Friday, January 29, 2010

New Kids on the Block

Something's been brewing in Clifton Forge.....

Two new restaurants opened recently ....
We took the girls here, to Jack Mason's Tavern the other night. This really is a place that has something to offer everyone. The food ranges from appetizers to sandwiches to more gourmet entrees, it includes a kids' menu....and of course, fish and chips in keeping with the pub atmosphere. Prices were reasonable and both the food and the service were great. Anyone would feel comfortable here - the seating included cozy leather armchairs in front of a gas fireplace, bar seating, family-style seating for large parties, tall tables and booths. The game room in the back scores major points with the Ms. PacMan/Galaga video game, a pinball game, dart board and TWO pool tables. (Next visit I'll set the high score on Ms. PacMan; I think I still have it in me). We saw folks from all over the area - representing all walks of life. Jack Mason's reminds me of the little restaurants in Shockhoe Slip in Richmond or in downtown Fairfax.
Frankly, I'm saving my trip to the Old Forge Coffee Company for a "Daddy Day" (when Andy has the girls for a couple hours). I want to linger over coffee or hot chocolate in what looks to be a quiet place full of comfortable chairs and books to peruse. I actually promised to take Hannah here on her own when she masters "tea time manners," a bribe, yes, but this is what's in it for me! Old Forge is right next door to Jack Mason's and is another reason to make downtown Clifton Forge a destination. I'll let you know how my visit goes, but if you've already been or if you make it there before me, comment below to let me know what you like best!

What assets to Clifton Forge and the Alleghany Highlands!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lost Tooth

A Very Important Thing happened after church last Sunday.
I was a little concerned, because Hannah doesn't turn 6 until October, and for some reason I was thinking that "6" was the magic number in the dental realm. Alas, there is another bottom tooth that is loose, so it appears that we have officially entered into the business of the tooth fairy.

In case you're wondering, the going rate for baby teeth is anywhere from $.50 to $5 for the first and $.50-$2 for each successive one. I did a quick Facebook poll and of 20 mamas who replied, this was the average.
We decided to go with a $1 Sacajawea coin and a $1 bill. That way she can save the one, spend the other. Plus, with her fascination about Indians, we figured it was a good way to kill two birds with one stone. See, Butterfly just knew that she would appreciate the extra effort.
Who is Butterfly? Hannah's tooth fairy, of course! She was a little bit stunned that I didn't remember the name of MY tooth fairy - and she said she was going to ask her good friends in Sunday School what their respective tooth fairies names were. I hope she's not too disappointed, for truly, this was the first time I'd ever thought they would even have a name.
I told Andy we'll have to either stock up on Sacajawea coins or just go with the $1 for each successive teeth. This could get expensive....not exactly our most frugal venture, but it will be a chance to teach about saving and spending, right?
Abbo wanted to get in on the action, too, as she shows off an expensive ($500) tooth of her own.


Had my last visit to the orthopedist in Roanoke (a 140-mile round trip, thankyouverymuch) yesterday, and they gave me this picture - look ma, its me!

Loooookin' good!

The metal will stay in place; it ain't goin' no-where with all those screws - at least 24 - to remove. And I have the option to go to physical therapy if I need it - I still have about 10% loss of range of motion and strength, but I think that will just have to come back gradually. Besides, I don't think the little girls are going to put up with too many more of mama's doctor visits :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Homemade Laundry Soap, Part 3

Here goes the final installment of the series!

After a month or so of use, we've decided that homemade powdered soap is definitely the way to go. Here's why:

1. Powdered is less messy to use. The "liquid" version has the consistency of runny oatmeal, and comes out in clumps when poured. Its hard to control portions. When shaken in the recycled liquid laundry bottle, it oozes out of the top from the lip/pour spout.
2. Powdered seems to work better. The powdered recipe I've used contains the same ingredients as the liquid version, minus the water, with the addition of baking soda. Perhaps this makes the water even softer so that the other ingredients can clean better? I dunno. But although both clean normally soiled loads as well as store-bought versions, the powdered just seems to do a little better on mud stains (which, in this season of my life, are prevalent).
3. In her book, The Tightwad Gazette, Amy Daczyn pointed out that liquid laundry detergents cost more per load of use than powdered. It seems that the same holds true....once you explain to your husband that you only need 1/5th a scoop per load and not a whole, heaping scoop per load. Also, in purchasing liquid soaps, you're purchasing an ingredient that is essentially free: water.
4. My ma asked what the different recipes smell like. Well, you KNOW that is a pointless question to ask me. I have no idea. But it would probably be easier to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the liquid concoction, although not impossible to the powdered, it would be difficult to ensure it was wholly mixed. Maybe some lavender blossoms would work through the whole batch? I don't think it has any smell without it. But, then, it depends what bar soap is used.
5. Andy made a new batch of powdered detergent using what we had on hand because (see #3, above). .... We used a bar of Ivory soap and 1 1/2 bars of Octagon. Many recipes call for Ivory soap (99 44/100% pure, plus it dissolves well), but I wanted to use Octagon too since its touted as a stain-fighter, and we've lost so many clothes over the years here to stains. The new recipe, using Ivory soap for part of the mix, seemed to work well on the first few loads.
6. Its easier to store powdered soap, too. We put ours in a large cleaned out "Tidy Cats" litter container that has a snapping lid. I'd tried to pour the liquid into milk jugs, but they were hard to fill due to the consistency of the detergent, and using a funnel to get it in there just made the mess worse.

You don't need a recipe to MYO fabric softener. Just add a 1/2 cup white vinegar to the last rinse. Vinegar "kills" the soap and allows for a clean rinse. There's no smell afterwards, either (that is, so I've heard, and Andy has never reported one).

So I think we're going to go this direction for awhile. Making our own powdered soap takes about 15 minutes, start to finish, and costs less than buying a good quality laundry detergent from WM, even with coupons.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


If you don't know already, I've started working again part-time at Sentara Highlands Home Health. Funny how all that worked out:
1. Mid-September - began orientation at SHHH.
2. Two days later, Andy was asked to work PT for the City of Covington
3. I resigned, sadly....we couldn't do both without leaving the girls with a babysitter, which we are not willing to do.
4. Andy made arrangements to work for begin on Monday....
5. I fell out of a tree on Saturday. At 11AM.
6. I required round the clock full time care (not out of the ordinary for me, just more of it :)
7. Andy excused himself from working with Covington
8. I recovered and thereafter endured countless taunts from -AHEM- those who love me about staying out of trees.
9. SHHH called me in December and asked me to please, please, please reconsider.
10. I did.
I think its pretty cool, myself. Because honestly, back in September when I was going through orientation, I was kind of having second thoughts. But in December, I was more than eager and ready to join their team.
I'm classified there as a "Hospice Social Worker."
I've never worked with Hospice, and never had the desire to do so - one way or the other. So, as is my wont, I have been reading about Hospice and end o fife care. Consider - have you ever heard anything - ANYTHING negative about hospice? It is always more along the line of , "I was so thankful for their help. They made a bad situation so much easier to handle. We couldn't have done it without them....they were wonderful."
I'm encouraged. I am interested to see what issues of my own I have to deal with in helping others prepare for the loss of a family member.
Now, I'm very - very part-time. There is a full time social worker with the agency and as I understand, they need my credentials (MSW) to comply with state and federal regulations. Either way, no matter the extent of my involvement, I am looking forward to this new chapter in my life. I wholeheartedly welcome any insights you'd like to share with me about it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I can (should not) has cheeseburger?

I've been fighting off some nearly uncontrollable cravings lately - and its a big N-O on the obvious question that follows a statement like that. Fact is, I don't know where its coming from myself, but its a dangerous obsession, and, for me, one that borders on sinful.

Its those doggone fast food cheeseburgers! What? That's crazy. Gross, even. No, really!

See, for all of my frugal life, I've always prided myself in avoiding what I see as the scam of "Value Meals" and "$4" burgers introduced by fast food chains. Working in Virginia Beach, I'd slide thorough the Wendy's drive through and get a junior cheeseburger and a small fries, feeling as though I'd cheated the system somehow, getting a lunch but not paying dollars for a full sized cheeseburger.

Then, conscious of my weight, I switched to fast food salads when I ate out. But 'tho I love me a Wendy's Southwestern Taco Salad, the resultant squabbles over which little blond headed girl gets to eat the nacho-flavored crumbs from the chip bag and -really- who gets to lick the sour cream packet, are just too much to bear.

And yes, truthfully, we shouldn't be eating out at all when we're trying to pay down debt. But hold onto your stones. With two little girls and a mama who's often hanging on by her fingernails, those golden arches look surprisingly like a pair of welcoming arms.

Weh-eh-elll, now I see what I've been missing. In a fit of indecision the other day at the register, after I'd already placed an order for breaded, processed, deep fired poultry-ish goodness (?) for the girls, the cashier suggested a "~$4~" cheeseburger for me. What the hek, I was hungry. And it was all downhill from there.

See, the burgers on the value menu have no juice. Dry burgers on dry bread. But the burgers advertised with pictures are full of greasy, juicy goodness. Add a slather of mayo mixed with warm mustard, a splat of ketchup and a hothouse tomato, top with a couple slices of dill and it is a recipe for satisfaction.

For a moment. Several, maybe.

The guilt comes in the evening...lying in bed, wondering where the vague feeling of discomfort is from. And in the morning, when the Fat Jeans,

So, if you catch me with a gleam in my eye and a mustard stain on my shirt, please call me on it. Because in my very personal struggle with my weight, fast food ~$4~ cheeseburgers are currently The Enemy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Homemade Laundry Soap, Part 2

Well, as for cleaning, it seems to clean as well as any other. The true test is whether it bothers our skin at all - Andy said if he starts itching to death or anything he's dumping the whole batch in the creek. If you live downstream and notice that your crayfish are especially shiny, then you'll know what happened.

But so far, there have been no complaints.

I also made another batch of detergent, using the same ingredients, but this time I chose to make a powder recipe. I used the same boxes of opened Borax and Super Washing Soda, and the baking soda cost me, oh, what - $.39/box at WalMart? Again, the bar of soap was $.79 (not on sale). So, using the products I had on hand, it was less than $1.50 for many loads. I don't have an exact number of loads, but I'll count.

Here goes:

1 scant bar of Octagon Soap (smuggled in this time, so Andy doesn't have a flashback) (use 2 cups, not packed down, but bang the measuring cup on the table to make sure its close to 2 cups. I had about 1/2 cup left over)
2 cups Baking Soda
2 cups Super Washing Soda
3 cups Borax

Grate soap finely* (now, the recipe calls for "bar soap." However, Octagon and Fels-Naphtha are soaps specifically marketed as stain removers or laundry soaps, so I chose that one. You can also use Ivory, and feasibly any other soap your family enjoys. This would also be one way to avoid the itching issue as indicated earlier.)
Add remainder of ingredients and mix well.
Mix very well.
Pour into a clean, dry apple juice bottle you've been saving for something like this.

Use about 1/4 cup for each load.
Yield: Approximately 2 quarts dry "powder"

*I used a cheese grater with a fine grate. I wish I had a box grater because this was the Pampered Chef roll-type grater I found at a thrift store years ago and it is nigh unto impossible to clean. So if you've over for supper soon and I ask if you want fresh grated Parmesan cheese on your pasta, I'd suggest you politely decline. Unless you like burping soap bubbles.

Stay tuned for updates as to the status of this experiment!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

foraging friends

Wow! No doubt that he's a golden crowned kinglet. He's enjoying a homemade "suet cake" whose chief ingredients are $1 Kroger peanut butter and discarded PB&J sandwich edges from a picky (OK, spoiled) two year old.

A primetime "cat TV" special on the makeshift "tree" I rigged up on the front porch. This fat squirrel provided our bad kitty with an hour of cat madness.

Aren't they gorgeous?! These two pileated woodpeckers were snacking on sumac berries down the road. I usually don't have to compete with birds for the berries in the early fall, so these must be a last resort. (The berries, boiled and strained, make a refreshing drink reminiscent of berry lemonade).

And again in a precarious position, before he (she?) saw me...about this time, Hannah hollered from the back seat, "Mom, there's 3 of them!" As I put the camera down, a fourth flew across the field on the edge of the road there. They scolded me all the way, too, as they left, "Yek-yek-yek-yek-yek-yek-yek!!"

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Pictures

I haven't posted any pictures of home lately, and some of you may not know where we live. The girls and I took a short drive up the road today, and before we turned right into the driveway.... I took a picture of our front yard:

Andy drove the truck since the roads were frozen this morning. That's our "new" Toyota commuter car that he uses to schlep back and forth to Clifton Forge with. Saves over 50% on our gas bill, and plus, it matches the wintertime color scheme, don't you think?
Even though we only got another 2-3 inches of snow last night, it still looks like a winter wonderland. And with temps not getting above 20 today, it should stick around awhile.
Here's the back yard with Johnson Creek running through it looking toward the west....

And the other way, Johnson Creek looking towards the east....

Backyard with the fire pit, chicken coop, tire swing...creek at the back...

The backyard looking towards the creek... oh, and you can barely see the results of my efforts, but that first tree there? Well, that tree owes me an apology. Ahem.

And this is the log splitter that helped to make that woodpile that will last us till spring. We hope!

Homemade Laundry Soap

Guess what I made this morning! The recipe I used yielded about 3 gallons. I'm no math whiz, thus the queasy feeling I get when someone springs a word problem on me, but even I can figure out that this will save us money - one way to recoup the $500 we spent on the installation of a water softener over Christmas.

I've researched this idea off and on for years, and finally all the ingredients were easily obtained, so I gave it a shot. The recipe I ended up using seems to be pretty standard in the blogosphere. I found this at TipNut. Interestingly, when I consulted The Tightwad Gazette, there was no recipe for a laundry soap mentioned. Whether this was an oversight in the final text or what, I wonder.

You can look at the recipe at the link above, but here are the ingredients I had to purchase:

1 box Borax from WM ~ $3.50
1 box A&H Super Washing Soda from* $2.76
1 bar of Octagon Soap** from Bartley's Meat Market ~$.79

I had on hand:
big jug
empty milk jugs
empty detergent jug


* I looked high and low for this product, and two years ago could only find it online at a case price of something like $13 plus shipping. I discovered, a site that offers free shipping with only a minimum 6 item purchase. They market themselves to folks who want to avoid trips to the grocery store for essentials and bulky items. They occasionally have great clearance sales on things like razors, Lipton tea, etc. Their prices are average, in my opinion, and generally I can get better prices at Kroger by shopping sales and using coupons. But I was elated to see Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda there at a very reasonable price.

** Andy FREAKED when he saw 2 bars of Octagon soap on the kitchen counter yesterday. I mean, FREAKED. He backed across the kitchen with his hands up in front of him as if fielding off a bad dream and said, "Ohhhh, no, you're not bringing THAT stuff in the house!" Further investigation revealed that he has an intimate knowledge of Octagon soap a la:

Anyways, it appears that per the label on the empty laundry detergent jug I used will yield about 44 loads per container, and I made 3 containers with the recipe, or about 3 (scant) gallons.

So, if my math logic is correct, it means that the recipe yields approximately 130 loads. The cost of the ingredients - the initial purchase - was $7.04. Do you divide 130 by 7.04 or is it the other way around?? Well, one way comes out to $18 a load and the other comes out to just under $.05 a load. I'll go with that one. Considering that say, I can get A&H (my usual brand) on sale for about $3 a jug for 32 loads, at $.09 a load (or $10.60/load, depending on your math), it comes to a savings of about 50%. (I say "about" because I have NO idea how to figure actual percentages!)

Of course, the proof will come out in the wash. I'll have to do another post on whether it works, whether it smells OK, whether it gives us a horrible rash and whether Andy has flashbacks and needs to be hospitalized for shock therapy. That will be a fun post to write!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


So, um, I decided that I'm going to avoid the rush and not set any New Year's Resolutions until February 1. Does that make me a procrastinator?

I don't have any pictures to post from Christmas or the RRR Reunion since they are still on my Dad's computer in Norfolk. I hope to have them by next week....I'm mailing my parents a zip drive to copy the pictures on, which they will need to mail back to me, along with my ring* that will have been resized by then. The sooner the the better!
*that means that you, mom, are in charge of this project ;)

Snow flurries here in the mountains every day since I've been back from Norfolk, and there was a dusting over the cars and driveway this morning. Its been in the high 20's and in the teens at night. Our yard is still very snowy, so we can't get the tractor back to the woodpile to load the woodpile in the carport. So today, the girls and I bundled up, kicked the pickup into 4WD and drove to the shed. I forgot about the three big hills of clay and rock off to the side in front of the shed and lurched precariously towards the creek. I smugly thought to myself, "Andy doesn't have to know about this...." But then, once I got out I realized what an idiot I am sometimes, as said hills are covered in SNOW and now bear very obvious evidence of a Chevrolet Silverado cruising overhead. He didn't have to be a detective to figure that one out.

I actually like getting wood. For one thing, its a bit of exercise and a chance to do some physical therapy on my arm. Course, after I come in, I take a couple Tylenols so I don't ache all afternoon. But I always think about when I had to get wood when we had our stove back home. I wear gloves, now, and wonder why ma and pa didn't tell me to wear gloves back then. You get better traction and you can cart more before your hands get tired or scraped. I also like to pretend that I am Laura Ingalls getting wood and that we need to stock up for a blizzard (The Long Winter, published 1934). That always inspires me to toss a couple more logs on the stack. Now that I know how to run the logsplitter (and, ahem, how the choke works), I always make a bucketful of "shims" or kindling, out of poplar. Poplar dries quickly and burns like paper. Its easy to light with the acetylene torch or whatever that thing is that we use to start the fire in the mornings.

The girls stayed out until their hands were bright red and Hannah said her knees were cold. They did have gloves, but Abbo keeps taking hers off and we have to hunt for them before we go inside so they're not lost till the Spring Thaw. Hannah chose to wear sweatpants today and kept kneeling in the snow, alas, her freezy kneezys. Now, they're both enjoying Ramen noodles in front of the woodstove before quiet time.

We've got ham and sweet potatoes on the menu for supper tonight and I think I'll inagurate the new KitchenAid mixer Andy gave me for Christmas by mixing a loaf of bread!