Monday, January 13, 2014

2014 Pantry Challenge

Ummm... I am little behind on this  but better late than never, right?

According to The National Resources Defense Council the average American wastes 25 % of the food and beverages they purchase! Why--because we over buy, don't understand the use buy/ best before/ expiration dates, are busy, are tired, are lazy, are complacent or bored with our choices. Well those are MY reasons anyway!

Good Cheap Eats  has been doing the Pantry/ Freezer challenge since 2009. I meant to do it last year and even though I didn't begin on Jan 1 there is no reason for me to take up the challenge!

The purpose of the pantry/ freezer challenge is to:
1. Save money
2.  Avoid waste
3.  Shop better in the future
4. Spend less time in the store
And I am going to add an extra goal...
5. Change our food selections to more healthier options

Granted circumstances will be a little more difficult since I still have no kitchen. But  if people around the world can manage to feed their families by using nothing more than hanging kettle over a fire, then surely I can manage with a toaster oven, microwave, electric skillet, crock pot, propane grill and 1 electric hot plate!

Take stock and Organize
First thing was to take stock of what I have and organize the pantry, fridge and freezers. Not an easy feat because a lot of my foodstuff are packed in totes. But since the kitchen renovation is hold pending financial and medical related reasons, I unpacked what I could into the  pantry cupboards form the old kitchen. I am ashamed to say I had to get rid of a tote bag full of foods which were expired. Since the majority was dry or canned goods--and the items were only at most a week or 2 out of date--these items went to the critter spot by the woods. Items seriously out of date were thrown in the trash.

Up next was the process of cleaning out the freezers. Especially the chest freezer...oh wow was it bad! You would not believe the waste!  I threw away at least 25 lbs of food. Due to expiration, freezer burn or no idea what it was. UGH!! I am so angry with myself. Literally throwing money away because we were too tired to dig through the freezer or too lazy to plan.

Prepare Menu's
I made some menu's. We are approaching this in a weekly basis. I will continue to go to the grocery store and we will allow options to dine out--just not as frequently! We already had some circumstances which required to tweak the 1st week. I think to be successful, there has to be some flexibility. I think with planning I woill have a more clear picture of our preferences. It will also allow me to begin putting thought into making healthier choices.

Budget
As far as cost savings goes My goal for January is to save 25% (since I am starting in on a partial month) and 40% for February  of my average grocery spending. I realize this may take me more than 2  months to really see and feel the effects of sticking with the challenge.  I am really going to focus on purchasing only what we need based on our preferences, the meal plans and using coupons and sales to control the spending. I need to limit impulse buys or buying in bulk if it doesn't make sense for our habits.

Change is good!
I would like to say this is a resolution but I hope it to be habit that changes permanently. So wish me luck!!


Friday, January 10, 2014

The one where I nearly scare myself to death...

It was a mistake to venture outside only partially awake and without my glasses. But 3 dogs and 1 cat were quite persistent they needed to heed nature's call. I flung on a coat, slipped on boots and fumbled around for leashes. I allowed myself to be pulled by the dogs to the backyard. I managed to hook them to their tie out cables after only a few episodes of dropping the lines into the muddy-melting snow muck accompanied by some well deserved curse words.

As I am standing (really more like half asleep swaying) waiting for them to finish, something in my blurry line of vision catches my attention. Panic sets in and I begin screeching like a banshee. There is a huge hulking dude wearing  blue coveralls by the garage skulking  around. As I take off hauling ass to the house (sorry it is everyone woman and animal for themselves), I simultaneously realize several things...

1. The dogs are definitely not barking
2. No one is giving chase
3. Maybe...just maybe... I didn't see what I thought I had seen...After all it could have been my neighbor, right? Except he isn't huge and hulky...

So after a short respite-- where my legs no longer felt like jello, the cold stab of fear receded from my stomach and  I was no longer sucking wind--I found my glasses and ventured back outside to take a look. I was feeling fierce as I had my cellphone with 911 dialed in and  waiting for me to press send.

I cautiously creep around the back of the garage, my heart hammering so loudly it has to be audible to the psycho, lurking mccreepster in the back yard. On my way I pick up a metal shepherds hook. Armed and I ready I leap around the garage with a fierce "A-HA"!

Except nothing is there. Ok well nobody is there but there is a something. It turns out my gut wrenching panic attributed to a murderous maniac  lurking in my yard,  was merely my blurred myopic mistake . What exactly did I see?..the wood rack. Covered in a blue tarp. Oh yes, it is true...I am certifiable.

THIS. This is what nearly made me pee my pants from fear...So yeah...


This is what happens when a woman --who is half blind, has an overactive imagination (fueled by a late night reading of a murder mystery book) and on some days  may be of questionable sanity-- is left to her own devices. Don't say you weren't warned...


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Back in the saddle

...well back in the rolling office chair...doesn't quite have the same effect.

Tuesday was my first day at my externship. Working-laboring for free is more accurate- at a Hospital health network. I was like a kid the night before the first day of school. Laying out my outfit, packing my lunch--in my new lunch box-- and unable to sleep, waking every hour or so to look at the clock.

Packed and ready to go!
Wondering what will everyone be like?  Will I be the new kid-- all awkward with my lunch tray looking for a place to sit and be welcomed  to join the "cool kids" or will it be a mean girls episode?


Will I appear confident and knowledgeable? Or come across as socially awkward and sound like a dumb ass?
What kind of boss will I have?


It turns out my obssessing worrying was for nothing, except to make me look slightly a lot haggard and  hate my alarm clock due to lack of sleep! The "new coworkers" were really nice and friendly. I really enjoyed my day. It felt really good to be back in the cubicle (even if  it is temporary). I haven't worked in 2 years, since I have been focused on school. I was surprised how much I missed the routine. 

It is so exciting to be in my last semester and to know I am soooo close to completing my goals!



Monday, January 6, 2014

An Artic Chill

Unless you live under a rock I am sure a great many of you have heard about the arctic storm bludgeoning the midwest. 

I was out in the creepy walking dead backyard tonight when the weather shifted. Within 15 minutes the temperature dropped 6° a light drizzle changing to face sting sleet and snow. The wind screeched through the trees scaring me (and the dogs) to run with tails tucked. 

The hubbs loaded his emergency supplies into the truck and stacked extra firewood in the garage. The generator, along with an extra 5 gallons of gas are at the ready. We have stockpiled water, batteries, lanterns, extra blankets, gloves, scarves and hats.

As I sit writing this I am listening to howling winds buffering the house, as it creaks and groans. I hope the storm won't be as bad as predicted and if so, I hope we are prepared.  Weather like this truly freaks me out because it  shows how little control I actually have and it makes me feel...inadequate. I will worry about the hubbs, the kids, my family, my neighbors and friends. Because I am, after all, a world class worrier.

Hints and tips for dealing with the bitter cold
1. Dress appropriately with head and hands covered if you go outdoors in temperatures below freezing. Gloves are better than mittens.  Wool, silk and polypropylene will hold more heat as an inner layer of clothing. Most heat loss is at the head. Tissue damage occurs first on the extremities. Frostbite can occur in as little as 10 minutes.
2. Make sure animals have adequate shelter. They are susceptible frostbite, hypothermia and death in extreme weather.
3. Bang on your vehicles prior to starting the engines to dislodge any animals which may have sought shelter from the cold.
3. Stay hydrated. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
4. Have a household emergency supply kit, including a supply of drinking water and non-perishable foods, including a non-electric can opener. Bottled water or water in containers should be stored should water and other utilities be disrupted.
5. Avoid over-exertion. Cold weather puts a strain on the heart, even without exercise. Many winter injuries (and deaths) occur from over-exertion while shoveling heavy snow or pushing cars stuck in snow.
6. Emergency preparedness supplies such as extra blankets, batteries, candles, matches/lighters, lanterns,and a  battery operated radio.
7. Have alternate sources for power or heat in the event of utilities loss. If no alternate sources for heat/ power, have an evacuation plan.
8. Prepare your car by filling the tank to avoid fuel line freeze up. Check antifreeze levels. Equip your car with an emergency kit--rock salt/ sand/ cat litter, shovel, and jumper cables. Toss in  an extra blanket, extra set of clothes, gloves, hat, boots, some snacks (granola/ raisins, etc) and bottles of water.
9. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged.
10. Operate on a buddy system. Let someone know you schedule/ plans. Reciprocate and check on neighbors and elders.
I hope everyone remains safe and healthy. And just think...only 72 days until Spring!






Friday, January 3, 2014

Time for some creative construction

Y'all, my house hates me. The kitchen remodel is NOT going according to any of my plans. As you know we insulated and it definitely warmed the the place up, but I kept feeling a draft...except it was more like a breeze. So I started poking around, trying to figure out where we needed to seal the crack.

 It began innocently enough when I peeked in the corner and saw a little crack of daylight. Except it wasn't a crack, it was a big, honking gap. As in about 2 inches wide, running the entire height (length?) floor to ceiling! I will let the picture speak for itself.


This is the interior corner of my kitchen (North-East). You can see straight to the exterior (the light strip in the middle--that is the plywood interior of the outside closet). The gap is large enough to put your fingers through it.  Umm... not that I stuck my fingers through a hundred years of cobwebs and other gross creepy crawlies. Nope--THAT was the hubbs job!
The reason it wasn't noticed prior is the corner of the house sits within a shell of another wall. It is essentially a house within a house. There is a little out door closet (as shown below). With the door remaining closed it was dark we didn't see evidence of the crack. It wasn't until I was looking for a way to seal what I thought was a hole did I find this. Imagine my surprise!


I actually felt sick to my stomach to know this has been like this. No wonder I constantly had issues with mice, bugs, fumes and drafts! For now we have shoved a batt of insulation to block the draft, but I want something permanent. I am completely skeeved out by this. Not to mention curious and concerned. Why is there a gap? Is it due to age? Rot? Carpenter ants? Termites? Is my my house going to fall down around me??!! Okay breathe, breathe, go to your zen place...

We need to do some creative construction. Or have a miracle and win the lottery... There is only a 3-4 inch space between the old house and the "exoskeleton/ shell". Not big enough to get in there with any tools. And there is no way to access it from the inside. Of course not, siiigghhh

My solution is to assemble an oversized L shaped "corner bead" slide it around edge and tack it (the short edge) in place. I tried to draw an example below, so forgive my lack of artistry.
Maybe I should adhere thin foam insulation (like the stuff used for floating floors) on interior of "L shape" before we attach it? I also think we can get screws long enough to drive through the interior studs and catch the "sheet" of wood (the longer part of  the L) and snug it close to the house. When the weather warms up, spray foam can be shot into the gaps where the original house slats and "short part of the L" meet. We can stuff insulation in the corner from the inside. And I plan on tapping shims (or old pieces of lathe) into the gap from the inside. I plan on covering the corner with some thin foam insulation or weather stripping. Then I will tape the edge of the insulation batts to seal it. Does any of this make sense?

What do you think? Any suggestions? Unless we demolish the exterior "exoskeleton" or take out studs inside I don't know how to fix this. All I can say it thank goodness this was discovered before the drywall was installed. Oh the joys of an 1881 house!



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Goodbye 2013 and Hello 2014

What an interesting year! Although I really do feel as if it flew right by me.

Love
Because all things should begin and end with love. It makes for a much kinder and gentler world!


2013 was 24 years of togetherness for me and the hubbs. However, Valentine's Day was 21 years of marriage. It is hard to believe it has been that long, except on the days I am annoyed with him and then it feels MUCH longer, haha
Life
Life was relatively on even keel this year and given the upheaval in 2012, I am grateful to have had time to recuperate. 

I spent the majority of my time focused on school. I have been amazed at at how much more difficult it has been to learn new material. Whoever wrote the adage, "With age comes wisdom", has not had to return to college in their late 40's!

Although I did manage to make the dean's list 2 out of 3 semesters for 2013. Close but no cigar!


Home
2013 saw both small and big changes around My Cozy Little Farmhouse.

The simple task of painting a door and stencilling the window provided a much needed face lift and instant visual appeal.


The monumental project of completely gutting the kitchen, facing countless challenges and slowly transforming it from the kitchen of my nightmares to the kitchen of my dreams.



Garden
The garden was a challenge in 2013. Things most definitely did not go the way I had envisioned.
The weather was...weird. Add to this my lack of focus due to school, the tear out of the kitchen and the invasion of every bug known to man (ok maybe NOT ever bug--it just felt like it--bleh)  the results were dismal compared to years' past.Overall yields were interesting! 


Asparagus  6 oz
Beans  1 lb 9 oz
Brussel Sprouts 2 lbs 3 oz
Cantaloupe 9 lbs 2 oz
Corn 2 lbs 13 oz
Cucumbers 37 lbs 7 oz
Peppers (hot) 4 lbs 11 oz
Radishes 1 lb 8 oz
Squash (butternut) 18 lbs 7 oz
Squash (spaghetti) 7 lbs 13 oz
Squash (yellow) 26 lbs 8 oz
Squash (Zucchini) 41 lbs 9 oz
Strawberries 2 lbs 4 oz
Tomatoes 67 lbs 9 oz

The big winners were the cucurbits! After last year's harvest of 150 of tomatoes I was slightly disappointed in 2013 yield. Not to mention at least half of the tomatoes were due to my neighbor letting me pick her garden so I had adequate quantities to process. The disappointment is slight when viewed in the overall picture that we were lucky and blessed to have food for our bellies. For this I am very thankful!

Canning
Speaking of processing, I did quite a bit of canning and freezing.  More freezer storage than normal because I ran out of jars. I also tried to some new/ weird recipes.

Cinnamon Pickles
Which everyone has RAVED about these!
Cowboy Candy
Spicy, sweet and lotsa heat!
Family
2013 saw many changes in our family as my youngest brother and 1 of my nephews flew the nest to live on their own for the first time.  It was also a reminder to make me feel old! How are they are old enough to live on their own?! 

2013 saw my mom through multiple hospitalizations and several nursing homes. She is now living with my sister as she fights through the end stages of COPD. It also saw my step-Dad through health issues as well. All of these reminders to let go of old hurts, to appreciate your family because life is fleeting. Make the most of what time you have.

And 2013  brought the joyous occasion of my daughter and son-in-law buying their first home which is absolutely adorable!


Reflections
2013 was a challenging year in the sense it pushed me beyond my comfort zone. It was a year of introspection. It was a year of decluttering both in an emotional sense of letting go negativity and physical as I unburdened my house of accumulated things.  Amazingly both emotional and physical purges brought about peace of mind.

2013 was a good year in the aspect that I forged new connections and repaired or strengthened old ones. I found a balance between focusing inward and outward. I realized no wo(man) is an island.  It is okay to let people in and you don't need carry your burdens alone.  Sharing something of yourself doesn't make you weak. (Ummm...I am still working on this)

2013 was a charitable year. I gave more of myself in terms of time, money and gifts than ever before. And it felt good! Even better was when I gave these gifts without  acknowledgement or fanfare, it was the realization of my happy little secret. Whether it was the rescue of a lost pet, lunch with a sick friend, financial assistance to someone in need, or small tokens of gratitude (just because) it made my heart happy and warmed my soul.

As always-- I want to Thank You all-- for taking the time to  connect with me by visiting my blog, pinterest, Facebook, and emailing me. I look forward to every comment, like, tag and share. Whenever I have an opportunity to connect with one of my readers, it makes the world seem not quite so vast.

Expectations
2014 has a lot of expectations.
I will finish my last semester, take my national certification exam and find employment in a new field.
It will see me another year older (and hopefully wiser).
It will bring me hope, joy, sorrow and memories. 
I hope 2014 lives up to my expectations. 
Mostly I hope I live up to the potential gifted to me in 2014.

Happy New Year's  to all my family, friends and followers.
 Be safe. 
Be healthy.
Be happy. 
Be prosperous. 
Be true to you!