Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The best laid plans...

It’s been a while since I blogged.  Sorry about that!  Life has been pretty hectic for me the past few weeks.  Not that it isn’t usually hectic, but for some reason lately it’s been worse. 

I had to go to Biloxi, MS, over the weekend, minor emergency but it’s all taken care of now, thanks for asking.  I’d been wanting to visit Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, AL, for quite a while so I decided on my way home from Biloxi to make an impromptu stop in Mobile, get a room for the night, and tour the Gardens on Sunday.  Granted, the $90 or so that it set me back (hotel, food, entrance into the Gardens) is money I won’t be adding to my savings account, but it was worth it.  I had a wonderful time, and it’s not like I had to spend gas money to get there, I was already passing thru! Unfortunately I didn’t get many pictures, my phone and tablet were nearly dead.  This being an impromptu stop, I didn’t have all the necessary cordage needed to keep things charged as I would have liked.  Just take my word for it, it was beautiful.

Then Monday I woke up having a massive dizzy spell.  This happens about once a year, nobody knows why.  At least it only lasts for a day, occasionally a little longer.  Again, all is well, thanks for asking.  I did have to stay home from work Monday which contributed to how busy I’ve been this week, thereby neglecting my  blogging duties!     

After work yesterday I wasn’t feeling my best.  Residual yuckiness from the dizzy spell, I’m sure.  So when I got home I asked Ayla and Shane to help with supper.  While rice was cooking in the rice cooker (my second favorite household appliance), Ayla took a baggie of beef and broth and bits of veggies left over from the last time I made a roast in the crockpot.  She nuked it til she could remove it from the baggie, then dumped it into a saucepan, along with about a cup each of frozen corn and peas.  When that was all heated thru, I showed her how to thicken it with cornstarch.  Meanwhile, I walked Shane thru making homemade honey mustard dressing.  I didn’t realize he doesn’t particularly like honey mustard dressing, but now he knows how to make it! 

So after walking them thru the basics of this meal while doing very little actual work myself, we had a lovely supper of beef and gravy over rice, with spinach salad.  And nobody had to resort to a pizza or burger run.       

If you’re interested in making honey mustard dressing yourself, it couldn’t be easier.  In a food processor or blender, combine one part honey and one part mustard.  I use plain yellow mustard but I guess you could use a fancy gourmet mustard and get a fancy gourmet dressing for the same effort.  Anyway, once those two items are blended together, drizzle two parts vegetable oil into the mixture while the blender or food processor is on.  That’s it!  By one part/two parts, I simply mean this.  If you use one cup of honey and one cup of mustard, you will use two cups of oil.  Adjust those measurements up or down to fit your needs but always keep that ratio and you’ll never go wrong.  It’s also a fantabulous dip for chicken nuggets.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Many times during my life, I haven’t owned a dryer.  Right now, I’m glad I do.  Working full time, with 4 adults and a toddler in the house, it makes my life easier.  But off and on through-out my life I’ve used a handy-dandy solar powered dryer, a.k.a a clothesline.  I consider this no big deal, when I have time to line-dry my clothing I actually prefer to do so.  Many weekends I hang out my sheets and blankets, and I have a rack in my hallway where I always hang my work clothing to dry.  I don’t have a lot of disposable income to constantly replace my wardrobe, so I take good care of it.  What do you think all that lint is?  It’s bits of your clothing!  That you wad up and throw away every week!  I’m hard to fit anyway, so when I find nice work outfits that look good and feel good, I want to keep them as long as possible.  Line drying extends their life and that makes me, and my savings account, happy.   

I’ve never understood people’s aversion to doing laundry.  So many of my friends and acquaintances say they dislike doing laundry.  I won’t say I enjoy it, but I rarely consider it drudgery, a chore I have to force myself to do.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of chores I despise, but laundry is not one of them.  You throw some stuff into the washer, add detergent and other accoutrements, and turn it on.  Then walk away.  You come back later and they’re clean, so you put them in a dryer.  Maybe add a dryer sheet, then turn it on.  Walk away.  It’s not like we have to haul them down to the river and beat them on rocks.  We have a machine to do the work for us.  Did you get that, people?  We have a MACHINE.  To do the work FOR US.  How blessed are we?

And from what I’ve read, most of the things we do to get our laundry “right” are actually unnecessary and even counterproductive.  Studies have shown that using too much detergent breaks down the fibers faster and leaves residue in the fabric, which in turn attracts grime more quickly.  Fabric softeners leave a film on fibers to make them feel soft but in reality, they reduce absorption.  Want a nice soft, fluffy towel?  It might feel nice after using softener and running it thru the dryer but it’ll wear out more quickly and be less absorbent.

 Nature provides a fabric softener that has no side effects.  Add vinegar to your rinse cycle, it will help soften and deodorize fabrics.  But vinegar stinks, you say!  Once it dries, you won’t notice a smell.  No vinegar smell, and also no chemical smell that softener always leaves behind.  It’s also hypoallergenic.  I’ve never heard of anyone who is allergic to vinegar.  They might exist, but I’ve never heard of them.  However, stories of people with chemical sensitivities are common.  You hear it on the news, on the internet, people you might speak to on the street.  Some are mild, some are life-threatening.  I have first-hand experience in this area, since I have a comparatively mild chemical sensitivity.  Certain household cleaners and most perfumes and colognes affect my breathing.  Some make me feel a mild choking sensation.  Others make me break out an asthma inhaler, praying I will live long enough to get to fresh air.  Don’t believe me?  Ask my mother about the Pine Sol incident!  Yes, I’ve forgiven her.  She’s my mother, after all.

What does all this have to do with me saving money?  Maybe nothing.  I already use a concentrated all natural detergent bought in bulk and I don’t use softener, so I can’t get much cheaper on the washing of clothes unless I start making my own detergent, which I’ve done in the past.  And I’ve already said I appreciate the dryer being there for me in my current situation.  But it never hurts to re-evaluate what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and if what you’re doing still fits your current needs.  I might get so into the habit of putting my clothes in the dryer that if my circumstances changed, I’d keep doing it even if I had time to line-dry.  It might not be a huge savings but those small amounts do add up, so it’s a good idea to stop and consider, from time to time, if your current methods are working for you.  This applies in ALL areas of your life, not just laundry!

Monday, September 17, 2012

I’m so happy!

I’ve been somewhat estranged from my youngest daughter for several months.  I know she needed this time away to get her head together but it’s been so painful, for several people.  As a mom, your heart breaks when your kid is hurting, and it’s compounded when you know her actions are hurting herself and others.  But she came home this weekend for the birthday party and will be staying a few days.  There were a good many hugs and tears last night.

As is typical of most 2 year olds, Lyla was a little overwhelmed by her birthday party.  But she and Drake were both well-rested, no cranky meltdowns, so it was good.  Of course my handmade gifts were appreciated more by the adults, she wanted to play with the noisy toys and eat the crayons.  Her cupcakes were a hit.  Here’s how they turned out:

While I was preparing the veggie tray for the birthday party, I did some double-duty work.  Here you have the carrot and yellow bell peppers cut into sticks for the tray, and also sliced and diced and packaged up to throw into the crockpot this morning for split pea soup.  About 1/3 of a pound of kielbasa got diced up too, to flavor the soup.
When I get home I'll take up a bowl of this for tomorrow's lunch.  However, I won't be eating supper at home tonight, it's Chick Night at my BFF's house.  We'll have supper at her place while watching the new episode of Bones.  I'm a cheap date.  We're splitting an order of Pad Thai.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Anyone who says being a church secretary is just a job isn’t doing it right.

It’s a mission.  Or, it can be.  Yesterday I was given the opportunity to help someone, I truly made a difference in that person’s life.  The day before, I tried to help someone, I don’t know how effective my efforts were but she’ll always remember that I tried.  I try to treat every person who comes into my office equally, with the dignity they deserve.  I know, having been there myself, that when you’re down and out you aren’t always treated well.  The human race can be quite judgmental, and it’s sad when you’re on the receiving end of that judgment when the person doesn’t even know your story.  I pray I never do that to anyone who comes to me for help of any kind.  I know I have in the past but I’m part of that human race.  It’s something we all need to work on.

Now, off my soapbox…

My goal this week was to spend less than $100 and stock up for the month.  I spent $63 exactly at the discount grocery and another $1.50 at the health food store, leaving me $35 to spend at Sam’s tonight.  Right on target!  Each week the grocery store has a 49 cent special, this time it was a bag of sugar, which I needed anyway. The only other fantastic deal was a huge bag of chicken nuggets. Usually nuggets are maybe $5-7 for a 2-3 lb bag, but occasionally this place sells their store brand nuggets in a 10 lb bag for $14. They had some this week so I got that. Nuggets are an easy lunch when we’re out of leftovers or somebody doesn’t want a sandwich, I try to keep them around. Last time I bought a huge bag like this it lasted a long time, I just used the last of them this week. So that was a good deal. Oh yeah, and I got a HUGE box of cereal for Shane for $2.33, the small box of the SAME cereal was $2.98! Go figure!  So I picked the big one, naturally.  I’m not a fan of cold cereal, never considered it worth the money.  It’s expensive and you’re hungry again in no time.  But it was a good deal and he likes it, so I bought it.

That pot of Whatever we had for supper last night sure was good.  I have a roast in the crockpot for tonight’s supper.  

Tomorrow I’ll start getting ready for Lyla’s birthday party.  Here are the gifts I made for her:
The afghan was made entirely from yarn I had been given.  I started last year, shortly after their first birthdays, on afghans for both Lyla and Drake to use up some of my yarn stash. 
The pajama pants were supposed to be a Christmas gift but she’s grown so much recently that if I wait, they might not fit!  So they go into the birthday gift pile and I’ll make another pair before Christmas.      

Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's payday!

I’m going to the discount (+10%) grocery store tonight on my way home.  We’re low on everything.  My usual spending pattern is to stock up once a month, maybe $100, then the rest of the month I spend $30-50 a week.  I try to keep spending to less than $250 a month, including paper products and cleaning supplies.  That’s for 4 adults and a toddler.  I usually cook 4-5 times per week and make enough to have leftovers for the nights I don’t cook.  I try to keep several meals in the freezer but I’ve felt so rotten this summer, all the ones I had stocked up have been used.

It’s been so hot this summer, I wouldn’t turn on the oven for ANY reason, but it’s cooling off now so I think I’m going to start making bread regularly.  I’ll still get a loaf or 2 to stick in the freezer for emergencies.

We have a few vegetarian meals each week, and often when there is meat in a dish, it’s more a flavoring agent than anything.  This week’s menu is a little unusual in how much meat I’ll be serving, but I’m trying to accommodate my pregnant daughter’s craving.  She’s actually lost weight during this pregnancy so if she wants meat, she gets meat.       

My menu for the week is :

  • Roast, potatoes and carrots
  • Sloppy Joes with baked sweet potato fries
  • Hamburger Pie (Ayla is making this on her night off)
  • Split pea soup with devilled eggs and homemade bread

Three of these meals will be cooked in the crockpot, my favorite appliance of all time.  I’ll freeze about 1/3 of the roast to make enchiladas later.  The Sloppy Joes will be extended by adding beans, and can be eaten on bread or buns, or over Fritos.  Cheese will be added, by those of us who can have it.  We’ll give pitying looks to those among us who are allergic to dairy but we’ll still top our Sloppy Joes with cheese.  Nobody gets between me and my cheese. 

For snacks or super simple meals I’m going to get the fixings for nachos and spinach/artichoke dip.  I usually make stuff like that when it’s just Allen and me at home, so we can fully indulge our cheese needs (see previous paragraph).

And when I get home tonight we’re having Whatever, a dish Allen invented.  Shane is supposed to have the ground beef cooked and ready for me so I can throw the dish together quickly.  This is our old standby, it got its name because when I’d ask, What do you want for supper?” Allen would answer “Whatever,” and I’d make this dish.  It looks and sounds disgusting but seriously, you should give it a try.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.  This is survival food to half the young adults in our neighborhood because Ayla taught it to all her friends in high school.  Many of them didn’t know how to cook at all, and she thought this was a good way of getting them started.  Here’s the recipe:


  • 1 box of macaroni and cheese, prepared according to the directions on the   box
  • 1 can pork and beans
  • A small amount of cooked ground beef
  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients in the pot you made the mac ‘n cheese in, and cook on medium low til the entire dish is warmed thru.  Yes, it looks like dog food.  Yes, it sounds like a revolting combination.  Trust me, it’s not bad.  Not bad at all.    

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Upcoming Birthday Party

On Sunday we’ll be hosting our granddaughter Lyla’s birthday party.  She’s turning two.  I found an adorable cake on Pinterest and I want to make something similar but I hope to simplify the design a bit.  In years past I enjoyed cake decorating, some of my creations for Ayla’s birthday parties were pretty elaborate.  It’s not so much fun for me anymore but I do want to make their parties memorable and cute so I’m looking for creative yet easy cakes.  If her cake turns out decent, I’ll post pix.  If not, well, she’s two.  She won’t notice until she sees the pix later in life, then she’ll have a good laugh at her feeble Mimi’s feeble attempts.  But she’ll know it was done out of love. 

Drake’s party was last month, he’s an Elmo fan so here are the cupcakes Tahnee and I made that day:
We did maybe 6 decorated ones, a few that were simply frosted, and left most of them with no topping at all.  Since the kids are so young and the parties are attended by just family and a few close friends, there’s no need to do more. 
Comparing the cost of my home-decorated cakes and cupcakes to that of a themed cake from a bakery, I know I’m making the right choice.  A pretty basic cake from Sam’s is $15.  A batch of cupcakes is, at the most, $4.  I made buttercream frosting for Drake’s Elmo cupcakes, but decided to buy frosting in a tub for Lyla’s since the cost is about the same.  I’ll use cake mix again, same reason.  I can make a cake from scratch, but it comes out to approximately the same cost, maybe a little less for homemade.  Not enough difference to get excited about.  What with my health issues I’m not against taking a few shortcuts now and then, while still keeping my eye on the big picture.    

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thinking ahead to Christmas

I’ve made an ornament for each year of my marriage, another for each year of Ayla’s life, and another for each year of April’s life with us.  Then they started having kids and making enough for all those people became WAY too much work.  I made ornaments for the past few years but never quite got them finished and on the tree in time.  So I’ve decided to finish some of those from past years and from now on, only make one for myself and one for each grandchild.  Seems fair, right?  I need to get started on those soon.     

A few years ago I decided to make most of the Christmas gifts I give.  I also weeded my list, I was exchanging with a lot of people out of habit, not because we truly wanted to.  Some of the people on my list are also experiencing financial strain, or their families have grown so large they want to focus on the kids/grandkids, or various other reasons why it was time to pare down the giving.  I really like to give gifts to those I'm closest to, but it's easy to become overwhelmed.  So, the list is manageable.  Now what?
Making things for the grandchildren is fun.  Plus they’re small, so any clothing I make for them comes together quickly.  I have tons of yarn I’ve been given by people who thought they wanted to learn to knit, only to discover they really didn’t want to after all.  I’ve also bought quite a bit from thrift stores.  So with this huge yarn stash, it’s a no-brainer, I knit them stuff.  This year I’m doing a sweater for Drake and a sweater dress for Lyla.    
I finished Drake's a few days ago.  Here it is:
I made this in about 2 weeks.  How much time I have to knit, sew and craft depends on a great many things but by starting early I should have time to finish all I've got planned.     

Monday, September 10, 2012

I'm not a neat baker

I made a mess with the flour, as usual.  But hey, the cookies were good!  And I cleaned up after myself.  Autumn the Wonder Weenie sat patiently at my feet, hoping for things to fall.  I banish her from the kitchen repeatedly but it never seems to take.

Introducing Penny, the Hermit

Among my family and friends, it’s no secret that I’m a loner.  I LIKE to be alone.  Really.  But these days that simply doesn’t happen very often, what with my daughter and her family living with us.  I love having daily access to my grandson and I know I’ll enjoy the new baby too, when he’s born in a few months.  My son-in-law is a huge help around the house, since he’s not currently working he’s handling most housecleaning and yard duties.  So it’s a pretty good deal for everyone, but still, I need time alone. 

For that reason, the past weekend was NIRVANA.  Allen had a class out of town that lasted all weekend, and on Sunday Ayla and family went to visit out-of-town relatives.  I spent Saturday hitting a few thrift stores and spending my gift certificate to AC Moore, a birthday present from Tahnee.  Sunday I never left the house. 
Sunday morning while I my tea was brewing and my toast was, well, toasting, I made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish that day.  In addition to the usual mountain of laundry that is my weekend, here’s what I did:
Made honey mustard dressing, Asian ginger dressing, and croutons
Made a double batch of sugar cookie dough
Made crumbs out of all the bread I had dried
Froze the leftover soup I had made a few days earlier so I can whip it out on some night I don’t want to cook
Made chili and refried beans from the pintos I had cooked Friday
Blocked a knitted project that will be given as a Christmas gift
Finished a knitted sweater, also a Christmas gift
Cleaned as  I went along, so as not to make a HUGE mess
There were a few things on the list that didn’t get done, like making bread dough and scones.  I passed on the scones because we had cookies, after all.  I froze 2/3 of the cookie dough so I’ll be ready to decorate cookies with Drake next month for holidays.  I might make the bread dough tonight.
The bread crumbs were made with French bread the thrift store was giving away.  Publix, a local grocery store, gives their day-old bread to thrift stores and I happened to be there when they brought it in.  I got 2 free loaves, one I crumbled and dried in an old cotton pillowcase dedicated to that purpose.  Now it's all ground up and is sitting in an old pickle jar for use on chicken or in meatloaf.  Half the other loaf became the croutons, the other half may be made into bread pudding.  Or more croutons.  I love croutons.
I froze half the chili, the other half will be served tonight over baked potatoes.  I froze the refried beans, which will be handy to have for quick meals and healthier (and cheaper!) than the canned ones.  Having so much homemade food at the ready eases the temptation to run out for fast food or call for pizza.  I try to cook every night but with my health problems some days I simply don’t feel up to it.  I cook more than most people I know but we still succumb to the call of Wendy’s far too often.  Time for that to stop.     
So you don’t get the impression that I’m all work and no play, I should mention I watched 2 episodes of Mad Men on Sunday.  Anytime I got tired I rewarded my hard work with 30 minutes or so of mindless TV, and Mad Men will have to do until Downton Abbey comes back on.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I've decided to start blogging again.

This time, instead of my blog being a personal diary, I want to discuss my adventures in keeping my finances on track. There are so many things I do daily to save, but then there are also many ways that I fail. Hopefully, keeping a public record will help me stick to the plan.

I'm currently saving for several upcoming trips.  One will be a quick trip to New Orleans for a wedding, but the others will be actual vacations which will require actual money. So I'm stepping things up around here, putting into practice all the frugal skills I've developed over the years.