Lynn's blog

I am wanting to embroider tea towels. As you may know, I love days-of-the-week towels, and I want to make myself a set. Except my basket full of already-stamped tea towels has gone missing--completely vanished, disappeared, kidnapped no doubt. I'm sure somewhere a little green alien with reading glasses and an Ott Lite is madly stitching away at my tea towels, chortling into her cocoa over my consternation.

And here I am, finally, with floss and replacement needles for the ones Jo's run off with and replacement hoops for the ones that Lou's run off with, and nothing to stitch.

I suppose there's nothing for it but to break out the Aunt Martha's and iron out a new set. Should I do the colonial misses or the tea cups? hmf.

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It's been a while since we had a Storytime here. Josie and I have been reading Louisa May Alcott lately, and in doing a little research on her I found a great number of things of hers that I myself had not read.

And so I'm presenting to you, in serialized fashion, Flower Fables, her first book. I'm thinking maybe a story a week. If we come across serious Victorianisms, I'll provide annotations.

I have so enjoyed re-reading Alcott with Jo, and more than once have asked myself, "What would Marmee do?" when confronted with a parenting puzzler.

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I got a letter last night, left on the toilet seat cover upstairs, from Josie.She asked for more time "alone," which, when we talked about it this morning, meant more time alone with me. We talked about her sister, and why she was so grumpy and uncooperative lately. All I really had to offer is that six seems to be a hard year; Josie wasn't much fun at six, either.

I am still not used to getting letters from Josie. I signed her up last night for Mathscore, because she really needs some drilling in the basics, and sent her the login info to her email. I got a hilarious email in response titled "are u kidding?!" that included her first ever use of "whatever, mom!" (We worked out her problem with Mathscore.)

Anyway, I'm worried about my girls, as most mamas are. I worry I'm not doing enough, or the right things. Now that I'm feeling better, I'm hoping to spend a lot of time with them this summer going to park days and such. It can only help.

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Two new designs and a number of new products are now available at the expanded Cafepress store. One of them is the sweet and charming design at right, with and without the words, and the other is more in your face. ;)

You'll also find all the old logo gear, printed versions of our eBooks (only "The American Frugal Housewife" available at present, more to come), and Make Sweaters Not War, a design that was once available at my closed knitting blog. Enjoy.

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Yeah, so I'm pushing the blog survey pretty hard. But it's important--I need to know where my readership is coming from, and so do my advertisers. (I'm going to be doing a more TNH-specific one closer to fall to help further guide editorial content here.)

Here's the survey link. I don't think any of the questions are required.

And! As a reward for filling it out, you'll be entered into a contest for one of whatever you want in the Shop! yay!

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coming to a clothesline near youWhile I'm working on all this crap server stuff, I'm running across a lot of old articles I'd forgotten about. I thought I'd share some of them with you to give you something to read while I'm finishing this up--two by me, one by another.

  • Five Ways to Avoid the Mommy Wars: Miriam Peskowitz's ideas on keeping our attention where it should be, rather than being distracted by the false "war" between women.
  • Who's the Real Enemy? More from me on the mommy wars. This was originally written more than eight years ago, right around the time of the site's founding.
  • The TNH Manifesto: This was also written around the time of the site's founding and I still believe every word.

Back to the salt mines.

PS: You like the graphic? It'll be coming out in a new line of Cafepress gear soon, with and without words.

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open for business!Yay! You found us! Things aren't 100% set to rights but we're on the new server! Here's hoping everyone has a speedier experience over here on this new machine. Thanks for your patience!

Update: The move is going fairly well for this sort of thing. I'm a whole day ahead of schedule. Which means either this is a first--a relatively pain-free server move--or all hell is going to break loose. I'll be moving the Hipmama sites today, working on another site that needs completely rebuilt top to bottom tomorrow and Monday, and then moving the rest of what needs moved (if it'll all fit on the new machine) Tuesday and Wednesday. Upshot: I don't expect to be posting on the blog for another few days. There's lots to read here, you can post yourself (didya see I've got member blog posts back on the front page?), and I'll see about getting a new article or two posted in that time. I just won't be blogging.

And I would be remiss if I didn't give a special "thank you" to all the long-time members of this site who've stuck with me through countless server upgrades and software glitches--people like Shaun, Jenny, Vonnie, Sweetpiv, Andrea, Kerri, Honey, and I know I'm missing a few dozen more--who have been with me nearly from day one. I wouldn't and couldn't do it without you guys. mwah!

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moving!TNH is moving servers this week. We've grown so much that our current server just doesn't have enough processing power, which means that half the time when you try to get to the site, you can't. The move means that trouble should end, at least for a little bit! It also means I'm going to be concentrating on moving TNH and the other sites that share the server for the next few days. Remember, there is always plenty to read here. Just look through the topic areas--more than eight years of stuff!

At some point you will get a "site is down for maintenance" page when you come here. That means I am actively, physically moving stuff. When that page comes down, it means the move is over. Wish me luck, and if you've been thinking about buying a t-shirt or an ebook, from TNH's standpoint this is the time; the new server is necessary and expensive. Thanks.

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feather and fan shawl in progressOne of the problems I have with spinning is that when I'm done I have all these odd balls of yarn. Sure, socks can be made with two ounces of fiber, spun fine. But even I get tired of socks and nothing but. And I could spin a couple of pounds of something, but then I get tired of all that monotonous spinning.

Which is why I love any kind of odd-ball pattern. The one I'm working on is a striped feather and fan shawl out of several balls of handspun.

Ima and I rummaged through the spinning cabinet and came up with a palette of grays, accented with the blue, red and purple tones from the Easter egg dye yarns I spun earlier this year, and a small skein of Ashford Bay merino in dark blue. (Ima is trying to talk me out of the yellow Easter egg skein. We'll see, Ima, we'll see.)

One of the grays has some dark red and sparkle in it. It's a batt I won as Spinners Triathlon Champ at OFFF in 2005, so it's special to me. And while at first I was disappointed in that batt, I LOVE it now. It's cushy and cozy. One of the other grays is a skein I got in a swap that has a lot of lavender in it. It goes well with the purple-y Easter egg yarn.

I don't know that this will ever be a shawl I'll wear in public, but then I'm getting old and eccentric enough that I just might. Since I'm not fringing it, perhaps I may. Mostly I just want something to wrap up in our chilly TV room on a cool night, and I think this will fit the bill admirably.

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the dang treadmill...I fell off the treadmill, so to speak. I didn't get on it for about three weeks. I can't really say why. I wasn't feeling well, it was hot, blah blah blah.

So I decided to research exercise motivation strategies and found one (and only one, strangely) really good article: The Motivation to Move. Answering the questions in that piece really brought it into focus for me.

I'm still not used to exercise making me feel better, but after my rehab experience, it's true: I feel better when I get on the damn treadmill. My PVCs diminish, I sleep better, I stand straighter--everything's better with the treadmill.

All other reasons fade into the background for me. That's my sole exercise motivator. Some people need variety. I don't care if all I ever do is the treadmill. Some people need company. I prefer to be alone with my audiobooks. And so on. The only motivator I have is that I feel better.

What is/are your exercise motivator(s)? Or are you still looking for yours?

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Crockpot eBook PackageAfter slaving over a hot word processor for several weeks, I've completed The New Homemaker Book of Crockpot Cookery! Yay, me! And yay, you--there are several TNH members' recipes in the book.

Included in the package are three BONUS ebooks as well--another crockpot recipe ebook that is truly outstanding, a quick and easy favorites ebook, and a collection of summer recipes that includes my favorite tropical fruit salsa. Oh god, mango salsa, you haven't LIVED until you've had mango salsa. It's only $7.95 for all four books--and they're delivered immediately for all you instant gratification fans!

There's a reason I'm making it so affordable. TNH has gotten so popular I have to upgrade to a new web server. It's why the site keeps crashing, and why you've been having trouble getting here lately. This is going to cost us unexpected money. If you've been looking at any of our ebooks, or at subscribing, now's the time to act. Help us get TNH onto a stable, roomy box, ensure your access to it, and get yourself some great ebooks while you're at it! Thanks!

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Hey kids! It's another MotherTalk blog tour!*

There's a ringing in my ears after reading Bruce Littlefield's Garage Sale America: Garage sales. Tag sales. Barn sales. Yard sales. Rummage sales. Estate sales. Sales, sales, sales. Yep, not much that's more American than buying and selling.
Garage Sale AmericaOh--one more thing more American. Accumulating crap. Which we then turn around and garage sale to others.

We are a nation of bingers, hoarders and purgers, aren't we? I'd feel vaguely ill about it, except that we manage to have a pretty good time at it, and the evidence is in Littlefield's book. "Garage Sale America" is a relentlessly cheerful romp through the back yards, barns and garages of the heartland, collecting treasures, junk and stories as it progressses.

The stories are what make Littlefield's book so much fun (it's a great bathroom book--the kind you can open up casually to any page for a quick read). Listen to the World's Oldest Garage Saler, 90-year-old Wini, talk about melting her boots in the Depression stomping out a dump fire to save an old Pennsylvania Dutch pie safe. (She sold the safe for $600 and still wears the boots: "They're just a little flattened out.")

And then there's what is for me the best part, a tour round Littlefield's house to show how he uses all this stuff he buys at garage sales. My favorite: He has a pair of old classroom roll-up maps he uses as window shades. Coincidentally, they fit his bedroom windows as if they were made for the purpose.

For serious garage salers, there's a guide in the back, by month, of some of the regular can't-miss giant sales out there. We're talking several "World's Largests" and "100-Milers" here, all over the country.

Confession: I myself have never managed to host a garage sale, and God knows I have the stock for one. I feel so un-American. Maybe this summer.

*What that means is, I got a free copy of the book and a $20 Amazon gift certificate for reviewing it, in full disclosure.

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Legacy ASIN: 

The last few days I've spent really struggling with the server this website sits on. It's been nearly nonstop, and every time I thought I had it fixed, a few hours later it'd be broken again.

So for the rest of the week, I am resting. Resting is one of the hardest things I ever do, I'm really bad at it. I have a great deal to do on the site, but there's always a great deal to do. But now that the server's working, the rest of it can wait.

I'll still be around, reading and such, but not posting on the blog. I need to rest and take care of myself, so that's what I'm going to do. See you in a few days!

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Whatever plans I had for writing today have gone by the bye. I spent most of today struggling with the server. I'm not 100% sure what's been happening, but I think it's a combination of a small but malicious attack and a sudden boom in the site's popularity with web spiders--little programs that crawl the web indexing websites.

It makes me think about pacing. When there's an emergency like this, I can barely make myself stop to use the bathroom. I've been like that for almost the last month, trying to help John keep our finances afloat. If I keep this up, I'm going to get sick, and I'm struggling hard to get myself under control.

How do you all pace yourselves in crisis situations?

Update: Everything is fixed, thanks to my friend Aaron, who is always kind enough to help this little old lady across the Information Superhighway. You will notice that the site is faster than ever--approaching greased lightning. :) Here's hoping we don't go down again for a long time!

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Save money on clothing: Wear an apron!You've probably gotten lots of advice over the years on how to save money on clothing: Go to garage sales and thrift stores; buy at certain seasons; watch for sales. (Remember, we have a virtual garage sale here that people really need to use more. If you've got something to sell or swap, post it.)

But the easiest way to save money on clothing is to not buy any. And the easiest way to not buy any is to make do with what you have. Take care of it and stretch it out. Here are some ways to do so that you may not have considered.

1. Use a clothesline. Are you sick of me and clotheslines yet? :) I confess. Clotheslines make me irrationally happy, like sugar cubes--I love sugar cubes, I don't even have to use them, just having them in a sparkly heap in a bowl makes me happy, it's weird. There's something about clothes flapping on the line, too, that cheers me.

If I were rational, it'd be the knowledge that using a clothesline instead of a dryer saves wear and tear on our clothes. The lint in the dryer trap? That's bits of your clothing that have been worn off by the tumbling and the heat. Same with the pilling you see, especially on synthetic and synthetic blend clothing. And dryer heat ruins elastic, so you'll have to replace your underwear more often. I'm not kidding when I say that dryers slowly erode your clothes. Even if you live in an apartment or a place where clotheslines are illegal (speaking of irrational), there are ways to air-dry your clothes without one.

2. Refashion what you have. You don't have to be an expert seamstress, or any kind of seamstress. A few nips and tucks, some fabric paint, dye, iron-on appliques, embroidery--there are lots of ways to take what you have and change it round, including ways to make children's clothes out of adult clothes.

My absolute favorite, though, is...

3. Wear an apron around the house. Aprons are suddenly chic, and I blame Japanese craft books, myself. I've always worn an apron around the house--I can't even do the dishes without wearing one, it's a psych thing--and I'm thrilled that pretty ones are available and in style again. Especially because my old aprons are increasingly ratty and I want some new ones (ha! they're still cheaper than new clothes!). They really save your clothing. The ones I favor are full bib aprons, not half-aprons, but that's because I'm built like the Queen Mary. Full-prowed, don't you know. Stuff ends up mostly on my chest, but if stuff ends up mostly in your lap, half-aprons will do.

If you have daughters, get into the habit of pinafores. When Josie and Lou wear theirs around the house, they don't get half as nasty as they do without them. Well, their pinnies get nasty, but their clothes stay in pretty good shape and I'd rather wash the pinny.

I'm sorry to say I don't have a similar recommendation for boys. If you do, please share!

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We're still getting the hang of this video thing, and since it looks like we may be doing this regularly, we're going to invest in an actual video camera at some point soon.

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Ideas for activities with your kids this summerUnschooling Life has some really good thoughts on this subject already today, and if I were smart I'd just point to it, but I'm going to forge ahead with my plans anyway. ;)

For us homeschoolers, especially unschoolers, summer is easy. It's just more of the same, floating along and enjoying our days together. But for those of you out there who school, summer is often a long expanse of potential boredom or TV captivity.

The main rule, speaking of TV, is to limit summer TV and computer/game system use. We do this year-round (we don't even have a game system), but if you're not used to having your kids around a lot it's easy to let them just vegetate in front of a tube. God knows I have. But don't succumb! Be strong!

Here are some things we'll be doing that may give you ideas for having fun together with your kids.

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ingredients for dandelion wine makingIt's nearly summer, and the dandelion flowers are probably mostly gone where you are. But here, I'm still in the middle of making dandelion wine. Oh, the flowers are mostly gone here too, but it's a long process. Not a hard one--just a long one.

For two years now Anhata and I have made dandelion wine in the spring. This post will prepare you for next spring's crop, and it's a great introduction to winemaking if you've always been interested but didn't know where to start.

For this tonic wine, it starts with picking dandelion flowers. We make it into a party for our girls. Everyone grabs a basket and out into our yard we go to pick until our fingers turn yellow. We get a spectacular crop of dandelions every year because we don't care about lawns. We have what Hata calls a "feral meadow." :)

Look for UNSPRAYED AREAS to pick your dandelions. You don't want to be consuming Roundup or some dang thing. And stay away from high traffic areas so that you're not dealing with exhaust fumes either.

dandelion flowers steepingFor each batch of wine using our favorite recipe (#2), you need two quarts of flowers. We keep the sepals--the green part at the bottom of the flower--on. We like the slightly bitter taste it gives the finished product, and I feel it adds to the medicinal qualities of the finished wine. Yeah, we really do make this stuff as a tonic, though it tastes pretty good, rather reminiscent of sake. (I have to be careful because it also has quite a kick to it and I am in recovery. So far, no problems.)

Pour a gallon of boiling water over the flowers, cover with a cloth and let steep for no more than two days. I put the pot back in the pantry with the kombucha and other fermenting things.

straining the dandelion flowersWhen they're done steeping, take a sieve and line it with cheesecloth or muslin. I use a clean "flour sack" type tea towel. Strain the flower water through the sieve into a new pot. I then pick up the towel and give the flowers a good press, gathering up the edges and twisting the bundle of flowers to get all the water out of them. Bring the resulting "tea" to a boil. It'll smell pretty bitter, and it is.

Add the peel of four ORGANIC oranges--just the peel, not the white pith. I use a vegetable peeler to get just the orange part off. Boil for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 lbs 11 ozs of granulated sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Let cool thoroughly, and then add a packet of champagne yeast and the juice of the four oranges. The recipe calls for adding yeast nutrient. Last year we didn't and it came out fine; this year we did, and I'll let you know how it comes out.

dandelion wine in fermenting carboyStrain again into a fermenting vessel of some kind. You can use a special plastic fermenter, or go cheap like me. I use a glass gallon jug from some apple juice, fitted with an airlock I bought for under $2 at a wine supply store.

Then comes the easy part. Let it sit some place out of the way until it clears. It will bubble like mad the first few weeks and then it will start to settle. I leave it for about five months or so and then Anhata comes over and we siphon it off into liter-sized EZ Cap bottles. Be careful to leave the sediment in the fermenting vessel, which is why you want to siphon instead of pour the young wine into bottles. Hata takes half the wine, I take the other half, and we put it in the back of our cupboards and forget about it until Winter Solstice. The recipe site says it's even better if you let it sit until the spring, but we make this stuff especially for winter liver and blood support, so Yuletide it is.

For a tonic, take about an ounce every couple of days however you please throughout the winter. You can drink it several ways. Hata likes to heat it up like a toddy. I like it with fizzy water, lemon and a sugar cube, but more often than not I just drink it neat right before bed.

Winemaking is just one more way to increase your self-reliance, especially if the wine also serves a dual function as a medicinal tonic. It's also a lot of fun!

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Lovely loads of laundryJohn has stripped away enough of the laurel hedge that all four of the lines of my clothesline are once again usable! No rebuilding, no moving, just lovely loads of laundry flapping in the sun. (This is somebody else's laundry, I had my hands full.)

Louisa helped me hang the first load. Since she couldn't reach the line, I set up a little wire rack for her to hang undies and socks on. Josie got into the act a little later, using a scrub board and tub to wash doll clothes and hang them up to dry.

Today was a good day. I did two loads of laundry, got one out on the line to dry, folded and put away two others. Did three loads of dishes, cleaned the kitchen. Fed the chickens, spun a little yarn. Started a pot of broth. Wrote. I'm exhausted. John was worried it was my heart, but no, I just worked really hard today.

It was a good day.

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Washing soda: A powerful natural cleanerSince last week's first experiment with washing soda, I've done a lot more research. I discovered our instincts were right about the stove pans, that's one of its primary natural cleaning uses.

Washing soda is not only ideally suited for baked-on grime like stove pans, it can STRIP OLD FLOOR WAX AND PAINT! Yikes! Don't use it on anything you want to retain a shine, like waxed floors, painted walls, fiberglass and the like--anything with a finish, essentially.

Washing soda is caustic, and if you're going to have your hands in it for any length of time, wear gloves. I should have said that last week--I knew this from dyeing.

It's also quite alkaline, which makes it a very effective water softener for laundering. Using it in hard water areas will cut down on the amount of laundry detergent you have to use.

And it's also a great descaler. We've successfully used it to remove gunk from the coffee maker. Use one tablespoonful for every 8 oz cup of water your maker holds. Be sure to rinse well! We usually run one "potsworth" of washing soda solution through the coffee maker and then one "potsworth" of vinegar water (half and half), and then a couple of pots of just plain water.

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My little sister Jennifer, aka Herbie, is 40 today. I'm astonished. She still looks about 12. And I'd give you photographic evidence of this, except I don't have a single dang photo of the kid on this computer! Take my word for it. Not a day over freshman year of high school, at most. That's my story.

Who's Herbie?
When I lived with roommates, it always cracked me up when I'd end a phone conversation with Jennifer. I'd say, "Bye, Herbie," and the roommate would say, "Who's Herbie?" and I'd say, "my sister." "Your sister's named HERBIE?!"

Jennifer is six years younger than me. When she was tiny, she loved Sesame Street. And her favorite character was Grover, especially the way his arms moved, spaghetti-like, on sticks. Grover's best friend was Herbert Birdsfoot. Grover would always greet Herbert with "Hey-a Her-bie bay-beee!" and a hearty smack on the back with his wobbly arms.

Jennifer would come up to me so often yelling "Heya Herbie bay-beee" and smacking me in a Grover-like fashion that I started calling her Herbie. She in turn called me Herb. We have been Herb and Herbie (but only to each other--no one else calls us that) ever since--something like 37 years. oy.

Anyway, happy birthday, Herbie bay-beee! I love you!

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Family budgeting is a keystone to a happy family life.I talked last week about how John and I started our life together financially: To sum up, in a pickle! But we pulled out of it eventually, at least the parts we could control. If we hadn't been as prudent as we have been, we'd really be in a mess now, with all the unexpected employment and health issues we've had in the last five years.

We've managed it with budgeting. Not even strict budgeting--just having one, and keeping track of how much is going out (and where) and how much is coming in, has made a huge difference. It makes us stop and consider even smallish purchases.

It took us a while to get to where we were comfortable with the budgeting process. And we had to work through three common barriers to budgeting that many families face.

Barrier #1: "I Hate Budgets"
If you're going to do this, a positive attitude about budgeting is essential to your success. If you think of budgeting in negative terms (such as a financial diet, financial handcuffs, restrictive, penny-pinching, a sacrifice, etc.), you are doomed.

We were too, until we put in place a tactic I learned at a 12-step program. We don't call it a budget, we call it a spending plan. Well, we did until we got over that hump. We've been at it enough now that we call it a budget and don't think twice about it!

But it really helps to recast your budget in your mind not as what you can't buy, but as what you CAN buy, and what you WILL buy if you manage your money. A spending plan is a means to an end--a way to achieve your dreams and goals. Postponing the instant gratification of spending all the money you earn is worth the rewards you will earn in the end.

Barrier #2: "You Can't Make Me"
Working on a budget can relieve a lot of pressure from your marriage.If you're doing this for anyone else, it won't work, either. Don't budget to get your partner off your back, for instance. Over time, external motivators will wear off. Following the terms of a debt repayment plan with a consumer credit counseling agency, complying with an agreement made in bankruptcy court--these are not bad motivations, but they are external pressures and will probably not be easy to maintain over time. The best motivations are internally generated. Do you honestly believe that budgeting can help you meet your goals? Do you even HAVE goals?

That's where John and I started. We wrote down what we really wanted out of life, even the "impossible" bits. Chances are they'll remain impossible, but we have goals now that we didn't have before, and they help us as we plot out how to spend our money. It's also helped our marriage. We know more now about what's important to each of us than we did before we had goals.

Speaking of impossible bits...

Barrier # 3: "Pinch! Spend! Pinch! Spend!"
When we first started working on our spending plan, we went through a period of "financial anorexia." We were afraid to spend anything. And then, just as with an eating disorder, we would "binge." (I must confess here that this was mostly my problem, though John has had his moments.)

What do you expect to gain from instituting and following a spending plan? Do you think that you can magically transform your spending habits after a month or two of tracking expenses?

The reality is that budgeting is an endurance event--those who stick with it, through thick and thin, will come out ahead financially. Do not expect miracles. What you WILL see if you stick with it is steady, measurable progress towards the goals that really matter to you.

This is the barrier that takes faith. For us, getting through this stage took time, and a steady belief that sticking with our spending plan would see us through. We knew where we were going; all we had to do was look at the spread sheet and there was the path, all spread out for us.

Why your family needs a spending plan
We got serious about working with our money flow when Josie was born and my work hours were curtailed. We kept at it after we came into some very good fortune, and when that fortune left us. Budgeting is not just for poor folks; it's for everyone. The worst mistake you can make is to wait until you think you need a budget. You need one now.

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Hey kids! It's another MotherTalk blog tour!*

When John and I first met, neither of us were terrific with money. A previous relationship left him unable to have a checking account--she bounced a bunch of checks on their joint account and left him with the clean-up. And I had recently come to grips with a spending problem that sent me to a 12-step program. It was an interesting seven years waiting for his checking privileges to return. We paid cash and money order for everything. His troubles kept us from using checks and mine kept us from using credit!

Cut to the present. While we're not rich, we're in much, much better shape than we were 15 years ago. For instance, we have a checking account. ;) Just this evening, in fact, as we contemplated our current money troubles--unemployment--we were both satisfied that despite all the setbacks we've experienced in our time together, we've gotten stronger financially. We don't have much, but what little we have we've managed well.

In a way we were lucky. When we met we had both just faced financial troubles and so had our "money cards" on the table. We learned to talk about money right from the start.

Most couples don't. And that's who "The Big Payoff" is for.

The most important chapter in the book is the the very first one, dealing with budgets. (I was taught in that 12-step program to think of a budget as a spending plan instead; if you have a negative connotation for the word "budget," try substituting that phrase for "budget.") If you can't start working within a budget, and if you can't bring yourself to talk about money, the rest of the book won't help you and in fact your marriage is very probably headed for trouble.

"A budget helps facilitate communication," says author Sharon Epperson, and John and I agree. Our first steps towards making a budget were actually rather silly. We'd sit on the front steps drinking coffee and talk about what we'd do if we won the lottery. Since we never bought tickets, it was moot! But it did teach us what we each thought was important, and what our dreams were.

Epperson's approach is more common-sense. She suggests talking about money before arguments break out about who's spending frivolously, perhaps in a monthly meeting. (At our house, we have "spread sheet time" about every two weeks, when we sit down and figure out what's coming in, what's going out, what's left over and what to do with it.) Learning the difference between your needs versus your wants, she says, is critical. This is where money leaks away from people, and that certainly was our experience.

Once you get past the budget, Epperson goes through retirement savings, college savings, real estate, health and disability insurance, life insurance and estate planning. Her advice on college savings is particularly good, broken down by income level with strategies for maximizing the amount of money you can put aside for higher ed.

There is nothing here, though, that will lead to either instant riches or instant happiness. It takes thought, planning and discipline to work through your finances, and it takes trust and openness in your marriage. Epperson doesn't offer an easy way out, but she does offer a thorough and entertaining guide through the forest.

For John and me, right now, there isn't much we could take away from it, though. We, like so many other families, are just barely scraping by, and it's not because we're drinking $10 in lattes a day or putting Disney World vacations on the Visa. We've worked hard to clear our debt and stay debt-free (one of Epperson's commandments--stay out of debt), and that's about as far as we've gotten. The in-depth advice, while not aimed at the rich, is for families with more income than we have.

If you and your spouse have a hard time talking about money, or if you've just never really thought about it that much, this is the book for you. If you are easily bored when the subject of finance arises, or if your partner is, this is the book for you. And if you've got a wedding present to buy for a young couple, you could do much worse by them than this book.

*What that means is, I got a free copy of the book and a $20 Amazon gift certificate for reviewing it, in full disclosure.

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Another day in the garden. We got all the tomato and pepper plants in, tucking them here and there into and between the "guilds." I nearly finished weeding the perniciously overgrown raspberry/fig guild, revealing beach strawberries putting out runners at a fantastic rate. Hooray! They're so cheerful, with their deep green shiny leaves and pretty white flowers. I don't even care if we get any berries.

Also hooray: The futsu squash germinated, so we'll have Japanese pumpkins in the fall, with luck.

Today Anhata brought over an armful of the stinkiest Polish garlic I have ever encountered--wonderfully stinky if you like garlic, which we do--with little "baby" bulblets hanging off them ready to be planted. She also brought over some silk scarf blanks and some Kool-Aid and we did a little microwave dyeing, but I'm not gonna tell you more about that until Wednesday. ;) Suffice it to say, my fingertips are purple and green.

And! Ima brought me a kombucha scoby last week and the tea's almost ready to decant! A banner week, folks.

PS: The summer slipcover's up. Traditionally I plan for Memorial Day Weekend, and I'm on time this year. :)

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Isn't this pretty? It has nothing to do with cleaning. It was my dividend for cutting back the roses along the gazebo. I got so many roses off the prunings that I have four vases full scattered around the house. This is the biggest. The scent is positively filling the place.

On to today's topic!

We're always trying for two things around here:

  • healthier living...
  • ...and saving money

It's why we go through so much vinegar and baking soda. We use vinegar to clean our unfinished wood floors and our windows, as well as in the laundry, and we use baking soda in the laundry and elsewhere.

I read an entry on sew green on making laundry soap, and of course I'm interested in trying that at some point soon. But Nikki also wrote about using washing soda, one of the main ingredients in the laundry soap, as a hand dishwashing agent.

As it happens, we have a HUGE bag of washing soda, aka soda ash, in the basement. I use it for dyeing cotton, and it was a component in the dishwasher powder I used to make back when we had a roll-around dishwasher. So we got a jarful out of the basement and conducted some quick dishwashing tests.

We found that it does work for handwashing dishes, but it takes a LOT of water to rinse. It also leaves a film of grease on the water itself. The best results we got were on pans with some burnt-on grease. Right now we can only recommend it as an emergency dang-we're-out-of-dish-soap measure.

Last night we conducted a test of how well it would clean the bane of my existence, the stove pans. I put a heaping soup spoon of washing soda in very hot water and put the pan in to soak. To the top left is the "before" picture, and here to the right is the "half-after" picture. John took a copper scrubber to half the pan, and you can see it removed the burned-on gunk quite well. He says he didn't have to scrub that hard, either.

The big flaw in the experiment, of course, is that we didn't put a pan to soak in plain hot water as a control. We'll try that in the next couple of days. God knows we've got stove pans that need cleaning. And we're going to keep experimenting with washing soda around the house and see where we get results and where we don't.

Update: More on washing soda.

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My David Austen roses are blooming. The scent comes through the open windows on gorgeous days like today. The rose alley leading to what passes for a gazebo around here had become completely impassable, so I went out with the clippers and brought two aprons-ful of roses in.

Our tomato and pepper plants arrived today, so we'll be scattering those around the "guilds" in the next day or so: Gypsy peppers, a couple of varieties of jalapenos, red and gold cherry tomatoes, several different varieties of Roma including a stripe, and one heirloom tomato (Tiffen Mennonite, a pink tomato).

Still no peep from the squashes. John got the hardy kiwis in. Remaining are the second fig tree, the elderberries, and a few errant currants. Try saying that five times fast. :)

Being outdoors so much makes me want my clothesline back, really badly. Our old one has become completely engulfed by the dogwood tree and the laurel hedge. Even cutting them both back, it's in the shade. Which makes me nuts, because it's a really good one that goes for something like $150 now.

The people who owned this house before me (20+ years ago) planted so many trees too close to each other, too close to the house, too close to the clothesline. We've been cutting down trees ever since we bought the place, sadly.

I can't bring myself to cut down the dogwood outside my kitchen window, the one engulfing my clothesline. I look forward to its pink blossoms every spring, and there's nothing wrong with the tree. The clothesline's just on the wrong side of it.

So we're trying to figure out where to install a temporary retractable one, and when things become a little more settled in the yard, move the old clothesline to a better location. That will be a job; it's really concreted in there.

My mom didn't hang laundry out that much. I remember when I was really little she did, but as soon as we had a dryer that was that. And later, we lived in so many places where clotheslines were illegal--I spent most of my adolescence very near to the writer of this piece, who is secretly hanging out laundry on an illegal clothesline. Illegal clotheslines. The concept blows me away. The illegal line-dryer frets about the stiffness of clothes, but in my experience you just bring in towels still slightly damp and fluff them in the dryer a couple of minutes. Clothes soften up almost as soon as you wear them, and if you iron them, they lose their stiffness entirely.

We could cut more than 3% of our nationwide energy consumption just by hanging laundry in the sunny months of the year. Do you know what that makes line-drying? PATRIOTIC. That's what.

Memorial Day is for remembering our war dead. The best way you can remember the dead from this current war, besides writing and phoning your congressmember to end this nonsense, is to cut your energy use. Clotheslines are a start.

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I have been spinning like a fiend lately. It's all I seem to want to do. I haven't picked up the needles in weeks, it seems. When I go out, I've been taking my spindle and some silk with me, that's how much I've wanted to spin lately.

Here you see the last of a pound of lovely autumn-colored wool I got two OFFFs ago, hanging up to dry. I spun it on my Babe Production Wheel and chain-plied it into a 3-ply worsted weight. I only got four skeins out of it, and one of them is a thicker grist than the other three, to my consternation. That doesn't seem like much for a whole pound of roving!

The colors are a lot deeper than the color here suggests. Rust, orange, brown, even red and pink run through the yarn, it's just beautiful, and fairly soft, too.

I don't know what I'm going to do with it. I have a bunch of odd lots of browns and autumn tones. I'm thinking of a ripple afghan, because, really, isn't everyone?

On the wheel right now is some merino from Butternut Woolens in a color called Salmonberry. It was part of a barter I did for web work something like five years ago. Every time I think I've used the last of those rovings up, I find another one! I'm spinning this sock weight, because eventually I will knit again. Just not right now.

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Josie's first wheel-spun skein. It's a mishmash of fibers; she just grabs a chunk of whatever and spins it, regardless whether the colors or fibers go. But I like the way this turned out. It gets kinda crowded in the TV room these days when we're both spinning!

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I made spelt banana bread today, a double batch, and it's already almost gone. I think that's a clue I need to bake more.

You like the chicken tea kettle? Anhata found that at a rummage sale and decided it belonged at our house.

The bananas had been sitting forlornly on the counter waiting for someone to mash them up for bread, and I'm glad I took the time today to do it. For some reason they're not getting eaten fast enough, and no one in our house likes bananas once they're really ripe. We're all barely-ripe banana eaters.

However, one person in the house likes banana bread, apparently likes it more than she wants anyone else to know. Guess who?

She used to do this with expensive foo-foo bread from the store--her older sister, too. We'd cut into what looked like a whole loaf and find a hollow shell. Gutted bread.

Anyway, try the recipe. It's tasty, a little spicier than traditional banana bread.

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You're The Mists of Avalon!

by Marion Zimmer Bradley

You're obsessed with Camelot in all its forms, from Arthurian legend to the Kennedy administration. Your favorite movie from childhood was "The Sword in the Stone." But more than tales of wizardry and Cuban missiles, you've focused on women. You know that they truly hold all the power. You always wished you could meet Jackie Kennedy.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

Not so much with "The Sword in the Stone." But everything else is scary accurate, and I love that book.

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