Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thrift store shopping

My friend and I got together today for a girls time together, and she wanted to hit a few places to look for jeans. She specifically wanted to go to two thrift stores in town.

Me personally? I go to thrift stores to look for all kinds of things. Household goods, books on occasions, sometimes clothes for the kids, but I rarely look for clothes for myself there. The reason why? I shop clearance sales hard-core. Shopping at thrift stores requires a more careful mindset than in regular stores. And you have to be willing to shop out of season.

But, I figured, I want to hang out with my friend, and it's been a LONG time since I've gone clothes shopping in a thrift store, so I may as well see what deals they have.

I was happy with the deals I found for myself. Three pair of pants for just over $10. One pair of fleece-lined pants, perfect for the cold weather that we are having right now, and a pair of light-weight canvas Capri pants for late spring and summer, plus a pair of loose canvas pants for just casual living in.

All three are household names that are easily known. Two of them have great detailing, those little things that make you happy.

Shopping at a thrift store DOES require a different mind-set. For one, you need to look at the size. Don't trust the tag that the price label says that it is. Always try it on if you can.

Next, be looking for wear. Are there any obvious stains? How do the seams look? Is there pulling or loose threads? Check the cuffs of the pants or the cuffs of sleeves/bottoms of the shirts. Look for worn places, ground in stains, etc. Is there pilling in the fabric? Some pilling is acceptable, but how much are you willing to accept? If you are buying for a small child, it may not matter, but if it is for a teen, picky girl or for yourself, this could be a deal-breaker.

Lastly, would you buy it if it wasn't such a "good deal"? Kinda like the concept of "I bought it on clearance" but only wore it twice so it isn't such a good deal. You want to be buying things that you will love, that aren't just taking up space in your closet.

For me, it is about knowing my prices and what I am willing to pay. I am one of those shoppers with a "price point" in my head for nearly everything. And today, I was happily surprised with what I found. Yeah, I will go back in the future and look for more good deals.

One other reminder, you may need to adjust (tailor) clothes from the thrift store so it fits you better. The fleece-lined pants that I purchased were a "tall" and needed hemming. But at $3.68 a pair, I can handle hemming! Sadly, the fabric was too thick for my sewing machine to handle, so I ended up doing it by hand (isn't that what movies on TV are for?), but it's a good project for the evening. And now I have nice, warm pants to put on tomorrow morning. I am excited!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This wasn't in the forecast

The forecast was for rain. Temps to be in the mid-forties.

Looks like it, doesn't it?

The ducks are not amused. They don't like the crinkly noise that the snow makes when it falls on the bamboo. They have been hiding in their pen most of the afternoon. Not that I blame them.

Poor guys. Hope they get used to it soon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


A stitch in time saves nine.

Pithy saying or actual deal? Ever wondered?

My experience, it's better to catch those holes while they are small. Otherwise they grow on you!

That washing machine, it can be hard on clothes. The dryer isn't doing them any favors with the high heat, and flying zippers. A tip--remember to zip those zippers up or they can catch on other garments and make holes in things (learned this one the hard way with a brand new pair of pants....maybe you don't have moths, maybe it's the dryer and zippers). They can also catch loose threads and pull on them, making those holes larger.

Not to mention wearing clothes with small holes (yes, we probably have all done it from time to time, thinking it's not too noticeable). Our movements pull on those holes and loosen those threads, making them larger and larger.

For me, when doing the folding, when I run across a shirt or pants with a hole, I set it aside to work on later. It's a good project to do while watching television (rather than being on the Internet, just kidding!).

You don't need to be Suzy Homemaker, or a stellar seamstress to fix most holes in seams. You don't even need a huge sewing kit to do it with. You DO need a card of needles (a dollar or two at your fabric store), a few colors of thread (white, black, brown, navy and grey are good starter colors) and then scissors. If you catch holes small, you probably won't need pins, but having some doesn't hurt.

Pick the color that best matches the fabric you are working with. You are working from the inside of the garment. Start a little bit back from where the loose threads start (so that you are going over the good part of the seam), and begin with a knot to hold your thread. From there, start stitching. I usually whip stitch over the top. Try to keep your stitches close together and as tidy as you can. Keep working until you are a little ways into the good stitches on the far side of the seam. Then, tie it off.

It's not too difficult once you get going. And if you catch it early, it's pretty small and goes fast. It is when you ignore it that it gets to be several inches long.

This is also why it is better to fix any holes PRIOR to washing so that the washing doesn't make it worse (which is how my son's shirt ended up with three holes to fix instead of just one....stupid loose threads!). Sadly, I generally don't notice these things until I am FOLDING the clothes to put them away.

Catch those holes early! Same with loose buttons and hooks. It only takes a minute or two to fix and then it won't annoy you all day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

The gifts are unwrapped, we have McClintock going on the television, the fire is roaring. It's a good time to be a mom.

With the hustle and bustle of the season, it's easy to lose sight of the important things in life. To get caught up in the busyness of life.

So, right now, I am thinking of my blessings.

I am thankful that I have heat in my house. Many families in the world, and in America, don't have heat. But I do. And I am thankful for that.

I am thankful that I have full cupboards. I may not have every little thing in them that my heart desires, but I can make many, many meals before I need to run to the grocery. And that is a huge blessing.

I am thankful for a handy husband. A man who is willing to fix things. Who is capable of fixing things.

I am thankful for two boys who call me mom. They are wonderful and challenging, as any good children are, but I love them dearly, and am so very glad to call them mine.

Even though my life isn't perfect, my life is pretty darn good. The economy is tough, but this too shall pass. Family is what is important. Sticking together. Loving each other. And appreciating what we DO have.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Can it be fixed?

This one is for the homeowners out there.

Nothing worse than settling in, and having a major appliance take a hooey on you. For us, it's been the dishwasher this past month, and then the oven element last night.

Now, for the dishwasher. My father has been a dishwasher repairman for commercial dishwashers for decades (literally). He has fixed this particular dishwasher for me three times before. When he was visiting in September, he and my husband gave it a going-over at that time because it wasn't working right. So, when it stopped cleaning dishes, YET AGAIN, less than two months later, it was unlikely to be a quick and easy fix. Also, factor in the age of the dishwasher (10 years), and it was due to be replaced. We shopped around, dickered with the salesman, and got a good deal. Hubby installed it himself.

For the oven element. To begin with, I touched the element twice (I was wiping out the ash at the bottom of the oven after having run the self-cleaning cycle, and the element had broken into two places when I lifted it up to wipe underneath it). Found out later, this is a big NO-NO. 240 currents (or is it watts?) runs through it at all times, even if the oven is "off". Since the element was broken, that current was "live". I could have shocked myself badly. It's a blessing I wasn't hurt.

Anyway, hubby checked on-line and found that a new element is relatively inexpensive. He then called around town, found a local repair shop that had it in stock today (so we save on shipping fees, and get it today....considering the shipping cost, we only paid a dollar or two more to get it today rather than have it shipped). Bonus, hubby was able to speak to a repairman at the shop face-to-face who works on those ovens who could walk him through how to install it. (Bare in mind, hubby is a mechanic, please only work with the skill level that you are comfortable with!)

The upside to this is that we were able to fix the oven for under $40. What a huge blessing that is. But, when the element broke, we didn't know how much the part would cost. If it would be terrifically expensive, or relatively cheap.

Word to the wise. When an appliance breaks around the house, check out your options. Can it be fixed? Can you simply get parts and fix it yourself, or do you need to pay someone to fix it for you? If you need to pay someone to fix it for you, what is the worst case scenario? Would getting a new appliance be more cost effective at that point (thinking about wear and tear, how long will it last until it breaks again and needs further repair)?

Something to think about.

Christmas gifts are done!

Ahh....the relief of gathering things in early. I didn't say getting DONE early, but gathering early.

The cute boxes were clearance from last Christmas. 50 to 75 percent off (sweet!), so came out to less than $1.50 a piece. The ceramic tags with each box were also 50 percent off, so those were 2.50 a piece (and it does add something festive to the boxes). The baggies were from the Dollar Store (today, I made a run to the Dollar Store. WOW. But in a pinch, I can totally heart the Dollar Store!). Plus all the goodies I made up last night.

The black basket is for my sister-in-law. Her basket came from the Dollar Store. The quilted items were finished this morning (I worked on them while watching the news--multi-tasking). Three kinds of jam from this summer, vanilla extract, plus the cute ceramic tag from last winter.

All in all....I think it turned out very well.

A reminder to me that all the dithering that I did last December in the store thinking "should I be spending this money? Is this really worth it?"....well, it really was worth it. I used every item that I bought on clearance with these gifts. Each item elevated those homemade gifts into something that looks a bit fancier and special, without going outside my budget. And because I bought them on clearance, I stayed true to my own financial goals. Stocking up for later (and remembering where you put it!) is a good thing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Working on the caramels

Sticky goo everywhere.

Thank you, Skinny-boy, for the help! Mom really does appreciate it. (I was doing the wrapping part)

Christmas goodies

Oh to the YUM......

Today, I made toffee, covered in semi-sweet chocolate with pecans and peppermint. And then there is the Nanaimo bars (ohhh, you peanutty, chocolaty goodness!). We also have the good old Scottish shortbread (total fav of mine, I added some lemon glaze on the top, 'cause I loves me some lemonness). And then homemade caramels to round it out.

It's my gifts to all the men-folk in our lives, the uncles, nephew, and fathers.

Wouldn't you know it, though? Last night, to prep for the great cookie bake-off that was today, I ran my oven through it's cleaning cycle. Went to wipe out the ashes this morning....broke the bottom heating element. NOOOO!!!!

Of all these recipes, only ONE needed baking in an oven, and I used the toaster oven to do it in. Where there is a will, there is a way. You aren't stopping this determined woman from baking when I have my mind set to it.

I am glad to be nearly done with my preparations for Christmas. Now, I just need to get them packaged up....who wants to help?

Recipes found from: for the Scottish shortbread

FoodDay for the Toffee (we made it twice already--big HIT!!)

Givers Blog for the Caramels

FoodNetwork for the Nanaimo Bars (second time I've made this)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Shopping your freezer

I love shopping my freezer. Love, love it.

I get to be lazy. I get the best deals. I save gas. And when money is running tight, I know I have the freezer to fall back on.

Hubby had surgery at the end of November. Missed out on two weeks of work (part of that was with partial pay, but not complete pay), and since then, he has missed some work due to other reasons (having to leave early due to pain, etc). Needless to say, the paychecks have been thin. And we have the lovely holiday seasons upon us. Money seems to fly away at this time of the year. I've been making gifts, but shipping still costs money. Buying a tree. Extras for here and there. Gas to drive to Grandma's. Yup.

Which gets me back to why I love having that extra freezer out there. LOVE IT!!! During the summer, I blanch and freeze veggies like green beans and peas. I also froze up some apples, peeled those babies and cut them up for pies later. Yes, I plan on making a pie later this week. YUM.

This summer, milk was on sale for a dollar a half gallon. I stocked up and froze a whole bunch of that stuff. Today, I pulled out a few of those. Doesn't hurt to have extra insurance in the freezer for when money is tight!

But the best deals are to be had with meat. Hamburger goes on sale in summer. Around a dollar a pound, sometimes a bit more. I stock WAY UP on that when its on sale, and then package it into meal portions. Then, basically we eat off that for the entire winter. I will have weeks where I will spend $50 in one week on just hamburger, but that will take care of our family for quite a while.

Today, I snagged ice cream (with a teen in the house, he loves eating ice cream), a few frozen pizzas, the apples, chicken, and milk. I love shopping out there. All I need to go to the store for now is some bread and fruit for the week. SWEET!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Car airfreshener

I needed a break from hand sewing. What do I chose to do? Hand sew an air freshener, of course.

At least this project was quick, and a gift for myself. My oldest boy is a hockey player, and his gear is stinky. It makes my vehicle smell rank. Something needed doing about this.

I had some felt left over, so I cut two heart shapes out and whip-stitched them together really quickly. I had trimmings left over from my quilt (cotton batting) which I used as the filling. I had a few essential oils on hand (I used orange and cinnamon) which I daubed on the batting before adding to the shape.

Before I added the batting in, I stitched on two decorative buttons that I have been saving for a special occasion. I knew I was saving these buttons for a purpose, and this one works just fine.

Added the batting in to the heart, and finished stitching the heart closed. Last, I sewed on a ribbon long enough that I can loop the heart through onto something.

Tah-dah! Pretty to look at and will make my car smell nice as well.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Inflicting my new skills on others

Here it is! My gift to my mother in law. Hope she likes it (cause it took me forever).

Making vanilla extract

One of the gifts I am making this Christmas season is vanilla extract.

I tell ya, the hardest part about this job was to find the bottles!

Now, I found cheap vanilla beans on eBay. I've also heard you can find cheap beans from other sellers on the Internet. I don't recommend using your local grocery. My local grocery is charging twelve dollars for TWO vanilla beans. OUCH. So, look ahead and order some up!

Then hit the liquor store for some vodka. Yeah, I know, you will look like a lush. Me, I didn't get a large enough amount the first time, and had to make a second run. Boy, was I embarrassed! One of my friends suggested using a little 151 proof rum to top it off, but I went with straight vodka for mine.

I washed all the bottles out completely, then cut the beans lengthwise in half, then into smaller pieces. Put at least one whole bean per bottle (depending on the size of the bottle). Then top the bottle up with vodka.

Let sit for 8 weeks before using.

I didn't get mine made until December (of course!). I labeled them to not be used until February. As one person told me, considering all the baking we do during Christmas, no one wants to do any baking after Christmas anyways!

Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Oh baby, it's cold outside

December has come on with a vengeance in our neck of the woods. We live here in the Pacific Northwest, normally a temperate area. Frankly, I'm a bit spoiled. It's kinda a "banana belt" area, getting around the low 30's, maybe a few days of freezing, we are lucky if we see some snow. If we see any bad weather at all, it's usually going to be in January.

December has roared in like a lion, driving wind down from the north. The "Arctic Blast of 2009" is what they are calling it. We haven't gotten above freezing since Monday, and it's now Thursday. For our area, this is UNHEARD of! Especially this early in the season.

I know, I know, everyone wants a white Christmas, but it isn't white outside, it is just COLD.

I have FOUR QUILTS on the bed. The dogs are sleeping in the bathroom every night, and the ducks have a heat lamp. We had to buy pond heaters because going out every hour to break their water for them was just....too hard to keep up with. Sorry, but when we adults go to work for a few hours (or need to run errands, or go to therapy or sports practices for hours), no one is around to do it. We are all wearing extra clothes, and using the throw blankets in the living room.

When we bought the pellet stove this summer, I swore up and down that I would "splurge" and heat the house up to 70 degrees in the winter if I wanted to. Here it is, a few months later, and I can barely stand to allow the heat above 65. The frugal me keeps thinking of the cost of the bags of pellets. We have a ton and a half of pellets in the garage still, but I keep thinking "that has to last all winter!!!" Old habits die hard. And with this cold snap, we are whipping through those bags of pellets.

Hubby fixed the insulation on the doors a bit better than I had it a few days ago. We keep the insulated curtains closed on the windows all day (sorry, even though the sun is shining, the wind and cold weather just sucks the heat right out. Better to keep them closed.).

All we can do now is hope that the cold weather breaks soon. They are saying warmer weather by Saturday. Fingers crossed that they are right. Because 14 degrees at night is pretty darn cold. BRRRRR......

Monday, December 7, 2009

When we say Concentrated, we mean it

Chemistry in action! This is what happens when something doesn't turn out quite the way you planned it.

I've made my own laundry soap multiple times. The first two times, it came out very watery. I was using goats milk soap, and probably not enough bar soap, but it washed the clothes well enough. The third time, I did a mix of goats milk soap (used up the last of it) and bar soap (generic white soap). Worked great, gelled nicely. Turned out just like it was supposed to.

A friend of mine gave me a bunch of Zote laundry bars, including a container of already grated soap. SWEET! I need two cups of grated bar soap for the recipe, and here is exactly two cups, grating the bar soap is the hardest part of the job, I am home free. Oh so nice.

Until a few hours later when I realize that my laundry soap isn't exactly a liquid and is closer to a solid. Herm. My chemical reaction didn't turn out quite like I planned it.

As you can see, it's stiff enough that I can literally stand a spoon up in it. I am doing laundry with a scoop of jello per load. (It jiggles!)

Makes life interesting, that's for sure. At least I don't have to worry about spilling it down the front of the machine.

Make your own cleaning wipes

Ah, the dreaded bathroom chore. You know it.

Made somewhat easier by those handy little pop-up wipes. You know the ones I'm talking about! Comes in a round container. Oh so convenient. Swipe, swipe, and the nasty smell is gone.

I love those wipes. Having boys in the house, those wipes are really handy. I don't use them in the kitchen, just the bathroom.

But the cost on those things. DANG! I bought two containers on sale with a great coupon. Love 'em. But what to do when they run out??, one of them ran out. My solution? Make my own, of course.

I got my handy paper-towels out. (For the record, this is another rare purchase. I was a few bucks short on my Safeway "Spend $50 get $10 off", and a case of paper towels was what the cashier brought back to get me up to my $50 limit. I ended up getting a case of paper towels for free, and it's the first time I had paper towels in over a year. Shoo...I almost don't know what to do with 'em and I keep forgetting I have them. I accidentally packed them with the extra cat litter and forgot. Opps!) Rolled out about 25 of them carefully keeping them straight. Make sure to keep the center more open, you don't want it tight because this is your beginning. Cut off any excess so it fits into the container. Tuck it on into the container.

Add any cleaning product that you wish to use. Reminder: bleach and ammonia don't mix. And urine turns into ammonia. So you may want to pass on bleach products around the toilet. If you do use them, be cautious. Whichever cleaning product that you are using, dilute it with water. Remember, it's just paper towels soaking it up. If you use a hefty cleaning product, you may end up with sludge. (So, you might also want to go with a stiffer weight paper towel to start with as well!)

Put the cap back on it, and pull up the first wipe. Wah-lah! Home-made wipes. Now I can keep using them without feeling guilty. Ha-ha!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Projects for a Frugal Christmas

Here is my work in progress.

I know, it looks like a hot mess right now, but I have a few weeks. Give me time!

The random yarn is an almost completed scarf for my niece. It's only taken me several hours to knit, and I am so close to being done. (SO CLOSE!) Here's hoping that the colors are "cool" enough for a 15 year old. I've been working on it at the hockey games and practices.

The small quilt squares are the start to two different projects. I will be getting a tea kettle for my MIL this week, and making a cozy for her. The small squares will be cut and re sewn into a pinwheel pattern, then stuffed and lined.

The other quilt squares will be trimmed out a bit more and made into potholders for my SIL and my mother.

The other men in my life will be getting baked goods (who turns down baked goods?). Cookies, caramels, and toffee. I purchased small boxes on clearance last year after Christmas for really cheap, and will use those to pack all the yummy goodness into. (Also a great idea for teachers and other helpers you know.)

Lastly, I purchased vanilla beans off of eBay (for less than $5.00 with shipping- whoo-hoo!!!). I will be making vanilla extract to also send along with the potholders. I am super excited about trying to make vanilla extract....I hate the fake stuff, but buying real vanilla extract is EXPENSIVE! If I can make it myself for less than a dollar a four ounce bottle, that will make me super-dooper happy. I will make a separate post about that little project once the beans arrive.

So, this is one frantic homemaker trying to get all these sewing projects done. I'm making progress on it!