Archive for November, 2009

Remodeling A Family Affair

Yesterday in our Frugal Photo Post I posted a picture of one of our remodel projects.  It is the one we are in the middle of right now.  It is something the whole family pitches in on and helps.  Our older boys work there when they can, making time around college and their other jobs.  Hubby goes over after work and I go over when I can with the little ones.  We work together on it until it is done.

When we first got married we did not want to rent so we purchased a house within the first year of our marriage.  As fate would have it my husband got a job across state less than 1 year of owning the house.  We tried and tried to sell it but had no luck.  So we rented it out.

We had never considered owning a rental but had not choice.  We lucked out and got very good renters.  They paid their rent on time, took good care of the house and treated it like their own.  We ended up having them as renters for over 20 years!  It also began our adventures in getting older houses, fixing them up and renting them out.

We lived in 8 different houses in our first 12 years of marriage.  We would move into them, fix it up, move out, rent it.  We did this over and over all the while looking for our ‘perfect’ piece of property in the country.  We finally found the 10 acres we are now on and decided to build.  All of our previous experience was invaluable when building our own home.  It saved us  money being our own contractors and doing much of the work ourselves.  It is also very satisfying looking around our home and knowing that is was our own sweat and labor that built most of it.

Being a landlord is not for everyone and we have decided that this will be the last until hubby retires.  But with the way the economy is and with 401k’s not being what they used to be it helps to have a ‘back up’ income for emergencies and for retirement.

As nice as the extra income will be in the future what I really like is the chance to get to bring an old house back from the brink.  To find the old love letters in the walls, to see the vintage wallpapers, to refinish the old growth floors, and to bring to life an old but charming kitchen.  There is something about a house that is a hundred years old that almost talks to you as you work on it.  There is a sense of history and depth that a modern house just does not have.

It has also given us the opportunity to learn many new skills.  I can wire a house, lay tile, sheet rock, and lay hardwood.  Hubby does his own plumbing and siding. The big boys know how to do all these things and more…

Of course the little ones get to learn about workplace safetly, lol!

Yes remodeling is a family affair around here!

What interesting things do you do together with family or friends?

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer raising organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids…and a camel!

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We decided that the weekend after Thanksgiving is usually a time to think about shopping.  Black Friday, the alarm going off at 4:30 am, early morning doorbusters, the mall, the crowds…the mayhem!

Since we like to swim against the current around here we are sharing photos of  ‘being frugal’ .  Now this we do admit was a bit of a challenge, but it was fun…much more so than fighting the crowds to get to the 50% off socks!


For a couple dollars in seeds I grew well over $100 of pumpkin if I had bought it canned.  Roasted, pureed, and frozen for use all winter…no pumpkin shortage here!

We do our own remodeling…it takes longer but saves tons of money.  Besides the satisfaction of a job you know is well done.  All of our older boys now know how to frame, wire, plumb, sheet rock, tile, and side a house.  You can’t put a price on that kind of knowledge!

Purchased 18 years ago this month.  Chevy Astro Van, 8 passenger extended length with towing package…hauls hay, sports teams, bags of leaves, groceries, lumber, widows, a dog and a goat!  Yes that is 264,750.7 miles on it!  I’m hoping to get at least 20 years out of this van…more if I’m lucky!

Baking my own organic whole grain bread 2x weekly.  Grinding my own grains purchased in bulk saves me 100’s of dollars from my yearly grocery bill…although I do it for the nutrition and taste more than the money savings…though that is nice also!

Lastly is skipping the monthly fee of cable or satellite tv or even the latest movie in the theaters to sit on the porch swing and watch God’s sky show!  Its free and oh so much better for your soul!

So what interesting or unique ways are you being frugal?

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When a line of plastic garbage bags gets you excited!

Want to know what’s in my bags…bettcha do!

It’s beautiful, and nutritious…

Look!  Fo0d for my garden…lovely leaves destined to be shredded and put down as much.  To break down into lovely healthy soil for next year’s garden.

Yep…you know you’re a gardener when you are thrilled by plastic bags full of leaves!


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The Day Before Thanksgiving

It’s the day before Thanksgiving
And while I’m employed
I’ll get to work early,
Yet slightly annoyed.
How can I focus?
I’m much too distracted.
There’s so much to do
In the time so compacted.
There’s a turkey to roast
And you know, that takes hours.
It can not be rushed.
No, it’s not in my powers.
Sweet potatoes for baking
Need scrubbing and peeling.
So deliciously spiced.
Oh, the smell sends me reeling.
Preoccupied with thoughts
Like this all through the day.
‘Til the very last customer
Is sent on his way.
Then, I make my way home
To wear my other hat.
I’m the mommy, the wife,
And the cook and all that.

I plop down in my chair
Parked in front of the fire.
With so much left to do
Still before I retire.
Then I see that my boys
Have been working hard, too.
There’s not quite so much
Left for me to do.
The turkey’s been soaking
For hours today.
It’s ready for cooking
(or most of the way.)
My little’s been washing
The veggies and stuff.
He too young for chopping,
But still, it’s enough.
I remember again
As I hang up my hat
How important they are
And I’m thankful for that.

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I usually check the news in the morning while I’m waiting for the coffee to get done.  I try not to obsess, but I like to keep up with what’s happening in the world at large.  So, this morning I turned on CNN and listened to a bit of the wrangling over the Health Care bills.  Everyone who came on had their little bit they were supporting or fighting.  Everyone hanging desperately on to their little bit, pulling in their own direction.  It reminded me of leading my goats to pasture.  Every morning I have to take our 12 goats to what ever bit of pasture we have fenced for the day.  I hook them all onto one long lead, grab the collars of the two leaders, and we all walk to the paddock.  The goats pull against each other rather than fighting with me.  Since I have the two strongest going the direction I want, we usually get there without much trouble.  If they all decided to go the same way for a change, there would be no way I could control them.  (An Alpine dairy goat can pull about 400 lbs, times 12… my 150 lbs wouldn’t stand a chance.)

Anyway, I was thinking about dysfunctional governments, the broken healthcare system, and how unlikely it was that anything meaningful would come out of this process as I went to do chores this morning.  I walked into the barn and this is what I saw

Epiphany!  All the little pieces of my brain came to gether and I Understood.  They asked the wrong question.  They asked how they could fix the system, and everyone grabbed a bit to fix or protect.  They should have asked “What is the best health care system for everyone?” and worked from there on creating one that worked.

That’s what happened with this lovely fence.  Three years ago we had a goat about to give birth.  It was her first time, and I could tell that it wouldn’t be easy.  I needed a pen where I could isolate her.  So I scrounged two old gate panels and a short piece of 4×4 and cobbled together a pen.  It did the job, and has served similar purposes since then.  But it wasn’t built properly, it was in the wrong spot, it was too small, and it wasn’t really goat proof.  Shortly after building this pen I realized it had some problems.  So, I fixed them.  I added a patch to the bottom to keep the kids from crawling under the fence and getting into things they shouldn’t.  I tied one of the gate panels to the other so I could open it like a gate to let mom out.  It was basically functional again.  Later one of the goats discovered she could hop the fence between the pens and then hop the gate on the small pen and get out.  After discovering her out of the pen with her nose in the chicken feed a couple of times I realized the fence was too short.  So another old gate was salvaged and wired on to the top of the fence.  That kind of worked, except over the gate area.  So I strung some wire.  Success again.  Then the cow leaned on the fence and cracked the old 4×4 so the whole thing leans.  If I don’t keep an eye on it every day someone will find a hole and slip through.

My epiphany was that I’d been asking the wrong question.  I asked “How do I keep the goats from getting through or over this fence?”  The result was the cobbled together mess in the photo.  It worked, kind of…  If, three years ago I had ask, “What do I need to house and care for my goats properly?” I would have designed and built a different system.  I would have used many of same materials.  We always scrounge here first.  But rather than spending my time trying to fix the crisis of the moment with what ever came to hand, I would have created a system that worked. 

There is an idea in Holistic Management that I try to use (but completely forgot in this case.)  “Problems push, goals pull.”  When we problem solve, we react to the part in crisis, often without considering the whole.  When we have a goal, a vision, we act to advance toward that vision.  We attend to the rudder and to trimming the sails, not just to the flapping bit of canvas that seems to be causing a problem.

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I must admit to a slight obsession.  I love glass containers.  I especially love old blue glass containers…

You know the ones our grandma’s had!

I use them for all kind of storage.  I have one in my sewing room with old buttons in it.  But I mostly use them to store food in.  This one is destined to store orzo.  I think the little glass lids are just too cool!

Beautiful, simple and made to last!  I find them in antique stores, second-hand stores and at garage sales.  They are great for storing things that you buy in smaller quantities, like chocolate chips.

Since I have switched to exclusively storing in glass everything except my very large bulk items like grains I have had to figure out how to label all my containers.  I wanted something that could easily be changed.  I have tried the making tape and marker labels but hated the sticky residue it left.  I tried paper labels but they got torn.  I finally hit upon something that works great for me…chalkboard paint.  It is inexpensive, easy to find, and easy to apply.

If you have a smooth clean glass container it is as simple as masking off…I purposely wanted the edges uneven so I ripped the tape down the middle.

Apply the tape…

Just a little side note, it is easier to do with your jars empty.  I of course did not heed this bit of my own advice and did it to a jar full of  rolled oats…proceeded to forget them out overnight, it rained and I had to be creative with using up this many oats in a very short period of time as they got damp.  So try for an empty jar…and a sunny day!

Apply your first coat of paint…

I learned that I needed 3 coats of paint for this project.  I also learned that I needed to remove the tape after the first coat was dried.  If you left it on for all three coats when you removed it tended to peel up the paint.  Since I wanted a ‘rustic’ edge anyway painting coats 2 and 3 freehand was not problem.

I also painted each coat in a different direction, vertical, horizontal, and then vertical again to get a crosshatch look otherwise you tended to notice the brush strokes more.

Let dry well and voila!

Jars that have easily changed labels that hold up to hand washing and just are fun!

I have found glassware that is made in the USA by at a few shops in the big city but for me I get mine on amazon.com, I hate driving to the big city.  They are made by Anchor Hocking and for the very large jars like I store my oats in you will pay $23.95.  

 My airtight jars are from Ikea they were not expensive but they are made in China…I am on the lookout for domestically made glass that is also airtight and easy to open and close.  If I find it I will pass it along.

So next time you are at a garage sale keep your eye out for some great glass jars, they will be a great addition to your food storage plan!

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We’re all here again in our Sunday post…today we are sharing some of the things we are most thankful for!

I’m thankful that there are people who take the time and effort to grow food to sell at the farmer’s market. This makes it much easier for those of us that want good healthy local food and don’t have the space or time to grow it ourselves. I also appreciate that it gives me the opportunity to get involved in my community and to get to know my neighbors.

I’m thankful that I have space for a few homegrown vegetables. I don’t have much space, but things I manage to grow give me a deep sense of satisfaction and freedom. I’m very very thankful for this opportunity.

I’m also thankful for my heritage and the women that came before me who canned and preserved and grew their own food. I’m thankful that they passed these lessons down through the generations and I can help my sister pass them along to her children. I love canning in these jars that my grandmothers used for so many years.

I’m particularly thankful for the changing seasons and the beauty and variety it brings to my life. I really appreciate the ebb and flow of the seasonal changes and I love being in tune with those through gardening and eating seasonally.

When I step out onto my back porch I am thankful that it is trees I see and not skyscrapers…

For muddy little hands that bring me flowers.

Llamas at dusk…

Dancing in the rain!

And I’m even thankful for Camels in the Snow!


At Roberts Roost I’m thankful for…

Hands, they do such amazing things,


And Band-aids to patch up the hands after a project is done (there is always blood…)

And this slim little box that connects my little farm and my little life to the larger world and to a wonderful community.


What kinds of things are you thankful for?

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I’m New Here

My name is Susy, I’m a new writer here at Not Dabbling in Normal. My pen name is Chiot’s Run. I blog about gardening, canning, local living and all kinds of fun stuff over at Chiot’s Run, you can also follow me via photos on my Flickr Photostream. I also write over at Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op several times a month.

I think I was asked to be a writer here because of some of my interesting hobbies. They aren’t the typical hobbies for an early 30’s girl. While many women my age are acquiring shoes, bags and clothes; I’m busy learning beekeeping, maple sugaring, canning, cheese making and other crazy things.

My husband and I own a small business, 2nd Mile Productions and I work for a non-profit as well, Colombian Christian Mission. We both work from home which allows us to spend our time a little differently than many people. I’m able to spend my days gardening and my evening working. When it’s maple sugaring season we’re able to run outside periodically to check the boiling sap, then get back to work.

Over the past couple years Mr Chiots and I have been building a network of local farms for our food supply. We feel very strongly about knowing where our food comes from and knowing the people that produce it. We get raw milk from a wonderful little local farm, with this we make our own butter and cheese each week. We visit the local farmers markets and have developed friendships with many local growers.

We try to source other things we need locally as well, like yarn for knitting and soap for bathing. When we need to buy a product like canning jars, we try to find a small local business instead buying from a big-box type store. If we can’t find it locally we search out small handmade places in other parts of the country. I love knowing that someone put love and effort into the things I’m using.

I hope you’ll enjoy the things I write about. Most people think I’m a bit weird, but I’m sure since you’re reading this blog you’ll be among the few people that find me interesting.

What hobbies do you have that aren’t seen as “normal”?

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Nothing is as essential to being self-sufficient as food production and storage of food.  Today I’m going to touch on some ideas for stocking the basic must have pantry.  My goal in my pantry stocking is to have enough of the staples put up so that in the case of emergency I am set at least for a few months…or if my older boys all descend at once I have plenty of food at least for a week or two!

When I designed our house 15 years ago our boys 4, 6, and 8 and I knew that in the teenage years I would need some major food storage capacity.  My pantry is good size but you don’t need a designated room for food storage.  For many garden vegetables a cool garage is great.  Spare bedrooms, hall closets, many different places can be use for food.

I think food storage is a matter of priorities.  I have heard from many people that they just don’t have the room for keeping extra food.  Yet their closets are overflowing with never worn clothing, or cabinets full of appliances they seldom if ever use.  I don’t have a problem with these things but I would not give up perfectly good storage to keep them when I could keep an extra bag of wheat in there.

When I started our pantry from scratch I took the time to keep a journal for a couple of months of what we ate.  I did not want to purchase a lot of things that I would seldom use.  I came up with a basic list of ‘must haves’ at all times from that journal and then fleshed the pantry out from there when I added new recipes and needed new ingredients.

Here is my list of staples. With this I know that now matter what happens I will have something for dinner or in case of prolonged power outage or outbreak of sickness I know we will not go hungry.

Home Canned

  • Canned tomatoes, sauce, and paste (soup base, base for most pasta sauce)
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Fruit Sauces, apricot, peach, and apple
  • Fruit Syrups (we eat a lot of pancakes and waffles)
  • Vegetable Stock

Bulk Grains (purchased in 25# and 50#)

  • Wheat (both white and red for fresh whole wheat flour)
  • Oat Groats (for grinding into flour)
  • Barley
  • Rolled Oats (cookies, oatmeal, crisps, bread)
  • Cracked Wheat (breads)
  • Spelt (flour for bread)
  • Quinoa (cereal and bread)
  • Rye
  • Corn (for cornmeal)
  • Brown Rice


  • Olive Oil (breads and cooking)
  • Canola Oil (breads)
  • Sesame Oil (Asian/Indian cooking)

Baking Supplies

  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Yeast
  • Salt
  • Molasses
  • Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Egg Replacer
  • Vanilla
  • Spices especially cinnamon

Dried Beans and Nuts

  • Lentils
  • Yellow and green split peas
  • Navy
  • Small white
  • Black
  • Garbanzo
  • Kidney
  • Walnuts (snacking, breads, trail mix)
  • Almonds (snacking, trail mix)
  • Cashews (cashew milk, trail mix)
  • Peanuts (trail mix)


  • Raisins (granola, pie, cinnamon rolls, bread, trail mix)
  • Canned Pineapple (smoothies and pizza)
  • Coconut Milk (smoothies and chilled pumpkin soup)
  • Rice Milk
  • Wild Rice
  • Tea (mama needs her tea)
  • Honey (baking, granola, tea)
  • Popcorn
  • Nutritional yeast (vegan sauces, popcorn, toast)
  • Mustard (beans, salads, sandwiches)
  • Shredded coconut (breads and granola)
  • Dried cranberries (trail mix, granola, snacks)
  • Various dried whole wheat pastas
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Balsamic Vinegar (dressings and flavorings)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cornstarch (thickener)


  • Peas, corn, green beans, pureed pumpkin and squash, spinach
  • Freezer jams
  • Ice Cream (husband’s indulgence)
  • Roasted Peppers (breads and pizza)


  • Enough for each person to drink and cook with for 1 month (this takes some planning and some room)

This looks like a long list but for us these are the things, along with fresh vegetables and fruits, are what I have come to know are the basics for what I cook.  With the exception of my bulk grains most don’t take up much room even when purchased in larger than usual quantities.  I also try to store in glass as much as possible.  It is easy to clean and doesn’t leach chemicals over long storage periods…not that I’m sure that Tupperware does but just in case.

A few tips for  getting started stocking you pantry…

  • Buy in quantity when you find a good sale.
  • Look at the dates when possible and buy the freshest.
  • Don’t buy more than you can reasonably use before its past its prime.
  • Make sure you have a spot to properly store (example cool dry dark for grains)
  • Don’t over buy if that means kicking spouse out of bed to use it for storage!  Moderation in everything…
  • Rotate your pantry…put the items you just bought at the back of the shelf and use the oldest first.
  • Check things like flours and grains for moth or mice infestation…take care of promptly before they get into the rest.  Better yet  store in varmint proof containers.
  • Start slow…take the time to know what you really need and use.

Remember to just smile when your friends and family tease you about being Noah stocking up for the flood…cause you know who’s doorstep they’ll be standing on when the next disaster hits!

So do you have any tips on food storage…what’s in your pantry?


Come back Monday when we can talk about how to store in glass, where to find it…and how to paint on it!

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids…and a camel!

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More squash gone bad!

Yesterday, Alan described his winter squash predicament and how he was able to turn his “lemons” into squash soup. We too are faced with a squash predicament. We plant cushaw squash which are beautiful winter squash that we typically have been able to store for a year or better…but not this year. We had way too much rain this year and our garden was never right because of it. Our cushaw (from seeds we saved) grew but the squash never got to their typical gigantic size. We waited and waited and finally decided it was time to harvest the cushaw regardless.

10_05_2008 001

(How cushaw should look)
10_11_2009 042(Cushaw going bad…note how the green is bleeding into the white)

When we usually store the squash, we make no special arrangements. They just sit in our kitchen as a bit of a fixture. We cook them as needed throughout the year. We started with the same method this year and quickly found we are not going to make it through the winter with cushaws.

10_05_2008 003(save the seeds…you can roast them or save them for next year’s garden)

I can’t bear to waste food though so we baked up a number of cushaw squash pies. Before you dismiss the idea, consider that a pumpkin is basically just a squash too…we’ll use essentially the same ingredients as you would for a pumpkin pie, except for the squash-for-pumpkin switch. In fact, a cushaw pie tastes very much like a pumpkin pie except it is much smoother and more mild (it’s hard to explain…but try it). If you bake up a number of these pies, you can freeze them very well for later!

10_05_2008 008(Ready to go in the oven…isn’t that a great color!?)

So, if you still have squash after making Alan’s soup, give cushaw pie a try! I think you could safely substitute any winter squash and have an excellent pie!

10_05_2008 010(ahhhhh…I see my next meal!)

Cushaw Squash Pie

4 eggs
4 cups pumpkin/cushaw (or 1 large can)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or mix your own…see online)
2 large cans evaporated milk

Combine all ingredients and pour into prepared pie crusts. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Makes 2 pies.

Warren can also be found at My Home Among the Hills writing about the adventures of life in WV.

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