July 29, 2012

Sourdough Bread - The Busy Woman's Bread

If you want to save a lot of money and eat healthier, try baking your own bread.  I bake all of our bread, rolls, hamburger buns and even hot dog buns and I don’t use a bread machine either.  The main reason I make my own bread products is that I am able to make a better quality bread using such ingredients as whole wheat, flax seed and other whole grains.  The problem for me with bread making was in the timing of the rising, shaping and baking of the bread.  Now, I could overcome this with using a bread oven, but I have never had much luck with bread machines.  I would rather use my own hands to knead the bread and shape it. 

Recently I was given some sourdough starter and I have discovered that sourdough bread is the answer to fitting bread making into my busy schedule.  The timing from stirring to rising to baking is perfect because it takes a long time.   It is easy to fit this into anyone’s schedule.  

Sourdough bread takes longer to rise and in many cases the dough will need to rise all day.  You can easily mix it up and knead it in the morning, plop the dough into an oiled bowl and let it rise all day.  Then when you come home from work you simply plop the dough out onto an oiled surface, shape into loaves and let it go through the final rising and bake. 

I love the whole process as it fits into my schedule and I can provide my family with a wholesome bread.  I can mix it up and knead the dough in the morning and go about whatever I have planned for the day whether it is laundry, working a few hours at my library job or even being gone out of town for the day. 

If you have never tried this, give it a try.  You will never go back to the normal bread recipes after trying this out.  The wheat bread is delicious and so much better for you because you know what goes into the recipe.  No more reading bread labels and wondering what all those funny ingredients are. 

Sourdough Starter

2 cups flour
2 cups water (105 degrees to 115 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pkg. dry yeast

Dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of the water.  Whisk together the remaining warm water, flour and sugar.  Add the yeast mixture to this.  Cover with a cheese cloth.  Keep this mixture on your counter in a warm spot for at least 3 days.  This is to begin the fermentation process which you will notice by bubbles forming in the mixture.  It will rise and have a yeasty sour aroma.  The liquid may separate. Stir this mixture three times a day.  After three days, store your starter in the refrigerator and make sure you cover it.  I pour mine into a one quart Mason jar and put a lid on it.  You will need to feed and use your starter at least every 10 days.  I usually use it every week when I bake bread. 

Basic Wheat Sourdough Bread

The night before you plan on baking bread, you need to feed your starter.   Pour the entire contents of the Mason jar into a glass bowl.  To this starter mixture add ½ cup sugar, 1 cup warm water and 1 ½ cups good quality white flour.    Stir well and cover with a kitchen towel and let stand in a warm place until morning, around 8 hours.  Wash the Mason jar and lid.

In the morning, divide the starter.  Pour 1 ½ cups of the starter back into the Mason jar to use the next time.  Cover and store in the refrigerator.  To the remainder of the mixture that is in the bowl add:

1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups warm water
½ cup vegetable oil
5 cups flour (white or whole wheat or a mixture of the two)

Stir the sugar, salt, water and oil into the mixture.  Add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing as you go.  Continue until you can’t stir it.  Then place the dough on a well floured table and start to knead it.  I try to knead it for around 10 minutes.  Then put the dough into an oiled bowl and let it sit until it reaches the top or doubles in size.  Depending on the temperature in your house this could take all day or 4 to 5 hours.  After it has risen, take the dough out of the bowl and put it an oiled surface.  Divide the dough into the size loaves you want.  I make mine into two loaves that I bake in well greased loaf pans.  Let the loaves rise.  This could take 2 hours or more.  Bake the loaves at 350 degrees for around 30 minutes.  

Variations:  You can add some flax seed to this along with other seeds or grains of your choosing. 

I keep one loaf out for our immediate use and freeze the other loaf.  You can use this recipe for rolls too.  

July 27, 2012

Ten Easy Ways to Conserve Water

My Crunchy Brown Lawn

Another view of our crunchy brown lawn 
and Molly our puppy.

Here I am in the midst of a drought that is expected to last until the end of October. That's another 3 months. What do you suppose my lawn will look like by then? Well, there is nothing to be done about it, since I can't make it rain. One positive is that we don't have to mow and I haven't even weeded what used to be my flower bed in about 2 months. Who wants to weed in 107 degree Farenheit heat anyway? But at least my flower bed and lawn isn't my livelihood, to a farmer who lives by the weather, these are serious times for them.

What does that mean for the rest of us? Water conservation. Yes, even though we are not under mandatory water restriction in our area, the lack of rain has brought requests to conserve water. So what am I doing to conserve water? Well for the first time I am aware of how much water I use in a single day. I am constantly amazed at how many times in a day I have wasted water. So the most important thing I have done so far is to be aware.

Second, I keep a pan in my sink to "catch" any water that doesn't fill a glass and spills out. How many times do you fill a glass and dump the excess or do you measure water out for a recipe and then you don't use it all. You would be very surprised to find the amount of water that goes down a drain each day. And of course I don't let the faucet run when I brush my teeth or wash my face.

Third, I have reduced the amount of time I spend in the shower each day. Since I wash my hair every other day, I can take a very quick shower on the days I don't wash my hair. And yes, I have succumbed to the get wet, turn off the water, lather, then turn the water back on and rinse. While I do enjoy relaxing in the shower, I am finding other ways to relax instead of standing under running water and being wasteful.

Fourth, all water from the dehumidifer is collected and then poured on any plants or shrubs that need watered or I pour the water in the birdbath.

Fifth, I choose my water levels very carefully when I do laundry. I do full loads of laundry as much as possible and I make sure that the water level meets the size of the load. I double check as I don't want to waste anything.   The next step I am considering is to save the water that spins out of the rinse or the final cycle of the washing machine.  Since this water is pretty much clean anyway, I may try to collect it and use it on my trees and bushes that need water.  I have been surprised that shrubs that we planted 3 years ago are showing signs of distress from the drought.  Since I don't want to pay the money to replace them, it is well worth finding ways to water these bushes with water that I have saved from another use.

Sixth, any water that I cook pasta in, I save. I let it cool to room temperature and then I pour it on plants in the backyard.

Seventh, as to the toilet, I use the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" rule in my master bathroom only. I don't make everyone else in the household follow this rule on the main floor bathroom. There are just some things that aren't worth fighting about.

Eighth, there is no watering of the lawn by a hose or sprinkler. The grass as you can see from the above pictures is mostly brown and crunchy. It has gone into dormancy but I fear that with this being the second year that this has happened to our yard, I honestly think we will need to re-seed the entire yard next year.

Ninth, there is no more running the water from the tap until it gets cold. Instead we keep a very large container in the refrigerator that we use for our cold drinking water. We refill it at least once a day.

Tenth, if there is a chance of rain I take my plants and set them out in the yard so they will get some rain water.  I also have an empty wading pool to catch any rain water. The rain water is collected and used to water plants the next day. It rained a little yesterday (we received 1/8th of an inch) and it rained 2 weeks ago and we received about the same amount. So even though this doesn't mean that I can collect very much rain, it is something.

These are just a few ways that I am conserving water in our household. Honestly after going through this I think I will continue to practice these conservation methods after the drought it is over. Why? Because it is the right thing to do and also because it will save us money on our water bill.

July 24, 2012

Too Hot to Do Much of Anything

It has been so hot here in Iowa for weeks. When you have temperatures at 105 degrees Farenheit and then a heat index 10 degrees above that, you don't feel like doing anything. Even with the air conditioning running non-stop, after a while you just want to be able to go outside in the evening and sit in a lawn chair and read a book. But there is one positive about the heat and the drought, it takes a very small amount of time for clothes to dry on the clothesline. I dried 5 loads of clothes on the clothesline this afternoon in record time.

Some communities are getting ready to limit water in an effort to conserve it. Life is getting pretty interesting here but it can't last forever. However some forecasters are predicting that this drought will last through Halloween. I hope the candy corn crop survives. (Okay I have to have some sense of humor in the midst of all of this heat.)

July 15, 2012

Preparing for the Coming Economic Storm

Could we be facing another economic downturn?

I trust my instincts. There is an uneasiness about me right now. I read, I listen to the news, I read my local newspaper and the Des Moines Register and when you read and listen; you get a sinking feeling that your instincts may be spot on. The economy is on the edge. 

The economy is stalling out. We are entwined in the global economy and what goes on in other countries can and does affect us. Look to Europe and you see countries in financial trouble that are linked to other countries. What will happen to Greece and Spain? And then there is China and the slowdown of its economy. Oh and wait - don’t forget the debt ceiling crisis that we will re-visit this summer. 

Ben Bernanke speaks before Congress this week. What will he say? Will there be more stimulus action? And what about Wall Street and how will all of the above affect the stock market. Oh yeah and then there is Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan’s loss and what about Barclay’s admitting to falsifying Libor Reports to the Fed? Have these companies not learned from past mistakes? Oh yeah, there is something called Greed. Hmmm. 

The unemployment figure is hovering at 8% and then there is the weather we need to throw into the mix. Drought is affecting crops, livestock and will hurt small businesses and many farmers. Food prices will be rising, although beef will be cheaper to begin with as farmers/ranchers have sold off some of their herd because they can’t afford to feed the livestock. 

January 1, 2013 is an ominous date. As was reported recently on NPR (National Public Radio) “If Washington doesn't act by that day, tax rates will shoot up for everyone. Huge, indiscriminate cuts in military and domestic programs will take place. And, shortly after that, the nation will again hit the debt ceiling, putting into doubt whether the government can pay its bills.” 

And in the middle of all of this mess is Congress. Members of Congress seem to run from ever compromising on anything. Both parties are guilty of this. It is as if they are involved in a sporting game and each party must be right and win all the time, except we are the losers. 

I feel that there is a storm brewing and it could end up being just as bad as 2008 or come close to it. If you look to the years after the stock market crash of 1929, you will note the ups and downs of our economy as we worked our way through hard times. 

In recent months I feel that consumers have been lulled into the belief that we won’t ever have to experience another 2008. Last Christmas the news reported about how much spending was up versus the previous 2 or 3 Christmases. I’ll never forget one interview in which a few people acknowledged that they were just tired of cutting back and not being able to give more at Christmas and they were going to buy what they wanted even if they had to put it on a credit card. 

Okay – so what can I do about all of this. Plenty. And that is the good news. Instead of sticking my head in the sand, I am being proactive. Look back to 2008 and think about what you would have done to be better prepared for what was to come if you had realized it before hand. Well, we could be facing the same thing so what are you going to do? 

The first thing is not to panic but to realize that we have the resources to handle another impending financial crisis if we take action now. Let’s just say that we have 6 months to a year before another financial crisis hits the U.S. Knowing this, what can we do? 

1. Cease unnecessary spending and grow your savings. However, if you don’t have a freezer, you should put this as a priority/necessity purchase. See Number 4. 

2. Cut expenses as much as reasonably possible. 

3. Pay off debt. We accumulated some consumer debt about 6 months ago when we needed some bunk beds and a new refrigerator. Time to get down to business and get it paid off. 

4. Stock your freezer and pantry with sale items and if you haven’t ever done this before, do it now. 

5. Grow your income. 

I recently took a part time job working at our Public Library. The job is definitely part time as it requires my working just 3 Saturdays a month for about 4 to 5 hours each day. However I will be working more hours in August to cover for vacations and will continue to do so as needed. I won’t be getting rich, but it will be some extra money each month to put in savings. 

Think about doing the same. Is there some way that you could earn some additional income for your family? Sit down and make a list of the possibilities. If you are not presently working outside the home, consider a part time job.  Remember that you don’t want this part time job to take extra expenses away from your income. Do as much as possible to find something that won’t cost you more in expenses than the income you will be bringing in. 

Remember that this job doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. It can be temporary but it could be a god send if you run into financial trouble. For me, I love my job at the library and hope to keep it for many years to come.

Perhaps you have little ones and earning extra income is not possible at this time, but you may find an opportunity every now and then to earn a little cash by babysitting. Instead of taking that extra cash and spending it, put it in the bank. Maybe you will come across a little part time job like mine and your spouse can watch the kids the Saturday afternoon that you work. Or maybe it would be easier to cut back and not buy a lot of clothes for the entire family and wear what you already own for the next year.

5. For one year do the above and see what happens to your finances. If after one year everything is fine, then you will have less debt and more money in the bank. But if the worse happens and a job loss comes your way, you at least have some money in the bank and a plan. 

Join me in my own austerity plan to grow my income, put money into savings and pay down debt. Sticking our head in the sand is not an option. Hoping and praying that bad economic times don’t come our way is not a plan. Be proactive and create a plan so that if we experience another financial crisis, you will be better able to work your way through it.  Don't look back one year from now and wish you would have done something.  

July 14, 2012

Economy Post Tomorrow But I have Frugal Tips

I will be posting tomorrow about my take on the economy and the upcoming year and what I plan to do to prepare for the future. The post is taking a little bit longer than I had planned and of course, if I wouldn't have fallen asleep on the couch last night I would have had it done. Let's just say that the drought, the slowing economy, what is going on in Europe and on Wall Street, along with the debt ceiling discussion will be affecting all of us. But - that will be for tomorrow. As for today, I have a few tips.

I have been working on laundry tips for a while. Laundry is one of those areas of the household where you can drop a lot of money if you aren't careful. I have made my own laundry soap with the Fels Naptha recipe, trying both the liquid and powdered version. This recipe is okay and I use it when I don't have anything else on hand. Over the last few months I have leaned towards mixing high quality detergent (found on sale with a coupon) with cheap generic laundry detergent. I started doing this when a local grocery store had their generic detergent on sale for 80 cents for a 32 load size jug. I bought 25 jugs and I mixed 1/3 good quality detergent (Era, Oxydol, Purex) with 2/3 generic detergent. I have been very happy with the outcome.

Today I decided to experiment with a concoction used to get the yellow underarm stains out of white clothes. I mixed 2 parts hydrogen peroxide with 1 part of original blue Dawn dish detergent. Then I poured this on the stains and scrubbed it with a tooth brush, let it set for 5 minutes and tossed the white tops into the washer to which I added bleach and detergent. The result: the majority of the yellowing was gone. There was a tad bit remaining, but not much. I should add that these were tops that I have had for a few years.

I now have 6 "revitalized" white tops that look great again and I am very, very happy with the outcome. Dawn dish detergent is a staple in my cleaning cupboard.

I have 3 white tank tops that I wear under all sorts of clothing. One of them had 2 little stains at the top that appeared to be coffee stains that I missed pre-treating so they remained after the top was washed and dried.

Today I took that tank top and washed it with a load of whites. I didn't dry it. I took some leftover coffee and poured it into a bowl and soaked the damp tank top in it. I let it soak for about 30 minutes and hung it on the clothesline to dry. After it was dry I washed it with a load of tan pants. When it came out of the dryer I was very, very happy with my new light tan tank top.  It is a perfect color to go with many outfits. I was stoked, if you can get stoked about soaking clothes in coffee.

Now on to makeup. You can spend a ton of money on makeup if you're not careful. I purchase good quality foundation, tinted moisturizer and mineral powder. I can skimp on cheaper blush and eye shadow but I make sure that I have good quality eye liner, mascara and concealer. Here is what my makeup routine is like.

On the days that I am home, I tend to wear little or no makeup. I usually wear tinted moisturizer as a foundation, a little blush and a little mascara. This is enough for those days when I don't need a lot of makeup but I still want to look nice. By going light on these days I make my makeup last longer.

On the days that I wear "full" makeup, I wear my foundation, concealer and some mineral powder along with eye shadow, liner, mascara and blush. I also apply a little lipstick.

I have found that cheap blush and eye shadow work fine for me and can be purchased at the Dollar store. For me having a few shades of shadow and two shades of blush gives me the look that I need. I don't need boxes and boxes of makeup with 100 shades of shadows, 10 blushes and more.  At my age (53) I don't need to be experimenting with blue or green eye shadow!!

In the end my makeup can last me for a year (except for the mascara) which is a bargain for me. I would say that I don't spend more than $50 annually on makeup. Also I am very careful that I do not use makeup that has "seen better days." Anything that goes on my face should not be questionable. If in doubt, I throw it out.

These are my tips for the day.  Tomorrow I could be a little "Debbie Downer" when it comes to my post on the economy.

July 12, 2012

I will have a posting later today about everything I have been up to. This morning is my last morning of training at the library. My mind has been swirling with library policies and procedures. I am so glad I was offered the opportunity to work there. More details coming later today with my thoughts on the economy, drought and being prepared for more bad economic times.

July 07, 2012

Been a Hot and Busy Week

Like most of the country, we have been experiencing quite a heat wave in Iowa. The daytime temperatures have been in the 90's and 100 degree Fahrenheit with a heat index today of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I don't mind breaking records in a sporting event but not when it comes to the weather. Unless it is for the greatest weather ever - that would be a record I would like to see.

When it is this hot, you might as well know that your electric bill will be very high due to using air conditioning. There is just no way getting around not using air conditioning when it is this hot. It is just too dangerous not to use it. The only way to save money is to turn your thermostat up so that you are comfortable but not cold. I have been keeping the thermostat at 78 to 80 degrees mostly so that the air conditioner wouldn't run constantly. Our air conditioner is 20 years old and you never know when it will go. Hopefully we can get through this summer without any problems.

My week has been busy as I started my training at the public library. The first day of my training I felt like I had made a big mistake in taking the job. There are so many policies, procedures and general how to's to learn and I was overwhelmed. Then the second day came and I went home again feeling like I would never get it and I might have to give up. By the third day, I was starting to understand and then yesterday I was "getting it" more and more. In fact as I walked home yesterday I was so glad that I had answered the ad. 

The women that I work with are very nice. I am definitely on a team and what I like the most is that we are all there to serve the public which is something I enjoy.

Today I went to the library on my own time to just walk around and make sure I knew where things were located. As I sit and type this I know that I am going to understand the job more and more and that I am definitely glad that I answered that ad and was offered the opportunity to work at the library.

I will work a few Saturdays a month and will also cover as needed for vacations. It won't interrupt my schedule at home and the income I receive will pay off some bills and add money to savings. It is nice to have something to call my own again. Also I am an immense history buff and avid learner so working at a library is perfect for me. 

Since I took the library job I have encountered several women who are working a few part time jobs. For whatever reason they cannot find full time employment and have pieced together 2 or even 3 part time jobs together. I honestly don't know when these women have a day off or a break. It is something that I have encountered with college students also. 

I talked with one of these women and she looked tired, and I mean very tired. I don't know how she keeps her schedule straight, but as she said - these jobs pay her bills and that is what is most important. After talking with her I felt quite fortunate that even though I am working a small part time job, our life does not depend on it and I don't have to work several jobs to make ends meet.

Life is not easy for many people and I fear that with the extremely hot weather and drought like conditions that we may be in for higher food prices and perhaps lay offs from farm related industries. It's a perfect example of the trickle down effect. Practicing frugality with the addition of a part time job or temporary job will help families offset the rising prices and cost of living.

July 02, 2012

Are you on my Blog Roll?

If you have a blog and I don't have you listed on my blog roll or blog list, leave a comment and I will add you.  Also, I have been missing some blogs that I used to follow - not sure what happened, but I am going to blame being 50ish, going through menopause, having a puppy and a geriatric dog at the same time.  This is my way of making sure I'm not missing any of the people that follow me so I can keep on following them on their blogs.   I have been meaning to do this for a long time.  Thanks.

July 01, 2012

Caring for my Hair and the Cost

Recently a reader of my blog e-mailed me about any frugal ways of caring for my highlighted blonde hair. Haircare, makeup and skincare products can eat up a budget if you aren’t savvy.

Here is what I know about my hair: I am blonde by birth but as I have aged my hair color has obviously gone darker and greyer. If I don’t get it highlighted, my hair will be a dark blonde or dishwater blonde as some people refer to it. My hair is thin but does have a little wave to it when it gets wet. On a humid day my hair will not stay perfectly straight, the wave comes through and as it grows out I have a little bit of curl at the ends.

I have my hair highlighted by my stylist every three months during the warm months and about every four months during the winter months. It turns out beautiful and lightens my hair with what appears to look like natural highlights.

In the winter months I am able to get by with my hair being darker so I go four months between highlighting. The cost for getting foil highlights (in three shades of blonde) is $60. Yep – It is probably the most unfrugal thing I do. Highlights make a big difference in my appearance and I feel it is worth it. However, in saying that, if I could not afford professional highlights I would find a way to get my hair highlighted perhaps by a friend whom I trusted. I am not confident in highlighting my own hair. I have had numerous discussions with my stylist about stories of hair coloring/highlighting gone bad and the cost of fixing those mistakes.  Also when it comes to putting chemicals on my head, I would rather leave it to the experts.

The first year I was home full time, I didn’t get my hair highlighted at all as our budget was beyond tight. I had the choice of grocery money or hair money and frankly, we needed to eat. As we paid off bills I was able to free up some money for getting professional highlights in my hair.

For me to pay someone to do the job right, is worth it, but it is up to me to keep it looking good. How do I do it? I don’t shampoo my hair every day. I shampoo every other day. Think of your highlighted/colored hair like clothing. The more you wash your clothes, the more they fade. The same is true of highlights. I also use Suave Color Protection Shampoo and I only lather once. Yes, I use Suave or Pantene when I can get it on sale such as I did yesterday with a great coupon deal. I don’t buy shampoo at the salon. It is just not worth it. Also, I use conditioner every time I shampoo. While I towel dry my hair I apply a liquid volumizer that I have diluted so that I get the volume but I extend the bottle so it lasts me a year.

I blow dry my hair alternating between the high (hot) and low (cool) settings. In other words when my hair feels warm I switch to cool to cool off the hair strands and I use the cool air to blow the hair around. By alternating from high to low I don’t wreak too much heat damage to my hair.

As my hair has grown, I have found that I don’t need to flat iron it every day. Some days I blow it dry and apply a balm to it to help the small amount of natural curl that I have. I scrunch it and it ends up looking pretty good, especially if I use a little barrette on the side, and I leave it at that. If I am going to be home all day, my hair does not need to be picture perfect. In fact I find that as the day goes on and I get a little a natural oil in it, it tends to look better. The next day I skip the shampoo and I may pull my hair back into a pony tail or I pull it back and leave the sides down. I use a flat iron to straighten the sides and back into a flip. Some days after shampooing and drying I flat iron my hair and let it be straight for the day.

By not using a flat iron every day and by being careful with the heat settings on my hair dryer, my hair does not get the damage that it used to get when I was shampooing, drying and ironing or curling every morning. Therefore because my hair does not get the damage that it used to get, I am able to grow my hair out and not get the ends trimmed as often. I am now at about 7 weeks for a trim when I used to go in every 4 or 5 weeks. 

If you have a shorter hairstyle, it takes frequent trims to keep the appearance looking good. I have found that as I have let my hair grow to shoulder length (and the goal is to get it 2 inches longer than that), I have the option of going longer between trims with my hair still looking great. If my hair starts to bother me and I have another week to go before a trim, I simply pull it back.

To sum up: I never use a curling iron or flat iron two days in a row. I blow dry my hair alternating cool and high to prevent further damage. Because my hair is getting longer, I have options of pulling my hair back with a clip, putting it into a pony tail or using a barrette to pull one side back. I only shampoo every other day and I only lather once and I always use conditioner.

Although I have never tried it, I have read that chamomile tea sprayed on your hair while you are out in the sun will help your natural highlights show up. I have never tried this as when I am outside in the sun I tend to wear sunscreen and a hat. I have read that lemon juice will do the same thing but lemon juice dries out your scalp.  Also, I am not in favor of putting acid on your hair.

Back to the cost of highlighting, at $60 for every 3 to 4 months, I have to save $5 a week to find the money to pay for this. I can afford $5 a week.

Next post:  makeup on a frugal budget.