December 31, 2010

New Craft Projects for 2011

First of all, I have plenty of home improvement projects and scrapbooking projects that I need to get to in the first 6 months of 2011.  The home improvement projects involve a lot of painting and I am actually looking forward to getting the painting done.  I love color and I plan to put a lot of color on my walls.  I know -- if the day would ever come to sell the house I will go out and buy beige paint but until that day comes, I want lots of pretty colors on my walls. 

But somewhere in between all of the painting and scrapbooking, I want to learn how to make some crafts that I have never tackled before.  First on my list is rag baskets.  I follow Kelli over at Simply Altered and I absolutely love the baskets that she has been creating.  I have a lot of leftover fabrics from some projects so I can see myself whipping up some of those baskets.  They are so adorable. 

Two years ago I purchased a few Knifty Knitter looms and they have been sitting in a basket next to my sewing machine ever since. Time to get them out and start knitting.

Round Looms
I remember seeing my mom use these looms when I was a child and I always wanted to try my hand at knitting using these looms.  

Long Loom
There they sit waiting for me to read the directions and get started.  There always seems to be something else I have to get done before I can get to any "fun" craft projects, but this year I am taking my Grandma's approach to crafting.

Grandma never sat done and just visited with people.  She sat down and had some knitting or sewing project in her hand while visiting.  I always think that when I have some time in the evening and we are watching a movie or t.v. show that I should have a project ready to work on so I can just pick it up and start working.

There was a time back 20 to 25 years ago that I would spend at least an hour a day or so cross stitching.  I loved to cross stitch and I was always stitching a gift for someone.  I enjoyed watching those little "x's" transform into a picture or pattern.  Later I graduated from Aida cloth to stitching on linen and using little beads.   I still love to cross stitch, but I wear bifocals now and it is a little harder to see the pattern and the linen.  So I am graduating to projects that require a lot less squinting.

Crafting is like therapy to me.  I love taking a piece of fabric or yarn and watch it being created into something.  I'm excited about trying some new craft projects while I am finally painting some rooms in my house. 

Can you tell I'm also feeling a lot better?

Dinner Tonight - December 31st

Tonight we had homemade vegetable beef soup with grilled cheese sandwiches.  My son loves this meal so I made him, and my husband happy. 

I keep a leftover container in my fridge and it was full of leftover canned vegetable juices, vegetables, broth and some pieces of beef from a pot roast.  I added 2 cans of beef broth plus about 1/2 lb. of browned hamburger to that frozen concoction of leftovers, added 3 bay leaves and I let it simmer for an hour or so on the stove.  It was perfect and tastey.  It always comes out great.  I can't believe that since I have been doing this, I have never had a bad pot of soup. 

It is really getting cold here and the wind chills are below zero.  A nice hot homemade soup was perfect for a New Year Eve's meal.

Happy New Year.

December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolutions - Not Me, well maybe

I do not like to make a New Year's resolution.  Why would I?  It always sounds good but when I have attempted to make a resolution, I only lasted 1 week.  Then I felt like a failure - well that's not a good way to start the New Year.  So, instead I prefer to just try to get a little better at what I am already doing and if along the way I decide to change something or start something new, I can do it when it is right for me.  Not just because the calendar turns to a new year.

But if I were to make a New Year's Resolution it would all center around one thing:  organization.  Yea, I am like everyone else in that I need to get a little more organized so my days would run smoother and I could have more time for some sewing projects. 

Anytime I have ever tried to get organized I end up going out and buying a bunch of organizational type stuff and then I use it for a couple of days, feel like a slave to what I bought and I give up. 

So, if I were to make a New Year's Resolution, and I'm not saying I am, okay - perhaps I am - I am going to try a little harder to be more organized.  Well, that wasn't very specific.  Okay, I will review my calendar each Sunday afternoon and write down appointments and my schedule each week.  There.  Now let's hope that I am still doing this by the third Sunday in January.

Dinner Tonight - December 30th

For some reason I was craving pizza all day so that is what we had for supper tonight.  I made a large pizza with shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese.  I decided to make it a meat pizza as I had a lot of leftover odds and ends of meat from the past few days.  We ended up with a meat pizza topped with ham bits, pepperoni, mild sausage and taco meat.  It wasn't exactly a low fat pizza, but it was definitely delicious.

December 29, 2010

Pray for Elizabeth's son Jacob at Trenches of Mommyhood

Please read the post from Elizabeth at Trenches of Mommyhood.  Her son, Jacob, is sick with an aggressive form of cancer.  My heart breaks for her and Jacob and her family and there are tears in my eyes as I type this post.  Please pray for them.  Sometimes it is hard to know what to pray for in a situation like this, but I am praying that Jacob will be able to tolerate the radiation and chemotherapy treatments that he will be facing and that the treatments will stop the cancer.  I will also be praying that Elizabeth and her husband will be able to overcome the fear of what could happen and focus on taking it one day at a time and that they will have their financial needs met so that her husband can have time off from work to be with the family.

I have followed Elizabeth's blogs for several months and throughout her blog posts you can sense a tender, sweet spirited woman who has a goal of being a wonderful wife and mommy.  Now she is facing every mother's fear and I am certain that she is physically and emotionally weary from the events of the past 10 days. 

Almost 27 years ago we lost our newborn baby due to a premature birth.  At the time I felt that everyone was looking at me and avoiding me because they didn't know what to say or do.  The brave people that walked up to me and took my hand and told me that they cared for me and would pray for me, well those people meant the world to me.  You may not know what to say to Elizabeth right now, but go and leave a comment even if it is just letting her know that you are praying for her.  Can you imagine what it will be like for her the next time she checks her blog and sees all the uplifting comments that have been left for her?

Here is what I want to do.  Is it possible for people to post that they are praying for Elizabeth, Jacob and their family at a specific time of day or night?  The night time hours could be a little more difficult but I know that there are people that read my blog from around the world and while we are in the night time here, they could be praying in the day time.  If there is somehow, somewhere the possibility that someone will be praying for her at a given time 24 hours a day, I think that would be a great help to her right now. 

If you have a blog of your own and want to, please post this and challenge any of your readers to pray for Elizabeth at a specific time. 

This is something we can do. 


I am posting this as there are more and more of you out there that are dealing with depression and for me it is a little new. 

I went through post partum depression 18 years ago when our youngest was born.  I had never experienced it before but I can still remember the weeks of feeling lonely, crying and not understanding why during a very happy time of my life, I was so sad.  I finally called my obstretrician and after talking to me he referred me on to a psychiatrist who made the diagnosis.  I went on an anti-depressant and after it kicked in, I felt like my old self.

Since then I have had days when I was a little blue or sad, but nothing more than an every now or then day.  Until ---- 10 days ago.  I started to feel odd.  I wanted Christmas to be done and over.  That is not me.  I love the holidays and always have.  Then it got to not sleeping well and feeling sad and blue.  I kept telling myself I would feel better after the holidays and the typical holiday stress was over.  But it didn't happen. 

My sadness progressed to some really odd behavior.  I kept compulsively looking at my hair, at least 10 times an hour, being convinced I was going bald. I kept telling myself that my hair hadn't changed.  I was do for a haircut and color scheduled January 3rd.  The cut and color would take care of the dingey, too long hair and it would make my thin hair look good against my scalp once again.  But, no matter how hard I tried I was in the bathroom every couple of minutes looking at my hair from the side, with my head bent back looking at my hair with a handheld mirror and using the mirror on the wall convinced I was going bald.  I had not seen any extra hair in the sink and last month my stylist had even told me that my hair hadn't changed. 

But nothing seemed to convince me and as the days went on the compulsion to look at my hair constantly, along with the sadness, wore on me.  Yes, it was so bad that I would be sobbing in the bathroom and in the evening I would be crying for no good reason.  The entire time I had people, that are acquaintances and don't really know me, comment on my hair and say how nice my hair looks. 

So here I was trying my hardest to deal with the reality that my hair was fine while my mind kept telling me it wasn't. 

Well, today I had it.  I called my doctor and described how I was feeling and what I was doing.  I told him that this was totally abnormal behavior for me.  While I may check my hair throughout the day, once or twice, before going out, I never have checked it about 100 times a day.  As a side note, what exactly was checking it 100 times a day supposed to do anyway?  LOL

He asked a few more questions and told me to go to the hospital lab immediately to have blood drawn.  He had increased the dosage of my thyroid medication earlier this month and perhaps something else was wrong with the hormone levels.  A side effect of my thyroid meds is nervousness and edginess.  Yep - I was experiencing that at a major level.  He also told me that a symptom of depression was OCD behavior so he wanted to get me on an anti-depressant right away. BTW - why couldn't I be a little OCD about cleaning the house - at least then I would have something to show for this out of normal behavior. 

Perhaps it is a side effect of the thyroid medication or perhaps it is Seasonal Depression, I'm not sure.  But when you are crying while you are cooking dinner and then you burst into tears at the dinner table and can't stop crying and don't know why you are crying, and running to the bathroom to look at your hair all the time, then something is wrong.  BTW - you know what my husband did when I started crying?  He started eating faster and then told me to call my doctor today.  Then he got up and washed the dishes.  If this continues I may just start crying during dinner every night.

Later on we did talk more and my husband made some very good observations.  It is winter and I am home entirely too much.  He told me that being home day in and out is not good for anyone.  I need to get out and have more contact with my friends.  I agreed and went one step further to say that I would like to take one afternoon and perhaps volunteer in our church office.  Also, no matter what the weather, he told me I need to go for a walk outside everyday.  Being in the outdoors will help.  Agreed.  It's weird that I had to have someone else tell me what deep down I already knew.  I'm home entirely too much, day in and day out. In the summer time that isn't so bad as it is sunny and I am working outside and see people.  But in the winter, that isn't a good idea at all.

I had the blood drawn this afternoon and will await the results.  Tomorrow morning I begin taking an anti-depressant. I feel better already as at least I know that my doctor acknowledges that my behavior was abnormal and a symptom of something else.  Just having someone acknowledge that what I am feeling is real, has made me feel better.

So ends another post about needing to take care of myself.

Dinner Tonight - December 29th

Today I took our 17 year old son shopping and we ate at Applebee's for lunch for a nice treat.  I only ate half my meal - I wasn't the one that was so hungry.  So tonight for dinner I had leftovers from Applebee's and my husband and son dined on leftovers from last night (soft tacos).  It was nice not having to cook a meal as I did a lot of cooking last weekend. 

December 28, 2010

Dinner Tonight - December 28th and Holiday Pretzel Recipe

For dinner tonight we had soft shell tacos, corn and seasoned rice.  Seemed like a nice meal combination as we are kind of tired of the holiday leftovers of ham.  As for dessert, we still have some of my holiday pretzels. 

Here is what the pretzels look like:

They are quite labor intensive but since I only make them at Christmas, they are a special treat.  Melt a bag of caramels with 1 tablespoon of water.  Dip pretzel rods in the caramel, about 4 at a time, and place on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Put the tray in the refrigerator for about 4 minutes.  This cools the caramel and allows you to "mold" the caramel around the pretzel.  After you mold the caramel to the pretzel, return the pretzels to the fridge.  I do this entire process at once. 

Then melt chocolate or almond bark.  After it has melted I let it cool down a bit.  If you dip the pretzels in the melted chocolate when it is quite hot, the chocolate will roll right off of the pretzel.  After it has cooled, but is still a liquid, dip the pretzels in the chocolate.  Place on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray and then sprinkle the dipped pretzels with crushed M & M's.  Do about 3 at a time and put them in the freezer immediately.  I place mine on the back porch since it is usually below freezing when I am making them.  Then after they have solidified, drizzle the opposite chocolate or almond bark over the top.  So if you have dipped the pretzels in chocolate bark, drizzle them with the white almond bark and so on.

Yes, it takes time.  This year I made around 75 of these to give away as gifts and for our own holiday celebration.  I think this would also make a great gift for a special someone at Valentine's day especially if you use the Valentine colored M & M's. 

December 27, 2010

Grocery Expense for the month of December

Well, I left all of you hanging before Christmas about my grocery spending during December. I overspent. Yep - Me, the queen of getting a good deal, using coupons and staying within a budget – blew it. But, it happens. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, and I can guarantee it won’t.

So here are the numbers.

The week beginning December 6th I spent $31.14. Then the week of December 13th I spent (drum roll or a big WOW) - $134.20. Yep – I broke the bank. What happened? Well, I guess I went off my “diet.” Actually I happened upon a sale that I couldn’t turn down. Boneless pork loin was on sale for $1.59 lb. I knew that this was too good of a sale to pass up and I stood there at the meat counter trying to figure out how much I could buy and fit in my freezer. Pork loin is a lean cut of meat that you can use in stir fry, as slices such as a boneless pork chop or roasted in an oven such as what I do with the Cranberry Pork Roast. My estimate is that the last time I got this cut of meat on sale this cheap was about 3 years ago. So – I bought a lot of it.

That same day there was a sale on Coke and I picked up 6 - 12 packs for $10.00. Again, over the holidays I do buy pop and when this is gone, I will not be buying anymore until around Memorial Day or the 4th of July.

So besides the meat and the pop what else did I purchase? Without giving a detailed list I bought cereal on sale for 50 cents a box, some toilet paper on sale and produce, milk, eggs, candy for Christmas, evaporated milk, fresh fruits and vegetables and a lot more. 

Then last week I spent $58.00 on some planned and unplanned purchases. I have no plans to go to the grocery store this week as we have plenty of food including produce and milk.

I had only wanted to spend at the most $30 a week but in the end I spent $223.34 for the month of December. Out of that $223.34 I spent a chunk of money stocking up on pork loin. Also I checked my records and in December 2009 I spent $387.00. So even though I was over budget for the month, I was under budget for what I spent last year.

Now it’s time to get back on track. Just because I went off budget doesn’t mean I will stay off budget. No way.

I want to encourage each and every one of you to start tracking those food prices, clip those coupons and find some kind of happy medium so that you too can chip away at the grocery bill. You may only be able to save $5 a week, but that is $5 more than you had at the beginning of the week.

While we are seeing some upswings in the economy, history tells us that we can also experience some setbacks so it is important to be proactive and do what you can to save money. As a homemaker I have a responsibility to make sure that my family is provided for. I have a responsibility to prepare for hard times that could come our way by being careful of the money I spend today. I am more and more conscious of my resources that I already have and making good use of them.

When it comes to saving money, I think it all comes down to being aware of what is going on around you. Know your food prices and know when a sale is a sale. Read your newspaper, especially the business section. I read it daily and notice anything about prices in food going up or down or gasoline going up or down as knowledge is power. If you read that the price of beef is expected to rise, and that very week you see a sale on ground beef, you better stock up as it may be the last good sale for a long time.

What can you make from scratch that will save you money? Can you buy some items in bulk and split the purchase with a friend?

I have no idea what is going to happen in 2011. I do know that our youngest child will graduate from high school and go to college. I also know that we want to plan and budget for a trip to Washington D.C. as a graduation gift for him. I also know we need a new roof and new front porch for our house. These are all things that we are planning for 2011 and there will probably be some unexpected financial bumps along the way.

I have changed so much this year in the way I view our finances and how I see my role as a “non-working” (okay, you know what I mean) member of the family. I contribute to our finances even though I am not earning an income. My contribution is valuable to our family and in 2011 I look forward to perfecting a new found “skill” of delaying unnecessary purchases and putting money in the bank.

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

The ham is in the oven, the cheesy potatoes are in the crockpot.  The broccoli, bacon, raisin salad is chilling in the fridge.  The mixed vegetables are ready to steam, the rolls will be warmed in the oven soon.  I am getting ready to cut up fruit for a fruit salad and the Christmas cookies are in a tin ready to be put on a platter. 

It is a simple, easy Christmas feast that we will dine on around noon.  My in-laws are driving to our home as I write this -- they are on snowy roads and taking it slow. 

I am humbled at the comments from everyone one of you and wish all of you and your families a Merry Christmas.  May each of you experience a Christmas miracle this year. 

Merry Christmas from snowy Iowa.

December 23, 2010

I have much to share, but it will have to wait

I am very tired and am going to bed, but I wanted to take the time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  We will be celebrating Christmas beginning Christmas Eve when I will be preparing a light meal for our sons and daughter in law.  As to the light meal I am serving chicken and noodles, dinner rolls, crackers and cheese and some little smokies sausages in barbecue sauce.  For dessert we have the ever present Christmas cookies.  We will then go to our church to the Christmas Eve service and after we get home we will open our gifts.  Then I will be preparing a Christmas feast for us and my in laws.  Sooo -- I am a little overwhelmed right now and will get back to posting right after Christmas. 

I miss sharing my day to day life with everyone and will try to share on Christmas day in the evening or on the 26th. 

Blessings to everyone this Christmas season and I do hope that everyone has a wonderful Christmas and that you are able to spend time with the people you love. 

December 22, 2010

Busy with Christmas Preparations - Don't forget about Jacob

I'm busy with Christmas preparations and I will try to get a post in tomorrow.  I will update everyone on my budget killer grocery shopping trip last week and on a lot of goodies I have been making.  Tomorrow I need to deliver cookies and candies to the neighbors, bake some cut out sugar cookies for us and finish making one last Christmas present.

How is everyone else's Christmas preparations going?  While you are getting ready for Christmas, please don't forget about Elizabeth and her family over at Trenches of Mommyhood.  Her son, Jacob, is seriously ill and hospitalized with cancer.  She is posting about everyday as to how Jacob is doing and she is being very honest with her feelings.  She needs encouragement. 

I delivered our daughter prematurely several years ago.  Our daughter lived only 3 hours and I can still remember the trauma of that event and being hospitalized myself for almost a week.  My experience pales in comparison to what she and her family are facing.  Say a prayer for Jacob, Elizabeth and her husband and their other children also.  Their Christmas celebration has been turned upside down this year - they need courage and support. 

December 20, 2010

Dinner Tonight - December 20th

Tonight we had a beef roast with cut up potatoes roasted in the same pan.  I steamed some frozen mixed vegetables and made a fruit salad.  We also had some italian bread that I thinly sliced, buttered and toasted in the oven.  For dessert we had apple pie (or should I say that everyone else had pie - I'm staying away from sweets right now.)  I baked the pie Saturday night and it is almost gone.  It was a yummy meal.

It's getting a little hectic this week in getting ready for Christmas.  Tomorrow I will continue baking cookies and my daughter in law is coming over in the evening to help make the caramel, chocolate pretzel rods. 

I will share sometime this week about my grocery shopping experience last week.  I totally overspent and I'm back on track this week. 

I didn't post what we ate over the weekend, but Friday night we had leftover chicken, potatoes, vegetables and salad.  Saturday for lunch I made chicken salad sandwiches from the balance of the chicken and Saturday night I browned some hamburger and squirted in a little bit of ketchup to hold the hamburger crumbles together.  We call these loose burgers or Maid Rites and I serve this hamburger mixture on buns.  I had some tater tots in the freezer so I heated those up in the oven and we had a vegetable.

Sunday lunch was leftover loose burgers along with some other odds and ends in the fridge.  Our son was in a community orchestra concert and he had to leave early to practice so it was just me and my husband for lunch.  We ate a late supper after the concert and I pulled out some breaded chicken patties and the rest of the tater tots and heated them up in the oven for a simple supper.

It was a hectic weekend and I didn't really plan meals - just pulled meals together and did my best. 

When Christmas is behind us, I want to sit down and plan 4 weeks of meals at a time - if possible so that I can get a better picture of using up the food in my pantry and freezer. 

Urgent Prayer Needed!

I follow Elizabeth at Trenches of Mommyhood.  She has a son that is seriously ill and has requested prayer.  Please go to her site here and read what she is posting.  Elizabeth's son, Jacob, is critically ill and they are facing tremendous challenges.  He is facing Stage 4 cancer.  Please read what she has posted on December 17th and December 19th and add Jacob and their family to your prayers. 

If you feel so inclined, please add a post to your blog so that we can expand our prayers for Jacob.  Many, many thanks.

I'm Back -- Took a little break

I had a couple of busy days, mainly cleaning and sprucing up the house, so I haven't blogged for a few days.  Actually I intended to post something Saturday night, but I fell asleep.  Then yesterday we had church programs and an orchestra/choir concert to attend.  By the time we got home we settled in and watched the Survivor Finale episode. 

So here I am .... with 5 days to Christmas and I am just beginning my Christmas baking.  Yep.  I never bake until the week of Christmas.  Well, I shouldn't say never, as I actually started this tradition about 10 years ago.  I used to bake the first week of December and I would freeze the cookies.  Well, they were usually gone by Christmas day, which was a bummer.  I always like to serve Christmas cookies as the dessert for our Christmas meal. 

I can say something else about baking the week of Christmas, it makes the week of Christmas seem more special.  After all, it was only a couple of generations ago when the Christmas tree didn't even get put up until Christmas Eve and the baking was done a few days ahead of Christmas day.  Christmas seemed a lot more special whereas now we start putting up lights right after Halloween.  By the time Christmas arrives, I was getting a little too much Christmas.  That is why I started the Christmas baking the week of Christmas.  It works great for our family. 

Thankfully, it is freezing outside so I can store all of my cookies in tins on the back porch and they will keep well without having to make room in my freezer (which we all know doesn't have much extra room right now anyway).

Today I will begin the baking.  This year I am going to bake cookies to give away to my neighbors.  I have never done this before and I am ashamed to say that I don't know my neighbors or in many cases know them, but not very well.  I have decided to bake simple cookies along with a couple of Christmas type cookies. 

At the grocery store I snagged a great deal on Friday.  Here they are: 

These are Holiday Limited Edition Ziploc Containers.  They were on sale for only $1.25 for a package of two and I had coupons for $1.50 off two packages.  I only paid 50 cents per package or 25 cents per container.  I purchased 10 packages.  These will make great containers for the cookies I will be giving to my neighbors. 

Here is what I will be baking for our neighbors:

Tripple Chipper cookies - oatmeal cookie recipe with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and white chips
Thumbprint cookies - I posted about those here.
Butterscotch bars - a simple brown sugar chewey cookie bar
Oatmeal Chocolate Caramel bars - these have a bottom layer of an oatmeal cookie crust, middle layer of caramel sauce and milk chocolate topped with additional oatmeal cookie dough
Snickerdoodles - a nice sugar, cinnamon cookie
Chocolate crinkles - a chocolatey cookie dough formed into balls and rolled in powdered sugar prior to baking
Brickle Bits Cookies - Heath toffee brickle bits stirred into a chocolate chip type cookie dough
White Chocolate, Macadamia/Cashew cookies - again, a chocolate chip type cookie dough with white chocolate chips and normally macadamia nuts but since I have both macadamia and cashew nuts that I need to use up, I will be putting both in the dough. 

I will have all of these finished by Wednesday and then I will package them up and deliver them on Thursday. 

On Tuesday evening, with my daughter in law's help, I will be making my semi-famous pretzel rods that have been dipped in caramel, then almond bark or chocolate, rolled in crushed M & M's candies and then drizzled with more almond bark or chocolate.

On Thursday I will be baking cut out sugar cookies and peanut butter blossom cookies for my family along with a cereal mix that is covered in almond bark and has pretzels and M & M's candies in it. 

I will definitely take pictures of everything when I am done and will post them. 

But - - I couldn't finish this post without a few of my recipes.  Here they are:

Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars

2 1/4 cups flour, divided
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cold butter or margarine (yes, 3 sticks of butter)
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 - 12 oz. jar - caramel ice cream topping (such as Smuckers)

In a bowl, combine 2 cups flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt.  Cut in butter until crumbly.  Set half aside for topping.  Press the remaining crumb mixture into a greased 9" x 13" baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with the chocolate chips.  Whisk the caramel topping and remaining 1/4 cup flour until smooth; drizzle over the chocolate chips.  Sprinkle with the reserved crumb mixture.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours before cutting.  Yield:  4 1/2 dozen.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies 

( I only make this cookie for a very special occasion due to the cost of the nuts.  I am always on the lookout for any sales and when I see macadamia nuts, cashews or pecans on sale, I will buy them and store them in my freezer.  This is truly a cookie that I will only make at Christmas time or to give as a gift to a new mom.)

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (yes, 3 sticks of unsalted butter)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 oz. white chocolate chips
6 oz. macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream butter and the sugars.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Stir into the creamed mixture and fold in the white chocolate and nuts by hand.  Drop by tablespoons - about 8 to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 10 minutes, just until cookies turn golden.  Don't overbake.  Cool on the cookie sheet for 3 minutes and transfer to wire rack. 

Variations:  Can use pecans or cashews in place of the macadamia nuts.

December 16, 2010

Billy: The Early Years of Billy Graham - A Movie Review

I just finished watching for the second time today the movie "Billy:  The Early years of Billy Graham.  If you are struggling in your faith, if you are discouraged, you need to watch this movie.  Robby Benson of all people directed this movie and did a fantastic job.

This movie centers around the life of Billy Graham during the 1930's and 1940's - through his college years and into his early years of ministry.  It goes into tremendous detail of how his best friend Charles Templeton went from being a powerful evangelist to becoming an Agnostic.

This movie follows Billy's faith and his own battles of doubts that ultimately leads him to becoming a great modern day evangelist.  It profiles his college years where he met and married his wife, Ruth Bell.

The acting is phenomenal (Lindsay Wagner, Jennifer O'Neill, Martin Landau) and the soundtrack is absolutely the best.  I ordered the soundtrack today from Amazon.  Those artists who contributed to the soundtrack are Brad Paisley, Brooks and Dunn, Michael W. Smith, Mac Powell, Alan Jackson, Melinda Doolittle and Roy Orbison to name a few.

This is obviously not a Christmas movie BUT it has uplifted me more than any Christmas movie that I could watch.  Billy Graham struggled in his faith and belief and became a profound evangelist.  I have no excuse but to move past any spiritual plateaus that I have hit and become a better Christian. 

I rented this from Netflix and will put it on my must buy list for my home d.v.d. collection.

Dinner Tonight - December 16th - Roasted Chicken

Tonight I am roasting a chicken with cut up potatoes, carrots and an onion.  I like to mix some dried herbs such as savory, marjoram and thyme along with some butter and rub it on the chicken and then I salt it a little before putting it in the oven to roast.  As to the vegetables I will chunk them, sprinkle some of the herbs on them and drizzle with a little oil and put them along side the chicken to roast.  I'll take some of the fruit that I have on hand and make a fruit salad supplementing it with some canned fruit.  I also have dinner rolls in the freezer and a brownie mix that I need to use up for dessert.  If I didn't have dinner rolls in the freezer, I would make some cornbread.

This is a 5 lb chicken so I'll get a few meals out of it, unless there is some late night snacking, which is okay.  This chicken was on sale a couple of months ago for only 68 cents a lb.  I watch as people usually walk by whole chickens when they are on sale and they opt for the boneless skinless chicken breasts.  I used to do that, but not anymore.  I find that I can get quite a bit of meat from a whole chicken that far outweighs the cost of bone to meat ratio.  Also, I bought a pair of good quality kitchen shears and I taught myself how to cut up a chicken. 

As an example, when chicken hindquarters go on sale for only 38 cents a lb., I buy 20 lbs.  When I get home I take my kitchen shears and cut apart the drumsticks from the thighs.  Just doing that increases the savings of the meat.  Drumsticks and thighs go on sale for 98 cents a lb. and with only a few minutes of work I have taken those hindquarters and transformed them into more expensive chicken pieces.

You can take a whole chicken and put it in a crockpot and cook it on low for several hours and the meat will fall off the bone. Take that meat and you can use it anywhere from casseroles and soup to chicken salad sandwiches. 

So, don't pass that whole chicken by when it goes on sale, as it is a really great value.

December 15, 2010

Putting Myself First, or Second, well maybe -- No First!

I have struggled for the past year with developing an exercise plan that will meet my needs.  The reality is that I need to spend more time exercising than the 30 minutes, 5 days a week routine that I have been doing.  I need an hour a day to exercise.  Now, I hate to exercise but I also know that for the sake of my health, I must exercise.  I try to do things that I like to do such as working out on my Treadclimber and watching t.v. while I am doing it.  On the days that the weather is good I go for long walks outside.  I had been doing this 5 days a week and then lifting weights the other 2 days.

I now realize that I have to increase the intensity of my workouts.  Prevention now is far easier than having a problem down the road.  In other words, I need a more aggressive workout and will add some pilates, yoga and other exercises to my daily routine.   I also need to have a better attitude about exercise and quit treating it like a punishment.

So, in between the responsibilities of taking care of home and family, I need to schedule a fitness program and make this time a priority.  But, it isn't without problems.  I absolutely hate to exercise and have to force myself.  If I wait too long in my day, I will make enough excuses and it won't happen.

How many of you hate to exercise like me?  How do you get motivated to do something that you dislike?  Well, here is my motivation - jeans that have grown a little too snug.  How about this for motivation?  Losing a little weight and preventing gaining weight over the winter time and toning up so that by the time summer arrives I can wear those capris and shorts without my midsection bulging over the top. 

Now, I don't have a lot of weight to lose.  I am only talking about 5 to 7 lbs.  I know that there are people that have a lot of weight to lose and it is disheartening for them to read that I only need to lose around 5 lbs.  But that 5 lbs. represents the possibility of gaining another 5 lbs. in 2011 and perhaps another 5 lbs. in 2012.  I can see a snowball  effect happening here.  In fact, here is my weight over the past 4 years:  In 2006 I was 139 lbs.; in 2007 I went up to 145 lbs. and then lost 10 lbs. and was 135 lbs. on my son's wedding day in July of 2007.  In 2008 my weight crept up to 138 lbs., in 2009 my weight crept up to 141 lbs. and now I am around 145 lbs. 

Each year that goes by, it is a struggle and will continue to be a struggle. 

Again, for women that have a lot of weight to lose it may seem that I am a whiner.  But, think about it - the trend is that I am putting on a few lbs. with each year and I don't want that trend to continue.

For me weight gain goes like this:  "Oh I put on 2 lbs., well that's not too bad for my body frame."  Then about 1 year later "Oh, I put on 3 lbs., well that's not too bad for my age" and so on.  I have given in to negative thinking.

I have heard some comments over the past week by people who have told me that this is part of aging and that I am middle aged, approaching menopause and along with a thyroid problem (although it is being treated with medication), I should just come to the reality check that I will be putting on weight and I should accept it. 

I refuse to give in to this type of thought process.  Perhaps there is some truth in that statement, but not doing anything and giving up is completely ridiculous. 

Yes, with age our bodies change. I am now waxing facial hair, not just my eyebrows.  My hair is thinning some and yes, there are those pesky gray hairs.  I have lower back pain and I have some signs of menopause, but just because I have the signs of aging, does not mean that I am dead or to quote a phrase from Spamalot "I am not dead yet." 

To me exercising and cutting back on portions and trying to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables means that I will be healthier and feel better, physically and mentally.  By exercising and being active I will have a better outlook on life.  It goes without saying that people that work out handle life better.  I may still gain some weight over the years, but it may not be as much as I would have gained by not doing anything at all.

What does exercising have to do with living a frugal lifestyle?  When you exercise and take care of yourself, you feel better and you are healthier.  You'll also save money by not having to go to the doctor because you are sick and not feeling well.  Another benefit is for mental health.  Let's face it, we are in the dark and dingy winter months and although I do not suffer from depression, I can certainly have my share of "blue" days in the winter months.  Exercising does give you a better outlook.  It's just simply making the time and doing it.

So, today I am putting myself first by exercising and watching the amount of food I eat.  It may mean that some days I won't get all the laundry done or that dinner may be a little late or that perhaps the house will stay cluttered a little while longer, but if I don't make a priority of putting myself first, who will? 

I think we all need to sit down in the next day or so and look at our lives and find a way to put ourselves first a little more.  It is foreign to me and at times, it feels kind of selfish.  But in the end I know that I will be happier and healthier and that is the best gift I can give to myself.

Dinner Tonight - December 15th - Saving money to repair a car

Tonight was breakfast night.  We had blueberry pancakes (from the freezer after I made too many a couple of weeks ago), eggs, sausage patties and some fresh pineapple.  I am cutting back on what I eat so I skipped the sausage and had smaller portions of everything else.

As for my son, Wednesday is when our church youth group meets and he eats at the church. 

I have been using food from our freezer and pantry as much as possible and I have discovered that I haven't made much of a dent in my freezer.  I really had that thing packed with food. 

I went to the store today and purchased some food items that we really didn't need to have in the house.  Lately for some reason I have been craving pop so I purchased 2 twelve packs of diet cola.  I purchase pop during the holidays as a treat, but when it is gone I probably won't purchase anymore.  I also picked up a few of my favorite Weight Watcher entrees to have on hand during the holidays when I need a better meal choice for myself. 

Oh and with the money that we are saving from eating from the freezer and pantry, it will go towards the $500 deductible on our car insurance as our 17 year old son had an accident today on the way to school.  He started to slide and couldn't stop his car from hitting a stone gate at the local cemetery.  Thankfully, he wasn't hurt and he called me right away.  The bumper took the brunt of the damage.  The roads are snow covered and icy here and he was being careful, but sometimes when you hit a patch of ice there isn't much you can do. 

December 14, 2010

Grocery Expense - Week of December 6th

Here is what I spent on groceries last week.  I picked up a few good deals such as the deal on hamburger and shredded wheat.  There were a few things that I  purchased that weren't necessary, but fun extras. 

I still had some produce on hand so I didn't need to stock up on a lot of fresh produce.  I  have so much food on hand that will last us a long time and it is wonderful to finally see the benefits of stocking up when food prices were lower and there were some great deals.

Even with food prices going up, grocery stores will want us to come to their stores to buy their products.  I am sure that we will start seeing some great loss leaders especially in January, but we will also see a rise in prices. I am a great believer in buying as much as you can on sale and planning your meals around those sale items. 

I love having a lot of food items on hand especially when it is bitter cold outside. 

85% lean hamburger - buy 1 lb. get 1 lb. free @ $1.99 lb. = $1.99

1 lb. Butter = $1.98 lb.
2 doz. Eggs @ .99 = $1.98
1/2 gallon milk = $1.47

8 lb. Bag of Apples = $1.99

1 – 5 lb. bag of flour = .99
1 – 2 # bag of brown sugar = .99
2 - 4 lb. bags of Sugar @ $1.88 = $3.76

Blueberry Bagels = $1.19
Hot Dog Buns = .69
3 bags of shredded wheat cereal @ .48 bag = $1.44

Miracle Whip = $3.50
Chili Sauce = $1.39

2 bags of Corn Chips = $3.18
Winter Mint Cookies = $1.00
Hard Candy = $1.00
1 – 12 pack of Diet Cola = $2.60

Total Grocery Expense - $31.14

Dinner Tonight - December 14th

My youngest son is having a hard day so I am going to make his favorite meal tonight:  pizza pasta.  I have some italian bread and a niced tossed salad to go along with the meal.

I had planned on a beef roast, but we can have that later on this week.  It is more important to have his favorite meal to brighten up his "evening."  If my husband or son are having bad days, I do my best to serve their favorite meal for dinner that night. 

It is one of those things that I do for my family. Perhaps I shouldn't show my love through food, but when it is cold, the days are shorter and you have had some disappointments, somehow coming home to your favorite meal always seems to "lighten" the load and make everyone feel better, albeit in a small way.

December 13, 2010

Feeling Kinda Crazy

Two weeks ago I went to see my general practitioner to see if my meds needed to be adjusted.  I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at the beginning of the year.  In September I felt I was gaining some weight and was worried that my meds needed adjusted but after a thorough exam and bloodwork, my doctor told me that all of my hormones were within the normal range.  Hmmm....

So two weeks ago when I thought my hair was thinning, I was fatigued and had found it hard to get the energy to exercise, had wanted to take naps in the afternoon, I knew that something was wrong.  I made an appointment and blood was drawn.  I had to wait one week for the results and when he called to tell me that my thyroid meds needed to have the dosage increased, I was thrilled.  It meant I wasn't crazy after all - at least I told him that and I also said he didn't have to respond to that statement.  Luckily my estrogen is within the normal range and while there are times I see the signs of menopause, it appears that I won't be facing that for a few years.

However, I am not without some days of "manic" hormonal fluctuations as I have come to call them.  Saturday was one of those days.  Perhaps it was the fact that my son and husband were both watching t.v. and viewing things on the internet while I was finally decorating the Christmas tree and putting up some decorations on the buffet in the diningroom.  They never help decorate the tree but they are always quick to say "You are doing a great job."  Translation - you could put garbage on the tree but as long as I don't have to decorate it, it is okay.  Well, perhaps that is a little harsh, but when you are hormonal your mind does tend to play tricks on you.

I don't like being in a bad mood and I don't like being upset with my husband and son - especially when they have no idea what I am upset about.  I kept telling myself - it is one of those hormonal days and it will pass.

What I did do was take all of that mania and transfer it to work.  I dug into the upstairs of our house and finally took that huge pile of clothes I am going to donate and went through that pile and made a list for tax purposes.  I bagged up the clothes and my husband took them out to my car so I could donate them this week.  I started going through piles of stuff in our bedroom and alcove area where everything seems to get piled when I don't have time to deal with it.  Everyone seems to have an out of the way area of their house where you put things when you don't want to deal with them.  Our area is the upstairs. 

The result is that I made a big dent in decluttering the upstairs and I feel so much better.  The new dosage on my meds has made a big difference in how I feel.  I have energy and I feel better. 

I didn't cook much this weekend.  I had made a big pizza Friday night and there were leftovers for lunch on Saturday.  I made eggs and toast for supper Saturday night and yesterday after church we went out for lunch with our other son and daughter in law.  Sandwiches were on the menu for Sunday night and today I will be back to cooking.  It was nice to take a break.

So, the next time you have one of those hormonal days in which you want to sit and cry, take a nap or yell at somebody; go to the nearest closet and clean it out.  You will feel so much better and you will at least have something to show for it. 

In retrospect, my family was glad to have me work upstairs and away from them.  It didn't matter if I was decluttering or cleaning as they couldn't figure out what was wrong.  They are clueless, but then again, I wouldn't expect them to understand the hormonal comings and goings of a woman.  That would be beyond them.

Dinner Tonight - December 13th

Tonight I am going to make a chicken stir fry using some boneless skinless chicken breasts and stir fry vegetables.  I'll probably make some carrot raisin salad and I have some italian bread that I will slice, lightly butter and toast in the oven.

The cookie jar is empty so I will be baking some cookies this afternoon.  Having the oven on will definitely warm up the kitchen as it is only 5 degrees outside.  On Saturday we received our first big snowfall and due to the wind, there were blizzard warnings up around our state (Iowa). 

I am also doing laundry today.  Our washer and dryer is in the basement and the dryer is venting into the basement so the warm air will take the chill off down there. 

I will post later today my grocery expense for last week.  I have to double check to make sure that I have entered all of the receipts.  It's been a good month for saving on groceries BUT -- heard on the news this morning that gasoline is expected to go up to at least $3.15 a gallon.  They also reported that groceries will continue to rise, probably due to gasoline going up. 

So, it's a good day to stay inside, bake some cookies, do laundry and watch an old Christmas movie (while I keep decluttering). 

December 10, 2010

Laptop Woes - Never happens at a good time

I am having some problems with my laptop.  I hate when that happens, don't you?  I have been switching to Google Chrome and this morning I decided I would research how to move my bookmarks from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome.  Well, when I clicked on Internet Explorer it came up but no matter what I clicked on, I got a web page error message.  I rebooted.  I ran virus scan and then I gave up.  I can lose my bookmarks and recreate the majority of them, but it is a hassle.  Even though I am not going to use Internet Explorer anymore, it bothers me that it won't work.  It makes me wonder if this could lead to problems with other programs.

So, what to do?  I have a friend that operates a Computer Technology business.  He does a great job.  He used to take care of our computers at the law firm I worked at and he has worked on our home computers.  So I chatted with him on facebook this afternoon and I can drop off my laptop tomorrow or sometime next week and he will work his magic and banish any viruses, worms or for that matter, demons that are possessing my computer.

I love that there is someone I can trust to work on my computer and will also do a great job.  Guess what I don't like?  I will have to share our family desk top computer with my teenage son while my laptop is being worked on.  I'm not sure who this is bad for - him or me.  At least I have a backup computer when some families only have one computer for their family.

Dinner Tonight - December 10th

My husband has gone to a basketball game with our oldest son and his wife. My youngest son is on the 2nd night of the Christmas Madrigal concert.  I have a little sloppy joe mixture leftover so I am going to make a homemade pizza and top it with the remaining sloppy joe mixture. Instead of mozzarella cheese I am going to use  colby-jack cheese which goes better with the sloppy joe flavor.

This afternoon I was in my basement going through my pantry and making sure it is organized.  I do this about every two weeks and it doesn't take long.  I had my pantry inventory list in hand and I now need to spend an evening going through the inventory list to make sure I am using up items before they have expired.  So far I haven't encountered any problems, but I noticed I have several 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce that are due to expire in February.

Also I have a lot of cookbooks and at times I feel like I can get in a rut of serving the same things over and over again for dinner.  Truth be told, my family likes the same things over and over; but I want to try something new.

I own several Gooseberry Patch cookbooks and I plan on spending some time over the next week, in the evenings, going through these cookbooks and matching up recipes with items in my pantry.  I hope my family is ready for this as I am ready to try some new recipes.  I love Gooseberry Patch cookbooks as they are recipes for real people and don't require a lot of "interesting" ingredients.  These also make a great gift.

December 09, 2010

Dinner Tonight - December 9th

On Tuesday I had to purchase seven - 8 count packages of hamburger buns for my son's school.  They were having a concession stand during a debate contest.  Well they only used 3 1/2 of the packages.  I gave two packages to my son and his wife.

I am freeing up my freezer space so that I can bake some honey wheat bread to freeze.  This means I need to use up these hamburger buns.  So, tonight we are having sloppy joes, oven browned potatoes, green beans and home canned chunky applesauce. 

Here is my recipe for Sloppy Joes:

1 lb. ground beef
3/4 cup finely chopped onion (I use onion powder as my youngest son does not like cooked onions.)
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1/2 cup chili sauce (I have used regular ketchup when I am out of chili sauce)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared mustarad
1 - 8 ounce can tomato sauce
6 Hamburger Buns

In a large skillet, cook and stir the ground beef and onion until beef is brown; drain.  Add garlic salt, chili sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard and tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

This recipe can be frozen and I often make a double batch so that I can have 1 recipe of this in the freezer.  This is a very good sloppy joe recipe and it is our favorite.

The Great Toilet Paper Dilemma

Do you find it hard to compare toilet paper prices from one brand to the next?   This is a hard one.  Recently there was a brand of toilet paper on sale for $4.88 for a 12 double roll pack.  Without a coupon I felt this would be a good deal, but when I got to the store I read that it was two-ply with only 176 sheets per roll.  I think the brand was Cottonelle.  People were grabbing the 4 package limit as if it was gold.  I walked away.  Why?  My default toilet paper brand is Charmin Basic.  I can get a 12 double roll package on sale in the summer for $4.99.  The rolls are one ply, but they are thick and there is 308 sheets per roll.  I have about 12 packages of these in my basement pantry right now that I purchased last summer.  For our family that is a much better deal.

I had bought other brands before that are 2 ply but they don't last as long as my family pulls out the sheets or the same length and they don't pay attention to whether it is 1 ply or 2 ply. 

Why is it that the manufacturers must make things so difficult?  Why even 308 sheets and why not 300 sheets per roll?  Why 176 sheets and not 175 sheets per roll?  It is hard to compare when there is a sale so I finally came down to what I again refer to as my default toilet paper brand.  Charmin Basic works for us and is a decent quality product that lasts.

Another brand I like is Angel Soft.  Their toilet paper is 2-ply and has 469 sheets per double roll which is thicker and more sheets than the Charmin.  However, Angel Soft is rarely on sale in our area so my money is best spent on the Charmin Basic.

So what does this mean?  You can pull your hair out trying to compare prices of toilet paper so I recommend picking one brand that you like and stocking up on that brand when it is on sale. 

December 08, 2010

10% unemployment the New Norm??

My husband read an article in a a financial magazine today and he shared it with me.  You can read it here.  The basic premise of the article was that unless there is some breakthrough innovation to stimulate the economy, we could be stuck with unemployment in the 9% to 10% range and that could be the new normal.  Then in a strong "new" economy, unemployment may dip below 8% but the days of 5.5% to 6% unemployment are behind us. 

This is rather interesting and perhaps depressing.   The reason I read articles about the economy is that I like to be knowledgeable and prepared. 

Is it  possible that in light of the Great Recession that our economy cannot or will never be able to support the number of jobs that people want and need?  And if this is true, does it mean that we need to lower our expectations and dreams?  Will one income families become the new normal?  And if one income families are to become the new normal, will the wages earned by one person be enough to support the family?  And what about benefits?  Are those going to disappear? 

I'm not sure what the future holds, but I do think that the smartest thing for everyone to do is to not lose heart.  Perhaps we need to lower our expectations of how we will now be living.  We can have homes, but we may not be able to afford the McMansions that many people would like to have.  A nice not so new 3 bedroom 1,200 square foot ranch style home may become the new dream.  Hey, it was my parent's dream back in the 1950's. 

I have had to scale back my dreams, but they were only dreams to begin with, nothing firm.    We lost a lot of retirement money, on paper that is, so living cheaper now and for the next several years is prudent.  But, we have a house and a lot of people have gone through foreclosures or cannot afford a home.  My husband has a job and although it has taken a little creativity some days, we are living on his income and over time as debt is paid, we will be able to put money in the bank for our future. 

However, just because he has a job now, doesn't mean we have the guarantee that his job is secure.  No one can say that now.  Of all the lessons learned over the past few years is that no one's job is secure and while there is such a thing as unemployment benefits, the best advice is to save for that rainy day and not to entirely depend on government assistance alone to get you through a period of unemployment.  It is worth the sacrifice of cutting back on spending in order to save even a small sum of money.  It's a beginning.

I remember the way it used to be at this time of year.  In my husband's previous job, he would receive a Christmas bonus and would get a raise in early January.  When I was working I would get a Christmas bonus and raise also.  Those days are gone.  But that's okay. 

So, perhaps we are learning a new way to live, scaling back our dreams and finding new ones.

Dinner Tonight - December 8th

Another meal I didn't have to cook.  We ate at church tonight with the youth group.  It was our turn to serve the food and clean up.  We were served turkey, mashed potatoes, corn and pumpkin bars.  What a treat - another night of not having to cook, but - tomorrow we are back to normal cooking days in our household.

December 07, 2010

The Top Ten Reasons Why I Exercise.

10.  Kind of toned thighs are better than jiggly ones.

9.    Lifting weights gives you a noticeable bicep which is cool to show off to your teenage son's friends in order to embarrass him. 

8.   You can walk upstairs to the second floor of your house and not have to stop half way through to rest.

7.   You have an honest reason to wear cool work out clothes.

6.   When you get off a treadmill after a hard workout, parts of you still move, but not quite as fast as they used to.

5.   You buy walking shoes for the features and not for the color on the "swoosh."

4.   You work exercise into any conversation such as when there is a lull at church fellowship time, you ask "I wonder if Jesus ever ran a marathon?"

3.   Because somebody says "Just do it." 

2.   Your teenage son is taking p.e. and questions if you ever took p.e.

1.   You are healthier, may live longer, but at least you are doing something.

Dinner Tonight - December 7th

Cranberry Pork Roast
My husband wanted to know why I was taking a picture of meat.
We had leftovers tonight.  I roasted the meat last night instead of putting it in the crockpot and it turned out very, very juicy and delicious.  For a 2 lb. roast it took about 1 hour at 350 degrees. 

Having leftovers was great since I spent most of the day deep cleaning the kitchen.  It was the cleaning out drawers, polishing the cabinets and scrubbing everything type of cleaning.  So I was happy to have enough from last night's meal (Cranberry pork roast) so that I didn't have to mess up the kitchen to prepare a meal from scratch.  Gotta love leftovers.

December 06, 2010

Getting back on the exercise track

Several weeks ago (close to 6), I finished painting the picket fence.  I didn't do a lot of exercising while I was painting as I felt that I got plenty of exercise bending up and down painting the pickets and lugging the gallons of paint around.  The problem is, I have had trouble getting back into an exercise routine since then.

It has been hit and miss for several weeks and I am now making it a priority to get back to exercising. I had become complacent and I have definitely noticed a big difference in the way I look and feel. 

Today I got back on track and will continue to make exercising a priority.  I have to.  At my age it has to be a priority, not just from how I want to look, but from a health standpoint. 

I have exercised for years and it only took a few weeks to get out of the habit.  I truly regret that I let it slide.  Every day I would keep putting it off to later in the afternoon or evening and then it wouldn't happen.  I'm now getting back on track before January.

Actually, exercising is perfect during the holidays as it is way to deal with stress.  If you are feeling stressed due to the holidays or finances, get out and go for a walk.  Start now before those "diet" commercials hit the air after New Year's.  You will feel better knowing that you had a head start on everyone else.  Oh, and during the holidays, go ahead and have treats, in moderation.  You'll be glad that come January you didn't over indulge.  There is nothing like facing a New Year with extra pounds to lose.  It is totally not worth it. 

Dinner Tonight - December 6th - Cranberry Pork Roast

I didn't post yesterday what we had for lunch after church - I was a little lazy. We had french fries, chicken breast patties and broccoli. I didn't feel like cooking and I also didn't feel like a lot of clean up. It was a simple meal but very filling.

Tonight we are having Cranberry Pork Roast using a pork tenderloin that weighs 2 lbs. Now pork tenderloin is a tender cut of meat with virtually no fat so you have to be careful when you cook it as it can dry out. Here is the original recipe, but I am going to roast it in the oven tonight and it will turn out just great.

Cranberry Pork Roast

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. boneless pork loin roast
1 - 16 oz. can jellied cranberry sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
salt to taste

Place pork roast in a slow cooker.  In a medium bowl, mash cranberry sauce; stir in sugar, cranberry juice, mustard and cloves.  Pour over the roast.  Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or til meat is tender.  Remove the roast and keep warm. Skim fat from juices; discard.  Add broth to a 2 cup measuring cup, adding water if necessary to equal 2 cups total liquid.  Pour into saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Combine cornstarch and cold water to make a paste; stir into saucepan.  Cook and stir until thickened. Season with salt.  Serve over sliced pork.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.

The above is the original recipe but I won't be using the crockpot today.  The pork loin that I have is only 2 lbs. so I will be roasting it in an oven at 350 degrees til done.  It shouldn't take too long. I will remove the pork when it reaches 145 degrees and let it rest as it will still cook.  This way it won't over cook. 

My plan is to make the sauce ingredients and then pour half over the pork and freeze the other half for another day. Since the roast is smaller than what the recipe calls for there is no need to use all of the sauce.

Also, I have substituted apple juice, apple cranberry juice and apple cherry juice for the cranberry juice in this recipe.  You can substitute half of the granulated sugar with brown sugar.  This works well also. 

When the holidays roll around and jellied cranberry sauce is on sale, I buy a lot for this recipe alone.  This is a great recipe to make throughout the year. 

I will serve a rice vegetable blend for a side dish along with apple salad and cuban bread.  I gave away a lot of the cookies I made on Saturday, so I baked some more chocolate chip cookies today for dessert.
I have two recipes for chocolate chip cookies.  One is for a soft cookie and the other is for a chewy in the middle and crunchy on the edges type cookie. 
I'm curious.  What type of chocolate chip cookie is popular in your household?

December 04, 2010

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob

This is very uplifting.  The Hallelujah Chorus never sounded better.

Grocery Expense - Week of November 29th

Here is what I spent this week at the grocery store.  I went over my $25.00 budget.  In fact I spent double what I had budgeted.

Two - 4 lb. bags of Gold Medal Flour @ .25 = $0.50
Eight pkgs. of Hershey’s chocolate chips @ $1.00 = $8.00
Two – 4 lb. bags granulated sugar @ $1.88 = $3.76
10 lb. bag of granulated sugar = $4.88
Tone’s Spices – two free with coupon

4 pkgs. Corn Muffin Mix @ .25 = $1.00

Two pkgs. of Blueberry Bagels = $2.38
Bread = $0.99

3 lbs. of Pork Sausage @ $.99 lb. = $2.97
Two 16 oz. pkgs. of Turkey Bologna @ $0.69 = $1.38
Two – 8 oz. packages of imitation crab meat (halibut) @ $0.99 a pkg. = $1.98

2 lbs. butter @ $1.98 lb. = $3.96
2 – ½ gallons 1% milk @ $0.99 = $1.98

Bananas @ .29 lb. = $.67
Whole Fresh Pineapple = $2.88
4 pack of sweet peppers (Yellow, red, green) = $2.99

Two bags of M & M’s @ $2.50 = $5.00

Two – 2 ltr bottles of of Coca Cola @ .50 = $1.00
Two – 8 oz. bags of Potato Chips @ $0.99 = $1.98
One 16 oz. bag Corn Chips = $1.59
Three 13.5 oz. bags of Nacho or Ranch Tortilla chips = 3 for $1.00 + $1.00

Total Spent:  $50.89
Here is how my decision making went this week on buying groceries.
There was a great deal at our two grocery stores this week.  Buy 4 packages of Hershey's chocolate chips (any flavor) at $1.00 a pkg. (a great sale to begin with) and get one 5 lb. bag of Gold Medal flour for only 25 cents.  I am donating these to our Food pantry.   At Christmas I always try to donate some baking supplies to the Food pantry. 
Granulated sugar was on sale and several items that I don't usually buy. 
As for the bag of M & M's, I bought them to make two holiday items.  One is a cereal mix using almond bark, chex cereal, pretzels, peanuts and M & M's.  The other is for dipped pretzel rods which I'll save for a later post.  Let me just wet your appetite by telling you it involves pretzels, caramel, almond bark, M & M's and chocolate.
I purchased quite a few snack foods this week.  One store was selling tortilla chips for only 3 for $1.00.  These are large bags and with the holidays coming, I decided to pick some up.  Also, did you notice I bought pop?  Again, I normally don't buy pop but I will buy some during the holidays.
I signed up several weeks ago for NOW WOW deals through Hy-Vee and I get one special deal from them each week.  I receive a text message for that special deal that is only available for a few hours or til supplies last.  It's really easy, I just go to the store and pick up the special Now Wow deal and then when I go through the checkout I show the clerk the text message with the special deal code.  One week the deal was 1 lb. of 80% lean ground beef for only 59 cents. 
As for the bologna, my husband does like it and I will buy it when it is on sale.  He has been eating ham or turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  Also, my daughter in law made nachos at her house a couple of weeks ago and instead of using ground beef she used breakfast sausage.  It was really good so when I saw the sausage on sale I picked it up and with the tortilla chips on sale, this will make a nice snack type meal on a weekend. 
We still have Clementine oranges left at home and I still have a lot of salad lettuce.  I bought the lettuce about 10 days ago, and by packaging it in those Hefty Extend bags, I have been able to keep that lettuce fresh. 
So, there you have it.  Lots of good deals, I only spent $8.50 for 8 bags of chocolate chips and two 5 lb. bags of flour to donate to the food pantry. 
I do feel guilty about going over the $25 I had budgeted but I feel good about what I did buy especially about the items I will donate.  I am still spending far less especially in December than what I would normally be spending.

Dinner Tonight - December 4th

Tonight my husband and son were at a basketball game so I was on my own for dinner.  I ate leftovers.  I also spent some time today baking chocolate chip cookies.  We have some new neighbors moving in and I took them over a plate of warm cookies.  I do believe they were surprised. 

I also mixed up a batch of yeast dough to make hamburger style buns. It is so cold out and it does help to warm up the house by doing some baking.  Now I need to sit down and make a list of the holiday goodies I want to bake. 

December 03, 2010

Dinner Tonight - December 3rd - Turkey Casserole Recipe

I purchased that monstrous turkey one month ago, roasted it and froze the meat slices and pieces.  Tonight I have taken one of the bags of bite sized pieces out of the freezer and I will be making my turkey casserole.  This is the tastiest casserole and it is simple.  Best of all you can prepare it and freeze it for later.

The secret to the recipe is there is sour cream in the sauce.  The sour cream gives it a luscious flavor.  However, my husband hates sour cream BUT he loves this casserole.  So the key to my making this casserole is to hide the empty sour cream container in the garbage before he sees it.

Here is the recipe and bear with me as it is one of those little bit of this and that type of recipes.

Martha's Turkey Casserole

Leftover pieces of turkey (or chicken)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 soup can of milk or leftover turkey broth
1 - 8 oz. carton sour cream (I only use some)
Prepared stuffing - 1 box of stovetop type stuffing or homemade stuffing or leftover stuffing

In an 8 x 8 inch casserole dish, place about a 1 1/2 inch layer of cooked turkey chunks - I would say anywhere from 3 to 4 cups.  Heat the soup with the milk (or broth) until it starts to bubble.  Stir in some of the sour cream until it "melts" into the sauce.  (When I say some, I use no more than some spoonfuls of the sour cream.  I taste the sauce as I add the spoonfuls being careful not to let the sour cream overwhelm the taste of the sauce, otherwise my husband won't like it.  I take the rest of the sour cream and freeze it to be used when I make this casserole again or I prepare two recipes at once and freeze one.  Of course, if you prefer more sour cream, add more.)   Pour the sauce over the turkey.  Top with the prepared stuffing.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes until browned and bubbly.

You can double this recipe for a 9 x 13 inch pan.

I served this casserole at my son's Rehearsal Dinner the night before his wedding.  It is delicious and I always get compliments.  I know it is the sour cream in this recipe that makes it taste so delicious. 

Since this casserole has the meat and the stuffing in it, I will probably serve it with some cooked broccoli and a tossed salad.  We have some leftover cuban bread and I will also be baking some brownies (from a mix) for dessert. 

We have the second night of our lighted Christmas parade here in town and it is very cold outside.  Hundreds of people line the parade route to watch the Christmas floats.  It is being broadcast on our local t.v. station, so my husband and I will be staying home to watch it on t.v. from the warmth of our home.  When our kids were little, we used to have to bundle them up to go and stand outside and watch the parade.  We bundled them to the point that they were almost too stiff to walk.  Ahh the memories.

December 02, 2010

A not so Frugal Hair Day

I don't know a woman alive who doesn't like to have her hair look nice.  It doesn't have to be glamourous, but she wants to have a hairstyle that is flattering and looks good on her.  I am such a woman.  If you look at my profile picture you will see a hairstyle that I have sported for about two years now.  I like it because it is easy for me to style.  This is good since I am totally thumbs when it comes to styling hair.

In May I started to let my hair grow but I kept the same hairstyle.  The bangs got longer so I was able to pull them back with a barrette on top.  I liked the option of wearing my hair back if I wanted to.  Well the summer is hot and humid here in Iowa and the summer of 2010 didn't disappoint us.  My hair curls with heat and humidity so again, it was great to have longer hair to pull back and it looked nice.  Fast forward through a few months to last weekend. 

I was getting ready for bed last Friday night and I pulled my hair back with a clip to wash my face when I saw what I thought was my hair thinning.  I have thin hair to begin with so to have my hair thinning more sent me into a tailspin.    I spent the weekend glancing at my hair every now and then and trying to figure out if I was just being a little obsessive or if my hair was truly thinning.  My husband would probably say I was being a little bit obsessive.

To understand where I am coming from you need to know that when my mom was in her late 30's her hair started thinning to the point that she was nearly bald. She has worn wigs for over 40 years so imagine what was going through my mind when I thought my hair was thinning.

As we age and go through menopause I know that hair thinning can happen, but why now?  On Monday morning I called my friend Deb who cuts my hair and she told me to stop by her salon.  I did and she looked at my hair and told me that she could not see where my hair was getting any thinner and that the problem was I had let my hair grow too long.  I can get away with it in the summer due to the heat and humidity but in the winter when it is cold and dry my hair was lying limp flat on my head and giving the appearance of thinning.

She cut two inches and I now look like what my profile picture shows.  The result - my hair does not look like it is thinning and it has body.  Then I did a not so frugal thing, I purchased two products that I used to buy when I was working:  Redken Hair Thickener ($14.00 for 5 oz.) and Redken Rough Paste ($17.00 for 2.5 oz.). I extend the life of the Hair Thickener as I squeeze some of it in my hand, about half the recommended amount, and then I add a little water and mix it with a finger and then run this through my hair.  Even diluted this works great.  As to the Rough Paste I run a small dab of it through my hair after it is dried and styled.  Both of these products make a great difference on my hair and I cannot find a cheaper alternative on the market.  These products will last me three months, and although I wasn't happy paying $31.00 for these two items, I am completely happy with how my hair looks now.  I should probably do some research on the internet to see if it is possible to get these products cheaper elsewhere.

All of this happened on Monday which was my 30th wedding anniversary so I think that I was worth $31.00 for products plus another $25.00 for a cut and style on my anniversary.  It was kind of nice being pampered.

I guess I will not be joining the no shampoo movement. 

What I have learned is that while I may be able to cut back in certain areas, I may not be so happy to cut back in other areas.  $31.00 every three months is not going to be a hardship in our budget.  What will not be good is to have my husband deal with a wife who thinks she is constantly having a bad hair day. 

Dinner Tonight - December 2nd and Christmas Cookies

Last night I caved and we had pancakes.  I'll save the cornmeal waffles for next Wednesday as it appears Wednesdays will be breakfast for dinner nights.

Tonight we are having spaghetti with meat sauce - my choice.  I took two loaves of cuban bread out of the oven a couple of minutes ago and these will be wonderful with a little butter on each slice.  We will be having a tossed salad of romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, red and yellow peppers, red cabbage, carrots and a little onion. 

I don't have anything planned for dessert tonight as I need to bake some Christmas cookies for my husband to take to work tomorrow.  Each employee is to provide 2 dozen cookies for a customer appreciation time in the afternoon. I will be sure to bake a few extras for all of us to snack on later.  I am going to make thumbprint cookies with homemade strawberry jam in the center. 

Here is my recipe for Thumbprint cookies which I will be doubling.  This recipe was given to me by my 7th grade Home Economics teacher back in 1971.  Everytime I make these I think of her.

1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Cream the butter, shortening and the sugar.  Add the egg yolk.  Stir in the vanilla, flour and salt.  Shape dough into 1 inch balls.  Dip the cookie balls in the egg white and roll in the nuts.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Make an indentation in the center with your thumb.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  When cool, fill the center with jam or make an icing from confectioner's sugar, vanilla and some milk.  Tint with food coloring and then pour some of the icing in the centers of the cookies.  Another variation is to eliminate dipping the cookie balls into egg white and nuts and instead leave them plain, press a thumbprint in the center and bake.  Then fill with jam and drizzle a little confectioner sugar icing over the tops.  This is a good alternative when nuts are expensive. 

December 01, 2010

Dinner Tonight - December 1st

At lunch today my husband told me he would like breakfast for supper.  Wednesday evenings seem like a perfect night for a breakfast type dinner as our son goes to the youth group at church and he eats there.  My DH wants blueberry pancakes but I want cornmeal waffles.  I'm not sure who will win out but I do believe the scales are in his favor today.  I'm feeling generous.  Scrambled eggs and bacon are in order along with some grapefruit.

If I were going to make cornmeal waffles, and you can just tell that I really want to, I would use this recipe.  These waffles are light and airy and taste very, very good.  Oohhh - I am so tempted, but no, I will make the pancakes.

Cornmeal Waffles

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, sugar and salt together.  (I put these ingredients in a bowl and stir them up with a wire whisk as a shortcut.)  Stir in the cornmeal.  Mix the eggs with the buttermilk and vegetable oil.  Stir into the dry ingredients.  Pour into a waffle iron and cook til done (or in my case when the light says "ready").  I have put blueberries in the batter for a variation before and it was very good.

I have never tried these using sour milk in place of the buttermilk and since I don't have buttermilk on hand and it is very, very cold outside (1 degree with the wind chill), I will not be going to a store to pick some up.  It looks like the blueberry pancakes will win out.   Although I am tempted to make half a batch using sour milk just to see.......