Friday, May 30, 2008

Frugal and Good for the Earth

Visit Biblical Womanhood for lots of Frugal Friday tips.

Over the last 6 months or so, we've slowly started doing things in our home that are both frugal and not wasteful. Here is a list of some of those things.

1. Reusable shopping bags - We've slowly been acquiring these from our local stores that offer them. We currently have 6 and I think that will be enough. These bags hold a lot and as of yet, we've never had need to use all 6 in a single shopping trip. I love that we are not bringing tons of plastic bags into our home each week. Even when we were finding other uses for them or bringing them back to the store for recycling, it still felt very wasteful. In addition to cutting out our need for these plastic bags, our reusable shopping bags also save us 5 cents each at on of our stores. I know that 5 cents isn't much, but over time, this discount means that the bags (which we paid up to $1 each to acquire) will pay for themselves. Nice :o)

2. Driving less - I think gas prices have finally reached the point that it is a factor in the amount of driving we do. Actually, I'm glad to have finally felt the need to consider the amount of driving we do. Just a few months ago, we would have thought nothing of hopping in the car and driving an hour for a joy ride or to run a single errand or even just to relieve boredom. We are much more careful now, making sure we combine errands and we stay home most days now. We're trying to be home most days and have only one day that we are out of the house. We combine our errands, classes and even a visit to the park all on one day. It makes for a long day, but it feels good to exercise control over that part of our budget. And even though gas prices are going up, the last few months have seen our fuel bill go down.

3. Eating out less - As a natural consequence of driving less, we find that we are eating out less. This benefits our budget (its about $35 for our family of 4 to eat at a moderately priced restaurant and $25 for fast food). , our health and I think its also ecologically smart. When we do eat out, we try to choose a locally owned restaurant that employs cooks to prepare the food, instead of just opening packages and nuking the contents or dumping it into a fryer. We feel good about this choice. We're eating real food and helping to support a family business.

4. Learning to garden - This is the second year we plant a square foot garden. Its been a great learning experience for dh & I as well as the children. Plus, we know how our food was grown. Its very comforting to know what water was used to water our spinach plants (something you can't know when you depend upon the agricultural supply chain for your food). And there is something very soul satisfying to walk out to the garden at 4:00 pm to harvest supper.

5. Hang the laundry to dry - Dh has asthma that is particularly affected by pollen (especially grass pollens), so an out door clothes line is not practical for most of our laundry drying needs. Instead, we have an indoor clothes line (shower curtain rod) where we hang our clothes (on hangers, that way they are ready for the closet as soon as they are dry). Our dryer is only used for towels and bedding.

6. Raise the thermostat - It was easier than I thought to get used to keeping the thermostat raised a few degrees (we live in the deep, deep south - its been over 90 deg during the day for several weeks here). As the summer progresses, we're going to keep experimenting and raising the thermostat until it becomes too uncomfortable for us, then we'll lower it back down to the last comfortable setting. I'm hoping this will help keep our electric bill from going up too much this year.

I'm interested in knowing what you are doing. Please share in the comments.

Also, please be sure to check out my bloggy giveaway. The drawing will be held Monday morning, June 2, 2008.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thrifty Thursday - Homemade Salad Dressing

With the summer heat blazing in some parts of the country, thoughts are turning towards dinners that don't require heating up the kitchen (well, at least that's happening at my house, here in the deep south). Salads are an easy and filling supper and keep the kitchen cool at the same time. Here is a link to a great website with a wonderful "tutorial" for making your own salad dressings. It took me a few months to actually get up the courage to try making my own, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is to do. I find that making small batches works well for us and I store them in a mason jar in the fridge so that we have a few choices at any given time. Yummy, easy and thrifty :o)

Tonight, we had left over chicken, shredded, over a bed of greens, topped with pitted cherries, sliced nectarines and walnuts. The dressing we used is called Sweet Sherry and Cherry Vinaigrette (found it in the CVS magazine we received about a week ago). Basically, you blend 1/4 lb pitted cherries, 1/4 cup sweet sherry vinegar, 1/4 tsp dijon mustard, 1 shallot in a blender then drizzle in one cup of EVOO. Salt and pepper to taste. I liked it alot, but I think the EVOO is a little strong and competes with the cherries too much. Next time I'm going to try it with light Olive Oil instead to see if the milder flavor works better for our taste.

Be sure to check out my bloggy giveaway - free kids books!

Bloggy Giveaway

Its time for a fun bloggy giveaway! On Monday morning, I will draw a name from all of the comments left on this post and one lucky winner will receive the books Pirate Things to Make and Do and Fairy Cooking. These books are filled with fun activities and crafty ideas to beat summertime boredom.

So, here are the rules. Visit my Usborne Website and have a look around. Post a comment below (be sure to comment on this post) telling the name of at least one book that caught your eye. On Monday morning, I will choose a winner and post the winner's name here on my blog.

There is also another chance to win books. All orders placed through the "Bloggy Giveaway" e-show link on my website will be entered into a drawing to win the hostess benefits from that e-show! You could win from $15 to $100+ in free books of your choice (based on the sales of the e-show). Be sure to place your order by Sunday evening - the show closes Sunday at midnight.

Be sure to tell your friends. If we have more than 50 comments (by 50 different people), I'll draw a second winner, as well. And the same goes for the e-show. If we have more than $400 in orders, I'll choose 2 winners! Now, go on - spread the word :o)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

100th post and a yummy recipe :o)

This is my 100th post :o) I didn't realize I post that often. ;o)

Yesterday, at Kroger, the produce dept had bags of ripe bananas priced to sell. We picked up a 5 lb bag for $1.50, knowing that we'd use them for banana nut bread and smoothies. Today, we tried a new recipe for Banana Nut Pancakes. Delicious! Here's the "recipe":

Banana Nut Pancakes

2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup flour (we used 1/3 cup white, 1/3 cup whole wheat and 1/3 cup of oat/ flax/ wheat germ mix)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
hand full of chopped walnuts

Mash bananas and add egg and milk. Mix well. Combine dry ingredients then add to wet stirring until just mixed. Add walnuts and stir. Drop by 1/4 cup onto prepared griddle/ pan and cook as you would cook pancakes.

We added butter and honey and they tasted exactly like banana nut bread (without the sweet topping, they are a little bland as there is no added sugar in them). We put the leftovers in the freezer and will definitely make these again - I think they may become a regular addition to our breakfast rotation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thrifty Thursday - Cloth Napkins

This is my first time participating in Thrifty Thursday over at Comical Coupon Sense. I don't have a picture (camera issues). Sorry.

This past weekend, we hit 3 garage sales in our neighborhood and found several things that we needed. First, we found boys jeans that fit my boys for .50 each. My boys wear out jeans faster than I could ever have imagined. I will not pay full price for them, as they usually end up ripped at the knees within a few wearings.

What I am most excited about though was the cloth napkins I found. One garage sale had 30 cloth napkins she sold them to me for $3.00! We already had 6 and I had been wanting to buy more, but not for $1.50 - 2.00 a piece. Now we have enough for 3 meals a day for 3 days without running out. I love that we will now be throwing out less paper (I really hated using paper napkins). I also think that using cloth napkins is making our meal time seem more special - its reminiscent of eating in a fine restaurant. After all, those are usually the only place most people use a cloth napkin.

Check out Comical Coupon Sense for more Thrifty Thursday.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I have some empty space in my garden - what did you plant this year?

We have a square foot garden. I love it. We have 4 blocks that are 4X4, so we have 64 square feet of productive garden. So far this year, we have harvested 4 (of 6) heads of romaine lettuce (we lost the last 2 in bad weather last week), lots of baby greens (butter crunch, red bibb, green bibb, spinach), carrots, broccoli, green onions and several bunches of basil and parsley. We have planted 18 cucumber plants, 9 tomato plants (flowering-yay!), 4 pepper plants (flowering-yay!), green onions, 2 strawberries, (we get about 1 berry per day from them right now - we are putting in more beds for these next year) spinach, carrots, yellow squash, sweet potatoes, green beans, basil, parsley, baby greens and purple hull peas. With all of that in the garden, we still have some "open" squares - 16 to be exact. I'm thinking I'll put more peppers in and perhaps more herbs. I'm still looking for a few more things to fill up those last squares. I'd love you ideas. What do you have planted?

WFMW: Homemade Break Apart Cookie Dough

I posted this last August and thought it was time to share it again. I love the convenience of break apart cookies from the grocery store, but don't like all those funky chemicals that I can't even pronounce lurking in my kiddos snacks. Last year, I made a quadruple batch of sugar cookies and baked one, then put the other three in separate gallon sized zip top baggies.

After smooshing the contents of the bag flat, I used chop sticks to make the "perforations". When I want to use them, I take the bag out of the freezer and break them apart while still frozen. It also helps to put baking instructions on the bag in case you can't put your hands on the recipe when you're ready to bake (not that I ever lose a recipe or anything, lol).

Now, when we make cookies, we usually at least double (but often quadruple) the recipe and put some in the freezer for later. And it works beautifully with other kinds of cookies, too. If you'd like to read the original post, click here.

And check out more ideas at Rocks in My Dryer and Works for Me Wednesday.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Once a Month

Once a month, give or take, our youngest decides to give Mom a break and cooperate with school. He just turned 5 so he's not officially even Kindergarten age, so, I'm not talking about his cooperating with his own education. No, this post is about his cooperating with his older brother's education. Typically, our day starts with a few minutes for the boys to fully wake. Our youngest is usually hungry when he gets up, so he has breakfast at this time. N doesn't like to eat first thing because it upsets his stomach. N is also pretty slow to wake, so it usually takes him a good 20 minutes to fully wake up (sometimes longer). This is usually the point when A starts trying to get N out of school. Hahaha! This kid can actually go all day with it, too. If he could only figure out this he is actually making it take longer for his brother to be able to play, but anyway . . .

Today, was so peaceful. He played alone (something he rarely does) while N finished up what he was working on and then they played together with Legos for over 2 hours without a single argument (another record!). And to top it off, this is the second time in 5 days that A has cooperated with school :o) Maybe we're making progress?

**Note: We have tried giving A "school" work to do with his brother (it worked for a short while). We have also tried the box of "special" toys (worked for a week - 30 days worth of activities). We even tried a DVD (which I was determined never to do when we first started homeschooling - didn't even work the first time). We've even tried asking for his cooperation and explaining why he would want to cooperate. Anyway, I just wanted to add the note, so that you'd know we've tried. I'm really just posting this to encourage others - ours is not the only one, and neither is yours :o)

Menu Plan Monday - May 19, 2008

Here's the plan for this week. We will be using the last of the lettuce from the garden as we lost most of it last week in a really heavy rain/ flood (4 inches fell in less than half an hour-it tore most of the lettuce leaves to shreds). I'm really disappointed, but also grateful that we didn't lose more.

Monday: Grilled oriental chicken and asparagus salad with roasted fingerling potatoes
Tuesday: Italian meatloaf, green beans, rolls
Wednesday: Italian meatloaf subs
Thursday: Tuna/ White Bean “Burgers” on dressed bun with veggie tray and fries
Friday: Clean out the fridge (leftovers)

We already have all of the ingredients for these meals in the pantry or freezer, so this week, if we do any shopping, it will be only for fresh produce, milk and any not-to-be-missed sales.

To see more menus, check out Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What do you cook with? What types of storage containers do you use for food?

Today I picked up a cast iron skillet (have wanted one for years - what took me so long? They are very affordable!), a stainless steel sauce pan and two glass storage containers. I'm really beginning to be very concerned about plastic storage containers and teflon coatings leaching chemicals into my family's food. Since most of our storage containers are plastic and all of our skillets/ frying pans and sauce pans are teflon coated, it may take a while to replace all of it, but that is my goal. What do you use? Any recommendations?

Frugal Friday - First Time

This is my first time participating in Frugal Fridays. My tip is one I just recently read, and you may already know, but it was new to me and I'm sharing it in case it is also new to you. If you have a large surplus of free shampoo or body wash, you can use it to fill up you liquid hand soap dispenser. We tried it with the free Suave shampoo from Wags a few weeks back and it works beautifully. For more Frugal Friday tips, visit Biblical Womanhood.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

WFMW - Keeping Salad/ Greens Fresh

For years, I bought bagged salad mix for our family. I guess I had convinced myself that I was being smart and saving money because when I bought lettuce, it usually went bad before we could use it all. There were several flaws in my thinking. First, this approach assumes that we would use all of the bagged salad before it could go bad. This almost never happened, even though we eat salads almost every day. Our bagged salad usually only stayed fresh for at most 2 days. This thinking also assumed that when I bought a $2.50 bag of salad that it was worth paying someone else to prep our salad, because doing it myself was so much work (ha!).

In an effort to get our grocery spending under control, about a year ago, I started buying romaine when it was on sale for $1.00 each (we have at least one store each week with lettuce on sale for $1.00), and washing and drying it myself (I saw a tip on Good Eats about spinning your lettuce in a pillow case in your clothes washer on the spin cycle if you don't have a salad spinner - pretty unusual, but it does work, lol). Washed and dried well, this lettuce will keep for about a week, and conveniently, provides about what our family can consume in a weeks time. Instead of spending $2.50 every other day (or about $7.50 a week) for lettuce, I was paying $1.00 a week (we are paying $0.00 a week right now because we are growing it in our garden from seeds - free salad is delicious!).

What works for me to keep our lettuce fresh for a whole week is to put a paper towel in the container with the salad. This helps to absorb the excess moisture that causes the lettuce to brown. So, our lettuce stays fresh and crisp for at least 7 days (and sometimes even longer, if we haven't finished it off by then.).

For more ideas check out Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer.

Menu Plan Monday

We had family in to visit, so I'm a few days late with our menu plan.

Monday - Chicken Enchilladas, green salad (from garden)

Tuesday - Left over roast (from freezer) with BBQ sauce on buns - yummy

Wednesday - Chicken and Beef Fajitas with red and yellow peppers (looks like we're having lots of Mexican inspired foods this week)

Thursday - Shrimp alfredo florentine over pasta, salad, bread

Friday - leftovers - clean the fridge :o)

Saturday we have a wedding and a graduation to attend. Sunday, we are eating with family.

For great menu ideas, visit I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Here is our menu for this week. You can find more menus at The Organizing Junkie.

We have been stocking up lately on some really amazing grocery deals (especially at our Kroger), so we will only need to pick up about $15 worth of groceries (including sandwich bread and milk!). What a blessing :o)

So, here's our menu for this week.

Monday: Fiesta Chicken quesadillas, queso and guacamole with chips and mangos for desert

Tuesday: Baked chicken, green salad (from garden), asparagus bundles, homemade bread

Wednesday: Baked stuffed shells with maranara and alfredo sauces, green salad, broccoli, breadsticks

Thursday: Clean the fridge night (leftovers)

Friday: Pan fried tilapia, green salad, carrots, black beans and brown rice.

Saturday: Pizza (2 of them: BBQ Chicken and Cheese with black olives)

Sunday: Clean the fridge again

One of my goals this week is to start a coupon binder. Currently, I am organizing my coupons by insert, which works okay, but I am chronically disorganized, so the inserts sometimes are misplaced (until after a sale, of course). How do you orgainze your coupons?