Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homemade Granola Bars

Mix together all ingredients.
 I have been making Granola Bars for several years now. I starting making my own as an effort to save money and even though that is still a contributing factor I now continue to do it as a way to make sure that my kids have more nutritious snacks.

This is a recipe that I have come up with over the years as I have put several different recipes together and tweaked them to my liking.  This recipe makes a really hearty granola bar that sticks together well.
Press into a 9x13. Bake at 325 until golden brown.

4 & 1/2 Cups Rolled Oats
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2/3 Cup Butter, softened
1/2 Cup Honey
1/3 Cup packed Brown Sugar
2 Cups miniature Chocolate Chips or your choice of mix-ins (raisins, cranberries, sunflower seeds, etc.)

Preheat oven tho 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.  In a large mixing bowl combine the oats,
After cooling, cut into squares and wrap in saran wrap.
flour, baking soda, vanilla, butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir in the 2 cups of chocolate chips. Lightly press mixture into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely, then cut into bars. Wrap each bar in saran wrap.

You can make these bars your own by adding your favorite mix-ins. You can also try substituting some of the butter with peanut butter or substituting some of the oats with rice crispies or another type of crunchy cereal. When I made these bars I used both white and semi-sweet chocolate chips, plus I added about 1/2 cup dry milk for a calcium boost- and 2 Tb. corn syrup, to make sure they wouldn't be too dry with the addition of the milk. They turned out great- very yummy!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Our Secret Tomato Planting Recipe

If you haven't already planted your tomatoes, the time to plant them should be just around the corner. We live in Zone 8 so our tomatoes have been in the ground for almost 2 months now.  We have always grown some killer tomato plants both in Utah and here in Texas we credit our success to a simple concoction that we put into the hole along with our plant.  I am going to let you in on our secret recipe. Let us know how it works for you.

Early Girl - Already have fruit on them

Into the hole where your tomato plant is going throw in:


1 Tb. Epsom Salt

1 to 2 Tums or Rolaids

1 Tb. Sugar

Better Boy - Planted 2 weeks after the Early Girls

I can't say that I have ever really know why I throw these three things into the hole with my tomatoes. I don't even remember where I learned this method from.  It was something that I heard just as we were getting ready to plant our first garden together as a newly married couple. So I tried it and we had awesome tomato plants, so I have always done it since then.  Well, I did a little research on why these three things might be beneficial to my tomatoes and this is what I learned.

"Chemically, Epsom salts is hydrated magnesium sulfate (about 10 percent magnesium and 13 percent sulfur). Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants' uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. It's also the compound that gives vegetables such as broccoli and onions their flavors."

Tums or Rolaids are good to boost the calcium in your soil.  One of the things that is caused by a lack of calcium is blossom end rot.  This can be remedied by not only giving your soil a calcium boost but by making sure your plants get adequate amounts of water because it is the water that carries the calcium throughout the plant.

Probably the most perplexing item on the list is sugar.  From what I have read it seems that the sugar doesn't really act as a fertilizer for the plant itself but does nourish the beneficial microbes in the soil, enriching it, and providing a healthy environment for your plant to thrive in.  

What I do know for certain is that we have always used this little secret and have always had very healthy tomato plants. So I am not gonna mess with a good thing.Give it a try and let us know if it makes a difference for you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Putting my house plant on steroids . . .

Steaming Carrots

 It is not uncommon for us to steam our veggies. One night as I was dumping the leftover water out from the veggies we had steamed for dinner, Jacob said, "You should water the house plants with that, it is probably loaded with vitamins." I had actually never thought of that, but it sounded like a good idea to me. So from that point I began dumping our veggie water into my Dieffenbachia.

My Dieffenbachia after a few months of Vitamin Water

Since I began dumping this Vitamin Water into my plant about 4 months ago the main cane has probably grown at least a foot and a half.  In addition, the plant has added 4 new leaves. It has been amazing to watch it grow so fast and it seems so much healthier than it was before.  Maybe this is just a coincidence, but it doesn't seem likely. Give this water conservation tip a try and see if it doesn't give your house plants a boost.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cereal Bars AKA Breakfast Bars

These bars are really good (my family LOVES them) and they are also very hearty and nutritious. They are a great alternative to a granola bar or a Poptart (much healthier than a Poptart). I personally feel much better about handing one of these to my child for a quick breakfast than a Poptart. I made these last week with the help of my 4 year old and they are already gone!  So I know you want the recipe, here it is:

8 Cups Cereal, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, etc.
1 Cup Dry Milk
1/2 Cup Butter or Margarine
1/4 Cup Corn Syrup
1 Cup Peanut Butter
10 oz. Bag Mini Marshmallows
Seeds, Nuts, Raisins, Cranberries

In a large bowl combine cereal and dry milk; tossing to coat.
We used a combination of honey nut cheerios, plain cheerios, and multi-grain cheerios. But we usually throw in whatever we have. I often save the bottom of the bag of mini wheats to throw in to for extra fiber. Other good options would be Kix, Chex, Rice Krispies, etc. The dry milk gives you a calcium boost that you definitely won't find in a Poptart or store bought granola bar.

In a saucepan melt butter, corn syrup, peanut butter, and marshmallows. 

These are so easy to make - just like making rice krispy treats- only they are packed with nutrition.

When your marshmallow mixture is completely melted together pour it over the cereal mixture and stir to combine. Next stir in your raisins and other mix in items that you choose.

We used raisins and cranberries in ours. I love the chewiness and sweetness of the raisins. So yummy! You could also try a variety of nuts, sunflower seeds or mini chocolate chips.

Press the mixture into a lightly greased 9x13. Allow them to cool and then cut into bars.

After cutting into bars I like to wrap each bar individually in saran wrap so we have grab and go snacks or for a quick on the way to school breakfast. 

One of the things that I like about making my own snacks is that I can control the amount of sugar that goes into them. Plus they aren't loaded with preservatives. These bars do have sugar, but I know how much they have ( I am sure it is a lot less than a Poptart or store bought granola bar) and you can always change things up, like try substituting the corn syrup with honey.  There are lots of possibilities. The other plus to making homemade snacks is it saves you money and I know we all like to do that. Hope you enjoy these!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ornamental or Edibile? Guerrilla Gardening Landscapers?

I saw this flower bed the other day, it had some nice "ornamental" plants planted along the border.  The home owner only thought they looked nice, I believe their landscaper planted them.  When i looked closer they turned out to be a type of kale.  Kale is a very nutritious plant, it has anti-oxidant properties, full of vitamins and minerals.  It is very high in Vitamin K,A & C.  Eating 100 calories of kale provides you with 25-35% of they Omega-3 fatty acids you need daily.  It also provides you with fiber and protein.  It is usually steamed or include in stir fry's.  I have heard that kale chips are just awesome, a great alternative to potato chips but packed with good nutrients.  I will work to find some kale chip recipe's and test them out.

To answer the question ornamental or edible?  The answer is yes.  There is no reason not to work in edible plants into our ornamental gardens.  The Zoo in town plants all sorts of cabbage and kale's in their ornamental gardens.  I hope they utilize it for more than just decoration, I'll have to ask next time I am there if they ever harvest it and use it for feed.  There are allot of places around here where they plant a lot of sweet potato vine in planters.  By the end of the season these are full and lush, that is a lot of food potential, especially if the right types of sweet potatoes are planted.

 Landscapers could really become a type of guerrilla gardener, planting edibles in the yards they take care of regularly.  And harvesting later, they are already tending the gardens, the homeowner/business owner pays for the watering etc.  There some obvious limitations on what could be planted that are not obviously food but still very attractive.  Pairing the right types of plants also would help to "hide" the edibles.

Kale plants, planted for their looks but are a very nutritious green

I found this website full of kale tips and recipes, its worth a look check it out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oatmeal Pancakes/Waffles

This is a great food storage recipe that just happens to be one of our favorites. We make it quite often.  We love it for pancakes, but it is also very good as a waffle. We hope you enjoy it!

1 & 1/2 Cups Oatmeal
1 & 1/2 Cups Buttermilk
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Flour
1 tsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
2 Eggs

Mix the oatmeal and buttermilk together. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Pour onto a hot lightly greased griddle or waffle iron.

 * If you don't have Buttermilk you can substitute it with 1 & 1/2 Cups Milk mixed with about 1 Tb. lemon juice or vinegar. Let it stand for a few minutes before using. In this recipe, I always mix my milk, lemon juice and oatmeal together first and just let it sit for a few minutes. I also tried using the White Flour Alternative when I made these waffles and they turned out great! Very Yummy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Are my Potatoes Sick? Part 2

Okay so I still don't know what is going on with my potatoes in our Potato Bins. There may not be anything wrong, with them but I imagine it's not good.  It is affecting mostly my Yukon Golds and Purple Majesties.  The plants with crinkled leaves, seem the plants seem to be still okay.  The plant below looks healthy.  They have also kept growing taller. (I need to add rails and straw to the bins).

After looking into it, the symptoms matched up the best with Mosaic Virus, but after looking at some pictures it doesn't seem to be the culprit.  I found a good site listing many potato diseases.  But it did not cover this. 

I also have a couple that have died back, the vines seem nearly rotten at the level of the straw.  I might pull those up in case they may spread  what has affected them.  See the pictures below.

Has anyone has this?  It seems that after I harvest the potatoes I might be able to find what may be affecting them..
I found a few of these little guys on the plants.  They look like an ant but are winged.  Not sure what they are yet.
Plant dying  at level of straw.

Wilted and dying plant.

Yukon gold potatoes, notice the tops of most of them.
Purple Majesty: note the two dying plants on the front right.  Some crinkled leaves.
Our Reds, (with some Yukon's in the back)  Notice some of there are some slightly crinkled leaves here and there.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Home Storage: Clothing and Bedding

Part of being self reliant is being prepared for Emergency situations whether these be personal or widespread emergencies.  As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints we have been counseled to consider making the storage of clothing and bedding or fabric to make these items part of our long term storage items.  The following excerpt is taken from a Relief Society Lesson Manual from the 1970's. This counsel still holds true today. 

"Storing clothing is essential for families with active, growing children, because their present clothes will not fit them later. All family members’ clothes may also wear out. Extra clothing should be stored where climate changes greatly from one season to another. Some families, especially those with growing children, may be wise to save the clothes that one child outgrows for the next child to wear. Outgrown clothing for both children and adults can be remade into clothing for younger family members. Storing extra fabric to make new clothing can also be useful. Needles, thread, and other sewing items should be part of every home storage so that torn clothing can be mended. 
We have been counseled to store food, clothing, fuel, and other necessary items, such as those needed for first aid and sewing, to take care of our families’ needs for a year. Even though we may feel it is impossible to obtain the needed items at once, we can begin a home storage program with a small goal, according to our families’ circumstances, of purchasing a few extra items each time we shop. When our families are prepared with a home storage program, we can expect to receive great temporal and spiritual blessings. The Lord has counseled, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30)."

I definitely try to follow this counsel as I store both clothing and fabric. I never get rid of children's clothing until they are worn, and sometimes after they are worn I will even re-purpose them or re-size then for a smaller child.  For example, I have made skirts out of worn out jeans or cut jeans into blocks for quilts. Even small scraps of fabric are saved to make quilts and adult clothing can be made to fit a child. I have an attic full of children's clothing and shoes just waiting to pass on to the next child and I can often be found at my sewing machine making dresses, p.j.'s, shorts, etc. Doing this not only helps us to have these things stored for future use but also helps us to save money and keep our children clothed on a limited budget.

Yard sales are actually great places to buy used clothing, especially children's clothing. They can also be a good place to find fabric. I picked up this fabric at a yard sale last week. It was a great deal that I couldn't pass up. I got 25 yards plus of fabric for $10.  I was thrilled with my purchase.  Not only did I get 25 yards but there isn't one piece that is less than a yard.  In fact, one piece is over 6 yards and very heavy duty. It will work great for the back of a nice, heavy quilt. There is also several pieces that are 3 and 4 yards that will make cute dresses for my girls and a darling Pooh Bear piece that is over 4 yards that will make a great baby blanket.  Of course, you can also pick up inexpensive fabric from the fabric and craft store at times if you shop the sales, utilize the half off coupons, and be sure to check the clearance tables. 

I plan to post some tutorials on re-purposing clothing in the future so be sure and check back for those.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Are my Potatoes Sick?

Shriveled top of plant

I have not taken the time to research this... but are my potatoes sick?  The leaves have curled way back, others looked really crinkly.  It's is only a couple plants.  Any one have any idea what is going on?  My first thought is some type of blight....I will research this more but any insight you might be able to provide would be welcome!

Crinkled leaf

Healthy leaf

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Secret to Using Ground Turkey

I was very excited to find 6 lbs of ground turkey in the reduced meat section this morning. As you may have read in previous posts, I buy a lot of meat this way, in fact most of our meat I buy this way.  We know that maintaining our physical health is an important part of living providently. So in an effort to help my family eat a bit healthier we have been using ground turkey in place of ground beef more and more frequently. I started doing this several years ago, and I will admit at first I really did not like the taste of the turkey, especially in certain dishes. It just tasted really bland and different to me.  So I reserved my ground turkey and only used it in some of the dishes that we didn't mind the change in flavor.  But recently I have discovered the secret to using ground turkey in place of ground beef in the majority of our dishes.  Now I may just be a little slow, and most of you may already know this and think it is a no-brainer, but for me it was a revelation!

So here it is: when you are using ground turkey in place of ground beef in a recipe make sure that you season the turkey really well before and during the browning process. This transforms your ground turkey from something pretty bland into something very grand! We now love using ground turkey in many recipes that we would normally use ground beef in, like: Stroganoff, Spaghetti, Lasagna, Turkey-Macaroni & Tomato, Chili, Shepard's pie, Meatloaf, etc.  If I am making a recipe that requires me to brown the turkey first I just hit it with a bunch of seasoning that you can vary depending on the type of dish you are making, but for me this usually includes garlic salt, onion powder, season salt, and black pepper. If I am doing something Italian I will also hit is with some Italian seasoning like basil and oregano. The difference is amazing! Of course, in addition to dried seasoning you can also brown it with fresh chopped onion and garlic.

Another thing to remember when you are buying ground turkey is to always check the label to make sure you are getting the good stuff. I purchased some ground turkey awhile back for $1 a pound and thought I was getting such a great deal.  Well, I forgot to check the label, and it wasn't until later that I realized that I actually bought "mechanically separated turkey" that was not only disgusting but contained 23 grams of fat per serving. This "Jennie' O" turkey that I purchased today is just ground turkey and contains only 9 grams of fat per serving and I bought it for $1.69 per lb.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Potato Bin Update

Potato Bins: 4 layers high  (22 inches) More to go...

Right to left: Yukon Golds, Purple Majesty and Viking Reds
I just wanted to update you all on our "Potato Bin - Grow 100lbs in 4 square feet?" Post.  Things are moving along great.  The potato plants are growing so fast.  I have to add straw to them every day to keep up.  We are now up to 4 bin layers and I am a little behind and need to add a couple more to each. I am surprised how fast they have been growing.  We really haven't watered them much at all.  Though these are planted on top of Hugelkultur beds (requires little the first year and no watering for years after). I'll post soon on how to build a Hugel bed.

First layers of hay
Little straggler.
I anticipate adding 3-4 more layers to these potato bins before they run out of steam.  I will need another bale of hay this next week.  I am exited by their progress so far.  I think next time I will plant them a little further apart, I planted them about 4" apart.  I would push it to 6" or so next time.  As you are adding straw you end up covering up some branches.  It is easy to cover smaller plants if your are not careful.  I also have found that it is better to plant the seed potatoes that are at the same stage of development.  I had some seed potatoes that did not have any eyes sprouted and others with good stout sprouts.  The seed potatoes without sprouts came up but were still weeks behind the others and have been shaded some as they grew and as the hay is added.  It has taken till this last week or so for them to catch up with the first bunch.   If they were all the same, I could have filled in with hay a little more consistently.  I had to have small pockets with no hay for the late comers to catch up.  The hay seems to be working great, it will be very easy to harvest the potatoes in a couple months or so.  We are looking forward to this next fall.  In our area we can plant potatoes twice.

In these beds we also have tomatoes(2 types), scallop summer squash, egg plant, cayenne pepper, amaranth (grain and green) cantaloupe, green onions, Texas blue bonnets.  The bed to the rights is full of beets, onion, butternut squash, tomatoes, marigolds, zinnias and some more blue bonnets.  It is a little hard to see by this picture (most of it is already browned) but we have all of the soil covered in grass clippings to keep moisture in and to give our seeds a head start over the any weeds.
Yukon Golds 2'x2' bin (27"x24" inside), tomato, amaranth and onions to the right.

Purple Majesty.  2'x3' Bin (36"x24" inside)
Viking Red(heat loving) with some Yukon's in the back.  2'x3' Bin (36"x24" inside) Note the occupied Toad House.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Making "Cents" of Cleaning

I have been making and using some homemade cleaners and detergents for quite some time now and I have been watching the savings add up. I am very pleased with them; their cleaning abilities, the ease of making them, and their cost.

Check Out How Much You Can Save:

Homemade Laundry Detergent  -  $0.03 per load
Generic  Detergent - $0.07 per load
Tide - $0.15 per load

Homemade Detergent - $0.05 per load
Generic Detergent - $0.08 per load
Finish Tabs - $0.15 per load

Replace your commercial rinse agent with white vinegar. 
It is that simple and watch the savings add up.

16 oz. White Vinegar  -  $0.30
16 oz.   Generic Rinse Agent - $4.97

 I will never buy a commercial rinse agent again.

Homemade Cleaner (16 oz.)  - $0.15
Clorox Cleanup (16 oz.) - $1.04
Lysol Antibacterial Kitchen Cleaner (16 oz.) - $1.43
Fabuloso Multipurpose (16oz.) - $0.82
Pinesol (16 oz.) - $0.99

It makes "Cents" to make your own cleaners and detergents. Give them a try.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do You Need an Energy Audit?

After reading the Home Energy Audit post you may be wondering if your house needs an audit or not.  Well I will layout many the reasons you may need one.

Solar or Going "Off Grid" -  Yes, Yes & Yes.  You need an Energy Audit.  I will write a large post just on this topic alone in the next week or so....

Improvements  - Are you about to install new windows? Adding insulation? Installing a new AC Furnace or Heat Pump?  If you are, you need an audit first.  You will recoup the audit cost no problem. 
  I have saved homeowners a lot of money by helping them see what really pays back.  Usually where they need to spend money is not where they intended to.  We all have limited funds, we need to be sure that, where we spend the money is where it is actually needed and not wasting it on unnecessary things.  If you believe all of the advertizing out there, new windows will save you 30-50% on your bill, so will a new high efficiency AC.  More often than not those are not the items needed in the home.  I have countless examples of a homeowners wasting money on things that were at the bottom of the list with decades before it pays back.

Windows - Thinking of new windows?  Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it.  Get an audit first, the auditor will calculate the payback for all recommended improvements.  Most of the time I find that windows have a 30+ year payback some times its over 40+ years.  There are reasons to replace windows but if you are doing it for saving money you will not see the payback.  There are usually a dozen other things to spend all of that money on first.
Comfort - Do you have areas or rooms in you house that are always either hotter or colder than the rest of the house?  Does your house or certain rooms feel muggy or sticky.  Your house does not need to be this way, there are solutions to these problems, and often a very simple solution. 

Is your old AC Tired? - Is it time to replace your AC?  Well an energy audit may be in order, far too often homes have had their AC's up-sized each time they are replaced.  Or the house wasn't operating right so a bigger AC was installed.  Too large of an AC will cost you more money and will typically cause moisture issues in the home.  An AC needs to run for a period of time before it is up to peak efficiency, until it reaches this point is pulling allot of power.  Too large of an AC pulls more power and only runs a few minutes before shuts off.  When installing an AC a Manual J is needed.  A Manual J is a load calculation that defines what size AC the house needs.  The old thumb in the air or rule of thumb is not right.  If your AC guy is either unwilling or unable to do a Manual J, find a new AC contractor.  A Manual J is a requirement by most adopted building codes.   A Manual J takes into account all aspects of the home, the windows, insulation levels, electronics, people loads etc, etc.       

High Utility bills -If you are faced with high bills, whether they are always high or you have huge spikes, an audit can address the causes of those costs. There are many possible reasons for high bills, an audit can help ferret out what the issues are.  By just accepting the high bills and not making an effort to resolve the causes you are throwing money down the drain.

Are you about to buy a home? -Get an energy audit before you buy.  Ask the sellers for copies of their last year of energy bills.  You will get a home inspection right? They do not look at the energy factors in any real detail nor are they trained to diagnose energy issues.  Their inspection is only a visual inspection, they are looking for safety and general code issues.  You need to have a qualified Energy Auditor in to evaluate the issues.  I have seen many people walk into a new home oblivious to the what it will cost them each month in energy costs, only to be shocked by their first bill.  You are approved for your loan amount based on what the bank believes you can afford, all too often that is pushing the envelope.  When that first bill comes and it is $300 or even $700 dollars you are now in a world of hurt.  Know before you buy, while you still have the ability to negotiate repairs or the purchase price.

Selling your Home? - Read the above section, when selling your home it is vital that you address all of the areas that could become an issue, keeping you from getting top dollar for your home.  Often very simple and inexpensive items make a big difference in the performance of your home.  Any added value to a prospective buyer goes along way.  Peace of mind is added value.  Having the Energy Auditors report on hand will go along way to ease the mind of the buyer.  I have performed audits for sellers and making some small energy improvements.  I then write up another summary report indicating where the house stands as far as energy and the condition of the equipment with summaries of the improvements that were completed and what those improvements may save each month.
  This second report is geared more towards a buyer, rather than indicating everything that could be improved it is more focused on where things are now and what acceptable levels are.  I often on Home Inspections I see that they list every little thing that could be done, often sounding as though everything must be done or else the house is not a good buy because it is full of issues.  It makes the reader think there is a huge list of things that are needed when in reality most of the items are either not needed or are just the opinion of the inspector with little basis to justify the time, energy or cost fixing.

Curiosity - If you are curious if anything could be done to reduce your homes energy cost or increase your overall comfort, consider an audit.  I have even been able to save people real money who are in brand new homes.  I once went in to a house that was only a few months old, their bills were higher than expected.  In the matter of about 20 minutes I found the problem and a $5 fix saved them over $100 per month.  That is over $1,200 per year for as long as they own the home.There were also some simple lifestyle items that would also save them some money each month.

No home is perfect, every home has room for improvement.  The right set of eyes, backed with real world experience can decipher what your home's needs are.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Toad Houses

Two Terracotta pots siliconed together.

For my birthday this year Jacob made me these amazing Toad Houses, I was very excited to get them out and in the garden. I asked him to make them like planters, stacking two Terracotta pots together so that I could plant flowers in the top.

My sweet kids painted them up and they are looking great in my garden. We only had them in the garden for about a week before we had our first visitor.  The kids were so excited to discover the first toad. Now we have a permanent resident in the other one as well.

The first little toad to visit our guest house.

So why would I want Toad Houses in my garden? Well, frogs and toads are quite beneficial to gardeners. They eat thousands of insect pests, including  mosquitoes and flies.  I read that a single adult toad can eat as many as 10,000 insects per summer. Plus, they are very fun to have around, especially if you have kids.

One of the  most important things you can do to bring frogs and toads into your garden and yard is to stop spraying poisons to kill pesky insects. Chemicals found in pesticides and fertilizers can poison frogs and toads. Instead choose to go organic and let the frogs and toads help take care of your pests. If you stop using pesticides, other hungry pest eaters will also be more apt to stop by  your garden, this includes birds and "good" bugs like ladybugs and dragonflies. Plus having an organic garden is much healthier for your family.

Toads and frogs also need shelter and camouflage. They need a place to shade up and keep cool and also a place to hide from predators. A toad house is a perfect shelter as the soil stays moist and cool. You can also make shelters by stacking a bunch of rocks or logs together, anything that will provide a cool, safe place to hide on those hot days of summer. Also scattering some leaves or grass clippings into your garden will not only give those toads a bit of camouflage but will also help keep the weeds down.  If you provide shelter for the toads that visit your garden that is where they will want to stay and munch on all of those pesky bugs.

Smart Couponing

My coupon binder.
You've heard of and seen those "Extreme Couponers" on TV.  It amazes me how much stuff they can get for free and how much time they devote to their extreme shopping trips. I understand the thrill they get from getting such a great deal. It really is an adrenaline rush to be able to get so much for so little.  As much as I would love to be able to replicate what those extreme couponers do, I simply don't have the time required to get those kind of results. I do, however, love coupons and I do use my own method of couponing that I like to call "Smart Couponing".
Here are a few simple tips you can use to become a Smart Coupon Shopper:

1. Clip and Save any coupons that you might come across. I find coupons at the grocery store and on the internet. I also receive them in the mail from different manufacturers by signing in to their websites. I only use free coupons and I don't spend hours scouring the internet for them.
2. Keep your coupons organized and easily accessible. I have a binder that has sheet protectors used to hold business cards in it. This way I can keep my coupons organized and visible. Clean out your binder regularly to remove expired coupons.
3. Always bring your coupon binder along when going to the store, even if you don't plan to use a coupon. You never know when you might find a great deal or something on clearance that you also have a coupon for. This is how you get free or nearly free items.
4. Don't buy something just because you have a coupon for it. I usually only use coupons for things that I normally buy and use, unless I can get something for free or for pennies by using the coupon.
5 . Use coupons to your benefit by combining them with other offers, sales, and promotions. Make sure to check the weekly ad for the grocery stores you frequent and see if there are any items on sale that you might have coupons for.

Here is an example of one of the ways I have been using Tip #5 to really maximize the value of my coupons.

 I have a 1 year old baby girl, so diapers are on my list of things that I have to buy at the grocery store.  Pampers diapers usually offers coupons for their diapers that can be obtained in various ways.  These coupons usually range from $1.00 to $2.00 off. The 4 coupons at the left are for $1.50 and $2.00 off any Pampers diapers Jumbo Pack or Larger. Most often you can maximize the value of a coupon by buying the smallest sized package allowed. In this case I bought the Jumbo pack. Always check the price per ounce or the price per diaper in this case to make sure you are getting the best deal possible.  For example:  A jumbo pack of diapers contains 36 diapers for the price of $9.47, which makes the cost of each diaper $0.263.  The 96 count package of diapers, is $24.97, which makes the cost of each diaper $0.26. There is really not that much difference between the two, but if you use the $2.00 coupon on the smallest package the price per diaper becomes, $0.207.  Using the coupon for the larger package makes the price $0.239. I know you are only saving three cents per diaper but once you've bought a thousand diapers this way, you have saved $30. And if you are going to the trouble of  using a coupon you might as well maximize your savings.

 Now here is where tip #5 comes in to play. In addition to getting my diapers for $0.207 each, I also use this system to get some free items from the manufacturer, Proctor and Gamble.  My local grocery store always has a display of offers from P&G at the customer service desk. These offers usually involve you purchasing $30 worth of P&G products in a single transaction and then mailing in your receipt to receive free gifts. I usually use 4 coupons to buy 4 jumbo packages of diapers, which in this case put me at spending $30.88 on P&G products. Just enough to get my freebie, yeah! So far from P&G I have gotten a really nice Bakeware set, a Duracell USB Charger, a $10 Visa gift card, and my latest freebie will be a pair of BOBS (from Skechers) shoes. What a deal!  Now if all of this wasn't enough there is one more benefit from buying Pampers diapers. They have their own rewards program called, gifts to grow rewards. You simply collect the points and enter them online to redeem for more free gifts. I am saving my points for a free photo book from Shutterfly, which is one of the products that I already use and love.
I have also signed up to receive coupons from Proctor and Gamble in the mail, because they make tons of products that we use on a regular basis (in addition to Pampers diapers). I often try to buy these products in one shopping trip with coupons, so I can cash in on the free products they offer and save money on something I would be buying anyway. 

So as you can see, I may not be an Extreme Couponer, but I definitely try to be a Smart Couponer, and I always try to get the most bang for my buck! Follow my tips and you can be a Smart Couponer too! Also if you have any couponing tips please pass them along to me, I would love to hear about the ways you save money at the grocery store.