Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Menu Plan #1 {Making Do}

A key component in making do this month for us is taking stock of what we have on hand and working a menu plan.  A produce order pick-up won't be possible until the middle of the month, so the first couple weeks are really going to be made up of food we already have stocked.  Here goes.

W - 1/1 (easing in since it is a holiday)
B: bagels & cream cheese, apple slices
L: steak, baked potatoes, baked beans
D: beef & peppers with beans, tortillas, cheese & sour cream (sadly, we're already out of rice)
Snack for a gathering: caramel corn, fruit pizza (sugar cookie crust frozen, left from cut out cookies we made for Christmas)

Th - 1/2
B: homemade granola, apples
L: turkey & cheese biscuits, grapes
D: turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans
Prep: remove & portion meat for several meals (some to freezer), make broth

F - 1/3
B: homemade granola, apples
L: snack lunch - ham, fruit, crackers & cheese
D: turkey cheddar bake (spaghetti noodles + partial bags of frozen veg. + a roux)

S - 1/4
B: peach crisp (frozen peaches + the end of the granola)
L: leftovers
D: spaghetti & meatballs (sneak sweet potato into sauce), garlic breadsticks, frozen veg.
Prep: egg noodles for soup, batch of whole wheat bread

S - 1/5
B: w.w. toast, fruit
L: turkey noodle soup, crackers & cheese, homemade applesauce (freezer)
D: grilled cheese and/or snack dinner - popcorn, apples, etc.
Prep: make chocolate chip or chewy ginger cookies

M - 1/6
B: steel cut oats with blueberries
L: turkey sandwiches, apples, cookie
D: baked ham (freezer) & beans, cornbread, orange berry smoothies

T - 1/7
B: w.w. pancakes, apple cinnamon syrup (made a huge batch for teacher gifts and have lots leftover
L: leftovers or almond butter sandwiches
D: gourmet mac & cheese (freezer), broccoli

W - 1/8
B: pancakes, apples
L: pizza soup
D: saucy veg. beef (freezer) & garlic mashed potatoes
Prep: batch of whole wheat bread

Th - 1/9
B: cinnamon bread
L: chicken salad sandwiches
D: brat/veg/pasta skillet, apples

F - 1/10
B: pumpkin (freezer) w.w. pancakes
L: leftovers, homemade apple sauce (freezer)
D: homemade pizza

S - 1/11 - pick up produce and plan again
B: sausage, egg & potato casserole

Kitchen goals:
- clean cupboards & drawers, inside and out
- defrost chest freezer
- clear kitchen island and deal with all the paper so I can easily use that space for meal prep

Are you eating from the pantry this month?

A Month of Making Do

With Christmas behind us and a bit too much spending this season, it is time to scale back, use up what we have already purchased, and reestablish some good financial habits.  To that end, I'm challenging myself with a really low grocery budget for January. The goal is to spend no more than $240 for our family of 7 and not eat out at all. That figure includes all food, personal care items, paper products, and diapers.

- Because we've gotten sloppy in our spending and use of a credit card.  We pay it off in full each month, but still, it has become a little too easy to just swipe the card and forget it. 
- To become mindful again about the difference between needs and wants. The line has gotten a little blurry.
- To enjoy what we already have at our disposal and practice gratitude.
- To save from our normal budget to recover from Christmas expenses and set the tone for financial prudence for the new year.
- To get back into the habit of keeping careful records of expenses.  We've been budgeting about $500 per month for all the above expenses for about the last year but I want to know if that is a realistic number given our family size and the ages of our kids. 
- To practice some delayed gratification in our "I've-have-to-have-this-now" culture we live in.

- With careful menu planning, limited shopping, and using up the ingredients and supplies we've already purchased.  Sometimes it is just good to deplete the stockpile to ensure that things don't go to waste.
- By doing without some things that we might really enjoy.  (Dr. Pepper, I'm looking at you.)
- By filling up some of the time I would have spent shopping on creative projects which I already have supplies for.

I'm up for the challenge, so away we go!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Diaper Box Decluttering

Our home is far from simplified and decluttered, but this one little thing is easy to do.  Every time we acquire a new big box, from diapers or apples or oranges or whatever else, I make it my goal to fill it up with things we don't love, need or use.  Then I throw it in the van and drop it off at the thrift store when I'm out for other errands.  This is nothing revolutionary, but I'm hoping some simple little baby steps in the right direction will produce results in due time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Simple Kitchen Plan

Life has been really full in recent months and I have not been faithful with menu planning, though we've been eating okay and not eating out much at all. As a kindness to myself, I'm taking 15 minutes today to write up a meal plan to make things run a bit smoother in the kitchen.  Breakfasts will be heavy on oatmeal to use part of a 50 lb. bag of rolled oats I picked up from Sprouts last week. I don't have any more containers to store it in and a giant feed bag on my counter is not very convenient at all. Like many other areas of my homekeeping and life right now, too much stuff, not enough space. I'm looking forward to a pantry challenge in January to tackle some of this "problem" of overabundance.

B-steel cut oats with blueberries
L-packed lunches, out for 3 of us with a gift card
D-cheeseburger bake with whole wheat crust, curly fries, apple wedges

B-whole wheat toast, homemade yogurt, pears
L-ham & cheese paninis, oro blancos, cucumbers & dip
D-pepper beef tacos / taco salads
Dessert-Pumpkin bars

B-steel cut oats with frozen cherries, yogurt
L-hot dog baked in whole wheat dough, cucumbers & dip, apples
D-orange chicken, rice, steamed broccoli
Prep-make granola

B-granola, yogurt
L-leftovers, fresh fruit
D-barbecue baked beans with ham, green salad

B-granola or cereal, sliced apples
L-quesadillas or leftovers, fresh fruit
D-pizza, any remaining veggies from last basket
Prep-clean out fridge

B-whole wheat pancakes, sausage meatballs
L-gourmet mac & cheese (x4, 3 to freezer, 1 with ham), garlic breadsticks, green salad
D- beef roast, mashed potatoes & gravy, vegetables
Prep-stew, egg dish

B-potato ham & egg bake
L-beef stew (crockpot), garlic cheese biscuits
D-snack dinner: popcorn, apples, cheese, etc.

B-oatmeal with cherries, yogurt
L-picnic lunch TBD
D-shredded barbecue chicken sandwiches (crockpot), green beans 
Prep-bread & sandwich rolls

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Happy and the Hard


- My husband has a new job which is a great fit for his giftings with plenty of room to be challenged and grow professionally.
- We're having opportunities to see most members of our families this summer.
- Our son enjoyed a great season playing baseball this summer with excellent coaches. A coach can really set the whole tone of that experience and these men were top notch.
- Our little girl is walking.  That's bittersweet for this mama.  All our babies aren't really babies anymore.
- We're so thankful for our church community and looking forward to getting back to small group in the fall. 
- A dear friend is getting married this month after more than a decade of prayers that God would bring a husband. She is so happy.  Although I won't be able to make the wedding in Rwanda I think there will live streaming all around the world.  Looking forward to that!
- We're looking forward to fun family times next week.

- My husband took a statistics course this summer which turned out to be a massive amount of work and time, which was really difficult for all of us.
- The wide range of ages of our children is presenting more of a challenge as our big kids get more into activities.  Have you ever tried to keep a strong-willed 3-year-old from running off at a ball park for 2 hours?  Not fun. We also know that our big kids just don't get to do as much because of the little ones which gives way to feelings of guilt for me.  It seems other large families manage this, but I don't think we've found our groove yet.
- Trying to find balance in our budget for today and for the future.  We usually error on the side of not spending on fun activities today, but our kids are growing fast and it is starting to feel like sometimes you actually do have to spend money to make memories.
- Struggling...my own lack of self-esteem and confidence, feeling discouraged that I don't see the fruit of these intense years of parenting, feeling the need for a break from responsibilities but realizing that is just not possible right now.  Even 24 hours away could be very refreshing.   Since we started parenting almost 11 years ago, my husband and I have been away from the kids for 8 nights, and none of those have been in the last 5 years.  So I guess I'm just tired.

What is the happy and the hard in the spot you're in?

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Great Closet Clean-Out & 100 Piece Wardrobe

In an effort to simplify life in general, I decided I must face my generously-sized walk-in closet. I'm rather embarrassed to show you the before photos, but I do want to be real.  This space had become the depository for all kinds of things that didn't have any real home.  Outgrown baby clothes, unfinished craft projects, luggage, bed linens, extra storage containers, current baby clothes for a sweet girl who moved in with her sister months ago, mother and baby items that won't be used again by our family, etc.  I don't do well with undefined spaces, so the more types of things were put in there, the less I maintained order and the less mindful I was of my own stuff, mostly clothes.  So I took a Saturday and tackled the closet, hauling out everything, deep cleaning the space, finding more logical homes for things not related to my personal presentation.  That meant that I also took out every item of clothing I own and purged a lot.  My goal was to trim it down to 100 items. I've been greatly challenged by the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess  and the blog The Year of Less*, among other blogs, books and articles.  With  simplicity in mind, I listed out on paper all the pieces of my wardrobe that I was keeping.  Listing things out made me realize a few items I may need to add as well as some categories that are a little too abundant.

Why 100 items?
* I simply needed to put a limit on the number of clothes I own and needed a place to start.  For some people, 100 would be downright excessive and for others it would be way too minimal.
* I needed motivation to weed out the things I wasn't using because of poor fit, unflattering design or color and lack of function in my current life stage. Setting a limit allowed me to release these things more easily.
* I wanted to like my wardrobe better overall so I needed to get rid of the items I was just keeping because it felt wasteful to get rid of them.
* I hoped for more empty space so it could be easily maintained.
* Going forward, I want to be really mindful of what I bring in. Basically, I want to feel confident in the clothes I wear without giving it too much thought.

Did I meet my goals?  Yes, and no.
I did whittle my collection of clothing significantly, but my list of 100 pieces does not include scarves and such, swimwear or foundations.  My list does include items for all seasons, dresses, skirts, blouses, tops, pants, shorts, sweaters, coats, workout clothing and pajamas.  I'm no fashionista, but I don't think I'm any less stylish than before the purge. This experience has shifted my shopping habits and made me a lot more choosy about what I add.  Because the rest of our home really lacks storage, toiletries and luggage and one bin of sentimental baby items are still in that closet, but I'm okay with that. I feel more content with what I have and my closet is a calming retreat.

one closet rod, one dresser and wire drawers for shoes
And my wedding dress box, too.  

There are still a lot of toiletries, but they are organized and easily accessible.

I could shuffle things a bit more and make room for a reading corner or a little crafting desk, but for now I'm just enjoying the empty space.  It feels like a breath of fresh air. 

* no longer active, but the archives are inspiring

Monday, July 29, 2013

End of Summer 10-Day Menu

Summer came much too slowly and is leaving much too quickly, but we're trying to make the most of the fleeting days between the end of my husband's grueling statistics course and the beginning of the fall school routine for all of us.  I meant to do a pantry challenge in July, but didn't manage that.  Perhaps I'll give that another go in September. For now I'm just hoping to use all the perishables we have on hand to avoid food waste.  I was pleased to be able to get 10 dozen eggs this weekend at just $.59/dozen, so those will be a central ingredient this time around.  I'm trying to avoid going to the store so using what we have is the name of the game.

10 Breakfasts
oatmeal with nectarines
oatmeal with blueberries
soaked oats with blueberries (x3)
granola (x2)
omelets (ham, cheese, peppers, mushrooms)
blueberry muffins, homemade yogurt (x2)
10 Lunches
egg salad sandwiches on homemade bread (x2)
pasta salad with ham, cheese, peas, celery, carrot (x2)
chicken salad sandwiches on homemade bread
ham & cheese grilled tortillas
leftover vegetable beef soup, add pasta for one meal (x2)
snack lunch: hard boiled eggs, cheese, veggies & dip, fruit

10 Dinners
beef stroganoff (homemade noodles), green salad
hamburgers, coleslaw
homemade pizza (pepperoni, ham, red pepper, etc.), tossed salad

runzas, salad
spaghizza, tossed salad
spiral ham, cheesy potatoes, veggie platter with dip
mac & cheese with ham, peas
ham & beans, cornbread, fruit salad
omelets, fruit crisp

I'm lacking motivation for cooking these days, but this plan seems simple enough.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Embellished Tea Towel {Frugal Teacher Gift}

As the end of the school year approaches I wanted to thank the teachers and helpers in our enrichment program in a personal, but frugal way.  My sweet sister-in-law gave me a cool embellished towel last year for my birthday, so I copied that idea using fabrics I had on hand, since I love to get gifts I can really use.  The flour sack towels came from One Kings Lane.

To start out, I prewashed all the towels and then pressed them before adding the embellishment.

To make the embellishment strip I gathered or cut 45" wide strips of fabric.  The strips were about 3" wide, but could be any width you desire.  When I had a bunch of strips I sewed them together and added a few more strips until I had a big piece which was more than the width of the towel I was going to put it on (to allow for shrinkage and leaving enough at each edge to neatly turn it under on the edge of the towel. At this point I laundered the whole piece because I wasn't sure I had washed all the fabrics I was using and I really did not want it to bleed in the wash for the recipient of this gift. After ironing all the seams, I cut the large piece into strips (perpendicular to the seams), folded down and ironed the top and bottom edge of each strip and top-stitched them to the flour sack towels.  Using strips that were 45" wide I was able to make 10 of these towels, just enough for our teacher list.  :)

I paired these with some extras I had around the house, things like dish soap, hand soap, candles.  Since those items were on hand, along with my fabric and thread stash, I really only paid for the flour sack towels, which came to a whopping $.75/piece.  Of course, our teachers are worth so much more, but with our current budget, I hope they enjoy the gift even if I didn't spend much out of pocket.

What's your favorite little gift to give or receive?

See also: wrapping paper teacher gift & another towel gift for teachers

Mid-May Menu

This morning I ran out to pick up our Bountiful Baskets and do a quick stop at the grocery store and now I'm feeling a little overwhelmed (so much produce!) and tired, much like the rest of life these days.  We're busy wrapping up the school year and sports seasons.  My husband is working on his finals for his first semester toward an MBA.  I'm still plugging away at spring cleaning, very slowly. I feel a pretty big clutter purge coming on in the near future.  And our kitchen is jam-packed with produce and a big purchase of dried beans.  Time to get a plan and work toward some order.

Several goals guide our menu this time around:
1. Eat lots of produce and don't let any go to waste.
2. Eat a bean-based dinner at least once a week.  I found 3 lb. bags of organic sprouted beans at Costco for $2.97.   Inexpensive, high in protein and fiber, quicker-cooking, a pleasant taste...yes, we'll make these a staple until our 50 lb. supply is gone.
3. Get back to making whole wheat bread.  We haven't been eating much bread lately simply because I haven't been making it and it does help to round out a meal in a healthy way.  I haven't done any real research, but at this point I still think that homemade bread from freshly ground, high-protein, chemical-free wheat is part of a healthy diet.  Anyone else feel overwhelmed that eating "healthy" has so many different definitions depending on who you are talking to and what you are reading? I'll try to keep doing my best with the budget we have. 
4.  Cook a little extra ahead every day so I'm not starting from square one for each lunch and dinner. 
5. Avoid much food shopping until the end of the month.

5/11 - B: oatmeal & yogurt
L: sandwiches, watermelon
D: burgers w/ homemade buns, corn on the cob

5/12 - B: bagels & yogurt
L: Mother's Day request - croissant turkey sandwiches, chips, key lime pie
D: artichokes w/ garlic butter, cantaloupe, rolls

5/13 - B: bagels & yogurt
L: leftovers or pasta salad w/turkey
D: beef taco salad, watermelon

5/14 - B: soaked oats w/strawberries
L: southwest salad (beans, corn, onion, pepper, etc.), chips & artichoke dip
D: ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, broccoli

5/15 - B: ww toast, yogurt
L: leftovers or sandwiches
D: stuffed peppers (beef, rice, beans), cantaloupe

5/16 - B: cream of wheat w/berries, yogurt
L: omelets (broccoli, turkey, cheese, etc.)
D: BBQ beans w/ham, tossed salad

5/17 - B: granola & yogurt
L: BBQ beans, fruit salad
D: potluck - huge salad w/dressings, cheddar & feta, cucumber, onions, croutons, etc., whole wheat rolls, main dish?

5/18 - B: pancakes w/berries
L: lunch out at the park(use a gift card for pizza) or leftovers at home
D: runzas (cabbage, onions & beef in a homemade bread pocket), fruit salad

5/19 - B: blueberry muffins (extra to freeze), yogurt
L: runzas, fruit
D: green beans with ham, quinoa, apple crisp

5/20 - B: scrambled eggs, yogurt
L: leftovers
D: broccoli cheese soup, whole wheat rolls, fresh fruit

5/21 - B: ww toast, yogurt
L: soup, rolls
D: spaghetti & meat sauce, tossed salad

5/22 - B: ww toast, yogurt
L: pizza soup
D: sausage quiche, strawberry rhubarb crisp (I sub o.j. concentrate for the liqueur), orange juice

5/23 - B: oatmeal, yogurt
L: leftovers
D: beans & rice w/toppings, fruit

5/24 - B: blueberry muffins, yogurt
L: leftovers
D: pulled pork on homemade buns, coleslaw, fruit salad

How do you cook through busy seasons?  Hitting the drive through or stockpiling frozen food sounds appealing to me, until I count the financial and health cost.   Suggestions?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

$400 Budget Bathroom Makeover

I've been eager to do a makeover of our kids' bathroom for years now.   So we jumped into this project in March with the help of our tax return.  Since my husband has gone back to school and continues to work full-time, I knew I would need to do the bulk of the work.  I'm so glad that it is now done!  I learned so much along the way as we are not really do-it-yourself folks around here.

Here is how the bathroom looked at the beginning of March.
oak cabinets, carpet, glaring lights, a mediocre paint job

So I set to work with the following steps:
- painted both rooms of the bathroom
- adjusted the counter with shims & redrilled the under screws so the sidesplash and countertop were properly alligned
- removed carpet, carpet pad & vinyl flooring and cleaned up subfloor
- installed vinyl plank flooring and transition pieces, including pulling the toilet & reinstalling (my husband took care of most of the toilet work)
- removed mirror (my husband helped a lot with this)
- hung new mirrors
- replaced the lights with my husband's help
When we removed the old lights we discovered that the electrical boxes weren't centered over the sinks. Since we do not have the skills of an electrician and didn't want to add another big expense, we positioned the lights as best we could and decided to let them just be off-center for now. 
- hung a new towel rack
- sanded, primed & painted the existing cabinets
- caulked the counters & base of toilet

I'd still like to accessorize, give the trim a fresh coat of white paint, replace the brass doorknobs & hinges and replace the light in the shower room, but those things can happen bit by bit in the months to come.

The bathroom this week.

Cost & supplies break-down:
* indicates tools or supplies we'll be able to use again
3 boxes Allure vinyl plank flooring in Barnwood - $143.28
*metal yardstick - $2.98
*heavy duty utility knife - $4.48
flooring transition pieces - $20.66
1 gallon Valspar Journal Book semi-gloss paint - $29.97
*1 gallon Valspar White semi-gloss paint - $29.97
*1 quart Zinsser 1-2-3 Bullseye primer -$9.47
*spackle- $5ish
brushes & rollers - on hand
*4" high density foam roller kit & extra rollers, 1 good paintbrush, tape - $30.50
4 brushed nickel cabinet knobs - $5.88
*package of felt pads for corners of cabinet doors - $2.83
2 galvanized wall lights @ $12.49 each (on sale at 1 Lowes in town)
3 pack light bulbs- $12.98
2 mirrors @ $29.96 each
hook rack - free in the mail last year
toilet wax ring - $4ish
caulking - $4.44
shims (to level counter) - on hand
white shower curtain & liner - on hand
curtain - on hand
shower curtain rings - $.75 at Salvation Army
*tools already owned - drill, hammer, putty knife, level, screwdrivers, electric sander, sandpaper, etc.
drive-thru meal from Chick-Fil-A because mom was too busy with this to make dinner - Let's not count that expense.  :)

Total expenses - $392.09 + some taxes (difficult to calculate because I did not keep meticulous records and some items were purchased online and the tax rate is different than items purchased in town)
sale of old mirror +$30
gasoline savings earned by buying Lowe's and Home Depot gift cards at the grocery store to use for this project +$15.50

Grand total monetary cost for project = $346.59 + taxes (amounting to less than 7.6%)

My husband was a great support & encouragement to me during this project.  Without his help with the kids at night and support when I felt things were not going to turn out, I would would not have been able to complete this.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

From Crib to College: Upcycled Bedspread from Crib Sheets

When our youngest son graduated from a crib to a twin bed I saved a couple crib sheets which were made of sturdy fabric and were still in good shape.  Then I cut them up in strips to use for the main part of the quilt.  I added some strips of other fabric I had on hand, a large piece for the top to make the bedspread long enough, and used a blue cotton sheet we had on hand for the back.  The filling was a queen size bat of low-loft batting which I doubled (bought a few years ago for $1 still in its package at a yard sale).  He is pleased with his new blanket and I'm pleased that I could make something useful from items we already had on hand. 
bedspread made using old crib sheets
What have you upcylced lately?  I'm always looking for new ideas for old things.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Cleaning 2013

It's that time of year.  Time to refresh.  Time to eliminate some of our excess.  Time to take care of the home we've been blessed with.  Time to redeem the embarrassment of having my nephew negatively comment twice on the state of our kitchen.  So I'm jumping into spring cleaning and hoping to just do a couple things each day to get the house in shape without letting this process consume my life, derail our homeschooling or prevent me from cooking for my ever-hungry brood.

With a large family I am realizing the constant care our stuff is requiring of me, and I do not like it.  In some ways I feel like our stuff is owning me, owning my time and attention, rather than us owning our stuff.  In the summer I read the books 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess and Cleaning House and while I don't agree with everything therein, I was greatly challenged in my thinking and inspired to action.   Then came the start of school, a huge road trip, Thanksgiving, a week of the flu, preparations for Christmas, a bathroom makeover, etc. and I haven't really acted on that inspiration.  Until now.

Here's the list I made up which suits the current needs in our home and life.  I've posted it to the fridge to remind and encourage me to keep going until the job is finished.

Spring Cleaning 2013
1 or 2 tasks a day until the job is done
Master Suite
__ wash all bedding (pillows, quilt, blankets, sheets, mattress pad)
__ move bed and clean under it
__ wash windows & blinds
__ wash walls, doors & baseboards
__ wash curtains
__ detail vacuum
__ scrub shower tile & sinks
__ sort & purge clothing, bring out summer items
__ go through hope chest, store winter linens
__ move baby clothes to girls' closet

Boys' Room
__ wash all bedding
__ scrub bed frames & dresser
__ sort clothes, note any needs
__ wash walls, window, doors & baseboards
__ wash curtains
__ detail vacuum

Girls' Room
__ wash all bedding
__ scrub bed frames & dresser
__ sort clothes, note any needs
__ wash walls, window, doors, mirror & baseboards
__ wash curtains
__ detail vacuum
__ declutter dresser & toys/books

Upstairs Hallway
__ detail dusting
__ detail vacuum
__ go through cupboards
__ wash walls & baseboards

Kids' Bathroom
__ bleach & embellish shower curtain
__ recaulk shower
__ make & hang “Create in me a clean heart” sign
__ sew loops onto all kids bath towels

Front Entry
__ detail vacuum steps, wash walls & rail up staircase
__ wash floor, door & baseboards
__ fix display board
__ sweep front porch
__ dust/wash plant shelves & light fixtures
__ repot/divide fern
__ wash blind & window

Living Room
__ clean inside & top of armoire
__ detailed dusting
__ detailed vacuuming, including couch
__ organize bookshelf & wipe down each shelf
__ clean side table
__ vacuum couch
__ wash walls, fireplace & baseboards
__ wash blinds
__ return curriculum to school

__ clean fridge – inside & out
__ empty, clean & organize each cabinet & drawer
__ organize pantry
__ wash windows & blinds
__ wash curtains
__ replace curtain brackets & patch & paint wall
__ scrub floor, walls & baseboards

Laundry Room, Back Hall & Powder Room
__ scrub floor, walls & baseboards
__ detail vacuum closet
__ organize closet
__ put away ALL laundry and wipe down machines
__ recaulk sink & toilet

__ take all donations to Goodwill
__ take liquids, expired meds & light bulbs to hazardous waste disposal
__ sweep & wash floor
__ get stuff sold on Craigslist

__ sweep & wash floor, rail and stairs
__ organize & purge toys (limit to 30 min. - timed)
__ secure shelf and cabinet to studs
__ put away all items on table and collapse table

__ wash all rugs
__ scrub and sanitize all trash cans
Hooray! You're Done!
Treat yourself to a new dress.

How do you tackle these big jobs and motivate yourself to follow through?

April Menu

With 3 birthdays in our family this month, and my desires to focus on finishing our school year strong and doing lots of spring cleaning, I'm trying to plan simple meals to get us through the month.

1. broccoli cheddar soup, sourdough bread, fruit salad
2. ham, mashed potatoes & gravy, glazed carrots
3. salad bar - kale & cabbage, rotisserie chicken, Canadian bacon, onion straws, cheeses, celery, cauliflower, homemade dressings
after dinner prep: remove chicken & make bone broth from carcass
4. chicken soup w/homemade noodles, whole wheat rolls
5. chicken & homemade refried bean burritos, fresh veggies & dip
6. celebration dinner -  pineapple chicken, rice, peas, apple cinnamon muffins w/cream cheese frosting
7. sausage & kale quiche, cranberry orange scones, juice
8. spaghetti & meat sauce, bread, salad or vegetable (x4)
9. Hawaiian pizza, veggie tray
10. meal delivery - salad bar (greens, chicken, hard boiled eggs, cheeses, dressings, cut veggies, croutons), fresh whole wheat bread w/whipped honey butter, sliced fruit, chewy ginger cookies
11. beef roast, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans
12. scalloped potatoes w/ham, green salad
13. Cuban beans (using a ham bone & pintos), fruit salad
14. celebration dinner - steaks, loaded baked potatoes, green salad, dessert of choice
15. celebration dinner - orange chicken, rice, green beans, dessert of choice
16. taco salad
17. hamburger soup (loaded with vegetables), whole wheat bread
18. shredded BBQ pork sandwiches, chips, salad
19. sausage potato chowder, biscuits, fruit
20. whole wheat pancakes, berry sauce, sausage
21. enchiladas, green salad, Mexican rice
22. beef stew, cheddar biscuits
23. Pizza Hut at the park - thanks Nana & Papa for the treat
24. quinoa w/vegetables and bits of meat
25. sesame chicken, brown rice
26. potato/sausage/egg bake, cinnamon rolls, oranges
27. take-out - thanks to Grandma & Grandpa

chicken salad sandwiches
turkey sandwiches
smoothies & scrambled eggs
snack lunch

Breakfasts items:
green smoothies
homemade yogurt
whole wheat toast
chocolate zucchini whole wheat muffins
pineapple granola
cinnamon rolls
soaked oats w/ berries
yogurt parfaits
apple oatmeal

Saturday, March 9, 2013

March Menu

Somehow I let menu planning get away from me this month and I've been feeling the negative effects of that decision this past week.  Wondering every day what I'll be making for lunch and dinner hasn't done me any favors.  I'd like to think about food less often, so meal planning is key.  Sides may vary based on what I get in our next produce basket.

1. BBQ chicken tenders, roasted gold potatoes, asparagus
2. Chili, cornbread
3. Sausage potato quiche, blueberry whole wheat scones, oranges
4. Chicken noodle soup, biscuits, fruit salad
5. Canadian bacon & pineapple pizza, raw veggies & dip
6. Corn chowder, biscuits
7. Pork chops, quinoa w/vegetables
8. Baked beans w/bacon, cornbread, green salad
9. Orange chicken, brown rice, acorn squash
10. Baked spaghetti, green salad, sourdough bread
11. Pepperoni pizza, green salad
12. Colorado chicken chili, tortilla chips, sliced fruit
13. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes & cream sauce, lingonberry sauce, green beans
14. Chipotle beef rice bowls/salads, fruit salad (GF guests)
15. Lasagna soup, garlic breadsticks, raw veggie platter
16. Green beans with ham, cheesy mashed potatoes
17. Beef roast, mashed potatoes & gravy, glazed carrots
18. Spaghetti & meat sauce, green salad
19. Chipotle chicken, quinoa, mashed sweet potatoes
20. Vegetable beef soup, cheddar biscuits
21. Enchiladas, green salad, Mexican rice
22. Whole wheat pancakes, berry sauce

Pasta soup
Turkey wraps
Ham & cheese sandwiches on bagels
Chipotle chicken salad sandwiches
Easter dinner - ham, mashed potatoes & gravy, green bean casserole, fruit salad, strawberry shortcake

Breakfasts - with yogurt or fruit
homemade granola
soaked oats w/fruit & chia
chocolate zucchini whole wheat muffins
apple oatmeal
sausage, potato, egg bake, fruit salad (GF guests)
something for Sunday school - tbd

What's cooking at your house this month?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February Menu

I started this post several days ago, but it has been one of those weeks with sick kids, a discouraged mama, spinning my wheels and not getting anything finished.   So now I'm taking 10 minutes to finish this up, print it and post it on the fridge so I'll at least have a sense of completion for one little task of my life.

After January's pantry challenge, I'm giving myself a little break and hoping to cook lots of simple food this month. With my husband returning to school and continuing to work full-time embracing simplicity is all the more desirable.  :)

cold cereal - glad for a 99c sale on Mom's Best since a morning person I am not
granola & yogurt
soaked oats & chia w/strawberries
apple cranberry crisp w/yogurt
whole wheat toast

pasta salad w/meat, veggies & cheese
toasted subs, coleslaw
chicken salad sandwiches
ham & cheese sandwiches

1. Costco take & bake pizzas
2. Spaghetti & meat sauce, sourdough bread, vegetable (once a week)
3. Nachos, apple slices & dip, ice cream (Super Bowl)
4. Beans & rice w/guac, cheese, & salsa, coleslaw
5. Hamburgers, cauliflower & dip, fruit salad
6. Green beans w/ham, cheesy mashed potatoes
7. Paninis, kettle chips, apple slices & dip
8. Runzas, veggie platter w/dip
9. Hamburger soup, whole wheat rolls,
10.Birthday meal - child's choice, + chocolate cupcakes &  ice cream
11. Ham quiche, fruit salad,w.w. blueberry muffins
12. Chicken pot pie, sliced fruit
13. Chili, cornbread, fruit
14. Heart shaped pizzas, pink smoothies, ice cream w/fun toppings
15. Pork chops, mashed chipotle sweet potatoes, green beans
16. Whole wheat pancakes, scrambled eggs, fruit
17. Sausage potato chowder,w.w. breadsticks
18. Hamburger soup, whole wheat rolls
19. Taco soup w/toppings, green salad
20. Chicken tortilla soup
21. Gourmet mac & cheese w/ham,
22. Taco salad
23. Baked beans w/bacon, cornbread
24. Chicken soup (homemade noodles), crackers & cheese

chocolate zucchini muffins
Valentine sugar cookies
whole wheat bread (a few batches)
spiced caramel upside down apple cake  (with butter and regular milk)

What's cooking at your house?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

January Pantry Challenge - The Final Tally

Going into this challenge I really wanted to cut our grocery expenses in half for the month.  Half way through I realized that would not be happening.   I was trying to be extra mindful of my purchases, though perhaps unsuccessfully.  On the upside, the kitchen has been deep-cleaned.  You know the organize the pantry, clean the oven, pull out the oven and wash off all the crumbs on the side and the floor below it, pull out the fridge and vacuum the coils, scrub the greasy dust off the tops of your cabinets, scrub the inside of the fridge, "where did my whole day go?" kind of cleaning?!  I'm glad that's behind me for a few more months.

Purchases for the second half of January:
Target - two trips totaling $78.41 (purchased with gift card so nothing out of pocket)
12 2-pks baby food, facial scrub, shampoo, pizza sauce, jelly beans, croutons, 1 lb. sausage, 10 lbs. potatoes, marshmallows, ice cream cones/cherries/hot fudge/caramel (for a little party w/ice cream), soy sauce, pepperoni, ham, brown sugar, apple juice concentrate, sandwich bags, 6 pk. beer, 3 peppermint chocolate baking bars, small bottle baby oil, 2 bottles of my favorite dish soap and mustard
More than 1/2 of these things were purchased while my parents were here visiting.  I hadn't planned meals really well and also didn't want to skimp on tasty things while they were here, so there were certainly impulse purchases.

Sam's Club - $15
2 large jars salsa, big bag of lettuce, Olive Garden dressing
With my parents here, I was able to go with my mom.
Dad & Mom - Free
20-25 lbs. of pork
Thanks, Mom & Dad!

Costco - $17.50 (there for a great buy on a car seat that our girl will be needing soon)
2 gallons milk, 3 large bags Tostitos ($2.19/bag), 18 ct. eggs, sea salt

King Soopers - $65.82
20 boxes Mom's Best cereal, 20 pkgs. pasta, 14 cans diced tomatoes, 8 cans Rotel, 3 boxes Kleenex, 20 ct. dishwasher tabs, 3 bags pretzel Goldfish, 1 tube toothpaste (free), 2 bottles Dr. Pepper, 1 gallon milk, 3 Pringles, 3 4-pks yogurt, 2 pkgs. hygiene items, 11 cans of beans, 3 pkgs.pepperoni/cheese combos and 1 small pkg of M&Ms
I kind of cringe when I read this list, but know that this is not the bulk of our diet.  The cereal, pasta & tomatoes were at my stock-up price so I didn't want to miss this sale.

Costco - $9.38 (there for a prescription)
1.5 lbs. hard salami (for Friday pizza night),  3 lbs. Craisins

Total:  $107.70 out of pocket
+ $290.60 from earlier in January = $398.30

I just checked the USDA Cost of Food chart for the 2012 average cost on the Thrifty Plan and I was surprised at how high it was.  For our family on the thrifty plan we would be spending:
$627.90 (family of 4 including our 2 oldest children) + $133.90 (our 3rd child) + 100.90 (our 4th child) = $862.70
When I look at those numbers and consider that most of our meals are at home, I include paper and personal care goods in our total, we still have 2 little ones in diapers and they don't give a figure for children under age 1 in the calculations, I am encouraged. Not that we have $863 per month to spend on groceries, but this is helpful as I try to keep our budget in perspective.

Even with a month of some extra buying restraint behind us, we still have lots of food in our freezers and pantry so I am hopeful that February will be a good month for the grocery budget, too.

Monday, January 14, 2013

January Pantry Challenge Update - Half Way Done


I've been following along at Good Cheap Eats with the Pantry Challenge that she is doing and have been very inspired by it.  I've been trying to be extra mindful of shopping and using what we have, but I've already spent more than I intended for January, which doesn't bode well considering this is only the 14th.  Anyway, purchases so far are:

1/2 - Costco - $185.10  *coupon item
chicken base, 6 lbs. bananas, 5 lbs. cornbread mix (impulse buy but a closeout price), 3 lbs. celery, 5 lbs. organic baby carrots, 4 lbs. powdered sugar, 20 lbs. sugar, #10 cans of tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes, 3 lbs. sour cream, 4 lbs. turkey lunchmeat*, 3 - 26oz. bags Tostitos*, 18 ct. eggs, 6 gals. milk, 5 lbs. organic frozen green beans, 5 lbs. organic frozen mixed vegetables, 2 giant boxes of diapers*, 1120 baby wipes*.

1/10 - Costco - $8.99
take and bake pizza since it was one of those days and my husband was already stopping at the pharmacy

1/12 - Bountiful Baskets - $61.50
40 lbs. Junami apples, 2 conventional baskets which included apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, oroblancos, celery, variety colored carrots, grape tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, avocados, and mini peppers

1/13 - King Soopers - $22.01 out of pocket, also used a gift card
2 lbs. super lean ground beef, 3 gallons milk, 10 deodorants (my husband's preferred kind was on a super sale so I bought a supply to last the better part of the year), 2 pkgs. bacon (1 Coleman nitrate-free), 10 jars baby food, 2 small boxes baby cereal

1/14 - Costco - $13.00 - there again to visit the pharmacy
4 lbs. butter, 18 ct. eggs, 1 gal. chocolate milk

Total for January to date: $290.60  (of which $104.67 is non-edible)

- We have not had food going to waste and I'm glad to be using up little bits of this and that.
- I've made 3 big batches of bread (5 loaves each) this month.
- Impulse purchases have been limited.

Other observations:
- Careful shopping and cooking and planning takes time and mental energy, which are sometimes in short supply around here.
- At this point I'm not really willing to do without key ingredients unless our situation was more dire.  Case in point, today I bought butter because we were completely out and I'm not willing to go another 16 days without it, especially when we are eating lots of whole wheat bread.
- I really don't like running out of some important things (i.e. diapers!) so I would rather stock up when they are on coupon at Costco or when I am already at the store and not "have" to get to the store when I'm down to the last diaper.  Same goes for milk, butter, eggs.  At some point using up all of what you have of an item becomes a real pain. 
- We have had a dinner out at Costco when we took the whole family to look at a couch, and a couple lunches out with just my husband and our 2 year old on the day our other kids attend school.
- Aside from Costco coupons and loading offers to my Safeway card, I think my couponing days are over, or at least on hiatus for this season.
- I'm disappointed that I haven't done better with this, but I have cooked a lot.
- Aside from a quick trip with a very short list, shopping with kids is not beneficial for our budget or my sanity.  Thankfully, my husband is in full support of me shopping alone.  :)

But, all is not lost.  I'm still going to do my best to minimize expense for the rest of the month.  I'll continue to follow the menu plan from the month, improvising as needed to avoid more trips to the store.  I'm pressing on.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January Pantry Challenge & Meal Plan


It's that time of year again when we try to rein in our spending, take stock of what we already have on hand and commit to healthful living.  So I'm joining in a pantry challenge.

My goals:
1. Use up some food stocks we have in our fridge, freezer and pantry.
2. Save money by reducing our grocery and household product expenses (including diapers for 2) to $250 instead of our normal $500 by shopping sparingly & purposefully.  The money we save will go toward a furnace repair needed soon.
3. Clean and organize the pantry, fridge, and freezer and deep clean the whole kitchen.
4. Avoid eating out (one exception possibly on a day we have an appointment - use up Chick-Fil-A coupons)

Dinners - served with whatever fruit and vegetables are available, or as noted
1. pancakes w/pineapple cream, pears
2. southwest salad w/chicken, corn, beans, cheese, sour cream, etc., cheesy tortilla bites (using a package of tortillas which have stuck together badly)
3. barbacoa rice bowls, mixed fruit (orange, pineapple, pomegranate)
4. beef stew, whole wheat rolls, vegetable tray & dip, chocolate chip cookies (taking this meal to friends, also)
5. ham & pineapple pizza
6. hamburgers, baked fries
7. chicken green chili, cornbread
8. tater tot & green bean casserole (using fries),fruit salad
9. spaghetti & meat sauce (make a huge batch and freeze quarts of sauce meals later in the month)
10.breakfast for dinner - ham & cheese quiche, blueberry muffins, orange slices
11.  chicken & homemade noodles over mashed potatoes
12. macaroni & cheese w/ham, peas
13. chili, cheese breadsticks
14. meatballs, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans
15. cheesy chicken pockets (whole wheat dough)
16. spaghetti & meat sauce
17. chicken caesar sandwhiches on homemade focaccia
18. chicken pot pie, fruit salad
19. garlic pork chops, green beans, quinoa
20. roast beef, mashed potatoes & gravy
21. barbeque chicken, rice pilaf
22. broccoli cheese soup, biscuit bites
23. spaghetti & meat sauce
24 -31. flexible - I'll see what comes in our produce baskets before I decide.

chicken salad sandwiches
turkey cheese sandwiches
snack lunch
Sundays - chicken tortilla soup, orange chicken & rice,

whole wheat bread & jam
cold cereal
apple oatmeal
whole wheat pancakes
ham & egg casserole, coffee cake (for our Sunday school class)
smoothies (lots of frozen papaya & berries to use)
oats w/berries soaked in homemade yogurt
homemade granola

I'm really lacking inspiration for frugal, simple, quick, tasty lunch options.  Please share your suggestions!  There are so many days I envy the option of just throwing a pb&j together and calling it good enough.

Are you eating from the pantry this month, too?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcoming 2013 with Hope & Purpose

Goals for 2013
Get closer to God & His Word
  • in the Word daily
  • pray with and for my husband and our kids more
  • memorize Scripture individually & as a family
Take better care of myself
  • lose 30 lbs.
  • work out 5x/per week, developing into running
  • get a physical
  • go to bed at 10pm consistently
  • drink lots of water
  • refresh with hobbies & projects I enjoy
Engage more fully in homeschooling & mothering
  • make it the top priority of each day
  • take time to read and pray with each child each day
  • tuck the children in every night
  • train our precious children to be helpers & learners & hard workers & repenters & forgivers
Spend less
  • time shopping – less than 3 stops per week
  • time online – less than 1 hr each day
  • time & energy comparing myself to others

Choose joy!