Sep 132012


Homemade Pantry cover



Alana Chernila has written a lovely cookbook on a subject near and dear to my heart—preparing foods at home. It’s called The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. You may know Alana from her blog Eating From The Ground Up.

Alana lists the benefits of foods made at home:

  • They are better for you
  • They taste better
  • They usually cost less
  • They eliminate unnecessary packaging
  • They will change how you think about food.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There s a wide range of recipes: dairy, canned goods, soups, pastas, condiments, breads, crackers, cereal, beverages and desserts.

Although I’ve been making yogurt for years, I picked up a tip to keep the milk from scorching the bottom of the pan. Before adding the milk, put an ice cube in the pan. Turn on the heat and let the ice melt. Move the pan around so the melting ice coats the bottom of the pan. When the ice is melted, add the milk on top of the water. Be careful not to touch the bottom of the pan with a metal spoon when you stir.

Each recipe is prefaced by an essay that tells a story about Alana or her family. The book is filled with beautiful photos that inspire me to get into the kitchen and cook.

A couple of caveats. Some readers may object to a small bit of profanity in the essays.  And there is a typo in the white bread recipe.  Since I can’t eat gluten, I haven’t tried any of the bread or cracker recipes. But if you do try the white bread recipe, there is a mistake in the amount of salt. The recipe should read teaspoons, not tablespoons of salt.

The ideal reader for this book is someone who has some basic cooking experience and wants to spread her (or his) wings. Many recipes may be too complicated for the brand new cook or for someone who has little time to spend in the kitchen. And experienced cooks may find the book to be too basic. You can check out many of Alana’s recipes at her blog and see if the book looks right for you.

Jun 272011


Gardening is a delightful, money-saving hobby. But it also involves a series of skills that need to be learned. Your best teacher is right outside your door—your garden. As we tend our yards, the garden gives us feedback. It shows us what is working and what’s not.

The leaves on your flower and vegetable plants can tell you about the state of your soil. Are the leaves a healthy bright green? Or are they turning light green to yellow? That’s often a sign that the plant isn’t getting enough nitrogen. Do the older leaf edges look as if they are scorched? Then maybe your plant doesn’t have enough potassium. Are the older leaves reddish purple, especially on the underside of the leaf? Then the problem may be not enough phosphorus. Try adding a small amount of balanced fertilizer and see how your plant responds.

Do you ever wonder how often you need to water? Push your finger a couple of inches into the soil to find out when it needs water.

By observing and recording information, you’ll learn which varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers do best in your garden and how much of each crop to plant.

Science project

Turn your inner scientist loose in the backyard for homemade science projects. Create a couple of small experimental and control plots. Then use them to try different plant spacing, planting times or pest control methods to see which ones work best. Gardens are terrific educational tools for both children and adults.

Try planting different flowers and herbs mixed in with your vegetables and see which ones help attract beneficial insects and confuse the unfriendly pests. Sally Jean Cunningham’s book Great Garden Companions has good suggestions to get you started.


Our yards can teach us about design too. When you are in your garden, look around. Does your yard have the look and feel that you want, whether that’s serene, woodsy, formal, natural, abundant or whimsical? Are there are places to entertain and play? Are there comfortable spots to sit, relax and enjoy the view? Is there a view? Have you planned some focal points for your yard? Even the humble vegetable patch can be designed to be beautiful as well as practical. Little by little, we can create a place we enjoy spending time.

Our gardens provide us with feedback on our efforts. If we pay attention, we can learn to be better gardeners.

May 202011

A review of Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

In Time Management from the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern to writes that she has found that “the single most common obstacle people face in managing their time lies in the way that they view time.” It seems that there are quite a few of us who have no idea how long a task will take or how many things we can fit into a day. Morgenstern’s solution is to find ways to make time tangible.

How much time does it take?

Morgenstern suggests that we begin to learn how to estimate time better by choosing three tasks and writing down how long we think they will take. Then time them on three different occasions. Another method she suggests is to put a time estimate next to the items on our to-do list. After completing the job, write down how long it actually took. Morgenstern says that after two weeks, we should be much better at estimating the time we need for our projects.

How much time do we have?

Next we need to figure out how much we can do each week. Morgenstern suggests creating a “time map”, a chart that looks like a high school schedule. Instead of class periods, there are hours marked off for the different projects. English and Calculus are replaced by blocks of time marked “Client Meetings” and “Family Time”.

For people who want or need something less structured, Morgenstern suggests dividing tasks by the time needed to complete them. Then create three lists: one for chores that take 5 minutes or less, another for those that take 30 minutes or less and a third for tasks that take 1 hour or less. When some time opens up, choose a job from the appropriate list.

Another approach is Morgenstern’s Balance Tracker. Write down how much time you want to spend on the different areas of your life each week. As you complete a task, mark the time in the right column. As the week progresses, you can look at your tracker and see which areas need your attention.

From organizing to time management

Unlike many time management gurus, Julie Morgenstern originally made her mark as a home organizer. It shows. For example, she compares an overstuffed schedule to a cluttered closet. Morgenstern’s fresh approach makes a nice complement to the usual time management techniques.

Apr 232011


If you want to save money on your groceries, start in the kitchen. Home cooking is one of the best ways to stretch our food dollars. We can prepare make most foods in the supermarket aisles much less expensively at home. When we buy convenience foods, we are paying for the price of someone else cooking for us, plus the cost of packaging, marketing and distribution.

There are other reasons beyond saving money to cook. You can eliminate excess sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and unpronounceable chemicals that are part of many convenience foods. You can fix healthy meals and adjust your cooking to your family’s diet and their likes and dislikes.

And finally, there is taste. A good home-cooked meal is delicious.

If you don’t know how to cook or if you want to expand your skills, there’s lots of help at hand.


Ask friends for cooking tips. Swap tried-and-true recipes. Have a cooking session with a friend. You can dish while you cook a dish.


Check your library for books on whatever style of food you enjoy. If you are new to cooking, look for books that explain basic techniques. The Cooking for Dummies is a good starter book.

When I first learned to cook, my two favorite books were a vintage Betty Crocker Cookbook and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Julia Child’s recipes were lengthy, but she explained why you did each step. Her recipes always turned out deliciously.

Take a class

Look for free and low-cost classes in your area. Health food stores and upscale kitchenware shops sometimes have free demonstrations. Or take a cooking class online.

Watch a cooking demonstration on TV and videos

Cooking shows are a staple on PBS and, of course, on the Food Network. You don’t need cable to watch the Food Network. They have has over 5000 videos online.

You can get cooking videos from Netflix. And YouTube has lots of cooking videos for free, for example: Great Depression Cooking with Clara to Maangchi’s Korean Cooking Show

Learn from other cooks on forums and email groups

Chowhound is one of the best foodie sites online. Check out their home cooking board.

Those who to cook ahead, might enjoy the Friendly Freezer email group.

If you or a family member is on a special diet, you can find a community of cooks who’ve perfected recipes for that diet. I cook gluten-free and have learned a lot from Baking and Cooking Tips at

Blogs, websites and recipe searches

If you’ve ever looked for recipes online, you’ve come across Allrecipes. They have a massive collection of recipes, reviewed by their readers.

Check out some of the smaller sites too. Karen Petersen blogs about cooking in a slow cooker. Ree Drummond cooks in the country in The Pioneer Women Cooks! Clotilde Dusoulier shares her love of cooking and French flair on Chocolate and Zucchini. Vegetarians and others can enjoy the recipes and gorgeous photos on Vegan Yum Yum

There are some great frugal cooking sites, such as Cook for Good, the 99 Cent Chef and Living on a Dime. Even the government has a low-cost recipe site.

Don’t forget your favorite search engine. Type in the word “recipe” and the name of the dish or some ingredients.


Try new recipes and cooking techniques. Plan a day every week or every other week when you will try something new. Sample and rate the results. Doing is the best teacher of all.

Apr 082011


a vase of purple azaleas

Purple Azaleas

Cut flowers grace a home. And you can get some spectacular blossoms for free just by doing your annual pruning a bit early.

Many spring-flowering shrubs are pruned after blooming. The annual trimming keeps the bushes from getting leggy. Shrubs like spring-flowering azaleas, bridal wreath (Spirea x vanhouttei), forsythia, lilacs, mock-orange, rhododendron and weigela are pruned soon after flowering.

But you can start your pruning while they are still blooming and use the pruned branches for spectacular bouquets. Before you take your first cut, study the bush for a while and think how you would like it to look. I prefer a natural-looking shape. It fits my cottage garden landscape (also known as the jungle). Is the shrub getting too tall? Is it crowding its neighbors? Are there stray branches that look out of place? Choose which branches you would like to prune and choose those for your bouquet.

Then finish the pruning after the shrub has finished blooming. Prune a few of the oldest, largest stems. Cut them close to the ground to stimulate new growth. Then trim the rest of the bush to get the look you desire.

Branches from shrubs and trees are known as “woodies” in the cut flower trade. You can use them for artistic arrangements or just let them fall naturally (or almost naturally) in a vase.

If you have flowering bushes landscaping your home, experiment with cutting some branches. Enjoy their blossoms inside as well as outside.

Mar 172011


A DIY Germination test

Do you have seeds left from last year or the year before? While some seeds (like parsnips and onions) are good for just year or two, many seeds will still grow when they are several years old, if they have been stored where it’s dry and not too warm. It’s easy to test older seeds to see if they are still good.


You probably have most or all of the things you need to get started. You will need:

  • a paper coffee filter or a piece of a paper towel
  • plastic bag
  • masking tape and pen to label the bag
  • water
  • and, of course, seeds.
Step 1

Write the seed name on a piece of masking tape. Stick the label on a plastic bag.

Step 2

Moisten the filter or paper towel. Don’t get it too wet. Aim for damp, not soaking wet. Squeeze out any excess water. Then smooth the filter or towel.

Step 3

Sprinkle the seeds on the filter or towel. If you are doing a home germination test, use 10 seeds to make it simple to figure the percentage of seeds that sprout.

Step 4

Fold the filter or towel and place in the plastic bag. Blow into the bag to provide some air. Then close the bag.

Step 5

I store my bags in an open show box, near a window.

Step 6

Check the seeds every couple of days until they sprout.

Step 7

After the seeds sprout, you can transplant them into pots or a seed flat. Handle the baby seedlings very gently. You might try a toothpick to lift the seedlings to their new home.

This simple way to sprout most seeds has lots of uses beyond a DIY germination test:

  • You can use this method to start seeds indoors in the winter.
  • It hastens the sprouting of slow-germinating seeds like parsley
  • Try sprouting lettuce and other seeds indoors during summer’s hottest days when the outside temperature is too warm for seeds to germinate.


sprouted pea seeds

Some pea seeds, newly sprouted, with 100% germination


Feb 242011

Start small

A new home business is exciting venture. But if you’ve never started a home business before (or even if you have), there is a way to save yourself lots of headaches. Start small.

Building your business one step at a time has lots of advantages.

Test your market

Big corporations market test their new products. Home businesses can do the same thing. By starting small, you can discover if there is a demand for your product or service? Are you targeting the right market? Are you selling through the right venue? Are you charging enough or too much? Is your marketing effective?

Minimize upfront cost

Most of us don’t have piles of money to pour into a business or a venture capitalist on hand, ready to supply funds. Instead we bootstrap our business. We can use our initial profits to build the next stage of the business.

Start part-time

You can start your new business while working at your current job. You job will provide the funding for your new business and the necessary cash for living expenses while your business grows. Starting part-time also gives you a chance to find the right balance for work, home and family.

Make mistakes on a small scale

You are going to make mistakes in new business. Lots of them. We all do. But by starting small, your initial mistakes will be less costly and you’ll have a smaller audience.

Master new skills

A business involves many different skills: If you sell a produce, you need to learn how to buy in-demand merchandise at a good price and track inventory. If you provide a service, you need to do that skillfully. All businesses require planning, marketing, selling, customer service, paperwork and bookkeeping. If your business is on the Internet or uses social marketing, you need do be able to do various tasks there too.

By starting small, you can build your skills at a pace that won’t be overwhelming. You can also learn when it’s best to outsource work to someone else.

Learn from feedback.


As your business grows, you will be able to see what products or services sell well. If your business is online, you can use your web host’s statistics to see which pages have the most visitors and perform the best. You can test your marketing methods and see what brings in sales. Then you can build your business, your web site and your marketing on what works.

Feb 212011

One of the great pleasures on a cold winter day is browsing through seed catalogs. I love to see the beautiful photos and imagine how different plants would look in my garden.

You can buy seeds locally, but catalogs often carry varieties that are hard to find in the neighborhood garden center or big box store.  For example, I can find cornfield beans that grow in semi-shade, a dazzling array of melons from around the world and peppers sized to grow in containers. A good catalog also provides information about how to grow different plants.

Periodically I need to remind myself that seed catalogs are written by professionals in order to sell products. In order to keep my seed purchases within a reason budget, I developed a few strategies.

Inventory current seeds

Many commercial seeds, if stored well, are usable for several years after they are purchased. Seeds need to be kept from heat and humidity. I store my seed collection in covered airtight containers in the refrigerator. A small amount of silica gel (from a craft store) wrapped in a paper towel, several tissues or a bit of fabric absorbs excess humidity. You can also use the packets of drying material that comes in many vitamin bottles.

However some vegetable seeds only keep one to two years, such as:

  • sweet corn
  • onions
  • leeks
  • chives
  • Swiss chard
  • parsley
  • okra
  • parsnips.

Pelleted seeds also are short-lived.

Think about last year’s garden

What worked? What didn’t? Were there any gaps? Each year I try to keep a running list of the hits and misses in my garden. The Cloud Nine eggplants were prolific, but I wished they were open-pollinated instead of hybrids. I didn’t like last year’s zucchini selection. And last fall I wished for some peppers and tomatoes that were planted in containers that could be brought inside on cold nights.

Plan the garden

A garden plan doesn’t have to be perfectly scaled or incredibly detailed. Even rough sketches indicating major plantings help me decide what seeds are needed and how much to buy.

Prioritize the wish list

Every year, there are more seeds and plants I’d like to try than my budget or garden space will allow. So I fall back on an old-fashioned technique: I prioritize my want list. What seeds do I need? What seeds do I most want to get this year and what ones can wait for another time? After all, as baseball fans say, there’s always next year.

Dec 062010

6 Ways to Find Home Business Ideas

Do you want to start a home business, but don’t know where to begin? No problem. Get out a few sheets of paper. Let’s brainstorm some business ideas.

1. What do you enjoy doing?

It isn’t essential that you like what you do for a living. And if you do what you love, the money won’t necessarily follow. Still it will make working more fun. And that will make it easier for you to motivate yourself.

As a bonus, if you plan a business around you already enjoy, you will be knowledgeable about your subject. Plus it will be easier for you to do research and marketing.

Write down the things you enjoy doing. This is brainstorming, so don’t worry now if there aren’t obvious businesses you can create from your ideas.

2. What are the causes that interest you?

Do you have any special causes that are important to you? Again we are brainstorming. So just write down ideas that occur to you—faith, politics, assisting people with disabilities, helping the elderly, caring for children, protecting the environment, and so on.

3. What are your skills?

What are the skills that you use in your current job? How about skills from your past jobs? Don’t write down job titles. Write the various tasks you performed and the computer skills that you have.

Include your non-job-related skills too, like gardening, taking care of children, making candy and running errands. One local woman created a business doing errands such as picking up dry cleaning and shopping for presents.

4. What do you know?

Do you know a lot about any subjects? Have you done work or school projects in a special area? How about your life experiences? Have you coped with a chronic illness? Have you discovered educational resources to help students with learning problems?

5. Who are your customers?

Do you want to sell to businesses or to the general public? If you want to sell to the public, what groups are you most interested in serving? Are you planning to sell to young mothers, seniors, teens, artists, fitness fans or fashion lovers?

6. What do people need or want?

This is the essential question.  If there aren’t people who want to buy your product or service, you don’t have a business.

What problem can you solve? Have you noticed that people are having trouble finding daycare? Do they need help from a handyman (or handywoman)? Are local seniors having trouble finding the resources they need?

What are people spending money on during this tight economy? Have you noticed what sort of “must haves” that you, your family member, your friends and your children’s friends are purchasing?

Look at Amazon’s best sellers and eBay’s pulse to see what’s selling. If you are interested in selling arts and crafts, check out the “Just Sold” link of Etsy’s Time Machine. And try out some of your ideas on Google’s trends search.

But don’t just look for what’s hot.  Fads come and go. Ask yourself if there is a lasting business in this area.

The more people want or need your services or products, the easier it will be for you to make money.  See if any of the needs you’ve identified match your interests, skills and knowledge. And when you finish brainstorming business ideas, eliminate any that customers won’t want or need.

Oct 082010

Seven questions to ask before you start a home business

A small home business can be a great asset for your family’s financial life. It can give you financial stability if you or your spouse is laid off. It can provide extra income to pay off debts or increase savings. It might even be the doorway to a new career.

In this series, we’ll cover some basics to help you plan your home business. Let’s begin by looking at some basic questions.

1. Is your family supportive?

Having a home business will affect the whole family. If you are replacing a job with a home business, usually there will be a period of lower earnings. If you are a stay-at-home parent, your new business may leave you with less free time for children’s projects. On the other hand, your business will set a powerful entrepreneurial example for your children.

If your family doesn’t want you to start your business, try to find the reason why. Then see if you work out a compromise that will address their concerns?

A home business is much easier if you have cheerleaders. It may take some negotiations, but try to get your family on board with your plans.

2. How much time do you have to work on your business?

Do you want to work full time or part time? Is your time flexible or do you need to work around an existing schedule; such as your job or your children’s school day or a baby who needs care?

3. How will your new business fit into your life?

Will your new business require much traveling? Do you have a place in your home where you can work? Will your business require storage space for inventory and shipping supplies?

4. Do you have any special needs to consider?

Do you or a family member have a health problem or disability that you need to consider while planning a business?

5. How much money does your business need to make?

Do you need to make a professional income or do you want just some extra cash? How soon do you need the income? Is there time to let your business grow?

6. What type of business do you want to run?

Do you want to sell a product or a service or both?

When you are selling a service, you are selling your time and your skill. However you are limited by the hours each day you and any employees can work.

If you want to sell products, you can sell something that someone else has made. For example, you can buy an item wholesale or at an estate sale and resell it. Or you can create a product to sell, such as candles or a craft pattern.

You might choose to combine a service business with selling products. For example you can sell knitted products and teach knitting classes. Or you could create e-books to sell on your website and also do copywriting for businesses.

7. What is allowed?

What are the laws concerning home businesses in your state and town? Will you need a license? Does your homeowners’ association have any rules about home businesses?

Next, its time to brainstorm some business ideas