Monday, December 30, 2013

Recovering from Christmas

Christmas Day was just a few days ago.  It feels like it was just yesterday.  I'm tired.  Being a mom never gives breaks.  But.  That's okay.  I had an interesting conversation today with a family friend.  Their Christmas this year was hard.  I felt bad for he and his wife.  

Christmas seems like it would and should be fun and easy to navigate.  But, it often isn't!  There's so many expectations that get wrapped up in Christmas.  Expectations about gifts, family traditions, what's going to happen when and who's going to come...  It's hard to navigate.

Back in November, I was a part of a conversation where two moms I know were sharing about how their own families don't have any Christmas traditions.  Each Christmas Eve and Day are held at their in-laws according to their in-laws' traditions.  As I listened, I felt a pang of sadness.  Did these in-laws realize what they were taking from these families?  When we grow up and start our own families, part of Christmas is forming a new set of traditions--partially taken from the wife's family and partially from the husband's and partially new to both.  These are traditions that our children will remember and associate are very special.  

The conversation really made me think.  The in-laws were also being selfish about wanting everything to stay the same and not changing.  I don't know these families personally and I say this from the outside listening in.  I also say this because I saw the same thing in my own heart.

Two years ago, my mom, mother in law, and youngest brother in law moved to where we live.  My husband and I had formed our own set of family Christmas traditions over the previous ten years.  My mom had been there each Christmas because that was her annual visit to our home for a week.  But, my mother in law and brother in law hadn't.  

Listening made me reflect on my own selfishness.  Have I been extending myself to my in-laws when it comes to my family traditions?  Am I holding on and not changing because I don't want to?  Am I including all in the discussion?  I perceived them as joining our family.  They perceived us as a part of theirs.  Perhaps neither is correct actually.  Perhaps, it is actually all our family and thus we all need to sit down and discuss, delegate, share, and rotate responsibilities.  If one person wants to always take the same holiday, that's okay--if it's okay with everyone.  But, I've realized it's good for everyone to get to host if they want to.  I realized that it's okay to let go.  It's okay to decide together.  And it's even okay to change.  I realized from listening that I needed to communicate with all my family why I want to do certain traditions and which family each one comes from, too.  

I also realized that I can do other traditions in my home that still make the holiday unique for my children and special just to us.  Christmas morning it's just us and our kids.  Everyone else comes around 1 p.m.  We open presents one by one and savor that time.  We enjoy it like a long meal instead of gorging ourselves the way I picture Animal from the muppets would probably open presents.  It's the way we like to do things.  Then, we get together with our family and enjoy the rest of the day together and one another's company. 

This Christmas was one of my better Christmases.  I was thankful that everyone enjoyed the gifts we'd picked out.  I was thankful that my kids were just starting to get colds, so they weren't too sick to enjoy all of it.  I was thankful that we all enjoyed being together.  A lot of work went into it and there were some bumps a long the way, but as a friend told me today---when you become an adult, you become responsible for the work that goes into Christmas!  

I am thankful for the love the Lord has blessed us with.  I am thankful for the children He has entrusted to us.  I am thankful to Him.  It was a rough year, but God is faithful and it is good to savor times of joy.

Adding spice to our diet

I realized that our family menu had gotten very repetitive of late, so I tried two new recipes this weekend.  One was America's Test Kitchen's Skillet Tamale Pie.  It has a great flavor!  I found the recipe online HERE.  I didn't use the topping from this recipe.  I actually used the corn muffin recipe from ATK Family Cookbook Here.  The only issue I had was that I didn't halve the cornbread.  It was too much.  I probably would even make a third next time as the topping to make the ratio better.  It was really good. 

The second recipe I made was Chicken Tikka Masala, but I couldn't find the exact recipe that I used online.  It was from America's Test Kitchen's Quick Family Cookbook.  I have to be honest, this cookbook has sat on my shelf for a while.  I have the ATK's Family Cookbook, Healthy Family Cookbook, and the Quick Family Cookbook.  This Chicken Tikka Masala recipe was unusual, but so good!  My family all thought it was as good as what we ate last time at the nearby Indian restaurant.  

So, if you have this cookbook, here's the changes I'd suggest for this recipe...  only use 1/8 tsp cayenne and mix the spices into the yogurt before coating the chicken.  Don't rub the chicken with the spices and then in the yogurt.  Definitely pound the chicken thin and then slice into pieces.  Also, add 1/4 cup chopped raisins to the sauce.  My husband loves it spicy, so he added cayenne to his dish when it was served on his plate.  But, my kids and me... well we need mild food.  So, this dish worked well for us!  

Tonight I made a Chicken broccoli stirfry for dinner.  I used the Asian Wing sauce (with half the honey) as my teriyaki sauce from the ATK Family Cookbook.  These really are my go to cookbooks.  

It's felt good the past few days making something completely new.  It's something I want to keep up this year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Shopping

Musings...

I heard a story of a couple spending hours shopping for a purchase recently.  It reminded me of a frustration my husband and I frequently experience around Christmastime.  You want to find the "perfect" or "right" gift. So, you start looking (if you're like me) and sometimes you find it quickly and sometimes you don't!  

I think the thing I often forget is that the extra time I take shopping takes time away from other things I should or could be doing.  And it makes an interesting comment about what I value.  Specifically, the value I put on "things" and pleasing others.  

Yesterday morning, I had one last gift to purchase for my mom for Christmas.  It's actually her only gift because it's a big gift.  I looked for about fifteen minutes and then went to check with my husband about whether what I'd found was okay.  He had a suggestion about what might be a better choice, so I went back to the drawing board and started looking around at three other websites.  I found about ten options and started narrowing them down.  After about thirty minutes, I settled on my choice and picked it.  I picked one that was guaranteed to arrive by Christmas (with free shipping) at a store that had a better and easier to deal with return policy in case she doesn't like it.

I'm thankful for internet shopping because of my kids.  It's easier to shop online for a few minutes than get in and out of the store (which I did six times with my kids yesterday in the span of three hours) for a single gift especially when I'm trying to think about it and don't know exactly what I'm getting.  But, I do hate how the time adds up!  

I think it all comes down to something a friend of ours said--that with more choices comes more unhappiness.  If you have a lot of choices, it's harder to choose because you think you might be happier with something else--even after you've chosen.  I think that unhappiness is a potential consequence whether you're purchasing something for yourself or someone else.  

I think my Christmas shopping is almost done.  I have one gift that I need to buy on Friday without my children, one gift card to mail, and one more gift for a family member.  Yay!  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pad Thai from Scratch

One of my favorite dishes is Pad Thai.  I have tried to make it at home before, but the smell of the fish sauce just overwhelms me.  In our new home, we actually have a vent fan that vents out to the roof (not one that just spits the steam back into the room).  So, I thought I'd try again with the help of a new cookbook.

Enter Everyday Thai Cooking by Katie Chin.  This is a fun cookbook to look through and it has many of
the standards you'll find on the menu of most Thai restaurants.  There are many ingredients in this cookbook that are hard to find where I live.  But, that's where David Joachin's Food Substitution Bible comes in handy.  There was one thing that I most wanted from this cookbook--a good Pad Thai that I could make.  And I found one.

One night a few weeks ago, I gathered the ingredients and started with fixing the noodles.  This was the area where I made my one mistake.  Rice noodles get mushy if you leave them in the hot, boiling water too long.  I forgot to set a timer and remove them from the water after ten minutes.  I won't forget to do this next time.  I also had to substitute lime juice for the tamarind concentrate.  (I had to substitute after looking in three local grocery stores for this ingredient.) I was concerned that this would make a big difference, but it worked out quite well.  The pad thai was recieved well by my husband and oldest daughter, the most experimental eater of my three children.  I will be making this recipe again.  

As for the rest of the cookbook, it is formatted well.  The directions are easy to follow.  I liked that the ingredients were in a different color ink than the directions.  But, neither color was hard to look at.  I've read some cookbooks over the years printed with light colored ink that were very difficult to read!  For every recipe, there was a beautiful color picture.  Being a visual person, I love pictures.  The photographs were very well composed and the focus was on the subject.  I find the more I get into photography, the more I pay attention to photos and their composition.  

If you're looking for an engaging and fun thai cookbook to try, take a look at this one.  But, be prepared to look for a few substitutions unless you live near an asian market.  The closest big asian supermarket to where we live is 45 minutes to an hour away.  So, I'll plan on making a list from this cookbook and picking up a few ingredients the next time I'm in that area!  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook for review from the publisher.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gift for parents of 1s and 2s (and 3s and 4s)

The other day a good friend of mine came by with her 1 1/2 year old and the baby she's visiting.  Her little boy so wanted to go up to the tree and touch the ornaments.  She stopped him and redirected him.  As I watched him, the memories came flooding back of when my kids were that age and how they wanted to touch everything.  It was a bit stressful to me.  We worried about the tree tipping over on them.  We worried about damage to the ornaments that had weathered the years through both of our families and many that my great grandmother had made.  

It's an interesting thing.  Should I have cared?  How important was it?  What's a good solution?  What's most important?  That's the question that's easier to answer.

My kids and the memories they'll have when they grow up of our Christmases.  I don't (and didn't) want them to be stressful ones.  I'm afraid that's what my kids often think of me!  They still love me though.  Anyways, I was working on a gift for my brother and his wife when I thought of a good gift for friends...

Child Safe ornaments!

So, here's my plan.  I went to this website.  There's a bunch of great Christmas shape templates.  My plan is for my kids to color them with me.  Then, I'm going to laminate them and cut them out.  We're going to tie a string through each so that they can hang on a tree.  

This is the laminator that I have...  http://amzn.com/B00BUI5QWS  and the laminating sheets that I use...  http://amzn.com/B00BWU3HNY  The sheets end up costing 13 cents each.  5-6 ornaments can be laminated with each sheet.  

We're going to make these ornaments for our friends with 1 and 2 year olds--who love to touch the tree.  My hope is that it will make my friends' Christmas' a little less stressful when it comes to their Christmas trees by having some kid safe ornaments to hang on the lower branches.

I wish I had thought of this when my kids were really little to begin with.  After a year or two with my little ones, I did come up with the solution of giving my kids their own tree.  So, that's what we've done for three or four years.  It has all kid friendly ornaments that aren't easily broken.  

There are lots of things we change about our lives when our kids are little.  We do these things so that we can enjoy them instead of being stressed because they're who they are--Little kids love to touch things!  It's totally natural.  They do have to learn boundaries and as parents we try and be reasonable.  But, if you have to constantly say "No! Don't touch!"  it can get very stressful and disheartening.  It can steal the joy from many moments.  So, my approach has always been to do what I can to make our home more child safe, but at the same time say "No. Don't touch." when I needed to.  One example of this was two years ago, when I took all of my Willow Tree figurines and put them in a box downstairs.  Three had been broken accidentally in the course of two months.  Rather than getting upset again, I thought it would be better for all of us if I just put them away.  I know a lot of people would disagree with me, but I know my personality and I knew it was the wisest thing for me and for my kids.  Though my patience and grace for my kids has grown a lot, there's wisdom too.  Knowing that it's wise to simplify so that it's easier to cope.

I'll post a picture when they're done!

Oops! I pureed the bay leaf!

The other night I made a buttermilk broccoli soup for dinner.  But, right after I'd pureed the soup in my Vitamix, I realized that I hadn't taken out the bay leaf!  I panicked.  I've been trying to teach my girls how to cook simultaneously while I cook the main part of the meal.  Having conversations and cooking can often get mixed up in my head and it's hard to keep track of ingredients once in a while.  

I sent the kids out of the room while I tried to recover and figure out what to do.  There wasn't time to cook anything new before dinner.  Otherwise we were going to end up eating at 8:00 p.m.!  I looked online for information and to try and figure out if we could eat the soup or not.  Here's what I discovered...

The bay leaves we cook with aren't actually poisonous unless they're consumed in large amounts. There is ground bay leaf in Old Bay Seasoning actually.  Some people can react to bay leaf and have stomach aches.  The biggest reason why is that bay leaves are tough in cooking and they usually don't puree very well.  The rough edges of the leaves can tear you up inside.  In my case, there was no trace of the leaf to be seen.  It pureed so well.  I couldn't pick out any pieces, because there weren't any to be picked out.  

I called my mom and another gal I knew to ask their opinions.  Both had never made the mistake I did, but both thought it would be fine.  So, we ate the soup.  And we were indeed fine.  Thankfully.  I'm going to try and remember in the future though.  The bay leaf did give the soup a much stronger flavor when it was pureed and my kids ate it, but didn't care for it.  

So, in case this ever happens to you--toxicologists did agree on everything I read on the internet that bay leaves aren't poisonous. But, the flavor is very strong and you wouldn't want to eat one if you happen to see one in some soup you're about to eat.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Good Deal on a Jim Weiss MP3 Album

We have several audiobooks/recordings from Jim Weiss of Greathall Productions.  My kids love them all.  I love that they're usually educational--either from classic literature, history, or the arts.  Recently, I had a $3 MP3 promotional credit on Amazon.  I discovered that Jim Weiss' album "Mystery! Mystery! for Children" is only $3 on Amazon.  It's $14.95 to purchase the cd.  This album includes: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, The Blue Cross by G. K. Chesterton and The Red Headed League by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My kids have listened to it and all love it.  When you purchase it, you do have to download it to Amazon's cloud player and then export it to Windows Media Player in order to burn it onto a playable cd if you have a PC.  I couldn't burn a cd directly from the cloud player.  My kids take the cds and listen to them in their rooms or in our car.  If you haven't listened to an audiobook by Jim Weiss before, you can hear samples of the album on Amazon.  

PS  In order to find it on Amazon, search for the title with the word MP3 after it.  When I typed in simply the name of the album, only the cd came up the first time.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pursuing a hobby...

I'm an amateur photographer.  I suppose I could turn it into a business, but I'm not sure if I want to yet.  My primary job is to teach my children and I need to focus on them.  I've been pondering this a lot lately.  And I've come to a few conclusions...

1) I don't need to be good enough to I get noticed on the web.  I just need to do the best I can with my photography skills that God has given me and is developing in me.  There is this idea that pervades our culture that tries to creep into my thinking.  It is the idea that what I do is valuable only if another (or rather many) people value it.  This is one of the problems I see with social media surrounding our lives and seeing what other people do all the time.  It's hard to escape comparing ourselves to others and placing too much value on the opinions of others.



2) Every photographer has their own "bent"--what they see or are looking for in a picture.  I don't like the family pictures where everyone is wearing the same exact colors.  What I love more is when a group wear's similar colors, but clothes that express their own personalities.  I love what these pictures say about the bonds of family and diversity in every single family.  Here's a post I found with some good advice.


3) It is worth doing something we enjoy even if we aren't good at it?  Have you considered the artist or musician that simply loves to "do" their craft, but can't carry a tune or paint a recognizable picture?  Is what they've done worthless?  No.  I don't think so.  The gift of enjoying doing something is a gift from the Lord, I think.  



4) Live.  Enjoy.  Do.  Don't give up.  It takes time to develop skill.  Perhaps even longer when we pick up something new as adults!  Maybe you're like me and you expect to be able to do something right the first time.  I know that's the way my children are wired.  I see it in myself sometimes.  I look back now and I can't tell if my pictures are better than they were two years ago, but I hope so.  I've learned a lot about composition and I understand my camera now--which I didn't two years ago!  


  

Stinky Washing Machine

We've been in our new home for two years and I still miss my old washing machine.  I loved it.  It was a top loading washing machine.  When not in use, I left the top open and I never had an issue with a smell.  It got my clothes so clean!  Less water and less energy.  

In our new home, the laundry is stacked and is placed in our now tv room.  It used to be my son's room.  We can't move it to the basement, so it has to stay where it is.  

I have been battling this washing machine and the smell in it for two years.  I had to keep the door shut because the door opens into the machine and I didn't want to break the swinging door (it has a huge plexiglass or glass panel in the center of it).  Sometimes I'd leave it open anyways, but worry about the door.
Unfortunately, the swinging door is also always shut and so it traps moisture in the room.  

I've tried Tide's washing machine cleaner repeatedly, but the smell would come back within a day or two.  

Finally, this week, I thought of placing something tall enough to block the door from swinging wide open (but staying open) to let the air in.  We also have had a room dehumidifier in the room for three months now that I was so grateful to find brand new at a garage sale for $4!  What a blessing!  I paid full price for the identical one that we have in our bedroom.  The only downside of this dehumidifier is that the lid on the bottom part of the water container doesn't come out, so I can't clean it if needed.
 
The smell is finally, finally gone!  That's the thing I've found about high efficiency washers--the lids need to stay open in order to dry out.  I don't know why they're different than the old ones, but I'm sure there's a reason that has to do with the way they work.  I'm just thankful.  Propping the door is easy enough.  I just needed to think about it!


Friday, November 22, 2013

Price Matching This Christmas

My kids, like most kids their age, love legos and my girls have been getting into Lego Friends.  I learned something interesting today that I wanted to pass on!  Last winter there were no sales on Lego Friends.  This line was always excluded.  But, this year they are being included!  Yay! 

This week, in particular, the sales are better than they have been the past two weeks on Legos (on both Lego City and Lego Friends).  My girls had some birthday money and wanted to purchase a set together, so I looked around online and found a set for $37 at Toys 'R Us online.  I had discovered two weeks ago that the online price, though, is often different than the in store price.  You can however, purchase online and pick up at the store (!) with Toys R Us.  I didn't think we'd run into an issue, so I didn't order it online and just went to Toys R Us in person.

We went to Toys 'R Us and found the set out of stock.  So, we tried the nearby Target--again, out of stock.  I told them we may just have to order it online...  Anyways, I went without them to return something else this evening and checked to see if it was at a store closer to us (which is the store we always go to).  It was in stock.  I didn't know what the price match policy was, so I went up to the front counter.  The gal at the counter had a tablet and said that she could match Target's online price--if it is in stock.  It wasn't.  So, I told her the price was at Toys 'R Us and she found it there in stock so she was able to price match it!  Yay!  The instore price of the set at Target was $47.  So, it was a big difference.  I was also able to use the $5 off Lego coupon that you can find on the Target site.  And my 5% off coupon from my pharmacy rewards :)  

So, this is what I learned.  Even if you don't have a smart phone (like me) the folks at Target have tablets at the Customer Service Counter.  They will price match to their site, Walmart.com, or Toys R Us.com.  I think you have to know where to ask them to check when you go in, but I was so glad to know that they will do it!   I know a lot of people have smart phones and can show the price on their phones and I was worried the store wouldn't be able to help me.  But, they were after all!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stretching So You Can Spend When You Need To...

Last Sunday, I was talking with a friend of mine who I always enjoy talking to.  She gives me much food for thought.  Her daughter is two years older than my oldest daughter.  She's just a step ahead of me.  We often talk about clothing our families and the challenges we find in this task... and what we do/where we go to tackle this task.  I have another friend that I also regularly ask about this often difficult task when I see her.  

The jist of our conversation on Sunday was that clothes for tween and teenage girls cost as much as adult clothing today.  So, what do you do?  We talked about how we save where we can so that we can spend where we need to.

I have been so blessed with hand me downs from friends for my girls and son.  I do have two girls, so you'd think they would hand things down from one to the other.  But, NO!  Two years a part and two inches in height still equal the same size clothing and the younger one wears larger shoes!  So, I need double clothing.  I try to often thank my friends who have given me these hand me downs because I am so thankful for them.  
In September, we had to buy 6 pairs of shoes--a pair of casual shoes and tennis shoes for each child.  The bill totaled $180.  I swallowed hard as I paid the bill.  But, we needed to get them in one fell swoop.  I didn't have the time or energy to shop around at multiple shops and find clearance shoes.  I did walk out of the store thankful. My kids all had shoes on their feet without holes.  I hadn't bought any shoes this summer new.  My son wore his shoes from the spring and hand me down sandals.  My girls wore sandals and flip flops that I'd bought at a garage sale (that looked brand new) for $1/pair at a garage sale at the beginning of the summer and $2 flip flops from Kohls that I'd used a $10 off coupon on to make them free.  

Last spring, I asked my other friend where she was shopping now for her daughter who is taller than my daughters, but the same age.  She has started shopping at Crazy 8.  She shops sales online at LLBean when she can.  I think it was she who told me that the quality of Old Navy clothing has gone down a lot.  She used to shop at Carter's, but Carter's only goes up to size 7.  OshKosh does go up to size 12 online.  And their clearance prices are pretty good.  

My friend I spoke with on Sunday likes to check out Goodwill whenever she gets the chance and she has found some great treasures there.  My other friend does go to consignment sales and has been able to clothe her kids for less taking advantage of them.

I have to be honest, I have declined going to consignment sales in the past.  I have received so many hand me downs and I like to pass them on.  As a matter of conscience and heart, I would never consign any clothing that I had been given for my children.  I actually love thinking about the little girls in our church and sorting the clothes we pass down based on their personalities and individual flairs for style and bounce.  My girls have caught hold of this idea and now get excited to go through their clothes at the end of a season and pass things on.  

But, BUT...  I went shopping with my oldest daughter on Monday for the first time.  I was prepared for the cost of clothes by my friend Sunday morning on church.  So, I didn't have a heart attack.  I had never taken her shopping for an outfit before.  She had always been too little or I'd garage saled for her clothes.  WOW!  I had no idea that clothes size 10 could cost so much.  I thought I knew it--sort of.  But, I didn't.  Autumn was patient with me and we figured it out together.  We started at Crazy 8.  Then, we put a few things on hold and checked out Sears (Land's End), GapKids, Justice, and JCPenney.  I was disheartened by the high prices and the garishness of much of the clothing we saw.  We headed back to Crazy 8, which I love.  She found 4 dresses on sale.  Three of the dresses were on clearance for $10 (which I learned from our shopping is a good price).  One holiday dress was 30% off.  She was pleased and so was I.  She stretched the money had given her to spend for her birthday, but explained to me that she wasn't concerned about the clothing's original prices.  She just wanted to purchase what she could afford and make it stretch.  Sometimes my daughter makes me smile without realizing it.  She can be wise beyond her few years.  

If I had to purchase all of my children's clothing, I would definitely go to consignment sales.  I would watch the emails from Crazy 8 and Osh Kosh.  You can return clothing in store and not have to pay a fee.  If you find an item in Crazy 8, but the size isn't in stock, they will ship it to the store for free.  We found one dress in the store for $10, but they didn't have Autumn's size in the store.  It was instock online and they are shipping it.  I paid for it in the store and it's on its way.  I was impressed that they would do this even with a $10 clearance item!

I save on clothing for me.  I shop clearance and never buy anything full price.  I can do this.  I save on my kids' clothing and shoes whenever I can, so that I can afford the more expensive pieces when I need to.  I save so that we can spend what we need to on my husband's clothing which is always a bit more expensive.

As moms, we have many jobs.   Clothing our families is one of them.  It can often be very challenging, but it's one more area in which God continually reminds me that he will always provide for my family.   I am so thankful for how He continually provides.  

PS 
Several years ago, I approached several friends and asked for their hand me downs.  It was a little hard to ask, but I am thankful I did.  Several of my friends consign clothing and then use the proceeds to provide for the new clothing their children need.  I know this is a huge blessing to their families and a way God provides for their families.  But, if you have hand me downs and don't need to consign them, would you consider asking someone you know if they need any hand me downs?  My friends and I even hand things down from one to another for each other--not just our children.  That's the thing about being women and giving birth to children--our sizes change over the years.  I found a pair of shoes this summer at a garage sale for $1.  They didn't fit quite right when I got home,  so I gave them to one friend to try out.  They didn't fit her, so she returned them to me.  So, the next week, I passed them on to another friend.  It gives me joy to pass them on.  And my friends smile when they receive them.  The gift is doubled.  I have a pair of jeans that one friend from church gave me.  Honestly, they're my favorite pair.  They fit so well!  And I think of that friend and pray for her family when I wear them.  

I have found that hand me downs are an opportunity to minister to and encourage others.  I approached one of the families on my daughter's soccer team and asked the wife what size pants she wore.  I knew things were tight for them right now and they're dealing with a lot.  I brought her a bag of clothes another friend had passed on to me.  She was very thankful for them.  I have other clothes I'm going to give her for one of her children, because there isn't a child in our church close in age.  I know this may sound strange, but I actually pray and think hard about who I can give things to.  God gives me great joy as I watch people enjoy toys and clothing that we have passed along.  One mom told me when I recently called her that she was just in need of pants for one of her daughters when I called.  That next Sunday, I handed her a bag with six pairs of pants.  What a blessing to be used by the Lord in such a way!  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Audio CDs for Kids

Last year, I took advantage of Lamplighter's 7 for $7 download sale.  My kids love to listen to cds--stories and music alike.  My 5 year old son has recently been listening to all sorts of things and I wanted to find some new additions for our collection.  

I find that I get frustrated at the local library because many of the audio recordings are contemporary books and the kids and I don't like how the characters talk to each other.  Hotel for Dogs is one such example.  The kids hid a lot from their parents and aunt.  They lied and did get in trouble--sort of.  The consequences were watered down at the end of the story and things still worked out perfectly--for the kids.  My girls just didn't like it very much.  

One recording artist that we've enjoyed in the past is Jim Weiss of GreatHall Productions.  We have four of his cds that have been listened to over and over.  Last year, I purchased three more that I found inexpensively used on Amazon.  This morning I went looking again to see if I could find anymore that would fit in our budget.  

What I discovered is that several of his productions can be downloaded as MP3s.  The cost varies between $3 and $9.  Most of them are $9, but one--Mystery! Mystery! for kids is only $3.  Arabian Nights is $4 on MP3 and the new one about women in the Civil War is only $6.  I just purchased Mystery! Mystery! and look forward to listening to it the next time we get in the car.  I haven't listened to it yet, but we have enjoyed all the rest of his recordings, so I'm sure we'll enjoy this one too!  

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Surprising Foodie Ingredient

A few weeks ago, I received two jars of salt in the mail to try from The San Francisco Salt Company. 

The first jar contained Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt.  When I opened up a jar of this salt, I thought about who this salt would perfect for. It's the perfect gift for someone who loves the smell of a charcoal or wood smoke BBQ, but can't have a BBQ because of where they live. Twenty years ago, I went to Australia for six months. I remember longing for American candies that I couldn't purchase while I was there (even though I hadn't eaten them while in the US). As for the flavor, When I opened up this jar, I was amazed. I felt like my husband was barbequeing over a charcoal campfire or a Weber with wood added to give it a smokey smell. Instead, you can cook on the stove, sprinkle a little of this salt over your food (while it's cooking or afterwards), and taste the smokey flavor that comes with barbequed meat, chicken, or vegetables. The aroma of this salt is delicious. It was amazing! The salt is a fine grain and the shaker sprinkles nicely over a dish of vegetables or meat. If you're looking for a special gift for a foodie, I'd definitely share this salt. 

If it's for you and the presentation isn't your first priority (and the salt is), then I'd purchase the bag. If it is a gift for a friend, I'd opt for the specially packaged jar that is a bit more expensive. 

This is definitely something that I'm going to be recommending to every foodie I know!  It's one of those gifts that you give someone who loves to cook and is tricky to buy for.   

The second salt we tried was the Pink Himalayan Sea Salt. My sister in laws enjoy this salt and  my mother in law actually bought some for one of her granddaughters who loves the color pink.  This salt is very delicate and flavorful.  It is a fine grain, but not as fine as table salt.  I think the flavor of this salt is best when used at the table for your salt shaker rather than mixed into food when cooking. Over eggs, on french fries, over roasted asparagus... 

Neither of these salts contain iodine, which is needed by our bodies so they are best used in combination with iodized salt in your cooking. These salts add wonderful flavor when added on top of food.  Iodized Table or Iodized Sea Salt can be added while cooking.  A century ago, goiter was a very common condition.  Iodizing salt pretty much rid us of this condition.  But, there has been a popular trend to replace iodized table salt with sea salt--which is usually not iodized.  Using a combination of both salts can allow us to enjoy both.  Here is a quick description from the Mayo Clinic's website about the difference between the two.  

The best prices are found directly on their website.  Currently, there's free shipping for purchases over $20.   If you enjoy the flavor of salt on your food and have a delicate palate, I would check into these salts.  They are less expensive per ounce when purchased in bags.  There are small sampler bags or larger bags sold by the pound.  

In comparison to other companies selling the same types of salt on Amazon, the prices on San Francisco Salt Company's website seem appropriate given the packaging and product.   

 Please note that I received complimentary samples of these two salts from the San Francisco Salt Company.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Extra Expense with High Efficiency Furnaces

Last week, our chimney was cleaned and given its annual inspection.  I was so relieved when the man gave me the bill when he was done and no extra repairs were needed!  Yippee!  Just about everything in our house ends up requiring additional repairs when it's done.  I'm hoping that we're getting to that point when we'll get to do more maintenance than repairs soon!

Before he cleaned the chimney, I was a little concerned about what he would find.  This past spring we had a stainless steel liner put inside the furnace side of our chimney to protect the inside of the chimney from crumbling any further.  Crumbles had fallen and blocked the outflow from our furnace.  The furnace has a safety shut off that prevented it from running until the blockage was removed.  Because one side had to be fixed, I was concerned something similar would be required for the other side.

Thankfully, it didn't.  And I learned why...

The next question from the chimney sweep when I told him of the repair was whether I had a high efficiency furnace.

Yes.

How long has it been in?

Three or four years.

"I thought so."  The man said and then went on to explain that the high efficiency furnaces create a lot of moisture inside chimneys--due to their efficiency.  And such repairs are often required in the first few years of installing a high efficiency furnace.

Hmmm.... Interesting information.  It actually made me feel a little better and not so worried about our house crumbling!

So, I thought I would post this just in case you're thinking about installing a high efficiency furnace --so you can be prepared for the coming expense ($1000-$2000 or more depending on the size of your chimney).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Facebook stuff to be aware of...

http://techcrunch.com/2013/10/10/facebook-search-privacy/

Facebook just isn't that private.  It's ironic that Facebook's founder seeks such privacy (purchasing the homes around his home so that they won't be bought up by developers) and yet heads up a company that takes away people's privacy little by little.  

I'd almost liken the way facebook is decreasing users' privacy to the way a frog dies in boiling water.  The water heats up little by little so that the frog doesn't know that he's in danger.  

One of my brother-in-laws made a good point last week at family dinner about facebook.  The people who use facebook often cry out about not receiving good customer service.  But, the catch is that the people who use facebook are not the customers of facebook--they are its product.  I thought this statement was very insightful, true, and important to keep in mind.  

Every once in a while, I miss facebook.  But, I still wouldn't go back.  I don't really have that much free time anyways...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bookmarks!

My husband just announced to me that he was going to buy some bookmarks.  I'm sure you can guess my response.

No!  I have a laminator!  Don't buy any!  We'll make some!

He said, okay, but we need to have a big stack...

So, my search begins.  I found this great list of bookmarks here:
http://www.tipjunkie.com/all-crafts/bookmarks-to-make/

I love these and can't wait to make them with the kids:
http://www.tipjunkie.com/all-crafts/bookmarks-to-make/

Fun monster bookmarks to color:
http://www.everydaymomideas.com/2011/05/free-lil-monster-bookmarks-coloring.html
You can download the document from scribd or you can copy and paste the image into Word and fit it to the page.

Great bookmarks to color (and perfect for laminating!)
http://freestuff4kids.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/color_bookmarks.pdf

More coloring ones:
http://stephaniecorfee.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EasterColoringBookmarks.pdf

for adults and kids... owl bookmarks
http://www.tipjunkie.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/08/tjbookmarks.pdf

Bookmarks with reading quotes:
http://www.simplecrafter.com/free-printable-simple-bookmarks/

I'm actually glad he said something because I realized I've been spending too much time on writing projects when I have a few spare minutes.

As of October 4, 2013 all of these links work.  I get very frustrated when I go to sites with lists of links and none of them work!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Iodized Salt vs. Sea Salt

I remember reading in books as a kid about older people struggling to live with goiter.  I never thought to find out what exactly it was.  Almost a century ago, there was a huge amount of iodine deficiency.  Then, salt was iodized to remedy that problem.  This solution helped a lot of people and goiter/iodine deficiency.  

But, over the past few years, iodized salt has been replaced on many tables by non-iodized sea salt.  So, does it matter?  

This link explains the basics about iodine in an easy to read way.  
 http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-QuickFacts/
This article talks about the iodine controversy:
http://thyroid.about.com/od/newscontroversies/a/toomuchiodine.htm

Just something to think about.  In our house, we use sea salt for seasoning grilled vegetables and occasions when I want the salt to stand out in a food.  But, the rest of the time I use iodized table salt.  A few years ago, I used sea salt--mostly because it was the "new thing" and I have always chose less processed foods and ingredients over ones that were more processed.  I suppose it's a silly line of reasoning.  But, then somewhere along the line we switched back because sea salt was more expensive where we moved to.  I'm glad now that we ended up switching back.  It's important for the kids to have iodine in their diet!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One more reason to be cautious about processed foods...

I don't purchase a lot of processed foods.  But, when I do, I always look at the ingredients.  I pay particularly close attention to the sweeteners included.  I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup.  One sweetener that I've always thought was safe is honey.  But, then I read this article... see article HERE.

It was interesting.  The article is about an enormous fraud perpetrated by a honey importer.  What the article made me realize is that companies could "doctor" honey with chemicals and such.  Honey isn't as simple an ingredient as I thought.  

The article also made me think twice about being willing to pay a higher price for local honey.  Honey that comes from folks I know and trust.  I'm definitely going to be working it into our food budget.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Making Milk Shakes

At lunch today, my husband began talking about how he would really like a good milk shake.  He said that the best one he'd had recently was at Cold Stone Creamery.  (I know he's also had shakes at Chik-fil-a and Jake's Wayback Burgers in recent months.)  He then went on to say that we've never really been able to make them well at home.

Well, then!

That's my challenge and my cue.  I was determined to be a good "milk shake maker".  Now, what my husband actually likes are not "milk shakes", but "thick shakes" or "frappes".  A milk shake is made of milk, flavoring, and a little ice cream.  A thick shake, aka thick milk shake, aka frappe is made of ice cream, flavoring, and a little milk.  A good thick shake should be drinkable and shouldn't separate after being made. Ah...

I found a recipe for a Mocha Chcolate Frappe and went from there...  

Here's what I came up with.

Recipe for Mint Chocolate Chocolate Frappe   

2 cups Mint Cookies and Cream Turkey Hill Frozen Yogurt--you can use any flavor you'd like for your shake, but I wouldn't choose anything with big chunks in it.
1/3 cup (use a dry measuring cup) of half chocolate syrup and half milk

Put the liquid in the bottom of the blender.  Then, put the ice cream on top.  I have a Vitamix blender.  So, I start it on low.  Then, turn up the speed really slowly.  I didn't get past 5 on low.  I just let it mix.  

I learned a few things that I did differently this time.  
#1  Mix on low (!!), otherwise the ice cream becomes one big clump and locks up.  
#2  The ratio of milk to ice cream needs to be right--and it's much lower than I thought it was!
#3  Frozen yogurt does make a lighter thick shake than you'll get at Cold Stone and I think it's just as good.

My family's verdict?  

Yes, mommy can indeed make a decent thick shake--actually not just decent, but a very good one!  My family was very pleased with the outcome of my endeavor.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Kids' Glasses

This past spring my two younger children both got prescriptions for glasses.  Sami is now 7 and Eli 5.  This is an event that I've been expecting probably since the time they were born.  My husband and I both wear glasses and have since we were children.  So, I have asked other moms whose children already have glasses all sorts of questions over the years about glasses.  

Here's a quick summary of what I've learned...

+ Children's eyes continue to develop until they are 8 years old.  
+ In little ones with severe struggles to see, glasses make an enormous difference.  Infants who won't look at anyone will be able to focus and look at who is speaking to them if their eyesight is the issue.  
+ Children's eyes change from one year to the next.  Eye doctors try not to prescribe glasses unless they need to.  
+ When children blink their eyes a lot, it is a sign that a child is struggling to focus. 
+ Headaches are another sign that a child may need glasses.
+ Issues children can encounter with their eyes are not simply nearsighted, farsighted, and astigmatism.  In the case of my children, the strength of their eyes impedes their abilities to focus.  It is 20% of what it should be.  My older daughter's is 65% of what it should be.  So, for now she doesn't have glasses.
+ Children in school get an eye check every year, so it's easy for homeschoolers to miss it.  It's helpful to get their eyes checked once a year to make sure everything's okay.

So, the waiting is over, so to speak.  Two of my kids now need glasses!  What now???  Where do I go?  A new dilemma.

I learned one place not to go and I learned that cheapest pair isn't always a satisfactory solution.

Back in May, I went shopping with Sami's prescription in hand.  We first went to Costco, where we normally get glasses.  There was only a very small selection of children's frames.  There were three women working at the time who were working and standing together chatting.  I arrived frazzled with my three children in tow.  I did not receive a warm or helpful reception and so I turned on my heals and left when I realized that one pair of children's glasses would cost $100--with no breakage warranty included.  It was more than I was prepared to spend that day and like I said--I was frazzled.  I needed some help.  I returned to Walmart where she was given her exam and purchased two pairs for her.  The first cost $38 and the second is discounted when purchased at the same time.  Her prescription is weak, so she didn't anything extra.  There is a one year breakage warranty on the glasses.  Yay!  

One down, one to go...

Two weeks later, Eli  had his exam and found that he needed glasses as well.  I decided to just purchase one pair at Walmart at the time and keep looking.  They had a pair small enough for his face which was a blessing.  Within a month, I realized it would be wise to have a second pair around.  So, I watched for a sale and began asking around.  Back to school sales brought a lot of sales on eyeglasses.  JC Penney had a sale for $25 (with a 1 year breakage warranty), so I made the trek to the store to check it out.  I ordered a pair and waited a week for them to arrive.  When I got the phone call, they were in, we headed back to the store to pick them up.  I would never go back again to order glasses from JC Penney.  The frames I ordered didn't have spring hinges (I didn't realize it at the time).  There was very little choose from for his size.  They only had one boy pair the size we purchased (which was two sizes larger than the walmart frames).  But, the frustrating part was that they didn't give him a hard case and the woman working didn't even fit the glasses to his face.  It was almost like purchasing a pair of reading glasses from the carousel at the grocery store!  

Recently, I did ask another friend who has several children who wear glasses and she goes to America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.  Two pairs cost $70 and she can get always depend on a good price.  I've also noticed that her children are able to get frames that are solid and aren't the wire type of frames (which are the only ones I've found at the other stores for Eli in his size).  Next year, I'm definitely going to head over to America's Best with the kids' prescriptions.

So, that's what I've learned this year.  Skip JC Penney.  Walmart works.  America's Best is worth checking out.  If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them!  




Monday, September 2, 2013

Where's the time?

Last night, we had my mother in law, brother in law, and mom over for dinner. I fixed some great Chicken enchiladas .  I tried a new recipe from 400 Best Comfort Foods (the recipe can be found here, but it's a download :( ).  I actually don't have to review this cookbook. I just picked it up for $2 used for fun.  But, this recipe is a keeper.  If I find more that I really like, I will write a post about it...  

But, back to last night and "time".  As we were cleaning up from dinner, there was some leftover corn to put away.  My mom asked me if I wanted the corn and suggested cutting it off the cob.  But, I have discovered that I run out of time when it comes to leftover corn.  My family does not like leftover corn on the cob left on the cob.  If I cut it off the cob, then they will eat it when it is reheated. 

I looked at her and encouraged to take it.  I knew I would run out of time.  She replied, "Good for you." She smiled and I knew she understands me well.  I always take on more than I can handle.  I squeeze things in.  I almost always say yes to my family and friends.  I love to help people.  

But, sometimes it's the little things that can push me over the edge of how much I can handle.  They're good things.  Like not wasting corn and cutting it off the cob so it will get eaten and not discarded.  So, I need to say no when I can.  

I also knew it wouldn't get wasted if I sent it home with my mom.  She has the time to cut it off the cob and enjoy it.  

Saving money can become a heavy burden if it consumes time one doesn't have.  I always remember the advice I read in a financial advice for moms several years ago...  Choose what you do with your time based on what saves you the most money.  There are little money savers that end up saving you only a few pennies. But, there are other activities (like ironing) that save many dollars in the same amount of time.  When one only has a little time, we have to choose wisely what we'll do with it.





Sunday, August 25, 2013

Great Sandals

Earlier this summer, I bought a pair of Merrell sandals on sale at REI.  I know so many people who have cranky feet, including me!  My feet like Merrells and Doc Martens.  Unfortunately, they're expensive.  I haven't bought a pair of Doc Martens in years.  I have the same two pairs that I've had for thirteen years.  I can find Merrells on sale sometimes.  I look at Marshalls, the Merrell outlet (which is not that much of a savings) and at REI at their clearance sales online.

I thought the sandals I bought would be on my feet all summer.  I was wrong.  I actually received a pair of sandals as a hand me down from one of my mom's friends that I like better!  

These are the sandals: 
They're called Dawgs.  The best price on them is at Target online.  They're $25 and come in a lot of different colors.  I've been wearing them for a month and love them.  They stay on so easily.  I wear size 8 1/2 shoes and the pair I have are 8s and they fit perfectly.  I do have flat feet, so I need something without arch support.  I couldn't find them the past week because they got pushed under my bed in a corner.  So, I was glad to find them yesterday morning and slip them back on!  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Shop Online or Go To The Store?

Shopping online can save money and time...  It can also end up taking up more of both.  One of the surprising assumptions I think we make is that you will get the best price on an item online, rather than in the store.  But, that's not necessarily true as I've often discovered...

This weekend we needed to get a bicycle for my husband so that we could go riding as a family.  We shopped around at several different stores.  I learned a lot in the process.

Here's what I learned:

1) The online price for a given store will not necessarily be the in-store price on the same item at the store.  The price for my husband's bike was 25% less than the price online.  That's a lot!

2) Bikes (especially for people who intend on riding a lot) should not be purchased online.  Go to the store and make sure the frame will fit you.  Different bike brands are sized differently for height.  My husband initially thought he'd be a large size frame because of his height, but he actually fit better on a medium size frame in the bike we ended up getting him.

3) Go to a bike store and get sized.  It's helpful to go to stores where people really ride and can tell you what you need to know about taking care of your bike.

4) Don't discount a brand of bike until you ride it.  Chris was really surprised that after trying out nine different bikes, it was the one he expected to like least that fit our needs best.  There are a lot of good brands of bikes out there.  Giant, Trek, Specialized, GT, Raleigh, Kona, Diamondback... It's surprising to me how many different brands of bikes there are.  

Right now (August/September) is when the new year's bikes are coming out, so sales are going on at various bike stores on the 2013 models.  REI's sale starts on Friday.  Performance Bike is having a sale now.  EMS is having a sale on their bikes.

So, that's a little of what we learned...  I'm going to choose to go to the store instead of buying online.  I can get helpful information, a better price, and a better/easier policy to deal with returns.  Both REI and Performance Bike stores will let you return a bike if it doesn't work out for you.  And when it comes to bikes...they're not exactly easy to put in the mail if there's a problem...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Baking Supplies: When is the extra cost is worth it?

I try to save money by buying generics when grocery shopping.  But, sometimes it's not worth it.  Years ago, my mom tried every kind of chocolate chip.  She tried generic ones from various stores plus brand names.  The only store brand chocolate chips that she liked were the ones from Trader Joe's. I've stuck with Nestle's or Costco's store brand ever since.

Cocoa is another one of those ingredients.  Last year, I finally found a fudge recipe that was easy to make.  First, I made it with Hershey's cocoa.  Then, I made it with some store brand cocoa from Aldi.  It wasn't the same at all!  I'm going to stick with Hershey's from now on.  It's too expensive to waste a batch of fudge on bad cocoa.  

Vanilla is the last one that comes to my mind.  Imitation vanilla or the real thing?  Imitation vanilla has a strong alcohol flavor, but the real thing doesn't.  I've stuck with the store brand vanilla from Costco or BJ's, for the seven years.  Costco has the best price.  A lot of people just leave it out of their cookies because it is an expensive ingredient.  When my mom moved here last year, she had been leaving it out for several years.  But, since I keep it in my home, she started using it again.  And I think she's glad she did.  

Flour, Sugars (brown, granulated, and powdered), salt, pepper, most spices, baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch...  I've never had any issues when it comes to generics with these ingredients, though.  So, I don't spend any extra money on them.  Store brands work great.  

I think that's the hard part about buying generics.  They're a great way to save money on groceries.  But, sometimes they can really affect the taste of what you're making!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Yay! A Tape Dispenser!

My mom, the girls, and I headed to a baby shower this morning with weird weather afoot.  It was that kind of day that threatens rain, but may just end up staying overcast the whole day through.  Anyways, my kids and I were heading back and I saw a garage sale.  I've realized over the past few years that it really only takes 1 garage sale to find a treasure...

And I did!  I found 18 onesies and outfits for a friend who's having a baby girl soon.  Best of all, they were the price I was looking for--25 cents each.  Yay! I also found a little pair of shoes for 50 cents.  Then, I came upon an older magna doodle for another friend for 25 cents. Yay!

Garage sales are a fun place to find treasures, but sometimes the treasures aren't things.  And that was the case this morning for me.  

I heard a woman's voice across the yard and it was as if I was hearing the voice of my friend Jenny.  I looked up and realized that this was her daughter--someone I'd been trying to find, so we could connect.  Our children are the same ages.  I was so excited!  I was blessed at the yard sale because I found gifts to give friends and I found someone I wanted to become friends with.  

With all that from just one garage sale, we all piled back in the car and went on.  There was one more yard sale I knew of on the way home.  So, we stopped to take a look.  At the last minute, I found a tape dispenser.  The lady accepted 25 cents for it.  I remarked to the woman who sold it to me that the Lord has provided so much for my family through yard saling.  I went on to explain that I had been looking for one all week at the stores I went to and had only found one for $5.  That $5 was spent on the clothes for my friend and the magna doodle.  What a blessing!  

In my mind, I came out way ahead this morning!  


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Company Emails: Getting on those lists...

A few months ago, I went through my email and purged.  Really purged all the extra emails that I'd forgotten to delete at the time.  One of the problems is getting off of all those advertising lists.  Ugh!  They clog up my email right and left!  I love Gmail's new system that separates the "promotion" emails from the real ones.  So, why join new lists?  Well, every once in a while I find a new one that's helpful to get...

#1 TCBY
Waffle Cones Wednesdays

On Wednesday night, my husband came home and wanted to take us all out for a treat after dinner.  We settled on TCBY.  I'm so glad we did!  The TCBY near us has Waffle Cone Wednesdays so small waffle cones are only $1.58.  It was such a blessing because it cost $7 for all of us to get ice cream instead of $16 that I expected!  What a fun blessing! (and our stomachs weren't heavy the way they usually are after having ice cream cones...)

I found out that you can subscribe to specials from your local store (since it's a franchise) on the TCBY website.  Yay!

#2 Life is Good

For my husband's birthday, I was at a complete loss about what to get him.  He also isn't big on birthdays, so it makes it challenging to figure out what to do.  This year I found something.  My husband and I love Life is Good hats and t-shirts.  There is something implied in the statement "Like what you do. Do what you like." that doesn't quite sit with me.  But, I overlook that and just enjoy the simple designs on the shirts and hats.  They fit us.

Anyways, I discovered that you can get free shipping on the Life is Good Website for any size order, which is great.  When I googled "promotion code" and "life is good", I discovered that if you subscribe to the newsletter, you get an online coupon code for 15% off your first order.  I also found a code for 20% off hats on the same site (retail me not).  Yay!  I saved $10 between the two codes--which did work together.

The lesson I learned?
Every once in a while, it's worth subscribing to another list.
As long as I unsubscribe to another one...

Monday, July 15, 2013

An Old Favorite

Tonight my youngest brother in law came over for dinner.  I had defrosted a pound of hamburger and I needed to come up with a meal all would eat.  So, I did what my friend Karen did.  She had just told me this afternoon how she had googled ground beef recipes and came up with meatloaf.  I tried a similar search and came up with cheeseburger macaroni.  I found a recipe online that sounded good and then modified it (as I usually do).  This is what I ended up making...

Cheeseburger Mac
1 lb ground beef 
  • 3/4 cup onions, minced
  • 1-2 tsp. minced garlic (or 1 1/4 tsp. garlic powder added with the spices)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cup cold water
  • 12 oz. or 3 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked  (you could also use small shells or rotini)
  • 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 1/3 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced or 1 tsp. dried
  • 3/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 cups mild cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 6 oz. American cheese

Additional 1/3-1/2 cup milk
2-4 Tbsp sour cream (optional)

Directions
  1. 1.  Brown ground beef and onions.
  2. 2.  Turn off the heat and place a paper towel in the pan and swish it around to absorb any grease in the pan.  Repeat with another paper towel if there's still more grease.
  3. 3.  Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the cheddar and American cheese. 
  4. Add remaining ingredients except for the cheese.
  5. 4.  Stir and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  6. 5.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until pasta is tender).  Check the noodles and stir after 5 minutes, then after another 3 minutes, and then after another 3 minutes until noodles are done.  Just be careful not to overcook the noodles.  If there isn't enough liquid, add 1/4 cup milk at a time so that the bottom doesn't burn.
  7. 6. Stir in cheeses until melted.  Then, add enough milk (a little at a time) to make the sauce creamy.   Taste it.  If you would like a little tang, start by adding 2 Tbsp of sour cream.  If you want more tang, add a little more...  

  8. Serve right away or the sauce will thicken.  Add a little milk before stirring if it thickens too much.

This was enough to serve my family of 5 plus 1 eighteen year old boy and have a little bit for leftovers.  

All three of my kids ate dinner (and 2 had seconds), so this recipe is going in the recipe box.  My husband and brother in law also gave it a thumbs up--especially since it's pretty quick and easy!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Always a New Way...

Last week as I was looking at our local grocery ad for ShopRite, I noticed a label that said "see coupon online".  Hmmm...

This morning as I was making my list for the grocery store, I realized I had never gotten around to doing that.  I looked up ShopRite's site and found a spot along the top that said "coupons".  You have to create an account associated with your discount key tag that you use at the store.  That part was complicated because for some reason the computer didn't like what I was putting in.  But, after a few minutes it was done.  Then, you just click on the coupon you want loaded to your price plus club card and it will be there!

It seems like there's always some new way of couponing...

Earlier this summer, I tried to make a "coupon" shopping trip.  It took at least an hour in the store and at the end I was seriously questioning whether it was worth it.  My three kids were very squirrelly and it took so much energy from me to manage the shopping, track the coupons, and keep my kids in line (and from bumping into other shoppers).

When I got home, I sat down and thought about my pressing desire for space and breathing room for a few minutes.  I decided it isn't wise for me to use a lot of coupons at this stage in my life.  My kids are my constant, energy needing companions for my shopping trips.  Loading coupons onto my discount card for the store might be doable, though.  We'll see!

I used to be a diehard couponer.  Every Sunday morning, I'd sit with the coupons, clip, and then organize. Now, I shop the sale ad, BJs coupons, and Aldi.  I think I end up coming out even.  I stock up when things are on sale and I'm not tempted to purchase the "extras" that I might have a paper coupon for.

What about you?