Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Garden is IN!

While I realize that having a vegetable garden at the front of your house is not looked highly upon, I persisted and the bed is finally in (per HOA regulations). It was a lot of work to dig out all that dirt and put a raised bed into the ground to please the HOA. Don't you think it would look better raised and painted white to match the siding like I had originally planned? Yeah, I know I need to get over it but it certainly smarts. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to spruce up the yard to make it look more acceptable?

Here are my babies basking in the sunlight. I had weird germination rates among my seedlings and ended up with a bunch of broccoli, almost no spinach and one type of lettuce didn't germinate at all. Today I am going to start my tomatoes and I already direct seeded spinach, vit mache, peas, and scallions.

We also bought supplies to make our worm composter and I bought our worms off of Ebay. I am hoping they will arrive this week so that I can start composting ASAP.

As far as the budget is concerned, we budgeted $200 for this project

  • $45 went to seeds and starting supplies (these should last 2+ years)
  • $42.31 for general gardening supplies
  • $110 to build the bed and fill it with "Mel's Mix"
  • $11 for supplies for the worm composter
  • $30 for worms
Needess to say we went over budget because of the vermiculite and we had a hard time locating compost. Vermiculite is $24 for 4 cu. ft. and we only needed 6 so we have a bunch left over. Does anyone want to buy some discounted vermiculite? It makes a lovely soil mix when combined with equal parts peat moss and compost. ;)

Money, or the Lack Thereof

As you have probably noticed, I have been struggling with budgeting issues as of late. For some reason I cannot get my budget to balance and it always seems to be because of food. I am a sucker for food so trying to stay within the food budget is KILLING me.  Actually, it isn't killing me, but it is killing the idea of a budget.

When Andrew and I were in college and it was just the two of us, we spent $200/month on food and that was back in the days before my endocrine disorder diagnosis and we were eating a lot of processed foods. Now that I actually cook and make many of the things we eat from scratch, I struggle with not being able to keep my grocery bill to that level.

While grocery prices have gone up, I do wonder if it is possible to still eat well and spend less. I have had a lot of people say that we are already on a very small food budget but I recently ran into a number of bloggers who, for various reasons, were eating on a budget of $1 per person/day. In case you struggle with math that is only $21/week for a family of 3! Here is the thing though, the bloggers that I linked to are vegan, another blogger was a vegetarian. It seems like if you want to live on a budget THAT small you need to be vegetarian and in my opinion, being a vegetarian is no way to live a healthy life (no offense to the vegetarians out there). Other people with families are doing it for $50 dollars a week, which I think would be more doable for our family, but I still wonder what things we would have to give up.

So, here is my challenge (you can remain anonymous). Tell me: How much do you spend on groceries per month for your family? With that amount, how well do you feel you are eating? How little do you think you could spend? What sacrifices would that require you to make? I would love to get some ideas of what others are doing so even if you eat totally different than my family, tell me how you eat. Are you a family that eats out a lot, cooks most meals from scratch etc.?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This Weeks Flea Market Finds

On Tuesday of this week my friend Amber invited me to join her at Roots which is a farmers market/flea market/auction in nearby Manheim. I had been hearing about "Ruts" for a long time so I was very eager to go and see what all the fuss was about. While the super crowded food market area was not really my cup o'tea the flea market was a blast! My finds this week consist of a fruit bowl ($1), a neat vintage flower pin ($1) and a Pfaltzgraff soup tureen ($10). How awesome are these?! My favorite is the soup tureen as I have been looking for one for some time now. We like soup at the Whitlock Manor and serving it in a stock pot was just not cutting it for my June Cleaver sensibilities.

Speaking of June Cleaver, here is a lovely quote that I thought fit me to a "T":

Eddie Haskell: Gee, your kitchen always looks so clean.
June Cleaver: Why, thank you, Eddie.
Eddie Haskell: My mother says it looks as though you never do any work in here.

I imagine that her reply would be something like this: "Why of course I don't do any work in here, Eddie. What I do is magic!" Ahhhh, magic. That is what I call my new food processor.

Friday, March 19, 2010

March Madness

No, I do not mean the March Madness that involves basketball, I mean the March Madness that has enveloped the Whitlock estate. First, I have been working on a project for my church that has literally taken hours upon hours of measuring, cutting, pinning, sewing, cursing, more cutting, sewing and even more cursing and it is yet to be finished. The best part: I am teaching six, 8-11 year old girls how to applique. They are wonderful girls but I think that some of them have attention spans shorter than fish. In any case the project should be done soon and I can post pictures of the crafty-craftiness and forget all the hours (and the cursing) that it took to get there.

Now, for the biggest madness of them all, THE GARDEN. First of all PA has the worst soil in the universe. It is mostly slate and shale mixed with a little tiny bit of dirt. It took me an hour to dig one hole. So today Andrew and I worked to move the three "rhododendrons" to the back of the house which is shady and which they will like better. When I was moving them I noticed a plant tag buried underneath the root ball and I thought "oh cool, after we move these I can see which variety we have." La de dah, we relocated the "rhododendrons" and all was swell. Andrew built the frame for the garden box and I sat down to check out the plant tag. The builder told us that they were rhododendrons; everyone thought they looked like rhododendrons which prefer shade; the plant tag, however says this: Otto Luyken Laurel which is not a rhododendron. Not only that but laurels prefer sun. And so, all of that work probably for nothing. They might die back there, but maybe I will be able to give them to one of my neighbors provided that he moves them himself.

Then, when I thought the madness was over I had to fix my leggy seedlings. Back on that later. I just thought I would post about the craziness and share the love.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Dish: March Budget Part 1

Hurray for Spring!!! There is still a lot of snow on the ground but the sun is shining and the high today is 58*F! I am looking forward to the day the temperature climbs past 60*F because, in my mind, it isn't really spring until it does.

Here is how we have done thus far with groceries this month and instead of telling you EVERYTHING we buy I am just going to put it into categories.

GIANT 3/2:
Produce: $22.50
Dairy: $3.58
Grains: $19.89 (I stocked up on rice BIG time)
Baking Goods: $10.88
Canned/Dried: $3.17
Snacks/Cereal: $8.08
Condiments: $27.35 (I know this seems big but I was stocking up on Extra Virgin Coconut oil)
Personal Care: $5.82
Home: $11.09
Total w/tax= $113.58

Weis 3/3:
Produce: $4.62
Grains: $5
Personal Care: $8.39
Total =$26.50

Costco 3/4:
Dairy: $11.88
Meat/Fish: $15.99
Baking Goods: $26.73
Snacks: $4.59
House: $2.59
Total w/tax= $61.78

 Budget totals thus far:
Groceries = $172.95-$240= $67.05
Personal Care: $14.21-$20= $5.79
Home = $14.70-$20= $5.30
Dining Local = $17.41-30= $12.59

The beginning of the month always tends to be my big shopping time so I am not appalled by the amount spent on groceries so far. The second shopping trip of the month is usually between $50-75.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How Old is This Coat?

Today's thrift store find was this gorgeous coat. The collar is REAL rabbit fur and I am guessing the coat is wool or a blend, though I don't know how to tell the difference (how can I tell?). The lining is synthetic. There is a lot of hand stitching on this coat and maybe the lining was replaced at some point. Weird, I just noticed that the lining left a powder on my hands. Ick. Instead of buttons it has 3 toggles which might be made of some kind of plastic, possibly bakelite?

This coat was made right here in Lancaster county. I contacted my friend Richard, who has lived in Lancaster since the 1960's and he said that he remembers there being an upscale woman's clothing store called Logan's but he can't remember when it disappeared.

So what do you think? I am debating between either 1950's or 70's.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thoughts on Mediocrity upon Making a Potato Salad

Dinner: Shrimp Fritters, Potato Salad, 
& Mandarin Oranges

Today I made potato salad with the last of the beautiful organic Yukon Gold potatoes that I bought in the Fall from a nice Amish farmer. Ravenna was napping, the house was clean and the dishwasher humming in the background was the perfect music for a wandering mind. I considered my accomplishments to this point and discerned, as I had many times in the past, that there was no particular thing that I was especially good at.
You would think that for a perfectionist this occasional realization would be a maddening reminder, but for me, as I peeled the skin off cold potatoes in the dim winter light of a north facing window, I felt a certain peace acceptance.

I quit playing the flute at 14 because my band instructor told me that I would never be really good at it, mediocre at best, and I did not really like it anyway. During high school I joined the Future Farmers of America with its numerous and diverse activities, certain that I would find something that I could be really good at. Yet, at the end of four years I was again reminded that I would never do very well in any of the many activities that I participated in and I abandoned the pursuit of a degree in agriculture for the pursuit of academic glory. Here is where I did the best. I had a knack for knowing my academic strengths and weaknesses and thus avoided classes that I would not do well in. This is not to say that I was not challenged, but I stuck with the things that I thought would lead me to eventual success, my niche, as it were. In the end I only graduated Magna cum Laude, not Summa, and missed being Valedictorian by miles. On my graduation day I cried at the loss because I had come so close. I did not need the honors, more the validation to continue in my studies. 

Moving onto to full time employment to support my husband while he finished his studies, I entered into a job as meaningless and unfulfilling as any job I have ever held. I was extremely grateful for the position that paid the bills but resentful at the fact that every morning I woke up dreading the day ahead of me. I quit that job after only 11 months believing that I was moving onto a bigger, better job and a crack at graduate school glory, but that was not in the cards for me. 

One month after quitting, I found myself pregnant with Ravenna, a delightful surprise, and all plans for further employment and graduate school were put off indefinitely. I jumped into becoming a full time housewife with all the zeal of June Cleaver. I wanted to be the best, most economical, crafty cute, organized and emotionally put-together housewife there ever was. 

Luckily, I did not let that zeal extend to motherhood. I realized early on in my pregnancy that motherhood is not something you can excel at because you are dealing with another person and to do justice to the calling, you must abandon your self-interest and give over to love, patience and compassion. To be a good mother is merely to do your very best and hope that to the little person whose care you were entrusted, that it will be enough. 

And so, folding cubed potatoes into the creamy dressing while chatting with my husband about his day, I resigned to my mediocrity. I wish I could say that I had some great epiphany about how my inability to do anything very well fits into the Great Plan of Happiness or spiritual reassurance that my inherent divine worth as a daughter of God would make up for my lack of excellence, that is not what happened. I felt merely acceptance of what I am: a decent person and a good wife and mother, and that is enough.

Placing the bowl of salad into the refrigerator I breathed a sigh of resignation. Then I realized that I had neglected to put the hard boiled eggs into the salad. Drat!

Potato Salad
6 hard-boiled eggs
10 Red or Yukon Gold Potatoes, boiled for 15-20 minutes and cooled, peeled and cubed
1 c. Mayo
1/2 c. ranch dressing
2 tbsp. prepared yellow mustard
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 celery seed
4-6 green onions (depending on taste) sliced thinly

Stir together mayo, ranch dressing, mustard, and spices in a mixing bowl. Add eggs, potatoes and onion and stir gently until evenly mixed. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Shrimp Fritters, adapted from BHG
1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp with tails removed, chopped
1 egg, beaten
4 green onions, thinly sliced 
1/4 c. all purposed four (I used my gluten-free baking mix)
2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 c. cooking oil (I used Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, which I always use when I fry)

In a small mixing bowl beat the egg. Add the shrimp and the rest of the ingredients and mix well. In a large skilled heat the oil (it is best when it is good and hot) and then add the shrimp mixture by 1/3 cup full's. I find that the best way to do this is to really pack the mixture into a 1/3 cup measure and drop it quickly into the oil. Cook for 3 minutes on each side and let drain on a paper towel. Serve immediately.

Monday, March 1, 2010

February: Resolutions in Review

February seemed to drag on forever with all the snow storms and the subsequent snow-days that shot our routine into oblivion. Having Andrew home so much was wonderful, though! I really love his job as a teacher when there are snow days to be had. As far as living our resolutions I think I can give us a B-/C+ grade for the month.

Things we did well:
  • We did not shop at any big box stores for groceries, personal care or household items. NONE. We have done a lot of shopping at our local hardware store and local grocery stores, especially The Country Store.
  • Ravenna and I had a ball at the local thrift and consignment stores! We really have some great stores only about a mile from our house so when the weather gets nicer we can walk there.
  • Despite the no-go from our HOA for the raised beds, I have decided to move forward and build the beds into the ground. So while it won't look as nice, I will still have my garden and be able to follow the square foot gardening method. I have one broccoli plant started and will be starting a bunch more seeds this week.
Things we didn't so well:
  • Eating out: We didn't eat at any local restaurants this month. Truth be told we ate at the Olive Garden, Taco Bell, Coldstone and Burger King. The Olive Garden and Coldstone were paid for by gift card's so I am not sure if those count.
  • Andrew had gift cards for JC Penney and Sears so we had to use those. There really wasn't any way around that and Andrew needed work clothes which are painfully difficult to find at Thrift and Consignment stores (I guess guys don't part with their wardrobe as readily as women do?).
  • We didn't attend our borough's big "Fire and Ice" event this month, despite the fact that it is one of the biggest events of the year with lots of ice sculptures and a chili cook-off. We wanted to go, but when it came down to it, it was snowing and I wanted to read a book.
  • I still haven't involved myself in a community group. With my new calling as achievement day leader and with Andrew's college class my only free time is Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and I am not sure the library will let me volunteer with so few hours.
Our grocery budget this month was a real learning experience. I think we could have lived with the budget I made, but I am not sure if we could have eaten so well. When all is said and done, I know we can do better than the $300+ we spent on groceries this month.

This month was unusual in that we had 4 dinner "parties." Normally we have 1-2 so that did put us a bit out of the range of a normal grocery bill. Based upon this last month's spending and taking your advice into account I have revised our budget:
  • $240/month for groceries NOT including personal care or household items, but including stock-up items for our 3-month supply.
  • $20/month for personal care items
  • $20/month for household items
  • $10/month for clothes for Ravenna: The local consignment store just had a big sale so with $35 I was able to get almost all the clothes I need for her for summer aside from PJ's so I probably won't buy any more clothes until June.
  • $200 for gardening (I have decided to do worm composting which is much cheaper to begin with). So far I have spent about $50 for gardening expenses including: seeds, soil, peat pots, vermiculite, and a grow lamp.
So there you go! We are ready to start March with a great deal of optimism. This month will be a big one for getting the garden ready: moving the rhododendrons to the back (the HOA did approve this), digging out the 4'x8' bed, building the garden box into the soil and preparing and filling the box with "Mel's Mix."