Saturday, December 31, 2011

Frugal Living Challenge 2012

I recently came across this amazing blog -Frugally Sustainable. 

This blog is chock full of ideas on living and enjoying the frugal life, learning forgotten skills and all things related to sustainable living.

Learn how to live frugally and crave less in 2012.  Join in the 23 day challenge. What a great way to start the new year !

Homemade Gift Series #1 : Preserves

Now that Christmas is over, I can start posting the gifts I made and have started a little series on gift making.   I decided to try to make most of my gifts this year and as promised from a previous post on "Mall Shopping - Not !" would start posting them after Christmas to not spoil the surprise for the receivers. 

The first idea was a box of homemade preserves, wrapped in homemade dish cloths.   The pattern for the dish cloths are posted here.  Check out my various posts on preserving and canning for ideas on homemade preserves and some recipes.

For my hiking and camping friends I dehydrated various fruits, vegetables, tofu jerky and wrapped up nicely into a box for their next trip.   

Stay tuned for more ideas in posts to follow.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter Gardening - Growing Sprouts

Mung beans


Now that winter is upon us it's too cold to grow anything outdoors.   You can, grow an indoor winter garden - SPROUTS !    See my post on how to grow your own sprouts.   Sprouts are great in salads, soups, omelets, sandwiches and I've added them to my homemade bread (sprouted bread).   I grew mung bean, lentil and alfalfa sprouts in a bright spot on my kitchen counter and the pictures of these sprouts are just five days old.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homemade Christmas Series #6 : Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls are a favourite in our house.   When the kids were younger I would bake them regularly.  Now I just bake them for special occasions - ie Christmas morning breakfast.    I bake them ahead of time and warm them up just before serving and add a nice cinnamon glaze.

The dough for these cinnamon rolls was made in the bread maker and finished in the oven.   This dough recipe is for 1 1/2 lbs. 

Cinnamon Roll Recipe (makes 12 rolls)
8 oz milk
3 tbsp water
1 egg
1/4 cup butter
3 1/3 cups white flour
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp quick rise yeast
Put above ingredients into bread maker in order according to manufacturer's suggestion.

Filling and topping:
Chopped almonds (toasted) - optional
Brown sugar 1/4 cup

Ground cinnamon - 1 1/4 tsp
Butter softened - 2 tbsp

Glaze :  Combine 1/2 cup sifted icing sugar, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and enough milk (2-3 tsp) to make gaze of drizzling consistency.    I also add a bit of cinnamon to make a cinnamon glaze. 

When dough cycle is complete, remove dough from machine to a lightly floured serface.  If necessary, knead in enough flour to make dough easy to handle  If dough is too elastic, cover and let rest for 10 minutes before shaping.  Meanwhile, for filling, stir together almonds, sugar and cinnamon.
Roll dough into a 12 x 14 inch rectangle.  Spread with softened butter.  Sprinkle with filling mixture.  Beginning at long end, roll up tightly as for jelly roll.  Pinch seam to seal.   With sharp knife, cut into 12 equal slices. Place cut side up in a greased 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Cover dough and let rise in a warm, draft free place until almost double in size, 20-30 minutes.  Bake rolls at 350F for 25-30 minutes or until done.  Cool slightly and remove from pan.  Drizzle glaze over warm rolls.  Serve warm.   Enjoy !

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Homemade Christmas Series #5 : Christmas Baking

This year's Christmas baking included shortbread, fruitcake squares, almond pressed cookies shaped like little Christmas trees, whipped shortbread and a family favourite church windows.    I like to bake a variety of cookies that will look nice served on a platter for company. 

The secret to good tasting cookies is to use quality ingredients and real butter. 

I also put together a selection of home baked Christmas cookies into decorative Christmas tins and give as gifts to seniors who don't bake anymore.    One senior friend starts hinting to me in the fall about how much she loves my shortbread !

Friday, December 16, 2011

Knitting for Charity - Christmas Update

At our last Knitters Guild meeting of the year, everyone brought their handmade knitted/crocheted items to be donated to Charity.   The items filled a long table with mitts, hats, scarves, socks, sweaters, blankets.   So many beautiful items were donated.  Our Christmas Guild project this year was to knit for a local charity  - Links2Care.  All the items will be distributed into the various Christmas Hampers Links2care distribute to families in need this Christmas.   Check my previous post on our Guild's Christmas project.

I also, as well as other Guild members, took part in another charity program  "Blanket Halton"  This year the program donated over 120 handmade blankets for three local agencies.    The clipping from our local newspaper shows the amazing mountain of blankets that will be distributed to those in need this winter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To Coupon or Not to Coupon ....

Do you ever watch those "extreme couponing" reality shows?   I have a couple of times.   Some people do go to such extreme measures and often buy so much that they will never use, just because they have the coupon.  For instance, on one show a couple of girls had bought shelves of disposable diapers and didn't even have any children.  Another single fellow bought an entire skid of toothpaste, more than he will ever use in an entire lifetime.
I have used coupons, and yes I do collect them, but only for the items that I would normally use and when the item is on sale.   I don't spend a lot of time collecting, as they do on those extreme reality shows.  In Canada, you'll never be able to extreme coupon as you can in the United States.

At the office I started a "coupon swap".  In the small kitchenette I put a small box with a little sign on it - saying ....
 Coupon Swap

Take what you need

Add coupons you don’t use

Throw out any outdated coupons

Just for fun, I've tracked for a year what I have saved in using coupons and only buying an item when it's "on sale".   Why pay full price for an item when you can get it for a much lower cost.   It has added up to substantial savings.  Every little bit does help keep the budget in line, especially during these economic times !

Friday, December 9, 2011

Homemade Christmas Series #4 : Mall Shopping – Not !

I am not a “mall” person and don’t enjoy shopping for the fun of it and avoid it when at all possible.  It has been a while since I was in a big shopping mall.   When I shop I go with a list, get what is needed and go home.   The other day, I needed to go to a particular store which was situated in one of the largest malls near where I work.   I thought, by going mid week, during my lunch hour I could avoid the crowds.   Wrong !

When I got there, I had trouble finding a parking spot and ended up walking a bit of a distance to get to the mall.  I didn’t mind the distance or the fresh air – but it’s the crazy drivers in a mall parking lot which is unnerving.  They are impatient, in a rush, not really looking where they are going and intent on finding that perfect parking spot.   When I got into the mall I was overwhelmed with the number of people going in every direction, the lights, displays, and congestion.   You really have to be on the alert on where you are going so you don’t bump into anyone or thing and watch out so that someone else doesn’t run you over not looking where they are going.   When I finally found the store I needed and found the item needed,  I stood at line at the cash for what seemed a long time, the bright lights were hot, people in line were impatient and when it was finally my turn the cashier wasn’t in a good mood either.    Needless to say, I was glad to get back to my car and leave.   It was a good reminder why I don’t like mall shopping or large big box grocery stores either.    I much prefer to shop locally in the small shops near where I live, where shop keepers are friendly, polite and remember your name !

This Christmas, I am not shopping at the big malls.  Instead the majority of my gifts are handmade.  I’d post you some pictures of what I made this year, however some of my family read my posts and I don’t want to spoil the surprise !    I will post pictures after Christmas which may inspire others to hand make gifts for next Christmas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homemade Christmas Series #3 : Christmas Cards

Making your own Christmas cards is a fun activity.  All year round while I'm out on a hike or in my garden, I'm taking photos.   I use my photos for making cards.

The winter scenes have been made into cards as shown in the photo - adding coloured paper, some ribbon.   Card stock comes in a variety of colours.  I've even used black card stock and written inside the card with a gold or silver pen.  Inexpensive stamps, using various coloured ink pads can also be used to decorate both the card and envelopes. 

My daughter's cat "LBC" (short for Little Black Cat), decided she was going to help me make cards the other day.  She has quite the interest in ribbon - mostly red ribbon, and had to keep an eye on her to ensure my ribbon didn't disappear.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Homemade Christmas Series #2 : Hand Knitted Dish Cloths

Looking for a quick gift to make?  Need a hostess gift ?

Knitting dish cloths is one of those small projects I do in between larger projects.   They are quick to make and don't require a lot of concentration.   In fact, I can practically knit them with my eyes closed now.   Knitted dish cloths is a small portable project which I can carry in my purse and knit any time I have to wait while out on errands or a passenger in a car.    They are a great project for those learning to knit, with quick results.   I usually have a stash of knitted cloths on hand as they make great hostess gifts and bazaar item for craft sales.  I have also given them as shower gifts at bridal showers, keeping in mind the new bride's colour scheme for her kitchen.    They are a very practical gift and once they've served you well in the kitchen, they can be used as cleaning rags for the rest of the house.

The cotton yarn comes in a variety of colours to suit everyone's taste. You will always have a little bit left over of yarn once your dish cloth is complete, but I save them and once I have enough left overs I can knit up another colourful dish cloth, so nothing is wasted.

The free pattern for the dish cloth is usually on the inside sleeve of the ball of yarn, but just in case it's not, I'm posting the pattern here.

Basic Dish Cloth Pattern 

1 skein colour of your choice of cotton
(4 ply worsted weight);
Knitting needles : 1 pair 6:00 mm (U.S. 10, U.K. 4)

Cast on 4 sts.
Row 1: K, across
Row 2:  K2, yo, K to end of row
Repeat Row 2 until there are 43 sts on needle.
Next Dec. Rows:  K1, K2 tog, yo, K2 tog, K to end
Continue working dec. row until 4 st remain.
Cast off remaining stitches

Abbreviations:  K = knit, St(s) = stitch(es), Tog = together
YO = yarn over, Rep = repeat, dec = decrease

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Homemade Christmas Series #1 : DIY Christmas Planters

Growing up the Christmas lights were magical to us as kids.  We would play outside for hours in the cold evenings under a big spruce tree in our front yard decorated with the lights.  With the cost of electricity, we don't put lights outside anymore, but I do make my own decorative planters outside.   I have a black urn at the front door and window box which I decorate for each season.

At Christmas it has fresh evergreen boughs and red sticks from gathered the woods, decorated with Christmas flowers and ornaments from the dollar store.    I made my own bows with ribbon purchased after Christmas last year (on sale for 80% off).

In the spring, before it's warm enough to plant flowers outside, it's decorated with spring flowers and greens from the dollar store.  In the summer I put living plants in the window box and urn (perennials from my garden and annual seeds I saved from the previous year).    Come Fall, flowers and decorations from the dollar store, along with fall flowers I have dried are placed in the pots.   You can get quite an assortment of artificial flowers from the dollar store that you can reuse year after year.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Squash Time

It's squash season....and I'm learning a lot about squash these days.   I never realized there were so many varieties.    I used to shop for food at our local grocery store which is limited to variety.   Since I've become a member of our local CSA (community supported agriculture), I've been exposed to so many more !

This season have been cooking up Red Kuri, Acorn, Spagetti, Blue Hubbard, Pattypan, Carnival, Butternut, sweet dumpling and zucchini.  Squash is such a versatile vegetable, which can be incorporated into various dishes, such as curries, stews, and soups.   For instance spagetti squash makes a great replacement for pasta; butternut squash makes a fabulous soup; Acorn squash are great for stuffing and baking.   One of our favourite ways to cook squash is to simply bake it.   A basic cooking method:  Cut a squash in half the long way, scoop out seeds from center, and roast it, cut-side-down on a sheet pan, for 40 minutes at 400°F or until soft.   Add butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Loaded with beta carotene, winter squash is a good source of vitamin A. It's also a great source of fiber, vitamin C, thiamin, manganese, potassium and rich in niacin.

Red Kuri, Acorn, Spagetti Squash

Acorn, Red Kuri, Blue Hubbard

Simple Composting - All Year Round

Composting can be done by anyone, any time of the year, whether or not you have a garden.  Many towns/cities have kitchen scrap/leaf collecting programs, which helps divert a lot of garbage away from landfill.  

If you have a garden, you'll need fresh compost to renew your garden.   So why buy it when you can make your own?  As I have said in previous posts, nothing goes to waste in our house, not even the kitchen scraps we can't eat.   These scraps go into our small green bin that fits nicely under the kitchen sink and when full gets emptied into a larger compost bin outside.   We have four compost bins now in our yard, most of which we got for free on "large garbage days".  Large garbage days are special days where everyone can put out larger items for pickup - see my post on "large garbage days".    In the spring the bins get emptied into the gardens - rich compost helps put back the nutrients into the soil.   The bins slowly fill up again over the summer, fall and yes, even winter.   I keep a path to the outdoor bins shoveled from snow so they are easily accessible in the winter and I can keep adding kitchen scraps.   We saved several large bags of mulched up leaves from our big tree to layer the compost bins outside.  For every layer of kitchen scraps, a layer of leaves gets added.    I don't add any dairy, bones, meat, fish or anything with a lot of oil, or pet waste, as these items not only attract the racoons and other animals, but doesn't safely decompose.   Scraps that get added to our compost bins are: all vegetables, fruits, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, to name a few.   At the end of the growing season, when the perennials get cut back, and annuals and vegetable plants get dug up - they also get added to the compost bins.   

By spring time we have filled up our compost bins and have rich dark compost ready for use in the gardens.
Indoor compost bin

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Every fall there is annual ritual of raking up leaves and bagging them for recycling in our neighbourhood.

In our house, nothing goes to waste, even the leaves !   Did you know that autumn leaves are one of the best soil conditioners - and the best part .... they are free !    Tree leaves contain lots of nutrients that if used as mulch, are re-released back into the soil.   They also help insulate the soil in winter and add organic matter to your soil.

Once we've are all gathered up all our leaves we run the lawn mower over the pile to mulch them up.   I spread a thin layer of mulched up leaves over the garden and save a few bags of mulched up leaves to layer in our compost bin - for every layer of kitchen scraps, a layer of mulched leaves gets put on top.    Mulched up leaves help insulate the ground so that plants can remain dormant all winter long, which also protects the roots of your plants. 

mulched leaves
layer of mulched leaves on raised vegetable garden

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Knitting for Charity

Our Knitter's Guild's Christmas project this year is to support a local Ontario organization - called  Links2Care.  Links2Care is a community support organization which delivers a wide variety of programs to children, youth, adults and seniors.    
Our Guild is making up a large box of knitted and crocheted items, which will distributed amongst the many holiday hampers that the Links2Care organization sends out for their Holiday Hamper Program to families in financial difficulty this Christmas.   Holiday Hampers mean a lot to those families who receive them.  Often the hamper is the only Christmas present a family will receive.   The hampers are put together with a personal touch, as the organization knows the ages, sizes of the recipients and items most needed, including food items.
Items that our Guild will be sending to the program include anything knitted/crocheted such as;  sweaters, blankets, hats, mitts, dish cloths, baby items, toys, socks, etc. for all ages.   Here a couple of  items I made for our Guild's donation box. 
Winter hats
hand knitted dish cloths

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dehydrating Food

Preserving food by drying is old as mankind.  Laying meat and berries out in the open air served people well for thousands of years, and the technique still works.  The process can be as simple as hanging fish in the sun as the traditional Inuit people did or laying meat above a rack on a smoking fire.    While the basic concept of drying food has not changed, there are now helpful appliances available to help the process of dehydrating food.

Dehydration is an alternative to canning and freezing fruits and vegetables when you don't have the canning equipment of freezer space.   Dehydration is a low-cost way to preserve food.  Dried foods take up less storage space and no freezer to keep running. 

Some benefits of drying your own food are saving money, by drying your own food from your garden, taking advantage of vegetables/fruits in season when they are less expensive at the store. You can create your own food supply which, in a financial crisis or when a natural disaster strikes, can be like money in the bank.   When you dry your own food you know there are no chemical additives which are added to commercially dried foods, ie meat products such as jerky and some dried fruits to preserve the colour.  When food is dried correctly it still contains all of its enzymes as well as vitamins and minerals as there has been no damage done by heating.  

You can dry fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, herbs, flowers, and much more, including frozen and canned foods. In fact, you can dry almost anything that contains water-items you may never have considered, such as tofu.  See my post on Tofu Jerky !

dehydrated foods for  hiking trip
Dried foods are also very handy for those who go camping or hiking regularly as they are convenient, light and easily carried and stored.    A couple of years ago my daughter went on a long hiking trip.   I dehydrated food for her trip and was able to pack a month's worth of food into one large shoe box.   The food packed into the box was - tofu jerky, bananas, strawberries, kiwi, mango, apple, red/green cabbage, onions, carrots, various beans/legumes (chick, kidney, black, black-eye peas, lentils etc), garlic, turnip, various squash, pineapple, ginger, various mushrooms, red/green peppers, and cheese. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time of Use – Electricity Charges

November 1 marked a change in “time of use” (TOU) electricity charges in Ontario, Canada for those with “smart meters”.  A smart meter is one that records the time of day that you use electricity and sends that info back to the hydro company – so that they can bill you for the time of day you used electricity.    From May to October – the peak time of use charges during the week ie Monday to Friday was in the afternoon, ending at 5:00 pm, the mid time of use charge was between 5-7 pm and the lowest charges between 7:00 pm to 7:00 am.   Depending on when you use electricity – will depend on what your rate is and electricity bill will be.    Weekend rates were the lowest – all weekend long.   

We were just getting used to the “summer” rate schedule and working our schedules around it to maximize on the lowest electricity rates and we were doing quite well at it and managed to reduce our electricity bill down by approx 40%  - which was well worth the effort in changing our schedules.      As of November 1st that has all changed again.  Peak time is now 7:00 am-noon.  Mid rate noon to 5:00 pm, peak rate – right at a time when most are trying to cook dinner  is now 5:00 – 7:00 pm.

So in order to keep our electricity bill at the lower costs we were enjoying, some changes needed to be made.   For instance, I try not to use energy hogging applicances between 5:00-7:00 pm at night.   If I do need to use the oven between 5-7pm I cook a couple of meals at a time, so that we have another one ready for re-heating another night.  I’ve dusted off the crock pot and cook  larger meals (enough for leftovers) during the day when the rate is lower.  I don’t use the washing machine during peak times and only use when the rate is at its lowest.   I’ve given up using the dryer and hang dry our clothes on our homemade indoor clothes line.  The dishwasher runs only after 7 pm and before 7 am . Most of my baking is done on the weekend when the rate is at it's lowest.   I keep the time of use chart handy to remind us of the TOU schedule in various spots in the house.

All this to say that you need to be flexible, learn to accept change, have a plan B, because life is always changing and we need to learn to adapt.      

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bread Making

I like making bread, however it does take time and it's hard to find the time to do when you work full time.   I really do like my bread maker and over the years it has got alot of use.   I am now on my second bread maker.  My first one finally gave out after too much use.  I guess bread makers are "out of fashion" and while out at garage sales one day I came across several bread makers for sale and got a practically new bread maker for $5.00. 

I regularly make bread and have tried various recipes and flours.   The bread maker also makes great dough for homemade pizzas, buns/rolls, focaccia and cinnamon buns.   When my kids were younger I used to make homemade buns, filled and baked with various fillings, similar to the pizza pockets.  Filling included pizza makings, chicken, pork, beef with vegetables or their favourite vegetarian filling.   These buns could be made ahead of time and frozen for later use, which made making school lunches a breeze. 

My garage sale find ... $5.00

fresh spelt bread from the bread maker

an afternoon of baking - homemade bread, zucchini muffins
 and red pepper jelly

The Simple Tree

We have one lone very large tree in our back yard.  It's  a Norway Maple which towers well over our house.  This one tree has given so much.  It keeps the back of the house cool in the summer with much needed shade from the hot sun and in the fall when it drops it leaves gives us the best garden mulch.     This one tree alone can fill over 30 large leaf bags.    It is used by many birds, a couple of racoons, squirrels and chipmunks.    Last weekend most of the leaves fell from the tree all at once and now we're gathering up the leaves to use as mulch, for the garden and for layering in the compost bins during the winter. 

 There is much to be learned from the tree.....

 Advice from a Tree

By Ilan Shamir
Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Simple Dried Flowers

The summer flowers I saved and dried on my indoor clothes line are now gracing my dining room table.   I saved enough flowers to make a couple of arrangements, including one for our kitchen table too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Simple Stuffed Squash

Acorn Squash
Squash are in abundance this time of year.   There are many ways to cook squash, ie soups, baked, curries, etc. 

The winter squash group includes pumpkin, acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash.  Winter  squash, like other richly colored vegetables, provide an excellent source of carotenes.  Generally, the richer the color, the richer the concentration.  They also offer a very good source of vitamins B1 and C, folic acid, pantothenic acid, fiber, and potassium.  Winter squash are also a good source of vitamin B6 and niacin.   Research also suggests that winter squash gives antioxidant support, has anti-inflamatory benefits, potential blood sugar regulation benefits, promotes optimal health, high in vitamin A.

Stuffed Baked Squash Recipe
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large clove crushed garlic
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp thyme
3-4 tbs butter
1/4 cup chopped nuts (ie walnuts, pecans) - optional
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 stalk chopped celery
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup raisins
1 peeled, cored, chopped apple
Acorn or butternut squash (sliced length wise down the middle, seeds removed)

Saute onions, garlic, celery, nuts and seeds in butter. Cover over low heat until onions are clear, nuts are browned, celery is tender.  Add remaining ingredients.  Cook stiring over low heat 5-8 minutes until everything is acquainted. Remove from heat and pack stuffing into squash cavities.  Bake, covered at 350 F for about 25 minutes.  Serve with your favourite chutney.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Will You Be Ready ?

"Plant Closes - cuts 1550 jobs"
"Debt Crisis Sends Stocks down"
"Quality of Life Decreasing"
"Scary Times"
"Consumers Squeezed as Inflation Rises, Pensions Fall"
"Turbulent Times"

These are just a few of the headings gracing the newspapers and news every day.   How do you look and react to this news?   These headings are not new and things we've been hearing in the news for years, but many choose to keep living life as though times are great and getting themselves deeper into debt.    We cannot change the world's debt problems, but you can get your own house in order so that you can ride out the tough times. 

What a better time to look at opportunities in these volitle times?   Start tracking ALL your spending.  Write it all down.  You'll be surprised how much you do spend.  Look closely at all your bills and look for ways to trim or cut out.  Don't pay full price for items you consume on a regular basis - there are always sales somewhere, or do without until it's on sale. 

Create a 30-60-90 day list.  This is a list where you write down what you want.  See how long the item stays on the list before you decide you don't need it.   It will help cut down on any impulse buying, or something you thought you needed right away - you make do with something else or you find you didn't need at all.   If it's still on your list then you may still need it.

Look at the ways you cook and stretch your food budget.  Learn the art of using up.   Learn to forage - it can be fun.  This year we foraged for raspberries , dandelions and apples.   Nothing goes to waste in our house - for instance - you can eat carrot tops, beet greens, radish and turnip greens.  Soup goes along way and you can make excellent soup, by just looking at what's in your fridge or using up those vegetable tops that most throw out.

Look at ways to save on water, electricity, heating, and laundry.   Start a garden.  Even if you live in apartment you can still have a small garden inside.  Or if you live on a balcony or have a very small yard you can have a pallet garden and grow fresh herbs, or tomatoes in containers.   Start your own plants indoors.

I've learned many ways to save money.  You will be amazed what others throw out and is perfectly useable.  Being frugal is not a bad thing - make it a game ! 

Will you be (are you) ready ?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Prayer Shawl

Over the centuries, shawls have come to symbolize shelter, peace and spiritual sustenance.  In 1998 two graduates of  The Heartford Seminary started a prayer shawl ministry.  The members of this ministry have donated their time and talents by creating hand knitted/croched shawls that are filled with the power of prayer for those in need.
The blessing of the Prayer Shawl provides healing and comfort to the sick, the lonely and the elderly, or shares in the accomplishment of the graduate, newlywed, and newborn. Like all acts of generosity, the presentation of a Prayer Shawl enriches the giver as well as the recipient.

I began my first prayer shawl for my "secret sister" at our local church.   The idea behind knitting or crocheting a prayer shall is that each shawl begins with prayers/thoughts for the recipient and continues throughout the creation of the shawl.   Many blessings are knitted/crocheted into the shawls and then passed on to the recipent along with a card or poem.  You can make your shawl personal by knitting or crocheting beads or charms into the shawl.    The colour of the shawl also has meaning too.    For my secret sister I crocheted the Sea shell wrap (a free pattern at in blue.  Blue  means water, healing, meditation, tranquility, honesty, loyalty, communication, peace, sincerity, wisdom, spirituality, faith, self-esteem, cool and calming.

What is a secret sister ?   Secret Sisters are typically promoted through a common group, such as a church, work or social group. The women are paired up secretly and swap unexpected gifts, cards, poems or prayers, encouraging one another until the big reveal.   Our secret sister program has come to a close and I will be giving my secret sister her shawl at our "revealing" luncheon soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Electricity and Saving Money

Recently on my way home from a northern hike I saw dotted along our beautiful farmland rows of big wind power generators. 

There is something about them that looks almost creepy, like they don't belong, alien, ominous - something out of science fiction movie.  We read and hear alot about these generators and how they are making people sick who live near them, with the constant swooshing noises - vertigo symptoms, nausea, etc.   Do these generators really put back into the grid the power they had hoped?   The idea seems like a good one, but is it really good for the environment?  I am sure there are lots who could argue the point.

In this world of over consumption, why not learn to use less electricity, insteady of trying to make more, and consume more.  What's wrong with learning to live with less?   So many toys today require electricity or batteries (that require recharging).  Many kids (adults included) don't know how to play anymore unless they are in front of a TV, X-box, Wii box, computer.   What happened to the days of playing ball hockey on the street with friends, going to the library and reading a book and not on an electronic reader?  playing board games instead of  "on-line" games, being outside enjoying nature, getting exercise and fresh air?

The cost of electricity continues to rise.  There are many ways to reduce your consumption of electricity.  Here's my short list of ways we have cut back... what are your's ?  

1) Replace light bulbs - with LED or equivalent.
2) Reduce the phantom power consumed 24/7 by various electronics by plugging into a power bar - turn the power bar off or unplug items when not in use.  Things that require phantom power - microwave, some electric kettles - ever notice how warm the handle gets with the "cordless" styles; coffee makers; steroes; anything with a clock/timer in it (do we really need to constantly be reminded what time it is?) or that turns on with a remote - TV, computer monitors, wireless internet, etc.
3)   Turn lights off when leaving a room.
4)   Replace appliances with energy efficient ones when they need replacing.
5)   Installed wood buring insert into fireplace (see post on simple heating) - not only cut back on our heating bill, but also on electricity bill - by not running furnace fan to blow heat into the rest of house.
6)  Stopped using the dryer and hang laundry inside and out to dry. (see post on Simple Laundry and Indoor drying rack)
7)  Use crock pot or slow cooker more often instead of oven.   Or eat more meals that don't require cooking.
8)  Stopped using a coffee maker - use a coffee press instead.
9)  Use manual tools instead of power generated ones.
10) Learn new skill or hobby that doesn't require electricty (ie knitting, crocheting, etc)

Regularly review your utility bills and get creative on ways to reduce more !  You will be amazed just but doing a few simple things what a difference it will make on your electricity bill. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Simple Onion

The onion is one of the one of the oldest and most versatile vegetables.  It is plant (bulb) of the Allium family.    It comes in many varieties - purple coloured skin, white, green and sweet.   The white onion is the most popular and is used on some many recipies, ie pickles, casseroles, soups, frozen, salads to name a few. 

The simple onion is filled with nutrition such as vitamin A, B, C, E, K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium and Zinc.    It is claimed to reduce the symptoms of diabetes and reduce blood pressure.  Studies have shown that increased consumption of onions reduces some cancers.   The compounds in onion can destroy the osteoclats for those at risk of osteroporosis so that they don't break bones.  It contains chemical compounds such as anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol and antioxidants such as quercetin.  The onion is also capable of combating degenerative diseases too.    So much is packed into this wonderful versatile inexpensive plant.

I use onion in so many dishes.  One of our favourite side dishes for a main meal is baked onions.  The water used to boil the onions in my aunt's recipe below is saved later for soup. 

Baked onions - yum !

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