December 28, 2011

Easy Cobbler and the kind words of a soldier

Today I had the honor of preparing a meal for a family in our church who just lost a loved one.  I decided to make green bean casserole and my easy cobbler recipe with blueberries.  At the meal was a soldier, the grandson of the deceased, who is serving overseas.  At the end, all of the ladies were in the kitchen cleaning up, and he came in and gave me one of the best compliments I’d ever received.  He asked for another spoon to get another bite of the cobbler, mentioning that it tasted like home and that his grandmother had made it for him when he was younger.  Instead of a spoon I gave him a bowl and encouraged him to take all that he wanted.  When he left the room, I could do nothing but smile.  The thought of giving someone serving our country a taste of home when he was experiencing something as difficult as a loss made me feel like I’d done something useful and purposeful. 

A long time ago, I read a short story from Southern Living magazine that talked about how Southerners give love through cooking.  When we know someone is having a baby, what do we do?  Make meal.  When someone is sick?  A pot of soup.  When someone is grieving? Something that tastes comforting, warm and hearty.  I was reminded of that story today and how all of us there helping with the meal were trying in some small way to show we cared.  Many of the recipes on the table were the specialties of each woman—Miss Jeanette’s meatloaf, Miss Pat’s dumplings, Miss Marcella’s fried okra.  Each bite represented a prayer sent up, a warm thought, a demonstration of how we mourn with them and are here for them. 

What are your special recipes that you make to show others you care?  Do you have a signature recipe that you make for potlucks and other functions?  If so, I’d love it if you shared a recipe or link here.

December 27, 2011

Christmas 2012—A few shop ahead tips

Now is a good time to take stock of your holiday gear.  What do you need for next Christmas?  Now is an excellent time to buy ahead as most stores have their holiday items at least 50% off. 

  • Buy tissue paper and wrapping materials that are all red for Valentine’s or all green for St. Pat’s.  The basic colors usually go first, but if you happen to find any, scoop them up now.
  • Don’t forget to compare prices.  Kroger had their tissue paper for half off.  A packet of it would be $1 with the discount, but it was only a few sheets.  I know I can purchase a large pack of it at the dollar store year round. 
  • Now is the time to buy your greeting cards.  If they don’t all match, so what?  Who other than you will ever know?  If you are really concerned about it, you can send like cards to categories of people on your Christmas card list.  One style might go for work friends, another for relatives, another for church friends… 
  • Many stores are running super-duper discounts on their seasonal products and gift sets.  Bath & Body Works is running their semi-annual sale, and gift baskets are deeply discounted.  A friend of mine always purchases some extra ones and takes them apart to give the individual pieces as gifts and reuses the basket.  She said that she always gets them for less than purchasing each piece.  Stores like JCPenney have their Christmas dishes and cooking tools on sale, and now might be a good time to buy a snowflake Bundt pan for great Aunt Martha, who loves to cook, for next year’s Christmas.
  • Have a friend who is getting married or having a baby?  Start shopping seasonal items now.  A friend at a shower turned me on to the idea of giving a little extra gift of seasonal kitchen towels to a bride so that she has something festive for different holidays.  She buys a few after each holiday and divides them up for whenever she needs to give a bridal gift.  They are always a huge hit!  For a friend who is having a baby, you might do the same with bibs or burping cloths. 
  • Don’t forget to double up on your savings by using coupons.  Many chocolate and candy companies issue manufacturer coupons that are still valid.  Stores like Bath & Body and JC Penney have printable coupons on their websites.  If possible, use your store loyalty cards to earn extra bonuses.  I like the store Eddie Bauer, and yesterday they were running a half off sale.  I had received some Christmas money, and I purchased a new pair of slacks.  Not only did I score a sweet discount, but I also earned points towards a future FREE gift certificate.

What about you?  What are your favorite items to buy ahead for next year’s holiday season?

Challenge for the Week—Asking the Question behind the Question

Update from last week--

Last week I started writing about how I set weekly goals for myself, and how I’m trying to be more intentional with expressing appreciation and gratitude towards others. 

First off, I want to write a note to my Hubby as part of his Christmas gift thanking him for the many ways that he provides for us and gives to us each and every day.  Next, I want to make a point at least one time a day to talk to our daughter about something she did that I appreciated or something that I noticed she did that I thought was awesome.  Since we eat suppers together as a family almost every night together, I thought that I might do so in front of her Daddy (and whatever other family members or friends are there).   Last, I want to make a point to write at least 3 letters of appreciation to others this week.  I might write more, but given that it is a week until Christmas, I’m thinking that 3 is more doable.

I accomplished these goals.  I wrote a letter to Hubby and could have written a novel.  He does so much for us that it was hard to write anything all inclusive.  While I didn’t always note positives to our daughter at mealtime, I did make a point to do so in front of Hubby or another relative at least one time a day.  I think it helped to bring out more of the positive behaviors through reinforcement.  I also sent letters of appreciation, but instead of 3, I wrote 5.  Today I spoke to someone who had received one of them in the mail.  She said that she had an awful day just before receiving it and that it meant a lot—knowing that something so simple can make such an impact makes me want to do much more of this kind of thing. 

Goals for this week--

On the Friday before Christmas, I read the book The Question Behind the Question.  This week I want to work on asking myself how I can positively impact situations rather than becoming frustrated when something negative happens.  The book talks about how important it is to be accountable for yourself—you can’t change others and many times you can’t change situations, but you can control how you choose to interact and respond.  You can control what YOU DO. I read the book in about an hour, and while it wasn’t brand new information, it was a great reinforcement of what I already know through using cognitive behavioral therapy as a social worker—change the way you think about a situation, and you change the way you feel about it.  Those little changes add up and effect your relationships, your work, your life. 

Since this goal is a little hard to measure, I’m going to break it up into smaller goals that I can check off.  I’ll sign up for the QBQ e-newsletter so that I have little reminders as they arrive in my inbox.  When I notice myself becoming frustrated in a situation, I’ll stop and ask myself, “What can I do?”  Hopefully that use of self talk will spur me to positive action.  I’ll also make a few notes about the QBQ concepts and post them around the house.  We’ll see how it goes. 

The QBQ book is about more than just self talk and making changes in yourself.  If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you check it out from the library.  It could easily be used as a daily calendar read, as it is written in short chapter sound-bites that encourage the reader to try a different approach than he or she might already be using to a situation.  Good stuff!

New Year’s Day is around the corner—a big goal setting day for most people.  Have you given any thought to your goals for 2012?

December 26, 2011

How was your Christmas?

DSC_7058We had a lovely day yesterday.  Since I don’t make a habit of showing photos of my family on the blog, I can only include a few shots from the day.  I’m going to be cheesy and just include a couple of me.  ;)  This is the Christmas spread minus a few of the casseroles that weren’t put out yet.  All of the desserts were on the buffet table.  Nothing super fancy, but it was delicious. 

DSC_7049 For church we all dressed up extra special.  Hubby was in one of his nicest suits and ties, and Daughter had Shirley Temple curls and a sweet dress (hand-me-down from our cousins).   You can see our tree in the background with the gorgeous crocheted ornaments and tree toppers that my sister made for me last year. 

Probably the biggest hit among the gifts for our daughter was a drum set she received from her PawPaw.  As I type I’m listening to a concert of drum beats from daughter with kazoo and recorders alternating from my Hubby.  Our neighbors are going to kill us! ;0)

Hoping that your Christmas was a sweet one! 

Pilot Travel Center, FREE Hot Beverage Refreshed

520x2000 The Pilot Travel Center Facebook Page has a new coupon available for print for a FREE 16 oz hot beverage.  My new favorite is their latte machine that some centers have!  The coupon is valid through January 31st.

December 25, 2011

The Ultimate Savings

DSC_4943 Coupons will save you money at the grocery store.

Organizing your home will save you time during busy weeks.

Preparing for emergencies and stockpiling could save your life.

The ultimate savings by far, though, came when Jesus was born in a manger all those years ago.  I hope that you and yours have a very Merry Christmas and that the Reason for the Season is carried in your heart now and always.  Blessings and a Ho, Ho, Ho!!

December 19, 2011

Meal Planning, Week of Christmas

“In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas. It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous.”~~Jane Grigson

This meal plan is for a family of 3.  We often have at least one friend or family member over to share a meal with us during the week.  Since I factor the cost of the meal when I first prepare it, leftovers will be marked as $0.  When we dine out, it comes from a different part of the family budget and those expenses will also show $0.

I’m still not believing it is going to be Christmas in just a few days!  As you notice by the quote choice, I usually stick with the tried and true favorites for our family.  While I love experimenting with recipes and new ingredients, if I don’t make the lime congealed salad, or “green stuff” as our family affectionately calls it, then my dad is going to be asking where it is.  The most unusual thing that I do is substitute some of the ingredients to make them a little lower in sugar for the benefit of my dad.  I make sure that we still have all of our favorites—black olives for our daughter, Sister Shubert’s rolls for Hubby and daughter, summer corn for Hubby…  And after the meal is done, all is cleaned up, and I sit down in the evening to reflect on the day, you’d better believe I’m going to have a glass of ice cold boiled custard to enjoy. 

The biggest advice for cost savings for holiday meals is to plan ahead.  I’ve been shopping for Christmas dinner for months.  If you count what I reserved from what I put up this summer, I’ve been planning for a half a year.  Given that it is only a few days until Christmas, you can’t really use that information to help you much right now.  Yet, think ahead to future holidays when shopping after Christmas sales.  You might catch a deal on a ham that you can freeze for Easter’s meal.  Some of the red wrapped candies can be used for Valentine’s gifts.  Sugar, butter, flour, and other baking staples are all good things to keep on hand for meal prep and baking.  When shopping, look at expiration dates and sale prices and see how they might work to your advantage.

Kid Konnection Meal

The KK meal is cancelled for this week because of Christmas break

Approximate cost—$0, from church budget

 ~~~~~

Meal 1

Baked Potatoes

Approximate cost--$2

Ways I saved on this meal—Since daughter and I had an afternoon snack with friends to celebrate Christmas, I decided to keep supper super simple and make baked potatoes.  I caught these on sale a week ago at Kroger. 

~~~~~

Meal 2

Sausage
Red Potatoes
Broccoli
Pears
Approximate cost--$5

Ways I saved on this meal—I paid $1.50 for the kielbasa after coupon and sale price.  The red potatoes were some that were marked down last week at the store.  The broccoli is on sale at Kroger this week, and the pears are some that I canned this year.  I simmer the pears in their canning liquid for about 30 minutes to an hour with a bit of butter (about a tablespoon or two or three) and a bit of cinnamon (maybe 1 t).  You can see that this isn’t exact.  I just kind of add what I have and what feels right that day.  As the juices cook, they thicken and the pears soften.  The result is something scrumptious. 

~~~~~

Meal 3

Daddy makes pizza
Crudités
Apple Slices

Approximate cost—$6

Ways I saved on this meal—I caught a great deal on frozen pizza a few weeks ago and bought a few extras.  This is an easy meal for Hubby to make, as I know that at least one night this week I’ll be at a late meeting. The veggies were all on sale when purchased, and the apples were $1/lb.

~~~~~

Meal 4

Breakfast for Supper

We’ll either have pancakes or eggs, toast, fruit, jams and jellies, and brie.

Approximate cost--$1-$6, depending on the choice

Ways I saved on this meal—When Hubby makes pancakes, he makes a large batch and freezes some.  If we choose to eat those, the cost will only be a bit of syrup (organic that I bought on sale with coupon at Three Rivers Market) and peanut butter (also bought on sale).  I know, I’m weird, I like pb on my pancakes.  The brie was some I bought at Kroger with a great BOGO sale and coupon.  We’ve so enjoyed eating it with the pomegranate jelly I made.  The fruit will be some of the berries we froze this summer.  The whole wheat toast was bought for a little less than $2 a loaf.  I didn’t have any great coupons, so this was just the sale price.  The eggs are some we received free from friends.

~~~~~

Christmas Dinner—Meals 5, 6, and 7

This is an expensive meal, but we will dine on it a few nights.  Last Christmas we had part of the turkey and dressing on Christmas Eve, which was a nice relaxing way to enjoy a day’s worth of cooking.  We’ll most likely do the same this year and enjoy this meal the day after too.  I’ll freeze the ham bone and turkey carcass to make beans and soup, respectively, in a few weeks. 

Ham
Turkey
Dressing
Green Bean Casserole
Corn
Cranberry Sauce
Gravy
Sister Shubert’s Rolls
Relishes
Sweet Potatoes
Lime Congealed Salad (my dad’s request)
Deviled Eggs
Desserts TBA—I keep waffling back and forth on what to make.  Chess pies? Red Velvet Cake? Cream Cheese Pound Cake? Southern Chocolate Pie? Banana Pudding?
Boiled Custard 
Approximate cost—Since I haven’t fully decided on what dessert and I haven’t bought the turkey yet, it is hard to estimate.  I’m guessing this meal will cost between $35-$45.  Since my dad is going to help with the cost of the turkey and some of the other ingredients, this lowers our out of pocket cost.

Ways I saved on this meal—I bought the ham for only $8 with coupon, sale, and finding a small ham at Kroger.  Since it is just the 4 of us, we didn’t need a large one.  The turkey was a last minute decision.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick with just doing a ham, but I decided that since Christmas only comes one time a year it was worth it.  I do a pretty simple turkey with a bit of butter, spices, and some herbs from the garden.  The cans of green beans were about a quarter a few weeks ago with a Kroger Mega Event sale, the cream of mushroom soup was even less than that, and the French fried onions were on sale with coupon.  The corn is some that I put up in the summer and was bought from a local farmer.  The relishes were all ones I canned from foods out of our garden or bought locally.  The gravy will be made with the pan drippings.  The eggs are some that a friend passed on to us for free.  Most of the dressing vegetable ingredients came from my garden.  The cornbread mix was on super sale, and the sausage was less than $2/lb with coupon.  The cranberry sauce was a little less than a dollar after sale and coupon.  The rolls are a request from Hubby and daughter, and even when bought with a coupon are still about $1.50.  Since my dad is a diabetic and this is already a carb laden meal, I’ll make roasted sweet potatoes instead of sweet potato casserole.  The ingredients for the lime congealed salad were all bought on super sales—cream cheese, gelatin, pineapple, cool whip, and sugar.  I’ll make it with as much as I can that is sugar free since my dad is the main one who likes this.  The desserts are still up in the air.  I’ll probably decide what I have a hankering for the day before and go from there.  My guess is that either the chocolate pies or the chess pies would be the easiest and most cost efficient. I’m sure we’ll also have some gingerbread cookies and assortments of other cookies from this week’s baking. 

What is boiled custard you ask?  My Grandmother Jesse made homemade boiled custard every year for Christmas, and she would serve it as we celebrated with extended family.  It is quite similar to egg nog, but I find it a bit smoother.  It also doesn’t have the nutmeg flavor in it.  She never served it with any alcohol, and I prefer it “straight” as well.  It is becoming harder and harder to find in grocery stores, and I’ve yet to find it made by an organic manufacturer.  One of these days I’ll break down and make it myself, but this  year I’m going to stick with Kroger doing the work for me.  Unfortunately I do not have her recipe, and if you are also a boiled custard lover and have a good recipe you would be willing to share, I would so appreciate your passing it on to me. 

~~~~~

December 18, 2011

Challenge for the Week

Do you set weekly goals for yourself?  I do, and I thought I might share some of my weekly goals here on the blog.  Perhaps you might want to join in some of the challenges from time to time or maybe you’ll get something out of the actual process of setting goals. Perhaps no one will read these, but hey, at least I’ll benefit.  ;) 

First off, why set goals?  Well, as the saying goes, if you aren’t aiming for anything, you’ll hit the mark every time.  I find that when I integrate goals into my to-do lists for the week, it keeps me in a more positive mood and being more productive.  It gives a sense of order to my week.   I don’t know about you, but there are times when I look at all that I have on my plate to accomplish and I wonder, “How on earth am I going to get all of this done?  Lord please help me!”  When I sort it out and set measurable goals to meet, timelines for my action plan, and consider what resources I have to help me accomplish those goals, all of the sudden I have a better handle on the situation.  Goals help vision come to fruit.  They are the nuts and bolts that give us a sense of direction.

When I teach people about goal setting, I first talk to them about operationalizing goals.  To operationalize is just a fancy way of answering the question, “What would it look like if I accomplished this goal?”  So, if my goal is to be happier, what would that look like?  How would I act and feel?  What would I be doing?  If my goal is to lose 5 pounds, what do I need to be doing to accomplish that goal? 

Once you have a more concrete idea in your head about your goal, put it into action words.  This involves keeping it simple enough to be something that you could check off a list.  Can you answer the question of whether or not it was accomplished with a simple yes or no answer?  If so, you have a goal that is simple.  Next, you need to make it doable.  If I say that I want to lose 30 pounds in a month, well not only is that just crazy, but it is also undoable for me.  Maybe if I were on a TV show and had an arsenal of fitness experts and healthcare teams to help me, but that isn’t my reality.  Sure, you want to reach high enough to make your goal worth doing and a bit challenging, but not so far that you are setting yourself up for failure.  Then you want to make sure your goal is measurable.  Does it have a time limit?  How will I know if I accomplish it?  Remember the part where you are asking yourself what would it look like and feel like if I accomplished this goal?  Return to that part if you are stumped on how to measure it.  Finally, make sure you write it down.  There is something magical about writing down a goal.  No longer is it something floating around in the atmosphere.  It is concrete and you are set to a purpose.  Does that mean you can’t revise your goal?  Of course not, but by writing it down, you’ll then have a better idea of how to revise it if changes are needed.

So, on to the challenge I’ve made for myself this week--  I’ve been reading Dave Ramsey’s book Entreleadership, and I’ve been listening to the podcasts that his team have put out on various aspects of leadership.  Because I listened to some of the podcasts with Hubby, I’m hearing them a little out of order.  Today, I listened to podcast 5 on recognition.  The speakers were talking about how important it is to recognize and show appreciation for those around you.  They encouraged you to make an intentional effort to recognize and commend times that those around you are doing something right. 

As I listened I thought of how easy it is to point out the negative.  At a restaurant if a server waits until your glass is completely empty before refilling it, that might be the thing that is noticed rather than all of the other things that he or she has done right during your dining experience.  Your child goes through an entire church service with good behavior but then starts to act up towards the end.  Do you commend how well he or she acted the majority of the time or express your disappointment at the end?  I know myself and I know what the answers are for me.  I really do try to look for what others do right and commend people publicly when I experience good customer service or are blessed by another’s actions.  I don’t tend to be a negative person by nature, yet, it is still easy for me to see the negative and grumble and complain about those things. 

I decided to challenge myself to intentionally recognize and show appreciation when I see others doing something well or right.  How will I measure this? What will this look like?   First off, I want to write a note to my Hubby as part of his Christmas gift thanking him for the many ways that he provides for us and gives to us each and every day.  Next, I want to make a point at least one time a day to talk to our daughter about something she did that I appreciated or something that I noticed she did that I thought was awesome.  Since we eat suppers together as a family almost every night together, I thought that I might do so in front of her Daddy (and whatever other family members or friends are there).   Last, I want to make a point to write at least 3 letters of appreciation to others this week.  I might write more, but given that it is a week until Christmas, I’m thinking that 3 is more doable. 

The reason I’m setting this goal is so that I will become more intentional when looking for times to praise others.  Does that mean that I don’t already give our daughter kudos, send thank you notes or tell my Hubby how lucky I am?  Of course not—it means that I’m working on doing those things in a more purposeful way.  I look forward to seeing how it goes. 

What about you?  What goals do you have for yourself this week?  How do you use goal work in your everyday life?

December 14, 2011

Ask for the greenery

As you know, I’m no longer posting tips of the day, but I will be adding a few posts here and there as they occur to me.  Yesterday I was in Kroger and saw two little sprigs of Christmas tree branches selling for $4 each!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Whenever we buy a Christmas tree, we always ask the farmer for any extra greenery he or she might have from trimming the bottom of the trees.  They are usually more than happy to throw in the extras because it keeps them from having to discard them.  I then use florist’s wire and wrap them in swags along the front porch for decoration.  I use bright red bows here and there, and it instantly feels like Christmas.  This year I used some of the bigger branches in some of my outdoor pots.  I stuck them into the dirt, and the result looks like a miniature Christmas tree.  I add some more greenery here and there in vases around the house to make use of whatever is left.  If I had paid for the same amount at Kroger, I would have paid over $60!!

Independence Days Update, the last few months

DSC_6959 This is my first Independence Days Update in a few months.  For those of you who don’t know, these posts are inspired by the work of Sharon Astyk.  They have become a sort of garden/sustainability/living simply journal for our family. 

Since I last wrote in October, the weather made a few shifts back and forth to winter weather.  Today, I was walking around without a jacket and comfortable, and earlier in the week I was shivering even when bundled up—as is late autumn and early winter weather in East TN. 

The garden looks pitiful.  I still haven’t taken the time to do my end of the year cleanup.  My dad had some health problems for much of November, and I spent most of my time caring for him.  Last week I managed to get his garden tidied, and I hope that this weekend, I’ll have time to work on ours.  For most plants, I cut them off at the ground, rather than ripping them up.  This allows the roots to decay, leaving the micro-system of fungi and bacteria in place to help next year’s crops.  I pull out any tomatoes vines and put them into the passive compost pile.  I make a habit of never using composted tomatoes for fear of any possible blight left on the plants infecting next year’s beauties.  After all the rest is neat, I add a thick layer of leaf mold and decayed straw, being careful to pull the mulch away from where I have garlic planted. 

The notes below are based on the last few months--

What did I plant?—I planted another wave of bulbs with Hubby and daughter’s help.  I’m adding a garden to the front of the yard where we’ll plant figs in the spring.  I’ve heard too many people to count talk to me about the risk of planting figs in the ground in our zone in an unprotected environment, but I’m risking it.  Figs are just about my favorite fruit, and I love the thought of perhaps one day having enough to make preserved figs.  Only time will tell.  To prepare this bed, we have removed the grass and now have about 100 daffodils planted in each quadrant.  This will add some spring beauty to the bed as it becomes established. 

What did I harvest?— Daughter surprised me by harvesting some jalapenos that were still alive, and we had a quick lesson about the oils on peppers and how they can burn her skin and eyes.  I was pleased to see so much dill had volunteered and made some yummy red potatoes with dill the other night.  The kale was hit hard by bugs earlier in the year, and when I ripped it up, a few plants remained.  They have thrived in the cooler weather, and I used them for garlicky kale and kale and potato soup.  I’ve saved some more of the Christmas Lima Bean seeds and made a few flower arrangements out of the last of the cutting bed.  I yanked the last of the carrots, and we roasted them for a supper with my dad.  I’ve used some rosemary, green onions, and chives here and there in other recipes.  I cut the last of the butternut squash and have it saved in the cooler part of the house for the winter.

What did I preserve?—I made pomegranate jelly a few weeks ago, and I’m so pleased with how it turned out. 

How did I work to reduce waste and live more simply?— Friends have passed a few bags of clothes to our daughter, and my aunt passed a few sweaters to me.  In early November, the church had their fall bazaar, and I made a major score when I found some audio tapes for children.  I bought the entire box, and we have shared some with her school and plan to share others with a friend later this week. 

I’ve not been composting as consistently as I should, and I need to get back in the habit of doing that.  Recycling has been much, much easier now that our city has a single stream recycling program.  Gone are the days of Hubby having to haul everything in the truck each month.  The bonus is that we’ve scored some fantastic Kashi coupons as part of the Recycle Bank program.  I found Kashi cereal marked down to $2.54 a box the other day, and I used $2 coupons to get them at a great price!

How did I work at building and strengthening community food systems?—  I used some money that I made at a coupon workshop to buy some organizers from Shelf Reliance for our church food pantry.  They should arrive this week, and I’ll spend a few hours with a friend getting the pantry in shape.  I continue to help with the men’s breakfast and children’s suppers at church. 

Did I try any new recipes or were there any special meals at our table?—  Daughter and I will start holiday baking sometime this week. I look forward to cutting gingerbread men and decorating cookies with her.  I can’t think of any new recipes I’ve tried lately other than the pomegranate jelly. 

December 13, 2011

Meal Planning, Getting back in the swing of meal planning

“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” Buddy Hackett

This meal plan is for a family of 3.  We often have at least one friend or family member over to share a meal with us during the week.  Since I factor the cost of the meal when I first prepare it, leftovers will be marked as $0.  When we dine out, it comes from a different part of the family budget and those expenses will also show $0.

Since I’ve been on a blogging hiatus, I’ve not been meal planning as diligently.  As a result, we’ve made a few more trips to restaurants than we normally would have.  Isn’t it funny how we all know that suppertime comes around every day at about the same time, and yet, we’re surprised by it if we don’t have a plan???  Here’s to hoping that getting back on track will help!

Kid Konnection Meal

One night a week, we help with the children’s program at church.

We are going super easy on this night because we’ll be taking the kids to perform at a local assisted living facility.  We’ll make some nachos. 

I’ve had a little “come to Jesus” with myself, as we would say in the South, about the foods we’ve been giving to the kiddos.  This is the last meal of the year, and part of my New Year’s resolution is to pay special attention to the nutritional quality of the foods.  I’ll hope to write more about that plan of action next year.

Approximate cost—$0, from church budget

Ways I saved on this meal—The chips were leftover from a church function.  The jalapenos were some that I canned.  The cheese and sour cream were donated.  ~~~~~

Meal 2

Roasted Chicken
Roasted Summer Squash
Steamed Broccoli
Garlicky Kale
Dilled Red Potatoes

Approximate cost--$5

Ways I saved on this meal—I paid 99cts/lb for regular chicken.  They didn’t have the type of organic chicken that I like at the store, and so I settled.  The squash and broccoli were some that my dad had bought too much of, and he passed it on to me.  I had roasted some squash in the oven before, and I decided that it would be a good way to use the full capacity of the oven once it was heated.  When I was in the garden last, I saw dill popping up everywhere, and when I saw red potatoes marked down at Kroger, I knew what I would be making tonight.  I had some Tuscan kale that survived the summer, and I decided to pick it.  You can see below what I did with most of it.  I had some leftover, and since I’m the only person in the house who really loves it, I did a quick pan sear in olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic just for me. 

~~~~~

Meal 3

Potato and Kale Soup

Approximate cost—$2

Ways I saved on this meal—I used one of the chicken breasts from the previous meal to make chicken broth for the base of the soup.  I used some onions I had frozen earlier in the year, organic celery and carrots from the store, and the kale from the garden.  The potatoes were some that I caught as part of a 4 day sale at Kroger.  I bought Cruze Dairy Farm milk at Three Rivers Market, and for organically grown milk, it is a great price at $6 per gallon.  I finished the soup with a bit of butter I had caught on sale at Kroger a few weeks back.  We’ll have soup with crackers (also bought on sale) tonight, and I’ll share the rest with a friend of mine who just had a baby. 

~~~~~

Meal 4

Daddy makes pizza
Crudités
Apple Slices

Approximate cost—$6

Ways I saved on this meal—I caught a great deal on frozen pizza a few weeks ago and bought a few extras.  This is an easy meal for Hubby to make, as I know that at least one night this week I’ll be at a late meeting. The veggies were all on sale when purchased, and the apples were $1/lb.

~~~~~

Meal 5

Breakfast for Supper

Eggs and Rice
Fruit Salad
Toast Points and Homemade Jam

Approximate cost--$3

Ways I saved on this meal—I usually plan at least 1 breakfast for supper meal per week.  These are usually fast meals for busy nights, and they cost less because they usually rely on eggs as the source of protein.  The eggs for the base of the meal were given to me by a friend who has chickens.  The veggies will be from the garden and what we’ve preserved in the freezer.  The organic brown rice was some that I made up earlier in the week.  It takes so long to cook that whenever I make it I always cook extra to have for other meals.  It was bought in bulk and on sale at Three Rivers Market a few months ago.  I’ll use some of the summer berries we froze earlier this year with a bit of peaches I canned and some bananas and apples to make the salad.  My price point for whole wheat bread is $2 or under.  With a great coupon, I scored it for less than that and froze a few loaves. 

~~~~~

Meal 6

Tuna Fish Salad
Crackers
Leftover Soup (most likely some from the freezer)

Approximate cost--$3

Ways I saved on this meal—My price point for tuna is 69cts or less a can, and when I see it at this price, I try to buy a few extras.  I add carrots (sale), celery (sale), green onions (from the garden), apples (sale), mayo (great sale at Kroger a half a year ago, bought extras), Tony’s, and eggs (free from a friend) to my tuna fish salad. The crackers are generic ones from Kroger that were also on sale.

~~~~~

Meal 7

Supper at church.  The youth are having a fundraiser before the Christmas program.

Approximate cost--$0, from a different part of the budget

~~~~~

December 12, 2011

Frugal Holiday Entertaining

This is a repost from last year. I hope it gives you some ideas for ways to frugally entertain this holiday season!  Merry Christmas!

One of the best parts of the holidays are spending time with the people you care about and celebrating the joys of the season.  I hope some of these tips and ideas will inspire you to host your own gathering AND to stay on a budget while doing so.  We’ll look at two parts of entertaining for Christmas—inexpensive party ideas and ways to decorate your home frugally. For even more money saving tips and ideas on entertaining, check out this post.

DSC_4927Ideas for frugal get togethers

  • Host a cookie swap.  Fun and frugal, the host of the cookie swap does little more than providing a place to meet, a few beverages, and a couple of batches of cookies.  Each invitee is asked to bring 2 batches of her favorite cookie recipe and copies of the recipe to share with others.  One batch is put on the table for all to taste.  Everyone’s second batches are reserved so that the attendees can bring home a little assortment.  While not necessary, it is a nice touch to provide boxes or cookie tins for your guests.  These can be bought a dollar stores, the grocery, or places like World Market.  This year I’ll be mixing things up a bit. I’ll ask guests to vote on their favorite cookie, and the guest who wins receives a donation to her favorite charity.  Martha Stewart has some great cookie recipes to get you inspired!
  • Host a brunch.  I prefer brunch to breakfast or lunch any day.  It seems more special, more decadent.  Brunch is a great way to bring people together without the expense of providing a full supper to everyone.  The bonus is that many brunch foods can be made ahead of time.  Most brunches that I host include a couple of quiches, a few batches of muffins, boiled eggs, bacon or sausage, fruit salad, biscuits and jams, coffee, hot tea, and juice.  To further lower your cost, you can ask guests to bring a recipe to share. 
  • Have an open house.  Friends of ours host an open house each year.  People from every group of friends they have drop in over the course of a 4 hour time span.  They put out a few beverages and appetizers, and though guests are not asked to bring foods, most stop by with a bottle of wine or a platter of goodies to share.  They joke that the party is really a way for them to stock up their wine cellar because most people bring a bottle as a gift for them.  It is always great fun, and we meet someone new each year. Don’t forget to use free invites from websites like evite to lower your cost.
  • Host a potluck supper.  Each year our group of closest friends come together to celebrate Winter Solstice.  Since it is right before Christmas, it is a perfect time to exchange gifts and reconnect.  We rotate who hosts, and this year it is my turn.  Everyone brings part of the meal, making it a very easy and inexpensive party.  Many of us have children, so we try to have a few activities for them.  For Hubby, daughter, and I, it is a time to celebrate hope.  Winter Solstice is about the celebration of the sun returning—the days start to lengthen with the turn of the season.  It is such a great analogy of the birth of Jesus.
  • Host a tea.  Planning your party for a time that is outside of lunch or dinner means that you won’t have to provide as much food.  If you set the time for 2pm, no one will expect to be fed and the intent of the party will be focused on socializing.  Teas are great for this time of day.  Pull out a few of  your tea pots and tea cups and buy a few nice teas or loose teas.  Make sure you have sugar, artificial sweetener for those who go for that, honey, lemon, and cream.  Add a few finger sandwiches, cookies, and cheeses to a platter, and you’ve thrown a grown-up tea party.  This is also a really fun party for little girls.  You can encourage them to wear dress up clothes and hats—be sure to take some photos!

DSC_4940Ways to save on decorating your home for Christmas

  • Use what you have.  Most of our holiday decorations have been given to us or passed down from previous generations.  The nativity scene that I own was made by a friend of my maternal grandmothers, and it is my favorite decoration to put up each year.
  • Buy after the season is over.  When decorating this year, think about what voids you have.  Do you need more ornament hooks?  Did the tree topper break this year?  Look in stores the day after Christmas up until the week after for some of the best deals on marked down decorations. 
  • Go natural.  If you are buying your Christmas tree at a store, many will give you the extra greenery that is cut from the bottom of the trees.  In previous years, I’ve used it to make swags to decorate the front of our house and mailbox.  Use a bit of florist twine or wire to tie it together and use some pretty red bows here and there to add a pop of color.  Use pine cones, rosemary, sprigs of cedar, and boughs of holly to bring a bit of the outdoors in—bonus, it will make your house smell fragrant. Go here for some great ideas and tips for making your own holiday swag.
  • Pick a smaller tree.  We have an older home with shorter ceilings, but I think even if we didn’t we’d opt for a smaller tree.  All throughout my childhood we had very tall trees in our foyer and it was such a pain to decorate.  The smaller tree allows our daughter to take an active role in hanging the ornaments, and it is a lot less expensive than buying a bigger tree.
  • Pay attention to the details.  My aunt is an artist, actress, and children’s book author in the Memphis area.  With all of that creativity, her house is one of my favorites to visit during the Christmas season.  What I noticed most about it last year was that every nook and cranny was decorated.  I’m not talking about being obnoxious or gaudy—she’s anything but that.  Her attention to detail is always tasteful, and I’ve tried to use her as inspiration.  This year I added a few decorations in places that I wouldn’t have normally—the guest bathroom, Christmas lights up in our kitchen, framed art with winter themes up here and there.  Without buying anything extra, I tried to put little pieces of “happy” around the house for not only our guests but for our family to also enjoy.
  • Inexpensive table runner.  I have no idea where I first got this idea, but wrapping paper makes a festive and inexpensive table runner.  Use whatever solid color table cloth you have and add a pattern that matches it of wrapping paper as the runner. 
  • Use your Christmas cards for decorations.  Remember that framed art I mentioned earlier?  Pick some of the most beautiful cards you receive, and save them to frame.  Pick up something inexpensive at a craft store, remove the back side of the card where people have written, and pop it in the frame.  Voila, super cheap art!

DSC_4932More important than any other tip is this—have fun!  If you aren’t having fun at your own party, no one else will be.  Take time to enjoy your guests rather than fretting in the kitchen over the food.  Being truly “present” will be a gift that you give yourself and your friends this Christmas season.  Merry Christmas to all of you!

December 11, 2011

Handprint Christmas Tree

Again, this is another craft that I found on Pinterest.  Each time I look at it, I smile! (Please excuse my lack of photography talent—Hubby is normally the one who takes the shots for the blog.  The left side is a little cut off and the whole thing is crooked, but I thought you’d get the idea).

DSC_6953 What you need--

Canvas
Paint (green, white, gold, and brown)
Paintbrushes
Palette (I used an old aluminum pie tin)
Newspaper to cover your counter top

Process--

1.  Because I have artists in my family and took art for a while, I can’t stand the thought of using a bare canvas.  I painted it a creamy white and let it dry completely.

2.  Help your child make his or her handprints in the shape of a Christmas tree.  Let that dry.

3.  Add the star and trunk of the tree.  You can add fingerprint ornaments, but I liked it being plain like this.  Voila!  This is a great keepsake or would be a good extra gift for a grandparent.  I also thought about using a really large canvas and letting a class of kiddos do this for their teacher. 

December 10, 2011

Christmas Light Craft

DSC_6955 This was a super easy craft idea that I adapted from one I saw on Pinterest. 

What you need--

Stamp pads of different colors
A Sharpie
Paper.  I chose watercolor paper because I was afraid that the texture of canvas wouldn’t show the fingerprints and the sheen on poster board would smear with the stamp ink.  Alternately, you could use cardstock.

Process--

Draw a string of lights with a sharpie
Let your child use his or her stamped fingers to ink the “light bulbs” on the string of lights
Complete the process by drawing the filaments of the light bulbs with the sharpie

You’ve just made a keepsake to frame, a great start to a Christmas card, or something else to add to the refrigerator.  Happy Christmas!

December 9, 2011

Making crafts with our daughter, and my new Pinterest addiction

If you don’t yet know about Pinterest, you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this post.  If you are anything like me, you’ll soon become addicted to it and find more decorating, craft, cooking, and clothing ideas than you ever needed.  I don’t even have an account yet, but I can spend waaaaay too long scrolling through other people’s pins and seeing so many cute ideas.  At this point you’ve been properly warned, and if you so desire to check it out, do so.  ;)

This year daughter and I have been super crafty. As you who have read the blog for a while know, I’m not a crafty person by nature.  I’m just not that gal, but I do like the idea of being that gal and every so often will slip into that role.  Lately I’ve also been thinking about how quickly our daughter is growing up.  She’s the only child God has given us, and I want to make sure that I enjoy every bit of raising her that I can.  If the house is messy because we’ve been painting, so what?   We are making memories, and I realized how important it is to prioritize just that.  All of that said, we began the Christmas season with our fingers dotted with paint.

The first of the crafts that we tried was making paint swirls in glass globe ornaments.

DSC_6947 DSC_6949 DSC_6948

What you need—

Clear ornaments, we used glass
Paint, we used the cheap craft paint you can get at Hobby Lobby
Newspaper or another way to cover the counter tops
Egg cartons, this was helpful in allowing them a place to dry and drain

Process--

1.  Remove the metal hanging piece and expose the opening of the ornament.

2.  Some websites suggest that you first rinse the inside with alcohol.  We didn’t do this, and we didn’t have any problems.

3.  Use 2-4 colors of paint in each ornament.  I recommend a base color, a lighter tint (white), and a metallic color.  Use a paper cup in the shape of a cone as a funnel if working with small children (cut the tip end off), but our 5 year old did just fine with squirting in globs of paint.

4.  Swirl the paint together, adding a little more of your colors as needed.  You can let the ornament rest in the egg carton as needed to let the paint slowly move from one side to another, covering the glass completely. 

5.  If you are anything like us, you’ll have a lot of extra paint in the ornament.  What I found helpful, was to drain the excess from one ornament into a new ornament.  The paint swirled and marbled even more beautifully when we did this.  Leave the ornaments with the hangers off of them on the egg cartons to dry.  You can continue to swirl the paint every few hours if you desire.  In a day’s time if you notice that there is still running paint in the bottom, set the ornament upside down so that it can drain into the pool of the egg carton.  Let it dry at least another day before capping it with the hanger. 

December 8, 2011

Pomegranate Jelly

DSC_6958 I was inspired by Good and Cheap Eats to make pomegranate jelly.  Before I share the recipe and process, I’ll first share what this taught me about home preserving.

I tend to be a purist when it comes to home preserving.  By that I’m not saying that I don’t use sugar or jar lids that aren’t BPA free, I do—guilty.  By that I mean that I tend to only preserve foods that came from our garden, a friend or relative’s garden, or a local farmer. The thought of buying grocery store food with the specific purpose of preserving it always seemed a little silly to me.  Sure, there have been plenty of times I’ve frozen or dehydrated extras that I had, but I had never given much thought to going and buying a bunch of anemic strawberries at Kroger to make jam.  What always appealed to me about home preserving was the idea of opening a jar and tasting a bit of summer in the winter months, or giving that same pleasure to a sweet friend as a gift. 

This take on food preservation is somewhat limiting, though.  I haven’t made marmalade in years because oranges and other citrus fruits aren’t local, and it is important to note here that marmalade is my favorite of all fruit spreads.  Last year I was lucky enough to have relatives from Texas visit and bring a bunch of kumquats with them.  I so delighted in preserving them and looking and the little jewels floating in their crystal liquid, knowing that a bit of sunshine was waiting to be unleashed from the jar.  They were from their back yard, and though they traveled over a thousand miles to my doorstep they were local in my mind.  I think at that point I realized that I needed to change the way I looked at food preservation.  Why not enjoy marmalade made by my own hands, bought from the food co-op and organically grown? 

Well, I put most of those thoughts out of my mind until I saw Good and Cheap Eat’s post on pomegranate jelly.  Last year I never got around to canning/preserving anything more exotic than cranberry mustard, and I decided when I saw the gorgeous rosy red color in those jars that it was time to change that!  I picked up a jar of organic pomegranate juice at Three Rivers Market a few weeks ago and started work.  It was probably the easiest canning I’ve ever done because the juice was ready to go—no draining through a cheesecloth overnight, no cloudiness, no major foaming.  It was a cinch and a definite make if you still have a few people left on your Christmas list.

The recipe is from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  If you enjoy canning and do not yet have this book, add it to your wish list!! 

1.  Prepare jars and lids as you normally would with home canning.

2.  Place 3 1/2 cups pomegranate juice (you can use fresh, but again, I made it easy and used organic 100% juice from the grocery) and 1 package of regular pectin in a deep stainless steel pot.  Bring to a rolling boil and then add 5 cups sugar.  Bring to a rolling boil again and let boil for 1 minute. 

3.  Remove from heat and skim any foam off—mine barely had any.  Quickly pour into prepared jars and leave 1/4 inch headspace.  Add lids and rings and process 10 minutes in a water bath canner.

Viola!  That simple.  The total out of pocket expense for this project was about $6.50.  I had free pectin, sugar I had scored a really good deal on, and the organic juice was on sale.  It makes about 6 eight oz jars, and at the grocery 1 of those organic pomegranate jellies would be almost that same amount.  I’ll definitely do this again. 

Update on CICT

Hello everyone!  It has been a long time!  I hope all of you are well and enjoying the beauty of the Christmas season. 

Thank you so much for your kind emails, comments and words that you’ve shared with me about my blogging hiatus.  I have enjoyed a little break with some time to recharge.  At this point I’ve decided to post as I’m inspired, whether it be about a tip, deal, craft, or some other idea that fits the theme of the blog.  The title of the blog, Couponing in Critical Times, came from the very first coupon workshop I ever held.  The blog became an amalgamation of all things frugal—reducing energy use and consumption, meal planning and cooking, shopping with a budget, couponing deals, gardening and preserving foods at home, and, of course, tips on how to streamline and save.  Hubby brought up the idea of changing the name of the blog to better fit with what I will be writing about in the future—less about deals and more about the how and why of living a frugal life—but at least at this point I’m going to keep it as is.  I’ll be interested to hear if any of you have any thoughts about the title of the blog, as you read future posts. 

In the next few days you’ll see a few posts that will give you some ideas about what I’ve been doing with my spare time during the blogging hiatus.  Until then, I thank each of you for reading!