New marriage-saving device: tow-behind lawn sweeper

While we are on a tight budget in anticipation of 6 weeks without my paycheck, we couldn't resist the Craigslist ad for an Agri-Fab 46" leaf sweeper.  I may love fall, but raking a half-acre yard 2-3 times per fall is not my idea of a good time.  Shayne also tends to get extremely cranky during this chore, so there are no fun, playful leaf fights or happy romantic fall scenes in our yard...  Last year the leaves fell so late that we were raking wet leaves in the snow, and Shayne got so crabby that I vowed to hire a leaf service next year to preserve our my sanity. 

Well, here were are at "next year", but with no money to spare to hire a service.  Call me lazy, but I know that having a new baby this year, we'd never, ever get the yard raked in a timely manner.  Enter the lawn sweeper.

This nifty gadget is towed behind a lawn tractor and will sweep up grass clippings, leaves, or other yard debris.  You can supposedly dump it while still sitting on the seat of your tractor.  A new model retails for $420, but we got our lightly used one for $125.  Even if we end up paying a service for curbside pick-up (which appears to cost $45-65.  Our county discontinued free leaf pick-up the year we moved out of the city, of course.), I'll consider it money well spent. 


I'm due!

Today is the baby's due date, which he obviously doesn't realize, since he's showing no signs of wanting to vacate.  Oh well.  Nobody's been pregnant forever, right?

I think we've managed to accomplish more in the past 9 months than in any other year since we've been in the house.  It's amazing what a real deadline can do for people who are procrastinators.  And we're nothing if not professional procrastinators!  Here's a quick recap of what we've managed to get done:
  1. Purchased a "new" dining room set and removed most of the clutter from that room
  2. Rearranged living room furniture and installed new fabric blinds
  3. Finished sanding the staircase and stained handrail, spindles, and treads
  4. Framed over the hall closet opening into the office
  5. Made a new, wider opening into the original office closet
  6. Recreated the wall that was originally between the master bedroom and office closets.  The PPOs had removed it for God-alone-knows what reason
  7. Removed the knob-and-tube wiring from the office and installed bracing and wiring for a ceiling fan
  8. Removed non-original built-in bookshelf thing from master bedroom, framed over opening, removed remaining lath and plaster (boo-hoo), and drywalled
  9. Skimcoated the office, office closet, and master bedroom closet walls, fading in the drywall patches
  10. Primed and painted both closets, the new wall in the master bedroom, and the office
  11. Installed closet organizers into both "new" closets
  12. Began transforming hall closet into a linen closet and not a "junk drawer"
  13. Made the nursery into a nursery, aquiring all of the big-ticket items secondhand
  14. Amassed over a year's worth of baby clothes without spending a dime
  15. Planted a small garden and harvested lots of broccoli, a few peppers, and over 10 lbs of tomatoes
  16. Put up lots of fresh produce, including peaches, blueberries, corn, beans, broccoli, peppers, applesauce, spaghetti sauce, 3 kinds of jam, and basil pesto
  17. Paid off 2 student loans and a credit card
  18. Overflowed the bathroom toilet, ruining the ceiling in the kitchen
  19. Removed the jungle from the "garden" on the side of the garage and mulched until we can put patio pavers in
  20. Grew a baby!
It's annoying to me that none of the rooms upstairs are finished.  We really wanted to have the floors refinished, but ran out of time due to a 1 month delay because of a flaky electrician.  Still.  We're way ahead of where we were, and every room is at least functional.

Over the winter and into the spring, we'll be gearing up for the floor refinishing, trim re-installation, and, by summer, a bathroom remodel.  Well, at least that's the plan.  Who knows how it'll work out with a new baby...  But that'll be the best project of all!


Stocking up for winter

Living with the seasons has been such a fulfilling experience for me.  Now that we've been doing it for a little over a year, it's amazing to me that already certain times just seem to have certain homemaking activities attached to them.  I'm sure it would be much more intense with a big garden or a farm, but even the little pseudo-homesteading that I do adds purpose and meaning to the seasons. 

This year I've felt a lot of pressure to "bring in the harvest".  I know a lot of this has to do with expecting a baby and wanting everything to be as ready as it can be.  Since I put up my own fresh produce last year, I had a much better idea of how much food we really need to make it through to the next season...  And it was WAY more than I anticipated.  You don't really realize how much you go through until you want it all ready in advance.  So this year I tried to prepare better. 

My mom brought me a third quarter bushel of Romas from the market on Tuesday, then yesterday I took a half day and we made more pasta sauce.  I'm now up to 18 quarts made.  I gave a few away, and might give a few more, but this should get us through til next summer.  We don't eat spaghetti much when the weather is warm, so it only needs to last til around May.

We still need to finish up the applesauce.  I can't believe how much we eat when it's homemade, since we didn't eat any storebought.  Shayne loves it, and it makes a good gift.

I also need to freeze a few more peppers.  We use them in stir-fry, on pizza, in omlettes, and a few other things.

Today I stopped at Jaworski's Market and got a bulk package of meat.  I was hoping to buy grassfed beef from a local farmer, but just ran out of time to track him down (know where he lives, but no contact info).  At least everything from Jaworski's is all-natural and hormone-free.  For $130, I got:
7lb (2 - 3½lb) whole chicken

3lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
6lb (3 - 2lb) ground beef
3lb (4 - 12oz) New York strip steaks
3lb sirloin tip steaks
3lb chuck roast
4lb (2 -2lb) butterfly pork chops
5lb (2 - 2½) pork steaks
2lb polish sausage
2 lb Italian sausage
2lb bacon
3lb breakfast sausage
Which breaks down to a little over $3/lb for 43 lbs of meat.  Plus I already bought extra chickens and have about 7 lbs of ground venison from a friend.
I'm happy.  The freezer is stuffed.  The shelves are nearly full.  And I won't need to buy meat or any veggies except onions, potatoes, and fresh greens for at least 8 months.  I really wonder what that will do to our grocery bill, since I've been consistently spending about $100/week.  Withouth meat or fresh produce, I'm betting it'll be under $50.


More fall food: Beef and barley stew

In the spirit of fall, I made some beef and barley stew this morning to put in the freezer for after baby arrives (assuming he ever does...).  We're trying to get several meals stored so that we don't end up eating Chinese take-out or pizza every night.  I'm sure I won't feel much like cooking for the first couple of weeks.  So far we have stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, shepherd's pie, and crab corn chowder stashed in there.  Plus a few "emergency" microwave meals.  All-in-all we have 8-10 days worth of homemade dinners, but I'm somehow worried we're going to starve.  I guess because I have no idea what top expect or what I'll be up for in the days following the baby's arrival, it's making me a little edgy.  So I'm making more food!

I found a basic recipe on the internet, then added and fudged a bit to my own tastes.  It turned out really well, and I wish I wouldn't have eaten lunch so I could have had a nice, big bowl. 

1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups cubed potatoes (I used redskins, since they hold their shape better)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced celery
2 cloves garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sliced baby portobello mushrooms
1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes, including liquid
2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup uncooked medium pearl barley
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a thick-bottomed pot, brown beef in olive oil. Add the carrots, onion, celery, potatoes and garlic; cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, broth, and seasonings.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 90 minutes. Add barley; cover and simmer 45-60 minutes longer or until barley and meat are tender.  Remove bay leaves and add balsamic vinegar.  Serve!

Makes approximately 2 quarts (8 small servings).
And now I'm off to make some chicken pot pie...

Making applesauce

Fall is here!! Shayne and I went to the farmers market yesterday morning and were amazed at how quickly the harvest went from "summer" to "fall". There were corn stalks, pumpkins, and mums everywhere. And apples. We bought a half bushel of "mixed seconds" to make applesauce, then got fresh cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and apple cider. Mmmm....!

I love spring and summer, but I think fall is my favorite season. I love the changing leaves, the cool mornings and warm days, seeing Orion in the southern sky, and the rush to put up the last of the fresh produce. I also love fall food; we start making the switch to heartier fare like beef stew, shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes, and thick soups. And, of course, there's applesauce.

Poor Shayne has been waiting since spring. I didn't make anywhere near enough applesauce last year, and we ran out around March or April. I caved and offered to buy apples out-of-season from Meijer, but then we both agreed that making and eating certain foods in-season just makes them more special. So we've been waiting. And waiting.

I bought an apple peeler-corer-slicer from Bed Bath and Beyond yesterday, and Shayne tested it out on the first few apples. What a nifty little invention!! I still peel the top and bottom of the apple first, and you have to properly align the apple on the spikes in order for it to get the entire core... But what a time-saver! Definitely worth the $15 I spent on it.

And by noon we had our first batch of applesauce in the canner. I got 4.5 quarts and only used about half of the apples. For a cost comparison, my applesauce costs about $1.33/quart to make. Musselman's is $1.96/quart. And while I haven't ever tried Musselman's, I can tell you for sure that my homemade version blows Meijer's organic applesauce out of the water. And mine is certainly nothing special, just apples, a teeny bit of water, and cinnamon. Cook, smush, mix, serve. Doesn't get any easier than that.

If I haven't had a baby by next Saturday I'll definitely be buying more "mixed seconds" for more sauce and apple butter...



It's currently 49°F here at the Prairie Box, and I'm freezing my buns off.  I'm at that lovely stage of pregnancy (the end!!) where nothing fits, not even my maternity clothes.  Since I didn't get big enough to wear maternity stuff until summer, I have NO cool weather clothing that even comes close to fitting.  I need to go steal a sweatshirt from Shayne.  Even some of those are too small.  How's that for a self-esteem boost?  I swear I'm going to have a 15 lb baby...

Last night we went to Lowes and bought a closet organizer for "my" closet in the office.  It's a modular system from Rubbermaid that should almost double the hanging space available in my 63" wide closet.  It's also supposed to be easy to install.  We'll see how that works out.  I haven't opened the package yet, but the instructions I saw on the website made it seem straightforward.  Everything hangs from a top rail so that you only have to drill 1 set of holes into the studs.  We'll install it this afternoon and see what happens.

Also at Lowes, we found pine "door jamb" planks that are the exact width of our door and window trim.  It's stain-grade pine, the edges are already routed, and they're returnable if they don't work out.  Our walls are thicker than those of new homes, so we'll have to find something wider to frame in the door jambs themselves, but these should work perfectly as trim.  That's also on the agenda for this afternoon.

As for this morning, I'm continuing my "from-the-bottom-up" cleaning and organizing blitz.  Thanks to my mom's help, the storage section of the basement is now much-improved, and we started on the dining room.  Since I've been doing some shuffling of the furniture, quite a few odds and ends have ended up homeless...  I just need to rehome or trash them, then vacuum and dust the living room.  I feel like I'm doing Apartment Therapy's "Complete Cure" in 2 days.  Thankfully I already reorganized the kitchen and bathroom, so I just need to do some cleaning in those rooms.  Wish me luck!


It's kind of ironic; I'm busier at home on the weekends than I am at "work" during the week.  Now that the upstairs is almost as organized as it's likely to get before the baby arrives (we're still going to buy two closet organizer systems and install them in the "new" closets... One of them will be in by tomorrow), it's time to move elsewhere.  So, my wonderful mom is coming over today to help me organize the basement storage area.  Not sure why this is important before having a baby, but I want to get it done.  I'd like to have more space for food storage especially.  Ever since canning all that corn, jam, peaches, and spaghetti sauce, I'm really running out of room.  And I still have to do applesauce and blueberry butter.  And I hardly have any staples stored.  So today I'm on a mission to find some space. 

In case you're wondering where my hubby has been during all the help from my mom...  Today he's taking our nieces and nephews to the AirZoo in Kalamazoo as a reward for helping to clean up our yard and garage yesterday.  I guess hubbies "nest" too, since he suddenly decided the garage needed to be cleaned... NOW.  The rest of the time he's been working like crazy at part-time jobs.  Since I'll be off work for 12 weeks, we're trying to build up our savings account as much as possible.  He's not slacking, I promise!!

Our bedroom upstairs has walls again, and the drywall only needs 2 more mud applications and to be sanded.  Then that's done too.  We're not going to paint until spring I don't think, since we can't seem to find a new bedding set we like.  So we'll just prime the room and closet, then paint the closet and call it good.  I'm SO ready to be done with house projects for a while...

One of the up-sides of working on the house so much, though, is that I'm MUCH happier with it than I was in the spring.  We still want to move before the kidlet goes to school, but it seems much less pressing than it did.  Working on the house makes me feel like I have some control over my environment.  So even though the neighbors killed our privacy, I'm finding other things about our house and property to be satisfied by.  Like our little veggie garden.  Or the patio-to-be next to the garage (it was a jungle of weeds, but my mom and I ripped out all the weeds, then Shayne spread landscape fabric and mulch until we can add paving stones or something more patio-y).  Even fixing the closets upstairs has helped, since I know I'm adding value to the house, plus making sense out of something that was ruined.

And hopefully soon, we'll have a new little project to take up all of our time...!


Upstairs cleaning/organizing extravaganza

Yeah, what a perfect way to spend Labor Day Weekend - painting, cleaning, and organizing... Oh well. I'm too gigantic to do anything fun - like go camping - so cleaning it is!

My mom finished painting the trim yesterday, so we moved most of the furniture that belongs there into the office. I have a small desk-ish table that my aunt and uncle gave me a few years ago that we still need to put up there, and some of the shower gifts are still piled in the living room, but we're really making progress. Too bad we'll still be living with paper Redi-Shades and unrefinished floors for a while yet...

In other happy news, we finally got our check from the insurance company. It's going to be socked away in the bank at least until next summer, but we'll have about 2/3 of the bathroom remodel paid for when we're ready to start. I can't wait to have clean, new tile and a shiny, deep bathtub to soak in!


Down to the wire

In the final push to get the upstairs habitable (and CLEAN!) before the baby arrives, my mom is coming over today to paint the trim in the office. Tony put up the sheetrock in our bedroom, so as soon as he tapes and muds, that room will be ready for some fresh paint as well. I hate painting this close to the baby's arrival, but maybe we can get some VOC-free paint to assuage my conscience. Or we'll just keep the windows open (which we already do anyways).

After the trim is painted, we'll start moving office stuff into the office. I want the nursery set up by tomorrow. Yes, I'm a slave-driver. I already put the bedding in the crib a few weeks ago; I was dying to see what it looked like. All we really need to do is hang the curtains, arrange the furniture, and bring in the glider. Oh, and get the pile of baby shower gifts out of the living room. Not so bad.

And then, maybe, I can relax. Cause right now my impending due date feels like the day the world will end. At least in terms of accomplishing anything house-related, including cleaning. There's all this pressure to get EVERYTHING done in the next week. I'm sure I'm driving Shayne nuts, but he's been extremely tolerant. I'd have never thought he could be so patient. I'm probably good practice for raising a toddler...

More later...


Office photos

We finally got some paint of the walls...  The first photo shows the color more accurately.  It's a subdued greenish-blue, which is kind of funny since it's sort of close to the original color of the walls in this room.  We weren't aiming for that detailed of a restoration, but that's how it worked out.
This second photo is of the new-and-improved closet opening.  This is where the closet was originally, before the PPOs decided to sabotage the linen closet into a partial bedroom closet.  We did double the width of the original doorway, but the closet dimensions have been returned to what they should be.  The hall closet is again a hall closet (or will be once we have hanging rods and such in the "new" closet and move our clothes back where they belong).
The trim is going to stay white but will get a fresh coat of paint, probably this weekend.  I'll also be sorting through the salvaged trim in the garage to recreate the missing pieces on two walls.