Wednesday, October 08, 2014

~$50 Grocery Challenge~

I haven't been very good at blogging my grocery trips, but I will tell you that I've been very committed to only spending $50 per week on groceries. I am considering bringing the number up to $60 however. Our garden is pulled and we no longer have the benefit of fresh vegetables! I don't want to compromise our health for a challenge, you know? I will see what I can do over the next few weeks, and then I'll go from there.

I discovered something earth-shattering last week, and put it into play this week. Are you ready?


Why did I never think of this? When I'm being super careful (which is every shopping trip so I'll stay at $50), I will write the price next to each item on my list. Then I have to find a quiet corner of the store (there is no such place in Aldi!) and add everything up. I was reading a blog post on using cash for groceries, and a commenter said that she uses tally marks to make sure she doesn't go over her budget.

I gave it a whirl last week, and it was very accurate! To give an example:

$1.19 - one tally mark
$2.50 - two tally marks plus another one to compensate for the $.50 and $.19
$.75 - one tally mark

I will be sure to employ this method from here on out! I remember my mom had a little device when I was young, that looked like a shopping cart. It was basically the same idea, only you clicked a counter (I think) to keep track. Or maybe I had a dream about that. Haha.

Monday, October 06, 2014

~Pumpkin Bread~

There's a little story that accompanies this recipe. Somewhere in the first year or two of our marriage, I made pumpkin bread from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook. Kevin ate it, then said, "This was good. But you should get my mom's recipe. She has a really good recipe." Um, OK. My pride wounded, I sweetly said, "NO. I'll never ask your mom for her pumpkin bread. I just won't ever make pumpkin bread again!!!" I wish I were kidding.

A year or two later, I swallowed my pride and called Kevin's mom. She kindly passed her recipe on to me and I've been happily making it ever since! It's the best! So moist and spicy and pumpkiny. Delicious!

I made it on Saturday night for a fellowship we were having on Sunday night. It keeps well, and tasted just as good or even better one night later! I realized I'd never shared the recipe on my blog, so here you go, the recipe for "I swallowed my pride pumpkin bread!":

1 large can pumpkin puree (29 oz.)
4 cups sugar
1 cup oil
5 cups flour
4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. clove (I use 1/2 tsp.)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350*F. Oil small five small loaf pans (3x6 inches) and cut wax paper (or parchment paper) to fit bottom of pan, place in bottom of pan.

Mix pumpkin, sugar and oil. Sift remaining ingredients together, and work into pumpkin mixture.

Divide batter evenly into loaf pans and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Notes: I never add the walnuts. I like walnuts just fine, but I don't like the texture of them in baked goods. It's up to you whether you put them in or not. :-) I bought pans specifically for this recipe, but you can also bake in two regular loaf pans, you'll just need to watch them after 50 minutes.

Friday, September 26, 2014

~Homeschool Kindergarten~

We just finished our 3rd week of school. It is going really well, which has been pleasant. ;-)

I am using ABeka kindergarten material, and also using the Saxon kindergarten for math. ABeka does have math included in their material but next year (when reading and math are not combined in the ABeka curriculum) I want to use Saxon. So I figured we would throw it in when we have extra time, especially since the Saxon curriculum doesn't have a lot of lessons for Kindergarten.

We are also doing Classical Conversations again this year. I am tutoring the 6 and 7 year old class and my daughter is in another class. I miss not being in her class, but I do believe this is the right thing for us at this time. Last year I started out as her tutor and we ended up moving her to another class (sharing Mom was just too hard!). This year is so remarkably different than last year. I am feeling more relaxed and more confident about tutoring, and my daughter is in a class that is taught by one of the dads, and she is responding well to his strong male leadership!

On school days, I read a Bible story and we sing a hymn to start our mornings. One of my goals this year is to teach a hymn a week. Then we learn and review our CC memory work. This doesn't take much time, and I use the same songs and methods I used in my class, so I'm already familiar with everything. Then we move on to our phonics and math. Some days, I add in the Saxon math, and other days I will do either the fine arts project or the science experiment that we did at CC. Why? because it is usually a little different than what my daughter's tutor did in her class (especially the art) and I already have things together for it. It also reinforces what my daughter learned in her class.

That's it in a nutshell. I'm very relieved that it is going so well. I'm sure there will be hard days. In fact, we have already had some of those. But we're pushing through in a good way and it is so rewarding to see my daughter learning!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

~$50 Grocery Challenge~

I went grocery shopping last night, and here we go (minus the meat):

Somehow I think other people have nicer grocery pictures. Maybe it's because their husbands aren't staring oddly at the groceries going onto the counter instead of being put directly away. ;-)

Sooooo...I spent $61.14 this week. That included a run to the store for coffee. Since coffee is my drug of choice, when we ran out on Saturday I made sure we had some for Sunday. Since I was trying to combine errands, I didn't choose the best store to buy coffee at. But we had coffee on Sunday. :D

Here's my menu for this week:
Monday: soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
Tuesday: Cherokee Casserole
Wednesday: beans and rice
Thursday: grilled chicken and mashed potatoes
Friday: bean burritos, Spanish rice
Saturday: green chicken enchiladas

If it looks like a lot of the same, only mixed up, well: it is. But that's what I had the energy to come up with this week (yes, meal-planning zaps my energy!)

We still have some tomatoes and peppers from the garden to add to the salad greens, and frozen vegetables that I purchased last week. My daughter loves her smoothies and I was totally out of frozen fruit! So I bought frozen strawberries and blueberries for that purpose (which should last at least several weeks).

Monday, September 15, 2014

~Grocery Challenge~

This challenge is riveting, eh?

Well. Not so much. I actually have not been spending more than $50 each week on groceries. I'm done with the bulk of my canning now, but (oh, that word) I'm sick. Next week. Next week I'm going to plan and execute my plan!

On Saturday we went to Sam's Club because they had a promotion for non-club members being allowed to shop. We aren't members and while we have been in the past, shopping there was a reminder of why exactly I don't want to be a member. I dropped $56.82 on six items. SIX items, people! Cheese (two blocks), apples, almonds, maple syrup, and soap. I bought each thing because it was a better deal than at the grocery store, so in the long run I'm saving money, but when you hand over the money it sure doesn't feel like savings!

And I still have to go "real" grocery shopping. Because of course, we can't survive all week on cheese, apples, almonds, and maple syrup. (That sounds like a basket from Chopped. Haha.)

On a happier note, I simmered chicken stock and canned it. (Any canning news is happy news, right?) I would have gotten 5 quarts but one lid came off during the canning process. I don't know what happened but I'm blaming it on being sick and not screwing the band down enough. Both the band and jar were perfectly fine. There's a first for everything! I'm just happy that I can still use the stock.

And also? my sister-in-law gave me 3 boxes of Tattler lids. I've been using them sporadically for my canning projects. At first I was afraid to use them because of the reading I did online. It seems like some people have a pretty high failure rate with them. I'm happy to say that my rule-following ways have paid off in this instance because I have had a 100% success rate on all 32 I've used. That's pretty good, I would say! :-)

But this post wasn't supposed to be about canning! Getting back to groceries: I am looking forward to getting into my fall schedule with school and cooking and cleaning. Next week I shall (Lord willing) have a post up with details on my grocery shopping.

Friday, September 05, 2014


When it comes to canning, my emotions are like a pendulum, back and forth, backandforth, up, down, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. The longer canning season lasts, the bigger the swings.

The new canning shelf that Kevin built for me.
Swinging to the other side: frustrated, tired, sore, and cranky after a day of canning all day long, and simultaneously trying to take care of a 5 year old who is bored-lonely-cranky-bored-hungry-bored-hungryagain-bored-lonely-cranky-evenhungrierthanbefore-bored.

Swinging back to Happy!!! Just a walk down to my basement:

Another angle on the shelf.
Swing, swing, swing: in-a-hurry, frustrated that everything takes so long. And that using up 50 pounds of tomatoes somehow seems to multiply them on my counter. How does that work anyhow? And the mess! Oh! the mess.

Mopping my floor? not happening these days. I give my daughter a rag and a spray bottle with vinegar and water and have her clean the floor by the stove. Done, and done! And it relieved the boredom for a few moments.

But at the end of the day (well, to be honest sometimes it takes a good night's sleep!) I am happy and feel so, so blessed with the bounty. God is so good to allow me to put up all this food in preparation for the coming year! I am so glad I have the chance to put this food up.

I read this article today; I have to say, not going to Meijer ever again sounds pretty awesome to me! I don't know how I'd swing it, exactly. But I'm going to think about this one! I know my canned goods will go a long way toward less shopping at Meijer, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

~End of Summer's Song~

My daughter and I were out on the front porch this afternoon, the cicadas persistent in their loud, constant song.

*Sigh* This summer has seemed so, so short. The longer I live in Michigan, the shorter summer gets. I will hold on to every last warm day possible, but the truth of the matter is, there is a nip in the air that can't be ignored! The leaves are starting to change already, and the garden plants are slowly dying away.

We have crammed so many things into these last two weeks! Things that were promised to our daughter and all of a sudden we realized we hadn't done and the calendar was about to change to September! So we went to the beach, to get ice cream, to mini-golf. In a hurry, hurry! we have to get this into summer! sort of way.

Last week we went to see the Nina and Pinta replica ships with a homeschool group. It was so much fun! And surprising too - the ships were so small! I just cannot imagine them crossing the ocean! And they slept on the decks - not even the captains slept below deck. They were black - a color I wouldn't have imagined them to be (I'm not really sure that I ever thought of what color they should be, but I wasn't expecting them to be black). It was a very fun learning experience, and it ties in perfectly with the start of Classical Conversations since we'll be doing American history this cycle.

And canning! I am ready to hang up my canning apron for the year. ;-) Alas, there are still a few projects that I must make time for, but soon I will call it quits and start gifting tomatoes (raw!) to others. And then fall will bring apples, but there will be a little break between the tomatoes and apples!

I haven't had the time to sit and plan out our homeschool year so that planning will take place this week. I had aimed for starting the first week of September but I quickly realized that it just wasn't happening that way, it would really be pushing it to do so. So I'll get my canning wrapped up, my school cabinet all spiffied up, get my calendar out and plan the year, and be ready to start Kindergarten! 

While I will miss summer, I am looking forward to the new beginnings fall is bringing! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

~$50 a week: Week 4

Ah. I've yet to shop for this week, but it doesn't look promising. Because: hello, canning! The garden is throwing tomatoes at me and I'm doing my best to make full use of them!

Last week started the downward slide. After a long day of canning on Saturday, we got pizza for dinner. And on Sunday night after church we stopped by McDonald's. At least it didn't come out of the grocery budget. ;-)

Saturday I went to Meijer to get everything I needed for my canning projects. Last night I went back to get the rest of what I needed for my canning projects, and picked up yogurt, cereal, ground beef, and bananas. And then this morning I went back yet again to get canning lids. I'm nothing if not organized. Ha.

I love canning and I always seem to want to do more, more, more! But there are other things that go during this time (like housework and always cooking every meal!). The tomatoes are (hopefully? LOL) slowing down so I think I've got a handle on things now. And? I'm almost to 200 jars!!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

~I can, because I can~

My favorite apron, for canning, of course. I've been busy, busy, busy canning! See my 2014 food page above, but so far the total of jars is 138. Yup, I've been one busy gal.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

~I don't even know where to start~

We had a yard sale (side note: I hate yard sales, both going to them and having them. Never.again.). I went through my clothes that I have stored in the basement. Three bins full of clothes, mostly full because they represented a variety of sizes from when I was losing weight. So I went through them and pulled a LOT of stuff to put in the yard sale (side side note: I sold one dress in the yard sale, everything else went to the thrift store. Next time I'll start with a trip to the thrift store. It's easier.).

Because I was in the middle of losing weight last year, nothing fits me this year. Well, that's not entirely true. I have a bin with these six things in it:

I don't even like three of the six things in there. True story.

I honestly don't know where to start. I literally need everything this winter (outerwear, coats, church clothes, every day clothes, pajamas, etc.)! It's overwhelming to me to even think about it! I found this wardrobe planner, which looks helpful. I just need to print it and start planning!

Any helpful hints?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

~New Vacuum~

I have been saving my Amazon gift cards up so I could buy a vacuum cleaner, but realized it was going to take a while! I asked some friends for vacuum recommendations, and one of my friends messaged me while she was shopping at Costco to tell me that their Shark vacuums were on sale.

I didn't think I'd be able to afford it so quickly after asking for recommendations, but because of the money I've saved from only spending $50 a week on groceries, plus dedicating some of the money from our yard sale toward a new vacuum, I had enough! When Kevin's mom was here we did some shopping at Costco and I purchased it then.

So now I'm the proud owner of the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Vacuum!

Mine is gray, so I'm not sure that I have this exact model. But it's close! I wanted a vacuum that would vacuum not only our carpeted floors but the wood and hard surface floors also. I didn't want to spend a lot on a vacuum that would only work for carpet, because at this point we only have two rooms in our house that have carpet! So far, I've really been enjoying this vacuum! With a flip of the switch it goes from hard surface to carpet. It's a "lift-away" vacuum which means you can use it as a hand-held vacuum. I vacuumed our basement stairs with it and I have to say it was pretty handy! It is a little fiddly to get the "lift-away" part ready to use, but not enough fiddly that it will keep me from using it. The cord is long enough that I can plug it in in our dining room and vacuum the entire house.

I had a cheapo vacuum cleaner before and it never really vacuumed well, even when it was new, and did not vacuum hard surfaces. I set it out on the curb and it was gone within a half hour. It hasn't been returned (haha) but I bet whoever picked it up is pretty disappointed if they've tried to use it!

So there you go - I'm a happy customer! :-) All opinions are my own and I have not been compensated in the least. However, Shark company, if you're listening, I'll gladly try out something like this if you want to send it to me. ;-)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

~Weight Loss~

I am so proud of my husband, I wanted to share his success pictures too! :-) In a little over a year, he lost 100 pounds! It took hard work, a lot of dedication, and many good decisions regarding food choices.

On the very left is his "before, before" picture. In 2008, he lost 100 pounds. In about five years he did gain 50 pounds back, and in 2013 he decided to go for his original goal of 200 (final weight, that is). So from June 2013 to August 2014 he lost 100 pounds!

Yes, weight loss can be done without special pills, "diets", or surgeries. My husband's success is testament to that fact. I'm not saying any of those things are wrong at all! But hopefully it can be an encouragement if you have a few or a hundred pounds to lose, that you don't need anything special to accomplish great things! :-)

Monday, August 18, 2014

~$50 a week: Week 3~

This week it worked out for me to go shopping tonight. I had a coupon for $5/50 at Meijer, so I decided to just go to Meijer this week.

I still have a chicken in the freezer from two weeks ago. So this week I am determined to use that chicken! I look at the things I purchased and it doesn't look like enough for a week (?) but it's all I had on my list with a few things thrown in for good measure.

My grand total was $50.65! So if I don't have to run to the store for anything, then I met my challenge!

This is my menu:
(M) Leftovers
(T) taco salad (I have lettuce left from last week)
(W) roast chicken, rice
(T) potato pancakes (Kevin won't be here for dinner, hopefully I won't need stitches, haha)
(F) spaghetti
(S) broccoli chicken casserole

When I came home, I had to clear the table:

The above produce was what I picked from the garden today alone. Our garden is quite successful this year! When I went shopping, I also purchased necessary ingredients to make salsa. I have a batch of salsa verde in the canner right now!


Kevin's big "4-0" birthday was here and I threw him a surprise birthday party! It wasn't truly a surprise, but the details were a surprise, and he enjoyed it all, so I'm calling it a success! :-)

Since most of the pictures from his day include other people who may or may not want their pictures on my blog, I've selected just a few to share here.

When Kevin arrived, giving me a hug:

Acting "old" with one of the gag gifts:

The cake:

It was a lot of work to pull together a party, and I couldn't have done it by myself! Kevin's mom was here and she provided assistance with shopping and in the kitchen as well as paying for all the food for the party. I deeply appreciated her help and generosity! Also, our youth pastor and his wife helped me with setting up, grilling, and other details of the day.

We had the party at a park (I rented a shelter), and the menu was:
hamburgers with the usual fixings
hot dogs
potato salad
baked beans

and of course! cake! :)

As something fun, I had a "photo booth" and got together some fun props - mustaches, hats, a scarf, leis, etc.  Fun things that everyone could select from and get a family picture. It seemed like it was something everyone enjoyed.

Also, Kevin's sister Rebecca and her husband John rented motorcycles for the day as their gift. Kevin and John rode for about five hours in the morning (that gave me time to get almost everything made and prepped!). After they got back Kevin took me out for a few miles:

It was fun in a scary sort of not-really-necessary-why-am-I-doing-this way. :-)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

~$50 a week: Week 2~

I forgot to give one more caveat for my $50/week challenge: company meals aren't included. And just so you know, we're having company at the end of next week, so my meal plans and shopping don't cover most of those meals. I'm pretty sure I'm through with caveats but I'll let you know if I come up with any more. ;-)

I have been shopping on Saturdays for a few months now. I'll do whatever it takes to go shopping by myself! Let's just say there have been toooo many grocery store shenanigans!

So tonight I left after dinner and before dishes so that meant there was not a clean counter upon which to display my groceries. So here you go:

Exciting stuff, hmm?

I spent $40.41 at Aldi and my receipt from Meijer mysteriously disappeared - but the total was right around $7.50, bringing my grand total to $47.91.

This week was kind of crazy, we had a yard sale and meals didn't get executed as planned. I switched things around, and one night we did do Taco Bell. So because of that we don't have leftovers for dinner tomorrow night so I had to pick up ingredients for tomorrow's dinner along with my shopping for Monday through Thursday.

(S) taco salad
(M) Thai chicken salad
(T) zucchini stir-fry
(W) beans and rice with picco de gallo
(T) roast chicken and mashed potatoes

Breakfasts and lunches will be about the same as I detailed last week.

So there you have it! My shopping is done for next week through Thursday evening (even though I just now remembered I forgot one thing. Oh well! Too bad, so sad! ;-) )

Monday, August 04, 2014

~$50 a week: Week 1~

My groceries for the week, not including the meat I purchased.
It's been a while since I've been shopping at Aldi. I couldn't remember everything they carry (or things they don't carry), so I made my shopping list as best as I could. As I was shopping, I was trying to remember why I stopped shopping at Aldi in the first place! Their prices are so much better than Meijer.

My menu for the week (salad and/or veggies with each meal):
(M) red lentil soup with biscuits
(T) Cherokee casserole (very similar to this recipe)
(W) potato frittata
(T) grilled chicken and oven fries
(F) chili and cornbread
(S) roast chicken and rice

On Sunday we eat leftovers for both lunch and dinner, from Friday and Saturday. This saves me from having to cook on Sunday.

Breakfasts will be hot cereal, granola, and eggs and toast. Snacks (for my daughter) are popsicles, smoothies, cookies, energy balls, and popcorn (I'll make everything I listed). My husband takes leftovers from the night before for his lunch. If there is enough leftover I'll have those, or PBJ sandwiches or eggs and toast (I love eggs! :) ). My daughter isn't keen on leftovers, so she'll have PBJ, and I also have hot dogs I previously purchased, or a "muffin tin lunch".

This week I spent $51.54 at Aldi. I was kicking myself because I figured everything up except the bananas, and since I had what I thought was wiggle room, I threw in a package of grapes at the register. So those grapes put me over my $50 target.

I did have to go by Meijer. I had $21 in rewards to use, and bought canning supplies as well as apples and ginger root. I spent $4.26 out of pocket at Meijer but since this is my game/my rules, I'm counting that toward the canning supplies, not my groceries. ;-)

Week 1 TOTAL: $51.54

I had a lot of ingredients on hand for this week, so I'm sure this will get more challenging as the weeks go by!