Monday, October 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Lately I have been writing out menu plans for two week periods in an effort to help my house run a little smoother at meal times. There are several bloggers out there that are part of Meal Plan Monday web ring and the idea has appealed to me for quite some time. I will post my meal plans on Monday, although I usually make out menus that run Sunday to Saturday. For some reason this cycle of days just works better for me. Plus I make up menus for two weeks at a time, which covers from pay period to pay period.

The advantages of meal planning are many:
1. The kids know what is going to be served by looking at the list on the bulletin board.
2. I know what is going to be served so there is no standing in front of the freezer and trying to put together combinations that sound good.
3. It helps immensely when grocery shopping. I have my list of meals and write the grocery list from there. It also allows me to shop the sales and plan menus based on what is on sale. Big $$$$ saver!
4. It saves money. Since I shop for the ingredients of each menu, I know I have them on hand and will not have to run to the store. Running to the store for one items usually ends with 20 in the cart when it is time to checkout.
5. I have time to think out the menu, find recipes and try new recipes as desired. For example, this month I am cooking from the Once A Month Cooking book and have found 3 recipes that sound good. I've had this book for a while but am finally getting around to making dinners from it. I will try one recipe and if it is a success with the men in the house, I will double it for freezing.

So what is on the menu this week?

Sunday October 18 Roast chicken, mashed potatoes (real potatoes! cheaper and better for you than instant), corn

Strawberry shortcake for dessert using a butter cake recipe that I made and froze to use instead of those weird preservative laden pucks you get at the store.

Monday October 19 Pork Spare ribs (on sale this week) salad and deviled eggs. The original menu was for butter/herb noodles and broccoli. We have a lot of salad that needs to be eaten plus deviled eggs sounded good. dessert is a really easy chocolate peanut butter chip pan cookie I pulled off the Hershey's website.

Even though I had other things planned, I am flexible to a point with the sides. If you have something that needs to be used up like salad greens, you should use them first. Wasted food is wasted money.

Tuesday October 20 Chicken burritos, refried beans, carrot sticks w/ salad dressing to dip.

Wednesday October 21 12 Boy curry (from Once a Month Cooking), rice, canned fruit

Thursday October 22 Baked Jambalya (from Once a Month Cooking), sliced apples

Friday October 23 Homemade Pizza

Saturday October 24 Breakfast : Homemade cinnamon rolls

Lunch: Soup and Sandwiches

Dinner: Leftovers with cookies or canned fruit

Sunday October 25 Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage (whatever the boys decide they want)

Lunch: Hot dogs and chips

Dinner: Hamburgers and French Fries. Hubby makes killer homemade french fries using real potatoes. There is no comparison! Carrot sticks and apple pie round out the menu.

I have made a big effort to cook from scratch lately since I am able to plan out meals and decide how much time I have. On days there is a lot of activity, the meal is an easy one. I use the crockpot a lot and will be using it more in the future. The chicken that we cooked last night had a lot of meat left, so it will be picked clean and the meat will go into the chicken burritos we are having later. I did buy bagged chicken breasts since they were on sale for a really good price, and will add to the burrito meat, but the carcass will be frozen for bones to make chicken stock later down the line.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Theme for the week...

is saving money and getting a handle on a little impulse spending that has been a downfall of mine. That said, I have to confess right out of the gate that I blew it today when I got on and ordered 2 books that REALLY sounded good.

Do I already have a house full of books and many of them either unread or partially read? The answer to that would be a definite yes.

So my goal for the next two weeks is to stay off and read at least one book from the pile that is around my house. Is this going to be easy?

Probably not.

As a matter of fact, it is going to be damn hard! However given the fact the economy is in the tank, I feel it is really important to start getting my priorities in line and put money in savings. Experts say you should have 6 months pay in savings for a rainy day, However, lately I have seen experts changing that number to 10-12 months since the job market has tanked.

Here are some things I am working towards making a habit:

1. Staying off It's just too tempting.

2. Actually planning --and sticking to--planned meals that are made at home from my MANY cookbooks.

3. Only grocery shopping once every two weeks from my meal plans. If I have to have an ingredient, I'll send hubby. He is much better at being able to leave the grocery store with only the items he came in for. If I "run in for one thing", I end up coming out with $50 extra junk minimum. We burn money with that foolishness! '

4. Trying to resist buying new yarn until I have made a sizable dent in my yarn stash. I tend to buy way to much yarn for future projects and should learn to use that up first. Considering I help out at 2 wonderful yarn shops, this is going to be really hard. However, I am going to really make an extra effort to make this work!

5. Be more consistent about the goals and the frequency of posting to this blog. I have been a little chaotic about posting to this blog and a little unclear of it's mission statement. I am going to work towards clarify the theme over the next couple months to reflect my interest in budgeting, cooking and book interests.

I have several really interesting cookbooks that I am going to utilize over the next couple weeks while I am doing all this home cooking. Two that are sitting next to me right now are Quick Fixes with Mixes by Lia Roessner Wilson -- and Make a Mix by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward and Madeline Westover. I have had both of these for quite some time and figure it is time to use them. The first book uses mixes like cake mix, cookie mix etc. as the base for recipes. In the morning I am trying a cinnamon roll recipe from the book.

The Make A Mix book contains recipes that utilize base mixes that you make from scratch in bulk. For example, tomorrow I am going to make the brownie mix that is the base for brownies, cookies, Texas sheet cake and a Mississippi mud cake. This is a completely from scratch mix, which I find appealing.

However, using convenience products might prove to be useful too. I will let you know what I try and what I think of these recipes as I bake the goodies. As a matter of fact, as I read through the books on my bookshelf, I will be giving my reviews of them. There will be books from all genres since my reading is pretty eclectic.

So those are my goals for now. Check back tomorrow for the recipe reviews. I will not be printing the recipes since they are in the books and the authors need to be able to fairly profit from them if they are good--I will just be giving my opinion of the recipes that I actually make. I'll spend all of October and part of November on these two cookbooks, then move on to the others in my collection and review other types of books as I read them.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Stretching the budget calzones...

Since it is football season and both my boys play--time is precious here at Animalhaus. Both the boys are on the Junior Varsity and are backup for the Varsity, so that means we have two games a week. That can lead to both a schedule clusterbuff and a menu disaster. If I don't have something prepared when they walk in the door, we sometime opt for fast food. That is OK, but can really bust the budget if we aren't careful. So this month I am going back to the drawing board and trying to get meals prepared ahead of time or at least meals that don't require a lot of prep. For this, I have relied on using up what's in the fridge and cooking out of my community cookbooks. I have a huge collection of cookbooks, but cherish my community cookbooks because they are slices of life from real people across the nation. Tonight I am cooking "Nameless Sweet and Sour Chicken". It uses an 8 oz bottle of Russian dressing (I didn't have a full 8 oz, so I added some Catalina. They do taste slightly different, so I'll have to see), 10 oz jar of Apricot preserves and a packet of dried onion soup mix. I might see if adding half a packet would be better.I did add a squeeze of lime juice since I had lime slices I haven't used up, but that is my twist....the recipe says to pour this over 6 chicken breasts or one whole 2 pound chicken cut up. I used 2 pounds of frozen chicken thighs that I cooked until they thawed out. I them dumped the juices and covered them with the sauce, then cooked completely. I'll serve this with rice rolls and a salad mix that we found marked down at the supermarket.

This weekend I was looking for ways to use up some leftover baked chicken breast, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese that we needed to consume or lose. I figured a calzone would be an interesting twist. So I found my go to pizza dough recipe--you can find them online or I can email you mine if you leave me a comment--and rolled the dough into a circle. After laying out the ingredients on half the circle, I folded the other half over and crimped the edged. After baking, it was well received by the hungry males in my house. Bellies full and budget saved--GOOD STUFF!

I had enough to make 2 of these. They were really large-you just can't tell it in the picture. Four of us ate well, and there were leftovers for two lunches.
Tonight I am making cinnamon rolls for breakfast tomorrow morning. I'll bake them right before bed and icing them when they come out so the gooey icing melts a little...YUM.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cleaning House

As you can see, our back patio has been severely ignored this year. We have a wonderful new deck and potential place to hang out, but nothing has been done with it. So for the next 2 weeks, the boys and I are going to do severe cleaning and I am going to work on making this an outdoor sanctuary. In the picture above, you see the result of dogs that refuse to remember that they are not supposed to use the old rock stairs to get in and out of the yard. The new deck has a much safer landing and solid stairs, but they continue to knock my potted plants down in their attempts to scale the rock steps. So, Wednesday I am going to look for fencing to block their attempts. JoAnn's Crafts store has several really pretty options.

More junk that is slated to be removed. I'll paint pots and put some decorative plants in there. Not sure what else I'll do to the landing, possibly paint a "carpet" on it. What do you think?

More mess. However, there you see the perfect components of a small seating area.

Again, seating and eating area waiting to be unearthed and decorated. Definitely a place for more painted pots and all kinds of goodies waiting to be staged.

This area is a major problem area for us. When it rains, the dirt washes out from between the rocks and end up on our patio, clogging the drains and flooding the whole patio. After it subsides, we end up with a couple inches of sludge on the patio. This is getting old quickly! Any suggestions? I am avoiding filling in the rocks since numerous really cute toads make their home there. We might end up having to make a cement shelf over the top rocks. I'll have to think about this.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Late Night Babbles

It is past 1 a.m and I am having problems sleeping. Hubby and one of the boys went to Florida for a couple days while I hang out with the other boy and take care of the house and animals. It just seemed easier than hiring someone to watch the house or boarding the animals. However, I am discovering I have a hard time sleeping without my husband. This surprises me because I am usually pretty independent. Not sure what this is about...

Last week a friend and I went to a shop in Wichita to make cold processed soap. I took a class a long time ago on soap making but wanted to refresh the basics since cold process soap uses lye and you definitely have no room for error there! It was a wonderful class (pics will be on my other blog) and I have a 2 pound loaf to show for it. I am going to start making soap again. The friend that went to Texas with me went in on getting the supplies for a soap making business, then we didn't go anywhere with it. I am going to make several batches this summer so that they can cure and be ready to sell in a month. I'll call my friend and let her know we are starting again. She works full time, so I'll make the starting products until she can get time. I am going to look into selling on etsy and local shops. From working crafts fairs, I know they are a lot of work, so I am trying alternate selling choices.

Wish me luck.

I'll post pics pf my first batch when the bars have cured.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Revisiting Frugal

These are tough economic times full of uncertainty. There used to be a time when a large number of years with a company meant that your job was reasonably safe, or at least you were safer than the guy who hired in at a later date than you.

There are no guarantees anymore in these times.

The news and information agencies have marked unemployment at over 9%--and the bad news is that it really doesn't show signs of getting better. Yesterday the company my hubby works for had another lay off. I was seriously freaking out since there was really no way to know who was going to get the notice. My hubby didn't get a notice, but some close friend of ours did. I was stunned and very sad. We've had bi-weekly dinners with this family for many years and I really didn't even know what to say. And then there was also the looming "there but the grace of God goes thee"--the full realization that this economy means that this may not be the end of layoffs and the realization that having to face a layoff in my house would be a severe blow. Our boys are in high school, we're firmly attached to our little city and house, and I have a comfort zone built up that apparently doesn't like being tinkered with (Hence the reason this is getting written at 4 a.m...can't sleep.).

While waiting for this round of layoffs, I reminded myself that I have fallen off the frugal wagon and need to get back on. I went gung ho for many months, then fell back into my old patterns of buying, storing and not using up what I already have. As a matter of fact, last week I bought $75 worth of yarn that will end up being stored until I actually finish 6 other projects on the needles.

Did I mention that I already have a yarn stash that could very possibly rival many small yarn shops?

What was I thinking?!

So, from here on out, until I finish all my pending projects and make a dent in yarn stash I currently have, yarn buying is getting curbed. Being a realist, I didn't say "completely stopped". That is like cold turkey dieting where you totally cut out something you crave, like chocolate, only to have a weak moment and fall face first into a pile of the stuff.

Another area I've fallen down lately is the meal planning arena. I have a ton of cookbooks, and many "Freezer Cookbooks" that would help me when I am faced with the "it's 5:00 and I really don't feel like cooking, let's do take out" scenario. I want to start cooking at least one meal a week from these books so I can get an idea on which recipes are going to work for my guys, then I'll make multiple servings to freeze. I'll build from there until I can do the once a month cooking. I think that would save our food budget. Months ago, I had "buy a freezer" on our list, we didn't. So it is back on the list of things to do withing the next 3 months. We're buying a small one, not one of the mega freezers. We really don't have the space for anything bigger than 8 cubic feet.

To help me regain and retain focus, I am planning to do is take a 3"x5" card, write on it exactly what I want to accomplish by being frugal such as "Save $500 this month", " Build up a 6-9 month income buffer in case of emergencies", "Save for a new couch for the family room" etc and keep it where I can refer to it whenever I get tempted.

I'll let you know how this works. I'm hoping that having these goals so close and written down will give me the proper push and ability to abstain from bad spending choices.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Still Here!

Yep--it has been over a month since my last post on this blog.

Sorry. It seems as though I turn around and the month has quickly passed. However, I have been pretty busy so I guess it's not too bad.

I went to Amsterdam ---LOVED IT! However, next time I go, I want to take the whole family and I will avoid going during Queen's Day. It was entirely too crowded and crazy. I did come back completely inspired in a lot of areas. I was able to visit the Van Gogh museum---I love Van Gogh and this was a real treat! I learned a lot more about the artist and many styles he experimented with that I had no idea he had even tried. When you think of Van Gogh, you usually think of Sunflowers or "Starry Night", right? Did you know he did a whole series of paintings inspired by Japanese paintings?

I didn't. And these we some of my favorites in the museum. We had a really good lunch at the museum cafe, then went on to explore some more areas in town. I am completely infatuated with Amsterdam and can't wait to get back. Hubby and I are discussing taking the whole family next year when we can take at least a full 7 days to explore the city. I love the architecture and the vibe of the city. It is spectacular!!

Among the many things I loved in Amsterdam, I adored the shawls and scarves the ladies wore. I ended up picking up 6 of these for myself and regret that I did not buy many more. I am going to look at fabric at the craft store this week because I think I'll be able to make several of these from light fabrics and silks.

I came back inspired on many levels.

I got home and promptly ordered watercolors so that I start painting again. In Amsterdam I came across several artist selling their art in little shops and thought " I can do this too". One of my favorites was a print maker--I bought one of his prints and wished I had bought more. He had the copper plates from his prints at the shop and it caught my interest. I want to learn printmaking. Wichita State University has a printmaking major, but I think I saw printmaking classes at Wichita Center for the Arts at one point. I'll have to check it out. If nothing else, maybe I can learn woodcut printing.

On the home front, I did get 11 rose bushes planted around my yard with the help of my hubby and kids. I still have to put in the raised beds SOON and plant flowers around the yard, but that is going slowly since I have my 3 yr old grand nephew staying with us. He is pretty high energy, so we have to really keep up with him. He is learning the rules here at Aunt Rhonda's, so it is getting a little calmer. This is freeing up minutes little by little. So is the arsenal of Dora the Explorer DVDs we've stocked up on.

I will be posting pictures sometime this week. We had to get another computer right before I left for Amsterdam since our computer crashed--the new one was an upgrade, but we assumed an SD card reader came standard, which it didn't. Hubby got a card reader yesterday--I just have to take the time to upload photos. I was discussing this with a girl at the yarn shop and she mention I could just upload directly from the camera using the cable that came with my camera. OMG. I hadn't even thought of that! Now I feel like a dummy!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Comfort Food--Bread Pudding

Last night I decided I wanted bread pudding. Good bread pudding--the kind with crushed pineapple and shredded granny smith apples in it to give a little interest to the custard base. I have been seeing it more frequently on menus at some pretty upscale restaurants lately, but all of them seem to be pretty plain jane with an overly boozed sauce on top. A good light bourbon or lemon-vanilla sauce is all that is needed for this dish---it doesn't drown the flavors under heavy booze tones.

I found a recipe online that mimics the one I found (and lost) from Southern Living. It is originally from Dooky Chase--the famed New Orleans shop owner. I'd been making this for a while, then lost the recipe when we moved to the new house. Bread pudding is a great comfort food and a very tasty way to make use of leftover stale bread or french bread loaves that don't get used up. If you don't have enough for the pudding all at once, cube the bread, let it get stale by leaving it out overnight, then put in the freezer. You can keep adding to this bag until you have enough for the dish. YUM.

I am not one to be able to follow a recipe without adding some twist to it, so my addition is a cup of dried cherries or dried cranberries instead of the raisins. I like the better than raisins and they give a little lift to the dish. Feel free to add other dried fruit like chopped apricots or blueberries, if that sounds better to you. Either way, this makes a lot and is the King of comfort foods!

Oh, and I've been known to mix the white bread with a little leftover wheat french loaf. It's all good.

Bread Pudding
5 cups stale white bread (can be french, Italian loaf etc.)
2 (12 oz.) cans evaporated milk
6 eggs beaten
8 oz crushed pineapple (I pour the juice in too)
1 large apple peeled and grated
1 cup raisins (or other dried friut like cranberries, cherries, or diced apricots)
1 1/2 sugar
2-3 tablespoons vanilla
1/4 pound butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Mix together the eggs, vanilla, sugar. butter, milk. Mix until smooth. Add the crsuhed pineapple and it's juice, grated apple and dried fruit. Add the bread cubes and toss to mix all ingredients well.

Pour into a greased 9"x13" pan baking dish.

Bake for 30-40 minuted until cooked through (should be firm in the middle)

Let cool and serve with whipped cream, a bourbon sauce (recipe later) or a lemon sauce.

I've seen it drizzled with chocolate syrup too, but I think bread pudding is best when the original flvors are allowed to shine.

The recipe calls for 5 Tablespoons vanilla--that sounded like too much. I don't remember putting that much in the Southern Living version, so I cut that in half. The recipe also called for 1 cup water to be mixed with the milk, but since I was using the juice from the pineapple, I omitted that. It's a recipe--play with it and make it yours!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Well Hello Wind!

Today is another super windy day in Kansas and that has lead me to contemplate how much I would love to be able to harness some of that and use it to power my house. While that is not financially feasible for us right now, it would still be neat. I am, however, contemplating a couple other small changes here at Animalhaus, hoping that it will motivate me to make bigger changes.

One of these changes is we are going to get a couple backyard feathered friends for eggs. I love the fresh eggs I buy from individual chicken owners when I can find them. However, as more people get the exposure to a real egg from a well raised chicken instead of a supermarket egg, the competition for these little prizes is getting fierce. I'm not seeing them offered for sale along the country roads much anymore. So, we have decided we are going to get our own very small flock. Actually I don't know if 5 chickens qualifies as a flock, but it will be enough to keep us supplied with fresh eggs and possibly have enough to share. Both boys are helping me look at coop plans and it is going to be a whole family project to build the coops and the enclosures. We live in a small town, but there is a limit on how many we can legally have--and no roosters for obvious reasons--so we won't need a really large set up. We will need a secure set up since we have a hound dog that thinks she is a hunting dog and literally grabs birds out of the air mid flight. We also have a couple neighborhood cats that make their way over our fence at night. That may be cured soon since our hound dog caught one last week and almost killed it by the time we pulled her off. The cat got over the fence and I haven't seen him back since. We have indoor cats, which the dogs doesn't bother, but for some odd reason, if a cat is outside, Cocoa goes after it. I'm not sure why. Anyway, I really feel that we need to build a very secure enclosure to keep the girls safe. I think the boys have settled on the chickens that lay the pale colored eggs. I'm getting them from, which sells them as "Easter Eggers". They are not the Ameracuna or the Araucanian chickens, instead they are hybrids (mongrels). Not a problem since we are getting them for the eggs, not for show.

We are also planning to build raised beds for the garden this season. We bought a composter, but so far it has not been filled enough and for long enough to yield any of the black gold, so we will buy composted soil this first season. By next season we should have enough to add to the existing beds.

We planted a cherry tree two years ago when we moved in, and this year it has taken off. Not enough to produce, I'm sure, but possibly by next year. We will be planting a dwarf pear tree and blackberry bushes this year in a effort to grow more of the veggies and fruit we consume. I'd love to get an apple tree, but we don't have a huge yard and I doubt we have room for much more. We'll have to see once the pear tree and the rest of the gardens get built.

Am I the only one to notice gas prices went up by 30 cents? While it is not $3, it does make me aware that we have relaxed our gas economizing a bit by driving a little more and not bundling trips like I used to. I am going to start bundling trips and minimizing unnecessary car trips starting this week. While the prices are not what they were, saving $ on gas gives me money to spend elsewhere in our budget. I'm still doing well with cooking at home more and am looking forward to being able to stretch the budget even more by having our veggie needs supplied in our backyard. Plus we will be growing without chemicals.

When I was in Iowa visiting my son, I got hooked on (flavored) Greek yogurt. Unfortunately, it is pretty expensive in our local grocery stores, so I am thinking about getting a yogurt machine to make my own yogurt. Again, I'll save $ and be in control of what goes into it. Has anyone madetheir own yogurt? Was it any good? I'll share my experiences once I actually get started..

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do One Thing...

I had to call the trash company today since our guy didn't pick up our trash yesterday. We've been with this company for 11 years, and this rarely happens, so no big deal.

However while I was on the phone with them, I talked to the customer service rep about the recycling program Waste Connections just started offering to customers and it sounded so good that I signed up. The program sounds really easy and there is no presorting, which is a great incentive to do it. Plus they take chipboard, paperboard and corrugated cardboard. Some places don't take this and that has been an issue for me since we end up having a lot of that after trips to Sam's. They don't take plastic shopping bags, which is no surprise, but they do take a really large variety of other materials which makes this worth the $3.75 a month fee that's added to our trash bill. I am working hard to make myself remember to actually carry my reusable shopping bags into the store when I shop, so I am hoping that the huge stash of plastic shopping bags in our house in slowly diminished as we use them for trash bags and other uses. We really have a lot of them--more than we should, but they make GREAT linings for the small wastebaskets in the bathrooms and bedrooms. When I was in Iowa, I picked up some really neat reusable insulated freezer food bags from the Hy-Vee grocery store. I have one from a local grocery store here in town, but it is not as big as these. When I hit Iowa again, I am going to pick up a couple more since I tend to buy all my frozen foods in one shopping trip and have three bags would be beneficial. I have quite a collection of reusable bags AROUND THE HOUSE, so the push is going to be to find all of them and divide them between the two cars so we have them no matter what.

Plus what we recycle is turned back into coupon points we get to use on other products. Yeah!

This weekend is going to be busy--I have a lace class at a yarn shop here in town, Jeremy and I have pottery class plus I want to get some fencing to mark off the section where the chickens will be. I am still looking at chicken coop plans and will be talking with hubby about building a coop. I plan on getting lumber to build some basic raised beds this weekend also. Nothing fancy, just boards nailed together with corner reinforcements to be filled with soil. I may build them at least 2-3 foot high so they don't require as much bending, but I'm still in the planning phase. That height might get raised. I am also making some clay garden markers at the pottery studio. I've seen these in gardening catalogs for a pretty penny. Since I am in pottery, it makes no sense to buy them when I can make them the way I want to for pennies.

My goal this season is to start getting my home in order both outdoors and indoors so I can be satisfied to stay home more often and create here. I tend to run around a lot more than I should, which usually ends with me buying something that I really don't need. This includes groceries. Our pantry and freezer are full, yet I tend to pick up a lot of extras when I run to the grocery store. I am working towards getting a chest freezer for the garage and making the effort to start freezer cooking (also called once a month cooking), plus getting a shelf for the closet under the stairway to keep extra canned goods when I find really great sales. This will allow me to go to the store less often and save $. Once we get the freezer I am going to look into buying half a cow from a meat company, then planning meals around that. I've noticed we are eating less meat lately, which is good. We used to eat really large meat centered meals. The boys have been happy with more green and starch centered meals with smaller servings of meat on the sides. That saves us money. I am going to dust off my cookbooks and start trying different recipes for side dishes -- I'm pretty bored with the current dished and prepared sides I've been serving. I am also going to dive into my "Artisenal Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" cookbook and make up the master dough for the fridge. I bought the storage container for it a couple weeks ago, I just haven't made the dough, which sounds pretty easy.

I've been lazy.

It would be nice to have a supply of bread ready when I want it and not have to run to the store for premade french bread or drag out everything to make it myself as I make the meal....

Monday, March 23, 2009


And how have you been?

I'd love to say I have been busy doing awesome budgeting and saving money, but the truth is that hasn't happened. I got off track with spending the past couple months, so I have found myself having to get back in the saddle and rededicating my efforts to pull us back in line.

So here is what is in the works:

1. This month we will start getting the chicken coop put together so we can get a couple chickens. I am looking forward to having fresh eggs.

2.We are also going to get a garden started this year to help ease the food budget. I think it would be great to be able to provide at least 3/4 of our greens this summer. I will be growing tomatoes again this year for both fresh eating and canning. In addition, I am adding peppers to the list so we can have salsa canned for the winter.

3.Getting a freezer: We have been talking about this for a while. I am trying to decide on the model and size, then we will get one. I think this will help save $ by being able to stock up, resulting in less trips to the store, and less impulse purchases.

4.Learning to bake more types of bread at home. When we were in Iowa, we had fresh boule bread and it was amazing. For the first time, I realized just how good well made bread could be. So I am going to brush off my bread cookbooks and start practicing.

5.Clean my house and focus on getting it assembled into a haven. We have a lot of stuff that can be done around the house, so I am starting to work on those projects. In the past I've had a lot of scattered projects that get half done...This season I am going to take one room and stay with it until it's done. This includes dusting off the sewing machine, pulling out the bins of unused patterns and making stuff for our home such as curtains and pillows. I have some great patterns that would be pretty easy to sew--I just have to sit down and cut the patterns and fabric, then sew them. I will probably start by getting the spare bedroom in shape so I can turn it into a guest bedroom and studio for my creative endeavors.

We are also working on getting better at recycling and composting. I found a great deal on a composting bin at Sam's last month and we have been pretty good about adding kitchen scraps and leaves to the bin. I am seriously considering getting a second bin since we filled up the first bin when we cleaned up under some of the trees last week. I know it will break down quickly, but I would like to have a bin to put the chicken coop cleaning into for use around flowers, which would keep the chicken droppings out of the food crop compost.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


My oldest son recently got an apartment of his own after his ex-girlfriend tried to move back into the house he was renting from her parents---with a new beau in tow.. That was not going to work. Apparently the new beau and son got along well, but the girl was a pain as usual. Let's see. if you live with someone, you will be expected to pay rent. Apparently somehow she thought my son would support her and new boyfriend...I know.


So son found a place of his own. I am going there Friday to help him get some of the basic such as pots, pans, dishes, etc. Everything to start a new home. I had been looking in thrift stores here hoping to find decent pots and pans, but that did not happen. Today, on a lark, I stopped by a store called Dollar Tree and found great looking stoneware plates and bowls for $1 each, along with a lot of other stuff. After I got home, I hit my cabinets and found more stuff for him such as a hand mixer and blender, a few pots to get him by until we can find more, and other utensils. I was hoping that the car I reserved would be big enough to somehow squeeze a microwave cart into, but since I rented a compact, I wasn't going to hold my breathe. When I got to the counter, the girl said they were short on cars and asked if I'd be upset with a bigger car at the same price. All they had were vans--YES!! Just what I needed! That puppy is totally loaded to the gills!

So the game plan is that I am driving to Iowa to spend time with him and help him get all the basics so he can cook and be comfortable. That made me think: What ARE the basics. And how much is really needed to start out? I started looking around at all the stuff I have and realized that we have a lot of stuff that we don't use or that is just "here". I went through all my stuff to see what I have extras of so we don't end up buying more than needed and as much as I hate to admit it, I had a LOT of extras of the same thing. Much more than I needed! So this was also a good opportunity to relieve myself of some clutter. Once I get there, we will unload and compose a list of what he still needs, THEN we'll go shopping.

I can already tell the budget is going to take a beating this month. But when you have a kid that needs stuff after a difficult situation, you just have to take a deep breath and dive in. I do intend to get him stocked on groceries and spend some time teaching him how to buy in bulk, freeze single portions and plan meals around sales. I've realized I did a poor job teaching the basics to him, and need to make sure I double back while I'm there and help him work out a budget. You can bet I am going to work with the two still at home to make sure they learn this well. My mother and I got into a discussion about meal planning for one. She thinks it'd be cheaper for him to just buy frozen meals like she does. Unfortunately we don't agree on that. First, the amount of preservatives and salt are really not something you should consume regularly. Plus they really aren't that tasty--it is like just eating on auto pilot and not learning to develop a taste. Secondly, I have a problem with the disposable packaging. That's a pretty heavy load on the ecosystem if everyone did this. My mom uses a lot of paper plates and cups, which I stay away from if we are eating at home.

So, I will be traveling to Iowa again--I am looking forward to it, but the weather is a bit wild in that area, so I am hoping it behaves both while I'm there and when it is time for me to come home. Put in a prayer for me? I'm hoping I won't need it, but it's always nice to have backup!

Good coffee and great friends to you and yours!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Use it up, Make do, or do without..

This month I have tried to practice a little old fashioned thriftiness and make a real effort to use up what I have, make do or do without. I've got a lot of sock yarn in my stash, so this month I have concentrated on getting a sock made for my cute husband. I did blow it earlier in the month when I bought a load of Paton's sock yarn that was on sale at half price from Michael's Craft store, so I figured I'd better use it. That is the first time I've been in Michael's in months. I used to go in there every time they had a 40% off coupon in the paper, but since they have quit letting us use the coupons on books, I have pretty much ignored the coupons. I guess that's a good thing since I usually ended up getting other stuff ( impulse) while I was there to "save money with a 40% coupon". However, half price on this particular sock yarn was worth the splurge. I've been working from a pattern book in my stash and will make a few more pairs in the upcoming months from both the yarn that I bought and the yarn that is in my stash.

This winter, since I have to be indoors (I really am not a cold weather person!), I am concentrating on "domestic arts" such as knitting, decorating and cooking. I have recently revived the urge to put together a quilt, so that is what I will be doing over the next couple months also. I have wanted to learn to weave for quite sometime and recently got the class schedule from Yarn Barn in Lawrence, Kansas that offers classes in just about everything fiber. They have an upcoming rigid heddle weaving class that sounds perfect! I don't have the space or $ for a standard loom and was not really sure if that is the direction I wanted to go anyway, but the rigid heddle is portable and not a huge investment, so I am taking a class to learn it in April. Cute man and I love going to Lawrence. We go there and eat Indian at India Palace (swoon!!!) and if we are in town for dinner too, we eat at the Greek restaurant on Massachusetts street (I can't remember the name, but the food is GOOD). Hubby likes to wander in and out of the different shops in Lawrence while I am taking classes at Yarn Barn, so there is always something for both of us to do that we enjoy.

Speaking of "domestic arts", I made a pie! Yep--from scratch, crust and filling! It is the first one I've ever made so I think it turned out pretty darn good if I don't say so myself! I am going to make a couple more pies over the next couple months since I think I need more practice on getting my crust thinner. The filling worked out really well though.

Yum. I like pie!
Tonight I am going to make the dough for three loaves of white bread using the starter that I've been cultivating the past 20 days. I will make one to use tonight and two will be frozen for later. If I have time, cinnamon rolls are on the agenda too. I am going to try to get as much baking done this week as I can so that when I go to Iowa to visit my son, I have stuff in the freezer for the kids if they want it. Hubby is an accomplished cook, so it's not like they starve when I'm gone, but it would be nice for them to have cookie dough and some snack ready if they want to snack. I have been trying to do more cooking from scratch and buying pre-made stuff lately. It is easier to control the preservatives and you know exactly what is going into your body. Plus, it is cheaper per portion most of the time. I am not against buying convenience foods when our schedule is crazy, but when I have the time to cook, I'd prefer we eat stuff made from scratch. We are really trying to get our budget under control and unfortunately, food seems to be where we go over. It may be that my desired goal amount is to low, but I don't thing so. I'll give it a couple more months and see how close we come.

Friday, January 16, 2009

As My World Turns

Got to get up and go to the high school at 5:30 IN THE EVER LOVIN' MORNING this morning so that one of the boys could do a hydration test and weigh in for wrestling. Apparently he got there and was .2 lbs over his weight bracket, so he had to run a while to lose that .2 pounds so that he could pee in a cup to make sure he was hydrated. Something about wrestling smacks of insanity to me.

But then, I'm just the mom waiting in the 10 degree weather outside in the car for 45 minutes AT 5:30 IN THE MORNING....

I had brought along a knitting project to keep me busy, but guess what?

It is pitch dark at 5:30 in the morning. Yes, I could have turned on the overhead light, but when you are working in size 3 needles and knitting a sock, the light from above does not cut it. So, next time I will make sure I have a book and a good book light.

The kids are out of school today for teacher in-service, but we have just been hanging around the house and relaxing. It's been nice. Eventually I am going to meander into the kitchen to try a molasses cookie recipe from a cookbook I picked up at the thrift shop in Newton, Kansas. When I go up every Wednesday to help at the yarn shop there, I always stop in at the thrift shop next door that is run by the Mennonite Church. I ALWAYS find good bargains. This time I found a great coat for myself that only cost $8, a copy of Mrs. Field's Great American Desserts for $3.50 and a 2003 copy of America's Test Kitchen cookbook for $3.50. I love the magazine that is based on this show and the recipes in this book are spectacular. I also like that they talk about the hows and whys of perfecting the recipes, then give their recipe. They have a molasses cookie that is going to grace our table tonight, along with a blondie recipe from the Mrs. Field's book. I love blondies--and it is hard to find the right recipe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Just a quick post

I really couldn't think of a catchy post title, so what you see is what you get.

Several of the goals I set for myself in 2009 were a carry over from 2008. Since I had not mastered them in 2008, I thought I'd give them more attention in 2009. Sometimes a habit takes a while to catch on. So, here are more goals from my list for 2009. Several of these might be in prior posts..sorry..not a big news day today.

1. Save at least 10% of our paycheck EVERY paycheck .

I had been doing this in 2008, but found that due to overspending, I'd dip into the savings and spend that--and sometimes more. Not good. I know it is just the first two weeks of 2009, but I am going to pat myself on the back for not overspending and dipping into savings. I put 10% away and have been very careful with the budget that I have outlined for myself. Not that I haven't been tempted--I did slip on a pretty big yarn sale splurge, but I've been really careful to curb any other spending that I usually do since I did go a little off track.

I am going to work on the 10% goal for the next two months, with the goal of increasing this to 20% each check. That will get us on the path to having the suggested emergency fund as per Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover.

2. Make 2 week meal plans and stick to them.

I follow a couple bloggers who faithfully write out and follow meal plans, so I know they work.

The advantages of a meal plan is that I have a chance to look at our weekly grocery sale ads, find any matching coupons and can save money by planning my menus around the sale ads. Although the ads come out weekly, I plan 2 weeks at a time off one ad. If I see anything that is too good to pass up in the next week's ad, I purchase it. However, I have found that the advantage of doing a two week meal plan and doing the two weeks shopping on one or two days is that I do not go to the store as often and that cuts out the possibility of impulse buys.

I love knowing exactly what I am going to prepare that day. No standing in front of the fridge trying to put together a meal when I am tired and not thinking clearly. That's how we end up with the ingredients for soup getting used up for a side dish, then having to go to the store..Before I leave the house in the morning, I look at the menu and pull out anything that has to thaw. Easy. I can also look at the next day to see if there is anything that can be done towards prep work for the next day's meal. We're having chili tomorrow, so I will be cooking the meat and making the chili in the crockpot after I finish posting this. Tomorrow the pot gets pulled from the fridge and we take out what we need.

Eventually I will start doing once a month cooking to have prepared entrees waiting in the fridge at least part of the month. I figure if we have even 15 meals made ahead of time and frozen, that is 15 meals for days that might be too busy for regular cooking. No fast food has to be bought if there is something more nutritious in the freezer.

Another aspect to saving faithfully is that we are looking into getting a freezer in the next month. We did get some Christmas $ from my in-laws, and put that towards the freezer, so we are closer.

The savings goal goes hand in hand with the meal planning goal.

3. Lose weight.

I know, I could have picked a more original goal, but this one is a real need. Let's just say I have a significant amount of weight that I need to lose. I have lost about 6 pounds to date, but am working on more aggressive weight loss. I am a snacker and that needs to change, or my activity level needs to get bumped up. Probably both. We recently bought a resistance weight station from a friend that was not using her station and I am going to make time at least 30 minutes a day to do a resistance workout. This will start Friday night. I figure I can keep up a 30 minute workout.

4. Get my house decorated.

We brought a couple new pieces of furniture into the house over the past couple weeks, and they are basically just sitting in the middle of the room obstructing traffic. I also have dining room chairs to recover soon. I will purchase the batting that goes under the chairs next payday since I did blow a little on my impulse yarn purchase. Hopefully this will remind me of what impulsive purchases mean- that something else has to be delayed if that money is blown.

At this point, there are only 4 really big and important goals I am working on, but they are significant goals that will definitely help our house run smoother. I know we are hearing a lot about the recession and the impact it is having on everyone's household, so I am trying to get to the point I should have already been at. As bad as this sounds, the recession has been a long time coming. Again we Americans got too "spend friendly", and as history shows, all good things bottom out eventually. I saw this in the 80's when the bottom fell out of the oil market. I lived in Enid, Oklahoma at the time and everything revolved around oil. Overnight the bottom fell out and businesses closed. Since the money from oil had stopped coming in, people lost jobs, houses were foreclosed on...pretty much the same thing that is happening now. It is scarier now since I am older and the reality is that now we have a house payment. I am thankful that we bought a house below what is "normal" (3 times your annual income was "suggested as normal") and we don't have any car payments at this point. Still, it is scary since one business failure can have a domino effect on others.

What are you doing in your household to weather the storm?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Additional Goal for 2009

This morning Hubby went out the door to go to work and discovered the center console light in his car had been left on (possibly by oldest who borrowed car while here?) and the battery was dead. He had to take the Neon. Normally we have three cars up and running, so that is not an issue. However, my van has been out of commission so now we are not exactly free wheeling. My van goes in the shop this week--I am really looking forward to getting that car back! This has left me thinking that we really need a newer and more dependable car.

We rented a Kia Rondo from Dollar recently to go to Iowa and I really enjoyed driving it, so that is what we are considering. We're considering ways to cut extras in the budget so we can just buy a newer car outright. I really don't want to be bogged down with a car payment right now.

However, we also have to get a couple other cars in the next two years (one for oldest so he has something there in Iowa and a car for the twins to share), so this is going to be interesting. One of the kids is going to end up driving the van, I'm sure.

My goals for 2009 are not set in stone at this point. There are a couple things I am looking at doing for myself, my family and our finances. I am reading all the finance and money management books I can get my hands on lately so that I can come up with something that fits our family and our needs.

I have started cutting out extras and trying to build up the $1,000 small emergency fund that is suggested by Dave Ramsey and am taking inventory of things we have here at the house that I can use to refresh and redecorate. I realized this week that we have a couple wood bookshelves in the garage that can be stripped and refinished for use in my bedroom along with a really neat chair that I picked up in Stillwater for free. Students living next door to my mother had thrown this heavy wood chair out when they moved. The cushions and support straps were completely gone, but the wood structure of the chair was perfect and all it will take is to strip the wood, prime it and a coat pf black enamel. There is a wood lip all around the seat of the chair, so I am going to either fit it with a wood piece to hold the new cushion, or I might even re-strap the chair like it was before. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. This month I am planning to start getting the stuff in our garage taken out of boxes and either put in the proper place or donated. The idea doe this is twofold: To get the garage cleaned out so we can put the cars in it and to be able to take stock of what we already have so we are not buying doubles.

This past week and the upcoming week we have had my grand nephew here. We are taking him for a little while to give my niece a break since she is having trouble with her third pregnancy. We take him back this weekend for at least a week, but will probably come get him after that if she needs more rest. I had forgotten what it takes to have a little one around the house! I also realize that I have gotten used to having a lot of independence, which is really curbed with little ones.

Well, lunch time beckons!

Good coffee and great friends to you and yours!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Christmas Trip to Tipton, Iowa

This Christmas I drove to Tipton, Iowa to pick up my oldest son and bring him back to Kansas for the Christmas holidays. As far as the budget, the costs involved pretty much sank it. After renting a car to go up and back twice, food, gas etc--it was pretty much a budget buster. However, I did get to go outside my comfort zone and got to see some pretty scenery. The town my son lives in is a small town with a lot of wonderful Victorian houses, which I will post pictures of later, and a wonderful downtown full of architectural charm. A lot of the stores are vacant, but the town is still charming, with very friendly residents. The building above was the City Hall at one time--I'm not sure of what it's original function was, but can't you just see a shop on the bottom level and lofts on the top floors? I did get to try the doughnuts at the Tipton Bakery and have to say, they beat the pants off Krispy Kreme in both taste and friendliness.

The building in the above picture is being renovated for a gallery and gelato cafe. I'm looking forward to visiting and seeing how it evolves. I love seeing new businesses start and hopefully more will follow. This town is so cute--I can just envision boutique style shops and galleries here. In combination with the awesome Victorian

Of course, one son had to pop his head in the picture about the time I snapped the shot. Say hi to Mark. Did I mention that it was 13 degrees outside? That's the reason for Mark's red face and frozen pose... Typical teenager, the lips kept moving...

Detailing on the old city hall building. Beautiful. Oh how I wish I had the money to invest in buying and restoring a couple of these buildings for business and residential purposes. They are so beautiful and have so much potential!!!

The view down the street. This is just one side. This town is so cute, I can see why my son loves it here. He is about 30 minutes from Iowa City, which contains a really good University, so we are hoping he decides to finish up college there.
As I said, the cost of going back and forth to Tipton sidelined our financial goals, but I do plan to pick it back up and renew my goals of being frugal and thrifty in 2009 in order to get us ahead and in line with my financial goals. Part of the plan involves reading the books by Dave Ramsey. I ordered "Total Money Makeover" and "Financial Peace" from Dave's website right before Christmas (he had them available for $10 each as opposed to $25 normal retail for each book). I also picked up the "Financial Peace Workbook" for the same price. I am going to read through Total Money Makeover first--that seems to be the one everyone swears by, then I will start implementing the program. I'll report on how well I do and whether this works for me. Believe me, if it works for me, it'll work for anyone!
Since it is January 3rd, I probably should post my goals for 2009:
1. Get $1,000 in the savings for an emergency buffer (this is as per Dave Ramsey). Preferably more, but I'll feel great at the first benchmark of $1,000.
2. Cut the grocery bill down. We spend an awful lot on food and dining out. Less than in the past, but it can still come down more.
3. Buy that freezer. I'm going to be on target for that by February. Throughout January I will be trying recipes from my freezer cooking guides and letting everyone decide which ones are keepers.
4. Use up the fabric and yarn stash in my closets. Seriously, I have enough fabric for SEVERAL quilts and lots of handknitted stuff. I need to slow down on buying more until I deplete a large portion of what I already have. I have a full sized quilt top partially assembled for the bed in the guest bedroom, it's time to get it assembled so I can get it machine quilted. I want top learn how to handquilt the smaller ones, or even machine quilt them myself--but anything bigger than a full size will have to be sent out to a person that has a long arm machine.
5. Figure out what creative endeavor I want to do to bring extra $ into our budget and get the proper training to get my own Etsy business up and running. I have a couple leads from things I'm interested in and have talents for, I just haven't done a business plan and examined all the things involved. The business plan will be forthcoming in February.

6. Go to the Iowa Writers Festival in Iowa City. This has been something I've wanted to do for quite a few years, but finances and travel kept me from it. Now that I have actually driven the route (my son live 30 minutes North of Iowa City), I know I can do it easily in the summer. I've already seen it in the winter when it is icing and the roads are bad. Been there, done that. No big deal. I just have to save $ to actually get there and the registration/class fees.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

OK-so 2008 has come and gone. How close to my goals did I get as far as getting the budget under control, using what I already have on hand as far as craft supplies and starting an Etsy business?

Ummmm. Not very.

But I do plan to stay on course in 2009 and actually formulate more of an action plan. This Christmas was the third Christmas in a row that the holidays kind of overwhelmed me. I didn't get any of the baking or candy making done that I usually get done. Actually I was just kind of wading around and not getting much done. I am not sure why I've had 3 years of getting overwhelmed. Maybe I need to examine my activities/goals and commitments and work towards simplifying.

Since I didn't get my normal holiday baking done, I have decided I am going to bake a dozen cookies on the 15th of each month and send to the people on my list that normally get home baked goodies from me at Christmas. I got an AWESOME cookie cookbook a couple weeks ago. I'll post the title later--I can't remember it at the moment and I seem to be planted in the chair...I'll probably start January's box with candy since I didn't do that either. See? I seem to have been on shut down mode this season. Maybe it was all the economic news or just my poor planning (which is more likely the case).

On the side, I am looking forward to the start of Simple Mom's 2009 book club. I bought a copy of the first book from the list "Your Money or Your Life" and have read ahead, but will go back when it starts and read each chapter and participate in the discussions online. I love the aspect of an online club---it fits my schedule and the books fit the theme I am trying to incorporate into my life. There are a couple other books I will be reading on my own such as two books in a series by Dave Ramsey ("Total Money Makeover" and "Financial Peace") that I have heard a lot of good things about.

As I sit here, my 2 1/2 year old great nephew is throwing a complete temper tantrum. We have him for a couple weeks since my niece is having complications in her pregnancy and he is a handful. It has been 13 years since my kids were this age and I have to say, toddlers are a lot of work. I'd forgotten how much. However we are working on getting him on a schedule and setting some rules. My niece gets overwhelmed with a 2 yr old and a 15 month old--not to mention she is going to have another one in 6 months--so my great nephew has been runny a little wild. The first couple days were a little wild since he tried to disassemble the house and had a few meltdowns, but he is learning there are rules. Not that he isn't testing them.....but that is what kids his age do. That is their job.

And he is doing very well at it!

Off the subject, I did get to go to Tipton, Iowa to pick up my oldest son. The nine hour trip there turned into over 10 hours since the roads in Missouri were iced over, but on the way back we had clear roads all the way through. After Christmas we had to take him back. The twins went with me so they could see the town where their brother lives. We did get a little later start, but since the weather was warmer, I had not anticipated any problems. But guess what you get when you get lots of melting snow and warm temperatures?


LOTS of dense fog. Actually it was fog from Des Moines clear up the interstate to the point where I was going 40 miles an hour. There were cars following behind semis that were flying, but since all I could see was less that 4 foot off the passengers headlight, I did not want to follow the rest of them. What happens if there is an accident up the road? With the lack of visibility, all the cars that were flying along following the headlight of the car in front of them would pile right into each other. Count me out on that action. The boys and I ended up navigating our way off the interstate to a Super 8 hotel in Newton, Iowa. We had my son's cat with us so I was afraid they would turn us down and we'd have to do plan B--sleep in the car. They were gracious enough to let us have a smoking room so the cat could come in. I was sooo thankful! We had originally tried to get into the parking lot of the Newton Inn that was directly off the interstate, but we couldn't find the frontage road in the dense fog and gave up. The Super 8 parking entrance was well lit, so that's where we went. I am going to make sure I email corporate to let them know how nice the staff was to us. We had a good nights sleep then left the next morning for the remaining 90 miles of the trip. By then the fog had faded and there was a little ice, but nothing that caused any problems since the road crews were apparently out on the interstate pretty early and the roads were clear.

As much as I loved visiting Iowa, Dorothy was right: There really is no place like home.