Goblin Hoard Report Card – July 2014

We reined in our food spending with some creative meal planning at the end of the month, making $70 last the final two weeks of the month. I’m happy about that.

The goblins got upgraded bikes, and the Alchemist got a bike of her own, so we can finally take family rides! We decided that bikes are a core part of our transportation, so it comes out of our vehicle repair fund instead of discretionary spending. The combined cost puts the fund in the red but I’ll be contributing more to that fund in the future.

We also made the decision to buy a dehumidifer for the basement after a horrible stretch of heat and humidity that had our basement floor and wall sweating. Again, it made the house fund run into the red, but the purchase seems to be well worth it.

Budget for July 2014

Income (combined after all deductions): $4801.31

Recurring Payments

  • Housing (Mortgage+Tax+Insurance): $1,061
  • Student Loans (combined): $859.78
  • Auto Insurance: $82.58
  • Cellphone: $85.61 (didn’t realize before switching to AirVoice that T-Mobile would require a full month’s notice to cancel.)
  • Life Insurance: $60
  • Internet: $58
  • Gas/Electric: $152.51


  • Groceries/Necessities: $594.91
  • Gas: 137.60
  • Medical Expenses Out of Pocket: $112.47
  • Discretionary: $28.16
  • Travel: $0 (Ending balance: $240.89)
  • House: $176.57 (Ending balance: $-113.30)
  • Education/Kids: $0 (Ending balance: $45.76)
  • Vehicle Capital Fund: $504.40 (Ending balance: $-178.06)

Grade: B

I was a little bummed earlier in the month about how fast I’d eaten up our grocery budget, but I’m glad that we ended up the month under budget after all. We made some big purchases, but they were needed purchases.

Next month I turn 30. I’m weirdly unexcited about it, but hopefully the weather cooperates and we get a family hike and picnic in.

Spending Porn – Groceries July 2014

Grocery Spending Breakdown for July 2014


  • Family of 5: two adults, goblins aged 8, 6, and4
  • Primarily shop at Woodman’s (regional grocer), Costco (once a month), and farmer’s/produce markets.

Categorization is always somewhat arbitrary, so I’ve shared the Google Sheet for those who want to see details. Commenting is allowed if anyone wants to.

  • Produce: $169.23
  • Animal Products:  $173.21
  • Grains/Snacks: $72.99
  • Misc/Personal Care: $89.68
  • Beverages: $48.90

Quite a bit more balanced this month. $50 is something I’m okay with long-term for beverage spending. Produce is a bit inflated by a large purchase of strawberries. Next year, if we have the freezer space, I’ll buy even more, because it’s amazing how much better perfectly ripe berries taste. Picking them, cleaning them, and processing them as desired is a lot of work but it’s worth it.

Dilly Bean and Cucumber Garden Salad

All it needs is a little olive oil.

All it needs is a little olive oil.

The idea of pickled foods increasingly appeals to me, but the sourness is so strong that I can only snack on a couple bites before it’s too strong for my palate. I made my first batch of Dilly Beans a couple weeks ago (I used the version in Canning for a New Generation), and finally brought up a jar to “test” the recipe.

As a pure snacking food, I like the beans better than pickles (even baby dills) because of the miniature size. The strength of flavor is still an issue, so I thought of a different way to prep them, especially since I haven’t been very hungry in the middle of the day this week.

Enter the Dilly Bean salad. It’s so simple I’m not going to give a recipe. I pulled some buttercrunch lettuce I’d cut and washed out of the fridge, sliced up a cucumber, and diced up some dilly beans out of the jar. The beans are strong enough that the only dressing the salad needs is some olive oil.

Do you like pickled foods? What are some of your favorite uses?

Homeschooling and Pressing the Reset Button

Even the most schedule-happy of homeschoolers has a weakness: she is her own boss. At any point in the day she can, like me, throw up their hands and say “fuck it.” What the hell, run wild my goblins!

That flexibility is a boon and a bane all at once. It allows you to make whatever you want of the day, but it also leaves no consequences if the day falls apart. How do you manage it when your goblins are fighting tooth and nail against education?

My trick is the reset button.

No, my kids aren’t little Frankenstein’s monsters, with a secret button on the back of their neck.

What I’m talking about is the end-around distraction. The redirection. Taking a break, then circling back around to the original task with renewed vigor.

I’ve had to use this with Goblin Alpha several times the past few days. When she digs in her heels or freezes up in frustration, instead of giving a punishment and going right back to the activity, kicking and screaming, I build in a little break to allow tempers to calm down. Since there’s always things to do in the garden, we’ve all gone outside and picked vegetables for a few minutes, then returned to our work.

It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s something to think about if you have kids that are hard to keep focused but you don’t want to crush the joy of learning either.

Pan-Fried Pumpkin Pancakes


When I tell the Alchemist I’m making pumpkin pancakes for dinner, it makes her day. Not only are these ‘cakes delicious, they’re dirt cheap to make.

I adapted this recipe from the book Independence Days. The original didn’t quite work, but I want to issue credit where it’s due.

Yields 8 filling pancakes which reheat quite well.


  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup sugar or honey
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon (I use Pampered Chef’s Cinnamon Plus blend, which is closer to pumpkin spice mix in flavor. Adjust this based on your preferred pumpkin pie spice combination.)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Oil for frying

Add pumpkin, eggs, milk, cinnamon, and sugar to a large mixing bowl.


Mix thoroughly, then add flour, salt, and baking powder.


Batter will be stiff, not terribly pourable. I use a 1/2 cup measure for adding batter to the pan.


Heat a generous amount of oil over medium to medium low heat until shimmering. Add a scoop of batter. Cook until the pancake has cooked about halfway through up the sides.


Flip the cake CAREFULLY. The hot oil loves to splatter.

Test for doneness by poking the center. It should be firm, not springy. If necessary, adjust heat to cook pancakes through without burning one side.

Test for doneness by poking the center. It should be firm, not springy. If necessary, adjust heat to cook pancakes through without burning one side.

The trick is the last step. Even though I’ve been making these for a couple months now, occasionally I’ll still fail to cook one all the way through. On my stove, a burner temperature closer to medium-low once the pan is hot seems to be the correct way to go. It takes patience to cook the whole batch, but this is food that truly sticks to your ribcage. Incredibly filling and relatively nutritious owing to the whole grain flour and pumpkin.

In my plan to get through the next 12 days on $70, these are going to be made at least twice.

3 Months of Hard Work in the Garden


In April, everything except the perennials up against the house was grass. I think we’re making decent progress here :)

The weather’s been good for tilling, so I’ve gotten a good chunk of new bed area dug in, but there’s a limit to how much I can dig each day – even without attending to the kids – because digging all of this manually is hard on the knees and feet, especially the heavily compacted soil I’m digging in right now. And in my experience, a powered rototiller would just bounce around and create pollution on such tough turf.

It’s too late in the year to plant much of anything, so all the new beds are getting green manure cover crops for tilling in late September or early October – whenever the leaves start falling. Then I’ll pile leaves over all of the beds and let the worms go to town making new soil for me over the winter and early spring. Not sure how much decomposition will happen in a Wisconsin winter, but free soil is free – and worm castings add lots of fertility. I can tell I’m a gardener because I get excited when I see fat, happy worms in my dirt.

Budget Depression

sandSometimes you get ahead of yourself. Sometimes the unexpected shows up and thrashes you. Sometimes you just plain dropped the ball.

When you’re a homemaker, it’s up to you to hit the numbers. I’ll be honest, running an ERE-oriented household gives me a set of metrics far more demanding than any corporate mandated bullshit. And some months I just plain suck at it.

To stick within our grocery budget for the remainder of July, I’m going to have to get really creative, but I want to. Badly. My love affair with ethical and locally sourced food is great. I’m passionate about it. But it’s very, very easy to get ahead of where our finances are right now. Ditto canning and preserving.

With another year of experience, maybe I’ll be able to know the flow of the seasons better and plan accordingly. But I can’t keep blowing past our budget limit – it makes me feel like I’m doing a crappy job running our household.

So the next few weeks I may do some refactoring. Look at where I can still buy the ethical animal products, but use less of it. Eat differently. Still hit my own demanding numbers.

Then again, the goblins are growing. Especially since we use bikes as a major source of transportation, we all need more calories. So maybe the plan itself is flawed. But I won’t know until I try.


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