Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saving on Vacation!

Let's face it, vacations can get expensive.  So whether you are camping and or staying at a hotel or resort, there are always ways to save a little...or sometimes a lot!

We're not the spontaneous type of vacationers.  We can't be.  Well, finances aside, my husband could.  He could toss some clothes in a bag and be out the door in an hour.  Finances aside, I can NOT.  I have to have a plan.  Let's just leave it at that.  LOL  Now, taking finances into account, we plan so that we can make the most of the money we have to spend while on vacation.  Pre-planning also makes the vacation more relaxing.  

We decide pretty early in the year where we are going for vacation.  We've had years where we've done a few long weekends instead of one long vacation.  Once we decide where we're going, we start researching the area.  We aren't above being tourists, but we do like finding things off the beaten path.  I like to look online for the website for the city or the chamber of commerce for that area.  Many times, I've found a calendar of events that lists local festivals or interesting events.  

We do have a few things we have made family traditions.  First Mom always gets one "educational" day.  I try to find something interesting and fun that will teach us something about the area.  On our recent vacation, while in St. Augustine Florida, we toured the old downtown area, we toured the Castillo de San Marcos, a part of the National Parks Service, this fort was build in 1672.

We not only learned a lot, we got to see the cannon firing (a big hit with my 9 year old son) and it was only $7 per adult, kids free.  

We even got to see a Schooner and a Pirate ship.

Despite the initial grumblings from the kids, who just wanted beach time, everyone had a blast that day.  Another tradition we have is that Dad gets a bumming day of just doing nothing.  In St. Augustine, he enjoyed holding down a beach chair under an umbrella with a picnic on the beach.  Of course, our teen daughter got to shop.  And our son, the short dude, got to swim.

Another way that we found to save a large amount of money is in the food department.  Generally, if we are staying in a hotel, we try to find one that offers breakfast and has a microwave and fridge in the room.  Unfortunately, those don't seem to exist when you want to stay at a hotel ON the beach.  So we improvised.  We packed a cooler, an electric skillet and a hot pot and a surge bar (make sure and check with your hotel to make sure they're allowed).  It's a given that lunches out are cheaper than dinners, so our plan was to have fabulous lunches and cook a late dinner at the end of our day.  We did plan for 2 dinners out, the day we got there and the day we left, that works around packing and unpacking.  I also went to the local grocery (in this case a Publix) when we got there to pick up the perishable food and ice.

For our breakfasts, we had oatmeal one day, pancakes one day, cereal once and we had pop tarts that can double as a snack if needed.  The hot pot was great for making instant oatmeal and hot cocoa or coffee. 

For dinners, we had BLT's one night.  We had lemon chicken, we used those Land-O-Lakes sauce cubes that you melt in the skillet and saute the chicken in it.  With it we had Stove Top stuffing and corn, the hot pot made those an easy to make, too.  I even made extra chicken so that the following day, for our picnic on the beach, we had chicken salad on crackers.  I will admit that although the BLT's were delicious, frying bacon in the room on day 2 wasn't my brightest idea.  It took a while for the bacon smell to go away.  Oops!  I also got a veggie tray and a fruit tray at the grocery to have with our dinners.  

For the amount of one nice dinner for the 4 of us, I bought food at the grocery to have in the room that covered 4 breakfasts, one lunch and 3 dinners plus various snacks and munchies.  With the exception of our picnic on the beach, we ate at some really nice local restaurants.  That is another family tradition that we do any time we are out of town, we find local "Mom and Pop" type restaurants to eat at.  Ask the locals, ask more than one person.  It was funny because we were referred to one place that was close to where we were at the moment and thought, "why not?"  When we got to the place all four of use looked at each other and almost in unison said "I don't think so!"  You know, it wasn't the end of the world, we just went to the other restaurant that was recommended more than once.  The first restaurant was scary, the second was gourmet pizza.  Score!

With a little pre-planning and creativity, you can save money on vacation!  And still have a great time!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How does the Garden grow?

Hello everyone!  I had this idea a couple of weeks ago to take pictures of my garden before vacation and after to see the changes.  When you have a garden and you see it every day, you don't always notice the changes in it until suddenly a seedling that just popped up is now 4" tall.  Or you have produce to pick.  Until you have been away from it for a little bit of time, you don't really notice the progress it makes.  

I took the before pictures the day before I was hospitalized so with being in the hospital and then going on vacation, I would say there are about 15 days between the before and after pictures.

These are the cantaloupe and radishes in the foreground and the green beans at the top.  

This one is a bit different, I forgot how I took the before picture so I pieced together the after.  The first picture is the before with leeks in the front, cauliflower and broccoli in the middle and then tomatoes in the fenced area.  The middle picture shows the leeks and the cauliflower and broccoli and the final picture shows the tomatoes looking from the end of the fenced area.

Please forgive the weeds, I literally took the after pictures the day we got home.  And always remember, no garden is perfect and unless you are using chemicals, you'll always have weeds to contend with. Also, in my after pictures, my poor plants were in desperate need of water.  Normally, I have newspaper and straw on the walkways but I have been in the hospital 3 times in the last 2 months so I deal with what I can.  Remember, a garden can be forgiving and is never, ever perfect.  Luckily, my tiller has tines that come off and my wonderful husband ran the tiller between the rows for me to help with the weeds that grew while we were gone.  My son harvested some radishes and some cucumbers.  My health just won't let me spend a lot of time in the garden right now so this was not just super helpful but also shows that the garden is a family project.  

I always find it fascinating to see my garden after I've been away for a while. In a matter of a couple of weeks, notice the difference in size of the cauliflower and the green beans.  The tomatoes had not only doubled (at least) in size but I came home to tomatoes on the vine...just waiting on them to turn red.  I also had cucumbers ready.  The cucumbers aren't in the pictures because I only planted a few for table eating, last year I planted enough to put up Dill pickles and Bread & Butter pickles for a couple of years.

That's something else that I do that I found helpful, especially when I came to the city and had limited garden space, is that I plan the garden to try to grow enough to "put up" enough for two years.  Tomatoes are the exception, I plant a ton of those every year, generally 4 or 5 dozen plants, but we use a lot of tomato products, salsa, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, the tomatoes themselves...a LOT of tomato products...LOL.  As for everything else, I try to plant a large quantity of a veggie to put up.  This year it's green beans and sweet potatoes.  I only planted a dozen sweet potatoes but that should be enough for us.  We eat them not only as a side dish but we prefer sweet potato pie rather than pumpkin.  

The green beans oh, I planted a lot of those.  And I did what's called succession planting.  I planted a dozen 10' (roughly) rows with the rows spaced wider than normal so that I could come back later and plant rows between the first rows.  There is a method to the madness here.  By doing succession planting, I don't have to deal with tons and tons of green beans all at one time.  They have to be picked, cleaned, snapped, and processed in a pressure canner.  I have done an entire garden full before and it sucked.  Once you start, you have to keep going until you are done.  By planting in succession, you can break that up in sessions and not have to do it all at once.  It's much easier and that makes me happy.  LOL.

Are you noticing how quickly your garden is growing?

Monday, June 17, 2013


We just returned from vacation last night.  We took the kids to Disney and then on to St. Augustine, Florida.  It was a great trip, the kids had so much fun.  Even spending the "you're gonna learn something" day with Mom in the historic part of St. Augustine.  The funny part of it is that they enjoyed it.

I was able to get some southern peaches to bring home to make jam with.  The only downside when I did this last year was hand peeling all of those peaches.  My friend, the chef, tells me this year that I can treat them like tomatoes and blanch and shock them to slip the skins off.  Where, oh where was she last year?  LOL.

For those that don't know what that means, if you take a paring knife and cut a little skin off the top and bottom and then dip the tomato (or peach) into boiling water for 2-3 minutes and then move it to sink full of ice water to stop the cooking process and let them sit there for 2-3 minutes.  The skins should slip right off or need very minimal help in coming off.

That is how I am going to deal with the peaches this year.  Then I'm making jam.  

I know I could have gotten my peaches here but it's always better buying local because it is fresher.  I eliminate the processing and shipping time by getting them myself while I was on vacation.  Of course, this doesn't work when you're flying but we can't afford to fly so we drive...LOL.

That's also a great hint too, if you buy things in your area when they are in season, they are cheaper and fresher.  There is almost always a way to "put up" the items that you get in season.  So stock up while things are fresh and cheap!

If you haven't planted your own stuff, find a U-pick place and take the family and you can pick things pretty quickly working as a team!  Enjoy the fruits and veggies that are fresh and in season now!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Missing In Action!

I just thought I should drop a note to let you all know, I haven't forgotten about you.  I had a brief hospitalization and am taking a short vacation.  I will be back next week!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Unconventional Gardening

I've been thinking about this post for a while.  Some of the ingenious ways people use things in their garden continuously amazes me.  I'm all for reduce, reuse and recycle and this just takes it to the garden.  Finding creative ways to improve your garden can not only use something that would otherwise end up in the landfill but also saves you money in that you don't have to go out and buy something to fill that purpose.

I've talked about the old garden arch that I use for my blackberries.  Someone gave it to me because the actual gates on it had rusted off.  I've recently moved it and the berries, but here is how it looked with the berries on it last year.
That is a piece of an old cut up telephone pole in front of it in an attempt to stop the Blackberries from didn't work, they spread from underground.  We try something and if it doesn't work, you readjust and try something else.  My garden is always evolving...

One thing that made me really start thinking about this post more in depth is a friend, Erica had shared a picture of her peas.
She was needing something to let her peas trail up on and found the items sold at the local big box store were somewhat expensive.  She found this old scrap of construction fence and tacked it with nails and duct tape to her fence and her peas are loving climbing it!  Ingenious!

Another friend, Lisa,  was having trouble with rabbits coming through a fence and getting into her garden.  She found a solution for that too in old baby gates.
It's hard to see in this picture, but she has fencing around the garden but the rabbits were coming through the fence.  Again, another ingenious way to make do with what you have and it kept these old gates out of the landfill.

Something I thought was very cool, Erica also found a neat way to grow potatoes.
A tall laundry basket!  Ingenious!  This would be perfect for those who don't really have an area where they can plant and grow potatoes.  She is adding dirt inside as the plant grows, this would take the place of hilling it in the ground.

I asked around about unconventional things that people do in their garden.  I was told of one family who built an trellis over their new deck and planted grapes on either side.  Eventually, they'll be able to just walk under it to pick grapes.  Not only is this pretty but it will sure save on your back when picking!

Another friend was talking about running out of room in their little back yard, so they built a vertical herb garden.  She's going to send me a picture, once I receive that I'll share it.  On the same lines, my friend Tracy shared that some people lean pallets up against something (fence, garage, etc.) and pack it full of dirt and plant things in the spaces between the boards facing you.  Either of these would be great for a small space.  

Jennifer shared that they use lemon and lime bags over their strawberry plants to protect them from birds.  Alisha shared that she uses IKEA bags for potatoes.  I'm going to have to see what an IKEA bag is...LOL.

I know some gardeners who've used their existing fences to allow viney plants to grow on.  If you're doing this with peas or even green beans, you're fine.  But if you are doing bigger produce like cucumbers, squash or zucchini, the legs of old pantyhose can be used to put the veggie in and then tie it to the fence so that it has some support.

Finally, Erica shared this website with me that shows you how to make your own seed starting pots out of nothing more than newspapers.  Another thing with newspapers is for weed control.  I put them down in my walkways and then put straw on top.  The newspapers stop the sun from allowing weed seeds to start and the straw keeps me from breaking through the paper when I walk in the aisles.

So, are there any unconventional things you use in your garden?  Feel free to share ideas as we can all always learn something new!  Happy Gardening!

Saturday, June 1, 2013


The first strawberries are coming in!  Normally, I'd get half a dozen red ones when they first come on, these are the first ones I've gotten this year.  From the looks of the strawberries that aren't quite ripe yet, this is going to be a bumper year for me!  This is a good thing because I make Jam.  Everyone loves the classic strawberry and a new favorite I stumbled on is triple berry.  When I was making jam last year, I had a few strawberries, a few blueberries and a few blackberries left over, not enough of any of them to make a full batch of jam so I just chucked them all in the pot together and made jam.  Everyone loved it.  This year, I've experimented with some strawberries that I got from the Farmer's Market and made some Strawberry-Vanilla jam with some vanilla bean paste.  I need to tweak it a bit, I think it needs a little more vanilla but everyone who has tried it has loved it.

Even if you don't grow strawberries yourself, go find a U-pick place or even just your local farmer's market and get some freshly picked ones.  There truly isn't a better tasting strawberry!

A little hint, if you don't make jam and just want some wonderful berries when they aren't in season and so reasonably priced, you can freeze them.  I put wax paper on sheet pans and just take the green tops off the NOT wash them until you are taking them out of the freezer to use them or they'll get mushy.  I spread the berries in a single layer on the wax paper and pop the sheet trays in the freezer until the berries are frozen solid.  Then just move them to a Ziploc baggie and seal and put in the freezer.  They are great to use later this way and you get that fresh, in season taste.