Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Living For One Year Without A Vacuum Cleaner

No Vacuum? No Problem! - Final Update

For those of you who have been following my vacuum cleaning saga, March 2014 marked my one year anniversary of living without a vacuum. For those of you that haven't read my other posts on this topic, my vacuum cleaner broke in March 2013 and I wanted to see (for myself) how our great-great- grandmothers kept their houses clean without an electric vacuum cleaner.

Reading about how our ancestors performed their daily household chores is a lot different from living them! I have a much greater respect for electricity and the convenience it brings to us 24 hours a day. Still, I never, ever want to be dependent on electricity to live. I use it sparingly, and always with the knowledge and skills needed to accomplish the same task without it.

This post took over one month to write. This is because I had to decide whether I was going to purchase a new vacuum or not. I spent a lot of time looking at vacuum cleaners, reading online reviews and going to stores to look at a few different models. I have decided I don't like any of the ones I saw and I am not going to purchase a new one. Most are made of plastic and cost too much money! 

Rather than purchasing a new one, I took the old broken one (it had spent the last year living in the garage) to see if I could have it fixed. Well, I wouldn't call it fixed but it now runs. It used to have two speeds, now it only has one that works. And, a good portion of the cord is covered in duct tape. It looks terrible, but I don't care.  It runs and I can now vacuum the wall-to-wall carpet in the bedrooms. (Although, I still don't plan to use it often. The area rugs will stay on my wall-to-wall carpet to protect it.) 

I also had a little hand held canister vacuum that came as a companion to the large upright vacuum. It was for the hardwood floors. It is beyond repair and finally went out in the trash. I am not going to replace it either.

Instead, I am going to continue cleaning the hardwood floors and area rugs the same way I have been doing it for the past year. Dust mops, brooms and a push carpet sweeper are the order of the day at my house! Over the past year, I have truly grown to love my Hoky Pr3000.

It really picks up Molly's hair on both the small carpets and the floors. It picks up small wet spots (melted ice on the kitchen floor) and heavier things like pennies too. I will also continue to beat my area rugs outside (in good weather). When I beat my rugs, they come out cleaner than they ever did using a vacuum! Try it yourself and see! I really didn't think they would be cleaner, but I am a true believer now. You will need a rug beater to accomplish this task. Much better results than using a stick. Mine decorates the wall when not in use.

I officially declare the no vacuum experiment a success!. I now know that you really don't need a vacuum cleaner to keep your house clean. It can be accomplished the old fashioned way and you can still live a modern life. No one entering my house can tell that I haven't had a working vacuum cleaner in a year!

I can not say enough good things about this carpet sweeper. Even if you have a vacuum, I believe this sweeper should be on the 'must have' list! It will save you from having to bring out the big vacuum for everyday clean up!

You can see the details of exactly how I kept the carpet and floors clean in these other posts:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Garden Work is Progressing!

About a month ago I tore up my oldest strawberry bed. It was four years old and needed to go. In it's place, I put a new bed of asparagus. We love asparagus! Because it is so expensive, we don't eat it very often. I really am not sure why it took me so long to do something about this problem! I should have installed an asparagus bed long ago.

Problem solved now! Here is a picture of the asparagus bed when I installed it last month.

Notice the bed hasn't had all the dirt added yet? The rest of the dirt isn't added until the asparagus starts to grow. Just recently, the spears started peaking their heads up. (Not all of them have made an appearance yet - they may need to be replaced if they don't show up soon.) 

Asparagus is easy to grow. It is a low maintenance plant. Since it is a perennial, it will stay in the same spot and produce for up to 20 years! The key to good production is bed preparation up front. Don't scrimp here! Do it right the first time and you will get years of food with very little extra work! 

Asparagus needs lots of compost in a well draining soil. They don't like to stay wet, and can rot if the water doesn't drain quickly from the soil. I look forward to many years of harvesting yummy asparagus spears from this spot. I may even can some!

The bees have been enjoying themselves in my blueberry bushes! Lots of bees now means lots of blueberries in a few months. Blueberries are another low maintenance food. Easy to grow, one they are established, they take very little care. All I do to them now, is feed them once a year.

The apple trees are in bloom as well. However, I don't see much bee activity around the apple trees (not sure why). To ensure that I get some apples this year, I hand pollinated the flowers myself. I did this last year as well and posted a 'how to' you can see here. Hand pollinating is easy and really doesn't take more then a few minutes of time.

Since I have been sick this month, the rest of the garden is behind schedule. Here is what the other bed looks like right now.

My seeds are coming along nicely.The tobacco and woad died while I was sick because I forgot to water them. I started new ones and they are up. I still have a few more herbs I need to start but here is a picture of everything else. They currently are in the process of hardening off so they can go in the garden soon.

Other than that, I have been dividing up some of my bulbs and replanting them elsewhere. Just like hostas (you can see how to divide and replant hostas here) , they can be divided and replanted in the spring. This year, I divided daffodils and hyacinths. Here is a picture of some of the newly planted hyacinths. I placed them in front of the irises right outside the front door.

The key is to divide them up after they flower but before the leaves die back. Plant at the same depth they had in the original bed. It is just that easy!

I expect to be out in the yard most of the rest of this week finishing the raised bed so I can get the new strawberries and grapes planted!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Do You Think It Is Time To Take Down The Christmas Wreath?

I am feeling much better this week than last (thank you for all your emails and Facebook comments!) and I decided to do something constructive today. Since it is late spring here in the south, it occurred to me that it was time to take down the Christmas decorations on my front door.

I really mean it! My Christmas wreath and snowmen didn't come down until today! Why? I like looking at Christmas decorations. (I still don't have the Christmas quilts down in the house, and I may not take them down until 2015!) Besides, my neighbors think I am odd anyway. 

So, I decided that today was the day to take them down. For those disbelievers, here is a before and after picture of my front door.

I don't like this spring wreath, but it is the only one I have. I think I will go to the craft store next week and get some new flowers and ribbon to 'update' it. BTW, making your own wreath is super simple. I will show you how when I finish updating mine.

Barring any additional illness, I should be back to a regular posting schedule for the summer!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Am Under the Weather a Bit

I have been sick for the last two weeks, and I don't have much energy. So as you can guess, I haven't had any energy (or thoughts) about posting much lately! First it was a bad cold, but now it is allergies. 

I really don't have many allergies. Not like some people (or the Princess) I know! However, this time of year the air is yellow. This is not a joke. The air has a yellow haze to it. It will continue to have this yellow haze for about 3 or 4 more weeks!

When the air is yellow like this, everyone presents with allergy symptoms, me included! Rain is only helpful while it is raining. Before it rained on Monday, the pollen count was 3,495. Today it is 2,482. For those of you living elsewhere, these numbers occur every spring in the South! This year, it is hitting me hard.

Hopefully, I can get back to posting regularly soon.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Propagating Your Garden

There are many ways to increase the plants in your garden without spending money. If you have a neighbor, ask if they have any cuttings you can have. You can also visit a garden club and see if anyone there has anything available. I am sure if you start asking around, you can get something you can plant in your yard without spending money!

Perhaps the easiest way to propagate your garden is to divide up your own plants. This works really well with spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, lilies or irises. Dividing plants isn't difficult. Nor does it take a lot of effort. In this post I will show you how to divide up hostas.

I wanted to divide up my hostas for the past two years but always seem to miss the opportunity to do so. (The best time to divide up hostas is in early spring before too many of the leaves are showing.) The grouping of the plants had gotten so large that the leaves were up against the house last summer and didn't drape well. The bottom line is they looked ugly and I knew it was time to move them. 

To start, dig a circle around the plant and gently pull up with a shovel. (This works best after it rains.) You want to take quite a bit of soil with the plant. Try not to cut off too many roots either.

With the shovel, find a natural divide and cut the plant in half (or quarters or into as many pieces as you want.) It is ok if some of the pieces are cut in half. You can just toss them in the compost pile.

When digging the hole for the new pieces, be sure to plant them at the same level as the original. Back fill with dirt. (The leftover piece at the bottom of the picture will be planted elsewhere.)

Add the mulch and you are done!

Total time from start to finish: 20 minutes! 

What an easy way to increase the beauty of your garden!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Easy Ways to Save Money: Stretching Your Cleaning Supplies

I have started a new topic category that I think can help all of us on our journey to be more frugal. Let me state that I know living a frugal life is hard! Most of the time it takes more effort! In a frugal life you exchange money (savings) for time and work effort. There is a reason that convenience sells in today's busy world! But that doesn't mean that you should give up on trying to save money. There are lots of things you can do to save money that don't take a lot of effort. Hence, a new topic was born! Under the new topic category of Easy Ways to Save Money, I will highlight tricks that take a minimal amount of effort but can have a big impact on your budget! I hope you will like (and use) these ideas!

For the first post, I would like to show you one of the easiest ways I have found to save money. I have been using this trick to stretch my cleaning supplies for years! It works with no loss of cleaning power! I always use it with commercial cleaning products and sometimes I do it with my homemade products as well (where applicable - if you use half vinegar and half water to clean your home now, don't dilute it any further.)

I have mentioned this trick on Facebook before, but I have never showed you how easy it is to do here on the blog! The example shown is for commercial hand dishwashing detergent. It works equally well for shampoo & conditioners, kitchen countertop cleaners, floor cleaners, bathroom cleaners, and liquid hand soap.

When you have an empty bottle of product, wash it out to rinse off any soap buildup or residue. Grab the new bottle of product. With both of these, you are now ready to start.

Pour half of the new bottle into the old one. 

Fill both bottles to the top with water. (My apologies for the blurry picture, my hand was wet and apparently I didn't do a good job of holding the camera steady!)

Instead of one bottle of product, you now have two! You have just cut your cost of cleaning in half!

I will grant you that the commercial product alone will be thicker. However, unless you are extremely frugal with how you much you use at one time, you are probably using more than you need! I know for a fact that the product mixed with water makes just as much suds and cleans just as well! Personally, I don't find that I use more because it is thinner. 

If you really think that you will end up using more because it is thinner, get a pump bottle that limits the amount of product dispensed at one time. I use one of those bottles for my shampoo. One squirt of half product/half water makes just as much lather as the thicker commercial product alone - and my hair is extremely long! 

This trick works for me and I know it will work for you! The best part is you won't notice the difference in the cleaning results because there isn't any difference. Contrary to what the TV commercials tell you, you just don't need a lot of any product to get something clean! 

If you purchase cleaning supplies from the store, this trick WILL save you money!

Now, that's living frugal!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Time to Update Your Emergency Preparedness Kits!

Conference Weekend brings a semi-annual chore to our house. It is the weekend that I update all of our emergency preparedness kits. We have three. One for each car and one for the house. They each have a different purpose. 

The two in the cars, are for any emergency we might have when in that specific car. Over the years, I have had a few car emergencies: car accidents, flat tires, and a dead battery just to name a few. Every single time, I was alone. Most of the time I was not close to home where I could call my husband or a friend to help! (Molly was with me when I had the flat tire - in another state - on a deserted road.) This is what the emergency car care kit is for! You can see what I put in my car care kits here.

The third one is my 72 hour kit. It is designed to be pulled out in an instant if we ever had to leave our house in a hurry. This would include things like a mandatory evacuation. I have never had to use it, but I am very glad I have it! You can see what I put in my 72 hour kit here.

These kits sit in the car or a closet until the day you need them. I don't think about them very often, I just know that they are there if I need them! Really, there are only two times a year I think about them - on conference weekends in April and October. This is the time I have set aside to update my kits. It is a quick and easy chore and doesn't take a lot of effort or time.

The first thing to do is open the kit and check everything that is in it. Here is a list of some things to check for:
  • Are the bottles of water in good condition? Do any show signs of a possible leak? Are the bottles out of date?
  • If you store medicines in your kit, are they still fresh? Will they remain that way until you check the kit again?
  • Are the clothes in your kit appropriate for the upcoming weather?
  • Is anything in the First Aid kit out of date?
  • Do the flashlight batteries need to be replaced?
  • Do the pens in the kit still write? 
  • Is the package of wet wipes still fresh?
  • Is there anything else in the kit that should be replace?
Next, check the food in each kit. The staple food for our car care kits is granola bars. The 72 hour kits have real food like breakfast cereal, shelf stable milk and freezed dried meals. (Meals similar to the kind you can find in the camping section of most stores.) Check all of them and replace what is needed. Make sure the 'Best by' date is beyond the date of your next check. For me, everything I put in the kits this weekend must have a 'Best by' date of November or December 2014. That way when I replace them in October, we have a month or two left to eat the food.

Really, any bi-annual event will work for remembering to update your kits. Daylight savings time, holidays or birthdays, spring/fall equinox. Use whatever is easy for you to remember! 

That way, your kit will be ready when you need it too!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cooking With Food Storage: Sparkling Kisses Cookies

This is another recipe from King Arthur Flour. My husband and I are currently watching our weight and we wanted something we could eat during General Conference this weekend.

For those of you who don't know, twice a year, all LDS watch church services direct from Salt Lake City on TV instead of going to their local church for Sunday services. (You can tune in too, if you have BYUTV!) In countries where TV is limited, everyone gathers in their local church to watch a satellite hook up of the services in Salt Lake City. Services are held for four hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday. (Two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon - you don't have to sit still for a solid four hours!) Members are encouraged to watch all four sessions.

Back to the cookies. The problem (for me) with these cookies is they require electricity to make them. Hand crank beaters and a Sun Oven will not work. You will understand why as you continue reading.

Let's start with the recipe from King Arthur Flour. It was very easy to make and whipped up in a jiffy! If interested, you can see the original recipe hereAs always, my changes are noted next to the listed ingredient. 

Sparkling Kisses
4 egg whites (I used egg white powder and water.)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tarter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or extract of your choice (I used fiori di sicilia. This is a King Arthur Flour product. It has a light lemon flavor.)
Sparkling sugar sprinkles

Start with the egg whites. It wouldn't be cooking with food storage if I used fresh egg whites (and besides I didn't have any.) So I opted for egg white powder. I purchase mine in a #10 can and then I refill a smaller container I got at the big box store. This smaller container is much more expensive (per ounce) than a #10 can but if you don't use a lot of egg white powder, the smaller can is very handy to have for emergencies.

Beat the egg whites until foamy. You can use hand crank beaters to get the egg whites foamy. They work well for this step. But, since I knew that I needed the electric beaters for the next step, I just used the electric ones so I wouldn't have to wash so many dishes.

I apologize for the shadows on the picture. I didn't realize they were there until I uploaded them. Now add the cream of tartar, salt, and sugar a little at a time and beat until the mixture is glossy and creates stiff peaks. 

The only way you can get egg whites to form stiff peaks is to use an electric beater. As hard as you try, the best you can do with hand crank beaters is soft peaks. That won't work with this recipe. They need to be firm peaks. Here is a picture of mine when I finished.

Add the vanilla extract (or the extract of your choice) now. I mixed mine in by hand.

Drop by tablespoon full on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or lightly greased. I used parchment paper. The original recipe says it will make 30 cookies, I only got 25.

At this point, you are supposed to sprinkle them with the sparkling sugar. I forgot! Mine went into the oven naked!

Bake in a 250 degree oven for one hour. That is the easy part - very doable for a Sun Oven. However, the next step isn't. After they bake for one hour, turn off the oven and let them sit in the oven until completely cooled. 1 1/2 - 2 hours for a chewy cookie or up to 3 hours for a crisp, dry cookie. I wanted a chewy cookie so I only left mine for 1 1/2 hours. They were still slightly warm when I took them out.

In order to compensate for their nakedness, I decided to use a food coloring spray to brighten them up a bit. The only colors I had were gold and white. (These were left over from the Gingerbread house I made at Christmas.) I used gold.

Even though they are for the weekend, I had to taste one. They were nice and chewy! The fiori di sicilia flavor was nice. My husband said they were good. If I make them again, I will try almond extract next.

If you want a quick, easy, fat free, low calorie cookie (with the flavor of your choice), you can't beat this recipe!