Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pruning Blackberries

Hubs and I have been a little concerned about our blackberry bushes. They are doing really great. I mean, really great! They are growing so fast! And, that has been our concern. As much as we want yummy blackberries next year (each vine only produces berries on it's 2nd year and this is the first year we've had them), they are looking a bit of a mess. The vines are trying to grow into our siding and they have quickly overtaken the entire planting bed.

Then, I came across this handy dandy article by Little House in the Suburbs. Thanks so much Tomato Lady for your helpful and right on time advice. Our blackberry beds quickly went from mess to manageable.


Now we just need to finish by pulling out all the grass that crept it's way in and adding another layer of mulch.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Conserving Water

Do you ever feel guilty as you dump the old dirty water out of your toddler's week old kiddie pool? I sure do. And although this idea has struck me many a time before, this is sadly the first time we have put the plan in action. It takes a little more time than using your hose, but little helpers make the job so much more fun! And it really helps our poor garden that has been taking a hit in this heat wave.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gardening: A Smart Investment

You all know that hubs and I enjoy spending time in our garden. We love getting all that fresh produce, knowing exactly how it was grown, spending time in God's green earth, and the knowledge that Caitlin has about real food too. But did you know that a garden is an investment too? Whoever said that money doesn't grow on trees was seriously lacking in their judgment.

Sure, it cuts down on your grocery bill on a weekly basis, but I'm talking about an investment that takes many years to ripen. Yes, your garden gets more and more valuable every year that you have one. The best investment fruits and veggies are fruit trees, perennials, and heirloom annuals that you can reseed yourself.

You see, if you purchase a fruit tree this year, you may get a few pieces of fruit this season, but as the tree grows each year, you will get a larger harvest. And each year, as inflation rises and the value of our dollar drops, your food costs become more expensive making that fruit tree more and more valuable as time goes by. Isn't that really cool!!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Impatient for Change

The problem with a 5-year plan is that it requires lots of patience. You know where you want to end up, but know that you can't facilitate that change immediately. I am feeling extremely impatient to find a property that we can build on.

Lately, I have been perusing real estate websites looking at the land for sale in our area and also sites with house plans. I have found two floor plans that I really love. The first a traditional looking house. The only change I'd make to this plan is to run the tiny little porch on the back around the corner and connect it to the tiny little front porch making a semi-wrap around porch. I absoulutely LOVE the mudroom and laundry room off of the garage. I put the photos below, but you can see it better here.

The second house is a beautiful farm house with wrap around porch, but no garage. And, no, a wrap around porch is not something I have to have. I do like a decent back porch/deck and it just so happens that the best way to get that on the previous plan would be to do a wrap. I think this one is actually my favorite. Anyway, I love the openness of this farmhouse plan. And the open area on the second floor could be made into another room if you chose making an office or den or whatever instead of leaving unusable open space above. Here's the link to this plan's webpage.

So, this has been my little free-time consumer lately. I know we aren't ready to do anything about it yet. Looking at these houses and floor plans makes me impatient and ready to do more than save, but it also motivates me to save as much as possible so that we can get to this stage sooner.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making and Freezing Pesto

Our basil plants are enormous this year! I don't know if it's because we planted them amongst our tomatoes (they are supposed to be wonderful companion plants) or what. But never-the-less, we can't possibly use up all that basil in one growing season. So, instead of letting it go to waste, I have been making and freezing pesto for use the rest of the year. It's surprisingly easy to do.

I use the Foster's Market Pesto Recipe except I do not add the vitamin C tablet they suggest. They say it will help keep the pesto green after freezing, but I have another way that doesn't involve adding anything.

After making your pesto, if you want to freeze it, pour it into ice cube trays. One batch of the recipe will almost fill one ice cube tray. Then, to preserve the beautiful color, put a sheet of cling wrap on top and pat it down so there is no air between the pesto and cling wrap. It's the air that can turn the pesto a bit brown; the oxidation process that happens with apples or potatoes after you cut them. After the pesto is frozen, you can then use a butter knife to pop the pesto out of the tray and put the cubes into a zip lock bag.


Now, when you want some yummy pesto for your pasta or even on some sauteed veggies, you can put a couple of cubes in your dish and voila it's that simple.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

All You Grocery Challenge 2011 - Week 4

This is the last week of the challenge and I totally botched it up. I lost the receipts to the places we ate out. So, that basically disqualifies me from the contest, but that's ok. I never expected to win anyway. There are so many people out there way better at this than me. Also, I got frustrated this week with the whole weekly budget thing (more about that further down) and decided to go out to eat even though it would blow our budget.

What I am taking away from this month long experiment are the following things:
  1. Getting a good deal on groceries takes a lot of time and practice. I am nowhere near an extreme couponer and not really sure that I want to go that far, but I am definitely going to continue investing a little extra time each week into looking for the best deals.
  2. I really love trying new recipes! Cooking, and more specifically cooking from scratch, is something I really enjoy. On a normal day, it's a rewarding and mentally relaxing activity. I'm sometimes get out of the rut of looking for new foods to cook, but right now I'm totally into finding new and yummy recipes.
  3. Sticking to a strict weekly budget is NOT for me. Hubs gets paid on a monthly basis and we have our budgeting set up that way as well. Trying to stick to a set weekly allowance got a bit stressful for me. I don't care if I go 'over budget' one week so long as I'm 'under budget' another week and it evens out.
  4. Gardening is the best way to get the best deal on food. I am buying very little produce at the grocery store these days because our garden is in full force and we are canning/freezing anything we can't eat right away. The goal with our garden is to supply enough produce for an entire year's worth of veggies. Since we don't see many coupons or loss leaders for produce around here, gardening is the best deal on produce.


Kroger: $95.17 - $21.82 (sales & coupons) = $73.35 (Total for the week aside from our budget blowing eating out)











BreakfastLunchDinner
Sunday
Grits
Sausage
Taco Bell
Youth Fun Night at Church (free meal)
MondayCereal
Sandwiches
Sweet Chicken Bacon Wraps (with Turkey Bacon)
Green bean casserole
Fried Squash
TuesdayCereal
L/O Lazagne
Moe's Southwest Grill
WednesdayCerealL/O BuffetParmesan Chicken with
Linguine
Thursday CerealL/O BuffetShrimp & Wild Rice Casserole
FridayCerealL/O BuffetHomemade Pizza
SaturdayCerealL/O Buffet
Fajitas
Yellow Rice

By the way, all of the recipes I am linking to each week can also be found on my "Recipes" page.

See how I did on Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

groOrganic Garden Planner Review



I recently have been able to test out a really cool garden planning tool, the groOrganic Garden Planner. It doesn't matter if you have a simple backyard garden or a farm, this software is really cool and very helpful!

On the most basic level, you can draw out your garden space and plot your plantings. They already know how much space each veggie needs and marks it out for you. You can set your garden to rows or square foot gardening for the best match to your gardening style. This way, you know exactly how many plants you can put in your space without overcrowding them or planting too thin. For me, that alone is a big help because every year hubs and I spend lots of time deciding in which beds we should plant what and how many can we reasonably fit in those beds.

But then, this software goes way beyond that. It allows you to do succession planting, plan the next year's crop, and do crop rotations too! Succession planting is the practice of growing more than one plant in the same area at different times during a growing season. It allows you to achieve maximum harvest from a given area and is particularly useful for those with small
gardens or long growing seasons. Isn't that awesome! I want to do that! And now I can. It's always something I had struggled with; when to plant what so that I can have both a summer and fall garden.

Also, being able to see crop rotation warnings really helps keep your soil in tip top shape which leads to greater yields each growing season.

I am thoroughly enjoying this web based software and just want to say thank you to groOrganic for letting me try it out. Here is the 2012 garden that I've planned. If you look carefully, you'll see some overlapping of crops because this image shows the entire year and I planned for summer and fall crops. You can also see a larger image with complete plant list including planting and harvest dates here or by clicking the image below.
Because it's a web-based software, you can access your garden plans anywhere you have internet access, link it to facebook, twitter, print it out, and even post it on your blog. You don't need to install any software. It's completely on the web. My only tip for new users is to absolutely use the instruction guide. It's really easy to use, but there are so many things you can do with your garden, the instruction guide will really help you realize the full potential of this program.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Totally Embarrassing Toddler Comments

I knew it was coming! I told Eric a month or two ago that I was worried about it. I just didn't expect it to be this embarrassing. Mortifying really. And I didn't know what to do to prevent or deal with embarrassing toddler comments.


Honestly, I expected her comment to be "big guy." We've told her that her daddy is 'strong' and a 'big guy.' So, she not only calls her daddy "big guy," but also other men she sees. I was waiting for the day she said it about and in front of someone with a weight issue. But no, it was worse than that. Or at least it felt worse. Maybe because it actually happened.

We were in Wal-Mart and a very nice lady was helping us. She smiled at Caitlin and told her that she was cute. In response, Caitlin says "orange teeth." What!?! Are your kidding me!?! Now, this lady did have some staining on her teeth and there was one spot that was kind-a orange. But for all I know it was a carrot in her teeth. I didn't pay that close of attention. What made it worse was my stupidity. I didn't understand her at first and asked her to repeat herself, which she did. I understood that time! So tried to distract her and she says "no, orange teeth."

No really knowing how to respond, hubs and I, and the lady behind the counter, just ignored her. Caitlin didn't mean anything by it. She's always talking about people's eye color or hair color. She's even pointed out a few Islamic ladies' "hoods" in passing. For that I just told her that those "hoods" were very special. Anyway, later, when we were finished, I told Caitlin that it's not nice to point out things about other people. She said ok, but I don't think she really understood.

Hubs and I were really upset by this. We know Caitlin didn't mean anything, but we also know that it probably really hurt that lady's feelings. To her, I would like to say I am so sorry!! Eric wanted to go back and apologize, but I felt like that would be rubbing it in her face more, so we didn't do anything.

I'm sure some of you parents with kids have experienced this before so I'm asking you now, what in the world did you do? How did you react and how do you teach your innocent little observer that certain comments can hurt other people's feelings?

Canning and Freezing

It's that time of year again. We are starting to get enough yield from our garden that we can't possibly eat it all. So we have begun blanching, canning, and freezing. So far we've frozen squash, breaded okra, corn, and pesto. And we have just started getting green beans out of our garden and I'm canning them a little at a time. We haven't gotten enough tomatoes yet to start making any sauces, salsas, or even just stewed tomatoes, but I know they are coming.

It's a lot of work to put up all that food, but it makes me feel better to know that we are eating food that we grew ourselves all year long.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

All You Grocery Challenge 2011 - Week 3

I knew this week would be tight on our budget because I needed to stock up on meat this week. So, we skipped our usual meal out after church on Sunday. Even knowing that this week's grocery shopping would be like that, I still didn't feel like I did a very good job this week simply because I didn't buy much I could use coupons with. I was only able to use two coupons. Thankfully Kroger had a pretty good meat sale this week. Hubs made me feel better though by saying 'that's a lot of food' after asking how much I spent.


We also received food gifts this week. My parents dropped off 30 ears of corn for us to freeze and Eric's dad brought over 6 vine ripened tomatoes from his garden. I made some spaghetti sauce from his tomatoes.

Kroger: $95.17 - $21.82 (sales & coupons) = $73.35 (Total for the week)











BreakfastLunchDinner
Sunday
CerealLeftover Buffet
Hamburgers & Hotdogs
Quinoa Tabbouleh
Garlic Green Beans
Jalapeno Poppers
MondayCereal
Sandwiches
Pork Chop Stackers (aka Pork Chop and Pineapple Pie)
Corn on the Cob
Sauteed Squash with Pesto
TuesdayCereal
Sandwiches
Homemade Pizza
WednesdayCereal
Tacos
Yellow Rice
Pineapple Chicken Skillet (More with Less Cookbook)
White Rice
Thursday Cereal
L/O Buffet
Herb Roasted Chicken
Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
Fried Squash
Corn on the Cob
FridayCereal
L/O Buffet
Zucchini Alfredo
SaturdaySourdough
Waffles
Sandwiches
L/O Tabbouleh
Lasagna

By the way, all of the recipes I am linking to each week can also be found on my "Recipes" page.

See how I did on Week 1 and Week 2.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Great Garage Clean-Up

Earlier this week I posted about our week without my husband at home. While he was gone, I wanted to do something special around the house for him. We have such a long list of things that we want/need to get done around here, and most of them on Eric's to-do list; I thought it would be a nice surprise to get one of them done for him. Yes, it was for me too, but still I thought it would be a nice surprise. Being pregnant puts a damper on a lot of what I can do outside. No heavy lifting while toting a baby in your tummy. So I decided to tackle the garage. It required more cleaning and organizing than lifting. And frankly, organizing is my strong suit.

So here are a couple of pictures of what I started with. The garage didn't always look like this, but between a yard sale a few months ago and the fact that we have never really gotten the garage organized like we wanted it, it was a mess.


I spent Caitlin's nap time cleaning and putting lots of unused things in a big box to haul off to the dump. I rearranged. I organized. I swept. I rediscovered lost things.

My the end of the week, the garage now looked like this!


Isn't the difference amazing! I can't help it, I'm proud of how much I got done in there. Eric really appreciated it too. Finally, we can park our car in the garage again. (Oh, by the way, that couch was there for the yard sale, but Eric has moved it back upstairs since coming home. No lounging in the garage.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Honey Milk Balls

Honey Milk Balls

1 cup dry milk
1 cup uncooked rolled oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
coconut (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. You may want to stick your hands right in to make sure it's thoroughly mixed. Roll into small balls. You can serve as is or roll in coconut. The mix was so sticky I decided to roll in coconut to make them easier to pick up.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Week Without My Husband

Last week Eric was in Tampa, FL for work and I was kind-a surprised at how one of my expectations for the week turned out. Anticipating Caitlin missing her Daddy, I planned a few extra activities on top of our normal routine to keep her busy. And busy we stayed.

He flew out Sunday afternoon and back Friday night. During the week Caitlin and I went to the zoo, my parents' house, story time at the library, church, and had a play date. But the big surprise for me was that I expected to be able to really clean the house during this time. Before some of you out there get wrong ideas, it's not that my husband's presence creates more mess and makes it more difficult to clean. He's no messier than the rest of us, but in truth, one more person makes one more person's mess to clean up. But, it's also true that I don't have anyone to talk to after Caitlin goes to bed, so I end up getting more cleaning done through the day. So with the combination of less mess and more time with nothing better to do, I thought things would be looking pretty spiffy.

Boy was I wrong. The house looks pretty much the same as always. Not a total disaster, but certainly not any more tidy than usual. But, like I said before, we kept busy. Monday was full with our zoo trip and Thursday left no time for cleaning with a play date in the morning and visiting my parents after her nap in the evening. And during the times I did have extra I was working on a special project for Eric's return. I'll tell you more about that in another post.

He is home now and we enjoyed the long weekend to reconnect. Caitlin certainly missed her Daddy and I missed my hubby.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

All You Grocery Challenge 2011 - Week 2

Well, this challenge is certainly that; a challenge. It has been testing us on the most abnormal weeks so far. Week 1 was an odd week for us because of Father's Day and VBS at our church. This week, Eric was gone from Sunday afternoon through Friday evening for work. He doesn't travel often, maybe once or twice a year, so this was extremely different for our family. That meant Caitlin and I were eating pretty simply. We cleaned out the fridge from leftovers, we had a lot from week 1, and I didn't cook that much. You'll see a lot of L/O in our meals below. It's hard for me to cook for just two people, especially when one of those people is a two year old that eats like a bird. So, when I did cook, it gave us two or three meals worth of food.

You might be wondering then why I spent my full budget on groceries this week. Well, I did need to get a few items for the meals I did cook. But mostly, I wanted to take the opportunity to stock up on things we were short on and also some luxury items that I don't normally get like the pistachios. Eric loves to take nuts to snack on at work, but pistachios are more expensive than I usually want to buy them for. Thanks to Super Doubles week, I went ahead and got some.

Anyway, here's a pic of my groceries this week minus the Capri Sun that got left in the bag. And our weekly totals and meals below.


Bojangles: $6.08
Kroger: $45.08 - $4.62 (sales & coupons) = $40.46
Harris Teeter: $7.40 - $45.42 (sales & coupons) = $27.98*
Total for the week: $74.52*
* $2.49 of my Harris Teeter bill was for household items like aluminum foil & toothpaste which does not count for the grocery contest.










BreakfastLunchDinner
Sunday
CerealCrockpot Roast over
Rice
Bojangles
MondayCerealSandwiches
Watermelon
Hot Dogs
Mac n Cheese

TuesdayCerealL/O Parmesan Chicken
& Linguine
L/O Roast
WednesdaySourdough WafflesSandwichesEasy Baked Cheese & Veggie Twist (I used some leftover chicken instead of mushrooms for Caitlin)
Thursday L/O Waffles
L/O Homemade Pizza
Marinaded Chicken
Mashed Potatoes
Fried Squash
FridayL/O WafflesL/O Veggie TwistL/O Bufffet (Finishing the Leftovers)
SaturdaySausage
Grits
Spaghetti
Chicken, Charred Tomato, & Broccoli Salad

By the way, all of the recipes I am linking to each week can also be found on my "Recipes" page.

See how I did in Week 1 and Week 3.
 
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