Thursday, April 28, 2011
But, just because I already have acknowledged that we will for sure be going to the grocery store still at least once per week this year, that doesn't mean I'm okay with haphazardly going about raising a garden. I'm pretty adament about maximizing our production and minimizing waste through various different ways of preserving our (hopeful) extras. I'm fairly stubborn, and although I work well with others, I generally do appreciate when things go my way.
When you attend a liberal arts college pursuing a degree in Communications, there is a ton of emphasis focused on learning to work in a group. Which, obviously, is helpful when you get into the working world and have similar responsibilities. And thus far, in my initial plan to start a garden, I have realized that this...unfortunately...cannot be a one-woman show. It's not that I don't like working with other people, I just simply don't like my success to depend on another person. And just as getting a so-so average grade on a presentation (due to the halfassery by classmates) didn't sit well with me, neither does the idea that our garden production will be limited by people who may not take this as seriously as I do.
To illustrate this point, let me talk briefly about the last month. We knew early this year (February-ish) that we wanted a garden and started planning for one. Tending the ground in our chosen location was pushed back far past the last possible planting for the cool weather crops (good-bye lettuce, broccoli, and spinach...maybe in the fall?) and was encroaching on the first planting dates of the summer crops. That's when we realized why it kept getting pushed back and quickly moved to plan B: the raised beds.
We have yet to find the right place in our yard for the new garden beds. It's May (or might as well be). It's time to PLANT, but I can't. My devoted loving husband dreams big...real big. Rather than allow me to construct the beds in an area of the yard that we don't actually use (at all) so I could actually plant them, he decided to clear an area of our wooded land for me to use instead. I think the idea is wonderful, I just don't see our timeline allowing for that much earth-moving right now. And I'm big on schedules and timelines.
I have been known, on occasion, to be up until 2 am the night before a project is due. Usually, I'm not cranking it out, but fussing over tiny details until the wee hours of the morning. I'm not perfect, and am admitting here to self-plagiarism on 3 occasions within one month in high school (It's not MY fault that everyone wanted an essay on pretty much the same topic. Also, one of those counts did involve translating my essay into Spanish, so I don't think it counts). However, I think it goes without saying that procrastination has no place in gardening. And we've been waiting around long enough. Tune in next Thursday to see if we have come any closer to seeds in soil.
PS...just for kicks, here is a commercial from a few years ago that seriously sums up "group work" for what it (more often than not) tends to really be.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
So for today's post, I thought it would be appropriate to outline my reasons behind starting a garden and lay out my ambitions for the coming months. I hate making New Year's resolutions, but I find that time is good for slate-wiping and attempting to change things, even by just a little bit. However, having a one-month old at New Year's makes it hard to concentrate on anything but taking a shower and trying to eat at least 2x a day. So this past January, Mark and I decided to make a healthy change in the way we eat. "Diet" is a four-letter word. But we both wanted to get healthy and hopefully, as a consequence, lose some of our spare flesh at the same time.
We started with a trip to our family practitioner's office for some advice. The answer? KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Fresh foods with fewer than 3 ingredients. That, literally, along with some vitamin supplements, was her answer. It's a lot harder than it seems. Our lives are so dominated with packaged foods, and until you really start looking at them, you just take it for granted that they are fine to consume. (Which, they are. This is NOT a "you need to eat healthy or we can't be friends" kind of lifestyle change for us. It's personal, and we aren't trying to project on anyone.) A quick comparison of homemade bread vs bagged bread from the store is a great example. When I make bread, I use 5 ingredients (water, flour, yeast, sugar, salt). The average bread label includes over 15. What IS all that other stuff?
So as a natural progression of trying to eat fresh foods, the idea came about to have a little garden this summer. We decided to ask Mark's grandparents if we could use a little space on their land to plant our crops, in turn being able to hopefully also provide them with fresh foods to eat during the summer months. As we talked about our initial plans, we decided that we should grow "enough" to be able to preserve a lot of it to eat during the winter months as well. As this is our first attempt, we are incredibly unsure of what "enough" really translates into as far as plants go. For the past few months we have been making preparations and getting ready for April.
The time has come to plant the garden. Only, our plans have changed a little. Mark's gparents are the sweetest in the world and they would never say "no" to any request by their family members. While this quality has given them some amount of worry and grief over the years, they are hardened in their resolve to provide anything they can for their family (did you read yesterday how his Granny still packs a lunch for his grown cousin living with them? She did the same for Mark when he was living with them, and insisted on doing so). But, as the time drew nearer to planting, we became accutely aware that possibly, they did not exactly like the idea of us having a garden there. So rather than go ahead and do it anyway (they would NEVER tell us that we couldn't), we started looking for other options.
So on to plan B. Have it at our house? While we do have a little over 3 acres of land, most of it is wooded and our yard is a wonderful rocky red clay mud mixture that has trouble growing grass. Asking it to grow veggies is probably out of the question. The solution, we think, is to build raised beds for our crops. I've been reading like mad about the square foot gardening method and I think this will work for us. Hopefully so.
As I learned in school and then really learned from experience in the "working world"...a project is only worth what the outcome proves. So, from the get-go, you need to have measurable goals to really tell if something is successful. There are 2 main goals for this adventure:
1) To grow "enough" food to supply our family through the summer months AND provide for preservation through the winter months. (This is not yet measurable, as we have yet to determine what "enough" really is. That's this weekend's chore)
2) To save money by growing our food instead of purchasing it. This seemed easily within reach when we were planning to have a row-by-row garden at Mark's grandparents' house. Now, we have to calculate the cost of the materials to build and fill our beds, and the added cost of the water throughout the summer to keep them moist. Keeping an expense journal as well as a weekly price estimate (based on grocery prices and farmer's market prices) for the veggies is a must. So is recording the amount of produce we actually harvest and use.
Will we meet these goals? Stay tuned for the weekly play-by-play and please feel free to comment and leave suggestions or tips for success!
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
But, in a nutshell, here is the basic concept:
*Say an item is regularly priced $2.99 at Publix.
*It's on-sale BOGO, which means it is half-price (you DO NOT have to get 2 to get the sale price at Publix), so $1.49
*There is a manufacturer's coupon in the paper for $.50, which Publix will double to $1.00, bringing the price down to $.49 +tax.
*Often, in the best deals, a Publix coupon will stack with the manu' coupon, making an item free PLUS an additional few cents off your total bill.
I decided, rather than fill this with scenarios like that, I would share my opinions and most useful tips for couponers. These are not time-tested and are extremely limited to MY specific life situation (1 income family, 2 kids, living in rural TN), but I feel like they do apply on a wide scale, with some imagination. I promise to try to keep them short, but I have a napping baby in my lap so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon...
Know where you are getting your coupons
First things first, right? You have to have the coupons in hand before you can use them. I prefer to use coupons that I don't have to print, but I will print high-value (over $1) ones (lots of them offered on Facebook these days). I have a pretty set collection process. I purchase 2 Sunday papers, Mark's gma gives me hers, and my sweet sweet 82 year old Nanny keeps them under a couch cushion for me until I can come pick them up. I would suggest doing something similiar with family and friends. And pay-it-forward (or...backward, in this case). We don't use the coupons much for food anymore (more about that in a later tip), so when I can get something useful for free, I will, and I give it back to our grandparents, or donate it to a food bank.
Buy only what you (or someone you know) might need
Sales very often are on a 6-week cycle. So....even if you randomly have 25 coupons for mustard, you probably shouldn't clear the shelf without good reason. This is a bit rude to other couponers. For example, in my rural part of life, we have a Rite-Aid and I know if I'm not there when the store opens on Sunday morning, I'll have zero chance of catching a sale item in stock, because of another couponer who clears the shelves. Now...I don't see the problem with going to buy what you need, then swinging back around on Saturday night near closing time to see what, if anything, is still left on the shelf. This is the time to buy "extra" items. I don't buy pasta every time it is free because we don't eat THAT much pasta, and generally, even without the coupon, it is very often on sale for less than $1 at my favorite grocery store (Publix).
Don't make unhealthy trades in an effort to save money.
It's a wonderful and often necessary thing to save money. And the most common place to start cutting back is the grocery budget. While you can get lots and lots of healthy snacks and other meal components with coupons, it can be very tempting to get the free mac and cheese and eat it with every meal, just because you have it. Often, you can get free frozen veggies at Publix, which is a great deal. And it is smart to plan your meals around what is on sale. But, while a dinner of mac n cheese with hotdogs (ever seen this supposedly "kid friendly" dinner idea??) may cost less than $1 after coupons, it will cost a lot more in the long run. Go ahead and get the mac n cheese for free (dare I say throw a bag of frozen veggies in too?), but opt for the $2 salad mix, throw some breadcrumbs on the mac n cheese, put it under the broiler and have side salads with it. We have moved to the outer perimeter of the grocery store, and as the summer season gets started, we will soon be only visiting the dairy, frozen, and baking aisles in Publix, opting instead to buy local produce and meat, and *hopefully* harvesting our own fair share of veggies in June, July, and August. This really limits our usefulness for couponing, but we have plenty of family members who can still benefit (Mark's sweet Granny still packs lunch for her 19-year-old grandson to take to work with him, so this week, I'm picking up some free cracker snacks for his lunches.)
Pick your stores and be loyal
This is a time-effort thing for me. Couponing can take up a big chunk of your life if you let it. And with two kids, grocery store hopping is just not something I want to do. So we stick to Publix for groceries and often Rite-Aid for toiletries. On the rare occasion, there is something just too good to pass up at another store, so I'll visit or ask Mark to stop on his way home from work. Plus, when you go to the same places, you will find that cashiers and others know you and know what to expect when you are in line. On the same note, DO NOT try to slyly cheat on something. While some cashiers will occasionally let something slide, it's never a good idea to demand that they make an exception to the rules just for you. Which brings me to my last tip for the day...
DO NOT watch "Extreme Couponing" on TLC.
This show purposely searches for souls without lives and an unnatural need to hoard or take opportunity from other people. They then exploit the routines of these rare individuals and cast the stereotype upon all couponers, which is not true in the least. Stores on the show have AGREED to abandon their policies in exchange for appearing on the show, making this just like any other "reality" TV series...just a theoretical reality. I promise, you would not ever be allowed to purchase 1400 boxes of cereal with 1400 coupons, at any store. Ever.
I'm still more than willing to answer any questions my lovely compadres may have, so don't hesitate to ask. I love the thrill of saving money and getting things for free, but we have finally figured out where the idea fits best in our lives. And that's the true secret to success...making it work with your life and your family.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Now, it's time to pick the decoration on top. I chose to do a heart shape on the top of this cookie, other options include: chocolate chips, icing "blobs", small beads for sprinkles, etc.
Next, you will attach your icing to one felt cookie circle. I used a simple running stitch here (in-and-out) for the purpose of saving time, but a blanket stitch would look nice as well.
Once your decoration is attached, choose another thread color and you are ready to connect the two circles. I always start my thread so that the knot will be on the inside of the layers and not visible on the outside.
I used a very simple whip stitch on this cookie, again in an effort to save time. A whip stitch is an edge stitch where the needle goes into the fabric, then around the edge to another point on the opposite side of the fabric.
When making these types of projects, a blanket stitch looks very "finished." To find a good tutorial on creating a blanket stitch and it's various uses, visit Stitch School. In an attempt to crank this tutorial out during naptime, I only did a few blanket stitches so you could see the difference.
When you are near the start of your stitches, stop sewing and stuff your cookie with a little fiberfil (if you want). The cookies work fine without any stuffing, but I like for them to be a little fluffy!
Finish stitching the remainder of the edge, knot your ends, and you're done!
See Martha? I promised it would be easy! For some great insight into Martha's pregnancy and unexpected hospital stay, follow her blog Bedrest, Blessings, & Baby.