Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Waste Not, Want Not July 24, 2014

Filed under: cooking,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:47 am

Today, I am likely to step on toes.  So, with that in mind, if you are easily offended consider tucking your toes far back under your chair as you read this.  Ready?  Okay, let’s see how this goes.

One of my biggest pet peeves when asked about our lifestyle is when people are so shocked at the fact we live a lifestyle that can be managed on a single income.  It is beyond unnatural to them that in today’s economy, we are able to take care of our family’s needs without my having to  work outside the home.  What shocks people the most if that with the exception of a couple of times when we had no employment, we have done this without being on government assistance.  On the two occassions when we did go on food stamps, it was for a very short time.  We waited as long as possible, living on our savings, before we took that step.  It chaffed us to have to ask for help.  Both my husband and I are proud people and were raised with the attitude that you do all you can to support yourself and not become a burden on society.  Now, before people start sending me hate filled comments and email, let me state this.  There ARE situation where being on assistance is needed.  We understand that.  We do not condemn others for that.  We simply feel that as long as we are able to work, we should be doing all that we can to support our family.

The problem that I have is the lazy attitudes.  Often, I will be asked how we manage on a single income.  When I share what we are doing, I am met nearly 90% of the time with comments like, “that is too hard of work”.  My husband and I both make it clear to people that we would NOT recommend our lifestyle to anyone.  It has to be a choice that you make for yourself.  BUT, there are things that you can adopt from our lifestyle that will greatly reduce your monthly expenses.  The issue then is, are you willing to put forth the effort it requires?  Does the financial relief it would give have more meaning to you than the option of continuing with the way you currently live?  Let me give you a classic example.

I feed our family of 4 on less than $400 a month.  That is without having a garden to eat from. As I have mentioned many times before, when I prepare meals I cook most from scratch.  It is amazing the savings your food budget will have if you just make this one simple change.  The cost of making convenience foods from scratch is far less than the cost of buying the packaged foods at the store.  On this one issue, I have heard the worst responses.  Most say that it takes too much time and effort, yet complain about their monthly food expenses.

Another aspect that I follow as closely as possible is to strive to not have leftovers.  This means that I watch portion sizes when cooking.  Often, I will cook a bit extra that can be reheated and sent in a food thermos with my husband for his lunch while at work.  This makes it easy for him to eat healthier as well as saving the cost of fast food.  

Two nights ago, I made spaghetti for dinner.  Instead of buying pasta, I made the noodles myself.  A couple of eggs, water, a tiny amount of salt, and some flour was all that is needed to make enough fresh pasta for our family.  If I wanted to go vegan on this, I could have substituted the eggs with flax seed meal soaked in a bit of water.  For those unaware, 1 Tbsp of ground flax seed meal soaked in 3 Tbsp of water will make the equivalent to 1 large egg.  Comparing the cost of making my own pasta with that of buying spaghetti noodles is very significant.  I can make 4 batches of pasta for the cost of a 1 lb box of spaghetti.  In other words, I can make pasta for 4 family meals at the cost of 1 meal using the store bought.  This is based upon the cheapest brand sold at WalMart.  Things like cake mixes are also a good source of savings.  Instead of using store bought, I make cakes from recipes.

One way to reduce the waste of resources is to simply be creative.  I had a couple of small eggplants and zucchini squash.  Not enough of either one to make a meal.  So, I chopped them up and saute’d them with some olive oil, garlic, and onions.  Once fully cooked, I added the vegetables to a tomato sauce seasoned with Italian Seasonings.  This was spooned over rice for our dinner.  The result was a very flavorful meal that the family enjoyed.  Actually, I was surprised when my husband mentioned that it reminded him of a food he ate while overseas serving in the Navy years ago.

Our Grandmothers’ generations didn’t have the convenience of grocery stores to supply all of their needs.  Yes, markets were available, but they often didn’t have the money necessary to purchase all of their family’s food needs at these markets.  They had to grown at least a portion of their own food.  Whatever food they bought or grew was carefully prepared to make it last as long as possible.  Earlier generations would cringe at the amount of food waste that is so commonplace today.

If you are really serious about wanting to save money in your food budgets, then get ready to put some effort into it.  Nothing is free in life.  There is always a price to be paid.  In this case, the rewards of cooking from scratch far outweigh any perceived inconvenience.  The cooking process is enjoyable and you often will find that the recipes taste far better than the packaged foods.  Another side benefit is that you often can cook less.  This is especially true when it comes to homemade pasta.  When I make pasta for our family, I make half as much as when cooking the store bought, boxed pasta.  The homemade is more hearty and satisfying as well as better tasting.  As you become more confident with cooking from scratch, you can personalize the recipes to your family’s tastes.  Play around with the ingredients to make the recipes your own.

Whatever way you decide to cook, just following the no leftovers portion control will save your family money.  Most times, leftovers will end up being thrown in the trash.  Maybe not the first night, but how often have you cleaned out a refrigerator only to toss a large percentage of the food into the bin?  That is waste of your financial resources.  If you get a handle on this one area, you will find that you have more money to allocate somewhere else in your budget.  Maybe even can be used to build up your pantry.

 

Frugal Remodeling July 21, 2014

Filed under: homesteading,off grid,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:08 am
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One of the aspects of living in on old home that we are very aware of is that the old homestead house needs remodeling.  Not necessarily a total updating of the home, but simple cosmetic upgrades.  Some of the plans that we have are more involved than others.  Our home was built about 1890 and is the oldest inhabited structure still standing in our small rural community.  With that age, there are definite changes that need to be made.  Here is a list of some of the upcoming projects.

First, we will be lowering the tall ceilings.  This is to help lower costs of heating the home in winter as well as to allow us to better insulate the ceiling.  We will only be lowering the ceilings by about 1 foot, but it will make quite a difference once winter comes.

Next, we are putting down new flooring.  When my husband served in the Navy, the ships her served on had a rubberized material as flooring.  This material indulated the floors very well and was easy to maintain.  We checked at the home improvement centers and a similar product can be purchased there.  We plan to put it in nearly every room.  The house was built with a crawl space under it.  Each year, the floor becomes cold from the winter winds blowing under the house.  This flooring will help to prevent that.  It will also give the kids a warmer and more cushioned surface to play on.

For lighting, we are looking at buying the old fashioned propane gas lights.  These work in a similar way as the camp lanterns in that you burn a mantle.  The gas lights are very safe and modern versions of the old lights are readily sold for use in Amish or other off-grid homes.  These lights are mounted as sconces on the wall, so will be well out of the children’s reach.  Because they give off heat, we will likely use them more in the winter.  Summer months, the daylight lasts plenty long enough to meet out needs without much additional lighting needed.  As they do now, the kids will still have battery operated lanterns for lighting their bedrooms.  This has proven to be the safest option.  Small decorative lights can be found even at the Dollar Tree type stores.  These usually take 2 of the AAA batteries.  For each child’s lantern, I find myself changing batteries only about once every week or two, depending on the time of year.  The batteries are also purchased at Dollar Tree, so the cost for their lighting is very low.   I have tried the solar lights for them, but the small ones only give out enough light to be used as a nightlight.  Never enough to illuminate the bedroom sufficiently for them to play in the room on early winter evenings before bedtime.  My husband and I still use oil lamps on high shelves.  Currently, we go through a 5 gallon container of kerosene once every 2-3 months if used for lighting the lamps alone.  In winter when lamps are lit for longer amounts of time, the usage is about 5 gallons every 4-6 weeks.

One of the main resources that we are planning to use with our remodeling are businesses that sell reclaimed or factory seconds lumber and building supplies.  Just by using the factory seconds in lumber, we can save over 50% of the cost for building materials.  We found a business that sells this type of product up in Tulsa.  It will be a long drive (nearly 80 miles) to reach the business, but the savings will make the trip worth while.

I found the business by doing an internet search for “recycled reclaimed construction lumber Oklahoma”.  Yeah, it was quite a long search topic but it gave the results we were looking for.  There are many such businesses across the USA.  This one happens to sell not just the lumber, but flooring and roofing materials as well.

We are still planning to build our own wind turbine and expand our solar panel system.  Harbor Freight sells solar panels for far less than many other retailers.  Being as we do not have a house full of electricity using appliances and such, the systems from Harbor Freight will be more than sufficient.

In short, the remodel is more cosmetic than anything.  We are going to relay the plumbing to get rid of the PVC pipes which easily can freeze during an Oklahoma winter.  A subzero outdoor faucet will also be installed at the water faucet near the porch.  A new bathroom is being designed by my darling husband.  Putting in new insulation and more efficient windows is also in the plans.  The house, once done, will be far easier to heat in winter and keep cool in summer.

I can’t wait to get started.  Soon, we will be heading out and buying the first of many trailer loads of supplies to get started.  In the meantime, I am going to be sorting out more things to donate.  There are boxes that have not been looked into for several months upwards to a year or more.  Those are easily going to be donated since we have had no need for the items in those boxes in all this time.  End goal is to have less stuff and keep only what is necessary.  That particular goal has never changed.  Only my definitions of what is needed has undergone adjustments.

 

Planting for Autumn Harvest July 9, 2014

Filed under: gardening,green living,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:59 am
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July is well underway and today I started new garden seeds for autumn harvest. Here on the homestead, the northern side of the house gets the most shade. Though the days are quite warm and humid, the shaded areas feel a little cooler.

I started the seeds for green beans, peas, yellow squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, and sugar snow peas in the seed starting tray. Once the seedlings are grown large enough, I can plant them along the northern side of the house. The afternoon shade will protect the plants during the hot afternoon, yet they will get plenty of morning sunlight.

Some may wonder why I am planting these so late in the growing season. Our first frost doesn’t occur until late November. Even the pumpkin, which typically has a growing season of about 115 days before harvest can be grown and will be ready to harvest about October 25th. The earlier plants, such as the green beans and peas, will be ready in about 55 days to begin harvesting. That means they will be ready about September 1st. Plenty of time to get more harvest for winter.

An easy garden plant to start just about anytime are your leafy greens. The only trouble that you may have is that they will want to bolt, or go to seed, if they get too much of the hot summer sun. So, to combat that, you can plant in an area that gets shade in the afternoon or plant in window boxes that can be moved from place to place. Harvesting from the greens often is another way to help prevent the plants from going to seed.

If you happen to not have enough shaded areas for planting a second round of seeds, consider using old bedsheets to make shade cloths to protect the plants. Place long sticks to be used as poles along the edges of the plant rows. Drape and use cable ties or twine to tie the shade cloth onto the tops of the poles. Make sure that the tops of the plants do not touch the shade cloth. This simple method will provide enough shade to help tender plants to continue producing during the hottest portion of summer.

I love planting this time of year. We completely miss the wet season which always seems to wash away our garden seeds or drown the young plants. Using plenty of mulch or other weed barrier methods eliminates the worse of the weeding. If you plan well, you don’t have to worry much about the plants drying up. A good watering first thing in the morning usually does the best. Never water in the early evening as it will encourage insects to come into the garden. The insects come for the moisture as much as the plants.

As you probably noticed, most of the seeds I planted are for a variety of winter squash. These store very well in a root cellar or an unheated room through the winter. These also are being harvested right up until first frost. If the first frost comes in late November as it usually does, then we will be harvesting pumpkins for a month before that frost arrives. The green beans, sugar snow peas, and regular green peas will be nearly done producing by mid-October.

I am looking forward to seeing how these do. Tomorrow, I am going to start seeds for buttercrunch leaf lettuce, swiss chard, and spinach to plant in containers or along the porch on the north side of the house. These grow quickly, so I should do good with them. We love the fresh greens!

If you are planting for an autumn harvest, what do you have started? What have you had success with and what has been a struggle?

 

Finding Local Farms & Farmers’ Markets July 3, 2014

Filed under: green living,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:34 am

As a part of preparing to take the No Grocery Store for a Year challenge, I am in the process of searching out local farms and Farmers’ Markets where we can purchase locally grown produce, eggs, and raw milk.  

Tonight I wanted to share a few resources that may be of benefit to others who are wanting to buy locally instead of the GMO and chemical laden produce at the grocery stores.

Local Harvest is a searchable online directory for the United States.  By searching using your zip code, you are given a listing of the farms and markets in your immediate area.

Farmers Markets Online contains a searchable directory for markets in the United States.  An added feature that I like is that you can search for specific items.

OK Grown is a listing of farmers markets here in Oklahoma.  

Real Milk Finder is a searchable directory for locating farms which sell raw milk.

Some dairy farms will give you a lower price on the milk if you supply your own gallon containers.  I have found that it is easiest to use the gallon size glass jars.  Unlike plastic, these will never get an “off” odor from storing milk in them.  I have never purchased the glass jars.  Instead, I found a deli shop in town that throws away the gallon jars the sandwich condiments come in.  The jalapeno peppers, for example, always come in the glass gallon size jars.  Once washed, the jalapeno scent is completely removed from the jar and lid.  These work great for the raw milk.

For those wondering about the safety of drinking raw milk, here is an article by Dr. Mercola about the US government’s study results regarding raw milk safety.  It is interesting to note that one of the biggest voices against raw milk happened to be a lawyer who represents Monsanto.

For those interested in raw farm milk but undecided about the “to pasteurize or not to pasteurize” issue, here is a great article from Backwoods Home Magazine that gives the history of pasteurization, the benefits and drawbacks, and instructions on how to pasteurize milk at home.

Hopefully the above links will help give you ideas on where you can find locally grown/produced foods near you.  

 

No Grocery Store Challenge Preparations July 2, 2014

Filed under: green living,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:03 am
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In my previous post, I spoke of a blog article that was written about a family’s challenge to go a year without grocery shopping at a store.  It has inspired me in many ways.

Over the past week, I have been noticing how easy it is to just go to the store instead of hitting up the pantry or other options.  I realize that my pantry isn’t really set up for doing the challenge.  It is growing season right now and so the stores of vegetables and such that I had last autumn are depleted.  I still need to locate local farms that sell raw milk, eggs, and farmer’s markets for produce.

One area that I am working on currently is to restructure my recipe collection.  I am taking into consideration the items we typically might buy, but can be made easily at home.  One example is saltine crackers.  How often do you purchase a box of these at the store to use with soups or eat as a part of a snack?  Did you know that these can be made with only 5 ingredients that are commonly found in nearly any pantry?  Here is an easy recipe that is fast and easy to make.

Saltine Crackers

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. milk
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Combine the dry ingredients, cut in the butter, then stir in the milk.  Round into a ball and knead for few strokes.  Divide dough into several pieces and roll out very thin on a floured board.  Lay sheets on ungreased cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and prick with a fork.  Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

There are many things that we are so accustomed to buying that can be made easily at home.  We have simply become spoiled with the convenience of the stores.  Over the next few months, I am going to be making changes here at the homestead to take the challenge.  I am being realistic.  I know that if we were to simply start the challenge tomorrow, we would likely fail.  I do want to make the necessary changes to give us a real chance at being as successful as possible in doing the challenge.

The end goal is to rely as little as possible on the stores for our food.  We don’t want to continue being caught in the trap of having to pay rising costs to feed our family a healthy meal.  We also are wanting to support local small farms that are trying to survive in a time when Monsanto’s GMO food products are so prevalent and forcing small family farms out of business.  It is also giving us back the control to decide what we will and won’t put into our bodies.  I have said this before but it can never be said too often, “The chemicals individually that are used in food production may be determined to be safe, but there has never been sufficient testing done on what the cumulative effects of the various chemicals to our bodies.  How do they interact as the chemicals build up in our bodies over time?”   By being more aware of where our food comes from, we can make informed choices.

I  look forward to hearing about any plans that you may have to trying this challenge in some form or fashion.

 

No Grocery Store for a Year? June 28, 2014

Filed under: cooking,gardening,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:15 pm

I just read a very interesting and personally challenging blog article, Our Year without Groceries.  I absolutely love the concept of using locally grown instead of buying at a grocery store.  Clare, the article’s author, detailed how they went through a year without grocery shopping.  I was especially refreshed as I read the effects that it had on her family.

In past generations, people didn’t always have the money to be able to go to the market as often as we do today.  Let’s face it, as a society we are spoiled.  It is more typical of society to go to the store at least twice a week than to go once a week or even once per month.

Could our family make this challenge work in our family?  It would take planning.  In the particle, Clare mentions that her son (who came up with the idea) got many of his ideas from the Little House stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In the books, the family often went to the store once or twice a year.  They didn’t have the convenience of going as often as we do today.

Foods were eaten seasonally.  Their meals were not as full of variety as we have available today.  They ate according to what was in season or stored in their pantry/root cellar.  Cannot this same thing be done today?

I am going to give this some thought.  While we don’t have a garden going this year due to other homestead demands, we do have local farms that sell their surplus.  There are a few things that I can grow that can be harvested in autumn to store for winter.  Some include winter squash varieties.  There are also farmer’s markets that we can buy from during the season.  We could buy enough at the farmer’s market or from farms to home can for our winter pantry stores.

I already do a lot of baking now that we have our new stove.  Buying enough flour for a year’s supply would be a part of that once a year purchase.  Another option would be to buy wheat from local farmers’ co-op to grind into flour ourselves.  Buying eggs and milk from local farms is easy in our area if you don’t raise your own poultry and dairy animals.  Hunting or raising your own meat can be managed as well.

Overall, I can see how it can be done with a good plan and attitude.  The two biggest challenges would be getting out of the habit of running to the store so much and not being fussy and picky about the meals being eaten.  Learning to eat according to what is available instead of catering to the wants and wishes of picky eaters or those demanding a large variety.  I definitely understand the author’s comment of the family appreciating the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables during the growing seasons.  Like the families of generations ago, after a staple diet of eating from the pantry stores over the winter, having a fresh salad would be a treat.

Am I considering this for our family? Yes!  I need to do my research first to find local resources for what we will need.  I have already been doing that for some items.  It is simply a matter of expanding the items purchased locally.

 

 

 

Gluten-Free Diet Changes June 8, 2014

Filed under: cooking,family — ourprairiehome @ 8:12 pm
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In recent weeks, our son’s therapists each were encouraging and supportive of our trying a gluten-free diet with him.  He has already gone dairy-free due to lactose intolerance.  No surprise there since both his Daddy and I are lactose intolerant.  Unfortunately, Pookie still gets a gassy belly whenever he eats foods containing wheat.  So, with that in mind we are going to try gluten-free and see if that helps.  It takes about 3 months of being gluten-free to fully rid our bodies of the effects of gluten.

Being that we eat a predominately vegan diet, we already don’t eat much meat.  Not that we don’t like eating meat, but between how my body feels after eating meat and the high price of meat, it is easy to go without it.  In fact, we no longer buy meat.  The only time we will have meat is when we go out to eat.  Then it is really hard to eat vegetarian/vegan.  We don’t have much in the way of options where we live.   Unless you are completely in love with the idea of eating salads only, you have to get creative.  We found buffet type restaurants to work best for us.  Now, there is a new twist for our eating options.  Now we have to find gluten-free options.

One of the hardest things about going gluten-free is the fact that most breads sold have the texture of styrofoam.  It is dense and the taste is not very pleasant.  So, my first challenge was to find a recipe for homemade bread.  I looked at the various recipes and found that in the comments, there were some who loved the recipe while others said it was too dense and bland. For our family, that would not work out for us.  We love eating bread.  So, I felt that finding a good recipe was critical for us.

We are a family who believes that if one family member has to eat a special diet, then we all will do the diet change in support of that family member.  This is especially true when kids are involved.  It is difficult to explain to a young child with dietary challenges why they cannot eat a cookie or treat that their sibling is able to eat.

I did a web search for recipes for making a gluten-free all purpose flour.  There are many recipes out there.  I wanted one that was easy to make, low cost, and had a good flavor.  I love to bake all of our breads and baked goods.  It is far less costly than the store bought alternatives.  The baked goods are also much better for you in that they are not full of chemicals and preservatives.  Finally, it is just plain fun to bake.  Little Miss, Pookie, and I enjoy baking together.

I found a really easy and good all-purpose gluten-free flour recipe last week.  I like the flour recipe.  All ingredients were very easy to find at the health food store and at a good price.  The same blog has a recipe for a Soft Gluten Free Sandwich bread.   I am going to give it a try this week and see how we like the recipes.  I will post the results.

As for eating out, I think we will continue with the buffets or possibly start using bento containers and taking food with us.  We have done that often enough in the past.  That is my next Pinterest quest…..finding some fun gluten-free meals to take in bento containers that the kids will enjoy.

 

 
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