Friday, April 23, 2010

Annie's Mac and Cheese Tip

This is a funny thing I do when I'm fixing Mac and Cheese...

Kraft Mac and Cheese always works the way the directions tell you to make it.  Put the noodles, sauce mix, butter, and milk all in the same bowl.  Then stir.  There's never clumps and it looks just right.  Hmm...  

Then, there's Annie's or Trader Joe's Mac and Cheese, or even Costco's Kirkland Mac and Cheese.  You put the noodles, sauce mix, butter, and milk all in the same bowl.  Then you stir.  BUT, there's always clumps.  At least there is for me if I do it that way.

Instead, this is what I came up with =)

Cook the noodles as directed.  Turn off the burner and pour them into a colander.  Place the pan back on the burner, but don't turn it on (saves energy).  Put the butter, milk, and sauce mix in the pan.  Use a whisk to stir it until there are no lumps.  It works really well =)  And NO LUMPS!  Yay!  If the butter doesn't melt as quick as you want it to, but the cheese is all dissolved, just add the noodles back in --the warmth from them will melt the rest of the butter as you stir everything.

Anyways, I hope that's not too silly of a thing to post, but it's helped me a lot--I don't get frustrated with our Mac and Cheese anymore =)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Article below...

The article below was reprinted with the permission of Moody Publishers.  I've posted it on both of my blogs because it was something I've thought many times both in regards to my family (my other blog) and our finances (this blog) =).  

As I read the article, I agreed with what Debbie said--I could have said the same things many times (well maybe not about the preschool science project), but definitely about finding support and prayer.  

One of the hard things about making things stretch financially is choosing to be grateful always for the Lord's provision even when we'd wish for things to be easier.  

The grass always seems greener in other people's lives, but they have their own loads to carry too.  I loved Erma Bombeck's quote that "The Grass is always Greener over a septic tank."  

Being Grateful

Finding Contentment in a Facebook World
 By: Debbie Lykins
I have to admit, I'm hooked on Facebook.

Since joining the Facebook family more than two years ago,I've been roped into training for half-marathon (whose idea exactly was this anyway?), had the secret pleasure of chucklingat a picture of a high school crush (he once had a nice head of, not so much), and received virtual "support" when my preschooler won the drawing to bring home the classroom hamster over Christmas break (she was thrilled; I silentlypanicked). And, of course, I've reconnected with many people from the past who I haven't heard from or seen in years.

But, as much as I enjoy using Facebook, I don't always likewhat it does to me. Or, more to the point, what it brings out in me.

You see, on Facebook, you peer behind the doors of a lot ofpeople's lives. This can be fun. Who knew, for example, thatyour best friend in the fourth grade who you haven't seen in 25 years loves the same quirky author as you? Or that your second cousin's daughter had a new boyfriendOf course,others share more serious things like moving stories of saying goodbye to a husband and daddy deploying to Afghanistan orlosing a loved one to a devastating illness.

But, sometimes, having a front row seat into people's lives and hearts leads to some not so good things-or more like, some not so good attitudes-at least in my own life.

The trouble with Facebook is that people's lives often can come across as "perfect." There's the business contact thatjets off to New York to meet with powerful media, the stay-at-home mom who spends hours in creative play with her children, the family that heads to Disney every spring break,the couple packing for a cruise. Everything is so...perfectAndsometimes, somewhere inside of me, attitudes like envy, discontentment, and ungratefulness, begin to creep out.

Why don't I have her life? If we just had more money...or more time. When do we get our turn to watch our daughters' eyes light up at Disney? It's so not fair. Discontentment.

I find discontentment rearing its ugly head when it comes to my off-line relationships, too. Take my friend, Lisa: she lives in a 14,000 square foot mansioncomplete with an indoor racquetball court, multiple flat-screen TVs, and the requisite fountain out frontEverything is top-of-the-line. Then there's my friend, Amy, who got married, moved south, and recentlymoved into a new home on five acres-complete with an indoor pool and its own chapel.

We live in a townhouse. It's conveniently located, meets ourfamily of five's needs just fine, and really, most of the time, I love living here. But sometimes I feel a twinge of envy and wonder why I can't have Lisa's or Amy's life. I mean, I'd be able to go to the gym in my own house...think of the timesaved! We could take the kids swimming every day.And, I'm certain Lisa is not scrubbing the toilet on Saturday afternoon, GodDiscontentment.

I have another friend who spends hours teaching her children.One week they explored music by attending a band practice at the local high school and coloring pictures of composersI don't even think about those kinds of things. See what I could do, God, if I just didn't have to work? I could just focus on being a mom and wife.  I could play Candyland every day. I could bake brownies for the neighbor. I could, I could...Discontentment.

I don't think I'm alone in the "grass is greener" syndrome. While I read a lot of "I love my life" status updates, other moms lament on Facebook that their agenda for the day "only"includes changing diapers or watching Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. And the way that the information is shared quietly says,"I lead a boring life. I don't like my life. Can't I do something more important?" So much discontentment. And we wonder why our culture is so discontent. And why our kids are discontent, always wanting something more-bigger, better,cooler.

I started thinking about my own attitude toward contentmentrecently as I read the book, Growing Grateful Kids in an Ungrateful World by Susie Larson. On first blush, you might think you'll be reading a book filled with practical tips on how to teach your kids to be thankful in our "me-first" world of entitlement. Not so much. If you're like me, you'll walk away realizing that the issue of discontentment in the life of your childisn't so much the culture around you-the issue is you. And the even bigger issue is your relationship with Christ, and your understanding of His love for you-the secret to gratefulness.

Susie writes books and speaks around the country, and she's also a mom herself-having raised three boys with her husband.In the book Susie explores four critical areas we as moms need to focus on to help grow an attitude of gratefulness in our kids. Areas like modeling thankfulness, teaching perspective, encouraging faith, and living abundantly. Within each area she delves into things like practicing restraint, developing compassion, teaching forgiveness, and giving blessings. Sheshows how we, as moms, need to develop these areas in our own life, so that in turn, these traits can be developed in the lives of our children.

While much of what she covered spoke to me, one area stood out-embracing contentment. She wrote of her own struggles in this area over the years, particularly when she battled Lymes disease and her family had acquired a pile of medical debt.Like me, she too saw the "perfection" in the lives of friends.Susie writes that the sin of comparison (yes, it is a sin) triggers two kinds of responses-pride and/or despair. Pride when we appear to have the one-up; despair when we see ourselves as the loser. This, she says, leads to seeing things through a skewed lens. The key is to quit looking right or left-and to look up. She writes, "He is writing a beautiful story with our lives. His will for us is our best-case scenario. He doesn't want us to want someone else's story...because ours fits us perfectly."Susie also says that when we compare, we take a little something away from the relationships we have with our precious friends. God, forgive us, forgive me.

When it comes to our children, Susie writes that we must go after discontentment in our children because it is rooted in a sinful, selfish mind-set, just like oursI can help buildcontentment in my three children's lives by doing things such as praying with them and thanking the Lord for specific blessings, helping them learn that every good and perfect thing comes from above, and pointing out the countless ways that we are truly rich. But by far, the most important thing can do is be content in my own life, be content with the life God has given me, be content with the blessings He's given me, and stop thinking that somehow God is shortchanging me. Gratefulness.

Forgive me, Lord. Thank you, Lord, for the life you've given me. Thank you for a warm house on a cold night. Thank you for gently used clothes given freely by friends. Thank you for a godly school for our kids. Thank you for a career that allows me to work at home and be with my kids. Thank you for a husband who seeks after you. Thank you for worship songs sung from young lips, for the tender heart of my oldest whose biggest concern is if someone knows Jesus, for the laughter that comes from my middle child, and for the heartwarming smiles from my baby. Thank you, Lord.

I took Susie up on one of her ideas and bought a journal todaily list things I'm thankful for. I did this once before but it's been several years. I know God will meet me here, will use this to teach me, to remind me of the story He's writing for my life-for our family's life.

Contentment. Gratefulness. Praise be to Him, alone.
 Meet Susie
With enthusiasm, humor, and conviction, author/speaker SUSIE LARSON speaks to thousands of women through her blog and conferences. Susie also serves a regular guest host for Along the Way - a two-hour talk radio show (AM Faith 900). In addition to authoring several books and many articles, Susie works as a freelance writer for Focus on the Family, and has been featured as a guest on radio and TV programs across the country, including Moody Midday ConnectionFamily Life Today,Chris Fabry Live!The Harvest Show, and the LIFE Today Showwith James and Betty Robison.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Target vs. Walmart

Why I shop at Target more than Walmart:

1) The aisles are wider.

2) The aisles seem shorter.

3) I can hear, see, and find my kids easier if they wander off.

4) Clearance at Target is usually at least 30% off.  I was at Walmart on Friday and something was on clearance. It was marked $19.00 instead of $19.96 =) It seemed kind of silly.  I think that is 5% off...

5) Target has more grocery items (at least the one near me) and good prices on what they have.  Skippy Natural is always about $2 and I don't have to wait for it to go on sale.  Cereal is also always a better price than the grocery stores or BJ's/Costco/Sam's Club.

6) The quality of the clothes, shoes, and socks, etc. seems better than at Walmart, but the prices are about the same.

7) There are less people.  I don't feel overwhelmed that I'm going to run into people every time I get to the end of an aisle--which is a big deal to me when I have 2 little kids walking who are barely as tall as the cart ;)

8) Target sends me coupons =)  I registered for all of my children on their baby registry and I think that put me on a coupon list.  

9) The pharmacist is really helpful.  One time I went to CVS and they didn't call me (though they had my phone number) to tell me that the insurance wouldn't authorize the prescription.  It was Friday and fortunately my husband had enough medicine to make it through the week.  I've never gone back to that particular store again.  The pharmacists at the Target near me are great.  Periodically there's a coupon in the Target ad for a $10 gift card with a new prescription.  I always cut them out and save them in case I'll need to take the kids in unexpectedly.  They will give you the gift card even if it is a one time prescription (which Rite-Aid won't do).

10) Returns are easy using my credit card even if I lose my receipt--which I always seem to do.

I suppose this might seem like a funny thing to make a list about!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I'm not sure if I've linked to this article before, but it explains why we avoid MSG. It's interesting to me that in the article, the writer mentions that maltodextrin and hydrolyzed soy protein are other aliases that can be used when listing MSG as an ingredient.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Garage Saling begins! Thoughts and Tips =)

Through the winter, I try hard not to shop in stores for toys and extras for the kids. I try to remind myself that garage saling season will come again in the spring. Sometimes I'm good at staying out of stores and other times I'm not. Christmas and birthdays have traditionally been the one time we've bought new toys for the kids and bought them used toys the rest of the year at garage sales, for the most part. It's been a little different with Eli, because he's a boy. My husband has a very soft spot for buying him trucks and cars--because he loves them too and because he loved Matchbox cars as a kid.

Eli's birthday is in 2 weeks. It's hard to believe he will be turning 2! We've been in a lot of stores lately because my husband hasn't felt like he has enough "boy" toys. Most of the toys we have were bought for the girls. Although, once I discovered we were having a boy, I did try and start collecting the "boy" little people toys like the trucks and construction set. Still, my girls have loved My Little Pony and are now getting into dolls and Barbie (in a very limited way).

I was so excited for the beginning of Garage Sale Season here yesterday. Only one neighborhood was having a sale, but I knew a group of moms that were having one as well. So, we headed out--my garage saling partner, the kids, and me. The first neighborhood only had a few, but we stopped by one that didn't look promising. It turned out to be the first treasure of the day. =)

10 Thomas the train take along trains for $3 and 3 Thomas DVDs for $4.

Next, we went to one around the corner and found the exact Tonka playset I had wanted for Eli at Target the night before (that my husband wasn't sold on) for $2. It was $23 at the store. I was so thankful--and Eli's been playing with it ever since.

Finally, we went to the one where a group of moms were. I found a Little Tikes outdoor picnic table fore the kids for $5 and several Hot Wheels City Sets so Eli can have roads to drive his Matchbox cars on (or should I say so my husband can drive them with him =) ) for $3. I found several other small treasures, but each of these treasures have been a blessing to us. My kids and husband have enjoyed them. I am very thankful that the Lord used these folks at the Garage Sales to bless us =) with fun toys we could afford.

I am so glad Garage Saling season has begun.

My Garage Saling tips:
These are a few things that I've found to be helpful...

What I usually aim for price wise is about 10% of the retail cost when I am buying toys or household goods. I've found that it is a pretty good estimate of what I'm willing to pay and what seems reasonable.

Clothes: If they smell like smoke, wash them with oxiclean and your regular detergent. The smoke smell will come out. I try to stay away from other things that smell like smoke, though.

I choose to first go to neighborhoods or larger garage sales to make wise use of my gas.

If I offer a price and the seller isn't willing to haggle or thinks my price is way too low, I kindly tell them good luck and that I hope they have a nice day--rather than being offended if they are snobby or snippy about my offer.

Price for clothes. There are so many little kids clothes. Many people feel that clothes are worth more if they are Baby Gap or Gymboree. But, the clearance clothes at Target are brand new and often cost the same as some people ask for clothes at garage sales if they are worth a lot to them. I feel that it is wiser for people who want a lot of money for their clothes to take them to a consignment sale or a consignment store. Garage sales don't generally charge as much for clothes. I try to take into consideration whether or not I really need an item. Last week, I paid $4 for a winter coat for Autumn for next winter because it was something I really need for her. Normally, I won't pay more than 50 cents for a pair of shorts, shirt, or pants. If it's a coat, I'll offer between $1 and $5. I try to pick out several things at one time and make a bulk offer. If someone wants a lot of money for their clothes, though I don't generally look. I don't want to offend them and I don't want to be offended. It seems the wise thing to do.

Toys and plastic items: Baking soda is my best friend when it comes to these items--a damp rag and some baking soda will rub off just about anything. It also is a natural and safe disinfectant for children's toys.

Some baby items: I wouldn't buy a car seat from a garage sale unless you knew the person and it hadn't been in an accident and was less than 5 years old. The infant seats I've seen are usually about $20 for a Graco and $5 for an extra base--if they're in great shape. Otherwise, $10 if the cover on the car seat needs a lot of washing. This is one of those items though that I don't think I would buy used. There are strict regulations about them now and Thrift Stores aren't legally allowed to resell them anymore.

But, back to the 10% rule. $10 or $15 is a great price for a high chair in good shape. $20 is a good price for a baby swing that retails for $100 and is in good shape. I've bought them for $10 or $15, but I've seen them as high as $35 (way too high).

Consignment stores sell things at 50% of the retail price. I think that's usually the rule of thumb. I'm not sure what the rule of thumb is for the new wave of consignment sales. Does anyone know what the recommended pricing is? I do keep this in mind when I'm shopping because when someone asks for $3 for a Thomas DVD that costs $5 new, that's too high a price to me.

The price does depend on how old something is. If it's an older pack 'n play--I'd pay $5 at the most. But, if it's a new one with all the bells an whistles $10 is a good price, I think.

I'm sure there's a lot more that I could write, but I'm afraid I've begun to ramble!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Food to look forward to...

So, I made two recipes last night from Dishing Up Maryland. I made a pear, pecan, and chicken salad and the apple bread.

I'm notorious for substituting ingredients. So, I ran out of pecans and didn't have goat cheese for the salad. I substituted pine nuts and sharp white cheddar. Still a very good salad. I'm sure it will be even better next time when I use goat cheese and pecans (which I bought today).

The apple bread on the other hand, I made just as the recipe said. I didn't have to peel the apples, only chop them. That made it very easy. I was afraid that I had put too much flour in, but I trusted the recipe which said the batter would be extremely thick. It was very good and very, very yummy! I couldn't wait for breakfast this morning. I know it was not lowfat in the slightest, but it was definitely worth the treat =)

I'll post more as I try more recipes. But, based on the two I've tried so far, I'd definitely recommend Dishing Up Maryland by Lucie Snodgrass!

FYI, she will be speaking at the Abingdon branch of the Harford County Public Library next Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

eBay debacle...


On Monday, I ran into an issue with eBay. I tried to buy 2 of the same book from a seller, but the system wouldn't let me enter different addresses for them to be sent to. So, I began the process of trying to contact the seller SavvyMedia. I didn't hear back from the messages I sent them via eBay on Monday. When Tuesday rolled around and I still hadn't heard, I was frustrated. I didn't want to not have integrity in my purchases and commitments. I know that you have committed to buy an item on eBay when you click on it, but I don't exactly know if they'll come after you or not. Anyways, it took me several google searches to come up with a phone number that would actually get me to a live person at eBay's customer service. I had tried the help on the website, but it just gave me the run around. All they could do was email me the seller's email and phone number. I'd already emailed, but I tried the phone number and left a message.

Around noon, I finally got an email back from the seller and they cancelled the purchases. I went onto and bought the books from the seller that way. I felt like I still needed to buy the books from them since I had committed to it, but I don't think I'll be purchasing from them again.

If you ever need it, this is the phone number I called: 800-701-3229 I didn't have a pin number so I just pressed #. I had to wait probably 15 minutes to talk to someone.

I think that a lot of websites and companies work great--until you run into a problem! It makes me appreciate companies with good customer service all the more. I ran into this same problem with Norton. It was great until I had an issue. Then, it took a lot of time to get ahold of them and try to fix the problem. =(

Customer Service is actually why we bought our Bunn coffee maker. I called the company and someone answered the phone! She answered all of my questions and I knew for certain that it was the right coffee maker for us. She even sent us a low-flow sprayhead for free before I had even purchased it. (The low flow sprayhead makes the water go through slower so that it makes stronger coffee.)

My brother told me at the time that I like customer service, but that I wouldn't pay for it. I have to say--I disagree! It's why I bought my Bunn coffee maker and why I bought our Oreck vacuum cleaner at Costco and not at the store (the man at the store was pretty rude to me and the kids when I went to the store). I've been told though that the people are very nice at many Oreck stores.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The cookbook arrived!!

I was so excited when Dishing Up Maryland arrived yesterday in the mail! Sadly, it was a super busy day and I didn't have much time to sit down and look at it until much later. By that time, my husband was home and he stole it from me.

It is different than I expected. There are so many things I want to say about it, but that will have to wait until later when I have time to think through it. Simply in Season has been probably my favorite cookbook for the last 2+ years. The recipes encourage me to use what is in season; they're naturally low-fat; they're easy to make; and they use ingredients that you're likely to have around the house. That cookbook is one filled with recipes you can make any night of the week. I wouldn't say the recipes are super-duper little kid friendly, but they're better than many cookbooks. I would say, though, that the recipes are fine for elementary school age kids and up (including adventurous younger kids). Since I've had that cookbook, I've loved reading the anecdotes and stories inside--they're encouraging to me. There's even a page on how to encourage kids to eat healthy!

When I heard about Dishing Up Maryland by Lucie Snodgrass, this is what I expected: A few recipes, a few pictures, and a list of where you can find things in Maryland (including a map and contact information), possibly even a list of farmer's markets or websites that will direct you to them. I also expected the author to talk about CSAs and possibly even list some of them or include a website.

What I expected is not what this cookbook is---BUT that's okay. I still love it! This cookbook is a treasure whether you live in Maryland or in the surrounding areas, or you once lived in Maryland (it will evoke nostalgic feelings in your heart), or you live somewhere else and you are a firm believer in local agriculture and are encouraged to hear the stories of small farmers and cooks who believe in the same things.

So, what is in this cookbook?
+ A lot of wonderful pictures
+ Recipes that will make your mouth water
+ Recipes separated by season to make it easier to use the special fruits and vegetables that are available in Maryland at different times of the year.
+ Stories about cooks, inn keepers, farmers, and crabbers in Maryland
+ Interesting information about fruits and vegetables (I learned a lot about asparagus and soft-shelled crabs!)
+ An alphabetized list of some of the farms in Maryland. I assume that there are more. I know there are more that have CSAs locally in Harford County that weren't listed, so that leads me to assume that this is only a partial list.

The recipes are not ones that you will generally make any night of the week (though some of them are) if you have kids, like I do. But, they are recipes that you could make for special occasions and ones that will remind you how yummy good food is (and how it really is worth the work!).

Since I just received it yesterday and I already had meatballs and sauce going in the crockpot, I haven't been able to try anything from it yet. And sadly, today is Tuesday--which means Tacos in our house. So, I will have to wait until tomorrow to try something from this cookbook. But, I'll post again as soon as I have and let you know how it goes. A cookbook isn't really a good one, in my humble opinion, unless the recipes taste as good as they sound!

PS I haven't posted a lot of reviews of cookbooks on this blog, but I have requested cookbooks from Amazon when they come up on my review list. Most of the time, honestly, they've been quite disappointing. The last one I reviewed was even missing a direction on when to add one of the ingredients. That's the first time that's happened to me, though. Most of the time the cookbooks are badly formatted (they're difficult to read and follow). That is what makes this cookbook so wonderful to me! The formatting makes the recipes easy to follow and focus on.

PPS If you're curious about the author of this cookbook, she's a local Harford County native (she even helped start the Edgewood Farmer's Market where I go every week in the summer). Here is her website:

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Colored Frosting

I read this great tip in Better Homes and Gardens this month and I wanted to share it. I haven't had a chance to try it, but I'm sure it will work great. Anyways, here's the tip I read about:

To color frosting, add a little jam instead of food coloring.

Simple and healthy =)

Well, healthier than the strange things that food coloring is made of =)

Update... 4/3/10
So, I tried this trick. I added 2 Tbsp. boysenberry jam (just fruit and sugar) to my recipe. It didn't color it enough though. I could just taste a hint of it. I suspect there are jams that work better than others. I put in 2 drops of food coloring with the frosting to finish it off.

I am going to try it again, though, the next time I have a jam open that is red in color.

I wonder if it made a difference that I used healthy jam! =) Go figure.


CSAs are a way to support our local agriculture. We have always shopped at the farmer's market near our home, but Deb pointed this one out to me and I'm very tempted to join! Brad's is farther from us because it's out on 136 between Churchville and Belcamp. There is no guarantee of what you will get for your share, but it is a way to support our local farms to help keep them going by investing in them up front at the beginning of the season.

There are two CSAs nearby that I know of:
1) Flying Plow Farm is an organic farm near Mtn. Christian Church off of Jerusalem Mill Rd.
Full Share $700
Small Share $450

2) Brad's Produce (not organic)
Full Share $475
Full Share Bi-Weekly $275
Half Share Weekly $300

A new cookbook I'm excited about!

Along with a desire to be frugal, my husband and I deeply desire to support local agriculture and business. It is logically much wiser to buy food that is grown close to our homes than food that is shipped to America from places all over the world. Shipping costs money, but it also uses fuel and energy to get the food here. Buying locally also invests in our community where we live. It invests in people who live here and supports our local economy. All of this explanation brings me to the cookbook that I'm excited about!

A new cookbook is going to be published in the middle of this month called Dishing Up Maryland! by Lucie Snodgrass. Ms. Snodgrass is a Harford County resident, so she lives locally. She and her co-writer wrote this cookbook about where to find ingredients all over Maryland so that people can eat more local foods. There was an article about her cookbook in the Baltimore Sun's Taste section yesterday morning. I haven't seen the cookbook yet, but I will soon be receiving a copy and then I will post a review of it here and let you know what's in it and how the recipes are!

Honestly, my hope is that I will find some new sources of ingredients here in Maryland so that we will be able to support local agriculture more than we already do. I would love that! Especially, if it gave us excuses to make a few fun road trips =) to different places around Maryland.