Week 1: So far, so good.

I just checked my bank statement, and in December, I made 3 trips to the neighborhood grocery store, and I spent about $300 total. I also made another $100 trip to Costco last week. (Is there a Costco trip that is less than $100?) I’m pretty sure that I spent most of the money on necessities like food and toilet paper, but it’s also entirely possible that it was 30% candy.
So most of what I bought is still in my house, waiting to be used, so I don’t feel that it was wasted. However, you can imagine how excited I was to go to the grocery store and only buy this stuff.

The total damage: $13.69. Hooray!
I realize the bags of pasta don’t really fit into my “perishables only” restriction, but they were on sale for 79 cents (down from $1.99), so I figured it would be good to snag a couple. Plus I had given myself a limit of $20 per week to spend (just to see if it was realistic), and I was only halfway there with the milk, produce, yogurt, and cheese. Of course, I got home and realized that I have about 20 bags of pasta just like it in the storage room… But still–I went to the grocery store and only spent $13! However, I will need to go back to buy a replacement for the Diet Coke that Carol-Lyn left in my fridge. So let’s call it $15.

Sorry, Carol-Lyn, but I needed it. It was medicinal.

My goal for the next couple of weeks is to get in the habit of planning out meals so Greg can have leftovers to take for lunch. Thankfully, he doesn’t mind eating the same thing for a few days, so that makes things easier. But if anyone has any great suggestions for meal planning, my ears are open!


Project See How Long Our Stockpiles Will Last

Not too long before the new year (Happy New Year, btw), I got an email from WordPress about Project 365, where you choose something to blog about every day for a year. I think it’s an interesting idea, but let’s be honest: it ain’t gonna happen here. Clearly, since I’ve already missed a day this year.

However, as I was cleaning out and reorganizing my pantry and food storage the other day (a Christmas/New Year’s miracle, if ever there was one), it occurred to me that we have a lot of food in our house. And having just spent a lot of money over the holidays, I wondered how long we could go without spending money on food, other than the most perishable of perishables.

Now I know that, compared to the food bunkers of many of my fellow Mormons here in Utah County, this is a sad little stash. But since it’s just Greg and me right now, I feel pretty good about what we have.

The nearly done pantry. Believe me: it was much worse before.

Basement storage room. The clean side of it, anyway.

After considering our food situation, I thought I may as well expand the experiment to my other stockpiles, including toiletries and crafts. When Greg and I started working on our food storage, I also decided there were some things I didn’t want to be without if we were ever in a crisis-living situation, like soap, shampoo, tampons, toilet paper, etc., so I started stockpiling those as well. And since I am like a kid in a candy store at most craft/fabric stores, I have a rather large collection of paper, frames, paints, glue, fabric, beads, yarn, you name it.

This one still needs some attention.

So I suppose it’s high time I finally figured out how to use up what I have before I go out and buy more.

I need to really learn to use what I already have, whether it be food, toiletries, or fabric swatches. So that’s what my Project 365 (But Not Really 365) will be this year: using what I have and spending as little money as possible in these 3 areas for as long as I can. I’ll update about my progress and any great ideas or epiphanies I have. But don’t worry–I probably won’t write anything about the use of my toilet paper stash.

Homemade Ricotta Experiment

The other day I was watching the Food Network while folding laundry. The Barefoot Contessa was making homemade ricotta, which I decided to try. It seemed simple enough, so I found her recipe online. I decided to try it today, since Greg and I have to take a cheese appetizer to a party tonight.
The Ingredients:

As it turned out, the quart of shelf-stable milk from my food storage and the pint of cream from my fridge were precisely the quantities the recipe called for, which meant no measuring cup. I’m not sure if the Pompeiian qualifies as the “good” vinegar Ina calls for. (It always gets me the way she says, “Make sure you use good vinegar” or vanilla or whatever. Her tone always seems to suggest that she means, “Not that crap kind that poor people use.” But I digress.)
While the milk, cream, and salt were coming to a boil, I set up the strainer and bowl. I knew I had cheesecloth somewhere, but I didn’t want to go look for it. A reviewer of the recipe said that he or she had just used dampened paper towels with great results. I had whole roll of paper towels within arms reach. Huzzah!

After the milk/cream/salt came to a boil, I turned off the heat and stirred in the vinegar. The recipe says to let it sit for a minute. I let it sit for about 3 minutes before pouring into the paper-towel-lined strainer–which turned out to be a bit small for the amount of cheese, so I had to hurry and set up a second small strainer over another bowl.

I made cheese!

I let the whey drain off for several minutes, tasting the cheese in the meantime. It was soft, mild, and quite tasty. I was pleased to discover that it didn’t have the usual graininess of store-bought ricotta. It did need a little salt, though.
After maybe 10-15 minutes of straining, it was already quite thick–and I’m sure you could leave it longer if you preferred a thicker cheese. But I am impatient, so I didn’t want to wait longer. I put the cheese in a bowl and stirred in some salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano, basil, and thyme.

If I hadn’t killed most of my herb plants a couple of months ago (hey–at least they had a good run for a few months), I would have used them. But the cheap, bottled herbs (that poor people use) worked just fine. I just kind of added shakes and dashes at a time until it tasted good.
I think this will have to become a repeat item. It will be fun to try out different flavors, and I think it will be great in lasagna.

What to get for the tiny ninja in your life.

About a month ago, I called my brother to ask him for ideas for Christmas gifts for his kids this year. He said that his son, Will, is really into ninjas. I immediately had 2 ideas: 1) ninja shirt and 2)throwing stars. I think (hope) it worked out well, and I can’t wait to see a photo of Will with his new gear. I hope it fits.
Here’s the finished product.

At first I thought maybe I would find a black hoodie and figure out how to add the neckwarmer part. Then it occurred to me that it might be easier to find a black turtleneck and add a hood.
Given the number of sensitive artist types among the 6-year-old set, I thought it would be fairly easy to find a black turtleneck, but you’d be surprised at how hard it was to find. Ok. It wasn’t hard. I looked at Target and Old Navy, and then I went to Wal-Mart. Thank goodness for their girls’ department. Don’t tell Will.
I actually bought 2 black turtlenecks–since they were just under $5 each, it seemed like the easiest way to make sure the hood fabric matched the shirt. I laid one shirt out flat and then cut it straight across just below the arm holes. Then I cut straight down the side, removing one side seam. The bottom hem of the shirt would now be my hood front, and the still-intact side seam would be the hood top seam.
The next step was to sew up the back of the hood–just a straight seam. I used my other nephew’s head as a rough gauge for how big the hood should be, and I also made a short diagonal seam from the back seam to the top seam so that the back of the hood wouldn’t be pointy. Then I did a thin rolled hem at the bottom of the hood.
To attach the hood to the shirt, I lined up the seams on the backs of the turtleneck and hood, pinned, then pinned the front corners of the hood to meet in the middle of the front of the turtleneck. I pinned all the way around, making a simple box pleat on each side (lined up with the shoulder seams) since the hood was larger around than the neck opening.
I stitched the hood on by hand, using two rows of backstitches, although this could easily be done on a machine. I just wanted to practice my hand stitching, and sometimes machine sewing on small areas makes me swear. I worried that the stitches might have been too tight, but I was able to squeeze my non-small head through the turtleneck and into the hood. Phew. No swearing required.
Now for the ninja stars. Step one involved doing an image search of ninja stars and picking one that a) looked cool and b) would be easy to cut out. Here is the one I picked.

I printed it out, but it was a tiny bit small, so I just eyeballed a little extra space around it and cut it out. I traced it onto some stiff felt, figuring that two layers sewn together would make them more throw-able.

The nice curved edges made them quick to cut out.

Finally, I sewed two felt stars together–no fancy stitching or anything. Just sewed them together and made little Xes in the middle. I suppose I could have gotten super fancy with the embroidering, and I even thought about making a fleece tie-belt for the outfit and sewing velcro onto the backs of the stars so they would stick to the belt. But in the end I decided that since I needed to mail the package to the east coast and didn’t want to have to pay for expedited shipping, I should opt for the simpler, faster approach. But I still think they turned out great.


This time it’s personal.

I am terrible at writing in my journal. (Hell, obviously I’m terrible at writing on this blog on a regular basis.) I should count up how many different journals I have in boxes in my basement that have about 6 entries in them. I’d bet it’s at least a dozen. I think I have 2 that I have actually filled up. Maybe 3.

I know it’s terrible that I don’t write, especially since the few times I feel truly motivated to write are times when I am really angry. I have this nagging fear that I will die suddenly one day and people reading my journal will wrongly assume that my husband is a big old meanie because I wrote something in a huff in September of 2010. I know I need to fix this, but self-motivation isn’t exactly my strong suit.

Since I can’t afford to hire a task master to make me keep a journal, I decided to enlist the best free task masters I know to help me with a personal history-type writing project: my parents.

MPA graduation, 2009

My parents are amazing, and they both have so many interesting, amusing, and incredible stories from their pasts, and I knew I wanted to get them in writing. And I figured it couldn’t hurt to write my own story at the same time.

Since I am lazy and unmotivated, I knew the project needed to be done in small, simple pieces and on a regular schedule that was long enough to allow for time to ponder and short enough to ensure we didn’t just forget about it and give up. So here’s what we’re doing.

On Sunday, one of us picks a topic to write about for the week. For example, this week’s topic is to list your siblings and write one or two things about them. We then take the entire week to think and write about the topic, then e-mail them to each other by the next Sunday, when we will discuss our writing and choose a new topic.

We have said that we really only need to write a paragraph each week. This makes the task seem less daunting. (I know. I am such a wuss, but that’s just how I have to approach it.) The great thing about it, though, is that all 3 of us have written much more than a paragraph for every topic. I think it’s just nice to write without feeling like there’s an arbitrary minimum.

I love reading what my parents write–I love the insights into their lives and personalities. I find, too, that it is a great relief to have these things written down, so that I don’t have to just rely on my own recollection of stories I have heard before.

So far, we are on our fourth week of this project, and I have high hopes for it to continue. As we get further into it, I will share some of our writings, so you can learn all about my childhood wind phobia and my remarkable career as a part-time sock seller.

So much depends upon…

…a tiny watermelon, glazed with irrigation water, beside the unripe tomatoes.

I’m so happy to see this one getting bigger. The one I posted a picture of last time fell victim to a mighty windstorm the next day. So I’m glad to see the vine still popping out melons. Hopefully they will love the heat wave this week.

The cantaloupes are starting to get their netting, though they are still only softball sized. Since Aunt Suzy said they ate their first home-grown cantaloupe and found it to be quite delicious, I have been so impatient for them to finish.

It is so fun to have edible things come out of the garden even though I still have no idea what I’m doing!

A delicious drink for a hot summer day.

I don’t know about you, but I love Ginger Ale. I love it even more than I love Diet Coke. The love affair began years ago after I had my wisdom teeth removed, and Ginger Ale made me feel better. So it should come as no surprise that Ginger Ale is the featured ingredient in my beverage of choice today.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at a party at my cousin’s house, and she had a drink made of frozen limeade mix, lemon-lime soda, and cucumber slices. It was tasty, but it was also pretty sweet (great for a party, but not so much for cooling down after a tromp through the garden), and my first thought upon tasting it was, “This would be good with Ginger Ale!”
And so it is.

Ginger ale + anything = delicious

Here is what I used:
3 parts Canada Dry Ginger Ale
1 part Simply Limeade
Cucumber slices, straight from the garden

It was just sweet enough, and the cucumbers and ginger ale gave it a very crisp taste. Yum! So thanks for the initial idea, Jimmy!