Friday, April 29, 2011

Frugal Friday/Living Well

Frugal Friday

My day didn't turn out as planned but that's a story for later.  This week began with my worrying over my budget...well, it certainly did keep me VERY mindful of spending and savings to be earned.  That was a GOOD thing!  And when I discovered that I had actually miscalculated the budget and things weren't nearly so dire after all, I couldn't help but think of how much potential savings we could make.

Saturday:  We had a very busy day, and a long one.  We were treated to dinner out, which was a treat.  It was mid afternoon before we headed home.  I'd entertained the dream I'd get to go by the Women's Club Book Sale (the Strawberry Festival was last weekend) but alas, it was late and we were both tired and I was a pushover when Chance asked if I wanted to go home or shop for books...No telling how much money I saved not to mention that extra bookcase I'd no doubt have to break down and buy because I have NO more bookshelf space...

After eating a big meal after 3pm we weren't really interested in a heavy supper.  It was a cereal supper for us, just filling enough without being heavy.

Sunday:  Washed a full load of dishes in the dishwasher.  Decided to limit the use of water in the kitchen for washing dishes and planned to begin a once a day wash up instead of several small sinkfuls daily.  Good for saving water and protecting my poor cuticles and nails.

Made 3 pints of yogurt.  I was thinking about this as I poured up the jars.  That's my second batch of 3 pints this month.  And at a cost of $.40 6oz cup, I'm making a savings of about $5.20 (that's including the cost of the plain yogurt to make the 6 pints). 

"Harvested" a mango that was ripe and which I hadn't taken time to eat.  I cut into chunks and froze to use as smoothie  fruit later.

No special cooking done here, I ate leftovers from the fridge. 

No trip into town for the Sunday paper either, since it was a holiday weekend.  No coupons in the paper.

Clipped coupons and sorted my filed coupons.  As I did this work I set aside coupons I knew I'd want to use on the next grocery trip.

Washed a full load of clothes (combining sheets and towels) and only partially dried the towels, I let them air dry for the  most part. 

Cut roses to bring indoors for a bouquet.  Stuck the trimmed stems down into the big pot outdoors to see if they will root.

Monday:  Chance had an unexpected meeting for the day...He took my car which was easier on gasoline.

Made up a batch of chocolate chip cookies to satisfy sweet tooths and snack needs.  I made about 4 dozen cookies for about $2...made me wonder at myself paying more than that price for just over a dozen store bought, which don't taste nearly so good.

I turned the air conditioner up another two degrees while Chance was gone from home.  It does indeed get warm but it's not unbearable and it's good practice for summer when electric costs soar once again.

Baking cookies on a warm day, with the AC set a little bit higher...The cook got a bit warm!  I turned on the ceiling fan in the breakfast area and set up a free standing fan to create a nice breeze in the kitchen.  I also turned on the vent above the stove to draw out a good portion of the heat.  It was still pretty warm but a lot more bearable.  Next time I'll remember cookie baking is best suited to mornings on warm days.

Pulled an old set of place mats from the linen cabinet that I haven't used in quite awhile.  I have six, which is enough to make three pillows.  Why pillows?  I'm in the process of gathering materials to dress up my deck.  One of my inspiration items was a glazed clay planter a friend gave me that is a chicken.  It so happens that planter has a bit of the same color as my place mats and the moment I realized they might become pillows instead of going into the rag bin, I saw my color scheme coming together.  Since I'd just been looking for pillows, I am even more overjoyed at my savings.

Chance came in late from his meeting...and went right out to mow the lawn.  That meant a light supper, since he'd eaten out and would come in weary and hot.  I made up veggie pizzas, using tortillas as the base and a bevy of leftover vegetables in the refrigerator.  Since  I had no mozzarella, I used up partial containers of Feta and Parmesan on the pizzas.  Not the least expensive choices but definitely tasty and since the Feta was nearing expiration, a timely choice as well.

Planned menus and made sure to keep the 'need to use up' items in sight.  These are canned items about to expire in the coming month.  I have no desire to toss them, might as well throw away cash.

Tuesday: Used the last of the strawberries to make 1/2 dozen strawberry muffins for our breakfast. 

Menu for the day: reheated leftover lasagna.  I rooted hard in the fridge to come up with enough vegetables to make a green salad substantial enough to serve two.  Chance finished the lawn mowing this morning and while he was sure to come in hot and tired, I was determined to finish off that lasagna!  To keep from heating up the house unnecessarily, I reheated the pasta dish in the microwave.

Whenever I can, I wash Queen and King sized bedding at home.  Washed the quilt from our bed this day and partially dried in the dryer...Why all the dryer use of late?  Pollen has been pretty heavy but should end after this week.

Ran to town to pick up bread and came home with...bread!  Nothing more.  Some kind of record that is!

Mixed tuna fish with a diced apple to stretch the cans of tuna and a tomato and a leftover boiled egg as well.  Made a nice big salad for Chance's work lunch using the last of the lettuce.  I didn't dice the egg into the tuna but cut into quarters and used around the mound of tuna salad with the tomato wedges.  Very pretty and to me that adds a great deal to 'plain' food.

Wednesday:  I've needed a new set of sheets for the guest bed ( I have a set of black sheets that were Kay's but dislike that heavy color) and a mattress pad for the same bed.  We were off to the discontinued furnishings warehouse this morning and I found both items for under $40 total...Oh and that also included a pair of panels for the master bath mirrors to soften the sound in that room.  Not bad.

Mama treated for lunch, and I treated us to dessert.  A small sundae for her and a small shake for me came up to less than $5.

Although we took the back roads home, we still kept our mileage low by driving in a more direct route than the major highways follow.

I noticed a big bag of leaves under Mama's carport.  When asked what she meant to do with them, she said they were going to be put out at the curb for the city to pick up.  I asked if I might have them to use as mulch in my potato barrel.  Saved me buying a bag of mulch for that purpose.

Set out foods to thaw in the sink before I left home.  I covered with a heavy towel, which kept the food nice and cold while it thawed.

Turned the AC up still higher since I wasn't going to be home.

I let my eyes wander in a store we'd gone into.  Glad I did.  I found a birthday present there and it was very well priced.

We'd had a heavy lunch so I settled for a yogurt and fruit supper that evening.

Thursday:  I'd planned to combine an appointment time with errands but Mama called and asked for help with something.  I went into town and arrived just as the matter was settled.  Mama suggested we go together to the next town to do my errands and offered the use of her car and to buy lunch. 

Had to pick up prescription refills so a stop at the drugstore.  I bought 1/2 off Easter candy (solid chocolate rabbit, filled eggs), a bottle of nail polish I wanted last time in the shop but decided to wait on buying, and a new pair of nail clippers.  Paid for those items with about to expire Extra Cash Bucks, since sales have been lacking in areas where I'd normally stock up.

Went into the grocery to buy produce and came out with produce...and two plants.  Seriously the plants at this grocery are deeply discounted  quality plants from a local wholesale nursery.  I got a beautiful hanging geranium basket and a 1/2 gallon pot of  wave petunias for $10 for the pair. 

Came home and made up a few work lunches ahead.  My goal was to have three days worth of food prepared and ready to go into the lunchbox, as well as a few items to make easy meals for myself since I am going to be busy the next two days.  Succeeded very nicely.

Washed grapes and cut stems into serving portions.  Gathered up the loose grapes (Chance will not eat loose grapes) and put them in a lidded container, handy to grab when I'm running out of the door for a long day and need to take a snack along.  The other grapes were put into a pretty bowl and set on the bottom shelf of the fridge, handy for Chance to grab and eat. 

Washed a head of lettuce and bagged for later use, some cut and some in leaves.  I wrapped each in a damp paper towel and then put into a zippered bag to keep fresh.

Colored my hair, using the last half of a box of color.  That's more than enough to color my fine, thin, short hair.  Cost to color was about $1.75.  Should last me about six to eight weeks.

Having drawn a blank lately for lunch box ideas, I sat down and made up a list of the things I could make from normally on hand items.  I was astonished at how quickly the sheet filled with ideas.  I'll use that to refer to next time I'm stumped or begin to feel the lunches are boring.

Cooked three chicken breasts (1 package) all at once.  One breast went into lunch box and the other two breasts are ready for salad, and sandwiches.

Poured water into the pan used to cook the chicken.  The extra flavorful broth went into the dogs pans to dress up their dinner.

I waited until very late for supper.  A peanut butter sandwich seemed suitable.

Friday:  Turned air up to higher temperature since I was to be gone all day.  Forgot to turn it back down when I returned extra early, so the added savings is a bonus.

Went to the mall and walked out with the same empty hands I went in with.  The day was a bust.  No speciality coffee, no lunch at the food court, no bargains.  In fact the mall was very nearly empty.  Such a drastic change from when I was there last two years ago.

When leaving the mall I did see a favorite dress shop across the road in another shopping center.  I went in and found a nice pair of very comfortable shorts for $10.

On the way home, instead of stopping for food, I ate the granola bar I keep in my purse and drank a bottle of water (brought from home).

Waited until I was in my hometown before stopping for gasoline and bread.  Lunch bought at the local sandwich shop will do for both Chance and I a meal.  Spent just over $5 for that.

Went into dollar store for bread, as the temptation to pick up little extras is deeply cut.

Living Well

My 'Big Day' ended being a Big Bust...but I'm glad I did it just the same.  This was to be my day.  I was going to the big city to the huge mall.  I had all sorts of plans: took my camera along to record inspiration found on dress mannequins and in store displays, take time to people watch and jot down inspired ideas gained in the little notebook I stowed in my purse, have a pricey coffee, go into the bookstore and browse, look over clearance items, have an international meal in the food court, perhaps bring home a bakery treat from one of the many shops in the mall or have an ice cream...

You've no idea what I went through just to get there.  There was lots of discouragement from myself, lots of head talk about the dangers of the big city, of how much easier it would be to go to the equally distant but smaller mall in the large town where I normally shop.  Then there was the guilt talk: the needless use of gasoline, the expense of eating out, the temptations I'd have to dodge in impulse buys, the neglected house (rolling eyes at that one), the expense of energy required to walk the huge mall.  I finally realized it was fear talking and quietly and effectively shut out the voice that kept telling me I couldn't do this.

I was up early this morning and tackled the housework before Chance was out of the road that leads to our home.  I carefully dressed, did my hair and makeup, prayed (always before starting any pursuit), read my Bible study for the day, packed water, a snack just in case of dwindling energy on the way home, made sure my shoes were comfortable but supportive...I was prepared and at the start of the journey I felt an odd sensation, one I don't experience too much any more...I was excited!  I was going to face my fear and while I could hardly call this much planned and thought about trip on my own spontaneous I did consider it an adventure.  I even skipped breakfast, because I meant to truly imbibe that wonderful pricey coffee when I arrived at the mall.

I was pleased to find a parking spot at an easy to access entrance, one that was easily remembered.  In I walked into what was, two short years ago, a very large well known department store...But it had shrunk.  Literally, shrunk.  Apparently half the top floor of the building had been turned into a deserted space of empty display tables and a bank of restrooms so far off the beaten path of the store that one felt purely eerie wandering to them...

I found no inspiring table settings, no fine china, and no customers save myself on that floor.  I went out into the main mall which was empty too.  I headed in the direction of the new section which had doubled the mall a mere ten years ago and where  I recalled there were many well known stores.  I began to get a little tired on the trek but the many benches that used to dot the area around the railings were gone.  I trekked on and on and through one of the larger department stores that seemed to be doing very well.  They at least hadn't shut down half the building nor were they lacking customers.

And out into the other half of the mall and the emptiness there was shocking.  Frightening.  Blank windows looking out onto barred staircases.  Locked doors.  Holes where signage bearing each store's name used to be. 

I turned and went back into the store I'd just come out of.  I walked on the south side of the upper floor and after trekking for EVER found a lone bench where I sat and rested.  I looked up that side of the floor and realized the whole area was now filled with a pricey department store, a pricey jewelry store, and four or five cell phone and accessory shops.  I went to the big department store at the opposite end and took the elevator to the first floor level and found it empty of shops.  By the time I'd come back to the department store where I'd entered the mall I was so disgusted and disappointed that I went in there and back out to my car.  I saw no point in wasting more time in the ghost mall.

But here's what I discovered this week and today: I like getting out and doing things I don't HAVE to do on my own.  Not like grocery shopping or running errands but just getting out of the house and going somewhere I want to go.  I quickly recalled my previous years experience of driving in the city and maneuvered very well despite some distracted drivers in other cars.  I could walk a mile or more if need be quite easily.  Tired, yes, I was, but I did it all the same.  I didn't see a lot to tempt me and not just because so many stores were empty but because I didn't feel I HAD to buy something just to show I'd been.  It was enough to have done this trip on my own.   And I discovered that despite thinking the city would show me something where style was concerned, I had pretty much the same clothes in my closet (and upon my person) in the exact color waves I was seeing in the stores, so I'm not that far out of fashion!

I discovered that given a choice between a disappointing adventure and giving into fear, I'd rather at least try for the adventure now and then.  I discovered that it's like a holiday to arrive back home early in the day to a clean house with food prepared and waiting to be eaten.  I decided that I will do this again, perhaps not to the mall but someplace I want to go that is a little distance away.  And I discovered that I am incredibly satisfied with my life otherwise.  I'm at that beautiful place where I have all I need and want little more, just enough to create a dream or two now and then.

I take it back.  This day wasn't a Big Bust at all...It was wonderful!

Coffee Chat - Stormy Weather (Written yesterday)

Good Morning!  I thought I'd slip in this morning, as I wait for the weather alerts to clear. Aside from some fair winds out of the South we didn't really get much weather off this storm system besides a bit of rain (and not much of that).  However, the warnings stay in effect until noon today. 

I have a couple of necessary errands to run this morning: pick up prescriptions and buy fresh produce.  I'd thought I'd work ahead in making Chance's work lunches, or at least have a few components washed, packaged and ready to pop into the basket for each day's meals, but without produce I'm pretty well halted from doing that task.  As the housework is all done and I am waiting to cool down before applying make-up for the day, I thought I'd stop in and invite you for coffee (Kona and is it good!)  and cookies if you'd like, Cinnamon/Chocolate Chip.

I've been rather irritable the past couple of days.  It's a combination of things really.  For one, I've worried over that new budget (and we'll discuss that again in moment) and then I worried over another issue over which I have control and another still over which I have no control and then I got myself in a mood over what I felt was a lack of appreciation.  I decided yesterday to settle every issue once and for all and get it off my mind! 

First I went back over that silly budget page, using a calculator...and then I saw my mistake, a fairly big one and I suppose I must have been feeling terribly optimistic at the time I first reviewed it.  You see, I decided to TRIPLE our usual monthly savings.  One portion goes towards our car payment and one portion goes into savings, but I guess I felt that wasn't enough so I slapped another same sized portion into savings and there went groceries!   I also made a small error that knocked me down a good $100. 

When I sat here yesterday afternoon pondering on the matter, before I'd even looked at the sheet, I suddenly had one of those "hmmm..." moments when the light bulb sort of flickers, like those old flourescent tube bulbs used to do..."Why," I asked, would the budget be so far off now when we've only slightly increased two areas and added in two minor amounts for planning ahead?  I should have lost a small amount of the grocery budget, but not ALL of it!"  That made me pick up my calculator and my budget sheet and go over the figures once more and there I discovered the two mistakes that put me in a tail spin for the first part of this week.  Foolishness!  I know better than to NOT check and double check and yes triple check, my figurings and look at the time I've wasted worrying unnecessarily.  I can easily drop my grocery budget by $40 which is certainly preferable to sitting about wondering how I can manufacture some $360!

Then I thought over another area that has been a sore point.  It's a situation that deals with a relative who has a power of attorney and must handle certain matters, but who chooses instead to continually complain, whine and worry aloud to me over issues and refuses to do anything at all about!  I offered up two valid suggestions which were shot down like a hawk over the chicken yard in nothing flat.  That's when I realized that no suggestions are wanted.  This person wants, quite honestly, to complain, whine, let me know how burdensome these issues are, andto  hug that worry hard and close as though it were a valued possession.  I dealt with the same mindset with an older child who frequently would reply to honest good advice, "Yeah, but..."  Immediately upon realizing this I let it go.  I'm not hard hearted, but then again, I'm no fool.  DO something or do NOTHING.  Both have consequences and only the person who makes the choice can determine what those consequences might be.

The other situation is a home worry, not one I can share about, but it's a matter of waiting now.  We've turned it over to be handled by the highest authority, our G-d, who will answer in time.  In the meantime I shall give over the worry about my loved one and my fear that he will 'forget' he's agreed to turn it over. 

And finally, that feeling of neglect: as much self imposed as it is from outward sources.  You see, it's been a terribly busy week just past.  I spent a good deal more time than usual alone and that was necessary, not done purposely.  I also feel a growing sense of frustration hit me over many tasks I've waited patiently after requesting they be done or at least hired out to be done, and yet no move has been made.  I'm frustrated by my own lack of skills and the authority to simply hire it done.  Maybe I should just pull out that TO DO list this next week and ask nicely for a yea or nay decision on tasks to be done or hired out, and ask for a promised completion date by end of week on those very minor tasks.

As well, I've gotten myself into one of those seasons where I spend a great deal of time and effort trying to please others, foregoing entirely plans I've made for myself.  Simple things too, like bypassing a program I'd like to at least sample in favor of letting someone else watch what they want; not making a meal or dish that I particularly like because someone else doesn't care for it; letting others deteremine where we'll go and what we'll do though I'd really like to do something that is of interest to me now and then...

Now I may well have to wait upon the short TO DO list that grows each week but I most certainly do NOT have to wait on these other things.  That is entirely upon me.  It's not as though I'd hear a great deal of complaints or be harassed if I did any of those things, it's merely that I don't and therefore I've worked myself into a feeling that I have been put upon and neglected and ill used. Not true, not true, not true, at least not by others, but only by myself...  So last night I gave myself a fresh pedicure, and this morning I stopped work long enough to wash away the gray hairs.  I'm scheduled for a haircut this afternoon and I think I shall feel more than ready for my field trip to the city tomorrow.

Gracious!  After all that sorting out of self and such, I do believe I could now tackle a few minor items like national debt to round out the week!

I keep a list of purchases to be made in my purse and yesterday I happily picked up four of the items on that running list.  Two new curtain panels for the master bath to drape over the mirrors as scarves just to visually and audibly soften the room which is full of hard surfaces.  That was just $10.  I also found a mattress pad and a set of white sheets for the guest bed to replace the black sheets Kay left behind and which I've used since.  I was at a discount store that has very, very good prices on quality goods of this sort and so I paid far less than I'd have paid at Walmart.  I don't think it's a branch store, but simply a locally owned discontinued warehouse for home goods.  Very good buys there.  The sheets were 300 count heavy cotton for just $15 and about the same for a pillow top mattress pad.  It's always a bit of a search for things that suit tastes but worthwhile to visit now and then.

The fourth item I'd meant to buy was a bale of plant potatoes that sprouted hard under the kitchen cupboard.  Mama happened to have a bag of leaves that had been raked up from her yard and this too is suitable material in which to bury my potatoes, so I asked if I might have the bag and she sent it home with me.  I'll be out later today to plant those potatoes in an old garbage can that has drainage holes in the bottom.  The plan is to follow the continual mounding process so the potatoes are encouraged to produce innumerable potatoes.

Since the big trash can is a reclaim from the trash pile (our own trash pile, due to losing the lid years ago in a windstorm), it led me to plan a small garden in an old dog kennel that we don't use.  The six foot tall fence and gate will keep out deer.  The area is just large enough to put a raised bed around edges of the fence and narrow containers of plants around wall of the shed and a good pathway for walking about.  It won't by any means be a large garden, but we should be able to keep some foods in production nearly all the year long with care and anything we can grown will be a help.  I'm new enough to gardening again (haven't really done it in years upon years) that this should be a manageable plot for me to handle on my own once the raised beds are built, and a good use for an otherwise wasted bit of space.  It gets lots of sun during the day and is sheltered from damaging winds by the sheds (not to mention a nice bit of runoff water from dew and rain to help water the plants).

So I've more projects planned, lol.  I surely did not need another project when I've so very many already planned or underway but then I'm not one to want to waste all of my time doing nothing, just a portion of it...

One of my 'projects' this week is that previously mentioned field trip to the city.  I plan to go spend a full day at the mall in the city.  I am going equipped to work, with camera notebook and enough cash to buy lunch and a speciality coffee as a treat.  I will people watch, look in store windows and at displays in the department stores, note how outfits are put together on a mannequin, check out clearance racks, even look at furniture displays (accessories, colors, etc) and tablescapes.  I might allow myself to browse a bit in the bookstore.  I intend to take my time, go slow, rest a bit here and there and just really look hard for inspiration and ideas.  I also intend to run by a fabric store to pick up the needed thread to start that project for my bedroom, and perhaps I'll go buy the farmer's market as well?  That part is up in the air.  It really depends upon the traffic and my energy for such.

Oh dear...Mama called and asked for my help with a project so I shall have to go.  It's something that must be taken care of immediately, can't be postponed and if I do put her off, it means giving up my day tomorrow which I've really been looking forward to doing.  So I'm off to help her and then back home again to tend to one or two more things and then I'll begin weekend work ahead of time.

a bit later....
An internet group to which I belong has been intrigued with the article I mentioned detailing how to stretch a wardrobe of basic pieces to make multiple outfits.  The article is online here:

This is not a concept that gets pushed a whole lot anymore, but now and then in hard financial seasons a magazine or two will pull out the idea and polish it up using either one piece in multiple ways (like the ubiquitous little black dress) or a handful of pieces in multiple mix and match outfits.  You can go many ways with this concept.  In the 1950's this idea was a perennial, appearing seasonally in many magazines.  Woman's Day once did a series of 12 articles in which 1 piece was purchased monthly, along with one or two accessory pieces (all budgeted for mind you in the annual budget).  Some of the older articles also used handmade items, sewn and crocheted or knitted, to extend a basic wardrobe.

For many years, when we had considerably less money to spare, I based my wardrobe on two basic color pants (black and brown or black and navy) and built from there.  These days I still lean heavily upon that basic black and one other neutral but have blouses and sweaters and tops that will go with multiple items.  I still do a good bit of mix and match to create several outfits from a few basic pieces.  If I fail anywhere it's the lack of shoes in my wardrobe and I know it.  I'm just not very good about taking real time and money to seek out good comfortable but attractive shoes.  I shall certainly have to remedy this fact as I've been caught out more than once with a nice dressy looking outfit and no shoes suitable to make it work, or a casual outfit and only a dressy pair of shoes which jarred the effect entirely.

I hope you all enjoy the article and see the possibilities in your own closets.

Guess I'd better wind up here.  There's plenty that needs to be done yet...and isn't there always?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How To Eat Groceries: The End of it All

This shall be my final post in this series.  I've so enjoyed writing it and do hope you found it fun, informative and a learning experience.  Today we shall discuss the opportunity to completely utilize the very last of the groceries we buy.

Tomato and potato peels, onion tops and root ends, end pieces of bread, apple and pear parings and the cores of each...Sounds like just so much compost doesn't it?  Well hardly!  Bones from the meat dishes and the woody ends of asparagus will join this list of usable foods, yes, FOODS, as well.  Along with cabbage leaves and the leafy tops of celery and root ends of same, and so much more.  Because you see, it's all part and parcel of our purchases and we'll find a wonderful savings in using all we can of each item we bring into our home.

Let's start with bread shall we?  My family doesn't care for the end pieces of any store bought bread (though they quarrel over my homemade bread ends!).  I hate tossing them, as they are part of the purchase made when I bought bread.  So how to use them?  I have baked them until crisp and made dry crumbs, used them to make fresh crumbs (just as useful in the kitchen as dry).  I've saved end pieces in the freezer then cubed for bread pudding and stratas (such as Breakfast casserole) or to make Apple Brown Betty.  Homemade croutons is another option.  So you see, those end pieces of bread may not seem like much to toss until you realize how useful they might be!  I am inclined to think there aren't nearly enough end pieces in light of all I wish to make using them.

Now let's delve into the vegetable bin: potato peels....just dirty old things or appetizer?  If you wish to really use all the potato scrub them well and leave the peel on, after all that's where a lot of the nutrients are.  However, I am well aware that at times a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes is wanted and not the more rustic smashed potato dish.  I noted in Pioneer Woman's book that she halved and baked potatoes then scooped out the centers and stuffed the shells for a tasty snack.  I used to do this occasionally for my kids and that scooped out potato may be used to make mashed potatoes, potato pancakes or any number of other dishes.

If potatoes have aged somewhat and are starting to sprout eyes, you might well consider cutting away that portion and planting it to begin growing potatoes at home.

Onion tops and root ends, carrot tops, celery leaves and root ends...I use them all.  When I need onion for a recipe, I always remove the top and root end and the first layer of onion as well(that just under the skin is often as thin as the papery skin).  I pop those right into a bag kept in my freezer and when I've two or three chicken carcasses to boil, I put in those onion tops, root ends and skins.  The skins give a lovely golden color to the chicken broth.  Straining will remove them all, so no worry there. 

That bag in my freezer also contains carrot tops and the root end of celery stalks as well as the leafy tops.  Did you know that you can grow a pretty fern like plant from that carrot top if you don't care to save it for seasoning broth.  Just place in a flat bottomed container with a wee bit of water and watch it grow.

Celery leaves may be dried in your oven overnight.  Just in case you haven't priced them, check out the cost of dried celery leaves in the spice and herb section at the supermarket.  It's crazy!  And here we are tossing these leaves out all too often.  Not me!  I will chop celery leaves into salads and soups and stir fry dishes and freeze what I can't use.  And if you find you've quite enough of those pieces saved up, the root end of celery makes a lovely rose shaped stamp.  I once used the root end to make the prettiest wrapping paper from a paper sack we'd tinted a delicate white and then free hand drew on leaves in green.  I'm afraid my gift recipient was far more pleased with the paper than the gift.  She very carefully removed that wrapping and went immediately across the street to her neighbor to show it off, lol.

Did you know you can make jelly from apple cores and peelings?  Or soup from the woody stems of asparagus?  Slaw from broccoli stems?  By the way, those broccoli stems are also good diced and chopped into soup, or sliced and stir fried with other vegetables when serving a stir fry dish.  And yes, soup too may be made from those stems.

I keep a soup bucket in my freezer where I toss tomato tops and odd bits of vegetables we might have leftover (not cooked potatoes though) and that bucket also may hold the cooking water or liquid drained from canned vegetables.  It makes for a richer soup to have all these vegetable broths added in.

Tired of the dribs and drabs left in the bottom of bottles of ketchup and syrup, steak sauce etc?  Combine into homemade BBQ sauces.  I've even added in the last spoonful or two of jams to BBQ sauce.  Apple butter and peach sauces were BIG hits in my household.  Maple BBQ is wonderful over ribs.  Experiment as you find little bits of this and that left in a bottle. 

You might consider mixing a little salad dressing with mayonnaise to create a sandwich spread or new salad dressing. 


Banana peels, coffee grounds and egg shells, used tea leaves (or bags) make lovely meals for the flowers and drinks for the geraniums.  I discovered that egg shells are good for orchids after walking into an oriental restaurant with dozens of blooming orchids massed in the lobby.  In each pot were crushed egg shells.  Well Granny told me those coffee grounds, banana peels and egg shells were good food for my roses as well and she must have been right because my roses are gorgeous.  It was she who also shared that running water over used tea bags and tea leaves and allowing to steep at room temperature created a tea that made geraniums bloom like mad.

I save my vegetable cooking water (unsalted only) for my plants as well (but not potato water, that is too starchy).  However, that starchy potato water may be used as the base for a sour dough starter (mix with flour and leave on counter for three days, adding water and flour the next two days and stirring well to mix).  Then use to make bread dough.

Remember as well that vegetables and fruit parings, spoiled fruits and veg, egg shells, shredded paper from packaging etc can all be used to create compost and that is wonderful fertilizer to use to grow herbs, vegetables and fruits to further replenish your kitchen.

So you see, even the last bits, the end pieces of items, may be well used in the creation of foodstuffs for your family and if not for them, then to feed the garden that might well grow more food for you (or at least feed the bouquets that grace the dining table).

And that is it.  How to Eat Groceries (and use them all up) to get the most for your dollar.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Menu Monday: Pop Quiz

Ok, Pop Quiz!  Didn't you hate those words in school?  I admit it depended upon the class.  If it were algebra or geometry we were in DEEP trouble.  English or History, No problems. lol  That was then...

This is now: what do you do with a can of corned beef, a can of seasoned black beans and a can of mushrooms?  No, I don't have a clue either...Those are the items on my counter which I still must use to make something in the next couple of weeks or toss into the trash. 

Here's another question:  What do you do when you figure the budget and realize that you can no longer afford to eat?  Fortunately I do have an answer for this one!  You make sure you use up those items on the kitchen counter that you don't have a clue what to do with, you pull out all the frugal kitchen help tricks you've learned over the past 35 years and you start trimming the budget in all the places that it has even a half ounce extra to spare. 

Things aren't dire...I did some budget projections over the weekend that figured in things like increased gasoline and electric, some additional categories where we were trying to save ahead, and no overtime...And when I got to groceries the bottom line was a negative figure!  Oh dear, there's a reality check!

Ha.  Silly budget thinking I can be beat so easily.  Just watch...

Monday:  Black Bean Enchiladas, Yellow Rice, Green Salad with Homemade ranch dressing, Chocolate chip cookies
In the interest of using the one ingredient that I can most easily use, the black beans win.  I have tortillas on hand, loads of yellow rice (perhaps I got a tad zealous during the last sale/coupon bonanza), and I have learned to make a pretty good replica of ranch dressing: Mayonnaise, sour cream, chives, dill, garlic, tarragon, salt and pepper.  Even better I can make enough for just one meal instead of having a bottle sit on the fridge shelf for months.  There should be enough enchiladas and rice left to put a meal in the freezer and to make a supper for myself later this week.

Tuesday:  Lasagna, Green Salad, Cheddar Biscuits
Leftover lasagna from last Thursday.  I think this salad will finish off the last of the lettuce in the fridge.  I didn't bake cheddar biscuits last week so I think I'll make them this week.  Perhaps I'll make a little garlic butter to go over the ones for lunch and set aside a few unbuttered biscuits for breakfast tomorrow morning.

Wednesday:  Leftover enchilada/rice, Cabbage salad, Coffee Ice cream
I've found that leftovers are best eaten as soon as possible rather than put off.  Chance and I planned to have lasagna leftovers several days but we found it too easy to put off.  Having leftovers began to sound like a threat hanging over our heads, lol.  I'll solve that problem today by planning my leftovers into the menu immediately.
Chance's work lunch:  Egg Salad sandwich, chips, pickles wedges

Thursday:  Macaroni and Cheese, Sliced Tomatoes, Steamed Broccoli
I blame Pioneer Woman for this...I was reading her cookbook this morning (my second time through, btw, I just love a good read and cookbook all in one!) and I saw her recipe for Macaroni and Cheese.  I really like mac n' cheese if it's homemade.  I'll make two dishes, one small one just big enough for my dinner and a larger one to freeze for a later meal.  And note to self:  Do NOT read Pioneer Woman cook between meals...I get too hungry!
Work lunch: Peanut butter and lettuce sandwiches (don't ask, he likes them),  Cottage cheese with diced tomato and green bell pepper, salted nuts.

Friday:  Tuna Salad in tomato cups with Cheese toast points, Chips, and Pineapple Chunks
I'll make enough of this for both Chance and I.  He'll get his (minus the cheese toast) in his work lunch.  I try to make his salads attractive when I pack them.  The tomato be will cut into wedges and I'll place a boiled egg wedge between the tomatoes then put a scoop of tuna atop that 'flower'.   It's a little extra trouble but I find when I take pains to make food attractive he's far more likely to enjoy it. 
Besides I don't have a dish deep enough to allow me to make a tomato cup for his meal!  Desperation will  drive creativity higher.

Saturday:  Grilled Chicken, Potato Salad, Corn on the Cob, Slaw
I'm determined to stay away from the grocery this week for any purchase except loaf bread...Hence the use of carrots and carrots and such for salads.  I am sure that I can trim my grocery budget further by avoiding those quick little trips that cost us $40 and net us little in the way of 'real' foods and much in the way of snacks and unplanned extras...So coleslaw and potato salads will do very well.
Chance's work lunch:  grilled chicken sandwich, potato salad and half an ear of corn to heat and eat if he chooses.

Sunday:  Corned Beef Hash, Poached Eggs, Carrot Raisin Salad, Toast
Why not a brunch meal?  I'll cook extra potatoes on Saturday for this dish and use half the can of corned beef and a bit of onion to make the hash.  The remaining half of the corned beef will make sandwiches for Chance's lunch.  If there are any pineapple chunks left I'll toss them into the carrot raisin salad.  Or perhaps I'll make some of the easy Pineapple marmalade for the toast?  Both would be a good use of leftovers.
Chance's work lunch: corned beef sandwich, carrot raisin salad

Now...I just need to plan how to use that can of mushrooms...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday Coffee Chat

Humph.  I really feel I should have a photo of someone biting ears or tail off a chocolate bunny but not one in my files, so we shall have to suffice with the usual lead photo.

My two youngest contacted me early this morning about an Easter Basket.  Well I did think of Easter baskets this morning when I woke extra early to see Chance off to work.  I thought about the fact that this is the first time in thirty years (Yes, thirty!) that I haven't prepared an Easter basket for a child of mine.  I find it rather astonishing that I didn't make one up just out of habit!  Well I did buy some Butterfinger Eggs (help yourself, they are in the cookie jar) but really those were meant for me, not for children.  I don't often find those Butterfinger Eggs at Easter.

No chocolate rabbits today but tomorrow or Tuesday I'll go to town and buy one or two at 50% off, lol.  Chance laughs at my 'after holiday' candy, but gracious I don't mind a bit waiting a day or two later when the savings is so great.

So...What have I been up to of late?  Lots of plans in the air, lots of thinking about yard, home, groceries, finances, decor and more. 

I spent a good bit of this week doing not much of anything.  I'm blaming allergies but a good day and night of rest helped tremendously.  I spent Monday cleaning and shopping, Tuesday was all about resting and not working ( a holiday for us).  Wednesday I mostly cooked and cleaned, and Thursday I tackled housework with renewed fervor.  Friday I went off with Chance to do a job for a friend and then came home to cook and clean for the weekend.  Yesterday was busy enough with the usual class, synagogue, and then a business meeting following, that thankfully, over lunch.  It was late when we got home, much more so than usual.

The local Strawberry Festival was held yesterday in our little town.  Oh I wanted to attend, I truly did, especially to visit the Women's Club book sale, but no luck.  There were plenty of booths still up when we came home but it was late, as I said, and we'd been up since early hours and busy the whole day, so we came right home. 

We didn't do much of anything once we got here...It was hot outdoors and nice and cool indoors, and we were tired.  Not much incentive to work.  That's quite all right, since Chance had planned to work today, I felt he needed a good rest and so I encouraged him to put on pajamas same as I and get fully into the mood of relaxing.  I'd say it worked rather well, lol.

This morning, we were up quite early but it's been an unusual day for me.  For one thing, I just couldn't settle to anything I wanted for breakfast yet I was quite hungry since we'd opted for bowls of cereal last night.  I ended up eating lasagna for breakfast, that bowlful I'd set aside for my son on Thursday.  Then later at lunchtime I really wasn't hungry at all, so ate some fruit and Matza bread.  Now here it is supper time and I am hungry once more but what to eat?  And which meal is it anyway?  There's pumpkin pie so perhaps I shall have dessert?  I shall have to give a good once over to the fridge to determine what might suffice for a meal.

I spent the morning going up and down the step stool.  I'll likely pay for it tomorrow and since I shall I decided it was worthwhile to do the whole job today and be done with it.  I cleaned along the soffit of the kitchen and the galley area above the stove and then decided to go on and scrub the upper cabinets really well.  It didn't take a lot of time, but did involve quite a few trips up and down and up and down.

I had stripped the bed and washed the towels and sheets.  While the bed was being remade, I attempted the second choice fabric with the current reversed quilt.  Not so good.  Now I'd struck out twice, with not enough fabric the first time and not quite the right color quilt the second time.  I decided to get the other spare quilt and reversed it on my bed then draped the second choice fabric over the pillows and it all came together very nicely indeed.  I have LOADS of this particular fabric so might opt to use some as bed skirt.  The pillow shams will take no time at all to make.

Then I went off to the master bath with the leftover fabric from the bench.  I decided to make a sort of roman shade for the window and use sheers to soften the mirrors around the garden tub.  I'll  remove the golden towels and bring out the green ones to pair with the cream towels, and that will give a whole new fresh appearance to that room as well.  Two down...

My thoughts have been busy all morning and afternoon as well.  For one thing, I sat down and played with our budget for this second quarter of the year.  It's going to need a bit of tweaking if we're going to manage as well as I hope to but I can do it.  I'm ready to just tackle a good challenge area!  Now, I confess, I was not quite so gung ho this morning.  Hard work though really does inspire me to think hard and I've determined that I can do this very well indeed and I mean to do just that.

Huch.  I found the book very helpful when I made up the Passover Seder plate this week and we used it as our guide for our Passover blessing.  I was overwhelmed when Chance urged me to read it before but I think I'm ready for it now.    So that's goal number one on my list.

I've planned a retreat for the coming month and the room is booked.  I lack just $23 having enough to cover the full cost of the room.  I don't see that as a problem because I typically save that a bit more than that each month just in singles when I get change after a purchase.  Gathering the rest of that money is #2 on my list of goals.

#3 is to do a mani/pedi once a week now that warm weather is here to point up feet and hands. I generally keep up a pedicure pretty well in the sandal season, but manicures...I tend to fail upon.  I was enthralled with the red polish on the short fingernails of an actress this morning and absolutely wanted my own fingers to look as pretty.  I work hard enough with my hands to pretty much ruin a manicure but  I thought if I did one each Friday afternoon, when work is done, it ought to last at least until I get my hands dirty on Sunday morning.

#4Yard work.  My son is to be my gardener this summer since he's not going to be in college.  Part of the tight finances cause is here in this spot, but he's promised to keep his wages low (a home cooked meal and a few dollars to cover his gas) but I'll need to buy mulch, plants, border material etc.  Not high cost but definitely an added expense for the duration of his summer break.

There's also outdoor furniture to be repaired and painted, pots to be painted and planted, paint to go on deck, porch and shed...plenty to do.  I don't expect to get it all done in May but I do think we should manage a good start on it all.

#5 Cool down the interior of the house.  I was so impressed with the uncluttered look of the home we were in Friday that I'm determined to cool the temperature of my own home by taking away those extras that seemed so cozy in October.  And which now seem to visually heat up the space.  I've already mentally pinpointed several items to be removed from my living room.  A few may reappear in other rooms and then again, might not.  I'll store in the shed until autumn and see how I feel about the pieces then. 

Now is also the time to remove the throws from sight if not actually out of the room, slipcover the furniture to cool down the colors, and buy lighter colored shades (and possibly one slipcover for a chair that would be difficult to make a slipcover for.  Why lighter shades on the lamps?  Because we will, as the day's grow hot, begin to draw our shades and curtains and the rooms get dark and gloomy looking.  Lighter shades will allow more light from the lamps when we turn them on.  I'll also go ahead and fashion panels for the windows.  It just so happens I've been saving big cardboard boxes all winter long to make reflective panels for those windows that catch the hottest sun.  I usually wait until July to start this job and that's a huge mistake.  I'd rather start early and net the savings sooner as well.

I went through my home keeping notebook this morning and figured the budget for the second quarter of the year.  One or two of our routine expenses have increased, one or two decreased and we've added a couple...Glad I sat down to work with the figures.  It was an eye opening session.  Chance has been getting a couple days worth of overtime each month since the first of the year.  I don't know how long that is likely to last and don't really like to 'plan' for it, I'd rather plan without it and then be pleasantly surprised each month with the overage.  It's good incentive to live on what we make. 

Anticipating the rise in gasoline,  we'll likely also mean a rise in grocery costs and electric costs as well.  I'll be pulling out the stealth frugal moves, lol, hence the jump start on making panels for the windows and attempting to visually cool the house. 

As well, this past week pointed up how easily I might trim our grocery budget.  One chicken served us four meals.  I roasted the chicken Monday afternoon and ate a leg and half a thigh for my supper.  Wednesday I reheated the chicken and we ate most of the breast.  For supper that night we had chicken quesadillas.  Thursday I made lasagna for our dinner but thought a pan of chicken rice stew would hit the spot for supper.  It did hit the spot for my supper, but Chance ate out that night with a friend.  We had Stew the next day for our supper.  I count the two single servings as a meal in case you're counting closely.  It wasn't one of those huge roasting hens either, just a little broiler/fryer weighing about two pounds. 

I think I shall have to pull out more of those strong savings recipes...Not a problem thankfully as I have quite a large supply of ideas and recipes that extend meals and I've been adding to that file of late.  If I can slightly lower our current budget despite rising costs, I'll count it excellently done.  If I keep even with our current budget even with rising costs, I'll declare it Good.

I still haven't gone into my closet and worked out what goes with what and how to pair up accessories, etc.  I'd worked out perhaps three or four earlier this month and then Kay pointed out two or three more when she was home.  I am sure there are more combinations if I'll just take time now to figure them out.  I am influenced strongly by an article in the April Good Housekeeping where five pieces made thirty outfits...And that was followed by a similar article in one of my vintage Woman's Day magazines.  That lucky lady went on a cruise with a dress suit, a play suit and a skirt and top and didn't need a thing else all week long...I don't expect I shall do anything quite like that but what a bonus to have mix and match pieces in the closet.  So I'll likely take time out of my schedule this week to work with those.  I store my 'outfits' on my digital camera and when I feel I need inspiration, I scroll through the pictures and pull a 'new' outfit.

I guess I should end here.  Chance has been home for a good little while now and I really should give him my undivided attention.  So glad you stopped in and remember, tomorrow and next week, chocolate is 50% off...That's goal enough for the week, agreed?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Frugal Friday/Living Well

Frugal Friday

Another week of savings behind me...Kay sent me photos yesterday of her kitchen. She'd complained that she'd found builder's beige beyond boring in her apartment. She remedied that in her kitchen by using a pretty green vinyl shelf liner on the back splash wall of her little kitchen. Fairy lights strung under the cabinets added additional lighting and brightened up the room considerably. I think she said she spent less than $10 on her makeover

I had the pleasure of visiting this morning while Chance did a bit of locksmith work for a friend.  Lovely time chatting I had, but oh the further pleasure of complimenting the hostess and being told, "I bought it all at Goodwill or the dollar stores..."  I promise you not a single item there looked to have been thrifted or inexpensive but it was all so lovely, truly lovely.  My favorite?  The gorgeous windows that she had sitting about, which were salvaged from an older home that had been torn down. 

As Jan and I were talking today she asked me a question similar to the one Tracy posed earlier this week: did I save more as a working woman or as a full time homemaker.  I had to tell the truth: despite a technical business degree, I save far more as a full time homemaker than I can make in the workaday world.  Were it a necessity, I'd certainly return to work because let's face it , you can't save cash if you've no cash to save!  However, as long as Chance and I have income by some means, I can surely save us far far more by being at home, trimming the budget, clipping coupons, making good use of what we have (and believe me this is a full time job!) and net us about twice as much annual savings as I can make in cold hard cash at any outside job.  I really should plan to do another Year of Savings to show how much savings can be netted through the day to day work of homemaking.

In the meantime, we'll settle for what I did this week...

Saturday:  Synagogue morning and as is my habit these days, I stopped off to pick up dinner on my way home.  Splurge?  Yes, sometimes.  This day however, I chose to buy a medium pizza for $7.50 at a chain pizzeria.  Two meals from that pizza for the two of us, at $1.75 each meal.  Not such a bad deal for easy takeout. 

On the flip side, going into a store beyond hungry is always a mistake.  I went into the dollar store to buy a mailing envelope for Chance...And came out with chips and cookies and a few cans of clearance priced speciality ingredients.  Not complaining mind you, since I seldom have found coconut milk for $.50 a can or green chilies for $.33.  But definitely spent more than the cost of a padded envelope!  I will report here that I tried some of the Clover Valley cookies which appear to be similar to Girl Scout cookies.  I could do without the Coconut Caramel ones but oh the chocolate covered peanut butter cookies were mighty good and for just $1.50 a box, a fair substitute for GS cookies.

Home again Home again...No extra cost in coming home is there?  I contemplated taking time to go off thrifting but ultimately I felt being at home was the most economical choice.  Besides, I had looked over the checkbook the day before and felt really it was time to put the brakes on discretionary spending...and after that little stop at the dollar store and the pizzeria it seemed a very good idea indeed.

Sunday:  I'd planned to go see Granny, planned to go off to the craft store, to the mall to spend coupons I'd received for dollars off purchases...I stayed home in the end. Why?  Remember my deciding I ought to put on the brakes a bit?  I held firm to that choice.  Besides with a holiday coming upon us (Passover) I needed to do the grocery shopping a day earlier and that meant Sunday was my day to gather coupons, make out lists for the stores.  I used online ads to make out the grocery list.

The fridge was fairly empty...and that made it easy to find the lone zucchini in the back of the drawer, as well as the potatoes I'd cooked earlier in the week.  I made roasted vegetables to go along with my beef roast (seasoned with minced garlic and home grown rosemary).  Since it was just myself I made enough vegetables for two...I know, why two, when it was just myself?  Perhaps intuition?  Mama came in as the vegetables were in the oven.  By the way, I looked about to see what I had on hand before putting the zucchini and potato into the oven.  A shrivelling tomato, half an onion, some mixed peppers from the freezer, a little garlic and olive oil and there was a nice mixed vegetable dish.

Work aplenty to be done, that's for sure, but now and then I find something interesting on tv and for what we pay for cable, well I might as well use it, right?  The Tudors proved intriguing.  I'll be looking for this series to rent on Netflix when I'm all done with the other series I've lined up in my queue.

Having tired of looking for a comforter for my bed to use in the warmer months, I decided to flip my quilt over to the light khaki plain backing.  Since the quilt is bound nicely it really looks rather decent.  I thought perhaps I might have enough fabric to make pillow shams but I don't...At least not of the pattern I originally intended but I've just thought of another piece of fabric which I know I do have plenty of...hmmm...Nothing like FREE decorating!

Washed bed linens.  Noted that Kay had slept on the newly bought pillowslips and gotten eye makeup on the one case.  I doctored it with pure Dawn detergent and set it aside to dissolve the makeup.

Monday:  I didn't accomplish very much in my  house Sunday and since Tuesday was a holiday I knew I needed to work away.  I did several housekeeping tasks before I left home to do my shopping.

Boiled eggs, intended for breakfast, one to be roasted for the Seder plate and to make chicken salad for Chance's lunch.  The water the eggs boiled in was saved and cooled to pour over the orchid which loves the added calcium.

Washed two loads of laundry, one of clothes and one of towels.  I put the pillow case in with the clothes.  That soaking did the trick.  It got the makeup out of the pillow case.

While out shopping, I began to hear a funny noise in my car.  Don't you just hate that?  It completely unnerves me.  I knew something was wrong even though the car handled just fine.  I hurried through my shopping and went back home and called my own personal shade tree mechanic to ask him to come look over my car.  "Can't do it until Thursday evening, Mom," he said.  "Do you think you can just stay home until then?"  I thought of all I'd meant to do and then said "Oh yes,  no problem."  I wonder how many others have discovered that just staying home is a HUGE money saver?  It meant no visit to the fabric shop to buy more material (and now I've thought of that other piece of fabric isn't that a good thing?) and no trip to the garden center, sigh. 

Paying attention to the coupon on the front of the bag of coffee I bought netted me a free bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies. 

I bought whole bean coffee and ground it FINE, which nets a greater amount of flavor from the coffee when you brew it.  By the way, and this is as much a note to myself as to you all, you can even open the bags of ground coffee and grind them again on FINE setting.  I'm thinking it's high time I got one of those battery operated grinders to have here at home, since I plan to stock up on coffee in the next few weeks and I wouldn't want to open vacuum sealed cans to grind then store.

I'd planned to prepare a Seder plate for our first Passover at home.  A friend who is Jewish shared that I could substitute the leg bone of a chicken for the Passover Lamb shank.  That was a huge savings for our budget, since the leg of Lamb was $5.99 a pound.  I had a whole chicken in the freezer and thawed it to roast when I returned home.  Other substitutions were made: celery and romaine lettuce were acceptable for the parsley and bitter herbs required.  I had both of those on hand as well.  Our usual grape juice, the use of half an apple and chopped walnuts, honey and cinnamon to make the sweet 'mortar'...I needed only to purchase a small bottle of ground horseradish to round out the Seder plate.  I was so pleased to manage it in a budgeted way.

I didn't have a lengthy list this week but was careful to check and double check what I needed to buy.  Good thing, because I very nearly forgot half and half which wasn't on my list at all and which I'd have missed having in my coffee!

I hid a portion of the grocery budget away in my purse before I went into the grocery.  My purpose?  I knew Chance would want some special something over the weekend and I was right.  I had just enough to pay for the steak and baking potatoes he requested (on sale this week at the local grocery) and a gallon of milk with change leftover.

I don't purchase frozen pies very often but a good quality name brand frozen Apple pie was on sale this week for $3.99 and I had a $1 off coupon.  I can't buy apples to make apple pie this time of year for $2.99.  I put the pie in the freezer to save for a few weeks.

Tuesday:  A holiday, a no-work day for me at home.  I took advantage of the free time to go through the stacks of magazines Mama has given me over the past three weeks.  It really was quite a hefty pile.  I found art project inspiration in the pages, new recipes to try (some using ingredients I currently had on hand), a few ideas for gifts, an idea for a color combination that created a new outfit from my closet, some natural remedies for colds and allergies, coupons for products I use...I gleaned quite a lot.  I think I get good use from these gifted magazines.

Dinner was an easy freezer meal of frozen pot pies heated and served with canned Three Bean Salad that needed to be used up.

Wednesday:  I promised Chance a good breakfast. He wanted grits and I was happy enough to make them.  I used a can of evaporated milk that was nearing expiration date as my liquid.  This made the grits rich and creamy, a nice change from our usual and no need of adding butter to them.

Chance got up earlier than I did.  He had washed a load of clothes and hung them to dry.

I mixed up a quick sweet biscuit dough using an egg for part of the moisture to make scones to go with our breakfast.

It occurred to me as I dug about in the china closet that I was wasting valuable shelf space in the fridge with bulky cartons and bottles...and letting perfectly good pretty pieces stand about useless in the cabinet,  as well.  I decanted the grape juice into a carafe with a stopper, poured orange juice into a glass juice bottle that Granny gave me a couple years ago (formerly a Tang dispenser).  I washed grapes and put them into a pretty china bowl on the bottom shelf of the fridge, which made them a quick grab for snacking.  The fridge seemed neater and prettier, too.

Leftover roast chicken, Steamed broccoli and pasta salad...That was the menu based upon contents of our fridge.  To the cooked pasta I added a few green onions, diced tomato, fresh thyme leaves, and halved black olives from the fridge.  The juice from the tomato and a bit of olive oil was all the 'dressing' the salad required.

The water used to steam broccoli in was cooled and then taken outdoors to pour into the ivy and cactus plants.  Nice nutrients in the water for those plants.  I never salt the water I steam my vegetables in and so it's perfectly fine for plants.  You could save in a freezer container for soup if you wanted as well.

The chicken starred a second time that night in Pollo Quesadillas for our supper.

When I put the Apple Pie in the freezer, I pulled out a Pumpkin Pie I'd put into the freezer in January.  I thawed it for our dessert.

I just didn't feel well.  I'll lay it at the feet of allergies but boy was it nice to have ready made food on hands (or practically ready made) and a clean house.  I got by with meal prep and clean-up as the only necessary tasks.

Thursday: The least expensive remedy I know for any ailment?  REST!  I spent as much time resting Wednesday as I could, including a late afternoon nap and then went to bed early.  I felt right as rain come Thursday morning and ready to tackle the chores put off the day before.

I used up leftover won ton wrappers, about to expire cream cheese, leftover spaghetti sauce, the second half of that zucchini used on Sunday and a bit of chopped onion and green bell pepper to make up a deep casserole dish of lasagna.  Oh and I almost forgot, some goat cheese that had worked it's way to the back of the drawer went into the dish as well.  Very tasty, so much so, that Chance urged me to set aside a portion for Alan and not let him see the casserole nearly full of leftovers, lol.

While I was chopping vegetables for the lasagna, I chopped additional onion, some celery and a carrot to cook in the chicken broth I made from that roast chicken carcass.  Picked over the carcass and tossed the meat into the pot as well, then seasoned and added rice.  I had a nice pot of chicken rice 'stew' to have for supper. 

Went through the recipe file to cull a few more recipes and to find a little inspiration for the next week or two.  I do wonder why I'm so much  more inspired by dessert recipes than vegetable? lol  I managed to cut down on the dessert recipes and pulled a few entree ideas that would use ingredients already on hand.

Refilled water bottles and stocked the fridge.  Chance is disinclined to drink water but he finds a cold bottle of water very appealing.  I comply by filling plastic soda bottles with water (after washing in the dishwasher) and placing in the fridge to chill.

The cause of all that horrid noise in my car when driving?  I was beginning to think we'd not find out, because even though Alan drove around what we call the Big Block (about a 6-7 mile area) the car didn't make so much as a tiny squeak.  Fortunately just as we turned to come up the drive I heard a teensy little squeal, enough that Alan at least had a clue where the noise was generated.  A drive around the Little Block (about 2 miles) and still no noise, but this time when he came up the drive it began squealing in earnest, a horrid sound, really.  Alan had a good idea what it might be, so jacked up the car, removed the wheel and just as he touched the part he suspected was the culprit out fell a piece of granite the size of my pinky finger tip...That new gravel paving on the main road into the place had loose gravel and a piece had lodged in my wheel in such a way that it would periodically dislodge and rub against the wheel well.  Gracious!  All that horrible racket and worry over a piece of pea gravel!

Cleaned off the front porch while Alan was working on my car.  What a difference a good sweeping and removal of winter junk can make of a front porch...Unfortunately the sweeping stirred up a good bit of pollen.  I had to take an allergy tablet last night to offset the sniffling and headache.

Friday:  Plans for the day?  Chance promised to re key that lock.  My plans were pretty simple: make meals, straighten house and wash a load of dishes in the dishwasher.  I started the dishes just before we left home.

Breakfast this morning, was breakfast burritos...It's a week of unleavened bread for us, so no yeast risen breads in the house.  We have some Matzo crackers on hand but we're also using tortillas and homemade biscuits, scones etc. as bread. 

Plenty of leftovers to eat today (lasagna, Chicken Rice Stew) but Chance suggested steak and baked potato.  I used the set aside grocery money to purchase that and another gallon of milk (meant to become homemade yogurt on Sunday). 

Chance washed a load of clothes and hung to dry.

I have a bowl full of food scraps to feed the dogs this evening.  They like human food okay but the cat will have none of it.

Supper tonight will be leftover Chicken Rice Stew.

Living Well

This week has been a funny sort of week.  I haven't felt well (I know it's just allergies but they do make you feel pretty cruddy), we've had worries:  car troubles that weren't troubles but who knew? and heartaches we must endure because it's asked of us to do so, and heartaches only we can cure because it's a matter of letting go of what we are holding onto and allowing God to have control. 

It's a week like this that tiny blessings seem monumental:  the discovery of a huge patch of pink honeysuckle in the overgrown field, a penny on the ground, finding half an allergy tablet when you thought you were out, lol, and realizing that beauty is as near as the china closet shelf if we'll only look and use what we have, or a son who suddenly speaks up in a way he's not accustomed to doing and shines a bright light of revelation on scripture I've read dozens of times and failed to see all the glory in it...You see, how funny it's been?

We are blessed, every minute of every single day.  We are tried, for nearly every minute we are blessed.  That's just the way it is.  And yet, I stand here and look about my home where the sun shines upon grass gone green, smell the honeysuckle and the roses, note the full pantry and fridge, the car that only God could have provided, and know that we want for nothing despite going along for four years without an increase in pay.  I feel shame at my lack of praises for the good and simple things, the very things that make the hardest of the worries a little more bearable.

So praises I'll sing now of clean laundry, and pretty dishes, of roses and loving pets, of a husband worthy of respect and honor, of children who have grown into adults better than I dared hope they might considering the faulty parenting that went into them.  Praises of plenty and lacking little, of good books to read and refuges found in make believe worlds, of the simple but wonderful combination of chicken and rice.  A mixed pot of praises to go with the mixed pot of life we've lived.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Questions and Answers

On my last Frugal Friday Tracy posed a question:

You always accomplish so much and save so much money. Were you like this back in the day when you worked outside the home?

I thought about this for quite a while.  I've had several incarnations as a working mom...Was I productive and frugal as well in those periods? 

I had several part time positions, none of which were of particularly long duration and honestly I must say that I never noticed a substantial change in either income, debt reduction, or increase in my ability to be productive in those short forays.  When my two oldest were 9 and 5 I returned to the work world in a full time position.  My productivity at home fell way off and we didn't improve our financial lives either.

I was working full time as a single parent when I met Chance.  Homekeeping was low on my list of priorities a that time due to the combination of the aftermath of a car accident and a newborn. I had routine visits from a mystery housekeeping fairy.  I think Mama and Granny came down a time or two and I've reason to suspect the neighbors might have chipped in and hired a housekeeper to help out (it was the sort of neighborhood where doors were left unlocked and not unheard of to have such kindnesses visited up on you).  Chance helped me to establish some good habits like doing a load of laundry every single day (instead of my five or six loads on Saturday routine), and he introduced all of our kids to the chore list which was another huge help.

When Kay was about nine months old it was necessary to leave my job due to emotional burnout.  In the intervening nine months I honed my frugal homemaking skills a great deal and introduced a lot of money saving ways to my husband and family.  When I returned to work for the next three years it was that combination of frugality (though not as stringent) and the family keeping home that helped keep my productivity at home high.

Lisa asked:  Would you share your lasagna recipe with the cream cheese or is it already on your recipe blog?
There's truly no recipe to it.  I just make up a pan of lasagna and add bits of cream cheese broken off the block between layers along with the shredded mozzarella, romano cheese and dibs of cottage cheese.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Menu Monday: A New Budget Month

Menu Monday

A new budget month begins.  I did my shopping today, in time for Passover.  I'm attempting my first Passover dinner at home.  I'm a bit excited over this as it's new to us.  I'm just waiting for Chance to come in from work to celebrate.

I've been thinking about meals all day today...I normally plan meals before shopping, but today I am working backwards.  That will make meal planning an especial challenge but I think I can do a week without too much trouble.

Monday: Roast Chicken, Apple Relish, Romaine Salad, Baked Sweet Potatoes
This meal was easy to prepare.  I did all the work after I got home from shopping.  The I bought only the sweet potatoes today.  Everything else was in the pantry/fridge already.

Tuesday: Lasagna, Tossed Salad, Biscuits
I have a few wonton wrappers left from my egg roll making a couple weeks ago.  One of the suggestions on the package was to use to make lasagna.  This dish will allow me to finish off that package, as well as use up a few vegetables and some cream cheese that is nearing expiration...Do you put cream cheese in your lasagna?  My late father in law made his lasagna this way, just the way he learned from an Italian neighbor years ago. It adds additional richness to the dish.

Wednesday:  Chicken Turnovers, Steamed Broccoli, Wild Rice,  Ambrosia
I'll use the leftover chicken to fill the turnovers.  The dough is made with cream cheese (can you tell I got caught with a bit of cream cheese on hand?)...I'll have to look about for the recipe for this turnover.  I've had these as an appetizer at parties before.  I thought these would make a good entree for a meal.

Thursday:  Soft Tacos, Pico De Gallo, Refried Beans, Apple Pie a la mode
I bought plenty of tortillas this week.  I'll make my own taco seasoned beef to fill the tortillas.  Pico de gallo is so delicious with chips but I love it as a salad, the way my favorite local Mexican restaurant serves it.

Friday:  Grilled Brazilian Steak burgers, Grilled Corn with lime butter, Lettuce and Tomato Salads, Corn Muffins
I used to laugh at the idea that anyone would go to a steak house and then order the ground steak...So now the laugh is on me.  I've ground sirloin in the freezer, and I think it's time to make Brazilian burgers once again (season with minced garlic, green onion and a splash of sherry).

Saturday:  Take out 
I've planned meals for the last four Saturdays that Chance has been off and each time we've splurged on eating out, or picked up steak on our way home and broiled it...  This week I plan to be spontaneous.  I've set aside some of the grocery money and the budget won't suffer.

Sunday:  Oven Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Black eye peas with tomato preserves, Biscuits
I think I want a comfort meal for this weekend meal.  And for me that is to make a meal such as Granny used to make. Mmmm!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Frugal Friday/Living Well April 15

Saturday:  Packed water, sodas, and granola bars for our morning at synagogue and just after.  The granola bars and soda kept hunger at bay while we hurried home.

The plan had been to eat leftovers which we'd reheat when we got home, but it was quite a bit later than usual when service was over and we were both very very hungry.  "Chance asked me to call ahead to the local place and order chicken.  The diner was out of fried chicken pieces but offered chicken strips instead.  I told the lady how many I needed to feed and she suggested how many pieces would be needed.  Bless her she failed to mention that she'd put in extra due to her lack of fried chicken.  We had plenty of chicken for our meal, and enough leftovers for two lunches.

Kay came home to spend the week.  She came in bearing steaks.  Again, too much food, though I thought she'd purchased very wisely, not buying huge steaks but just average ones. However, we still ended the meal with a steak and a half leftover.  I planned another meal with those leftovers.

Washed a full load of dishes on the shortest cycle.  I used the water run before starting the machine to do a small sinkful of dishes.  I didn't fill the sink full of water either.  Who needs gallons and gallons of water to wash just a few pots and pans? 

When we came in from synagogue, I looked at Chance..."I forgot to turn the AC back up to 78F before we left..."  "No problem," he told me.  "I remembered it."  Good!  We didn't keep our home nighttime cool all day long.

Chance suggested I make coffee.  "Do as you did last night, and make us just one cup each.  I don't want or need two cups, do you?"  No, I didn't and I've got that 'short pot' of coffee down just right finally.  There's just enough to fill two mugs and nothing leftover.

Sunday:  Kay requested a special dish for dinner.  I had all the ingredients on hand.  So glad I keep my pantry/freezer well stocked.

Washed a full load of laundry of sheets and towels on the shortest cycle.  I also dried in batches.  Putting the towels in first and then the sheets and timing both loads for a shorter than usual drying time, but getting clothes completely dry all the same.

Use what you have...Digging about for breakfast this morning, I settled upon my favorite of boxed cereal with homemade yogurt.  I had ripe pears in the fruit basket, and pumpkin seeds in the freezer.  Perhaps not the most common additions to cereal but it was very tasty all the same.

Did a home pedicure.  I much prefer to do this task at home, complete with soak, scrub, cuticle care, and polish than to pay someone else to do it for me.  I used one of those lovely shades of polish I purchased last summer.  Happy feet!

I was examining the quilt on my bed.  It's not spring/summer colors but autumn/winter colors and I do really want to replace it for the warmer seasons.  However, in looking over the quilt I noted the possibility of using three colors more with it to change the look entirely: chocolate brown, french blue and unbleached muslin...I happen to have those color drapes on hand.  Perhaps this winter I shall change things up a bit.  And maybe the use of unbleached muslin now will lighten the look until I do find an alternative?

Monday:  A day of errands.  Keeping ourselves on task was the most important thing.  Two danger zones for me: the grocery store and the Home Improvement Garden Center.  It makes it very hard when the weather is so especially nice not to buy a bunch of plants.  I decided I'd be better off seeing what pots I have to fill, what areas I have to fill and work with plants that will work with what I have, instead of randomly buying every pretty thing (and isn't it all so very pretty this time of year?) that fell under my eye.  In the end, at the home improvement center I bought nothing.  Chance picked up those items he required and that was just fine.

At the grocery we stuck hard to the list made out before we left home.  I did skip two items, one that wasn't in stock and one that I wasn't sure would keep until it is required next Monday.  So I decided it would be better to go over and buy those items that day. 

Kay is wonderful at finding the things I've hidden...Here we'd been longing for chocolate and hadn't taken time to buy any.  Then she putters about in the pantry and comes out with two bags of candy I bought several weeks ago on a special sale.  Hooray! 

Tuesday:  You really never know what you have until you clean things up do you?  I spent this morning clearing out my big old dresser.  I found the picture hanging kit I've been looking for the past four days.  Why was it in my dresser drawer?  I've not a clue!

I set aside broken jewelry pieces for repair or to reuse beads for new pieces, sorted out the earrings (now I have matching pairs) and untangled necklaces in my jewelry drawer.  Matched socks and folded gowns and underthings and tossed out the knee high stockings I've not worn in three years and which I recall had runs anyway.  I separated my winter at home clothes from my summer at home clothes and then culled my sweater drawer.  Now that everything is all nice and neat I'm pretty sure I'll be better able to match accessories to clothing,  get dressed in less time and use my creative nature to play and hang those pictures! 

Used about 1/3 of a head of cabbage to make slaw from scratch.  Honestly, it took me no longer to grate that cabbage than it does to mix slaw, just moments.  True the bags of slaw mix are convenient but they cost about $1.29 on sale.  Cabbage is just $.49/pound and I used about $.30 worth to make our slaw.

I purchased a turkey ham (about 2 pounds) at the grocery for $5.98.  That works out to a bit under $3 per pound.  I cut the meat, using my meat slicer and packaged 6 8-slice packets of luncheon ham for sandwiches with a end pieceleftover to dice and use as seasoning.  At an average of $3 per packet I saved about $12 (6 packets minus the original cost of the ham).

Used leftovers to make a pretty good supper: leftover plain cooked potatoes and cheese potatoes were made into soup.  I cut the leftover steak into smaller pieces and filled leftover breakfast biscuits with the meat.  As we ate our homey fare, Chance looked up.  "Is potato soup expensive to make?"  "Not at all, but this batch was especially thrifty.  I made it from homemade broth I'd put in the freezer, and leftover potatoes and the chopped onion from our  dinner.  About all this batch of soup really cost me was the milk and extra cheese I added in towards the end."  "Well, it's very good!  It's even better knowing it wasn't expensive to make!"  lol  Love that thrifty hearted man of mine, I do!

Wednesday:  It's our 'Monday', Chance's first day back at work.  I don't know, there's something about the beginning of a work week that makes me hit the floor running.  By noon today I was weary but dinner, and a brief nap and I had a second wind.  You'll notice I've not mentioned Spring and cleaning in the same line until now. Good reason for that.  I've been following that lovely little whole house cleaning plan that divides my home into zones.  Each month I've been doing one or two deeper cleaning tasks in each area.  That's why all you'll read about lately is decluttering.  It's been a wonderful time saver splitting up those heavy duty cleaning tasks into manageable segments.

I cleaned the under the cabinet pantry today and sorted through the canned goods.  I let two cans expire...should've checked on the pantry sooner.  However, the about to expire stuff is sitting on the counter.  I must get creative and use 1 can of black beans, one can of corned beef, one can of evaporated milk and one can of three bean salad.

When I put cans back into the pantry, I put those that had the longest expiration date at the bottom and back of the cabinet with nearer dates on to pand moving forward. Sounds more complicated than it is actually.  The stuff that might possibly expire (mostly not before December  of this year) is all handy to grab FIRST when I'm in the cabinet. 

I made a mistake and bought the HOT flavor of a favorite snack.  Not something Chance and I eat at all...Took advantage of Kay's being home and set it out in a prominent place.  Worked perfectly, she's been munching on the things all week long.  Incidentally saved our own chips from her snacking needs.

Cooked up another batch of berries, this time frozen strawberries I put up last month, into that tasty fruit jam (more like a fruit spread).  Two and 1/2 pints went into the freezer for us to use later.  That's 4 jars of jam I've put up this month.

Took down the curtains in living and dining room.  I had enough wash for a full load when I added in the few clothes in the basket as well.

Finally took the accumulation of things out to the shed.  Decided while I was out there I might as well organize things once more.  Lately all I've done is go out, dump the stuff inside the doorway and leave it.  It took about an hour.  I cleaned and organized.  Now all the Christmas things are together once more, all the china and decorative pieces I want to use seasonally can easily be found.  I put together another donation pile and bagged it up, then I gathered trash and swept the floor.

Note to self:  I have plenty of saved hanging baskets in the shed.  No point in buying expensive hanging baskets when six packs and potting soil will give me the same thing far less expensively.

Kept supper simple: toast and jam.  Paired with a cup of coffee it suited me to a tee after a long hard day of working.

Thursday:  Mama and I went out today, since her schedule didn't allow it yesterday.  Mindful of the single item I had to buy that was necessasry and the other items I meant to check upon, I asked Mama to jot them down on a list.  I bought the item I needed.  It was not forgotten.  I didn't have to make a second stop at another store to purchase it, or make an extra trip into town.

I had a small epiphany today.  We were in a store that I normally don't visit simply because it is far out of the way compared to other stores I might go into more routinely.  I guess I just felt I had to buy something because I was there, so I chose a shirt and then a tank top.  Mama and I walked about a bit, looking for the items on my list  and I found the store sadly lacking.  As we kept walking and looking, I grew more and more dissatisfied with the store as a whole.  And finally I focused upon the two items in my buggy, unplanned purchases, in colors that were only just pleasing...I put the two back.  Yes, I did indulge in another impulse item that was a gift for Kay.  It was perfect for her. 

Our next stop was the garden center.  Clearing my shed last night I found I had plenty of empty pots and hanging baskets.  I bought a big bag of potting soil to fill those.  Next I'll purchase bedding plants.  I usually do this backwards.  Buy plants and filled pots and then I keep forgetting to buy potting soil, so the plants die and I have to buy more...This is going to be a money saver.

Coming home this afternoon I noted something about that painted front door:  it just pulls the house together.  The roof is a barn red, the shutters are barn red and that door is just the touch the house needed to make it look all pulled together.  I'm thinking the back door will have to go apple red, too.  I've got plenty of paint so there will be no additional expense.

I've been dithering over paint color for my cafe table and chairs on the deck.  Well, no longer.  It occurred to me the most logical thing to do is paint it black. There are black and gray and brown mosaic tiles on the tabletop.   I have black paint on hand (seems I have all kinds of paint on hand! lol) so no added expense there.  I wanted to add color but I think it will be less expensive to let the color come from pots, plants, cushions and the painted back door.

Friday:  Discovered the cream cheese in my fridge was at expiration date.  I pulled out my recipe for Easy Philly Cheesecake.  I was able to use up all the cream cheese making the recipe.

My feet really needed extra help after a winter spent in slippers and shoes.  I've been using a heavy duty moisturizer (some I already had) each morning after my shower.  I pull on slipper socks for about an hour.  My feet are so soft...and I didn't purchase that expensive 'as seen on tv' product I'd been tempted to buy.

I was feeling very frustrated with my clothing issues.  It looked like I had just loads but I could never find anything to wear.  I separated my winter clothes and put them in a dress bag.  Now I can see that indeed I don't have 'tons' and I can determine what purchases would be wardrobe stretchers.  In the meantime I can easily choose the pieces that do have good matches.

No need this week to purchase flowers when I've loads of my own in field and yard.  What bouquet can be more fragrant than roses and honeysuckle? Or prettier than such a bouquet set in a lovely old creamer?

I am determined to make no trip to the grocery before Sunday or Monday of this week.  To that end, I've been looking through the pantry and freezer to 'make out' a meal, as Granny used to say often enough.

The sodas have taken a hit with that girl at home.  I've just made a pitcher of iced tea as an alternative.  I'll be juicing lemons this afternoon and making lemonade as well. 

There was no Challah at the market last week.  I'll substitute my homemade crescent rolls for bread for our Kiddish (Communion) tonight.

The dishwasher was finally full after breakfast dishes were added.  Used the shortest cycle and turned off the auto dry which never seems to dry all that well anyway.  Why waste the electricity?

Baked the graham crust while the oven preheated for the cheesecake.  Then added the fish fillets to the oven when the cheesecake was done.

Kay and I each had a couple items in our makeup bag that were mistakes.  We used the item once and that was it.  We made a swap.  I have another bottle of primer which suits me.  She has a lovely green shadow which suits her.

Living Well

It was so simple, really.  And yet, I could see right away how entertaining it might be for the person in the home, just as it was for me in passing by.  A pile of bricks with a deep tray set atop, filled to the brim with bird seed.  And there, perched on the edges were a variety of birds and on the pavement beside three or four squirrels, all happily sharing the providence provided by that home owner.

I catch myself, oftentimes, putting off some pleasure because I don't have the 'things' that might be required.  Like waiting to put out water until I can afford the birdbath I desire.  Or feeding the birds, because I've none of the fancy feeders...

And here, on a quiet neighborhood street, I saw how silly I was in my desire to have things just so.  Here was nothing more than a pile of bricks and a plastic tray and it suited the birds and squirrels.  I'm willing to bet the homeowner and her neighbors, too were pleased to look out and see the wildlife attracted.  I'm willing to bet that like me, the plastic tray and bricks were the secondary thought, because the birds themselves were so entertaining.

So...Maybe I need to reflect on this thing called perfectionism and this feeling that I haven't got money enough to afford myself simple pleasures.  Maybe I'll just buy a bag of seed and pour it into that tart pan I put in the shed Wednesday.  And maybe I'll do as Granny used to do and set a pan of water near a tree in a shady spot and let the birds decide if the bath water suits them.