Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fort Kit {Day 6}

In searching for low-cost ideas for boys birthday gifts, I found an idea on Pinterest for a fort kit.  I looked at lots of different pins and gave this one my own flavor based on what I had on hand.  I've made two of these and they've varied a bit, but this is the one I have photos of, so here we go. 

Start with some sort of container (bucket, cloth bag, pillowcase, clear plastic zipper bag, sturdy tote, etc.).  Add some things that would make a fun fort.

Some ideas of what to include:
- bucket - can be inverted to be used as a step to reach a higher spot
- sheet - the bigger the better
- rope
- flashlight or headlamp
- clamps
- bungee cords
- clothespins
I find the sheets at Salvation Army for about a buck and sew a loop of nylon webbing to each corner to make it easier and sturdier to fasten.
 Add a tag explaining it a bit.
 Wrap it up! Or not. I just added some tissue and ribbon and called it good enough.
I think this is a gift that could be a lot of fun for kids and could totally be tailored to the recipient, too.  This is an easy gift to give for under $10.

What are your "go to" birthday gifts for boys?

Wrapping Paper Teacher Gift {Day 5}

It's that time of year when the gift list gets really long as we seek to show appreciation for many who invest in our lives, not the least of which are the teachers who take care to help our children grow.  But because the list gets so long, I'm always on the look-out for nice but inexpensive ideas for teacher gifts.  I came across this idea early in the year and was glad I had stocked up on nice wrapping paper in January for 50 cents a roll. 

I quickly made a tag and formatted the text in the shape of a tree and printed 2 per 8.5x11" sheet of cardstock.  I cut slits in the tag so the roll could fit through and it was done.  Because I wanted to give these before Thanksgiving so the teachers would have them to wrap Christmas gifts, I wanted the wording to indicate our thankfulness for all the work they do.  I also wanted to include tape with the paper, but I did this at the last minute (no surprise!) and didn't have the time or energy that day to take little ones to the store to get it. 

Cost: $.50 + 1/2 sheet of cardstock/gift

School teacher gifts are done for this Christmas.  I still need to find gifts for all the Sunday school teachers and nursery workers.  Any ideas?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Days to be Celebrated Bookmark {Day 4}

We are so blessed to be part of a large family so I thought it would be fun and helpful to make some bookmarks for each of the ladies listing all the birthdays and anniversaries in our family.  My sister did the work of confirming all the dates and making the list via e-mail.  Years were included so we'll know when someone is approaching a milestone birthday or anniversary.  I printed the list on cardstock I already had and added coordinating scrapbook paper for a couple different looks, then laminated them and put some ribbon at the top. To keep the ribbon from fraying I melted the ends over a flame. 

Cost: $.54 for laminating 6 bookmarks  (If have access to a Mardel, they have the most economical do-it-yourself laminating around.)

Super simple!  I'm glad to have one now hanging by our calendar for easy reference.

Crib Rag Quilt & Pillow {Days 2 & 3}

In November I wanted to challenge myself to get some projects done and use some supplies I already had on hand.  I saw the idea for a rag quilt made of strips on Pinterest and knew I'd love to make this for our littlest one.  We had plenty of receiving blankets on hand that were still in good shape, but since we're past that stage I took a handful of them and cut them into strips and used a couple layers for each section and used about half a twin sheet (from Salvation Army) for the back side.  I still had fabric left so she's getting a matching pillow, too.

She'll be getting these Christmas, though we'll put them away for awhile for safety reasons.

Cost:  around $3.50 (for the sheet used for the back + blanket binding purchased for 50% off at Hobby Lobby)

Now if I can just pull off handmade gifts for our four other kids in the next 20 days. I'm still holding out hope they'll all get finished in time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Decmeber Menu

It'll be a busy month with Christmas so my goal is to get a big shopping trip in this weekend and try to avoid crowded stores as much as possible throughout the rest of the month.  I'll be making a big list and checking it twice. 

1. Chicken noodle soup, bread, Cuties (dinner sweetly brought by friends)
2. Creamy chicken squash noodle bake
3. Pizza - We got a good carryout deal.  No one has much energy or good health for cooking here.
4. Spaghetti & meat sauce, rolls w/garlic butter
5. Pork roast, roasted potatoes, green beans
6. Egg casserole, scones, fruit
7. Pork chops, quinoa,
8. Beef fajitas, Spanish rice
9. Roast beef, mashed potatoes & gravy, vegetable
10. Creamy chicken & wild rice casserole, brown sugar glazed carrots
11. Beef pot pie
12. Pinto beans & rice w/ toppings
13. Homemade pizza, veggie tray
14. pineapple chicken, rice, vegetable
15. Baked ziti, garlic parmesan breadsticks, salad
16. Hamburger soup, cheddar biscuit bites
17. Barbacoa burritos w/black beans, sour cream, cheese, cilantro lime rice, salsa, guacamole, tortilla chips
18. Chicken pot pie, fruit salad
19. slow cooker garlic brown sugar chicken, rice, broccoli
20. Turkey soup (freezer) w/homemade noodles, rolls, fruit platter
21. Quinoa, steamed veggies & a bit of meat
22. Chili, cornbread
23. Taco salad
24. Chicken alfredo, fetticine, ceasar salad, sourdough bread
25. Vegetable beef soup, bread
26. Gourmet mac & cheese w/ham, green salad
27. Cobb salad
28. Hamburgers, fries, fruit salad
29. Meatballs, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetable
30. Leftover buffet - or maybe Chick-Fil-A with several coupons
31. New Year's Eve!  Cheese fondue w/bread, meatballs, veggies, tortilla chips - Chocolate fondue w/rice krispie bites, fruit, desserts & gingerale

lasagna soup
quesadillas w/beans
chicken salad sandwiches
pasta salad w/veggies, cheese & meat
snack lunch - meat, cheese, fruit, crackers, veggies
Christmas - spiral ham, mashed potatoes & gravy, green bean casserole, w.w. rolls,apple crisp & ice cream, gingerale & cranberry juice

Breakfast  - with yogurt and/or fruit
cold cereal
soaked oats w/berries
apple oatmeal
scrambled eggs
w.w. bread w/jam
w.w. pancakes
Christmas - cinnamon rolls, mandarins, sausage egg casserole

Baking, Sweets & Treats
ginger loaf
sugar cookies
oat fudge bars
chocolate dipped pretzel rods
cranberry bliss bars
french toast casserole, fruit & iced Good Earth tea (for our S.S. class on 12/9)
tortilla chips & creamy jalepeno artichoke dip (for a Christmas party)
cinnamon white chocolate popcorn?
caramel apple cider

What are you favorite Christmas meals and foods?  Around here, ginger ale and mandarin oranges are must-haves. 

children cooking this meal

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Season Interrupted

Well, that idea of doing a craft project each day for the month of November did not really materialize. I probably did somewhere between 10 and 15 projects, but just never posted about them.  I cooked and did laundry and homeschooled and we went away for 4 days.  In the meantime, our kitchen was a mess with lots of sewing stuff out.  I finally needed to just clear the island and put it all away for some peace (even if lots of island clutter is just shoved in a laundry basket for the time being).  And we've needed some island space for this.
taking care of the Great Flu of 2012

 One confirmed case of Influenza A + a few others with symptoms = Tamiflu for 6.   I don't think we'll be getting out this week, though I doubt that means I'll be up for lots of Christmas projects and decorating any further.  I have lots of thoughts swirling around in my head right now but most of them boil down to the need to clarify my primary priorities and let the extra stuff go. 

Here's to enjoying the season for what it is instead of being distracted by some picture-perfect (unrealistic) idea of what it should be.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bunk Bed Bag from Upcycled Overalls {Day 1}

I've always loved the sweetness of little boy overalls, but sadly our little boys aren't so little anymore so I was looking for a way to repurpose those overalls.  Our boys share a small room without much room for night stands or dressers so I cut the legs off of some overalls, sewed up the bottom seams and hung them on the bed rails.  These will be great for holding water bottles, flashlights, favorite books and little treasures. 

From this:

  To this:

Cost: $0

These would also work well hung on a closet rod to store small items or on a towel rod in a bathroom to store toiletries. 

Disclaimer:  Please don't use something like this on a crib or near an infant.  Please use your discernment and avoid this if you feel it presents a hazard to your child.

30 Days of Low-Cost Projects

In the interest of finishing what I've started and using what a have at my disposal to the greatest benefit, I'm challenging myself to do a low-cost/no-cost project each day for the month of November.  Maybe I'll start catching up on my good intentions along the way.  And perhaps this challenge will yield a few handmade Christmas gifts and a new appreciation for what I have.  I'm looking forward to the exercise in creativity and resourcefulness. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

November Menu & Giving Thanks

As I'm planning for our November meals I realize I've lost some a lot of the joy in serving my family through this continual task of cooking and cleaning up and shopping and planning. We've been doing well to eat at home relatively economically but no doubt about it, it has become a grind.  So I'll be working on my heart this month as I'm working with my hands to seek the blessing of these days and these potentially mundane tasks.  And no better time than in this season of Thanksgiving!

This month I'll give thanks for:
* plenty of food on the table, and in our pantry and freezers - God has provided
* the healthy faces that gather at our table to be nourished and trained
* the blessing of having a husband who will pitch in with cleaning up so my work is made lighter
* a kitchen that is amply equipped for preparing meals with ease - running water, a dishwasher, a great mixer and so much more - these are indeed gifts
* the special recipes of this season which add richness to our lives and the future memories of our children

In the shopping department I'm hoping to stock up on some seasonal sales, especially butter and sugar and hams and a couple turkeys.  We'll also continue with our Bountiful Baskets pick-up to keep things fresh and healthy. 

1. crispy buffalo chicken salad (inspired by one I've enjoyed a couple times at Mimi's Cafe)
2. chicken parmesan w/spaghetti, yellow squash
3. broccoli cheese soup, whole wheat rolls
4. savory chicken tenders, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
5. homemade pizza
6. chicken noodle soup, cheese biscuits
7. roast beef, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn
8. corn chowder, ham focaccia
9. eggs, sausage, raspberry muffins
10. beef stew, biscuits
11. Colorado white chili, chips, apples
12. shepherds pie
13. beef & broccoli, brown rice
14. pasta e fagioli, garlic breadsticks
15. steaks, baked potatoes, green vegetable
16. baked potato soup, crackers, raw veggies & dip
17. cheesy chicken pasta bake, green beans
18. chili, cornbread, raw veggies
19. rice bowls (beans, cheese, salsa, veg., sour cream, etc.)
20. tacos
21. sloppy joes, spaghetti squash, fruit salad
22. slow cooker garlic brown sugar chicken, rice, broccoli
23. pineapple chicken, rice, carrots
24. turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, mixed vegetables
25. Birthday dinner out?  Or at least take-out?

chicken salad sandwiches
lentil soup w/added veggies & pasta
pasta salad w/ham or turkey
snack lunch (fruit, meat, cheese, crackers, veggies)
pintos, rice & cheese

pumpkin coffee cake
scrambled eggs w/ swiss chard, ham & cheese
whole wheat cinnamon rolls
soaked oatmeal w/fruit
green smoothies, hard-boiled eggs
cinnamon oat zucchini muffins

Baking, Sweets & Treats:
whole wheat bread
apple crisp w/ice cream
caramel apple cider
caramel corn
chewy ginger cookies

Dinners in bold are the meals we'll intentionally have a child help with.

What are you cooking up this month?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October Menu Plan - Better Late Than Never

We've taken a big trip this month to Canada in celebration of my grandmother-in-law's 90th birthday.  We had a great time and were blessed to be hosted so generously by my in-laws so I've not done much cooking of late.  But we're back to reality here so I'm trying to jump back in to home life and making some decent meals for the rest of this month.  I also have the opportunity to get away to a retreat so I tried to include some options which my husband can easily make since I haven't had time and wasn't organized enough to stock the freezer with meals for my absence.  We'll continue with our big kids helping to prepare and clean up one dinner during the month.   As I made this menu I included as much as possible from ingredients we already have on hand and that will clear out our freezers as I need to make room for 80 lbs. of chicken which will be picked up at the end of this month.  Time to get eating!

1. beef burritos
2. creamy chicken wild rice soup
3. roast beef, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn
4. spaghetti & homemade sauce
5. beef stew, biscuits
6. take-and-bake pizza (thanks to a gift card)
*7. sweet & sour meatballs, rice, green beans
*8. whole wheat pancakes, bacon, fruit
*9. BBQ chicken sandwiches, carrots
10. chicken noodle soup, biscuits
*11. pizza (one cheese, one ground beef)
12. chicken pot pie
13. salad with chicken & feta

scrambled eggs, toast, fruit
quesadillas, carrots
egg salad sandwiches
ham sandwiches

cold cereal (thanks to Grandma)
homemade granola
soaked oatmeal w/berries
pumpkin whole wheat muffins

cranberry oat bars
whole wheat bread

caramel corn

*Kid's choice = they make or help with the meal they chose.

Our grocery budget may be a bit off this month as we've made some bulk purchases with the chicken coming and 150 lbs. of wheat purchased on our way home which together account for around $200.  We'll just have to see how it all plays out.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September Menu Plan & Kids in the Kitchen

Our monthly meal planning is working for us right now and helps us get enough variety in our meals.  I still do grocery shopping or picking up a load of produce at least weekly, but planning this way has certainly helped me cut down on trips to the store.  This month we'll be implementing something new, putting kids to work in the kitchen.  I've asked my three school-aged kids what meal they want me to put on the menu plan and they will help prepare that meal when the time comes.  We're also doing one kitchen time each week as part of our homeschooling.  So far we've made whole wheat bread and egg noodles.  I'm hoping as the year progresses I'll be able to just give them a simple recipe and assist instead of leading that time of work in the kitchen. We'll also be taking some vacation time this month, but I'll still be cooking.  :)

One of the goals for this month is to primarily use the food that we have in our home so I have room in our freezer for a case of lean ground beef from Zaycon. We did get a 1/4 of beef in August which included a number of packages of ground beef, but I think we'll need more to get us through until the next opportunity to get beef from one of these 2 sources.

Dinners - served with fruits or vegetables
1. beef fajitas, corn on the cob
2. baked potato bar - chili, cheese, sour cream, etc.
3. vegetable beef soup
4. hamburgers, chips, fruit salad
5. beer brats,
6. pepper brat skillet w/pasta
7. pepperoni pizza, green salad
8. sweet & sour meatballs, rice, peas
9. taco salad
11. gourmet mac & cheese {+2 pans to freezer}
12. creamy chicken wild rice soup
13. beef stew, cheddar breadsticks
14. shredded chicken sandwiches & side to share - picnic w/friends
15. cheeseburger pizza, green salad
16. burritos (beef, brown rice, cheese, peppers)
17. green chili w/chicken & corn, tortilla chips
18. spaghetti & meat sauce, garlic bread
19. pesto chicken bowties
20. omelets, fruit cups, blueberry scones
21. chicken corn chowder
22. balsamic chicken pasta salad
23. whole wheat ham & cheese pockets {lots extra to freeze for friends fighting a hard fight}
24. baked rigatoni
25. chicken pot pie {+1 extra for friends}
26. steak, roasted potatoes
27. beef stir fry, rice
28. grilled sandwiches, soup
29. protein pancakes, fruit
30. Clean out the fridge, eat out or take-in

Lunches - with fruit and/or vegetables
lentil soup w/biscuits
turkey, ham, chicken salad or egg salad sandwiches
snack lunch
brown rice veggie skillet
baked mac & cheese 

Breakfast - with homemade yogurt and/or fruit
soaked oats w/fruit
skillet hash
cream of wheat
scrambled eggs w/chopped swiss chard & cheese
whole wheat cinnamon rolls
blueberry zucchini whole wheat muffins

How do you keep yourself motivated for planning and cooking?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Zucchini Fudge Cake

This recipe compliments of my Aunt Gerri.   I've made this before but remembered it this week as I was trying to use up a few things...frozen zucchini and organic shortening from a friend and cocoa from another friend.  Please note this yields 2 cakes.

Zucchini Fudge Cake

4 eggs

2 1/4 Cups sugar
  - I use a bit less
2 t. vanilla

¾ c. margarine, softened
- I usually use butter but substituted some Spectrum shortening this week
3 c. flour

½ c. unsweetened cocoa

2 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

1 cup buttermilk
- I used a cup of regular milk with 1-2 T. vinegar added
3 c. shredded unpeeled zucchini
- I used 4 C. this week with good results


1 c. margarine softened
- I used butter
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar

½ c. unsweetened cocoa

1 T. vanilla

½ c. milk

In a large bowl, beat eggs until fluffy. Add sugar gradually; beating until mixture is thick and lemon colored. Beat in vanilla and margarine. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and soda. Stir ½ of dry ingredients into egg mixture. Add buttermilk; mix. Add remaining flour mixture, beat until smooth. Fold in zucchini. Divide batter into 2, 9x13 greased and floured pans. Bake at 350˚ for 20-25 minutes or until top springs back when gently pressed. Cool completely. Mix frosting by combining all ingredients in a large bowl beat until creamy. Frost cakes.


Friday, August 10, 2012

One Step Toward Eating Better: Bountiful Baskets

Back in June I started contributing to a co-op called Bountiful Baskets.  They deliver every other week in our area and it has been such a blessing to us to be really getting our fill of fresh fruits and vegetables.  We have been very pleased with the way it works and with everything we have gotten so far.   One conventional basket is just $15 and provides enough produce to almost fill a good sized laundry basket.  After a time or two I increased our order to 3 baskets (the maximum) to push myself to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diet and to greatly decrease what I am buying from a store.

3 Conventional Baskets + 1 cute helper
This past week's delivery  (ordering 3 baskets) included:
3 heads romaine lettuce
3 green cabbage
3 melons - Galia? - new to me, but they tasted like honeydew
3 6oz. packages blueberries
3 avocados
28 red potatoes
20 bananas
3 bags cherries
19 tomatoes - organic
12 peaches
15 mangoes

3 baskets @ $15 + $1.50 processing/order fee = $46.50 for everything above.

What I love about Bountiful Baskets:
- Good quantity, quality, variety and freshness make it seem like a good value for our family
- When I buy more fruits and vegetables, we eat more fruits and vegetables.  Imagine that!
- We are getting more variety than I used to buy at the store because I was always just buying the basic things that are always cheap and whatever was on a great sale that week, but passing on lots of other stuff.
- The kids get excited to see what I come home with each time. And they have been more willing to eat their veggies.
- We've been able to greatly increase our produce consumption without increasing our grocery budget.
- The add-ons we have tried have been good, too.  We've gotten about an 18 lb. box of Rainier cherries for $25 and packs of 5 loaves of sourdough bread for $10.  Every ordering cycle they have different extras to choose from if you want, though I understand that the extra items are often sold out fast. Some of the extras I've seen are 9-grain bread, whole wheat bread, granola, Asian veggie pack, Mexican veggie pack, box of plums, box of mangoes, box of strawberries, box of pineapple and box of blueberries. The extra produce offers will vary based on what is in season.
- There is no commitment.  If I want to skip a pick-up week or stop ordering altogether at any time, I can without penalty.
- You never know what you are going to get.  This keeps cooking a little bit more interesting and challenges me to use what we have in new ways. So far, so good.

Challenges & Considerations:
- You never know what you are going to get.  This makes it more of a challenge with menu planning and shopping for my other groceries.  Now I just need to pick up Bountiful Baskets first and then do my other shopping so it all works out.  Each time it is a different combination of types of produce so you can't count on getting your favorites or avoiding your dislikes.  So far we've been able to use it all up.
- All that fresh produce takes a lot of room (because I buy 3 baskets) and we don't have a big fridge.  So now I really work to have the fridge cleaned out and orderly before I go for pick-up.
- The pick-up time is early on a Saturday morning.  Truthfully, I'd rather sleep in.  But who I am kidding?!  Days of sleeping in are already so few and far between.  And being in the car in the quiet of the morning alone is pretty rare, too, so that's a bonus.
- Volunteering at your site is even earlier.  Since this is a co-op, volunteering at your site is part of the deal and is expected at least every 6 times you pick up.  But you do get to pick an extra piece of produce from what is left once baskets are filled when you volunteer.
- You've got to be on the ball.   They only allow 20 minutes after your pick-up time to get there to get your order and then your order is forfeited.  They'll be donated and you won't get your money back.  Also, ordering is only open between noon on Monday and midnight on Tuesday.  I have always ordered close to noon on Monday, but friends have tried to order in the late afternoon on Monday and haven't been able to order for their preferred site or for the extras they wanted. 
- I've noticed a greater weekend workload in the kitchen on Bountiful Basket pick-up weeks because of the washing, cutting, etc.
- You've got to be strategic in using things as they are freshest.  We haven't had anything go to waste, but I have been careful to use the things with the shortest shelf life first and save the hardier stuff for the second week (potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onions, apples, etc.).  So we use the berries and cucumbers and ripe fruit first and go from there.  You could also prep and freeze what you can't use in a timely manner, but so far we haven't needed to do that.
- They also offer an organic box for $25 instead of $15, but for where we're at right now, I'm putting quantity and price above making sure everything is organic.
- Most of the produce is not going to be local, but probably as local as what you're going to find at your mainstream grocery.  If you have more leeway with finances, joining a CSA may be a better way to go.
- Consider how you'll get all the produce home.  When I order 3 baskets, I need the stroller to haul it all back to my car.  If you do the conventional basket, you need to bring your own basket or bags to transfer the produce into to get it home. 
- If you order extras, you need to inspect them before you sign for them and pick them up.  If they aren't up to your standard, you can get a credit, but only if you refuse them at the site, not if you get them home and later realize the quality wasn't as good as you had hoped.

The information on the website is extensive, so if you are interested, be sure to read all of it.

What are your best sources for fresh produce?

$10 Dresser Alternative

With three boys sharing one modestly sized bedroom, space is certainly at a premium.  A couple months ago our youngest son moved out of a crib and into a twin bed, leaving even less floor space.  His dresser/changing table was also a bit tall and I was concerned about the risk of him trying to climb on it and tip it onto himself, so we sold it.  My stop-gap solution is a few bins set on top of his brothers' dresser.  This won't win any decorating awards, but it suits our needs and it didn't cost a dime since I was able to find the supplies around our home.  1 bin for tops, 1 bin for bottoms, 1 bin for socks & pajamas.  I simply connected the crates with one bungee cord on the front and one bungee cord on the back.

3 file crates + 2 bungee cords = good enough for us

If you don't have these things around your house, I've seen file crates for $3 each at this time of year and the bungees were $1 for 2 at the Target dollar spot.

What have you repurposed lately?

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Month of Doing More with Less - Week 4

Week 4
Day 1/July 26 - no purchases

Day 2/July 27 - We splurged at the end of the week with a take-out pizza special, homemade caramel corn and a late bedtime thanks to the opening ceremony for the Olympics.  A fun family night was had by all.
Dominos - 5 medium pizzas (providing plenty of leftovers for another easy meal this weekend)

Day 3/July 28
Costco - 4 gallons milk, 3 lbs. bananas
World Market - 3 lunch containers for packed school lunches, 2 bottled fancy sodas for an at-home date night, 1.5 lbs. coffee beans, 2 pkgs. candy  - None of these things were urgent needs, or even true needs at all, but I had a $10 coupon expiring the next day.

Day 4/July 29 - no purchases

Day 5/July 30
Bountiful Baskets order - 3 baskets

Day 6/July 31 - no purchases

Day 7/August 1
I was so weary and discouraged today.  I even cried.  I had committed to getting together with girlfriends, but had not realized just how expensive it was to eat at the restaurant which had been selected. I looked at the menu online and saw the prices a couple hours before and considered not going.  I ended up going after eating beans and rice at home, then ordered a lemonade and dessert.  And the total with tip still came to $14. Ugh!  When I consider that I can feed our whole family, diaper our little ones and keep the household running on $14 a day or less, I see that it is such a waste to eat out.  But I didn't feel like there was any way to bow out at the last minute.  And the fellowship was good.  But I learned my lesson and declined a similar situation set for next week and a home sales party set for later this week.  I think it is better just to not go, than to go and feel stressed or awkward.  I try to decline graciously and don't mention the reason.  We simply can't afford it.
Tucanos Brazillian Grill - strawberry lemonade & brownie sundae
Whole Foods -  2 - 32 oz. bottles of concentrated castile soap for some of our kids with sensitive skin (about 1/2 the normal price & the lowest price I've ever seen on this product)

Week 1 purchases - $172.44
Week 2 purchases - $165.87
Week 3 purchases -  $35.48
Week 4 purchases - $132.60
Total for the month = $506.39

Observations from the month:
- I found that once we had already missed the goal I had set for the month, it was much easier just to let more purchases slide through, which emphasizes the benefit of using cash.  When it is gone, it's gone.  But I didn't make getting to the bank at the beginning of the month a priority and used our debit card from the get-go.
- Sometimes I feel I can justify going ahead and spending beyond the budget because timing is everything.  If I wouldn't have ordered from Bountiful Baskets this week, we wouldn't had been able to have our load of produce this weekend.  Yes, I could go to various stores and find decent deals on produce, but that doesn't seem worth the time, energy and gasoline to me.
- In talking with my husband, we came to the conclusion that this month was not that much different than any other month for us.  Most of the time we are trying to spend as little as possible. I've read that when you budget there is freedom to spend. Either we are not faithful enough to the budget we set, or the budget we have just doesn't cover that much, because I'm not feeling that freedom right now.
-  $500/month for food, personal care and household items is probably a reasonable amount for us (family of 7) with careful shopping.  That amount is higher than I want it to be, but going much lower would be pretty difficult.  {Sigh.}
- I'm going to shoot for $375 for August again because we still have a good amount of pantry and freezer goods stocked and we need to build some cushion for the bulk beef purchase that will happen later in August or early September.
- We are committed to living within our means, but struggling to find the balance with enjoying life now, making good experiences and memories with our kids, and not letting our finances put limitations on every decision. 

What works for you for living well on less?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

August Menu

Monthly menu planning has been working well for me in this season, so I'll keep on with that. For August I'll be once again using what is in the freezer and pantry.  Thanks to the generosity of friends, I really didn't make a dent in the pantry or freezer stock in July at all and we'll need room in the freezer for the 1/4 of beef which should be ready this month.  I like to make a list of meals for the month without designating days so we can adapt to changing schedules, energy levels and stock and use produce from our Bountiful Baskets contributions while it's still at its freshest.

Dinner - served with vegetables and/or salad
1. BLTs
2. Black beans & brown rice w/sour cream & cheese
3. Pepperoni pizza
4. Chili & cornbread
5. Italian sausage w/angel hair pasta & sauce sourdough bread
6. Breakfast for dinner - chicken sausage, scrambled eggs, blueberry muffins
7. Gourmet macaroni & cheese w/bacon
8. Ham & pineapple pizza
9. Chicken stir fry, rice
10. Rotisserie chicken (made by Costco), mashed potatoes & gravy
11. Chicken soup (homemade noodles), cheese rolls
12. Garlic pork loin roast, roasted potatoes
13. Green beans w/bacon, brown rice
14. Omelets, raspberry scones
15. Barbacoa burritos
16. Beef pot roast, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans
17. Taco salad
18. Hamburgers, chips, baked beans
19. Creamy chicken wild rice soup, biscuits
20. Hot dogs, macaroni salad
21. Chicken pot pie
22. Vegetable beef soup
23. Sweet & sour meatballs, brown rice, stir fry vegetables
24. BBQ pork sandwiches, potatoes, corn
25. Potluck - bring tea & a side dish or sandwich rolls
26. Date night - hooray for free babysitting!
27. Sloppy joes
28. Spaghetti & meat sauce
29. Pork stir fry, brown rice
30. Clean out the fridge, eat out or take-in

Lunch - served with fruit and vegetables
Lentil soup, bread
Pasta with tomato basil soup & cheese
Chicken salad sandwiches
Ham sandwiches
Egg salad sandwiches
Snack lunch (cheese, meat, fruit & veg, crackers, etc.)

Breakfast - served with fruit and/or homemade yogurt
English muffin bread w/jam
Pancakes w/cherry syrup
Homemade granola
Yogurt/granola/fruit parfaits
Egg sandwiches on English muffin bread
Soaked oatmeal w/fruit

Baking, Sweets & Treats
Whole wheat bread - 1 batch/week
Oat fudge bars
Berry or apple pie
Strawberry rhubarb crisp
Chips w/homemade salsa
Key lime bars
Oatmeal raisin cookies
Pudding & graham cracker trifle

1. Keep our grocery/household goods/diapers expenses to $375 or less (not including bulk beef purchase).
2. Make room for beef in the chest freezer.
3. Eat well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Month of Doing More with Less - Week 3

Week 3

Day 1/July 19
No shopping today. A friend had given us a can of lentils so I whipped it into a soup tonight with garlic, onions, broth, and a can of rosemary oregano tomatoes.  Quite tasty with homemade rolls.  The rushed dinner time and the promise of pudding for dessert probably didn't hurt in getting the kids to eat it, either.

Day 2/July 20
Posted 9 things on Craigslist and 2 have already sold. I'm glad to be freeing up some space around here and generating some funds for our curriculum.

My husband met with our insurance agent to review our policies and was able to increase our coverage for only a few dollars more than what we had been paying.  He inquired about a cash discount, but they don't offer that, so we'll be happy to take the credit card points.
Humbled and blessed by the mail today.  Thankful!

Day 3/July 21
I rose early to volunteer at our Bountiful Baskets site.  3 conventional baskets this time yielded 4 cantelope, 5 bunches broccoli, 3 bags black grapes, 13 ears red sweet corn, 3 lbs. carrots, 3 lbs. strawberries, 3 - 6oz. packages raspberries, 8 English cucumbers, 15 plums, and 3 living butter lettuce.  The total for this portion of the order was $46.50.  I also added 5 loaves of sourdough ($10) and approx. 18 lbs. Rainier cherries ($25).  I contributed for this on Monday, so that expense came from last week's tally.  Our fridge is now very packed! 
Safeway - ham and turkey for sandwiches

Sold another 3 items today.  Clearing out what we no longer need plus some extras funds is a win-win in my books.

I'm thankful for health insurance and that we had the option of urgent care vs. an ER visit tonight.  Our little guy needed staples after taking a tumble on the coffee table.   I'm also thankful for a steam cleaner.  That $100 purchase many years ago has certainly paid for itself.  :)

Day 4/July 22
Missed church due to a child's sore throat and wanting to protect our little guy's head from rambunctious play at the nursery.
Target - 16 oz. coffee creamer, 11 notebooks, nail polish, ream of paper, 8 boxes crayons, 2 6-ct. glue sticks, 4 manual pencil sharpeners, 4 pads drawing paper, box of pasta, gummy bears, 8 erasers, 2 sets flash cards, nail clippers.  Many of these items may make it into Operation Christmas Child boxes or last minute birthday party gifts.

Day 5/July 23 - no purchases today

Day 6/July 24
This month I've been trying to use up the bits and pieces that we in the fridge and freezer (condiments, little bits of meats, one of this and one of that) as well as the bathroom.  I'm not sure how we've ended up with so many little hotel soaps and shampoos, but I've been using them up which seems to be freeing up some space and reducing clutter.

Day 7/July 25
We were out to the gym today and for a quick errand and drove through Chick-Fil-A on the way home.  The sandwiches were free with a food bank donation. 
Chick-Fil-A - 5 sandwiches, 2 large fries to share, 1 Dr. Pepper (coupon)
$3.97 + food donation

Tonight we were given lots of food from sweet friends who are moving away soon. Lots of frozen fruit, canned chili, oils, baking supplies, shortening, canned goods, chicken, tea and a lot more.  We could probably eat for a week to 10 days just on what they gave us tonight.  Such a blessing!  I am again humbled and grateful for God's provision for us, right down to the little details of life. We've been out of regular white flour for a few weeks and I was considering purchasing a big bag of brown rice and we were out of meats, and those things were among the bags of groceries we received. 

Week 1 purchases - $172.44
Week 2 purchases - $165.87
Week 3 purchases -  $35.48
Total after week 3 = $373.79 of $375

This week:
- I felt a sense of accomplishment with getting dinner on the table early each evening that our kids attended VBS. Our time to get out the door was very limited, but we did it!  Hooray!
- We've still been eating well with lots of fresh produce.
- We committed to getting a 1/4 of beef which will be ready sometime in August.  We had not been preparing for this large purchase, but we're thankful for the opportunity to get good meat closer to the source at a good price.
- I still did not defrost the freezer, but we'll continue eating down the freezer and I'll need to defrost it before we fill it with beef in August.
- We had some challenges in the parenting department with a child who is unable unwilling to keep their room clean.  We ended up removing almost every last thing from that room for a time and have been taking the time to go through the stuff which will be allowed back in.  This process has made me realize the true excess of this American life.  I don't think our kids actually have an excessive amount of toys or clothes compared to their peers, but it is just.too.much.stuff.   Sometimes I think it would be easier if we had a play room, or more than one living space.  But the problem remains, and I'm owning it.  We simply need to live well in the space we have, even if that means getting rid of more. 

Goals for Week 4:
- Finish the challenge without going over...too much. I know I will need to spend more than $1.21 which remains in the budget I set.  Needs: milk & produce co-op order  / Wants: Dominos $3.99 pizzas
- Finally get our school shelf sorted out and organized for the coming school year.
- Make a skirt from a dress.
- Take a full load of stuff to Goodwill.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Month of Doing More with Less - Week 2

Week 2

Day 1/July 12
My husband stopped at Costco on the way home for the needed spacer for an inhaler from the pharmacy.  Yikes!  That came to $51, with a discount.  The good, healthcare was not part of this limited spending challenge.  The bad, whether it is part of this challenge or not, that money is gone, gone, gone.  He also picked up more prints for the passport project.
Costco - 3 prints

Today we also opened up a box of home supplies and toiletries which my in-laws generously sent us from Melaleuca.  The products are very nice, but not what we could afford on a monthly basis.  We especially like the the laundry supplies, soaps and multi-purpose cleaners.  We're thankful for this gift.

Day 2/July 13

Dressing like a cow for free food?  Yes, indeed.  Thanks, Chick-Fil-A!  But before that we went to the gym, and then the grocery store.  Yes, with 5 kids.  By providential timing, we were at the grocery store where Starbucks was also offering free energy drinks.  That was very handy since I was thirsty after my workout and the kids had been tearing up the gym, too, and it was noon and we were just beginning our shopping.  I made the list and pulled out my coupons the day before, but it still took too long to navigate the store.  And they there was some mix-up in that once I had swiped my card, for an amount that seemed way too high, the cashier called me back to give me a refund for the value of the coupons I had handed over.  Except none of the manufacturer coupons had doubled, and none of the mailer coupons made it into that refund, either.  But what proof do I have to stand on?  Anyway...letting that $5 go.  Had I been there without children, I could have pulled aside and gone over the receipts right then and there, but I just couldn't manage that with the kids this time.

King Soopers -toothpaste, shampoo, leave-in conditioner, 3 tubs flushable wipes, 3 packs baby wipes, 2 jumbo packs Pull-Ups, 1 jumbo pack diapers, 4 pkgs. chicken sausage, 3 cream cheese, cilantro, radishes (my girl's request when I was making the list), 2 jalepenos, 3 dozen eggs, 4 Propel waters, 1 Sunny D, 1 bag pretzel Goldfish, 1 pkg. girl stuff
I'm growing increasingly annoyed with normal grocery stores (too many choices, more difficult to navigate with many children, needing to pay so much attention to every detail to get the lowest price, etc.) and favoring Bountiful Baskets and Costco more and more.

Day 3/July 14
No shopping today. There was victory in making a frugal lunch for the family to be consumed in the 20 minutes they were home between activities.
Day 4/July 15
We stopped by the store on the way home from church to conserve gas and time.  Ice cream cones after lunch at home sure hit the spot.  By my calculations, 6 of us could enjoy a treat of ice cream for less than 1 serving of Cold Stone.  I think I need to plan a treat each week or so since we are not going out. We are pretty open about economics here and took the time to explain the comparative value to our kids. I also put a bunch of chicken breasts in the crockpot this morning before getting out the door and served shredded BBQ sandwiches for lunch and chicken pasta salad for dinner, with enough chicken for a couple more meals in the next few days.  I need to do this more often to make meal prep more manageable while still being frugal.   For breakfast we had cold soaked oats (oatmeal, yogurt, milk, mango, raspberries, honey) which is becoming a preferred breakfast because everyone likes it, I can mix it up and stick it in the fridge the night before and there is no work in the morning. We change up the fruit based on what we have on hand.
Safeway - hamburger buns, (3) 1.75 qt. ice cream, 1 gallon ice cream

Today's sermon was from Matthew 6:19-21.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (ESV)
In discussing it later at home with my husband we are as prone to greed as folks with far more.  It is not so much the actual stuff others own but the ease with which it seems they can carry out their lives in regards to money and the experiences they can pursue. When eating out is not an option, when we have to plan how and when basic purchases can happen, when outings become exhausting because I am combining many errands to save gas, it can be discouraging.  I confess that my heart has been hardened and I have not been exercising gratitude and that I have coveted ease when I should be embracing hard work. Dear Lord, change my heart!

Day 5/July 16
It was an expensive start today as we applied for 4 new/renewed passports.  Hooray!  The postal worker didn't question the homemade passport photos.  I ended up using the State Department's sizing tool, saved each image to our computer, then put the 4 images into a collage with a random photo in the middle to get the necessary size on a 4x6" print.

To make the most of the gas used to get to the post office, we also went to the Y.  We already pay a fixed rate per month, so we are trying to get more use out of it.  Sometimes I have to chuckle at the chaotic and non-efficient state of this crazy life or I might cry.  We pulled into the parking lot and I fed our sweet babe.  In we went and she required a change just as soon as I had checked the little kids in.  I picked her up again and she spit all over me.  Then I checked another child in and took the older two to get oriented in the fitness room, still wearing my lovely spit-up shirt.  The kids and I worked out and I went to pick up the other 3.  The staff picked her up out of a swing and discovered a massive blow-out.  10 wipes, a new outfit and a diaper later, we were good to go.  But not so fast.  1 mile down the road a child remembered he had forgotten his watch at the facility.  Back we go.  With great tension in the decision I opted to leave the children in the car for 1 minute to retrieve the watch rather than unload and reload them all again which would have easily taken another 15 minutes.  With all of that behind us, it was all I could do not to find the nearest drive-through for lunch on the way home.  Leftovers from the fridge have never been so satisfying.

Bountiful Baskets ordered today - 3 baskets, 5 loaves sourdough, approx. 18 lbs. Rainier cherries.
With almost 5 full days to go, the only produce we have left are some grapes, a few nectarines, 1/2 head of romaine and some potatoes, and that was with ordering 2 baskets last time.  I'm glad we're eating lots of produce, but I wonder if ordering 3 baskets will lead to waste.  I'm using this next pick-up as a trial (and hoping there isn't too much squash included this time).

I'll need to be at the top of my game this week with dinners as we have commitments every night.

Day 6/July 17
The children and I enjoyed a lovely morning at one of our favorite regional parks with friends.  The gas getting there was an expense, but beyond that, a free outing.
I had some time out this evening with only our baby so  I did a quick erran.  We need to provide 1 ream of paper and a supply fee for each of our school age children who attend a charter school program once a week.  If they were going full-time I'm pretty sure I would be overwhelmed with the supply lists these days.
Staples - 2 reams of paper, 3 composition notebooks with cool covers for my pupils, 3 large paper cover journal books, 3 small paper cover journal books, 2 packages of tab dividers.
$22.55 (-11.98 rebate on the paper) = $10.57

Day 7/July 18
The fridge is quite bare now.

It now contains a small amount of cheese, 2 gallons milk, condiments, homemade yogurt, limited produce (onions, cilantro, radishes, limes), eggs, leftovers, cream cheese, homemade salsa. We quickly stopped at the Costco pharmacy tonight and picked up a few essentials while we were there.
Costco - 4 gallons milk, 2 lbs. sharp cheddar,
$12.89 (+$6.18 for a 32ct. Dr. Pepper from my allowance...for the sake of honesty)

Today we rehung a clothesline and put the cloth diapers out to dry.  I did go buy diapers this week, but we've been using a lot of cloth diapers, too.

Week 1 purchases - $172.44
Week 2 purchases - $165.87
Total after Week 2 = $338.31 spent of $375

This week:
- I feel a little discouraged about how much has been spent so far, but it simply takes quite a bit of food to feed a family of our size.  We could certainly live and eat on less, but I'm not sure how much lower we want to go. There is something about not having good food in the house which makes one feel deprived.  And that then backfires because then we are more susceptible to caving in and going out to eat, which has defeated the whole purpose of saving money.
- I will be trying not so shop in the coming weeks, which should be made easier by having so much fresh produce which we'll pick up on Saturday. I do anticipate another produce order at the end of the month, though.
- I haven't reached any of the goals I set last week, but photos have been taken to list some excess items we have.
- Good accomplishments have been taking and printing the passport pictures for 4 of our kids, eating at home even with very rushed dinner times and evening commitments, and getting back to using cloth diapers part of the time.

Goals for Week 3:
- List 10 items for sale.
- Defrost and inventory deep freeze.
- Organize our living room shelving unit.
- Start a gratitude journal.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Birthday Celebrations on Small Budgets

I marvel at the moms I know who give great themed birthday parties year after year and I truly appreciate that my children are included in those celebrations.  But as I'm getting worn out older and wiser, I realize I'm not the gal that is naturally able to pull off such events.  And that's okay.  I'll try to embrace who I am and most of all, enjoy my children, on their birthdays.  Sometimes when we have had parties I spent so much time and energy on the party itself that I feel like the birthday child got the leftovers of my attention.  I also realized that as a child I never had a big birthday party with friends and I haven't been in any way scarred from that.  As our family has grown, simple celebrations seem to make more sense for us.   But that doesn't mean we don't celebrate.  Instead, I'm trying to build in traditions that I know I can execute consistently for each child's birthday.  Here are some components of our birthday celebrations.

Snapping a photo of the birthday child by their gifts with their name and age in Scrabble tiles. Our birthday spot has become the corner of our kitchen next to our china cabinet.

Hanging the birthday banner.  I made a birthday banner a couple years ago using scrapbook paper and our home printer.  I chose an aqua blue and a font that could work well for a boy or girl.  Then I laminated each letter at Mardel.  {Tip: In our area, Mardel has the best price on laminating at 25cents/linear foot, and their machine is about 3' wide, making laminated crafty or educational things totally economical.} We hang the banner on the finials of our curtain rods across the living room windows. The banner is hung on a long ribbon or string appropriate to the child (girly or boyish trying to match the cake or napkins) with clothespins.  And once the birthday week is over, we take it down, put away the ribbon to use again and store the laminated letters in a ziploc bag until the next birthday. It takes no space at all in our kitchen cabinet.

Serving the child their dinner and treat or cake of choice.  I can usually make these from items we have normally stocked in our panty and freezer, but if not, I'm willing to buy a couple ingredients to accommodate their requests.   Depending on our grocery budget that month, I might give them a choice of 3 or 4 different kinds of cake or dessert which I know I already have the supplies for.

Using what we have to decorate the cake or make the atmosphere more festive.  Small toys washed well are a fun addition to an otherwise plainly frosted cake. Legos, miniature figures, Little People,  letter blocks, etc. are easy to incorporate. Bright paper napkins (often from Target clearance or the big packs from IKEA), drinks served in fancier glasses, fresh flowers set out, balloons blown up or a colorful tablecloth, add a little punch to the birthday dinner.

Wrapping gifts up nicely with basic supplies.  I never run out to buy wrapping supplies for a specific event, but keep a reasonable supply of paper and bags and ribbons on hand which can be used for almost any need. I usually replenish the supply of wrapping paper after Christmas when it is drastically discounted and go for the colors and prints I can use all year, solid red, silver, gold or kraft paper and plaids or prints that are not Christmasy when paired with a contrasting ribbon.

Writing homemade cards to the child.  The cards I make are usually simple but we do take the time to write at length what the child means to us, how we see them growing and excelling in certain areas and communicating our love for them.

Doing special activities as opportunities arise. Last year my husband was offered free tickets to a Rockies game on our son's birthday. He went with the kids who were old enough to enjoy it and I know it was a memorable time for our son who loves baseball. Another time, a free family fun festival was happening on the day before our daughter's birthday and we all had a great time.  We've also used our zoo membership to have fun family birthday outings there.

Keeping parties smallish and simple when we do host them. Do a few special things and keep them busy with fun activities. Activities that have gone over well here are paper airplane folding and flying contests, water balloons on the trampoline, making folders and bookmarks using scrapbook supplies, jumping on the trampoline and just having free play time. I admit I need to do better and plan more activities than I think we'll have time for.  Some guests seem to need more entertainment than we are accustomed to.

Singing to the child.  This is pretty standard, but adds to the day.

I'll bet our celebrations will change over time and as our kids get older, but for right now these simple and frugal celebrations really suit us.

What are your favorite ways to celebrate with children?

Linking up to Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Month of Doing More with Less - Week 1

Day 1/July 5
Made bread today.
Starting this month off with a bang, by going shopping. :) I had the opportunity to get out to Costco, Salvation Army and Target tonight alone.  We needed milk and a few other staples since we were away for the 4th.
Costco - 4 gallons milk, pancake mix, 3 lbs. brats, 10 lbs. oats, organic corn tortilla chips, 18 ct. eggs
Target - 2 lbs. pasta, pepperoni, big Odwalla smoothie, 2 bags of gummy peaches, Tom's kids toothpaste, 26 oz. Redmond RealSalt
Salvation Army - Talbots dress, tank top, khaki shorts for our 9y.o.  It was a 1/2 off day so the total was just over $5, but from my allowance, so I'm not including that in the running total. 
Walmart - My husband made a stop for deodorant and other things he needed.

Day 2/July 6
No expenses today.
As I was folding laundry I was realizing that the kids' pjs are in sorry shape, but still functional.  I think we get full use out of most clothing in this house.  Those pjs will be hitting the garbage bin at the end of the summer, though.
I rearranged the boys' room and removed a dresser to eliminate a hazard to our youngest son and give them more floor space.   While I was at it I went through some clothes and found some that are outgrown that I was able to put in the Goodwill bag.  I also did some cleaning, sorting and organizing in our master bedroom, too.  It feels good to purge.  We may not have the best of anything, but keeping areas clean and clutter free less cluttered is its own reward.

I hope to sell the spare dresser and some other things to offset some of our curriculum costs.

Day 3/July 7
Picked up 2 baskets of produce from Bountiful Baskets which I ordered on the 2nd.  I am so pleased with what we are getting from them every other week.  This week included lots of peaches, lots of potatoes, lots of plums, several large mangoes, several bananas, 8 organic tomatoes, 2 heads of cauliflower, 3 lbs. strawberries, 2 heads of romaine, 2 bags of green beans, 2 bags of green grapes and 10-12 limes.
While I was picking up our produce it made sense to stop at the grocery store for some meat and other stuff.  I was happy to find some dairy markdowns, including some yogurt that the kids thought was a great treat after months of the homemade stuff around here.
Safeway - 8 4-pks. greek yogurt, 2 pints organic sour cream, small jar stone ground mustard, 1 box pasta, 5.7 lbs. beef roast, and 4.75 lbs. peaches.

Day 4/July 8
No shopping today.  Most of us were under the weather so we stayed in all day. We had a nice roast beef dinner which would have been quite a treat if not for all the dishes and the fact that by the time we got the dinner on the table we had one miserable screaming toddler and one screaming baby.  Real life.

Day 5/July 9
I went out alone in the evening to take a look at some flooring options for our bathroom. I've wanted to fix our bathrooms for years.  Who puts carpet in a bathroom?!  We bought a spec house and the builder used carpet by the tub and vanity in our bathroom and by the vanity in the kids' bathroom. Oh, how I wish we would have had the option to upgrade that for a couple hundred dollars at the time the house was built to have tile or something more appropriate!  Instead, this item has been put on the back-burner for years and I'm not sure it'll be happening anytime soon.

While I was out I was planning to get dinner from my allowance money, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to part with my limited allotment on food that will not be as good as I can fix at home at about 4-6 times the cost.

When I returned home we did the budget and it is pretty bleak.  A LOT of big expenses are coinciding this month and on a rather modest single income, there is really nothing to cushion the blow.  We both know the reality, but it kind of knocks the wind out of my sails each time we do our budget because I feel like it shouts out at me, "Stop dreaming, stop hoping, you'll never replace that flooring or take that trip or finish the basement or get back to funding the college fund or get nice furniture or afford a regular date night. Who are you kidding?!  You are barely scraping by!"  Most days I feel like I can stay in the moment, making frugal choices and not being consumed by the weight of it all.  But other days, not so much.

Day 6/July10
I gave 4 kids haircuts today so they'd be looking good for passport pictures.  They've never had haircuts by anyone but mom, so that seems like a frugal victory.  We met at Costco to pick up prescriptions from an allergy appointment today, get passport pictures and some basics.  I ended up taking photos at home to hopefully meet the passport photo specs but then the camera battery was dead so I couldn't transfer to the computer and edit.  I printed some from the card, hoping they would meet the requirements, but nope, I'll need to resize.  Passport photos at Costco are only $5 each, but since we need to get or renew 4 passports this summer, I was hoping to save the $20.  I'm trying to look for cheaper ways to do most everything these days, but I'll admit, it does create some additional headaches.

Costco - 4 gallons milk, 2 lbs. coffee, 9 4x6" prints
Dinner at Costco - pizza, hot dog, drinks
+5 prescriptions - Ouch!...but not part of this limited spending challenge
Safeway - Hoped to pick up more beef roasts before the sale ended, but had to get a rain check.

Day 7/July 11
Back to Costco today to get something more from the pharmacy, a spacer for an inhaler, which they didn't end up having. We also picked up more pictures that I was hoping would work for the passport situation, but that turned out being strike two on that frugal endeavor.  I might try one more time and then be ready to bite the bullet and shell out the $20 to get them completely done at Costco just to be done with the headache of it all.  I really don't like wasted trips to the store and coming home without what I was going for!
Costco - 8 prints that won't work

End of Week 1 - $172.44 spent of $375
- I haven't made a dent in our using our freezer food at all, but that's okay since I've been focusing on using the fresh produce and meat we have so it won't go to waste.
- We have been eating well and the meal plan is helping to keep me focused. From the 2 Bountiful Baskets I picked up, a majority of it is already gone.  I guess we are consuming lots more fresh produce than we used to and that is a good thing.  I'm thankful that the Bountiful Basket assortment usually seems to include a few things that keep longer, grapes and cauliflower and potatoes this time.
- Diapers for our 2 year old are in very low supply, so this week we started potty training and pulled out the stash of cloth diapers to make the disposables we have last as long as possible for outings, etc.  The cloth we have are very nice, but I've just never seemed to stick with it. Perhaps I need to make more of an effort on this front.
- I've spent more than I had hoped to by this point, but I still holding out hope of meeting the goal.  Then again, it is the season to buy school supplies, too, so it is anybody's guess whether I can pull this off.

Goals for Week 2
1.  List at least 10 items for sale.  The sooner the better.
2.  Make a written inventory of the contents of our deep freeze.
3.  Organize everything on our living room shelving unit. We have the Expedit 5 x 5 from IKEA and love it!  It is home to toddler toys, kids books, homeschool materials, scrapbooks and more so it really need a reboot before we start back to school.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July Menu & Pantry Challenge

The execution of last month's menu plan went really well, with just a few meals omitted and a couple frozen pizzas thrown into the mix for good measure.   I'll just admit right now that some days I just don't feel like cooking, and while I usually just push through that feeling and make dinner anyway, it is good to have an option or two that can be thrown in the oven without any work or mess.  And as a family we did not eat out even once!  

For July I'm hoping to do a bit of a pantry challenge and reduce our budget for groceries, household goods, diapers, clothing & shoes, and dining out to $375 for our family of 7.  We had some minor expenditures for an anniversary date last weekend and Starbucks on the road yesterday, but I'm starting this challenge today so I'm not including those expenses.  We have been blessed with a variety of foods from a friend who is preparing to move, with many bags of frozen corn from my family and with meals from my family as we were with them for a few days recently.  We're continuing on with Bountiful Baskets produce pick-ups and have been very pleased with the variety, freshness and quantity of what we have gotten so far.

The game plan for this month:
- Use up lots of stuff from the pantry and freezer.
- Eat lots of produce from our Bountiful Baskets orders and stock up and freeze in-season fruits that I might find at super low prices.
- Minimize grocery shopping trips. 
- Empty and defrost the deep freeze. I got a great start at the cleaning out part when I brought 70+ bags of milk to the milk bank last week.  I'm so thankful that some benefit came from all that work with our baby girl.
- Avoid food waste.
- Enjoy a family splurge (from our budgeted amount), maybe in the form of a meal or ice cream out.

Dinners - served with vegetables from our produce pick-up unless specified
1. ham & pineapple pizza, spinach salad
2. hot dogs, baked beans, carrots & celery
3. balsamic & feta chicken pasta salad
4. spaghetti & meat sauce, garlic parmesan bread sticks
5. chicken quesadillas
6. chicken & wild rice casserole, green beans
7. buffalo turkey meatballs w/mashed potatoes
8. omelets, cranberry orange scones
9. homemade baked beans w/ham, cornbread
10. beans & rice w/lots of toppings
11. lentil soup, fresh rolls
12. chicken soup w/homemade noodles
13. vegetable pasta skillet
14. IKEA meatballs, mashed potatoes & cream sauce, lingonberry sauce, green beans - a little indulgence from a trip to Denver last month
15. beef enchiladas
16. shredded chicken sandwiches w/ tangy sauce, baked beans 
17. carmelized garlic chicken, roasted potatoes
18. hamburgers, chips, fruit salad
19. pizza, veggie platter w/homemade ranch dressing
20. beef roast, mashed potatoes & gravy, peas
21. BBQ beef sandwiches, rice
22. taco salad 
23. bratwurst, potato salad
24. chicken and cheese white spaghetti 
25. Clean out the fridge or eat out!

Lunches - served with fruits and veggies
leftovers Always my first choice since they seem to be less appealing with age, so I try to use them up quickly.
whole wheat ham and cheese braid
egg salad sandwiches
chicken salad sandwiches
salad bar
mac & cheese
snack lunch

Breakfasts - served with fruit and/or homemade yogurt
homemade granola
soaked oatmeal w/fruit
pancakes w/fruit syrup
toast w/jam
green smoothies
whole wheat cinnamon rolls
yogurt granola parfaits
English muffin bread w/jam
egg sandwiches on English muffin bread

Baking, Snacks & Treats
whole wheat bread - 1 batch/week
caramel corn
key lime bars
oat fudge bars
chips & homemade salsa

ice cream cones
pudding, fruit, graham cracker parfaits

This month of making better use of what we have has been inspired by the Pantry Challenge at Good Cheap Eats and No Spend Month at Small Notebook.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June Menu and Grocery Musings

With the summer upon us, it seems like it would be nice to go into vacation mode with cooking.  But I'm pretty sure several of my charges would revolt, so I'm favoring simple meals and enlisting help from some of those dear children.

Dinners for June:
I'm only planning out the sides for the first week since I'm not sure how far our existing produce will go or what we will be getting in our first produce co-op bin.
1. pizza, fresh veggie platter
2. chicken potstickers, brown rice, broccoli
3. baked chicken, brown rice, fresh veggie platter
4. beer bratwurst (nitrate-free Boulder brand from Costco=yum), creamy corn w/peppers, chips
5. spaghetti, meat sauce (making large batch to freeze), spinach salad (peppers, carrots, cukes, etc.), garlic cheese bread
6. potluck - bring pasta veggie salad and peaches & cream bars
7. beef tacos
8. Birthday!  pizza, salad, cake, root beer floats
9. lasagna bake, focaccia, green beans or salad
10. potluck - bring big bag of chips & s'more brownies
11. grilled chicken
12. mac & cheese w/ham
13. chicken pot pie
14. enchiladas
15. hamburgers
16. lasagna (freezer)
17. shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches
18. chicken soup w/homemade noodles
19. pepper brat skillet over pasta
20. beans & rice
21. buffalo turkey meatballs w/mashed potatoes
22. make-your-own pizzas
23. omelets
24. creamy baked chicken & rice
25. breakfast for dinner
26. chicken & veggie pasta salad
27. pasta w/ meat sauce
28. shepherd's pie
29. sloppy joes
30. Leftovers! Clean out the fridge for a fresh start to the new month.

Lunch - served with vegetables and/or fruit
sandwiches - egg salad, chicken salad, ham, grilled cheese
cheesy pasta w/bits of leftover meat
frozen individual pizzas
snack lunch (meat, crackers, cheese, etc.)

Breakfast - served with fruit and/or homemade yogurt
homemade granola
overnight raw oatmeal 
bread with jam
pancakes with strawberry syrup
pineapple banana muffins
cranberry oat bars
cinnamon rolls
cold cereal
egg & sausage bake
baked french toast

Baking & Snacks
whole wheat bread (at least one batch of 5 loaves/week)
caramel corn  I've been meaning to make this as a treat for the kids for months so hopefully I'll actually do it this time.
key lime bars
chips & homemade salsa
strawberry rhubarb crisp
chocolate chip cookies

I'm feeling quite challenged trying to stay within our grocery budget as our kids grow, our family has expanded and everything has gone up in price, even the most basic of ingredients. I'm afraid I've lost the zeal for this frugal fight, but since we are in a position where there are no other budget categories which can be cut, I need to get this figured out and make it work.  We're still aiming for $500/month for all food eaten or packed at home, toiletries, diapers (for 2) and paper goods (we don't use many but t.p. is essential and it would be a challenge to cook and store food without at least some foil, ziploks, plastic wrap, etc.).  We very rarely eat out these days so I seem to be more inclined to splurge a little on things like chips and things that make eating at home a little more fun once in a while. I would like to find good quality food at a price I can afford without having to run hither and yon with 5 kids in tow to find it.  That's a tall order.  I'm mostly shopping at Costco for those reasons, and the fact that it is as close to home as almost any other grocery stop and has big enough carts to accommodate food and my little ones.  This week for the first time we are trying out a Bountiful Baskets produce bin so we'll see how that goes.  We're enjoyed some rhubarb & cilantro from the garden and the peas, tomatoes and basil seem to be coming along, too. 

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.  {Something I just might need to keep repeating on days like today when it felt like I was working in the kitchen all day only to have the day end with dinner being ruined with half a jar of oily salad dressing being spilled all over the floor by a child.  Ugh.  As a bonus, though, the kitchen floor, table and chairs are really clean.  For tonight at least.  Real life happens here.}

Monday, May 14, 2012

Considering Motherhood

Happy Mother's Day!

I had a great Mother's Day with my kiddos.  We enjoyed some simple home-cooked food, ice cream sundaes and some homemade cards and gifts.  Because of little Anna's feeding issues I didn't make it to church with the family, but enjoyed a quiet time of reflecting on motherhood and a sweet time of worship, aided by a great queue of songs on Pandora.  I was very put off earlier in the week when I heard a radio ad for a mall for Mother's Day with the basic message from a mom that it is "all about me".  I was disgusted by the selfishness and entitlement communicated in that short ad which rings true to our culture's mindset, but then considered how often I fall prey to wanting to be admired, celebrated, affirmed, given gifts, etc.  Truth be told, it is more often than I care to admit.  In reality, mother's day is every day.  Every day to serve and nurture, every day to delight in the blessing of a home filled with children, every day to die to self so I can become more like Christ.  And there are so very many opportunities to die to myself in this journey of motherhood!  I've half-jokingly mentioned to friends what a refining fire raising children is, and that is absolutely true.  Motherhood is changing me and requiring more of me than I ever dreamed possible, but it is such a blessing not only because children are precious but because this process is growing me.  May I press in to this calling, with all its joys and challenges, by His strength in the year ahead.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Menu

We have been so blessed with lots of help and meals since our little girl arrived, but it is time to start being self-sufficient again.  Thankfully our freezer is very full right now so I made my menu plan based on what is plentiful around here to save me the time and money of going out for a big grocery run. Both resources are in short supply right now due to lots of medical and dental bills (and the birth hasn't even been billed yet..oy!) and our sweet baby girl is still not feeding well so we are working on that twice as hard for the same benefit.  Anyway, the rest of the family has to eat, too, so here we go.  I post this on our fridge and cross off meals as we go.

Chicken mozzarella ravioli, spinach salad, three-cheese bread
Chicken pot stickers, brown rice, steamed broccoli
Homemade pizza, veggie tray (x3)
Hot dogs, homemade baked beans, potato chips, raw vegetables (x2)
Shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches w/ pickles & homemade sauce, baked beans, carrots
Omelets (cheese, ham, peppers, broccoli), cranberry orange scones, orange juice
Chicken pot pie, salad or fruit
*Meatballs, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans
*Lasagna, salad, garlic bread (x2-3)
Homemade macaroni & cheese, peas
Carnitas burritos (cilantro lime rice, black beans, sour cream, cheese,*carnitas, etc.), chips & salsa
Enchiladas, green salad
Spaghetti & meat sauce, peas & carrots
Orange chicken, brown rice, peas
Sweet & sour turkey meatballs, brown rice, steamed broccoli
Baked potato bar (cheese, sour cream, bacon, broccoli, etc.)
Chicken soup w/homemade noodles, biscuits
Out to Chick-Fil-A w/ gift cards
Rice pilaf & fruity dessert (to potluck)

Lunches – served with vegetables and/or fruit
*Runzas (x2)
*pizza rolls
*Beef & yellow split pea soup (x3), rolls or biscuits
turkey sandwiches (x2)
macaroni & cheese
chicken salad sandwiches (x2)

Breakfasts – served with fruit and/or yogurt
steel cut oats
banana bread
whole wheat cinnamon rolls
cold cereal
ham & egg bake
french toast
whole wheat waffles

Baking & Snacks
chocolate chip cookies
caramel corn
key lime bars 
chips & homemade salsa

* denotes frozen item ready to heat & eat