It Must Be My Week For Surprises

I showed everyone the flowers Rob got for free about a week ago from Fred Meyers.  We have been enjoyed them all week.  

Then, on Monday, one of my piano students brought me all of these flowers and greenery, in a big bunch.  I was able to make 2 lovely bouquets from them, and Patsy replaced the roses that were wilting in the first free bouquet with carnations, so that bouquet is still going strong. It was very unexpected and I loved getting them.

Then……

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I was shocked when he came home from picking Lovana up from work, bearing a dozen roses and some grass-type greenery.  I promptly arranged them in the vase I bought years ago from a glass blower on the Oregon Coast and put them in my room.  Apparently, there were more flowers reaching expiration when he went into Fred Meyers and they gave him some more.  This has never happened before, so to receive free flowers twice was a completely thrilling shock.  I did have to remove some wilted leaves and stems, I gave them a good trim and removed a few slightly browned petals.  He got the lettuce, cheese, milk and celery I had sent him in for as well, and I’m so glad I asked him to pick those things up.  Often, when we pick her up, we don’t go into the store.

I don’t know why I have been blessed with 4 bouquets of flower in January.  I just know that I’m very thankful and feel grateful that I can enjoy them so much.  I feel happy every time I see them.  They make me smile.

 

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My January Use-It-Up Project Update-Jan. 29

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This week, I continued my project of deliberately using up items in my freezers, pantry and basement that needed to be used.  Some items are getting old, so I am specifically targeting them, and using other food storage to the max!

We had popcorn. I buy it by the 25 pound bag.  Mine is a few months old, so is in no danger of going bad, but it’s sure nice to have that crunchy, buttery treat on occasion.  I have a large plastic food-grade bucket I keep it in, then transfer a reasonable amount into a Tupperware container to keep in the kitchen cupboard.

I dug way back into one of the freezers.  I found 2 packages of steak from last year’s beef. One was t-bone and one was another kind–rib steak, I think.  I am thawing them in the refrigerator for our family Sunday dinner at my sister’s. We may add some marinade today and then Rob will BBQ them Sunday at her house, along with a couple of packages from her freezer. I like to use all old meat before the new to prevent freezer burn, but obviously missed these 2 packages. They came to light after I removed some other items from that freezer.  From that same freezer, I found an older loaf of gluten-free bread which I will make into crumbs today.  I also found a few more packages of peaches from 2014.  I thought they were gone.  So– you guessed it–Ja’Ana made another peach crisp. She just loves peach crisp and was very excited when I found those old peaches.   Yum!  These peaches were a little browned, getting kind of old, and really needed to be used, so we just added a little extra cinnamon and it turned out great.  We ate most of it for dinner last night–so no waste!

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I made soup from some broth that didn’t seal when I canned it last week.  I also used some of the meat bits from when I made that broth.  In that soup, I also used some canned carrots, onions from my garden, home-canned tomatoes, the last of a celery stalk that was pretty wilted in the refrigerator drawer, and some potatoes that were getting pretty shriveled.  It came out great and we had it both Wednesday and Thursday nights.  There is still a little left.

We used green beans and frozen broccoli for our vegetables this week, along with the vegetable soup.  We also had salads several times.  At the beginning of January, we got a lot of lettuce.  We are just finishing it up now.  It was very reasonable at Costco and Cash and Carry, when we bought a 3-pack of head lettuce, or a 5-pack of Romaine.  I figure that we ate about 8-10 heads of assorted lettuce this month so far.  Those 2 kinds of lettuce keep a long time for me.

I was able to use up a head of cabbage from our garden that has been stored in the fridge for 4-5 months now.  I simply put the heads in plastic grocery store bags, and refrigerated them.  I have great success with using cold-storage with carrots and cabbage, and still have both.  However, they are getting to the point of needing to be used.

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The big girls cooked twice.  Tuesday was Rob’s birthday and they made Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo, beans and birthday cake.  They got out the sparkling cider I had in the garage (also needing to be used) and made it into a celebration. On Thursday, we had leftover soup and Lovana made muffins and salad, and we had J’s peach crisp.

I am making progress with my project.  There are a few empty spaces on the pantry shelves and one of the freezers is starting to have quite a bit of empty space.  I promptly filled that space with some bread we were given, though!  (6-8 loaves)  I targeted that extra bread by making French toast one morning.  I made a lot and have been just having the kids warm it up each morning.  I am going to make another batch soon.  That space will empty quickly, because bread is so bulky,  and then I can see what is in the back and corners better so I can get it out of there.  The freezer that has the chickens and beef is starting to show some space.  Frozen bananas keep getting turned into smoothies (we’ve used at least a gallon in the last 2-3 weeks).

I will continue this project in February.  Now that we’ve decided to sell the house for sure, I have even more urgency to clear some of these items out so that we have an easier time moving.  I also want to be wise, though, and have plenty to use at our new place–so, as always–balance is the key.  In fact, we have pigs that will be pork in another month-6 weeks and will need room for that in one of the freezers.

I’ve decided to join in with Erika at The Make-Do Homemaker and try to keep the grocery shopping at $50/week.  I anticipate that there may be weeks when I can keep it even lower than that, as it is not uncommon for me to go a couple of weeks without shopping.  This week, for instance, we stocked up on cheese (5 -2lb bricks) because it was a good deal.  We also got some milk and a couple of other items.  The only 3 things on my list so far for the coming week are celery, Parmesan cheese and ground ginger.  I may need to add salad stuff, as we may run out.  Any extra $ will be saved for re-building the stockpile after we move.

A Hard Decision

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We have come to a hard decision.  We are going to get the house ready to sell and move.  It has not been an easy one to come to, but we are now at peace about it.  Other than the obvious reason of how much work it is to move, it is another great loss for us.  This is our dream house.  We remodeled a 1925 farm house into a lovely 2-story, 3,400 square foot home on 8 acres.  We have a large shop, a barn, a mini forest, and ability to grow pigs, chickens, turkeys and a huge garden, which I preserve for a great deal of our food.  So, it’s not just a loss of a living space, it’s a loss of a lifestyle.  Hopefully, we can still continue some of the activities we like to engage in when we move.

As you know, in September, Rob was unexpectedly let go from his job as a children and family pastor.  He went to work one morning, and did not have a job by noon.  The reason given was that the church had hired a consulting firm and they felt Rob did not fit into the future direction/plan for the church.  They stated he had done nothing wrong, they just were choosing to not use him anymore.  They were going to go another direction.  We still do not understand their logic.  Neither does anyone else we talk to, except the 3-5 people who made that decision.  He was not given any opportunity to correct anything that bothered them, or they felt could be done better, just told to go.  So, he did.  Clearly, he had no other choice.

As you can imagine, the last few months have been filled with many, many hours of prayer, sadness, questions–you name it–we’ve felt it!  We were advised to treat it as a death, because our entire lives were bound up in the church–it was never just a job for him, or our family.   So, we have. We’ve made no quick decisions or changes.  We’ve tried to keep things going as smoothly as possible for the children. This is especially important because they have all lived through times of extreme trauma, negative life-changes, etc. and they don’t handle change well.  They lost all of their church friends, as well as their normal traditions associated with church, such as holiday services, etc. It has been extremely difficult for all of us and they are not handling it well.  They have continued in the dance lessons, etc. that they were enrolled in and their schedules have not changed, except for church.  We have been attending another church regularly, and they have been able to plug into a few of the youth activities, but not as many as we wish because the new church is over an hour away from our home.  Rob has been going to counseling to help him work through his feelings and hurts over the way this was handled.  We have tried to stay positive, but it has not been an easy road these past few months.  I do think we are going to survive this, though. We have lived through worse.

Financially, we did get a severance package, and we logged our hillside.  We are ok for a while, but that time is going to end before long.  We are living on that money, and savings from the logging.  We want to be pro-active about our finances before the money runs out, and have made cuts in many, many areas.  I am utilizing my food storage to the max!  We have cut out almost all eating out.  Things like chips are scarce around here.  Christmas was a little smaller than usual.  Still, we are having lots of fun times, and good days.

We have explored a lot of options.  Rob has looked into getting his masters in counseling, a job that everyone over the years has said he would be extremely good at, and it’s true.  However, this past week, we received a setback with the information that after he completed his school program, there would be 2,500 hours of internship, and only around 800(ish) would be done during school.  There would be another 1-1/2 years of  working, and that is usually done for free, before he would be licensed.  Then, the pay of the new job would be actually lower than what he had been receiving and we would be over $100,000 in debt.  His previous salary was not considered high, but we could live off of it comfortably.   H-mmmmmm.  We are in our 50’s.   It doesn’t pencil out.  So, he’s not giving up entirely on that, but it’s looking less promising.

He’s seen some jobs posted, but none are right for us so far.  There are choices such as “work for 10 hours a week for very little money, but your family can help a lot” and “work for 60 hours per week at a 40-hour per week salary” or “work at a camp, but there are often a couple of months per year when you don’t get paid because we run out of money” and some other options that aren’t going to work for us.

So, we are still in limbo about what he will be doing.  That’s ok.  We have peace about waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

But, what we have decided is to sell the house.  The market is quite hot right now around here.  One lady told me that the average time for a sale is 12 days right now in our area.  We have a really nice house on 8 acres in the country.  We hope that when we sell, we will have enough equity to buy something else, much smaller of course, free and clear.  We have been discussing this decision for months, but did not want to do anything hastily.  We even have family members who were willing to pay our house payment for a while, but thankfully, we never had to take them up on their offers.  It was nice to have that option in the background, and saved a lot of anxiety.  We can never express how grateful we are for their emotional and financial help.  We’ve had lots of support from friends as well.  We have received gifts of money, gift cards and time and Rob has been invited out to coffee so many times I think he may begin to float away down Starbucks River!

We have looked at houses on the internet until our eyes are popping out.  There are some small properties available (pretty far out of towns, though), and some small houses that we think we can afford (in towns). So, we are cleaning out things now in preparation for putting the house on the market.  We are going to need to sell first, then buy, as we are clearly not going to qualify for a loan with no employment.  It is all up to what we can actually get from the sale, not what we hope we can get when it all comes down to it.

So, that’s the plan.  It will be interesting to see how it works out for us.  There is an exciting feeling in my heart about having no mortgage.  I know changes are never easy, but, with God’s help, we will make it through this one.  I think in a year or so, I will be able to look back and see how he helped us through.  It’s just not fun to be in the middle of uncertainty right now.  We hope to grow as people and as Christians through this time of trial.  I also have a goal that when it’s over, I can see times of thankfulness and joy amidst the agony.  I want to live and be happy now, not just when things are going my way.  I don’t want to end up bitter and cross, or be afraid to put myself out there again.  Those are lofty goals, but I don’t think they are unattainable.  I don’t know what the future holds.  I can only do my best to move forward and make the best of what life has dealt to me.  That’s all any of us can do!

 

Saving Money–Week Ending January 24, 2016

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This week, Rob brought me this beautiful bouquet.  He is the kind of guy who often brings me little surprises, but we have been on a tighter budget lately than sometimes, and I was kind of surprised when I saw such a lovely arrangement.  Later, he shared with me that there were quite a few flowers on the end of the check stand and the check-out clerk asked him if he wanted some flowers.  He answered that he wasn’t planning to buy some right then, but they were very pretty, and thanked her.  She said that they were giving them away because they thought they were getting too old to sell.  He gratefully accepted a bouquet and brought it home to me.  What a blessing!  As far as we can tell, there is one slightly droopy flower–hardly noticeable.

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Ja’Ana attended a formal dinner in this beautiful dress she and Rob found for her at Goodwill for $12.95.  It still had tags on it and fitted her perfectly.  She used a sweater shrug she had already and other accessories she borrowed or already owned.  The dress is floor length, and looks very nice on her.  She had a great time.

I kept on with my project of using up things that needed to be used.  We had scalloped potatoes, peach cobbler, and I canned beef broth from some bones that have been piling up in the freezer.

We had a work party here on Saturday.  5 men and young adults came over to help clean out the barn.  There were a lot of heavy things that needed to be moved, so they came to help Rob do it.  I worked on burning piles, but didn’t get very far.  The younger guys had a blast burning up lots of debris and worked on the slash piles for a while as well.  Then I went in to finish up the lunch I had mostly pre-made on Friday.  I made split pea potato soup, green salad, quinoa salad, chips with home-canned salsa, home-canned pears, and blueberry crisp.  We were very thankful for their help.  Feeding them lunch was the least I could do, and I was able to use items I had on hand.   If we had needed to hire people to do what they did, I shudder to think how much it would have cost.

I sorted out some home-school curriculum that I am finished with.  I put some for sale on E-bay with Rob’s help and put some in a box to take to a used homeschool book store.

We finally found Tillamook cheddar cheese for sale for $5.49 for 2 pounds.  It’s a little higher than it has been before, but still the best price I’ve seen for quite a while.  In fact, we just used our last brick from last time it was on sale.  I got 3 today and will get a few later in the week.  Milk is also on sale for 99 cents for 1/2 gallon.  We will get a few groceries this week, but don’t need very many.  I will stock up on cheese with any extra money I decide to spend.  It keeps a long, long time in the fridge.  I’m delighted to get my cheese supply back up.  I think I have mice for children sometimes–they eat a lot of cheese!

Menu Plan–Week of January 24

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We enjoyed another great dinner on Thursday, compliments of Lovana.  She is not taking Community College classes this term, but is still working at a Starbucks in a Fred Meyers store.  So, she has some days off.  She has agreed to cook every Thursday, and this will be the 3rd time we’ve come home to a nice, hot meal after taking the other 2 girls to dance classes.  It’s nice to have some help with the cooking on busy days!  All that 4H cooking practice is now paying off for us.

Here’s the plan for the week:

Sunday:  family dinner-for the noon meal, leftovers for supper.

Monday:  Meatloaf, salad, broccoli

Tuesday:  Minestrone soup, French bread

Wednesday:  Split Pea soup  (leftover from yesterday-lots left), muffins or French bread

Thursday:  Lovana is cooking.  She says she will make something with turkey burger from the freezer–her choice, to be decided later

Friday:  Tamale pie, green beans

Saturday:  Pizza

Sunday: Family dinner at my sister’s (around 15 expected at this point–may end up more or less).  Steak and chicken.  We both have beef from a farmer, so we will both bring 1/2 the steak and I will bring the chicken, since I have a lot.  Twice-baked potatoes (her), salad (aunt), dessert (me).  If either of us gets into a mood, we can always make something else as well.  There have been more and more young people attending–niece and/or nephew, friends of my daughters or hers, etc. so we are needing quite a bit of food these days.  It’s so nice of her to host each week, and it’s fun and a good time of eating and visiting for everyone.  It also saves a lot of money for all of us.  Because they are so involved with their church, they often only had time to go out to eat previously between morning and evening church.  Rob and I get done at church first, head over and put the finishing touches on the meal, and then everyone gets to eat promptly after church.  Eating out is super fun, but we are saving our pennies these days, and rarely go out.  We’ve been using paper plates since so many are coming eat time.  I have a bunch we got for free a few months ago, so will take some there soon, or we take turns buying large stacks from Cash and Carry.

I plan 1 meal per day.  I always make lots.  We eat leftovers for the other meals, often including breakfast.  Breakfasts are also smoothies with fruit from the freezer, cereals or oatmeal, or pancakes, or anything else we feel like grabbing.   If it seems like the leftovers are mounting up, I simply replace one of the new meals with leftovers instead, to use them up.  I don’t micro-manage Lovana.  I just ask her to use things we have.  My pantry is extremely well-stocked, so I feel that is reasonable.  I have noticed she has picked up a few ingredients occasionally if she wants to make something and I don’t have all the items in the recipe–on her dime–and that’s ok with me as well.

My January Use-It-Up Project–Update Jan.23

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This week , I was able to use many food items that have been lurking around for way too long.  I feel that I am making progress on my project to use things up, but it’s like cleaning–the more you do it, the more you see a need.  I will definitely continue this project in February as well.

Having such a nice stockpile has served me well this past week.  We are having a group of people over today, Saturday, to help with some barn and outside clean up.  I will be serving lunch to them.  I also am taking a bunch of food for the family Sunday dinner.  I love to cook, so have enjoyed getting these foods ready.  We have been able to stay away from fast food, as well.

Ja’Ana has been loving peach crisp lately and made another one.  We ate that one up. She has used all of the frozen peaches, that we can find, that were older than from this past summer.  She used some canned peaches to supplement, and I will now rotate the newer peaches into the house from the shop freezer. I made a blueberry crisp from some home-canned blueberries that were several years old for the work party today.  I  think I originally canned them to make blueberry sauce for pancakes, but  used frozen ones and forgot about these.  There are a few jars still down there, so I think I will try to make cornstarch-thickened sauce soon.

I made split pea-potato soup from stored split peas (not old at all) and some potatoes that need to be used.  I’ve had them a while and they are starting to sprout, etc. I put home-canned carrots in it.  There again, in a year of abundance when the garden produced a huge crop, I canned carrots and haven’t used them because I prefer fresh ones.  I also made scalloped potatoes with those potatoes.  There are only a few in the bottom of the bag now, and I’ll deal with those this morning in another batch of scalloped potatoes or some potato salad to take tomorrow.IMG_2072

I made some bar cookies with some outdated sweetened, condensed milk.  I used to buy a few cans and keep it on hand, but haven’t used a can for a few years.  The cookies are addictive, and I may make them again since I have a couple more cans on the shelf, also outdated.

I canned a lot of beef broth (7 quarts and 15 pints), using up soup bones that had been building up for the last 2-3 years.  This will make the broth handy, and I will use it more frequently in this form.

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I used up 1 home-canned jar of soup from 2011, and one cardboard carton of soup from the shelf that also needed to be used.

I cooked another Sweetmeat squash from last summer’s garden.  A couple have recently rotted, but there are still more than I think we are going to be able to eat, storing nicely in my cool, dry front room.  I froze some of the puree and used some in cooking.

Overall, I’m very pleased.  I can see a few gaps on the pantry shelf now.  I can tell that one of the freezers has a lot more space in it.  I have brought many full jars up from the basement, and taken many empty ones back down.  This week, I hope to re-organize a few areas and see what else I can find hiding in the stockpile.  I am looking forward to a day when I can completely empty one of the freezers.  I’d like to shut one off to save electricity when it’s not needed.

 

Home-Canned Beef Broth

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I had a large block of time on Thursday morning.  I decided to use it to deal with some packages of beef soup bones that have been in my freezer for a while.  Every fall, we get beef from a farmer friend of my sister.  Every year, there are packages of beef soup bones.  They were stacking up.  I am determined to make room in my freezers and use things that have been there for a while.

I got out 5 packages marked “soup bones.”  They had varying amounts of meat on them.  Some were quite meaty, some were more bony.  I got out my largest pot and one of my every-day large soup pots.  The large pot stays in the garage, and I only use it when I have a lot of something to preserve.  It makes my normal soup pot look like a dwarf pot:)

I then divided the bones, and filled both pots with water.  I added salt and boiled, then simmered the broth for about 3-4 hours.  A scum rose on top of the broth and bone mixture.  I skimmed it off and fed it to the cats.  In the meanwhile, I washed my jars.

I partially filled the empty jars with extremely hot water, to avoid breaking them.   You do not ever want to put hot liquid into a cold jar.  Then, I put the broth in the jars, put on the lids and screw tops, and put into my pressure canner.  I pressured-canned the broth for 20 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure, following the directions in my brochure from the OSU Extension office.  When done, according to directions, I cooled them on a towel on the counter.

My yield was 7 quarts, and 15 pints of broth.  I also got a large bowl full of beef chunks that I froze for future meals.  Now my freezer is a little emptier, and the broth is in a form where I can use it quickly and easily.