Blast from the Past: Re-using Things

When I think of the frugal habits I’ve developed over the years, one thing that stands out is being able to re-use things, i.e. to make one thing into something else.

Some of that requires creativity. I’m somewhat creative but not overly so. My dh is much more creative than I am. When we’re trying to figure out how to avoid buying something we need, he’ll say “Why don’t you try using the such-and-such?”

For example, once he built a tall stand out of scrap pine to use as a display table for a garage sale we were having. After the sale was over, the stand sat in the garage for a few years, holding whatever we happened to put on it, until the year we made plans to remodel our kitchen.

I was thinking I wanted an island, but we were worried that we would just end up tripping on it. I was trying to find an inexpensive island in the sale ads for temporary use (the cheap ones on wheels that you can get on sale for $70) when Tim suggested using that pine stand in the garage. We cleaned it up, covered it with an old flannel-backed table cloth, and began using it as an island. It didn’t take long for us to discover that we loved having an island. When we remodeled the kitchen, he built me a beautiful island that I’ve loved ever since. But we wouldn’t have known that we wanted one for certain until he made a temporary island out of that pine stand (which also saved us the $70 research fee).

While I didn’t come up with that idea, I do know a good idea when I see one. I once had a neighbor, a lady probably 15 years older than me, who taught me a lot about frugality. For example, the first time I saw her home, I complimented her on the lovely sheers she had throughout the first floor. I was expecting her to answer as the rest of the women in the neighborhood would have: “Oh, I picked these up at Macy’s.”

But she surprised me. It turned out her sheers were custom made….by her. She’d gone to the thrift store and bought up all the white sheers she could find, which cost her just a few dollars. Then she remade them to fit her windows. How cool is that? She and I have both moved away from that neighborhood, but I still remember how clever she was to do that, and when I’m in thrift (i.e. resale) stores, I look at the linens and window treatments with the thought of “What can I make out of these?”

Of course, in the case of remaking window treatments, you need more than just a nearby thrift store. You need one of the frugal person’s most valuable abilities: knowing how to sew. More on that in upcoming posts!

(Originally posted 1/26/09.)

Blast from the Past: Lovely Leftovers

Go to your wallet, take out two or three dollars and throw them out in the street.

Sounds silly, but that’s what you’re doing when you pitch leftovers.

Leftovers get a bad rap, but when you throw out leftovers, while they’re fresh or once they’ve gone bad, you’re throwing away your food dollars.

I think leftovers are wonderful. I often double a recipe I’m making for dinner and we eat it two nights in a row. My husband doesn’t mind (he loves home cooking), and it means I only have to reheat dinner the next night instead of making something from scratch. Since I work at home, I’m always looking for easy, economical ways to make dinner, and leftovers fill the bill.

Yesterday we had a wonderful rump roast with mashed potatoes and peas for dinner. Afterwards, there were no veggies left over but quite a bit of roast. So I cubed the leftover roast, added the drippings, and put the cubes in the fridge.

Tonight I nuked some potatoes, then sliced them and fried them in a little oil with some leftover onion slices. I added half of the beef cubes and stir-fried them until they were hot. Topped with Trader Joe’s organic ketchup, it was a delicious dinner.

I put the rest of the beef cubes into the freezer. The next time I make noodle soup, I’ll toss them in, along with any leftover celery, carrots or onion I may have sitting in the fridge at that time.

I do that a lot with meat. If I’m oven-frying chicken pieces, I like to cook extra (the family packs are always a better price anyways) and freeze the uneaten chicken after stripping it off the bones. Then it just waits in the freezer to be added to soup or chicken tortellini salad.

Sometimes I forget what I have left over in the fridge. I used to be afraid to use old leftovers because I wasn’t sure just how old they were. But I got in the habit of writing down menus ahead of time, and now I just look at the calendar to see which day we had the pork chops, or whatever. I’m pretty strict about leftovers; once they’re four days old, I’m afraid of them. So I make a real effort to use them up before the fourth day.

Often, I find weird odds and ends in the fridge and wonder how to combine them. An omelette serves this purpose pretty well. All sorts of veggies or meat taste good in a cheese omelette. A little leftover cheese is good in muffins or bread. A couple of lonely hot dogs can be sliced and stirred into a pan of homemade cornbread. Mmmm….there’s never any leftovers of that stuff!

On the rare occasions when we go out to eat, we always bring the leftover part of our dinner home with us. Restaurant portions are so huge these days that you can’t finish dinner anyway, but they taste even better as the next day’s lunch. I’m not embarrassed to ask for a take-home box. If anyone who sees me with it thinks I must be cheap or tacky, that’s only fair, because I think people like that are stuck-up and very likely not debt-free like we are.  ;)

Whether your leftovers come from the fridge, the freezer or the restaurant, the most important thing to remember about leftovers is that they’re like money…if you lose track of them, it costs you. Leftovers can really stretch your food dollar by making sure you don’t waste anything.

(Originally posted 1/21/09.)

Blast from the Past: Temperamental Teens

Once in a while, I stumble on one of those articles written for homeschoolers suggesting that there’s really no such thing as a teen.

The author usually goes on to say that the concept of a teen is a relatively recent development stemming from our modern culture, and that once upon a time children were able to transition into adulthood with little if any difficulty.

My reaction to this? Beans!

We’re on our third and fourth teenagers, and the journey of raising them from birth to adulthood has been nothing if not fascinating. All four differed tremendously in temperament, and yet all four definitely showed signs of becoming teens at the usual time.

Did we raise them all the same? No. It’s not possible. We’re not even the same parents today that we were ten or fifteen years ago, and we don’t do things the same way we used to. I like to think we’ve learned at least a couple of things in the process, and that they’re reflected in our parenting skills.

So we have four very different children, all homeschooled all the way through, and all from the same two parents. Yet each one exhibited signs of difficulty as they made that transition to adulthood.

There were the usual physical signs, of course—the whole puberty issue—and that’s normal. But it brings with it many emotional issues that are also normal, so when people write that there doesn’t need to be any turmoil during the teen years, I have to laugh. Hormones are dramatically changing, the body’s changes cause emotional responses…..how can there not be turmoil? As a woman of a certain age (ahem), I’m more aware than ever of how much damage hormones and physical changes can do to your peace of mind.

Then there’s the idea that it’s not normal for teens to rebel. I’m sorry, but it’s normal for humans of any age to rebel. It’s the result of sin in the world. God’s children, the Israelites, rebelled against Him repeatedly, as noted in the Old Testament of the Bible. If even God’s children rebel against Him, why would we be exempt from experiencing the rebellion of our own children?

I’m not saying that rebellion is good, but I do think writers who suggest teen rebellion is not natural are being a bit Pollyanna-ish, to say the least. Those who go one step farther by suggesting that homeschooling will prevent rebellion are naïve at best.

So what is the homeschooling parent to do when her once-adorable offspring reaches the age of 10 or 12 or 14 (it varies) and becomes an emotional powder keg? I offer some tips in my free special report, “Ten Tips for Coping with Temperamental Teens,” but my best advice is to avoid panic. No, you’re not a bad parent, and your child is not a bad seed. Some emotional upheaval is normal when a child begins that transition to adulthood. Just avoid over-reaction to your preteen or teen’s occasional odd behavior, and pray as hard as needed. My own experience has been that no matter what they were like as teens, they eventually become adults of whom you can be proud….even though they gave you some gray hair along the way.

(Originally posted 1/15/09. My kids are now in their 20s and 30s so their teen years are just memories now.)

Blast from the Past: Woodworking with Dad

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Now that our son is not a little boy anymore, we’ve been getting him involved in useful projects that require him to work with his hands.

A few weeks before Christmas, my husband asked dsds15 if he’d like to make his gifts for family members in the workshop. Of course, he got a big yes, because what boy doesn’t like working with his dad?

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The project my husband chose was a pencil holder (link includes plans) made of pine, a soft and pretty wood that’s easy to work with, which is especially important if you’re new to woodworking. The two of them spent several afternoons working on six pencil boxes, which turned out very well. The recipients were quite pleased, and our son was so proud!

In difficult economic times, working with your hands is quite the skill to have, making a person more self-sufficient as well as more useful on the job. I think we homeschoolers need to make sure our kids can work with their hands so they’re prepared for whatever our economic future holds.

(Originally posted 1/13/09. Our son is now in his 20s and still enjoys working with his dad in the shop. They even built a desk for his room together.)

Blast from the Past: Another Milestone

Happy 2009! It’s a banner year for us, as we will be graduating our third child from homeschooling this year.

It’s a bittersweet time, of course, because I have so enjoyed the years dd17 and I have spent learning together. It’s been quite a ride, too.

She officially began homeschooling at age 4, when I bought her a set of preschool workbooks from Rod and Staff. This was her idea, not mine, of course. She had seen her older siblings doing school and wanted to be just like them. I acquiesced, but we never worked together formally until she got a bit older. The main reason for this was that I had a hard time juggling her, our toddler with special needs (and many medical and therapy appointments) and our older kids, 10 and 12, who were also homeschooled.

Around that time, my husband came home to work, and my own workload lightened up with his help. As the chaos lessened, I found that working with my daughter was a nice daily respite from Algebra and other challenges that come with homeschooling pre-teens.

The years flew by, and before I knew it, our two older kids had graduated from high school and homeschooling. Now my daughter and I could work together interrupted only by her little brother; the big kids were at work or college.

These were fun years. She was in a homeschoolers’ Girl Scout troop, and we baked and sewed together, too.

At age 11, she decided to study the violin (she still does). Soon she asked me to teach her to make quilts, and she helped make them for a mission project with our church. She made and sold crafts, and began writing novels.

Before long, she was the favorite babysitter of our neighborhood (as her elder sister had once been). And through it all she was her younger brother’s favorite playmate, and his primary translator (he’s speech-delayed).

This past year she began driving, and started her first and second jobs, both in the tourist town in which we now live. She’s working on her second novel, and is thinking she may go to college to major in criminal justice, but not right away. She’d like a year off first.

She’s a joy to live with: generous, loving and kind. She’s not as eager to live on her own as our eldest was, and for that I’m grateful, because we’re really not ready to let her go yet.

So this year will be her last as a homeschooler. I will miss “doing school” with her. Over the past few years, we’ve slowly weaned ourselves off of our daily work together by increasing her independent work. Ideally, that should make it easier for me to let go. But it’s still going to be hard, come May.

(Originally posted 1/2/09. Our daughter did end up going to college and earned an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. She worked for a couple of different local law enforcement agencies before deciding it wasn’t for her. She now works as a nanny, runs her own sewing business, and is married to a young man she met in college who was also homeschooled. And she is still a joy to be around  :)   .)