My grandmother was a very frugal woman who often told me “if you will mind your pennies your dollars will mind themselves.” I hope to share here some of her wisdom and the wisdom of others I have learned over the years

Monday, May 27, 2013


When Connie Francis made this tune popular vacations in my family were load up and head for the lake where we swam, fished, played cards and got royally sunburned for two weeks every summer.  Occasionally a long weekend as well.

I was so envious of my friend Sandee, her dad worked for an airlines in Tulsa, OK and her aunt lived at Anaheim, CA.  So every summer their vacations were free air fare to Anaheim and two weeks of Disney Land. 

I swore when I was an adult my kids would vacation more than going to the lake to bake until they were a Crispy Critters(remember that cereal?) in the summer sun.

By the time our oldest was three and the youngest six months we were taking big traveling vacations.  At first it was small places like Silver Dollar City (which had nothing to speak of for children in the mid 1970’s) and DogpatchUSA (now out of business).  Then as the kids got older we widened our horizons to Six Flags Over Texas.

Then in October of 1981 we took advantage of the kids being out of school for various reasons for nearly two weeks and headed toward Florida. At age 31 I had finally made it to the Magic Kingdom, I stood there with tears running down my face so excited to see the castle and upset that my kids didn’t want to let me enjoy the moment.   We were finally on the BIG vacation and it wasn’t going exactly as I had planned.  I made a fool of myself being upset, something the family has never let me live down now 32 years later. Such feelings and upset are one of the downsidesof big planned out vacations as we all know.  Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan.

We so fell in love with the magic of Disney we’ve been back over 30 times and are anxious to go again sometime in the future.  Anyone who knows me in the least knows this.  The last time we were there it was December 2006, over six long years ago.

Life and unemployment has kept us either at home or west of Oklahoma traveling for work.

I’ll admit it, we have been secretly planning a getaway for December this year for several months, but reality set in recently and that trip will not be happening unless several things change. 

It started small.  Traditionally we drive down most trips.  We love to travel with our camper, and see historical sites along the way to and from.  Stopping at beaches is also a treat. The first reality check was the escalating cost of fuel.  We could fly, stay in a resort hotel for a longer visit eating all our meals out cheaper than we could drive and boondock three days there and three days back!  Okie Dokie.  I like flying and six extra days in the “Happiest Place on Earth” works for me, even if it would cut down our tourism to other venues in the Orlando area.  I know we could have rented a car, but that part of planning hadn't happened yet.

Then my son had to use most of his vacation time for the year due to an illness he couldn’t seem to kick earlier this year.  Thankfully it’s now gone.

Follow that with my husband’s job telling him he would probably be going to some schooling in Las Vegas at the time we were planning on taking the trip.

Then there was the budget, a HUGE consideration.  You see we, as most who read this know, are on the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover Plan to become totally debt free.  We are finally to the point where our snowball is really rolling.  Look out this is where the adult part comes in…

I’m a math nerd and I started playing with numbers, trying to figure out how to both keep the snowball rolling swiftly and how to pay for a totally blow out vacation with all the frills that included annual passes so we could go back 2-3  more times in the year that followed.  We are talking some serious cash. A number that made me rethink the whole idea.  I wanted to be debt free MORE than I wanted to go to Florida—who is this woman and where did she come from?

I calculated up that if we put the vacation off until spring/summer 2014 and used that money for the snowball we could not only pay off one full debt, but most of another and save over $500 in interest.  All by waiting ONLY an extra 4-6 months.  At the end of that 4-6 months all our consumer debt would be paid off and only our mortgages would remain.  Definitely a reason to celebrate, BIG.

When I mentioned this to the guys they both thought, as I did, that delaying the big trip was an excellent idea.  Sean could use the extra money he would have been spending for the trip this winter on his house he is building and still have money for the trip next spring/summer. He would also have more vacation time. Gary and I would have a lot more ready cash that we wouldn’t feel like we were shorting a bill to pay for the trip and we’d enjoy it all the more!

However, we all love to travel, we love vacation and a full year doing NOTHING might drive all three of us nuts.  Enter the book “The Great American Staycation”.

I found this book by accident while at the library and I am so glad I did.  Staycation is not a new idea, in fact it is a banned word in some areas I’m certain, because in the last few years it’s been so heavily over used.  I know I have not been fond of it as a word.  Remember I grew up staying close to home for every vacation.  A staycation to me basically was the same as deprivation. No big vacation?  Then we must be truly poor!

The first thing I learned from the book was to adjust my attitude.  In the book it talked about how you plan for a vacation.  Boy do we, I do cost comparison charts, menus, travel routes, time schedules,  budget I plan for a year or more for our big trips.  Even the second to fourth trip in a year to WDW because each trip is a little different.  I thoroughly believe that half the fun of a vacation is the planning.  Yet in the last several years where we’ve been doing “Trips on a tank full” because our budget wouldn’t allow anything else I’ve never really planned them out.  After all they were “just something to do near home.”

As I read it became clear to me the solution for our year to wait for our big trip(s) in 2014 was to do PLANNED Staycations of under 100 miles for as near to free as possible.  That way we could have fun, relax and not feel financially guilty about melting part of our debt snowball.

I put the idea to my family this way:

My suggestion was every other pay day we take one to three days of “vacation”, but instead of using vacation time that would take away from our 2014 trip(s) we’d do it on weekends/holidays.  Oklahoma City was as far as we would possibly travel, roughly 100 miles from our home.  The closer to home the better, because diesel is EXPENSIVE.

On our “vacation” days we would eat just like we would on vacation.  Many days on vacation we eat donuts or other cold foods for breakfast, but at least once each trip to WDW we eat at Trail’s End all you can eat breakfast buffet.  So occasionally we will “treat” ourselves to Golden Corral’s breakfast buffet.  The guys really liked this, it is a good buffet and if we are on vacation, why not?

While I do fix some meals when traveling in the camper we eat out a lot too, at places that are new to us.  There are hundreds of restaurants in our area we’ve never tried. So some of our staycation meals would be at new to us restaurants, including fast foods we’ve never tried.  Yes, there are fast food places we’ve never been to—like Panda Express, why I don’t know, we just haven’t.

The list went on, listing how we normally vacation and how when we will do it on the staycation.

The guys said it sounded great, but WHERE would we would go.  Again I quoted the book.  It suggested things such as looking at your local city/town’s tourist information website.  Okay, I’ve done that in the past for Tulsa, but I had never checked the calendar of events of smaller venues in the local small towns as the book suggested. 

Imagine my surprise to find that in the next few months the little town that is less than 20 miles from us has SEVERAL different events going on that we had no clue about.  Things we’d be interested in.  Including a blue grass festival, and here we’ve been driving to Branson, MO, Claremore, OK, Davis, OK for bluegrass and there is a festival practically at our back door?  Who knew?

With such success with that little town I started googling “calendar of events” and the name of every small town I could think of in our 100 mile radius.  Holy Moly!  We could do something EVERY weekend if we wanted!

Moving on to the suggestion of checking our local museums calendar of events I found more possibilities.

Factory tours, Brahms Ice Cream has a factory between Broken Arrow and Coweta and they give tours!  We love the tv show “How it’s made” so this sounds fun to us.

Library calendar events, more things to see and learn.

Theater, I love live theater and concerts.  Colleges, little theater groups, all located by googling (or bing if you prefer). 

Zoo’s and aquariums have special events as well.  Did you know for a small fee many zoo’s have overnight sleepovers at their locations? What a cool kids birthday party that would be.

The book had more ideas than I could type here without really stealing Mr. Matt Wixon’s thunder.  He’s the author of the book by the way.
Their next question was "How would we pay for it?"  In the book Mr. Wixon suggests doing just as you would when planning an out of state big vacation.  Contact the department of tourism for discount tickets to events.  Also keep an eye on your local newspaper, soda pop cans, Entertainment books and much more for coupons.  Listen to the local radio for "special events." 
I'll add here that I will be consulting our Oklahoma AAA guidebook for ideas of local free or near free things to see and do as well.
Don't forget to ask for discounts, just like you do on vacation AAA, senior citizen, straight a student rewards, discounts offered by your auto insurance.
He also suggested volunteering as a way to possibly get into some venues for free--after you actually do the work.
Check online for gift cards for restaurants that offer a perk for getting the gift card through them.  An example is mypoints, buy a Chili's gift card get x amount of extra mypoints points.  Points you can later trade in for a free gift card.
Other things he suggested doing was taking a LOT of pictures, you do on vacation so why not on vacation.
How about souveniers?  Who says every t-shirt in your wardrobe has to say Walt Disney World on it.  What's wrong with one that says Philbrook Museum?

So our boring, stay at home summer, has now morphed into a every four week vacation here at home! 

Yours can too, just start googling and you might be surprised what you might find to do for free or near free for adults and/or kids in your area.

Jan who is so glad she found the book, which you can read my review of that includes much more about all the websites he includes and such by clicking on the review hyperlink in OK


Friday, May 24, 2013


Okay, so now we’ve figured out how much we need to plant, so WHERE do we plant it and WHEN do we plant it? This can be two major questions.

Anyone living in the USA this spring knows our weather has been beyond belief weird this year.  Generally you can plant based on the predicted last frost dates for your planting zone and be pretty safe.  Only this year there are parts of the nation still watching snow melt on Memorial Day Weekend, and parts of the nation, like Oklahoma, have been as high as 90 on one day and below freezing the next.  This can make deciding on when to plant your garden a real challenge.

Once you get it in you also need a game plan for protecting tender plants if the temps do bottom out suddenly, or shoot up to uncomfortable limits quickly. 

There are numerous ways to protect from cold temps ranging from throwing an old blanket or sheet over the plants, to misting them with water, smudge pots or wall-0-water or glass cloche or bell jar.  How you do it is up to you, just remember if you plant early you do run the chance of a late freeze.

If you would like to use the wall-0-water system, but can’t go the price to purchase them then make your own.   It is VERY simple.  Fill empty plastic two liter bottles with water and set them in the sunshine around your tender plants to warm up during the day.  Then at night that water will expel the heat to your plants helping to protect them.  I have used this method with success many times.  When the temperature was predicted to really drop I’ve also dropped old sheets over the tops of the plants that were surrounded by my 2 liter water wall and it has worked as a greenhouse to protect the plants even at below freezing temps quite well.

Speaking of green houses. If you are determined to get a jump start on early gardening you can of course run a low hoop house over your garden rows, or use hot boxes or cold frames to get an early start as well.

The only problem with any of these ideas is you need to be certain to remove them once the weather heats up to prevent burning your plants.

Ideally I would love to be a person who is so organized that I plant all my garden by the moon phases.  Realistically, life happens and I end up trying to hit it as close as possible.

The idea behind planting by the moon phases is that it has been documented that certain crops do better if they are planted in the light or dark of the moon.  Light of the moon for above ground crops, dark of the moon for below ground crops.  Okay, so what is considered the light and dark of the moon.

The light of the moon is during the first two quarters of a moon cycle.  Meaning preferably close to the full or new moon phases.  With root crops being planted just after the full moon for best results.

Another consideration is the astrological sign that works best for your particular plants.  Since you can’t easily ask a plant “What’s your sign?”  I’ll provide them here.

As would seem logical root crops are basically your earth signs of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn.  While your leafy crops be planted during Cancer, Scorpio and Pices.  Flowers thrive better if planted during Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra.  With seedy crops like strawberries  and nut trees do better if planted during. Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.  However, many believe that planting in these last signs, known as the fire signs, will not do well because they represent a barren time.  I’ve not experimented with this to see which holds true for me.  Perhaps one of you can and get back to me.

there has always been a bit of confusion for me, because some crops, say beets or radishes, are both above and below ground crops.  The young greens are good to eat and that part grows above ground, while the main plant you are growing for later consumption is below ground.  

Then does it mean plant the seed or plant the transplant?  Hmmmmm.  Time for a little research.

Sheer logic on the which moon phase of the dual crops would say go with which you want the most of tops, or bottoms on the plants.  Or you could compromise and plant right at the full moon and perhaps have lush growth of both.

The when does it apply to planting seeds or putting transplants in the ground took a little more research. Once that was done I found it was BOTH.  So if you are starting your seeds whether indoors or out you would plant.  Seeds or plants  for produce with seeds on the outside of the plant, like strawberries, nuts or blackberries should be planted between the New moon and the First Quarter.

Those that produce with the seeds inside them, like tomatoes, cucumbers etc should be planted between the First Quarter and the Full Moon.

Followed by root or bulb plants going in the ground either as seeds, or plants between the Full Moon and the Third Quarter.

It is suggested you should save the fourth quarter for harvesting to extend the keeping of the produce longer.

Like I said this is the ideal planting schedule.  The in real life schedule for me tends to be when I have  both the time and the gumption.

I do, however, work hard at companion planting.  A few years ago I spent a few weeks putting together an interactive spreadsheet as to what is best to plant near what for best natural plant protection.  It also includes what NOT to plant next to each other.  This chart has served me well and am very glad I took the time to do it.

I also try to rotate my crops to avoid problems each year as well.  But that is not always do able. An example are potatoes and tomatoes.  You should never plant either of them in a spot that has been planted the year before with either plant, because they are of the same family and are affected by the same pests.  But with the layout of my gardens, shade problems and other considerations I often find I can’t avoid at least some overlap. 

I’ve not had any huge problems so far, but then my soil is always being added to in the Lasagna Gardening Method.   This type of gardening is much like the gardening method of Ruth Stout or the Back to Eden Gardening Method. So that may have something to do with the lack of major problems.  After all in a sense I am rotating the garden soil, just not the plant rotation.

I tend to plant more by what space I have where.  Also by what permanent trellis is available.

This year is a prime example.  Generally I put the tomato plants in one of the middle rows of the main 24’ x 24’ garden and use tomato cages to try and support them.  My tomatoes always outgrow my cages no matter how hard I try and end up creeping on the ground.  This is not a good thing.  It increases the chances of problems like slugs, snakes, tomato bugs and rotting tomatoes. 

Therefore, this year I’ve decided to plant my tomato plants on the far outer edge of the garden where there is a permanent short trellis made from scraps of horse panels.  It runs the full 24 foot length of the garden there.  My plan is to tie the plants to this trellis in an Espalier fashion. While I won’t get as decorative as you would with fruit trees for this summertime crop I will basically use the same principles for all but two plants that I will put in flower pots to move to the indoors this fall.

Many people do not realize that tomato plants are actually perennial plants, as are pepper plants, but die back each fall when temperatures drop because they are a tropical plant. I am hoping to have our hoop house recovered by fall and will be able to move plants into it to extend our growing season. But that is another project for another day.

Back to planting the tomatoes.  According to my companion planting chart the good companions for tomatoes are: alliums (onion, garlic, chives etc), asparagus, basil, bee balm, borage, carrots,  celery, chard, horehound, mint, parsley, peas, and thyme.

The same chart also says avoid planting broccoli, corn, cucumber, dill, kohlrabi, and peaches near tomatoes. 

I take near to mean up close and personal, as in sharing the same bit of soil for some types of pests, and air space for others.

Based on this I will space the tomato plants to go the 24 foot length of the garden evenly. Then start working on the spaces in between.  This is where my pre-set garden areas and family preferences come in.

For some reason I’ve never had any real luck with onions other than Egyptian Walking Onions.  These onions can eventually be invasive, so you need to think about where you want to plant them, because they are a perennial plant if you let them have their way.  So these I won’t put in the main garden area at that trellis as many plants don’t do well with onions.  

I had lost my Egyptian Walking Onions years ago to my geese who had literally rooted out and ate them all.  A friend (thanks again Bob) recently gave me several generous starts of these wonderful onions that I can use year round and I want to get them in the ground asap.  I love these onions because they are self propogating, and grow year round.  I have often harvested them out of the snow.  Unless I truly need the bulb I don't pull the onions I simply cut the tops and they grow again, divide and multiply,  as well as the little bulbs that spring from the top every year that "plant" themselves wherever they land.  Truly a perpetual garden item with very little care.

However, alliums are suggested to companion plant with grapes and since that is a permanent garden some of my Egyptian Walking Onions  will be planted in that 24 x 4 foot garden.  I’ll plant others elsewhere to insure I never lose my entire crop of them again.  

The asparagus bed is on the opposite side of the garden and is where I had most of my tomatoes last year.  The permanent trellis on that side is mainly used to tie up the asparagus fronds as I let some of the asparagus go to seeds each year.  So no asparagus. 

Moving on to basil.  Yes I definitely will plant this near the tomatoes.  I do every year and both have done excellent as a result. My son and I love fresh pine nut and basil pesto, so I will plant a lot of this fast growing herb in the ground around the base of each plant. 

I plan on putting my bee balm and borage near the base of the grapes as well to encourage bees to pollinate my grapes in the years to come.  Both are basically self seeders, so they will do well with the other companions to go in this bed.  That will pretty well fill the grape bed and remove three “I want to plant” items from my planting list.

Although it is actually getting a little late in the season to do chard I will go ahead and plant it mixed with carrot seeds in a line between the tomato plants.  This serves multi-purposes.  The carrots will grow underground, not really taking up space from the above the ground crops.  The chard will help break the soil “crust” for the carrots.  Both benefit not only each other but the tomatoes as well.  We also be able to eat both the carrot greens and the chard as time goes on.

Because the mints and horehound can both be very invasive I will be planting those in pots on the outside of the garden  framework, but near the trellis.  I will also plant my herbs all in pots so they can be brought indoors this fall. 

By doing all of the above I’ve made my plan for all those plants in two long narrow strips.

I also discovered a problem when looking at the companion planting chart.  I had planned on planting the second row of the garden a Three Sisters row to take advantage of the main sunshine there. 

However, with looking at my companion planting chart one of the Three Sisters, corn, is not good for tomatoes.  So the second row will now be used for something else and the Three Sisters will be the third row.

Checking my companion planting chart I found I could put my pepper plants on the row and they would do fine between the two now already planned first and third rows.

Continuing on using my companion planting chart and eliminating things that already had a designated area, or for one reason or another I continued to plan out the 24’ x 24’ garden.

I had decided the last time I planted sweet potatoes and they had tried to take over the world that the next time I planted them they were going in the 8’ x 8’ garden and would be kept trimmed to stay IN that garden.  So that was decided quickly.  I choose from my companion planting chart things like bush beans that would grow up above the sweet potato vines.  With that garden being 8’ x 8’  I could let the sweet potato vines pretty much solidly cover the ground and root to form numerous sweet potatoes  and not fear having to step into it to harvest the produce from the upright plants because one or all of us could reach the plants if planted properly from the edges fairly easily.  Well except for maybe the middle plants, so I’ll put a long time to harvest date plant there.

This only left the 8’ x 24’ garden to decide on.   By the time I got to this point it was a matter of “what is left that I want to plant that does well in partial to full shade in the heat of the summer? 

Once the garden planning was done it is simply a matter of increasing the soil level where I needed to and getting started planting.

Jan who will next do a post on the actual planting, and adding or soil and trellises in OK








This is a huge question for any gardener.  How much do I plant? 

According to intensive gardening guru John Jeavons you need 4,000 square feet PER PERSON to grow all the vegetables and soft fruits you would need for one year.  Let’s be honest, most people don’t have that much space.  For our family of three that would be 12,000 square foot of medium production rate garden space.  Or a large intensively planted garden of roughly 30 x 400 feet.  While we have sufficient land to put in that much garden.  It would entail a whole lot more work to prep the land for it than I was willing to do this spring.

However, with that being said there are a lot of other factors to consider. Like what you plant, when you plant it, succession planting, seasonal changes, pests, cut and come again crops and similar factors.  Also is not including the possibility of year round gardening, which I’ll go more into in the future. 

Basically with the year round gardening you eat with the seasons, so then the whole numbers game changes.

If you subscribe to Mel Barthlomew’s Square Foot GardeningMethod then you are probably familiar with his plan that includes 16 square feet (4 x 4) of salad greens, 16 square feet of dinner vegetables and 16 square feet of additional to preserve per person.   So to do that method for our family of three would mean nine 4 x 4 gardens.  This may be a better alternative for others, but my gardens are already set up, more or less.  So I need to look more at planting rows of food, rather than squares of food.  That does not mean I cannot include some of his intensive methods in the garden.  It simply means I need to plan my layout differently.
I, therefore, am looking at combining the thoughts of both gentlemn with the ideas of the Dervaes Family of California that live on one tenth of an acre city lot in the middle of Pasadena, CA and produce 6,000 pounds of food a year, to simply stretch our grocery budget and feed us in a healthy manner. I will never be as intense as the Dervaes family, but I do learn from their experience.

By calculating how many square feet I have to work with for my particular garden spaces, not including flower pots and planters I can get an idea of how much planting space I do have.  Those calculations to begin with look this way:

24 x 24 = 576 square feet

24 x 8 = 192 square feet

24 x 4 = 96 square feet

8 x 8 = 64 square feet

This ideally totals to 928 square feet, so very short of the 12,000 square feet recommended by Mr. Jeavons.  The reason I say ideally is because the square footage is chopped up due to the layout of my gardens and parts of some of the gardens are already occupied with perennials that include grapes, asparagus, horseradish (maybe, more on this later), and garlic.

I can extend this square footage with the flower pots and planters I’ve previously mentioned but one step at a time. First I need to calculate exactly how much I need to plant when to feed our family this next year.  So back to the calculations.

By cruising the web I gathered information on how much seed or plants you would need per person and have created a spreadsheet of the various foods I listed in my previous post, along with several others.  This is of course based on what my family will actually eat. No two families eat identical and what grows well in one area, will not grow well in another.  Some charts on the web calculate slightly different amounts, but they all boil down to pretty similar in the amount of space if doing row planting.

Of course if you are doing square foot or Intensive gardening your amount of space will be far less.  I tend to trellis up whenever I can to save space and for safety sake.

Yes safety sake.  It’s far too easy to trip over a hidden pumpkin on a vine covered ground, or worse yet meet an unfriendly snake as you high step along.  Up is far better!

When going up you may need to make slings out of old t-shirts, panty hose or similar stretchy fabrics for heavier fruits like squash, melons and pumpkins.  We’ve “diapered” many a piece of produce with excellent results.

After I did the chart I realized that more was going to have to go into pots than I’d originally planned on, but I already had the pots so this wasn’t a problem for me. As previously stated in the 'Mater Challenge", you can grow a LOT in a flower pot.

Next to figure out what to plant where for the best sunlight, companion planting and space.

Jan who finally has the geese out of her garden and is hoping to use the Memorial Day weekend to get it all planted in OK