How to Make Homemade Veggie Broth

Veggie broth is one of those thing that you use a lot of, and the more you use it, the more uses you find for it!  Veggie broth is very nutritious and versatile–it can be used to pan fry meats and veggies, to make marinades, in soups and stews, and to flavor rice and other grains. The problem with store-bought broth is it’s full of salt and preservatives, and is cost prohibitive, which makes many cooks shy away from it. Homemade veggie broth tastes better, has no salt, no preservatives and best of all–it’s free!

Making veggie broth is so easy–you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before! All you need to do is stop throwing away veggie scraps and start a broth “collection”.  Your collection will be all the bits and pieces you don’t want to use when you are chopping up veggies for a recipe.  My broth collection usually has a lot of broccoli stalks and ginger root skins in it.  I’ll also throw in onion peels, just-the-wrong-side-of-fresh salad greens (don’t use anything that is rotting, slimy or that has truly gone bad, but wilted and bruised is fine), bruised bits of potatoes, squash skins, the stalks of herbs I cut from the garden, zucchini ends, pepper tops, really anything.  I have learned that, for my family, mushrooms in the collection make a terrible smelling broth that no one will eat (even though we love mushrooms), but you may have different results.  Store your collection in 1-gallon Ziploc bags in the freezer, filling them as you go.  Once you have two full bags of veggie scraps, you will be ready to make broth!

Broth 1

To make the broth, get out your big soup pot (you know the one!) and dump in your two collection bags.  Add one gallon (16 cups) of water and bring to a boil.  Cover, lower the heat and simmer for one hour. Remove from heat, uncover and allow to cool.

Broth 2

So…. That was the hard part! If you can boil water, you can make broth-easy, right?

Now all you have to do is separate out all the veggie bits.  I use a large pasta strainer and my bread mixing bowl to strain out all the larger veggie bits, then strain it all again into another bowl with my jelly strainer. Now all the veggie bits can be disposed of–this is an excellent addition to any compost bin!

Broth 3Broth 4

I bought myself a bunch of 2-cup, stack-able Rubbermaid containers for just this purpose.  Most of my recipes call for either 2 or 4 cups of broth, so I just measure out 2-cup at a time and freeze them into giant veggie broth ice cubes. The broth freezes very well–I’ve used it as long as 8 months after I froze it with no reduction in quality or flavor!  To use the frozen broth cubes, I usually just dump the cube directly into the pot or pan I’m cooking with and thaw it out on the spot, but occasionally I remember to transfer what I need the night before to thaw it in the fridge.

Broth 6

  The larger container is what I will use within the next week or so.  I’ve planned a few soups which are heavy on broth, so I don’t need to freeze that portion, just refrigerate. This recipe will give you one gallon (16 cups) of homemade veggie broth.  Be sure to label the freezer containers with the date and contents!  Happy cooking!

Broth 7

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Making Grape Jelly on the Farm

             The new house that hubby and I just bought included two mature muscadine grape vines. I’ve never tried canning before, but it’s been something on my to-do list for becoming more self-sufficient.  I figured that while, yes, we were still unpacking, why let all those awesome grapes go to waste?

I wanted to learn how to make jelly the old-fashioned way, before adding additional pectin became popular.  Pectin is a compound found naturally in many fruits and is what allows the juice to congeal into jelly—sort of like how jell-O goes from liquid to bouncy.  Adding additional pectin allows the juice to congeal with a higher percentage of water in it, so you get more jelly per pound of fruit.  The downside is you have to buy additional pectin, and I wanted to learn how to do it the down-home homestead way. I found some great tips and information on the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s web site:

Phase 1

First, I picked the grapes. I cut off the top of an empty plastic gallon water jug and used it to hold my grapes.  From my two vines I collected right at a gallon of grapes.  Not much, but enough to learn on. The fruit I picked was in all stages of ripeness, but I made sure to include a handful or so of barely-ripe grapes because a friend told me they have the most pectin.

grapes 1

Next I cleaned the grapes.  Nothing really special about that—just ran them under the faucet and made sure there were no obvious twigs or bugs in there.

grapes 2

I then crushed the grapes in order to release the juice.  That part was hard—muscadines have thick skins!  I used a big mixing bowel and sturdy potato masher.  This step probably took a solid 15-20 minutes, but it’s important to crush every grape. 

grapes 3

Next I transferred the whole mess to a big saucepot on the stove—this step is all about evaporating the excess water from the juice, so you want to have a wide, shallow pan to allow maximum evaporation. I brought the crushed grapes to a boil and simmered them for a solid 10 minutes.  This was also a good time to hunt down any uncrushed grapes that had escaped thus far.   

grapes 5

After I removed the saucepan from the heat and allowed it to cool, I retrieved my strainer and mixing pot (which I had rinsed out) and separated the juice from the pulp.  This took a few tries and I had to use my potato masher to squeeze more juice out of the pulp, but I eventually got it all out. The yield was about 3½ cups of juice.  I then transferred the juice to a plastic container with a lid and stuck it in the fridge to set overnight. I do not know if you have to refrigerate the juice before making the jelly, but everything I read said to do it and I didn’t have time to complete the recipe anyway, so…..

grapes 6

This first phase was completed after work one evening and took me right at two hours—which included the time to go outside and pick the grapes.  While the grapes were simmering I prepared a quick dinner and stuck it in the oven. 

Phase 2

Two nights later I decided to finish the jelly, so I removed the juice from the fridge and ran it through a fine strainer to remove any remaining seeds or small bits of pulp. 

grapes 8

Next I sterilized my jars and canning tools.  I put the jars and tools in a big soup pot and filled with water until the jars were covered, then I brought everything to a boil and let it go for 10 minutes.  I was really confused on what to do with the can lids—I know you shouldn’t boil or heat them too much because the wax right around them will melt and will not produce a good seal, so I just washed them as thoroughly as I could. 

grapes 9

Once the jars and tools were done boiling I put them on a clean cookie sheet and stuck them in my oven, which I had pre-heated to 200 degrees.  It’s important to keep your jars hot so that they won’t cool down and crack when you fill them with boiling hot jelly.  I kept the pot and hot water for later.

grapes 12

I also placed several clean metal spoons on a clean plate in my freezer.  I would use these later to see if the jam was ready to be canned.

grapes 10

The juice got put back in the saucepan and was brought to a medium boil.  I slowly added just over 2½ cups of sugar, one half-cup at a time, until it was all dissolved.  The recipe called for 3 cups of sugar and 4 cups of juice, but I only had 3½ cups of juice, so I had to make do and estimate. I stirred the jelly the entire time it was boiling.  The only things going into this recipie is fresh grape juice and sugar.

Once I noticed a foam layer appearing on top of the juice, I started testing it with my chilled spoons to see if it would “sheet”.  The test was a lot easier than I thought—basically when the juice isn’t ready, it will drip off the spoon after you stick it in.  Once it’s ready, those drops will form into a “sheet” and come off all at once.  It’s because the jelly is congealing as soon as it cools, so it’s getting thicker very quickly even though it’s still a liquid at boiling temperature.  Those used spoons were good for licking, too.

grapes 11

Once the jelly was ready I quickly skimmed off the foam layer, grabbed the jars out of the oven, and used my sterilized big canning spoon to scoop the juice into the jars, leaving a small headspace gap on the top.  Then I placed the metal jar caps and rings on and tightened them down—the jars were really hot so that required one of my canning tools.  I got a whole kit of tools for $12 and they definitely came in handy, even if I didn’t use every single one of them.

grapes 13

Turns out I had exactly enough juice to fill three 8-ounce jars.  I had read that I didn’t need to process the cans further for jelly, but I was paranoid that I hadn’t cleaned my lids well enough, so I went ahead and processed them.

To process, I returned the filled jars to my soup pot and water, making sure the jars were completely submerged. I boiled the jars for another 10 minutes.

grapes 14

I carefully removed the jars from the hot water using another one of my canning tools and put them on the stovetop to cool. I read that I needed to wait to hear a “pop” from each jar to make sure it sealed properly.  The “pop” is caused by the air inside the jar contracting as it cools and forming a vacuum.  The vacuum sucks the top of the lid down, causing a quick “pop” sound.  Only a few minutes went by before my first pop, with the third pop occurring 5 minutes after that. Happy-dance time!

grapes 15

Phase 2 only took an hour, start to finish, but there was a lot going on.  I wouldn’t have had time to do anything else while I was working on phase 2 like I did in phase 1.

That weekend hubby and I sat down to a Southern breakfast tradition: warm biscuits and homemade muscadine jelly.  It turned out great!  Canning seemed pretty intimidating at first, and I still have questions, but at no point was I faced with a rocket-scientist type problem, and none of the steps were all that difficult. I look forward to next year when my garden is up and running and I can preserve some other things! Yum yum!

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Recycling Cardboard in the Garden

Hubby and I have been moved into our new house for almost four weeks now, and I ran into the problem of what to do with all those empty moving boxes. Yes, I could just fill up the truck and take them to the county recycling center, but why let them have all the fun?


I managed to find a use for the cardboard that solved several problems at once. First, I had a ton of cardboard, much of which was no longer usable for moving or storage, since they had also helped my grandfather move a year earlier and were showing more than just a little wear-and-tear. I couldn’t just give them away to someone else who was moving. Also, since we closed six weeks later than originally planned, and the sellers moved out on the date originally planned, there was a six week period where the lawn was not mowed. In July. During the rainy season. We did ask the sellers to mow the lawn (all three acres of it) before the closing, and they did, but we didn’t think to ask them to rake up all the thatch.

Needless to say, while I was inside cleaning and painting like mad to meet the move-in-day deadline, poor Hubby was outside raking up a 2” thick later of thatch that would have killed the lawn if not removed quickly. In July. During the humidity season. Poor guy.

I identified an area suitable for a veggie garden and had Hubby toss all the thatch in that general area to be composted. It turned out to be quite a pile! About two weeks after moving in most of the unpacking had been done and we turned our attention to the garden. We fenced in the area to make it chicken-proof and I spent some time removing all the tape from the empty moving boxes.

Cardboard 1

First I layered the cardboard two layers thick and then covered it with about 8” of thatch, starting around the edges and moving my way toward the center where the Giant Pile of Thatch was. The beauty of this is that the cardboard and thatch will kill the lawn underneath so I don’t have to kill myself tilling next year, and the cardboard and grass will all compost down by spring, enriching the soil in my new garden! As an added bonus, I don’t have to haul all those boxes to the dump, so I save gas and labor. How green can you get?

Cardboard 2

This is as far as I’ve gotten so far–I ran out of cardboard! Guess it’s time to unpack the rest of my boxes. I’ve brought my strawberries from my old house and the one lonely tomato that didn’t get root bound and die in the extra six weeks it took to close. The containers will just sit on top of the thatch and I put the tomato in the ground, using cardboard and thatch as mulch. This is a fairly small garden, 16’ X 16’ or so, but it will do for the next few years until we start on the raised garden box project in another area of the yard. I also plan on using this cardboard method in a large flower bed in the front yard which has become overgrown–I doubt I’ll have time this year to bother with planting any flowers, so why not make it easier on myself in the spring? You can bet the county won’t be getting any more of my cardboard now that I’ve found a use for it!  I can forsee myself hoarding a year’s worth of cardboard in a shed somewhere just waiting for fall so I can lay it all out in my planting areas!

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Timeline for Buying a New Home

   Hubby and I finally moved into our new home on July 20th! Hurray! Being the organizational nut that I am, I recorded our experience and thought I’d share them with you.  Below is the timeline we experienced, from the day we saw the first online photo of our future home, to the day we got the keys.


 Summer, 2012 Hubby and I decide to start saving up for land. We start keeping an eye out for suitable properties to build our dream home on.

Spring, 2013 By now we had a descent down payment set aside. Started calling lenders, find out very few lenders are lending for raw land—those that are require a 45% down payment.  We do not have a 45% down payment. I’m told I should qualify for a FHA loan at 3.5% down, but that would require an actual house.  I do the math, and to save up enough for a 45% down payment on land, then build a home, would be around 10 years.  Decide to start looking at homes.  I used sites like and, both of which have descent search functions.  We viewed a few homes before hitting upon our current home.

Day 1 Find our future home on  Send email to realtor.

Day 2 Realtor returns phone call, we set up date for viewing.

Day 4 The viewing.  We love it. It’s perfect. Receive property disclosure.  Find out the seller’s Realtor does business regularly with one of my co-workers.  Since we don’t have a realtor yet I call up said co-worker, confirm that his realtor is a good one.  We agree to sign up with seller’s realtor.  We are told we need to get pre-approved before we can put in an offer.  We hadn’t bothered getting pre-approved yet because pre-approvals have expirations and require a credit check which can look bad on your credit report if you don’t end up getting a mortgage in time.  We knew our needs were very particular, so we decided to wait until finding the right property before getting pre-approved.

Day 5 Set up appointment with my bank of 10 years.  Am told they will not touch this type of home (mobile home).  Call around to other banks, find a lender willing to work with me (Wells Fargo). Ask what paperwork they need and set up appointment.

Day 6 Meet with Loan Officer and get pre-approval letter. Easy. Call Realtor and set up appointment for next day to put in offer.

Day 7 Put in offer.  Hubby and I decided that the sellers were asking a more than fair price, it was affordable for us, and we didn’t want to pussy-foot around.  Plus we knew we would need some assistance for closing costs and would be asking the sellers to do some foundation work (required for an FHA loan on a mobile home), so we put in a full-price offer with $7,500 less closing costs and foundation costs.

Day 8 Get phone call from Realtor.  Sellers are freaking out about a financing issue they have had problems with in the past during attempted refinancing (FHA). They are scrambling for paperwork to resolve issue before accepting our offer.  During various renovations on the home, they had bricked-over the mobile home. They had also bricked over the tags on the mobile home.  Those tags, or certificates saying what those tags said, are a requirement for FHA financing.

Day 16 Seller’s paperwork issue resolved.  Sellers provide counter-offer regarding closing costs.  These changes were discussed earlier and were acceptable to us. Contract accepted!

Day 20 Meet with lender to put in mortgage application.  Told FHA loans typically take 30-60 days.  Receive Good Faith Closing Cost Estimates (three of them, actually) and a ton of other paperwork.  Interest rate locked in for 60 days.

Day 21 More paperwork requested from Lender.

Day 22 Requested paperwork submitted to Loan Officer.

Day 24 More paperwork requested from Lender.

Day 25 Requested paperwork submitted to Loan Officer.


Day 26 Seller completes foundation work stipulated in the contract.

Day 33 Home inspection completed and report received same day.  All minor issues, no deal-breakers.

Day 34 Send email to Realtor asking sellers to fix some minor issues found during home inspection.  Sellers agree.  First essay (Letter of Explanation) requested from Lender to explain a large deposit.

Day 35 First essay submitted to Loan Officer.

Day 36 Two more essays requested by Lender: How we plan to save up enough for closing costs (even though they can’t tell us how much that is going to be), and how we have budgeted for new home expenses.

Day 37 Both essays submitted to Loan Officer.  I’m told they look good.

Day 54 New bank account statements requested from Lender to show we have saved enough for closing costs.

Day 55 Bank statements sent to Loan Officer.  I’m told we have sufficient funds to cover closing costs.  I ask if they know how much the closing costs will be.  They say no.

Day 61 Receive call from Loan Officer saying we should have commitment letter in the next 1-2 days.

Day 65 Closing date approaching, still no commitment letter.  Very stressed.  Both myself and Realtor send out mass emails asking bank for update.

Day 71 Home Appraisal done.  Finally.

Day 73 Receive call from Loan Officer saying we should have commitment letter within next 2-3 days.  He tells me he is much more confident about this then the last time he told us that.  Appraiser asks for paperwork we already submitted.  I resubmit.  Any hope of keeping the original closing date is gone.

Day 76 Invited over to new home by Seller so they can show us how to restart the well and work the heat pump.  Also show us around the garden and point out what has been planted and what will bloom later, so we won’t dig it out thinking it’s a weed.  Very nice visit with very nice Sellers.

Day 79 Original closing date.  Still no word on commitment letter or appraisal.  Realtor, lawyer  and I send out another mass email asking for information.

Day 82 Receive call from Loan Officer saying he believes commitment letter will come tomorrow.  Rate lock expires today, and he did extend it at no charge as he promised, “because this delay is definitely not your fault”.

Day 83 Two more essays requested by lender: Explanation of an old address which showed up on credit report (the house I grew up in) and explanation of credit card payments on our bank statements.  Original contract has expired and Lender needs it updated.  I notify Realtor.  Ask for clarification on why they are wondering the reasoning behind us paying our Visa bill (essay #4).  No commitment letter.

Day 84 We have a commitment letter! Loan Officer calls with explanation about Visa essay and request for another essay (this would be #6) about our current rent situation (living with family).

Day 85 Submit Essays 4, 5 and 6 to Loan Officer.  Speak with sellers and ask for their old elevation certificate, they agree.  That saves us $1,000.  Hardcopy of commitment letter and appraisal comes in mail. Commitment letter states that it expired yesterday.  I contact Loan Officer who tells me not to worry about it. Nice to know they are on the ball.

Day 88 Contact lawyer to set up termite inspection.  Send another form to Realtor for sellers to sigh (another condition on commitment letter).  Loan officer says we will need an engineer to say the brick on the home is structurally sound, but we may not need a well inspection.

Day 89 Termite inspection and foundation inspection done, foundation report sent to Loan Officer.  Contract extension signed by all parties and sent to Loan Officer.  Certificate of Elevation sent to Loan Officer.  Proof of earnest check deposit sent to Loan Officer (all are conditions on commitment letter).

Day 90 Clean termite report sent to Loan Officer.

Day 91 Contacted Loan Officer.  He says he submitted all documents to the appropriate people and that it generally takes 2-3 days for the paperwork to be processed.  Said it is possible we may be able to close next week, but must wait for paperwork people to give the green light.  My cravings for sugar have reached epic levels.  I am so, so, so happy I packed up the bathroom scale weeks ago.


Day 95 Send in reminder to Loan Officer to extend my rate lock once again.  Interest rates have gone up a full percentage since this process began.  Get a call from my insurance agent asking if we have a closing date yet, as she needs that info to send in the policy information to the Lender.

Day 96 It has now been 11 weeks since we put in our mortgage application with Lender, nearly two weeks since we received our commitment letter and nearly three weeks since our original closing date.  Left messages for loan Officer.  Realtor, sellers, lawyers and myself all very concerned about closing date, which has not yet been scheduled.

Day 98 Loan Officer calls and says underwriter has reviewed the file (finally!) and needs two more signed documents.  Also, since this whole process has taken so long, the title is out of date and the lawyers are providing an updated title.

Day 99 I look at the online status of my application and notice that the underwriter is also asking for bank statement updates.  I send both requested documents and the last two month’s worth of bank statements to Loan Officer.

Day 103 Still waiting.  Talk with Loan Officer, who doesn’t know what’s going on.  I track down the CFO of home mortgages for the company and draft a letter asking for help, send a draft to Realtor for review, then email letter.  Within 1 minute I have a short response from the CFO saying he will assign someone to figure out what’s going on.  Within 5 minutes I receive a phone call from a lady from corporate saying she has been assigned to me and will go over my file.  She promises to call me back by 5pm.  At 4:45 she actually does calls me back and agrees there is no reason for my file to be taking this long.  Says she has requested a formal explanation from the underwriter and loan officer as to why it’s taking so long, and has requested my file be placed on rush status.  Says she will call me back by 1pm the next day with an update.

Between 5pm and 6:30pm that night I receive a flurry of correspondences from my Loan Officer, who is communicating with the underwriter.  Loan Officer sounds scared–Good. Loan Officer asks me for several documents I have already sent.  I tell him to search his email and open the attachment from two weeks prior.  He calls again and says he needs paperwork such-and-such to go along with the other paperwork I sent him two weeks ago.  I tell him to go to the same attachment and scroll down.  The last item he wants is the property disclosure, which has never been mentioned before and should have been asked for in week one.  I send the property disclosure within five minutes.

Day 104  More flurry of emails this morning between me, loan officer, realtor and underwriter.  Corporate lady calls me at 12:45 and says things are moving, just not fast enough.  She says we have a 50/50 shot at closing on day 107.  We are waiting on another company to do something with the title.

Day 106 The processor calls and asks me some questions about one of my essays I submitted two weeks ago.  I literally spend an hour explaining to three different people that the account number for my bank statement can be found at the top of the page where it says “Account Number”.  We obviously aren’t closing tomorrow.

Day 107 Sellers contact me and ask if I know anymore info on our status then they do.  Confirms that they will be happy to go out and mow the lawn (a request I made the week before) once they get a closing date, since it takes them five hours to drive down.  A very friendly conversation, despite how stressed out we both are.

Day 109 The processor emails me asking for my husband and my last two paystubs.  I anticipated this request and send them back within 45 minutes.  Corporate lady calls me and says to keep my fingers crossed that we get some paperwork from the DMV in today.  If so we could have everything wrapped up tomorrow.  Because having to depend on the DMV to do something quickly and accurately always reduces my stress levels.

Realtor calls me to let me know he has sent a copy of his realtor’s license to the Lender so they can confirm he’s not on a Terrorist Watch List before they issue him his check.  This is despite that face they have issued him several checks already this year without ever having asked for his license.  We share a giggle.

Day 110 The corporate lady and processor calls and says the file is complete and has gone back to underwriting for final approval.  Since we have already been through underwriting twice, they do not anticipate any problems getting a clear to close, hopefully by the end of the day.

Day 111 We have a Clear-To-Close! Closing day has been scheduled for the morning of Day 116. I call electric company and set up account for electricity to start day 116.

Day 113 Receive HUD-1 report and purchase cashier’s check.  Schedule locksmith, friends and doggy-day care for moving day.

Day 115 Hubby and I drive by the house and see that the sellers have indeed mowed the lawn, as requested.


Day 116 Closing Day! Remarkably anti-climatic, actually.  Only took about an hour and a half and that was with me reading everything to make sure there were no errors. We ended up signing less paperwork than we did when we first applied for the loan. We bask in the glow of homeownership, knowing that this home-buying nightmare is officially over and we can finally get on with our lives.

New Home

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The Cost of Buying a Home

Hubby and I are clear to close on our first house and will be signing papers on Monday! Whoo Hoo!  I remember in the beginning of this long process (we are now five weeks past our original closing date) how confused and stressed I was trying to get an idea of how much money we needed to have by closing day.  Our lender gave us three separate Good Faith Estimates (GFE), none of which were in the same ballpark as the others and I really didn’t understand all the items listed.  After much research and after receiving the final HUD-1 statement, I thought I would share our experience with the finances of actually buying a home.

Our loan was an FHA on a mobile home that had been, in many ways, rebuilt.  The current owner is a contractor and bricked in the home, remodeled the kitchen, added a new roof and more insulation, did some foundation work, replaced all the windows and plumbing, put up drywall and replaced the floors.  It doesn’t look like a mobile home anymore, either inside or out, but for financing purposes it must still be treated as such.  Below is an itemized list of all the costs we incurred during this process along with what we were initially estimated for those costs and explanations as to what each item actually represents.





Down Payment



FHA Upfront MIP



Homeowner’s/Flood Insurance



Appraisal + Credit Report



Home Inspection



Termite Inspection



Engineer Inspection



Attorney Fee



Title Services Fee






Lender’s Title Insurance



Owner’s Title Insurance



Origination Charge



Manuf. Housing IBTS


Well Inspection



Septic Inspection



Flood (Life of Loan)



Tax Service Fee



Mortgage Recording Fee



Deed Recording Fee



State Deed Tax Stamp Fee



City/County Deed Tax Stamp







Real Estate Tax Escrow



Insurance Escrow



Total Estimate


Total Actual  


    Difference of $1,004.23 or 13.4%  

The down payment is pretty self explanatory and it didn’t change from our beginning estimate.  The MIP insurance is a “Mortgage Insurance Premium” required for FHA loans and will be added to the principal of our mortgage.  We will also pay a monthly MIP along with our mortgage payment.  MIP’s are charged when you have less than 20% down payment, it’s a way for lenders to have some extra insurance in case you default on your mortgage and they have to take a loss trying to sell the property.  In a few years after we have paid down the mortgage to 78% of its original amount, the monthly MIP will be dropped.

The homeowner’s and flood insurance are for one year’s policy, which must be paid up front.  Insuring mobile homes directly on the coast in hurricane central is expensive, and the estimate was way off.  We were lucky to find a company who was willing to insure it at all.  

The appraisal and credit report check was paid the day we applied for the loan.  The home and termite inspections were not included in the GFE.  Several weeks into the process our bank asked for another inspection from an engineer to confirm that all the extra work on the home had not compromised its structural integrity.  We paid the inspector by check, or Outside Of Closing (OCO).  Our attorney’s fee was also not included in the GFE.

The title service fee in the GFE included a survey and title insurance, but we ended up not needing a survey.  The sellers still had their survey from when they purchased the home, the boundary markers and fence was still in the same place, and the survey was less than ten years old, so it was not necessary to get another one. The numbers don’t match up because they were taken from two separate GFE’s, one which itemized the title services and one which lumped them together.

The origination charge is a fee from the lender for their services—primarily administrative paperwork processing. The IBTS charge is a report confirming the mobile home’s HUD tag and serial numbers.  The sellers already had the report so while it was on the GFE we didn’t have to pay it.

The FHA rules had recently changed and so we did not need to get a well or septic inspection.  The reason for that was because at the time of the appraisal the home was still occupied by the sellers, and the appraiser could see that everything was in working order.

The Flood (life of loan) is a fee charged by the lenders for tracking the status of the property’s flood zone over the life of the loan.  If the flood zone category changes, it would affect what kind of insurance the home qualifies for.  The tax service fee is a charge for setting up the escrow accounts for the home’s yearly taxes and insurance.  Our monthly mortgage payment will include 1/12th of the cost of our yearly insurance and tax bill, and the lender will pay these bills our of the escrow account.

A mortgage is basically a lien against the property, and all liens must be recorded with the county to be valid.  The mortgage recording fee is the county’s fee for recording the mortgage.

The Deed recording fee, State deed tax stamp and City/County tax stamp are all related to making sure the deed to the property is sellable.  Our contract stated that the seller would be responsible for all fees related to making the deed sellable.

The interest charge went down because we closed later than our original closing date.  The interest is charged on a per-day basis until the end of the month to cover the interest on the mortgage until the first payment comes due.  So in our example, we originally planned to close on June 7th, leaving 23 days until the end of the month.  Now we plan on closing the 15th of July, leaving only 16 days until the end of the month, so fewer days to pay interest on.  Our first actual mortgage payment will be due on September 1st and will pay for the interest accumulated in August.

The Real Estate Tax Escrow is to pay for our portion of this year’s property taxes (the seller will be reimbursed for the months they do not own the home) and to provide a three month buffer for our escrow account.  That buffer is designed to prevent any unexpected expenses if our taxes go up unexpectedly.  One of the reasons

The Insurance escrow is also to establish a three-month buffer for our homeowner’s insurance escrow account in the event of an unexpected increase.

The changes occurred at random and ended up being $1,000 over the estimate.  The biggest eye-opener was the fact that many of the charges (home and termite inspection, attorney’s fees) were not even included in the GFE.  My advice is to set aside more cash than you think you will need, because you don’t get the final bill (called the HUD-1 statement) until the day before you close on the house.  Well, hopefully I’ve helped someone out there be less confused on what the process is all about.  Good luck to anyone out there going through this right now! And wish us luck on Monday!

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11 Practical Uses for 2-Liter Soda Bottles

For when recycling just isn’t green enough. For all of these DIY projects, start with clean 2-liter bottles


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Throw away bottle cap and label.  Poke several holes along ¾ of the bottle (the side with no holes will rest on the ground).  Using duct tape, and lots of it, tightly connect the bottleneck to a garden hose. Turn on hose.

Vertical Garden Tower

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I used Tropicana orange juice bottles in this picture, but it’s the same idea and will work just fine with soda bottles. You will need at least 2 soda bottles for this project.  The idea of this is that you will water the top plant and the water will drain out and rain down onto the lower plants.

(1) Cut off the bottoms of the soda bottles and discard, but keep the bottle labels intact (this is to prevent sunlight from reaching the roots of the plant). 

(2) Remove the bottle cap, punch several holes into it (using a nail or screwdriver, and be generous with the holes), and replace. 

(3) I used screws and washers to connect my bottles to a long piece of scrap wood, but secure the bottled however you wish.  You can even directly secure them to fence posts if you wish.  Just be sure they line up  so that water will drain from the bottle cap into the next planter.  Also be sure to leave a good 12-16” of space between the vertical planters to allow the plants to grow.

(4) Fill with dirt and either transplanted seedlings or plant a seed.  This planter is good for smaller plants like herbs, lettuce, spinach, beans and flowers. Water the top planter and allow the water to drain down into the lower planters.

Self Watering Garden Pot

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(1) Cut bottle in half and discard the bottle label and cap.

(2) To prevent sunlight from reaching the roots, either spray paint or duct tape the outside of the top portion of the bottle, or add a liner of newspaper to the inside.

(3) Force some cotton cloth through the bottleneck so it seals the hole and so that there is 2-4 inches of the cloth sticking out of either side of the bottleneck.  This will be your wick.  You can use a cut up old T-shirt or an old rag.

(4) Invert (put upside-down) the top half of the bottle into the bottom half of the bottle. You should now have a bowel.

(5) Fill the bowel up with dirt and transplant seedlings or plant seeds.

(6) Fill up bottom half with water (you will have to remove the top half to do this). Replace water at least weekly and keep filled. 

Bird Feeder

Soda Bottle2

(1) Remove and discard bottle label.

(2) Cut two holes on opposite sides of the bottle just large enough to fit wooden dowels, wood spoons or sturdy sticks all the way through the bottle.  This will be where the birds perch.  You can have one or many perches (one perch would go all the way through the bottle, so really it would be two perches each).  Try to make one of these perches as close to the bottom as possible, so that only a little bit of seed gets trapped at the bottom.  You may even want to consider filling the bottom with sand or pebbles up to the first feeding hole.

(3) Cut a small hole, just a little larger than the largest seed in your mix, above each perch.  This will be how the birds get to the seed.

(4) Tie sturdy string, small rope, rawhide ties or whatever you want to use around the bottleneck and hang outside.

(5) Fill with birdseed.

Potted Plant Dirt Saver

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Those extra large patio planters look nice and are very popular, but most plants do not need that much dirt, and wasting topsoil is expensive.  This is an easy solution, for which you will need several bottles.

(1) Remove all bottle labels and discard.

(2) Toss several capped bottles into the bottom of your planter. Keep adding bottles until it reaches the level you want—generally at least halfway full.

(3) Fill the rest of the planter with dirt, and add plants.

 Plant Drip Feeder

Soda Bottle3

(1) Remove bottle label and discard.

(2) Punch several holes into the sides of the bottle, from the bottom of the bottle to about halfway up, using a nail or screwdriver.

(3) Before you plant your garden, bury the bottle near where your plants will be.  I like to place mine between two tomato plants. Keep the top of the bottle and cap above ground.

(4) Unscrew bottle cap, fill with water and replace cap. Water will trickle out of the buried holes without getting your plant’s leaves wet.  This is also a good watering supplement during hot weather.

Bird Seed Scooper and Funnel

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(1) Remove bottle label and discard. Cut the bottom of the bottle off and discard.

(2) Use the bottle to scoop up bird seed and carry out to your bird feeders.  Remove the cap and use as a funnel to refill your feeders. 

Seedling Frost Protector

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If you are expecting a late frost, or just want to get an early start, this is a great way to keep your seedlings protected.

(1) Cut off the bottom of the bottle and discard.  Also discard the bottle label.

(2) Place the top portion of the bottle over your seedling, slightly burring it to create a seal.

(3) Leave the bottle capped or uncapped to regulate the temperature and humidity  inside the mini greenhouse.

Plastic Bag Dispenser

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(1) Cut off bottom of soda bottle and discard.

(2) Cut a hole around the bottleneck and discard.

(3) Attach to where you want the dispenser to go.  I use screws and washers but however you want to attach it is fine.  Fill with old plastic bags from the grocery store and when you need a bag, just grab one from the bottom of the dispenser. 

 Upside Down Planter

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(1) Cut off the bottom of the soda bottle and discard it and the bottle cap.  Keep the bottle label intact (this is to prevent sunlight from hitting the roots of the plant). 

(2) Wrap a layer of duct tape around the newly cut bottom of the bottle, and fold it to also stick on the inside (this adds stability).

(3) Use a hole puncher to punch four holes through the taped portion of the bottle, as close to the middle of the duct tape as possible. 

(4) Very carefully insert your plant into the bottle and work the leafy portions through the bottleneck.  Press the root ball firmly to seal the bottleneck opening, but at the same time try to spread out the root ball (gently!) to keep it from becoming root-bound.

(5) Fill the rest of the bottle up with dirt, leaving a small gap at the top.  Thread small rope, rawhide ties, or whatever you are going to use through the holes you punched, and hang the planter somewhere sunny. 

(Thank you

 Mosquito Trap

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(1) Cut bottle in half, making the bottom part a little bigger than the top part.  Discard bottle label and cap.

(2) Invert (put in upside-down) the top half of the bottle into the bottom half.  Duct tape around the cut edges to seal them.

(3) Add a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water to the trap, leaving a 1” or so gap between the opening of the bottleneck and the sugar water.

(4) Add ½ tsp of yeast to the sugar water and place outside in the shade, preferably near some bushes.  The yeast will eat the sugar water and give off CO2, which attracts mosquitoes.   The mosquitoes will fly in through the bottleneck but will not be able to fly out.  Add more yeast as needed (every other day or so), and once a week empty out the trap and start again.

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Sustainable, Renewable Fertilizer

I love to garden, and to do it organically.  I don’t see the point of growing my own food if I’m just going to dump the same chemicals on it that they do with the store-bought food. Why put in all the extra work?

I began to run into a problem with fertilizers, or rather lack of fertilizers. They do sell organic fertilizers–like bone and blood meal –in the stores, but they are very expensive, and–being a vegetarian–the thought of adding ground up animal parts to my garden was less than appetizing.  I don’t want my veggies to be higher up on the food chain than I am.  Compost is good, but my seedlings needed some more food, as well as my tomatoes and other heavy-producers during peak season.  I did some research and ran across aquaponics, which is the simultaneous raising of food and fish.  The water from the fish tanks (which is full of nutrient rich fish poop) is cycled through raised grow beds.  The plants absorb some of the water and all of the nutrients and return the now clean water back to the fish tanks. A very elegant system.

I didn’t have that much start up-cash or space available, but didn’t see why I couldn’t use a modified version of aquaponics. I had an old 35-gallon tank and stand gathering dust on the porch (even had the gravel and decorations!), so I bought a $10 air pump and stone, a big $10 box of aquarium salt (not table salt-it has iodine in it), filled the tank up with water and the appropriate amount of salt and let it sit for a week to leach out all the chlorine.  It may seem strange to add salt to a fresh water tank, but it is absolutely necessary for a healthy system—fish need electrolytes too!  Every natural freshwater system has salt, we humans just filter it out before we use it.

After I was sure it was safe for fish, I added $2.50 worth of feeder goldfish ($0.13-$0.15 each) from the local pet store.  I didn’t add anything else except goldfish food.  I chose goldfish because they were cheap, hardy, would survive our mild winters outside and produced a lot of waste.


The tank took some time to get established. Several of the fish didn’t make it, which I was expecting (it takes time to get the right balance of good bacteria going in a tank.  Do yourself a favor and don’t name the fish).  I did not use any filter but did keep the filter assembly going to provide additional aeration—there just wasn’t a filter in it.  After the pump died I replaced it with a second bubbler. Any fish that died got buried in the garden as fertilizer.  Once a week I used a small aquarium gravel vacuum to siphon out 5 gallons of water from the tank, all from the bottom where the waste had settled (to keep it hygienic in there).  After about four weeks I decided that the tank was ready—my fish were very active, no longer acting stressed and there were no unpleasant smells coming from the tank, all of which indicated a balanced system.  With this type of setup, once established there should be no “fishy” smell or anything unpleasant coming from the tank—you shouldn’t be able to smell anything at all, even while leaning over it.  I have never used a ph or nitrogen test.  My nose and my fish tell me what’s going on.    

I very slowly started to increase the amount of water I removed from the tank every week, fist ten gallons at a time, then fifteen.  Each time I refilled the tank with the garden hose and added more salt.  I carefully watched my fish after the water change, and if they acted stressed for more than a few hours I cut back the amount of water I removed the next week.  If, a full day after the water change they still seemed to be struggling, I added more salt to help them out.  Goldfish love salt.  All that water I’d been harvesting out of the tank went into the garden, and my tomatoes and zucchini were loving life.  I even began to notice a small growth spurt from my plants a day or two after watering with the tank water.

It took a good 2-3 months total to get the tank fully established and at full production, and I have had my tank going for well over a year now.  I harvest 20 gallons a week from my 35-gallon tank, enough to water two 8X4’ raised beds once a week. I ended up with 14 goldfish, which are now getting rather large.  I will soon have to start harvesting twice a week—I’m thinking 20 gallons on the weekends and 10 gallons in the middle of the week. The tank stays on my screened porch, so messy water changes are not an issue.  My fish only act stressed for an hour or two after their weekly water changes now, and did fine over the winter.  I still had to do the water changes, and just dumped the water in the raised beds.  Nutrients would still be there in the spring.  If I ever decide to buy another tank, I’ll just use one week’s harvest to immediately establish the new tank and save myself a few months.  

Fist Tank

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