March 27, 2012

Spring 2012 Senior Directory Launch Party TODAY

Senior DirectoryUPDATE--Whoops—apparently I had the wrong senior directory linked. Sorry for any confusion. 

Today at the Food City in Bearden you can celebrate the launch of the 2012 Senior Directory in Knoxville.  Looks like there will be some free samples there.  Check out the info below:

Bring all of your Senior Citizen friends to grab their brand new Spring 2012 Senior Directory, free samples of Food City's finest and to sign the WE BACK PAT billboard
TODAY AT FOOD CITY DEANE HILL 9 AM - 11 AM!
TODAY!
9 A.M. - 11 A.M.
FOOD CITY DEANE HILL- 284 MORRELL ROAD, KNOXVILLE 37919
CALL ME IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS- 865.483.8606
SEE YOU SOON!!!!

If you do not yet have one of the Senior Directories, I highly recommend you pick one up.  They are full of helpful information and resources for older adults in our community.  I regularly hand them out to younger adults as well because the information is useful when helping parents or other relatives. 

FREE Organic Gardening Magazine Subscription with Lundberg Rice Purchase!

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Check out the email I just received from Lundberg.  This is one of my favorite magazines, and since my subscription is running out, this is a great freebie for me!

Purchase two or more Lundberg Family Farms products (valued at $10 or more) and receive a one year (6 issue) subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine.

To receive your one year subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine, please fill out the information below to complete your subscription form. The subscription form will need to be printed & mailed to Lundberg Family Farms along with the product UPCs and receipts. Complete Terms & Conditions

March 26, 2012

Just Living Series—March 29th “The Story Behind What You’re Wearing”

imageA friend of mine asked that I pass this on to you all.  It sounds like a very interesting series, and I hope they put it on again.  I can’t make the 29th meeting, and I would have liked to have made it to some of these.  Have any of y’all been?  If so, please share what you learned.  For more info, go here

Making Meals Easier

Whenever I have a busy day, I do what I can to prep supper in advance.  This morning, for instance, I put the chicken on to roast and the brown rice on the stove to cook.  Having those steps accomplished before evening will allow me to put food on the table in a matter of minutes.  Below are a few tips and ideas on this same train of thought:

  • Use your crockpot if you have one.  My sister preps her meal before she leaves for school and supper is ready when they arrive home.
  • Double the amount of food you cook and set aside half for another meal.
  • Prep more.  If you’ve already pulled out the cutting board, knife, and are in the mindset to chop an onion, you might as well chop a couple more.  I’ve read that onions pull bacteria from the air at a fast rate so I recommend that you store the extras in the freezer to prohibit this from occurring. 
  • Plan meals that require little hands on time.  Beans with rice is one of the easiest meals to make, but it does require some forethought.  Remembering to soak the beans and then having the time to let them cook is the hardest part of making this meal. 
  • Involve the family.  While it may take more time now, teaching your family to cook will pay off in the long run. 

Meal Planning Monday—The last week of March

I decided to post the meal plans a little differently this week. 

Breakfasts

  • Yogurt milkshakes—organic plain yogurt, a bit of organic milk, frozen berries from what we picked and preserved last year, a bit of juice or honey to sweeten it if needed
  • Boiled eggs and toast with jam
  • Cereal
  • Leftover biscuits and cake donuts from Sunday morning.  I used coconut oil in my biscuits this time, and they were fantastic.  I’ll add fruit to the side to make it slightly healthier.
  • Breakfast sandwiches

Lunches

  • Leftovers whenever possible
  • Peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana sandwiches
  • Egg and caper salad sandwiches or egg and caper and crackers
  • Sliced chicken sandwiches, using leftover roasted chicken
  • Ants on a log
  • If at home, we might make grilled cheese or cheese toast

Lunches are usually served with fruit (berries from the freezer, canned mandarin oranges, bananas, and/or home canned peaches or pears) and vegetables (radishes, blanched asparagus, some sort of leftover veggies, carrots, and/or celery).  We also have homemade popcorn and Snyder’s pretzels (Kroger Mega Event sale and coupon) if desired.

Suppers

  • Roasted chicken with confetti rice.  I’ll use some leftover veggies that a friend gave me after a Pampered Chef party with peas from the freezer and asparagus, broccoli and green onions from the garden mixed with a bit of olive oil and brown rice. 
  • Garden Vegetable Soup made with the bones of the chicken mentioned above to make the broth.  I’ll serve it with homemade bread.
  • Pasta and Sauce—one of Hubby’s specialties
  • Fish.  I’ll serve fish two nights this week.  One night we’ll go with tilapia and another we’ll go with cod.  I just found out that a friend’s dad is raising tilapia, and while not ready to sell them yet, I’m hoping to have a local source for them in the near future.  I’ll serve the fish with baked potatoes and asparagus one night and the other I’ll serve green beans, corn from the freezer (I preserved last year) and pickled beets.
  • One night will be Kid Konnection, the children’s program at church where I prepare the meal for 15-35 kids and adults.  I think this week we’ll have salads and see how that goes over. 
  • One night this week we’ll have leftovers either from the fridge or freezer. 

March 25, 2012

Independence Days Update—Spring is here

DSC_3616Spring is here.  The Spring Equinox came and went without much hoopla at our house, in part because it has felt more like early summer than spring for a few weeks.  With 85 degree days and at least one day with a record high that I know of, our area has been in full bloom.  The phlox, daffodils, tulips and many other flowers are showing their Easter colors a little earlier this year, and the flowering trees of cherry, plum, and redbud are closer to the end of their blossoming rather than the beginning.  One has to wonder what Easter will look like this year without the Easter egg shades popping up in the landscape.  Perhaps some flowers will hold off on blooming…perhaps. 

The last few weeks have been filled with hard work, planning, and lots of messes around our house.  We finally made some progress on splitting, stacking, and cleaning up the walnut that we had to down last year.  Just like anyone, my body tires of hard, manual labor.  Yet, there is something especially gratifying about it.  I appreciate my body more.  I feel competent and useful.  I appreciate my husband and his diligence even more than normal because I know that he performs many tasks that I’m not so good at.  (I’m terrible at splitting logs, for instance.  I freak out about mid swing, thinking that I’ll chop into my leg, and the axe doesn’t really do much good when it doesn’t have a steady person swinging it.)

Progress has been made on the bathroom remodel.  We live in an old house and the master bathroom needed a lot of work.  While we could have just replaced a few things, we decided to splurge and make it nice.  At the time of this writing, the studs are bare, toilet, sink, vanity, tub and almost all the piping has been removed.  The rest of the floor will be pulled off tomorrow (my biggest contribution next to moral support and hearty meals).  The “insulation” that we found on the exterior walls were glorified aluminum foil.  Insulating the space will make a big difference in the way the room feels (we know this because we’ve already done so in one other room of the house). 

What have we done with all of that waste?  My grandfather was a master carpenter, and I learned much from him on the virtue that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.  I’ve heard handfuls of stories from my father about being a young boy and scraping mortar off of used bricks so that they could reuse them to build their home.   With that legacy, I knew we couldn’t let our discards go to waste.  We’ve brought a few truck loads full of donations to the ReHab store to benefit Habitat for Humanity.  Other metal waste will be resold at a drop-off location near downtown.  Wood has been set aside to use as blocks and scraps to help with other projects. While not perfect, the amount that has gone into the dump has been greatly reduced. 

While on the subject of waste, I’ve been thinking a lot more recently about food waste.  I’ve been watching the TED talks on Netflix that relate to food issues, and time and again, the speakers stress how little food is valued in our society.  A huge proportion of our food as a nation goes into the trash.  With that helpful reminder, I’ve been trying to be more diligent about watching that in our home.  As I poured the coffee grinds into the trash this morning instead of going upstairs to get a compost bin for the downstairs counter, I realize I have a long way to go. 

See, it isn’t just about using leftovers.  It is about using those foods that can no longer be eaten or enjoyed for some other purpose.  And what is the hang up?  Well, for me, sometimes it is about laziness and ease.  It was easier to put them in the trash instead of going back upstairs and getting a bin.  It is easier to go out to eat instead of using those leftovers for supper or packing them for lunch.  It is easier to throw away the chicken bones instead of making stock out of them.  While all of that may be true, the economical benefits of taking a few extra minutes from my routine and getting that bin, packing that lunch or throwing the bones into a pot greatly outweigh the expenditure of time.  Yep, having that little reminder from TED is just what I needed to get back on track. 

Now for the Independence Days Update:

Plant something:  I normally broadcast seeds, and this year I’m trying to see if I notice a benefit from planting more foods in rows.  I’ve planted another row of beets, a row of Romaine lettuce (Jericho) and Gigante Inverno spinach, a row of Gonzales Baby Cabbage, One Kilo Chinese Cabbage, and Choko Baby Bok Choy.  I also added another wave of sugar snap peas to the garden.  I’m thinking that for many of these crops, I’m getting them into the ground a little late.  However, as my friend Jennifer says, “If you don’t plant it, it for sure won’t grow.”  Also, many of these crops can be eaten small instead of waiting to they fully mature.  If I notice that some are bolting or experiencing more insect damage, I can always pull them at that point. 

Harvest something: I picked the first of the asparagus on March 15th.  Based on my updates from last year, it looks like I started to harvest asparagus on the week of March 20-27, meaning that this year’s harvest is coming a week or so earlier.  I’m still harvesting a bit of broccoli, some herbs, and green/spring onions along with some flowers here and there.  Hubby and daughter have such bad allergies that I haven’t been able to bring many flowers into the house, but the bonus is that they are pretty outside for everyone to enjoy. 

Preserve something: Can’t think of anything

Waste not: See the info above about the bathroom remodel and food waste.  I’ve been more conscientious of saving water.   Leftover glasses go into the watering cans outside.  I put pitchers underneath the faucets while washing my hands (since I use locally made, eco-friendly soap, I’m not worried about it hurting our plants).

Want Not: I added a year’s supply of peanut butter to our pantry at home. 

Eat the Food: I made fried quail this weekend that was yum.  As a kid growing up in a community where most people farmed and hunted, fried quail was one of my favorite meals.  This was the first time I had the opportunity to make it for my husband and daughter, using the quail he had killed on a recent hunt.  My experience is that quail doesn’t have as “gamey” of a flavor as other game birds, and so I didn’t soak it overnight in a salt bath as I would normally recommend.  I put the meat in a bath of buttermilk with a good shaking of Tabasco and let it sit for an hour or so in the fridge.  Then I removed it from the bath and dredged it in flour that I had spiced with Tony’s, black pepper, and salt.  I fried it in a Dutch oven and sat them in a warm oven until the rest of the meal was prepared.  Serve with a sauce or gravy if you like.  Because I first ate these as a kid, I still like them with just a touch of ketchup (organic—I mention this because I find organic brands of ketchup less sweet). 

Build community food systems: I worked in the food pantry straightening things up and readying some boxes.  Other than that, I haven’t made much progress in this area.

Skill up:  What skills have I learned?  Hmmm, not much so far.  I’ve learned a lot about the process of a bathroom remodel.  I learned more about the heat and air system from a neighbor down the road, but as far as new skills I haven’t really developed any yet.  It was fun showing our daughter how a lever worked when moving the cast iron tub out of the bathroom.  By using smarts instead of brute force, we were able to remove the cast iron tub by ourselves and get it safely into the truck. 

Closeouts and Couponing

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One of the best tips for couponing anyone ever shared with me is to use coupons when an item is already discounted deeply, making your out of pocket expense even less.  Closeout sales are a perfect time to match a coupon with a sale because the item is usually as low as it will go.  While some store policies restrict using coupons this way, others are happy to let you scoop up the bargains.  They want to get rid of the products to make way for others. Sometimes items are on closeout because they are seasonal or a store is no longer carrying the product, and other times they the manufacturer is changing the packaging or are discontinuing the line.  Whatever the reason, you’ll want to keep a few factors in mind when deciding on buying closeouts:

  • What is the total price after the coupon discounts the item further?  I tend to have a price point for which I’ll pay to buy certain items.  If it goes above that point, then I’m probably not going to work the deal. 
  • Is it in my budget to buy this?  Look at your overall grocery/household budget.  If buying 10 jars of shampoo makes sense, do so.  Yet if you spend too much and don’t have money to buy actual food to feed your family, it isn’t such a good deal, is it?
  • Do I have room to store it?  Many of us have limited storage space.  Think about where you are going to put the products if you buy more than just a couple.  If you only have room for 2 or 3, buy that amount. 
  • Don’t hog all of the deals.  People who clear shelves shed a negative light on couponers.  Sometimes the store clerks can be your best ally in deciding how many to buy.  In a case example that I’m about to share with you, my friend talked to workers at the drugstores who encouraged her to scoop up the deals because others weren’t biting.   Be aware of any quantity restrictions that your store may have.
  • Read the coupon.  New coupon restrictions mean that some manufacturers are limiting the amount of coupons you can use per transaction.  If it says limit 4, only buy 4. 
  • Watch the expiration dates.  Yep, it is great to score peanut butter at $1 a jar, but if neither you nor anyone else will use it before it goes rancid, you might as well be throwing money in the trash can. 
  • Donate your extras.  If you can pick up toothpaste for free but already have a good sized stockpile, consider donating it to a local charity or even just sharing it with a friend or family member.  One of my favorite things about couponing is that it allows us to give even more.

One of my couponing friends took that last bullet point to heart and gave generously.  She knows that I coordinate our church food pantry and asked me what items are needed most.  Because food stamps and WIC programs do not pay for toiletries or cleaning supplies, I told her that those are always appreciated.  When she asked me, I had just spoken to an older adult who expressed difficulty finding money in her budget for adult briefs with all of the other expenses that she had.  I explained to my friend that in many cases older adults are making decisions between filling medications or purchasing adult briefs or putting food on the table.  Because the briefs have no expiration date, they are a perfect item for donating, and my friend saw this as a call to arms.  (See my post on Ways to Save on Incontinence Pads for more information)

A phone call a week later went a little something like this:

“Gabe, you aren’t going to believe what I have for your church.  CVS had Depends on closeout and I had some of the coupons so I bought them for next to nothing….My guest room is full of them for you.”  Apparently, Depends was changing out their packaging, and she went around to all of the different CVS and other stores in her area to see if any were discounted. 

Another week or so later a follow up call went something like this:

“Gabe, you aren’t going to believe me but I have another truck load of Depends for you.”  She had made a game of it and had made runs to stores when on different errands and with friends.  Her husband gave her a knowing glance when he walked in the guest room again to find it full of Depends.  “Those are for Gabe, right???” 

She wasn’t a hoarder.  She wasn’t impolite when purchasing.  She didn’t bust her budget.  She explained to the store clerks that she was buying them for charity, and they were happy to help her find other locations who had them in stock.   She used valid coupons—no counterfeit or fibbing on store policies.  In short, she didn’t give couponers a bad name—on the contrary, I think she is a witness to what can be accomplished when you have a goal and coupons as an ally.  Right at 55 bags of Depends of all sizes were donated to the church for us to distribute to those in need.  If I multiply that amount by $12 (the cost that most of the large bags are at most stores) the out of pocket expense would have been $660 before taxes!  She hasn’t shared how much she spent on the purchases, but I do know that she bought many of them for free with coupons and sales.  What a blessing!

Because I work with older adults, I’ve had the privilege of distributing some to people who need them.  The amount of appreciation that they pour out with the donation is humbling.  I’m proud that I’m able to watch how this gift of love helps others, and I’m even prouder to be able to see yet another way that coupons are able to help those in need. 

I hope this inspires you to use coupons to not only help your family but also those in your community who can use your help.  I’m a social worker and will do my very best to make sure that donations get into the hands of people who need them.  If you have a donation and aren’t sure where to go with it, please feel free to e-mail me and I’ll do what I can to help you find a charity that can benefit. 

March 6, 2012

Independence Days Update—Explaining what I like about these updates

Folks—this started out to be a short post as an update about my garden, and it turned into a novel.  I guess that is what I get for not posting more often!  Forgive the length, and by all means feel free to skim or skip if you like. ;)

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I try to post occasional updates (weekly when more is happening and I’m able to post) on our garden, home projects, and ways in which we try to live more simply.  These posts are inspired by the work of Sharon Astyk.  For a long time, Sharon regularly posted Independence Days Updates, which were a wealth of information.  I learned from people all over the globe what they were planting, how they were preserving foods, and what they were doing in their gardens and around their homes.  She became busier with her new blog and stopped posting them for a while.  I was bummed, but I certainly understood. 

I was absolutely thrilled when I learned that she had resumed her postings with an additional category called “skill up”--

What did you learn this week that will help you in the future – could be as simple as fixing the faucet or as hard as building a shed, as simple as a new way of keeping records or as complicated as making shoes.  Whatever you are learning, you get a merit badge for it – this is important stuff.

Now I understand that Sharon’s work isn’t for everyone.  Some think she’s a little radical, and maybe she is.  I don’t agree with everything she writes or even how she couches it all of the time, but I do appreciate her honesty, her research and data that supports what she writes, and her encouragement of her readers.  I might not have tried as many different types of food preservation if it had not been for reading her posts and giving it a shot, and I certainly don’t think that our utility bills would be as low either!

As I’ve posted the Independence Days Updates on the blog, they’ve become a form of a garden and home journal for our family.  I can go back to them and know when the asparagus first were picked or when I canned peaches.  I can see patterns in when I’m slacking on recycling and composting and what that means in our live (usually illness, travel, or some other anomaly).   For those who read them, I hope that they might give you a comparison that is useful, in particular as it relates to planting and harvesting times.  For example, someone can look at when I canned the peaches and know approximate dates as to when they will be ready for harvest in East TN. 

Perhaps the element that I most appreciate about these posts is that they encourage me to work on becoming more self sufficient.  I don’t know if you noticed or not, but food is expensive.  Organically grown food can be even more so.  However, food that you grow in your back yard is much, much less—a pack of bean seeds cost about $3 for organic.  It will reap quarts and quarts of green beans.  For the same $3 you can buy 3 fifteen oz cans of organic green beans.  The more that we grow ourselves the more food security and less cost we have. 

Likewise, a better skill set also means more security.  Just today I was talking with a fellow social worker about how the issues that relate to food security and poverty aren’t just about money, class, or unemployment/employment.  They have just as much to do with literacy, training, and competency in areas such as home budgeting, food preparation, access to quality foods, awareness of the basics of food storage, and time.  It is one thing to be able to grow food.  It is another to know how to reap higher yields, preserve the extras, tend the garden to build the soil for future years, rotate your food stores so that things do not go to waste, and know how to make that food end up on your table in a way that is tasty enough to be eaten.   

These skills and ideas were something that I grew up experiencing as if it were just the way that everyone lived.  My grandfather’s kisses were always sweaty because if it were daylight he would either be outside working in his garden or fishing.  Some of my most treasured memories are of canning tomatoes or peaches with my dad, the taste of fresh corn that my maternal grandmother had picked from the farm that morning, and of shelling purple hull peas with my MawMaw.  I realized as I aged that not everyone had that luxury, and I’ve tried to pay forward those teachings that so many people offered me—teaching friends how to can, offering classes on making mozzarella and yogurt, and encouraging others to budget and coupon. 

At present probably the biggest group that I hope to make an impact on is the kids that I work with at the church.  Through work at the food pantry and in social services, I know that many times teens are the ones preparing the meals in families who are struggling financially.  I’ve been trying to teach the kids at church where their food comes from, what it looks like fresh, table manners, and even talking to them about how we prepared the foods.  Perhaps those children can teach their friends, or at the very least they will have that basic understanding that they can use later with their families.  I need to add here that many of the kids already have this foundation from their parents and grandparents, but it is my hope that by reinforcing it, we can encourage them to develop these skills as they age.

One more last thought before I go on to the update.  Many of the skills that relate to the Independence Days Updates also help with emergency preparation.  I’ve been reading more about emergency prep and watching more documentaries on the subject lately.  I’m fascinated by the ways that anxiety around disasters and doom can manifest in hoarding behaviors or even agoraphobia, and I suspect we’ll hear more about that as the infamous 2012 nears an end.  Instead of choosing to “go there” in my head, I try to focus on the things that I can control.  We have a good supply of food if we had a hardship (financial, prolonged illness, or even just being busier) and needed to use it to help.  We try to have a car kit and 72 hour book it bag in case we were told to evacuate.  We try to keep up to date with basic survival training if that were needed…  These posts give me an opportunity to update how we are doing on that work.

Now to the update…finally.  If you haven’t yet taken part in the updates, I hope you will.  You can go to Sharon’s site to note a quick update in the comments section of her posts or you can add one here. 

The notes below are based on the last month--

The weather has been crazy in East TN.  Many forecasters are saying that this will be the earliest spring/last frost on record.  We’ve had 70 degree days already that are followed by cold winds and dustings of snow.  And then there were the tornados—don’t get me started on those!  While we didn’t have any damage in our immediate area, those to the south and north of us did.  My heart goes out to those who lost their homes and their livelihoods in an instant.

The plum trees are in full bloom, the asparagus are out of the ground a few inches, and many of the types of daffodils are at their prime.  It is beautiful, but I am beginning to wonder what will be in bloom when it is Easter?

Plant something: I’ve been lax on planting this year.  At first it was because each chance we had to till the garden, it would rain and then it was because I was busier on other outdoor tasks.  We’ll see what happens with the garden this year as a result!  I’ve planted two types of beets (think that the two that I managed to get in the ground were Chioggia and Bulls Blood).  I planted a different type of carrots this year (Inverness).  They are a bit bigger, which I think will make them easier to peel. The stubby ones I planted last year were sweet and delicious but hard to prep.  I also planted about 200 radish seeds in the form of a rainbow mix.  They are coming up nicely, and I can’t wait to enjoy them!  I’ve planted a couple of waves of sugar snap peas, mainly from old seed that I saved from the last two years.  I’ll probably plant one more wave before it gets too late. Daughter and I planted 160 onions, and I have the same amount to plant in both our gardens and my dad’s in the next week or so.  Again, those are a bit late, but since I use them mainly as green onions, I’m not too worried about it. 

For flowers, we planted a flat of pansies and a few candytufts.

We started Bianca di Imola Eggplant inside in hopes that it sprouts and we can plant it in the summer garden.  My dad has been wanting to grow this type since he worked up in Delaware and would pick it up at the local markets regularly.

Harvest something: Flowers!  Hubby pulled the last of the green onions from the 2011 planting and chopped them for the freezer before tilling the garden

Preserve something: Hubby added green onions to the freezer

Waste not: We’ve been regularly composting, and I was happy to see that Hubby had used most of last year’s compost when tilling the garden.  Trash turned into gardener’s gold—love that!  We passed some clothes and toys that were our daughter’s on to a friend who has a younger girl.  We donated some of her books to the school library and others were passed on to her cousins.  A few kitchen supplies were given to the church kitchen for use there.  We have been working on organizing our home, and now have a big stack of goods for a yard sale later in the spring. 

Donated 10 inches of my hair to Locks of Love.  Growing it out saved a ton of money as I didn’t dye or highlight it, and I didn’t have a high maintenance style that required more regular visits to the salon.  Far more of a benefit, though, is knowing that someone out there will be happy to have it for their use. 

Want Not: I pulled out the book it bag, and I did a little updating.  I need to make another one for Hubby, and I plan to work on that soon.  I added a few things to my car kit.  It is used so regularly that I find it needs updating more often.  I added some dried beans, some cereals, and a few cans of tomatoes to the pantry. 

Eat the Food: Since January, we’ve been trying to eat out of our food storage more as a way to rotate those foods that need using before the harvest season kicks into gear.  We plan to purchase half of a steer with friends from a local farmer, and the room that we’ve made in the freezer will soon be filled. 

Build community food systems: This is an area in which I’ve been a little slack.  I still work in the food pantry at church, make meals for the kiddos on Wednesday nights, and help with the men’s breakfasts once a month.  However, I’ve not been meeting up with local farmers as regularly.  I still buy our milk at Three Rivers Market and get my eggs from a lady not too far down the road, but without easy access to the farmers markets, we aren’t eating as many locally grown foods.

Skill up:  Hubby and I are about to do a major overhaul on the master bathroom, and we’ve been doing a lot of research on the best ways to go about that.  By that, of course, I mean that Hubby’s been doing a lot of the research and translating it from engineer speak so that I can get it and understand how to help.  ;)  I’ll keep you posted on our progress and what we learn from the experience.