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Suburban Homesteading in SW Pennsylvania

by Stacy Artis


       This week has found us enjoying sunny skies, temperatures in the mid-80's to lower 90's and a much welcomed absence of rain!  Each day Matt, Megan and I have gone out in the morning before it got too hot and worked on pulling weeds in the flower beds, around the shrubs and in the garden.  We've had so much rain this month (the wettest June in SW PA since records have been kept!) that the weeds had really gotten ahead of us.  It is slow going and my help isn't exactly keen on the job, but we are making progress and it is beginning to look a lot less neglected around here.  The reward for all the hard work?  The water in the pool is finally warming up and sure feels good after working hard.
       Tim was able to fix our air conditioning just in time for this heat wave.  The problem began last fall when the unit ran but no cool air was coming out of the registers.  Since we were done using it for the season, we didn't worry about it.  When we turned it on Sunday, we found the problem was still there.  Tim couldn't see anything wrong with the unit, so crawled under the house to take a look at the duct work.  It didn't take much to see the problem.  We live in a doublewide that sits on blocks on a full slab so we have dealer installed flexible duct work.  Not the best stuff in the world.  It had come apart in several places and the cool air was blowing out under the house (it may have been losing warm air this past winter too).  Tim was able to patch it back together enough to get cool air blowing into the front half of the house.  He needs to put a T in to get it to the back of the house and we will have to do something with it before winter.
       Our Poodle, Scooby, has been a mess of matted, knotted fur since we had him neutered.  We were unable to bathe or groom him because he got so sick afterward and nearly died. Over the weekend I got the bright idea to take the scissors to him to remove as much of the mess as I could, then I would take the clippers to him. All in the name of saving $50. Well......let's just say it didn't go well and Scooby was the most pathetic pooch on the planet. I did manage to hack off most of the matted hair. I also managed to hack some flesh off his shoulder....which put an immediate end to my dog grooming career and sunk me into a pit of guilt. I'd mutilated my puppy!! Anyway, after that little incident, I got out the yellow pages and found a groomer willing to squeeze in a mercy grooming the very next day.  He is now professionally groomed with his dignity salvaged as best it could be. After the hack job I did on him even a pro couldn't do much.  As for his boo-boo (where I carved him like a Thanksgiving turkey), I bought some of the new liquid bandage stuff by Band-Aid. Two applications of the stuff seems to have "glued" him back together and hopefully he will heal without much scarring.
       All of our garden plants seem to have grown quite a bit, with the exception of all the pepper plants.  They seem small to me, but they are healthy.  All of our plants have blossoms at this point, so it won't be too long till we start to see tiny veggies forming.  Yea!  Our soil is kind of clay-like and when it's wet it clumps so we don't walk in there more than we have to or we'd be bringing about 10 pounds of mud out stuck to each shoe.  We can get in there now to pull weeds except in a few areas, but it's still way too wet to take the tiller in.  I'm hoping we can manage that by the weekend as tilling between the rows would sure make the job easier. 
       Tim and I like to think about what our dream home would be like, but we know we may never reach our goals thanks to our old mentality and the load of debt we've saddled ourselves with so we are learning to concentrate on the here and now and how to achieve something close to the lifestyle we desire where we are.  I found an old list I made of some steps to take toward living more frugally and simply that I thought I'd share.  If you have any advice, something to add to the list or whatever, I'd love to hear from you.

1.Grocery Shopping--No impulse shopping.  Always enter the store with a list and coupons ready.  Study sale papers for the best buys.  Buy store brand over name brand when quality is equal.  Don't shop when hungry.  Shop at discount/warehouse stores if possible.  Leave Tim and the kids home.

2.Meals--Cook from scratch.  Make homemade desserts, snacks and treats.  Serve more pastas and vegetables.  High fiber meals fill you up.

3.Snacks--Make our own.  Encourage eating fruit, yogurt and other healthy items.  Freeze our own juices and fruits to make frozen treats.  Make regular popcorn rather than microwave popcorn.  Cut down on or eliminate sodas.

4.Music--Listen to the radio.  Borrow from the library.  Get a friend with a CD burner to download music.

5.Books--Go to the library.  Shop yard sales, flea markets and thrift shops.  Swap.

6.Home--Learn to make do, make it ourselves or do without as much as possible.  Recycle used items.  Learn to sew.

7.Entertainment--Wait for movies to come out on video.  Check the newspaper for free events.  Take advantage of living in an area with lots of great state and county parks.  Play games.  Learn a craft.  Exercise.

8.Other Possibilities--
       a. Raise rabbits or chickens.
       b. Learn to can.
       c. Get a freezer so we can take advantage of good sales.
       d. Buy only clothing on sale.  Scout thrift shops and yard sales.
       e. Dry laundry outside in summer.
       f. Buy cleaning supplies and toiletries at dollar stores.
       g. Barter or trade when possible.

       I made the list about a year ago, so how are we doing?  I'm doing pretty well with the grocery shopping and have cut our cost in half.  I'm doing better about cooking meals from scratch, but on days that I work the temptation is still there to get take out.  We are buying less junk food and making more of our own treats.  The switch to regular popcorn was easy and we like it better.  It seems fresher.  I haven't given up my Pepsi yet (it is my one true vice).  We use the library a lot and the kids are enrolled in the summer reading program.  We're learning to do without things if we don't have the cash.  I haven't learned to sew.  We rarely see movies in the theater.  Maybe once or twice a year.  During the summer we do treat ourselves to the drive-in theater because the admission price is cheaper and we can take our own snacks.  We're raising 6 Rhode Island Reds and plan to get a few more chickens.  We have two rabbits but they are pets.  As soon as the garden starts producing, I'll start learning to can.  I dry clothes outside when the weather cooperates and I get all our cleaning supplies and toiletries at dollar stores.  It's a start and we know we have a long way to go.