January 28, 2012

Our Yard Project for 2012

Our new dog, Buddy, is a jumper.  It's like he has "slinky" legs and can jump high in the air and on a couple of occasions he has almost jumped over our picket fence.  It is only a matter of time before it happens so we have been pondering what to do.

We have come up with a solution to two problems.  I have always wanted to do some really nice flower gardening but since we have owned a dog, it has been pretty much impossible to do so in our backyard.  Our solution is to build a second fence about 3 to 3 1/2 feet in from the original picket fence that surrounds our backyard.  In this way Buddy will not be able to jump over two fences and I will be able to garden inbetween the two fences.  I know it sounds really weird,  but I am excited about it.  It means that I can now grow vining plants that drape over the outer fence, that these flowers and bushes will not get trampled on by the dogs and there will finally be colorful flowers in our backyard!

I took these pictures in the fall of 2010 when I was painting the fence.  These are the two sides that will have the double fence so I can garden.

We are not going to surround the entire back yard with this "interior" fence but will just do this along the side of the driveway and the side that faces the sidewalk.  We also have plans to fence off two other sections of the yard so that I can grow some other plants and things that I have not been able to grow.  The end result will be that the yard will be plenty big for both dogs to run and play, they won't be able to run the picket fence that is so close to the sidewalk and we won't have to worry about Buddy jumping the fence. 

We will be building the fence ourself and I have priced the pickets @ $1.69 each.  I anticipate that this project will cost in the neighborhood of around $300 to $350.  It will be so worth it to finally have the colorful yard that I have always wanted to have along with being able to corral the dogs.

January 26, 2012

A recipe and some good old fashioned cleaning advice

This is one of those recipes that makes a good "comfort" type side dish.  I'm sure most of you have heard of this one before, but I hadn't made it for awhile and served it last week when we had tacos.  It was a hit.

Corn Muffin Casserole

2 eggs
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can creamed corn
1 - 8 oz. container sour cream
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix

Beat the eggs and add the cans of corn.  Make sure you drain the whole kernal corn.  Add the sour cream and melted butter.  Mix well.  Stir in the muffin mix. 

Grease an 8 x 8 inch casserole.  Bake at 350 degrees for between 45 and 55 minutes per your oven.  (We all know that our ovens are different.)

This is relatively inexpensive and it is moist and tasty.  I know some cooks that sprinkle some cheddar cheese on top, but we like ours without. 

I have a friend who recently doubled this recipe and poured it into her crockpot and cooked it on low for around 5 hours and it turned out perfect.  I haven't tried it yet, but it is worth a go.  The only change that I would make is whenever I make something like macaroni and cheese or stuffing in the crockpot, I lay a paper towel over the top of the crockpot and put the lid on the paper towel.  The paper towel does not touch the food, it is held in place by the lid.  The steam droplets rise to the top and are absorbed by the paper towel.  You may have to change the towel twice, but it works very well.

Now on to some good old fashioned cleaning advice.  Are you ready? Pick up as you go, clean up as you go and stop the mud at the door.  Then plan two - 3 hour sessions of cleaning each week.  This is the way that I am keeping my house clean and in order.  

First of all the "pick up as you go, clean as you go and stop the mud at the door" is something that my grandmother always proclaimed.  With only the 3 of us living in our home, it was easy to keep the place clean even without doing the pick up as you go, etc.  Now with the college students living with us and usually another 2 of their friends showing up during the day or at dinner time, I have changed the game plan. 

Please understand that the girls do clean up and pick up after themselves its just that things can get chaotic with other people coming and going during the day, more dishes being used and more people in the house.  Soo - I now value the pick up as you go, clean up as you go and stop the mud at the door. 

As for the stop the mud at the door -- I really had a problem there.  We have two dogs and our backyard has been a muddy mess since last fall.  We had a drought last year and our grass all but died which led to a backyard of mud.  Now that the snow is melting and we have some unusually warm days ahead of us, our dogs (and people) come into the house with muddy paws or shoes.  The large rug by the back door wasn't doing a good job so I went out yesterday and bought a cheap area rug for my kitchen floor.  I know, it isn't that pretty but it is functional and I need functional. 

Now when a large group of people come in the back door, they can move to the larger rug to wipe their feet and I can easily vacuum up the dirt later.  This is easier than constantly mopping a floor.  So it may not be pretty, but boy does it save me time. 

So I/we pick up as we go, clean as we go (bathrooms and countertops) and we stop the mud at the door.  Then I add to this two - 3 hour slots of cleaning or in some cases four cleaning slots of 1 and 1/2 hours (depending on when we have the time clean) to keep the rest of the house in order. 

I am a slob and a messy person but I want an orderly home.  My home isn't perfectly clean at all times, but it is orderly.  This is working for all of us.

January 24, 2012

Feeling Organized Challenged? I am

With two college girls living with us, along with a son who is living at home and is a college student, our household has become more "active."   There are people coming and going; more people showing up for dinner and I love every moment of it!  It's brought life to this old house one could say.  But - and you knew there had to be a but -- I have become quite disorganized.  The girls moved in when I was in the midst of dealing with anxiety and getting back on Paxil so at the time I just maintained and did what I could.  Now it is time to figure out a new schedule, pull out the calendar and get to work. 

These girls moving in has been the best thing that has happened to our family in a very long time.  I love how they fit into our home life and what they have added to it.  I love how we have girl chats at the dining room table when they come home from classes and I love the friends they have over. 

I have been cooking up a storm and I have been using up the food from the freezer and the pantry.  It knew it would be a ministry to meet the needs of college students and their friends but I never realized how much I would get out of it myself. 

My new schedule began 2 weeks ago when they moved in but I haven't had a moment to be able to sit down and make up menus and a new housekeeping schedule.  I can only "play things by ear" for so long and then I find myself forgetting to do things. 

Being disorganized costs money and I have addressed that before.  The other problem with being disorganized is that it means wasted time.  I hate when I am constantly trying to find my keys or trying to find a book or you name it, trying to find something that I need right now but can't place my hands on it.  Fortunately I cleaned and organized the house from top to bottom before the girls moved in and because of this I have been able to spot clean here and there which has been helpful and I haven't spent too much time searching for things.  BUT --- it won't magically stay this way.  

My goal with getting organized is not to have a perfect household, but my goal is to get organized and on a good cleaning schedule so that I have more time to do the things that I want to do such as being available when someone wants to talk with me.  

January 18, 2012

Getting those Dishes Clean

I try to take care of the environment.  I do my best to not be wasteful of water, food, gasoline and heat.  But lately I must admit that I miss the phosphates that used to be put into the dishwashing detergent. 

Over the past few months I have tried different types off dishwasher detergent.  I have had several good coupons such as $2.00 of Cascade or $2.00 off Finish Quantum tablets.  In trying both I have been very disappointed as they have not cleaned the dishes very well. 

About 2 weeks ago when I was shopping at the grocery store I happened to see the gentlemen that runs a local appliance store.  We buy our appliances from him.  I asked him what was the best detergent on the market for my dishwasher.  I also asked him which was best - tablets, gel or powder.  His response was interesting.  He stated that since phosphates had been taken out of the detergents, that they just don't clean as well as they used to.  He said it didn't matter if it was the tablets, gel or powder that without the phosphates they didn't work as well as before.  His suggestion was to start the faucet in my sink until the water ran hot and then to turn on the dishwasher.  Also vinegar was the best rinse agent.

I have since discovered that not only does this work the best but that the cheapest powdered dishwasher detergent gets my dishes just as clean as the very expensive brands.  In fact the cheapest detergent that I use can be found at the dollar store.  It's not the detergent that gets my dishes clean but its the fact that the water is hot when the cycle starts.  Also, vinegar does turn out to be the best rinse agent. 

Our water is not hard water and I know that this does vary from place to place.  So for the time being I am sticking with the cheapest powdered dishwasher detergent I can find along with vinegar as a rinse agent.  I also admit that starting hot water in the faucet first makes a big difference. 

With two more people in our household I am running the dishwasher a lot more and I need to know that the dishes will come out clean.  I also think it was a matter of fate to run into my appliance guy when I was shopping that day.  He has saved me a lot of money in the long run. 

January 15, 2012

Does being sick affect your spending?

I have not felt well for a couple of weeks.  I began having overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks.  It was horrible. After two weeks I called my doctor and he recommended going back on Paxil.  Today it "kicked" in.  So how did it affect our budget?


I went online and bought stuff that was just that -- stuff.  I'm not sure what happened other than I was feeling so anxious and in my state of mind, it made sense that I needed this stuff.  We are talking about around $100 worth of stuff. 

I learned a lot about myself over the past two weeks.  The first is that I will probably be on an anti-depressant for quite awhile which means that I must be careful and watch what I eat so I don't gain back the weight I lost.  The second is that it is okay to be on an anti-depressant.  The third is that I shouldn't have a credit card in my possession when I am feeling poorly.

So I need to come up with $100 over the next two weeks to pay for what I bought.  A lot of it will come out of the grocery budget as we are eating out of the pantry and freezer. 

Now this goes to show you that we all make mistakes, its just that you have to learn from your mistakes and move on.  I look back on the last few weeks and it is as if I was a different person.  I couldn't think straight, I was overwhelmed by intense anxiety and irrational fear and I couldn't cope very well. 

Now I feel like my old self and it feels wonderful.   This week I am planning on starting some sewing projects and getting out my knitting loom to start some knitting projects.  I look forward to it. 

January 11, 2012

Retirement will Come.

Sooner or later, if you live long enough, you will reach retirement age.  Then what??  Will you be able to retire or will you need to put off retirement until you can afford it.  Or worse yet - will you ever be able to retire?

In March I will be 53 and my husband will turn 54 in April.  We are just a little over a decade away from retirement.  If you think that 13 years from now is a long way off, all you have to do is think about what was happening in your life 13 years ago and then you will realize how quickly time passes by.

I have realized over the past few years that financial decisions I make today can really affect me for a lifetime.  If I purchase a new car, for example, I will pay $25,000 to $30,000 for that vehicle having to finance all but a downpayment.  Yes, the vehicle is new and that is always fun, but what if I bought a used vehicle for less than $10,000?  Even if I financed it for 2 or 3 years, I would still come out ahead than if I purchased the newer vehicle.  The difference is money in the bank or money in our retirement account.  

We plan on living in this house through our retirement.  The house will be paid for before we retire.  Two scenarios we played with is that perhaps we would sell this house and buy a two bedroom, ranch style home to live in during our retirement years.  We would do this only if the selling of our home and the buying of a smaller home would be a wash financially.  The other scenario is that we would side this house for low maintenance.  Siding our house would cost quite a bit of money.  Is it worth it?  We're not so sure.  It would be less costly to hire someone to paint the house every 5 years than to pay for siding. 

Again - it's about money in the bank and in our retirement account. 

What about the picket fence?  Should we replace the wooden picket fence with one of those vinyl kind?  Would it be worth a few thousand dollars for a low maintenance vinyl type of fence?  We decided, no.  We can still pay someone to paint it every few years and we will still come out better than paying for a vinyl type of fencing.

When we purchased a new refrigerator last summer we bought one that is a basic model - no frills.  This means that if we want chilled water, we have to keep a pitcher in the fridge.  If we want ice cubes, we have to refill the ice cube tray.  The result is a savings of around $600. 

I have always thought that it is the little things that add up to big savings, but I have started to think about where to save on the big ticket items.  It is easy to be lulled into believing that vinyl siding and vinyl fencing is a necessity when it really isn't.  When we go into retirement we will only need 1 car and a good used car will meet our needs.  Appliances with all the whistles and bells are nice, but I rarely use all the features of an appliance.  I find that filling my own ice cube tray and emptying the contents into a ziplock freezer bag is just as easy to use as an automatic ice maker. 

Saving $20 a week on groceries adds up to $3,120 over the next 13 years.  What seems like a small amount adds up to quite a bit of money over time.  That is how we need to view saving and living frugally.  We also need to live like there will be a tomorrow and make a plan for retirement.  Not talking about it because you are afraid is not a plan. Make it a priority to think about your retirement when it comes to spending your money today. 

One thing that we have learned over the past 5 years is that you must plan for your future and not live beyond your means.  Retirement will come and we must be prepared. 

January 09, 2012

Facing the New Year

As I posted yesterday I have been decluttering and cleaning my house.  I resolve that I will never let it get that out of control again.  It was ridiculous -- but I know I am not alone.  How many of you would rather do anything but clean your house however you enjoy a clean home? I did it in bits and pieces,spending an hour at a time getting the job done.  This meant that some rooms had stuff sitting in the middle of the room waiting to be sorted, but it was okay since it was a temporary situation.

I found more craft supplies than I knew I ever had.  I organized and sorted and am anxious to start using those items this year. 

In the end, if you have a messy, dirty disorganized house, do what I did - find a spot and start.  For me it was in the basement and when I started to get bored with the basement I moved to our bedroom.  I went back and forth between the basement and the bedroom until both were in good shape.  Then I moved on to other rooms. 

Just begin - in a short amount of time you will feel like I do now.

Disorganization leads to spending money.  It can be as simple as buying a packet of buttons because you can't find your button stash - but money is money and right now I have to really keep track of my spending.

Now that statement leads one to believe that I don't normally need to keep track of my spending. I have gotten out of the habit of tracking my spending.  Since I have been on Weight Watchers and have been tracking my food and exercise; I realized how important it is for me to really keep track of my spending.  Little bits of money have been slipping through my fingers. 

Many people have no spend days, weeks or months but I have resolved to just do a better job of keeping track of what I spend money on and be more accountable to myself and my family as to expenditures.

We're tightening our belts around here as we know that come summertime food and gas prices will be even higher.  College tuition is going up also.  So the pennies that we save now, will be needed for later.

Our college girls moved in yesterday and as I type this they are still unpacking and trying to find a place for their belongings.  In order to make good use of the space in their small room I need to find some kind of a tall bookshelf for them to put their books on and perhaps their t.v.  So, I checked Craigslist and found nothing.  Tomorrow I will head to Goodwill to see what possibilities are there.  The girls aren't worried about finding anything in a hurry.  They are grateful for anything that we do for them.   Actually, we may end up with the cinder blocks and boards standby.

With two new additions to our household, I need to come up with a new food budget.  I'm playing it by ear now - just trying to find my way and by the end of January I should have a feel for what is a reasonable sum - or not.  You see I am not buying a lot of meat as we are eating from the freezer. 

Lastly, I spiraled downward about two weeks ago.  I thought I was going to get better but I found myself becoming totally paralyzed by anxiety.  That's a new one for me.  I have been off Paxil for a month and as of today, I started back on the drug and am going to use half the dosage per my doctor's instructions.  I may just be one of those people who needs to take an antidepressant to get through menopause.  I'm not ashamed and feel blessed that I have the option of taking something to help me out. 

I have lost 5 lbs. in the past month and I know that going back on Paxil means the possibility of weight gain, but I'm not so sure.  I am committed to staying away from sweets and snacking on fruits and vegetables.  I've already taken on good eating habits and I am exercising a lot. 

So, here's to a year of eating well and exercising, tracking my spending and making a home for some dear college girls - and I will do all of this on a budget, without over spending and being more and more commited to living on one income and thriving. 

Next post:  what I am doing to prepare for our family's retirement years. 

January 08, 2012

I'll be back tomorrow - Been Decluttering!!!

Over the past 2 weeks I have decluttered my house from top to bottom and have just one last corner of the basement that needs sorted and tossed.  It is a good feeling to have given away and thrown away things that we don't need, don't use and are just taking up space.

The impetus to all of this is that our college girls are moving in tonight.  So every spare moment or perhaps should I say every time I felt like "digging in" I have done just that.  I gave away clothing, books, old c.d.'s and other items that we no longer needed. 

I feel like the queen of my castle since everything has a place and a purpose.   Which, as Martha Stewart says, "Is a good thing." 

Tomorrow I will post a little bit of this and that as to what I am working on for the year.