Thursday, January 29, 2009

Harvest Meal: Kale and Barley Soup

As winter wears on it's getting harder to cobble together dishes that I can justly call harvest meals. But I manage it, more or less, sometimes. Here's one example. This is a hearty soup made with our frozen but homegrown Tuscan kale, a few leeks I literally chopped out of the frozen ground during a brief period of above-freezing temperatures, my homemade lamb stock, a little homegrown garlic stored as garlic butter, and purchased ingredients including some pearl barley, carrots, fresh oregano, and local, pastured bacon.

My method for this soup was a little more fussy than I would normally bother with. I steamed the pearl barley because I was in a hurry. I figured I could start it steaming before I did anything else so that the soup would be nearly finished by the time I had all the vegetables chopped and cooked. It worked out pretty well, even if it did involve more things to clean than is normally necessary when making soup.

After the pearl barley was in the steamer, I cut three slices of smoked bacon into small strips and melted a good hunk of garlic butter in the soup pot. When the butter was melted and the garlic was sizzling I added the bacon strips to brown up over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, I cleaned and trimmed the leeks, and finely chopped them, then peeled a few carrots and chopped those as well. When the bacon had begun to crisp up, I added the leeks to saute for a few minutes. When they were well softened, I added a quart of my double-strength lamb stock, an equal amount of water, and a vegan bouillon cube (for extra flavor), and brought the liquid to a low boil. The chopped carrots, a generous amount of our frozen, pre-chopped Tuscan kale, and a few sprigs of fresh oregano were added. I seasoned with bay leaf, salt and pepper and reduced the heat to a steady but low simmer. I let that cook until the carrots were no longer hard and raw, and then added the steamed barley, which was nearly fully cooked. I let it go a few more minutes to finish off the barley. When ready to serve, I fished out the bay leaf and the stems of oregano, which had released their leaves into the soup.

The soup was good the first day, drizzled with a garnish of olive oil. Very hearty, nourishing, and warming. But like many soups, the leftovers have definitely improved in flavor as they sat around for a few days. I especially like the chewy goodness of the barley, and the meaty quality of the soup that comes from very little meat.

What soups are keeping you warm these days?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Love Our Credit Card

This month our USAA credit card distributed our annual cash back rebate. It came to $478.40. That's a very nice chunk of change that falls like a gift out of the sky. We charge most of our expenses on our credit card, and pay it off in full every month. Additionally, my husband charged tens of thousands of dollars of business travel expenses on the card last year, all of which he was reimbursed for. We get a tiny portion of those charges kicked back to us in by way of this rebate. The card has no annual fee, and right now the APR is only 4%. I had to look this up because I never pay any attention to the APR. Not having to think about the APR is a nice perk of paying off our balance each month.

January is a nice time to get a little extra cash. Some might use it to pay off holiday gift purchases. Others (*cough*) might stuff it into their heating oil tanks. It's less than a 1% rebate for all the charges we made with the card, but given that the card doesn't cost us a penny to carry and use, I don't see any downside. We likely won't get anywhere near this much back next year since my husband will be traveling much less for business.

Now USAA offers credit cards and other financial services only to its membership. You become eligible for membership through military service in the US, or by being the child or spouse of a member. Obviously, this is means a lot of people are not eligible. But if you are eligible, you'd be crazy not to avail yourself of this fantastic resource. USAA offers the best customer service I've experienced from any business, ever. But there are other cash back credit cards out there.

Credit cards, like any other tool, can be used or abused. When your financial house is in order, it's possible to make this tool truly work for you. Even if we had missed paying our bill on time once or twice during the year, and incurred some interest, plus late fees, we still would still have come out ahead with this cash back card. On the other hand, if we were carrying a large balance month after month, the $478 rebate would quickly get eaten up in fees, even at the very low APR of just 4%.

If your finances are in good shape and you trust yourself not to rack up a balance you can't pay off, I recommend looking for a good cash back card with no annual fee. So long as you pay your bill on time and in full each month, you'll see a nice rebate once a year. It's sort of like getting a tiny discount on everything you pay for by using your card. And if you're doing a lot of reimbursed business travel you should definitely get a little something back, besides useless frequent flyer miles, for all those nights away from home.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Heating Oil Vent

I live in the relatively small part of the US where most homes are heated with oil. This makes the relevance of the whole peak oil situation quite obvious to us. When the price of a barrel of oil fluctuates, we're very aware of it. Other people might be able to heat with sustainable electricity, but we're looking down a dead-end street as far as our heating system is concerned. With the rather severe winter weather we've been having lately, we're down to a quarter tank of heating oil. Which means it's time to order a refill of our 275-gallon capacity tank. It's going to cost us about $440 if we pay cash. We spent almost that much for a smaller amount back in October when oil began its descent from the painfully high summertime prices.

This really ticks me off. Despite my frugality streak, it's not so much the expense that gets to me. We can handle the cost, at least for now - and I am very mindful that we're fortunate to be in such a position. It's just a mounting feeling of helplessness and dependence that unnerves me and then makes me angry. You see, we pull out all the stops to conserve our heating oil and try to minimize our carbon footprint in an admittedly carbon-heavy set up. We heat only two rooms of our home, and the daytime thermostat setting is never above 64 F (less than 18 C). Overnight it gets set down to 52 F (~11 C). I wear multiple layers, fingerless gloves, and a fleece hat indoors all winter long. I play with the shades to let sunlight in when it's available, and close them when there's none to be had. We close off little used rooms and on some days rely on several warm cups of tea to feel comfortable. Living this way looks extreme to many people. We've gotten used to it and don't mind. I feel we're doing what we can and should be doing to save money and conserve resources. And yet, with the days and nights of sub-freezing temperatures we've had this month, we've gone through more than 50 gallons of heating oil in three weeks.

Just at the beginning of this month, Julie over at Towards Sustainability posted an update on her Riot for Austerity efforts for this year. This was the first article that made me really stop and think about what it would mean for us to consume only our fair share of the earth's remaining resources. Turns out if we did that, we'd have to find a way to heat with just 75 gallons of heating oil per year. That didn't seem even remotely possible, but it prodded me to at least record the level of our oil tank on January 5th. And now, three weeks later, I see that even with all our "extreme" efforts we've already blown through more than two thirds of our annual fair share of heating oil. We're really trying here, and we're not even coming close.

I don't know what we're going to do about this. But my anger is really motivating me at the moment to look into alternatives - again. I've looked at this before for our home, and there aren't many viable options. We don't have the space for a geothermal system. Zoning codes make an outdoor wood furnace highly impractical. We're not in a great part of the country for solar, and topography is against us for wind power. Ugh! It's so frustrating to have no good options.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Local, Raw, and Bartered

This was my breakfast this morning: yogurt and honey. What makes this simple meal so special to me is that both ingredients are local, sustainably produced, raw, and I bartered for them.

I bartered for a quart of the raw milk yogurt just a few days ago. The texture of the yogurt when I opened the container was slightly lumpy, and the creamy fat had risen to the top. The taste reminded me of the superb yogurt I'd bought at a farmer's market in Europe. It bears absolutely no resemblance to store-bought yogurt. I stirred up the yogurt until it was smooth again and served myself some.

Now I confess that "local" in this case is a bit of a stretch by my standards. This yogurt comes from a farm almost 80 miles (128 km) away. That's very local by US standards, but incredibly distant by average global standards. I don't know of any closer dairy that raises their cows on grass, sells raw-milk products, and avoids hormones and antibiotics. And I would know, because I'm well connected to the sustainable farming network in my area. For the moment, 80 miles is the best I can do for sustainable cow's milk dairy. I don't do the driving myself either. The yogurt arrived at my house by way of the farmer who uses my home as a customer pick-up site for pre-ordered, grass-fed meats, dairy, and eggs every other week. So the food is delivered to my home, and I can barter my bread for it. And yes, I do feel pretty smug about that, in case you were wondering.

The raw honey is produced much, much closer to home, and I know the beekeeper personally. This is the lightest of her three honeys from last year's harvest. I'm almost out of it, but it sure is good. Just eight miles (13 km) away, she has an apple and pear orchard that she sprays only with baking soda, and she keeps hens along with a few hives of bees. Again, I bartered some homemade baked goods for a jar of this pure, raw honey.

Breakfast was absolutely delicious in its own right. Knowing that the constituent parts were produced completely sustainably, and acquired reasonably sustainably, and that I bartered for them, and that they are really healthy for me only makes this simplest of meals that much more satisfying.

I don't manage to prepare many meals in this fashion. But when I do pull it off, I'm inspired to keep trying more and more to live my life this way.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Homemade Sled Report

As promised, today my husband is guestblogging about the DIY sled he engineered earlier this month. Take it away, honey.

Sledding. It brings back such memories for many of us. The killer hill. That rush of speed. The biting cold. And that all-too-dreaded wipe out that sometimes ends in a burst of laughter or a sharp bang on the head.

I grew up in the Midwest and moved away to sunny California where snow was something rarely seen on the nearby mountains. It was more than a three hour drive to find good snow and a good run for sledding. And once there, skiing and snowboarding were the “cool” pursuits rather than sledding.

But now I’ve moved to the East Coast where snow once again dominates the first several months of the new year. And I find myself rooting during a snowstorm for enough accumulation to cover the grass and make for a good run. I even found myself scouting the local hills.

But what to do about an inexpensive sled? The local stores carry plastic concoctions that don’t look like they’d survive my kind of abuse or need for speed. I never understood the traditional runner sled. "Flyer" seemed a misnomer on our snow. We always went for something that could fly on freshy and could be super-modified with a bit of silicone spray.

My wife, the frugal maven, showed me a picture of a sled made with old skis. Now this was the stuff of dreams. My first task was to find an old pair of skis for a song. I placed an online “wanted” ad which received a prompt reply from a man who had seen old skis at a thrift store. I drove over and found two pairs for $6 a piece. This was right at my wife’s price point. I had wood from previous McMansion sub-division construction dumpster diving and leftover screws from previous projects. I tried to use the screws and holes from the bindings but abandoned that route in favor of drilling tap holes and screwing the wood directly into the composite resin of the ski. The trick here was to match the screw length and wood thickness so as not to punch through the bottom of the ski.

My plan was to attach two parallel cross beams at the same location of the bindings. I chose 1" x 3” planks about 24” long. Having given up on the bindings, I just needed to avoid those holes and use enough screws to give some structural support to the cross-beam connection to the ski. My first test in freshy was unsatisfying. The cross-beam was so low, riding on top of the snow-sunk skis, that it snow plowed. So I put in risers, made of stacked 2 x 4’s, to give me some clearance. I also added a length of cord to the front cross-beam to ease that arduous, post-run, uphill trudge.

The first test was a success. But now the problem of a seat loomed upon me. I wanted an old tire inner tube for shock-absorbing but tires have all gone tubeless (even the sweet old semi-truck tubes good for sledding and river runs). I checked through my pile of old pick-up truck tires (free with the purchase of a beater truck). They seemed a bit heavy but once the tire was liberated from the rim for free at my local tire dealer it didn’t seem so bad.

Bungee cords seemed a good way to hook the tire to my cross-beam system for prototyping. They worked surprisingly well. I discovered, that with a small kick down even the slightest slope in my backyard, my sled would sail quite far. The first low-stress test was made on a small hill near the library. I was pleased with the “butt-in-the hole” ride (as was my wife) but I was nearly thrilled with the “belly down” run. High-stress testing has yet to occur due to the snow melting while I was away on a business trip. But I’ve got the next hill picked out and fingers crossed for a good dumping of snow. Wish me luck and no structural failures as I land, launched off the lip of a sand trap at our local golf course.

Another guest post by my husband: Other People's Fruit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Plant a Row for the Hungry

Today, a rare foray into political topics. This won't happen often, I promise.

Yesterday I watched the historic inauguration of the first black US president. For reasons that remain mysterious even to me, I'm a bit of a sucker for pomp and circumstance, so I tend to enjoy these sorts of things. I wondered how much sleep Obama had gotten the night before. I sure hope our new president was wearing some really good long underwear. It was cold in Washington.

I was mostly, but not entirely, pleased with what Obama had to say in his inaugural address. I'm not sure that I can agree that the choice between safety and "our ideals," by which I assume he meant freedom, is false. I think our founding fathers - and mothers - knew full well that we must sometimes choose between our safety and our freedom, as clearly indicated by Benjamin Franklin's famous quote: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." After all, rebelling against the most powerful nation in the world to declare our independence could hardly have been considered the safe move. Living in a free society means that we must accept that we are not always perfectly safe. Our country was founded on a firm choice for liberty over safety, and that's a part of our heritage we should be enormously proud of. So let's not glibly deny the dichotomy.

Likewise, I can't agree that we should not apologize for our "way of life." The American way of life is excessive and hideously impoverished at the same time. The very problems Obama identified as our immediate priorities - economic, environmental, and social - have been caused by a way of life characterized by overconsumption, a reliance on unsecured debt, and a dearth of strong communities. There is much that is good in our way of life, and we should take pride in those things. But let us not confuse patriotism with a blind endorsement of all that we do and all that we are. True patriotism lies in upholding and honoring what is good for our country, as well as in changing what is not good for us or our posterity.

Enough of abstract politics.

Obama's speech brought to my mind John F. Kennedy's inaugural address which contained the immortal line: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." I'm not sure exactly what got me from Obama to Kennedy. But I believe we will need a collective effort, a willingness for everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel and do what we can to help one another and help ourselves. So I started thinking about a simple, voluntary, and very grass-roots idea that has already seen great success. It's the Plant a Row for the Hungry project.

In a nutshell, Plant a Row calls on gardeners to dedicate one row of their garden to growing food to feed the hungry. This is such a brilliant idea for so many reasons. There are 70 million gardeners in the US. One in ten Americans either goes hungry or is at risk of hunger in any given week. Most of them are children. Food banks and soup kitchens are facing alarming shortages right now, and even in good times fresh produce is almost non-existent at these places. I know; I occasionally volunteer to load the grocery bags at a local food bank. No one needs to organize or coordinate the Plant a Row project. There are no meetings to attend or forms to fill out. It's just a self-directed gardener, doing a little extra work as a personal form of tithing directly to the poor. It can't solve all the world's problems, but it is something within easy reach of millions of us. And it is an absolute good.

If you have a garden, please consider breaking ground on a new row this year to grow food for hungry people in your area. There's still time to plan this into your garden for this year. Call your local food bank and see if they can accept fresh produce. Some cannot because they have no means of storing it. Ask enough questions. They may not be able to take lettuce, but perhaps they could briefly store potatoes, apples, or onions. If they cannot accept your produce, don't be discouraged. Ask if they know of another food bank, or a soup kitchen, or any food charity that could use what you plan to grow. They'll probably even be able to give you some phone numbers.

It took me only one call to reach someone at our local soup kitchen who was thrilled with the prospect of getting fresh produce come summertime. He said they almost never have anything in the way of fresh produce. I've talked two of my relatives into Planting a Row this year. Won't you consider joining us?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Link Love

My post about identifying the steps you would take in the event of job loss has been included in today's Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted over at Pecuniarities. There's a passel of good articles over there. I especially enjoyed Aryn's piece entitled Do We Have an Obligation to Spend? Three guesses as to her answer, and the first two don't count.

Penelope at Pecuniarities is also doing a giveaway for a 6-month (analog) subscription to the Wall Street Journal. Imagine all the good uses that free newsprint could be put to in a garden! If you're interested, get your entries in by January 24th.

While I'm in the mode of pointing you elsewhere, here's a great summary of a study done at Cornell University which found that eating less, eating local, and eating better could slash US energy use. A few tidbits from the article:
  • Americans, on average, consume about 50 percent more calories than recommended by the federal government for optimal health and get one-third of their calories from junk food.
  • "We could reduce the fossil energy used in the U.S. food system by about 50 percent with relatively simple changes in how we produce, process, package, transport and consume our food," said David Pimentel, professor emeritus of ecology and agriculture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

Also, something Sasha Cedar said yesterday really echoed with me. She and her family, former city dwellers, have recently moved into an Amish farmhouse without running water or central heating. How did that happen? She said it's part of her ongoing reaction to peak oil, and her decision to "power down at our own rate and on our own terms. We wanted to learn and practice to become self-sufficient before it became a necessity."

While I'm still enjoying the use of electricity and oil heat, my efforts at frugality and self-sufficiency are motivated by the same sentiment, along with my intense desire to pay off our mortgage. I'd much rather change my lifestyle slowly, for my own reasons, and not in a crisis environment, than wait till the feces has hit the rotating oscillator. Even if peak oil turns out to be as much of a non-starter as Y2K was, frugality and self-sufficiency are great insulators when recessions arrive. And we all know that recessions come and go with certainty, if not regularity. So right now I'm glad I know how to garden, and bake bread, and stay comfortable in a cold house, and in the habit of doing all those things.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 2009 Seed & Rootstock Order

Okay, it's done. I've placed orders with seven (!) different catalogs for seeds, fruit trees, seed potatoes, asparagus roots, berry canes, and some milky spore to try to fight off the annual plague of Japanese beetles. This year we ordered from two divisions of Fedco, Seed Savers Exchange, Seeds of Change, The Maine Potato Lady, Miller Nurseries, and Arbico. I handled group orders for all of these catalogs, so that we share shipping costs and qualify for certain bulk purchasing discounts. In a few cases we are also splitting seed packets between two families. Honestly, what home gardener really needs 250 lettuce seeds of a single variety?

Wherever possible I chose organic, heirloom varieties. I also ordered several things this year with a view towards season extension using a minimum of construction. We're not going to have a greenhouse this year, nor probably next. If we're diligent we'll have a few proper coldframes built by the fall. But there are plants I can work with which can naturally provide a longer season of fresh eating straight from our garden. So here's the rundown of what I ordered, followed by a few things that I will be planting from older seeds.

=new variety this year, N!=entirely new vegetable crop this year, i.e. I've never successfully grown any plant of this type before, L=grown last year or in previous years

Trees & Rootstock
2 Dana Hovey pears N!
1 Mesabi cherry N!
1 Stella cherry N!
2 All-American Paw Paws N!
3 Allen black raspberry N
1 Adams elderberry N!
1 Johns elderberry N!

2.5# German Butterball N
2.5# La Ratte L
2.5# Kennebec L
2.5# Sangre L

25 Jersey Supreme plants N!

Dried bean, Cherokee Trail of Tears L
Dried bean, Hutterite Soup N
Beets, Cylindra N
Beets, Detroit Red L
Brussels sprouts, Roodnerf N!
Carrots, Red-Cored Chantenay N!
Swiss chard, Five Color Silverbeet N
Chili pepper, Poblano/Ancho L
Eggplant, Pingtung Long N!
Eggplant, Listada de Gandia N!
Leeks, Blue Solaize L
Lettuce, Red Velvet N
Lettuce, Bronze Arrowhead N
Lettuce, Slobolt L
Lettuce, Rouge d'Hiver L
Melon, Charantais N
Okra, Red Burgundy N!
Onion, Clear Dawn N
Parsnips, Turga N
Shallots, Prisma N
Spinach, Space N!
Stinging nettles N!
Tomato, Brandywine (beefsteak) L
Tomato, Cherokee Purple (beefsteak) L
Tomato, Peacevine (cherry) L
Tomato, Speckled Roman (paste) N
Winter squash, Hokkaido Stella Blue N

Seed from last year

Arugula Sylvetta
Basil, Purple Ruffles
Garlic, 6 different varieties
Kale Lacinato, aka Dinosaur or Tuscan
Pumpkin, Sugar
Sunflower, Evening Sun & Mammoth Grey Stripe
Watermelon, Moon & Stars

The garden also includes the perennial culinary herbs sage, thyme, oregano, and chives.

A few things of note about this year's garden plan. We are including three plants that we have never eaten on a regular basis before, and which we're not even entirely sure we're going to like. Brussels sprouts, stinging nettle, and okra are all new to our garden and relative strangers to our palates. We've enjoyed a European cheese with nettles in it before. These perennial nettles also come up very early in the spring, so I'm counting them among our earliest crops for the spring season for next year. They're incredibly nutritious and are also widely used to treat allergies in homeopathic medicine. I plan to make some pasta or gnocchi with them if we get a decent crop.

Brussels sprouts and okra fall into the category of things we're willing to try out, both in terms of how well we like to eat them, and how well they grow for us in our garden. I'm counting on the advantage of eating these foods in a state of absolute freshness. I've heard that both foods suffer significantly from sitting around too long after picking. Brussels sprouts will fall at the other end of my season extension plan. I'm going to try timing them so that I don't pick any until they've been through a good frost or two.

Well, when it was all toted up, we've spent a whopping $250 to mail order fruit trees, berry canes, asparagus starts, seed potatoes, and garden seeds. And that's with some bulk prices and discounts on shipping because of the group order! This (to me) is a lot of money. The trees, berry canes, and asparagus starts account for almost half the total cost. All of these are of course long term investments that I'm sure will repay the cost many times over in the coming years. I'm going to make an effort to save seed potatoes this fall as I did with the garlic. Seed potatoes are surprisingly expensive (~$30 for 10 lbs). It would make me feel much better if I could simply set aside some of this year's harvest as planting stock for next year. In our climate zone that may be difficult, but I'm going to try. For the rest, I'm going to be better about storing my seeds to preserve their viability, so that I will need to order very little for next year's garden.

If nature smiles and gives me good harvests, we should buy very little in the way of fruits or vegetables this year. We'll eat what we grow and be well satisfied with it, but for my husband's addiction to bananas. We're still eating produce we harvested over the summer out of our chest freezer. Let's hope it's a good gardening year for everyone in 2009!

What's in your garden lineup for this year?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Brrrr! Baking Weather!

This past week I've woken up to indoor temperatures in the mid 40s. I've been eating large bowls of hot soup for breakfast, just to try to stay warm as the house heats up somewhat. With a hat and four layers of clothing on, if the house gets up to 60F (15.5C), it starts to feel pretty toasty. We run the heat in only one part of the house, and with temperatures in the single digits (and breezes too) outside, it never gets to what normal people would regard as a normal room temperature, even with several rooms of the house shut off. It was so bad yesterday that I accepted a friend's invitation to go to the mall - I know, the mall! - to keep her company. She was in search of a good deal on a winter coat. I regarded it as a chance to catch up with her, get some indoor walking in, and enjoy a warm building that I wasn't paying to heat. I didn't spend any money, I did get a fair bit of mild exercise, and she was grateful enough for the company to spring for lunch.

Today I couldn't stand the cold anymore. I decided to follow my own advice, and use the oven to stave off hypothermia, and also cook some yummy things. My first thought was to cook one of our few remaining sugar pumpkins. This Afghan recipe sounded great to me, because it required running the oven for more than three hours, while the prep work for the pumpkins took a mere 20 minutes. I've made it before, and it's incredibly good; one of those recipes that tastes far better than can really be inferred from the ingredients list. And since I'd made it before, I already had some of the tomato and ground beef with coriander sauce stashed in the freezer. I've found it's perfectly fine to cut way down on the 3 cups of sugar called for in this dish.

Since the oven was going to be running anyway, bread was also on the agenda. I haven't had sufficient motivation lately to prep any bread dough a day in advance. So today I turned to a short list of breads that can be mixed and baked the same day. The rustic potato bread from Baking with Julia is one such. I've often found that when something is called "rustic" it refers to an endearingly ugly appearance. That certainly holds true with this bread.

It's made with both flour and mashed potatoes. There's so much yeast in it that the proofing and rising times are very short. As it happens, we're scraping the bottom of the barrel with our homegrown potatoes. All I had on hand were some All Blue potatoes. I had no idea what purple potatoes would do to the color of the bread, but I'm always up for culinary experimentation. What do you think? Other than the dark color of the potato skins, I'd never guess there were purple potatoes in this bread.

It's been a good day; a warm day; a day that ended with slices of warm bread and butter. The temperature in the kitchen was in the mid 50s most of the day. I feel positively decadent. I may shed a layer.

(In case you were wondering, the only reason I was able to proof the bread dough in a house this cold is that the heating system we're using is a radiant heat floor. I proof the dough in bowls or on baking sheets resting on the warm floor, covered with towels. A warm floor comes in very handy sometimes.)

Hope you're all keeping warm out there.

Related posts:

Staying Warm with the Thermostat Set Low
Stop Wasting That Heat!

Friday, January 16, 2009

What Would You Do If You Lost Your Job Today?

The economy is a scary thing right now. Many people are losing their jobs. Most of the rest of us are nervous about job security. I've been giving some thought to what would happen if my husband lost his job, which is the largest and most stable income stream we have right now. There are a number of things we could do, if we had to, that we're not doing right now. I've run through them a number of times in my mind, just to make sure I'm considering all possibilities.

What would you do if you, or the breadwinner of your family, lost their job? What immediate steps could you take to cut your costs or replace some of that income in other ways? Here's a list of actions I consider to be "emergency response."

1. Recast our mortgage. We've been paying ahead on our mortgage, which means we've built in the possibility of reducing the amount we're obligated to pay each month. Recasting costs much less than a refinancing, and leaves both the original term of your loan and the interest rate unchanged. This is something I would do immediately upon learning our financial situation had changed. Better to do this as early as possible, rather than wait until a few months' worth of savings has been eaten up. As of right now, our early repayment would let us reduce our monthly mortgage payment by a little over $250.

2. Sell a car. Right now we own two cars we paid cash for, and we don't really need both of them. Selling one car would give us cash in hand, and also reduce our auto insurance rates. I actually wouldn't mind doing it now, but my husband has half convinced me it's the worst time to sell.

3. Get a roommate. We love our privacy, but if our main income stream were cut off, we'd find a way to live with someone else in our own home. We've got a nice place to live and we've got the room. An extra $400+ per month would mean our savings would stretch considerably farther.

4. Look for a straight job. If my husband lost his job, I would look for steady work. It would likely be for low pay, and given the economy, any job at all would likely be hard to come by. So I would make sure I'd settled the first three items on this list first, since those would be fairly easy to accomplish. He would make his own job search a 9-5 chore every day.

5. Increase the hustle. There are a number of things that I do that bring in a small income, such as some paid writing, and teaching cooking classes. I'd do a lot more of them, and also work on bartering even more than I already planned to this year.

6. Expand the garden and work it more intensively. Last year was the first year I gardened seriously enough to supply a lot of our own food. If things got bad for us this year, I would ratchet it up even more by clearing as much new ground as I could find, though there really isn't a whole lot left to clear that would produce a good crop. But spending more time out there tending it would give us better yields. Building cold frames to extend our growing season would become a bigger priority.

Surprisingly, when I considered what small economies I could make in our day-to-day routine, there really wasn't all that much we would change. We already live very frugally in terms of how we spend and conserve money. I suppose we'd not buy any more alcohol when we ran through the beer and cheap wine we have in the basement, and we might eat a little less meat. Other than that, there aren't many places to trim our monthly budget.

It's also a little surprising to me that bartering and cold frames showed up on my list of goals for 2009, as well as on this emergency list. So it looks like I'll be slightly better prepared for any financial emergency by the end of this year if I achieve my goals.

If you assemble your own list of crisis management steps you'd take in a financial pinch, it's worth asking yourself why you haven't taken those steps already. I admit that all of the things on my list (other than recasting the mortgage) are things that I "should" be doing already, if I were really serious about frugality. Mostly it boils down to issues of our quality of life. We could and would do things differently if we had to, but not without sacrificing something significant. The truth is, none of the hundreds of little things we currently do to save money feel like real sacrifices. That's the real beauty of a frugal and self-sufficient mindset.

When I run through a what-if scenario such as this one, I can't begin to express how much difference it makes to know that we carry no debt other than our mortgage, and that we have cash saved for a full six months of expenses. Of course the prospect of our main income stream being cut off makes me nervous. But it doesn't make me panic; it's not unthinkable. Living the frugal life affords me the confidence to say we'd get through it, and know that we really would. I feel there are plenty of rewards for living the way we do, but peace of mind ranks really, really high on that list of rewards.

So what steps would you take if you lost your job? Any reason you haven't taken those steps already?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday Meta Post

A few small items to report today.

Yesterday I published my first post over at Simple Green Frugal Co-op. It was a fairly detailed tutorial on roast chicken dinner & uses for leftovers. I'm flattered to be keeping company over there with some very inspiring writers from all over the globe. Though I have to say there is a little cognitive dissonance when reading about in-season melons from an Australian garden while there's snow on the ground.

In further news, my husband has agreed to be a guest blogger for me here sometime later in the month. Recently he built a fantastic sled out of a $5 pair of thrift shop skis, and I would love for him to share it with my readers. He's promised to write up his project and snap some pictures when his schedule allows. We've already given it a few trial runs, and it's really fun. Stay tuned for his post.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Birdfeeding on the Cheap

It seems all the homesteading and gardening bloggers have seed orders much on their minds these days. It's also brass monkeys cold outside where I live. (Today's high will be 21F.) It's time to retrieve one of the sunflower seed heads I saved last summer for the birds that overwinter here. I thought I'd mention this now, while some folks are mulling their plans for this year's garden. Most sunflowers both provide abundant nectar to bees, and can be saved to provide a valuable food resource for birds in the harshest months of the year. Aside from that, I think they're the most cheerful flowers ever.

Not too pretty, is it? But believe me, the birds think it's gorgeous.

The seed heads from sunflowers are ready to save when the face of the flower points downward, the petals have dropped, and the green fringe around the outside begins to turn pale. If you leave them on the stalk too long, the squirrels and the birds will help themselves to the seeds in summer. I cut them with about 8" of stalk attached to the head, so that they're easy to handle and there's a good way of attaching them to the feeder. My method for drying the heads consists of nothing more than laying them on an open shelf in the garage and leaving them there until January. Food preservation for birds.

There are many types of sunflower, and the size and shape of the seeds that they produce will affect which types of birds can make use of the seeds. Beak shape determines a bird's ability to manipulate and crack the shells of various seeds. If there's a species that you are particularly interested in feeding, you'll need to know something about its diet, and then select an appropriate sunflower variety to match it.

I grow sunflowers that produce fat pale seed shells with gray stripes. In my area, this tends to attract mostly titmice, with a few chickadees, and the occasional finch. At least I think that's the lineup we get here. I'm far from an expert on birds. Some of them have to work quite a bit to open those large oily seeds. Other types of sunflower set very small black seeds that more species of birds can handle.

I simply use long twist ties to attach the dried seed heads to a trellis near the window of our living room. I enjoy watching the birds pick at the seed head. Some of them seem to keep regular hours each day, so that I see them during a particular half-hour in late morning and never else. When the seed head has been emptied I replace it with another. I like being able to help out the wildlife with little to no expense on my part, especially in the harshest months of the year.

If you enjoy feeding birds and haven't yet finalized your seed order for this year, you might think about including a sunflower or two in your 2009 garden.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Seasons As Seen By A Gardener

I don't have much to report for the moment, but I thought I'd share this funny and dead on quote from a fellow gardener:

"Spring: A mischievous sprite, a warm breeze that moved housebound gardeners out of doors to happily waste themselves, despite whatever mercurial weather tested their commitments. Summer: A Rubenesque goddess who swelled the garden with far more bounty than anyone could tend, let alone eat, even with the help of rabbits and bugs. Fall: A scolding harpy who recited gardeners' failures to them as they picked their way through weeds and sprawling vines to glean tomatoes and squash before the apocalypse of frost. Winter: A wraith who hovered over what was once the garden, whispering, "Gone, gone....Return to your VCR and supermarket vegetables."
-Barbara Damrosch

None but a bona fide gardener could come up with these impossibly accurate descriptions of the four seasons, especially fall.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Experiment: Homemade Liqueur

The term "home economy" has taken on new meaning for me over the last year or so. I've started to look much more carefully at the expenses and the resources of running our household and our mini-homestead. At all times much of my attention is taken up by food issues, and so my attitude towards all the food we purchase or grow has undergone the most significant change. I now reconsider things that I would have discarded or thrown away in the past, without even considering it to be wasteful. Things like chicken skin, broccoli stalks, soured milk, apple pomace, and tiny bits of leftover food. Formerly, I felt no pang of guilt about discarding these things, because I didn't see it as wasteful to do so. Now I see them as valuable resources that I can't in good conscience throw away. I know there are ways to use all of these things to reduce our household budget while improving our lives. And I'm always looking for new ways too.

A case in point. Despite my general insistence on buying local or at least organic, I purchased a crate of clementines for New Year's. I don't eat a lot of fresh fruit in general. I tend not to eat any during the winter or early spring because there's nothing in season in my area. (I do eat dried fruits and a few fruits that I froze over the summer.) But a crate of clementines has become a holiday season tradition. Yes, I know all about the atrocious food miles and the carbon footprint. I rationalize it as a once-per-year holiday indulgence.

So it is that I've been enjoying a sweet, juicy gift from Spain each day for the last week and a half. The peels have been niggling at my conscience. What to do with the clementine peels? I save the peels from the few citrus fruits we buy for cocktails in order to use them in scones and biscotti. But clementine peels are so much thinner than lemon, lime or orange peels. I wondered what I might do with them. I've had little luck at candying citrus peels. But I knew I had to at least try to use them in some way. Then one of my relatives mentioned limoncello, reminding me of this Italian lemon liqueur that is made at home all over Italy.

I'm going to give clementine liqueur a go. My husband suggests that we call it clementino, or clemencello. Fortunately, this type of liqueur is simple to make and I have all the ingredients on hand. I had about half a bottle of vodka leftover from making my own vanilla extract. The only other ingredients needed are the citrus peels, sugar, and time.

It's interesting to me that distilling alcohol in your own home will net you an unwelcome and very unfriendly visit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, while making your own liqueur from legally purchased spirits is just fine and dandy. In any case, I don't drink much alcohol, and don't care for vodka at all. But if I can make my own liqueur from salvaged citrus peels, I may have a homemade gift for some relatives who enjoy alcoholic cordials. Or, I may come to enjoy it myself.

So here's what I'm doing. Since all the pith needs to be removed from the outermost skin of the peel, I've been cutting the peel off the clementines as I eat them. I do this because I like to eat the fruit segment by segment, but my husband just cuts the clementine into sixths and bites the flesh off the peel. Either way, this produces more uniform pieces of peel than I would get if I peeled them by hand. A very sharp knife with thin blade is essential for easy removal of the pith. I use a boning knife, cutting away the pith carefully, a layer at a time. The trick is to remove as much of the pith as possible without cutting through the oily layer called the zest. It takes a little practice.

If you want to try saving zest in this way, start with lemons or oranges, which have much sturdier and thicker peels. The thinner clementine peels are more difficult. I've found that it's easier to remove the pith in this way after the peels have sat around for about 20 minutes. They dry out just a little in that time, and the trimming goes more easily. Don't leave it much longer than that though, a peel that dries out too much is harder to trim. Expect to take several passes in each direction to gradually remove thin layers of pith. Once you have removed as much as you can, the zest strips can be saved for a few months in the freezer. Very handy to have around when you feel like baking scones.

As the clementine peels are prepared day by day, I'm just slicing them up and adding them to a small quantity of vodka (about 12 oz.). After the last peel is added, I'll give the mixture about 4 weeks to do its thing, and then add a sugar syrup. As it happens, I have some hardened sugar leftover from an attempt at making candied lemon and orange peels. I couldn't stand to throw the stuff away. So now I have a use for it. That sugar will be used in making the sugar syrup, which will then be added to the alcohol. After letting that sit for a few more weeks, the liqueur will be ready.

All I need to do now is find a pretty bottle to store the finished liqueur in. If I can find one pretty enough, perhaps I'll give away the clementine liqueur as a gift. Look for an update on my homemade hooch in six weeks or so.

Update: Here's the clemencello report.

Friday, January 9, 2009

This Weekend: Seed Swapping, Group Ordering & Haggis

In December I asked my farming friend whether she'd like to go in together on some seed and rootstock orders, in order to save on shipping costs. She had too much on her plate to get to it in before the holidays, but she agreed to move up the date of her annual seed swap potluck to this weekend. As an added incentive to lure all the housebound gardeners, she, a sheep farmer, is ponying up "materials" so that I can attempt to make haggis at her house for the potluck to follow.

I've been to two of her seed swaps in previous years, and they've been casual affairs with plenty of gardening commentary, advice, commiseration, and enthusiasm. Inevitably I come home with something that caught my eye that appears nowhere in my on-paper garden plan. We gardeners can't really help such things. This year we'll also be poring over a collection of catalogs, including Fedco seeds, Fedco trees, Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny's, and the Maine Potato Lady to put together one group order per catalog. I expect that by ordering with the group, we'll all save several dollars on shipping costs. If our desired seeds and seedstock overlap, we may also be able to save by purchasing larger quantities. I'm really looking forward to the licentious swapping, and the orgy of vicarious gardening. And I'm going to sniff about with the other gardeners to see if I can find a source of worms for my vermiculture compost bin.

As the foolhardy, formerly professional cook, the haggis making will fall squarely on my shoulders. I'm taking my KitchenAid mixer with the meat grinding attachment. I suspect I'll be the only one there who's ever eaten haggis before. I may be the only one there brave enough to try it after it's made, even though scrapple is a popular treat in these Pennsylvania Dutch hinterlands. I only wish the haggis experiment were happening on Burns' Night, January 25th. I'd love to carry my haggis proudly to the table, to the tune of bagpipes and accompanied by the Address to a Haggis in a lovely thick Scottish accent.

Ah, well. One can dream.

I'll let you all know how the haggis turns out. I know you'll be waiting with bated breath. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Homemade Apple "Cider" Vinegar Report

A few days ago I decanted my first batch of homemade apple "cider" vinegar that I started late last fall from tap water and the leftover apple pomace from our cider pressing. Pomace is just fancy vocabulary for the solid remains of the fruit after the juices have been pressed out and collected. When I say that I made the vinegar, I am of course exaggerating. Actually, I only set the ingredients in place, and let the volunteer acetobacillus microbes do all the real work. I gave the bacteria about seven weeks to do their job.

From a glass jar with a one-gallon capacity I got almost 7 cups of a very light colored, slightly cloudy, and apple-scented vinegar. I probably could have gotten more if I had put less pomace and more water in the jar. But in all likelihood, it would probably have been weaker vinegar too. When I talk about the strength or weakness of the vinegar, I'm referring to the level of acidity. Acetobacillus needs something to live on other than water. In this case it would be the residual sugars remaining in the pomace. (Cores and peels saved from apple for apple pie would work even better, most likely, since they would contain more sugars.) Less pomace to more water would have meant less food for the microbes. When I started this experiment, I filled about 60%-75% of the jar with coarsely ground pomace, and filled the rest with our well water.

While I don't have an incredibly precise measurement of the acidity in our homemade vinegar, I know it's weaker than three different store-bought varieties. The picture above shows the litmus test results for our homemade apple cider vinegar, compared to rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and distilled white vinegar. (My husband's a science geek, which is why we have litmus test strips lying around our house.) I think you can see, even in this picture, that the right-most square on the cider vinegar strip is a little lighter than those for the other three vinegars. Each of the store bought vinegars came in at a clear 2 on the litmus scale, though the red wine vinegar might be just slightly weaker than the rice wine vinegar and the distilled vinegar. Our homemade apple cider vinegar reads as a 3 on the scale, indicating lower acidity.

What difference does the acidity level make? Well, if I wanted to use this vinegar for pickling things, it might become very much an issue. To ensure food safety, one needs a standard level of acidity in the pickling solution. Standard vinegars usually register at 5% acidity, and are diluted according to the pickling recipe. On the other hand, I could easily adjust a vinaigrette recipe to balance the lower acidity of this homemade vinegar. In terms of taste, our homemade vinegar is light and pleasant, with a moderate apple flavor.

The thing about this vinegar is that it's raw and contains live acetobacillus bacteria. That means that there's at least a decent chance that the acid levels will increase gradually, even though the solids have been removed. If I wanted to stop this process, I'd have to cook the vinegar to kill the bacteria. But right now I'm content to let the vinegar do its own thing. I'll test the vinegar again in a few more months. If the acidity level changes, I'll post an update.

We're not eating too many salads right now in the depths of winter. But I look forward to using this homemade food on the early spring salads of the year. Now that I know that we can make this vinegar from the by product of our cider pressing - for almost no additional cost or effort - I'll be making more of it after our next pressing.

Related post:

Following Up Some Experiments

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First New Year's Goal Progress: Worm Bin Composting

I surprised myself over the weekend by tackling - and almost completing - one of my New Year's goals. Most of December I was in a very mañana mood, fighting off a hellacious chest cold and feeling the urge to hibernate. But I got a small burst of motivation, and so I ran with it.

I read up on the advice for starting a worm bin system on this page. After that it was just a matter of following the steps. Given the winter weather, I decided that starting the worm bin in my basement would be a good choice. My husband and I aren't exactly arm wrestling for the privilege of taking the compost out the bin lately. We have plenty of space in the basement though, and I figured we can always move the bins outside in the summer if we want to.

The first step in building our worm bin system was to acquire two matching bins made from a dark opaque material, with a capacity of 5-10 gallons each. My husband picked up a perfect set for $10 at Kmart while running other errands. I then got the power tools out and started drilling holes. The ventilation holes all along the top rim of each bin need to be numerous but very small (drilled with a 1/16" bit) so as to discourage any insects from making the bins their homes. The drainage holes in the bottom of the bin need to be bigger though. I used a 1/4" bit for those holes.

Next I needed some bedding for the little crawlies. I shredded a pile of black-and-white newspaper and gathered up a few of the leaves that still linger about outside along the fence. (In the first picture above, most of the dried leaves are in the lower bin, where they'll be stored.) I also poked around our very meager compost pile for a little bit of the most rotted material. There wasn't much there. Most of the material we would have composted over the last year went to supplement the feed for our hens. And we also tasked the girls with working the semi-mature material from compost bin into the cleared garlic bed during the late summer and early fall. Hens are right composting machines, I tell ya. So it was meager pickin's for the worms out at the compost bin. This is the gardener's dilemma. There's never enough compost to go around.

Anyway, having collected material to make a nice home for some worms, I needed the worms. And this was the sticking point. In summer time, I would simply go dig for the worms and collect them myself. I thought of going to a bait shop, but it turned out the last bait shop in town closed six months ago. So I resolved to at least try to find some worms in my own garden. Although there are several sections of the garden that I heavily mulched in the fall, and I waited for a warmish day after the temperature overnight remained (just) above freezing, I had no luck finding any worms. They're all tucked way down low in the soil I suppose. Short of luring them to the surface with a heating pad, or a freak heat wave I don't think I'll get any worms out of my garden for a few months at least.

At this point I'm working my local sustainable farming and gardening network, hoping that someone has a wormbox ready to be harvested or thinned. But I'm not having any luck so far. My frugal streak makes me very balky when I contemplate paying good money ($30+!) plus shipping to mail order a pound of red worms. There's a bait shop about a 20-minute drive away, but of course it's hard to justify a driving excursion for just one reason. There may be a second reason to head over to that town at the end of this month, so I may do that later on.

To get to this point with the vermiculture project, I've invested $10 and about an hour and a half of work, which includes drilling the holes, shredding newspaper, gathering the dried leaves, trying to find some worms, and cleaning up drilled out bits of plastic. Not bad at all for a very useful home and garden DIY project, and an attempt to cross one of my New Year's Goals off my to do list.

So for now I have a beautiful worm box composter set up, and no worms. It's frustrating, but I'm trying to take my own advice and practice patience here. I suppose the worst that could happen is that I continue to dump our kitchen scraps into the outdoor compost bin, and I wait until spring to harvest worms when I begin planting. Until I locate a source of worms, I'll leave you with a list of worm box composting benefits. If there are any drawbacks, I've yet to figure out what they might be.

Benefits of Worm Box Composting:

Reduced waste stream. We don't pay for trash service by volume (though we should), so we don't save money that way by composting. But at least we're contributing less to landfills.

Very inexpensive. A one-time expense of $10 to set up a system that can be used indefinitely with no further monetary inputs is a bargain.

Gardening Super Ingredient. We'll get concentrated worm castings for "free." There is no soil amendment more highly prized than worm castings. Only fully rotted compost comes anywhere near worm castings for available nutrient content. This will improve the quality of the food we grow to feed ourselves.

More worms. By "raising" worms in a protected and ideal environment, we'll be able to increase our earthworm populations. They won't be eaten by birds or other predators, or end up dead on the pavement after a rainstorm. As the population in our box grows, I'll thin it by returning some worms to the garden.

Time and effort savings. A trip down to the basement is faster than a trip out to where our compost bin sits in the back yard. In winter time, this is a big deal. And in the spirit of tiny tips, I recognize that opening the door less often saves us a tiny amount of heating expense.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

January Is A Good Time To...

...get your bicycle tuned up. If you live in the northern hemisphere, your local bike shops are probably all but deserted right now. The small holiday sales rush they might have seen is definitely over, and business is as slow as can be. Right now they've got plenty of time to do a thorough tune up of your bike. You may not get a discount, and frankly, I never look for discounts from small local businesses when they're hurting anyway. But what you can count on from a bike shop in January is no service backlog to create delays. So why not give them your business now when your bike will have their undivided and careful expert attention?

A tuneup done on your bicycle now will have pretty good "shelf life." That is, there's little disadvantage to having your bike tuned up five months before you start riding it heavily as opposed to a week before you start riding. The tires will need to be checked and maybe pumped up again. But all the other adjustments will keep for quite a while.

If you ride only during part of the year, it's a much better idea to get your bicycle serviced now rather than wait until everyone else is thinking about getting back in the saddle again. While they all curse the delays caused by their lack of foresight, you'll be enjoying those glorious first great riding days of spring. And you'll help a local business in one of the leanest times of the year as well. And if you're one of the intrepid souls who ride year-round, this is still a good time for a tuneup. You definitely don't want to be stranded by a mechanical failure at this time of year.

Ride carefully out there!

Friday, January 2, 2009

January Frugal Action Item: CF Bulbs

I'm going be posting one hands-on, nothing fancy, anyone-can-do-this frugal suggestion each month of this year. If I'm on my game, these posts will appear at the beginning of each month. If not, well...we'll see. My goal is to offer money saving tips that will be suitable for either renters or homeowners, and to make them practical for as wide an audience as possible. Some Action Items will challenge you to try something new, some of them will have a seasonal flavor, and some of them will be once and done tasks. I will also sometime offer alternative action items on the chance that you may have already taken care of that month's task.

January's Frugal Action Item is to replace your standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. I'm suggesting this one right now for several reasons. First of all, I know a lot of you out there got gift cards (for Target, Home Depot, Kmart, grocery stores, hardware stores, etc.) for the holidays that you can use to pay for the CF bulbs. Second of all, we run our lights for more hours per day during the darkest months of the year. And finally, the sooner you replace your standard bulbs with CFs, the sooner you start saving money. So this Action Item can't wait!

If money is really, really tight for you, buy however many CF bulbs you can scrape up the money for, and put them in the lights you use most often. In addition, be aware that many, many local electricity providers offer coupons or rebates for the purchase of CF bulbs. It never hurts to do a google search for coupons either. As you begin to save money each month on your electrical bill, apply the savings to the purchase of more bulbs and replace more of the lights in your home, in order of heaviest use.

If you're a renter or a homeowner planning to sell anytime soonish, save the standard bulbs for any built-in light fixtures. Take your CF bulbs with you when you move, replacing them with the standard bulbs you saved.

Alternative Action Item: If you've already swapped out all of your standard bulbs for CFs, it's a good time of year to have a look at your hot water pipes, if you can get at them. This is especially important for homeowners who heat with hot water radiant systems, and doubly important for homes with copper water pipes. (PVC water pipes are less conductive, so they lose less heat over a long run.) Pipe insulation has come a long way, baby. If your pipes have old insulation tape on them, it's time for an upgrade. If they're completely naked, throw some synthetic rubber insulation over them. This cheap foam-like insulation is extremely well priced. It's super easy to install and all you need is a box cutter to trim the insulation to fit.

While I can understand that renters may not want to bear the expense of insulation, this is still worth considering. First talk to your landlord and see whether he or she will reimburse or split the cost of the insulation. If not, you may still want to eat the cost if you plan to stay in the rental for a while or if you live in a very cold climate. The synthetic rubber insulation is really very cheap, and the return on investment is likely to be pretty fast. And hey, if you're a lucky renter who doesn't pay for heat, you may want to pursue this anyway, as it's good for the environment. And if your landlord's expenses are kept in line, you may be less likely to see a rent increase.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let's fill 2009 with frugality, good food and home cooking, and warm camaraderie.

Further Action Items:
February: Kitchen Competence
March: Rein in Entertainment Spending
April: Go Paper-less
May: Solar Dryer
June: Raise the Deductible on Your Auto Insurance
July: Stay Cool Without Touching that Thermostat
August: Repair It!
September: Insulate
October: Preventative Health Care
November: Frugal Holiday Wish List
December: Plan Next Year's Garden