Friday, January 31, 2014

Very tough times call for very tough choices

I posted just a couple weeks ago about this devastating drought facing California. We are the driest the state has been for as long as records have been kept. It is so bad that tree rings are being used for drought comparisons and according to that, we are the driest that California has been in 400 years.

No water means no crops, no farming and no food being grown.

We farm a variety of crops so this impacts us very drastically. As it sits right now, we will not be able to farm this year. Unless we get a Miraculous March, there will simply not be enough water to grow our crops.

One of the crops we grow is beef. We raise beef cows and have been growing our herd for almost 10 years. We have carefully selected cows and bulls to grow a high quality herd. Many of these cows we have owned for their entire lives and we take great pride in the care that we provide for them. We have put substantial "blood, sweat and tears" into growing our herd of cows. We grew this herd from nothing and they mean a lot to us.

For the last 5 years we have been finishing some of our cattle each year to provide beef to our amazing customers at local farmers markets and direct to their door. We have built a loyal customer base by bringing them great quality beef all year long. But that is about to come to a stand still.

Because we have no water, there is no grass growing. With no grass we have no food growing for the cows to eat. We make and store hay - dried grass - to supplement them and keep that on hand for dry times. But this is more that just a dry time and we are rapidly using up our supply of supplemental cow food. With lots of mouths to feed and not enough food for them, we are forced to start selling off some of these cows.

We started this process slowly but are now forced to speed the process up. Next to go are the young cattle (steers) who would have been finished on grass and grain for our farmers market customers during the course of the year. By selling these steers we can hopefully keep our cows fed longer and prevent having to sell the cows too. 

Keep praying for rain, every bit we get will help farmers and ranchers in California and help all of those who rely on the water and food we produce.



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No excuses for no veggies - Ziploc Steam Bags

Like many of you, I'm a busy girl. I'm a mom, teach part time, consult part time, am launching a new business and busy with ranch/farm work. So dinner prep and cook time is limited. I've gotten creative to help this situation: weekly meal planning, crockpot meals, one pot dinners, etc. But this year I rediscovered the Ziplock Zip and Steam bag, and I'm crazy about it.

Note: I swear ziplock hasn't paid me or given me anything (but I would love more bags in more sizes should they want to send me something :) )
They are SO simple to use and steaming veggies takes less than 5 minutes. Load the bag up with veggies and stick it in the microwave. The bag suggests a cooking time, usually 2 - 3 minutes. Done. Some people use them for meat too and people also add seasonings. I do mine plain. I even buy pre-cut and rinsed veggies to make it super simple.

I love them so much that since my local stores don't carry them, I buy them online and pay for shipping. If you know me and know how cheap I am, you know that says something.

The finished product is perfectly steamed and ready to eat. Seriously these bags have been my secret to making sure we have fresh veggies with every meal. I love them! Try them out, I bet you will love them too!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Master Bathroom–finally finished!!

The Master Bathroom is finally finished!! 

I have to say, it is SO NICE to wake up and not have to walk down the hall to get into the shower.  It’s the little things that make me happy!

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Welcome to the new and improved master bathroom …

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I’m so happy with the floors!  Take a look at the before and after here

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The tub looks great with the new color on the walls

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We had the shower painted, which makes it look 1,000 times better.  But, I am not 100% satisfied with it – we’ll see how it holds up with time and use! 

New shower doors which were a pain in the rear to install BTW.  New faucet and control knob. 

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LOVE this towel bar!!  It is so nice to hang up our towels when we get out of the shower to dry instead of having to put them over a door knob or over the shower door.  Best $20 spent!!

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The only problem with this grey color (called Driftwood Grey by Martha Stewart) is that it makes the bathroom much darker than the white that was here before.  I still love the color, but now I want to add more lights.  Want to but not going to.

The white molding looks great against the grey walls and the tan tile!

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Michael’s vanity – didn’t do much here but paint the toilet paper holder and the vanity lights. 

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My vanity – again, not much done here but the flooring and paint make such a huge difference!!  We also changed out the ugly old yellow outlets and switches to new white ones – small change but big impact! 

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Michael was very surprised when I brought these jars home – they are not my style at all.  Very fancy and I am … let’s go with … plain – not fancy at all.

I do think they look great in the bathroom!  They are perfect for storing cotton balls, q-tips, and cotton pads (or whatever those are called) within easy reach.   

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I am also a huge fan of baskets – all of my daily used face items are in this basket put some extra.  Maybe I should just find a smaller basket?  Hmmm…

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Since I love Before and After pictures so much – here is the before of our bathroom (we painted it white when we moved in – it was yellow) and the after. 

Like I said above, the grey makes the room a little dark but it still looks SO MUCH BETTER!!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Molding – FINALLY!

Way back when we did the floors we were also planning to do the molding.  But, we all know how that goes!  Here it is almost all finished!!

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Molding and transition strips!  Woo hoo!!

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We did the laminate flooring back in Fall of 2011 (it has seriously been over 2 years!) and the tile last spring – for before and after of the tile check out this post

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That little transition piece makes it look so finished! 

I am glad to finally check that off the running to do list!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

6 tips to save money on meat


If you are looking to save money on your grocery bill, sometimes you will find people encouraging you to eat less meat. In my household we love our veggies, but we don't sacrifice the meat. Here are a few suggestions to make the most out of the meat in your grocery budget.
  1. Labels - This is the first place to start with almost any food. Note that the dates on packages are usually sell by dates not "use by" dates. The butcher will mark down meat that is close to the sell by date, usually noted with an extra sticker on the package. Grab up these reduced price packages! Either cook with them right away or package them up for your freezer.
  2. Lower priced cuts - If you are working on cutting down your grocery bill you can often do that by changing the cuts of beef that you purchase. Skip the steaks and look for roasts. Roasts are suited for cooking low and slow. Ideally the crock pot (for maximum energy savings) for several hours with some liquid (broth or wine), onions and any seasonings you like. If you are new to roasts start with the chuck roast, one of my personal favorites and so easy to use.
  3. Don't fear big roasts - Bring home a big roast for the crock pot and make it into a new meal the second day. The first night enjoy pot roast and the second night shred the leftovers and make a new dinner. My favorite second day roast meals are pulled sandwiches and enchiladas. Saves you time and stretches your meat dollar.
  4. Buy in bulk - Don't be afraid of the large packages to get better savings. Divide them up into portions that fit your family and freeze them. Use good quality freezer bags to prevent freezer burn and label your bags for organization.
  5. Buy a half or quarter of a cow - This is a great way to buy in bulk and get it direct from the farmer. There are a few things to consider so check out this previous post on buying beef in bulk - http://houseagbuilt.blogspot.com/2012/03/so-you-want-to-buy-half-cow.html.
  6. Talk to the butcher - Don't be afraid to talk to your butcher. Ask for their suggestions of inexpensive cuts. You might hear about the flat iron steak or cross rib steaks which are some of my favorite budget friendly steaks. You may also get some new ideas on cooking or tips about cuts that are on sale.
Hope you enjoyed these quick tips on stretching your grocery dollar at the meat counter! Feel free to share your ideas too!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Water Conservation #1 - toilets



With a terrible drought and water rates on the rise, there is more incentive now than ever before to conserve water. I'm bringing you a series of posts with practical ways for you to save water in your home. Some of these I've already implemented in our home but I'll be implementing all of them possible in a 'test' home in order to actually compare the water savings to the prior year. I'm excited to see how these changes actually impact the water use and bill, instead of just calculating expected savings. 

So to start this series on water conservation in your home, let's start with the quickest and easiest. You don't need tools or a trip to the store. You should be able to find everything you need right in your home and not need to spend a thing. This is my kind of water conservation - free and painless.

Basically we are going to put something in the tank of the toilet to take up space that would normally be filled by water to make your ordinary toilet a water saving toilet. 

In our old house I used a simple plastic water bottle. It fit just right and never fell down (note that if the bottle falls down it disrupts the mechanics of the toilet and might actually waste water). But the toilets in our current house are different and the water bottle didn't work. So I scrounged around in the cupboards and decided to try some jars. This is a glass jar that used to hold almond butter from Costco. I gathered up a few big rocks from the yard to add even more weight to be sure it dosen't move around. 

Then I added it to the toilet tank. Easy. Seriously this took 5 minutes and cost nothing. It would have been faster if I hadn't stopped for pictures. 

The only hard part about this is figuring out how much savings this will give you in water. Very old toilets can use as much as 7 gallons per flush if they are pre 1990s. But newer toilets can use as little as 1.6 gallons. If you have a super efficient toilet, you may not want to add anything to the tank. But if it isn't already maximum efficiency, this should help you get there. And if you find the toilet isn't handling the dirty work, just remove whatever jar or bottle you added to the tank.

There are also a few other options for you that will require a trip to the hardware store.
3. An adjustable flusher conversion kit like this one - http://www.homedepot.com/p/BlueSource-HydroRight-Dual-Flush-Converter-HYR271/202267979#
4. A new super efficient toilet

I will note that my local hardware stores - even the big ones - did not carry the linked items in store so you may need to order them online.

So see if this works for you and you can start saving water and money today without spending a dime. And check back for my upcoming posts on water saving fixtures and landscape.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

So a drought - what does it mean?

Yesterday a state of emergency was declared in California due to the horrible drought conditions. We are officially in a severe drought. But what does it mean to farmers and to consumers?

First, it is important to know that we have been in a drought for a couple years thanks to reduced winter rainfall. The severity of the drought has depended on your geography - it wasn't as terrible up north. But this winter we have had essentially no rain, most reports indicate only 10-15% of normal. This is really bad as this satellite comparison of the snowpack shows. Remember that 2013 was low too, we are just that much lower now.
Above visual from outsideonline.com
As cattle ranchers, this is a huge problem. Cows need to eat 365 days per year. We can't choose to not feed them when water is short. No rain means no native winter feed grew for the cattle. Because of this most ranchers have been feeding their cattle hay this winter, so hay prices are up and there is less hay available. Now, we are looking at very limited water for the summer, which will mean we will have very little feed growing this summer.

Since cows need to eat, this means that people will have to sell cows to reduce the number of mouths they have to feed. There simply will not be enough to go around for the cows in California.
As an example, pictured below is a small field of winter hay that we planted this fall. I took this less than an hour ago. If you zoom, you will see a tiny bit of green. This is less than 10% of the field that actually grew. And the current height of this feed is actually too short for a cow to eat, so it serves no value. Normally a winter crop like this helps as both a cover crop and as feed for our cows. You can see nothing is covered this winter.

We are small farmers and yet this drought is having a huge impact on our farm. We will have less than half the amount of beef as normal for sale to our customers this year at the farmers market. Knowing the water situation was not good, we sold most of our young calves last month. Those calves can be fed in other states where they have more feed.
But we will soon be forced to sell more of our 'mother cows' (the ones who produce calves for us each year). We have been building our herd for close to 10 years now, so selling these cows is going to be difficult. 

So what will this drought mean to you? Here in California we are blessed with fantastic local food. You will see less of our California food this year. There just isn't enough water to grow it. Some areas of California will have their water reduced by 95% this year - that translates directly into less California food for you to enjoy. Food prices will rise and local selection will be limited. More of your grocery store options will be coming from out of the state and country.
Your home will also feel this drought. Water rates are on the rise for cities as they face shortages as well. You will be paying more for even your home water this year.

Finally we are at terrible risk for some devastating wildfires. Fire season starting in January instead of June is very bad news.

So, this is bad. Pray for it or dance for it or just hope for it but we need some divine intervention and water. And, conserve (more posts about how to conserve coming soon)!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Baby Stuff … What are the essentials?

The world of baby stuff is intense … someday I will write a post on the best things to have for baby, until then I am pinning them like crazy!

Newborn Must Haves

The pin above if from The Bewitchin’ Kitchen – I like that she broke lists just ten things. 

The pin above is from The Crazy Life – I love that she added a quantity by everything!  But, seriously 4 waterproof mattress pads?  I can see two, but four?

There are about a bazillion other lists and I’ve ready a ton!  But, I still have no idea what I really need.  Every list is different and every baby and family is different. 

So, I’d love to hear from YOU … what were the things you couldn’t live without with a newborn? 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Photo Shelves!

In our family room there is a wall that I displayed a bunch of photos on.  Loved my display (even though a picture is sideways – I’ve been meaning to change that) but we used some of the frames for the photo display at dad’s memorial.  Two are missing – kind of ruins the photo display.

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I have been wanting to put up shelves, but like the sideways picture I never got around to it.  Enter my momma … she is amazing.  She is retired now and bored with nothing to do all day (lol – she is not bored at all but she’ll laugh reading this)!  So, she made me some 10 dollar shelves cut just the perfect length for this wall.  Then … (you’re not going to believe this) she painted them, and came over to put them up for me!!  I told you she is amazing!!  

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The space is transformed and I can add or take away pictures whenever the mood strikes! 

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I love the dimension of stacked frames and the interest created by using frames of different height.  I’m still playing with the layout but I LOVE my new picture shelves!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Resolutions and Goals

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in resolutions. Resolutions are basically dreams and dreams are a good thing, but saying I want to lose weight this year is usually where a resolution stops. I’ve read that 25 percent of people break their New Year’s Resolutions within a week. That’s just a week – imagine after a month!

Dreams with a deadline are called goals. I am a huge believer in goals. A goal gives you something to work toward something you want to work toward. A good goal is measurable and attainable. A good goal makes the goal setter reach but not too far to give up hope. As a teacher, I set goals for my students on a daily basis – in education we call them objectives. My students reach those objectives daily and by the end of the year they reach their year-long goals and are ready for the next grade.

I read a lot. Not as much as I would like to though. I love books – especially finance and self help books. Weird … I know. But, I have read my share of goal setting books. It has been too long for me to remember the title or the author of these books. I’ll tell you what I’ve taken from these books and how I’ve changed it to work for me. I would suggest you search for goal setting books at your local library to read also.

I set up yearly goals in three categories:

Finance – money

Finance goals have to do with debt, saving, retirement, income, budgeting, or anything else you can think of relating to money. Do you have debt? Want to chisel away at it? Have you set up a budget? Where do you want to be financially in a year?

Personal

Personal goals are about you. How do you want to grow as a person? Do you want a better relationship with your spouse? Are you constantly sick and want to get healthier? Are you unorganized and want to organize your house?

Professional

Professional goals are about your occupation. How do you want to grow in your career? A goal in this category could be getting a new job or getting a promotion in your current job. It could even be starting your own business. Maybe taking a class or joining a professional organization.

Since I am for some reason obsessed with the number three, I set three goals in each category. But, for some reason this year I couldn’t narrow my personal goals down to 3 – oh well, this is going to be a big year! J

How to set a goal

Think about what you want for the future. Let’s talk personal – there are so many people each year that make a resolution to lose weight. That is the start of a great goal but remember how I said that a goal needs to be measurable? I want to lose weight is not a goal – it is a wish. Set a number or a size. A goal needs to be measurable.

Now if I were to say I want to be a size 2, that goal would be unattainable. I have never been nor will I probably ever be a size 2. A goal needs to be attainable – something that you have to work for, but if you keep working hard you will accomplish it. A good goal would be become a size 8 or lose 45 pounds. I’m not the best at wording goals, so you can play with the wording if you are particular about it.

It is also important to share your goals. My sister puts them in her office which is a fantastic idea. I put my goals in a frame in my craft room. This year my plan is to put them in a pretty frame and put them in the office or in our room somewhere. Post your most important goal on facebook and get encouragement from friends! Tell your spouse or kids and they can help you attain it. Write your goals down and share them!

Notice that I didn’t write how I am going to lose those 45 pounds? That’s the next step – set up a plan of attack!

Make a Plan

A goal is not like a crock pot roast – you can’t set it and forget it. You have to work for a goal. You won’t be able to accomplish it in a weekend or even a week. Your plan of attack will be like mini goals (like lesson objectives for teachers) that help you reach your yearly goals.

Goals can be set at any time during the year and can be adjusted to work for you.

Here are my goals for this year:

2014 Goals

Financial

- Fully fund our IRA accounts

- Research and start (?) a college fund for baby

- Live on one income for 2 months (and bank the other)

Personal

- Give birth to a healthy baby

- Lose the baby weight plus 5

- Blog 8 times or more per month

- Read 1 book a month

- Decorate and organize baby’s room and keep it that way!

Professional

- Take 1 class (3 units) before the next school year

- Help 4 people do a 180 and share their story

- Plant and harvest our first crop!

Do you set goals? If not, you should start! Start with one or two for the year and work your butt off to accomplish them. What are your goals? I would love for you to share on Facebook or right here in the comments!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Big News …

You are going to have to ignore my bad hair (I should say normal hair lol) and just focus on the message.

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Michael and I are expecting our first baby in April!  We are both very excited!

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