Fall at Home

After a very sad week, I am back home and settling in for fall and the upcoming holidays.  I always crave baked goods and hot drinks this time of year, but have not had much of either this year since I am trying to lose the last of the baby weight.

Every time I lose five pounds I buy a small treat for myself.

DSC01769.jpg

Some cleaning products and some twine.

DSC01771.jpg

Is it sad how excited I was for these to arrive?

The children have been having plenty of sweet treats.

DSC01777.jpg

DSC01780.jpg

DSC01779.jpg

And I whipped up a cute little pillow for the living room.

DSC01763.jpg

The kids are in charge of all Halloween decorations this year.  My middle daughter saw a picture in a magazine of a “haunted porch” and is determined to recreate it.  They are slowly haunting up the place.

DSC01778.jpg

DSC01774.jpg

DSC01781.jpg

I have only set out mums and pumpkins on the porch…

DSC01684.jpg

DSC01701.jpg

And changed out the placemats for fall colored ones…  And left the rest of the decorating to the kids.

DSC01785 (2).jpg

I have been busy enjoying the company of a little friend.

DSC01773.jpg

In a cozy spot for just the two us.

DSC01766.jpg

Enjoying the fresh air while we can.

IMG_5454.jpg


Planning a vegetable garden that makes sense

For years, and I mean years, I planted vegetable gardens that were complete nonsense.  I would look through seed catalogs, choose far too many plants, plant them too close together, and have tiny harvests of a million different vegetables.  Also I lived in the suburbs where there was too much shade and no bees.  Also I had my husband build raised beds, purchase soil, and generally spend so much on my hobby that there was no way I could come out ahead, even had I planned my garden well.

So it is now fall, the ending of gardening season, with nothing to dream of but next year.  I have improved in my planning a lot, but still find that this time of year is the best for planning.  What did I need more of? What was timed poorly?  How was my spacing and my aisle widths?  What did I end up giving away because there was too much?  And what varieties have earned a spot for next year?

So in the spirit of planning, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1.  Look at your grocery lists, not the seed catalog.

Plant what you eat.  Sounds obvious.  It is not.  Why are are there so many sample plans with rows of turnips and rutabagas? Why?  I am proud if you if you really eat these things, but if you don’t, please do not plant them.  I am tempted every year by beautiful summer squash, but… I think it is gross.  So does my family.  Same goes for Lima beans and sweet potatoes.  I remember once reading a book where a character makes a salad with beets on top and all the other characters like it.  I planted beets, we ate one, it was okay.  The others languished.  Look at what you pay for at the store! (For us this means lettuce, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes, extra tomatoes for canning, bell peppers, jalapeños, extra peppers for canning, sugar snap beans, green beans, corn, cucumbers, extra cucumber for pickles, spinach, cilantro, basil, and a lot of watermelon.  We buy our potatoes because they do not do well in our humidity and I have nowhere suitable to store a years supply.)

DSC01723.jpg

 

     2. Plant enough of one thing to be self sufficient in it for the season.

This might means reducing the number of varieties in order to get a usable amount of one thing.  What will you do with twenty green beans a week?  Nothing.  Plant enough so that you do not buy any green beans for the season and you eat them as a side dish regularly.  For us this means a thirty foot row, half planted late April and half planted late June.   If you just want tomatoes for fresh eating, two or three plants should be plenty.   Some things will need to be planted in succession to avoid being unusable.  In the spring and fall, I plant small amounts of lettuce and spinach in trays every week.  They are something that I want a little of, bit by bit.  What would I do with thirty heads of romaine, all ready to eat in one day?  Pay careful attention to how much, and when, each plant will produce.  Plant enough so that you aren’t buying it at all; plant at the right time so you are actually eating it.

 

DSC01754.jpg

3. Obey the seed packet

It truly tells you all you need to know.  Most gardening books have a first half of generic advice that boils down to “fertilize and weed your garden”, and then a second half with information of specific varieties.  The second half reads like pages of seed packets.  There  is so much information on those little envelopes, and you really should listen to it!  The most important thing is how far apart to plant your seeds and how to thin so that they have enough room to reach their full potential.  Planting things too close does NOT result in more to harvest.  EVER.  If the seed company, whose motivation is to have you use a lot of seeds, wants to you to space them 12 inches apart, trust me that 12 inches is the absolute minimum distance they should be.  Too much competition for water and nutrients will hurt all of them and you will wonder why nothing is turning out.  Take a ruler with you to the garden.  Also do not plant them 12 inches apart to start with, thinking you can skip thinning.  No.  Part of thinning is that you are selecting the strongest plants.  Just do what the packet says!

4.  Work in the garden every day

Water and plant in the mornings.  Weed and harvest in the afternoons.  Don’t touch it when it’s wet with dew or rain.  Just stay out of it.  If something is growing too slowly, feed it with some granular fertilizer worked in around the plant and then watered in.  Set yourself a schedule for weeding, one row every three days, or 100 weeds a day, or whatever you can see yourself sticking to.  It needs constant attention, but only a few minutes a day.  Take your older children to help you.  They can snack as they go.  Just get out there and keep an eye on things.

 

DSC01753.jpg

5.  Make it beautiful

Keep things in nice tidy rows with wide and comfortable aisles.  Make it so that it were visible from the road, you would slow down and gaze at it in longing.  Plant flowers that will beautify your home and the garden itself.  If there is room for beautiful pumpkins, plant them.  (Keep your herbs out of there, by the way, and put them in containers or a separate herb garden.  Their variety makes things look messy, and it is nice to have them somewhere else, right outside your door.) Let your garden be a source of pride.  It will draw you to it by being pretty and you will love keeping it up.  Keep it as weed free as you can so that you feel accomplished, not defeated, when you see it.

 

DSC01749.jpg

 


The hard truth about saving money

Isn’t it funny how there are so many articles, books, blog posts, etc., about saving money?  It is the simplest thing in the world.  Stop spending so much, or make more money.  The end.

Just like losing weight. Stop eating so much, or get more exercise.

And yet somehow both of these goals have spawned huge industries, everything from books on saving money (that you have to BUY), and diet food (that you have to EAT).

The standard advice on money saving is things like stop buying meals out, shop at thrift stores, start a garden, bake your own bread, buy on sale, use coupons.  Not only is this rather obvious, it all involves BUYING things.

DSC01620.jpg

Don’t go rummaging for junk for your house at thrift stores instead of an expensive place.  Just stop buying it all together.  Gardening is a wonderful hobby that brings real joy, but I am willing to bet you are not going into debt buying carrots and tomatoes.  If your children have literally nothing to wear, I suppose getting them clothes at a thrift store is good advice.  But buying them simple clothing, buying them only what they truly need, is not the real problem in your budget, I would guess, even if you buy it new.

DSC01417.jpg

What we are really looking for when we search for information on these topics is, how can I make this thing, this hard thing that I know I must do, easier?  How can I get this done without the pain, without the work, without feeling the pinch and the hunger?

DSC01450 (1).jpg

That is where the “money saving” advice becomes useful, even if it is answering a different question.  Cloth diapers do indeed cost less in the long run over disposable (but still more than not having a baby).  A garden grown tomato costs less than a store bought one (if you garden wisely, not filling up expensive raised beds with expensive soil), but still more than skipping the tomato all together.  I am ABSOLUTELY not saying to not have babies or tomatoes in your life, just that they still cost money no matter how they get here.

DSC01624.jpg

So we are trying to live a life of joy, a life full of babies and tomatoes, and we want to know how to spend the least amount of money doing it.  That is the question I am answering with this blog.  Recording the small joys.  Building a life of contentment that over time, has made me able to leave Starbucks, Target, and Panera in the dust and never look back.  I am happy here, at home.  It took me a while to get there.  I started baking, gardening, chicken keeping, etc. to save money, and if I were to really calculate it,    I’m sure I have saved quite a bit.  But that is not the REAL savings.  What it really did was make me happy with my life, give me a purpose, in a way that buying bread, tomatoes, and eggs never did.   It keeps me away from the constant wanting, fills the hole and the boredom that mindless shopping and driving around never could.

DSC01491.jpg

Saving money. We all know how to do it.  We just don’t know how to do it without being miserable.

And to rephrase that thought, what we are saying is, I am unhappy when I don’t spend money.  That is something that no book can fix.  You must find your own way, your own contentment. (Although I am happy to use this space to record mine.)  And that is the hard truth about saving money.


What I Wish I Had Known About Cloth Diapers From the Beginning

 

DSC01531.jpg

 

When I was pregnant with Maddie, my first baby, I knew I wanted to cloth diaper.  I didn’t know anyone else who did it.  I’m not even sure how I heard about it.  Probably some weird eco-friendly baby guide.  I registered for pocket diapers, a brand called Oh Katy which is since out of business but very similar to Fuzzibuns and other popular pockets on the market today.  No one bought them for me.  Everyone thought I was weird.  I got them for myself after she was born.  I congratulated myself on my thriftiness and how hard I was working to save our family money.

Well.

My husband hated them, thought they stunk up the laundry room and refused to use them, (not that he used disposables either).  They could be folded up to fit a tiny baby but the folds made them bulky and her clothes didn’t fit right and I could barely buckle her into a car seat.  At about nine months they started leaking around the legs and had to have the elastic redone.  I have no idea how to do such a thing, so my mom worked on them for me, taking them two at a time to her house.  The microfiber seemed stinky even after a ton of hot washes, and yes I used the expensive Charlie’s Soap detergent and dried them outside.

DSC01534.jpg

I switched to disposables for overnight, and for outings, and then eventually switched altogether after her first birthday.

Now on my third cloth diaper baby I wish I had known what I know now.

1. Prefolds until potty training

They are so much better than the microfiber pockets. No stuffing, no snaps, no stickiness after washing and much less leaking.  You will need different sizes of diapers and covers, but it is still less expensive than a whole suite of one size diapers that still don’t fit a newborn.  I still have the first diapers.  They still look great except for the leg elastic.  I will use them during potty training when their leakiness will be an advantage.

2. Use powdered Tide

I spent four years (two years for each of my first two babies) buying Charlie’s Soap which did pretty much nothing special.  I had read that not using an approved detergent such as Charlie’s or Green Mountain would void the warranty.  The warranty?  Were they thousands of dollars? Were they going  to spontaneously combust?  I just can’t fathom making a warranty claim on a diaper.  And not only was the the Charlie’s soap expensive, it did not clean nearly as well as Tide.  They spend millions on developing enzymes and cleaning agents.  It is going to clean better than an all natural powder.

3.  Use Dawn and bleach sparingly

I strip with Dawn once every other month or so.  This means washing with a tiny squirt of Dawn in the washing machine and then washing three times in hot water with no soap to rinse all the residue out.  The Dawn helps strip the diapers of any built up detergent residue that can hurt how absorbent the diapers are.

I use a splash of bleach only if I am washing on a cloudy or rainy day.  Otherwise I dry in the sun to bleach out stains (yes this really and truly works), freshen, and disinfect anything that escaped the hot water and detergent.

Doing these three things changed everything about cloth diapering for me.

DSC01529.jpg

I love them now.  It’s not just the money saving aspect.  I love the routine of caring for them and I  think they look cute.  They are very little work for a lot of reward.

DSC01485.jpg