Monday, June 30, 2014

Menu Plan Monday - Week of June 29, 2014

Our Tuesday Night Dinner Last Week:
Marinara sauce with LOTS of veggies - green beans, broccoli, red onions, garlic, and yellow tomatoes.
Shell-shaped noodles.
Garlic bread made with flat, gourmet bread from the freezer.
Steamed artichokes.

I actually remembered to take some photos of our food this week!  So now I just have to remember to post them!

I have a goal for July to see how little I can spend on groceries - I will buy milk and maybe butter, depending on how things go and maybe a few other things.  We have a well stocked house, the two CSAs and a gift certificate for a couple loaves of bread from a local bakery.  We should be just fine.

This coming week has the 4th of July (Independence Day) on Friday and John home two days this week, including Friday.  We're excited about that since it seems like he's been at his Internship more than he's been home this summer partly due to a lot of overnights and a fairly lengthy commute (it's amazing what people refer to as "local" here in the metro!). We have lots of pot lucks this week to attend.  We also have a funeral this week that will be serving us dinner as well.
Here's what we're eating this coming week:

Sunday, June 29:  My parent's 56th Wedding Anniversary!
    Breakfast: Cereal and Milk
    Lunch; Scrambled Eggs, Pancakes, and Strawberries and Blueberries
    Snack: Yogurt
    Dinner: At Church after a Funeral

Monday, June 30:
   Breakfast: Smoothies, Leftover Scones
   Lunch: Pizza Twists (these were a HUGE hit last week but very messy to make)
   Snack: Sugar Cookies
   Dinner: Roasted Chicken and Potatoes, Tossed Salad, Sliced Pears

Tuesday, July 1:
    Breakfast: Oatmeal with Blueberries and Almonds
    Lunch: Salad with Leftover Chicken and Blueberries
    Snack: Yogurt and Fruit
    Dinner: Veggie Roasted Couscous, Blue Tortilla Chips, Peach-Grape-Blueberry Salad

Wednesday, July 2:
    Breakfast: Waffles from the Freezer with Peaches and Almonds
    Lunch: Leftover Couscous and Tossed Salad
    Snack: Sugar Cookies
    Dinner: Pot Luck at Church: Bring a Tossed Salad

Thursday, July 3:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Almonds and Cinnamon
   Lunch: Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps, Fruit
   Snack: Yogurt with Fruit
   Dinner: Veggie Stir Fry, Rice, Sliced Fruit

Friday, July 4, Independence Day:
   Breakfast: Buttermilk Coffee Cake, Fruit
   Lunch: Pot Luck: Bring either Fruit Salad or a Tossed Salad
   Dinner: Grilled Veggies and Hot Dogs, Fruit (if necessary)
   Dessert: Pot Luck: Dessert: Sugar Cookies (we're not sure if this pot luck is dessert only or if they will serve dinner too - we'll find out later this week - either way we'll bring Sugar Cookies).

Saturday, July 5:
   Breakfast: Leftover Coffee Cake, Fruit
   Lunch: Snack Lunch (crackers, cheese, cut veggies, fruit, etc.)
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks

What are you eating this week?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Super Savings Saturday - Spent $20.38, CSA bounty and the last bit of our stock up fund too

It's been a very strange week here - I feel like all I did was run all week but I really didn't go anywhere outside of our normal weekly running (lessons and Jazzercise - we picked up the CSA shares on the way home from these).  We're still thinking through the big decisions we have coming up and so appreciate your prayers for discernment!  Thank you so much!

As we were getting ourselves organized this week we found out that we still had $20 in the stock up fund! We were surprised - we thought we'd spent all of that.  I guess that's a good indication of how completely and totally unorganized we've been in some respects lately. UGH.  Anyway, we decided to use that to stock up on some tortilla chips and crackers (you'll see below) since those are two things we really enjoy having around the house but don't seem to be in the "regular" grocery budget.

First - here is what we received in the two CSA's we subscribe to:

First up, Veggies (and a little fruit)!
Clockwise from top left - Swiss Chard, Red Lettuce, Butter Crunch Lettuce, Rhubarb, Garlic Scapes, Peas, Dill (above the peas), Strawberries, Radishes, and more Lettuce (I'm not sure of the variety - a Bib variety maybe?).

Aren't the colors of the Swiss Chard stems beautiful?  I love how bright they are! 

This was our first Fruit Share box - it's all organic, small farmers but I'm not entirely sure I'd call the fruit "regional" as it was advertised. I did love that we got a letter telling us about the farmers that grew our produce. Either way, since the box is sitting on my stove, you have an idea of how big it is! We have three pints of Blueberries, a dozen or so Plums (including 4 that did not make it all the way home from pickup), four Nectarines, five Peaches, roughly 1 1/2 lbs of grapes and roughly a pound of Cherries.   They are all super delicious!
I froze one pint of Blueberries for use later in the year in either baking or smoothies.
Now, on to the grocery store shopping!
Here's what we bought from this week's grocery budge:

I only went to one store. Here's the price breakdown:
Beef Round Tip Steak 1.08lb @ $4.49/lb = $4.85
2lbs Yellow Onions $1.59
5lb Russet Potatoes $2.99
Bulk Couscous 1.54lbs @ $3.49/lb = $5.37
HUGE Cucumber $0.50
Mushrooms $0.99 (coupon)
Gallon Kemp's Skim Milk $3.99
Total Spent: $20.38
Saved (according to Store Receipt): $0.70 (3%)
I'm planning on using the steak when we're camping this summer.  I actually went for a better priced steak they were advertising but I found I needed to buy why more than I had money for (each package was well over $10) and since this was a decent price and I only needed one pound, I bought it!  I was quite happy with this trip - we only needed the milk, potatoes and onions.
The below photo is a photo of what we spent the remainder of our stock up fund on.  Could we have spent it better? Probably.  But crackers and bagels make us happy! :)

And yes, I did go to Aldi.
The one thing we really like at Aldi is the crackers, so we decided to go there since we could get the biggest bang for our buck and have crackers we liked!  Here's the price breakdown:
11.03oz Decaf Coffee $2.79 (I very rarely drink decaf but need some this week - I'm hoping it tastes okay - if not we have milk and sugar!)
Blue Tortilla Chips $1.69
Whole Grain Tortilla Chips $1.69
Mini Bagels $1.99
Honey $2.99
Butter Crackers $1.45
Oyster Crackers 2 @ $0.89 (we like to have these on hand for upset tummies)
Cracker Assortment $2.69
Total: $17.07
Come back on Monday to see what we're eating - it's a holiday week this week, you know!

How did you do with your shopping this week?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Menu Plan Monday - Week of June 22, 2014

A plate full of sliced tomatoes and lettuce for BLTs last summer!  I'm SO looking forward to garden-fresh tomatoes this year!  I'm hoping for quite a few.

I'm having a hard time believing that it's almost July already - next week is Independence Day already!  I'm SO not ready for that!  We officially kicked off summer on Saturday with the children and John going to the parade for one of the local festivals here.  The children came home with an entire grocery bag full of candy!  Yikes!  And John came home with an awful sunburn.  Double Yikes!  Either way, they had a good time.  I woke up with a puffy, swollen face - thank you sinuses! - so I stayed home and slept for a bit.  I felt better so I guess that means we all had a good time.
Here's what we're eating this week:
Sunday, June 22:
   Breakfast: Cereal and Milk
   Lunch: At a Friend's House (they served chicken, salad, and watermelon - yum!)
   Snack: Candy *UGH*
   Dinner: Tossed Salad with Pepperoni, Biscuits, Watermelon and Cantaloupe
Monday, June 23:
   Breakfast: Pancakes with Walnuts and Bananas
   Lunch: Homemade Pizza Twists, Tossed Salad
   Snack: Ginger Cookies
   Dinner: Veggie Stir Fry, Rice, Pear-Banana-Mandarin Orange Salad
Tuesday, June 24:
    Breakfast: Oatmeal with Blueberries and Cinnamon
    Lunch:  Leftover Pizza Twists, Tossed Salad
    Snack: Ginger Cookies
    Dinner: Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, Tossed Salad, Garlic Bread
Wednesday, June 25:
    Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins, Bananas
    Lunch: PB&J, Carrot Sticks and Tomatoes, Ginger Cookies
    Snack: Yogurt
    Dinner: Pot Luck: Bring Tossed Salad
Thursday, June 26:
     Breakfast: Chai Spiced Oatmeal
     Lunch:  Chicken Noodle Soup, Biscuits, Bananas
     Snack: Yogurt
     Dinner: Beef Tips in the Crock pot, Rice, Tossed Salad, Fruit
Friday, June 27:
    Breakfast: Cranberry Orange Scones
    Lunch: Leftovers, Yogurt
    Snack: Yogurt
    Dinner: Scrambled Eggs, Waffles and Bacon, Fruit
Saturday, June 28:
    Brunch: Leftover Scones, Smoothies, Sliced Fruit
    Snack: Popcorn, Ginger Cookies
    Dinner:  Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks
What are you eating this week?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Super Savings Saturday (or, rather, Sunday) - Our First CSA Box and $21.12 Spent This Week

I guess it's Sunday isn't it? 
It was a VERY busy Saturday for us but I managed to make pizza and bread sticks for dinner and get a bit of grocery shopping done too.   Sometimes it's so hard to get through the weekend without just feeling like I want to crawl into bed and never get out!

Our weekly grocery budget is $40 but to afford our two CSA shares we only have $20 to spend at the store and/or farmer's market each week.  So we're working hard to hold ourselves to that. Last week I spent just over $15 and this week it was just over $21 so our average is still under $20.  For now, I'm okay with that!
So, here is our first CSA box of the year:

From left to right:  Radishes (back), rhubarb (front), mint, oregano, chives (front), green lettuce (back), broccoli (front), spinach (back), red lettuce (middle) and strawberries (front). 
I always forget how sweet the strawberries are fresh from the garden - super yum!  They're almost like eating candy.  The radishes are particularly crisp because of all the rain we've been having.   Until we get through the lettuce and spinach, salads are the name of the game!  We pick up our mostly veggie CSA box on Wednesday and will start picking up our fruit CSA box on Thursday this week. I'm looking forward to seeing what we have in there!

For grocery shopping this week, I went to two stores and bought what you see in the above photo plus a gallon of milk that got put away before the photo was taken.  Here's the price breakdown:

Store #1:
Sunburst tomatoes B1G1 1 pints for $3.99
Hass Avocado $0.99
Artichokes 2 @ 2/$3 = $3
Yoplait Yogurt 10 @ 10/$5 = $5

Total Store #1: $12.98
Savings (according to store receipt) $3.99

Store #2:
Oscar Meyer Wieners 1 @ 2/$3 = $1.50
2.24lb Bananas @ $0.59/lb = $1.32
1.85 Bosc Large Pears @ $0.99/lb = $1.83
1 Gallon skim milk $3.49

Total Store #2: $8.14
Savings (according to store receipt) $3.34

Total Spent: $21.12
Total Saved (according to store receipts): $7.33 (25.8%)

I'm hoping to get some whole milk next week to try to make yogurt at home. My mom did that when I was a child but it wasn't cost effective then, so we'll see about how it works for us now.  My husband, Missy and me all love yogurt and Buddy will eat it in a pinch so I'm hoping that making yogurt will work well and we can go that route in the future!  To that end, one of the containers of yogurt I have sitting in my fridge right now is plain rather than flavored so we can make our own next week.

Come back Monday to see what we're eating!

How did you do with your shopping this week?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Frugal Things We Did This Past Week

I'm realizing I need to start taking photos of some of the frugal things we do each week - these pictureless posts are a bit ho-hum.  In my humble opinion anyway!

Here are some of the things we did this week that count as frugal:

* Ate all but three meals at home - two meals were potlucks.  I ended up taking a tossed salad to both since we had a TON of greens from our first CSA box - pictures coming with our grocery shopping later today - so my family ate the fruit salad which also included watermelon along with what I listed on my menu plan for this week.  The third meal was a planned meal out - my husband with our son and me with our daughter. We all had a terrific time. 

* The party for my friend was wonderful and just what I needed on Thursday night.  It started with one of the potlucks with a lot of time catching up with old friends!  Terrific time!  There are a couple recipes I'm going to have to get now too.

* We brought home 9 huge slices of watermelon, a bag of hot dog buns and a bag of hamburger buns from the potluck on Wednesday night at church.   We have eaten all the watermelon and used the buns for dinner on Friday night - it was beautiful so we opted for hot dogs from the freezer cooked over the bonfire rather than the ham we had planned on.  We used the buns for sandwiches today (Saturday) for lunch.

* My daughter had a friend come with us to the zoo on Wednesday - the weather was terrific during the day - and then we went back to our house for a bit afterward where they watched the video my husband took of the play they put on at school earlier this spring.  My daughter and this friend were the two leads in the play and directed the play.  They had a great time!  Our zoo membership includes one guest so we didn't have to pay for anything at the time!  I brought water and snacks with.  Our zoo membership is a gift from my husband's family for the children's birthday every year.

* We weeded and weeded and weeded and our yard still looks like a jungle.  *Sigh*  We've hit the point where we've had too much rain and I'm terribly grateful that we haven't had flooding here since much of the Twin Cities Metro has.   More weeding to come and then we're purchasing a pallet of bagged mulch to take care of all these flower beds - we priced it out and have that much in our gardening budget so we can do that without damaging our budget.   I've been teaching the children to weed right now and the weeding is going much faster than it has in the past. I had bought them garden gloves for their birthday in May and they have been wearing baseball caps to help with sun shading.  We got the whole back corner bed done in about 3 hours - I think that's a record! 

* Updated the budget book and divided out our saved income and our summer income to cover the three months we have this summer until our next 'real' paycheck comes in.  We're very pleased that we'll be just fine and have the money for everything we need.  What a blessing!

* Harvested tarragon and picked peonies for my kitchen table from our garden. 

* Took a donation of unused items to the thrift store and received a store credit slip in return rather than a tax credit slip.   I also bagged up another set of items to take to the Uniform Swap at school next week.  I offered to help organize it this year because there was only one person doing it and it is a HUGE job.  I figured it's the least I can do after all the money it's saved me over the last four years!

* Made four loaves of French Bread, pancakes, cornbread, peanut butter cookies and waffles from scratch this week.

* Checked out several books and two videos from the local library.

* Signed the children up the summer reading program at the library.  They are super excited about the whole things and I'm excited that the "bingo" that they have to complete includes things like attending community events, using the library catalog, finding information in reference books, and other skills and ideas that are good to do and have.  They still have to read 10 books to get a "bingo".

* I recycled about 4 bags of old school papers that I had lurking in a big box downstairs in the furnace room.  I have no idea what I was keeping those for! 

* I wrote notes of encouragement to three friends using cards I already had.  I only needed to spend the stamp to mail them.

* I've spent a fair amount of time this week finishing up an embroidery project that will be an anniversary gift for my sister-in-law and her husband.  They eloped last year (that's a very long, good story) so I didn't have it done for a wedding gift but I thought it would make a nice for an anniversary gift.  Once it's done, I'll try to remember to post a photo.

Frugal Flops:

* I had to throw out some rhubarb that had been in our freezer due to freezer burn.  I was so bummed since I love rhubarb (our whole family does!) but it was not salvageable.  I thought I had bagged it well but apparently not. *SIGH*

* We also lost our pea plants due to the rain.  This isn't really a "flop" on my part since I can't do much about the over-saturated ground but it's a bummer.  And now we have to start new ones.

In other things:

Can I ask a favor of you all?  We have an opportunity that we're checking out this afternoon (Saturday).  Can you please pray for discernment for us?  We are not really sure what we're supposed to do with this opportunity but we're hopeful and wondering what God has in mind.  Thank you so much!

How have you done this week?  Visit The Prudent Homemaker's Blog to share!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Some Thoughts on Joy and Happiness and being Christian

Last evening after Worship we had Bible Study and talked about Jeremiah 20:7-13.  This is a passage where Jeremiah alternately rails at God and praises God regarding the reception, or lack thereof, for his ministry and his work as a prophet.  My Bible titles this passage "Jeremiah's Unpopular Ministry".  I think that's a rather weak title for this.  Another version titles it "Jeremiah Rails at God".  That might be more appropriate.

We talked about anger and how being angry at God is something that we as Christians tend to dismiss as inappropriate.  We tend to think that we shouldn't be angry at God no matter what happens - that we as Christians should be joyful and happy and praise God no matter what.

Um, have you read the Bible?
The list of people who are angry at God and rail against him is long and spans both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  Some of these people include:  Moses, Noah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Job, Daniel, David, Paul, and, yes, even Jesus himself!

After more discussion we decided that a misinterpretation of the word "Joy" (and a prethera of children's songs!) may be to blame for this idea that we, as Christians, should always be happy.

I looked up the definition of "joy" and to my dismay found the first definition stating "a state of happiness".  Personally, my understanding of what joy really is better described by the rest of the definitions: The source of happiness, pleasure at a job well done, a sense of peace.  Synonyms included: beatitudes and contentedness as well as blessedness.

I was always taught that happiness is a human emotion, and like other human emotions it is fickle and dependent on our circumstances.  I was also taught that while happiness comes and goes, joy can be a constant thing.

Here are some of the things that I believe joy allows us to feel and do are:

* Being able to recognize little blessings in the midst of adversity - a beautiful flower, that lovely rainbow, a hug from a child, the smell of delicious cooking, the beauty of nature, the comfort of a close relationship, and the availability of the necessities of life (shelter, food, water, and love).

* We can have peace in the midst of death, disaster and illness.  This doesn't mean each day will be peaceful or that we won't feel pain or discomfort or that we will always be happy.  What we know is that God is on our side and that death, disaster, and illness don't have the final word.

Our society believes that in order to be joyful we will be perpetually happy.  That isn't the case.  We live in a fallen world and that means we will have adversity, illness, death, disaster, and pain.  What joy means for us is that we can overcome and move past these things in the peace of Christ and the love of the Lord.

There have been parts of these last few years of our ministry journey that have been very, very painful.  There have been days where both my husband and I have railed against God pointing us in this direction.  If I had had a choice going into this my answer to my husband's statement that he was "going to be a Pastor when he grew up" would have been "Absolutely not!"   If I had known what I know now, I would never, ever in a million years have wanted to put my family through what we have been through - the torn relationships, shredded faith, and painful decisions. 

Joy has brought us to a place where we lean on each other and the Lord.  We are far better at recognizing the little blessings in life - beautiful flowers, healthy bodies, hugs and smiles and cuddles, and the major abundance that the Lord has given us (even though by the standards of the world it may seem inadequate).   We are closer to each other and the Lord.

Those are things that I wouldn't trade for the world. 
Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Goals for this week - June 15 - 21, 2014

Cleaning out my front flower bed!

While I haven't posted goals for a while now, I've been very diligent about writing them down. It seems like I don't get much of anything done if I don't write my goals down - I'm really pretty scatterbrained sometimes!   I'm home with my children for the next six weeks with a couple of random days here and there where I have to be in at work or school.  The majority of our time will be spent at home so here's the goals for this week:

* Finish activities list for one unit for the class I'm re-doing for this fall.

* Finish power point
* Talk to Advisor

* Teach 2 classes
* Learn 2 new routines
* Attend at least one other class

* Swimming Lessons
* Piano Lessons
* Dance  Lessons
* Playdate for Missy
* Outing with the children: I'm hoping to take them to a local zoo (we have a couple) if the weather cooperates!
* Visit the Local Library

* Remove one more bucket of rocks from the front flower bed
* Dig out the grape vine stump from the back flower bed
* Work on cleaning out extra stuff in the furnace room (minimum goal: 2 boxes) - I honestly think we shut the door and that stuff just multiplies on it's own! :)
* Weed for at least 10 minutes each day that the weather is good enough to do so
* Update the budget book and revise the budget now that we know how much money we have coming in this summer

* Send two cards of encouragement
* Write to our Compassion International Child
* Pray for our Internship Congregation and a Congregation John is preaching at later this summer

* Repaint my toenails
* Get to bed on time at least 5 nights this week
* Attend a pot luck for some a friend
* Visit another friend

Bonus Item: If I have time or the weather doesn't cooperate and I'm sick of cleaning out, etc. I'm hoping to get some scrapbooks laid out - I'm dreadfully behind and since I enjoy the creative part of it, I'd like to get a few things done!

We keep up the swimming, dance and piano lessons over the summer for the children.  Swimming is ongoing weekly until they are as proficient as we'd like them to be.  The dance and piano are way scaled back from during the school year - they do a couple of classes each month with the dance just to keep things fresh in their memory and piano is only for 6 weeks just to keep everything fresh too (this is the first week for that).   I'm hoping to do one outing a week and one playdate a week for the children too but I'm not going to sweat either one of those.  If they happen, great. If not, no big deal.

I'm trying to finish up some projects that I've had on the back burner around the house here and we also have a few bigger projects that I'm hoping to tackle starting next week.   Hopefully those will be separate posts with some photos!  Let's just say I've had fun picking out paint and looking at area rugs!

What are you up to this week?  Visit Money Saving Mom to share!

Menu Plan Monday - Week of June 15, 2014

Stuffed green peppers! Yum!

I am home with the children all day every day for six weeks now with the exception of half of one day.  That means we get to eat lunch at home every day!  And that means I can use leftovers for all of us or I can cook - either way.  I think I like that.  I made bread on Sunday this week and since it's damp out this week we need to use it up fairly fast - thus lots of sandwiches!

We started this week with a treat lunch out for all of us - John had promised Buddy a day out instead of a birthday party so he used the money set aside for that and combined Father's Day and Buddy's birthday day into one (I think it was fun for both of them - at least they came home happy!).  I had promised Missy a lunch out at a favorite restaurant with Grandma and Grandpa.  Well, we didn't get to do that while they were here in May so she asked if we could go - just the two of us.  So I used the money I had set aside for that.

After that the name of the game was homemade!  I had two potlucks this week - one for church and one for just me with some friends and I brought a fruit salad to the second one.   I used canned mandarin oranges in the salad with the plums and cantaloupe to make the fruit salad. I made a dressing of honey, cinnamon and nutmeg for the fruit salad to give it something extra.  The children have been asking to learn how to cook some things so I planned one lunch so I could teach them while I we were making lunch - this week they learned how to make crisp rice treats and grilled cheese sandwiches.  I had them put together a list of things they want to learn and those were the two on the list that fit into the week this week!

Here's what we ate:

Sunday, June 15: Father's Day
   Breakfast: Cereal and Milk
   Lunch: Out for all
   Snack: Homemade Peanut Butter Cookies (my husband's favorite)
   Dinner: Beef Chili, Cornbread, and Orange Wedges (my husband's request)

Monday, June 16:
   Breakfast: Blueberry-Banana Smoothies, Toast
   Lunch: Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks or Tomatoes
   Snack: Cookies
   Dinner: Baked Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Carrots, Plums and Pineapple

Tuesday, June 17:
   Breakfast: Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with Applesauce
   Lunch: Chicken Noodle Soup, French Bread, Plums
   Snack: Crisp Rice Treats
   Dinner: Veggie Stir Fry, Rice, Plums and Pineapple

Wednesday, June 18:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Walnuts and Apples
   Lunch: Picnic Lunch while out: PB&J, Apple Slices, Chips, Cookies
   Snack: Ice Cream
   Dinner: Pot Luck at Church: Bring a tossed salad

Thursday, June 19:
    Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins with Cantaloupe
    Lunch: Leftovers
    Snack: Cookies
    Dinner: John and Children: Chicken Noodle Soups, Bread, Plums; Me: Potluck: Bring Fruit Salad

Friday, June 20:
    Breakfast:  Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothies, Toast
    Lunch: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Plums
    Snack: Cookies
    Dinner: Ham, Rice, Plum-Banana-Cantaloupe Salad

Saturday, June 21
   Breakfast: Blueberry Buckle (this is a favorite and I have loads of frozen blueberries to use up!)
   Lunch: Tuna Sandwiches, Cut Veggies
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Breadsticks

What are you eating this week?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

These are a Few of My Favorite Things - May 2014

Now that we're halfway through June, I thought I'd share some of my favorite things from May this year.

Here we go!

My daughter's super easy birthday cake!  I'll write more about her party later - it was so much fun!
My children turning 9 this year - last year of single digits!
My son deciding that he needed a day with Daddy more than he needed a birthday party this year.
The food for my daughter's party that turned out SUPER pink - pink plates, strawberries, pretzels in pint tulip cupcake liners and flower-shaped sandwiches with strawberry jam.  Served with pink lemonade.
My parents being here for their birthday this year.
My cousin Diane being here too.
My son learning the basic of how to carve and spending time with Grandpa discussing the finer points.
My daughter sewing with my Mom.
Being able to make it to every event on our schedule even though it looked like it was going to be impossible.
My daughter's fairy "village" - or part of it.  Here you have three houses (across the back), the campfire (in the middle with 'benches'), and the well house with cold storage (front, slightly right).  She's been reading pioneer stories lately - can you tell?
My daughter deciding that she and her friends needed to put on a play for the school.
The Principal actually letting her do it - all of it! - including costumes and advertising.  They didn't use sets except for a cardboard sleigh.
They had over 50 people show up to watch the play after school one day!
And they did a terrific job putting the play on.  Way to go girls!

The children riding the zip line at one of the nearby parks.
We had some lovely weather in May and my garden started to burst out of it's hiding.
The children coming in from outside smelling like sunshine and grass.
My bleeding heart blooming.
My rhododendron blooming - this one is my favorite!
All of my daffodil bulbs coming up but only 1 (of about 90) blooming!  I had thought I lost them so the fact that they all came up was a good thing.
Getting to see a friend's new baby girl for the first time - what a cutie!
The children giving me pea plants for Mother's Day with cards that said "I love you to peas-es".  Super cute and very practical!
The children did an art unit on Matisse at school to correspond with a display at the local museum.  They did some chalk drawings and oil pastels that I am going to frame and hang in my family room - they turned out wonderful! 
John's last day of work - he was showered with so much love.  It is so good to know that he was appreciated.  We have some people there that we will truly miss!
One of John's co-workers gave him a huge poster of something they had been joking about for a long time - don't worry, it's something nice; something he was joking about buying.  We are going to frame the poster so he can hang it in his office this year. Instant and almost free artwork!

A very small part of the front flower bed that I'm cleaning out. 
Cleaning rock out of the front flower bed finally!  This will be an all summer job but I've gotten started on it.  In the above photo - the darker area in the bed itself is the part that's been cleaned out - you can see that the level of the dirt is lower than the rest.  The bucket is full of the rocks I dug out.  The blue thing is a sand sieve that the children used to play with in the sandbox.  It's sitting over an old pot from a plant from the nursery so I can save the dirt between the rocks (we have wonderful dirt - I don't want to loose any of it!)  It took almost 2 hours to get all the rocks out of that little bit right there.
So why does picking the rocks out of my front flower bed qualify as a "favorite thing"? It's been on my to-do list for a loooong time and I love that I will now be able to plant some plants there finally.  I also am reveling in a relatively healthy body that allows me to do that type of work for longer periods of time.  Those things make it a favorite thing!
My daughter sewed these hot pads and the orange bag lying under them as part of my mother's day gift.  She and a friend got to sew with a teacher at their school who donated her time and her fabric and purchased the salad tongs and the magnets as part of the present.  My Mom got the green set and I got the orange set for our gift. She was so proud of her work and she did a lovely job too!  And I love that I can tell my guests my daughter made the hot pad. (Sorry for the upside down photo - I guess I took it that way!)
We also found out that an anonymous person at church wanted to give us the exact amount we needed to meet our savings goals for Internship!  Since they wanted to remain anonymous, they gave it to us via our church (the check we received was written from the church's account).   That was a huge blessing and we were able to start Internship with all the money that we will need to meet our basic expenses.  We are SO VERY blessed!
How have you been blessed with your favorite things lately?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Super Savings Saturday - I spent $15.41 out-of-pocket today!

I did our first "real" Internship grocery shop today.  We have  TON of food in the house so I was really trying to get some fruit for this week, grab a couple of sales/deals and use up the rest of our gift card for our favorite store.  Our grocery budget right now is $20 per week for what will hopefully be mostly meat and dairy and a few household items/toiletries/paper products. Our two CSAs start up next week (WHOOT!) so we will start getting fresh produce that way mostly. I anticipate buying a few extra things to round out recipes and/or give us some variety but I'm hoping I can do that at the farmer's market and I won't have to buy much from the stores at all.

I went to two stores today and here's what I got:

Store #1:
Kraft Mac and Cheese 6 @ $1 each = $6
Kraft Marshmallows 4 @ $1 each = $4
0.8oz Ground Ginger $4.19
Black Plums 2.25lbs @ $0.99/lb = $2.23
Cantaloupe $2.50
1 Gallon Skim Milk $3.49
18 ct Large Eggs $1.99
32oz Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt $2.50
Tax on the marshmallows: $0.29 (considered a luxury food item, so they're taxed on their original price)
I also got $5 off the total for buying 10 Kraft products (coupon) so each of the Kraft products were $0.50 rather than $1.

Total $22.19 - $13.79 gift card = $8.40
Total Store #1: $8.40
Savings according to store receipt: $20.92

Store #2:
Arm and Hammer Laundry Detergent $3.79
Baking Powder $1.49
Bananas 2.48lbs @ $0.59/lb = $1.46
Tax on the laundry detergent: $0.27

Total Store #2: $7.01
Total Saved According to store receipt: $0.00

Total both stores after coupon and gift card: $15.41
Total saved: $20.92

The Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is something we like to keep on hand for when we have babysitters or when the children have friends over for lunch.  The marshmallows are for making crisp rice treats and for a few other baking projects I have up my sleeve.  One of them will be saved for our camping trip this summer.  I had gone to store #2 looking for a sale they had a on steak - we very rarely buy steak but the price was very good and we like to have some for our camping trip if nothing else.  They were sold out, which was a bummer, so I bought the laundry detergent instead.

Is anyone else having a hard time finding baking powder? 
Two stores in our area don't carry it anymore except during the Holidays and another only had one brand available (the one we bought).  I heard one store describe it as a "seasonal" item!  I have one more option that I'll have to look at now for purchasing it on a non-seasonal basis.  We use far more baking powder than baking soda for cooking (most of our baking soda gets used in cleaning) for things like pancakes, muffins, cornbread and biscuits. I suppose there are mixes for those things but it's so much cheaper to make them from scratch!

We still have some apples, oranges, grapes and half a pineapple from last week as well as all sorts of green salad-type things (romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, celery and mushrooms).  We have meat in the freezer and lettuce starting to grow big enough to pick in the yard too.  Our strawberries are flowering so I'm hoping we'll have a few in a couple of weeks.  Come back Monday to see what we're eating this week!

How did you do with your shopping this week?

Frugal Things We Did This Week

The Fairy City our daughter made on our back patio.  Very creative!
We had a busy week this week - I was on jury duty again, the children were attending the YMCA day camp, and John continued his second week of Internship.  We are loving the lowered stress levels and the lovely weather we've been having!

Frugal things we've done this week:

* The children played outside a LOT this week.  Both here at home and at the YMCA day camp.   Our daughter made Fairy Cities (as opposed to Fairy houses) in several places around the yard using rocks, sticks, grass, weeds, and the last of the dandelion heads.

* We purchased mulch for the front flower beds and sent in for the 11% rebate that was being offered on our purchases this week.   All but one of our front flower beds are "done" for this summer. I'm working on digging out the landscape rock from the last one.  (A previous owner had put down landscape rock without putting a barrier underneath so it has all worked its way into the soil.  This is huge job and will take most of the summer to clean out the small-ish area we have left to clean out.)

* I packed lunches for everyone each day except one, where I packed lunches for John and me only.  The children had a cookout at camp that one day and they both said they preferred my packed lunch instead!  I had three office mates ask for a recipe after I reheated my lunch in our microwave and it made the office smell super good.

*  We dug our compost from last year into the vegetable bed. 

* We priced rain barrels, paint, and flooring.  Will be purchasing paint this week with a gift card we bought earlier in the year.   We are looking forward to an updated look in the kitchen, living room, hallway and our bedroom for minimal price.

* We used gift cards to purchase more batteries, spices, and a few odds and ends from the grocery store that will be going out of business soon.  We have $23 left in gift cards that I will use today to buy groceries for this week.

* I ironed all our ironing (I'm FINALLY caught up! YAY!) this week and washed and put away all the winter bedding. 

* I used a 40% off sale to order shirts for the children for all for school.  They changed the school uniform (in a relatively small way) for fall so I had to actually buy shirts rather than just get them through the Uniform Swap. I will still be able to get pants or skirts through the Swap.  I was pleased with the price and we shouldn't have to buy any more shirts this year.

* We were treated to lunch out by a friend from Seminary as a thank you for picking him up from the airport, driving him around and letting him stay in our guest room. It was super yummy and we enjoyed catching up with him too!

* We got together with a few of my cousins at my Aunt and Uncle's house on Friday evening.  It was a pot-luck with my Aunt and Uncle providing brats and hot dogs with buns and toppings.  I brought a fruit salad.  They have a pool and our children and my cousins' children had a BLAST swimming and playing with the water guns.  Then the older children took the littles over to the  lake and park across the road to feed the ducks.  It was wonderful to get together (last minute - we all decided to do this on Thursday since one cousin would in town from out of state!) and we decided to do it again for the 4th of July and then again in August before school starts!  I have 16 first cousins on that side of the family and 4 of us were able to come with our families.

* While not necessarily frugal, we felt the YMCA day camp* was terrific and well worth the price and my son was so excited to learn how to fish!  He caught several fish and is begging to go back to the lake they fished on.  We will use our County Parks pass and our State parks pass to do that this summer for sure!  They all have tackle to borrow at each park so it will be inexpensive and we might even get dinner out of it!  Our daughter had such a good time she wanted to go back this week!  Unfortunately, that's not in the budget but we will try to plan on that for next summer.

* We had a friend over to play with my son this week and they enjoyed playing with Lego's and some board games and then we made homemade mini-pizzas for dinner.  They had a great time and we didn't have any added expense.

* I cut irises from the yard to decorate the table this week. I am so excited to have flowers in the yard to cut again!  I'm hoping to have many more this year than last year thanks to the perennials I planted last year.  My peonies are just starting to bloom so I'll have those on my table this week.

Okay, I think that's about it for this week other than our usual "stuff".  What did you do this week?

Check out The Prudent Homemaker's Blog for more inspiration.

* Note:  The YMCA does not know I am writing this.  We attended this day camp, paying full price for the privilege of doing so, our children loved it and we just wanted to share!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Menu Plan Monday - Week of June 8, 2014

Is it really June?

I'm feeling like I live in a time warp again.... sigh.

No photo this week - I'm posting from my work computer which, alas, does not have my food photos on it.   If I remember, I'll add one later.

We had a HUGE shopping trip this week - our favorite grocery store is going out of business sometime soon, but we have no idea when.  We bought about $200 in gift cards over this last year through the SCIP program at our children's school (we get cash back toward our children's tuition for purchases) so we'd have a bit of a cushion this year.  Anyway, we need to use up those cards before the store closes.  So we spent just over $100 of that this weekend on groceries - strawberries to slice and freeze for baking and smoothies later on, whole chicken, bacon, pepperoni (which I got for 50 cents a package!), cereal, cheese, a couple of frozen pizzas, more canned beans, cooking oil, shortening, butter, batteries and a few toiletries.  I'm totally bummed that we needed to use up those cards now but it means our pantry and freezer will be VERY WELL stocked.  We also bought some more perishable fruit for this week and some milk.

We had a surprise visit from one of John's cohort from Seminary who was in town just for the weekend. He treated us to a meal out on Sunday after worship as a way to say "Thank You!" for all the rides to and from the airport, overnights in our guest room and all that "stuff" from the last four years.  I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with blue cheese - super yum! I rarely have cheeseburgers or blue cheese so that was a real treat! We also spent about an hour and a half wandering around the St. Paul Farmer's Market.  I love walking around if nothing else - so much to look at and enjoy and the market itself is free (parking is $1)!

I'm on call for jury duty again this week and John is still enjoying the first phase of his Internship.  The kids are at camp this week at the local YMCA and they're really looking forward to trying both archery and fishing.  (Buddy has tried both before through Cub Scouts but Missy has not.)  I'm hoping to finish getting things mostly lined up for fall - at least to the point where I can work from home the rest of the summer. 

All four of us are brown-bagging lunches this week so lots of lunch to pack! Fortunately John and I have microwaves available so taking leftovers is a nice option.  The kids need non-perishable lunches so that's what they'll have - either PB&J or turkey and vegetable sandwiches or kabobs (sandwich fillings on a kabob stick with the sharp point cut off) or crackers and cheese. 

Anyway, here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday, June 8:
   Breakfast: Cereal  and Milk
   Lunch: Out with our friend (his treat!)
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner: Salad with Chicken, Strawberries and Blackberries

Monday, June 9:
   Breakfast: Pancakes from the freezer, Strawberries and Bananas
   Lunch: Leftover Salad for the adults, Sandwiches and Fruit for the children
   Snack: Sugar Cookies
   Dinner: Chicken Divan, Homemade Whole Wheat Honey Biscuits, Fruit Salad

Tuesday, June 10:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins, Bananas
   Lunch: Leftovers for the adults, Crackers and Cheese, Cut Veggies and Fruit for the children
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner: Beef Tips in the Crock pot, Rice, Steamed Carrots, Fruit Salad

Wednesday, June 11:
   Breakfast: Cereal with Bananas and Milk
   Lunch: Leftovers for the adults, Cookout at Camp for the children
   Snack: Sugar Cookies
   Dinner: Pot Luck at Church: Bring a Fruit Salad

Thursday, June 12:
   Breakfast: Waffles from the freezer, walnuts and bananas
   Lunch: Leftovers for the adults, Sandwich Kabobs with Fruit for the children
   Snack: Ginger Cookies
   Dinner: Vegetarian Fried Rice, Fruit Salad

Friday, June 13:
   Breakfast: Cereal with Bananas and Milk
   Lunch:  Leftovers for the adults, Sandwiches and Fruit for the children
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner: Grilled Vegetables and Potatoes, Chicken Flavored Rice, Fruit Salad
   Dessert: Rhubarb Crisp

Saturday, June 14:
   Breakfast: Blueberry Buckle
   Lunch: Tuna Wrap Sandwiches, Fruit
   Snack: Rhubarb Crisp
   Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks

What are you eating this week?

PS  Here's the link to the CSA including the Fruit Share:  Big River Farms
This is not the CSA we use for our vegetables (we have a good friend whose CSA we use instead) but I have several friends (more than 10 families!) who get their veggies from here and have been VERY happy with their service and produce.  The fruit is not all local but is organic and high quality - we're excited to be part of this. (Note: I have received no compensation for posting this link here! I had some questions about where we're getting our fruit and wanted to share. Thanks.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments - The "Off and Running!" Edition!

We're off and running with Internship here!

John started his new "job" this past Monday, gaining the title of Vicar, and we've been adjusting to a new routine, a new schedule and just plain gearing down for summer.  The children finished 3rd grade this week (yikes!) and we spent an afternoon with friends.  I was scheduled for jury duty this week but was not needed, so I'm taking advantage of having already scheduled childcare by getting my ducks in a row (at least mostly) for my fall classes.

As some of you know, we just experienced a huge pay cut - in fact we have about $500 total income coming in between June 1 and the end of August - so we're now in a much tighter budget than we had been before.  The last couple of weeks have been a case of stocking up on some things and evaluating what we have and trying to budget from our savings for the summer.  Our income will pick up again in September (teachers typically don't get paid in the summer) but it will be significantly less than we've had in the past.  We planned for summer with our savings, so we will be able to meet our expenses but we won't have much "extra" for a couple of years now.

What did we stock up on? Here's what we stocked up on the last few weeks:

* canned goods - diced tomatoes, mandarin oranges, green beans, whole kernel corn, kidney beans and black beans.  We also bought a few cans of canned soup for when we just plain don't feel like cooking and don't have any homemade in the freezer.

* meat - ground beef, beef stew meat and fish - whole chickens are on sale for $4/chicken this week so I'm planning on using a gift card to buy at least 4 when I do my grocery shopping tomorrow.

* laundry detergent

* dish soap

* toilet paper

* facial tissues (we have handkerchiefs for small jobs but I want disposables for my sinus infections!)

Things we figured out we probably won't need to buy for quite a while:
* toothpaste
* deodorant
* toilet cleaner
* toothbrushes
* cough drops/throat lozenges
* OTC medication
* sunscreen
* bug spray
* clothes for all of us
* shoes (except summer sandals for me - my old ones fell apart at the end of last summer)
This list has a whole BUNCH of things that we don't need but those are the "regularly" purchased items we can put on hold for a while - well, I guess we don't do a whole lot of shoe and clothes shopping but they are regularly used things we don't need to buy right now.

We also paid in full both our vegetable CSA and our fruit CSA.  These have been part of our grocery budget throughout the year and the money just set aside for them. Deliveries should start sometime in the next two weeks.   We're pretty excited and I've been keeping any eye out for new recipes.   I also planted lettuce, green peppers, tomatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, zucchini, cantaloupe and Swiss chard (we found a variety we like!) in our garden.   I have new blueberry bushes this year too but I'm not expecting to get berries from them this year.    We should have plenty of fresh produce to eat this summer!

Other things we've done in the last week that have been frugal:

* Mended several pairs of pants for Buddy and turned a couple into shorts (cut them off and hemmed them)

* Separated some perennials and moved them to other places in the yard.  Started cleaning out the front flower bed (that will be a CHORE but will be so nice when it's finally done!).

* Purchased a bag of washers from the hardware store to make jewelry with (hopefully a post will be coming!) for birthdays, etc. this next year.  This cost me under $4 and already have everything else to make the jewelry already.

* Used items we had to make a gift for John's long-time immediate co-worker when he left his "old" job last Friday.

* John was given a huge (20" diameter!) pie at his going away party last Friday.  We put it in the freezer, then heated it up for the potluck at church on Wednesday this week. 

*  Use coupons and two sales to buy a few craft items for the children to use over the summer.  They have been enjoying them the last few days and making life easy for our babysitter.

* Painted my own toenails using instructions for a home pedicure on the Internet.  I've always painted my own toenails but they chip quickly and I wanted to make it last this time! It's been two weeks and so far so good!

* Bought the few plants that I needed at our church plant sale - all plants were under $5 and some were free.   The money goes to the landscaping fund at church.  We spent less than $25 total.

* Carpooled with my husband when I could.  He now "works" near where I do and he has parking that comes with his internship, so no parking expenses today.

* Bought at $25 county parks pass to use this year - we decided to try out a new park for picnics every weekend this summer.  This pass has reciprocity with three other counties so between this and our state parks pass, we have endless entertainment for the whole year at a minimal expense!

We're still brown bagging lunches, making meals at home, trying to line dry at least some of the clothes (it's been so wet here that we've had to use the dryer more than I would like) and all that jazz.

What have you been up to frugally the last few weeks?

For more inspiration, please visit The Prudent Homemaker's Blog and Website and Life as Mom!