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Category Archives: Practical Things

Practical ideas, approaches and tools for a Rice and Beans Life

9 Fun Facts for the 4th of July (and a Fun Poem)

BANG!

I love fun facts and here are some fun ones for the 4th of July. As we have go forth to whoop it up as Americans today let’s be proud of who we are. Proud of the profound and serious as well as the silly and fantastical. Have a wonderful and safe holiday!

  1. Francis Scott Key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner was a 35-year-old American lawyer at the time of it’s writing.
  2. Independence Day has been celebrated since the 18th century but was not made a federal holiday until 1941.
  3. According to census information available the estimated population of the United States of America in July 1776: 2.5 million; Estimated population July 2011: 311.7 million
  4. “Because the static electricity in synthetic clothing can create sparks capable of detonating fireworks, those who make shells must stick to wearing cotton—all the way down to their underwear.”-NOVA online at www.pbs.org
  5. “Fireworks use in the U.S. rose by almost two and a half times during the 1990s, from 67.6 million pounds in 1990 to 156.9 million pounds in 1999.”-NOVA online at www.pbs.org
  6. Go here for the great story of the flag that inspired our National Anthem at smithsonianmag.com: What So Proudly We Hailed-The story behind the flag that inspired America’s national anthem,by Cate Lineberry, Smithsonian.com 2007 (note this is a longer read but really interesting!)
  7. Sparklers with metal cores can be hottest in the middle section and can reach a temperature of 1000 F degrees (some sites say 1800 F degrees-which is hot enough to melt gold!). Wooden core sparklers burn down entirely but can cause burns from falling ash. (in other words-while they are fun-Please be careful!)
  8. Hot dogs are one of the most popular foods for 4th of July. Coney Island hosted it’s 96th annual hot dog eating contest. The 2011 winner ate 62 dogs in ten minutes.
  9. You can add your name to the Declaration of Independence for fun! Add your name to the Declaration of Independence and learn fun facts here.

A fun 4th of July Poem I loved as a kid:

The Fourth
by Shel Silverstein
Oh
CRASH!
my
BASH!
it’s
BANG!
the
ZANG!
Fourth
WHOOSH!
of
BAROOOM!
July

ZANG!

CRASH!

Thoughts on the 4th of July

As we head into the 4th of July weekend, I feel compelled to consider our freedoms, our flag and how grateful I am to be a citizen of our great nation. No matter our troubles, no matter our challenges, I am an American. And I am grateful. I am grateful for those who have protected our freedoms. I am grateful for those who question our direction to make us think more deeply on it. I am grateful for our unique culture of courage and fortitude. I am grateful for the those who came before and hopeful for those who will come after. I am grateful that I still get tears in my eyes watching fireworks and hearing the Star Spangled Banner on the 4th of July. I am grateful for hot dogs on barbecues and fireworks in town squares. I am grateful for children’s faces silhouetted, dazzled by colorful celebratory explosions in the night sky. I am grateful for liberty and for the pursuit of happiness. I am grateful for religious freedom. I am grateful for red, white and blue snow cones. I am grateful that Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful moves me deeply. I am grateful that, while we are not a perfect nation, will never be a perfect nation, we strive for better in our country, even when we disagree on what that is. I am a grateful American.

Last summer we spent 4th of July in the town where this man made his home so I thought I’d share a work of his today.

RAGGED OLD FLAG

Written by Johnny Cash

I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, “Your old courthouse is kinda run down.”
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town.”
I said, “Your flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that’s a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it.
He said, “Have a seat”, and I sat down.
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town?”
I said, “I think it is.” He said, “I don’t like to brag,
But we’re kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag.”

“You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing _Oh Say Can You See_.
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin’ at its seams.”

“And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on through.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag.”

“On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.”

“She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land she’s been abused —
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied and refused.”

“And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land.
And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in.
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.”

“So we raise her up every morning,
Take her down every night.
We don’t let her touch the ground
And we fold her up right.
On second thought I DO like to brag,
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag.”

Darn This Frugal Life! ( Or How Pizza Tastes Now)

My family took me out to for dinner for my birthday last night (it was a week later than my day since our schedule hasn’t really allowed for it any sooner). We went to one of our favorite places in town to try the pizza we’d been threatening to try for a while. We don’t go out very often. When we do it usually involves special occasions for us. We shared a really nice large salad and the pizza that we’ve been meaning to check out for a while. It was good.  It was lovely to be treated to a night off from the kitchen by my husband and my boys.

As we were leaving the restaurant it hit me. This frugal life has killed pretty much all restaurant pizza for me! It was good. It wasn’t great. It didn’t hold a candle to my homemade pizza at home, which, frankly is super easy to make and really inexpensive. I’m not sure how I feel about this! I’m now too aware of how much money we spend on restaurant pizza that is a far lesser quality than what I can produce in my own kitchen.

Our pizza adventures began back when my husband left the military. In spite of all our planning, saving, and preparing, we still experienced five full months of being without an income and living off of our savings. It was a trying time and it pushed my frugal living skills to a whole new level. One night, a couple of weeks into his unemployment, our oldest son said “Mom, can we please, please have pizza? Just once? It’s been a long time.” It broke my heart to have him missing such a simple delight. It was very difficult for him to understand our financial situation since he was only four at the time. I decided to make it into a fun DIY project for us. With a little quick online research I found a great recipe for dough and pizza sauce. We were on our way. As we measured and stirred our recipes I kept telling him how this probably  wouldn’t taste like “real” pizza from a restaurant, that the important thing is how much we were having fun doing it. When it came out of the oven and onto the table, each of us bit in. We all looked up to see a look of pleasant surprise on each others faces. This wasn’t just good. This was better than restaurant pizza. Why the heck had we never tried this before? And it was so easy (granted, I own an old Kitchen Aid mixer and this helps-but really-I’d probably still do it if I didn’t have one). These days I’ve perfected my sauce to our preference by tweaking the recipes here and there. I’ve also graduated to making a double batch of dough and sauce so I can freeze one set. This give us a super easy Friday night pizza on occasion since the work is mostly done.

So, while we had a lovely night out to dinner last night and enjoyed our meal a great deal, I’ve realized our frugal life has changed our enjoyment of pizza permanently. I’ve realized I’ve ruined us for restaurant pizza for good. We all got in the car and heartily agreed on one point: Moms’ is better.

If you’ve never tried homemade pizza before, trust me. Try it. It’s fantastic. You don’t need to go out and buy a pizza pan or stone-just use an old cookie sheet for now. It’ll work fine. Be warned though: this might just ruin restaurant pizza for you too.

Homemade Pizza:

Kitchen Aid Crusty Pizza Dough Recipe (note: I prefer to use whole wheat flour with this recipe and it works great. I also sprinkle cornmeal on my pan because I like to. But that’s a personal preference thing.)

Homemade Pizza Sauce (note: I actually use only the can of crushed tomatoes in this recipe so it intensifies the flavor and makes a nice thick sauce. I figured this out when I only had a can of crushed tomato on hand. I don’t alter the other ingredients at all. If you look at the comments below the recipe you’ll see that fresh tomatoes can successfully be used as well so if you have a garden full go for it!)

The Cheese: We hand grate ours and use a combination of 2/3 mozzarella and 1/3 cheddar. I get a pound block of each and then just eyeball it to suit us. Once you’ve grated your cheese add in 1 tsp of dried Italian Herbs. It’s much better this way.

Toppings: This is up to you! Go for it!

Our first homemade pizza. We've come a long way since then!

Is Being a Naysayer Hurting Your Chance at Better?

I read a lot of blogs, a lot of books and a lot of, well, pretty much anything that comes across my path. Heck, I’m even guilty of actually reading some of my junk mail (sick, I know, right?). With so many people struggling financially and the tough state of the economy these days (don’t we constantly hear about this on the news?) I’ve seen a lot of articles and blog posts about how to save money. I’m always looking for money-saving tips myself and trying to share with you what I’ve found to be good (or not so good) for our household. I also read the comments below online articles. Readers have great insights and additional tips. I love reading them  (I also love it when people jump in and add their two cents here as well! I’m grateful for any source of wisdom!).

What I’ve noticed when I go reading lately troubles me. I’ve seen a persisting attitude of “that just won’t work for ME-therefore it’s bad advice!” For example, I recently read a blog post encouraging people to ride bikes or walk more. It had a link to a great little calculator to help determine the potential savings, and even went so far as to admit the thing might not be 100% accurate to each persons personal situation but that it might be helpful and at least interesting to check out. Then I read the comments. There were a surprising number of comments stating  reason after reason why they thought this advice was so off the mark: Can’t ride my bike to work because I live 65 miles from my job. Can’t ride my bike because it’s too hot here. Can’t walk because it takes too long. My town is not bike friendly. We don’t have sidewalks. I shook my head. And then a quote I often hear Dave Ramsey make crossed my mind:

Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.~Dale Carnegie, American author, lecturer.

I shook my head. Personally I love to bike. Our whole family does. We’re that family that you see tooling around with the kids in the bike trailer, using correct bike signals, heading to the park, or the grocery store or the library. We purposefully chose to live close to my husbands job to maximize biking and walking. We live in an environment that often shoots over the 100 mark on the thermometer. We’ve also lived in towns that aren’t bike friendly. We’ve lived in areas that lacked sidewalks. While it made it a little harder, we still managed. Because we chose to.

The thing is, it’s not really about biking or walking being some great avenue to financial savings and a more frugal life that I find to be the problem here. It’s about owning the choices we’re making. It’s about unwillingness. It’s about an attitude of reluctance to challenge yourself. I’m not saying all advice out there is good. Some of it won’t be. But don’t go throwing the baby out with the bath water. If you are happy with the state of your finances or don’t feel compelled to live a better life then by all means, stay put. No one is shoving you of the cliff of making positive changes. No one owes anyone the perfect answer or parachute, either. Sometimes you have to be willing to find the gems that work for you. Sometimes it’s one idea, heck even one sentence in an article that might speak to you. You have to find it and be inclined to see it.

Being willing to try something new or see a solution from a different angle so that it fits you better is all it takes. You have to be willing to take a chance and experience the discomfort of change or newness. And you have to take ownership of your own attitude and how it affects your personal success or failure. Check in with yourself. If you have a habit of being a naysayer-or seeing that glass as half empty-is this blinding you to the positives and the possibilities of better?  I think everyone does it at some point in our lives. But don’t let it get the best of you and be where you stay.  Some times all you have to do to succeed is to get out of your own way.

 Comment-worthy:

Have you gotten in your own way recently? What can you change your attitude about today that might open your eyes to a positive change in your life today?

Impatient Purchasing: Five Rules to Help Avoid It

Patience is supposed to be a virtue but, boy, can it be difficult to have. I find myself challenged,  more often than I like, with having patience. I recently had a run in with what I call Impatient Purchasing. It gave me the opportunity to devise five helpful rules for myself to guard against making these Impatient Purchases.

What is an Impatient Purchase? It’s not the good old-fashioned spontaneous impulse buy-where you run across something that sings to you, you know is a good deal and you can likely find it in your budget-so you go for it. An Impatient Purchase is when you buy something that doesn’t necessarily meet your needs just because you are overly motivated to meet the need more quickly than is necessary. I came close not once, but twice, this past week to succumbing to Impatient Purchasing.

The first incident occurred when I was determined to find a way to make my Fly Lady Control Journal look nice so that I would use it cheerfully and consistently (I’ve since started calling this Control Journal my Family Notebook so that I don’t feel too Type A about it). Is making this notebook pretty a necessary thing in the grand scheme of living frugally? Heck no. It’s a bit of an indulgence, I know. I have learned enough about myself to know that if it’s pretty and fun I will use it rather than shove it to the back of a dark, dusty closet only to come across the next time I do some serious cleaning or purging. I was shopping last week and found myself  in in the office supply aisle of a store we’d stopped into. I wasn’t seeing anything that sang to me. But out of misplaced determination, I started putting things in my basket telling myself I could make it work. After 15 minutes I hit my personal pause button and looked down. The first thing I noticed was there was a lot of stuff in the basket. The second thing was that, frankly, it was ugly stuff. I knew it would get me by for a while. But really, I’d likely want to change it soon because it wasn’t really my style and it wasn’t really very pretty. So I did some mental calculating of what I’d haphazardly tossed into the shopping cart. When my mental tally started edging over $20 I started putting things back on the shelves. I may have wasted 15 minutes of my life doing this, but I wasn’t going to further the “stupid tax” (yep, another Dave Ramsey term!) by blowing $20 or more on stuff to make my organizing project pretty. Especially if it wasn’t really fitting the bill. My husband and kids wandered back from window shopping at the appointed time and were surprised to find the shopping cart in the process of being unloaded back onto the shelves . I proudly said I’d rather wait till I find the right thing. We left empty handed. While I was disappointed, I still had my principles and pocketbook in tact.

The next incidence came only a few days later. I blogged last week about my missing camera. It was my birthday and I was really unhappy about losing my camera but looking forward to heading off to the city to get much needed new one. I’d decided the upside of my loss was that it was a good time to make serious upgrade to a shiny new DSLR. I’ve always wanted to take better pictures. Due to things that popped up throughout the day we never managed to get on the road to the city to buy my new camera. I was frustrated but figured we’d get down to the city in the next few days to make a purchase. That evening, I went looking for my cell phone.  I’d left it in my car. While I was out there I figured I’d search the car again myself, that maybe my husband missed finding the camera when he’d come out to look while I was searching the house earlier. Sure enough, there it was. It must have fallen out of my bag and was under a car seat. Not a good place for a camera, to be sure. Especially in 106 degree heat. But I found it. I was actually somewhat disappointed. How could I possibly justify the upgrade to that DSLR to myself now? But when I turned the camera on I noticed the LCD screen is starting to go. I thought about how long I’ve had it. It was and still is a decent camera. But it’s over four years old now. By technology standards, four years is geezer age. I decided that I would still get my DSLR. Eventually. But what I was going to do NOW was really learn how to use this camera better. I’m going to learn more about photography using what I have. This will give me time to know what my needs really are so I can find a camera that is the best fit for me.  It will give me time to save up so it won’t hurt the budget. I realized, while disappointed, I had just dodged another Impatient Purchase bullet. And this one would have been a LOT more than $20. Phew!

In the days since, I’ve had the opportunity to re-remind myself of the pitfalls of Impatient Purchasing. I’ve managed to cull out some new rules to live by and though I’d share them:

  1. Does this TRULY fit my need?
  2. Will I end up replacing this item shortly because it’s not really going to cut it?
  3. Will waiting be more beneficial even thought it’s not fun right now?
  4. How much stupid tax is this going to cost me if this is an emotional purchase instead of an intelligent one?
  5. Count to 20. Review steps 1-4. If I still feel ok about it, and it’s reasonably in the budget, proceed to checkout.

I’m grateful I took the opportunity to re-consider what I was doing. I have found that waiting has already paid off. With a little more closet searching I found a nicer binder for my Family Notebook that I already had (free upgrade already!). And while picking up some homeschool supplies we needed recently, I found a small and very reasonably priced little kit of scrapbooking paper and stickers that caught my fancy. While I’ve never scrapbooked before, I thought it might fit the bill for making my Family Notebook pretty and fun. And it was all of $5. It turned out well! I’m happy with it and already using our Family Notebook cheerfully. Heck, even my five year old said, “Hey Mom-that’s pretty!” Yay for patience!

So for fun, here are pictures of how my Family Notebook turned out. Further down are some fun pictures I’ve taken in an effort to learn enough to merit buying my DSLR camera. Eventually. It’ll take a little time. But I’m hoping I’m on the right path:

Family Notebook Cover. I like flowers.

I even did the back of our notebook.

The Audience.

This is MOM'S Notebook Pencil!

Oh Coffee.

My morning.

Comment worthy:

So, have you found yourself regretting making an Impatient Purchase? How did you handle it? Do you have a tip or rule I can add to my list?

Curve Balls of Life: An Opportunity to Roll With It

“Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger, sometimes you’re the ball”-Mary Chapin Carpenter

Sometimes life lobs curve balls at us. This is a truism for everyone, whether we are baseball fans or not. Sometimes the ball even manages to smack you and, while you get to take your base, there’s a part of you that’s a little sore from it. This morning is not the best morning for a curveball, but a minor one happened to come along. My camera is gone. We’ve turned the house and car and all our bags upside down and it’s just plain old gone. I recall where I last saw it but it’s simply not there. Where did it go? I haven’t the slightest idea. We’d planned to spend today lighting birthday candles, maybe taking a bike ride, doing some low key fun birthday type things. I’m getting to turn 37 today (how cool is that?). But my camera is gone. Dang it. I live in a pretty rural town (think Napoleon Dynamite meets Smoke Signals) where shopping is scarce and technology can only be had at the local Walmart or a half empty Radio Shack. So it looks like a bit of a road trip to the city is in order. I just don’t like not having a camera. You can’t have your birthday without a camera to commemorate. Even a not-so big one like 37.

But here’s the funny thing. I’ve been noticing lately that my camera is starting to get old and wasn’t working so well anymore. I’ve wanted to learn how to take better pictures for a long time anyway. I’ve decided this is a great opportunity to take some lemons and make some lemonade. It’s not what we planned for this day but we’re going to roll with it. That’s part of what life is, sometimes just rolling with it is the thing to do. It might even lead to some fantastic game changing results. Who knows? Sometimes you hit home runs or a good line drive. Sometimes you hit a pop fly that you watch sail up and then down again to plop squarely into the center fielder’s mitt. And sometimes you get lobbed a curveball or just get beaned. It doesn’t mean you don’t still love the game and I do.

So today, I’m rolling with it. Here’s to baseball. Here’s to life tossing me the opportunity to take on the challenge that has been brewing in the back of my mind anyway. And here’s to a great year ahead.

You’ll have to excuse me for now. Because I’m a Rice and Beans girl I need to go quickly review the budget and find out how much I can manage to wiggle out of it. Maybe today will bring me a great new camera. And if I’m really lucky-maybe I’ll run across a great baseball game too.

Not Letting Busy Get the Best of Us: Finding My Solution to Stay on Track

Life in our household has recently become busy. Busier than we’d anticipated for summer being upon us. When I had thought of this summer during the history making freeze that hit us here in the desert last winter, I had envisioned lazy slow days and getting used to dry heat again (having spent the last many summers in the humid Southeast). I had envisioned field trips to find petroglyphs as a family and camping trips-maybe even to the Grand Canyon this year (we haven’t had much in the way of summer vacations in the last several years)! But at the end of May we were presented with the opportunity for my husband to work a lot of overtime through the summer. We looked at our financial goals and realized it could fast track us to the finish line of our debt free life. We just had to be willing to “live like no one else so that we could live like no one else” (yes, I listen to a lot of Dave Ramsey. It keeps me real with myself financially and it inspires me to stay on track). So. With a little bit of sadness to let go the lazy days of summer we decided to go for it and be done with debt once and for all by Fall. This meant maybe two or three days (not weekends-but only days) off a month if we are lucky for the next four months. We decided that, having survived two military war-zone deployments, at least he is in the same town and will, mostly, come home once a day to see us. We could do this. We prepared to put our heads down, square our shoulders and put our backs into it as we invited the stronger winds upon us. We embraced the blessing of opportunity. This was still the beginning of May.

By mid June I was already beat. Our routines had been tossed by those winds of hard work and a family visit managed to throw us off track all the more. I was struggling and not happy about it. After a bit of a tirade one evening to my ever-patient husband to let off some steam, I decided there is always an answer. I just needed to do what I’ve become so adept at doing. I reached down and yanked myself up by my bootstraps. I took a hard look at how I was contributing to my  failure to adapt to our new schedule. I quickly realized my attitude was in need of adjustment. I prayed for strength (I do that a lot too.). I went to bed early for good measure in order to get up the next morning determined to find the answers and be cheerful about it too.

The next day, up I got. I poured some coffee, got the kids dressed and took them outside to play while I began my quest to organize our lives so that we could get things done everyday as painlessly as possible and still manage to have fun. I needed a way to smooth out the bumps. I started out by looking for some meal planning instruction because mealtimes were not going so well. I kept finding myself trying to toss a meal together at the last minute and dinnertime kept having it’s way with me by sneaking up and shouting “boogity boogity!” each and every night (which is really ridiculous considering dinner is something that comes daily and I know this). I quickly stumbled upon a very lovely menu planning printout that was free and I said to myself-THAT’S RIGHT! Not only do I need this to be organized and practical but I need it to meet my particular and peculiar need to look lovely so I’ll actually use it. I have a great habit of re-using and re-purposing in this house, but I still find that most things need to meet a certain aesthetic criteria for me to use it consistently and cheerfully. So after some further poking around online I found the FlyLady’s Control Journal-which is basically a daily roadmap for family life-much like a homemade version of the organizer I used to depend upon back when I worked outside the home. I’d heard of the FlyLady before and I’m pretty sure I had even a vague memory of this Control Journal in the recesses of my mind. I quickly discovered that this was, indeed, the answer I’d been after. Hallelujah!

So I am now in the process of putting together our Control Journal. It’s slow going (as the FlyLady recommends) but I’ve prioritized the sections that I need to add in first to at least get us some smoother sailing so we can move forward a bit at a time. For now, it’s contents are in an ugly black binder that I had on hand, but I’ve found some prettier planning printouts to put inside of it. I’m sure in the next few days I’ll manage to find or create something more charming-more like my homegrown recipe collection book that houses all my recipes for wonderful concoctions from apple cake to homemade all purpose cleaner to laundry soap. And while I haven’t gotten to make my “summer board” that I’d mentioned in my previous post, I now have a centralized list, a place to put my plan for that board, and a way to get things back on track and moving smoothly so we can, indeed, look back on this summer and see it as one full of wonderful memories in spite of the hard work and “busy” that is upon us. It’s been only a matter of days, but I have to say this is already working and I can see how it’s going to be a great solution for our family. I’ll keep you posted about my progress with it.

So, dear readers, I’d love your help on this one: What things do you do to keep your busy family life from running you down like a Mack truck? Post your comments here on my blog if you’d be so kind. I could use all the help I can get!

My recipe book-I want my control manual to be a little more like this

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