Archive for the 'Getting serious' Category

Big Changes Sometimes Happen Overnight…

SunflowerWell, you can plan your life as carefully as you like, but you can’t plan for the unexpected! We’ve experienced that in spades this year with a sudden change in the health of a close family member. Within a matter of three weeks, we packed up, cleaned up, and bid a fond farewell to our wonderful trailer in the woods and headed out to resettle elsewhere. We’re now helping to care for a relative and have put plans on hold for building our dream place in the country.

But, you know what? That’s perfectly okay! We’ve just rolled with it and rolled up our sleeves to tackle what needs doing in our “new” place (which is a 55-year-old house that can use a loving, creative touch!). I haven’t had a moment to update the blog or even think about posting any new projects, but I want to assure you that “Queen of My Trailer” will still go on. We may not be in a trailer any more, but we’ll still be tackling a lot of DIY jobs in the coming months. We don’t know how long we’ll be needed here, but we’re going to do our best to make a wonderful nest where we are, blooming where we’re planted in this season of life.

Thank you so much for all the kind comments and emails. I promise I’ll get back to posting again soon and will have some great book reviews, website recommendations, and more ASAP! I’ve also started taking my DIY pictures and creating how-to articles over on eHow.com, so be sure to stop by and post a comment and say hello!

Warmly,

Amanda

Putting out housefires and holding down the fort!

Putting out housefires and holding down the fort!

A Fantastic Frugal Homesteading Kit!

I just got an e-mail newsletter from Vision Forum with this wonderful package in it on sale (I ordered it!). I thought I had all the frugality and homesteading books out there, but these two were new to me, and I’ve not had a chance to see the videos yet, but I’ve heard rave reviews of them. Just click the banner below to read about the sale. You can get the books bundled, the videos bundled, or everything bundled together. There’s also a deal on the Entrepreneurial Boot Camp CDs. Check it out!

Fantastic Article Link on Building Smaller and Smarter

I’ve been out of the loop here for a while with family coughs and colds and general late winter ickies.  While playing catch-up, I ran across this excellent article about the sudden boom in smaller house plans–no more McMansions! Here’s a little blurb from this piece:

“You can save thousands of dollars” by using simple materials in a well-designed space, says [Sarah] Susanka, author of the best-selling 1998 book The Not So Big House.

For more than a decade, she has urged people to build better, not bigger. Now, as the U.S. economy struggles to climb out of a tailspin and environmental concerns rise, her message has gone mainstream.

New homes, after doubling in size since 1960, are shrinking. Last year, for the first time in at least 10 years, the average square footage of single-family homes under construction fell dramatically, from 2,629 in the second quarter to 2,343 in the fourth quarter, Census data show.

The new motto: living well with less.

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I own Susanka’s Not So Big House books and have admired her ideas for years while collecting my own folder of plans and ideas for the house we hope to build. Even with a large family, it is not necessary to build sprawling mega-houses with bedrooms in every corner. In fact, it’s far better to build smarter, making public areas (kitchen, dining room, living room) the focal point and devoting greater space to those. Bedrooms are really only necessary for sleeping and dressing, and I’ve never seen the sense of having a gargantuan master suite that you hardly spend any time in when you’re awake! We’d much rather have plenty of room to have guests around the table–not to mention places to spread out homeschooling projects, read books together, etc.

I’ll be posting more about our home plans/ideas here in the future, sharing what I’ve gleaned from years of tearing out magazine pages and reading dozens of books. I inherit all of this from my mother, who was designing “green” before it was ever in fashion. Being green may be hip today, but it’s really just going back to older principles of building to last for generations and using materials that don’t have to be replaced every few years. We’ve got high hopes of using reclaimed barn wood, as one of our neighbors is frequently called upon to tear down old barns and sheds and recycles the lumber. We’re looking into passive and active solar options,  structural insulated panels (SIPs), and  talking about tankless water heaters (did you know roughly one-third of your electricity bill is due to keeping a tank of water hot?).

It is a really fun challenge to figure out where you can cut costs without cutting any real corners. Who cares about granite countertops when the extra money you’d spend on those could go to a high-efficiency tankless water heating system? We love to think outside the box. Below are some of my favorite links I’ve bookmarked over the past few years as we plan and dream. If you’ve got favorites, post a comment and share!

Architectural Salvage Yards – Because salvage is now “hot,” it can sometimes be pricier than new, but check locally, because that’s where you find the savings. We have three salvage places within 50 miles of us, and their prices are much lower.

Valuebuild Panel Home Kits – These kits use the SIPs I mentioned above, which have an incredibly high “R” factor when it comes to insulation. Energy bills in SIP houses are typically 60% lower than in stick-built (i.e. “leaky as a sieve”) houses. And if you’re not brave enough to literally put your kit together yourself, a local builder can easily do it for you with far less waste than a stick-built home entails.

The Affordable House – These plans are so much fun to look at — like little storybook cottages. The designer works to put lots of usable space into a small footprint with charming results.

SIPA (Structural Insulated Panel Association) – This site explains how SIPs work and why it is better (and faster!) to build a house with them.

Greenblock Insulated Concrete Forms – Another alternative to stick-built, these pre-molded forms go in quickly and are solid and long-lasting. There are some drawbacks when it comes to certain heating methods, but if you’re in a hotter climate, they’re a really good option.

The Natural Home Building Source – A great place for information on passive solar design, graywater reuse, heat storage tubes, and more.

Hello, 2009! Let’s start the year off with some frugal links!

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I hope y’all had as wonderful a Christmas and New Year’s celebration as we did.  We had a fantastic time with family and friends and celebrated several birthdays in the process, too. It was a great way to end 2008!

As the economy continues its tumble (and we all start to wonder if it will ever hit bottom), I’ve been pulling out all my old favorite resources, including the following excellent books:

  • Back to Basics by Reader’s Digest- I pored over my mother’s copy of this book growing up, fascinated by all the amazing information it contained (how to site a passive solar house, how to build an underground root cellar, how to find a water source, and so much more). You can find copies of the original 1970s edition and the 1980s update on eBay — both editions are great.
  • Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery – This book has been through numerous editions. Mine is about ten years old and well-thumbed. This book covers everything from gardening to grinding grains, quilting to tending your own plot of mushrooms. Very helpful and fun to read, too!
  • The “Have-More” Plan by Ed and Carolyn Robinson – This is another book I just love to sit and look through (as do my children). It was written in the 1940s by a couple who moved out to the country and steadily built a self-sufficient lifestyle on a small homestead. It shows that a family does not need dozens of acres and a giant farming operation to live very comfortably. And even if you have no intention of moving to the country, the book shows what you can do on very little land with smart placement of plants and careful management of the pantry. I totally ignore the advice on insecticides (yikes!), since we do organic gardening, but the rest is a treat! This is available as a reprint from Storey Communications and as an e-book!

I’ve also been going through my favorite frugal bookmarks and gleaning from sites that provide coupons, links to special giveaways, tips for budgeting, etc. Here are some of my very favorite sources online:

  • Money Saving Mom – This one always gets top place. Mrs. Paine is a frugal whiz and pulls together the most fantastic deals every week. Be sure to subscribe to her feed so you don’t miss anything!
  • My Penny Pile – Another super site for coupons, deals, and freebies, from one penny-pinching mom to another.
  • TipHero.com – I have learned so many things from reader tips and tricks. Did you know you can cut drying time by 1/3rd if you put a dry towel into each load of laundry? Lots of practical, down-to-earth helps here. Get the feed, and pass on a tip if you have a good one!
  • Better Budgeting – This site is jam-packed with articles, ideas, practical how-to helps, and more. Get a “black belt” in frugal living here!
  • Living on a Dime – I love their fun sense of humor – this is a site that will encourage you and make you smile, even if you’ve got to dig your way out of serious debt or work hard to scrape together savings. Fantastic e-books and e-newsletter!
  • Sufficient Self – A forum for folks to share frugal ideas and tips for making do or making it yourself. Great place to ask questions.

Finally, let me share some favorite helpful articles that have inspired me:

  • “Seven Good Lessons from the Great Depression”We may not be getting ready for bread lines or seeing hobos selling apples for five cents on the corner, but all this talk of another Great Depression should have us looking back in history for lessons that we can take with us into the future of this wild and woolly economic mess.
  • “The Perfect Pantry”Stock up on the basics below for easy home-cooked meals. [If you’ve never stocked a pantry, this is a great starter article.]
  • “Frugal Living in a Tiny Town”Although far removed from bargain shopping and mainstream entertainment conveniences (we live 15 miles from the nearest grocery store and 55 miles from any real shopping), we have found that Tiny Town living lends itself nicely to our frugal lifestyle. [Reading this piece is like hearing from a kindred spirit. I love this!]
  • “Pantry 2009: Groceries and Your Budget”I love trying to cut costs and increase value at the same time.  I love a bargain but don’t like skimping on quality.  I love to be rich cheap.  I love the challenge of building a pantry.  I love buying bulk.  I love couponing.  That is why my dream outing is going grocery shopping with a load of coupons and stopping in at Goodwill on .99 cent day. [I look forward to reading more articles in this neat series.]
  • “Salvage Your Way to a Kitchen Remodel for Less”We bought a small 2 bedroom house, and put a new addition, with 3 more bedrooms, living room and bath. Four years into the project, I declared war against the original kitchen, which consisted of one wall of upper cabinets built with plywood, and a counter top below, that held the sink. This was the only storage/work space in there! My husband and older son said “There is no way you can even start this project without $5-10,000.” I said “Watch me!” [If you’ve read my kitchen re-do posts, then you know this is a topic I adore!]

Enjoy! I hope to be back soon with more stories about some remodeling fun (and serendipitous mishaps!).

Happy New Year!

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In the bleak midwinter…

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When the chill days of winter arrive, I’ve always recalled and savored the lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet 73:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

“Bare ruin’d choirs” — the phrase sent delicious shivers through me when I first read that sonnet, and it still evokes the grey, quiet feelings of this time of year. I thought of those words again today, looking through my kitchen window into a gloomy winter’s sky.

102_00321It has been one of those days when everyone wants to huddle inside, get the fire going, and read books. Which is fine by me. I love days like this. But today we decided the best way to keep off the chill and gloom was to decorate the house for Christmas, break out the Christmas music, and sip some egg nog. 😉

102_0021We had quite an adventure yesterday finding a tree. At first we’d thought the woods behind the house would oblige us with a small cedar, but the trees were decidedly too prickly for little fingers, so we gave up on that idea. I figured we’d easily find a local tree lot and just get something small for the living room, but, long story short, there wasn’t a tree lot anywhere to be found in an hour’s worth of driving and three small towns! Unbelieveable. So we headed down another road where we’d seen a tree lot on our way to get the milk at the dairy on Tuesday. Why I didn’t just stop on Tuesday and get a tree while I was at it is beyond me! When we finally reached the lot, it was already closed. Don’t tree lots usually stay open after 4pm?

At this point, the children were rather antsy and not wanting to sit in the van any more, so we headed over to the gigantic nearby Wal-Mart (sigh), which–sure enough–had live trees outside of the garden center. We picked a cute, plump little spruce (soft needles) that smelled faintly citrus. By then, rain had started spritzing down, so our tree had a shimmering mist added to its charms. Amid cheers and squeals of delight, we hauled the tree back home and squeezed it through the door. By the time my oldest sons had wrestled it into the tree stand, they were too exhausted (and covered with greenery and sap) to do more, so we saved decorating for today.

breadornamentWe had no trouble finding the ornaments, as we now have so few boxes in storage (wheee!). The children quickly pounced on their favorites, and everyone had an opinion of what should go where.  We have a neat little set of ornaments that functions as a sort of miniature advent calendar. Each ornament has a picture representing what we’re celebrating–the coming of Christ–and contains a description of His attributes.  This one here shows a loaf of bread. When you open it, there’s a story inside about how Christ is the Bread of Life. Each ornament contains a story, and we will be reading a different one each day over the next two weeks. The children enjoyed placing (and re-placing) ornaments on the tree, then stood back to admire everything all lit up. My oldest son was horrified when I told him that, before electricity, people used to put real, lit candles on their Christmas trees. He said our trailer would burn down for sure if we did that–LOL!

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102_00021After finishing the tree, we created a simple wreath for the front door, and I gave my girls the leftover ribbons to decorate their room with. My four-year-old came out ten minutes later sporting two stuffed animals with new bows around their necks. My older daughter led me by the hand and showed off her own decorations, which included her pajamas neatly folded into a “present” and tied with a bow — and two bows on either end of her bed. Ah, girls! The boys all wanted to head out into the woods and cut down some boughs to decorate the mantel and front deck railings, but the wind had really started to pick up, and the rain was coming down again, so we decided to put that off ’til another day.

I’m now sitting in a quiet house, the only sound the ticking of the clock and the click of my keyboard. All my “mice” are snug in their beds, and I’m enjoying the warmth of the Christmas lights and some soft Christmas carols playing in the background. This is one of my favorite seasons, and we’re going to enjoy staying snug inside our little cottage while the winds blow outside.

In the kitchen, the tea kettle is calling me for a nightly cup of Earl Grey, so I’ll head in there and fix it by the warm light of the countertop lamp (one of my all-time favorite thrift store finds!). I hope wherever you are, you’re enjoying the season and finding time to reflect. When I look outside at those “bare, ruin’d choirs,” I’m all the more thankful for a place to be at home with my family–a place to focus on what’s really important. The economy may look grimmer by the day, but we can hold on to what really lasts–and what Wall Street can’t take away–can’t we? Gather them in close–family, friends, neighbors–and tell them how much they mean to you. These are the riches God gives us all.

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Dave Ramsey’s doing it again — Everything’s $10!

Dave Ramsey did this great sale back on Labor Day weekend, and he’s doing it again through December 18. If you want the best, most down-to-earth, practical tools for getting, staying, and living debt-free, get Dave’s Total Money Makeover book or order his audio CDs.  I don’t get any kind of kick-back for recommending Financial Freedom products; I just want to encourage you to read, listen to, and learn from their resources.

Total Money Makeover

If you’re like me, you may have grown up in a frugal household but without ever learning how to budget, save long-term, or invest.  When I was a newlywed, I prided myself on being able to live on very little, but I quickly found out that I had a lot to learn when it came to thinking long-term.

Crystal over at MoneySavingMom.com has shared her family’s financial goals and also recommends Dave Ramsey’s excellent materials. Crystal’s story is incredibly inspiring. If a young wife and mom can keep the home and run a small business while her husband finishes law school–and still manage to save money–then so can you!

If you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey, spend some time on his site and check his radio show archive. 60 Minutes also did a special on him recently that you can watch in segments online (if I can find my link I’ll post it!). Dave and his wife, Sharon, tell the story of how they came out of complete bankruptcy and financial ruin and learned to manage money and save carefully for the long haul. It’s good stuff!

Enjoy!

Now’s the time to get “gazelle intense” with Dave Ramsey!

If you know nothing about Dave Ramsey and his “Financial Peace” series or his “Total Money Makeover,” there has never been a better time to get acquainted with this excellent system for becoming debt-free and living free. Jump on over to Dave’s website, because everything is $10 through September 2nd! This includes all the books, DVDs, audio CDs, and software.

If you want to learn how to break free from the bondage of all-American debt up to the eyeballs, then you need to read Dave! He also has a radio show that streams from his site, so if you’re not ready to plunk down money for books, take a few days to listen to what he has to say before you make a decision.

I don’t get any kind of kickback by promoting Dave Ramsey; I’m just extremely happy to be able to recommend  his common-sense approach to spending wisely, saving for the future, and staying debt-free for life. Yes, that even means mortgage-free! Dave uses biblical wisdom and old-fashioned common sense to demonstrate how easy it is to get control of your finances and “tell every dollar where to go.” If you don’t tell your money where to go, it will just grow wings and fly away of its own accord!

Whether you have debt or are debt-free and just want to save wisely for the future, you can’t beat Dave Ramsey’s excellent resources. Check them out!

Nearly unpacked…and some musings…

We did find the keys. I had a “Eureka” moment when I remembered laying them down on the counter at the neighbors’ before church on Sunday. My husband had started the van with his set of keys that afternoon, so I never felt the need of my set until it came time to unlock the POD! Thankfully, I found them Tuesday morning, so we had all day (and ample help) to get the POD unloaded.

Let me tell you, it is a real adventure to forcibly downsize yourself–going from 2200 square feet to 1700 is truly revealing. I’ve prided myself for years for not being a pack rat, yet I have to ‘fess up to some pretty wacky things that have come out in this move. In our last three houses, we’ve either had a huge attic or a storage building out back, so I think I just lived in denial, believing we really didn’t have that much stuff. ::Cough:: We have enough stuff to choke a small army.

With the contents of the POD emptied all over the front deck and the lawn and stacked inside the house, I felt a slightly grim foreboding coming over me. There was no way all that stuff would fit into our trailer. No way. I got back to feverishly unpacking things that could go where they belonged–like pots, pans, dishes, clothes–daily stuff we use all the time. A sudden thunderstorm forced us to run out and schlep a whole bunch of stuff back into the POD to avoid a drenching, so I just focused on unpacking and settling what was in the house. Felt pretty good, as long as I could forget what lurked in the POD.

But I had to face it eventually, and I started thinking about storage buildings. I decided to look online to see if it was cheaper to just go ahead and buy one rather than renting storage space. If you go on a monthly payment plan, you can get a nice 12x8x8′ building for about $39 a month over a year’s time. Sounds pretty reasonable compared to $69-119 per month for similarly sized storage at a rental place. So I decided to be a smart shopper and actually go check out these handy dandy sheds. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have over a dozen sitting in the parking lot, so my oldest son and I walked through a few. The pricier ones with real windows and lofts we ignored. We finally ended up at the bottom rung of storage building Hades in an 8x8x6′ metal shed with no windows. Hey! Only $199! We could just buy that outright! So we headed inside to ask about ordering.

No one seemed to know who was in charge of buildings, so I got passed around to three different people before an indifferent cashier finally handed me a phone and asked me to talk to whoever she had called about buildings. The rather testy lady on the other end informed me that the particular model I had looked at did not come with a roof or a floor; I’d have to buy those separately. WHAT? You mean what I see isn’t what I get? Nope. “Oh, and you have to put it together yourself,” Testy Saleslady said. “It doesn’t come built. None of them do.” All righty. So, now we’re looking at having to purchase flooring and roofing materials and build this thing from a kit. Now I understand the Glory of Storage Rental Units. But I’m not willing to pay over $1000 a year to store things. We made this move to get seriously frugal and save money–not blow it out the window by giving the Christmas tree an air conditioned apartment!

So I head back home, my brain on overdrive, thinking, thinking, thinking. There’s no way around it. All that stuff in the POD isn’t going to fit into that trailer. I park the car, walk through the front door, and announce to my husband, “We’re selling it, giving it away, or throwing it away.” He raises his eyebrows, surprised that I’ve come to this conclusion so quickly and decisively. He’d had that idea all along, of course. So we roll up our sleeves and attack the contents of the POD. Here’s where Embarrassing Confessions of a Closet Pack Rat come in to play. Wanna know what I found?

  • Two boxes of letters and notes dating back to high school and college. Drum roll: These boxes had not been opened or looked into since at least 2002. They had come through more moves than I want to admit and were filled with stuff I have no intention of keeping. What on earth did I think I’d need my eleventh-grade biology notes for? This coming from a woman who has laughed at her mother for saving her fourth-grade spelling tests in the attic for 20 years!
  • One box of items complete with price tags from a yard sale we had in 2003. This box of leftovers was supposed to go to Goodwill after the sale and somehow ended up in our moving pile. Go figure….
  • Two boxes labeled “scrapbooks” that contained photos I haven’t organized since I was a newlywed. The boxes had been taped shut in 2001 and never opened since. I managed to consolidate all of the scrapbook stuff into one nice plastic bin for the “someday” when I have enough time to put pictures in cutesy arrangements on pretty acid-free pages complete with captions (that is, if I can remember the captions by then).
  • Two bags of clothing that should have gone to Goodwill two moves ago–including a cap and gown from college graduation.
  • Three boxes of paid bills and bank statements dating back to 1995.

The list goes on, but we haven’t finished yet. We do see the light at the end of the tunnel, though! The POD gets picked up empty Tuesday, after all, so we have good motivation to keep at it. My husband has been happily shredding the old bills and statements, since you don’t have to keep those for thirteen years, and I’ve been ruthlessly putting things in the Giveaway or Sell Pile. Today I managed to clear out a large corner of the utility closet here to fit four boxes of books that we cannot fit on our shelves but don’t want to part with. I also managed to go through three boxes of fabric, dumping all the scraps too small to use and organizing all the ones I want to keep or give away. Oh, and does anyone need five rolls of black and white toile wallpaper?

Though it hasn’t been easy to go through everything (especially in 95-degree heat and dripping humidity), I am very thankful that moving into a smaller place has forced us to actually look at what we’ve been schlepping around all these years. There have been surprises and there have been moments of hilarity, and, at the end of it all, there is deep satisfaction in knowing that what is in our closets now is stuff we really do use. No storage buildings for us. No paying rent so our boxes can sit for another year. Paring down can be painful or it can be an adventure…or it can be a painful adventure. But it is well worth it. We’re excited to see that our family actually can fit into our cozy, double-wide cottage and live on less.


About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

Favorite Frugal Helps!


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Organic Valley Family of Farms - Get coupons and special offers for delicious, healthy food!

The Coupon Mom - Another fabulous source for discounts and freebies!

Dave Ramsey will help you break the chains of debt and run to freedom!

What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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