Monday, November 24, 2008

Griping Post...

No, that's not something to tie an unhappy horse to, but it might work for me..WARNING--this post is going to be full of griping and general bitching.

We recently got the van back after having $400 worth of work done on it. The water pump was out so it was overheating. We took it in and This morning I took it to the grocery store and it started overheating. CRAP! I am taking it back to the mechanic on Friday, but in the meantime, hubby and I are juggling transportation. We are guessing it might just be a hose that disconnected, not a huge problem...We have three cars--two with one down. That seems like a fair amount, but in reality we have come to the conclusion that having three working cars is important to us and we adjust our spending to compensate for that. For quite a while we were down to two--the compact and an older bigger car. We are hoping to trade in the older car soon for something more gas efficient. I would rather spend my $ on things we need, not gas for a gas hog. With all the activities the kids are in and the work/school schedule of my husband, having multiple working cars is imperative.

Have you started holiday preparations yet? What are you doing for gifts this year?

For family and friends, we are giving homemade candy and cookies, jams and other baked goods. This will allow us to give gifts that will be consumed instead of gathering dust on the recipient's shelf, plus save us money. I am going to the Dollar store next week to start amassing tins and cookie trays for the goodies. Some are going to also get hand knitted dishcloth sets. I have been using up my surplus cotton yarn stash while making these and they are a lot of fun. I've made two so far from pretty ornate patterns that look really pretty. Unfortunately they do take longer, so the recipients will probably get one ornate and two not so ornate dishcloths tied together with at pretty ribbon and some seventh generation dish soap that I order it in bulk from Amazon (at quite a substantial savings since I am having it shipped through their subscribe and save program...LOVE THIS DISH SOAP-LOVE SAVING $ !) . I was going to make homemade vanilla extract, but given the late date, I don't think it would have time to age, so I'll do that at a later date. I'm going to actively involve the boys in the making and taking--I think it gives more meaning to the holiday.

I'm still mad about the van, but I feel a little better now. I used to shop when I was stressed, now I blog--it works out better this way.

Now if only I could clean house when I am stressed. I'd have one spotless house!!I know, DREAM ON!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Best Laid Plans....

soon crumble when you have little ones running around!

Remember those goals of getting my groceries and doing some once a month cooking?

Didn't happen.

Why? Well, I went to Stillwater to watch my 2 year old great nephew and 5 month old great niece, then brought them home with me. From then on, all planned events crashed right out the window.

I have decided that even though I raised two very active twins, as one gets older it just gets too hard to chase around a hyperactive two year old and attend to a teething 5 month old. I am proud to say that he didn't tear my house up the way he does at home and at his grandma's, but we spent the first day at my house being intensely trained. This is a combination of scolding and praising...anyone with kids knows how that goes.

All said, he did really well. I had to be really careful to keep an eye on him while attending to feeding the 5 month old--I had totally forgotten how much chaos a two year old can cause. We did have one issue with him kicking our beagle on the side, which was quickly dealt with. After that, he left ALL the animals alone completely. Our cats tolerated him, but the screaming from my great niece was really too much for them to handle, so we didn't see much of them the whole time the kids were here. We are looking forward to taking one or the other again so that my niece can have a little bit of piece, but I've pretty much decided that I can't handle both at once.

Besides being completely exhausted from the week, a good thing came from this: My twins have an up close and personal experience with the trials of small children. I can't say they even want to have kids EVER after this...This was much better than the hokey little experiment some schools do by making them carry around a doll or an egg. Dolls and eggs don't scream at ear ripping decibels or need a really bad diaper changed. Yep, priceless reality.

So, no once a month cooking got done. However, I am going to dust myself off and start anew next week. I fell short on budgeting too. After not entering my receipts into Pear until today, I realized I had gone over the budget on several odd and unplanned categories. That sucks since it is so close to Christmas. However, I will keep on plugging through so we can get back on track. My goal to buy a freezer is on temporary hold until after the holidays. With whole turkeys at 77 cent a pond, I wish I could snag several and store, but I just don't have the freezer space in our fridge unit.

One good thing from the trip to Stillwater is that I found a really good loveseat and coffee table at a junk shop and put it on layaway until the end of the month. The loveseat is more of a settee style, but it will be prefect in the library. They did have two other coffee tables I am seriously considering since they were all wood and could be refinished. We need one in the family room and one more in the seating area in our master bedroom, and these were only $20 each, so well within the budget. One thing we are lacking is table lamps, but I didn't see any there that would work in our house, so I'll just keep searching.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Learning Once a Month Cooking

I have been wanting to try once a month cooking for quite some time.

I've bought several books, made lists, made plans, then got intimidated. It seemed like a huge undertaking. However, listening to people rave about the $$$ it saves them and looking at our budget has been a powerful motivator for me. I also like the convenience--no more standing in the kitchen at 5:00 wondering what the heck is going to be for dinner. That alone is priceless since we often resort to fast food or take out pizza at that point.

This morning I sat down with my OMC books and found 6 recipes and then found a creole mustard marinade recipe that can be used on pork and chicken. I figured venturing out with 6-8 recipes was not going to be as intimidating, therefore a good way to take baby steps into the process.

After that, I made a master shopping list and a master calendar of two weeks. I figured two weeks of worth of menu planning was not as intimidating. After I made the two week menu, I realized that if I just doubled the amounts I cooked of the 6 recipes, I'd have enough to spread over the next two weeks. I decided that I would buy 10 pounds of ground beef and make 12 large patties to freeze in freezer baggies of 4 patties per bag, with enough left over to make several large baggies of precooked meatballs, beef burritos and stuffed shells. The meatballs will be used for meatball subs, spaghetti and barbecued meatballs with smokies. I also have plans for chicken enchiladas and King Ranch chicken casserole to freeze. In combination with a couple other meal plans, I just realized I will have enough entrees for more than a month! All in one cooking session! And with the meals spread around, we really are not having the same meal more than twice in the month long period. It looks like I might actually have enough to last past the month. Those meals will be handy on the next day I do a cooking session.

I'll look in my OMC book and try 3 new recipes the next time I cook, in addition to the others--if they are voted as repeats--and grow my OMC cooking file that way. Out of the 4 Once a Month cooking books I own, there are hundreds of recipes I can choose from based on my family's preferences. Some of them will be voted off the island I'm sure. But this allows us to try different meals and get out of the cooking rut I've been in. I also have a killer recipe for a peach berry crisp that I am going to test to see how well it freezes. We have a large bag of mixed frozen berries I got from the warehouse store that we haven't used. Combined with frozen peaches and the topping, it sounds like a good way to use up the berries. I'll make a test run of it on Monday and freeze a batch uncooked, then a batch cooked and cooled to see how they turn out. I'll post the recipe for the best one later this month. I figure on the days when we are using up the leftovers in the fridge, having a special dessert will make it a little better. We tend to not eat leftovers like we should, and that is a budget killer too. One other thing I plan to work on is cooking the right amount--more in line with what portion sizes SHOULD be. I tend to cook LARGE portions. Great for hubby to take to lunch and me to have, but let's face it--How many times do you want to eat the same meal in a short period?

I am now psyched to get started. I will wait until Monday though, since the boys and hubby will be at school/work and I'll have time to shop in the early morning for the best deals on meat. The grand idea is that I will do all my non perishable shopping on Sunday at the grocery store and clean/empty the fridge at that time, then Monday morning will be my day to hit the store for perishables. That may change. I'll look at the schedule and decide what is going to be the best use of my time.

However, after reviewing what we spent for groceries last month (THANK YOU SimpleMom for turning me on to Pear Budget) , I think any savings will be a tremendous plus!

I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

It's Always Something, plus SimpleMom giveaway

Remember how I said I finally got the house "guest ready" and was feeling tired but quite pleased with myself? Ever hear "Pride goes before the fall"?

Well, I LIVE it!

Gather round and let me tell you a little STORY..

The room we use as the guest bedroom is the room that formerly housed my oldest son, before he moved to Iowa. When kids move out, they don't always take everything with them. For that matter, they often leave a lot in a pretty fancy state of disarray. That would be the exact state of our "guest bedroom" before I did a FlyLady cleaning. It wasn't perfect by the time my brother in law arrived, but by golly, it was close.

So feeling pretty smug with myself, I tempted fate and patted myself on the back.

That was mistake #1

Brother in law arrived, got settled in and then left to hang out with his friend who was getting married (which is the reason for his trip from California to Kansas). In the process he left the door to the guest bedroom open.

We have dogs that LOVE that soft mattress. It didn't occur to me to make sure the door was closed.

That was mistake #2

So, about 1 a.m, little bro in law gets home after the bachelor party to find a beagle fully stretched out on the bed, snoring.

But WAIT! There's MORE.

Said reclining beagle--apparently fatigue from a full day of eating and lounging around the house, apparently climbed up on the bed, PUKED, then fell asleep beside his little handy work. Yep, PUKED on the FRESHLY WASHED pillow, comforter and sheets of the bed in the room I put real sweat equity getting cleaned up.


What does that say about the confidence of the animals around here when they screw up and don't even bother to leave the scene of the crime? Apparently Buddy the beagle was so confident in his legal resident status that he was not inclined to move at the prompting of my bro in law. He basically looked at him and gave him the "life sucks, deal with it" look and started to go back to sleep. Yep, my proudest moment...

Yes people, that is my life.


On the lighter side, SimpleMom is giving away an Epson Artisian 800 printer in a drawing on Wednesday November 12. Go on over and check out her blog to enter and to read her blog. She has really awesome printable downloads that I print and depend on. Hey, if I win one, I can take pictures of all my BEFORE cleaning projects so that I have a memory of what it looks like BEFORE my animals contribute their 2 cents...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More FlyLady kuddos...

Just so you don't think the earlier pics of the spot in the kitchen were the worst of the mess, I thought I'd share this post...This is what happens when you move from one house, bring boxes up from the garage and then park them in the house and do nothing else. After a while, you bring stuff in the house and just lay it on top of the piles of boxes "until you can figure out what needs to be done with it". Guess what? You end up with CHAOS.

Here are the BEFORE and AFTER pictures. I'm pretty sure you can tell which is which. As I said, instead of sitting down to do it all at once, I did the FlyLady marathon technique. A simple synopsis is that you start in the kitchen for 15 minutes, then go to the livingroom (the upstairs room in our house is the library, so I did that) for 15 minutes, then the kitchen again, then break for 15 minutes...then repeat. You need to get the book for the correct sequence. At first I thought, 15 minutes here and there?! There is no way I can accomplish anything that way. Being desperate, I tried it.


The 15 minute intervals keep you from getting bored and overwhelmed in one area. By the time you start getting overwhelmed, you are off to a new area and it helps a lot. Then when you return, you have a refreshed view and are able to tackle the rest. I'll post more tomorrow, I still have the guest bedroom sheets to put on the bed, and guess what? One of the Flylady "commandments" is not to let the computer sidetrack you....

Enough said.

Gotta love FlyLady!

Remember when I said I was in mass panic mode since my brother in law was coming from California for a visit and our house was utter and total chaos?

Well, I was sitting in my bedroom hyperventilating and looking through the FlyLady book, hoping for either a miracle or a bolt of lightning. I was scanning the book and turned to a page that entailed a panic driven cleaning spree and how to do it.

Guess what? It works!!!!

I will post some pictures to prove it. Above is a section of our kitchen AFTER I spree cleaned it Flylady style. BELOW is the BEFORE. Scary Huh?

Above is what happens when things have no real place and you just put things wherever they land. While the AFTER picture can be improved on by putting those things away, I really don't have a spot for them right now. Later, after brother in law is gone, I will be doing some purging so I'm sure what is left in the after pic will have a home.I'm pretty darn happy with the AFTER anyway.

Above is the before picture of one part of the library. Below is the after. All the things on the wall were sitting in the library, unhung and not dusted. The bookshelf top was speed cleaned and a lot of junk was just plain tossed and pictures/candle sconces hung.

This is chaos what happens when you just let things go because you have too much going on in your life and you get overwhelmed. Then you end up getting overwhelmed by the state of the house which just turns into a vicious cycle.
I have a lot more pics that I will be posting through the rest of the month. Trust me, these are the GOOD before pictures.
It is a little scary letting everyone see how bad I let the house get, it makes me feel really vulnerable, but one of my reasons for letting you see the scary before pictures is that I want you to see how well the FLylady's suggestions work.
Once I get it under control, I intend to use a combination of the Flylady's techniques and SimpleMom's down loadable cleaning schedule. I love those sheets! They help me remember what has been done and what needs to be done. I am using the Flylady's techniques too, so I feel confident that I will be able to get the house in order and keep it in order. There is still a lot more cleaning and purging that I am going to do after the visit to make room for things that I want to keep...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No Spend Month

While perusing Small Notebook's sight today, I noticed she had posted about her No Spend Month and had links to others who were doing similar. So I have decided that for the rest of the month, I am going to do something similar. Too bad I didn't think about this sooner--I just did a little sleep shopping.

What is SLEEP SHOPPING, you ask?

It's where you buy stuff on the Internet with a click of a button while on auto-pilot..just like sleep walking...Amazon and Book of the Month Club are my weaknesses. Did I mention I spent $60 on book Sunday?! What was I thinking?! While 2 of the books are good books that I will use (Prayer Shawl Companion and a Pie book), one was a complete impulse. There were a couple other books that were the same impulse. SOOOO--for the rest of the month, I am going to limit myself to a budget of $10 a week for the rest of the month. When the $10 is gone, it is gone. This is going to be really hard for me. I'm used to pulling out my debit card and swiping..or ordering online with a click of a button. And truth be told, I really like coming home and having a package for me on the porch. .

It feels good.

However, what doesn't feel good is the fact that my house is filled with clutter and I am embarrassed to have people over. My brother in law is coming from California this Thursday to spend a couple days with us. I've been in a mad rush to get the house cleaned...

I've come to a couple conclusions.

1. I am a "just in case" saver. This weekend I threw out no less than 4 full trash bags of old clothes from when I was a size 9. I am 100 lbs past that (that's another issue I'm working on, but I digress) and have been saving them JUST IN CASE I get to that size soon. Reality: These clothes that were the height of fashion THEN are REALLY out of fashion now. REALLY OUT OF FASHION. ....tossed.

2. I save old jar and plastic containers to use for later. Not bad if you actually USE them. I usually don't, they're just THERE. Hanging around, adding visual clutter. The reality is that plastic containers are not safe to microwave in because of toxins, and when I transfer leftovers to a container destined for the fridge, it is usually a ceramic bowl with plastic wrap over it. Plastic bowls, glass bottles, plastic containers...tossed.

3. I save old magazines. A lot of them had recipes in them that I wanted to use for entertaining. Reality check: With so much paper laying around, it made my house not suitable for entertaining guests. This weekend, I clipped recipes, tossed the magazines and put the recipes in sheet protectors and a binder. Same with knitting patterns. I do not need any new patterns!

This morning I have been doing the Flylady's marathon cleaning. It basically is 15 minute intervals in different areas of the house, then continuing the sequence until the rooms are cleaned. I did it for 2 hours and am taking a break for an hour before diving back in. The crazy thing is I am making real headway. Once I get the kitchen table and the family room completed, I will consider that a huge victory. I still have the guest room and the family room, but I'll use the same system to get them done. I am glad I got this book. I will go back and read through it once I have the house at least decent for guests. I want to get the basic principle in place so I can complete the job after bro in law is gone, and maintain the house.

The other task that might be a challenge is the fact we need to furnish this house and make it comfortable. It sounds like a direct conflict to the NO SPEND, but I think I can do it by using what we have and repainting/refinishing and adding a couple minor purchases. I will allot a certain amount in the budget to this endeavor, but it might be measly until after the holidays..

We have been looking for a desk for our family room. The current computer desk is really small and it is impossible for the boys to spread their work out while working. It makes it really uncomfortable. I had been looking for "the perfect computer desk", when it occurred to me that we have a pub style table out in the garage that seats 4-6 people (it has an extension)...Hmmm. I will have to get a tall chair (saw them on sale somewhere...), but in reality it will probably work perfectly. It might even work better...

So there you have it. The rest of the month is going to be a no spending, clutter cutting and cheap decorating month. I'll let you know how it works. I will break down and take before/after pics of the family room and guest bedroom. The upstairs is a little scary. I'll have to think about that.....pray for me. Seriously! I could use all the help I can get with this total lifestyle change thing....

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Smokey, one of our cats, in a contemplative mood...

I am embarrassed to say that I have been cleaning our master bedroom for several hours, and I'm nowhere near done. Closer, but definitely not done.

The problem?

It boils down to the fact that I like to save magazines, clip articles, and collect books, but I don't have a system for storage of these things, so I "put" them on top of things. And put, and put...pretty soon, all these potentially useful tidbits become one (or more) big messy pile that robs me of energy.


Every time I look at that ever growing heap, I feel defeated.

So today, I took my time and went through all the magazines in the pile and tore out only the articles that were important to me. A lot of these boiled down to recipes and decorating ideas that I made a separate pile of, then took a break to actually get them into sheet protectors and put into binders. Later I will go back through and actually sort according to type. For example, recipes will be sorted according to breads, sweets, main dishes, etc. For now it was more important to get them out of the magazines so that I can throw the magazines away, which cuts the clutter. Then getting them actually into sleeves and binders gives them a place to actually "be organized" instead of floating around in a pile and looking messy. I must say, although I am not done with the room, I do notice a difference. I wish I had taken a before and after picture, but I was too embarrassed by the sheer amount of stuff that had accumulated. So my immediate goal is to pare down the STUFF. With the cold weather coming up, it is going to be important to be able to keep a clean and tidy house. The quality of the inside air is immediately affected by my ability to keep carpets vacuumed and the stuff dusted. It is much easier if there is LESS STUFF to clean. Kind of makes sense, doesn't it.

Next step? I am going to put a waste basket and a box in the entry hall so I can sort the mail immediately and toss the stuff that is not relevant to us. I'd like to say I will have a recycle box, but right now I need to just get the stuff out and not let it sit around at all! I'll recycle once I get everything under control.

On the budget side, I am working on that too. I realized that we are spending several hundred dollars more for groceries and eating out than I had guessed. Gotta thank Pear Budget for making me aware of this! So for the rest of the week, I am planning meals and shopping from our pantry. I am trying to regroup and frame my attitude so that I am able to be creative with what we do have on hand. Except for possible buying meat at some point, everything else is going to revolve around what we already have. That said, we did opt for sub sandwiches out today since I was knee deep in cleaning. Hubby and I were going to go out later and get a coffee, but instead we made coffee at home and sat on the front steps talking and drinking the coffee. We saved gas and the $8-$10 we usually spend getting coffee out. It offset the subs a little, but we are going to be frugal for the rest the week and all of next week.

With the holidays coming up, I am trying to plan ahead on gift giving for friends and family members. The plan is to make pottery bowls for everyone and pack them with homemade candy. If I can make 8-10 bowls each week for the next month, everyone will be covered. We have a pretty large family on my side and a decent sized family on hubby's side, so I need to get started. These will be cereal bowl sized, so they can be pulled quickly. Candy is pretty easy to make. I take a weekend right before Christmas and spend it making several different types of candy. It is usually a pretty big hit. I am hoping giving everyone a bowl of their own will also be a hit.

How do you handle gifts for friends and family during the Christmas season? Do you opt for store bought or homemade gifts.