Friday, November 16, 2018

Christmas Project #11 - A Simple Elegant Wreath

Last month the youngest and I stopped in at Hobby Lobby just to see what we could see.  I hadn't been there for a looooong time so it was fun to pop in and see all of the super cool stuff they have for decorating you home and making the holidays special.

I had a kitty helper too

One thing on my list to do this year was to replace our lost wreath.  Somehow it disappeared from our storage area in our garage while we were away living the RV life.  Not entirely sure where it got off to, but after four years I really wanted to replace it.  My budget to get the job done = $10.

Pinecones, berry sprigs, wire, wire cutters, a clip on bird, ribbon and a plain wreath

Lucky for us Hobby Lobby had all of their holiday stuff on sale for 40% OFF and that included their wreath making supplies.  We found the perfect sized wreath for $9.99 on sale for 5.99 and three sprigs of berries on sale for $2.79.

I had plenty of wired red Christmas ribbon at home that a friend had given me.  A few days later I picked up pinecones off the ground at work when I got ready to leave with the idea that I could add these to the wreath.  I had found a pretty little clip on bird at Dollar Tree last month too that I thought would be a perfect addition.

The young one and I got busy and fluffed up our Plain Jane wreath.  Then using wire we had removed from the roll of chicken wire and saved last spring I wired up the pinecones and we added them randomly to the wreath.  Then we used wire cutters to cut apart the berry springs and tucked them into the wired pinecones.

The bow actually looks better in person then it does in photos

Next thing was to make a bow out of the wired ribbon.  I am nooooo ribbon maker, believe me so I jumped on Youtube and watched a few tutorials.  I'm glad we have Youtube to help us learn and figure out what we don't know how to do.  I think the one I made isn't all that great, but passable.  We wired it onto the wreath and added the clip on bird.  Final price came in at $9.78.  Yay!

I think it is the best wreath we've ever had and it was a gob of fun to put together with my little one.  She seemed to enjoy herself quite a bit too.  Simple and elegant.  It looks perfect at our front door.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Prepared For Winter

Every year we do things to prepare for colder temperatures and winter weather conditions.  This year was no exception.  There are certain things I do each year to make sure we are prepared for whatever the winter season may hand us. 


In late summer I begin to fill our pantry and our chest freezer with staples such as flour, sugar, canned goods and meat.  Enough of the basics so that if we are hit with a snowstorm we won't need to go anywhere and can stay safely at home.

The same goes for our pets.  I make sure we have enough feed, pine shavings, cat food & litter and supplies on hand in our garage to see us all the way to spring.  No one wants to go to the feed store and then have to lug a 50# bag of chicken food inside over an icy driveway.


In the fall I make sure our truck has a fresh oil change and a full tank of gas.  During the winter I keep our car topped up as well.  We have extra propane tanks in our garage in case of a power failure so we can cook on our camp stove or BBQ with our grill.  We also have wood stacked in our back yard in case we need to build a fire or use the rocket stove.


Making sure our home is ready for the colder weather is another important thing we do.  Making repairs, clearing debris from the gutters, making sure our snow shovel is in good shape and we have ice melt in the garage, etc.  We do a final mow and trim of the lawn and try to keep up on raking and mulching the leaves so there aren't a lot on the ground when we get the first snow fall.  I do an inspection of our roof, our doors and windows, our siding and such.

This year it was important to me that I get the duct from the old vented range hood sealed off and we managed that last weekend.  I used some insulation a friend had given me to use in my motorhome renovations, if I needed some, and a piece of siding I had saved in my garage.  I wanted to wait until we had a couple of good freezes first to make sure we didn't have any bees or birds nesting inside the duct before I sealed it off.


We are an all electric household with baseboard heater, an electric fireplace and an infrared supplemental heater.  Each spring I clean the vents and the heating element in the fireplace so it is ready come fall when the temperature starts to drop.  Periodically throughout the year I vacuum the baseboards and wipe them down with a damp cloth to keep them clean and dust free.  In the fall I pull out the infrared heater, vacuum the intake vent and filter, clean the unit and polish the wood.  Once that is done it is ready to go as well.

Each year it seems we pretty much do the same things over and over.  There is usually one or two additional things we need to do each year as well.  This year it was sealing up the old duct.  Last year it was pruning trees and replacing the weatherstripping on our front door.  Next year I am sure it will be something else altogether.  As long as we adequately take care of our home it will be able to take care of us.  Especially when the temperatures plummet and the snow starts to fly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This Old Violin

For the past three years my youngest daughter has been playing a gorgeous violin that was donated to her school.  The young man the instrument once belonged to had tragically passed away during his junior year at Boise State University.  His name was Markus and he was struck by a car while crossing a busy street.  My understanding is that he was an amazing and very talented violinist.

The finish was crazed and rough

I was told by my daughter's orchestra teacher and that in supporting Markus' talent his parents had purchased him a variety of violins over the years.  After his death his parents donated his instruments to the schools he had attended and played them at with the stipulation that the orchestra teachers select a special student who would play and care for them while they attended the school.  My daughter's orchestra teacher selected her in seventh grade to take home the violin that was donated to her junior high.  All school instruments are labeled, inventoried and referred to by a number with one exception.  This violin is labeled "Markus".  And we all know it is very special.

Lots of dings and nicks

At the end of the school year my daughter must return Markus to her orchestra teacher as her time in junior high will be ending and she will move onto high school next year.  That would leave her with the option of switching over and playing her viola full time or playing her old violin, which unfortunately developed a twist in the neck.  Like any parent I want to support my daughter's talent as well so we have been violin shopping for quite a while.  Markus is an Andreas Eastman violin and it has an amazing sound.  She has enjoyed playing it very much.  To purchase a violin like Markus would mean I'd need to lay out $1500 and to be honest I'm willing to do it, very much.  However, there are other options out there and a couple weeks ago we found one.  At a pawn shop.

This little tip was missing

When I first saw this violin I thought it was absolutely sad and pitiful.  A long, long time ago I'm sure it was an amazing instrument.  It had been made in Germany for William Lewis & Son Co. located in Chicago and at some point it too had likely been donated to a school where it had been abused and neglected as borrowed student instruments often are.  But when my daughter picked it up and began to play it we were amazed at the tone and the sound it could still produce.  Nonetheless it was beat all to heck and the top was delaminated on one side.  It was incredibly dry and had a few hairline cracks on the top.  Nothing that went all the way through, but let's face it, it needed a lot of work.  So we left it at the pawn shop and went on about our day.

Pretty worn out

We had errands to run, my oldest had an appointment to be dropped off for and later picked up so while we were out and about we stopped in at various music shops and a few more pawn shops to see what we could find.  Nothing really sparked my daughter.  I know from my own experience that choosing an instrument is a very emotional thing, not just any one will do.  We would continue our search even if it meant a few road trips to find the one that would make her happy.

While we sat in the car and waited for my oldest to finish up at her appointment my daughter asked me if we could go back to the pawn shop and get the old violin.  She felt pretty strongly that it still had a lot of potential.  Could I help her fix it?  Could we bring it back to life and make it hers?  She just didn't think it was done yet, it still had some playing to do.  That violin had really touched her.  So we picked up the oldest and headed back to the pawn shop.  Not only was it still there waiting for us (I had little doubt it wouldn't be), but it had been marked down by 30% and was now only $70 instead of the original price of $99.  She scooped it up and that was that.  We brought it home.

We carefully took her apart and got to work

We carefully took it apart and cleaned it, it was pretty grimy.  Then I filled the hairline cracks with some lightweight wood filler and rebuilt a missing piece that had been broken off.  I glued the delaminated top back onto to its side which eliminated the hollow sound and made the tone much richer.  We knew that would work when I squeezed it and held it together while she played.

The missing tip repaired

Piecing it back together, first string on!

After everything dried I carefully sanded out most of the dings along the edges and smoothed it out along with the wood filled hairline cracks.  I was super careful not to overdo it and kept the sanding to a minimum.  Then we redid the finish with a little Howards and that added back some moisture.  

Markus is in the back, her old violin in the middle and
then the "new" one all completed and put back together

Once that was done and dry we replaced the strings, inserted the bridge and then added the wooden chin rest from her original violin which she preferred over the one that had come with it.

She has an interesting way of tuning a violin

She worked on tuning it and then it was time to play.  And I have to say it sounds pretty darn good.  And it looks a whole lot better too.  Not brand new, by any means, but much, much better.  I think we did a solid job on it.  Side by side next to Markus there is no comparison, in appearance, but the sound is quite good and she is happy.  That is all that matters.

All done!  It may be difficult to tell, but compared to what we started
with it has been an amazing transformation and a lot of fun to work on together

From what I've been able to research, this violin was produced in the late 1950s through the early 1960s so it is old and probably has a lot of history (judging by the character marks it had, I'm sure of it).  Who really knows for sure, but one thing I do know is that from here on out this violin will be cared for and no longer neglected.  And it will be played by a talented young lady that was all too happy to give it another shot.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Last Week's Thrifty Moves

Sunday I awoke to rain which put a damper on our plans for an outdoor family photo shoot, but it did allow us to be able to stay home all day.  I trimmed my bangs and gave the youngest a haircut, ran a large load of laundry and did my Sunday chores of dusting and vacuuming the downstairs section of our home.  The girls did their chores, practiced instruments and finished up homework.  I helped the oldest with some more college application stuff too.  I'll be really happy when all of that is behind us.

For a few weeks now I noticed the sink in the downstairs bathroom was draining slowly so I decided it was time to pull the drain and clear the clog.  Be happy I didn't feel compelled to take a picture.  It was gross.  But the trap is clear and the sink drains normally again.

I did a little bit of online Christmas shopping at Amazon.  I happened across a killer deal on something I was planning to get my youngest for a third of the price I was expecting to spend.  Score!  That allowed me to use the difference to get a few more items for her birthday gift bag I'm putting together.  I also got my oldest a Christmas gift so now I'm feeling much better about where I'm at with gifts so far.  And everything arrived via free shipping too.

Wednesday I left work early and took my oldest daughter to the DMV and guess what?  She has her learners permit and three driving lessons under her belt so far.  I am super excited that she has finally taken the plunge and I'm having a lot of fun teaching her.  I think she is having fun too.  There for a while I was beginning to think she was never going to do it.

I did a bit of grocery shopping on Tuesday at Albertson's and Friday at Fred Meyer.  I picked up only loss leader sales items and a couple markdown items spending only a total of $37 for four bags of groceries.  I was pretty happy about that.  We are now well stocked with boxed macaroni & cheese (most of that is going to the school food pantry), apple juice, pasta sauce, bread for sandwiches for the girl's lunches, cheese (99¢ each) and PopTarts (99¢ each, some of these will go to the school food pantry also).  Grapes were 88¢ a pound and they were so good.  Didn't last long either.  At Albertson's I used a $5 OFF coupon I downloaded to my store card which made my total there only $27 (I walked out with three bags of groceries) and I used some rewards points I had earned to score a free jar of peanut butter.

Markdown items

I had some leftover frosting from the marching band bake sale so I whipped up a batch of vanilla cupcakes and used it up.  I took the cupcakes into work for my co-workers to enjoy.  I saved six of them for the girls to have in their lunches.  I rinsed out the frosting containers and put them in our recycle bin along with the cake mix box.  We recycle so much packaging we hardly put anything into the trash.

I took a bowl of ripe cherry tomatoes as well as a cucumber from our garden into work to share with my co-workers.  The tomatoes are ripening faster than we can eat them and they are so good.  Nothing compares to homegrown tomatoes, especially the cherries.

I added water to the fabric softener bottle and gave it a good shake to get all that was left out of the bottle.  I had enough stuff for one more load of laundry and then I put the bottle into our recycle bin.

Thursday the outside temperature dropped down into the 20s at night.  Needless to say we needed to turn on our main heating system.  I'm impressed we made it into November before that was a necessity.

All stretched out next to my recliner.  I just love this little critter!
Friday and Saturday were our craziest days of the week.  I left work and took an early and longer lunch so I could pick up my oldest and run her down to the band room at Boise State.  She was invited to march with the Blue Thunder Marching Band at the football game that night.  I didn't go back to pick her up until after midnight when it was all over.

Since I knew I had to stay up late I decided to use that time to get some stuff done.  First a quick trip to Fred Meyer on my way home from work for some more loss leader items that were on sale. Then, once I got home, I changed into my grubbies and got to work with my youngest daughter raking leaves.  We got two huge piles raked up just as the sun was setting and got them all mulched by the porch light.  I dumped two bags of mulch in the chicken coop for the hens to mess around in and the rest were used to cover the garden boxes in the backyard.  I am so happy I invested in that mulcher last year.  We ate a dinner of leftovers, played with the bunny and watched Footloose until it was time for me to go get the oldest.

My quick trip into Fred Meyer

Saturday we were up early as my youngest had Orchestra Festival.  Unfortunately she woke up with a head cold and wasn't feeling well and I had woken up with a horrible stomach ache, but we persevered.  She played in a quintet and it was really nice.  I always get goosebumps when she performs and they did an excellent job.  Once we got home she went to bed as did my oldest who was exhausted from her late night and I curled up in my recliner.  Nothing I had planned to do that day ended up getting done, except for the laundry.  Some days are just that way though.

I went into work early three of the five days last week in order to not have to use any of my stored time off on the day I left early for the DMV or the longer lunch I took on Friday to run my oldest to the university for marching band.  I'm super thrifty with my time off too.  I like to use it for fun!

Mulching leaves

We added coffee grounds, tea bags, banana peels, egg shells and onion skins to our compost bin.  We fed our kitchen scraps to the chickens and they provided us with about a dozen eggs.  With the colder weather production has slowed a bit.

How was your thrifty week?

Friday, November 9, 2018

Wiggle Room

Awhile back one of my readers messaged me and asked what do I do to get a little more wiggle room in my budget.  And then not t0o long after that my dearest friend asked me how I was able to get the money together to adopt both of my girls.  Since then I've thought a lot about both of those questions.  So how do I create "wiggle room" when the budget is tight.  Honestly, I do A LOT of different things.

To begin with I pay my bills first and early, well ahead of their due dates, and meet my savings obligation that I have set for myself.  Each pay day I put a set amount into my retirement savings and my regular savings.  Whatever is left after that is what I have to work with.

I set budgets.  Amounts of money I'm willing and comfortably able to spend on certain things like groceries ($150 per month), non food items ($25 per month)dining out/entertainment ($35 to $50 per month), miscellaneous ($50 per month), etc.  And I am willing to transfer those funds around if I need to.  For instance last month was band competition so we ate out once and I bought tickets with our dining out/entertainment budget, but then I went to dinner with a friend so I used some of the miscellaneous money.  If the monthly bills are higher than expected we make up the difference with the dining/entertainment or the miscellaneous budget, sometimes both and we dial it down on the dining out or miscellaneous spending that month.

I keep plenty of food in our home and am constantly replenishing our stock each month which allows me to keep our grocery budget extremely low.  Almost everything I buy is on sale and whenever possible paired with a digital or paper coupon.  Same thing with dining out.  I hunt for deals and coupons to lower the cost.  I also sign up for rewards cards and "clubs" if you will.  It allows us to receive a lot of free offers, not only with groceries, but meals at restaurants as well as extra deals and coupons.  If something unexpected comes up I always have enough food on hand that if I needed to skip a month or two of grocery shopping or even more, I could do that.

I love to go to thrift stores and sometimes yard sales.  Often I'll come across an item that I know I can sell on eBay and I do that to earn extra money to save up in my PayPal account.  I often use that money to purchase items we need or want.  If there isn't anything to purchase I transfer that money to my savings account.

I save my change and toss it in a jar.  Once it is full I use coin wrappers and wrap it up.  No Coinstar or counting machines for me that charge you to use them.  I want it all!  Ha!.  In fact my change jar is going to make up the bulk of my spending money for our Disneyland trip.

I'm not afraid of the odd job.  For years we helped our elderly neighbor by collecting her mail, setting her trash at the curb each week, raking leaves and shoveling snow.  She paid us a flat $35 a month and we took good care of her for quite a long while.  I also do some bookkeeping and tax prep on the side and when I have time I make craft items to sell on Etsy.  Unfortunately I haven't done much of that recently but I hope to get back to it sometime soon in the future.

The biggest thing that saves us from spending is that we keep our needs and wants very simple.  Our wardrobes, our home and its furnishings, dishes, meals, toiletries, etc., we just don't overdo or overcomplicate things.  As a result I don't find myself stretched so thin that we are struggling to make ends meet.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

When I Dream....

I dream of shiny new appliances for my kitchen.

Okay, maybe not, but oh my goodness gracious did I find some beautiful stainless steel appliances that would look soooooo pretty in my kitchen. (sigh)

The oldest and I had stopped into Home Depot to pick up a flapper for our toilet a couple weeks ago.  Super exciting purchase, let me tell you.  Whoo hoooo.  Anyway we cut through the appliance section on our way to the register and holy moly did I get myself a little bit side tracked.  First thing I saw was this gorgeous low profile refrigerator.  Not a side by side, just a fridge, like I used to have only fancier.

And a dishwasher too, of course.

My current stove and refrigerator are 22 years old.  I've done repairs to both, but they are holding up and performing just fine so I don't need to replace either one.  The dishwasher is 12 years old and honestly I could care less about it.  We hardly use it, except that it is white and wouldn't match the stove and fridge.  A true dilemma, I tell you.  My smarty pants daughter made the remark, "Oh too bad you already paid for Disneyland or you could afford to get these."  Rub it in a little?  Nah, I'd rather go to Disneyland.

But, I took loads of pictures and I'm thinking maybe I can make this a goal.  Hmmmm.  They sure would look nice in my pretty newly updated kitchen..... but.....

For now I dream.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Our Thanksgiving Menu Plans

When it comes to the big Thanksgiving dinner we are pretty darn tradition around our house.  Our menu doesn't vary a whole lot from year to year, although there have been times we went the non traditional route, but for the most part we to the usual turkey and all the trimmings.

I like to plan ahead so I can start "collecting" groceries early and then I don't have a big cash outlay in November trying to get everything at once.  This year that included our turkey when I found turkey breasts on sale at Fred Meyer for 99¢ a pound and I ended up buy five of them.  So far we have cooked two and still have three left along with a big ham in the freezer.

I definitely want to use great grandma's silver

Most of what we'll need is already in our house.  I'll need to pick up veggies, wine and a few other little things, but for the most part we've got it covered.  And because our friends and family are always invited to dinner I made up two different menus depending on who decides to joins us.

One menu is for a small crowd and one is for a larger as it is too soon to tell yet what is going to happen.  We have a lot going on this year so rather than try and pin everyone down it makes far more sense to just be prepared for any eventuality.  And because our home is on the small side, it the crowd is too large it may mean we end up at someone else's house altogether.  If that happens then the girls and I will switch to plan B.

Menu plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas are all tucked into my new planner
Fun, fun fun!

Plan B is we fix our own little Thanksgiving meal on Friday because we love the leftovers.  And I love, love, love to prepare this meal.  As much as I enjoy going somewhere else for dinner and not having all the mess to clean up after, it just isn't the same if you can't reheat leftovers in the microwave the next day and eat pie for breakfast.  You know what I mean?

So this year our plan is basically that we really don't have a set plan, but we are prepared to be flexible and for any eventuality.  Sometimes that is just how it goes.

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