Friday, March 20, 2020

Stewarding Our Resources and Making Things Last

  Colton is home again!  We are all so glad he's back and in good health.  Thank you to everyone who prayed for his safe and speedy return.

  In my last post I wrote that God will always provide for His children, and we need to trust in Him during this crazy time.  Because of Him, we can have peace instead of the fear and hysteria that the world seems to have succumbed to.  Remember, we can't live by bread alone.

  With that said, we still have work to do as keepers at home.

"She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness."
Proverbs 31:27

  My friend, Patsi, from A Working Pantry said something in one of her comments the other day that really stuck with me.  She said that sometimes answered prayers come in the form of hard work on our part.  I think that is so true.  We have to be willing to put in some work.  God saved Noah and his family from the flood, but Noah still had to build the ark!

Busy Bees

  I would say these times call for an increased sense of diligence as we steward our resources to care for our homes and loved ones.  I personally believe that there will be lean times ahead for many, and what we have been seeing is just the beginning.  Because of this, I am already more mindful of what we use and how I do things.  We have a good supply right now, but my goal is to stretch it and make it last until this is all over, and we don't know when that will be.  Hopefully soon.

  One thing Colton and I are both doing right now is working hard in the garden every morning and evening.  It's no longer just a hobby that supplements our grocery shopping, it's what will feed us and others if the shelves remain empty.  I'm carefully choosing what to plant based on what we eat and what will be easiest to preserve.  For example, I only have half a row of lettuce planted for fresh salads, but I have 16 tomato plants, as well as several peppers and fresh herbs, because these can be canned and turned into various tomato based meals.  Green beans will also be planted in the coming days for canning and freezing.  We have a row of yellow squash and a row of zucchini, which will be very versatile and used to bulk up meals.  I'm planning on doing a staggered planting of okra (planting one row and then waiting a few weeks to plant another row, etc.), as this can tolerate the Texas heat that we have already started experiencing.  Okra and squash can both be frozen.  I'm also planting things a little closer together to optimize space.

  Along the same lines, I am checking on my chickens throughout the day, making sure they are safe and have plenty of water.  We let them free range in the afternoons, so I need to make sure dogs and other predators stay away.  There is also no slacking when it comes to gathering their eggs and putting them into cartons right away for the refrigerator.  I stocked up on their feed on Tuesday, along with extra dog and cat food, and I'm glad I didn't wait any longer.  This was the section of chick starter at Tractor Supply!

  I hunted around and found a few bags off to the side and snatched up two of them.  

  In the kitchen, I have been extra mindful about eliminating waste.  I have started measuring out my dish detergent when I wash dishes.  One half teaspoon in the dish pan gets the job done just as well as my usual liberal squirts.  For the dishwasher, I am making sure I have a full load before I run it.  I store most things in glass, but when I do use a plastic Ziploc bag for something, it gets washed and reused unless it held raw meat.  Larger trash items get crushed before going into the trash can, or they are set outside to be taken to our dump (we burn our trash here on the ranch), and food packaging is rinsed before being thrown away to eliminate smells.  This is so I can really fill up a trash bag before it gets tossed.  On that note, when I sweep the floor, dirt gets thrown outside, not into the trash can.  As far as eliminating food waste, there is so much that can be done in that area that I am saving that topic for my next post.

  In the laundry room, the same concepts apply.  I carefully measure out how much detergent I am using, and filling the measuring cup to the first line has never failed to get a normal load of laundry clean.  I use a little more for really dirty things.  I am also making sure I have a full load before I run the washer.   I do not use dryer sheets, but if you do, I would suggest cutting them in half or seeing if you can use them more than once.  Or if you are able to find them, invest in wool dryer balls.  Also, clothes can be worn more than once if they are not that dirty!  The clothes I wear after a shower in the evening go right back on the hanger because I only wear them for a few hours and they don't get dirty.  In addition to reducing the amount of laundry, it also extends the life of my clothes.  I've also started wearing an apron while I work for added protection.  The same goes for bathroom towels in that they go right back up on the peg to dry and be used again.  Since all we do is dry our clean selves off after a shower, they are not dirty.

  In the bathroom, one of the ways I am able to stretch my shampoo usage is by just using enough to clean my scalp and hair at the roots.  The rest of my hair gets cleaned as I rinse it.  For brushing my teeth, I use a homemade tooth powder, but if you use conventional toothpaste, just pay attention to how much you are using each time.  If you run out, you can use baking soda, or alternate using baking soda with your toothpaste now to make it last longer.  Baking soda or arrowroot powder can also be used as a natural deodorant in a pinch.  Now, I am hesitant to mention this next thing, but as toilet paper seems to be such a hot commodity and also very hard to find, I think it is worth sharing.  After John was born, my midwife and doctor both handed me a squirt bottle and gave me strict instructions not to use toilet paper while I was healing.  At first I thought, you've got to be kidding me!  But I did what they said and after doing so realized something very obvious: water gets you cleaner than paper.  So I have brought out my squirt bottle for rinsing and have made up a stack of flannel wipes for drying.  The toilet paper we have is saved for, well, the dirty jobs.  I am really sorry if that is more than you wanted to know, but these are strange times!  

  For cleaning, I really haven't changed anything yet, as a little goes a long way with the homemade products I use.  If you are used to using commercial products and can't find them in the stores or are running low, try to look for some natural alternatives.  I typically use baking soda, vinegar, citric acid, and essential oils for cleaning, and nothing beats good old fashioned soap and water.  I have some reusable cleaning cloths that I made a while back and I need to dig them out again, as I've been using disposables for convenience lately. 

  Some of the things I have mentioned I already do or should have been doing anyway.  Others are due to special circumstances and will look a bit extreme to most people.  Each person will have to choose what is best for their family, but I hope these examples will at least give some ideas.  We need to get creative when we can't get to the store or when what we normally use is unavailable.  If you have any ideas for stretching things or making things last, please share in the comments!  Every little thing is important and may be very helpful during this time of scarcity.

"He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much..."
~Luke 16:10a


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Calm in the Midst of a Storm

  These are certainly troublesome times.  Grocery store shelves are empty, people are fighting over toilet paper, public events have been cancelled, schools have been shut down, businesses are starting to close, and I have heard of people in our area already starting to lose their jobs.  It really is almost surreal.  On top of all of this craze, Colton is in quarantine at work and has been since Sunday because he came in contact with a patient (Colton is a firefighter/paramedic) who may have Covid-19.  And this is just the beginning.

  Yet, in all of this chaos, I have a certain calmness.  As I continue on with my daily work, I can't help but stop and give thanks to God for the life He has led me and Colton to live.  I know it's not for everyone, but it is certainly for us, and never have I been so thankful for our garden, our chickens, and the old-fashioned skills that we have learned.  I am counting my blessings.

An abundance of eggs from my chickens

   For one, I'm grateful that God put it on our hearts to focus on our outdoor projects first.

"Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house."
~Proverbs 24:27

  Because of this, we have a more sustainable food source and don't have to rely so heavily on the grocery store.

Salad fixin's from last year's garden

   I'm grateful that Colton convinced me that we need a huge garden.  It has always been a dream/goal of mine to grow most of our food, but I also know it takes a lot of work and I doubted that I would realistically be able to diligently care for a huge plot, let alone preserve all of its bounty. Now I am seeing how blessed we are to have such a large space.  I'm also grateful that Colton got the water and gas lines put in before all of this happened, as it has allowed me to plant and carry on with my work with him gone.

Snow peas in our current garden

  I'm grateful that we have one million chickens and that my hoarding problem is coming in handy.  (Ok, I counted the other day and we actually only have 40, not including the chicks.)  That's a lot of eggs each day for ourselves and others who need them, including our pets if it comes to that, not to mention an egg-cellent (sorry, I had to) source of protein.  And I'm so thankful that no one wanted to buy my chickens when I tried selling some of them because I thought we had too many!

Happy, healthy, free range chickens

  I'm grateful that Colton is able to hunt and that he took the opportunity this winter to stock our freezer.  He is such a good husband, father, and provider.   I'm glad I got over my fear of pressure canning venison, and I'm glad that after we tasted the first jar, Colton decided to harvest two more deer the next morning so that I could can the meat and add it to the pantry.  Yes, it was that delicious.

Canned venison

   I'm grateful that we live on the ranch with Colton's family, as trying as it may be sometimes living in such close proximity to one's in-laws.  (Really, I love them and couldn't ask for better in-laws.  I know if I ever needed anything, they would be right here in an instant to help.)  We looked for a house in town when I was pregnant with John and a few times since so that we could have our own place, but each time God closed all the doors.  Now we know of a certainty that this where God has us, and I see more and more why that is.

  I'm grateful that living on one income has made me no stranger to frugality and resourcefulness.  "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" is a saying that has served us well.  I know how to pinch pennies, stretch a meal, and find alternatives to things we need and want.  In times of scarcity, that knowledge is worth its weight in gold.

A frugal 'thank-you' basket of homemade bread, jelly, and zinnia seeds saved from my garden

   Yes, my heart is overflowing with gratitude for this life God has blessed us with.  But I will tell you, the peace I have does not lie in these things.  They could all be gone in an instant.  My peace rests in God Himself, and my point is that I can see His sovereign Hand at work in our lives.  That is what gives me an overwhelming sense of safety, security, and calmness in the midst of this storm.  All of the hard times we have experienced, all of the heartache, all of our failed plans- they were for our good.  God has been teaching us, refining us, preparing us.  It has been hard for me to see at times, but it is all coming together. 

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." ~Romans 8:28

  I know the country life is not for everyone, and that is ok.  It is what God has placed on our hearts, but even if He had chosen a different lifestyle for us, the fact remains that He will always provide for our needs.  The truth is, no one is "self-sufficient".  It is God who sustains us.  This doesn't alleviate our responsibility to exercise wisdom or work hard for what we have, but ultimately, God is in control and He will always, always take care of His children, no matter what is going on in the world.  He is still able to take a few loaves and fishes and feed thousands.  Please, put your trust in Him, not a package of toilet paper (or a multitude of chickens, for that matter).

  "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." 
~Psalm 23

Friday, March 13, 2020

Surprises and Adjustments

  It has been an interesting week here at the cottage.  Sunday started off as usual with me getting outside a little earlier to feed the animals before John woke up.  He usually helps me feed but I do it alone on Sundays so that it goes faster and we aren't late for church.  Just as I was finishing up, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was John watching me from his bedroom window.  It was the first time he had EVER climbed out of his crib!  Of course he was just so proud of himself that I couldn't help but smile.  I'm sure I also let out a sigh, knowing it was the beginning of a new chapter and that my little boy was growing up.

  Colton took the side rails off of his crib so that he can get in and out of bed without the risk of falling from climbing over.  We put up a toddler guard and hopefully sometime next week, we'll get his "big boy bed" set up.  He has done really well with this at night, but nap time is another story.

  Nap time?  What even is nap time?  A distant memory of a time when this mama could catch a break in the afternoon and feel rested enough to face the rest of the evening, a time when my sweet toddler was also able to rest and be pleasant for the rest of the day. 

  To be fair, even in his crib, naps were becoming less and less of a daily thing.   The hard part is that I know he's tired in the afternoon, and even though I can get him to stay in his bed, he just won't sleep!  Instead he lays there and sings and talks quietly.  Not a problem except that a couple hours later, he's overtired and basically impossible for the rest of the day.  Keepin' it real, folks- it has me flat.worn.out.

  I know it'll pass and we'll work out a new routine, but the adjustment period has me reevaluating my time and schedule, as well as what I realistically have the energy for.  I have made the decision to put my Etsy shop on "vacation" mode for a while.  While I do enjoy it, it takes quite a bit of my time.  I'm not giving it up for good, but I do have to prioritize, and my home and family will always come first.

  Another surprise this week was the realization that we bought the WRONG chickens!  Yep, we did not buy the Buff Orpington chicks that we thought we did.  First, I thought that the chicks were not as golden as I remembered.  They were a light yellow.  Not a big deal as it's been a while since I've raised them.  But then I noticed how they were growing so much faster than our Barred Rock chicks.  I mean, like three times as fast!  They were eating so much food and were just massive.  Then they started getting their feathers, their white feathers.  I realized we had Cornish Rocks, meat birds that will be ready to butcher at 8 weeks, not the Buff Orpingtons we wanted!  

Cornish Rock chicks

  Well I felt a little silly not realizing the mistake sooner, not to mention blogging about it on the World Wide Web.  However, Tractor Supply did have them labeled incorrectly, so we went back to the store and explained the situation.  Thankfully there was a worker there who knew the signs on the chicks had accidentally been switched, and they let us take six of the correct Orpingtons for free.

Buff Orpington chicks, for real this time (I hope)
  They said we could return the Cornish Rocks if we wanted, but as we have already been putting feed into them, we decided to just keep them.  We'll have a new homesteading experience raising and butchering meat birds.  Who knows?  Maybe we'll like it and want to do it every year.  With everything happening in the world, an extra meat source doesn't sound like a bad idea.  Nini certainly likes them...

Cornish Rock chicks in their new space

Nini, the Hunter

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Variations of a Frugal Breakfast Staple

  Oatmeal is enjoyed several mornings a week here at the cottage.  I usually cook a country-style breakfast of bacon, eggs from our chickens, and potatoes when Colton is home, as it is his favorite meal of the day. But when it is just me and John, a simple bowl of oatmeal is on the menu.

'Carrot Cake' inspired oatmeal

  Oatmeal is full of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, so I can feel good about giving it to John as I know he's getting a nourishing breakfast.  Mom bonus: it only dirties one pot and takes about 10 minutes.

   It's also a very budget-friendly choice.  I did a cost breakdown at the request of a friend, based on a 1/2 cup serving size for each brand.  The cost was calculated from the prices at our nearest Walmart, without coupons, sales, and rebates:

  • Great Value (generic store brand) Old Fashioned Oats, 42 oz canister: .09/serving
  • Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, 42 oz canister: .11/serving
  • Bob's Red Mill Organic Old Fashioned Oats, 32 oz bag: .26/serving
  Even Bob's Red Mill, the most expensive option, is still a very frugal choice, especially if you can purchase it with coupons and rebates.  At full price, the cost works out to be the same as instant oatmeal packets, except it's organic and doesn't contain all of the artificial flavors and fillers.  We have eaten the generic brand (usually HEB, not Great Value), Quaker, and Bob's Red Mill.  It really just depends on what the best price is at the time of our shopping!

  Now, I do realize oatmeal can be a little...boring.  Because we eat it regularly, I've come up with a list of toppings and add-ins to create different, tasty variations.  (Toppings will, of course, affect the cost per serving depending on what you choose.)


Maple Syrup
Raw/White/Brown Sugar

Add-ins and Toppings

Berries, fresh or frozen and thawed
Cooked apples (I chop them up and cook them along with the oatmeal)
Shredded Coconut
Chopped Nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds)
Peanut/Almond Butter
Chia Seeds
Shredded Carrots (again, cooked along with the oatmeal)
Coconut Oil/Butter/Cream
Cinnamon and/or other spices such as cloves or nutmeg

Cooked apple, cinnamon, and a light drizzle of honey

  Because we try to moderate the consumption of sugar in our home for health reasons, I will generally use less sweetener or omit it altogether if I add fruit to our oatmeal, especially bananas, since they are already sweet. When John was a baby, I would grind his oatmeal before cooking it so that it would be smooth, and then I would serve it (cooked) with applesauce and a touch of cinnamon mixed into it.  He loved it!  That is why I added applesauce to the sweetener section.  It all just depends on personal preference.  I would also add that the chia and flaxmeal can be added to any combination to boost the health benefits without greatly altering the taste.

Here are a few combinations that you might enjoy:

  • Raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar 
  • Blueberries, bananas, cinnamon, honey
  • Shredded carrots (cooked right in the pot with the oatmeal, they finish at the same time), cinnamon, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, brown sugar- This carrot cake inspired combination is a good way to get a few veggies in!
  • Diced apples (again, cooked right in the pot with the oats), honey, cinnamon, cloves 
  • Bananas, shredded coconut, chopped pecans, sweetener of choice
  • Almond/peanut butter, bananas, honey 

  While I have not personally tried it, my father-in-law prefers a savory oatmeal and mixes a bit of cooked sausage in with his.  Another that I didn't add to the list would be chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and pecans.  Now this would be more like a dessert and obviously not very healthy!  I think it could be an occasional treat, but I won't do it because I know John would be asking for "wah-wah-mip" (chocolate chips) every morning.  So it's a try-at-your-own-risk combo!  

  If you are accustomed to buying the flavored packets of instant oatmeal, draw inspiration from there and try to recreate the flavors you like at home.  It will be better for your health and your budget.

  What is your favorite way to eat oatmeal?  Let us know if you have any ideas for this frugal breakfast staple!