Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You Could WIN!

Hello readers, subscribers, and followers!

Did you know I was having a GIVEAWAY??? There will be TWO winners of Fiber One Prize Packages, and so far I only have FOUR entries! Now that Christmas is over, it's time to get back into the routine and enter some giveaways! You really have a great chance at winning this one, so please enter! It only runs till midnight on 12/31, so enter today!!

Just click HERE!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tasters Choice....What a JOKE!

I am absolutely appalled at the practices of Nescafe Tasters Choice. If they ask you to be part of their panel and host any sort of "tasting event," my advice is DON'T!! I signed up on their panel and I receive regular emails from them. As part of my participation on their so-called "panel," I agreed to distribute samples and talk up their products at an event in my home. They in turn agreed to give me "points" of some sort to earn prizes on their website. Oh, and they also promised an Amazon gift card worth $25. Seemed reasonable. They sent me two boxes of samples to distribute, and each box of sample packets was different. I figured, great...variety is a good thing.

So I held a Christmas cookie exchange in my home and served Tasters Choice, as well as offering samples to all the guests. I took the photos and submitted my information to Nescafe. They emailed me today and rejected my submission, stating that I used the "wrong" samples and therefore they wouldn't honor my event.

How is this possible?? THEY shipped me the products for the event that was approved by THEM, and now that the event has occurred, they decide it doesn't "qualify"?? Talk about lying and deceptive business practices! You promote our product to your friends and then we will find a reason to not give you anything we promised in exchange. We win, you lose. Nice, huh?

I can definitely guarantee that I will never purchase any of their products. I don't support companies that intentionally deceive the public. I'll happily purchase Starbucks Via for my instant coffee needs and equally happily share with others how they do business.

I've asked to be immediately removed from their "panel." What a joke it is. I wonder how many other people they've duped into providing them with free marketing promotion. Nescafe is truly pathetic.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fiber One Yogurt Review and Giveaway

Actually, if you've been reading my blog for awhile, you might remember that I posted earlier this year about how much I loved-loved-loved the Fiber One Key Lime Pie Yogurt. That stuff is GOOD! I have to say that I am extremely impressed with the entire line of yogurts from Fiber One. The commercials aren't exaggerating when they say that you won't believe it's high in fiber. If the taste doesn't get you right away, the creamy texture certainly will.

Fiber One Yogurt comes in several varieties: Key Lime Pie (my personal favorite), Vanilla (quite tasty), Strawberry (soooo good), and Peach (rich and creamy). Each delicious 4 ounce cup contains a mere 50 calories, but has 3 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and no fat! It provides you with 20% of your daily level of fiber and tastes so great that you will want more than one! What I really like about the Key Lime Pie Yogurt is that they capture not only the flavor of the pie filling that I love, but there's also a hint of pie crust flavor, too! I was surprised at how delicious this yogurt is. It definitely satisfies a craving for sweets without harming your waistline!

I've been a fan of HungryGirl for some time now, and Fiber One Yogurt is on her list of must-buy foods. They fill you up for minimal calories, and are full of goodness that your body needs. It's a win-win, no matter how you slice (or spoon) it!

BUY IT: You can find Fiber One Yogurt in the yogurt section at your favorite grocer, and to make it even better, you can find a $1 off coupon HERE.

WIN IT: Thanks to MyBlogSpark and Fiber One Yogurt, I have two fantastic prize packs to give away to YOU, my readers! You know you want to win this:

TWO lucky winners will receive this exact prize pack (but you will get a coupon for a free yogurt rather than the yogurt itself)! It's easy to enter! Just leave me a comment about how you currently include more fiber in your diet and/or how many grams you think you eat every day. That should get you thinking! :-)

For bonus entries you may do any or all of the following:

* Subscribe to or follow my blog and leave a comment that you do. If you're already a follower or subscriber, you can let me know, and it counts, too.

* Tweet this giveaway and leave me the link to your tweet in the comments.

* Blog about the giveaway with a link on your own personal blog and leave me a comment with the url.

* Grab my button and post it on your blog, then leave me the link or url so I can find it.

That's a total of 5 possible entries! You have a great chance of winning! I will use random.org to choose 2 winners from all eligible comments submitted and will notify the winners via email (so make sure your email is either easily visible in your profile or that you leave it in your comment/s).

Enter by midnight CST on Thursday, December 31st. U.S. addresses only, please. I will announce the winners on Friday, January 1st, and the prize packs will be shipped directly from My BlogSpark. Thanks for entering and good luck!!!!!

Disclosure: The product, information, prize pack, and giveaway have all been provided by Fiber One through MyBlogSpark and I received this prize package to write this review and host the giveaway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Deals at Hen House, Kansas City

If you live in the Kansas City area and attended the Hen House Holiday food show earlier this month, you can really score some great deals this week! I'm talking 12 cans of Libby's vegetables for .88!!!! That's for TWELVE! And how about a 15.8 ounce bag of wonderful Sister Shubert's rolls for just a buck?? There are many more deals than just those, but I'm on a pretty limited budget, so I only got a few of the best ones. Here's what I purchased today for just $11.10!:

3 bags of Empire apples - $3 (produce special)
12 cans of Libby's vegetables - .88 (.49 sale, less .50/3 Hen House card discount and $1/4 manufacturer's coupons)
2 bags of Nestle morsels - $1.76 (1.88 sale less .50 c/o)
2 cans of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls - $1.96 (1.48 sale less .50/2 c/o)
Roberts Cottage Cheese - $1.10 (1.98 sale less .48 Hen House card and .40 c/o)
2 bags Sister Shubert's rolls - $2.00 (2.50 sale less $1/2 Hen House card and $1 c/o)

If you missed the food show, be sure and go next year if they do it again. Not only do you get enough samples and coupons to make up for your $5 admission fee (not to mention the free reusable bag!), but I saved $6 last week and $3.50 this week on just the few things I bought! The discounts are loaded onto your card and automatically deducted at the register until January 2nd. It's most definitely worth going!!!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Almost Free Christmas

I find it so difficult to believe that Christmas will be here in a bit over a month. How does the time get away from us? It will be 2010 before we take a moment to sit down and look at a calendar!

For this Christmas, I have known for awhile that I wouldn't have the money on hand that I've had in the past several (working) years to spend on gifts. So I have spent a lot of this year preparing. I haven't been shopping much until recently, but I've been setting us up to be able to "purchase" most of our gifts for nothing or very little. And, amazingly, we've managed to be successful!!

What I've done is focus on points programs that don't really cost anything. One of the programs is not one that most people can access, but most of them are out there online, and anyone can take advantage! First, I have MyPoints. If you look at the guidelines for the program, you are allowed up to two accounts per household, so I set up an account for myself and one for my husband. The best part is that if you initially set up only one account, you can then refer another household member for bonus points! If you are not a member of this program, it's fairly simple. You receive emails almost daily that advertise and direct you to specific websites. By clicking on the link they provide, you basically earn 5 points per mail. They also offer frequent surveys worth at least 10 points, and something called the MyPoints FrogPond where you can receive 25 points for simply giving your opinion on a site. If you shop online, you can go through their site and earn even more points. It's only a few points at a time for the most part, but it adds up quickly and I've been able to get more than I even anticipated with my MyPoints. If you aren't a member, I'd love to refer you - just give me your email address and I will send you an invitation.

Another program I love is ZoomPanel. This is a survey company that sends me a survey every 2-3 days. Every survey for which I do not qualify earns me 5 points; the surveys that I get to complete can be worth 50, 75, or even 100 points. In addition, I've tried many products through this company and given them my opinions. You can redeem these points for a multitude of items in their gift catalog - and they have some really nice stuff!! Again, I'd be happy to refer you - just send me your information.

One of the most popular programs out there is SwagBucks. You earn SwagBucks for simply doing something you probably do every day - web searching! You can download the toolbar or go to the website and perform your search. Randomly (generally 1-2 times per day, depending on how frequently you search), you receive SwagBucks when you get your results. Most of the time it's 1 at a time, but I have gotten 2 and 3 bucks several times, and once I even got 20 just for searching! You can redeem these bucks for many gift cards (I tend to do the Amazon $5 e-giftcards and get 1 or more a month), paypal "cash" or other items. It's a great deal, because I'm always searching anyway. I've managed to get several things for my kids from Amazon.com with my free gift cards. This is most definitely worth checking out! Go to Swagbucks, sign up, and start searching!

The program that not everyone can join is called Food Service Rewards. It's a restaurant program where you earn points based on the products you buy. I've been able to order some presents for my kids through this program, but since it's limited to restaurants, I won't go into the specifics. Just realize that you never know where you will find a points program that you can use to earn money or gifts - always look into anything you find because you never know when it will be a wonderful deal for you!

There are other survey companies out there that either save up your points that can be redeemed for cash - I don't even know of or belong to all of them. I also know of a site called Inbox Dollars where you earn .03 for each email that you read/click on. You can't cash out until you have $30, so that takes a very long time, but it's worth doing in the long run. I figure I will hit the $30 level about once a year. Maybe for next Christmas..... :)

A program that has been an amazing help in paying for Christmas isn't an online program at all. It's through my Citibank credit card. I'm not as happy with their Thank You Redemptions program as I used to be, because they no longer give 5 points per dollar for certain types of purchases, but they still provide 1 point for every dollar spent. The points are then redeemed on their website for a variety of gifts and gift cards. I've only used my points for the gift cards, and this year I was able to get 2 $100 Visa debit cards to finish the shopping for the kids. Those came in SO handy! Sadly, I can't earn points as quickly as I used to when grocery and gas spending added up five times faster, so I'm not advocating Citibank like I used to, but I do still use the card. I just make sure that I pay it off every month. Especially now that they've taken away the bonus I loved, I will not pay them a dime in interest. I charge quite a bit each month, but always pay in full, which helps the points to really be "free."

I know there are lots of credit card rewards programs out there, so look around and see what you can find. It might be worth changing cards to take advantage of the program that works well for you and gives you the most benefits.

So there you have it, and a long blog post to boot! My (almost) free Christmas shopping. I'm loving being able to give the kids things they want and not spending too much money. Christmas doesn't have to put you into debt or cause financial stress. A few minutes each day will give you several gifts by the end of the year. And keep your eyes peeled - you never know what freebies you will find out there!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Enter to Win a Kindle

Hello, all! I know I've been very quiet on the blog front lately, but I promise to think of a great topic really soon and get it posted. Things have been crazy around here, and I'm sure that isn't going to change anytime soon with Christmas coming fast, but I am sure I will eventually think of something exciting to write! :-)

In the interim, I just found this giveaway online and I would LOVE to win a Kindle! I think it would be so neat to own one. Since it's a great giveaway, I wanted to share. Click here to enter! Good luck! Hope I you win!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Award-Winning Costume!!

I found a sombrero at a garage sale a couple of months ago and bought it, with the idea of trying to make a jellyfish costume, just to see how it looked. I went to Hobby Lobby and picked up a remnant of a light blue chiffon and some small rolls of ribbon and sequins. Here is the final result:

My youngest LOVED it!! So she became a jellyfish for Halloween. Tonight, we took the kids to a "Fright Night" event at Park University. They did some trick or treating, played games, painted pumpkins, and had some fun. We were about to leave when the girls decided they might want to be in the upcoming costume contest. The older one backed out, but my little one had gotten so many compliments on her costume that she wanted to participate. She was in the 6-8 age group, as she is 7.

The kids all paraded across the stage and then gathered for the judging. A Dorothy (from Oz) costume took third place, and then a child in a hideous monster mask was given second. I heard a few people in the crowd chanting "jellyfish, jellyfish" and was surprised by this. Then, the announcer said, "And first place goes to our COOL jellyfish!" There was actually a cheer that went up in the audience! She was SOOO excited! She couldn't stop talking about it. :-) They gave her a Connect Four game and a very large bag full of mini candy bars....she's set! That made our night.

I think it's so funny that a simple costume that I created myself won a costume contest over several expensive store-bought ensembles. Now my girls are arguing over which one gets to be the jellyfish next year....I might have to make another one! Anyone have a sombrero???? LOL

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Great Deal at Hobby Lobby

I wanted to share a truly great deal I got this morning at Hobby Lobby! I was looking at the clearance area and noticed some very nice scrapbooks. They are the Generations Memory Album in Luxurious Leather with 100 pages with sheet protectors. The price on these gorgeous albums is $39.99. They were clearanced at $5.00!! The cashier told me that they just got the markdown last night on their sheets, so they had only been on the shelf at this price a very short time when I found them. She said they knew they would go fast.

If you're near a Hobby Lobby, it's definitely worth checking for this deal. If you scrapbook, these are beautiful archival albums. If you know a scrapbooker, what an awesome Christmas gift!!!

Friday, October 16, 2009

What?? No Pumpkin???

So the word is that we are in the midst of a canned pumpkin shortage. Libby's has reported that bad weather conditions LAST year are resulting in very low production of canned pumpkin right now. Apparently there was a bit of a panic recently on Twitter and people are afraid they will have no pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. The horror!

I'm actually not participating in the uproar. I haven't even looked for canned pumpkin at any of my grocery stores, though I might start, just out of curiousity to see if I can find it. But every time I've gone to the store lately, I've seen huge boxes absolutely overflowing with lovely, round, bright orange pumpkins. So why worry???

I know, some people look at the garden produce and see only porch decorations or a future Halloween Jack-o-Lantern. But guess what? You can actually take one of the pumpkins from your local grocer and probably get enough pumpkin to keep you in bread, pies, and bars until the end of the season! It isn't even difficult!

I usually keep my pumpkins out for decoration until Halloween; I do pull them in when it freezes overnight, though. Then, I bring them inside and straight to the kitchen. I give them a good washing, remove the stems, and then cut them in half. I scrape out the seeds into a colander and get a cookie sheet out of the cabinet and spray it with a little oil. I place my pumpkin halves on the cookie sheet and pop them into a 375° oven until they are nice and soft.

Once the squash is softened, I pull them out and let them cool for a bit, until I can pull off the outer skin. It usually comes off with very little effort once the pumpkin is good and cooked. Then I put the pumpkin flesh in a large bowl and puree it down a bit with my hand blender. Once it's nice and mashed, I measure one-cup amounts into zip-top bags and prepare them for the freezer. I generally have cooked pumpkin year-round because those big ones result in a LOT!!!

Just today I pulled out 2 bags and made a big batch of pumpkin bars. A few days ago I made pumpkin cheesecake bars. The fresh (frozen) pumpkin truly makes delightful treats, and I don't miss the canned variety at ALL!

So don't fret about the "Great Pumpkin Shortage of 2009." Besides the fact that Libby's also now reports that they are currently processing the current year's harvest and it will be shipping to stores in plenty of time for holiday baking, you can definitely enjoy everything pumpkin and never open a single can! Try it....you will be amazed at how easy and delicious fresh pumpkin really is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lowe's Needs a Lesson in Customer Service

I am so completely disenchanted with Lowe's. I *thought* they were a reputable and reliable company, but the way they handle customer service has forced me to re-evaluate that idea. In the last year or so, we've purchased 3 major appliances from them - washer, dryer, and dishwasher. The delivery of the washer and dryer was a nightmare. Twice they scheduled delivery and then didn't show up. I had to call the store and find out that the dryer wasn't in yet, so they couldn't deliver. Excuse me? Maybe you should actually CALL me and let me know this so I am not sitting around all day waiting??? A month after I was supposed to receive the set, they finally delivered it to me. Not too impressive, eh?

Well, now we fast forward to today. My dishwasher (it's a Samsung - NEVER NEVER NEVER buy anything they make as they are JUNK!!!!!) broke down on Sunday. I called Lowe's because we have their "Service Advantage" (HA!) program. It took forever to get everything set up because they apparently don't keep any record of you unless you have this one specific number from your receipt from purchase. If you don't have that, don't bother calling. I did finally locate all the information and they told me that I had an appointment on Tuesday between 8 and 5. I was assured of the confirmation of this date.

Today, being Tuesday, I have arranged my entire schedule so that I can be home all day. I decided to contact the servicing company to inquire if they could possibly narrow down the time to maybe morning or afternoon. After being on hold awhile, they told me they had no record of me. Huh???? So I called Lowe's back. After some "research" (and more hold time), she tells me that there wasn't any availability for today. I asked her when they learned this, and she told me yesterday. So I asked her, don't you think that you might have wanted to let ME know this information?????? They never bothered to reschedule or contact me or do ANYTHING at all! They just left it there, and there was no follow up scheduled in any way. What the flip kind of customer service is that????

After a few more times on hold and being assured that "this never happens," (gosh - why do I truly doubt that?) she told me that I would have service on Thursday. So I'm hand-washing dishes even longer because of the stupidity and lack of service at Lowe's. Hmmm....maybe if they had any inkling of how to take care of their customers, they could have called me yesterday and scheduled something for tomorrow??

I am just plain disgusted with Lowe's at this point. They have no follow-up at all and really don't seem to care at all if their customers receive any service. And do they offer anything for their blatant error? Of course not! Just....well, we got you scheduled for Thursday, and so what if you have to change your entire schedule for another full day? I think they should at least send someone here to wash my dishes! Yeah, that's not going to happen, but seriously, after this experience, I will never buy another major appliance from Lowe's. There are many other companies out there that might actually contact their customers if there is a problem. I'll be giving someone else a try. Lowe's doesn't get a third chance to make a good impression.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Too Cute to Not Share

I had the most adorable conversation with my daughter earlier tonight. She was asking me about Columbus Day and why it was something to celebrate. I was a little surprised she had not discussed Columbus in school, so I joked that it was my friend Christy's birthday.

This answer didn't suit her, so she pressed a bit more, saying that she knew Columbus had sailed around, but didn't know what he had done worth a day on the calender. "Well, he discovered America," I told her. She thought about that a moment and said, "That's worth something." Then she continued, "But I thought the Pilgrims discovered America....was Columbus their driver???"

How cute is that??? It's funny how kids grasp things, including history and life in the past. And there are so many times that I think I will remember something that one of the said, but sadly, I do forget. This one is now recorded here, so I can't forget it! :-)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Deliciously Easy Fruit Dip

I'm the Box Tops Coordinator for my girls' school and we recently had a classroom contest. With over 8,000 Box Tops submitted, I needed some help trimming, sorting, and counting. Of course, this meant I had to have food for everyone! I had some fruit, but I wanted a dip to go with it. Every dip I found online required marshmallow creme, which I did not have, so I ended up creating my own dip, and we LOVED it! So I thought I would share the simple recipe. It's a little strangely written, but I am NOT a measuring cook - I just put it together till I like it!

1 1/2 - 2 cups yogurt (I used vanilla, but plain would be fine)
1/2 - 3/4 package instant pudding (I used pumpkin - YUM!)
1/4 - 1/2 c. sour cream

Put the yogurt in a bowl and pour in the pudding mix. Start with about half the package, and add more if needed - the amount of yogurt you use will affect how much pudding mix you need. Stir in the pudding mix until smooth. Stir in the sour cream to cut the sweet a bit. Taste as you go to see where you need more or less of something.

It sounds a little weird, I know, but it is SO good! I bought more yogurt today to make it again as an apple dip. The kids thought it was fantastic, and the pumpkin was ideal for fall.

For more great recipe ideas, visit the Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Awesome Trip to CVS!!

Look at all that stuff! Want to guess how much I paid for it all?? Fifty-six CENTS!!! AND, I got back a $10 ECB for future purchase! Can you believe it? That's the best I've done at CVS in awhile! Here's the breakdown:

1st Transaction:
Vaseline Sheer Infusion - $7.99 (used $1.50 coupon)
2 boxes raisins - .50
Paid with $6.99 ECB - free
Received $7 ECB

2nd Transaction:
Bounty Basic 6 pack - $6 (used .25 coupon)
2 Bounce Dryer bars - $8 (used 2 $1.50 coupons)
Duracell 16 pack AA batteries - $10 (used .75 coupon)
2 boxes raisins - .50
Dawn - $1 (used .50 coupon)
High School Musical flash cards (clearance .75)
2 bags candy corn - .88 each

Used $1 ECB from a prior purchase, $7 ECB from the first transaction, and $15 ECB from taking a survey as a CVS Advisor.
Total $0.56
Received $10 ECB

Now THAT was a great trip to CVS!!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Choco-Toffee Cheesecake

A couple of nights ago, DH came home from work with 6 packages of cream cheese that were "leftover." Of course, he and all the kids immediately asked me to make them a cheesecake. Since the main ingredient was being provided, how could I say no? The main question was, what kind of cheesecake should I make? I decided to just wing it and the resulting product was devoured with choruses of "the best cheesecake EVER" and "when can you make this again???" There is still a little bit left, as it is VERY rich. Here's how it looks:

Hungry yet?? :-)

Since I didn't follow a recipe, I have to try and figure out exactly what I did so I AM able to make it again someday, and I thought I would do it here, so I can share the recipe. Get ready to bake a delightful dessert!

Choco-Toffee Cheesecake

About 16 chocolate sandwich cookies
3 T. butter, melted

Crush cookies in food processor. Stir in melted butter and press into the bottom of a 9" springform pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.


3 packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2-3 T. flour
1 c. chocolate chips, melted
3 eggs
1/2 c. sour cream
2 t. vanilla
1 c. mini chocolate chips
1 c. toffee bits

Beat cream cheese with sugars and flour with mixer on medium speed until smooth and blended. On low, blend in melted chocolate chips until color is evenly distributed and smooth. Beat in eggs on low, one at a time. By hand, blend in sour cream and chips and toffee bits. Once combined and smooth, pour over crust.

Place in a 300° oven on the top rack, with an overproof pan of water on the lower rack. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off oven and leave door closed for another hour. Remove and allow to cool at room temperature for about an hour before placing in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.

At serving time, top each slice with:

Caramel ice cream topping
Chocolate chips
Toffee bits

This is very good, but VERY rich! And let's not even talk about the calories....that's just plain scary!! :-) Enjoy!!!

For more recipes to try, visit the Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap!

Boston Market

As a member of BzzAgent, I occasionally get to join campaigns to try new products and then spread the word about my experiences. Word of mouth advertising is very effective, and BzzAgent is a great opportunity to try new things and share them with the world!

Recently, I received a coupon for a free individual meal at Boston Market. I hadn't tried them before, so I was excited to visit. My husband and I went there for lunch this week. I ordered their half-chicken meal, which came with two sides and cornbread. My selections were mashed potatoes and gravy and corn.

After placing my order, I moved down to the opposite end of the counter, past the prep area. I could see all the sides behind a glass barrier, and they all looked fresh and tasty. In just a few minutes, my meal was ready and was given to me on a tray with a plasticware packet. The half chicken was a nice portion and it was one of the most tender and flavorful rotisserie chickens I had ever tasted. It was served piping hot and I could only eat about half of it. The cornbread was absolutely fantastic, especially when slathered with light butter (YUM!), and the corn was very well-seasoned. The potatoes were okay....they were your basic instant potatoes, but the gravy was very good, and for those of you that have to be careful (like me), it is made without any MSG.

Boston Market is definitely a change from the ordinary quick-serve fare. I would definitely recommend it to anyone! And right now, they have a kids-eat-free special going on - two kids eat off the kids menu with each adult meal purchase. There's never been a better time to try it if you haven't, or to visit again for a wonderful meal! Bring the whole family....you will love it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tonight was Over the Top!!!

Do you live in the Kansas City area? If so, then you need to spend an evening with Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey at the Sprint Center this week!! There are tickets available for Thursday or Friday nights, or for three shows Saturday or two shows on Sunday. I'm sure you can make it to at least one of those!

We had the pleasure of going for opening night tonight. What a fun and exciting show! The music and action was so exciting, and the kids just LOVED all the animals, acrobats, bright lights, and those clowns! A word of advice? Don't come to the Circus late and be in the path of the clown who is wandering about in the audience. What a hoot! I'm glad it wasn't me, but it was definitely hilarious - that poor girl! :-)

The most exciting stunt was the Rebels on their motorcycles inside the steel dome - WOW! I don't even know how to describe it. The insurance underwriter in me was terrified!! lol! There was non-stop fun and action all over the arena and my kids, along with every child around us, were completely mesmerized.

Whether your kids enjoy animals, light shows, dancing, motorcycles, or just a fun time, you will have a GREAT time at the Ringling Bros. Circus! And you can get 4 tickets for only $11 each by using code MOM on ticketmaster.com!! The ticketmaster fees still apply, but it's a great value for a wonderful night of family entertainment! And free for every ticket holder is an all-access pre-show! We got to go down on the main floor and meet performers, collect autographs, try on costumes, and have a grand time!

If you're anywhere near Kansas City, don't miss this great opportunity for an Over the Top experience at the Sprint Center with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey!!! Let me know if you go - I'd love to know what you thought!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Works For Me Wednesday - Chocolate Pudding

I haven't done a Works for me Wednesday post in many months, but yesterday I discovered something that was so cool, I want to share!

I needed to use up some milk that was near its end, so I decided to make a trifle with pudding, graham crackers, and marshmallows. But when I got into the cabinet, I found that I only had one box of instant pudding. I knew 2 cups wasn't going to be enough for the dessert I wanted, so I decided to experiment. I made the instant chocolate pudding, but I used THREE cups of milk instead of the two as directed on the package. I followed the directions to stir it for 2 minutes and then set it in the refrigerator.

To my delight, I had 3 cups of perfect pudding! It was nicely thickened and made a fabulous trifle! Nobody noticed a taste difference in the extra, so from now on I'm going to stretch my instant pudding mix into 3 cups instead of 2. Give it a try - and get 50% more pudding for your money! It definitely works for me!!

For more great tips from people just like you, visit Works for Me Wednesday.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My New Craft Room

I have been unbelievably busy for the past few days. Isn't it amazing how a simple comment can turn your life upside down?? My youngest has been in an upstairs bedroom since we moved into this house. It's a cute room where the ceiling angles down on either side (kind of like a barn-shape). And the closet in there has been just her size; because it's built into the angled side of the room, it's very short, so she can easily reach her clothes - they're only about 3 feet off the floor.

One day DH and I were talking about how she would eventually outgrow that closet. We know this because we've each whacked our head on the frame of her closet while either putting something away or helping her find something. Let me tell ya, it hurts! She is getting bigger all the time (since I haven't figured out yet how to make kids stop growing!) and so we knew in a year or two, we'd have to figure out another bedroom plan.

We decided that the best idea might be for our son (the oldest) to move downstairs. Our basement is nicely finished, and a little different. It's U-shaped with the stairs in the middle. You go down the stairs and enter the room, turning left. Immediately on the right is the bathroom, then the door to the garage. You walk forward into the sitting area where the TV and fireplace are, then turn left again to the pool table, then left again to the "bar area." The people who lived here before us installed the bar because they had lots of parties. I have been using the bar as a scrapbooking center - nothing alcoholic about it. Anyway, we thought that our son might enjoy that back area if we could figure out a way to make a temporary wall to enclose it.

Well said son heard the discussion and got very excited about having his room downstairs. He loved the idea of having his own space away from everyone and having the bar area for Lego Bionicle building. But he wanted it NOW. And he said that since nobody goes downstairs after bedtime, he didn't care if we put up a wall yet or not. He just wanted his room down there. The girls then got wind of this, and got all excited about having their rooms across from each other. So suddenly the youngest wants to move into her brother's room NOW.

So what did I do? I decided to let them have what they wanted. Ugh. We had to move furniture from the main level to the basement, from the upper level to the main level, and from the basement to the upper level! It has been chaotic at best! But now, I'm happy to say, my son is happily sleeping downstairs, the girls are settled in their rooms across from each other, and I have a sewing/craft room upstairs! It has taken hours of work and lots of trips up and down the stairs, but I love my new room. I haven't decorated yet at all, but I took some photos of how I've set it up.

I tried to put it together in "zones." Each corner is basically a different area. I am going to get some more chairs moved up there - there's plenty more work to do, but the bulk of it is done. Here is the far right corner as you enter - it's my scrapbooking area:

That weird box beside the table with the white hose-thing on top? That's the portable air conditioner, which is necessary because this particular room gets REALLY hot when it gets over 80° outside. I'm not sure what they did when building it, but it gets like an attic. That a/c gets it cool very quickly, though.

And here is a close up of the shelf area, as verification that I have ENTIRELY too many scrapping papers! lol

Now, to the left of that window, in the other corner on that side of the room, is my sewing area. I haven't gotten into my bins and pulled out my fabric, so the shelf is partially empty, but someday it might be a cool and productive area (we'll see, anyway!):

And just over from that, in the corner "behind" the door, I have an area that the kids can use for their activities. There is a little dresser where supplies can be stored, and room for a folding table to be set up for them to work on their own special projects:

And finally, the corner just to the right as you walk into the room is my cozy little reading/knitting nook. I love the chair, so I had to have it, and it's right next to the shelf with all my various crafting books and magazines. I just need to get a nice lamp to put beside the chair and I'm set!

I'm hoping that I can get a lot done in this new room of mine. If I get going, I'll definitely post projects as I finish them. I just hope they start turning out better than that baby sweater.....*sigh*

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It was an Attempt....Just a Bad One!

I had such high expectations....what was I thinking???? I taught myself to knit a couple of years ago and hadn't tried to do it for several months. But I got this book at the library that was called "Baby Knits for Beginners" and thought..."I can do that!" I should really learn not to think!

I know someone who is expecting a baby girl in January, and I happened to have this super-soft cotton yarn in my stash. The pattern looked simple enough, so I developed the bright idea to make her baby a cute little pink sweater. It was knitted in 4 parts (back, front, 2 sleeves) and then sewn together. Sounds easy enough, right? Let me tell you - that sewing together business is FAR from easy, and the book skipped over that instruction....I guess most knitters are just smarter than I am.

I finished knitting several days ago, but some room-switching with the kids has taken precedence over sewing the parts together. Tonight I was exhausted and sitting on the couch watching the Packers and the Bears and decided to finish my project. Individually, the pieces had looked okay, but once assembled.....not so much. Here is the finished product (note: the sleeves are the same size - it's the camera angle that makes the one look much shorter):

And a closer look to see my wonderfully uneven knitting:

It just looks so....blah. I am wondering if I can wash it and get it to look less stretched out, but I haven't knitted a garment before, so I don't know. I suppose I should ask someone who knows how to knit, but I don't want to look clueless. I was so hoping for a lovely baby gift...I even planned on matching booties. At least I've made a few pairs of booties, so I know I can make those look okay. I might have to skip the sweater and make two pairs of booties!!

Apparently, I need to spend a little more time practicing before I tackle knitting sweaters. It is just as hard as it looks!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Not So Common Courtesy

Whatever happened to decency and courtesy? Did it suddenly become a rule that you can't wear white OR use your manners after Labor Day? Oh wait, it didn't start on Labor Day, so I guess that isn't it! I just can't figure out why more and more people have developed this "me and me only" attitude and can't even bother to be respectful or friendly anymore!

Freecycle is quite a good example of where general human courtesy seems to be gone by the wayside. I have all but stopped offering items to people through Freecycle. I love the concept, and I really enjoy helping people when they need something, but why is it that 95% of the time, when I make an offer, I end up with RUDE people who not only don't show up as promised, but then ignore follow up email??

I'm gifting you with something - no strings attached. All I ask is that when you say you are going to show up, you actually DO. And I know things happen and life gets in the way of your plans, but seriously! Does it really take that long to send me an email telling me that you can't make it and either offering an alternate pickup or asking me to give it to another?????

I run into these ridiculous people whenever I'm out in public (don't even get me started on my cashier at Hen House today!!!!), but when I'm GIVING something to them, why can't they at least attempt to act like a civilized human being??? I'm so frustrated with the attitude of people anymore. I used to watch a little girl after school. The agreement was that her mom would pick her up at 4:00, so she was only at my house for about half an hour. No big deal, right? And I was helping her out because she could then finish out her workday and come home to her child. So why is it that after the first week or so, suddenly it was okay for her to run errands and do her grocery shopping after school? It got to be 4:15....then 4:30....then even as late as 5:30 because she met a friend after work!!! Excuse me???? When did I become a free afternoon babysitter?? And the sad thing is that I know of at least two other people that are in this same situation. It's become okay to take advantage of your "friends."

It strikes me as very sad that people have so little regard for the time and efforts of others. What a wonderful world this would be if everyone stopped regarding himself or herself as the center of the universe, the only one who matters. My girls go to a school with 474 families. So why is it that so few of the parents volunteer anything for the school??? I know that not everyone has time to spend hours up at the school, but there are so many little ways that they can help without spending much time or money. Do you know that the PTA only asks for 3 hours a YEAR? Yep...if everyone gave only three little hours a year, everything would get done without anyone being over-volunteered. What a concept!

Okay, I will get off my soapbox now. I also need to go remove the piece of furniture from the front of my house, since it's become quite obvious that Miss Marybeth has all the manners of a common farm hog and isn't going to pick it up or bother to respond to my emails. She's classy....not!!! Looks like the thrift store will benefit from her rudeness, so it works out in the end.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Simple Way to Help Your Local School

I know I haven't blogged in awhile...I really am trying to think of interesting topics that you might actually WANT to read. But I found out about this deal today, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew about it!

I'm sure you've heard of Campbell's Labels for Education. Schools and other organizations save up UPCs from Campbell's line of wonderful products and send them in to the collection center. These points (1 or 5 for each UPC, depending on the product) are "banked" and once enough are collected, the school can redeem them for great products. It's a fabulous program that is very beneficial - I think every household uses at least a few Campbell's products on a regular basis.

This week, starting September 9th, you can get your school 100 bonus labels!!! And it's SO easy! Check your local grocery ads for a small bonus form. You go to a store and purchase only 5 Campbell's products (if you're a couponer, you can really get these inexpensively!). Take the UPCs and your receipt and attach them to the form and send them to your school. Instead of the 5 points, the school will now get 100! These bonus labels will help your school so much!

It only costs a few dollars and a little time to make a big difference. Thanks for supporting your school!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Menu Plan Monday, week of 8/31/09

How can it possibly be September already??? And how can it be like 70° outside on the last day of August? Life can be bizarre at times!!

I did a slightly different menu plan this week. I waited until today because I knew I was going to the store and I wanted to see what bargains I found before I planned. I also haven't figured out the weekend yet. There isn't a particular reason for this - just the fact that I simply don't know what I want to make. I have the first 5 days planned around what I purchased today and what the kids requested, and I will just decide later what I feel like making this weekend. Fair enough? :-)

Monday - French dip sandwiches, homemade macaroni and cheese, watermelon.

Tuesday - Chicken stir fry, steamed rice, baby corn.

Wednesday - Pastitsio, corn, cornbread.

Thursday - Grilled orange-apricot pork chops, baked potatoes or crunch-top potatoes, "fried" apples, biscuits.

Friday - Ham/mushroom/pineapple pizza on a wheat sourdough crust.

That's all I have! Sorry for the casuality of the menu plan this weekend, but I think that's about all my brain can handle today. I also think I need more caffeine.....lol

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Menu Plan Monday, week of 8/24/09

Last week was another one that got out of control and the menu plan didn't go quite as expected. The start of school is really chaotic when you volunteer for just about everything! :-) This week I've picked some simple meals, due to school obligations I know ahead of time and just to make it easier on me. It's also my birthday tomorrow, so I picked something pretty simple. Here's the plan:

Monday - Sloppy joes, tater tots, "fried" apples (from the freezer).

Tuesday - Using the crock pot due to Parent Orientation Night. Pot roast with potatoes and carrots, homemade rolls.

Wednesday - Gotta grill something this week since we missed it last week! Grilled chicken, green rice, rolls.

Thursday - Beef-mushroom spaghetti, green beans, breadsticks.

Friday - Bacon cheeseburger pizza on a sourdough crust.

Saturday - Pork piccata (still haven't gotten it made!!!), mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits.

Sunday - Bierocks and pizza pockets (from the freezer from last week), leftover sides from earlier in the week.

Sound simple enough? Now let's see if I can stick to it - lol! For more great meal plans, visit Org Junkie.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

From Beans to Jeans

Interesting title, eh? It seemed to fit well with my current thought process, so I went with it. :-)

Yesterday, I had to visit our local hospital's lab for some bloodwork. I have a completely inactive thyroid and in order to keep my medication levels correct, I have to get a blood count done on a fairly regular basis. Usually this is a quick in-and-out process that only takes a few minutes of my day. This wasn't the case yesterday. For a myriad of reasons (none my fault), I had a lengthy wait until I was called back.

As I sat in the waiting area, it began to fill up a bit. Some people sitting near me began discussing the start of school. I wasn't eavesdropping, but they were only a couple of feet away and I couldn't help but overhear - the conversation was obviously innocuous, anyway. The woman asked the man if he had finished his daughter's back-to-school shopping. When he replied affirmatively, she asked what he had spent. He snorted and told her, "$135. And it was ONE pair of jeans!" She was shocked and asked him WHY so much for jeans. He explained that she HAD to have this particular brand, and since they cost $135, it was the only clothing they had bought for her.

The conversation continued, but just that part of it really got me to thinking. In the practice of frugality and making the most of what we have, we tend to focus on the little things that add up to save us money, such as substituting beans for meat in dinners. Washing out Ziploc bags for multiple uses and turning off lights when we leave rooms help us stretch our dollars. But in the midst of all the little things, how much do we consider the BIG things, like teaching our children that money and possessions are not the most important things in their lives?

I know I can't imagine my children even asking me for a pair of jeans (or ANY article of clothing) that cost over $100! They are perfectly happy to shop at thrift stores and garage sales and get very excited when we go to a regular retail store to buy things. None of the three of them care if they have "Tommy Hilfiger" on a shirt or the latest trendy jeans. Now, I know they are still young (the oldest is just 13), but I truly don't believe that will change. It's just the way we are raising them.....bringing them up as the next generation of savers, not spenders. We plan to continue to do this, and hopefully they will never become materialistic.

In the greater scheme of things, both the little things we do (the beans) and the big things (the jeans) are equally important. Just some food for thought. Here's hoping you never "have to" buy a $135 pair of jeans!!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week of 8/17

Back to school week has arrived. Blah. Time to get back into routines and get up early and do homework and projects and deal with teachers and..... you know how it goes. I guess the alternative is homeschooling, but if you know me at all, you know I don't have the patience for THAT! :-)

As I mentioned in my previous post, there will be some repeats from last week, since I didn't stick to the menu plan at ALL. I'm hoping things will be much calmer this week. So here's the plan:

Monday - Lasagna (already in the fridge from yesterday), salad, Pillsbury French Loaf. I made this lasagna with regular noodles, put in UNcooked, and it turned out great! I will most definitely make it this way again as it saved me a lot of prep time.

Tuesday - Bierocks (I make mine sort of similar to THIS recipe) and pizza pockets (the kids don't like cabbage so I fill some of them with pizza sauce, ham, and mozzarella), salad, glazed carrots (but I drain all the water!)

Wednesday - Skillet chicken supper (delicious with bone-in chicken breasts), biscuits.

Thursday - Rotisserie chicken (I'm cheating...I have to go to Sam's for flour and I plan to pick up a chicken while I'm there), steamed rice, corn, homemade rolls.

Friday - Pizza night - chicken alfredo pizza on a sourdough crust.

Saturday - We are spending the morning on a parade float supporting the Watch D.O.G.S. and probably a lot of the afternoon downtown at the Parkville Days Riverfest, so I'm thinking grill night! Sirloin steaks, either baked potatoes or crunch-top potatoes (depending on my energy level and time), green beans, rest of the rolls from Thursday.

Sunday - Ham and scalloped potatoes (my daughter is STILL begging for this), corn, cornbread.

It's a plan, anyway. Hopefully I can actually stick to it this time around! For more great menu plans, visit Org Junkie!

Life Threw a Curve Ball

I'm so glad that it's almost football season, because I've grown tired of life's little curveballs, and I'm choosing to believe that baseball season is to blame! Hey, it works for me, anyway.

I haven't blogged this week, but my life has been a little off kilter. On Tuesday, a dear friend ended her battle with liver cancer. I am so blessed that I visited her that afternoon and got to spend some time with her, because only hours after leaving her side, I received the call that she was gone. As you might imagine, that completely threw off my week. We didn't even make it to my son's back to school night festivities. I think we ordered pizza that night and stayed home. It's been a tough week.

As a result of the lost sleep, required school outings, and visitation and funeral events, I haven't stuck to my meal plan for most of the week. We've eaten out entirely too much and my stomach and checkbook are all the worse for it. Today I'm trying to get back into my usual routine, including laundry, cooking, and cleaning the house, which has also suffered greatly this week.

I'll be posting a menu plan later today that will most likely reflect last week's missed meals. I did manage to get a lasagna done last night, and about 3/4 of the way into its bake time, we lost power. It was off for an hour and a half, and I let the lasagna sit in the oven for about the first 45 minutes. It came out fine, and we ate by candlelight with no side dishes - I didn't know when the power would come back, so we didn't open the fridge. You can make Kool-Aid with no power, so the kids loved that! We have enough left for another meal, so that will start off my Monday night. I'm helping with a New Parents' Breakfast at school in the morning, so an easy dinner will be great.

I can't believe school starts tomorrow. I'm so not ready to give my kids back to the school district all day. I'm also not ready to deal with all the nasty germs that come home with them. I'm prepared.....just not ready. :-) I'm sure it won't take long to setting back into the usual schoolday routine and it will all feel normal again, but I really like having my kiddos home with me all day. I'll miss them!

Here's looking forward to a good week this week!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pac-Man Pork

Okay, first I definitely have to explain the name of this recipe. My kids named it! I threw it together tonight and asked them what I should call it. My son declared it "Pac-Man Pork" because "we gobbled it all up!" The girls agreed, so thus it has been named. This was a Crock Pot dinner I made up tonight, and as you can tell, it was quite well received.

Pac Man Pork

4 thick-sliced pork chops
1 c. orange juice
2 peaches, sliced
1/2 c. half-and-half
2 T. cornstarch
1 t. dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Place pork chops and orange juice in slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-7 hours (I put mine in frozen). About an hour before serving, add the peach slices to the cooker and continue to cook on low. Half-an-hour before serving, stir the cornstarch and seasonings into the half-and-half. Remove pork and peaches from the cooker with a slotted spoon and set aside, keeping warm. Stir mixture into juices in cooker and turn up to high. Just before serving, return pork and peaches to cooker and stir gently. The sauce should have thickened and taken on a nice creamy color.

I served it with rice as you can tell, but next time, I will make mashed potatoes to more thoroughly enjoy that rich and creamy gravy!

This was very yummy, and if I named it, I'd probably call it Peaches and Cream Pork Chops. I'm looking forward to having the leftover gravy on a biscuit for breakfast tomorrow! Yummmmm!!!!

Menu Plan Monday, Week of 8/10

I've had a hard time menu planning this week. I think it's because I'm not looking forward to the last week of having my kids at home for the summer. I hate that school is starting next week! I've also got a lot of things going on this week, which just further complicates matters. But after much contemplation, I think I have finally decided on an acceptable menu. Here goes:

Monday - Jack's Ranch Chicken, rice, sliced fresh peaches, butternut squash, biscuits.

Tuesday - Ham and scalloped potatoes (layers of potato and cubed ham with a simple white sauce and some shredded cheddar, baked in the oven), corn, cornbread. This might end up being cooked in the slow cooker instead because I will be running around most of the day.

Wednesday - No dinner plan, because we will be attending a back-to-school night where they will be feeding us a wonderful meal of hot dogs and potato chips. Can you say "heartburn"??

Thursday - Another weird day, due to yet another back-to-school night. We'll be eating later than usual, so the Crock Pot will be put to use again. I'm going to try making lasagna in the Crock Pot for the first time. Hopefully it will come out okay! We'll have salad and probably Pillsbury French Loaf with it.

Friday - Pizza night! I'm thinking ham and pineapple on a sourdough crust this time around.

Saturday - I'm sure we will have leftover lasagna from Thursday, so I'm planning on having it again tonight with green beans and homemade rolls.

Sunday - Skillet Chicken Supper (I make it with bone-in breasts and it is sooooo good!), salad, the rest of the rolls.

If nothing else, at least it's a plan! :) For more great menus, visit Menu Plan Monday at Org Junkie.

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 11

I'm getting back on track with the grocery bill series, and hopefully I'll wrap it up soon! :) How about two more tips today? Here they are:

Use your Crock Pot! Even the cheapest cut of beef comes out of a Crock Pot tender and moist. You can also spend 10 minutes in the morning putting everything in the Pot and when you come home that evening, dinner is ready to go. This is another way to avoid the temptation to go out and grab a meal.

Make ground beef go further than you thought - if the recipe calls for 1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef, chances are you will be fine with just a pound. Another trick is to mix healthy fillers into the ground meat to stretch it further. I've made sloppy joes and pizza pockets with cooked bulgur mixed in with the beef and the kids never even knew! Rice is another great way to stretch ground meat, and makes chicken taco filling go further, too.

I've got my Crock Pot going today, and plan to use it at least once more this week. While cooking in the Crock Pot is incredibly convenient (throw your ingredients in early in the day and it's ready at dinner time), using the slow cooking process also allows you to make wonderful, tender meat from much less expensive cuts. I frequently take inexpensive cuts of steak and cook them all day with a can of diced tomatoes or a can of cream of mushroom soup. We have incredibly moist meat for dinner that just falls apart!

Another appeal to the Crock Pot is its versatility. You can just throw together what you have and out comes dinner. If you discover you forgot to thaw your meat, no problem! You can simply throw the frozen meat in the crock and allow a little extra time for cooking. When I worked, I almost always put in frozen meat and allowed it all day to cook to perfection. Tonight's dinner is an experiment. I have pork chops and a cup of orange juice in the pot right now, and about an hour before dinner, I plan to add sliced peaches and thicken the orange sauce with a bit of cornstarch and cold water. It's a non-recipe dinner, but I know we love orange-apricot pork chops on the grill, so I bet we enjoy this, too!

Last year, a blogger named Stephanie O'Dea committed to using her Crock Pot every day for the entire year. She has a blog filled with wonderful and unique recipes. Check it out here. The recipe she has that I use most frequently is Rotisserie Style Chicken. I generally wrap potatoes in the foil that goes under the chicken for an easy meal.

If you don't use your slow cooker, you really should try it. A few minutes in the morning can result in a lot of time saved in the evening, and we all know time is money. :) Check out Stephanie's blog or do a Swagbucks search for Crock Pot recipes and get started!

Now, let's briefly visit ground beef. The tip, as written, has most of the information, so I will only elaborate a bit (shocking for me, I know!). I never use the amount of ground beef called for in recipes. Generally speaking, I use between a half-pound and a pound per full meal, even if the original recipe calls for a pound or more. Meat loaf is an exception, but even that gets stretched with uncooked oats when I prepare it. I love making sloppy joes and bierocks with cooked bulgur mixed in with the hamburger, and Minute Rice has a wonderful recipe for chicken taco filling that I have used with great results even substituting shredded chicken for the ground. Chances are, your family will never think twice about the ingredients being "filler." My kids, who "hate" bulgur, don't even know that I sneak it into some of their favorite dishes!

So, now you hopefully have some new perspective on cutting your meat budget. What other tips can you share? Please leave a comment!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I'm Back!!

I've finally returned to my poor neglected blogs. Did anyone actually miss me? Yeah, I didn't think so! :)

I can't believe it's almost time for school to start. The kids only have NEXT WEEK before it's back to the grind. That's terrible! I had great intentions going into summer of having "school time" with them several days a week and working on handwriting, math, grammar, etc. Guess what? That didn't happen. Not at all. We've just been having entirely too much FUN this summer to do that educational stuff! I have to admit, I have really enjoyed the past couple of months and I really am not looking forward to the start of a new school year.

One of the recent fun things we've done is we've visited a farm for peaches and blackberries. We had planned on picking the peaches, but there weren't enough on the trees to pick what we wanted, so we got already-picked ones. It was still a good deal, as it was only $40 for about 50 lbs. of peaches! I spent most of my morning today canning most of them. We still have plenty to eat because we LOVE them, but I have 12.5 quarts of pretty slices all canned up and ready to eat. Seriously, if you've never had a fresh-picked peach, you simply MUST find a farm near you! The difference between fresh peaches and those awful ones you get in the store is unbelievable. My kids don't like store-bought peaches much since I've introduced them to the real deal. Very good stuff!!

The blackberries are all in the freezer, and I'm sure we will soon have a cobbler out of them. I have 14 cups of berries, which should last at least a little while. Last night for dessert, I made a trifle out of yellow cake, peach slices, sliced strawberries, and French Vanilla Cool Whip. It was divine! Trifles just look so pretty that my kids think they are about the coolest dessert out there. I think there's enough left for dessert tonight, but I'm sure they will be asking for more than I have! :)

Anyway....it's good to be back to blogging. I will get back on my grocery savings series very soon with Episode 11! Thanks for hanging around and waiting for me to get back! Have a wonderful weekend!!!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Blogging Break

I just wanted to post a quick note to let my readers know that I will not have internet access most of next week, so I am going to be on a bit of a blogging break. Please don't think I've disappeared - I will be back soon! Thanks for reading! :-)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cutting your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 10

I'm going to do two tips in this edition of our series. They go pretty well together and I'm feeling like skipping ahead. :-)

Plan your menus a week at a time. Look in your pantry and freezer to assess what you have on hand. Look at the grocery ads to see what is on sale for the best price. Plan your meals so you can buy mostly sale items, and only buy what you need.

Keep a list in your kitchen of simple meals you can prepare in 10-20 minutes (i.e. spaghetti, chicken tetrazzini, casseroles, burgers and fries). Keep the ingredients on hand for these. On especially busy nights, or when you just feel too tired to spend an hour cooking, pick something from the list and you'll have dinner quicker than the wait in a fast-food drive through, and won't have spent $25 on a "cheap" dinner out.

Menu planning is a wonderful thing. If you've been reading my blog for long, you've probably seen many "Menu Plan Monday" postings. Literally hundreds of bloggers participate in the meme every week, outlining what they plan to serve for meals that week, and often including recipes or links. It's a great way to find new recipes to try out to keep your menu fresh. I start my menu plan by assessing what I have on hand that needs to be used. I look at what nights DH will be available for grilling and when I have crazy days where a Crock Pot meal will be a blessing. I have a master notebook I use for menu planning. In it, I have pages of ideas for meals using specific ingredients, as well as recipes I found in cookbooks that I want to remember to try.

It does take a little time to get a menu all figured out for the week, but it is a major timesaver all week long! It also saves money because you aren't faced with the "I don't know what to make for dinner" dilemma that results in going out and spending money on something that is convenient and sounds appealing at the time. Making a plan gives you the freedom of knowing what you're going to prepare for each day of the week so you can plan your other daily activities accordingly. It also gives you flexibility, though, as you can always tweak it as you go along. I frequently do this if I find a great sale on something that I need to incorporate or if something just didn't sound good or I forgot to thaw an essential element (this happens quite often, unfortunately!)

If you don't meal plan, start by making a list of the meals you eat most often. This is a great way to start, because chances are you have many of the ingredients on hand. As long as you are making a list, let's visit the other tip. Make a list of meals that you can put together in a matter of minutes, either quick-prep items that then get popped into the oven for a time (ham and scalloped potatoes, chicken and rice casserole, bbq chicken packets) or that are very quick and easy to assemble and cook for when you get into a time pinch (spaghetti and meat sauce, beef stroganoff, tuna casserole).

I keep my quick meal list on the side of my refrigerator and it has come in very handy. I always have the ingredients for most of these meals in the freezer and/or pantry, and if I have something that messes up my plan, I turn to this list. As a rule, I can have these on the table in less than the time it would take me to get in the car, drive to a fast food chain, wait in line, get my food, and drive home. And it's definitely cheaper and healthier, too!!

I had surgery earlier this year. My easy dinners list was what we lived on for the weeks of my recovery. They were meals my husband could put together without difficulty and eventually meals I could actually make without being on my feet too long. And they are family favorites, too, which made it easy for someone else to feed them. So menu planning helps out in more ways than you even realize!

If you decide to jump in and start planning, and you're a blogger, please come over to Org Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. And then leave me a comment to let me know you joined. I would love to know how much menu planning helps you!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cutting your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 9

Today I am going to tack on an addendum to the usual tip. As I was making dinner tonight, another tip occurred to me. So keep reading for lots of information - and be sure and share your own tips in the comment section! :-)

When buying pre-bagged produce, weigh a couple of bags on the store's scales. A 10 lb. bag of potatoes might actually contain 12 pounds. A pound of carrots may be a bit short. If it's a set price, the heavier, the better!

This one is another that is fairly self-explanatory. There is a margin of error that is allowed in bagged produce. You want to err on the side of too much, not less! Pick a couple of bags of whatever you're buying (potatoes, apples, etc.) and pop them on the scale. You might find a bag of potatoes that is 11.5 pounds or a 3.75 pound bag of apples. This helps ensure you get the most for your money.

On this topic, be sure you check to make sure that the bagged produce is really your best-cost option. On occasion, you might find that the individual items are a bit less. Also, if you aren't going to use up 10 lbs. of potatoes or 3 lbs. of apples before they go bad, then you should get the individual items instead. Only buy what you can use while the food is good. Food waste is NEVER a money savings.

Now for the bonus tip that occurred to me earlier:

Make your meat multi task! I know that sounds a little silly, but it's definitely an effective tool in stretching your dollars. For instance, recently I cooked a small roast for dinner. We ate roast with potatoes the day I cooked it, and then there was a small amount leftover. I turned it into Beef Mushroom Spaghetti the next day. I've learned that you can frequently substitute shredded steak or roast for ground beef in recipes with excellent results.

Yesterday I cooked a chicken in the crock pot. Last night we had the chicken, rice, spinach salad, and rolls for supper. Tonight, I deboned the rest of the chicken and shredded most of it up for chicken enchiladas tonight. I still have one large full breast left that will become chicken salad for lunch tomorrow and/or a chicken alfredo pizza on Friday for dinner! In addition, I have the stock in the refrigerator that will make a wonderful soup. Since it's so hot, I will likely freeze it for later. The chicken cost me $2.85 on sale, and it is going to make as many as 5 meals - how can you beat that??

Of course, now we're getting into using leftovers creatively, and that's a tip we'll cover later. :-)