Saturday, December 28, 2013

Wrapping Up 2013: The Year's Most Popular Parsimonious Posts

I know it's a little cliché to say, but I can't believe how fast this year has gone by!

Lots happened this year in our little family. Max entered first grade this past fall. I tell you, I cried the first time I packed a lunch for him. All's well now, though -- we've both adjusted and are doing fine with the whole transition. My Jonah is almost three; I can't help but still think of him as a baby. It's bittersweet to watch my boys grow and get older, but, luckily, they just get better with age. My husband Kevin had eventful year at work -- he's a video game artist for Disney Interactive and the studio he works at made the popular (and super cool, I might add) game Disney Infinity. He's also been busy doing freelance work. As for me, I've just kept busy taking care of this family and home of mine, though I did have one big milestone this year: I finished the first draft of my novel! It's been years in the making and now I'm busy with the second draft. At the rate I'm going, I'll probably have it ready to publish by the time I'm 40. *sigh*

In terms of frugal and homestead-y milestones, we had a couple. The first was at the beginning of the year when we finally paid off our car and became DEBT-FREEEEE! (sorry, it has to be typed that way. If you're familiar with Dave Ramsey's show, you'll know why.)  We've since been working on Dave Ramsey's third baby step and our emergency fund is over half-way funded.  Another milestone: our first honey harvest! I can't even begin to express how exciting it was to fill all those Mason jars with honey from our very own beehives - or how much love and gratitude I felt for all those thousands of little honeybees.

Now I know I didn't post so regularly in 2013 -- about half as many as I did in 2011 and 2012. Honestly, I've let it go a little so I can juggle all the things in my life. I've never been very good at balancing my time. I feel a new year's resolution coming on...

Anyway,  I thought I'd do what I've done the last couple years and look back to see which posts were the most popular (according to page-views) and compile a list of the top ten. I'm always intrigued by the posts that get the most attention -- sometimes I write them thinking, "I'm probably the only person who finds this interesting." It's always a nice surprise to find I'm not alone.

10. Peel Appeal: 7 Ways to Use Citrus Peels

It's that glorious time of year when citrus is in season, when oranges come close to tasting like candy. Save those peels and zest, boil, scrub, clean, sweeten, burn, and/or soak them. Really, it's kind of a shame that peels ever get thrown out.

9. Off the Needles: Chunky Fingerless Gloves

I love these fingerless gloves. Not only are they comfy and cozy, but they're also great for beginner-level knitters. There's plenty of winter left, so I'd definitely recommend knitting up a pair.

8. Expecting Wonders: How to Test Your Seeds Before You Plant

Planting seeds is always a sort of act of faith. You put these little things into the soil, give them some water, and expect them to sprout -- or at least hope they do. It's a beautiful concept. That said, there is one way to ensure that they will actually grow and that is to test them. It's super easy to do and it can save you the heartache of planting old seeds that won't germinate.

7. Observations & Lessons Learned from My First Winter with Chickens

As I type this, all three of the ladies are weathering another winter out in the backyard. Winter hit us really suddenly this year; one day the high temperature was in the 50s, the next day the high temps were in the 20s. Even worse, one of my hens was in the middle of molting (seriously, feathers EVERYWHERE) and another was still growing hers back from her molt. Neither they or I were quite ready for winter when it hit, but we've gotten back into the swing of things. Both ladies are fully feathered again and all three are laying. It's definitely not as enjoyable to keep chickens this time of year, but it's not too bad. That post I wrote last February has been a good reminder for me as we do this whole winter thing again.

6. Some Thoughts on Open-Mindedness & Frugality

Basically, this is the post where I ate a big helping of humble pie. Never say never, I learned.

5. Paleo(ish) Almond-Buckwheat Pancakes

For this being one of the most popular posts of the year, you'd think I would make these pancakes more often. I honestly haven't made them in months. In fact, until I saw this post was one of the more popular ones, I sort of forgot about them. Seeing as I may have overindulged this Christmas season, I'm thinking I'll revisit this recipe soon.

4. "We're Debt-Free!" : Of Car Payments and Baby Step #2

That post was basically the blog-equivalent of my debt-free scream (not familiar with that is? It's basically this). And I'm totally going to use that inspirational/cheesy picture I found when I did an image search for "freedom" again. Being debt-free is an awesome feeling and worth the work it takes to get there.

3. Homemade Weed Killer: The Experiment and the Results

Vinegar to the rescue again. Granted, it needed a couple helpers in the form of salt and dish soap, but it killed those nasty weeds!

2.  I Made Laundry Detergent! (Again) : Easy Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

Homemade liquid laundry detergent doesn't get easier than this. It takes five minutes to make, tops. No boiling or grating soap required.

1. Another 100 Painless Ways to Live Frugally

This post went nuts this year! It was a follow-up to my first list of 100 painless ways to live frugally -- personally, I think this list is better than the first. Currently working on the third one, though coming up with another 100 is going to take some creativity, for sure.

{Although this post isn't from 2013, I have to mention my post about my gingerbread cookies. It went crazy these past couple months, getting thousands and thousands of visits. One reason: it was featured on the Canadian edition of The Huffington Post. It was pretty crazy to see my little blog and the recipe featured next to recipes from Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, and the Food Network.}

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog, whether you've been following along on my frugal journey these past four years (wow!) or if you've just found me via Pinterest. I hope my little space here has helped your life in some way. I enjoy writing it and I love taking tons of pictures of food, kids, animals, and inanimate objects for it. This blog keeps me focused on my money-saving goals partly because I feel a sort of accountability to you all. Plus, trying new things and sharing them with you keeps this homemaking and child-raising stuff fresh and fun for me. I'm not perfect at it -- not even close -- but it stays interesting due in part to you.

May 2014 be your happiest year yet!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Off the Needles: Simple Knitted Christmas Stocking

Christmas is less than two weeks away and there's still so much I want to do. Make a gingerbread house, cut elaborate paper snowflakes, see a live Nativity, take my boys to visit Santa, decorate my home with various homemade garlands and wreaths, create amazing homemade gifts, make salt dough and cinnamon ornaments with my boys, and do some service projects as a family. Basically, I want to actually do some of the things I've been pinning on my Christmas board on Pinterest.

So far this month, we've squeezed in a few Christmas movies (my oldest is a little obsessed with Home Alone), drank through a couple cartons of egg nog, read some Christmas books (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is just as funny when you read it as an adult, just sayin') and I've baked dozens of gingerbread and sugar cookies.

There's still a lot I haven't done. And that's okay. You have to find a careful balance in December, I think. Try to take on too much and the month starts feeling more frantic than festive. Someday I may be able to juggle all those other projects and pins I want to do; for now, I'm just glad if I remember to move the Elf on the Shelf every night.

There is one project I am working on this month: a Christmas stocking for my younger son. Last year, I knitted one for Max, my older son, and it turned out pretty well. Not perfect, of course, but that's what's great about handmade stuff. My boys will know that it was knitted by hand by their mom. There's love knitted into every stitch, baby. Last year, I waited too long to start and was only able to finish Max's stocking; tonight, I'll be casting on and starting Jonah's red and cream stocking.

The photo doesn't quite do it justice. Stockings don't look nearly as good laying flat as they do hanging on the mantel. Since I don't have a fireplace or mantel (we leave a key for Santa under the doormat), I can't do the classic Christmas stocking display. That said, it really did turn out nicely, with that classic stocking shape to it. Most importantly, the stocking worked perfectly last year. It stretched really well and held a lot of treats and toys.

Last year when I decided I was going to knit stockings for my boys, I searched all over Ravelry for a good pattern. As you can imagine, there were lots and lots of them. Problem was that a majority of the patterns had all sort of complicated, albeit lovely, designs. All I wanted a nice, simple stocking pattern.  After some more searching, I finally found a pattern from Very Pink. It is the perfect simple stocking pattern and great for beginners because there is a video for each step of the knitting process (Very Pink's knitting videos are the best ones I've come across, hands down. I'd watched some of her other ones before I worked on this project.).

The pattern costs $8 to download. To make each stocking, I used two skeins (one cream, one green or red) of worsted weight yarn. You can find my Ravelry notes for the project here. I highly recommend this pattern, especially if you're a beginning-intermediate knitter like myself.

After the husband and I get the kids to bed and I remember to move that Elf to another part of the house, I'll pour myself a cup of egg nog or grab a sugar cookie, see if there are any good Christmas shows on Netflix, and cast on a stocking for my two-year-old. A pretty cozy way to spend a December evening, if I do say so. Makes all those other stressful aspects of the season seem a lot less important.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Soup Weather Again: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Hey Blog! Long time, no...write?

Anyway, it's December (can you believe it?) and it is so cold! On Monday, our high temperature was in the 50s; today, we'll be lucky if we hit the 20 degree mark. Brrr!

The upside: this is perfect soup weather! Not only is a hot bowl of soup so welcome on a cold day, but soup is also usually easy to make. Even more, the frugalista in me just loves what an inexpensive dinner soup can be. I love that I can whip up a big pot of soup for under ten bucks (or even five, in some cases) that will fill my family up at dinner and still have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Today, I thought I'd share a favorite of mine: roasted butternut squash soup.

And let me tell you, if you had told me that a squash soup would be a favorite of mine a few years ago, I would have said you were nuts.

For most of my life I've been squash-averse. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it was from the time my mom tried to trick my brothers and me by using squash instead of pumpkin in a pie. (The lady next door told her we wouldn't notice. We did. Mom had a surplus of squash so I can't blame her for trying.) Poor Mom. She would grow loads of squash in the garden but she was the only one who would eat it. I can remember times when I'd come home from school and the house would smell delicious. My brothers and I would run up the stairs to the kitchen to see what Mom had in the oven. To our disappointment, she was roasting squash. I have no idea why we turned our noses up at it when we thought it smelled so good. I mean, isn't that a pretty good indicator that it might be tasty?

My mom works at a restaurant and a few years ago, she brought me a cup of the popular butternut squash soup from there. As you can imagine, I didn't want to touch it.

With a little more coaxing, my mom got me to finally try it and, to my great surprise, I LOVED it. I wanted her to bring it every day she worked. It was sweet but not too much so and it had this subtle curry flavor to it. Since then, I've opened myself up to the world of squash and it's really not that bad. I'm thinking I might be planting a few butternut and spaghetti squash next year in my garden.

This week I finally made my own pot of that butternut squash soup and it was so easy -- I figured it'd be a nice way to get back onto this blog of mine. This recipe comes from the restaurant -- I was so happy when it was printed in their free newsletter.

I was going to do a step-by-step recipe with lots of photos, but I tell you, the days are getting so short and by 4:45 it was getting too dark to even get a good picture. But, seriously, this recipe is so easy, the step-by-step instructions aren't really that needed.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup 
serves 6

1 butternut squash (get one of the bigger ones at the store, I'd say),  peeled and medium diced
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch salt and pepper
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups chicken stock (you could also do vegetable stock if you want to make this meatless)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (none of that fake pancake syrup stuff)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (I used half & half and it worked fine)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a bowl, toss the diced and peeled squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper until it's nice and coated. Put the squash on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until it's browned.

While the squash is roasting, place cook the onion in pot with butter until the onion is translucent.

Add the stock and roasted squash to the pot. Bring to a boil and cook until the squash is tender. Pour into a blender (you could also use an immersion blender, but it'll probably take longer) and puree until smooth.

Return the puree to the pot. Add nutmeg, cloves, curry powder, and maple syrup. Stir in cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately. Optional garnish: top with roasted pepitas.

Avoid that bitter Arctic blast that's hitting most of the country right now. Stay inside and make a pot of this. It's for the best.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.
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