Showing posts with label Dollar Stretching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dollar Stretching. Show all posts

Apr 18, 2014

How to Buy Bath Towels that Last

Are you tired of buying bath towels only to have them shrink, fade, and unravel a short time later? Next time you're shopping, use this bath towel buying guide and avoid the disappointment and waste!

#1: Materials Used

The first thing to look for in quality towels is the type of material they are made from. The best towels are made of either cotton or bamboo. Cotton comes in several quality levels:

100% Cotton - 100% cotton towels are the minimum in quality you should look for. Many durable bath towels are made of ordinary cotton.

Prima Cotton - This type of cotton is made from the same plants that make the best Egyptian cotton, but are grown in the United States. A brand name for prima cotton is Supima cotton.

Organic Cotton - This type of cotton is about giving you a more natural product. Towels marked as made from 100% certified organic cotton are made from fibers that were never treated with chemicals while growing.

Turkish Cotton - Made from cotton that's grown in the Aegean region. Turkish toweling is almost as absorbent as Egyptian cotton, and is usually fluffy and thick.

Egyptian Cotton - The highest quality cotton available. The fibers are extra-long, highly absorbent, and very durable.

There are also micro fiber towels whose primary advantage is they dry quickly after use.

Be sure to read fabric labels carefully. Look for "100%" (i.e., "100% prima cotton"). Towels labeled "made with" (i.e. "made with prima cotton") include other fibers - usually synthetics.


Cotton plant.
#2. Construction
 
 In addition to the type of material used, consider the fabric weight. Sheets are given a thread count, but towels are measured by grams per square meter, or GSM. A lower GSM means the towels are thinner and lighter; a higher GSM means they are thicker and heavier. I recommend only considering towels 400 GSM or higher.

400-600 GSM towels are often used for beach towels or guest towels that aren't often used. They are medium weight, and each additional 100 GSM makes the towels a little more absorbent and heavy.

600-900 GSM towels are of the highest quality. They are heavier, more absorbent, and more durable.

You may also see references to "twist" - or the number of twists per inch made with the yarn during constructing. A lower number means the towel is softer and more plush; a higher number means the towel is more durable and heavy.
 
Some other construction methods are of note, too. For example, if the towel is combed cotton, the material is literally combed so that only the strongest and longest threads remain. Terry cloth towels have extra yarn and longer thread loops, making them more absorbent. Ringspin cotton is made from finer, smoother yarn, resulting in a softer towel, while two-ply towels are made with double the amount of yarn, making the towel absorbent, durable, and heavy.


#3. Size Matters

It's not true that all bath towels are of the same size. Some manufacturer's cut corners by making them smaller - and some more luxurious bath towels are considerably larger. The standard size of a bath towel is anywhere from 27 x 52 inches to 30 x 58 inches. If you want over-sized towels, look for "bath sheets," which are usually about 35 x 60 inches to 40 x 70 inches.

Hand towels are 16 x 28 inches to 18 x 30 inches in size, finger towels are about 11x18 inches, and wash clothes are about 13 x 13 inches.


#4. Making the Purchase


It may seem that buying towels in person is the best way to go. After all, if you can handle the towels, you can tell by feel how soft they are, and you can look closely to see how well made they are. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for manufacturers to apply a finish to the towels to make them feel softer or look shinier - and that finish will go away the first time the towels are washed. And unless you can see that the towels are raveling in the store (highly unlikely), it's pretty tough to tell much about the quality of the construction by just looking.

Instead, I recommend buying towels online - or at least consulting the store's website to look at online reviews. Begin by seeking out towels with 4 and 5 star ratings. From there, look at the worst reviews for the towels. Read those reviews carefully. Is the customer really complaining about the quality of the towels, or something else? It's also important to note how many great reviews there are vs. how many bad reviews there are. If, for example, a set of towels has one hundred 4 star reviews and 2 bad reviews, it's likely you will be pleased with the towels. Another thing to look for, however, is how long the customers have had the towels. Some people leave a review immediately after buying the product - perhaps even before using the product. Such reviews aren't very helpful. But reviews written by customers who've used the product for, say, a month or more, are highly useful.

Apr 7, 2014

Equipping Your Kitchen - at the Thrift Store

Kitchen tools can be costly. A good mixer is over $200. A good bread machine, over $100. Even smaller tools like strainers and spoons add up quickly. And yet good tools can save you a lot of time and effort in the kitchen, making healthy, from scratch food much more do-able.

When it comes to equipping your kitchen, if you're on a budget, thrift stores are your best friend. In January, I made a list of kitchen tools I wanted to acquire, and by shopping at thrift stores, I've already obtained most of them - and for very little money! I've purchased an electric knife to make my homemade bread much less crumbly ($3; savings $17), a salad spinner ($1; savings $20), a manual beater (50 cents; savings $19), and a Food Saver that looks like it's never been used ($9; savings $151). My total cost? $13.50. Total savings? $193.50!

Of course, this takes a wee bit of dedication. I visit a thrift store at least every other week - once a week is better. It's smart to get there on a Friday, before the stores are inundated on the weekend - but I rarely get to go before Saturday or Sunday, so this isn't a must. Some weeks I walk away with nothing. Other weeks, I seem to hit the mother load.

Not all thrift stores are created equal. Those in my town (which is not prosperous) have much slimmer pickings than a thrift store I frequent in a nearby town that's a bit more affluent. Some thrift stores have higher prices than others. Some thrift stores seem to have a better selection of kitchen gear than others. So you need to be willing to explore a bit.

And, frankly, some items are very difficult to find in my local thrift stores. For example, I haven't yet found a coffee grinder or the large stainless steel bowls I'd like to add to my kitchen.

Yet even if you only acquire a small portion of your kitchen tools from thrift stores (or, for that matter, garage sales or Craigslist), you'll still save a lot of money!

Mar 12, 2014

17 Upcycled Seed Starter Pots - and how to use them

How much do you spend on seed starting supplies? If you are buying anything more than seeds and soil, you're wasting money! That's because it's so easy to start seeds using materials you already have on hand:

Salad container turned seed starting container.
1. Salad containers. If you buy greens or salads in plastic containers with lids, these are perfect seed
starting containers. (In fact, they are my favorite!)

2. Cookie, donuts, and other sweet containers. The kind that are plastic with a lid. Again, these are ideal for seed sowing.

3. Toilet paper and paper towel tubes. If you fold the ends under, they make perfect little pots that are biodegradable. (Learn how to make these pots in my free ebook Starting Seeds.)

4. Newspaper. It's easy to fold these into individual seed starting pots. (Learn how my free ebook Starting Seeds.)

5. Plastic soda pop and water jars. Just cut off the tops of plastic jars to make them a suitable height. If you like, duct tape the tops back on, to make a mini greenhouse.

6. Milk and juice jugs and cartons. Treat the plastic jugs just like soda jars. Cut cartons down to height -
Seed pot from a toilet paper tube.
even the single serving cartons work!

7. Yogurt tubs. Also tubs from cottage cheese, Cool Whip, ricotta cheese, and so on.

8. Aluminum soda pop and beer cans. These can be tricky to cut in half (Use caution! The cut edges will be sharp!), but they do work as nice little seed pots.

9. Styrofoam, plastic, and wax-coated paper disposable cups. The kind with domed plastic lids are perfect for making little greenhouses, but even lid-less types work.

10. Aluminum cans from canned food.

11. Aluminum roasting pans. Cheap ones from the Dollar Tree are just fine - or, if you buy rotisserie chicken, the pans they come in work great, too. Ideally, use the type with clear plastic lids.

12. Coffee cans.

Seed pot from newspaper. No special tools needed!
13. CD/DVD cases. The type you buy blanks in.

14. Chinese takeout boxes.

15. Plastic or Styrofoam takeout boxes.

16. Old Tupperware-style containers.

17. Cereal boxes. Just cut down their height.


And a few containers I don't recommend:

* Egg cartons. They aren't deep enough for seedlings to develop healthy roots.

* Ice cube trays. Again, unless they are unusually deep, the seedlings won't develop good root systems.

* Egg shells. Again, the problem is no room for roots.

* Citrus halves. No room for roots!

* Plastic berry boxes. These may seem ideal, but they have holes all over them, and this defeats the wonderful mini greenhouses effect of boxes with lids. If you have plastic berry boxes, go ahead and use them, but plan on using something else to create a greenhouse effect

* Glass jars. All seed starting containers need to have drainage holes...and you can't put drainage holes in glass.


How to Use Upcycled Materials for Seed Starting Pots:

1. Make sure the container has good drainage. Unless the container is paper (like a toilet paper tube), that means poking some holes in the bottom. At least 3 will work for a very small container, like a yogurt cup. For larger containers, like a salad greens box, use 5 - 8. If the material of the container is thin, you may be able to carefully poke drainage holes using one blade of a pair of scissors. Be careful! And make sure you're creating a hole, not just a slit. Otherwise, I recommend using either a hammer and fat nail or an electric drill.

2. Make sure the container is clean.

3. Add new soil - not soil from the garden and not soil that's been used before (unless you know how to sterilze old potting soil). You can use soil designed just for seed starting, but I have great success using plain old potting soil.

4.  Thoroughly dampen the soil. Make sure it's wet all the way to the bottom of the container.

5. Plant the seeds, according to seed packet directions.

You can now leave the containers as is, but you'll have better success if you create mini greenhouses that hold in moisture and heat:

6. If the container came with a clear plastic lid, make a few slits in the lid carefully using a pair of scissors or Exacto knife. Place the lid securely on top of the container. Within a few minutes, the container should fog up. If it doesn't, either the lid isn't a tight enough fit or the soil is too dry. As the seedlings grow, gradually cut away more and more of the lid until the plant is ready to go into the garden.

7. If the container has no lid, you can still create a greenhouse effect by putting a plastic Ziplock-style bag
over the top of the container, open end down. (Stiff freezer bags are easiest to use; if the bag wants to sag and not stand upright, place a few sticks in the seed pot to hold the plastic up.)

8. If you have many small seed pots (for example, toilet paper tube pots), you can put them in a plastic tub, old Tupperware-style container, roasting pan, or a plastic greens box from the gocery store. Make sure the larger container has some drainage holes and use the container lid (with air circulation slits) to cover the seedlings. Or, cover the large container with plastic wrap, loosely placed on top.

For more information on how to gradually acclimate seedlings to the outdoors, and how to use winter sowing or grow lights to create healthier seedlings, download the FREE ebook "Seed Starting."

Feb 10, 2014

Drought Gardening - How to Grow Food in a Drought

Parts of the U.S. are experiencing droughts this year. This likely means grocery store food prices will increase - which makes this year a great year to grow your own food. (Actually, every year is a great year to grow your own food!) But what if you're living in a dry area? How can you grow food during a drought? What are the tricks to drought gardening? And, even if you aren't experiencing a drought, how can you conserve water in the garden?

* Don't intensive garden (space plants closer together than the seed packet recommends) or grow food in raised beds or containers. All these methods require more watering.

* Place plants far apart; generally at least 1 1/2 times more than seed packet guidelines. This allows plant roots to spread far underground, searching for water and nutrients. Naturally, this works best if you have plenty of room for a garden. (For more information on this method, read Steve Solomon's free Gardening Without Irrigation; also, "Steve Solomon's Garden Innovations.")

* Use cisterns (or buckets or other containers) now to capture all possible rainwater. You can use rain barrels, too, but rooflines tend to harbor animal feces, chemicals, molds, and fungi, which all run directly into rain barrels. (NOTE: It may be tempting to use gray water - such as from your clothes washer - for watering, but this water may contain human feces, and therefore isn't recommended for edibles.)

A soaker hose in action.
* Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses. This brings water directly to the base of plants, where it is needed.

* Learn how to tell if the garden actually needs water. With a trowel, remove the top three or four inches of soil; stick your finger into the bottom of the hole. If the soil feels dry, it's time to water. Also, there are critical times in a plant's life when it needs more water. See Old Farmer's Almanac for more information.

* Water in the morning, before the heat of the day. If you water later, much of the water will evaporate. (You might be tempted to water in the evenings, but this can leave plants damp - especially if you use a method other than drip irrigation - and this leads to disease.)

* Water deeply. This allows you to water less frequently and encourages a deeper root system in plants. To this end, try inserting a bit of PVC pipe with holes drilled throughout or a soda bottle with holes punched in it, near the base of plants. This is an especially good strategy for plants that require more than average water, such as tomatoes. Or bury clay pots in the soil near plants. (Regular terracotta pots will do, as long as you cover the tops with saucers to help prevent water evaporation; in addition, you can purchase clay pots made just for irrigating.) Fill the pots with water and the liquid will gradually seep from the pots, watering the plants.

* Add organic matter to your garden. This includes compost, mulches, and aged manure. Science has proven that healthy soil retains water much more effectively than soil that's depleted of organic material. To that end, you might try clear fallowing: Don't grow anything in the garden area for one year, but leave behind the remains of previous crops. (Alternatively, leave behind the remains of a cover crop.) This acts as a mulch, helping to retain moisture in the soil. This obviously works best if you have room for more than one garden area.

* Mulch heavily. Use about six inches of straw, hay, shredded leaves, wood chips*, or other organic materials over your irrigation hoses. However, make sure the soil is warmed up before you lay mulch down in the spring. Also, don't let mulch touch the stems of plants. (*Not sawdust or bark mulch; and don't even use wood chips if you till your garden, since it will rob the soil of nitrogen if tilled in)

Weeding conserves water for desirable plants.
* Weed, weed, weed. If there are weeds in your garden, they are using up precious moisture; remove them ASAP.

* Choose plants that come to harvest quickly. The less time plants spend in the soil, the less water the crop will need. All seed packets should indicate how many days it takes for the plant to become harvestable; if you have a choice between a plant that is ready in 75 days and one that is ready in 30 days, choose the 30 day plant.

* Focus on a spring and fall garden. More than likely the weather will be more moist and less hot during these seasons. This means growing mostly cool season crops - but there are lots of great cool season crops to choose from.

* Select drought resistant plants, such as mature rhubarb, okra, and peppers. For more ideas, visit Native Seeds, which specializes in plants that grow in arid locations; see also Burpee's list of heat tolerant vegetables.

* Use windbreaks to prevent wind from sweeping across your garden and taking water with it.

* Shade cloth placed over the garden in the heat of the day helps prevent plants from expiring so much water. You can use hoops to hold the shade cloth in space, or simply tie a shade cloth to posts or fences in the garden area.

* Try the dry gardening method of "dust mulching." This means cultivating the first two or three inches of soil to slow the wicking of water; this keeps more liquid in the soil just below the cultivated area. Dust mulching should be done after the garden is irrigated, or after a rain. (This method, while traditional, is controversial. Read more here.)

Dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes. Via CUESA.
* Dry farm your tomatoes. This only works if you have soil that's high in organic matter. Water the tomato only when the leaves start to yellow and completely stop watering the plant once it fruits. The plant yield will be less, and the plant will look ugly, but the tomatoes are said to taste superior.

* Don't fret about wilting. It's normal for plants to wilt in the afternoon heat. They will recover as the day cools. If, however, plants are wilted before the heat of the day, they require water.

* Look at the desert tribe gardening techniques of Native Americans. They sometimes built gardens that were not level; the planting area was low-lying, and small trenches were dug to funnel water toward the plants. Sometimes one end of the garden was higher and a ramp was formed out of the earth to funnel water down to plants. Creative thinking about funneling what water is available to your plants makes your job a lot easier.


This post featured at Crafty Garden Mama.

Feb 5, 2014

How to Cut Long Hair...Even Your Own!

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a mom who said she always cuts her daughter's hair - and her own hair. I was amazed. While I cut my husband's and son's hair, saving at least $600 each year, and while I trim my own bangs, I was too afraid to try giving we long-haired girls a hair cut.

Until this mom explained her simple method of doing it. A bonus: It creates a layered look, which is great for those of us who like a little extra fullness in our hair.

First, I tried my own hair. It worked! Then I cut my daughter's hair. We are both pleased with the result. Here's how we did it.

You'll Need:

A ponytail holder
A comb or brush
Sharp scissors
Spray bottle filled with water (optional, but recommended)
Step 2.
How to Cut Long Hair:

1. Damp hair is easiest to cut, so you can either wash your hair and let it partially dry, or spritz your hair with water to make it damp. I recommend the latter, since the cleaner your hair is the harder it can be to handle.

2. Brush your hair into a high ponytail. Think of it as a unicorn's horn;it should be high on the forehead. Secure with a ponytail holder.

3. Lean forward, so the ponytail hangs in front of your face. Comb the ponytail and cut off the desired amount of hair. Sharp scissors are a must here!

4. Brush or comb the ponytail again, and, if needed, straight the cut by taking small cuts.

5. Remove the ponytail holder and brush your hair.

Ta da!
 

Jan 27, 2014

How to Freeze Waffles and Pancakes - It's SO Easy!

For many years now, I've been freezing pancakes and waffles. And, really, it's one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your dependance on unhealthy, expensive, processed food! In fact, it's so easy, for years I didn't write a blog post about it; I thought: "Well, the post would be all of one sentence!" But because so many people don't know about this, I decided to write up some tips and point you toward some from scratch recipes, in addition to giving you the really easy info on how to freeze pancakes and waffles at home.

How to Freeze Pancakes and Waffles

1. First, choose a good time to make waffles and/or pancakes. I like to pick an unhurried morning, cooking up enough that I can feed my family and make tons of extra to freeze. If that doesn't work for you, just choose a time when you can whip up a big batch of pancakes or waffles. The freezing part takes no more than 5 minutes, TOPS - so you really just need time for the actual cooking.

2. Next, choose a really good recipe. You can certainly make your waffles or pancakes with a product like Bisquick, but it's cheaper, healthier - and so easy! - to make them from scratch! I also recommend you try making your pancakes and waffles with some wheat flour. Not only does this make the end product considerably healthier, with more nutrients, but it makes the pancakes and waffles much more flavorful. Plus, pancakes and waffles made with wheat flour fill tummies far more quickly!

My recipes for whole wheat pancakes and whole wheat waffles are very simple. Even my husband, who chooses white bread over wheat bread every time, prefers my wheat pancakes and waffles to those made with white flour.

3. Once you have your recipe and ingredients together, just whip up the batter and start cooking. For pancakes, it might be nice to have a large electric skillet - but if you don't, no worries. I don't have one, yet I'm able to cook up quite a lot of pancakes in a short amount of time.

As the pancakes come off the skillet (or the waffles come out of the waffle iron), set them onto a plate to cool. It's fine to stack them.

The pancakes or waffles need to completely cool, so don't be afraid to leave the kitchen at this point and do other things. It won't hurt the waffles or pancakes to sit on the counter for a while.

4. Once the pancakes or waffles are completely cool, you have a few options:

* Place one each into half pint freezer bags.

* Place many in a gallon-sized freezer bag, separated by pieces of wax paper.

* Place many in a gallon-sized freezer bag, without anything to separate them.

Honestly, after years of doing this, I do the latter: I just throw them into a freezer bag and pop them into the freezer. Occassionally, some will stick together, but it's usually easy to just pull them apart. For those that aren't as easy to separate, I stick a butter knife between them - and they pop apart right away.

That's it! I told you it was SO EASY!

To heat homemade, frozen pancakes, I suggest using a microwave. To heat waffles, I suggest sticking them in a toaster or toaster oven. There is absolutely no need to defrost the pancakes or waffles before reheating.

Jan 20, 2014

Easy Homemade Hash Browns

There are three reasons you might want to make homemade hash browns:

* DIY hash browns are healthier. Sadly, most frozen, store-bought hash browns contain GMO ingredients, soy, extra oils, preservatives, etc. (For example, see the ingredients in these Walmart brand hash browns, or in these Ore-Ida hash browns.)

* From scratch hash browns are more frugal than prepared, frozen hash browns, saving about $2 - 3 per pound.

* It's helpful to know how to make hash browns in case you run out of the frozen kind and don't want to spend the money and time to run to the store.

Besides, making hash browns from scratch is really easy.

What You'll Need:

Scrubbed potatoes
A large pot
A colander or strainer
A cheese grater

And if you want to freeze them for later use, you'll need:
wax paper or parchment paper
rimmed baking sheet
freezer bags

How to Make Homemade Hash Browns:

1. Place scrubbed potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. (How many potatoes you need depends upon the size of the potatoes. To give you an idea, though, four very large, baking style potatoes makes enough hash browns to fill about two full gallon-sized freezer bags)
2. Boil the potatoes until they are "al dante." You should be able to prick them with a fork, but the potatoes should still feel firm.

3. Drain, but DO NOT rinse. Allow the potatoes to cool in the colander. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the peels; they will slide off easily. Let the potatoes cool completely in the refrigerator. (If you try to grate the potatoes when they are still warm, you may end up with something that looks more like mashed potatoes than hash browns.)

For simplicity's sake, I recommend either boiling the potatoes in the morning and finishing them in the afternoon or evening, or boiling the potatoes the day before, placing them in the  frige overnight, and finishing them in the morning.

4. Grate the potatoes using a cheese grater (or food processor).

How to Freeze Homemade Hash Browns:

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper or parchment paper. Spread the hash browns over the paper in a thin layer.
2. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the potatoes are firm. Transfer to freezer bags, breaking into smaller chunks, as needed. Store in the freezer.


How to Cook Homemade Hash Browns:
1. Place a dab of butter, bacon drippings, or a tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Set the skillet over medium to medium high heat.
2. When you can flick a little water in the skillet and it sizzles, add the hash browns. Season with salt, pepper, or other seasonings. Brown on both sides, until the desired crispiness and color is reached. Serve right away.

 

Dec 2, 2013

20 Ways o Save Money This Christmas

This year, a great many families are worried about having enough money for Christmas. Times aren't so easy, and nobody wants to go into debt buying gifts and decorations. Happily, there's no need to go into debt. Christmas can be really wonderful without spending a bunch of dough. Not sure how to make that happen? Check out the tips below.

* Buy wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbons, and bows at the Dollar Tree. Or, if it's cheaper, buy large rolls of brown parcel paper at an office supply store; tied with string or bows, they have a lovely, old fashioned look.

* Make your own gift tags. The easiest way to do this is use scraps of wrapping paper, folded in half. Other ideas include cutting out shapes from last year's Christmas cards, or using inexpensive Dollar Tree card stock.

* Buy fewer gifts. Jesus only received three.

* Buy less expensive gifts. (More expensive does not equal better!)

* If you choose to buy more expensive gifts, divide the cost among two or more people. For example, one year I paid a portion for my husband's new grill. His parents and grandma pitched in the rest.

* Don't buy new decorations. Do you really need another Christmas tree ornament? If you usually purchase fresh wreaths and garlands, make them yourself or consider buying re-usable (faux) greens.

* If you really want new decorations, buy them at a thirft store. At this time of year, thrift stores are overloaded with Christmas stuff - much of which is either new in the box, or looks new. (Thrift stores are also an excellent source for faux Christmas trees.)

* When buying a real tree, choose a variety that costs less. For example, in our area, noble firs cost at least $15 more than pine trees. Whatever type of tree grows most easily in your area is likely less expensive than something that has to be trucked in.

* Make gifts. This isn't always less expensive, but it can be. Besides, knowing that someone put time, effort, and creativity into a gift means a great deal. (Get ideas for homemade gifts here.)

* Give redeemable coupons. The gift of service is an excellent one, indeed. Ideas: lawn mowing, house cleaning, babysitting...

* Think practical when it comes to gifts. This is the way many Americans gave gifts until fairly recent times. Instead of overloading kids with toys, for example, children were given new shoes, clothes, books, other practical items - and perhaps one or two toys.

* Don't send Christmas cards. I know many people think this is a heretical idea, but sending cards is expensive - and, dare I say it, wasteful. Instead, send digital cards...or better yet, digital Christmas letters.

* Buy gifts throughout the year. It's too late to start that now, but once the new year begins, pay attention to sales and go ahead and buy gifts you know your loved ones will love.

* Instead of focusing on stuff, focus on Christ, the "reason for the season." For ideas on how to do this, see the bottom of this post.

* Don't give everybody gifts. It's a nice thought, but often you're just buying stuff they don't need, anyway. For non-family members or extended family, don't give gifts - or give things like food or simple homemade gifts, like gifts in a jar.

* When it comes to food, watch for sales and buy what you need when the price is lowest. For example, many foods associated with Christmas are also eaten around Thanksgiving - and are deeply discounted to get you into the store.

* Do stockings only for the kids and fill them with practical items like new toothbrushes and fun pencils and erasers.

* Don't go shopping without a plan. Know what you want to buy in advance, and always check prices online, too. Don't forget to check eBay, where often you can purchase brand new items for less.

* For young kids, don't worry about spending the same amount on each. Since young children don't really have a sense of what things are worth, you don't have to worry about making their gifts equal, price-wise. (Do be sure to give each of your children the same number of gifts, however. There's no need to tempt them to be jealous.)

* If there will be lots of adults wherever you spend Christmas, do a Secret Santa type gift giving: Each adult draws the name of one person. Each adult gives only one gift.

For a few ideas on focusing on the real meaning of Christmas, check out these posts:

* Advent: Focusing on Him
* Activities to Go with Popular Christmas Books
* Advent Projects for Kids
* A Birthday Cake for Jesus
* Advent Begins!

Aug 12, 2013

The World's Easiest, Safest, and Best DIY Weed Killers

Manual weed pulling has many benefits - including being safe, producing stuff for the compost bin or chickens, and often doing a better job of getting weed roots out of the soil - but sometimes

You. Just. Can't. Do. It.

Weeding by hand can be really overwhelming! And while you can go for the unkempt look, weeds rob desirable plants of water and nutrients. So here are a few tricks for getting rid of weeds easily - and without nasty chemicals.

1. Boiling water. Fill a tea kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Remove the kettle from the stove and liberally pour the water on weeds. But be careful not to get the hot water on desirable plants, or they will die, too. (In fact, I recommend this method only for non-plant places, like driveways, sidewalks, and walkways.) This method works best if you do it on a hot, sunny day. And, of course, be careful not to burn yourself!

2. Vinegar. Spraying ordinary household vinegar on weeds also does the trick. Again, do it on a hot, sunny day and avoid spraying desirable plants. (Try using an old lampshade around the weed to block the vinegar spray from getting onto desirable plants.) Because household vinegar is a low in acidity, it may take a couple of applications. Or, seek out "horticultural vinegar," sometimes available at gardening centers. It has a higher acidity - but be sure to wear gloves when using it. (Heinz also sells what they call "cleaning vinegar," which has a slightly higher acidity than ordinary household vinegar and may do a better job at killing weeds.)

Want extra punch? Add a drop of liquid dish soap to the vinegar; it will help it "stick" to the plant, making it a bit more effective.

3. Newspapers or cardboard. Smothering weeds is very effective. A layer of cardboard (preferably corrugated) or at least 4 sheets of newspaper (not glossy paper) will do the trick. If you want things to look more attractive, put mulch (like straw or bark mulch) on top. Tall weeds will need whacking down first, of course.


And a couple more DIY weed killers, which I recommend with caution:

4. Rock salt. A sprinkling will kill both weeds and desirable plants, but it can make the soil totally barren for some time - and it will erode concrete.

5. Rubbing Alcohol. Pouring this on a plant will kill it, but it's more pricey than other choices listed above.

6. Corn gluten meal. Many, many sources claim that once an area is free of weeds, you can sprinkle cornmeal over the area and any seeds that remain won't sprout. A bonus: It works in lawns! But corn gluten meal doesn't always work - and when it doesn't, it actually promotes weed growth.

Jul 26, 2013

"New" Old Sewing Machines

When it comes to sewing machines, older is better. I learned this the hard way.

Several years ago, the low-end Pfaff sewing machine my mother bought me in junior high stopped working well. I'd been using it frequently for twenty-some years with nary a problem, but now I thought I'd "step up" and buy one of the new awe-inspiring computerized sewing machines. Ah, the fancy stitches it could do! But I had problems with it nearly from the start, until several months ago when it stopped sewing altogether.

I took the machine to an expert sewing machine repair man. He quickly confirmed what I'd already been thinking: Modern sewing machines are not designed to last. In fact, he was shocked I got a few years out of my low-end Brother. Could it be repaired? Nope. Manufacturers don't stock parts; they simply assume you'll buy a new machine rather than repair it.

When I asked if there was a decent sewing machine out there, he said, "Some modern machines are better than others, but they are all lousy compared to the older machines." He reminded me the modern machines are mostly plastic, that you can't oil them, and that you can't even properly adjust their tension. He suggested I look for a mid-1970s Viking. "They were built to last and have all the features you need," he said.

Of course he wanted to sell me one, but at the time I didn't have the money for that.

Fast forward a couple of months. I was in a thrift store when I thought: "I wonder if there are any decent old sewing machines here." Thrift stores - at least in my neck of the woods - frequently have older sewing machines. Sure enough, this one did, too. I even spotted an old Viking, still in it's suitcase-like container, manual still intact. It was $10. For that price, I figured it was worth a gamble.

When I got it home, my husband looked it over, then I tried sewing with it. The straight stitch worked great, but none of the other stitches did. My husband thought the machine was simply gummed up. So he took the machine to that same sewing machine repair man. When the repair man saw the machine, his eyes lit up. "Now THAT'S a great sewing machine!" he said.

$89 dollars later, the new machine was cleaned up, had new brushes on the motor and a few other small replacement parts - plus a new zipper foot, buttonhole foot, ruffler foot, and extra bobbins. It works perfectly. And I expect it will work well for the rest of my life.

I'm not the only one switching to an older sewing machine. I've noticed serious sewers and quilters everywhere are looking for, buying, and using machines from the 1970s or so. And they are happy. Even without fancy stitches.

Jun 12, 2013

Turn Worn Jeans into a Cute Skirt

Not long ago, I posted an article with lots of links to inspire you to upcycle jeans. Recently, inspired by several of those links, I turned a pair of my daughter's jeans - ripped at the knee, but otherwise well fitting - into a cute skirt. And it was so easy! Here's how I did it.


You Will Need:
Jeans
Seam ripper
Scissors
A length of scrap fabric (optional)
Thread
Sewing Machine

1. Begin by ripping out the crotch of the jeans. You don't have to go all the way to the hem; just go a little beyond the desired length of the finished skirt.
2. Fold the jeans in half and cut off the legs at the desired length. (In this case, just above the rip at the knee.)
3. Look over the fabric from the legs you cut off. Note any worn areas you don't want to use, or areas you particularly want to use for the skirt. For example, these jeans had a cute embroidered hem detail that I wanted to reuse.

Open up the jeans and lay a piece of leg fabric beneath the back V-shape of the in-progress skirt.

4. Pin the fabric in place, retaining the natural edge fold in the jeans. If needed to make the skirt lay flat enough, rip a little further up the jean inseam and fold under some fabric to make the V-shaped godet lie flat.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the front of the skirt. Trim both V-shaped godets so the hem edge is in line with the rest of the skirt-in-progress.

6. Topstich the godets in place.

7. You may now either hem the skirt by making a narrow hem, or you may lengthen the skirt by adding a ruffle, as I did. To add a ruffle, cut a rectangular piece of scrap fabric about 1 1/2 times the measurement of the hem of the skirt. (If you want a fuller ruffle, use fabric 2 or 2 1/2 times the length.) You may either sew a narrow hem on one side of the ruffle, or you may fold the ruffle material in half, as I did. Sew basting stitches along the top of the ruffle, pull up the bobbin threads, and pin the ruffle to the skirt, right sides together. (See this tutorial for more details on how to gather fabric.) Stitch in place.

Easy peasy!

Apr 10, 2013

Top 12 Tips for Saving Money on Groceries

* Don't buy processed food. Many Americans really have no idea how much processed food they eat - and how it really is possible to do without. Not buying and eating processed food can drastically cut your grocery bill - and it's much, much healthier besides. Have you studied the labels of processed food and compared it to homemade? Processed is packed with preservatives, unnatural dyes, unhealthy fats, and GMO ingredients. This really is not stuff you want to eat - even if you can get it cheap by being a coupon diva. It may seem impossible to cut processed food from your life, but my family is testament to the fact it can be done. And once you do it, you'll wonder what the big deal ever was.

* Don't buy prepared food. Whether it's pre-sliced fruit or vegetables or pre-cut meat costs so much more!

* Cook from scratch. Somehow, marketers have successfully convinced Americans they don't have time to cook from scratch. But it's often just as quick to whip up a meal from scratch as it is to heat up some sort of processed meal. From scratch is nearly always healthier - and cheaper. You can even make your own from scratch convenience foods! (Check out my posts on DIY seasonings, baking mixes, spice blends, and more.)  

* Avoid eating out. It's massively more expensive to get food from a restaurant than it is to make it at home. And again, homemade is usually healthier, too.

Biscuits are so cheap, easy, and quick to make from scratch.
* Pay attention to sales. Go to your local grocery store(s) website(s) and look at their sales. Look for the best deals, then plan your meals around those things.

* Do some meal planning. It really isn't that hard - especially with my bare bones technique - and it will save you a lot of stress and money.

* Stock up when things are on excellent sale. I have a local grocery store that puts quality meat on BOGO (Buy One, Get One Free) from time to time. It's a fantastic deal. So I try to buy enough BOGO meat to last us until the next BOGO offer.

* Use your freezer. Freezers help you stock up on good deals, like those mentioned above, and they also reduce waste. If there is produce, for example, that tend to rot before you can eat it, try freezing it. (Freezing can also be really convenient. For example, if you chop up a bunch of onions and freeze them, or brown some ground beef and freeze it, it will make cooking dinner that much easier.)

* Consider cheaper alternatives. Many families can't imagine life without boxed cereal, but we rarely buy it. Not only is it generally expensive, but it's typically packed with GMOs. If you need a quick and easy breakfast for the family, consider oatmeal, or make pancakes or waffles ahead of time, and freeze a bunch for heating up later.

* Don't buy fresh, out of season produce. It's expensive! And it rarely tastes very good. Instead, stick to Epicurious' peak season map - and my A Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook.)
In season produce is cheaper and tastier.
what's in season. (Not sure what is in season when? Check out

* Keep a price book. This sounds like a huge deal, but it's not. Basically, it's just a way of never forgetting what you typically pay for grocery items your regularly buy. By keeping a price book, you can easily and accurately see whether it's worth shopping at more than one grocery store - and whether sales are truly a good deal.

* Consider buying in bulk. Some bulk items will usually save your money; good examples include flour, sugar, oats, dry beans, and rice. All these items last long time if stored in air tight containers in a dry pantry. Poor choices for bulk buying include anything with short shelf life or foods you rarely eat. Use your price book to determine whether buying in bulk will truly save you money.

For an excellent all round guide to keeping your grocery budget tamed, I highly recommend The Joyful Momma's Guide to  Shopping & Cooking Frugally. The Kindle version is just $1.99.


Apr 8, 2013

How to Save Seeds - and Why You May Not Be Able To

© Kvass | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
Seed saving is the talk of the gardening world. Just about every gardening source, from books and magazines to blogs and internet forums, is touting how great it is to save vegetable seeds so you never have to buy them again. Nobody that I've seen or heard has asked gardeners to calm down for a moment and consider whether this is actually, realistically true.

I don't want to discourage you from saving your own seed. If you can, you should. It will save you money and may help heirloom varieties last for future generations. However, if you've never saved vegetable seeds before, you may be in for a rude awakening:

#1 Not all seeds can be saved. This part, you may know, since it's mentioned often. GMO seeds (which are not yet available to home gardeners) can't be saved. It's illegal - and the seeds are sterile. Hybrid seeds also are no good for seed saving. Some are sterile and the rest will not reproduce the exact same plant. The latter might not be much of an issue, except that generally you end up with a plant that is far inferior. You need good quality heirlooms if you want to save your own seed. (Confused about hybrids vs. heirlooms vs. GMOs? Check out this post, or my free Starting Seeds ebook.)

#2 Saving seed means you must have the space to grow additional seed-saving plants, in most cases. With some exceptions (like squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers), vegetables must produce flower-heads, followed by seed-heads, in order for you to collect seeds. If you have a small garden, this cuts down on food production considerably.

#3 Saving seed means having enough space to separate plants of the same family. The first year I decided to save seed, I began with an incredible Brussels sprout plant. It seemed ideal: It grew early in the season (a desirable quality), was prolific, was healthy, and produced a huge crop. But then I learned I couldn't save the seed because I had plants of the same family (the Brassicaceae family, including cabbage, collards, and Kohlrabi) growing nearby, which would mean cross-pollination - which would mean the seeds wouldn't be true to the parent plant and might not even produce something edible.

© Infomages | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
Now, if you have acreage with plenty of good gardening space, none of this may be a setback. But to the average urban or suburban dweller, it's a big deal, indeed. So before you set your heart on saving your own seed, be sure to do a little research. I highly recommend the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth and Kent Whealy. It's widely considered the best reference on seed saving and gives all the details about the right way to save seed for pretty much any edible you can imagine.

The good news is you probably can save at least some seed. Good choices include tomatoes, squash of all types, cucumbers, corn, peas, beans, watermelon, and muskmelon. Tomatoes, beans, peas, and peppers must be grown at least 20 and preferably 500 feet apart to avoid cross-pollination. Squash, melons, sunflower - 1/2 a mile. Corn, fava beans, okra - over a mile. There are ways around this, though. Many gardeners create little houses of very fine screening or mesh to go over their seed plants to prevent cross-pollination. However, because this will keep insect pollinators out, you should hand pollinate those plants.

Also, be sure to only remove seeds from fully mature produce. For example, don't collect seeds from unripe, green tomatoes.

Seeds from squash, cucumbers, corn, peas, beans, and (usually) watermelons can merely be removed and allowed to dry very thoroughly before storing. Seeds from tomatoes, cucumbers, and some watermelons take a little more effort:
© Chasert | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

1. Scoop out the seeds and pulp and place in a jar/ Add enough water to cover them.

2. Place in a warm, out of the way location for two or three days. The mixture will ferment, which releases the seeds from the pulp. Once this occurs, rinse the seed mixture in a fine sieve until only the seeds remain.

3. Spread the seeds out and let them thoroughly dry before storing.


To store dry seeds, put them in an envelope, seal, label, and date. Keep in a cool, dark, dry location. Or for longer storage life, place them in an airtight jar in the refrigerator or freezer with silca gel, which will absorb excess moisture.
 

Mar 27, 2013

How to Turn a Toilet Paper Roll into a Seed Pot

What is the easiest, cheapest biodegradable seed pot you can have? Toilet paper tubes! Newspaper seed pots are popular (you can learn how to make them in my free ebook Starting Seeds), but I really prefer TP tubes because:

* Everyone has them and they are plentiful
* They couldn't be easier to make
* They compost really fast - faster than newspaper, in my experience

To make an seed starting container from a toilet paper roll:

1. Flatten the toilet paper tube. 


2. Cut the roll in half. Make 4 approximately 1/2 inch cuts on one end of each roll, creating 4 flaps. 

3. Unflatten the rolls and fold the flaps inward, creating a bottom for the container.    
Viola! A bio-degradable pot.


This post featured at Homestead Abundance.

Mar 15, 2013

Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans


If you're on Pinterest, you've probably run across at least some ideas for upcycling or reusing old jeans. But start looking around in earnest, and you may become overwhelmed! (Not to mention you'll kick yourself for all the pairs of jeans you've thrown away in your lifetime.) Whether you want to renovate worn jeans so you can still wear them, or you want to turn them into something beautiful or practical, I've scoured the web finding what I think are the very best ideas - 82 in all. 

But first, let's talk about whether or not it's worth it to upcycle old jeans. If the jeans are threadbare, the answer is no. No amount of clever stitchery will hold a new item together if the fabric is just plain worn out. On the other hand, if only part of the jeans are worn out (like the knees), then there's lots you can do with them that's quite worth your time and energy.

Let's start with the most obvious. It's super easy to patch holes to make them look like monster faces or hearts or flowers. And it's easy to put some pretty fabric behind a rip and stitch it in place with decorative cross stitch. For ideas and pictures on these types of remakes (and more), click here.

There are also projects that I consider pretty obvious, like:

* Shorts
* Quilts
* Pillows (also here and here)

For more innovative ideas, keep reading.

Bags:
* Classic jeans purse
* Hobo bag
* Simple bag
* Simple jeans purse
* Shopping bag
* Clutch
* Coin purse (also here)
* Drawstring backpack
* Tote
* Knitting/craft/art bag (also here)
* Makeup bag
* Hip bag (also here)
* Drawstring bag
* Pocket purse
* Easy leg bag
* Sideways jean bag
* Shoulder bag
* Purse
* Zip bag
* Lunch bag
* Bike bag
* Couldn't be simpler bag
* Water bottle bag
* Camera bag

Kids:
* Twirly skirt
* Ruffle skirt
* Ruffle skirt 2
* Girl's apron/smock
* Pretend-play roads
* Toy storage bag
 * Bib
* Candy bag
* Dress up cowboy chaps

Women:
* Stripy skirt
* Dress or apron (from jean overalls)
* Full Apron (also here)
* Half apron (also here)
* Twirly skirt
* Twirly skirt 2
* Bohemian skirt
* Bohemian skirt 2
* Godet skirt
* Patchy skirt
* Patchy skirt 2
* Patchy skirt 3
* Ruffly maternity skirt
* Basic skirt
* Lace skirt
* Maxi skirt
* Slippers
* Vest
* Bracelet
* Leg warmers
* Tissue holder

Gender Neutral:
* Shoes
* Slippers

Household:
* Coasters (also here)
* Remote control holder
* Curtains
* Jean-upholstered furniture
* Lampshade cover
* Valance
* Containers (also here)
* Rug
* Hanging pocket holder (also here)
* Oven mitts (also here and here)
* Potholder
* Placemats (also here
* Armrest needlework/kitting/crocheting bag

Other:
* Christmas stocking
* Wallet
* Dog or cat bed
* Garden tool caddy
* Tablet holder
* Kindle case
* iPhone case
* Notebook
* Wine bottle holders
* Plant hanger 


This post featured at Homestead Abundance.