December 16, 2008

Non-Food Gifts
From Your
Christmas Kitchen

I really thought I'd get back to you before now... but then, it IS the holiday season! Aside from all the goodies that may come from your kitchen at this time of the year, there are many non-food gifts that you can make too. Let's start with a few kitchen cosmetics that you can make.

The base ingredients used in so, so many of today's high-end HABAs have been around for years, are readily available, and generally are very inexpensive. Take bath salts for example. Usually based on Epsom salts that you can buy very inexpensively at any drugstore or Wal-Mart, fancy bath additives can be made elegant, therapeutic or even just fun at very little cost.

A wonderful basic "recipe" calls for ingredients you're bound to have on hand. You can use the cologne called for or a drop or two of any essential oil you'd like. Essential oils which are, well, really essential, for making soaps and so many other beauty preparations, are available at natural food stores (for your best selection) and often also at drugstores, or even some grocery stores.

Refreshing Salt-Starch-Salt Bath Soother
1/2 c Epsom salts
1/2 c cornstarch (remember this has always been used as a soothing baby powder)
1/4 c table salt
few drops scent

This is enough for one bath. To use, sprinkle under running bath water, swirling to dissolve and spread, or mix well and put in jar or bottle, label with directions for use.
NOW, to make really special gifts, make a large batch of the base salts and starch, then add different scents to each of a half dozen jars. For example, a whiff of pepperment can be quite invigorating while a few drops of rosemary, lavendar, or rose oils will yield a totally different product.
While this is a good start, for a really excellent aromatherapy bath salts recipe, visit the Annisquam Herb Farm at
This is a site worth bookmarking as Suzanne always has interesting info...check out her recent ginger cookie recipe too!

For an old-fashioned skin softener and mositurizer, you can't beat rosewater and glycerine.
This has been around for generations and still works very, very well. I'm going to give you two recipes either of which is lovely.

Rosewater and Glycerine Skin Care
1 c rosewater
6 TBSP glycerine
3 Tbsp witch hazel


1/2 c rosewater
1/2 c glycerine
1/4 tsp borax

Mix and bottle in fancy containers. The rosewater is usually available at drug and healthfood stores, but if you can't find it, just add a few drops of rose oil to distilled water.

Another of my easy favorites is a bubbling bath oil made with the least expensive baby oil and baby shampoo you can find. Little kids love to make this for their friends, especially using some of the neon food coloring and maybe some bubblegum scent!

Bubbling Bath Oil

1/2 c liquid baby shampoo
2 TBSP baby oil

Mix, scent or color as you'd like. Add 2 Tbsp to running bath water. To give, put in an old shampoo or squeeze bottle and label including use directions.

Wow, I was going to include so many more recipes here, but time is getting so short. I'll come back to this general idea again, and since I absoluely love fancy soapmaking, I'll plan to do a series on that next year too.
I'll see you next year when we'll start 2009 with some birdseed cake recipes.

I wish you, each and all, a very peaceful holiday season and a New Year full of promise.


December 2, 2008

Gifts from Your

Christmas Kitchen

Christmas cooking often tends toward candy, cookies and other sugary treats. Like many of you, that is so NOT what I need, but also like many of you, if someone gives me, say, some peanut butter cookies, the kind with the chocolate kiss in the middle, I WILL eat every single one of them!

So I've been thinking about what a tough economy we're in and how much more practical gifts from our kitchens may be appreciated. Every year we are gifted with a batch of homemade granola, and I really look forward to it.

A few years ago the layered mixes-in-a-jar were popular. Why not put together all the dry ingredients for a multi-bean soup, layering a varieties of beans, some dried tomatoes, dried onion, garlic, parsley and other seasonings. Check the international aisle in your grocery for the best selection of dried beans, lentils, peas, etc. And don't forget to attach cooking directions.

You can easily make fancy rice mixes too, varying the seasonings and other add-ons. Maybe a lemon-dill-pepper rice, or a curry rice with dried apple bits. Use your imagination, check your own cookbooks or those at your local library and look for recipes on the internet.

Homemade mixes for hot chocolate or Russian tea are always welcome, and the following three recipes (from The Frugal Family Kitchen Book) for the pricey international-type coffees are inexpensive to make and definitely delicious.

On any of these, if you just mix the ingredients and don't process in a blender or food processor, the ingredients will separate.

Cinnamon "Vienna" Coffee Mix

1/2 c instant coffee
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 c powdered creamer (you can use powdered milk, but it's not as good)

Mix all together in a blender or food processor until powdery. Use 2 heaping tsp per cup.

Orange Coffee Mix

1/2 c instant coffee
3/4 c sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp dried orange peel
1 c powdered creamer (or powdered milk)

Mix all together in a blender or food processor until powdery. Use 2 heaping tsp per cup.

Mocha Coffee Mix

1/2 c instant coffee
1/2 c sugar
2 TBSP cocoa (powder, not mix)
1 c powdered creamer (or powdered milk)

Mix all together in a blender or food processor until powdery. Use 2 heaping tsp per cup.

The chocolate mug cake recipe I gave here a few posts ago also gifts well. Put all dry ingredients together in a small plastic baggie, put in a coffee mug, tie directions to handle and voila!

To get you thinking in yet another direction, consider this recipe from w-a-y back. Copper Coins, sometimes called Copper Pennies in really old cookbooks, look nice, are cheap, quick, and easy to put together, and made a great snack, or side dish with just about any meal.

Copper Pennies

2 lbs carrots, peeled, sliced thin, and cooked until just tender-crisp
1 medium green pepper, diced
3 medium onions, sliced and separated into rings
1 can tomato soup
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c vinegar
1/2 c salad oil
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine soup, sugar, vinegar, oil, mustard and Wrcestershire in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Layer carrots, pepper pieces and onion slices in a bottle or canning jar, cover with boiling marinade, cool and refrigerate for 12 hours before sampling. Keeps well in the refrigerator for a long time. I've experimented with hot pepper in this as well as horseradish and even put in some artichoke hearts one time...all good.

In a few days I'll post some more recipes for gifts you can make in your kitchen...yes, a few goodies AND some kitchen cosmetics!

November 27, 2008

Easy does it

You don't have to kill yourself or spend a ton of cash decorating for the holidays. There's plenty of 'wow' where festive and frugal meet – now here's how.

For complete article from the Portand Press Herald by Ray Routhier, Staff Writer

Featured in Today's Charlotte Woman

Grocery Change by Monigue Brown McKenzie

Keeping your food bill under control during the holidays
  • Your shopping list, store brands, budget-friendly entertaining and more
  • Pages 52-53

November 13, 2008

Stocking Stuffers -

Thoughtful and Thrifty!

Do you do stockings at your house for Christmas? For many of us, this is the best part of Christmas, but as any stocking stuffer Santa knows, the cost of all those little gifts can really add up.

First, make lists and buy a few things each week. The following list should give you some good ideas to start with, AND we hope you'll share your suggestions too!

The size of stocking stuffers. For this list, I considered a stocking present to be no more than the size of my fist, or anything that can reasonably be packed down to that size, such a t-shirt. I've included items such as rolled-up activity books too. Well over half the items on this list can be bought for under $2.00

Where I shopped. Because I go nuts when I see a list and then can't find the suggested items anywhere, fully 95% of the items on this list are available at Wal-Mart, a good Dollar Store, plus many are available through where free holiday shipping may be offered. Dollar Stores vary greatly (some are now $1.50 Stores!), but I've found Dollar Tree to be consistently well-stocked, clean, and every item truly is $1.00. And many now accept credit cards.

I did no on-line or mail-order shopping (except to check item availability at Amazon) , although one catalog source I would unhesitatingly recommend to you is Dover Publishing They offer hundreds of very inexpensive gift possibilities... kids' activity (sticker, stencil, coloring) books, blank and design books, and a huge array of kids' and adult classics, all well under $5. Your local bookstore may carry some of their products too.

There are no sports- or hobby-specific ideas because I know that if you have a golfer or a woodworker, a quilter or gourmet cook to buy for, you've already got plenty of ideas!

All-time favorites include fruit and nuts, playing cards, lip balm, and slinkies. Please don't forget that stockings are not just for kids...I know a very dignified older man who allowed his three granddaughters to paint his toenails bright coral this summer. He will be getting a bottle of purple glitter polish in his stocking!

These are in no order so you won't skip a section!
book marks - a reader can never have too many
sports whistle
bandannas (dog and cat paw prints available)
window scraper/small snow brush
shoe polish/cloth/brush
dice (plain and fancy)
magnetic letters
rain poncho
loofah sponge
safety pins/button assortment
eyeglass repair kit
shoelaces (practical or wild)
pens, pencils, mechanical pencils
markers, crayons
note pads
corn-on-the-cob picks

Money is great as a stocking present. For example, carefully split a whole walnut, remove inside, insert quarter and glue back together. Or, put some real dollar coins in one of those little bags of foil-wrapped chocolate coins. I also buy the sheets of uncut dollar bills to use as wrapping paper.

refrigerator magnets (a favorite: I used to run with the wolves, now I nap with the cats)
fingernail clippers, emery boards, polish
hair fasteners and decorations, hairbands, glitter spray
Christmas ornament
sewing kit (a must for office wardrobe repairs)
silly putty, silly string
travel/sample sizes of cosmetics, health and beauty aids
seed packets (spring will come again!)
sunprint paper
puzzle, dot-to-dot, crossword, sudoku, coloring books
bubble bath
pencil sharpener
lottery tickets

Gift certificates for only $5 may seem silly, but I treasure my Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds's ones in "emergencies." Cards from local drugstores or grocery stores may be appreciated by a college student. Bus and subway cards can come in handy too.
art supplies, paints, stencils, foam shapes, glitter glue
keychains (with lights, safety whistles or compass)
wind-up toys
small hand tools
breath mints, gum
hair brushes, combs
energy bars
worry dolls
spinner tops, especially the popping kind
card game such as Uno, Skip-bo
cribbage board
bouncy balls

Homemade gift certificates for everything from homemade bread, to sidewalk shoveling, from dogwalks to back rubs, from the mundane to the salacious are quick and easy to make. Great for last-minute.

yarn and knitting needles
Hot Wheels cars
kitchen tools, gadgets, special foods
candles, of all kinds, sizes, shapes
hats, gloves, ear muffs
metallic pipe cleaners
nylons, tights, leggings
scissors, sewing, fancy-edged or special purpose ones
ruler, compass, protractor
jewelry cleaner
marbles (I get gorgeous ones at a local art museum)
bike horn, bike bell, streamers
self-laminating pockets
magnetic picture frames (great for the refrigerator)
florescent stars

Pass-It-On presents can be sentimental or silly, but they're often very special. I've passed on my antique thimbles to my quilting daughters and some jewelry pieces to both my daughters and son. My husband gave up his very favorite, never-fail fishing lure for my stocking one year, and I've also passed on baby silver to expectant parents... so many thoughful possibilities!

extension cord
colored flame sticks or crystals (for the fireplace,firepit, or bonfire)
mini-dustpan and brush
birdseed, 'seed blocks, bells
bulbs, for winter-forcing or spring planting
nite-light (not just for kids, think safety)
first-aid kit
fire starters
picture hangers and wire
duct tape in classic black, clear, or colors!

Fruits, nuts, candy are the staples of stocking stuffing. An orange in the toe, a candy cane hanging off the top. But there's so much more. The year my kids first read the entire Narnia series of books, I made Turkish Delight and put a small tin in each of their stockings. Recipe at

magnifying glass
hand sanitizer
bath poufs
soaps, creams, health and beauty products
mini- photo album
snippet (how did we ever open potato chip bags without one?)
battery operated toothbrush, floss, toothpicks
bath pillow
sparklers (legal ones! Morning Glories are awesome!)

Beyond stockings... You could make up themed boxes or baskets using any combination of these possibilities and still keep that gift very reasonably priced. This is going to be a lean holiday season in many households, but frugal can be fun! Start now!

October 29, 2008

Dollar Store shoppping

Good Buys at the Dollar Store

Never been in a Dollar Store? You may be in for a surprise! If you think that these stores carry just cheap, throw-away junk, think again! Good buys on quality products make these stores a must-shop, especially during the coming holiday season.

Not all Dollar Stores are the same to put it gently. First off, some of these places have now become $1.50 Stores while others have always had offerings well over a dollar. Some specialize in just one type of merchandise such as cards, paper products and party decorations.

My favorite among the dollar stores in our area is Dollar Tree. Their stores are clean, well lighted, neatly arranged, and everything truly is just a dollar. Whether it's name-brand laundry detergent, glassware, sweatpants, toys and games, or health-and-beauty-aids, your one dollar buys a lot, AND kids love coming here!

These are great places to shop for stocking stuffers, but think beyond that to the number of small presents you end up buying each year... remembrance gifts, reciprocal presents, stuff for the kids to take to classroom parties. For $5 you can put together a box of pens, pencils, markers, stencils and all sorts of papers. Or you can bundle some lip balm, hand cream, hand sanitizer and cold-killing spray in a winter comfort kit.

There are wonderfully heavy glass, traditional tulip-shaped sundae dishes to wrap with a big jar of sundae topping and a can of nuts. And cards are 2/$1.00 so you could pick an assortment of cards and still have enough money to put stamps on each envelope, a boon to those who don't get out much in the winter. The possibilities are unlimited... and seriously thrifty!

It used to be that dollar stores were cash only, but even that is changing. Many now accept a credit card; after all, study after study has shown that we spend more when using a credit card!
And it's so true... I went to Dollar Tree last week, $6 in hand, to get Super Glue, laundry detergent, cards and something else, I forget what. Then I saw the sign that they now accept VISA. I picked up some yarn, Pear's and Yardley soaps and a couple of other things. Yup! $17 plus tax!

Check out a couple of these stores in your area and see if they aren't both fun and frugal. Quite a deal!


September 7, 2008

The Ultimate 5-Minute Quick-Fix

for Serious Chocolaholics

Plus, Freezing Salsa

Every once in a while I come across a recipe that sounds strange, delicious but decidedly strange. Such a recipe, called The 5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake, crossed my desk last week, sent by a long-time-but-never-met-friend. It's a recipe that just begged to be tried, and I'm telling you... this mug cake is a great idea! Definitely kid-doing easy, and perfect for drop-in company, or for dieters who absolutely MUST have some chocolate cake, but don't want a whole cake in the house tempting them.

You mix the ingredients, put in a coffee mug and microwave for 3 minutes. It's a cake, but the bottom is sorta soft and fudgy, almost like a molten cake. It firms up as the cake cools. Eat out of the mug or tip out on a plate. This would serve two if you felt generous, and most definitely wants some whipped cream or ice cream on top.

The 5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

4 TBSP flour
4 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP cocoa
1 egg
3 TBSP milk
3 TBSP oil
3 TBSP chocolate chips (don't skimp)
1/2 tsp vanilla
a coffee mug - your standard mug is 12 oz.

Put all dry ingredients in the mug and mix well, add egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil, once again mixing well, stir in chip and vanilla. Microwave in its mug for 3 minutes (a 1,000 watt microwave). Cake may rise over the top of the mug, but don't worry.

I'm going to make this tomorrow night for four of us, but I'll put all the ingredients (x4 of course)in a bowl, mix and pour into the mugs to cook. Thanks for sending this on to me, Gemma.

Freezing salsa...

This is the time of our harvest when I often have many ripe tomatoes, but not really enough to break out the canner and quart jars. So, I make a lot of salsa, and I freeze it. The first year we tried this as an experiment, we were happily surprised at the excellent results, and since then this is the only way I do salsa.

For my salsa, I just cut up tomatoes, green peppers, and onion in whatever proportion I have or that looks good. I add garlic and snipped parsley, a little vinegar and some oil, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and then I freeze in pint plastic containers. Since my husband doesn't like cilantro and I do, I clearly label those containers that I've added it to, AND also those batches I've made with hot peppers.

My favorite way to use this salsa, completely thawed or not, is to just put in a small fry pan, bring to somewhere near bubbling, layer good white fish on top and just simmer until the fish flakes.

And now, back to the Patriot's game!


August 20, 2008

Locavores, Rejoice!

A Bounty of Fresh, Local Produce Available NOW

Blueberries, peaches and cukes, oh my! Local gardens, farmstands and farmer's markets are bursting with fresh produce from apples to zucchini, so take advantage. Home Depot recently reported a surge in freezer sales this past quarter so folks are certainly thinking ahead to the coming winter. But don't overlook fresh treats too. The following recipes are adapted from my Frugal Family Kitchen Book.

Fresh Taste Blueberry-Peach Pie

An unbaked pie with a glace topping, this combines two of our best Maine fruits for just-picked flavor.

4 c blueberries
1 or 2 peaches
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c water
2 TBSP cornstarch
1 TBSP butter
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 8" or 9" pie shell, baked and cooled

Over medium heat, cook 2 c berries with the sugar, water and cornstarch until clear and thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, add butter and lemon juice, stir and cool. Pit and chop peach(es) - the huge peach I used was smooth-skinned so I didn't peel - and add to the remaining 2 c berries, pour into pie shell and evenly spread the glace mixture over the top.
Can be served at room temp or chilled.

Pasta Primavera

A perfect way to dress up bits and pieces of any veggies in your garden, the sauce - which goes together very quickly - also makes an excellent veggie dip.


2 TBSP basil
2 TBSP parsley
2 TBSP butter
1 8 oz cream cheese
2/3 c boiling water
1/2 grated parmesan cheese
2 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 c scallions or chives finely cut

Cream togehter the basil, parsley and butter, blend in the cream cheese, parmesan, oil, garlic and scallions or chives. Stir in the boiling water and blend well. To be honest, I usually just throw it all together in a bowl and stir until smooth.

If you're adding broccoli, cauliflower, carrot pieces, summer or zucchini squash, lightly steam and drain well before adding. Things such as tomato chunks, cucumber slices, peppers, even radish slices can go right into the sauce.

Cook up whatever you want for pasta, arrange on a platter, top with the veggie- and herb-rich sauce, a sprinkle of cheese to top and enjoy!

August 12, 2008

A Simple Summer Supper

Inexpensive, quick to put together, colorful to serve, nutritious to eat, this puttanesca has it all. When my daughter first gave me this recipe it actually looked...well, kinda' boring. In its orginal form, it's delicious, with the extras I added, downright delectable.

A puttanesca is an olive-oil-based pasta sauce. The very name has a colorful history (look it up!), and there are many, many variations on the basics. Some recipes call for anchovies, others suggest adding a variety of veggies. Let me give you the original simple recipe, then my additions, and THEN, you add what you'd like.

Simple puttanesca

1 c chopped or finely cut parsley
1 c sliced scallions ( I often use chives or green onion tops)
1/2 c olive oil
2 TBSP drained capers (in brine)
2 TBSP caper brine

Mix and add to a big bowl of freshly cooked spaghetti or other pasta. I added chopped fresh tomatoes, black olives, and garlic. Another time I'm going to try it with some grated asiago cheese or maybe even shrimp. Serve with a nice red wine, chunks of French bread... ahhh, good stuff.

This is served at room temp, keeps well in the refrigerator and makes a wonderful lunch.

July 28, 2008

Raspberries, Blueberries and Green Beans...

This has turned out to be a dreadful year for raspberries, with unending fog alternating with ceaseless humidity all accompanied by intermittent rain! What started out as a bumper crop of raspberries has pretty much mildewed on the canes. Luckily we had gotten quite a few picked and frozen before the damp and drizzly weather settled in.

That same weather can also devastate the green beans, but so far we've been lucky and the harvest continues heavy on those. I've frozen some whole, some cut, some french-cut, and I suppose I'll once again try dilly beans. They've only come out well for me one year, but I must say, those were delicious.

And then there are the blueberries, ripening as I write. Aside from the crows we share with, the berries are doing well. As we have five or six kinds, they ripen over a nice long stretch which this picker appreciates. I may make some blueberry pancake syrup for Christmas presents, but mostly I just freeze them.

So much else seems slow this year, especially the gazillion varieties of asters I grow. Some of the other flowers are flowering later than the past few years too. I just hope we don't get any early frost as I so love working with the flowers and hate to see the season end. I've been harvesting, cleaning and hanging to dry a wide array of everlastings including lots of celosia, statice and strawflowers of every color. I love seeing them hanging in neat little bundles from the nails and cup holders Bert put up all along the beam in the garage.

All and all, life is good in the garden. And how does YOUR garden grow?

July 15, 2008

Some Indispensable Garden Tools

Well, the plantings all done, the harvest has just begun with a few crops such as peas and green beans coming in, but wait! the weeds are thriving too. What to do, what to do?

I have to tell you right off that I truly love to weed, I'm an old-fashioned hands-and-knees weeder, and in spite of the mulching we do, there 's still plenty to deal with in our various gardens. Our main garden is something like 80 x 100' and there are another half dozen plots ranging from two that are 20 x 20' to some in the 10 x 10' range. And then there are the flower beds of which there are way too many!

Our two main garden weeds, probably yours too, are lamb's ear and purslane. Both are nutritionally rich, but I'd never in 1,000 years eat enough salad to use all that grows in even one corner of the garden. The purslane also does offer some mulching value as it grows way out from its roots and low to the ground preserving some mositure. It's actually a pretty efficient plant, one of many that we perhaps don't value as much as we should.

But, I just want them out of my garden! There are so many fancy garden tools available, but I've found that just three things are all I really need to manage all we grow. My trusty trowel of course, then my set of two circlehoes , and finally, my rubber knee pads.

I'm sure you have a trowel that's a favorite as I do. Mine is sturdy, stainless steel with a rubber handle, fairly broad and comfortable for my hand which is important. I'd never heard of circlehoes until a friend gave me one, whereupon it quickly became my absolute favorite go-to tool. I bought a second one, the larger size offered by Index Innovations, Inc ( They have (at least) four sizes and the mini I have cost $6.99 at a local garden center two years ago. This is the most useful size for just about all I do around and between plants, while the larger one I use on the walkways. I can't talk about my circlehoe without sounding like an ad, but please check out the website as this tool is so much more versatile and kind to your hand and wrist than any of the old "scratchers" I've used in the past.

And finally, there are my kneepads. It's easier on my back to actually kneel down and weed, and yet I don't want to wreck the knees of long pants, or get grub totally ingrained in my knees, OR, inadvertently kneel down on a sharp rock which really, really hurts! The knee pads of a rubbery material have straps that go behind the knees and clasp with velcro. At first, the straps can be stiff and somewhat annoying, but as the pads get broken in, the straps become softer and truly unnoticeable.

And now, having written this, I have GOT to head down to the garden... the weeds calleth!


July 8, 2008

And Now... Some Frugal Fishing Tips!

Last week we took a look at so many ways to have a great staycation. One thing I didn't mention was going fishing, a very favorite pasttime of mine since childhood. You don't need a lot of fancy equipment, you don't need a license (for saltwater fishing - well, not at the moment anyway, but DON'T get me started on that issue!), and bait can be free to cheap.

I'm going to focus here on freshwater fishing although there's nothing like fighting the bluefish, reeling in stripers (which we do sometimes on Sunday mornings right in the Royal River here in our small Maine town), or going way further out for haddock and some other good eating fish.

In keeping with the idea of a staycation, we'll be, not at our own home, but visiting a lake in NH where some of our best friends live, wonderful people we also happen to be related to, our daughter and son-in-law, Heather and Tim. They have a big u-shaped dock and I'll be out there at sunup and at sundown. What do I catch off their dock? Well, one day two years ago, I had a five-species day, but mostly it's small- and large-mouth bass, nice, fat, feisty ones, including the grand-daddy known as Darryl. And, yes, we do have NH licenses.

My fishing equipment is nothing fancy and my fishing bag is old but well-stocked with extra hooks, swivels, etc. My bait is worms; I am not a fly fisherman.

Now, as some of you know, I am a vegetarian (although I guess I'm really a flexitarian as I do still eat some seafood), I am strictly catch-and-release, and I've always tried to live by Christina Rossetti's admonition to "Hurt no living thing." Soooo, a few folks have asked me, isn't there some hint of hypocrisy in all those worms I drown? What can I say?

As I've mentioned before, I keep a worm bin. Raising worms, formally called "vermiculture," is invaluable for good gardening as well as fine fishing! My worm bin is a big old plasic tub that I fill with freshly-pulled weeds, some dirt still clinging to the roots, and any worms I come across as I garden. I start the worm bucket as early in the spring as I'm in the garden, and I keep it right through the end of fishing season, the last of September. Yes, I ice fish, but use different live bait for that.

The worm box has a top that's snug, but not air-tight. I check the box once a week or whenever I'm going fishing to be sure the worms still have fresh fodder to make their incredibly rich castings. Once or twice during the summer, I empty the box, sift the castings for use as potting soil, mulch or fertilizer, restock with weeds and dirt and put back about half of the worms. The other half of the worms I scatter in garden areas that need aereating or enriching. Now, I'm dreaming of one of those worm composters that I could keep right through the winter in our root cellar... hmmmmm...

Aside from any old-fashioned frugality of fishing, or the fun of the cast, the bite, the set and the catch, there is the wonderful peace of fishing, hearing the still, small voice of God in the morning mist at sunrise, and the call of the loons helping color a glorious sunset at the end of the day. What a blessing!


July 4, 2008

Staycations: Spending a Little to Save a Lot

(Part five of a five-part series this week)

All week we've explored some ways to save money while still having fun during a stay-at-home vacation. Now it's time to look at some slight extravagances (wait, isn't that an oxymoron?), some affordable ways to do those things that truly say "vacation" to you. And just what are those things?

Take a few minutes to think about three things that you really treasure during a vacation. Is it just the downtime to sit around, maybe read or just laze on a beach, is it shopping in unusual places, or is it a truly elegant evening out?

For really relaxing, consider renting a portable hot tub for a week, one that will be delivered and set up right in your own backyard. Have a mini-spa day, with a hair stylist, make-up consultant or masseuse coming to your home. And don't think this idea isn't for the men, they like pampering too!

If a day at the beach is your choice, try a new beach and pick up a packed gourmet lunch to enjoy there. Although we in Maine have many beaches from small and rock-strewn to white-sand and almost-warm waters, Bert and my biggest beach treat is a trip to Crane's Beach in Ipswich MA. Miles of perfection overlooked by a castle! And Zabaglione's, a bakery-cafe in Ipswich, offers the best beach fare and gorgeous baked goodies you can imagine.

If you're feeling that a little bit bigger splurge is in order, stay, even just one night, right on/near your favorite beach and enjoy the sunset and sunrise walks you always miss. And, yes, the Castle Inn at Crane's Hill does offer lodging, not inexpensive but this is the most perfect mini-vacation I can imagine!

But maybe it's shopping that's a big part of your usual vacation as it is for the great majority of travelers and tourists. In your mind set a figure that you can honestly afford to...well, fritter away. Now be sure you have this amount in CASH. No credit cards, not one cent more than your cash cache.

Where to go shopping? Well, do you want to find some souvenirs to take home, even if you never left home? Are you looking for a new golf club, some funky clothes, local pottery, or would you like to just keep an open mind to whatever may fortuitously present itself?

If you've never been to an auction, they generally cost nothing to attend, can be so much fun and you can find the most unexpected treasures, things you never knew you just had to have! Some are estate sales, some are more specialized featuring old fishing gear, or even art or antique firearms. GO! BUT, stick to your cash amount as it's easy to get caught up in the bidding.

Or, pick three shops, nearby or a little further afield, that you've always intended to check out. For me, that would be a jam-crammed barn filled with antiques and who-knows-what, and probably a nearby llama farm that makes and sells lovely soft yarns. I'll have to think about my third choice, but I suspect it would involve books...

And then there's that lovely dinner out that often caps your away-from-home vacations. The secret here is to treat it as a real dress-up night out, maybe complete with limo. After all, you've been pretty darned frugal all week! There are always a few totally elegant, four-star restaurants in your vicinity, places you've read about, admired and yet that you've just never dared to visit. But, you've probably spent that kind of money on one of those away vacations without a second thought. This IS your vacation, so go for it! Heck, order some champagne...

I hope you've had or are now planning - a wonderful staycation. Let me know how it goes, and please share your good ideas too.

Happy Fourth of July!


July 3, 2008

Staycations: Play Together, Save Money!

(Part four of a five-part series this week)

One of the very best parts of a staycation is that you can gather family, friends, and neighbors together and spread the cost - and work - of some great adventures. Hosting a progressive picnic, having a street dance, even a large-group camping trip can all save money, bring a new dimension to your fun, and build a sense of community that will last long past your stay-at-home vacation time.
Let's look at a few ideas where getting a group together will make a big difference. First, almost any activity that costs can cost less for a group. Say, two or three families - maybe twenty people total -have been talking about trying that new Thai restaurant in town. ASK! Contact the manager and ask about a group rate for a sampling lunch, dinner on their least busy night, or some other money-saving idea they may suggest. Always deal with the person who has the power/authority to make these kinds of decisions.
Same goes for local attractions, concerts, fairs and festivals. ASK! You'd be amazed how eager organizers can be to just get people through the front gate of their event and how willing they can be to steeply discount admissions for a group. This can apply to everything from horseback riding to astonomy programs at the local observatory.
But the best way to save some money this summer is to get together with others for at-home activities. Maybe you plan your own neighborhood field day with three-legged races, balloon tosses, penny pitches, a cake walk and such. Maybe you organize a contra or square dance checking with your local dance group to see if they'd help organize, maybe provide callers, even suggest cheap music sources. How's about a night at the drive-in, a movie shown outdoors in someone's big back yard, complete with popcorn and brown cows (the kind you drink, not the moo-ey ones).
If you plan to do anything substantial outdoors, be sure to invite/let all the neighbors know ahead of time, AND be sure to check in with your town hall, both as a courtesy and to be sure no permits are needed.
When my siblings and I were young, all the kids in the neighborhood put on a play or variety show every summer in a borrowed barn owned by one of the neighbors. I don't really remember much adult oversight, where we got our ideas, how it all worked out with kids of such a wide age range, but I do so remember all the neighbors of every age sitting on the benches in Mr. Flibbert's dusty barn, buying our lemonade, and howling with laughter at whatever we were presenting.
While today's kids may go to theater camp, I can't forget the variety show a totally nuts group of us pulled together a few years ago. One fellow who hadn't played his saxophone since high school - a long time ago - performed pretty darned credibly, one adorable little girl tap-danced, the five high school boys with their garage band were thrilled to have everyone - anyone -actually listen to them, and one of our town's oldest citizens decided to do some magic tricks. Well, every single one of those tricks came undone, fell apart somehow leaving the audience absolutely limp with laughter!
And so, anything that gathers a group, whether old friends or ones-to-be-made, can add a whole new depth to your staycation. Please let me know when the ice cream soical is as I'd love to stop by!
Tomorrow: Now, let's spend some money, a little anyway, on this stay-at-home vacation.

July 2, 2008

Staycations: Playing Hometown Tourist

(Part three of a five-part series this week)

This is a tough one as there's so much available within 25 miles of most people, things we've seen and said, "Sometime I'd like to check that out." But, we never do... until company comes and we have to play tourist in our hometown. So, even if you aren't expecting visitors right away, let's see what there is to do nearby.

First, let's talk about mindset and all those things that...well, they just aren't you. Auntie Alice, your favorite relative, is coming to visit next week. She's 79 and loves anything to do with music and art. Big John, your older brother will be along in early August and he's into cars and car racing as well as being a history buff expecially when it comes to WWII.

And then there's Bubbles, your still-exuberant, effervescent, and a bit exotic college roomie. She's into "experiences," the more daring the better. Oh, and don't let me forget, your son's friend Sergio from Spain, you know, the family he lived with during his junior year abroad, well, that friend is coming through and he loves the night life!

Okay, so what things would you plan to do with each of these guests?

Because Maine is such a summer-rich state with a gazillion free outdoor concerts, fairs, festivals. art shows, and so, so much more, it's not only hard to even begin to give you ideas, but I also need to keep in mind that, even if you don't live here, hopefully, your area offers this kind of bounty too.

Go to your nearest tourist information center and peruse all the brochures, even ones you think you'd have no interest in. After all, your "company" may have! Go online to your state and county chambers of commerce and tourist info sites. Check event listings online at radio, tv and newspaper sites, and in the many free local newspapers available just about everywhere these days.

For Auntie Alice, there are free outdoor concerts in settings from intown parks to seaside to village green. Bring a blanket, chairs, an elegant snack or picnic and enjoy. Many towns and cities now offer "art walk," once-a-month evenings when all the local galleries, artists, and even antique shops welcome visitors, some even providing music and light refreshment. Check out nearby college museums which often house unexpectedly deep collections. And finally, consider taking Auntie to a class, maybe paint-your-own pottery, island basket crafting, or even SAORI weaving.

Now for Big John, check out what's coming for car shows, especially those oldies nights of shine-and-show at the local burger joint. Here in Maine we're lucky enough to have several auto museums, and the Owl's Head Transportation Museum, covering all forms of transportation, is outstanding. They have vintage plane fly-ins, and their auto auction in August is a great day. We also have a number of short-track racing venues in this area. EVERYONE should go to at least one drag race in their lifetime and jet-cars-under-the-stars is a blast! In our area, as throughout our country, we have a number of military sites worth visiting, and especially here, some of the old coastal forts and fortifications. And one place Big John would be sure to enjoy (yup, IF you're visiting Maine) is Eagle Island, Admiral Peary's home.

Bubbles will be fun to host because possible adventures abound in the summer! There's white-water rafting, which isn't terribly expensive and is most definitely an experience! (I almost drowned the last time I went.) There's panning for gold, and digging for native gems, which here in Maine is likely to be tourmaline. You can rent canoes or kayaks, and a moonlight canoe trip can be magical. Spend a day out on the water with a local lobsterman, eating your catch at day's end. Downhill biking on ski runs is more than I could manage, but hey! if Bubbles is up to it, great! This doesn't even BEGIN to suggest all that's available, but one more idea if you do find yourself in Maine this summer: Gulf Hagis, often called The Grand Canyon of Maine is an absolutely spectacular hike!

And finally, just when you've had quite enough company, thank you! along comes Sergio from Seville. He likes the night life. Now for me, this would be a serious challenge... first staying awake past 8 at night, then the music, the chaos, the drinking... oh, this is SOOOO not my scene!

I'd take him to the local comedy club, and then I'd find some suitable guides, maybe a foreign student group from the University, for checking out the other nearby 20-something haunts. A cop-out? Sure and no qualms either! Be very aware of Sergio's age and make sure any helpers you enlist are of legal drinking age...just in case. Now, I will be the one who's sympathetic the next morning with all sorts of home remedies for whatever may ail our guest!

There is an incredible number of things to sample on your staycation as a hometown tourist. If some possibility just does not appeal to you, then that's the very thing you simply must do!

Tomorrow we look at ways to come together with family, friends and your larger community for the very best staycation fun!


July 1, 2008

Staycations: Letterboxing, Geocaching and Other Treasure Hunts

(Part two of a five-part series this week)

The whole idea of a staycation, a stay-at-home vacation, is to save money in this day of high gas-and-everything-else prices. BUT that does not mean you can't have fun and make memories as we do on any holiday. Just think about the root word of "vacation" and consider: the whole concept of a vacation really is "to vacate" - leave - your usual routine, your everyday life, to take a little respite from your constant cares and concerns. And what better way to do that than a treasure hunt!

We can start with the good old-fashioned Long-John-Silver-type treasure hunt, one where a weathered map leads to buried riches. If you want to do this in your own yard, neighborhood, or more general vicinity, why not print out a Google map complete with landmarks, etc. For authenticity, use parchment paper, singe the edges, crinkle and dirty the paper to age it. Write out clues such as "Thirty paces from the old oak tree with the creaking branch."

And for the treasure? At the end of any of these treasure hunts can be any treasure you choose! If I were doing this one for young kids, I'd get a whole bunch of the very inexpensive "jewels," "gold" coins and such that come in bags at the craft store. I'd throw in plenty of chocolate coins too! After the treasure's been found, there's hours more of fun as the finders craft crowns and what-have-you.

Next level of treasure hunting is letterboxing, which is most definitely for all ages! Letterboxes containing a stamp, a notebook, maybe a few trinkets are hidden all over your hometown, your state, the country and yes, the world. All you need is access to a computer, a notebook, and a stamp of your very own. I usually use one that has a witch on a broomstick or sometimes one with an ankh symbol.

To start, go to and plug in the name of your town, county or an area you want to explore. For my hometown, there are letterboxes in the Centennial Garden at the library, in the Community Garden, hidden under a rock by the river and in a number of other places. The website gives you the clues to find each box. When you find it, you stamp the book in the box with your personal stamp, write a comment if you want, and stamp your own book with the site stamp. There is an incredible connection to others through the comments that have been left. As you venture further afield, there will be more and more letterbox stamps to collect in your book.

AND, you can set up a letterbox yourself just by putting a stamp and notebook in a small watertight box (plastic food storage containers are perfect), hiding it and then posting your clues on the website. My grand-daughter Katie asked our library if she could set up that letterbox (now known as Grannie's Box), she donated the box and notebook, picked a possible hiding place in the Garden, the library staff put in their stamp and did the clues, and Katie was absolutely thrilled to be the first to stamp that letterbox's new book.

Next, let's try geocaching, kind of a step up from the letterboxing. Again, start at a website, this time but this time you'll need a bit more equipment, mainly a GPS device... one that you know how to use! (We've had one for several years and I still don't have a clue how to use it!) You'll also need a notebook and maybe a few treasures to leave at the cache.

Like the letterboxing, you go to the website, pick a locale, get clues and you're off. It sounds deceptively simple, but, no, it can be challenging! This is a recognized sport all over the world and some of the caches are downright exotic, elaborate. Okay, so using your GPS, you follow the clues, and find the cache. You write in the cache notebook (check the website for the wide array of info and other messages folks leave) and if this is a treasure cache, you take something and you leave something. If by any wild chance, you're visiting an overseas cache, leave something American... maybe a subway token from Boston or San Francisco.

And then there's orienteering, a whole 'nother level of outdoor adventuring, and one of my very favorites. Here you use a map and compass and follow a course, at the end of which there may be a treasure or not. Check out This sport (it's been proposed for Olympic inclusion) is a perfect way to teach/learn some valuable outdoor skills, and is perfect for inter-generational teams. There are terrific books on setting up courses (check your library, the kids' collection first), and of course tons of info at the website.

There is something inherently exciting about a treasure hunt, the promise of that pirate's chest of glittering plunder at the end of the adventure. During Gram and Gramp Camp last week, I set up a treasure hunt for Baxter and Katie, one that started with a clue on on the breakfast table. Following more short rhymed clues (on 3x5 cards sealed in snack-size bags, hidden that morning by Bert), we went to the flower box under the high school sign next door to our house, then down to the memorial stone on the village green, to the old railway station, to "in the middle of the street, a watering trough of flowers" where a final clue directed them to walk 100 steps north on Main Street. That took us to the treasure, a $10 gift card for each of them at the brand new bookstore right across the street from where we were standing. That was truly treasure of the highest order for them!

Tomorrow in this series, we'll look at being a home-town tourist.


June 27, 2008

Staycations: Saving Money, Having Fun, Making Memories

(Part One of a Five-Part Series this Week)

It was great timing! Meredith, a reporter with the Portland newspapers called to ask about some ways to save money and still have fun with a stay-at-home vacation, or what the media has now dubbed, "Staycations." It was perfect timing because it was the last full day of this year's Gram and Gramp Camp, a week when we, with Baxter, 10, and Katie, 7, have made a lot of wonderful memories without spending a whole lot of money.

Many of the things we do at Gram and Gramp Camp are perfect for a family at-home vacation, especially if the weather is damp and chilly as its been this past week. Games are often by-passed during the busy school year and long work weeks, so you may need to re-connect with some of them. Playing card, board and outdoor games are wonderful family-focused activities
that cost little yet often lead to much laughter and many memories. And kids so love to feel that they could just possibly beat the adults in their lives!

There are so many wonderful board games, old favorites such as chess, parchessi, Clue and , and new ones whose names I can't even pronounce! Then there are card games such as rummy, Rummikubs (actually played with tiles) , and new to us this year, Five Crowns, another level of rummy-like play. There are the perennial favorites such as Skip-bo, Uno, cribbage, and our family's latest game addiction, Quiddler ($12.95, beautiful cards!). If you haven't played this word game, and you like Scrabble but wish it didn't take soooooo long to play, Quiddler is THE game for you! You start with three cards and move through eight hands increasing one card each hand until the last is ten cards. The cards have letters or letter combinations and each has a point value. I'm not going to tell you anymore except to say that Quiddler, like every game that this company puts out, is top quality...nice designs, ease of learning to play, challenging and, oh, no! educational!

Maybe you want to have some kind of tournament, set outrageous end scores (I once played 36 hours of rummy with a 25,000 point score-goal...phew!), or even invent your own game. When we were kids, my siblings and I designed our own Monopoly games complete with custom boards, etc. Of course, now you can buy Monopoly games based on everything from your home state to your favorite sports team. I guess we were just ahead of our time!

Let's not overlook the outdoors games perfect for a summer's evening. Capture the flag, hide-and-seek, my goal 1-2-3, and kick-the-can never, ever grow old! Of course, there's always dodgeball (as long as no one gets too murderous!), kickball, badmitton, tetherball, croquet, four-square...oh, SO many possibilities! Half gallon milk jugs filled with water and a softball, and you've got your lawn bowling covered!

If all this sounds slightly silly to you, then you most definitely need to do it!

Tomorrow we'll look at treasure hunts from the very simple to letterboxing, geocaching, orienteering, and even scavenger hunts. You know, this summer's stay-at-home vacation may just be one of your best ever!


June 19, 2008

Garden THIS Summer?

It's NOT too Late!

Even if it's just a salad garden of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, it is NOT at all too late to do some planting. Peas, carrots, green beans, always radishes of course, and much else can still be started in the ground or in containers. In many places, even a short-season variety of corn is still possible.

Although potatoes may seem a particularly unlikely choice to grow in a small home garden, there is nothing like new potatoes, especially with tender young green beans from you own backyard. This year we're experimenting with a lot of bucket-growing, and I can tell you, it's been a huge success so far. In the photo above you can see that the potatoes are thriving, while in the blue buckets, some green peppers are coming along nicely too.

So think about it... One bush green bean plant in a five-gallon pail, one potato plant in another, parsley and basil plants tucked into a third, and of course, lettuce, tomatoes and cukes can all be container grown if your space is seriously limited.

Where to get the buckets? Well, first off, ALWAYS ask for the buckets, NEVER just help yourself. While a construction site is the obvious first choice for those 5 gallon buckets that joint compound comes is, you might also ask about pickle buckets from a local restaurant or deli. I'm sure there are other places to find buckets too, but these come right to mind.

What kind of soil to fill the buckets? Well, I've often found that just regular old dirt really compacts in a container situation, so mix that plain soil with compost, a little peat, or even some commercial blends. I hate to even suggest that last option as I don't want you to spend money to save money. (Hmmmm ... good idea for a future posting ...)

The really nice part about container gardening is that you can move the containers to catch more rays of daily sun, especially important toward the end of the growing season. Yes, the buckets are likely to be heavy but for any (few) plants that really need extra sun, a wheeled plant thingie such as you'd put under an indoor plant, a child's wagon, a mechanic's creeper, an unused dolley ... anything along this line will be helpful.

And if all else fails, I hope you've had a chance to check out farmers' markets, farmstands, and pick-your-own operations near you. After all, it's time to get out and start picking strawberries!


June 12, 2008

Lost and Found: One

Bumbleberry Pie Recipe

I have no idea where this originally came from other than that it is an old newspaper clipping. I guess that's the way with recipes, really; they get passed down, handed on, changed a bit and discovered all over again!

Bumbleberry Pie Recipe

Your usual pie crust for a 9" double-crust pie. Line bottom of pie pan with one crust, set other one aside


1 1/4 c sugar (add more sweetening to taste as tartness of the other ingredients may vary)
1/3 c flour
2 c cored, peeled, sliced apples
1 c raspberries
1 c blackberries
1 c blueberries
1 cup fresh rhubarb cut into small pieces

Combine all ingredients above and pour into pie crust, dot with butter, cover with second crust and seal crusts together. Be sure to cut vents in the crust. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes. If you don't have some of the berries, you can just increase the amount of other berries. BUT, the balance of these proportions is really the secret to the terrific taste of this unusual pie. As with most pies, this is even more delectable with ice cream.


June 10, 2008

Rhubarb - Delicious Alone or

with Lots
Besides Strawberries!

A nice comment from Cindy on a recent Frugal Family blog posting mentioned how much she likes to make blubarb jam, a combination that I know first hand is absolutely delicious. While the traditional combination of rhubarb and strawberries is yummy, there's much more that you can do with rhubarb by itself or in combination with other fruits.

In the current edition of The Frugal Family Kitchen Book, there are three recipes using rhubarb, all very tasty, but the rhubarb cheesecake pie is extra special. The other two recipes are for a rhubarb coffeecake and scalloped rhubarb, a very simple recipe that uses stale bread, goes together quickly, has a crisp crust on top and is soft and sweet underneath. Good as a breakfast dish, or for dessert.

Scalloped Rhubarb

3 c stale bread, cubed
1 c sugar
1/2 c melted butter
2 c fresh rhubarb, diced

Combine ingredients and put in an ungreased 8 or 9" square baking pan. Add 1 TBSP water in each corner of the pan, bake at 325, about 35-45 minutes.

Last spring I came across a recipe for a Bumbleberry Pie, and although I can't lay hands on the recipe right this minute, I do remember that it had blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and rhubarb in it, all of which I luckily had in the freezer. And that pie got rave reviews! So while I think about where that recipe could be, let's look at some other combos.

Grace Additon was a food columnist for the Maine Sunday Telegram for years, and her 1983 Pantry Shelf Sampler Cookbook remains one of my favorite recipe collections to this day. She has a recipe for Rhubarb Pudding Cake that I've never tried, but I will before the next week is out, promise! I love pudding cakes which bake up with a cake layer on top and a wonderful sauce underneath, and I can't wait to try this one. A similar recipe in an old , National Grange Rural America Cookbook., is called Rhubarb Float.

Of course about the simplest thing you can do with rhubarb is just stew it, but be creative with your liquid. Apple cider, pineapple juice, a soft white or mellow red wine, even Hawaiian Punch!
I've seen recipes for rhubarb sherbet and rhubarb cream, both simple and refreshing while bananas and rhubarb make a nice baked combination.

Baked Banana Rhubarb Pudding Layer stewed, sweetened rhubarb in a baking pan, cover with sliced bananas, sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar, then mix 1TBSP lemon juice, 1 TBSP orange juice and 2 TBSP water and sprinkle over the top. Bake at 350 until top is nicely browned.

I'm sure rhubarb would be good with choclate too, but the only way to combine them that I've figured out - so far at least - is to have a rhubarb or orange-rhubarb sauce over chocolate ice cream or pudding. I'll bet apricots, almonds, and coconut would work well with rhubarb too.

Hmmm... I hope I've gotten you thinking as fresh local rhubarb is available now both in your local grocery store and at nearby farmer's markets and farmstands. Enjoy! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go look some more for that Bumbleberry Pie recipe.


June 6, 2008

The Cat, the Snake, and the Newspaper Reporter:

The Saga of Sara Jean

How innocent ... coffee with a friend on a Friday morning. Nothing unusual there. Until ... Paula asked if I could help her rescue some kittens, really young ones she'd seen living under the shrubs at the front of the Coldwell Banker office where Paula worked. Well, my goodness! Kittens? In need of help? I'm there!

It was just a year ago, we were down to one cat, and I'd been pining for a new kitty. Bert was not excited about that great idea. So off Paula and I went to see if we could save those homeless little waifs. Now, the office was located in an old house, busy streets on two sides and a wrap-around driveway on the other two sides. There were a few shrubs out front before a retaining wall dropped off sharply. Paula had been glanced out a basement window and seen the two little fluffballs we were aiming to rescue.

A mother cat? Yes, Paula'd seen one, but not in several days, and if these kitties started to wander they could be in b-i-g danger. Well, it was no small feat, but we were able to trap and pick up the kittens, a threesome, not the two we were expecting. Oh, no, Paula didn't want a kitten, but a woman in the office took the little gray one, and I headed home with a tiny calico and a tinier tiger kitty mewing piteously in the wastebasket where I had them corralled. Luckily, Bert accepted them with good grace.

MomCat returned and was of course upset that her babies were gone, but a local no-kill shelter live-trapped her, and we re-united the family. Mom seemed satisfied that her kids were doing okay in their new homes, and that was certainly part of the happy ending. MomCat was spayed and, I'm happy to say, found a loving new home thanks to H.A.R.T., the Homeless Animal Rescue Team, a truly wonderful organization.

Soon the tiger became Caleb and the calico was named Sara Jean. Sara Jean, most definitely one smart kitty, quickly had Bert calling her Sara Jean, The Loving Machine. (He's also been known to call this fickle little feline "Slut Kitty".) Then a few months later as Sara Jean ventured outside, we started calling her Sara Jean, The Killing Machine. She liked bringing her trophies in to show me which, while certainly thoughtful of her, was not properly appreciated on my part.

Fast forward to a few days ago ... Caleb and Sara Jean have been with us just one year and are adolescents in every sense. They love to tease Sam our 15-year-old cat, they like to sashay past Harley Dog flicking him on the nose with their tails, and they like to sit on my desk when I'm working at the computer. When it's nice weather out, I leave the mudroom door to the deck open a bit so they can come and go to the back yard.

So there I was doing a phone interview with a local reporter on all things thrifty, when I glanced over and there was Sara Jean with a SNAKE. In our mudroom. A big snake. Alive. Moving. YIKES!

A very hurried goodbye, a gloved hand, a slithery catch, and a trip to the edge of nearby woods for release. A furious Sara Jean.

AND a stern word of warning to a little kitty who just didn't seem half as cute I used to think she was!


P.S. Yes, photos of the terrible twosome to follow.

June 2, 2008

It's Rhubarb and Asparagus Season

Usually locally grown rhubarb and asparagus are two of the earliest foods available, not counting fiddleheads and parsnips of course. While rhubarb recipes often call for copious amounts of sugar, plain steamed asparagus is a delight. And of course there are much fancier dishes to try with asparagus. Asparagus is a pretty decent source of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as having no fat or sodium. And a serving is only a half dozen spears.

I've been using some of our fresh asparagus in frittatas, a fancy name for a dish that's essentially baked scrambled eggs, at least the way I make it. I'm not going to give you an exact-amounts recipe because... well, I don't think I could!

Oven-Baked Asparagus Frittata Heat a very small amount of olive oil in a large frypan and saute a mixture of asparagus that's been cut into small pieces, some chopped onion, a bit of fresh garlic, mushrooms if you want or any other chopped or shredded veggie you want to try. Saute a few minutes or until veggies are softened. Spread in a 9x9" baking pan (I use glass) and then pour over that a mixture of 6 beaten eggs mixed with a tad of melted butter (or use olive oil), about a 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 c grated cheese of whatever type you have on hand or better still a mix, some basil, thyme, and a sprinkle of parsley. Bake at 350 are 20 minutes or until eggs are set. I used some fresh-grated parmesan cheese on this with a bit of fontina and that was really delicious.

Farmer's markets and roadside stands are open for the season and local produce is your best buy. Don't forget to pick up a little extra to put in the freezer or can for next winter.


May 21, 2008

The Amazing Health Benefits

and Healing Power of...

grandchildren! Yes, truly. But of course a major obstacle to this incredible better-living breakthrough is that your children have to decide to have their children for you to acquire these much-sought-after health benefits.

Just how do grandchildren offer amazing health benefits and healing powers? Well, first and foremost perhaps is that they can get us to move when little else can. And darned if we don't completely forget our little aches and pains when playing catch with a granddaughter or tag with a grandson. They ask us to take them to the playground, and how can we just sit there? So, we find ourselves twirling on a swing, or skidding down a slide. And laughing. And you know how good laughter is for your health!

Grands keep our minds young in so many ways. We have to read to them of course, and then there are the card games and board games. I don't know about you but I have developed absolutely endless patience for playing Uno and cribbage, Quiddler and chess, war and checkers. When I'm playing rummy or Skip-bo with one of the grands, it feels as though there's nothing else in the world that could possibly be more important.

And then there's the challenge of "getting" all their silly jokes. Sometimes it's hard to... simplify... my thinking to catch on to the hilarious (well, in their view) stream of "knock,knock" jokes. And kids, the grands, just see things differently, and trying to go to that place and see things their way often requires mental gymnastics that must leave the mind more flexible!

But, there's also another, far more serious way in which grandchildren are good for our health: we will do things for them, to ensure being part of their futures, that we might very well skip or neglect otherwise. We need to stop here for just a minute....just in case you're thinking, but wait, I'd do those things for my KIDS, too. When my kids were younger I would have done anything humanly possible - and tried things far beyond that - for each and every one of them. But now that they are all adults, people with rich and full lives, it's different. The most important thing I learned in ten years of teaching middle school was how very important grandparents are to their grandchildren! What I will do for myself in the name of the grandchildren is of course, so much what I would have done for my children; it's just so, so much harder at this age!

Now what prompts this whole reflection? For me, continued high blood pressure readings came head-to-head with my deep-rooted aversion to medications. The alternative - and it admittedly might still not be enough - is to drop 20 pounds. Easier said than done of course, especially the older I get.

But in the past month Bert and I have shared both of the grands' birthday, a tradition I truly treasure. I want to be there for when Baxter becomes a teenager, when he gets his first car, and when he heads off to college. I want to be there when Katie becomes a teenager, goes to her first prom, and heads off to college. And I certainly want to dance at both their weddings. So, for them, although I have no intention of letting them in on this, I will take medication AND take off 20 pounds. Since I wrote "Buy Lean, Cook Light, Eat Less, Move More," I've lost almost 6 pounds so I know it will happen. Maybe then I can give up the medication!

There is a special joy in loving your child's child, isn't there!


May 15, 2008

NO Added Fat! NO Added Sugar!

A Great Date Muffin Recipe

This moist, flavorful bread will quickly become a favorite, especially with all the possible add-ins. While originally written as a muffin recipe, I often bake it as a bread, using a 9x9" pan. Of course you can use a loaf pan, but for some weird reason, I have trouble baking dense breads in a loaf pan... they never cook through in the middle.

For the dates in this recipe, don't use the pre-cut ones as they often have added sugar, and I think they have far less flavor than the fresh Medjool dates. Sometimes the fresh dates are pre-packed in 8 oz. containers, sometimes, they're just loose in their packing box in the produce department, and you just pick out what you want.

Date Muffins

8 oz. dates, cut in small pieces
1 c raisins
1 1/2 c boiling water
2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 slightly beaten egg whites (see note below)
1 tsp vanilla

Mix date pieces and raisins, pour boiling water over and let set until cool Add other ingredients, mixing well, pour into greased muffin tin, bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, a time which can really vary so test for doneness. OR, use a greased 9x9" pan and bake 30-35 minutes, which again can vary.

NOW, because I'm using eggs from our Girls, and these eggs tend to be extra large, you may want to use three egg whites if you're using store-boughten eggs.

Add-in possibilities -

Add the grated peel of one orange ... this is THE best!

Use craisins instead of raisins, but note the added sugar in the craisins.

Add nuts, especially chopped or sliced almonds. If you do use almonds, substitute almond extract for the vanilla.

A half cup of chocolate chips is delicious, and I bet white chocolate chips would be really, really good.

Experiment with various dried fruits, but be aware of the added sugars... I think I'll try some mango next!

Enjoy these muffins (for bread) with a cream cheese topping made much healthier with yoghurt.

Cream Cheese/Yogurt Spread for Bread

I really prefer this to the reduced-fat cream cheese you can buy at the store as this has half the fat of regular cream cheese, good added protein, and great flavor. Put a coffee filter in a colander and add a generous cup of non-fat plain yogurt. Let set at room temperature for an hour or so to drain, then beat into one 8 oz pkg of cream cheese. Great on any bread OR try mixing with a firm raspberry jam to use between layers of spice cake.



May 8, 2008

Buy Lean, Cook Light, Eat Less,

Move More

THERE... If you just conscientiously follow that advice, you'll save money, eat well, lose weight and feel better. Ahhh, if only it was that easy!

It's the season when we're getting outside more and finding out just how much we didn't keep in shape during this past tough winter. It's the time of year when we get out some lighter clothes and just hope they fit. Right now is also a time when grocery prices are really challenging.

BUY LEAN - This doesn't just mean meat, but includes everything on your shopping list. Read those labels, not only for fat content, but also sodium amounts. Be sure you scan the ingredients for sugars, especially the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. Check the shelf-edge tags for unit price as the largest packages are no longer always the cheapest per unit, nor are the smallest packages always the most expensive per unit anymore.

COOK LIGHT - Again, everything! As we're coming into salad season, check a few cookbooks for lower-fat, lower sodium homemade dressing recipes. I've taken to using a mixture of home-made light maple syrup and a dijon-type mustard. Couldn't be simpler, sticks to the salad greens well, adds a nice flavor. I think I'll add a smidge of chipolte pepper to the next batch.

Summer means more ice-cream type desserts too, but you can easily make frozen yoghurts, juice bars, your own filled cookies. Fruit and veggies are abundant for the next few months, so use them often, trying a new recipe here or there. And that lemonade you've been buying cans of for how many summers now? Loaded with corn syrup! Make your own. Buy bottled lemon juice and mix one cup lemon juice to four cups water, sweetening to taste, THEN for a half gallon, add the juice and pulp from one lemon and slice another lemon into your lemonade. You can do the same thing with limes for a great limeade, or best of all, mix the two.

EAT LESS - Now doesn't that sound simple! It really is, you know. It's a question of deciding with your mind just what foods you want to put into your mouth and why. How hunger-based is your eating? You know how to do it... the portions, what you snack on, how many calories you almost unconsciously eat each day... there's no big secret to eating less; it starts in your mind, then it's totally between your hand and your mouth!

MOVE MORE - If you do no other single thing to help you move more, go to Wal-Mart and spend less than $5 buying a GoWalking pedometer by Sportline. This is a step-counter so you don't have to try and measure the length of your stride, etc. You clip this little gadget to your waistband (I clip it to my underwear) right by your hip and each step you take, it records. Use it for a few days to see what your baseline is, then aim to increase it in small steps (bad pun!) until you're doing at least 10,000 steps a day.

You may think you already walk plenty, but check it out. You may think that 10,000 steps in not possible for you, but it truly IS. You'll find you glance at the pedometer during the day, then you park your car a little further from the store, your backyard walkabout may become a little longer and another flight of stairs doesn't seem quite so steep. This is the simplest, quickest, cheapest way I can think of to start moving toward this goal of moving more. Let me know what you think!


April 24, 2008

Growing Some Grocery Savings

The rising cost of groceries is scary, but at least we're heading into the growing season and you CAN find ways to save, both now and for next winter. We've looked at these things before, but they're worth repeating...

What can you grow this coming summer? Even if you have very limited space - think city apartment with a small balcony - you can grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce using buckets. Container gardening has become very popular and there are many specially-bred smaller varieties of your old favorites available. If nothing else, you should be able to have a small salad garden if you have even just a square foot or two of space. Think vertical too...a pyramid frame set into a bucket or a small piece of fence set into a deep rectanglar window box, either can support several plants well. You' may have to water and fertilize these container-type gardens a little more than open-ground grown plants, but it's worth it.

Many communities, from inner-city to much more rural, have insituted Community Gardens in the past few years. The town or sponsoring group usually maintains the site, marks out the individual plots, often has available water, frequently fences against deer and two-legged annoyances and may even offer special children's plots. These rented plots ($10-$30 for the season are common costs depending on size of course) offer you the chance to grow food and flowers, get some sun and exercise, and also enjoy the camraderie and expertise of a wonderful community of like-minded gardeners.

If you have a yard and any room at all, your possibilites expand greatly. Even if the sun and soil are not the best, you can work with what you have. Edible landscaping combines the decorative value of food plants with the anticipated harvest. A parsley, basil, cilantro or other herb plant tucked into a border adds nice greenery and scent plus cuttings for cooking.

We've talked before about ways to plan ahead during the summer for the coming winter, and one of the best is to get to know the farmers and farmers markets in your area. Unbeatable for fresh produce, these sources also offer quantitites of fruits and vegetables for canning or freezing. The idea that we should "eat fresh, eat local" is a good idea on many levels.

If you're already planning a garden this summer, great, and I hope you will consider planting extra to share with needy neighbors. Plant-a-Row, a grassroots anti-hunger program, is active in many towns across the country, and is very worthwhile. For more information check out

We've had warm weather this week, the asparagus tips have poked through in our garden, the garlic is thriving, the sage and oregano fragrant, and so much is started in the greenhouse that I can't imagine where I'll possibly have room to plant it. I love this seaon!

April 14, 2008

How to Knit a Hug

When times are tough, one of the first thing that sometimes gets left by the wayside is charitable giving. What a shame!

I feel very strongly about giving/sharing whatever I have, and in the past few years I've discovered new ways to do just that. There are other things/ways to give besides your money, or even your time, which is often even more limited than your dollars.

Of course giving your time to a worthy cause is wonderful - if you have any extra time! It seems as though everyone I know is frenetically busy these days. Now, my dad died when he was 57, so I gave my year of being 57 to becoming and being a Hospice volunteer. It was a deeply demanding and rewarding year, at times both incredibly sad and unbelievably life-affirming. It also was pretty time-consuming, and that time was spent away from home.

But, with so much to do at home and in the garden, I really wanted to do something more home-based. Of course I grow a gazillion flowers - with the help of our three sixth-grade Garden Girls, Yoshi, Wendy and LuLu - but I needed something to keep my hands busy, especially in winter. The devil does make mischief with idle hands, you know!

Last year's project was knitting blankets and sewing quilts for Project Linus which distributes the blankies to kids in crises. But this year I'm knitting hugs. Well, okay, they're more usually called "prayer shawls", "healing shawls", or "friendship shawls". No matter what you prefer to call them, they're a perfect project as they are so very appreciated. Plus, it's a great way to use up some of that yarn you have squirrelled away for "someday" and if you, like me, can knit while you're riding in the car/truck, these fly off your needles!

My plan was to stockpile a whole bunch of triangular shawls and lengthy stole-type hugs, giving some to my church and sharing the rest through a wide network of friends. Well, the first four flew out of my house almost before I could get them finished. One in autumn oranges and browns went to Nebraska to warm a woman who had just had neck surgery. Another, purple and gold, went to a man finding the after-effects of cancer treatment newly challenging a decade later. Purple and gold are his college colors. Another went to a woman on her 70-something birthday, and the last one, a soft, fluffy yellow shawl, went to a woman, who would be spending many long hours at a hospital away from home while her husband was undergoing cancer surgery.

But now I'm building the stockpile back up. Our friend Lesley has just finished a smoky purple shoulder shawl for the comfort cupboard, I have an aqua blue varigated in the cupboard and am also finishing a stole in rich blues and greens. Sound like something you'd like to try?? But where to find patterns? Lion Brand yarns' website offers a half dozen lovely and easy-to-make shawl patterns most of which use their Homespun yarn. These patterns and yarn are the mainstay of many prayer shawl programs.

One of my very favorite websites for knitting patterns is which has an incredible number of patterns from a wide variety of sources. I've printed many, many shawls patterns from this site, and put them in a three-ring binder. Some are vintage, some very sturdy, some downright ethereal. What I really like is that there are patterns that look particularly masculine. Somewhere down the line I'll make one I've seen with a beautiful cable worked down the center.

One other website I'd recommend is where there are still more patterns and some nice ideas for tags to go with your shawl. The tags are where you get to personalize the gift to the circumstances of the recipient. It may be a prayer, a poem, or just a caring note.

Making knit hugs is a project I hope you'll consider. And yes, of course you can crochet them just as easily. The important thing is all the caring, comfort, and oh, so much more that goes into each stitch. And if you do decide to make a few knit hugs, please... share the stories of your shawl projects!