miles, let alone owned one!  We bought Mary Jane at over 80,000; she's pushing 130,000 and haven't had a lick of trouble with any aspect of her.  I'll miss her manual transmission.  And 6 cd-changer.  And JBL sound system.  And electric driver's seat...

But really? The automatic transmission on this van is NOT wimpy at all.  Enough to give me carsickness when Hubby lays on the throttle, in fact.  And I rarely use the cd player, and then it's usually 1 or 2 cds anyway.  And what good is a fancy sound system when you're usually tuned to an am talk station?  Not much good.  *sniff sniff*  Not much good at all..

But here's to looking forward!  More room to put kids and stuff (both of which we seem to be accumulating with gusto), easier to get into and out of (especially when gestationally inclined), and likely more travel-friendly for a family (and I won't think about Mary Jane's cornering in the mountains so nicely...).  Heck, we can put a potty chair in there and toilet-train on the go!  What's not to love?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Grocery Budget Thoughts

I recently had a "law school graduate" leave an anonymous comment on my Budget Questions post.  Among other things, he suggested a 'reasonable' grocery budget might start with the 'food stamp allowance' number.  

I googled that, and came across the challenge to "try it, I dare ya!" to shine the light on such dire circumstances.  They claim the per-person weekly average is $21.  Another site, writing about the same thing, refers to a $5.68/person daily limit, which is nearly $40/week.  Michigan apparently has a higher amount - $5.87/person/day, but other factors come into play, such as assets and income, etc.

I was really finding this interesting.  I ended up at where they had a list of national standards for living expenses.  They also had a link to a food stamp calculator...

I filled out the calculator and was informed I was "eligible" for $204/mo in food stamps.  They obviously wouldn't grant me that once they found out we had cell phones, and a netflix subscription (or they shouldn't, anyway).

But line 9 referred to a "Thrifty Food Plan for household size," and had $698 entered.

So I googled "Thrifty Food Plan" and found this publication, from the USDA, that alotted my family $645 for this previous January (the most recent publication month).  That was from the "Thrifty" column, and it also gives columns for 'low-cost,' 'moderate,' and 'liberal'.  Well, I knew I wasn't a moderate or a liberal. :)  (By the way, my 'liberal' cost was $1221.40!)

I found these numbers surprisingly high.  Either that or I'm just not informed when it comes to true grocery budgets.  I'm fairly familiar with what *we* spend in a month for 'food,' but within that category is often anything I'm buying from Costco or Azure - and that might be work pants for Hubby, an otoscope for family use, or any other non-food necessity offered by those places.

That all said, we *do* fall within these parameters, even, I think, adding an extra $100 or two to account for our occasional bulk beef purchase, chickens and their food, garden starts, things like that.

But do we eat "thriftily?"  What a fascinating concept.  In some ways, yes.  We rarely eat out.  We don't buy smaller (and usually more expensive) packages of food.  We don't pay for the "pre-preparing" of many items.

But really?  I'd say we eat well.  Organic wheat, beans and breads and other grains nutritionally-enhanced (mostly, these days) by way of preparation, a variety of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables (organic when reasonable), grass-fed beef, homegrown chicken, turkey and eggs, raw milk, fancy probiotics from yogurt, kefir, kombucha... Even sprouted grains and beans when I'm in the (rare) mood.  Lately we've even been enjoying some treats... peach fruit leather, chocolate graham crackers - homemade, of course. :)

So, while I'd still like to pare down the budget in several areas, I can at least quit feeling like we're terribly out-of-control in the grocery column.  I'm glad to find that, considering how often I tell myself "no!" while shopping.

What do you think?  Where do you fall within all this?  Do you eat out much?  Do you stick to dry beans and rice?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Jury Worry

Have you ever been "summoned" for jury duty?  It's really a wonderful cog in the mighty works that make up our republic, but it is SO inconvenient, isn't it?

Hubby got a summons last month, instructing him that he was "on call" for April.  He was not enthused.  Just getting back to work full-time, and service calls really starting to pick up as farmers go out to check their fields and pivots.  One day off eliminates all overtime pay for the week, and that's no small thing.  Especially right now.

The only "excuses" they accept are if you're a felon on parole (he's not), don't speak English (he does), aren't a citizen (he is), has recently served as a juror (he hasn't), or has a "doctor's note" to excuse him for medical reasons.  We didn't figure out how to make that one work.  His brother-in-law recently became a police officer, so he was able to mark "yes" to whether he was related to any law enforcement, so perhaps that will bode well.

He wasn't called this first week, anyway.

But the silly questionnaire asks about your spouse.  And wouldn't you know it, *I* got a summons for May!  Random, I bet!

After returning the questionnaire, you have to call a message machine each weekend prior to any dates in your month.  You are to "follow the instructions of the message machine" and "report for duty if the message machine decrees it so."  Well, that's not an exact quote, but that's the gist of it.  I suppose it's so they can pass the buck...  "Hey, don't blame me!  The machine told you to show up, right?"

Really I've always thought fondly of the chance to participate in providing a piece of justice as a civic duty.  Of course, that was before I had three young children to raise, educate, and otherwise look after.

If I understand it right, if your number is called, you have to show up to be selected or not.  I'm not sure how long that process takes, and it doesn't say anything about children not being allowed to accompany their parent.  I've thought this through, and have decided that I will have to do so - IF my number comes up.  Aside from calling for help from someone hours distant, there is really no option for me but to take them along.

Do you suppose they'll find me more or less suitable with my three extra appendages? :)