Finances and Frugality


We have some fabric that was given to us that is some of the ugliest fabric ever created.  (And it was given to us for just that reason, so no worries that I’m offending anyone by saying that.)  

The point is, it was free and useful.  In fact, just yesterday, my sister used a large piece of it to “carpet” the ramp in the chickenhouse.  (Their roost is raised up off the ground, for critter protection, and the ramp helps them get up to it.)  The older chickens, who can pretty well fly (well, flap, anyway) can get up it okay, but when Tory’s babies hatch out, I’m afraid it will be too steep for them.  Having fabric on the ramp instead of slick wood will give something for their little toes to grip to get back into the safe place. 

 Similarly, the fabric comes in handy when I’m putting a patch under embroidery on my jeans.  You never see the fabric, so it doesn’t matter how ugly it is.  But it gives a solid base to anchor the embroidery to.  You don’t get very far when you try to embroider in a hole! 

Frugality to me means using whatever you have, and if you can get something for free, finding a use for it.  This isn’t fabric I would want to wear or turn into items around my house, but it has use and purpose and value–when you take the time to see them. 

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Our egg production is down a bit at the moment, because Victoria is setting and it’s summer, so things are a bit slower (even chickens like a bit of a break!) but we’re still getting four or five eggs a day, which is quite a lot, for a family of three, if you don’t eat two eggs apiece for breakfast every single day.  🙂 

 Eggs are wonderful because they’re an excellent source of protein–and because they’re so inexpensive!  (With egg production down, but the chickens still eating, the cost of our eggs has risen to probably $0.75 or so per dozen (from 2/$1), maybe a bit less than that–but that’s still remarkably low, for a good source of protein. 

Even more than that, though, I love eggs because they’re so versatile.  Fry them, scramble them, hard boil them, soft boil them, add them to a salad, devil them, make an omlette out of them…the possibilities are nearly endless.  You could eat eggs every day, and never get bored of them. 

It’s really sad how much this concept has fallen out of the public awareness.  If something is worn or torn or damaged, we tend to replace it automatically–even if the damage is only cosmetic, and doesn’t actually affect the item’s functionality. 

Case in point: I tore the knee of one of my jeans the other day.  So are they a write-off?  No way!  It was a nice straight tear, so a little flat whipstitching kept it from tearing any farther.  (A stitch in time saves nine, remember!)   But the fabric around the mend is still very weak, so I’m probably going to put in a patch inside the jeans (you can put them on the outside if you want; I prefer embroidery to patches, so my patches go on the inside) and embroider them as I have time.  The inside patch gives them added strength, so they don’t tear further, but the embroidery will reinforce the patch and make sure it doesn’t tear away from the jeans.  (Plus, it looks really nice.) 

 Or, consider this: the handle breaks off one of your stainless steel pots.  You don’t have the necessary skills to fix it, and there’s no one around who can do it for you.  Is it time for the trash can? 

Nope.  If possible, continue using it as a pot; just use two potholders when lifting it off the stove.  Or, if that makes you nervous, find another use for it.  We lifted one of our broken pots off with potholders for several years.  Then when we got a new pot as a gift, we “recycled” the old one; it replaced a plastic margarine tub as a water bowl for the dog. 

But sometimes, making do means just living with what you have until a new one comes along.  That towel with the tear in it will still dry you off.  The cup with the chip in it will still hold coffee.  The shirt with the stain on it still offers protection from the elements and a covering for your body.  If you can mend, clean, or reuse something, go for it.  But if not–sometimes the best thing you can do is just live with it. 

 Here’s a challenge for you: find one thing over the next week that you can live with or mend.  A stained shirt, a torn sheet, a shoe with a hole in the toe…all these are things that can be lived with or mended.  Obviously, make do and mend won’t work all the time for everyone; the working woman who gets a stain on her blouse that simply won’t come out probably shouldn’t show up at work the next morning and tell her boss that she’s just making do.  But over the next week, I challenge you to find at least one thing that you would normally throw out and see how you can make it do.  If nothing else, you’ll realize that the world doesn’t end when your sneakers get a little ratty.  Stains don’t spell certain doom.  And some cups are designed without handles. 

 I leave you now with a thought from one of my favorite songs: 

Got some highs, got some lows, but the wise man, he knows what it’s really about/You get by doing without. ~Surviving the Life, Neil Diamond

I was a bit disappointed last week to discover that chickens won’t eat kudzu.  Other animals will (goats, for example, love kudzu), but not chickens, even though they like their greens as well as the next animal. 

Part of the problem may have been that I boiled the kudzu leaves before giving them to the chickens.  Kudzu has many uses (I must post about them someday…) but there’s plenty of it growing along the sides of the road–I don’t want it taking over my house and garden!  Unfortunately, boiled kudzu doesn’t seem to appeal to chickens. 

If we ever decide to bite the bullet and get a goat, we could feed him year-round on kudzu, if we took the time and trouble to store kudzu hay for the winter.  Kudzu is tremendously nutritious (and I happen to think it tastes rather good), even better than alfalfa when it comes right down to nutrient content. 

But chickens won’t eat it. 

At first glance, those two may seem like oxymorons.  Embroidery is fancy stuff, decorative stuff…”pretties”.  Not frugal. 

In fact, however, I’ve found a basic knowledge of embroidery to be one of the most useful and frugal skills I’ve ever learned.  I use it all the time for mending my clothing–including jeans!  Maybe the hippies had it right all this time. 

 Embroidery has the benefit of being more attractive than patches or simple stitchery mending.  I don’t feel like a ragbag when I’m wearing embroidered clothing; instead, I feel like that noble wife of Proverbs 31; she maketh herself coverings of tapestry!  Well, perhaps she had to; they would have worn out, otherwise. 

 The key to mending your clothing with embroidery, especially jeans, is to catch the problems when they’re still tiny holes or tears.  If you can, catch them while they’re still nothing more than weak spots in the fabric. 

If the hole has progressed to the point that you can’t embroider it because there’s no fabric left to embroider onto, add a patch  on the inside of the hole and cover it with embroidery. 

There’s something a bit daring about working in embroidered jeans.  It’s fun.  🙂  It also makes you feel good–at least it does me!–to know that just because you’re being frugal and relying on “make do and mend” doesn’t mean that you have to be drab or ugly, or that pretty things can’t be a part of your life. 

That’s the magic of frugality and embroidery. 

It finally rained today, a nice steady gentle rain.  It was exactly what we needed–exactly what I needed. 

I promised a few days ago that I’d write another post on the specifics of keeping chickens.  Chickens are wonderful for anyone who is looking at keeping animals for food, because 1) they eat so little, 2) they take up so little room, and 3) you don’t have to kill them to get food out of them. 

First of all, where can you keep chickens?  The answer is almost anywhere.  Even tiny pockets of yard can be fenced in and given a little roof to protect the birds from rain and hot sun.  A fence is necessary to keep neighborhood cats and dogs out and chickens from getting run over or leaving little presents all over your yard.  It’s important for chickens to have a little room to scratch. 

What kind of chickens should you get?  If you have the choice, Buff Orpingtons are a large, docile chicken with soft golden feathers.  Their gentle nature makes them an excellent choice for families.  Plus, they’re excellent layers. 

 What should you feed your chickens?  Chickens will eat almost anything–table scraps, grain, even dog food.  But if you want the best egg production, consider going down to your local co-op and picking up a bag of laying pellets.  (Be sure you get the pellets; laying crumbles tend to get lost and wasted.)  Give each chicken a handful of laying pellets and a couple of handfuls of kitchen scraps per day, and reap the rewards in eggs and black gold for your garden. 

 How many chickens can you keep?  An eight-by-ten enclosure will hold three to five hens, or even a couple more, depending on their size.  And the average Buff Orpington hen will give you five to six eggs a week during all but the hottest summer months. 

Do you need a rooster?  That depends.  If you have room, and you want to produce fertile eggs and raise chicks, you’ll need a rooster.   But hens will lay just as well–and sometimes even better–without a rooster.  And if space is limited, or you don’t want to keep a chicken that isn’t going to produce food for you, a rooster will be a liability. 

Similarly, you don’t want to keep a rooster if you live in a crowded suburb.  Their cock-a-doodle-do is the epitome of the farm and country living, but neighbors tend to frown on a rooster crowing from 4:00 or so until daybreak or later. 

Chickens are worth their weight in gold.  I have eight hens and two roosters in different coops.  I get an average of six eggs a day, or a dozen eggs every two days, which is plenty for our family to eat and give to friends and family.  And that’s to say nothing of the fertilizer for our garden.  When your clean out your chicken coop, put the manure in a pile to the side of your garden, cover it with leaves, and let it sit for a couple of months.  The result will be a fabulous rich soil that you can spread over your garden for the best vegetables you’ve ever tasted. 

I only learned about this today, which shows what a good job the government is doing about keeping this hushed up. Below is a copy of the letter I’ve just mailed to my state and federal senators, representatives, and Gov. Riley. As soon as I can, I’ll be mailing copies to the Alabama Farmers and Consumers Bulletin, Mother Earth News, the three local papers, and anyone else I can think of who can help spread the word and stop this travesty.

Please, if you live in the States, write your elected officials, your newspapers, magazines, etc. And spread the word! If this gets enacted, it will put small farms out of business and be a huge drain on homesteaders, livestock owners, and anyone who has pets.

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) goes too far. If put into effect, it will require anyone who owns livestock, farm animals, or even pets to microchip their animals and report their every move to the USDA.

According to the USDA, the purpose of NAIS is to prevent disease, such as BSE (commonly known as Mad Cow Disease), and to track disease should it occur. However, if this was indeed the case, there would be no reason to track:

1. Non-food animals, including pets. There is little or no chance of disease entering the food stream from horses, donkeys, and dogs, yet under NAIS, these animals would be subject to the same stringent rules as all other animals.

2. Sales directly from farms to consumers. When the customer buys animal products directly from farms, there is no need for government tracking and intervention; the customer knows where their food came from!

3. Families raising their own livestock for their own consumption. People who raise their own animals for their own food certainly don’t need the government to tell them where their food came from; they’ve raised it themselves, right under their eyes!

Participation in NAIS must be voluntary for these three groups. There is no conceivable reason for the government to track these groups. Even at best, the NAIS requirements would be a useless blend of bureacracy and stupidity. The actual results, however, will be far more serious than that….

NAIS will be expensive. The initial cost for tagging the animals is calculated to run between $3 and $20 per animal. Additionally, there will be a fee for reporting each animal movement—including trips to the vet—which is likely to be in excess of $1 per movement! This is no small change. If animals are not tagged, fines could be in excess of $1000.00 per animal per day. This is simply not reasonable.

Moreover, NAIS is an invasion of privacy. The government does not need to know how many dogs I have or be informed when I sell a dozen eggs to my neighbor. In fact, the government has no right to know. NAIS violates Amendments 1, 4, 5, and 14 of our United States Constitution.

NAIS will have the most impact on small, family-owned farms. It could conceivably drive many already struggling farmers out of business.

Please take immediate action to oppose NAIS and put a stop to the USDA’s interference in our food system. The American people and the people of Alabama have the right to produce their own food and own their own pets without the government looking over their shoulders.

In January of 2008, Animal ID and Premise ID will become mandatory for animal owners. Please act now to put a stop to these absurd requirements. Your constituency will thank you.

To learn more about NAIS, please visit < http://www.noNAIS.org >. Thank you for your time and your attention to this matter.

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