Wednesday, October 31, 2012


{I wrote this post several weeks ago to be posted, not knowing that Hurricane Sandy would affect so many on the East Coast.  This is extremely link-heavy, but I found some really great resources out there that I wanted to share.}
One of my favorite blogs about a homesteading family is also very big on preparedness.  Kendra, the author of the blog, is also aShelf Reliance Consultant.  Shelf Reliance is a company that helps others to prepare for disasters and emergencies.  In a post written back in September, Kendra documented on how to build food storage on a budget  Let me tell you, this post instilled a bit of fear in me because I know this is what I should be doing but I have always put it off thinking “this won’t happen to me.”  The truth of the matter is that it could happen to any one of us!   Ohio is not known for its tornadoes or natural disasters, but our little town was hit severely backin 1985 and the locals are still talking about it 27 years later!

Shelf Reliance has a tool on their website that helps to determine how much food a family would need in case of an emergency.  Of course, the food is all Shelf Reliance food.  I was curious to see how much it would cost hubby and me to eat for 6 months off of Shelf Reliance food.  The number was astonishing.

For a family of two, one eating 2400 calories a day and the other eating 1800 calories a day, Shelf Reliance estimated that we would need $4,301.18 in food!  I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw this number.  That is $716.86/month in food which is nearly triple our monthly grocery budget.

This got me to thinking about what we could do in our home to help prepare for a natural disaster on much less money, and this is what I’ve come up with:

·         Decide on either a non-motorized well pump or a rain catcher for water.   

·         Solar Panels with just enough power to use for emergency purposes only

·         Buy and store seeds to plant a large garden (these are good for 5+ years)

·         Continue to add perrenial fruits and vegetables to our homestead each year

·       Stock up shelves with canned goods (the shelf life on canned goods is typically 3 years: I would like to focus on stocking up on canned meats)

·         Buy rice in bulk and vaccuum seal into individual pouches

·         Stock up on dried beans

·         Stock up on the items that “last forever

·         Increase our flock of chickens (for meat & eggs)

·         Master the chicken garden – a garden that will nourish the chickens without the need for commercial chicken feed

·         Learn how to butcher chickens

·         Make a root cellar

·         Consider getting a gun for hunting (something hubby thinks we should get – but I’m not sure how I feel about it)

Shelf Reliance has brownie mixes and baked goods as part of their 6 months survival kit; however, I don’t feel that these items are necessities. If there were ever an emergency, the last thing on my mind would be baking a fresh loaf of bread!  I would like to think that I’d try to survive with filling, nutritious food in my belly like rice, beans, eggs, fruits and vegetables.

I feel we could easily build our pantry to prepare for an emergency for well less than the $4,000 Shelf Reliance suggests it would cost in freeze dried foods and bulk grains.  I would say we could easily stock the pantry with 6 months of essentials for less than $1,000. 

Even though the foods I will be stocking in the pantry will not last 20+ years, we could easily rotate our stock after a year or two to make sure nothing goes bad.  This will help keep our grocery budget down in these months, and will ensure that nothing is wasted. 

The other items like the well pump and solar panels are much more expensive, but are things that we definitely need to look into anyways.  It doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan in case of extended loss of power. 

What are you doing to prepare for a natural disaster?


Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Noticable Change in the Way we Do Things

Sparing Change is about the journey I am taking with my husband to live more of a frugal, healthy, self-sustainable life.  Looking back over the past 6 months, it amazes me how much we have evolved toward meeting our goals with the way we live our life every day.  I thought I would recap some of the changes we have made over the past several months.

One of the biggest changes we have made this year is our diet.  We have gone from eating a lot of carbs and sugar to eating a lot of protein, fruits and vegetables.  The difference has been amazing.  Not only are we losing weight (slowly), but we feel a lot better too.  There is very little processed food in our home anymore, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Our trash carrier does not offer recycling; however, hubby and I found that we can drive around the corner and take our own recyclables to the recycle bin less than a mile away from our home.  Not only is this helping the environment, it has drastically reduced the amount of trash we create in a week’s time.  On average, we have one trash bag full of garbage to go to the curb every week.  Sometimes, it is just one bag every 2 weeks because we forget about trash day!

Another thing we do to keep items out the landfill is reuse as much as we can.  Right now, we reuse plastic and glass containers with bulk items as much as possible.

Side Note:  I hate that shampoo comes in huge plastic bottles. Do you know of a bulk shampoo that is available in cardboard containers?

I am amazed at the rich soil we have back in the garden this year thanks to table scraps, leaves, chicken droppings and ashes from the wood burning stove!  Not only do the chickens love foraging in the garden that we left doormant this year, we are looking forward to that same garden producing an abundance of vegetables for us next year.  Instead of throwing away table scraps, taking up space in the trash and making the garbage smell, we throw it all into the garden area to compost.  Crushed up chicken eggs are also given to the chickens for calcium and tilled into the soil.

We must have thrown a pumpkin in the garden last year because in July, we had a vine growing and we had a couple of pumpkins form.  The chickens got to them before they ripened, but it was a pleasant surprise to see growing in the compost pile!

Stop the Use of Disposables
This year, we have pretty much done away with disposable kitchen products like paper plates and napkins.  We now use plates, glasses and cloth napkins.  I will admit that I am better at using the cloth napkins than hubby is, but at least he’s cut down quite a bit.  We still have paper towels in the cabinet that we purchased 6 months ago.

Feminine Products
I know this is not something that everyone wants to read about, but it is something that has changed in our household and I would like to pass along the information.  Thanks to a giveaway on the Frugal & Simple blog some months ago, I won a $50 gift card to LunaPads* which is a company that sells reusable feminine products.


With my gift certificate, I purchased this kit that included everything I needed to do away with tampons and pads.  At first, the Diva Cup was a bit awkward to use, but it has become second nature now.  Never again will I have to purchase pads or tampons! 

Buying Local
I would love to say that we buy a lot of our produce locally, but that is not the case.  We buy some produce locally, but not all.  I would like to improve in this area next year.  However, we found a local butcher that raises their meat and butchers it right there on the premesis (not in the store, but a building next to the store).  We buy the majority of our meat from this market now.  It is not the least expensive, but it is fresh and great quality.

Grow It Yourself
We have failed miserably this year on growing our fall, winter and spring produce and canning it, but we have been able to freeze a lot of our zucchini for later use.  Next year, we will try again with the garden.

However, we are growing our own flock of chickens to be butchered in the spring.  There is no other reason to have 17 chickens running around a property other than to butcher, and that is what we intend to do.

Going Paperless
Changes to my home-life are now carrying over to my professional-life.  I am a Purchasing Agent and unfortunately that means I do a lot of paper-pushing.  To cut back on the amount of paper I print and file, I have started to use electronic sources available to me.  This includes emailing purchase orders to vendors, faxing electronic purchase orders through a fax program installed on my computer to those vendors that prefer fax, and immediately entering PO’s into our system electronically as I place them.  In the past, I would print out all of my paperwork and then enter the orders the next morning, so doing it this way, not only am I saving paper and toner, I am also saving time by getting it done immediately. I would say that I have cut down the amount of paper I print by 50% over the past several months.  I would love to go completely paperless in my position, but at this point, that is not feasable. I am always looking for ways to cut back, though.

For the paper that I do use, I am able to recycle when I don’t need the paperwork any longer.  My employer shreds all documents and has agreed to give me the clippings to use as chicken bedding.  I clean the chicken bedding every week and put the soiled paper shavings back into the garden.  Not only does the paper decompose over time, it also retains water which leads to less watering in the summer months!

Ink Refills
The last area at work that I have been consciously working on is the amount of pens I go through. I had been using the company-provided “cheapy” pens, but they seemed to go out on me every few weeks which is a complete waste in my eyes.  I have since purchased a 2-pack of Zebra pens that are comfortable for me to write with, and I buy the refillable ink cartridges.  Not only do they last longer (over a month!), there is less waste.  I always thought I would lose them, but it is amazing when you spend money on your own pens, you tend to keep track of them much better than the “cheapy” pens.


Have you made any changes in the way you live life?  I would love to hear about it!

*Disclosure: I was in no way compensated to give LunaPads a positive review.  I purchased the product, use it and I am pleased that it is helping to keep sanitary products out of the landfills.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Love You Because...

September was an extremely difficult month for my marriage.  I am not sure if it had something to do with unmet expectations, the change in the weather (making us both irritable!), the inability to communicate properly, or the lack of quality time together, but the entire month was unpleasant for us both.  The last week of September, it had gotten to the point that we slept in separate bedrooms 5 out of 7 nights.

Todd and I have had our tough times before and got through them with working together with a counselor and moving past the issues.  As the counselor always says, “Plan on the future: you havent screwed that up yet!”

I was convinced last month that it was time to separate for a little while to determine how to move forward in this marriage.  I had gone so far as to physically looking at apartments for myself and the pup.  It was that bad.  

After several more days of argueing about what the true issues were, we decided that we needed to continue to work on our marriage.  When I am upset or disappointed in Todd, I have a hard time seeing the good in him, which begins a vicious cycle of arguments and nitpicking.  I decided that instead of focusing on the bad, I was going to start writing out why I love him. 


This was the first “I love you because…” message I left for Todd early in October.  It seems like a silly reason to love him, but on this particular morning when I wrote the message on the dry-erase board, I was struggling.  We had a rough night the evening before and I emotionally shut down on him.  This was all I could come up with. 

Todd found the message 6 hours after I wrote it and texted me while I was at work.  He received the message well and began to tell me why he loved me.

Since then, we have been working on focusing on why we love one another instead of the negative attributes that get under our skin.  I try to write a message up on the dry-erase board inconspicuously once a week.  Not only does it show Todd that I love him, but it reminds me why I fell in love with him in the first place.

Even though our marriage has not been a smooth road from the get-go, we are dedicated to making it work. As often as we want to walk away, we realize that that is truly the easy way out.  It is much more difficult to work on the relationship than to walk away. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Cost of Gardening Final Report for 2012

Here in NorthEast Ohio, the 2012 garden season has come to an end.  We have had frost a couple of times this week, and there is nothing producing in the garden.

I have kept up better with the garden this year more than I have ever kept up with any garden I have had.  There were still a lot of weeds, mind you, but a couple times a week, I could be found outside picking zukes, cukes, beans and maters.  This year, hubby was supposed to help with the garden but that did not happen.  I feel the garden would have done better if I would have had help.  The truth of the matter is, by mid-August, I am pretty much tired of tending the garden and I let it go wild.   

My goal this year was to keep track of what we spent on starting a new garden in a new location. The last I posted about how much our garden cost this year was back in May.  In June, we picked up a couple of packs of bamboo sticks to tie up the tomatoes, so we had an extra cost of $4.19.  That being said, this year, we spent a total of $185.18 on the garden.  I didn’t keep track of how many pounds of produce we ate and put away, but we got a decent amount of produce, and it was all organic!  That being said, I cannot tell you whether or not it was “worth it” and to be honest, I don’t care.  I love being able to go outside and pick a tomato to eat with our burgers for dinner.  I enjoyed picking grape tomatoes and eating them as snacks throughout the day or putting them on our salads at dinner.  

The Big Expenses

The two biggest expenses for the garden this year were the straw bales and the super-soil we put on the ground to help the garden to flourish.

We were trying out the straw bale method of gardening, but it was a horrible fail.  That was a waste of $60 in straw bales, in my opinions.  However, I am using the straw bales that didn’t compost over the summer in a new project for next year: an edible landscape.  I am going to be planting vegetables in the flower bed in front of the house to expand how much we produce.  I am putting what is left of the straw bales in front of the house along with some leaves when they begin to fall to compost over the fall and winter months and we will till it into the soil when spring rolls around.

The super soil was so that our plants had the nutrients they needed to start in the new plot where the garden sat this year.  That was a $44 expense, but I think it was necessary.  Next year, we wont have that expense. 

So as you can see, $104 out of the $185.15 were expenses that we shouldnt have again next year.

What We Harvested

These are some of the first veggies we picked from the garden this year.


We got a lot of grape tomatoes, a few early girl tomatoes, and several dozen beefstake tomatoes from the garden.  My hopes with the beefstake were to have enough to can enough spaghetti sauce to use throughout the next 3 seasons.  That didn’t happen.  Next year, we will grow only grape, early girls and roma tomatoes. 



We had a bumper crop of zucchini this year!  We have a lot of produce in the freezer to be used throughout the fall and winter months, and we ate a lot of fresh zucchini too.  I always purchase my zukes as seedlings from a nursery.  Next year, I will plant them by seed. 


Summer Squash:

I planted a whole packet of summer squash in the ground by seed for the first time to see how they would produce.  Out of the whole packet, we only got 3 plants, but they produced well!  We have a lot of summer squash mixed with zucchini diced up and in the freezer to eat throughout the winter.  Also, because we are eating gluten/dairy/sugar-free, hubby found a recipe to make mock hash browns out of summer squash.  They were delish, and we will be growing a lot more next year!



We planted 3 packets of cucumber seeds in the straw bales and they are the only plant that took off!  It took several months, but they ended up doing really well.  My husband loves cukes, so he ate a lot of them and we canned 3 large jars (the jars that bulk pickles come in) of pickles from freakishly large cukes that grew.  Next year, we will be planting triple the amount of cukes and plant them in the ground instead of in the straw bales.

Picture on the far right is store-bought pickles.  The three on the left are homemade.
You can see how large our cukes got in the first jar on the left!!

Spaghetti Squash:

Todd and I eat spaghetti squash quite a bit, especially now that we are not eating any grain.  We planted 2 packets of seeds in the ground this year and they did great until the roots started to rot and the squash got mushy.  We were only able to harvest 4-5 spaghetti squash from the garden, but we were able to buy some for $1/each at a farmer’s market to freezer for future dinners.  The squash that rotted did not get wasted.  The chickens loved them! 

(How do you prevent root rot? Any tips or tricks?)

Green Beans:

I tried a new variety of green beans this year called yard-long green beans.  These were awesome!  They grow on a vine and though they are not truly yard long (they get too seedy when they get that big), they were at least a foot long when they were ready to pick.  Next year, we will be planting many, many more of these yard-long green beans.


I also planted my normal bush green beans as well, that did great.  We will be planting many many more green beans next year by seed and hopefully stay on top of harvesting them before they go to seed.

Snow Peas:

I planted the peas in the straw bales and they fried out in the sun.  I planted some more in another garden we have with some shade and they did well.  Not enough to freeze but we had a meal or two from them.   Next year, we will be planting a lot of snow peas in the garden with shade.



I planted onions by seed this year, and they are doing great!  They are so easy, and the critters cannot get to them.   Next year, I will plant more packets of onions.  We use onions a lot in our meals.


Pie Pumpkins:

Our pie pumpkins did great, but had the same problem as the spaghetti squash with the rotting vine.  We ended up getting 6 pumpkins out of 1 packet of seeds.  We planted them as a snack for the chickens, so I think it was worth it.


It didn’t seem like we had all of these items growing as I was picking them.  No wonder why I got burnt out on gardening! 

Next year, we will tweak where we plant things and increase the amount of seeds that we will plant.  I am (highly) considering starting everything from seed in the ground outside (I don’t have luck starting seeds indoors) to keep the expense of the garden down.

Do you find yourself planning next year’s garden before this year’s garden is complete? How did your garden do this year?

This post is linked up to the Homestead Barn Hop #83 & Women Living Well!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chicky Babies

To catch up about our broody hen, please read:

On July 16th, after over 21 days of incubating fertilized eggs, chicks began to hatch!   It was a glorious day of firsts for our homestead.  Hubby and I had never gone through this before, so we didn’t know what to expect.  Actually, hubby was out of town for a few days when the chicks began to hatch, so I was constantly texting him with what was happening.


Out of 30 fertile eggs, 12 of them hatched on Monday, July 16th.  I got home from work to see a bunch of peeps under Latte, our broody hen. 

Over the next week, we had a couple more peeps hatch each day.  Total, 19 chickens hatched from the fertilized eggs we received.  This could have been due to a couple of reasons: Some of the eggs may not have been fertile or I didn’t incubate the ones inside properly.  Latte was not able to lay on all of the eggs we had, so we bought an incubator to incubate half of them indoors.

Once the peeps hatched and got their fluff, we brought them inside to a tempertature controlled area of the house under a heat lamp.  It was such a blast to watch them fumble around the first few days, and adding a few more to the mix every day or two.

Unfortunately, a couple died unexpectedly the first week: one had a medical complication that I was unable to doctor up and one was a runt whose legs and beak were growing, but it’s body wasn’t growing properly.  Let me tell you…chicks are pigs!  They eat so much!!  After the first week, they tripled in size.  I had to find another place to keep them so they had some room to roam around.  We ended up using an unused dog cage that we had.  I put leaves in the bottom (free!) and we set up house for the chicky babies.  They stayed in this area for approximately 3 weeks until they had all their feathers and it was time to move them outside.


Even though we have a chicken coop that would accommodate all of our chickens, we were afraid the hens would peck the chicks to death.  Even when we experimented with the chicks outside, the hens were not fond of the chicky babies!  Hubby was gracious enough to build a coop to keep the chicky babies away from harm, but acclamate to the weather.



I realize that the chick coop is not the most attractive coop on the market, but it was free and it serves it’s purpose. (Please note: Hubby built a door for it!)  We decided that once we integrate the chicks into the hen’s coop, we will eventually use the chick house as a breeding shack in the future.  We are calling it “The Love Shack.”

Mocha not sure what to make of the curious chicky baby

Unfortunately, when the chicks were 6 ½ weeks old, we lost another to a hawk outside.  We are at 14 chicks right now and I hope we don’t lose any more.

The chicks are 3 months old now, and to date, I cannot figure out which is a hen and which is a roo.  From what I’ve read, I may have to wait another few months or wait until they start crowing!  I have a feeling that we have 4 roo’s, but don’t quote me on that. 

Chicky Babies Today: 3 months old

I will admit to sitting outside and watching all the chickens run around their fenced in area for hours on end.  They are coexisting outside just fine, but I am continually finding the hens stealing the chick’s food!  They are pretty much both the same size right now with some of the chicky babies being bigger than our 1 ½ year old hens!

Two chicks and a hen (on the way left).  They are pretty much the same size!
If you are able to own backyard hens, I highly recommend it.  Not only do they provide food for the table, they make great pets.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Foliage

This weekend, Todd and I went out to see if the leaves were changing.  It was a gorgeous day on Saturday, and we found a new hiking trail about 15 minutes away from the house.  We absolutely loved this trail, and look forward to going back again.

This is what we experienced:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Our New Way to Save For Our (Yearly) Financial Expenses and Goals

My husband and I have been debt free except our mortgage since June 15, 2011.  We have always had a budget in place; however, it was extremely flexible (or what I like to call: willie-nillie).  If we went over budget in one area, we took from another.  Unfortunately, what suffered the most with this way of budgeting was our savings account and long-term savings goals.

I think I may be the natural saver in our relationship because I always felt we werent saving enough to meet our long-term savings goals.  To help rid of the anxiety I was experiencing about the (lack of) money we were putting into savings, I decided to try a new way of consistently saving money.

What I did was write down our yearly expenses and our yearly financial goals.  After I totaled up that number, I divided it by our yearly after-tax income.  This was pretty easy to do for us because we get paid the same amount each payperiod except for the extra week’s pay a few times a year (which I did not include in our yearly income number).

Our numbers looked a little something like this*:

Quarterly/Bi-Yearly/Yearly Expenses:

  • Trash Pickup (Quarterly) - $50 x 4 -$200/year
  • Property Tax (Bi-Yearly) - $650 x 2 - $1300/year
  • Home Owner’s Insurance / Car Insurance - $1400/year
  • Septic Inspection & Maintenance Contracts - $300/year
  • Terminex - $250/year
  • Propane - $1500/year
  • Total: Approximately $5000
Yearly Financial Goals:

  • Home Improvement Fund - $2,500
  • Replacement Vehicle Fund / Car Maintenance - $2,500
  • Roth IRA Accounts - $2,000 x 2 - $4,000/total
  • Vacation Fund - $1,000
  • Total: $10,000
As you can see, our yearly expenses and financial goals total $15,000*.  Once I had this number, I was able to divide it by our income to determine that we would have to save 40% of our income to meet our yearly expenses and financial goals.

Luckily, I have a husband who is willing to go along with whatever I want to try, so I began to implement this new way of saving the first week in August.  To date, this has worked well for us!

When we get paid (hubby gets paid every Friday, I get paid the 15th & 30th), I immediately transfer 40% of our income into our ING Direct savings account(s).  We then live off of the remaining balance of our income and pay our mortgage, utilities, gasoline, groceries and any other expense that may come up.  After everything is paid, I write how much we have in our checking account on the white board we have on the side of our refrigerator so that hubby knows how much we have until the next payday.  Sometimes it is a few hundred – other times, it is $60!

Within our ING Direct account, I have the following savings accounts set up:

  • Emergency Fund
  • Yearly Expenses
  • Vehicle / Maintenance
  • Home Improvement
  • Roth IRA
  • Vacation
  • Rainy Day
With setting up our savings accounts this way, I can see where we stand at all times with our accounts.  Starting in 2013, we will first fund our yearly expenses fund, and then move on down the list from there.  Please note: we have a 3 month emergency fund in place, so that is why we are not starting to save in this fund before any others.  Any overage we save throughout the year will go into the rainy day and emergency fund (to beef it up).

With this way of budgeting, I now have peace of mind that we are saving an adequate amount of money, and Todd has peace of mind that I will not hoard all of our income into savings!
How do you budget for your yearly expenses and savings goals?


*These are not our true numbers, but are being used as an example to show how we are now “budgeting” for our yearly expenses and goals.