Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wow! I can't believe it's been over a month since I've sat down to "blog". Its been a super busy time (as it is for most of us I'm sure)! The girls are loving all the early winter snow and I lucked out at a thrift store and found M2 a new to us LL Bean jacket and snowpants for $4 (the best thing about little kid sizes is that they're hardly used at all)! I really like that we all have at least 2 full sets (jacket, pants, boots) of snow gear .. We're outside pretty much every day (the windy days I can't handle!) and the dryer would have been sure to get a workout .. with more than one set everything is sure to dry out before the next outing!

We also had to get the van into the shop to get the brakes done and a general "checkup" since we hit 150,000. Being in a new area where we didn't know of any reliable mechanics, we were relieved when it was discovered that the father of one of the young men Mr. M works with own a very nice looking repair shop that always busy (my thinking being he must be good to be so busy!) we'd driven by numerous times and we dropped off the van. It turns out that there's a grocery list of issues that need to be addresses .. some minor that we knew about like the front passenger window motor was bad and some major like the lower intake manifold gasket is leaking and need to be fixed before coolant leaks into the engine! I read through the estimate to figure out what we can afford to do next (other than the engine destroying gasket being replaced) and I'm thinking that all of these prices seem insanely high .. not that I'm a mechanic of course but I can change my own oil and spent lots of time in shops helping my dad repair his "classic" cars and I know it shouldn't cost $175 to replace a fuel filter .. Mr. M and I did one last summer on the Escort and the filter was about $10 and took less than an hour .. so $175? I don't think so! And don't get me started on the tires! $400 to install 4 basic all season tires that are less than $50 per tire retail? You can take tires to Walmart and have them mounted and balanced for $7.50 a tire!

Anyway! I started calling around to local mechanics and happened to talk to the service manager at our local Chevy Dealer and was surprised to find that the estimate we have is ridiculously marked up over the price that the dealership is charging! Over 150% on some items and on the "big, must do now or your engine will blow up" we're talking $200 more than the dealership! Amazing what an hour on the internet looking prices of parts and tires and calling a few "second opinions" can save you! So Mr. M is dropping off the van at the dealership on Monday, picking up the courtesy car and a GM certified mechanic is going to keep our grocery getter/kid hauler in fine running condition! I certainly never would have thought that the dealership would be the least expensive for repairs!

Moral of the story? Just like life you can't take anything at face value and must trust your instincts .. if something seems fishy, or over priced, it just might be!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Whew .. don't you like it when the bills are LESS than you thought!

Whew .. just got our electric bill for October and it was less than I'd expected! I was concerned having electric heat that our bill would be huge but it was actually about the same as we'd been paying this summer before we moved!

I was also concerned since when we set up the service I looked in to the Budget Plan, where you pay the same amount each month, and since the amount you pay is an average of the usage from the year before and our payment would have been around $200!!! So our bill is $70 and of course we won't be signing up for the budget plan this year!

The interesting thing is when I log on to my account online it tells me the kilowatts we used compared to the usage from the same month last year and we used 51 fewer than the previous owners .. how can that be? What did these people do all day sit in an 85 degree house with every light plugged in?? Perhaps it was colder last October or maybe it's just that we're out of the house more than I realize .. oh well .. now to bring it up to Mr. M and try to explain that just because we can doesn't mean we should set the heat to 75 degrees in every room!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Inexpensive Organics

I've just discovered Now Foods line of organics .. and I'm not sure why I hadn't seen them before but while at my local organic market I bought a bag of Quinoa, which we like way better than brown rice, and golden flax seed meal which we add to just about everything to get an extra boost of omega 3, protein and fiber .. plus you can sub for oils or eggs in baked goods (with a little extra water) .. Both the quinoa and flax were about $3 for one pound package which in this area where these items are usually available at the supermarkets is a good price! I don't know what the difference is between the Now brand and others but I'd bet its like the store brand at the supermarket .. no advertising or fancy packaging costs to get added into the retail price!

Plus the owner of the market is on a mission to find organic dried whole milk for me .. which I don't even know if it exists, we've been giving the kids NIDO powdered milk mixed with warm water at bedtime (M1 calls it "cozy milk") but I'd like to find an organic powder that doesn't require me to buy 10 lbs of it at a time! I've found some on Amazon but I'd rather buy it at a local shop even if its something that comes on a truck since most likely it would be coming with other items rather than just itself if I were to order it .. save a bit of trucking that way!

I'd like to make this a series .. posting info about different organics that we use on a regular basis .. I know when we started to make the shift to organics and natural foods it was really confusing to find "cheap" organics. I'm hopeful, however, that since people are becoming educated about the benefits of natural foods, the supplies for inexpensive products will become available!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chef's Catalog has some great deals on kitcheny stuff .. and free shipping on any order through Nov. 5 ..

Christmas Cookie Cutters $1.99

Good for kids sandwiches .. the girls love the Lunchables but I don't like the processed food in them so we make our own .. I think it would be fun to have star shaped cheese and turkey!
They're plastic so it would be safe for them to use when we make cookies too!

Twist and Chop Onion Chopper $2.99

The big bag of organic onions I got from one of the local farms here is full of onions that like to make me cry :( .. I love onions so this might just be worth the $3

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker $2.99

Includes recipes to make heart shaped Ice Cream Sandwiches! .. or frozen yogurt when we make that with our new yogurt maker as soon as it arrives .. we ordered one from amazon
last Friday when it was marked to $10 and I can't wait to try it out!

Here's my order .. with the sale price and the regular price!

Christmas Cookie Cutter - Star $1.99 $10
Christmas Cookie Cutter - Round $1.99 $10
Twist and Chop $2.99 $20
Ice Cream Sandwich Maker $2.99 $20

TOTAL: $9.96 $60

So I saved around $50! .. Not that I would have bought this stuff at regular price but it's stuff that will be used .. the cookie cutters on an almost daily basis for sandwiches and pancakes and the like, the twist and chop just as much if not more, and for $3 the sandwich maker will be fun for special treats!

Discounted Lands End Merchandise

Just wanted to pass along a link to the "Overstocks" section of the Lands End website. For anyone that isn't familiar with Lands End its an outdoor clothing catalog company similar to LL Bean
(which is another favorite of mine!) Usually there stuff is pretty pricey, alright it's downright expensive compared to finding it in a thrift store or consignment shop! But like so many other things you get what you pay for .. the quality is fantastic and I like the simple timeless designs, especially for the kids clothes!

My two favorite parts of the Overstocks section are "On the Counter" where they list clearance items on Saturday and discount them through the week and "Not Quite Perfect"which would normally turn me off but they tell you exactly why it's not perfect! Like on this toddler dress it tells you in the description that it's off color, no big deal, especially since we have 2 of these dresses and they are fantastic but getting too small for M1, thankfully M2 is starting to want to wear dresses all the time! And while $9 is more than I usually would spend on a dress for the kids (or me!) I know that it'll be worn quite a bit and by both girls, so I think it's worth it!

There's some good discounts on LL Bean's site too, but that'll be a post for another time!

Monday, October 29, 2007


So, the few weeks or really the last few months I've been debating on what do with M1 (our oldest she's 3 1/2) in regards to school. Before we moved it was pretty much decided that we'd be sending her to a Montessori charter school in the local public school district. However, since we've moved the ONLY school option is the local public K-12 school. This is the type of school I went to and graduated from and while the class sizes are small and there's a lovely atmosphere to these small schools I remember being horribly bored and not really liking school at all. I really don't want to pass this on to my kids. My ultimate goal is for them to be "lifelong learners" and enjoy discovering new things through their lives. I feel that the public schools in general and although the school district here is small I don't think it would be a good fit for our family. It's literally the only choice though, there are no private schools, no charter schools .. it's either public school or catholic school. We're not catholic or religious at all, so what then, home school? It seems that's the natural choice and I think there has to be some reason I'm so resistant to sending my girls to public school. So, I start to research homeschooling and what's the deal with that (my Seinfeld impression for the day, BTW are the Bee Movie promos driving anyone else crazy?) and it's insane the options that are available out there .. everything to literally have school at home with whole grades of texts and workbooks and teacher's editions to this whole "un-school" school of thought, which while has some good fundamentals it's a little to out there for us! I instantly loved the ideas of montessori when I first learned of the method and in the process of learning more about montessori at home ..

So I'll keep updating on where we're at with this whole home school thing! Half the time I think I'm insane for thinking that I can handle something like this, especially when most parents I talk to here can't wait until their kids are old enough for school .. but I realized just now writing this that it's not so much about the structure and organization and the extra work as its about teaching my kids about the world around us and how to interact with it .. its about snuggling and reading together and learning to read .. and how natural is that?!?

I realize that we're about 2 years away from having to legally have any of this decided, which is probally why Mr. M looks at me like I'm crazy for even thinking of this now .. even though he's the only that's always amazed at what M1's able to do! Any comments or advice from those in the know would be wonderful .. I feel so overwhelmed at the moment!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Homemade, All Natural Laundry Soap

For about 2 years now I've been making laundry soap. It's cheaper, doesn't irritate our skin, leaves our clothes much fresher longer and doesn't build up inside the washer. This recipe makes a nice powder that dissolves easily and smells nice! It's made with all natural ingredients but I would recommend mixing it in a well ventilated area away from the kids!

1 bar Fels Naptha Soap ($1.25)
1/2 76 oz. box Borax ($1.75)
1 box Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda ($2.25)

Grate the soap using cheese grater .. I have one I picked up a thrift store that's only used for soap! Mix all ingredients in a large container, I got a plastic cookie jar with a screw on top from a dollar store that works well .. I dump everything in and shake .. then wait a bit to let the dust settle.

To use in washer: Add 1/8 cup to washer as it's filling, swish a bit to dissolve, and add laundry. This batch usually lasts us 2-3 months, even with a 3 1/2 year old that loves to play dress up 3-4 times a day!

It works for me!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cost breakdown for Venison

Here's a cost breakdown for the deer that my husband "bagged" this weekend:

  • $15 -- License (he bought a "combo" license for $30 which allows him to get 2 deer, he'll get another so I figure $15)
  • $3 or so -- The arrow and broadhead used to kill the deer .. both were bought after deer season last year on clearance, he did have the arrow "refletched" at a sportsman shop for $2 .. it was a clean kill so both can be used again
  • $2 -- Supplies to package the meat for the freezer, bought on sale and with coupons of course!
So figure around $20 .. we, with help from his parents, (you really need help!) processed 15 lbs of ground meat, 7 packs of tenderloin steaks (1 meals worth per pack about a pound) and 13 packs (again 1 use per pack) of steaks, plus the true tenderloins and back strap we had for dinner on Saturday and the pound that was made into jerky. So about 35 lbs of lean, all natural meat for $20 or less than $.60 per pound! The cheapest that Ground Sirloin ever is in our area is $3/pound, natural beef is about $1 more .. so just the savings on the ground meat is over $36 .. and even that comparison isn't entirely fair since ground venison is much leaner than even ground sirloin .. in fact most directions for processing ground venison has you add some sort of fat, usually suet .. we don't however since we don't tend to actually make burgers out of the meat we don't find it necessary.

Whew .. what a busy summer!

After a crazy few months that involved moving, not once but twice (that's the military for you!) we're finally getting settled down and into a normal life instead of one of transition. Our new home is wonderful, set in nature where we don't have to worry about traffic going past our house (3 cars in one day is the record so far!)

One of the main reasons for choosing the home we did is the abundance of nature around us, I like my kids being able to explore different habitats .. a big plus for my husband is the 10 acres that surround us and the fact there are numerous deer that like to drink from our pond every night. Hunting can be a touchy subject for some environmentally respectful people who think its wrong to kill animals for human gain or for sport. Of course there are negatives to hunting, after all another living being is losing a life .. but the benefits are far greater in my opinion. The deer population is closely monitored each year by the Department of Natural Resources and there are only so many licenses that are issued. This protects the deer population from becoming too thin, or more importantly too populous so they starve over the winter or venture more into the "human world" and are killed by cars. It's also a protection for the hunters and their families that consume the animals .. The animals are tested for diseases such as TB and those areas where TB is found in the deer are part of the annual hunt.

We strongly believe that it is wrong to hunt purely for sport .. My husband gets a "combo" license that allows him to take 2 deer each year. He's already shot a small buck with a bow & arrow and we've spent the weekend processing the meat into our freezer (I'll break down the pricing in a bit as this is truly frugal) .. this animal has given it's life to feed our family for the next year, this is something we respect and honor. The next deer he shoots will be processed for his sisters or his parents to give their church's food bank. You can also donate meat through the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger. You just drop off your deer at a participating processor and it's processed and donated to food banks in Michigan. He gets to hunt (a very primal instinct), get a bit of exercise (tracking and dragging the animal), provide meat for his family and others and help keep the deer population under control (to prevent starvation, ect) .. I know not everyone agrees that hunting is a positive activity but I would rather see an animal lose it's life in a quick manner that provides food for humans than to see it starve or hit by a car .. just my 2 cents!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Update on DNA altering sodas ..

Dr. Leonid Gavrilov over at Longevity Science has an interesting post debunking the story floating around about sodium benzoate and the links to aging. Apparently, the research quoted in the story is over 8 years old and is somewhat misquoted in the news reports .. surprise, surprise huh!?! My thought is soda is still not a good, beneficial substance to be ingesting but sodium benzoate isn't as harmful as some would like you to believe!

Another reason to pass on the Sodas

Over at Parent Dish is an interesting post regarding the use of the preservative Sodium Benzoate found in many soft drinks. Apparently it can alter DNA structure and has been linked to degenerate DNA diseases like Parkinson's. Yikes! When combined with the high fructose corn syrup and acids that rot away tooth enamel .. not to mention the complete lack of anything nutritionally sound .. makes you want to spit out every sip ever taken!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Up Next

I have been so behind on just about everything but life is looking like it might just settle down enough that I can start concentrating on blogging again .. soon ... I hope! I'm going to put together some online resources that I use or have found to be helpful with this whole "natural" living thing. I almost to the point of refusing to call it an organic lifestyle since "organic" has become such a buzz word that I think it's lost a lot of meaning. ... I find it funny to think that it's only been that last 50 years or so that we haven't been living organically. Pre WWII most people grew their own food, used "natural" cleaning methods and understood basics of ecology. Its funny when I talk to my grandmother about making my own laundry soap using Fels Naptha and she remembers her mother using it for stains on her father's shirts! The cycle of life I suppose!

The Retro Housewife!

For all of those with stay at home mom guilt .. check out the Retro Housewife.

After browsing RH for awhile a memory of Freshman English flooded back. I think it was the obligatory "What I want to be when I grow up" essay. Mine was about how I wanted to be a caretaker of my family .. take care of my husband, our children and our home. My feminist teacher graded the writing an 'A' but made an example of me .. saying that I anti-feminist, a traitor to my sex and wondered why such an intelligent person would aspire to so little. Funny how a 14 year old could cause a grown woman to be so defensive, huh? I was literally speechless for a few minutes (not an easy task for me!) and finally retorted that I was aspiring have the best and most important occupation in the world and it needed no degree, no career wardrobe and no daycare. Needless to say it was a tough year but it taught me to be tolerant of others ways of life.

I honestly believe that not every woman is cut out to be a full time homemaker. The glory of the feminist movement is that we have a choice. Bottom line is that each mother, whether they work at home, work from home, or outside of the home, loves and cares for her children and is parenting her children the best way she knows. I have felt (and heard on occasion) that my choice to be a full time homemaker is one of laziness and I have nothing interesting to contribute. I think all mothers, regardless of their situation, have moments where we question if we're doing what's best for our kids. I think that I'd be able to get my kids more toys or my husband would be able to get a newer car if I were working a "normal" job. But my kids don't need another toy (just another one to be picked up!) and my husband's car is perfectly fine. They need me and that is a fantastic feeling!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Organic Shopping and it's terms

I fully admit to not buying Organic as much as possible which is part of the reason I love Mission Organic. I think it can be rather confusing to figure out what all the labeling is all about .. what's the difference between Free-Range and Organic .. and why does it matter? So I did some digging and have come up with a few "definitions"

  • ORGANIC -- For produce it means that it was grown without pesticides or synthetic herbicides. For dairy, beef and poultry it means animals were fed organic feed and were not given hormones or antibiotics. Watch for the "natural" label, especially on poultry, FDA does not allow for the use of hormones on poultry so pretty much all chicken is labeled "natural" but doesn't not mean it's organic. "Certified Organic" shows that production methods were inspected by an independent party. For packaged foods like cereal and snacks there are 3 USDA approved labels: "100% Organic" which must contain all organic ingredients .. "Organic" for products with at least 95% organic ingredients .. and "Made with organic ingredients" for products with at least 70% percent organic ingredients. For our family it's not exactly frugal to buy organic all the time .. but I think it's still very important to do so .. Meat and dairy is at the top of my list that must be organic .. packaged goods are a bit different .. I am not a huge fan of the preservatives and sweeteners used in about 75% of the snacks and cereals and mixes out there, so I'll make my own or I just don't buy them. As for produce, see "locally grown"
  • Locally Grown -- Used for product that is grown in the same region as the store .. but the exact definition will vary from store to store .. for the most part it seems to mean the produce has travelled less than a day from the farm to the market. I tend to look for locally grown produce over organic .. mainly from growers in my area that I know practice organic methods but haven't been "certified" (which I gather is a rather expensive process). The other main benefit, other than it's fresher, is that there are less fossil fuels used in transportation.
  • Free-Range -- I think is a gimmicky term for the most part. Generally, it means that the animal was raised with access to the outdoors. BUT (here's the gimmick) the label is only USDA regulated for chickens raised for consumption, not egg laying chickens AND only 5 minutes a day of open-air access is sufficient to qualify for the free-range claim. It boils down to the fact that you need to trust where you're getting your food from.
  • Certified Humane -- This is one I didn't know existed. This label indicates that animals raised for meat, poultry or eggs were raised in humane conditions, including being able to "engage in normal behaviors" and had "sufficient space to live". Apparently Whole Foods is about to launch a similar line of foods with the label "Animal Compassionate". I think this is what "Free-Range" was meant to be and is what most people think of when they think "Free-Range".
  • Hormone-Free -- Like the "natural" label on chicken I mentioned earlier. This means that no hormones were used in production (what a lovely way to describe raising animals). There is no independent group that verifies these claims over what is required by the USDA, which does not allow for the use of hormones on poultry and pork .. but does allow certain hormones to be used on cows for consumption and dairy cows.
  • Trans Fat -- The worst of all fats!!! Trans fats are found in food that are fried in (ie chips) or contain partially hydrogenated oils. Consumption of these fats not only raise bad cholesterol but lowers good cholesterol. Most of the "convenience" food products on the shelves contain trans fats .. everything from cake and muffin mixes to crackers, pop tarts, ect., especially if the product is inexpensive. Hydrogenation turns liquid vegetable oils (mainly soybean) into solid fats using a chemical process. Solid fats are easier and less expensive for producers to use and were at one time believed to be healthier than using solid animal fat (neither is healthy). Watch out for products labeled "trans fat free", a product can claim that if it contains less that 1 gram of trans fats per serving but it does have to list the partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. I avoid any label that lists partially hydrogenated anything like the plaque. Any recipe for "convenience" foods like baking mixes can be found using a simple Google search .. CDKitchen.Com has lots of great user submitted ones!
  • No Sugar Added -- Must not contain sugar, natural sugar that is. However, these products are often sweetened with artificial, chemical sweeteners like aspartame or Splenda or with the use of sugar alcohols such as malitol, sorbitol or xylitol. All these in addition to being unnatural, can negativity affect the digestive system if consumed regularly. Watch out for the "naturally sweetened" label as well .. most companies consider high fructose corn syrup a "natural" sweetener. I avoid most products with artificial sweeteners or any thing ending in "itol" and look for things sweetened with honey, honey solids, or fruit.
SO .. bottom line time .. To get the most bang for your organic buck buy organic where it matters most .. where your food is most likely to connect with the chemicals that are used on our food with conventional methods. Meat and dairy are the first prior ties (animals are given hormones and antibiotics that we in turn ingest through meat or milk) followed very closely by produce that you don't peel (like apples, lettuce, ect .) fruits like oranges or pineapple where you remove the skin are less likely to contain pesticides or other chemicals. Buy local when it's possible for most everything .. get to know the people or companies that grow, raise or sell you your food.

Mission Organic 2010 .. Join the Mission

The Organic Center, who was disappointed by the fact that organic food still makes up about 3% of total food sales, created Mission Organic 2010. This campaign aims to get the message out about not only the health benefits but the ecological benefits of "going organic" .. and makes it easy to make smarter choices. On the website you can "publicly announce" your commitment to the campaign by saying you'll make at least a tenth of your eating choices organic .. Overwhelmed by the whole idea or think you have to clean out your entire pantry? It's "Easy as 1 2 3" according to the Organic Starter Kit that comes as a free download when you sign the pledge!

1. Purchase 1 organic item for every ten in your shopping cart.

2. Make 1 organic meal out of every ten you prepare.

3. Ask 10 friends to join you!

According to the Center, if the goal is reached 98 million daily servings of water will be pesticide free and antibiotics and growth hormones will disappear from 20 million daily serving of milk .. and that's just the beginning!

Monday, February 26, 2007

A few "recipes"

Just thought I share a few of my favorite frugal and natural cleaning "recipes"

All Purpose Cleaner:
Mix equal parts vinegar and water (I like to boil and cool tap water to add to prevent bacteria buildup) in a spray bottle .. use for everything, counters, bathrooms, windows (dry with crumpled newspaper) there's no need to rinse and fixtures will shine .. the vinegar smell will go away as it dries.

Laundry Soap:
I've been able to find everything at local stores .. however, Meijer is the only store that carries the washing soda. Of course Amazon carries it here. Even with pretty heavy laundry this seems to last 2-3 months and doesn't take up too much room.

one bar Fels Naptha soap (about $1)
one box (55 oz) Washing Soda (about $3)
half of a 76 oz box of Borax (the whole box is around $3.50)

*Grate the Fels Naptha (I use the finest side of a box grater I found at a resale shop for $.50 that is just for this purpose .. not for food!)
*Combine the grated soap, Washing Soda and Borax in a large container .. I use a candy jar with a screw on top.
* Use about a 1/8 cup per wash. Be sure to add before you add the water and "swoosh" it in the machine to dissolve.

Fabric Softner:

I simply fill a Downy Ball slightly past the line with plain old vinegar. Works great and helps keep the washer clean too!

For scouring / oven cleaning / showers ect ..

Wet the surface with water or your all purpose cleaner and sprinkle with baking soda .. Scrub away without the worry of scratching anything!

Drain Cleaner:

After cleaning the trap of hair or other debris (a bent metal hanger works great) Pour a bit of baking powder down the drain followed by a bit of vinegar and super hot water!


Vinegar uses and tips: Vinegartips.Com
Baking soda uses and tips: ArmandHammer.Com
Downy Ball:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

First Post

Well, here goes my first venture into blogging. I've gained so much from reading others blogs that I hope to pass on the same to others. I'm going to try to provide an account of our life and pass on things of interest to me in hopes it will spark something in someone else .. I'm not trying to preach or convert anyone to anything but maybe this will help those realize that it's not hard or expensive to healthier and more "down to earth".

A little more background on me .. I'm the oldest of 7 and grew up in rural Northern Michigan and being "close to nature" was only natural :) It's all around and without the distractions of television and computers my sisters and I spent the majority of our time exploring woods, beaches and creeks in the summer and see the changes that a northern Michigan winter can bring. Now as a mother, my kids are outside as much as possible and have been from the beginnings of their lives .. Maddy has loved to play in the dirt and snow since she could crawl and as she approaches 3 years old she's learning to understand why we recycle and why the brightly colored, processed sugar filled boxes of cereal with Spongebob on the front are as we say in our house "Not good for kids". I love that she tells her sister to put a piece of paper in the recycle can and not in the trash .. It's been harder to convince my husband who grew up with so many delicious goodies and who loves the processed, canned foods like spaghettios and potted ham .. but as we make creative subtitutions for the junky food we all like he's more and more into and really likes the ideas but the practice is a little harder for him.

Not that's I'm perfect .. I'm the first to admit my favorite food is chocolate in any form and I like to drink a Coke now and again.. and I have to confess to using disposable diapers. But as Rome wasn't built in one day neither is a completly green family. Each step to a healthier alternative from what ever "bad" food or "bad" cleaning product or "bad" whatever is a step to a better life for us all.