Sunday, June 24, 2012

This Week's Menu

Life has been pretty hectic around here.  So hectic that I forgot all about strawberry season coming early this year.  About a week ago I realized that I should check to see when strawberry picking started only to find out that it was already the last picking weekend.  There was one picking time left but I had already made a commitment during that time.  Fortunately I did have time to swing by the Farmer's Market and take advantage of some pre-picked strawberries.  They were a little more expensive than picking them ourselves so I only got two flats (last year we picked six!  You can read about them here and here).  Even though we will have less fresh strawberries for shortcake it worked out pretty well.  I was able to get them all taken care of without being totally overwhelmed or "volunteering" my children to help.

This week is fairly quiet.  I have my investment club and we have some dinner plans later in the week but otherwise it shouldn't be to stressful.  I'm taking a risk by planning to make the chicken on a week night.  The chickens are thawed and in the refrigerator so I don't have much choice.  Of course we may not be eating until 6:30 that night.

Today was the family barbecue.  My aunt and uncle, who I rarely see, were there.  Guess who opened her big, fat mouth about my uncle's surprise birthday party?  Yeah - that would be me!  My only saving grace is that he really already knew it as his brother (my other uncle) left a message on their machine that they would be coming into town for the party.  So much for secrets in our family :)

Here's what we're planning this week.  Be sure and check out the awesome salad my mom served.

Family barbecue (my mom made this rockin' Tomato and Black Bean Salad)
Brats, potatoes, tomato salad, corn, applesauce
Chicken on the grill, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots
Hamburgers, grilled pineapple, strawberry salad
Fend for yourself
Dinner with friends
Chinese take-out

That's what we're serving.  What's on your menu?  Feel free to leave a comment or link in the comment section.

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

Tomato and Black Bean Salad

I can't take credit for this recipe.  This is one of my mom's, I'm not sure where she got it from.  Usually she'll find a recipe and then "doctor" it up.  She'll usually make this up and eat it for several days, today she served it at a family barbecue.  It's pretty yummy and super easy so I thought I'd share it with you.

Tomato and Black Bean Salad

1 carton grape tomatoes
2-3 shallots
1 package Feta cheese
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 bottle vinaigrette dressing (your choice)
Salt and pepper

In a serving bowl add the grape tomatoes (halved), 1 can black beans (if you prefer you could use quinoa instead), 2-3 shallots (finely chopped), Feta cheese and parsley (finely chopped).   

Add vinaigrette dressing (it should not be overly wet) and salt and pepper to taste.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Surprises in My Flower Bed

I like to think of myself as a fairly knowledgeable gardener.  Will I win awards?  Probably not but I do OK.  Sometimes I get the pleasure of finding unexpected flowers in my beds.  The last couple of years I've had what I thought was a weed turn out to be a False Indigo.  Pretty cool!

Growing right behind the False Indigo has been a vine with a pretty white flower.  It's gotten a little invasive and is taking over one of my Clematis vines.  Why fight nature?  I'm putting in a new bed so I figured I'd move my Clematis and let this flowering vine take over.  It was growing much faster than the Clematis and provided a nice barrier.

While at my mother-in-laws this weekend (she's a Master Gardener) I was sharing my plan.  My sister-in-law (who is REALLY into gardening and a pet lover) wanted to make sure she knew what this plant was and that it wouldn't be a danger to our two dogs.

Today she e-mailed me that she thought it was a vine that was poisonous to animals.  After checking out the photo I figured out it wasn't what she thought it was but decided to do some more searching.  

Being the diligent gardener that I am (that was tongue in cheek!) I decided to pick a section of the vine so that I could compare it to the pictures on the Internet.  Yeah, that's a good decision as long as you are certain it's not POISON IVY!

Imagine my surprise (and horror) when I discovered that the lovely flower I was holding looked suspiciously like the Poison Ivy pictured right on my screen.  Being the Doubting Thomas that I sometimes am, I had to take my laptop back to the garden and verify.  Yep, it does have leaves of three.  Yep, it does have a white flower that looks just like the picture.  How lovely!  I've included a picture above in case anyone out there wants to disprove my assumption that it's Poison Ivy.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Please!!!

Hmmmm, I think I'll be digging up the Poison Ivy and leaving the Clematis.  That sounds like a good job for the hubby, doesn't it?

Well, I better go shower.  I did wash my hands but am definitely starting to feel itchy.  Hopefully it's just my imagination kicking in but the Internet experts suggest a thorough showering and a dousing with alcohol.  I guess my computer is going to need one to!

I'll keep you apprised of the rash situation :)

Have you had any expected finds in your garden?

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Remodeling the Kitchen

Recently Money Saving Mom published my article "How We Paid Cash for Our Kitchen".  There were a lot of comments asking for before pictures as well as questions about utilizing the space in our small kitchen.

I decided to follow up with a post showing a few more pictures as well as some tips that we did to make our small kitchen more user friendly.

To give you the short version, about 15 years before we actually re-did the kitchen we built the house.  Our budget was minimal and needless to say top quality products weren't used.  15 years after the fact the trendy hunter green counter tops I put in didn't help the appearance of the budget cabinets.

Through the grace of God, we won $4,000 in counter tops from a local kitchen store.  We saved up the cash and ended up re-doing our whole kitchen.  I do a much more eloquent job explaining the full story here.

Once we made the decision we upgrade our kitchen, getting it right was our next priority.  Knowing this was the only kitchen remodel I was going to get, maximizing the space and getting right was a necessity.

In case you're new here, I'm an analyzer.  I like to figure out what the problem is and then find a solution.  The first step in my process is documenting what was the root problem and any issues I wanted to address.

Here is the list we came up with of wants and watch-outs:

  • We did not want to over upgrade the kitchen 
  • Our budget was relatively limited
  • I really wanted a garbage disposal
  • The cabinet layout didn't maximize the space of our relatively small kitchen
  • The microwave HAD to come off the counter
Since we were going through an actual kitchen specialty store they assigned us a designer.  The kitchen designer was a HUGE help in getting us exactly what we wanted.  I didn't find him to be pushy, he seemed to understand all of our issues and was willing to work within our budget.  Out total out of pocket (including appliances) was about $9,000.

Here is what we started with.  Please remember this is a judgement free zone and I've already told you that I'm far from perfect.  We must not take many pictures in our kitchen so you are getting one circa 1995.  Judging by the look on my face I wasn't very appreciative of my husband snapping the picture.  Even though they weren't up when this picture was taken, I did have green checked valances on the window.  Mike also custom cut a stencil for me (checkerboard with apples) that I absolutely loved.  However, all good things must come to an end :)

As a reminder, here is our after picture (sans me!)

I was specifically asked where our dishwasher fit in so here is a picture 'inside' the kitchen.  As you can see the current dishwasher doesn't match.  The dishwasher has since stopped working so the plan is to replace it with stainless steel.  Since no one really sees it, having a non-matching dishwasher was a non-issue.

See the cabinet to the left of the stove?  The opening was originally pretty small.  When the carpenter did the installation work he suggested we let him cut the opening a little bigger so that it was more usable (the cabinet is wide and goes all the way to the window).  This has made access to the cabinet much easier.

To maximize space and make the kitchen more user friendly we had some items built in.  Previously the garbage was in our pantry.  We had this pull-out unit added.  The area above the garbage is a tip out tray where I can store stuff.

Here's another space saver I added.  With the addition of the garbage disposal and the garbage unit, our under the sink space was limited.  This allowed us additional space to keep our dish-washing detergents and helps keep the area clean.

 This had to be my favorite addition to the kitchen, the corner cupboard.  The builder previously had the craziest layout with one teeny tiny cupboard and one cupboard that we could only access half of in this same space.  This is the upper cabinet that is to the right of the sink.

We also added a pot and pan drawer underneath the breakfast bar.  I don't have a picture because the pictures have been giving me fits and I just didn't want to deal with any more!.  Previously the cabinet just had shelves and was very impracticable.  It's still not the best layout but having pull out drawers has made it much more functional.

The designer recommended that we have grooves cut onto the counter to the left of the sink.  This has worked out really well as a drying station, especially since we're washing dishes nightly with the dishwasher being out of commission!  Because we hadn't spent the full $4,000 that we were allocated this was a freebie :)

The other little nifty thing that we did was add a divider in our cookie pan cabinet.  To the left of the dishwasher is a small cabinet that I store cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.  Previously it was one cabinet making it somewhat difficult to get items in and out.  The kitchen designer suggested putting a couple of "space holders" in there.  This allows a little better access (i.e. you pull out one thing and ten more don't come with it.) to the space.

I think that's about all of the little things I did to maximize our small kitchen.  Hope you've enjoyed the tour!

Does anyone else have ideas for maximizing kitchen space?

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

12 Decorating/Organizing Projects for 2012 - Make Up Table

At the beginning of the year I decided upon 12 decorating/organizing projects that I wanted to complete in 2012.  Unfortunately it's the middle of June and I've only crossed three off the list.  I'm running a little behind but the good news is I still have six months to get the rest completed!  I did decide on my 12th project, it's a big one and I can't wait to share it with you :)

Last fall Belle decided that she wanted to get rid of her dresser and make a spot in her bedroom that she could do her hair and make-up in.  After talking about it, Mike and I agreed that we were on board with her suggestion.  Little did I know that agreeing to the suggestion was the easy part!

Believe it or not, finding a make-up table (at a reasonable price) is much harder than it would appear.  I spent a lot of time shopping at various stores that I thought might contain what I was looking for.  After multiple visits to Hobby Lobby, Target, Wal-mart and Shopko I turned to the Internet.  At first I didn't have much luck there either but then I stumbled across

My sister-in-law has talked about before and has bought some nice stuff from there.  I just never really thought of it as a place to find furniture.  Boy, was I wrong!  Not only did I find this make-up mirror but I also find a bookcase for the basement.  Of course that's going to need to wait a little bit before I buy that!

I came across this vanity and stool at for about $170.  Because I can't take at face value that I'm getting a good deal (I am from the Show Me State after all!) I Googled the table and found the same set for between $350 & $500 at other places.  I was pleasantly surprised that really is one of the cheaper places around, at least in this case.  Signing up for their newsletter earned me another discount and shipping was only $1.

After the discounts and the money I received from selling the dresser (I stuck it in our driveway during a neighborhood rummage sale), this vanity cost me about $100.  While that may seem a little extravagant to some people, my daughter has a nice piece of furniture she'll be able to take with her when she gets her own place.  

Have any of you had luck with

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Check out my story over at Money Saving Mom about how we paid cash for our new kitchen!

 We Paid Cash for our Kitchen!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Creating Your Fortress of Solitude

One thing my husband does exceptionally well is take care of himself. He makes working out a priority, his willpower when it comes to his diet is amazing and if he doesn't want to do something he just says no. I, on the otherhand, take horrible care of myself. I usually put off exercising because someone else needs my time, I eat on the run and it's rare that I say no. Can you guess which one of us is relatively non-stressed?

 My husband belongs to the local YMCA and spends a number of hours there every day. In the past when I've asked if I could work out with him I've been turned down. The Y is his "Fortress of Solitude" where he can go to socialize and escape. No, this doesn't offend me. Quite frankly, I would like to have a fortress of solitude where he is not allowed to go. The only reason I've never had one is because I don't make myself a high enough priority.

 As part of my journey to find balance, I've recognized the need for downtime. The department will not come to a screeching halt if I leave for lunch. The house will not collapse on itself if I don't straighten up the pantry.  My kids will not grow up to become serial killers (at least I hope not!) if I sneak away to exercise.

 Knowing that I tend to keep my feelings and emotions to myself until I explode (not a pretty sight) I've been trying to create my own daily Fortress of Solitude. The beauty of your personal Fortress of Solitudes is it can be whatever you need it to be. My Fortress of Solitude is somewhere that I can go, by myself, to deep breathe and relax. I need to let the stress of the day melt away so that I can be prepared for the next wave of stress.

 The picture up above is my lunchtime Fortress of Solitude. Now that it's summer, once or twice a week I sneak out at lunchtime by myself to admire this view. It's relatively peaceful and I can listen to the birds chirping while enjoying the breeze and the fresh air.  I do need to start bringing a cushion though because the bench is rather hard.

 While Mike's Fortress of Solitude is always the Y, mine changes. If I have free time during the week (not often) or on the weekends, this area of the patio is my Fortress of Solitude. Since I am a better sharer than Mike, I do occassionally let him join me in my Fortress of Solitude :)

 Sometimes my Fortress of Solitude isn't quite so picturesque as it may be my car in the parking lot at work or the bathtub of my house. The point is, I have a place where I can get away from the stress of the day. A place where I can recharge my batteries, yank my tights up a little higher and prepare to battle evil.

 Do you have a Fortress of Solitude? If not, how do you relax?

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What a Difference a Couple of Words Make

A few friends and I recently started an investment club, we had one of our meetings last week.  I needed to leave the house before Mike got home.  He's notorious for forgetting things that I tell him so I asked Belle to let him know where I was at.  Here's how our conversation went:
Me:  Please tell your dad that I'm at my investment club.  He'll probably forget that I was going out tonight so be sure and let him know.
Belle:  Yeah - yeah.  I'll be sure and tell him
As I'm sitting at my friends house enjoying a glass of wine and some awesome appetizers, I hear my text notification.  We hadn't gotten down to business yet so I decided to see who it was.  The text was from Mike asking me to call him as soon as I could.  Here's how our conversation went.
Mike:  What kind of people are you hanging around with and why wasn't I invited?!?  (in a slightly grumpy voice)
Me:  What in the world are you talking about?  Didn't Belle tell you where I was at?
Mike:  Oh yeah, she let me know what you were doing.  
He then started laughing and proceeded to share his conversation with Belle.
Mike:  Where's your mom?
Belle:  She's at the Mile High Club.
Mike:  She's where?
Belle:  The Mile High Club.  She told you but you forgot - you forget everything!
Mike:  Trust me, I'd have remembered if she was going to the Mile High Club (by now he had figured out that she messed up the name of my investment club and was teasing her)
Belle:  I know she told you she had the Mile High Club meeting tonight - that's where she's at. Mike:  Do you know what the Mile High Club is?
After he explained to her what is was you know what her comment was? "Hmm, you're right.  That's probably not where she's at."

I did need to explain to my hostess why I spit wine all over her floor.  We've decided to rename our club to the Mile High Club - it's sound so much more exciting than what we're really doing :)

Oh, what a difference a couple of words can make.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Kitties

This weekend my parents found a litter of abandoned kitties underneath their deck.  Their mama must have abandoned them and they came out looking for food.  My parents have been feeding them in the hopes that they can get the kittens comfortable enough around people so that they can catch them and take to the human society.

They were so cute I thought I'd share a couple of pictures.  Of course, I'm kicking myself for not having my camera when all five of them were out eating.  Forgive my hokey comments, I couldn't help myself :)

Do I dare come out?

I'll eat your food but I'm keeping an eye on your!

This dinner plate isn't big enough for the two of us!

Now I just have to talk my parents into keeping one for us to play with!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekly Menu

Last weekend was so crazy I didn't menu plan, I can certainly say that our budget felt it.  We had brats one night, cereal another night and then we ate out every other night of the week.  Yikes!  So much for my "we have to cut back on eating out" resolve.

That's OK, this is a new week and I'm back on the menu planning wagon.  I've added a new recipe to my repertoire, grilled pineapple.  It's super easy and they kids love it.  I also made a new cupcake recipe; lavender, lemon and honey - very yummy!  I'll be posting the recipe and pictures later this week.

Here's what we're eating at our house.

Grilled chicken, Parmesan biscuits, applesauce, salad, grilled pineapple, lavender & honey cupcakes (I'll be sharing the recipe later)
Pizza on the grill
Hamburgers, strawberry salad, glazed carrots, potato chips and dip
Brats, corn, roasted potatoes
Pulled pork, cranberry relish, salad
Fend for yourself
Dinner Out

That's our menu for the week, what's on your menu?  Feel free to leave your menu or a link in comments.

I'll be posting this over at Good Cheap Eats, I'm an Organizing Junkie

Grilled Pineapple

Are you looking for a simple recipe to impress your family and friends?  It doesn't get much easier than this -   Pineapple on the grill!

  • Buy a fresh pineapple.  You will want to look for one that is firm with gold to brown skin.  The leaves should not be brown or wilted.  The pineapple should smell like fresh pineapple.
  • With a large knife, cut off about 1/2 inch from the top and bottom.
  • Turn your pineapple right side up and make your first cut behind the "eye" at the top of the pineapple
  • Continue slicing downward behind the "eye" taking care to not take off to much fruit.
  • If you have a pineapple corer you can use it now, otherwise just slice the pineapple in slices, about 1/4 inch think
  • Heat grill on high for about five minutes
  • Turn down grill to medium and place pineapple directly on grill
  • Cook pineapple for about 3 - 5 minutes and then flip, cooking for about another 3 - 5 minutes
I like to serve this as a side dish but it would also be awesome on a ham sandwich or on a Hawaiian pizza.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Financial Goals - Reviewing our Insurance

Earlier this year I posted 12 Steps for Getting Our Financial House in Order.  One of those steps was to shrink our bills.  The first bill that I decided to focus on was our insurance. Our insurance bill is actually quite high.  We have four vehicles that we insure as well as our umbrella policy and our homeowners insurance (with multiple riders).  A couple of years ago Michael was responsible for a serious accident that required the totally of both cars as well as a settlement for the other driver.  You can only imagine how much our insurance went up after that!

Our insurance policy is one of those things that I've let go on for a while.  Mike and I have had the same insurance agent since before we were married.  Considering we'll be celebrating our 22nd anniversary this July, that's a long time!  Late last year our agent retired and we were assigned to a new agent.

Our new agent called to introduce himself and asked us to come in to review our policies.  He told me that when reviewing our file he found a few areas he thought he could save us some money.  I'm sure you're thinking that I got right in there to save some money.  Well, you'd be wrong!  I put off going in there for almost six months and it sure did cost me!

As I stated, our new agent had spent some time going over all of our policies so he had some recommendations for me when I got in there.  Here are some of the changes that we made:
  • Modified the deductibles on our automobiles.  Because we had our coverage so long, we had some crazy low deductibles that are no longer available.  All things considered, the benefit of increasing our deductibles outweighed the risk so that was one of the first things that we did.  Within the next year or two we may consider dropping collision from my son's vehicle.  At some point the cost of the insurance plus the deductible aren't worth the value of the car.
  • Modified our umbrella policy.  We carry an umbrella policy to cover us in the event we would have a settlement against us that would require more money than provided for in our ordinary policies.  A couple of years ago we were sent a form asking us if we wanted a certain coverage under our umbrella.  Thinking that the more coverage I had the better I went ahead and sent it in.  Turns out that we had plenty of coverage under our car policy and we were better off not taking the extra rider.  Eliminating that rider has saved us quite a bit of money.
  • Added a rider to our homeowners policy.  If our house is damaged by hail, the previous policy would only have fixed the damage portion.  I can tell you from experience that matching damaged siding is impossible (especially when the color is discontinued!) and can lead to a lot of money out of pocket.  We added a rider so that the full house would be covered.
  • Modified the deductible on our homeowners insurance.  Once again, the amount of money that we are saving outweighs the risk of having a higher deductible.
These changes, for the next three months are saving us about $100 a month.  Isn't that crazy!?  A portion of that savings is due to a credit, however we'll still be saving over $75 a month.  I told you that my procrastination cost me!

If it has been a while since you have reviewed your insurance I would encourage you to do so.  Some of the items you may want to explore include:

  • Is there a cheaper insurance company available to you?  If it's been a while since you've shopped around you may want to see what's available.  Just be careful that you are comparing apples to apples (i.e. same deductibles)
  • Are you adequately covered?  Depending on your situation you may not have enough coverage or you may have to much coverage.  If you've spent some money updating your basement you may want to consider a rider that wold cover you in case of a water back-up.
  • Understand your policy.  It's been so long ago that we took out our homeowners, I really didn't understand what was all included. 
  • Check your deductibles.  Some things to keep in mind.  What is the lower deductible costing you (or the higher deductible saving you)?  Will you be able to pay the higher deductible if you need to?  What is the value of the car?  There is no right or wrong answer, it's really all about your risk tolerance.
  • Do you need collision?  If your car is worth $1,500 and you have a $1,000 deductible, it may not make sense to pay insurance to receive $500 "just in case" you have an accident.  If you are considering dropping your collision I would encourage you to ask these questions 1)Do you have some funds to replace your vehicle or will the $500 be crucial in helping you purchase a new vehicle.  2) will you save the money you've saved from dropping your collision or will it go into the general fund?  Saving the money to put towards car repairs would be a good way to protect yourself if there is a problem.  Keep in mind that you should always carry liability, in fact some states (like mine) require it.
  • Make sure you are getting all possible discounts.  Usually there are multiple vehicle discounts, good student discounts, driver school discounts, etc that you can take advantage of.  Make sure you get every discount you are entitled to.
Do you have any other suggestions for saving money with your insurance?

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