Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Basement Update

After taking a couple of weeks off because of my back, I hit the basement hard today.  One of these days I'm going to actually have to relax on my 'vacation day'.  While I still have a lot to do I am pretty pleased with everything I've accomplished today.  Here's a reminder of what my laundry/storage room looked like when I started.

And here is what it looks like today as I enter the home stretch.  Can you believe the table in the picture below was underneath that mess?  Now, in the interest of 'keeping it real' I should tell you that that I moved a lot of stuff to another room.  Some of these items will be donated or will be moved back into the laundry/storage room when I get it all situated.

Here was my donation pile that I got rid of today.  After I went through, straightened and re-folded everything in this pile I ended up with 15 grocery bags for Goodwill, 4 bags for my nieces and about 10 outfits for Dress for Success .  The TV will go on the curb for the local 'man in a truck' to collect.

I've gotten a couple of items to pick up to finish the room
  • Can of black spray paint.  If you notice in the above pictures I have some bright yellow storage shelves.  I'm planning on painting those black so they are a little more subdued.
  • Shelf to hang next to the washing machine for laundry detergent
  • Hanger to hang my ironing board and iron
  • Two clothes racks with canvas sacks
I'm hoping by the time I go back to work next Tuesday to have the laundry room put together.  I'll keep you updated!

I'll be linking this up over at A Slob Comes CleanI'm an Organizing Junkie and Organizing with Sandy
You might also like:

The Basement Plan
Basement - Sort
Streamlining the Wardrobe

Vacation Goals

As you may or may not know, I'm on vacation this week.  We had hoped to go camping with the family but didn't get our act together to do that.  I'm actually using this week to get the family in prime back to school mode.  There wasn't a lot of time to do school shopping earlier so we did that yesterday.  We've also scheduled some orthodontist appointments as it's FINALLY time to get braces on.  My daughter's first orthodontist appointment was about eight years ago, she's ready to actually get the braces on.

When I'm on vacation I always have a huge to do list.  Quite frankly the list is never doable but I always say if you shoot for the stars you may hit the moon.  Shoot for the moon and you won't even leave the atmosphere.  Here's my list, I've crossed off some of the items I've already accomplished.

Go through Belle's clothes
Make a list and shop for school clothes
Go through Belle's dance stuff, make list and pick up anything she needs
Go through Belle's shopes, make list and pick up whatever she needs
Take Belle to orthodontist
Get Belle's tooth pulled (this is a new one from her ortho appointment yesterday)
Call flexible spending account to verify availability of funds (this is also a new one from her ortho appt)
Go to concert
Go to baseball game (this was suppose to be a water park but plans changed)
Buy a freezer
Finish basement cleaning project
Switch purses
Organize Goodwill pile and take to Goodwill
Write some guest posts
Write ahead my own posts
Get my custom domain name working
Buy new blinds for living room
Look at paint for living room
Fix sewing machine
Plan mom's 60th party barbecue
Buy new picture frames and switch out pictures on living room shelf
Thoroughly clean my bedroom
Start new couch cushions
Organize kitchen drawers and cabinets
Pick up birthday presents for two of my nieces' birthdays
Lose one pound
Exercise 2X this week

That's it for now, I'm sure I'll think of things to add to it.  What do you hope to accomplish this week?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Menu Planning - w/o 8-28

Why should we menu plan and take inventory BEFORE grocery shopping?  I can give you 210 reasons why it's a good idea.  Yesterday I accomplished a ton of stuff, unfortunately menu planning and inventory before shopping wasn't one of them and we completely blew our budget and it doesn't feel like I got a lot of actual meals.  However, I did snag a killer deal on my Lipton bottled tea.  Usually six bottles go for $5.99, today they were on sale 3/$12 which was like buying two getting one free.  I stopped buying these a while ago because they were so expensive but as I try to beat my McDonald's addiction I've found that these help so I limit myself to one every morning on my way to work.

Since we're on vacation this week I'm planning our meals a little loosely because we may not always be home.  Tuesday we're hoping to go to a water park and Wednesday I'm hoping to go to a concert with some friends.  Turkey is a favorite meal of ours, due to the fact that we'll have more time we did pick one up at the grocery store.  Of course that purchase didn't help our bill either.

Here's what is on the menu this week.

Banana Bread
Blueberry waffles (we're taking advantage of our vacation and having a home cooked breakfast)
Blueberry muffins (from a mix)
Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich
Blueberry bagels (can you tell I have a blueberry loving family?)

Hot Dogs
Bagel Sandwiches
Frozen Meals

Turkey (with all the fixings)
Pizza on the grill
Barbecue at friends house
Barbecue at our house (my mom is turning 60 this week so we're having a surprise party)
Dinner out

What are you planning?  Feel free to leave a link to your post in comments.

I'll be linking this up over at Life as Mom and I'm an Organizing Junkie

You might also like:

Freezing Tomatoes
July Financial Update
Bathroom Organization

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Banana Bread Recipe

Today is the first day of having the next 10 days off.  I got up early, but didn't do much except play Gardens of Time  work on the computer.  Determined not to let the day get away from me I did call my mom to see if she wanted to go to the Farmer's Market, which she did not want to do.  We met at Starbucks for coffee instead.  Since I still had a gift card from Christmas I was able to treat her which was nice.  Since then I've taken my daughter to work and made banana bread, which is the whole basis for this post!

I hate seeing things go to waste.  Every week my son asks me to buy bananas but we always seem to have one or two left over.  Instead of throwing them away I let them get brown and then throw them in the freezer with the peels on.  When the mood strikes me, like it did today, I make banana bread.  I found a wonderful recipe on Food Network that I use so I thought I would share it with you.

Emeril Lagasse's Banana Bread

10 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large bananas)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

DirectionsPreheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease a 9 1/4 by 5 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter.

Puree the bananas, sour cream, eggs and vanilla in a food processor.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fixed with a whisk attachment. Add the remaining 10 tablespoons butter and mix on medium-low speed until blended, about 30 seconds. Add the banana mixture in 3 batches, scraping the sides of the bowl and mixing on medium speed between each addition. Fold in the nuts.

Pour into the loaf pan. Bake until lightly browned and bread bounces back to the touch, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool completely.

If you don't like nuts just leave them out, that's what I do.  This is some of the best banana bread that I have ever tasted.  A little trick that I've found is when peeling the banana, pull down a strip of the peel but them take it off from the side.  Because it's a little mushy it doesn't really peel very nice like a normal banana.  Taking the peeling off from the side allows me to do it in one piece.  I let the bananas sit on the counter for about five minutes, at that point they're generally soft enough to break into pieces and throw into the food processor.  You don't need to wait until they're completely thawed.

Hope you enjoy it!  I'd love to hear how the recipe turns out for you.

I'll be linking this up at Day & Age Design and We are THAT Family

You might also like:

Tuscan Chicken Stew
Freezing Tomatoes
Carrot Cake Recipe

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frugal Friday - Christmas Shopping

As I've shared with you, my plan for this year is to try and get my Christmas shopping done before our Christmas Club is released.  This will enable me to use the Christmas funds I've saved for our vacation and keep my eyes open for killer sales since I'm shopping so early.

This week's purchase wasn't exactly a frugal buy but since it falls into my frugal Christmas shopping plan I thought I'd share it.  Kristen at We are THAT Family had posted about some new products that were available at the Mercy House store.  I faithfully followed her journey to Africa earlier this summer and loved the beaded necklaces that the girls were making in one of the pictures she posted.  I have to share that I have a soft spot in my heart for young, single, pregnant girls so when I saw her post go up that those products were available I headed right over there to purchase one of them.

For $20 (plus a couple of bucks shipping and handling) I got a really cool necklace, handmade by young women in Africa.  If that necklace was in a retail shop here it would cost more than $20 so I thought it was a pretty good deal.  My plan is to give this necklace to my sister-in-law for Christmas,  but I don't know that I can honestly do that since I really want it for myself :)  I'm thinking about heading over there next paycheck and buying a couple more for my daughter and nieces for Christmas (and maybe one for myself).  Hopefully she'll still have some in stock!

That's four presents down, I don't even want to think about how many more I have to go!

Are you planning on doing your shopping early or are you going to wait until after Thanksgiving?

I'll be linking this up over at Life as Mom

You might also like:

Preparing for Christmas
Saving Money Eating Out
Time Management - Preparing for the Week

Organizing the Pot and Pan Drawer

Our house has a pretty small kitchen.  To optimize the space, there is a cabinet underneath the breakfast bar that we use to store our pots and pans.  When we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago my husband insisted that I spend the extra money to have pull out shelves put in, I'm so glad I listened to him :)

Unfortunately it's still a pain to get into the cabinet and I tend to keep it overstuffed with items I don't use regularly.  As I've been thinking about my basement organization (I haven't forgotten it, I'll get to it next week.  I PROMISE!) one of the spaces I wanted to create was a kitchen storage space.  My kitchen drawers and cabinets are packed with items I don't use regularly but I use often enough that I don't want to get rid of the them.  My thought was to create an easy to get to space in the basement where I can grab the cookware that I use infrequently rather easy.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit but I'm quite a slackard.  I decided to start in my pot and pan drawer since it's one of my most frequent go-to places and quite frankly the easiest to deal with!  I wasn't feeling overly ambitious this week (I started my yoga classes and have been nursing some sore muscles) but didn't want to lose my momentum.  By accomplishing something, even such a small task, it keeps me accountable. 

To start with I forced myself to honestly answer what items were used regularly.  This was fairly easy and didn't require a lot of sacrifice.  I choose to send the griddle, steamer, double boiler and waffle iron downstairs.  I kept my pots & pans, my That's a Bowl from Tupperware, the quesadilla maker, a mixing bowl and my wooden salad bowl in the cabinet.  Assuming the pots get put away correctly, this should enable me to keep a fairly organized cabinet and get at my pots a little easier. 

I'm having problems with my camera so hopefully I'll be able to get some pictures up shortly.

What did you get accomplished this week?

I'll be posting this at I'm an Organizing Junkie

You might also like:

The Unplanned Giving
Bathroom Organization
Tomato Salad Recipe

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Planning our 2012 Family Vacation

As I shared in our financial update, we’ve booked a family trip for Q1 2012. A couple of times a year the kids and I may take a mini-vacation to see relatives and as a family we try to take time off to do day trips but it’s been fairly rare for us to take a big vacation like the one we’re planning.

The last big vacation that we took was about four years ago, we took a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Sea. Everyone had an absolute blast; it was the best vacation all four of us ever took together. I will admit, the trip to Hawaii that we took when I had to “work” at a trade show was probably on par but that didn’t include the kids so I’m not counting it.

Since we had so much fun visiting the ports of calls, the wonderful meals and the awesome kids’ activities we’ve decided to do it again. We’ve book our cabin and are starting to look at excursion options. The husband and kids think they are going to get me on a zip-line, we’ll see about that! I’m still getting grief for not climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica so I may need to show them what I’m made of.

Obviously a trip like this requires some financial planning. One of the things that I like about booking with Royal Caribbean is that you can book the cruise with a small down payment and then pay off the balance within so many months of your trip. Since we don’t ever seem to be able to get a vacation fund going this is a good way for our family to take a trip but still pay cash for our vacation. I try to make a payment every check, even if it’s a small one so that I don’t lose momentum. I’m always afraid of a big Uh Oh moment when the final payment is due.

My plan is to start a feature called Travel Thursdays where most weeks (not all) I’ll share my thoughts on various vacations spots, recommendations as to what worked well for my family, business travel with kids, my tips on traveling, etc. If there are any topics you would be interesting in reading about or if you have an idea for a guest post I’d love to hear it.

Do you have any exciting trips coming up?

You may also like:

Vacationing with Friends
Weeds in the Garden
Cleaning out the Pantry

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Do You Want Out of Your Job?

Women enter the workforce for many reasons. I’m sure a significant reason is financial motivation but I also think that there are women out there who for whatever reasons want to have a career outside the home. Whatever your reasons are for working outside the home, I do think it’s important to have the home/work life balance that YOU want and are able to live with.

Over my career I’ve had a lot of conversations with women about the balancing act, both as a manager and as a fellow employee. My observations are that the people who are the happiest have made a commitment; a commitment to be content with doing a good job but not look for promotions or a commitment to make the sacrifices necessary to move up the ladder. Either way they own their decision and adjust their thinking accordingly. For those women who do not make a commitment to be content with where they are at or make the sacrifices necessary there is a constant daily struggle between purposes.

When you make a decision to be satisfied with where you are at, typically you can go into work every day and be successful in your role and understand that you may not be given opportunities or compensation that other may be offered. You can commit to an eight-nine hour work day and then leave at the end of the day to manage the household or whatever else it is you want to do outside of work. There may not be an opportunity for more money but at this stage in your life having a little more balance towards home is what you want and need. Depending on your field of choice you may be able to start climbing the ladder when your personal situation changes and you are able to make the sacrifices. There are many professional and non-professional fields that fall into this category.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tuscan Chicken Stew Review

If you read my menu for the week you would see that I had Tuscan Chicken Stew planned for the week. This was a new recipe, which in the WWIN household is a pretty rare occurrence. My husband really does not like change or trying new things, I think that’s one of the reasons that we’ve been married so long :) My last foray into a new menu item was grilled catfish, I’m still getting quite a bit of grief for that so I entered the Tuscan Chicken waters with a little trepidation.

Overall consensus was that it was OK, nothing great just OK. However, I thought I would still share the recipe with you because you and your family may really like it. You have to remember, my family is a spaghetti w/meatballs, steak, hamburger, brat kind of family so this stew was outside their comfort range.

Tuscan Chicken Stew from McCormick’s

• ½ tsp fennel seed

• 1 tsp basil leaves

• 1 tsp minced garlic

• 1 tsp crushed rosemary

• ½ tsp oregano

• ½ tsp course ground black pepper

• 2 tbsp olive oil

• 1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes

• 1 medium onion cut into ½ inch thick wedges

• 1 15oz can of cannellini or other white beans; drained and rinsed

• 1 14.5 oz can dice tomatoes, undrained

• ¼ cut red wine or water

• 1 tsp salt

• 6 oz baby spinach leaves

Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook and stir 10 minutes or until browned. Remove chicken from skillet. Add onion and fennel seed; cook and stir on medium heat 5 minutes or until tender.

Stir in beans, tomatoes, red wine, remaining spices and salt. Bring to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Return chicken to skillet

Stir in spinach. Cover. Cook 5 minutes longer or until spinach is wilted.

Even though the original recipe didn’t call for it, the consensus was that this would have been better if served with some sort of rice. I personally thought a wild rice might go nice with it.

If you make the recipe I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Menu Planning

Every once in a while it happens, I don't have my usual amount for grocery shopping available.  This has been a pretty brutal month for us financially between Sophie's bee debacle, school fees, tuition payments and book purchasing.  We've run out of cash and have $165 available for groceries and anything else that pops up between now and next Thursday when we'll get another paycheck.  As I've shared, I budget $200 a week for groceries so even though quite often we may only spend $150 - $175 not having my normal amount makes me a little fidgeting.  On top of that, my husband is kicking up his 'specialty' diet again which means he buys a lot of food specifically for him which adds to our grocery bill.  Luckily for us we have plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, cereal and laundry detergent so that's some expensive stuff we won't be needing. 

To help keep expenses down I've inventoried our fridge & pantry and have planned out meals based on what we have already available.  Here's my menu for the week;

  • Zucchini Bread - I never did get around to making this last week so I'll be making it this evening
  • Blueberry Muffins
  • Blueberry Bagels
  • Cereal

  • Hot dogs
  • Bagel sandwiches
  • Personal pizzas
  • Quesadillas
  • Frozen lunches
  • Macaroni & Cheese
  • Grilled pizza - we still have left over dough, cheese, onions, mushrooms & garlic so I shouldn't need anything for this meal
  • Hamburgers - we still have a pack of hamburgers in the freezer and some slightly stale buns left over from this week.  I'm going to throw the buns in the freezer until we make the hamburgers and then toast them in the oven with some butter before serving.  The kids will never know they're stale!
  • Brats - will need to buy these this week
  • Beef taco's/taco salad/quesadillas - Everyone likes their tacos a different way and I'm OK with this.  My daughter will take the taco fixings and make a quesadilla for herself, my husband will make himself a salad and my son and I will have plain taco's.  We will need to buy everything for this.
  • Tuscan Chicken Stew - this is a new recipe and I will have to buy about half of the ingredients.  I'm not sure if the family is going to like this so I'll let you know next week how it goes.
  • Dinner at Outback with friends
  • Fend for yourself - we have a night where we're all kind of scattered so this will be leftovers or whatever.  I have a customer dinner so I'm taken care of :)
Update:  I made the Tuscan Chicken Stew Sunday night for dinner.  You can read my review of the recipe here

Not that I'm trying to wish summer away but I'm looking forward to pulling out my winter repertoire where I actually cook a little more.  It's been quite a while since we've had spaghetti & meatloaf!

What's on your plate for the week?

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie

You might also like:

Freezing Tomatoes
Cleaning out the Pantry
Meatloaf Recipe

Friday, August 19, 2011

My First Christmas Present of the Year

If you've been following my financials goals you will know that this past year was the first time that I established a Christmas Club.  Even though Christmas comes at the same time every year, previous years have found my Chrismas shopping done in one of two ways:
  • An organized fashion where I started in the summer buying as much as I can, finishing in December with our third paycheck or my bonus (haven't gotten a December bonus in a number of years).  There was usually quite a bit of stressing about how to afford Christmas.
  • A disorganized fashion where I started in December using our third paycheck for Christmas, there was typically A LOT of stress about how to afford Christmas.
 Unfortunately both ways resulted most of the time in the credit card being pulled out to finish up.  Last year was the first year that I didn't stress quite as much and didn't have to use the credit card but I still felt there had to be a better way.  Hence, the Christmas Club goal this year.

In addition to the club, I've been planning other ways to find Christmas money (you can read more about that here).  I'm happy to say that I bought my first present this week and it didn't cost me a dime!

As I've gotten older I try to make my gifts more meaningful.  I'm not saying I never give the plastic 'it' toy but I do try to be more thoughtful in my gift choices and give either practical gifts, experience gifts or lifetime gifts.  By lifetime gifts I mean gifts that the kids can carry with them into adulthood.

On a trip to Washington D.C. a number of years ago I stumbled across the White House ornament and fell in love.  My mother and grandmother always included special ornaments in our presents and I loved the idea of creating a whole series for my daughter.  Over the years I've included my nieces in the annual ornament collection.  Here is this year's White House Ornament ($17.95- no S&H, Click here to be taken to the website.  This is not an affiliate link)

Now for the good stuff.  I ended up getting my three ornaments for free by using my credit card points.  Note If you are not in position (or have the will power) to pay your card off in full please don't try to use credit card points, they aren't worth it.  I use the Chase points, what I like about Chase is that you can buy the item in question with your credit card and pay that specific item with your points.  As soon as the item shows up in your statement (I pay my statement at minimum twice a month) you can go into your rewards and transfer points directly to that purchase.  This is what I did with the ornaments making them free.  Yeah!

I'm expecting to be able to get a couple more items for free using my Chase points.  I'm hoping to make my next purchase with Swagbucks but I'm still almost 1,000 points short, I need to get on those surveys!  I'm actually trying to get the majority of my shopping done before the release of my Christmas Club funds so that I can set that money aside for our super cool trip we are planning in Q1 2012.

I'll keep you updated on my shopping progress.  How about you, have you started your shopping yet?

I'll be linking this up over at Life as Mom and We are THAT Family

You might also like:

What do you Want out of Your Job?
Preparing for Christmas
Financial Check Up - July
Rock Star Mom Moment

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Streamlining the Wardrobe

I'm skipping the basement update this week because I did a number on my back and it's all out of whack.  A couple of trips to the chiropractor is starting to put me back on track but I'm not 100% yet and I didn't want to mess it up further by doing a lot of bending and lifting.

Even though my back is not cooperating I didn't want to lose momentum on my organizing progress I've been making so I switched to my wardrobe.  If you would ask me I would tell you that I don't have many clothes.  The problem is my closet is jammed, my drawers are jammed, my totes in the basement are jammed; for someone with "not a lot of clothes" I seemed to be tripping over a lot of clothes!

A large part of my problem is that I don't wear a lot of clothes that I have.  There are clothes that I like but they just are not comfortable, they may be to small or I may have gotten them as a gift  or found a good sale deal and I just don't want to get rid of them even though I don't wear them.  Having all these clothes laying around was preventing me from keeping my closet as organized as I would like and actually was stressing me out quite a bit.

To start this process I put all the clothes I was had  (except the totes in the basement that I already had gone as part of my organizing project down there) on the bed.  This meant emptying my closet and my drawers (with the exception of my unmentionable drawer - I haven't tackled that yet).  Next I looked at every item and made a decision to keep, donate or throw away.  I still need to go through my donate pile one more time because I am planning on donating my business clothes to a different organization than Goodwill but I'll talk about that more later.  The throw away pile is pretty small because unless it was in bad shape or underwear I donate it.

Initial Clothes Pile

When making my decision I asked myself the following questions;
  • Have I worn this article of clothing lately (taking into account seasonality)
  • Is it still in style
  • Do I like it?
  • Does it fit?
  • Is it comfortable to wear and do I feel good in it?
  • Is it ripped or stained?
  • How many similar pieces do I have?  This may seem like a foolish question but I have quite a few black shirts! 

 You would be surprised how many pieces of clothes I got rid of even though I liked them. If the collar of a shirt doesn't lay right, the length of a blouse is uncomfortable or the cuffs irritate you then most likely you won't wear the clothes or if you do you aren't comfortable in them. Instead of having these clothes take up space and stress me out I would rather get rid of them. My opinion is that it's better to have fewer articles of clothes that I love versus a lot of clothes that I don't like.

I've gotten through the sort process but I do still want to do some further organizing. A couple of months ago I read a blog where they had drawer sorters that looked pretty cool. Once I'm done with the basement I'm going to see what options are available for my drawers and closet.

 Clothes to Donate

Clothes to Keep

There were a few items that went into drawers that I didn't take a picture of.  I also still have a few more things that I couldn't make a decision about.  I'm thinking that if I don't love it enough to keep it initially it should go in my give away pile.

I like to donate my business clothes to a charity called Dress for Success.  Their mission "is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life."  I personally like to support non-profits that specifically help women to better their positions in life.  Providing a professional wardrobe to women who need the help is an excellent way to do this.

I'm planning on doing a posting on putting together a professional wardrobe within the next few weeks so I'll show you what I kept as well as how I mix and match to make the clothes go farther.

That's what I've been up to, what about you?

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie and Organize with Sandy

You might also like:
Basement Organization - Start
Basement Update
Building Your Village

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Using Your Village

Two weeks ago we talked about building your village; Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook also mentioned that her church was part of her village. She is absolutely right, the church is an excellent piece of the village and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it except that I don’t use my church as part of my village. I don’t feel a real community with our church. Additionally, it’s struggling just to survive right now and so much of everyone’s time and energies are focused on just keeping the church afloat. I have other resources available to me so I use those instead.

So you have your village, what now? Use it! I may have shared this before but I’ll share again. A Facebook friend of my sent me an IM late one night (neither one of us could sleep) about how overwhelmed she was. This friend was very depressed and shared that she had lost all joy in being a mother. She was actually looking for a job halfway across the country and was not planning on taking her children with her when she moved. I asked her what kind of support system she had in place and she told me that she had no one. This friend had moved away so she had no close friends or family who could take her kids and give her a break. The relationship with the girl’s father was a little acrimonious so she couldn’t ask him for help either. I counseled her as best I could, suggesting she see a doctor for her depression and stressing that any decision she made right now would have a lasting effect on her kids lives and their relationship with her.

  • We all want to be good mothers, knowing when to accept help is the first start. Remember, there are a lot of mother’s out there in the same boat so reciprocity is a wonderful thing! Here are some ideas of how to use your village, they aren’t rocket science but I hope you will find someone of them useful.
  • Have alternative carpooling in place. I cannot tell you how many times my bacon has been saved by someone else picking up my kids for me, especially when my husband was working 2nd shift. Whether it was my son, my mother or a friend’s parent I had someone who would be willing to fill the gap for me. Knowing your children are safe is priceless when you can’t be there. 
  • Barter for services. Managing stress is all about knowing what you are good at and getting someone else to take care of what you aren’t good at. You may be an awful housekeeper but you are able to whip up an awesome birthday cake in no time flat. By collectively pulling together as a group you and your friends can save time and money. Consider trading a few hours of house cleaning for a birthday cake. How about a friend who is a whiz at sewing, she can take care of all your mending while you watch her kids so that she and her husband can go out without paying a babysitter. My experience has been that we are all so busy we’re afraid to ask for help or perhaps even more afraid that we will be asked to help! The possibilities are endless if you get creative. 
  • Get a cooking group together. I’ve seen it done different ways but I personally like the method where everyone decides on a dish to make. You make X amount of those dishes in your own kitchen and then swap (kind of like a cookie exchange). Everyone goes home with as many dishes as there are people in your group and you only had to whip up one dish X times. You could explore the option of seeing if there is a kitchen where you could all get together to do your cooking. A local school may (depending on regulations) let you borrow one of their Home Ec classrooms for a cooking get together.  
  • Swap babysitting or plan a kid party. Last year I filled in for one of my daughter’s babysitting gigs and made $40! Who can afford to spend that much on a babysitter? Getting out for a date night, errands or shopping is important. Rather than paying a sitter, make arrangements to swap with a friend. Another idea, take turns with a group of moms hosting a kid party. This idea came from my son’s birthday parties which were always the week before Christmas. The other moms loved me because I would watch their kids for a few hours while they finished Christmas shopping and all it cost them was a birthday present! An example would be if you had four moms whose children got along reasonably well, you could schedule every 8am – noon on Saturday as ‘free time’. Once a month each of the moms would host the play date while the other moms got four hours to themselves for whatever they wanted. Is four hours of child horror fun worth the three free Saturday morning you got?  
  • Solicit (and take) advice from those of us that came before you, we have a lot to share. I can guarantee you that the overwhelmed feelings you are experiencing have been experienced by the majority of us at some point. Rather than brushing off the well meaning advice, see if there isn’t a speck of truth in it. I remember as a new mother I completely disregarded the advice not to let the baby sleep with us. When I finally weaned the three year old from our bed I decided that maybe those mothers knew what they were talking about. Our daughter slept in her crib from day one. You need to do what’s best for your family but sometimes as young mothers we think we know better than the older ones. 
  • Use your mentor at work for feedback on your professional development. I see women floundering all the time with trying to balance their career and their family; the internal conflict can be incredibly overwhelming. To help ease your way see if you can make friends with someone you admire at work. Ask for honest feedback as to your strengths and weaknesses, how you come across to others and what their recommendations would be to improve. Some women may not feel comfortable offering you advice but you don’t know until you ask. However, if you are going to ask you need to be open and honest with yourself about what you hear. It may be painful.
Are there any other suggestions you have about utilizing your village?

I’ll be posting this over at We are THAT Family and Women Living Well

They Call Him Captain America

I had the privilege of touring my husband’s place of employment recently. Due to the unique clientele they serve, his facility is typically off limits to the public. However, because of some recent construction they were allowing the family members of the employees to tour the building.

Within five minutes of entering the building I was introduced to a woman who enthusiastically shook my hand and gushed over my husband. “Did you know we call your husband Captain America? He is so wonderful and I feel so much safer when he’s on duty” she said to me. I have a pet name for him too and let me tell you, it’s not Captain America. I won’t share the name with you but let’s suffice it to say that it’s on the other end of the complimentary spectrum. Of course, I now add the word Captain to the front of it because that’s what wives do :)

This picture may not be used without express permission from Wonder Woman I'm Not

This incident did get me thinking about how my husband is treated at work and how he is treated at home. For instance, I get home from work last week to find out that my husband has cleaned the bathtub and toilet for me in my bathroom. Sounds really sweet, don’t it? Do you want to know my reaction was? “D*mn it! You know I really hate it when you bleach my bathroom!” His version of cleaning is to spray bleach over everything, let it sit and then rinse it off. The bleach smell lingers for days and gives me a headache even though I do have a shiny bathtub. Of course, he and the kids were rolling on the floor with laughter because they had been taking bets on how soon I would notice the smell and what my reaction would be. The point is, instead of graciously accepting my clean bathroom I nagged at him for doing me a favor while at work he is showered with adoration (ok – maybe that’s a little strong but you get my point). Over the long haul where would you rather spend your time?

My give back this week was to really show more appreciation for my husband, because even though he isn’t perfect he is really a great guy and I’m so thankful I have him in my life. Here are some of the things that I’ve done this week to show my appreciation to him.
  • Be more meaningful when complimenting him. It’s not unusual for me throughout the week to tell him how thankful I am to have him in my life but I don’t always really tell him specifically what it is that I appreciate about him. I think the ‘you’re wonderful’ can get a little stale if you don’t say what specifically it is that makes him wonderful. Even if it’s something as simple as the way his hug makes you feel when everything is going wrong that day, he needs to know that.
  • Help him out with his chores a little more. My guy is the laundry man of the house. Quite frankly I don’t even think about putting on a load of laundry unless I’m stripping the beds to wash the sheets. When I see the basket is getting full I’ve been trying to throw in a load of laundry so it’s one less he has to do. This really doesn’t cost me that much time but shows that I’m trying to make his life a little easier. 
  • Asking him what he would like me to do differently. At work I solicit feedback all the time as to what could make me better at my job yet I seldom do that at home. I asked him this week what I could do better. His response was “Nothing, I think you’re perfect just the way you are”. I don’t really believe there isn’t anything I could improve upon but I appreciated his answer. When pressed he did say that I could ask him to get another tattoo. He traded a second tattoo for a second dog last summer so he’s not allowed to ask for another one (tattoo that is). His thought process was if I would ask him he would be doing me a favor and wouldn’t be breaking his promise. That ain’t gonna happen!
It’s so easy to get caught up in our busy lives and not realize how we are treating the ones we love. Stopping periodically to truly let them know how much they are appreciated is truly important. He is my Captain America but I think I’ll stick with my other pet name for him :)

I'll be linking this up over at Living so Abundantly and Life in a Cookie Jar

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Menu Planning - Without Taking Inventory or Making a Shopping List!

Life happens.  I guess that's the only way that I can explain what happened this week.  Our menu planning, inventory taking and list making had been going so well and then......we entered the grocery store without a plan.

Thursday afternoon I get a call at work from my husband saying he thinks we need to grocery shop Thursday night instead of our normal 'date' Friday night.  He was off on Thursday, bored and wanted to get out of the house.  I like to be flexible, but let me tell you.  I was tired, I was wearing high heels, I hadn't had a chance to put together the menu, inventory hadn't been taken and the shopping list wasn't made up.  However, for a little sweet talk and Panera's Fuji Apple Salad I'm up for almost anything!  Even wearing those darn heels for 13 hours straight.

At the grocery store we talked about what we wanted to eat that week, if I wasn't sure if we had the ingredients I called the kids and had them check for me.  All in all we did pretty good.  We only spent $160, $20 of which was dog food so that doesn't seem too bad.  I also found a killer deal on cereal which really excited me, we are well stocked with Fruit Loops for the next few weeks.  Here's what I'm planning on us eating this week.

Zucchini bread (I have three big ginormous zucchini's to shred and freeze)
Blueberry muffins
Cereal (does that surprise you after my deal?)
Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sandwiches
Bagels and cream cheese

Frozen meals
bagel sandwiches
hot dogs
left overs
personal pizzas

Chicken tacos
Pizza on the grill (hopefully this week we'll perfect our technique)
Grab what you want night (I have a customer dinner, the family will probably have brats for a second night)
Dinner Out
Not sure - I actually don't know what we're going to do one of the nights.  we might order a pizza or just throw together a meal with what I have in the freezer

I'm starting to think about what I'm going to make for my freezer cooking I'm scheduling the last week in August.  We're both on vacation that week and I have about a gazillion things I want to get accomplished.  One of which will be filling up the new freezer I'm hoping to buy :)

By the way, my husband was jammed on Friday (had to work both 1st and 2nd shift) so I would have been grocery shopping by myself.  I guess there was a bigger plan in place.  I went clothes shopping instead.  That was soooo much more fun :)

What about you?  What's on your plate?

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

often go awry.  I use that saying a lot and today was no exception.  My morning was spent at an open house at my husband's place of employment.  Once I got home I was planning on getting the following done:
  • Thoroughly clean the kitchen and living room
  • Shred my three zucchinis
  • Make zucchini bread
  • Spend time working on the blog
  • Work on the basement
A little optimistic but somewhat doable, right?  Sure, if you don't have a dog sit on a bee's nest.  Shortly after I got home from the open house I took the dogs out to go potty.  They both went right away but I thought I would let them run around (our yard is fenced in) for a while.  My flower beds are a favorite place for them to play so I wasn't surprised when they both went right there.  Anna started acting goofy, running around the place but I didn't think much of it until Sophie started whining and batting at her face.  It turns out she was sitting on the nest and being swarmed by bees!

The bees have dug a whole underneath the pot to the left of long leaf that is bent over.  I was afraid to get much closer to take the picture!  Please don't judge me by my weeds :)

After I dragged her off the nest (I think she was to freaked out to move) and pulled a few bees out of her coat she ran into the house.  I thought both dogs were OK until I came back in (I was trying to see if we had any bee killer in the garage and called our neighbor to make sure their dog didn't get into the nest).  When I couldn't find Sophie I started panicking, when I found her under the bed not moving I really freaked out.  We're very fortunate to have a high quality emergency animal center within 30 minutes of our house that I was able to get her to.

Long story short, they're keeping my poor baby overnight but she is OK.  She had quite a few bee stings and was in a little bit of shock but she's responded well to treatment and should be able to come home tomorrow morning. 

Of course any overage in my budget that I had for the month is shot and I dread writing my financial update at the end of the month, but our dogs are part of the family and treating Sophie was not an option. 

As far as the bees, I'm planning on waiting until dark and then pour boiling water down the hole followed by bee poison.  Hopefully that will take care of the situation.  Obviously the dogs can't go back there until we get the nest taken care of.

I guess I'll go clean my kitchen now, after I kill the bee that's just started buzzing around my head!  I must have missed on one Sophie's coat when she came in the house

Any other suggestions for dealing with the bee's nest?

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Exciting Cereal Find

If you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll know that my grocery budget is quite large. I have to admit, this absolutely kills my inner frugalista when I think about how much I could save if I had more time to devote to coupon clipping, going to different stores for deals, etc. I pacify the frugal side of me by; shopping at the lowest overall grocery store in the area, clipping a few coupons from the newspaper, printing off some coupons from Swagbucks and picking up the coupons that the store sticks on the shelves. I may only average $5 in coupon savings but better $5 in my pocket than in the food industry’s pocket!

Now, imagine if you will gentle reader. It’s a Thursday evening, a young couple (hey – it’s my story I can be whatever age I want) is venturing into the grocery store without taking inventory of their pantry and refrigerator or making a shopping list. The wife has worked a long day, is wearing high heels (because she didn’t plan on grocery shopping on a Thursday evening!) and has been stuck with a cart that keeps pulling to the right. Snaking past the cereal aisle they decide they don’t need cereal that week because there MUST be some left, at least judging by the number of open cereal boxes the wife saw that morning in the cupboard (and the wife is trying to avoid as many aisles as she can in those high heels!).

Cut to the next aisle, the wife remembers that the daughter needs granola bars; the granola bars that are located at the far end of the cereal aisle. As the wife weaves her way through the sea of shopping carts, a flier catches her eye. What is that? Is that a coupon for $5 off 10 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal? She’s torn, is buying $30 of cereal worth the $5 that she would save. Wait! Is that a sale tag on the shelf below the small boxes of Fruit Loops? Can it be true - $1.69 for the 8.7 oz box of cereal? Her tired mind quickly starts doing the math in her head. 10 boxes would only cost $10.69 $16.90; with the $5 coupon she would only have to spend $5.69 $8.45on cereal. At this point the Pricing Director takes over – “Do the math sister! Is it cheaper to buy those small boxes of cereal or the larger boxes of cereal that typically has a better price per ounce?” The tired woman pulls out her cell phone (because the calculator that is typically attached to her hand at work has been left at on her desk neatly where it belongs) and does the math. Gasp – can that number be right? Is that truly only $.065 (I don't know what this number should be - I don't have my calculator and it's early!) per ounce of cereal after the discount?

I guess when I was shopping I was more tired than I thought!  Totally did the match wrong - and I do analytics for a living!  Even though I spent $3 more than I thought it's still a rockin deal and I'm still excited, albeit slightly less due to the fact the I've shown all of you what an idiot I am :)  Thanks Wendi.

As fast as her high heels can take her she races to her waiting husband who is, quite frankly, surprised at how fast she’s moving. “Quick, bring the cart” the wife hollers. The couple quickly pulls 10 boxes of Fruit Loops off the shelf, much to the dismay of the throngs of shoppers making their way to the waiting boxes of cereal. Victory! The tired woman exclaims as she moves forward to the next adventure lurking for her down the dog food aisle.

End of scene. Fade to black.

Ok, it really wasn’t QUITE that dramatic (and there really weren’t throngs of people trying to get the same deal, only one or two) but I was pretty pumped to buy 10 boxes of cereal at an average of $.57 per box. Of course my daughter says “Fruit Loops? I really wanted Captain Crunch!” Suck it up little girl, you’ll be eating Fruit Loops for quite a while.  She actually lucky that there was only one coupon per visit otherwise she'd be eating Fruit Loops for the year.

Here's a picture of my deal - sorry for the picture quality.  I had to take it with my Blackberry and I guess I must have moved a little bit.  The phone is not very forgiving of movement

Have you found any deals lately that got you as excited as my cereal deal got me?

I’ll be linking this up over at Money Saving Mom

Starting at McDonald's

Ask a parent if they think kids should work and you get a variety of answers.  Our philosophy is that as soon as the kid is old enough to get a work permit (14 in our state) they should be working.  I'm not talking a full time job, I'm talking about a few hours on the weekend at a fast food restaurant. 

Last week was our daughter's turn to join the rank of file of employees, very grudgingly.  We have connections at the local McDonald's so that's where both of our kids work.  Belle did quite a bit of complaining up to actually starting work.  I'm not going to have any time to hang with my friends, the uniforms are ugly, I don't want to have to work........ The list goes on.  This is the same little girl who tries to get out of her chores as often as she can.  She was suppose to clean the bathroom yesterday but she turned her sweet little smile on daddy who ended up doing it for her - ugh!  She didn't get off scot-free, he assigned other chores, they just weren't as hard.

Here is a list of some of the things what we hope our kids will actually get out of working:

  • The value of hard work and the necessity of doing the job right the first time
  • The value of money.  When the kids have to pay for things the items suddenly aren't that important
  • The affect your actions can have on others (not picking up after ourselves, etc)
  • Getting along with others, even if we don't like them
  • Managing your time wisely
  • Planning your schedule in advance so that you don't have to work for an important event
  • Money management.  We set up a personal account for the kids at the bank next door to McDonald's.  They are responsible for cashing their check, saving half and managing their money.  Their account is connected to mine so I do some monitoring
The kids do learn these things at home, but sometimes getting the lesson from someone who isn't your parent sinks in a little better.

Here are her observations from her first few days:
  • Working is much better than she thought it would be, she's glad she has the job
  • Working is very tiring, especially such a physical job as cleaning the lobby at McDonald's.  She wishes I could understand how working 4 hours at McDonald's is so much more tiring than my 10 hours in the office.  I do sit on my hinder all day you know!
  • Spending money that you've actually worked for can be very rewarding.  She gets to blow her whole first paycheck at the shopping mall today - all $23.64 of it.  Future paychecks have 50% going in the bank.
  • The uniform really isn't that bad, even though her pants are a little short :)
Do your kids work?  What lessons have they gotten out of it?

You might also like:
Saving Money Eating Out
July Financial Update

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Basement Organization - Update

It's taking me a little longer to get through my basement project than I would like.  Unfortunately I haven't had a lot of time to work on it with everything going on at work and home.  I did do some work last weekend but we ended up doing a number of fun things, which we don't do very often, so I'm not beating myself up to bad.

I've gotten through pulling everything out (there was another section that you really couldn't see in the pictures I've posted.)  If you could see the basement right now, it may look like I'm not making much progress in the pictures, but trust me - I am.  Unfortunately my camera is dead and I don't have the time right this minute to charge it.   If I can I'll put some pictures up later.  Here are the pictures I promised.  I will say that the TV in the Goodwill pile will actually go on the curb Sunday night where I'm sure the local junk collector will take it - at least I hope so.

Since I'm currently in the 'sort' phase (or if we remember our Japanese lesson from the last post 'Seiri') I have been grouping similar items together with the intent of going through and purging once I've completed sort.  I currently have the following piles going:

Scrap booking (Since Mixbook is offering their 50% off I'm going to try and get a book or two done this weekend)
Crafts for the kids/Christmas projects (I have a TON of of canning jars)
Sewing projects
Winter gear (I'm still trying to find out how with eight hands in our household we have about 30 gloves in the house)
Kitchen stuff
Goodwill pile

My husband works this weekend so I'm hoping to finish the sort either Saturday or Sunday.

I've been putting a lot of thought into the future organization.  For this project to have long term success I really need to make sure that my husband buys into it, especially since he's the laundry guru and he is the master of a large portion of the area.  I have quite a few thoughts as to what I need to do but I'll share those when I get into the actual organizing week!

How is your organization project going?

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie

You might also like:

July Financial Update
Give Back Thursday
Building Your Village

Give Back Thursday

This week’s post is a little different as I’m going to talk about an opportunity that I was given this past week through work. The United Way is one of the charities that my husband and I support; it actually makes up a significant portion of our non-church charitable giving. I like the fact that the money stays local and helps the people in our area who really need it.

While my employer tries to keep United Way top of mind all year long through various fund raising opportunities, every fall there is a campaign drive where they generate the majority of their giving. This year as my employers is preparing the campaign; a few of us were invited to tour a few of the agencies that receive our donations.

All I can say is WOW! We toured the Boys and Girls facility, a domestic abuse shelter and heard presentations from a sexual assault crisis center as well as an agency that helped low income people with transitional housing. Did I know that there was need before this? Absolutely. Did I know statistically some of the things that were going on? Sure I did. However, to see the impact first hand and to hear from women who used these services was very moving.

Here are some of few take aways from my tour.
  • I am going to stop complaining about paying for field trips for my kids. At the Boys & Girls Club the majority of the kids they serve live in households that make under $20,000 annually. A significant portion make under $12,000 annually. The thought of how many times those mothers' need to say no to those sweet little faces made my heart break.
  • 1 out of every 3 girls will be sexually assaulted by the time she is 18. To put that in perspective, my Girl Scout troop was made up of 30 girls. That means that 10 of those girls will be assaulted by the time they reach 18. That is unfathomable to me.
  • The shelter that we toured provided shelter for 368 women in 2010. There were another almost 1,000 that received counseling services. Let me tell you, while they did everything they could to make the facility nice. I can’t imagine sharing a room the size of a dorm room with my family of 4+ or sharing with another mother and her child. My heart breaks for the women who have the need to use the facility. The journey they must have taken to get there and the lack of resources available to them is unimaginable to me in my very comfortable life.
If we don’t do something to break the cycle that these children live in the opportunity for this problem to grow is quite overwhelming. I’m very thankful that I was given the opportunity to tour these facilities. But it does make me question whether I’m doing enough. Not just with money but with my other talents and resources.

Very thought provoking and I'm going to be searching my heart to see what else I can do to help those who don't have the resources available to them that I do.

I'll be linking this up over at Living So Abundantly and Life in a Cookie Jar.

Mixbook Offer

Mixbook is currently offering their photo books at 50% off.  A month or so ago I did a book for our Vegas trip and absolutely loved the results.  You can read about how I used my Mixbook album as a gift for our friends here.

You can click here to take advantage of the deal.  I'd love to hear about your photo books if you take advantage of the sale!

Please note - the above link is my referral link. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Financial Check Up - July

I think I say this every month, but where does the time go?  We're already into the second week of August and school will be starting soon.  It's pretty crazy how time slips away from us.  Here's how we did in terms of our budget.

Add three months to our emergency fund

No progress, we will be focusing on this fourth quarter (I think I said 3rd quarter last month but I meant 4th quarter).

Redecorate our living room

As I said last month, this was on our budget initially at the beginning of the year.  I've since took it off and added it back on, I guess I tend to be a flip flopper when it comes to redecorating.  I haven't done anything in terms of redecorating this month but when I was working on my storage space (you can read about that here and here) I think I found enough fabric left ofter from the last time I made cushions to make a few more.  That would mean that the only thing I would have to buy is paint, blinds, curtains and throw pillows (which I will probably make).  I'm on vacation the last week of this month so I will most likely focus it on then.

Reduce our debt by 34%

We are currently as 21.2% year to date.  While our goal is 34%, I'm hoping to reach 40%.  We didn't make as much progress on this as I had hoped this month, mostly because of our next goal.  I'm thinking I won't make leaps and bounds in August either because we will have a tuition bill to pay, I'm hoping to buy a freezer as well as I want to start picking up some Christmas gifts.  I do have a Christmas club funded, but if I get a good start on my shopping in our regular budget I will be able to use that money for other budgeted items.

Start a Christmas Club

Plan a family vacation in Q1 2012

We did it, we booked a family vacation for Q1 2012!  Of course, the down payment meant that I couldn't pay down as much debt as I would have liked to this past month.  The down payment was worth about 1.5% of our debt reduction so that gives you some idea how much it does affect our reduction.  I'm sure there are some people out there that think we shouldn't be spending the money while we still have debt, but life just goes by to fast.  The kids are growing up and we don't take many vacations as a family so we're all looking forward to this.  I like the fact that we don't have to charge the vacation, because otherwise we wouldn't go!  We booked the trip directly with the company and have until January to pay it off.  This allows us to pay cash for the vacation and not worry about a big bill when we get home.  I make a payment every paycheck, even if it's a small one so that I'm continually chipping away at the balance. 

That's where we sit for the month.  How about you?  Is your budget going as well this year as you had hoped?

You might also like

Building Your Village
Bathroom Organization
How I Save Money - Buying Clothes off Season

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Menu Planning - Week of 8/7

Last week was absolutely crazy.  There were some problems at work and I didn't get home in time for dinner a couple of times. When I did make it home there was always someone missing so the four of us didn't get to sit down together all week.  We'll be remedying that tonight when we have our Chicken on a Steamer (sometimes known a little indelicately as Beer B*tt Chicken). 

When I made up the shopping list I was pretty excited, we didn't need a lot so I was expecting a fairly cheap week at the grocery store.  Imagine my surprise when the total was actually a couple of bucks over my budget.  I budget $200 per week for groceries (yes - it may seem like a lot but that includes toilet paper, laundry supplies, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene, etc), the last few weeks I've been averaging about $150.  When the total came to $205 I was stunned (this was after coupons).  To add insult to injury, we have a $300 daily limit on our debit card.  Since I took $100 out earlier in the day I couldn't use the debit card for the full amount.  I had to give the cashier $20 cash and the use the debit card for the rest.  I felt a little foolish - oh well!

I'm feeling optimistic that this is going to be a good week and we'll be able to follow our menu - here's my plan.

Cinnamon Rolls (I'll share the recipe in separate link)
Blueberry Muffins (these will be from a mix)

Frozen Meals
Corn Dogs
Hot Dogs
Personal Pizzas

Steamed Chicken
Chicken Casserole (since we didn't have it last week I threw it on the menu for this week)
Brats (did you expect anything else - they are a family favorite)
Hamburgers (see above)
Pizza on the grill (haven't tried this before - I'll let you know how it goes)
Dinner Out
Take Out

What's on your menu for the week?

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie

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Preparing for Christmas
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Freezer Cooking

http://www.lifeasmom.com/ is hosting freezer cooking this weekend.  Today her posting is what is your favorite thing to freeze.  I've been pondering this and I would have to say that our favorite thing to freeze isn't a recipe but the pieces for it. 

If you've ever read my freezer postings you'll know that I typically shred chicken and pork to keep in the freezer for easy to throw together meals.  In a recent post I've spoken about my love of tomatoes but I would say that my favorite thing to freeze is strawberries.

I've written a few times this summer about freezing strawberries.  Strawberry Shortcake is a family favorite so keeping strawberries in the freezer, available for a quick desert is important to me.  As a working mother I'm not always the picture of domestication, being able to whip up my families favorite desert allows me another way to show that their important.

Here's my recipe for strawberry shortcake.  The secret weapon is really the homemade whipped topping!

Strawberry Shortcakes


Cut off tops and then quarter the berries (if strawberries are larger you will want to cut them a little smaller)

Put strawberries in a bowl and add sugar. For a quart of strawberries I would add about a quarter cup of sugar. You can use more or less to your taste

Lightly mash with a potato masher and let sit for a couple of hours before serving.

Whipped Topping

1 pint heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

Combine cream, sugar and vanilla with mixer until stiff. You will want to scrape the bowl down to make sure everything is well combined.


Assuming you are using the original Bisquick, here is the recipe I use

2 1/3 cup Original Bisquick
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter

Combine, drop by spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for 10 - 12 minutes.

This is suppose to make six biscuits but I double it and make larger biscuits which will need more time to bake. I decide the doneness by how golden brown they are.

I'm still working on what I'm going to whip up for my freezer cooking but I did buy a couple of chickens last night so I can guarantee you that shredded chicken will be on the menu!

What about you?  What do you like to freezer?

You might also like:

Saving Money Freezing Strawberries

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's on the Menu? Steak!

If you've been following any of my menu plans you will notice that we keep our family meals fairly simple.  As my husband says 'we are a meat family' so meat does tend to take center stage.  We are also a family that enjoys eating out - a lot!  If you've ever taken your kids out for a steak dinner, you will know how cost prohibitive it can be.  We've found that having steak at home, while still expensive, can be just as good as eating out

Here are some of my tips for cooking a yummy steak dinner at home;

Quality Meat - This is going to cost you money, but a good quality steak is one of the first steps to a truly yummy dinner.  We like to stick with Black Angus New York Strip (except my son who prefers a t-bone).  We keep our eye open for sales and buy then.  I personally prefer to NOT freeze the steak, but if we buy ourselves a freezer later this summer and can get a good deal on some organize meat I will probably change my mind.

Don't over season - While I love a good seasoning, I find that at home a little Worcestershire and a dash of salt and pepper seasonings the steak perfectly.  There are a lot of marinades you can make, but why hide the taste of one of the most expensive pieces of meat you can buy?

Grill Grill Grill - Steaks belong on a grill, not a George Foreman (yes, my dad has served me steak made on a George Foreman).  We actually prefer a charcoal grill but there is soooo much to be said for a gas grill

Don't overcook - I have a friend who always orders her meat well done.  Why?  I ask her while I am wailing and gnashing my teeth.  Overcooking your meat kills the flavor, I would recommend you cook it just enough that you personally can eat it.  I also ask for medium rare.

Make interesting sides - I try to keep my sides very different than what I would get in a restaurant.  One of my favorite steak sides is to slice up some new potatoes, mushrooms and onions.  Throw them in some tin foil with a little bit of olive oil, garlic as well as some salt and pepper.  Put them on the grill for about 20 minutes, yum!

Set the mood - Why would you have a nice meal like this and not have the ambiance to go with it?  When we're having a nice meal like this I make sure to use our cloth napkins (I prefer them over paper), nice service bowls and a properly set table.  When eating in a more proper setting it just feels a little nicer.

How about you?  Is steak ever on your menu?  How do you serve it?

I'll be linking this up over at Good Cheap Eats

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Building Your Village - Working Women Wednesday

I have had two instances in the last month where I was on Facebook late at night when two people who were in need reached out to me.  I couldn't do much for them but listen and give some advice, but it really started me thinking about the support that we women need in our lives.

Every woman,  no matter your marital status, parental status or job status needs a village.  Someone whom you can count on to be your support system.  A voice of reason late at night, a cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on, someone who will watch your kids (or parents) when you are desperate, a chef when you aren't available to put food on the table, a sage when you are in need of advice.  We all need someone in our village who will be there for us when we are unable to stand up by yourself in the storm that life sends us.

For a women who works outside the home the village will look at little different than someone whose primary job is a homemaker.  A little more thought needs to go into forming the village so that your children are cared for when you are at work and contingency plans are in place if you are unable to get home.  However, with the exception to the first item listed below all of these are needed by all women.

Childcare - if you are working outside the home, this is the most important thing you need to have in place.  Assuming that a family member is unable to watch your child, having a daycare provider who you are totally comfortable with is of the utmost importance.  I was very fortunate that my son stayed home with his dad and grandmas until he was 6 months old.  When my husband's schedule changed we needed to put him in daycare half days which was incredibly traumatic for me.  It really turned out to be a very positive experience.  When my daughter was born six years later we took her to the same daycare, she had the same teachers as my son did and she loved them all.  When she was in the hospital for a week at 4 months with RSV, her daycare teacher came to the hospital and sat with us because she too was worried about our daughter.  Knowing how much our kids were loved really made leaving them so much easier.

Back-up childcare - This is separate from daycare.  At some point there will be times when you are unable to care for your children (i.e. illness, getting away with your significant other, need to be two places at once, etc).  Having someone that you can call (and trust) at the last minute to care for your kids is imperative for your piece of mind.

Mentor - The definition of mentor is trusted friend or guide.  Whether at work or home, we need someone wiser than us who is willing to show us the path.  These can be formal or informal relationships, but identifying a mentor and being open to what they have to teach us is so important to our personal growth.  I cannot stress enough though the importance of being open to really seeing ourselves as we are, not as we want to be, if a mentor is going to be successful in guiding us.

Friends - I know a woman who really doesn't have any girlfriends.  She's confided that she's lost contact with her high school and college friends and doesn't feel like she has anything in common with the mothers of her son's friends because they are so much older than her.  She wants friends who mirror her; same age, married with kids.  I say rubbish!  I have friends who are older and younger, married and single, kids and no kids.  Each friendship brings something unique and valuable to my life.  Just because my friend Rhonda isn't married, doesn't have children and is of a completely different political persuasion than me doesn't mean that we don't enjoy each other's company at dinner and enrich each other's lives.  We just don't talk politics!  Friends make us laugh, provide a shoulder to cry on, remind us of who we used to be (pre-children) and are just generally good to have.  If you don't have friends, please start thinking about who you can reach out to, even if it makes you uncomfortable.  Some of us find making friends a little harder than others, but it is so important to have that connection and it's worth the effort.  I would ask, if you are someone who finds making friends very easy to reach out to someone that you think is struggling.  When I was in high school, I saw a new girl who looked really uncomfortable.  I asked her to join our table at lunch, I ended up finding a friend that I've carried with me through life.  She's shared with me, many years later, how appreciative she was to have that overture of friendship when she was feeling lonely and out of place.

Spouse/significant other - I rely on my husband more than anyone else in this world.  He's certainly not perfect, but we've signed up to go through this life together.  It's us against the world!  Alright, that was a little corny but it's true.  When I was younger, my Wonder Woman complex was much worse than it is now.  I felt that I needed to do all the things that a SAHM would do while working full time, jI created an environment for myself that I could not sustain.  Fortunately both of us saw the light and we have developed a routine where we both are involved in the daily chores of running the household.  It works out well that when I can't pull my fair share he jumps in and when he can't pull his fair share I jump in.

Family - Family can be a wonderful part of your village or they may be no part of your village.  When my mother was 20 years old she moved 500 miles away from her family.  She had a sick child who would need surgery within a year, she herself was very ill and would need surgery and quite frankly at that time she didn't have a very supportive husband (my dad got MUCH better as he matured).  Her family wasn't a part of her village, but she has been a big part of my village.  I would also include my kids as part of my village.  As the children get older they can definitely contribute to the household.  Once they start driving, it's a whole different ballgame.  Having a kid who can drive can be a huge lifesaver.  It's important to note that family isn't only about blood, family is the people you love and love you back.

I'm going to expound on this subject next week and be a little more specific about how we can be a supportive member of a village.

Are you finding this helpful?  Who is in your village?

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