Archive for March, 2011

The Cookout

Once upon a time we moved into a house.  A house with a big backyard.  A big back yard with a fire pit.

It was a nice firepit up on a hill with lots of big trees, some grass, and a view.

A view of our garage.

But in all the years we’ve lived here (approximately 1.5), we’ve never used it.

Never until last weekend, that is.

I guess we knew to save it for something very, very special.

That special something occurred last Friday: Tim’s cousin Christine and her fiance D.J.’s night-before-the-wedding bash!

From decorating:

 

To wood gathering:

To feasting:

To gift giving:

…I think it’s safe to say that a good time was had by all!

Way to go, backyard fire pit.  You did us proud.

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Blooms, Brides, and Mr. Bombdiggity

I think I owe you a post.

In fact, I know I do. 

So here it is:

The Obligatory Spring Post.

Here are a few of my favorite signs of spring along with what’s been keeping us busy bees these days…with more to come on our huge weekend as soon as I can finish processing all the pictures.

1a. Our bulbs are blooming…

1b. …not to mention our apple trees! 

I love spring flowers.  I think they’re my favorite.

2. My garden digs are expanding!  Yay, trusty red pitchfork!

I love spring gardens.  I think they are my favorite.

3. Outage season is upon us.  For those of you unfamiliar with outage season, it’s to a power-generating engineer what tax season is to an accountant.  Tim’s life has temporarily become the property of Dominion Virginia Power.  He’s a real trooper, this husband of mine, and I’ve yet to hear a peep of complaint about the 13+ hour days he’s putting in six times a week.  (I am not a real trooper, however, and consequently can be found in a constant state of complanation for about the next six weeks or so.)

I’ll be honest.  This is not my favorite part of spring.  But I have managed to unearth two semi-positive things to say about the whole experience:

It sometimes (as in last week Wednesday) involves a last minute trip to the ever beautiful and always mountainous  Warm Springs Bed and Breakfast that we love all year around and might be our favorite…

…and Tim’s rental car for the aforementioned last minute trip to Warm Springs was a Mustang Convertible.  Which he has decided to keep for the duration of outage season, and in which he has twice graciously condescended to let me ride.

I love spring convertible rides.  They might be my favorite. 

4. (or is it really 6. ?)  We dusted off and fired up our pit for a cookout!  We had a very special reason for doing so, and I’ll post all the details soon.  (But keep reading for a huge clue.)

I love spring cookouts.  This is the first one I’ve ever actually hosted (I’d say ‘we’, except poor Tim was at work), and it was fantabulous.  In fact, it might even be my favorite.

5. Company comes!  Our house was bursting at the seams all weekend. 

It was nice.  I love company.  It’s a favorite.

6. It’s wedding season!  One of Tim’s cousins kicked it off for us on Saturday.

I love weddings.  I really think they might be my favorite.

7.  The sun shines.  Sunshine makes me happy.  That makes Tim happy.

Not gonna lie.  That right there’s my real favorite.

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How We Save Money

A prefatory note: I’m by no means recommending that you try all (or any!) of the following at home–I’ll be the first to admit that some of them are hardly worth the work that goes into them (unless you HAVE to cut your budget or are as addicted to the warm, fuzzy, frugal-happy high as I am).  Special thanks to my mom for helping me come up with some of these ideas, and to both Tim’s and my parents for teaching us to live inexpensively!

1. I stockpile.  When something we like to eat is on sale, I buy a bunch of it…enough to last until the next sale.  This is how the three of us can enjoy an all out steak dinner once a week for less than the price of one Big Mac.  It’s also how we can ALWAYS have fresh fruits and vegetables on hand.  (If there are no sales, I buy bananas).  Approximate savings: many hundreds a year.

  • If you don’t have the space or desire to stockpile, but you still want to save some major money, try planning your menus around weekly sales.  If beef is on sale for $1.99/lb, eat it for two or three of your meals.  Eat asparagus as often as it drops to $1.99/lb, but no oftener.   If nothing is on sale, chicken or eggs usually provide the cheapest source of protein and cabbage, sweet potatoes, or carrots can usually be found for under $1/lb.
  • Here’s another huge money saving tip when it comes to groceries: the less pre-prepared, the better.  I realize that sometimes making things from scratch is way too much of a time investment.  I understand that.  But even things like buying a pizza crust and adding your own toppings or buying a bag of grated cabbage and a jar of coleslaw dressing is WAY cheaper than buying the finished product–and costs you less than 5 valuable minutes!

2. We don’t use trash service.  Instead of paying $15/month to have our trash picked up weekly, we pay $3 every other month to take it to the dump ourselves.  We plan to continue this practice until we have a member of the household who generates dirty diapers.  Approximate savings: $13.50/mo or $162/year.

3. We cut our own hair.  I cut Tim’s about every other month, and he cuts mine about once a year.  At $10/cut (a cheap barbershop estimate), that saves us a minimum of $70/year.

4. We coast.  Tim is a master at fuel-efficient driving.  He has all sorts of tricks up his sleeve that I’m only just learning.  But I was pretty amazed at the difference even an extra 2-3 miles/gallon of gas makes (especially as prices keep going up and UP!).  So watch ahead for those red lights, and be smart about when you accelerate and when you brake!  Approximate savings: $2/fill up (which for us is about $100/year).

5. We drink water.  At restaurants, that is (although we do at home, too)–it’s way cheaper and way healthier.  Approximate savings: maybe $5/week?  Not too sure.  We don’t eat out much by choice, but we do eat out a lot when Tim travels.  Other money savers when eating out:

  • don’t do it: home cooked food is WAY cheaper than the restaurant variety
  • make each meal do double duty: we usually either a) split an entre (the cheapest option) or b) bring home half our meal and eat it for lunch the next day.  Whala!  A 50% instant savings.
  • get dessert somewhere else: a Chick-fil-A milk shake is usually quite a bit cheaper than whatever’s on the menu wherever you are (assuming you’re somewhere pricier than Chick-fil-A).  ((Otherwise, split a dessert.  After the meal, you can’t be THAT hungry anyways.  Right?!))

6.  If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.  I think I first heard that handy little saying during my days cruising and marking timber in Colorado.  It’s definitely not an original idea, which makes me feel a little better about admitting it in public!  Oh, and this only works if you don’t have a dog who drinks out of your toilets.  And it’s not a policy we impose upon our guests.  🙂  Approximate savings: 4-5 flushes/day=3,650 gallons of water/year (not sure what that calculates out to cost wise).  (I know, I know…waaaaaaay too much information, right?!)

7.  Wear your clothes out.  I wore a dress recently that Tim didn’t remember.  “Is that new?” he asked me.  I quickly calculated and realized that it was, indeed, not new.  In fact, I’d been wearing it for over 10 years.  I know that may sound appalling, and I’ll be the last to claim that my wardrobe is up to par with most standards.  But I’ve definitely never been arrested for indecent exposure, and I do somehow manage to have friends, a husband, and a fairly happy life despite my out-dated apparel!  🙂

  • When I do shop, I never pay full price for a clothing item.  In fact, I rarely pay half price!  When shopping for either Tim or I, I scour 75-90% off racks, use coupons, buy secondhand, and love hand-me-downs.  I know this isn’t for everyone, but it sure works for us!

8.  Use a timer on your thermostat so that the heater (and/or air conditioner) runs less when you are away from home and/or sleeping.

  • If you don’t have a timer, you can do what we do–turn the heat down right before we leave or go to bed.
  • Cut utility costs by turning down the temperature on your water heater by a few degrees.  You still get to take just as long a hot shower, but you just won’t have to mix in quite as much cold water!  Experiment until you find the coolest temperatured hot water you are comfortable with.
  • Also consider dropping the thermostat temperature 1-2 degrees in the winter and adding a sweater to your outfit.
  • Next time he visits, ask your heating and cooling expert to adjust the anticipator inside your thermostat (this isn’t possible on some models) so that your heater runs fewer times a day for longer periods each time (thanks, Daniel, for doing this for us!!).  It’s much more efficient.

9. Eat your leftovers.  Leftovers are your friend!  I love leftovers, because it cuts my cooking time down SO MUCH each week.  I don’t know what I’ll do when our family reaches a point where we eat everything I make in one sitting! 

  • If you (or your family) really can’t stand leftovers, cook smaller quantities, freeze the remnants for another meal down the road when it will seem ‘new’ again, and/or use recipes that can double as other recipes (I hope to start posting a “Two for Tuesdays” recipe series sometime in the near future, but an example would be turning leftover barbecue into a delicious pork chili, etc.).
  • I have had great success keeping all sorts of leftovers for 1 to 1 1/2 weeks in the fridge (our fridge is set fairly cold) without any sign of spoilage.
  • If you do throw away food, think about ways to keep it out of the trash can: start a compost pile, save it for your local chicken farmer, or even find someone you know who would LOVE to eat your leftovers for you. 

10. Be generous.  God doesn’t promise to repay our generosity in this life (although often He does), but He does hold forth the glorious hope of treasure in heaven that is so far beyond compare with the wealthiest of fortunes that we can’t even imagine what it will be like!  I’m proud of my frugal shopping; I’m ashamed of my frugal giving.  It’s something Tim and I have been helping each other with ever since we got married, this learning how to hold freely the things God blesses us with.

  • If you are a cheerful giver of money to charity, make sure to itemize your tax return.  Tithes, missionary support, and most community giving are tax deductible.  While this by no means should motivate our giving (we give as a result of what we’ve been given in Christ), a big tax refund check sure never hurts our finances!
  • Writing a check isn’t the only way to be a cheerful giver, although it is an important one.  Often just as hard (or harder) is the giving of precious time, energy, love, or talents to those with needs!

Are you a saver or a spender?  Why?  What are your money-using tips, rules, and tricks?

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My Purpose

After searching hard and long and far and near…I think I’ve finally found my goal and calling in life.

It’s a wonderful thing, after twenty-five years, to finally find one’s life’s goal and calling.

I gladly wish it upon all of you.

Of course, I don’t wish my own personal goal and calling upon all of you.  No, indeed.  In fact, I don’t even think it could work that way.  I’m pretty sure this new-found purpose of mine is something for which I alone am uniquely suited for.

That’s right.

It’s a me-myself-and-I thing.

Now, now, friends.  Don’t be angry with me.  Don’t covet my recent discovery and my newly enlightened state.  I’m not trying to make you jealous, or boast, or brag, or anything else.  I’m just saying, is all.

Really.

For what wonderful and delightful and fulfilling purpose, you may ask, have I been created?

Well, I have finally come to the conclusion that the reason for which I was born into this world is this:

To make my husband laugh.

It’s quite a job, let me tell you, but someone’s got to do it.

Thank you, Lord, that that someone is me.

True Confession: I can’t imagine anything more delightfully or satisfyingly challenging.

After all, the need is frequent and the possibilities varied and endless. Not to mention the rewards, which are rich and plentiful.

For example: I love to see the boss’s tired eyes light up and to watch the weight of his stressful workday lighten.  The kind and happy lines that his face softens into when he smiles are worth a thousand paychecks.  And boy do I love to hear this delighted accolade when my insatiable wit has confounded him once again: “Cristy, where did you come from?!”

I eat it up like water to a desert and diesel gas to a fire.  

Oh, our marriage isn’t all laughs.  We pout and moan and mope and growl and scratch and nip and scoff and complain and rail more than your average pair, I’d reckon.  Believe you me.  And then there are the times when my humor goes dreadfully, horribly, hurtfully, miscommunicationally all wrong.  Totally not funny.  And then there’s the brutal reality that just because I’ve found my purpose sure doesn’t mean I don’t call in sick as often as not. 

But even so, I love you, Tim–and I love to make you laugh.

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Child’s Play

Once upon a time, I worked in a greenhouse.  It was a very nice greenhouse, as greenhouses go.  Not only that, but it did what greenhouses do best, which is grow green things.

And once upon a time, in the very nice greenhouse that grew green things, there lived a little girl.  She was a very nice little greenhouse girl, as little greenhouse girls go.  Not only that, but she did what little greenhouse girls do best, which is to play pretend things.

Hello, little greenhouse girl!  What are you playing?

She is playing garden. 

That is a very good thing for a little greenhouse girl to play, especially when she is playing in a greenhouse.

Yes, it is a very good thing to play.  It is also very dirt-y.  Very, very dirt-y.  Good and dirt-y.

If there is one thing I know about little greenhouse girls, it is this: they like to get good and dirt-y.

Then one afternoon, she was joined by a little greenhouse boy!  He was a good little greenhouse boy, as greenhouse boys go, and he did what all greenhouse boys do best: play pretend things.

What would you like to play, little greenhouse boy? asks little greenhouse girl.

Garden! shouts little greenhouse boy, like all good little greenhouse boys should.

So that is what they did.

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Just The Facts

I’ve been missing my camera cord for weeks…ever since this Bath County trip.  It’s been driving me crazy, because there are about a bajillion things I want to take pictures of–but not only can I not load these things on the computer to share, but I can’t even take the pictures because my camera is out of juice, and I need the cord to recharge it. 

As you can see, my camera cord is my lifeline.

I’ve looked and looked and looked throughout those weeks’ time–cleaning out drawers and nooks and bags and suitcases and pockets to no avail (at least the house is in better shape then when I started). 

Today I finally broke down and prayed about it (who prays about a thing as silly as a lost camera cord?  Apparently I don’t).

I hadn’t even finished praying when I suddenly thought of a bookbag in which I didn’t think I’d yet checked.  So I did, but it wasn’t there.  Oh, well.  Just shows how silly it is to pray about stupid things like camera cords.

I checked again, though, just to make sure–pulling out the books this time–and there coiled in the very bottom was my cord. 

And that’s a fact.

Coincidence?  Maybe…but seeing as I’ve been searching high and low for weeks without success…I doubt it.

Cast all your cares upon Him, for He careth for you.  1 Peter 5:7

And that’s the truth.

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A Day For Green(houses)

Once upon a time (a few weeks back), my phone rang.  Boy, am I glad I answered…because on the line was the opportunity of a lifetime (or at least, the offer of one).  A family at church was shorthanded and wondered could I come help them through planting season (they operate a small greenhouse).  All my life I’ve wanted to work in a greenhouse.  So of course I said yes.

For those of you who, like me until last month, know little about the innerworkings of a greenhouse, let me introduce you to one:

It all starts with this huge bale wrapped in black plastic.  And by huge, I mean HUGE (you’ll see in a minute).  Guess what’s inside this bale?  DIRT (peat) that they mine (yes, for real, they mine dirt) in apparently endless supply from Canadian peat bogs.  Go figure.

What you’re seeing here is the HUGE dirt bale (I told you it was big!) being loaded into the dirt machine.  I’ll tell you about the dirt machine in a minute, but first I’ll introduce you to that big stack of black on the left of these pictures:

These bad boys are plant flats.  The greenhouse goes through hundreds of these things in a day, so any downtime we workers get between planting and, oh, planting…we spend assembling these stacks.

Now back to the dirt machine:

On your average planting crew (and by average, I mean the only planting crew I’ve ever been on), one person loads empty flats onto a belt, which then whisks the flats deep into the bowels of that frighteningly red metal giant: the dirt machine.  The dirt machine’s job is to dump dirt into the flats, so that when they come out on the other side, they look like this:

See?  All nice and full of peat.  Yay!!  It’s big news in the life of a flat, people, because THIS is where the plants come in:

The planters stand along the conveyor belt just on the other side of the wall from the dirt machine.  Along come the empty flats and WHAM the planters jump all over them.  Like this:

Check out that planter in action!  She (and by she, I really mean I) uproots the ‘plugs’ by their leaves (they’ve already been ‘punched’ out of their seed trays by a machine that looks remarkably like a stiff-bristled brush ((each bristle matches up with one of the little holes you can see on the left of the above picture))) and pushes them into the loose peat with her forefinger (one plant per pot).  The only trick is that the whole time she’s doing this, the belt is MOVING!  So it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.  Especially for one who’s never planted before.

After being planted, the plant trays move on down the line to get ‘tagged’ with a label like ‘petunia’ (that’s what you see above).  During the course of my three week planting stint, we planted petunias, impatiens, dianthas, snap dragons, and maybe even pansies (I can’t remember). 

Then the planted, tagged trays get loaded onto carts…

…and distributed throughout the greenhouse, where they’ll be given lots of sun, water, and growth hormones.  Grow, babies, grow!

I loved it, and I’m so glad Andy and Tammy let me come!  If you ever get the chance…try it some time.

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