November 30, 2010

T Shirt Quilts

Around 18 years ago my husband sent 20 of his running T-shirts along with a twin sheet off to be made into a quilt.  This was some what of a new idea and he saw an advertisement in the back of one of his running magazines.  My thought was finally something we could do with his running shirts.

My husband has been a runner for around 40 years.  In the course of those 40 years he has run hundreds of races and received hundreds of T-shirts.  Last weekend we were cleaning out closets and he made a stack of T-shirts that he no longer wears and was going to donate them to Goodwill.  This is only 1/4th of those T-shirts.

I decided that instead of donating those T-shirts, I could make T-shirt quilts to give away to charities.  The only supplies I will need are twin sheets and lightweight batting.  I have plenty of thread and yarn on hand.

My plan is to take the front of the T-shirts and use those to make quilts for United Way or some other similar organization.  Not wanting to waste the backs of the T-shirts, I will take the plain backs and sew those into quilts to send to nursing homes or I am going to check to see if a Veteran's Hospital would like some quilts for the veterans who are hospitalized.  The reason that I would send the quilts with the plain T-shirt back on them to a V.A. Hospital is that I doubt if a veteran that has had a leg amputated would want a quilt that has running shirts on it. 

This is an easy project.  The quilt squares are 12 inches.  There are 4 squares in width and 5 squares in length.  It is simply a matter of sewing the squares together, pinning and basting the batting into place.  Then sew the sheet, (right sides together of course) to the batting and the front, turn the quilt inside out, baste the opening shut and then tie the quilt with yarn. 

The T-shirt quilt that my husband had made is lightweight and very soft and warm.  We have a more elaborate T-shirt quilt that his cross country runners gave him a few years ago.  It is beautiful.  The mom that put this quilt together did quite a professional job.  She even included some quilt squares with notes from the runners. 

I know my limitations so I am sticking to the simple version. 

If you have a lot of T-shirts and were like my husband - he wanted to save some of those T-shirts from his favorite races (one was the Chicago marathon) - this is quite a memory keeper and it is also very practical. 

These quilts would make great Christmas presents especially if you have a family member that has a lot of sports t- shirts such as volleyball, softball, baseball, football and so on.

Dinner Tonight - November 30th

I deliberately made two meat loaves last night so we could have leftovers tonight.  Instead of heating the meatloaf in a microwave, I carefully fry the slices of meatloaf in a little bit of butter until they are crispy.  These are so delicious, and a little bit different than just leftover meatloaf.  Also, I am sure that my husband will end up making meatloaf sandwiches as he loves leftover meatloaf prepared this way.

Eating from the freezer and pantry is getting easier and easier.  I will probably go to the store tomorrow to pick up a few items, but we are really doing great.  It's not only been nice from a financial standpoint, but it has also been a wonderful time saver especially as we are going into the holidays.

The cookie jar is empty and I have to bake some cookies today.  I'm thinking chocolate cocoa cookies with peanut butter chips in them or perhaps cinnamon oatmeal or snickerdoodles. It is hard to decide.

We got our first dusting of snow today.  I've been doing some laundry and as I looked out the window and saw the snow coming down, I longed for the warmer days when I could hang clothes on the clothesline outside.  Those days are gone until spring.

November 29, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 29th - Our 30th anniversary

Tonight we had meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn and a tossed salad - leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce and other veggies. 

November 29, 1980

Today is our 30th wedding anniversary and we usually celebrate by going out to eat.  My husband had a meeting tonight so we decided that we would much rather go out to eat sometime in December when we can go to a restaurant and relax and not be under any kind of time crunch.

I remember our 10th anniversary and I thought that was a huge mile stone and then before I knew it we hit 20 and I thought that was pretty cool.  Now at 30 I feel like we are one of a few in our circle of friends that has reached this milestone.  Being married 30 years to the same person has been awesome. 

BTW - we only dated 2 weeks when we got engaged.  I didn't know him before our first date.  At the time my then fiance found a job 2 states away and we only saw each other once a month until 3 months before our wedding.  Then .......

I moved in with his parents!!!!  I did this to be a littler closer geographically to him.  We were then only 2 hours away from each other and we saw each other about every other weekend until our wedding day.  Our first date was April 19, 1980.  We were engaged two weeks later and then married on November 29, 1980.

Not too bad ...  and 30 years later...

With our youngest son.

November 28, 2010

First Time Ever - A Budget for Christmas Gift Giving

I remember January of this year and feeling low and regretful over the bills from Christmas.  We had spent too much money on Christmas and I was not happy. 

In years' past we didn't budget for Christmas spending.  We just spent what we wanted to spend and that was that.  I made a very good salary, so Christmas was simply a matter of asking family members what they wanted for Christmas, taking their list and buying what was on the list.  My husband and I would go shopping and get it all done in one day. 

Last year I was no longer working and bringing in an income, but we still went out and spent like we had in prior years.  We asked what everyone wanted, took a list and bought what was on the list.  I don't know what we were thinking last year, but I do remember regretting it come January.  Lesson learned. 

This year is different.  We're scaling back Christmas at our house.  I am putting up the Christmas tree, the navity set and the stockings and that is it.  We are also cutting back on our Christmas spending.

We have pared our Christmas budget by 60% of what it used to be (which tells you we were spending way too much money)  and everyone seems to be thinking the same thing - we have everything that we need and we have a few wants.  My husband and I sat down to talk about the budget and we made a list of items that we would like to buy our children, daughter in law, my mother and his parents.

We decided that we would spend $50 on each other and that was it.  Both of us agreed that we didn't need anything and that instead of spending a lot of money on each other just to fulfill the "Christmas lots of gifts under the tree rule," we would instead take our time and find either one thing or several small things for each other on a $50 budget.  The main thing was that these would be items that each of us would want to have.

When we looked at the list of gift ideas for our family, we added it up and realized that we could definitely do this on the budgeted amount we had set.  What is our budget?  It is $750.00.  We have some of the money saved up, and the rest will come from grocery savings and from my husband's paychecks in December.  I almost hesitated to post the amount as two things can be surmised:  That we had paid in the past close to $1,800.00 for Christmas and that $750.00 doesn't sound very frugal.

In discussing the budget, we still wanted to be able to do Christmas in a nice way for our children, yet it still won't be at the same level that it was done in the past.  Also we can afford the $750.00.  If we were going to have to put Christmas on a credit card and pay it off over several months, then we would reduce the budget.  The fact is that we can do this without going into debt and that is a good feeling.

Yesterday I picked up a couple of gifts and I walked out of the store feeling happy because I had a budget and I was staying within the budget.  This makes shopping for Christmas gifts a little merrier.

Dinner Tonight - November 18th (and fudge making)

Homemade Mac and Cheese
Perfect for a Sunday evening meal

On the last Sunday of the month our church prepares a dinner so we always stay for lunch.  The prepared meal is a fundraiser and this month the offering money went towards the youth group to help fund their winter retreat.  The youth actually prepare the meal with some help.  Today we had ham and beans with cornbread and/or creamed turkey on biscuits along with salads and dessert. 

This afternoon I decided to make some fudge. I had some sweetened condensed milk in my pantry that was due to expire in a week so I tried the recipe on the can. I have always made holiday fudge using the evaporated milk, marshmallow creme and chocolate chip recipe.  After using the sweetened condensed milk recipe I will use no other from now on.  It was easier, simpler and made a much better tasting fudge.  When I was a child my mom would occasionally make fudge on a cold Sunday afternoon. She never measured a thing.  Not me, I want a recipe.

I made two batches.

Super Easy Fudge

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
dash salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Line an 8 or 9 inch square pan with waxed paper and spray with non stick coating. 

Combine the chocolate chips, salt and milk.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour into the prepared pan and chill at least 2 hours or til firm.  Remove from pan by lifting edges of the wax paper and cut into squares. 

Fudge Option Two

Before pouring into the prepared pan, stir in 2 cups miniature marshmallows, but don't mix.  Let them melt a little and then pour into the pan.  The marshmallows then are streaked throughout the fudge.

Fudge Option Three

Instead of using 3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips, use 2 cups semi sweet and 1 cup milk chocolate chips.

I made two batches of fudge and my plan is to set aside a few pieces now for my family and to freeze the rest for later on in December.

Dinner Tonight

For dinner tonight I made homemade mac and cheese.  My husband doesn't like this dish and he ate the leftover pizza (which he was happy to have).  My son and I love homemade mac and cheese.  It is definitely "comfort" food and is an inexpensive meal.  I served it with a simple tossed salad. 

I decided to make this casserole for dinner because I have some cheese that I need to use up and I also have a lot of bread crumbs.  I made the bread crumbs last week from stale bread and crackers and I keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  These crumbs are perfect to coat chicken or in this case, for topping on a casserole.  I do not add any seasonings to the bread crumbs when I make them as I prefer to add the seasonings to whatever I am using them for at the time.  In this case, I topped the casserole with unseasoned crumbs.  Here is my recipe: 

Mac and Cheese

2 cups raw macaroni
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 salt
Dash pepper
few shakes of onion powder
2 cups milk
8 (oz.) processed American Cheese (about 11 slices of cheese)
Bread crumbs

Cook the macaroni til tender and drain.  In a saucepan melt the butter; blend in the flour, salt, pepper and onion powder.  Stir until this mixture is blended and bubbly.  Add the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until it has thickened.  Add the cheese and stir til melted.  Add the macaroni to the cheese sauce and pour into a greased casserole dish ((I used an 11 1/2 x 7 1/2 dish). 

I topped the casserole with a little grated sharp cheddar that I had in the fridge and I sprinkled it with the breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Makes 6 servings.

November 27, 2010

Grocery Expense - Week of November 21st

This week it became easier for me not to spend money on groceries.  Last week I felt like I was going through withdrawal by not purchasing some sales items but I already have a stuffed pantry and freezer so I don't need to stock up anymore. 

Now I have found something that is equal to saving the money, saving time by not having to do a big grocery shopping trip.  I think I only spent 15 minutes shopping this week.  Here is what I purchased:

Sweet Potatoes @ .33 lb. = $1.94
Two loaves bread @ .89 a loaf = $1.78
Two 1 lb. bags of powdered sugar @ .99 a pkg. = $1.98
Two dozen large eggs @ $1.48  = $2.96
1 box of Graham Crackers = $1.99
1/2 gallon 1% milk = $1.47
Coffee filters - 200 count = $0.99
22 oz. bunch of Romaine Lettuce = $1.69
16 oz. of Green Leaf Lettuce = $1.69
Two 4 packs of green, yellow & red peppers @ $2.99 = $5.98
Bananas @ $0.19 lb. = $0.62

Total amount paid from a budget of $25.00 = $23.09

I usually bake bread from scratch.  My recipe makes 3 loaves and I always freeze two.  Well, perhaps after this week I will have room in my freezer to store my homemade bread.  Right now, I don't have the room so I have been buying store bought bread.

I still have clementine oranges, some cabbage and carrots along with russet potatoes here at home. 

I have learned something over the past few weeks of posting grocery savings.  I am so fortunate to live in the midwest of the United States as it would appear our groceries are quite cheap as compared to other areas of the country and the world.  Grocery prices are going up, but at least in my area of the world I am still able to afford groceries.

Dinner Tonight - November 27th

Our son was over at his brother's house this afternoon to watch a football game.  Our daughter in law asked him to stay for dinner.  So, I made a homemade pizza with green pepper and onions with some turkey pepperoni on it for my husband and me to enjoy.  Our son doesn't like those toppings.  My husband was surprised to see the veggie toppings and we both enjoyed every bite. 

This could be what it will be like when we have an "empty nest."

Be Authentic

Some recent comments on my post on the three books that have impacted my life, have led me to write this post. 

Never apologize for the choices that you have made in your life.  Be authentic.

When my oldest son was born I had to go back to work when he was 7 weeks old.  We knew it before we even had him.  Our first child had died after her birth in March 1984 and I wanted another child really bad. We waited about 8 months until I got pregnant, knowing that I would have to work after the baby was born.  I was fine with that as long as I had another child.  I wasn't willing to wait another 3 years to have a baby in order to be able to afford to stay home.  Fast forward to the day before I went back to work after he was born. 

I was picking our son up from our church nursery after the morning worship service.  The minister's wife was in the nursery holding him and as she handed him to me she said "so tomorrow mommy is dropping you off at someone else's house to be raised."  I just stared at her and made a comment that we needed my income.  Her reply was that I needed to bake my own bread.

Okay, now at that point in our marriage baking bread was not going to be the money saver that was going to allow me to be home full time.  Also, I needed support and not criticism at the time.  What I should have said was this.  "My husband and I agree that my working is the best for our family and we would appreciate that people not stick their nose in our business."  I didn't say it as this was the minister's wife and she intimidated me.  My husband did make a comment to her later about "not criticizing my wife."  I wish I had his boldness.

One year later I had quit my job to stay home with my son.  In order to be able to afford to stay home I babysat a little girl who was the same age as our son.  So the minister's wife criticized me again by saying that I should be home and focusing on my family, not someone else's child.  I responded with "mind your own business."  She was so dumbfounded and didn't know what to say. I walked away making no apologies for my life nor did I ever apologize to her for that statement.  I always greeted her at church with a smile and put that moment behind me but I was shaken up for quite awhile.

It is very emotional to stand up to people for what you believe and to also realize that you don't have to justify what you do to other people.  But in saying that, I realize that we as women are alway seeking approval or validation for what we are doing. No one can live your life, but you.  There will always be people who will judge others and want to give them unwanted advice. 

I'm home number one because I want to be home and number two, it happened earlier than I had expected due to the loss of my job.  I had job opportunities but I turned them down as I saw my situation as an opportunity to finally be home full time.

By being home full time and living on one income, I have made friends and acquaintances uneasy. I make them uneasy as for years, in my circle of friends and acquaintances, we would tell each other that we wanted to leave the rat race and be home for good.  Now that I am doing it, it makes them very uncomfortable. The majority of these people really choose to work, whether it is due to retirement money, extra money or really the real reason is that they love their jobs.  Own it - and don't feel bad because you are living the life you choose to live whether you hold down a full time job or whether you are home.  You may be working full time because you have lost the majority of your retirement due to the recession.  Your family may need the extra income and you provide a vital support for your family.  Maybe you enjoy your job and would not enjoy being home full time.  It's okay.  Don't seek to justify to others why you work.

In the alternative, if you have made the switch to being home full time, don't justify that to others either.  It is really no one's business the choices we have made.  When people ask me what I am doing these days, I tell them that I am home full time.  They think it is temporary and I tell them, that this is my new career.  I am home for good and am very happy.  I usually get a "I wish I could do that" and I respond "I wish you could too." and then I move on in the conversation. 

Just live your life ladies and along the way you will always encounter people who will feel that they owe you their opinion.   Don't seek justification for the life you are living, whether you are working outside of the home or you are home full time.  Enjoy your life, even if you are working and don't want to work.  Perhaps you are home and unemployed and want to have a job.  In the meantime, enjoy the life you have and "Bloom where you are planted."

November 26, 2010

Three Books That Have Impacted my Life

Before we got married, back into my childhood, I dreamed of some day being a wife and mother.  I longed for the day when I would be married, have children and take care of my own home.  After we were married, our financial situation was such that it was impossible to consider being a stay at home wife.  It was put off to a future date and since it was just the two of us, it made sense for me to work.  Even with two paychecks, we were barely able to pay our bills.

It was hard to find any books on homemaking in the early 1980's.  We had just come through the 1970's when the Women's Movement was at its highpoint.  Women were working and I knew very few that were home full time.  In those early years I came across three books that I read from cover to cover multiple times.  They affirmed the pull at my heart to be home.  There was no internet and with few women that were at home, it was the norm to be working full time.  There were no Tightwad Gazette books, there was nothing out there to show how you could live on one income, scale back and do radical things to live on one income.  Even though the ingredients were available back then, no one had ever heard of making your own laundry soap.  Hanging clothes on the line - well - it took too long for working women.

Fast forward to 2010 and downsizing, living on less and whatever else you want to call it, is "in style" and it is pursued.  I didn't have that back in the 1980's.  Back then I dreamed of being a full time homemaker on the weekends. 

The books I read are More with Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre copyrighted 1976, Homemaker's Response to Inflation by Judy Hammersmark copyrighted 1980 and Free to Stay at Home by Marilee Horton copyrighted 1982. 
 First - More with Less.

I heard about this book in college when I was taking a Nutrition class.  I attended a small junior college in Kansas, in Mennonite country as I would come to know it.  Recognizing that there was overconsumption in our area of the world (being North America), this cookbook was written by a Mennonite in response to her church's call to reduce food consumption by 10%.  The author was a dietitian and she drew from her experience.  The recipes in this book are simple and healthy recipes that use basic ingredients and avoids processed food.  It is about building a simpler and more nutritious diet, on less.

I had never heard about incomplete proteins until I attended that nutrition class and this cookbook uses incomplete proteins in recipes to combine to make a complete protein.  Examples are eating milk products with grains - such as cheese with macaroni, milk with rice.  Combining legumes with grains - such as beans with rice.  The cookbook uses less meat proteins and more plant proteins.  It was a radical way of cooking back then, but when you read the book it is all about eating very healthy without a lot of meat consumption and obviously eating cheaper. 

Some of the recipes in this book include:  Soybean Hamburger Casserole which is really, really good.  I do substitute other beans for this casserole as my family doesn't really like soybeans.  It contains some meat, onion, celery, green pepper, beans, tomato sauce, beef bouillon and rice.  It really is delicious.  Back in the 1980's this would have been a really strange meal to serve a family, but it isn't strange now.  There are meat recipes for stews and meat loaves.  There are several great recipes for healthy breads and such. 

If you look at this book in today's economy, it contains recipes and guidelines that fall in line with everything that is being preached on frugal cooking.  This book is still available on Amazon and has been re-printed over and over.  I have considered buying a new copy as my copy is worn and it is an old paperback where the printing appears to be getting smaller and smaller or is that just me getting older and older?  I have decided that I like my old copy with my written comments from years ago in it, so I will just have to get a magnifying glass.

Book Two:  Homemaker's Response to Inflation

I bought this book at a Christian bookstore in the women's section and frankly, it was the only one of it's kind in that section.  The rest were Bible study books as I recall.  The introduction starts out as "Let's face it.  We live in difficult times."  Some things don't change and the advice the author gives in saving money when the economy is not doing well, is true to this day.  This book has a couple of recipes for her homemade soup made from scraps and her bread recipe.  It is not a cookbook but a book about staying home and being proud to be a homemaker.  It is a small book but is full of a lot of advice such as "Homemakers Take a Bow," "Our Hurry-Scurry, Throwaway Society," "By Bread Alone," and "God's Gift of Natural Health."  The author writes about cooking, shopping and how to stretch your dollars.  She even gives tips for home maintenance and health care. 

I remember reading this book in one sitting and gleaning the advice that this woman gave.  She had worked before and was now home and had learned to live on less and enjoy her life more.  This book is a small paperback book that can fit in your purse. 

She also wrote another book "Occupation, Nestbuilder" which she describes how she used to work at a job she liked, but quit to be home. It is a great book also.

If you need books to affirm being a stay at home wife/mom, get these two books.
The third book, "Free to Stay at Home" was purchased around the time I was pregnant with our oldest son.  It was written as a women's alternative to working full time and transitioning to being home full time. 

Again, this book is still available on Amazon as a used book.  There is a comment that she makes in the book that really hit home then and now "If your working means putting food before your children, I would agree that is what you must do.  But, if you are yearning for a color tv or an extra car or even just to get away from the zoo (home), I pray you will seek God's will."

The book starts out with her working full time and then going to church to hear a sermon on Titus 2 in the Bible.  She felt that after hearing that sermon she really needed to quit her job to stay home and care for her children.  Yes, this is a book written by a Christian author, but I am a Christian so I would naturally gravitate towards such an author.  There are some elements in this book of "preaching" but the basic premise is the same:  staying home is good for the nuclear family.  Whether you agree with that statement or not, it doesn't matter to me.  What does matter is that at that point in my life, someone had finally written a book advocating being a stay at home wife and mother.  I read it when I so desperately wanted to be home full time and even though we needed me to work to put food on the table, I knew that some day I could be free to stay at home. 

These books can be purchased at Amazon and other book sites for a small sum.

Again, back when I was first married there were few books on the subject of homemaking or frugal living.  We have moved several times over the years and these books have always moved with us.  I have pulled them out again and again and over the next few weeks I will be re-reading them as a way of remembering those early years of our marriage and to also re-affirm what I am doing today.  I am feeling a bit of nostalgia as on Monday, November 29th we will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary.

Dinner Tonight - November 26th

Since Thanksgiving was yesterday, we had leftovers and sandwiches for supper.

This afternoon my husband and two sons are heading to a University of Iowa Hawkeye Basketball game and they will be eating fast food for supper.  As for me, I am going to eat a nice tossed salad along with some leftover sweet potato casserole and some fruit.  I know it sounds a little different, but after eating turkey, mashed potatoes, gravey, pie and more yesterday, I need to eat something a little lighter for supper. 

November 25, 2010

I'm Thankin the Lord He Made You

From a Thanksgiving episode of one of my favorite family t.v. shows, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman - this Johnny Cash song is perfect for Thanksgiving.  I am thankful and feel at peace with my world.

November 24, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 24th (and Thanksgiving)

My camera isn't working.
This picture is from last Thanksgiving.
I have been busy baking today for Thanksgiving.  So tonight we had a breakfast meal of french toast.  I use day old french bread in my french toast and we had some sage sausage to go along with the toast.  I also put some clementine tangerines and bananas on the table.

We needed a simple meal for supper tonight as I have been putting some dishes together to take to my in laws for Thanksgiving tomorrow. This was not a night to be cooking a big dinner when I am already in the kitchen preparing dishes for Thanksgiving.  I baked a pumpkin  pie and am also taking a sweet potato casserole with pecan topping and a cranberry salad. 

In looking for my sweet potato casserole recipe I came across three books that I bought in the early 1980's when I was newly married. Each of these books are on the topic of homemaking.   I will be sharing these books on this blog when we get home from our Thanksgiving feast with my husband's family. 

November 23, 2010


I am not creative with art type paper projects.  I cannot just create something on paper.  I have to have an example to follow.

Next May our youngest son graduates from High School and he wants a scrapbook filled with some of his pictures and memorabilia.  So, in December I have decided to put off painting the living room, which truth be told, was a bad idea in the first place.  I'll begin that project in January.  Instead, I am going to start working on his scrapbook.

I know a few women who love to scrapbook and they make intricate pages with a lot of "doo dads."  A lot of those pages may only have 1 or 2 pictures and the rest are what I refer to as decorations.  I am always taken aback by what they have created.  Deep down, that is not my style.  I like 3 pictures at the very least on a page with some decorative items but I don't like to have so much focus on the decoration. I want the focus to be on the pictures. 

I did a couple of scrapbooks for my oldest son's High School graduation party.  That was 8 years ago. However, most of the people didn't even look at these books.  Instead they looked at the huge mat board that displayed his pictures of his growing up years.  The scrapbooks now sit in the upstairs of my house on a shelf. 

I am not a scrapbooker and I would rather just put the pictures in an album to look at, but our youngest son wants a couple of scrapbooks just like what I did for his older brother.  So next month, I will sit down and try to get some creative juices flowing and will work on a page or two for his scrapbook.

But before I even do that, I need to buy some supplies.  We used to have a store here in our community that sold scrapbook and stamping supplies.  It closed about 5 years ago so I have the choice of ordering supplies online or driving 1 hour to the nearest store.  I don't even have a scrapbook yet so I need to buy one of those too.

And I have saved the best for last:  I need to finish his baby book.

Dinner Tonight - November 23rd

We had leftovers!!!!

November 22, 2010

Reusing Packaging

Last week I was making some no bake bar cookies using a small box of corn flakes.  I emptied the corn flakes into a bowl and I flattened the box for our recycling bin.  Then I looked at the wax paper inner bag that the corn flakes had been in.  I held it up and decided that it was too good to throw away.  I put it in a drawer where I keep my foil, plastic wrap and baggies.  We went through 2 more boxes of cereal last week and from each one I saved the inner bag and put it in the drawer.

Today I needed to crush some graham crackers to put in my ham ball recipe and I reached in the drawer for one of those cereal bags.  I tossed in the graham crackers and I crushed them using a rolling pin.  Then I poured the contents into the meat mixture and put the bag back in the drawer for another use.  I used an entire sleeve of graham crackers and the crackers were wrapped in the same type of paper.  I saved it knowing that I could use it to wrap homemade cookies for my husband for a snack at work. 

My husband wanted to know why I was taking a picture of garbage.
He doesn't get it.

I have been saving spaghetti sauce jars and lids as I think they will make a great "package" for those "gift in a jar" recipes.  Why go out and buy mason jars when you can use something that cost you next to nothing?  I also use these jars to store leftover oil from frying chicken and to put homemade soup in to be given to a family.

I save the styrofoam trays that our produce is packaged in at the grocery store.  These make great "trays" for cookie giving.  Never, never, reuse the ones that meat is packaged in.   I save the plastic berry baskets from strawberries as they will look great filled with pieces of fudge and then wrapped entirely in plastic wrap for gift giving.  What makes these baskets great is that they are already a beautiful shade of "Christmas" green.  My favorite jars are the ones that chili sauce comes in.  They have a "neck" on them and they are perfect to put a few flowers in for a vase.  In the summer time I have several of these on my kitchen counter, kitchen table and patio table with one or two flowers (daisies are perfect).

I always wash and keep the plastic bags that brown sugar or confectioner's sugar come in.  I take ground beef and package it in 1 lb. packages and wrap it in a little plastic wrap and then I take one of these "sugar" bags and place the hamburger meat in it for added protection from freezer burn.  I do the same with the ziplock bags that shredded cheese comes in. I always wash these out thoroughly in soapy water and since the meat is also wrapped in plastic wrap prior to being put in these bags, I feel pretty safe in using them. 

I never used to re-use the bags, jars, baskets and trays that our food is packaged in, but since being home full time I have looked at all of these items in a different light.  I can throw everything into the recyling bin or I can recycle it myself.  As much as possible I re-use these items and if I can't, they go into the recycling bin.

Grocery Expense - Week of November 14th

I tallied up what I spent last week on groceries.  Last week was actually when I began the challenge as the week before I encountered a great special on ground beef ($1.19 lb.) and flour and more, so I am well stocked and the only thing I can even think of adding to my pantry would be granulated sugar as it continues to be on sale for the holidays.

So last week I purchased the following:

One 10 lb. Spiral Ham for Christmas - $1.88 lb. (sale) - $18.93

I had set aside $15 for this purchase and I over spent by almost 4 dollars.  However, I was basing the $15.00 on last year's sales and prices have gone up, including pork, so this was a good deal by this year's standards.

In addition to this money, I set aside $25.00 for produce and dairy and any other items that I would need.  This is what I purchased last week: 

1/2 gallon 1% milk (I already had another 1/2 gallon in the fridge) - $1.47
4 pack of peppers on sale - 2 green, 1 orange and 1 red - $2.49
5 lb. box of Clementine oranges on sale - $5.99
Green cabbage @ .49 lb. - $0.80
Bananas @ .29 lb. on sale - $0.64
6 pack of Blueberry Bagels - $1.19
5 lb. bag of russet potatoes on sale - $0.68
4 lb. bag of granulated sugar on sale - $0.97
5 lb. bag of Gold Medal flour on sale - $1.28
Bananas @ .29 lb. on sale - $0.60
Sweet potatoes @ .33 lb. on sale - $1.61
20 oz. loaf of Wonder Bread on sale - $0.98
Store brand ripple potato chips on sale - $0.99
Two boxes of Winter Mint Cookies on sale @ $1.00 each  - $2.00
(These cookies are on sale only at Christmas and they taste just like Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies.)

Total Paid $21.70 from a budget of $25.00
Total paid for Ham - $18.93 from a budget of $15.00

Total Amount Paid for Groceries:  $40.63

This wasn't too bad for a week but I do believe this will be a challenge as some items are getting costly such as eggs and some types of fresh produce.  Actually I am putting into place the rule that my mom went by - buy only what's fresh and in season, if at all possible.   I have plenty of frozen blueberries and black raspberries that I can use in place of fresh at this time of year.  I can put some of these frozen berries and some bananas in with some canned fruit for a "winter" fruit salad.  Also, fresh pineapple is still on sale and bananas have been at a great price. 

And what about sweet potatoes - I love them and they have been on sale for only 33 cents a lb.  I will eat one of these for lunch with a little butter and some brown sugar - emphasis on "little" and "some."

Fresh leafy greens are a little more expensive right now, but as we get closer to Christmas we will find fresh broccoli and cauliflower on sale for those holiday veggie trays.

My goal continues to be $25.00 a week.  I am going by trial and error here as I have never done this before but I do expect a savings of $60.00 a week until the week of Christmas.   So counting last week until the week of Christmas (5 weeks) I should be able to save a total of $300.   I will purchase a few more groceries the week of Christmas as I will want to pick up the Little smokies when they go on sale, crackers for the cheese that I already have on hand and a few more "finger" items.  I am estimating that my grocery bill the week of Christmas will be around $60.00 for these extra holiday items. 

The week after Christmas I will go back to my budget of $25.00 a week, but for how long??  As long as possible - well I really would like to make it to the end of February and after that I want to at the very least use up the majority of the meat in my freezer before buying more.  After all it's not like meat can stay in the freezer indefinitely.  My husband asked me one time how long I thought all of that meat should last us and I said it should definitely get us through the winter and then some if we wanted to do that.  The only thing is that once the chicken runs out, I will definitely want to buy more on sale as we need the variety. 

Still - this way of buying groceries is a money saver.  Also, a major key to making this work is to be versatile in using what you have and also in having the skills (and the time) to make a lot of items from scratch.  I will never go back to just buying stuff at the grocery store without having a plan for purchasing items on sale and in bulk.  This way of purchasing groceries, stocking the pantry and freezer along with making a lot of items from scratch, works for our family.  It isn't for everyone and I'm not saying that everyone needs to do what I am doing.  What I am saying is that for my family, this is working.  It is working because I like maintaining a freezer and pantry, I like searching for bargains and using coupons, I like keeping track of my "inventory," and most importantly, my family is supportive of my doing this. 

Dinner Tonight, November 22nd

Tonight we are having ham balls, rice, mixed vegetables, homemade dinner rolls, and a gelatin salad.  I put the link to my ham ball recipe here .  Yes, it does have quite a bit of sugar in the sauce and you can reduce that amount.  I don't pack the brown sugar on this recipe so I know it is less than the 1 cup in the recipe.  Ham balls are an absolute favorite of my 17 yr old son.  He likes having rice served with the ham balls as the sauce tastes pretty good poured over the rice.  So today when he comes home after school in order to change into his work clothes, he will be so happy to know that we are having his favorite meal.

Many people serve the ham balls with scalloped potatoes, and I truly prefer this combination, but I defer to what my son likes. 

I have not made a gelatin salad in a very long time.  I always have Jello on hand and it is the sugar free version.  Usually during the summer months I will make up some plain Jello and that becomes a sugar free dessert for me. 

I went to the grocery store this morning to pick up a few things and I meant to pick up some lettuce for a salad and I forgot.  So instead I am going to make what my mom called "sunshine" salad.  You can use orange or lemon Jello for this recipe.  Just make the Jello per the package directions and add finely grated carrot and 1 small can of drained crushed pineapple.  Chill until set. 

When I make up menus I try really hard to picture the colors on everyone's plate and I do my best to not make everything one color palette.  For that reason I will probably go with the lime Jello as it will look pretty and add some additional color to everyone's plate. 

As for dessert, the cookie jar is empty so while I am doing laundry today, I will mix up a batch of cookies. I am thinking of a simple drop sugar cookie.  It is my mom's recipe.  Here it is:

Cookie Jar Sugar Cookies

2/3 cup shortening (You can substitute butter or margarine)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 teaspoons milk
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel (If you don't have any, it is still good without)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream the shortening with the sugar.  Beat in the egg and add the vanilla and milk and orange peel.  Then mix in the dry ingredients.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet (I use a cookie sheet lined in parchment paper).  Mom didn't say in the recipe if the cookie sheet needs to be greased and I use parchment paper so it doesn't matter if it did.  Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes.


1.  Omit the vanilla and milk and replace with lemon juice; replace the orange peel with lemon peel.
2.  Omit vanilla and milk and replace with concentrated orange juice.
3.  Omit vanilla and milk and replace with marashino cherry juice.  Add cut up maraschino cherries - mom used to squeeze the juice out of these. 

Variation number three was my absolute favorite as a kid and still is.  I usually double this recipe and can't believe that my mom actually had a recipe for such a small amount.  She always made at least 6 dozen cookies at a time from a recipe and froze the cookies for later use.

November 21, 2010

Sunday Lunch - November 21st

Last night I browned meat for chili.  I used 1/2 ground turkey and 1/2 ground beef.  Then I added the rest of the ingredients - seasonings, chili beans, tomato sauce, tomato paste and diced tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients and dumped it all in a container and put it in the fridge.  When I got up this morning I dumped the contents into my crockpot to cook on low for several hours.  The result was that when we came home from church, the chili was ready.  I made some grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the chili along with some carrot sticks and for dessert we had brownies from yesterday's lunch. 

Sunday dinner is an "everyone for themselves" kind of meal.  I won't cook most Sunday evenings as I need a night off.

Tomorrow I will post the result of what I spent for groceries this week. 

November 20, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 20th

It is Saturday and I am at the moment waiting for my family to get back from running the big race.  See yesterday's post.  I know they will be cold, muddy and somewhat tired so I have ham sandwiches (I will put the ham in a skillet and warm it up) and chicken noodle soup waiting for them for lunch.  There is some leftover coleslaw in the fridge too.  I just baked some brownies and frosted them with homemade frosting or perhaps it is icing.

I make this fudgy frosting from scratch and frankly I don't really have a recipe.  When I need some frosting for brownies or bar cookies I take about 2 tablespoons of butter and melt it in a microwaveable bowl. To this I add about a little less than 1/4 cup of cocoa.  When it comes to cocoa, I buy the cheapest I can find and have never had one bit of problem in a recipe.   Mix the cocoa with the melted butter until it is mixed and there are no lumps.  Then I add a little milk and some vanilla.  To this add some sifted confectioners sugar and start beating it with a spoon or wire whisk.  Then I add a little bit more milk and sugar until I get it to the right consistency and the amount that I need for the brownies. 

If I accidentally make too much frosting I put it in an old margarine container and store it in the fridge.  Then after the brownies are gone I can take this frosting and spread it between two graham crackers - perhaps with a couple of marshmallows mixed in - and I have smore cookies. 

Tonight we will be having homemade pizza for supper.  I am craving pizza and I have plenty of mozzarella cheese in the freezer and I have several choices for meat toppings.  I may make a "meat lovers" style pizza.  I have hamburger that I can brown, ham chunks, pepperoni, bacon crumbles and even some little smokie sausages in the freezer.  This may be the night to splurge on an artery clogging style pizza.  My guys will be wanting a substantial pizza tonight after their race this morning.

I know I need to write about my grocery savings and I will - probably tomorrow.  Right now I am off to tackle cleaning our two bathrooms but I should probably wait until after the guys come home.  They will be very muddy and cold and I will probably then be left with mud in the showers. 

November 19, 2010

Living History Farms Race and Going out to Eat

We are going out to eat late this afternoon and for good reason - we are heading to Des Moines, Iowa - more specifically Urbandale, Iowa to Living History Farms so my husband can pick up race packets.  Yep, tomorrow is the Living History Farms Race - go to the photos on this link - there are 204 in all.  Go to picture 6 and you will see what I am talking about. - it is the biggest cross country race in North America with 7500 runners.

Living History Farms (click on this link and watch the picture roll at the top right of the screen) is located in Urbandale, Iowa which is a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa.  I love going there in warm weather and walking the path to the 1700 Ioway Indian Camp, the 1850's cabin and pioneer farm, the 1900's farmhouse and farm and then back to the recreated 1875 Town of Walnut Hill village with a beautiful mansion that overlooks the town.  It is a great place to go for a day, and if we lived closer, I would definitely get a season membership.

But back to the race - It is a 7 mile true cross country race which takes a runner through the woods, the farms, the town and best of all - 7 crossings over a creek.  The runner will get wet, cold and dirty.  At one point there are ropes that they have to use to pull themselves up the muddy hills.  Can you believe that people pay money to do this???  Not me.  I will stay home and will sip hot coffee while they are running in cold weather through frigid creeks. 

My husband, two sons and daughter in law are running this race and they have for years.  Runners from our community run in this race and it is the ultimate true cross country race.  I am not a runner and after seeing what these runners look like at the end of the race, I know why I am not a runner.  Oh and at the end of the race they feast on beef stew.  I'm not sure why they serve beef stew.

They actually have to limit the number of runners to the race.  Can you believe that they have to turn people away?  Again, I will be home sipping hot coffee while reading the newspaper and I can hear all of the stories when my family returns from the race.

But this afternoon, after we have picked up the race packets, we will go out to eat at a nice restaurant - just my husband and me.  I'm looking forward to it - have been all week. 

November 18, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 18th

My son will be gone tonight, so I have pulled two bacon wrapped sirloin steaks from the freezer for a special dinner for me and my husband.  I remember when I bought those steaks back in August.  They were reduced for quick sale at the price of only $1.00 per steak - normally they are on sale for $3.00 per steak.  I would usually make a tossed salad but lettuce is rather expensive right now so we will be having coleslaw.  My coleslaw is not finely shredded but more chopped with shredded carrot, some pineapple tidbits and raisins.  I pour Miracle Whip dressing, thinned with milk and some added sugar to taste, over the cabbage mixture.  Sometimes I don't add the pineapple at all or I substitute mandarin oranges.  If you do use canned fruit, be sure to drain it well. I usually pour the fruit into a colander and let it drain for a long time. 

I think frozen mixed vegetables cooked up will go nicely with the steak and I am trying to decide between baked potatoes or a wild rice mixture.  I'll probably go with the potatoes as that would be something  my husband would prefer.  My son loves wild rice so I will save this for when he is home for dinner.

As for the baked potatoes, I microwave them and then I throw them into a hot oven for about 15 minutes to crisp up the skins.  I also have some homemade dinner rolls in the freezer to add to the meal.

After I get some house cleaning done today, I will be baking a fruit dessert.  I'm going to go with a cottage pudding.  I'm not sure why it is called "pudding" as it is a cake, but that is what my mother and grandmother called it.  I have some milk, less than one cup, that is due to expire soon and it is starting to smell a little "old."  It isn't spoiled, but you can tell it needs to be used up.  I will use it in this recipe.

Here is the recipe:

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Add the flour, baking powder and salt alternately with the milk.  Beat after each addition until smooth.  At this point you can pour the mixture into a greased 8 x 8 inch pan and bake it at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.  I do this when I am making strawberry shortcake.  This is what I use for the "cake" and I pour the strawberries over the top.

For tonight's dessert I will take some frozen black raspberries and pour a layer in the bottom of the greased pan and then pour the batter over the top to bake as usual.  You can also use canned fruit on the bottom of the pan instead or I could mix the berries directly into the batter.  I like to pour them on the bottom and then when I serve the cake, I serve it upside down with a little whipped cream.

I have also taken this recipe and poured half in the pan and then spread a layer of apple butter and then poured the rest of the batter on top and baked as usual.

Or - you can make some cinnamon streusel and pour half the batter in the pan, sprinkle with half the streusel and pour the rest of the batter on top of that and finally top off with more streusel topping.  Bake as usual. 

This is a very old recipe that has been handed down from my grandmother and as you can see, it is very versatile.

And --- what would happen if my son's plans change and he shows up for dinner?  That is why I keep a few boneless skinless chicken breasts on hand.  I can thaw one in the microwave and throw it into a skillet and season it and cook it.  Who will get the chicken?  I'll offer to have the chicken as I love chicken and I love steak - makes no difference to me which one I get to eat.  As long as there is plenty of dessert to go around, I am good.

If dust bunnies were money, I'd be rich

We have a lot of woodwork in our old house and it always seems that wood attracts dust or perhaps dust is more noticeable on wood.  I have not deep cleaned my house in a long time.  There were so many outdoor projects that were clammering for my time this fall and I had to put off doing a proper cleaning of my house for weeks.  I did the "must do" projects such as cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen and I tidied up the rest of the house as best I could.  But, my house looked terrible and when people would stop by, I really didn't care and didn't get too embarrassed.  It was more important to get those outdoor projects done. 

Now that the cold weather has hit Iowa, the time to do "fall cleaning" has arrived in my house.  I decided to tackle two rooms at a time and yesterday I picked the diningroom and the hallway.  Well, I didn't get very far as it was quite a dusting job and I had some volunteer obligations to attend to.  I did get down on my knees and started to dust the mop boards which are about a foot high from the floor and then there is the woodwork that goes around all of the entryways, the pocket doors that stick out a little from the doorways (forever stuck), and of course the crown molding. 

This is a picture I took last year during Christmas.  It gives you an idea of some of the old woodwork in our house.  This is the view from our dining room into our living room.  Note the walls in the living room have been stripped of their wall paper and I need to do some plaster repair and painting.  Yes, we have lived with it looking like this for a long time.  Now I have to get to work and get this project done.

Which brings me to dust bunnies. I love the name - dust bunnies.  Perhaps if we called them dust rattlesnakes I would have gotten to this task sooner, but dust bunnies is a warm, fuzzy name.  I knew everything was dusty but when I got down on my hands and knees I really saw the herd of dust bunnies.

Normally I vacuum the hard wood floors about twice a week - that is the wood floors that are exposed around large area rugs.  However, vacuuming wasn't going to get the job done this time.  I was on my hands and knees with a dust rag and I shook the rag out several times.  I am a get down on your hands and knees kind of person in order to get the cleaning job done properly.  But it does come with its drawbacks.  When I am down on my hands and knees I seem to attract the attention of our dog and cat.  Our dog came over and stood next to me and was watching me the entire time.  Then she laid down next to me and rolled over on her back as if to tell me, "hey, you're down here so you might as well rub my tummy."  So I did rub her tummy and then I got her to move into the livingroom.

About that time I realized I had to leave to help with a kids club at church.  So, I am starting again today.

I am getting the house into shape this week and next week - but the week after Thanksgiving I will be patching plaster on the living room walls and starting to paint them.  I have warned my family that the only Christmas decoration that would be going up this year would be the Christmas tree.  I have a lot of painting to do along with removing wallpaper and restaining woodwork in several rooms downstairs and I need to get it done and best of all, I am motivated to get it done. 

This is a picture from last year.
This will be our only Christmas decoration up this year.

My family's response was that was fine as long as I did the Christmas baking too.  No problem, as I can hardly wait to bake and eat some of those annual homemade goodies.

November 17, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 17th

I found some frozen cooked pork roast "pieces" in my freezer above the fridge.  I thought I would heat the pork and I could either put it in flour tortillas with fajita seasoning and such for some kind of a fajita wrap OR I could add barbecue sauce and make barbecued pork sandwiches OR I could just serve it by itself with potatoes, a vegetable and some salad.  Well, I thawed the mixture out and realized it isn't pork roast but it is pieces of spiral ham slices.  I looked at it and I looked at the ziplock bag and sure enough I had labeled it pork roast pieces.

So we will be having scrambled eggs with ham tonight and I will either make some oatmeal pancakes or serve whole grain waffles to go with the meal.  I am off to the store to pick up some Clementine oranges on sale for $5.99 for a 5 lb. box and some bananas.  Fresh fruit will be perfect with this meal.

It's a good thing that I can adapt!

November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving, The Forgotten Holiday

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart
Over the years it seems as if we jump from Halloween straight to Christmas, overlooking Thanksgiving.  The Christmas lights have been going up on houses all over town, and although that doesn't bother me, it does bother me that they have been turned on already.  If you live in Iowa, you know the weather will change quickly, so people taking advantage of warm weather to put up the Christmas lights on the outside of their homes makes sense.  It's just that I don't feel they should turn those lights on until after Thankgiving. 

Okay, I am old fashioned and perhaps a prude.

Thanksgiving is being pushed aside.  It is becoming a silent holiday for everyone or perhaps even a day when the shoppers are now heading to the stores to buy Christmas gifts.  Yes, it used to be the day after Thanksgiving, but more and more stores are now opening on Thanksgiving Day.

I love Thanksgiving.  It is just as important to me as Christmas.  I have so many wonderful memories of my childhood when we would travel from our home in Western New York down to Pennsylvania to visit my Uncles and Aunts for a grand Thanksgiving gathering.  I loved traipsing in the woods on the farms looking for the wildlife and coming back to the smells of a wonderful buffet meal being spread on a big table.  I can almost smell the scents in the woods as we played and the feel of the cold air on my cheeks.  Then to come back to a warm old farm house with the smells of all of the wonderful Thanksgiving foods placed on a large table ready to eat - well, it was heaven.

Thanksgiving still means a lot to me and people are missing out on not taking the time to set aside that one day to be thankful.  We do have much to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving to me means sitting at the table with loved ones, friends and/or family, taking part of a special meal and reflecting on our lives and what we have to be thankful for.  I have always felt that Thanksgiving gets our hearts ready for the Christmas season - a time to celebrate the birth of Christ.  If there has been anytime in recent years that we need to pause and be thankful, it is this year.  The economy may still be in a "sick" mode, but we don't have to worry about going to church and being arrested for practicing our faith.  We don't have to worry that our children will be conscripted into an army of militants.  We don't have to worry that when we go to vote, we could be blown up by a suicide bomber.  Yes, we may be going through some hard economic times, but if we dig down real deep inside ourselves, we can find many things to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my family, for my oldest son who found a job this year and moved himself and his wife back to our community.  I am thankful that my husband has a job that provides for our needs. I am thankful that our youngest son is having an awesome Senior year.  I am thankful that I can be home full time and concentrate on all things homemaking.  I am thankful that I have a home, food and clothing and that I have many, many more luxuries such as a bathroom that has a heater in the ceiling. I can take a nice long hot bath and the room always remains nice and toasty.  I am thankful that even though my Kia Sportage is in the shop being worked on, the problem is covered by the warranty.  I am thankful that I have a vehicle in the first place.  I am thankful for health insurance and that we are all healthy.  I am thankful and grateful for a wonderful church and church family. 

I am thankful to my heavenly father who loves me even when I mess up and am ashamed - I am always welcomed back to "the fold." 

So, let's not forget Thankgiving this year and every year.  Let us always remember that even when times get tough, we can find at least one thing that we are thankful for - even if it is a vehicle in the shop. 

Dinner Tonight - November 16th

Last night I had thawed two pounds of hamburger in order to make hamburgers.  I made 5 hamburgers for dinner and I refrigerated the rest of the meat for tonight's meal:  maidrites (or loose burgers).  I decided that I didn't want to make a bunch of hamburgers last night to reheat for tonight's meal, although that would have been just fine with my husband.  So tonight we are having maidrites, leftover baked beans and fruit salad.  For dessert I bought some "Winter Mint" cookies at the store today for $1.00 a box.  I look forward to these cookies every year as they taste just like the Thin Mint cookies from the Girl Scouts and for only $1.00 a box, they are a bargain.

Another simple meal that everyone will enjoy.  Thankfully it is simple as I have done a mountain load of laundry today and I am working on a Thanksgiving meal post for an online news site.

November 15, 2010

Christmas Movie Previews

I am a sucker for a good Christmas movie.  I love the traditional movies such as "White Christmas" and "It's a Wonderful Life," but I also love some of the newer movies that have come out in the past 10 years or so.

Today while I was working in my kitchen, I decided to pull out some Christmas movies and start to watch a few.  I have a t.v. and dvd player in my kitchen and when I am home alone, I love to put in a movie while I am working.

Here are three movies that are becoming classics in our household.  I like all of them equally well so they are not listed in order of importance. 

1.  One Magic Christmas.  As I was watching this movie today, I realized how appropriate it fits into this holiday season with the economy being what it is.  It centers around a family in which the husband has lost his job and his wife is working as a checker in a grocery store.  The husband still loves Christmas and is optimistic about the future but his wife is more practical and gets upset as her husband wants to spend some money in savings on Christmas presents for the kids and also in starting a bicycle repair business.  There is obviously more to the story including a Christmas Angel and Santa Claus.  In the middle of their financial troubles, the father and children help bring Christmas to a single mom and her daughter.  In the end circumstances happen in which a Christmas Angel and Santa Claus work together to bring the Christmas spirit back to the wife.  Mary Steenburgen stars in this movie and she does a great job.  No, it is not a "Christian" movie in that there isn't much talk of Jesus, but you do see Christian morals and values in this movie.  You will love it.

2.  The Man who Saved Christmas.  This movie takes place right before World War I and it is based on a true story.  Jason Alexander stars as A.C. Gilbert who invented the toy erector set.  He runs a toy factory with his brother and wife and they are very compassionate employers by giving generous wages to their employees and bonuses.  Mr. Gilbert wants to bring joy and happiness to children and others.  When World War I breaks out he is forced by the U.S. Government to turn his factory into a munitions factory.  This movie shows a wonderful loving family interacting with each other.  Although at times, his father, played by Ed Asner can be a little overbearing.  In the end A.C. Gilbert rediscovers his holiday spirit and convinces the U.S. Congress that what America really needs is a little Christmas joy.

3.  Silent Night.  This movie takes place during World War II during the Battle of the Bulge and is based on a true story also.  A German mother and her son take refuge in a cabin that ends up being in the battle.  Linda Hamilton stars as Elizabeth, the mother.  Soldiers from America and Germany end up taking refuge in the cabin on Christmas Eve and Elizabeth insists that her cabin is a neutral zone.  They take what rations they have and put them together for a Christmas Eve meal.  But, it is not without extreme danger in which the soldiers do not trust each other and the battle ends up coming to them.  Bitter enemies are forced to confront the war face-to-face.  At one point the soldiers sit at the table and remember better times but they are constantly on edge as they don't trust each other.  The mother, Elizabeth, is brave and is a hero in the end, when there is sudden danger.

I have one movie that was given to me this past year and I have yet to watch it.  I don't like to watch Christmas movies until now so I put it on the shelf until this week.   This movie is called "A Christmas Memory" and it stars Patty Duke.  I believe it takes place in the 1930's or early 1940's.  I'll probably get around to watching it on Thanksgiving and will have to tell you if I like it.

There are other movies that I enjoy such as "Christmas Child", along with the "The Christmas Box" and "Timepiece."  Are there any special Christmas movies that have become your family's favorites?

Dinner Tonight - November 15, 2010

Last night was leftover night.  I asked my husband last night what he would like to have for supper tonight.  He said "hamburgers!"  My husband is very easy to please and he likes simple meals.  There are days when I do cook elaborate meals but as a rule, I don't need to do this to please him. 

So tonight I will take a teaspoon of butter and melt it in a skillet, add some sliced onions to cook until they carmelize.  Then I will take those onions out of the skillet and set them aside and add a tablespoon of worcestershire sauce to the skillet and that is what I will cook the hamburger patties in.  The onions will go on top of the hamburger patties. 

I made a batch of homemade hamburger buns this afternoon.  Along with the hamburgers I will served baked beans and a simple fruit salad (fruit cocktail with added mandarin oranges).

I made some cornflake bars this afternoon.  Take 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of light corn syrup and bring it to a boil.  Then turn off the heat and add 1 cup of peanut butter.  Pour this mixture over 6 to 8 cups (more or less) of cornflakes and pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan.  You can top these with melted chocolate, but they are perfect just the way they are.

I always have several meals that I can make from what I have on hand and I have found that asking my family the night before if they have any requests gives me plenty of time to thaw out any meat.  Tomorrow I will need to head to the store to pick up some milk and some produce. 

Even though I have budgeted a certain amount of money each week for produce and dairy items, I will make sure to post each week what I am actually spending and what I have purchased. 

November 13, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 13th

Tonight we are having tater tot casserole for supper.  I am using up some bits and pieces in the freezer to make this casserole.  I have had about 3 cups of odds and ends vegetables in the freezer.  There is one container of broccoli, carrots and cauliflower and another of mixed vegetables, additional frozen beans and corn.  I never cook an entire bag of vegetables for a meal as that is too much for us.  So I put what I am not cooking back in the freezer for later use. Sometimes I take the vegetables and use them in soup, but tonight I decided to use them all in a tater tot casserole.

I also had a small ziplock bag of some frozen tater tots and shoe string fries in the freezer.  Again, I never use a full bag at a meal.  So I took 1 lb. of hamburger and browned it. I looked in the cupboard and I had 1/2 an envelope of onion soup mix and another envelope of a brown gravey mix.  I added these to the hamburger along with some water and cooked til the gravey thickened.  Usually I use a can of creamed soup, but I knew that I had these mixes on hand and needed to use them.

I poured the meat mixture into a casserole dish, topped it with all of the variety of vegetables and topped that with a mixture of the tater tots and shoestring fries.  It feels good to use up some odds and ends from the freezer.

Which, I should let you know, that is what I use the freezer above my fridge for - those leftover odds and ends.  If I put them in my big freezer, they would be lost forever.   

I still have half a loaf of cuban bread which I am again slicing, buttering and toasting in the oven.  My cuban bread recipe makes two round loaves so we have enjoyed this bread for three suppers now.  I also have some leftover apple salad from last night, so we are good to go.

I know I will have some leftover casserole but that will work great for tomorrow.  My married son and youngest son and husband are going to a basketball game tomorrow night, so I will have enough leftovers for me.  Perfect.  Even better, after church my daughter in law and I are heading to Subway for lunch as "the guys" will be on the road to the big game in Iowa City.  Go Hawkeyes!!!!

Need some help

I write a weekly article for a news site and I am doing some research on an emergency menu plan.  Basically if you were faced with a sudden reduction in income for a period of time, what is the least amount of money that you could live on for groceries?  Hillbilly Housewife has an emergency menu plan, but I want to try creating one on my own.

So if you were faced with a layoff, have lived on food stamps, faced a major expense and must reduce the amount of money you spend on groceries, what would be a fair grocery amount for a family of 2 adults and 2 kids?  Actually, I would like to do two separate menu plans, one for 2 adults and 2 small children and one for 2 adults and 2 teenagers.

In figuring out the amount to use, I am struggling with how much I should figure that a family would have in the pantry or freezer.  I thought it would be a minimal amount such as some flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon.  As to the freezer and fridge, perhaps a small amount of ketchup and mustard.  What do you think?

This emergency food plan would be temporary and would last from one week to two weeks with the goal of saving grocery money to be used towards an emergency expense or until unemployment benefits/food assistance is available.  I also want to provide menus that are nutritious, albeit humble.  I realize that a big part of saving money will be that an individual will have to learn to make a few simple items from scratch.

Why now?  A major employer in our area is laying off 250 people.  Also we are seeing more and more people in our community struggling with the effects of the Great Recession.  I remember hearing on the news two years ago about people in California living in tent cities and all the job losses.  Being as Iowa is located in the center of the country and our economy is more farm related, we did not feel the effects of the Recession until much later and hence, we will recover later than those coastal states.

So what are your thoughts to an amount of money per week for the two family scenarios and also to a minimal amount of food that would be in this family's pantry/fridge/freezer?

Changing Direction from Stocking to Using to Facebooking

I was at the grocery store on Thursday morning and the store was packed. Okay, I know, if I am living out of the pantry and freezer, why was I at the grocery store?  We needed milk, eggs, bananas and some salad fixins.  But, I was also there for flour at 97 cents a 4 lb. bag (limit of two bags) and Campbell's Cream of Mushroom and Chicken soup was on sale for 66 cents a can and I had the following coupons:  $1.50 off 3 cans and three $1.00 off 4 cans.  I also picked up Swanson broth at 50 cents a can and I had two coupons for 75 cents off five cans.  These were on my "watch" list of items to buy as soup and broth especially are at their lowest price at this time of year.  Also, Folger's coffee was on sale for $5.99 and I had a $1.00 off coupon.  People were really loading up on the coffee as this was an absolutely great price.  The last thing on my watch list is a spiral ham for Christmas.  The best price in the past few years on spiral hams happens before Thanksgiving so hopefully when the grocery ads come out on Wednesday, they will have some better deals.

I have never really set a grocery budget during this time of eating from the pantry and freezer as I was still looking for some key stock up items such as the ones I mentioned above.  My grocery weekly budget was about $40 for the last two weeks as I was stocking up on annual sales items such as flour, canned soups and broth, along with buying produce, eggs and milk.  Yes, I was still giving myself a generous amount so I could still take advantage of those once a year stock up items.  I've met my goal.  My grocery budget now  is $25.00 a week for produce, milk and eggs.  I have set aside $15 in a jar to cover the cost of a Christmas ham. 

But there is something I must confess to you.  It is very hard when you have been bargain shopping and in stock up mode for several weeks or months to refrain from buying good deals.  I am sure some of you that have read my blog for awhile were thinking this.  Hey, even I was thinking this.  It is difficult to change from stocking up to using up, but follow on in reading this post and you will see what I have done to correct this.  First --- another item I stocked up on this week.

Brown sugar was on sale recently but I didn't buy any as I have a lot of brown sugar.  It was weird walking past that display as I knew it was a good sale, but I have a big supply at home and didn't need it.  But then it happened..... On my way to pick up some eggs, I passed by the meat counter at our local Hy-Vee and I noticed a sign.  "80% lean ground beef $1.19 a lb. - while supplies last."  This was an unadvertised special.  Yes, if you look back at my post for contents of my freezer, you will see that I have a lot of ground beef in our freezer.  I couldn't resist this sale.  That price is the price I paid for 80% lean ground beef about 4 years ago.  I bought 20 lbs.  I didn't break my weekly grocery budget doing this and I knew if I repackaged the beef into 1 lb. packages and pressed them flat, they would fit in my freezer.  I went on my Facebook page to report what I had found and received comments from friends that were heading out to pick up a good deal on meat.

Incidentally, if I would have bought that "great" deal a couple of weeks ago on pop, ham and turkey, I wouldn't have had the money to buy this great deal on ground beef.  I'm so glad I recognized that I should save my money for another day. 

What did I learn?  I learned two things.  I learned that I have to change my thought process about good deals.  I am in very good shape with what I now have on hand and I have met all of my stock up goal items, except for the Christmas ham.  I can sit back and relax. 

Second, I learned it is a lot of fun to go on my Facebook page from my mobile phone and post any great deals I find so that others can take advantage of those deals.  I am going from stocking up to using up to finding those great deals and posting them on my Facebook page to help friends.  I have a great deal of knowledge about our local food prices so why not use that knowledge to help others?  When I come across a great deal, especially an unadvertised special, I pull out my mobile phone and make a quick entry on my Facebook page and let my friends know. 

I realize that this isn't something new for a lot of bloggers, but in my community of about 10,000 I am not aware of one person that does this service.  So I will continue to watch for great deals and post them on my Facebook page so that others can take advantage of them.

November 12, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 12th

Tonight was leftover night.  We had leftover pizza pasta.  I took the leftover cuban bread, sliced it and lightly buttered it and then put the pieces on a cookie sheet and toasted them in the oven.  The end result was that it tasted like freshly baked bread.  The tossed salad was gone and I had 4 apples left in the fridge so I made apple salad.  We had the perfect amount of leftovers and everything was gobbled up. 

November 11, 2010

Dinner Tonight - November 11th

Tonight we are having what I call "Pizza Pasta."  I took a bag of Mostacolli pasta and cooked it up, added 1/2 lb. browned ground beef, several slices of cut up turkey pepperoni, 1 jar of spaghetti sauce and I stirred in 3/4 package shredded mozzarella.  Poured this concoction into a 9 x 13 " pan and topped with the remaining mozzarella and baked it at 350 degrees til it was warm and bubbly.  My family always loves this dish.

This afternoon I baked two loaves of cuban bread to go along with it.  We are also having a nice tossed salad.

Wrapping my house in plastic

Last year's winter was rough
Winter is coming.  We have had an absolutely glorious fall with warm weather that continued into this week, but now we can tell from the forecast that all of that will soon be gone and the cold weather will be upon us.

This year I am making a more concerted effort to winterize our old house.  I meant to do it last year, but I got lazy.  Three of the windows in the downstairs of our house are newer with the rest being original windows to the house.  Remember, our house was built in 1892.  The old windows are covered with storm windows in the winter time, but they can still be drafty.  This year we are putting up plastic on our drafty windows.  I bought the shrink wrap window kits that you install on the inside as I really didn't think that I wanted to have plastic covering the windows on the outside of the house.

The key to putting up these plastic window kits, is the timing.  You don't want to put them up too early as once you do, you can't open the windows for any fresh air.  Hence, I have been waiting for cooler weather to install them.  Well, this weekend looks like the time to get the job done.  I had to buy patio window size kits as our windows are very tall - around 80 inches in height and I will be cutting them in two and I will then be able to fit them on two windows.

In the front of our house we have a curved window and though it is beautiful, it tends to be a drafty window in the winter time as there isn't a storm window that can cover it. In fact, frost will cover it from the inside sometimes.

I have some old towels that I roll up inbetween the storm windows and the interior windows to also help keep the drafts out in the winter time and it is my hope that the plastic will help keep the drafts out even more.

In the past year I have been saving all kinds of t-shirts, underwear and old socks that are no longer wearable and I will be using them as "stuffing" in my own homemade draft dodgers.  I couldn't bring myself to pay $20 for two of these store bought versions so I am making my own.

All of the windows on our second floor are newer but it can still get drafty upstairs so we will be installing plastic upstairs too.  In the end we have a total of 7 windows to cover downstairs and 6 windows to cover upstairs. 

The total cost of purchasing the plastic, extra tape and a cover for our Air Conditioner was $47.00 and I know we will easily save that and more by being more diligent with winterizing the house.  As for the draft dodgers, I will be using fabric that I found in the bottom of my fabric bin.  I think I purchased it close to 10 years ago and since I am using old socks and things for the stuffing, I am counting these as next to nothing in price.

At the end of winter we will compare our fuel usage and cost to last year's and will see how much we have actually saved.