Saturday, August 30, 2014

When ends don't meet.

Do you guys feel like I have fallen off the face of the earth?  I didn't mean to disappear, but between a preventative medical procedure and my sons graduation party, last weekend was a blur.  But here I am once again to submit, for your reading pleasure(I hope), my thoughts.

I've noticed gas prices coming down a bit over the last few weeks, while that's a nice little break, I'm amazed that I put a gallon of gas in my car equivalent in price to a gallon of milk.  Gone are the days of .99 gas( Sigh). That was nice.  Gone also are the days of $1.99 milk, .99 lb ground beef, 4/$1 canned veggies, or .99 for 5 lbs of sugar.  What's so sad is those prices weren't that long ago.  Incomes have not kept up with the rising prices of food and energy, and while our government likes to point to IPods being cheaper; you can't eat IPods.  They don't heat or cool your house.  So what do you do when the ends don't meet?  When all of the sudden you are looking at your budget and the money doesn't stretch to cover all you owe?  You are faced with either not paying a bill or not feeding your family.  I wrote a series a while back on Black Belt Frugality.  You can begin reading it here.  While the Black Belt Frugality series has some good tips, it takes a while to can veggies or plant a garden.  If you are needing an emergency solution, gardening, and canning isn't the answer short term.  I do believe those things are a solution in the long term so consider learning these skills.  Even in a small space, any amount is a start.

No I'm talking about right now what do I do? " The paycheck wasn't what I thought it would be", "the car broke down and it will cost WHAT?", or my favorite "what do you mean I forgot to record that check?".  That last one gets me more often than not.

We all have expenses; both fixed and flexible.  Fixed expenses are things like your Rent or Mortgage, a car payment, a credit card payment, a student loan.  Maybe a cable or phone bill if it's the same each month.  Flexible expenses are things that can be adjusted such as a grocery, electric, gasoline, or water bill.  Some fixed expenses can be somewhat flexible in that if it's not necessary for your survival, it can be placed on the back burner. Some flexible expenses are more fixed than others in that you have to have gas for your car to go to work.  Dave Ramsey says that above all else you have to secure food, shelter, and transportation.  That's very true.  Dave Ramsey does not say cokes, chips, ice cream etc are necessary for survival.  The grocery bill is the quickest way to cut back.  Look at your list (what you don't have a list SHOCK).  Cut out anything extra or anything you can make yourself.  Meat needs to become a condiment at this point.  Make casseroles, soups, stews, etc.  Double up on the veggies in your casseroles etc and cut back on the meat.  Tea or water to drink, and milk for the kids that need it.  Muffins, Biscuits, oatmeal are easy cheap filling breakfasts.  Dried beans are now your friend; as is rice and potatoes.  Here is a good reference article by Miss Maggie of Hillbilly housewife regarding an emergency meal plan complete with how tos.  I love to just read thru it.  The prices are higher now than at the time this article was written, but the menus and how tos are still relevant.  There is also one for $70.  Many of the items she lists you will most likely have on hand.  Focus on just eating what you already have on hand and only fill in what you have to have. 

Contrary to what people say now days, telephone, internet,  and a cable bill are not necessary for survival.  An exception to that is if a phone is necessary for work or other such emergency.  If that is the case, use a bare bones plan.  Internet service is offered at the library if you have a library card.  Granted you have to go by there and it's only for a couple of hours, but in a pinch it's doable. Include the trip in your regular errands to save on gas.  My point is that unless it's an emergency, cancel these services until you get ahead.  It is terribly inconvenient, especially if you have little ones, but it is short term.

People tend to have a kind of ostrich with his head in the sand when it comes to some bills.  If I ignore it they will go away.  They don't.  I know.  In all honesty, companies are more likely to help out if you keep lines of communication open.  Call them the minute you know your circumstance.  Know when you call how much you can pay at that time.  Prioritize your bills, and like Dave Ramsey says, if you get to the last of your bills and there is no more money left, they have to wait.  If possible pay something.  But don't let them pressure you to pay more than you have.  Power companies will work with you in some situations.  They also have services to help you if you qualify.  Look into budget billing.  While not ideal in all situations, budget billing gives you the same bill each month.  No surprises so easier to plan each month.  Our power bill can fluctuate by hundreds during extreme heat or cold.  It helped us immensely having budget billing for a while.  Some banks will allow you to only pay the interest for that month. The drawback is that you pay more interest over all and miss a payment, but it gets you thru. 

I realize non of these ideas are ideal.  They aren't fun either.  Not by a long shot.  But this isn't an ideal situation either.  This is a drastic time.  Just remember.  This is also temporary.  Just until things get caught up.  I speak of that which I know.  I have lived through times like these myself.  I have used, at one time or another, all of these tips.  These times come for everyone.  When you are thru this one, make sure you make a plan for the next one. With a plan you can run thru the next one easy peasy.  And, guys, there will be a next one.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chicken Drama on the homestead.

So the babies are growing by leaps and bounds. (excuse the mess, we tend to lean stuff against the coop cause it is right next to the garden)

 There was no way all 15 of them, mama included, could be housed in that one little coop and run.  We were on borrowed time.  Then we also have the new run which currently houses 3.  Yep, just 3.
So our first thought was that we would go ahead and split the flock layers/and meat birds.  So being the novice chicken owners we are, but not crazy, we then read up on how to do this in order that there are no problems.  First thing we read "Don't do it until the younger birds are the same size as the older ones", and " make sure they spend a while in proximity to, but not accessible to the original flock".  Well just darn.  That blew our plans out of the water.  So we think we will just put mama hen back with the original flock.  So read up on that too.  Umm, yea, you have to treat the returning bird as if she had never been a part of the flock to begin with.  Oh Joy.  So we block off part of the run for the day and have her in one side and the other three in the other side.  Things go well for the day.  We had learned to put her in the coop at night while the other guys were asleep and things would go smoother.  Okay  here we go,.  Hubby put her in the coop and immediately hears chaos ensuing.  Real quick he opens the coop to see all three of the flock attacking the mama hen.  Ungrateful little so and so's, some of those babies she had mothered weren't hers!  That is not the right way to treat your babysitter.  Just sayin.  So he grabs her out and puts her back in to her part of the run.  The next day, much to our Rooster(Garris) surprise, he is put into the run with her.  Just him.  We figured a one on one thing.  He does well with her.  No troubles.  So next day we thought we would see how things went if we took the barrier down.  We knew there would be some pecking and intimidation.  Well there is this one red hen.  Meanness should be her name.  Well she takes a hunk, and I do mean hunk, out of her neck.  Poor chicken ended up with a cut about 1/4 inch deep and about 1.5 in long.  Problem with chickens is that if they ever draw blood they will peck the poor bird to death.  So I get warm soapy water, triple antibiotic cream and a make shift bandage from an old t shirt sleeve.  I thought she would fight me,  but she didn't.  I took her out and she sat in my lap while I dressed the wound.  She even allowed me to put on a very awkward bandage.  I put her back in the coop, this time separating out "meanness".  Lets see how she likes being alone.  Things went better, but the other red hen, though not as vicious, was keeping up the attack.  Garris tried to intervene a few times, but for the most part he is hen pecked too.  In addition the bandage was coming off leaving the wound open to continued attack.  Early Wednesday morning, Dh goes out to see about the chickens.  He opens the back of the coop apparently when the little mama hen was being attacked again.  She ran right out the door and into his arms.  He comes to the back door holding her and saying "Now what?"  She is our best layer and the only one of our hens that has brooded.  Not wanting to lose her!  So we end up putting her back into the coop with the young chicks.  She isn't as mean as the other hens were to her, but she has definitely taken over.  She isn't hurting them, but she rules the roost.  I have to admit though she is a bit of a bully.  Just for kicks she will get up and run the chicks out of the coop (where they are all hiding) and the run them all back in again.  I think she likes being top of the food chain again.  But the chicks are getting braver by the day, and she is letting the chicks come in  and out of the coop at will.  Her neck is healing now since it is left alone.  Problem is we are back to where we started from.  We are planning on selling about 5 of the new flock which will help space wise.  Once the new hens start laying, those two red hens will be on my it list, but right now we need the eggs.  So their sentence is postponed....for now. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Tale of Two Squashes AKA the story of PunkinStien

Harken back to the glorious days of spring when the temps were cool and the anticipations of nature's bounty was yet to be realized (Okay you got to admit that was a totally good sentence).  My Darling Husband planted seeds we believed to be pumpkin.  We were excited and a little nervous when the whole row germinated and was going gang busters.  What would we do with all of those pumpkins?  Canning some, freezing some, giving some away, were all thoughts that passed thru our little noggins.  Later we realized these weren't acting like normal pumpkins.  They were shaped more like spaghetti squash.  OK, change of plans.  We now have an abundance of spaghetti squash.  No biggie.  I can turn on a dime; roll with the punches so to speak.  When we thought we had a couple to try, I picked them and baked them, but I must have done something wrong cause they didn't act like spaghetti squash either.  Well now we didn't know what to do.  So like most people when faced with indecision, we did nothing.  We just left them alone until the area was so over grown my DH had to get to them with the weed eater.  DH sharing my desire to not throw anything away if even remotely useful, piled all of the "squashes" up.  We got a good many.  Bout 15ish.  We started taking a good long look at said squashes and determined they looked an awful lot like pumpkin in color and texture, but not in shape.  One or two looked pumpkinish.  So looking to file this in "Things that make you go Hmmmmm", I grabbed up one of the bigger ones to check it out.  Bringing it into the house, I washed and dried it and then took my heavy duty butcher knife to cut it open.  Swing!  Thunk!  The knife barely went into the skin.  Hmmm  I know what I need.  I need a hammer!  Honey, where's the hammer?  Honey says, in the tool box in the shed.  Oh.  UGH.  I really didn't want to exert myself to go out to the shed.  What to do what to do.  Ah  Eureka!  A scrap piece of 2x4.  Yea that'll work.  And it did.  It took a bit of whacking the knife all around the punkinstien (Or Franken Squash depending on your ideological bent), but I got it split.  Well low and behold it was yellowish orange on the inside much like pumpkin.  I cleaned out all the seeds and into the oven it goes cut side down.  It baked about an hour and then it was out to cool.  The peel was still tough, but the pulp inside was soft and actually pulled completely away from the peel.  In fact, you could probably use the peel for a bowl.  LOL  I know appetizing.  Anyway, once cool I needed to find out if it would work like pumpkin.  If this failed I didn't want to sacrifice a lot of other foods, so I made 1/3 of a pumpkin pie recipe minus the crust.  I just need to know the filling would work.  I poured the filling into 2 custard dishes and they are currently in the oven baking.  Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock.........

And now!  The result is.........! Well it tastes good.  It makes a pumpkin pie that passes the Rubic test.  He is our pumpkin pie guy.  However, in order to process all of these I would have to can them and that would require peeling and cubing the fruit.  I think with the peel as tough as it is that would be a long drawn out affair.  I saved the pulp from tonight in my freezer and got 4 cups, 2 cups each container.  Maybe pumpkin butter.  Hmmmmm.   Not sure.  This maybe my only chance for something akin to pumpkin.  Some kind of beetle has made a beeline for my pumpkin plants and I think it is too late to fix it with the rain we have going on now.  It would keep me from spraying anything for a while.  Since we found the frankensquash,  I also have also realized a bed of speckled lima beans, which had been planted next to white limas,  are now mostly white, we are considering the thought that there has been some cross pollination...inter-fauna hanky panky going on in the garden.  Hey you never know what those plants can do when your back is turned!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I'm Caught up!

I am finally getting caught up.......except for the corn I picked today that now needs canning....uh and there is bread to be made,,,,,and..well.. the tomatoes outside needing to be picked, sauces needing canning, and.....OH GOOD GRIEF! Okay I am not caught up.  It was an illusion.  I can say with all authority though, that I have emerged from canning tomatoes long enough to say, I am canning tomatoes.  I might be a bit.  (Smile).  It is still crazy, but a more moderate form of crazy.  It was bad.  Let me tell ya.  Bad enough to where I.....dare I say it......Went to Subway for dinner!  AH!  Now I don't do that every night I can tomatoes.  I would lose my cost savings from gardening and canning if I went out each night.  Tonight was an exception.  I was literally drowning in tomatoes and sauce.  There is always a time when I have tomatoes in all stages of processing. Which means I have my kitchen in a constant state of upheaval.   But now that I have that down pat (Not done, just controlled), I am looking toward the corn coming in.  Then the limas.  Watermelons are coming in as well, but those are just a treat. 

 I am at the point where I am asking myself if I really want to plant anything else for fall.  The consideration is, with food prices being what they are,  wouldn't it be prudent to plant such things as spinach and lettuce as well as cabbage to replace my bombed sauerkraut this past spring?  But I am so ready for the garden to be put up!  I think it was the cooler weather we have had recently.  80 degrees in July for Georgia is almost unheard of.  Cooler weather, school starting back, and the garden being put away for the season are signs of fall on the way and I am ready for fall.  LOVE, love, love that time of year.  Anyway, with the cabbage, I need to decide now but with the spinach and lettuce  I have a little more time to decide, but not much.  I know the corn area is done once all the corn is harvested..  I plan on mixing in some aged chicken manure and then covering the whole shebang in black plastic over the fall and winter.  Anything I do plant will be planted in my concrete raised beds on the lower end of the garden nearest the house. 

Edited to add:  (or in the words of  the spongebob narrator) 48 hours later..........(assume a French accent.  I can't type that)

So!  I actually have had the stove empty of tomatoes since last I typed.  I did have some BBQ sauce cooking down in the crock pot yesterday.  It was canned yesterday as well.  I got 6 half pints.  I plan to make more.  I also have canned 8 qts of spaghetti sauce and 8 pints of corn.  In addition I was able to make bread for the first time yesterday.  My poor family has done without bread for the past couple of weeks.  It has been biscuits, pita, crackers or muffins with meals.  I was happy to be able to  make up some loaves of bread as well as pizza crust yesterday.  I am hoping I have some other time maybe today to make some cookies.  I will be starting up the tomato pots again today.  So the lull is about over.  More corn to pick as well.  So off I go to get my day started......after another cup of coffee of course......

Oh and if there is any doubt.....yes all this canning/ gardening/ baking is worth it.