Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Saving money on gasoline!

Folks...it's summer time. That time of the year where people go on crazy road trips and use huge amounts of gas. The time of year when the gas companies think "hey, we need to shut down our plants! Oh, so the price of gas goes up. Lucky us!"

With that in mind, I thought I would share some tips for getting the most out of every gallon that you do buy.

You need to do the regular maintenance. I know, I know, money is tight! But regular oil changes means the engine lasts longer. Getting the regular fixes done (changing the spark-plugs when they are supposed to be changed, get the old fuel filter switched out) makes the car run more efficiently. My car had a spark plug that was misfiring, and it killed my mpgs. Worth the money to make sure it's all running tip-top! Plus, you stress less about the engine blowing out while on the road.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Weird, I know, but the amount of tire that comes in contact with the road affect your mileage. So, check that manual and make sure the proper psi is in the tires. Know that heat will make the air expand, so don't overfill them in the AM! Go with what the manual says.

Buy your gas in the morning or late evening. Whenever it is coolest. The liquid is more dense in the cool of the day.

Avoid getting gas when the truck is refilling the underground tanks. When they pour in all the new gas, it stirs up sediment off the bottom of the tank and increases the chance that you will get gunk in your engine (yup, it's a technical term!).

Gas prices go up and down over the week, but are typically lowest on Wednesday. Prices begin creeping up on Thursday, to take advantage of the weekend, and sneak back down a penny or so on Mondays and Tuesdays. Try to plan your fill-ups on Wednesday to get the best deal. (You also might check out on-line sites that find the cheapest gas in your zip code!)

Air-conditioning or run with the windows down? For you lucky ones with the AC, if you are driving 50 mph or faster, it's about a wash between the pull of the AC and the drag of having the car windows open, so you may as well revel in the cool air! (Me, I have no AC, and I make the kids roll up the windows on the freeway. Poor children...we bond together in our suffering in the hot car!)

Other tips---try to park in the shade during summer to keep your car cool. Yes, I am the odd-ball who parks WAY out in the back side of the parking lot, just to get in the shade. It honestly works (and if you don't have AC, you need all the help you can get!). Plan your trips carefully, and drive in a circle whenever possible. I mean, mentally note all your stops, and plan it so there is no back-tracking. Lighten up the load! I forget stuff in my car (or leave my sons sports gear in the car for forever), but all that excess stuff adds weight to the car (making the engine work harder). So, unload all that extra stuff!

I think that is the main ones. Please add any other great ideas!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The green eyed monster

I have a huge case of the "I want's". I see what others have, the neat new gadgets, new clothes, new cars, new....stuff, and I admit it, I want what they have.

I get tired of wearing the same outfits all the time. Most depressing to me? When I realized that I have shoes and pants that are older than my youngest child. In my regular clothing rotation, I have pants and shoes that are over 10 years old (let that one sink in...). I suppose it is a good thing that I chose classic styles so I don't look too out of place. And that I obviously haven't gained or lost a lot of weight.

I get tired of being RESPONSIBLE all the time. Of being the one in our marriage to say "no, we really don't need that right now." It makes me feel mean and petty.

I want to splurge. Truely, I do! I want a nice vacation, to go someplace special. I want to buy new things for my son's, simply because.

What I do not want is debt. I do not want a credit card. I do not want a car payment. I do not want to worry each month about how I am going to pay all the bills.

Every individual makes different choices in life. Each choice needs to be balanced out with current needs, future needs, how much use and enjoyment an item will give you.

I love being able to stay at home, even though my boys are older. I love knowing that, at the drop of a hat, I can go somewhere or do something for them, and I won't need to ask for time off. If my child is ill or needs to go to the doctors, I can go at any time.

I enjoy baking cookies for my family. Making homemade jam. I love sitting on my back deck and watching the ducks play, seeing the birds at the feeders. I enjoy the sense of peace that I have in my life because I am not rushing as much as I would be if I were working.

We all make different choices in life. My old pants are looking better now. My small house is cozy. More importantly, it is HOME. Having a savings account is security and safety to me, and if I spent money, I would have much less of it.

Green-eyed monster, please go away. Please go bother someone else, because I am happy with the way things are in my life.

I need to remember what is important to me. Which freedoms and choices would I need to give UP in order to have things. After thinking about it, it just isn't worth it. I'll keep things the way they are, and wait a while longer for my wants to come to me.

Chemical free weeding

Boy oh boy! You thought my garden was bad, I think the front yard was worse. The house next to us is renters, and neither they, nor the owners, seem to care about the number of dandelions in the yard. The seeds drift over and make a mess of the yard. Hard to get too excited about weeding when you know you are going to have to do it over and over again.

Still....looking at the yard is beginning to drive me nuts. I see the weeds, the dead leaves from the daffodils, and it annoys me. I've been saying to myself for a month now "I need to weed" and I have just been putting it off. When walking into the yard causes me to shudder, I know it's time to just buckle down and do the job.

I was out there, clearing out dead leaves, pulling weeds, yanking grass growing where it shouldn't be. I dead-headed the daffy's in the late spring (they need to be dead-headed so they don't waste energy making the pod at the top where the flower was. You leave the leaves so they can gather energy for the bulb for next year, but eventually, even the leaves die off and need to be cut back. Meaning, you end up doing the same type of job twice!) but the leaves were creating an eyesore. The vinca is creeping into the beds where I don't want it, so that needs to be pulled out. The fern leaves are dying off from the previous year, and need to be cut back so the new growth can flourish. Not to mention grabbing fallen sticks from the trees above, and trash that people have tossed into my yard when they walk past.

Pulling, yanking, cutting. Pulling, yanking, cutting. Hubby was working on the fence gate, so I asked him to cut back the wisteria while he had the ladder out. Opps, wrong ladder! He goes and gets the right one, and hacks the bush back. Gather, gather, gather all the fallen vines.

Ah.....but now look at it! Pretty, and clean.

Granted, I didn't go the easy route. Spritzing some chemicals definitely would have been quicker. But spritzing chemicals leaves residue that can harm the butterflies that come into my yard. Possibly harm the bees that pollinate my garden and flowers. Not to mention the frogs! Frogs easily absorb chemicals, and I like having frogs in my yard, even if I rarely ever see them.

Nice, neat yard, with no guilt. Added benefit? This yard work counts as my exercise for the day! Ice cream, anyone?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chinchilla on the run

No, not really! I just felt sorry for the poor guy. It's my sons pet, his name is Jefferson, and he hasn't gotten much attention these past two weeks with the boys gone on vacation. So, I thought I would bring him outside to run around in his ball.

First off, I learned that our backyard is not nearly flat enough for him to get his ball rolling. Poor thing started trying to gnaw on the inside to get out since he couldn't get the ball rolling. I moved him on up to the deck where he would have a flat surface. Lesson number two, there's isn't any depth perception in a ball. Or maybe chinchillas just don't have any. Regardless, he tried running off the edge of the deck several times, and the fall might have hurt him (or popped open the ball meaning we really would have a loose chin!). I spent about ten minutes playing blocker to prevent him from hurling himself over the edge.

But it was fun for him. He got to be outside, check out the other animals, and see the sun. Anything to mix it up for 'em every so often!

Reusing plastic bags to make a rug

One of my dear friends is guest "blogging" for me today! Andrea gave me the instructions on how to braid a waterproof rug out of those blasted plastic store bags. Do you have a huge pile of them just sitting around? Well....here is one way to use them up!

Plastic Grocery Bag Rug

Size and dimensions are up to you. There are many ways to make these but I will share It you the way I've made mine.

I take my plastic grocery bags (from when I forget the cloth ones) lay them flat tucking in the gussets. Fold in half length wise and in half again. Then I cut off the handles and the bottom of the bag. This leaves you with a tube. Cut a slit up the side to give you one long strip. You will need a few hundred of these for a good size rug. But you only need about 9 to 12 pieces to start.

I like to store these pieces in an old tissue box; coffee can would work also.

Take 3 of these pieces and tie them together. I have found if you then stretch the 3 pieces flat and cut at an angle does not have to be neat but the 3 pieces need 2 be different sizes. Then braid like you normally would. When there is about 2 inches left you need to grab another piece take the new piece and tuck inside the short piece and keep braiding.

Now I often get stopped while doing this (usually in front of the TV) so I keep a few cloths pins handy so I can just clip it off and start again when I can.

You can either save your braid in a ball-like form (think yarn balls) , in a bag or what ever your heart desires. When you feel you have enough, it is time to put your rug together. Securing with another knot to end it when you feel you have enough.

You can make your rug as you go along braiding if you want; but it's not my prefered way.

Time for some more decision making. How do you want your rug to go together? Glue, thread, sinew, tie it off with little bag strips, well it's up to you.

I find using a glue gun the easiest on my fingers and the fastest. I wind the braid around itself in a long oval. I prefer to stand the narrow sides up and down making the top and bottom of the rug while running a 6 inch bead of glue then pressing more braid into the glue and moving on.

Once I get to the end I determine which I want for the top of the rug and which for the bottom of the rug. Then I put a good dollop of glue on the end knot and push in into the bottom of the rug between the other braided pieces so it doesn't show so much.

Have fun and I hope you enjoy your recycled waterproof rug.

Thank you, Andrea, for the help on making our rugs! Have fun out there.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our duck coop

This spring, when preparing for the ducklings, my husband and I had many long discussions about their home. How much space they needed, where to place it, how to build it, all those fun things. We spent several weekends preparing their home so it would be convenient and comfortable for them.

I thought I would let you see what it looks like! We built their inside home underneath a "fort" that we had made (years ago) for our kids that they have outgrown. They have about 10 square feet of space under the fort, enclosed for protection against the wind. Hubby built a door outside the fence, that lifts up to open an entire side of their house. This is so I can easily reach in and grab any eggs, as well as muck it out a few times a year. I have put down a few inches of pine shavings over the dirt, and add another inch or so each month. In late fall, I intend to muck this out, put it into the garden for mulch (and do it again in late winter to till it into the garden soil). We also have a lamp in the corner so we can light it during the winter to encourage egg production.

We used a large dog kennel. We covered over a third with a roof so that they have shade and protection from the rain, and then the rest of it is covered with wire to keep any animals out. I have a galvanized tub for their water, and their feed bucket is to the back. The feed bucket is on a pulley system, so I can hoist it up out of reach if we keep the gate open. (My ducks are piggies, and would rather eat the grain than forage for bugs or greens).

There you have it! One wonky looking duck kennel. But, compared to what my dad had when I was growing up, these ducks have the Hilton!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer is coming on, thinking about canning

No, my garden isn't ripe and ready. Up here in the Pacific Northwet, my tomato's won't be ripe until the middle of August (right when I leave for vacation. Doesn't that figure?!). My peppers are not even blooming yet. Beans? Forget about it! (Remind me to string my trellis tomorrow for them to climb on. Right now, they are pulling the onions over trying to climb up those! Need a day to work in the garden again.)

So....why think about canning? The jars are on sale! (Bad sale, bad sale!) And the farm store has them in stock on the seasonal aisle. Soooo tempting! All this visual reminder of putting up the harvest is making me climb the walls.

I will be going out tomorrow, buying some jars. I have a coupon! And then I will stash them under the bed with the rest of the empty jars, just waiting to be filled. How long until the tomato's are ready again?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Homemade lemonade, YUM

At church today, someone brought in a donation of lemons. Several people grabbed a few, and I was looking at the lemons, wondering what to do with them. And then it hit me---lemonade!

I grabbed about about 8 of them, and started squeezing the liquid out of 'em. Made a simple syrup to go in it (one cup white sugar, one cup water, heated on the stove until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat once sugar is dissolved). About half of the simple syrup was used (refrigerate the rest for other uses, maybe some other fruit juice?), and some water added to dilute the lemon juice. I like a little pulp, so I left all the floaters, but scooped out the seeds.

Mmmmmm.....I've never made homemade lemonade, and it tastes a lot different (to me) than the frozen kind. The rind from the lemons leave some oils, perhaps? Or maybe it is because I used white sugar instead of corn syrup. Either way, it tastes different, stronger, but GOOD.

If I ever happen in to get a bunch of lemons again, I would make this another time. (But after I finished it up, I thought of saving some lemon juice to put into blackberry jam! Opps!)

Friday, June 19, 2009

While the kids are away, mom can play!

I have had a very busy three days! My artistic streak is right on out there. The kids are gone for the next two weeks, and I have taken over the front room.

I dragged out all my art supplies, snagged the instructions to an art project I wanted to do, and have been working my fingers off. It's fun to work, to look at possibilities, and seeing where it goes.

And now, I am tired. Catch everyone later. I'm going to bed!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Frogs in the yard

Dusk is quickly falling, the animals are settling down. It's warm, so we open a few windows inside the house. Time for bed....

And time for the frog chorus to begin. The sounds of peeping and croaking, the conversations of animals that hide during the day, and come out at night to meet and greet.

A few summers ago, I never saw any frogs around our house. Nothing at all. Then, we put a second pond in the back yard, and we finally had a frog come visit our yard. Just one or two, hiding in the garden among all the plants.

This year, we have the third pond, and far more hiding places for the frogs during the day. At night, I can clearly hear frogs in both our ponds. Talking back and forth.

So what does it mean? Well, it means we are growing a thriving eco-system. It means that using no chemicals in our yard is WORKING because fragile animals are able to survive. It means at night, I go to sleep to the sounds of frogs singing. Sing on, my green friends. Sing on.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Making Firestarters with household items

It's kinda a testament to how I reuse things! I try not to use my dryer. First off, it uses a lot of electricity. Second, the friction of the fabrics causes additional wear and tear on the clothing. That's where the lint in the lint trap comes from, y'all!

BUT...this is a handy trick to use up that lint.

What you need: paper pulp egg cartons, lint from the dryer, and wax (paraffin, or left over candle wax).

*Cut up the egg carton into smaller sections. I cut them into each "egg" size.

*Melt the candle wax on the stove. Use an old can that you were planning to recycle or toss so you don't ruin a pan. Keep an eye on it!

*Place a tuft of lint into each egg holder. You are making a kind of wick with the lint.

*Carefully pour the melted wax over the lint, trying to keep a small section of the lint uncovered (this is what you will light).

*Store in a dry place, and use one or two when starting a fire.

We have a fire pit outside, and I will use two or three in addition to kindling and logs, to start the fire. They will burn for a few minutes (longer than I had thought that they would!) and really do help get a fire going.

This uses up my waste wax from candles, the lint from my dryer, and old egg cartons. Other than time, it's free! Have fun and happy fireside time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Helping others and being a good neighbor

It was supposed to be a lazy Saturday. We have no kids today, no big plans, just thinking about putzing around the house. Hubby gets a wake-up call at 7 am from his brother asking for help with his break system. So he goes over to his brother's to fix that.

A friend drops by at past 9, needs help picking up a large item. Hubby goes and helps with that.

What's all this about? Well, it's about helping out. Making connections. Trading services. Our friends and neighbors know that we will help on projects and things if they need it. And we know that we can ask for help from them. We trade information, and goods. I go up to my friends house to pick berries instead of paying for them. Hubby gets assistance fixing an engine or rewiring part of the house.

All this helping, back and forth, it makes connections. And it saves a lot of money. Sure, it was annoying as all get out to get a call at 7am while we were still asleep, but it all works out in the end.

Nothing like chatting over the back fence, saying "hi" as you pass by, and working on an engine together. Okay...for the GUYS at least! I'll stick to the garden.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New car saga

This has been a true test of my "frugal"ness. Testing my limits.

I currently have a 13 year old Toyota Corolla. I have had this car since my son was a year old....this would be my OLDEST son! It is weird to have a car that is older than my youngest child, considering that my youngest is 10. She is very much a part of the family, our primary transportation, we take a 10 hour trip to Montana every summer. She is part of our family history.

However, she is getting older. The A/C stopped working 4 years ago, the condenser needs to be replaced. That means the 10 hour drive during summer is miserable. Plus, things are breaking down, the key switch went out last summer and needed to be replaced (thank the Lord for mechanic hubby), the check engine light came on over Memorial Day and we had to change the spark plugs, cap and rotor because the piston was misfiring (or something like that....I leave it to hubby!). She's leaking oil now, the vessel that holds the windshield wiper fluid is cracked so it leaks out, meaning no who-juice! Bottom line, we need to ask the question of how much these continual fixes are going to cost, versus the cost of a car payment.

I drag myself off to the bank. Get a pre-approval for a loan in our price range. Then, start calling around to dealerships, to private owners, looking on-line at cars. Investigate Kelly Blue Book prices on what we are looking at, checking into Consumer Reports for their evaluation. Basically, doing our homework.

One car seller was so motivated that they drove the car to our HOUSE to show it to us. Oh, my friends, it was nice. I am used to a 13 year old, sub compact. This was much roomier, clean, no soda stains on the ceiling, plenty of room in the trunk (I have a teen boy who plays hockey, and his sticks no longer fit in the trunk, and have to be carried inside the car. Not to mention the size of his gear bag!). More leg room. A/C that works, cruise control (oh, a dream of mine!)....a nice car. But the seller wouldn't budge on price.

We walked away from the deal. Sorry, it's above our limit on price by a 1,000 and we had anticipated that they would come down in price. So, back to the computer. Back to the search.

And, my husband asked if we really wanted to do this. Now, I am the saver in the family, he is the spender. If anyone was going to "go for it!" it would be him. But, he has now had time to think it over, and realize that we are talking about a car payment each month, for the next five years. If his job goes pfft!, we will be in serious trouble in a short amount of time.

So, we chatted about it for a while. Does the mechanic in him think it is fixable? How many more repairs might there be? Can we get it running well enough to do the 10 hour drive in a few months?

We have decided, at this time in our lives, to repair the old girl and live with her for a while longer. Our new plan is to bank the car payments that we would have been making with a new car, and save up for our next car. Or at least have an excellent down payment so our monthly payments are minimal.

It makes me sad on some levels. I really was excited about the idea of a new car. It's been so long since I've had a new car. And the new car would have been MY transportation, not hubby's. So the person truly giving something up is me. BUT, I am respecting my husbands fears about his job, his skill at being able to fix the car that we have, and his concerns about being able to afford a car payment.

Ah well, there is always a few years from now!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Juvenile Runner Ducks...getting so big

My runner ducks (used to be duckLINGS) are near full grown. Their juvenile feathers are nearly all in, and they are looking quite handsome! They have gotten pretty smart, following me to their coop at night, waiting for me to open the door, and then heading on in. They look up at their feeder, wait for me to drop it down and then immediately start eating.

Spicy, the white runner, has discovered the wonders of slugs. Good girl! And they are doing a pretty good job of keeping the dandelions headed in my yard. I like that and I never anticipated that they would eat dandelion flowers. Surprise me.

But their all time favorite snack is green lettuce that I throw into the pond. I have been growing lettuce in my garden, but I am not a fan of eating leaf lettuce. Pretty to look at, grows easily, but I don't like the taste. I cut a bunch of lettuce and toss it on into the pond, and I have happy ducks.

Another odd thing I have discovered, both the hens have gotten their adult quacks, but both the boys have not. One of our guys, Mario, rarely peeps at all, and sounds like he has a sore throat. Blackie has a soft "peep" and still sounds like a duckling. The two girls have full-throated quacks, with Spicy leading the way in her vocalizations. It's not bothersome, but you can tell that she is in charge, watching over everyone and keeping the whole group in line.

Just so fun to watch how they are growing and changing. Can't wait until they get their final adult feathers and I can see how they will look as adults.

The great weed-out of 2009

It has come to this, my friends. Time to weed the garden. I have my trusty hoe, and a wayward child that needs punishing (since no one sent their kids on over, I had to use my own).

First things first, teaching the child what is a "plant" and what is a weed. Annnddd, I am reminded that I really should make the boy come out to the garden more often. He has no clue what a potato plant is, "potato's are a root...they don't have leaves", misidentifies the onions as radishes, and thinks that carrots don't have any greenery at all. I said "I suppose you think vegetables come from the grocery store?" Nope, they come from Wal-Mart. Kill me now!

Second, keep a close eye on said child so he doesn't step on the plants that I DO want.

Third, make sure he actually is weeding, and not just complaining about weeding. Yeah, we have very different ideas of what "done" is, in this case.

But, on the plus side, with both of us working, after about an hour, it was done (at least, as done as it is going to get right now).

Looks much better. Thanks for the help, son. Hope you learned something! (Really, the lesson was "if I had gotten better grades, I would have gone on the school outing instead of being stuck at home with mom, weeding!" Hope you learned it!)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Controlling the mosquito's

I love ponds. I have an affinity for water, and we have our share of water features in my yard. I have a small pond in my front yard (debating turning it into a bog garden....), we have a bathtub that is dug into the ground in our back yard, as well as the new pond. I enjoy the sound of a fountain, plants growing around it, the birds bathing in it, bugs skating across the tops. Ah, it's peaceful to see.

The downside? It is a mosquito breeding ground! And if there are ton's of mosquito's around, I can't sit outside and enjoy the water. Solutions? Well, one person told me to toss a glug of bleach into the water every week or so (please...not that!). And there are also chemical disks that you can purchase to toss in. I do not know if either one of those solutions are harmful to pets or wildlife. Plus, it may kill off my plantings in and around the pond.

A healthier and more green solution to the problem is buying some fish. I would love to be able to fork out 20 bucks a fish for koi, but that is not in my budget. Nope, I am more of the "couple of bucks worth of feeder fish" kinda gal!

So, each spring, once it gets around 50 degrees at night, I waltz into the local pet store and get some feeder fish (this year, 8 for a dollar). I got a dollar's worth for each pond, and added them in. Yes, expect to see some fishy death's (feeder fish are baby goldfish, and can be fragile). I anticipate losing half of the fish in the first month, but there is usually four or more who survive, and they do a GREAT job of eating the mosquito larvae. Do not feed them fish flakes, because if they fill up on fish flakes, they won't eat the larvae.

Plus, it adds a nice touch to the ponds, something to look for underneath the waterlily pads.

Reminder: mosquito larvae can be in any standing water, including water resting inside of tires, abandoned glasses/cans, old kids toys. If you have a mosquito problem, check those things out as well as looking at your pond.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ewhh! Worms!

It's late, the news is on, and time for bed. I drag myself out of my chair, shoo the dogs out to the garage, convince the ducks that the "pool" is closing, and put them in their coop for the night.

As I am walking them to the coop, with the flashlight, I notice all these little darts of movement in the grass. What the heck is it?? Worms, of course!

Oh my goodness. There are like hundreds of worms all over my backyard. It's Wormy Woodstock out there tonight, with the recent rain, I guess the worms think it's time to party at Wendi's house. I couldn't take a step without almost creaming (literally) one of them on my slipper. (Why, oh why did I wear slippers out to puth the ducks to bed instead of actual SHOES?!)

I mean, I guess I should be grateful that there are so many of them. Of course, my first thought was "aren't ducks supposed to EAT those things?!" I even went into their coop to check, and there were a bunch of worms, just hanging out on the top of the gravel. It's nuts.

So, if anyone wants to collect worms to go fishing with, come on over! I have plenty to go around. But YOU have to catch them. Yuck.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I might have apples?

I was out in the yard today, checking things out (and hanging laundry!) and I noticed that my apple tree has apples on it. Wow, this is really shocking to me! We had just planted these trees last September, and I have no expectations of getting any fruit from them this year.

We had a hard winter (for Oregon), with over a week of snow and bad weather. That, combined with the fact that the trees had only been in the ground for less than 5 months, I kinda figured the trees were toast, and we might need to replace them. Hubby and I were both thrilled in the spring that they were leafing out and had good signs of growth.

Sure, there were tons of blooms on both new apple trees a month ago. I wasn't suprised about that at all. But you need honey bees to fertilize them, plus strength in the tree (I expect that means an established root structure) to get apples. I guess that these trees are doing better than I could have hoped that we have some tiny fruit growing.

So, fingers crossed that we will get some apples this fall (and that it won't be a disappointment like the cherry tree has been. Stupid birds!).