Monday, August 30, 2010


Meet my newest canning buddy, Blanch.
She's fabulous when canning peaches.  
The peels usually slide right off. 
 Like butter from a hot knife.  
It's not always perfect.  
I had about 5 (out of 20 pounds) 
that didn't peel properly when blanching them, 
but I think they were less ripe than the others.  
That's my theory anyway.
Here's the 3rd batch I'm working on.  The bag is still half full.
You can see a tiny bit of my 1st batch of canned peaches.

Here's how to easily peel peaches.

Dunk peaches in boiling water for 30-60 seconds.
Who cares if they're washed and the stickers removed?  They're being boiled!

Transfer them to a bowl of ice water until they're cool.
Ice bath.

I have fingernails, so I pinch a tiny bit of skin near the bottom and begin sliding the peels off.  
I just finished canning 20 pounds of peaches this week, so I took advantage of this blanching trick.
Easy peel.  I only had 1 hand, or I'd show even more!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Summer Peaches

My trusty cookbooks helped me today.

I made 9 pints of peach pie filling for the freezer from my Ball Blue Book.

I used the extra to fill the bottom of my 9x13" pan.

Then I topped it all with cobbler topping from Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

Unfortunately only me and the girls can enjoy it.  

My visitors won't be here until tomorrow.  

And Jim and Alex don't like peaches.

Well, I do and I'm excited!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Financial Peace

Jim and I attended Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU) at our local church in February 2009.  I dragged Jim along, telling him I would spend my Christmas money on this class (it was discounted through our church, so it cost me $100.)  This covered the book, workbook, CDs of the class videos to listen to, and being able to attend 13 classes and watch the videos at church.  We took Alex, who attended youth group, and Trinity & Clara, who were some of the oldest girls in the nursery to church with us each and every Sunday night.  After just a class or two, Jim was enjoying himself and learning, as much as I was.

History and Lies
My idea of a budget was printing out where our money went.  Jim had just finished going back to school, where we racked up student loans to pay for school, and lived on the GI Bill and a tiny bit of income I made doing part-time preschool teaching and house cleaning.  When Jim got re-hired at Dell, we moved to Colorado.  This was the fall of 2008.  We had to purchase furniture, a TV (it had to be HD of course), and splurged on cable for the first time in our married life together (15 years at the time).  We also purchased a newer Suburban that was a bit more reliable.  A year earlier we sold our first home in TX, so we had a bit of cash on hand for the Suburban, and hopefully a down payment on a house once we determined where we'd live.  We didn't want to spend our actual cash, and the furniture and electronic stores had this great "no interest for one year financing" plan going on.  Of course we thought that was a great deal, and since we had cash in the bank, we knew we'd have that paid off the month before it was due.

Jim's student loan was only $11,000 and we only had to pay $120 per month.  This wasn't real debt, I told myself.  Neither was the great finance plans we had for the furniture and TV, since we had the cash in the bank.  It wasn't real debt to live off credit cards each month if I made the full payment each month.

LIES, it was all lies.  I tricked myself into believing these lies.  I had debt.  About $20,000 worth of debt.  I realized the error of my thinking during this class.  I realized how much money and worry I could have saved had I paid cash for these things.  Jim's student loan was decreasing by $65-75 per month.  I was giving the government $45-55 per month as a thank you for letting us borrow their money.  (That's how I explain paying interest to my little ones.)

Zero Budget and Budget Meetings
The first month of FPU, we learned how to make a "zero budget".  This means we have to allocate every dollar that comes in before we let it go out.  This was hard, especially at first, since so much had to go to pay the credit card from the previous month.  Eventually we moved to only using cash.  Dave Ramsey told the "nerd" - that's me, to create the budget.  I also had to present the budget and shut up while Jim looked at it. The "free-spirit" - that's Jim had to join me at the "budget meeting" each time we got paid.  His job was to change something in the budget.  The first meeting, Jim said, there's no money for tires.  I'll need $900 for Suburban tires in a year.  I calmly asked where I should get this money from, since that equated to a $75 deficit.  He blurted, "take it out of gifts."  Eventually we figured out how to still have Christmas paid for, money set aside for tires and other auto problems and still have money to pour into our debt snowball (step 2).

Baby Step 1: Baby Emergency Fund
Sell a vehicle, have a garage sale, unload everything you can on Craigslist, get a second job, whatever!  You need $1000 in the bank to pay for any minor emergencies that come up.  We had money in the bank, but wanted to keep some for a partial down payment on our home.  We finally sold the old, broken down Suburban.  It needed a new radiator, and each replacement resulted in a new minor broken plastic piece.  Jim got it all fixed up and running and we had a little over $2000 in the bank for an emergency fund.

Baby Step 2:  Debt Snowball
Throw everything you have at your debt.  Dave says ignore the percent interest on all debt for now.  He taught us to pay off our smallest debt first.  I paid every credit card, and put them all away.  I transferred all of my automatic payments from credit to debit.  We accomplished paying off our furniture in April, the TV in June, then in December we finished the last payment of Jim's student loan.  Every time I wrote the final check, I told Jim and we high-fived.  It was an amazing feeling.  If I had tried to tackle the student loan first, it would have shrunk, until the payments were due for our furniture and TV, which then would become the priority with all that back interest, and I would have been frustrated with not making anything go away until the end of the year.  When we paid the first debt, we got to throw that much extra at the second one, then when it was paid off we poured all of that on top of the payment on the next loan.  This becomes like a snowball effect, the amount you're paying on each loan grows as you pay off a smaller one.  You accomplish more, faster and with more determination.  We were like a "gazelle" running from the debt "cheetah" as Dave showed on a video one night.  We had gazelle-like intensity.  We paid off our debt on Christmas Eve.  It was like a present to ourselves.  We announced in on Facebook, told everyone we spoke to and were so excited!  We have a chunky mortgage on our home, but other than that WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!!!

Baby Step 3:  Fully Funded Emergency Fund
This is the step we're currently on, and will be on for about 2 years.  This is collecting an emergency fund that will carry us through 3-6 months of no income.  If Jim were to lose his job or if someone gets horribly ill, we'll have enough money to pay for all necessities.  This includes mortgage, gas for car, electricity, gas, water, 1 cell phone, and $1000 for medical coverage (hopefully we'll get it much cheaper).  We'll immediately cut the cable, other phones (cell and home probably), internet, spend no money on extra clothes or splurge on other fun things.  Jim and I have analyzed the budget together and have calculated the amount we'll need to save to be safe through hardships.  I've got a couple months worth of food stored up at all times (I stock up when I've got coupons that correspond with sales) and shop at a farmers' market for fresh produce, which I'm canning when it's a super great price.  This should also result in less food money being spent and we'll be ok for a while.  We currently have 1 1/2 months of emergency money, and Jim and I will take any job we can get to get by if something catastrophic happens.  We'll probably ask Alex to do the same.  We will use NO credit cards (in fact, we cancelled almost every one we had.)  Soon, we'll be getting rid of the very last one.  I'd like to have Baby Step 3 fully funded first.  I spent a couple hours cancelling every credit card months ago.  I shredded them and had Jim cancel a few more.  It was scary and freeing at the same time.  I'll be checking my credit report again (I do it 3 times per year free) and I'll see if I missed anything.  Each time we get a report we find something we forgot or didn't remember ever getting (nope - no one hijacked our accounts or stole our identity.)

Once this step is done, I look forward to working on the next steps.

Baby Step 4:  15% into retirement (pre-tax IRAs and Roth IRAs)
We are putting in the amount that Dell matches into the pre-tax IRA, but no extras at this time.  I'm looking forward to hunting down some great mutual funds that will be slow-growing stable investments.  Dave says to look for a 25 year track record of at least 10-12% returns.  There are a few good, quality companies that have good returns even in this bad economy.  Now's a great time to buy, since things are cheap!

Baby Step 5:  College Funding
Since we've got one child who will be college age in 2 years, we probably won't be helping out much in this area.  This is why it's even more crucial to teach him how to manage his money now, and encourage him to save.  We will be helping him by paying for half of his car.  He must pay his half in cash, as will we.  We're encouraging him to do his best in school and work while in college to make sure he doesn't go in debt.  Hopefully he'll chose to go to college and not incur any student loans or other debt to do it.  The girls will be encouraged to do the same, and hopefully at the time they enter college, we'll have a little saved for him.

Baby Step 6:  Pay off your home early
This and retirement funding are the steps I most look forward to.  I want to stop paying "thank you's to the bank" for letting me borrow their money!

Baby Step 7:  Build wealth and give!
Jim and I trust the Lord with our finances, and therefore have regularly tithed our 10% to our local church for years.  We also have a couple people/organizations that we donate to.  All of the money we earn is God's money.  Everything we own is His.  I'm recognizing this by giving.  Since giving regularly, we've never needed anything.  God has provided during all of our hardships.  He is good.

Learn More
Dave Ramsey is on facebook and you can also check out his website  You can also check out some of his books at the library or buy them.  He's an amazing and fun teacher.  If you have the opportunity to go to FPU, do it.  You will learn how to save money by paying cash, learn to communicate better with your spouse about money and budgets.  You'll have less stress, fear and debt.  I am pretty sure the first FPU class is free, and most locations for classes offer a preview class.  Find a class near you.  You won't regret it.  You'll spend less on this class than you will learn to save.  I've cut my grocery budget about $200/month with tips from fellow classmates.  I saved hundreds on a new HE washer/dryer Jim found on Craigslist because it had a scratch/dent on the back corner, and a couple hundred more by asking for a cash discount.  I've also saved at Target, TJ Maxx and other places by asking for a cash discount.  We have more fun now that there's a specific envelope for "entertainment."  We specifically budget for it.  I won't get angry when Jim gets a new movie, Jim and I go out on date days or date nights now and can do it because we have budgeted for it.  I enjoy myself more, and have more money saved than ever in our lives (except right after we sold our house in Texas).  Thank you Dave Ramsey.  Thank you to my class leader.  Thank you to my classmates.  Thank you to Jim, my partner, my best friend, my husband for coming with me to the class and being open to change how we spend money.  Thank you most of all, God, for teaching me to be wise with the money you let us use!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Why do my children have chores?
I am primarily a stay at home mom.  I cook, bake, sew, quilt, clean, etc.  I also clean 3 other houses for a little extra savings to increase our emergency fund, and someday pay for part of my children's car, purchase something special for our home, etc.  After working for several cleaning companies, I've realized the value of frequent dusting and vacuuming.  I've learned how few people were taught how to care for their home, and how few children are expected to clean up after themselves.

What do they do?
Not every chore they do is paid.  They are expected to pick up and actually clean their own bedrooms (vacuum, dust, change sheets, sort laundry, etc.) before getting paid for other household chores (they clean a bathroom, vacuum, dust, dry and wet mop, take out trash, clean the inside of microwaves, etc).  My children are only paid for chores I would normally do in my home.  I still periodically do some detailed cleaning (blinds, oven/stove, windows, areas that are high or dangerous like the tops of cabinets, light fixtures, etc).  The chores they finish each week will help them know how to care for their own home someday.  These chores are somewhat consistent, but rotate each 12 weeks.  I created it on a spreadsheet, with income amounts for each chore.  I also colored several chores green.  This means they HAVE to do them.  The others can earn them extra money if they chose.  Once in a while I tell them the whole list is mandatory.  Some chores aren't required every week and are grayed out (yellow in this pic), since others may do it, I'd like to do a detail clean or it just doesn't need to be done on a weekly basis.

This is a sample of the first 4 weeks.  I print 8 weeks at a time, fold in half and give one to each child.  They check off their chores, then I look over their work (or sometimes have a sibling inspect), then we sit together, calculate totals, tithe, savings, and exchange money when their bags get full of coins.

How it works.
Jim and I instituted this chore list and income for our children after we attended a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University (FPU) class Feb 2009.  This class is detailed more in Financial Peace.  Since that class, we've become debt free except the house, and have accumulated 1 1/2 months of emergency money, that grows by a few hundred each month.  He also teaches adults (and kids) to use the envelope system for many of the regular purchases (food, gas, entertainment, clothing, etc) your family makes each month.  Dave advocates "commissions" for the extra work kids do.  My kids each have an envelope, bag or jar (their preference) for "CHURCH" (tithe - mandatory 10% of earnings), and "BANK" or "SAVE" (the next 10% of their earnings goes here).  The rest of their money is their own money to do with as they wish.  We have them calculate their "income", figure their tithe and savings amounts and use the rest of the money they earn to buy gifts at Christmas, friends' birthday gifts, save for something special for themselves, and splurge occasionally on candy or junk at the grocery store.  Sometimes I give a "bonus" for the person who completed largest percent of their chores, saved the most, or did the most thorough job.  The bonus goes directly to the bank.

Looking forward.
Paying my children income for work they do around the house will save me money in the long run.  While I teach them how to care for their own home and cook, we get time one-on-one to talk about stuff.  I teach them the value of hard work, helping, saving, tithing, counting money, and making change.  Hopefully these values will help them become excellent men and women who regularly and joyfully tithe, save and think before spending.  At this moment, Alex is debating whether to get his drivers licence (or permit) now or wait until he's 18.  He's looking at the large expense of paying for his insurance and not having enough money saved for his half of the car he'd like to purchase.  We've agreed to match what he spends on a car, to include special tools or equipment needed to restore an older car to good working condition.  He's taking a second Autos class spring 2011 to ensure he knows how to maintain and fix his own vehicle someday.  Alex is also working on the 100K mile tune-up on Jim's Accord.  Jim purchased all the parts with money saved in his auto budget, will have Alex read the manual and do the work, Jim will pay Alex, and everyone is happy!  Alex will earn money and have a better understanding of vehicles, and Jim will save money.

Since my children aren't all grown up, I can't say how they will turn out.  I am confident though, that God will direct them and teach them.  I am training my children in the ways of the Lord.  I am training them how to give, save, spend wisely, care for their homes and help others.  I pray that I am doing this in a way that will honor and please the Lord.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Sister Spectacular

Jim and I were treated to a "fancy lunch" date in our own dining room yesterday.  The girls prepared fettuccine alfredo and garlic toast, poured our drinks and set the table with a candle.

They insisted we dress up to enjoy our meal, so I put on the new skirt I made Thursday night with heeled sandals, Jim buttoned up his favorite striped blue shirt and we sat at the table enjoying our lunch.  Alex and the girls at on the back porch to give us privacy to talk, thank God for our blessings and enjoy our Italian food.

Our date came complete with a bill we had to sign.  I don't like bills, but I often pay them 50 cents for helping with dinner anyway.  Actually it's pretty infrequently that I make them help with much of dinner.  My goal was once a week with each of them, but I am a slacker.  That is why there are no pictures of me, Jim or the food at The Sister Spectacular!  For those of you who object to paying for regular household tasks or just wonder more about how I do it, feel free to read Chores.

Jim and I are so blessed by wonderful children, who are giving, loving and know how to put together a decent date!

Friday, August 13, 2010

No More Shampoo

The Beginning
I have long, thin hair. It breaks easily and has lots of fly-aways. I trim it once a year, maybe and rarely get split ends. Probably cuz it’s broken so often. I used to shampoo and condition daily. Sometimes the conditioner would build up and I would look oily.  I started researching alternatives, and I remembered a friend saying she wanted to try no-poo.  That's no shampoo.  I thought that sounded gross.  I googled "no shampoo" and found numerous ways to approach this.  

You can wash with water only.  
You can wash with conditioner only.  
You can wash with a natural shampoo bar (although, I guess that's not technically no-poo).  
You can wash with eggs.  
You can wash with baking soda.
You can rinse with vinegar.
You can make a rinse with honey.
There are more ways.
Many more ways. 

I decided baking soda and vinegar sounded cheap (I already have tons since I use them a lot to clean with).  They also sounded less nasty than some of the other ideas.  I tried conditioner only for a few days at the beginning, but my hair seemed oily faster.  Not really yucky, but more than I wanted.

I started slowly with no-poo. First I stopped the silicone conditioners and started using baking soda and vinegar. I like Suave Naturals – it’s cheap, has no silicones and smells pretty. 
My Method
I would use 1T baking soda in a cup of water to wash. I use a little plastic container I fill up when the water’s hot, cuz I hate dumping cold pre-mixed stuff on my head. I dump it on, rub with my fingers like I was washing with shampoo, then rinse really well, still rubbing my head. Then in the same container, I dump a cup of warm water with about 1T vinegar (I’ve tried apple cider and plain white with success - the only difference is the smell, I think). Then I’d rinse that out after letting it sit for a minute, then I’d use my Suave Naturals conditioner and rinse again.
My husband insists he can smell the vinegar on my head, so I keep using the Suave on the ends, but when I skip the conditioner and smell my dry hair I smell nothing. Maybe he is imagining it :)
I thought baking soda and vinegar would dry out my hair, but they didn’t despite warnings from. At the beginning I could only go about 1 week with no shampoo. I felt a bit oily. This was probably from the constant touching to see what it felt like.  After a week I’d break down and shampoo, vinegar rinse, followed by Suave Naturals conditioner. My hair would look horrible for a couple days with lots of fly-aways, then look nice again.  I tried to go longer, but couldn't.
The transition to fully no-poo and being happy can take a while.
People will think you're strange.
After about 2 months of this crazy transitioning, I decided to see how long I could go before needing shampoo. It’s been almost a full month with no shampoo.  I'm not getting oily anymore and my fly-aways are much better.  I'm not dirty or gross.  I’m just using natural things to wash my hair. I also used to have dry scalp and eczema.  This natural cleaning has helped with both.  Much less dryness and itching.
Next, I’m going to try some other homemade things to save money and be healthier.  
You should take the challenge and go "no-poo."  Even using shampoo less often is an improvement.  Do what works for you, but try it and see how it goes.  You'll save money and the environment for a bit if nothing else. 
Join all the others participating in the No-Poo Challenge at Feelin' Feminine.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blueberry French Toast Bake

With all this homemade blueberry syrup and fresh blueberries in the fridge, I'm making one of our favorite breakfast-for-dinner recipes.
Blueberry French Toast Bake.
There's a long time of sitting - I'm talking HOURS - before eating, so allow LOTS of time.

Cut 8 slices of bread into ~1" chunks.

I love my pizza cutter for this part.

Uniformity is not necessary.
Toss the bread into a buttered 9"x13" dish.  I like my purple one for this.  :)

Sprinkle a large handful (or more, I like lots more) of blueberries on top.  Cube up a 8oz box of cream cheese and sprinkle half on top of the bread.
Repeat all the previous steps.  

Then get out a big bowl.  Whisk up 8 eggs.

and add 2 cups of milk.  Whisk eggs and milk together. 

Pour all the liquid over the bread and stuff.
Cover with foil and pop it in the fridge overnight or for 8-24 hours. 

About an hour and a half before you want to eat this tasty casserole, put it in the oven and bake for 350 covered about 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 30 minutes at 325.

 It should be puffed up and set in the center.  The top should be golden brown.

Drizzle some homemade blueberry syrup and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blueberry syrup, too!

While preparing to make blueberry jam the other night, I thought I'd check my canning book for other blueberry recipes.  I saw blueberry syrup and started thinking about blueberry breakfast bake, whole wheat pancakes, white wheat waffles (I just ate some tasty ones at my friend's house) and my husband's love of all blueberry things.  I decided to try making blueberry syrup at the same time as the jam.

Oops.  I forgot I'm not good at doing 3 things at once.  My oldest thought he wanted to watch Star Wars episode 1 and I offered watch with him while stirring, reading, boiling, sanitizing, etc.

I kinda skipped the step about boiling the water/sugar mixture until it reaches 260 degrees.  I'm pretty sure at our altitude it wouldn't have ever gotten there, but I forgot to even get it warm, let alone boiling.  After about an hour of stirring the boiling mixture of strained juices and sugar water, I gave up and snuck in a little bit of pectin dissolved in some water.  It's still too runny for me, but then so is the jar I buy at the store a couple times each year.  Hopefully mine will be healthier and cheaper.

8 small jars of jam, 3 pints of syrup (1 each in fridge)

I may fix breakfast for dinner more often with this tasty syrup!

Hmmm. . . the farmer's market has blueberries on sale today for an even better price.  I just bought 4.5 more pounds of blueberries.  I'll get some more next Wednesday before they go off sale.  I think I'll make some more syrup.  Maybe I'll make more jam.  I probably should be making my English Muffins to try my jam on, too.  I get to don an apron and be all domestic again tomorrow morning.  I'm so excited!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blueberry Jam

I was so sad when I came home from California and went to the grocery store where they had 5 pounds of blueberries on sale for a great price because they were out.  I got a raincheck July 20th (last day of the sale) for 2 boxes.  I had already told the girls we'd be making blueberry jam.  Blueberries are Jim's favorite fruit, I think.  Disappointment all around.  The huge boxes are only available for a little while, so I asked at the front desk and in the produce section if they'd get more.  Four separate people assured me there would be more later.

Today, after 5 trips to look if they're back yet, I asked the produce guy and he said they just got some in this morning.  He had to get them from the back, but I am know the proud owner of 10 pounds of blueberries!  I wonder how many jars of jam that will make?

10 LBS!!!

While waiting for blueberries, they had pectin on sale (BOGO) and Wal*Mart, which I generally avoid, had a dozen little jam jars for $6 (and I had coupons!!!).  The waiting was frustrating, but should be totally worth it when tomorrow morning I get to slather on some fabulous homemade blueberry jam on . . . some kind of bread.  Maybe I'll make some English Muffins tonight.  They won't heat the house too much since they get cooked on the griddle.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

the last minute

Waiting till the last minute to accomplish something is what I do apparently.  It stresses me out, causing more headaches, frustration and crankiness, but somehow I haven't figured out how to get things done early.  What's wrong with me?  I did a great job in college one year....

We go to the renaissance festival each year as a family and we dress up.  We've done it since 2002, I think.  We've hit Texas (Scarborough and Plantersville - I think), Arizona (near Apache Junction) and have twice visited the Colorado Renaissance Festival in Larkspur.  This one has much cooler weather and is set in the pines.  It's great!

The problem?  I wait till the last minute to finish ... well, to start things.  My girls both specified costumes they wanted months ago (perhaps, last fall?)  I purchased fabric and a pattern for the fairy costume a few months ago, and just got the fabric for the other last week.  Unfortunately I had to come up with my own pattern for Queen Lucy of Narnia.  You can see some great pics of this costume at 
Click "Prince Caspian" and then "Lucy."

Here's what I ended up with.

My little fairy (who didn't want fairy wings) was crowned "Queen of Love and Beauty" by Sir James at the 1st jousing event and Lucy Pevensie was recognized by at least 2 people I overheard.  I guess I did a good job.  I must compliment Jim, my supportive and creative husband, who did all the leather work for Queen Lucy.  Aren't I lucky to have such a great family!  And lucky to have had 3 costumes that still fit from 3 years ago.

I bought fabric for my own new costume a few months ago, but that will have to wait till next this fall maybe?  I also got a pattern for Jim's new shirt.  Alex mentioned wanting bracers yesterday, so I'll have to come up with a cool pattern for his new costume, too!  We're all kind of tired of our "old stuff."  Trin's already making plans to pass the title of Queen Lucy on to Clara and she'll just be Queen Susan.  Maybe I'll get them done before June.  How fabulous would that be?