Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What's For Dinner: This Week's Menu

All hail the mighty paycheck!   We got paid yesterday.  So, we have groceries in the house again, which is a relief to say the least :).

This next month (February) is going to be a bit different on the grocery front for me as this is the first month where I planned out my meals a month in advance, so my grocery budget gets kind of screwy as I am picking up things early for things later in the month.  For instance, this shopping trip I ended up picking up good salad dressing (Caesar and blue cheese) to use in salads later in the month that are planned on the menu and I also picked up some shaved Parmesan cheese this month to use in said Caesar salad as well because I had a really good price on the salad dressing (2.85 personalized price minus 1.00/1 coupons I had for Litehouse dressings, so I got them for 1.85 per jar) and the cheese (1.87 as it was on sale and also on reduced for 50% off).  So I'm kind of pooling my grocery budget for the month and just deducting as I buy things.  So far, so good.  I budgeted out a "stock up" amount in this paycheck since we had gone so long in between getting paid (and thus shopping trips) and I was under budget, so woohoo for that :).

I'm not sure how complicated I'll be able to get with the menu plan in the next bit.  Turns out speech therapy might be off for a while.  Our new speech therapist, Christene, who has been doing great with Alvah and such, texted me last week and cancelled speech therapy for the time being as her dad, who has been living with her for the past few years, had a massive stroke (which he's had smaller strokes over the past few years, but this was the most severe one he's had) and now requires 24/7 care and she's trying to get care worked out for him so he's watched and cared for while she works at home.  This has been a depressing development, for sure.  I feel terrible for her, for one, as taking care of a loved one when their health is failing is super rough.  And then a part of me feels like it seems, when it comes to speech therapists, we're cursed or something.  I mean as soon as we get a speech therapist, Alvah bonds with them and starts making progress something terrible happens to them and speech is off.  It's depressing.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  For the moment I'm still planning on having speech therapy twice a week just in case things start trucking along again, so I'm planning on utilizing the pressure cooker a lot on those days or even things I can make a day or a few days before and just have it ready to reheat in the oven. 

The menu plan last week went awry, but not terribly bad as I was still able to feed everyone and not waste any ingredients or anything.  The crepes didn't happen the one night as the son was getting over being sick and was just so busy that I couldn't turn my back on him for two minutes to get crepes made.  So, we had ham with au gratin potatoes and veggies instead.  My husband went into work early on Monday to do a side project, so we ended up having spaghetti that night instead of enchiladas.  I was going to have enchiladas yesterday to make up for it, but the husband's stomach hasn't been feeling great this week, so I pushed off the enchiladas completely till later and we had balsamic chicken thighs with rice last night for dinner (actually my husband had them for lunch at work as his stomach was bugging him and he wasn't hungry at dinner time).  Tonight I decided to make the actual item that was on the menu plan and I'll figure out a way to use the leftover re-fried beans and Spanish rice later in the week (since they weren't left over from the enchiladas like I had planned).  So, yeah, we did eat this last week and nothing went to waste or anything, so as far as I'm concerned we're all good :).

And now, onto this week's menu!

Wednesday:  Grilled honey lime chicken  (I used the marinade from the recipe, but used boneless skinless chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts and then we just ate them on the plate instead of in a sandwich type of situation.  I also marinated them for an hour in the fridge before frying them versus the 10 minutes she used in the original episode.  It was good!), Spanish rice (from the Uncle Ben's mix I had in the pantry), re-fried beans. 
Thursday:  Ham sandwiches (ham from freezer, sliced) on home made bread.  Lettuce as a topping (yay for having fresh produce in the house again!!!) with choice of condiments.  Chips. 
Friday:  Home made pizza and breadsticks (if husband's stomach is still hurting he can have the last piece of leftover chicken in the fridge).  Use leftover ham as topping on pizza. 
Saturday:  Chicken enchiladas with leftover rice and beans.  This was originally "Leftovers/Punt" day so this was a good day to move this to.
Sunday:  Waffles (from mix in pantry) with fruit topping (pie fillings in pantry.  Family's choice on what sounds good to them), sausages 
Monday:  Sweet and Sour Chicken, rice, garlic green beans 
Tuesday:  Coconut fish and chicken pieces (I'm adapting a recipe I found and liked in Taste of Home magazine :), oven fries, salad

Desserts:  Jello parfaits (Monday, make Sunday), vanilla pudding (Saturday), yogurt parfaits (use leftover fruit topping from waffles, Tuesday.  Make yogurt from powdered milk).

Breakfasts:  Oatmeal, toast, cereal, yogurt with granola, cinnamon swirl bread (make Thursday).

And there you have it folks.  Our menu for the week.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

Late again.  I spent most of the weekend feeling bad with bad sinus headaches and other "yippee, sinuses are fun" types of things and praying I wasn't coming down with the flu.  So, yeah, I wasn't feeling up to doing much all weekend, but making dinner (I still have to make bread) and just trying to get by till payday (hopefully tomorrow).

We were so broke this week that we didn't do much other than the most basic things and with one or two kids home sick pretty much all of last week and then a husband just depressed and things over the weekend from us being super wasn't a fun week we'll just leave it at that.

I did, however, manage to get some things, despite it all, accomplished!  So, let's get to that!

1.  I went through my fabric and found a heavy duty suit type of material to use to refurbish the love seat upstairs.  It's a BIT like the material I used on the couch downstairs but a bit coarser in texture.  I am figuring on doing a dark grey for the body and a dark tan or something similar for the cushions, but I haven't gotten that far yet.

I managed to get the back of the love seat pried off on the top and got the new love seat back secured where the old back used to be and tacked it all back into place (this will help the material to stay put and not tear unlike if I had just sewed the new material to the old material on the back of the love seat).  I haven't sewed the bottom of the back cushions into place yet, mainly because I ran out of time before having to make dinner, but so far, so good (seen up top in stage 1).

2.  Shopping was pretty much non existent this week.  I spent 12.00 between milk and absolute minimum boy food and that was it for shopping this week.  My list of things I'm going to need to pick up once we get paid keeps growing (as we're three weeks in between pay checks this time around the way it all worked out), so I'm wondering how much shopping is going to cost me this week, but I'll do what I can to keep costs down when I get to go shopping.

3.  I received a gift of coffee this week, which with how I have been feeling was a seriously awesome gift to receive.  I have been thoroughly enjoying being able to drink coffee again the last few days :).
4.  After making eggs Benedict (which the home made crumpets actually toast up REALLY well in the toaster and made really good eggs Benedict!  Just wanted to share that in case someone might need that input later :) I had a good portion of lemon left over from making it and was trying to figure out what to do with it.  I thought about putting it into iced tea, but after thinking on it figured that would be kind of wasteful.  So, instead, I took a cake mix and for the water portion of the ingredients, I squeezed as much lemon juice as I could get out of the lemon (ended up being about 1/3 of a cup) and then filled up the rest of the measuring cup with water to the 1 cup mark (which is how much water the cake mix called for).  I then zested the remains of the lemon and added the zest to the lemon juice/water mixture.  I added the rest of the ingredients as normal for the recipe and when I had beat the batter to the point that I knew it was where it should be consistency-wise I then added about a cup of dehydrated blueberries to the batter and mixed it in by hand.  I made 2 round cakes out of the batter and then made a quick cream cheese frosting to frost the cake with after it was baked.  The lemon blueberry cake turned out YUMMY and we've been enjoying it, mainly as breakfast because hey it has fruit in it so it counts as breakfast right *laugh*?

5.  I spent a good portion of the week getting caught up on dishes and vacuuming and then trying to keep on top of the chores so that I didn't fall behind in them again, despite sick offspring and such.  So far, so good, although now that the kids are back in school I have more deep cleaning on the house to do.

6.  I rearranged my living room this week and got clutter put away.  It was driving me a bit crazy and I knew making the living environment simpler would make everything feel better overall, so that's what I did and so far I really like it :).

7.  We finally got my husband's W2 in from work, so I went online and got everything on taxes done, minus the final submitting of the taxes (one of the few things I pay for is I pay to store our taxes through a third party and get all of our basic information imported to make my life easier with taxes every year.  Totally worth the 34.00 a year to me) so we know how much we are getting back and everything.  I'll pay them and e-file the taxes as soon as we have the paycheck in the bank.

Depressing part is after paying off dental bills, paying car insurance on my husband's car for the year and paying bank fees to get a home equity loan rolling (we hope it all goes well on that end, anyway) we won't have much of a tax return left at all.

At least we didn't owe money.  That was at least a relief.

8.  I added water to the last of the dish soap to make the remnants last longer.

9.  I managed to actually get a few freezer meals done and into the freezer this week.  I made some manicotti and stuck that into the freezer and also froze the leftover minestrone in individual sized portions and froze those as well so I have soup for later on when I need it (the pasta will get mushy, but I'll live ;).

10.  I got to talk to my half sister this week.  She's been going through a rough time the last little bit, so it has been great to reconnect with her and help her through things, even if it is from across the country (she's the older of my two half sisters and lives on her own and not really around family, so it's rough for her).

And yeah, there's some of my week in a nutshell.  How about you?  How did your week go?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What's For Dinner: This Week's Menu

First I want to say how touched I am by the response to my last post.  Thank you for the e-mails and the posts.  You all are great :).  And I tend to kids are adorable (but I am completely biased  in that opinion ;).

So, the menu got kind of screwy this week, but I'm not QUITE sure how.  I know looking at the schedule that I ended up moving the crepes to a later date because my husband wasn't home that night for dinner, but somehow days got shifted around, things still got eaten that were on the menu, I can't find anything unaccounted for and yet we ended up having minestrone tonight for dinner.  I'm kind of scratching my head on that one.  Mind you, I did have a lack of sleep going on this week, but still...I'll figure it out *laugh*.

I tried a new recipe last week for pork chops.  I ran out of time for the to defrost, so I typed in "Instant Pot Pork Chops" into the search engine and then decided I'd make the first decent sounding recipe.  Turned out it was the first one that popped up in Google, so I ended up making Instant Pot Honey Pork Chops.  I did make the recipe a bit less sweet, but otherwise kept the ingredients the same and it came out really good and I added 1 cup of chicken broth to the pot because my book says to have one cup AT LEAST of liquid in the pot to pressure cook, so I was going to follow the directions (cooking under pressure is nothing to play around with when it comes to procedure and I want my pressure cooker to last a long time).  The sauce that was left in the pot after the pork chops were done was REALLY good, so I thickened it up with a couple of tablespoons of corn starch mixed with an equal portion of cold water.  We poured the sauce over the pork chops with dinner.  Definitely going to put that one into the "can make this again" category :).

So, yeah, due to the not making crepes last week that one will show up again this week.  I am actually rather proud of myself.  Since I didn't get much sleep this week I had plenty of time to sit with my cookbooks and my Kindle and do a bunch of thinking on menu plans and managed to get the menu plan done till the end of February.  It will definitely come in handy to have it out that far, I think, as I already have my grocery lists on what I will need from week to week written on each week as I did the menu plan and things and so I can figure out my grocery budget better.  I am really loving the pre-printed menu plan with the incorporated grocery list and the little section mine came with for notes.  I can make notes on what bread items or other things I will need to make that week for the upcoming meals and then I can hopefully get it all done for the week on the weekend before and then I just flip through and write down what items I've put on there for meals on my grocery list and voila!  I'm ready for two weeks worth of menus (theoretically ;).

So, despite a day that somehow got lost in the echoing abyss that is my brain, let's get to this week's menu plan!

Wednesday:  Minestrone, buttered rolls or grilled cheese (daughter and I had rolls, husband had grilled cheese on the last of the sandwich making bread is on the list for tomorrow).  This was REALLY good!  I added a bit of leftover bacon from a bacon sandwich I made my husband for lunch and a can of canned beef I needed to use up (dropped it and made a MASSIVE dent in the side when trying to dig out a can of tomato sauce in the pantry) to keep the husband's need for meat satisfied.  I threw in a bag of shredded zucchini from the freezer for the zucchini she recommended and used turnip greens for the greens.  I then used another shape of pasta (don't have any shells), but we all really enjoyed it!  The husband even feels like he's fighting something off (hopefully not the flu) and said he actually felt better after eating it :). 
Thursday:  Crepes with triple berry fruit topping, ham (from freezer) 
Friday:  Pressure Cooker Mongolian Beef (use beef ribs and small little bits and pieces from freezer), broccoli, rice. 
Saturday:  Farmhouse Chicken Casserole.  Or it would have been.  I used to have a recipe I made from time to time from ages ago, found originally on a site I found through Money Saving Mom, but the son ate part of the paper it was on and then the site no longer exists *sniffle*, so I found this Recipe for Chicken and Stuffing Casserole and while it wasn't exactly what I was hoping to find, it is at least close, so I'm going to give it a shot. 
Sunday:  Asian style pork chops, Brussels sprouts (from freezer), rice 
Monday:  Chicken enchiladas, Spanish rice (use the rest of the Uncle Ben's rice mix from pantry), refried beans 
Tuesday:  Home made chicken fingers (use boneless skinless chicken thighs from freezer), french fries/tater tots, canned fruit or vegetable (daughter's choice)

Breakfasts:  Toast (make bread), oatmeal, yogurt with granola or jam on top, cereal, orange rolls (make Saturday), chocolate muffins (make six on Sunday for daughter breakfasts for next week).

And there you are folks.  Our menu for the week.  How about you?  What are you making?  I'd love to schedule the menu out even further down the road, so please share :).

Monday, January 22, 2018

Why I Shop the Way I Do (or "Please, Child, Eat!")

This is a post I've thought about writing for a while, but kept putting it off because I was worried it would come across as a pity trip (which doesn't sit well with me) or worse.  I've been up for the last two days with a son who managed to come down with the flu or other "mimic" type of virus and had received some e-mails from people who had, I honestly do believe, good intentions on helping me to be a better parent and getting my son to eat in a way that would help his autism.  I thanked them for their advice and just moved on.  I've learned to do that over the years.  Well, mostly.  I'm getting better at it.  No, really I am!

What finally got me to write this post was actually another autistic parent who wrote me.  Her child is much younger than my son is and she was actually writing me in desperation to see if I could give her some insight into getting her son to actually eat.  Not eat "real food", which is my continuing quest with my son anymore, but getting her son to eat any food at all other than powdered rice cereal.  Her son had been diagnosed with autism last week and had been diagnosed with failure to thrive at the same time.  She'd been in to see all the specialists for months and wasn't getting any answers on how to help him to eat anything but the powdered rice cereal.  She was desperate for any advice I could give her.  Literally a hand reaching out to someone who she hoped would understand and just hold that hand in understanding.  I gave her as good as advice as I had, which probably would amount to about two cents, but I hope I at least gave her some ideas on where she could go next to try and help her little man.

I could feel her panic, her sense of failure and utter helplessness through the e-mail.  Not because she was the most eloquent writer I'd ever read or anything (not that she did a bad job, mind you.  She got herself across just fine), but because it brought back so many memories for me.  I'd been there.  And I felt so, so much empathy for her.

So, I thought I would just put this out there and ask that the next time you see a person load up the belt in the grocery store in front of you with junk food and someone kiddingly asks where the party is going to be, only to hear the person reply that there is no party that they have an autistic child, please reserve judgement.  You have no idea what that adult has been through and that they may be very, very grateful that their child is eating food, any food at all.  Calories are calories sometimes and we know it well.

Alvah's struggle with food and his digestion started on day one.  Literally.  Within a few hours of being born he started choking if he was lying down.  The nurses at the hospital assured us that often times newborns would choke on amniotic fluid that was left over in their lungs and things and so long as they were able to clear it they would be fine.  I quickly found with Alvah this was not the case.  I had to literally keep him on my chest with me elevated to stop him from waking up choking on whatever he had eaten before.  A week into his young life, the first day we got him home from the hospital, the projectile vomiting began.  He would choke and vomit to the point breast milk/formula would come out of his tear ducts when you were feeding him.  It was terrifying and all too regular of an occurrence with him.  His dad and I would hold him like we were holding dynamite with a questionable detonator on it, waiting to see what would happen.  I had to feed him a half an ounce at a time and then burp him and pray.  We got him down to where he'd vomit once every couple of days, than a week.

I took him to our pediatrician at the time only to hear that some children "were like that" and he'd "grow out of it".  I actually asked point blank if it was normal for a child to puke like a scene from the Exorcist and she told me yes, yes it was.  I've since talked to occupational therapists and feeding therapists throughout the years who want to hang the woman by her thumbs for making him suffer like that as they knew tricks that might have helped him.  It took him YEARS to grow out of regular vomiting episodes.  Stopping him from vomiting when brushing his teeth became a huge deal, getting him to take any type of medicine was an even greater one.  And he still had to remain elevated or he'd wake up choking.  When he was 18 months old I finally moved from our couch as he was getting so big we were barely fitting and figured out other ways to help him as much as we could to keep food down and grow.

Somehow, despite his body hating to keep food down and being covered in eczema all the time, somehow he grew tall.  Didn't have an ounce of fat on him, but he was always a tall kid.  He finally submitted to me introducing solid foods at 11 months and he would only eat powdered rice cereal with applesauce and formula mixed in for about another 4 months.  Nothing else worked with him.

And then, blessedly a few things happened.  My in-laws let my son sip some soda out of a straw and try a french fry from McDonalds (things I wouldn't have had the guts to try with him as I was terrified of him choking or projectile vomiting).  And he actually loved it!  For the first time my son was actively chewing things and keeping food down.  He then discovered cow's milk in his bottle and had no problem transitioning to that as well.  I started working with him, carefully introducing new foods and I MEAN carefully, and I found that he actually did like some foods.  He loved my home made chili, minestrone, pizza, different flavored rice dishes...I thought we were finally on the way to a real food diet and I could finally get him off of powdered rice cereal and applesauce.

And then his skin kept getting worse.  His behavior, which had always been "not quite right", started getting worse.  He developed fixations on anything that spun, wouldn't answer to his name still, wouldn't point, wouldn't play with toys...the list went on.  He developed an unhealthy obsession with flicking paper and if the paper would tear when he was flicking it he would find the nearest hard object and bash his head into it repeatedly...benchmarks and milestones started passing him by.  At 21 months we got him into infant learning and were introduced to the M-CHAT and got the advice to seek out a developmental pediatrician to find out for sure what was going on.  Finally when he had just turned three, we got the diagnosis of autism.  Six months later, in an attempt to help his eczema and hopefully get him to concentrate better (and thus help him deal with his autism better) I got him into an allergist.

I deeply regret going to an allergist back then.  I know it's stupid to say that because allergies are nothing to mess with, but before we got the food allergies diagnosed, Alvah was happily eating peanut butter, chili and other food items.  We got the allergy results back and found out that he was allergic to peanut (severely, which over the years has turned into a life threatening, nothing to mess with allergy), garlic (this ended up being the big one with him on loss), oats (which threw out his favorite organic toddler greeny puffs), coconut oil and derivatives and others.

This is where my empathy for that mother kicks in, in a big, big way.  We were told garlic was a life threatening allergy and we took it very seriously.  I started making my own chili powder because, it turns out, pretty much everything in the entire universe has garlic in it if you cook with it.  I tried to make flavored rice that wasn't from his favorite packaged brand...he would have none of it.  Where I had him eating tuna fish sandwiches, once I had to make my own Miracle Whip or mayonnaise, he wouldn't touch them.  Chili was turned on so fast when the chili powder didn't have garlic in it.

The list went on.  Fast forward six months to us, in desperation, going to a nutritionist and dietitian to try and get my son to eat something that wasn't cardboard, dirt, tire rubber, or uncooked white rice.  That was literally all he would eat, whether you liked it or not.  It got to the point where I'd try to get him to eat in his bouncy seat because it was the only thing that would keep him somewhat calm at feeding time and I'd turn around and find him digging under the edge of the carpet and eating any dirt he could get his fingers into.

The nutritionist looked him over and told us not to panic because he still had some body weight left.  He had lost nearly 1/3 of his body weight and he didn't have much to spare to begin with, but with his height being so high he didn't fall into the "failure to thrive" category, even though he was in the lowest 20% for weight.  They gave us a feeding schedule to put him on and other things to try, but didn't give us any real advice to help his PICA recede and his want to eat anything resembling food to present itself.

We started him on intensive feeding therapy for years at OT after that to try and get him to eat anything that was safe for him to have.   The foods that probably saved his life, and I wish I was joking here, was "Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips" and McDonalds french fries (once we found out that they just plain didn't make his skin or anything worse and just said to heck with it and started feeding them to him out of desperation).  He would eat the mini chocolate chips, it turned out, by the carload, which was a blessing as well.

My father passed away the year we saw the nutritionist.  That happening and a dream my step mom had about me (a discussion for another time) made me realize that I had to find a new pediatrician who knew my struggles and would be able to offer real advice to help me.  And so, I found our current pediatrician.  When I called her office and spoke to her secretary, I, on the verge of tears, said that I needed someone who GOT what it was like to have an autistic child.  The receptionist calmed me down and then cheerfully informed me that the pediatrician had an autistic son and then asked me to come in and meet with them and talk to them.  I took Alvah in to see them the next day and had a introductory exam done.  The doctor was concerned about his weight, just like I was, and she calmly asked me, "Is there ANYTHING other than cardboard, dirt and uncooked white rice that he'll eat?"  I told her McDonalds french fries and the chocolate chips.  Her reply, "Great!  I always tell parents of kiddos like him to find ONE high calorie thing they'll eat and feed it to them as much as they want it.  Go with the chocolate chips.  It'll keep a bit of weight on him if nothing else."  And so we did.

Finally after a couple of years we lost the garlic allergy and we started introducing back in foods that had previously been happily consumed to Alvah's diet.  And we quickly found out that when autistic kids drop a food?  They have this bad tendency to drop it forever.  It's fun like that.  I've tried for years to get him to eat chili again, or minestrone, or pizza.  I get a thrill when he takes a bite of pizza that I put on the table, but so far it's not a constant.  He did discover he liked Cool Ranch Doritos one day at a family get together and he found Cheetos by stealing them off of my plate one day out of curiosity (one of my guilty pleasures).  Those two items, along with Tilamook cheese (another random thing he grabbed off of a plate and liked) and the ever constant milk (that he drinks out of a bottle at night), have managed to put some weight on him over the last few years with the on again, off again, like of Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies.  It's kind of nice walking into the pediatrician's office, or the dentist, and hearing, "Alvah, you've gotten fat!" in a kidding way and then them gushing about how his face has filled in and he doesn't look skeletal anymore.

To the few people who have suggested different diets to me to try and help Alvah, I appreciate it, I really do.  In the past, in desperation to help his behaviors, PICA and eczema we have tried pretty much everything.  On the list (since these are suggested a lot)...

1.  The gluten free diet (resulted in him reducing to an animal state, basically drooling in a corner for 3 months before I said enough and stopped it).

2.  Saw a naturpath and tried doing a structured gluten reduced diet, along with dairy free, corn free and potato free with various herbal supplements and vitamins to help heal his gut.  Failed.  It was a struggle getting the supplements and vitamins down him, but I did manage it, but we just didn't see any change in his eczema or his autism behaviors.

I'd go into the other things I've kind of forced on the poor kiddo in the past to see if I could help his allergies (honestly, helping his autism through diet lost it's appeal to me after the gluten free massive epic fail as seeing him so withdrawn and miserable...I never want to see him like that again.  Ever), but it would take a couple of large volumes.  I studied herbology to make all his skin products when he was diagnosed allergic to pretty much everything that could go on your skin, made yellow dock root tincture to get iron into him when we found out he was anemic (and it worked so the battle was worth it there).  I read every new study that comes out and think hard before I try something, but I do try.

So, yeah, when people tell me that I don't try hard enough to feed my son healthy meals...I kind of see where they'd get that impression looking at what I buy for groceries.  But you know what?  I will gladly buy that box of s'more pop tarts because I know my son will willingly eat breakfast.  I will continue to buy soda because it is the ONLY thing we've found that he'll drink out of a cup at all, but also the only thing he'll drink other than milk out of a baby bottle and there is no way I will not buy soda and have him lose the skill to drink out of a cup as it was hard earned!   Every hot dog bun top he eats means he's eating bread, not cardboard.  Maybe not the type of bread I'd like him to eat, but we're getting there!  Every food he picks up, whether it be weird (garlic stuffed olives for instance), normal (like the breadsticks I made for dinner last week that I pray he will continue to eat), processed but decent (Bumblebee tuna salad) or even wholly processed junk calories (like Cheetos)'s a small mark on the "he's eating" list and I know we'll get there eventually.

So, to all you parents with your belts loaded with junk food who mumble embarrassed about your child's diet?  Don't.  You're doing fine.  At least I think so...for whatever the feedback of some random person on the internet might mean to you :).   And to those who wish their child would eat, at all, I feel for you and I wish I could help.  I really do.  I know what it's like to see your child suffer and not know what to do.  It's hard.  And to those who have it worse than we do, and I know there are plenty, I admire you and I really wish I could help all of you and at the same time I can't help but feel grateful that we are where we are and are at a point where we can cope.  I pray to those families who don't have it as good as we do that one day you too can look back and see how far you have come with pride.  Good luck to you and God Bless!

And thanks to those who read this headache fueled ramble as I wait for children to go to sleep and pray I'm not getting sick as my throat starts to hurt.  When it comes down to it, special needs parent or not, parenthood is the most challenging thing you can do, but also it is the most rewarding.  We all do the best we can do.  And really, that is all that matters :).

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

Man, I'm tired.  My son decided to suddenly give up sleeping for two nights in a row this week and then yesterday he was up early with an upset stomach (an all Dorito diet will catch up with you eventually, it seems), so I had a kid home from school who after the first initial volley with his stomach was perfectly happy all day, so getting things done was a challenge with him running around like a maniac.  Luckily I found this recipe for make ahead pizza dough and it was a HUGE life saver getting dinner on the table last night.  The recipe was super easy to put together, super easy to rise and was definitely a keeper.  I was able to make a big 1/2 sheet pan pizza and took a wad of dough and made my own knock off Pizza Hut style breadsticks with it (which the son ate TONS of and I am thrilled!  Definitely will be making that again!). 

So, yeah, so far, even with a supreme lack of sleep on my part this week, I was still able to keep to the menu plan (so far) and get stuff done.  So, let's get to the rest of the week! 

Right, so warning up front here!  You are about to view my shopping for this week.  This contains soda, which I know is expensive and unhealthly and believe me I read all nutrition labels so please rest assured that I am only buying this "wonder concoction of junk food" because I have a child on the spectrum and he will literally starve himself if I do not provide him his preferred "foods" (and yes, I use that term as loosely as it goes).

Right, so you have been warned.  Let's get onto the shopping trips!

1.  Shopping was done super carefully this week, which I ended up having to do because the son is blowing through food around here and I went to grab my husband a soda for his work lunch and realized that we were completely out (which isn't a big deal until your husband has to buy soda at the gas station and pay 2.00 for a refill...that paid for one 12 pack of soda, nearly above there).  We have found out recently that the son will drink the Safeway brand generic store cola, which is at least cheaper to get than Coke most weeks (and my husband likes it too, so I can throw them into his lunch in case he needs a caffeine influx to drive home without falling asleep), so I could get some generic soda and have it do double duty for both my husband's lunches and my son's "caffeine fits".

I ended up taking two trips to the store this week.  One I took on Wednesday (the photo above there)  when I had to go and get gas in the car and needed to get milk, so I figured I'd pick up a few things and use the 20.00 left on the prepaid card my husband gave me. 

My son's teacher had sent home a letter a few weeks ago asking if parents could send in some supplies they were nearly out of and since she asked for nothing at the beginning of the year pretty much, I decided to do my part to help out the classroom.  One of the things she'd asked for was freezer bags, so I had given her a couple of boxes of freezer bags from my "cheap stash" I had gotten from Three Bears a while back.  My bad in that I then did a ton of baking, most of which had to go into the freezer to use later on and I quickly blew through the last of my box of freezer bags, went to get another box, only to find that all I had were quart sized freezer bags left (frugal fail!!!)!  I stopped by Three Bears hoping to get a few more boxes of the cheap bags, only to find they didn't have any cheap bags in stock.  So, hoping for divine intervention (as freezer bags at the stores tend to be REALLY expensive it seems anymore) I decided to see what Carrs had while I was there.  Luckily I found that they had a cheapy brand of freezer bag now for 1.86 per box (regular price to boot!), so I grabbed two boxes of them to see me through for a while (and they are actually pretty good freezer bags, I was impressed).  I had a personalized price on sandwich bags this week for 1.99 and decided to get some when I realized that my daughter's lunch box doesn't accommodate more than one reusable lunch container at a time and she had requested some Goldfish crackers in her lunch.

I also got a gallon of milk (regular price) and two pounds of butter (2.47 this week with a max of two per shopping trip) as I needed butter and milk.

I had also blown through the last of my soy sauce (like that EVER happens around this place) when I made some terriyaki chicken in the pressure cooker a couple of weeks ago and I had a personalized price of 1.99 on a big bottle of the stuff this week (which was weird because, like I said, I NEVER run out of soy sauce around here), so I got that as well.  I didn't really NEED it right this moment or anything, but it assured I went over 22.00 (around) so I could use the rest of the prepaid card.  I wanted to make sure I would use all of it as we were getting nailed 2.00 per month in service fees for having money left on the card. 

All totaled after coupons, personalized prices and the rest of the gift card were applied I spent 1.71 out of pocket on that shopping trip.

I went back to Carrs today to pick up the kid's prescriptions that were running out around here and while there I went and grabbed a couple of freebies that Carrs offered me yesterday on Just 4 U. 

On the freebie list were a "oui" yogurt (which I had for lunch today and was pretty tasty!  Although, man the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in one little yogurt!  Yikes!) and a Arla cream cheese.  There were actually three different types of cream cheese available; original, strawberry and an herb containing one.  I decided to go with the original because really I can add strawberry jam to make strawberry cream cheese and I can certainly add herbs to cream cheese to make an herby one. 

And I bet you thought I forgot about the Tilamook cheese didn't you?  Nope.  I had a personalized price of 7.99 on the smaller block of Tilamook this week (which showed up in my feed this morning on Just 4 U, which irritated me a bit as I would have picked it up on my earlier shopping trip and to heck with the soy sauce, but oh well) and so I ran and grabbed that today as well and decided to use a 5.00 Safeway gift card I had toward the purchase.  So, today's shopping trip cost me a total of 2.99.   The entire shopping trip is seen up top there.

I was really grateful to have giftcards at my disposal this week.  We still have a week and a half until we get paid, so I am trying to be really careful with money to make sure we have enough to see us through till then.  My goal right now is to save as much as I can out of the small chunk we have left in checking (after fuel costs for commuting and such) and when the husband gets paid next I'd like to take 1/2 of that chunk that we have left and put it into savings.  How much that will be has yet to be seen, but I'm hopeful it will be something!

2.  I decided not to buy coffee when I ran out this week.  I was tempted, boy was I, with how little sleep I was getting, but I instead switched to PG Tips that I have around the house (it's a type of tea) and have been drinking that instead.  It doesn't quite cut the mustard on the caffeine content front, but I've been making do with it, and double benefit is that I'm using up some old tea while I'm at it.

3.  I'm making progress on cleaning the house.  I got my son's room shampooed over three times now and still need to do it a couple of more times to get things that he has ground into his carpet out of it and get it actually clean, but I'm getting there.  Then it's onto the rest of the house.

4.  We might have a bead on a new to us truck.  A friend (well actually basically a surrogate cousin) of my husband's has a truck he wants to sell for about 5,000.00 after he gets a few things fixed on it, which I figure if we can't get a small home equity loan (our plan right now to get home maintenance done and things) to pay for it I know we could probably get a bank auto loan for that much to pay for it that way if needed and 5,000.00 is definitely in my price scope for a vehicle!  Hoping for the best on that one!  Wish us luck when we go to work with the bank on Monday, please!

5.  Trying to work out a menu plan for the next month (believe it or not), so I can work on figuring out needed shopping to get done and continue to do the "two big shopping trips a month" method of shopping.  So far it's getting there slowly but surely.  A HUGE resource for me in figuring out some cheap meals to make is I went and started planning more meals from The Prudent Homemaker's Strictly Pantry Menu.  I've also been hitting Pinterest a lot and finding recipes that I can adjust to our tastes (and income many recipes that contain expensive ingredients out there!).

6.  I was able to do some of God's work this week, which was completely free and allowed me to feel good to help someone else. 

When I went to the store earlier in the week I went through U-Scan when I checked out.  I just happened to glance down to find someone had forgotten to grab their 80.00 in change from the machine.  Knowing someone would definitely miss that and pretty fast, I turned it into customer service.  Then today when I went to the store I pulled in beside a car whose gas cap was open and lying against the side of the car.  Honestly, I thought for sure someone had stolen the person's gas, so I quickly moved my car (in case police had to go there), wrote down the make and licence plate number and turned the information into customer service and explained what I saw.  Not only did I find out that a very grateful mother had picked up her change from the U-Scan (it was the same lady at customer service and she remembered me so she wanted me to know that the money had found it's way into the right hands), but then when I checked out my cashier (one of my favorites) told me that he had gone out to check out the car I had turned in the information on and had happened to get there right when the woman who owned the car was getting into her car.  He quickly pointed out what I had seen to her and seeing it the woman gushed gratefully as she had just gotten done at the gas station before going to the store and had forgotten to close up her gas tank (which she had said was something she'd done more than once, which had me baffled when I heard that).  She was thrilled that it had been caught before she lost more gas as it sloshed out of her tank as she was driving down the highway.

So, yeah, never think that just because you are broke that you can't help people out.  Just keep your eyes open.  You never know when an opportunity might present itself.

7.  My husband and I stopped off at the used store earlier in the week to drop off a bag of donations and get some fresh air.  I saw that they had a certain color tag of clothing on sale for .25 a piece.  My son needed shirts (that kid grows like a weed), so I went looking for him, but not only did I find him three shirts, but I found myself a nice zip up fleece sweatshirt, a long sleeved top and a couple of nice dressier tops to wear during the summertime.  I even found a couple of small, commercial quality, baking pans that would fit into my pressure cooker to make egg bakes for breakfast and things.  I paid with a roll of nickels I've had in my purse forever (I was given them as change from the same used store months and months ago and had just kept them in my purse as giving 2.00 in rolled change at a store isn't normally something I think to do) and some change I had in my jacket from a return I'd made a while back at the grocery store.  So far my son is really liking his new shirts, so yay for that!

8.  I mended a few toys for my daughter this week, including a ball gown for her Barbie sized dolls so that her Ever After High princesses could look super spiffy for a ball she was putting on *laugh*.

9.  My husband started to weed out his old shirts from our closet this week and organized things while he did it.  I'm just letting him do his thing at this point and am glad he's tackling it.

And there you go folks.  Some of my frugal adventures this week.  How did you do?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What's For Dinner: This Week's Menu

When it came to the menu plan last week, I adhered to it STRICTLY because I knew everything I had planned I had materials to make.  Other than my husband going in for a dental cleaning appointment and me not having to do dinner (the daughter had a cheese quesadilla and the son and I had simple pasta for dinner) last night, everything was made on schedule even! 

So opinions on what we had?  The Chicken Devan was bland, but I didn't think it was bad.  My husband didn't like it as well as a chicken casserole I normally make, and my daughter didn't like it because my daughter doesn't like about 90% of food items that don't revolve around hot dogs, pizza and chicken nuggets *sigh*.  The ravioli lasagna was good and I'll definitely be adding that to my "yes" pile to make again some other time as it was easy and yummy.  The beef Stroganoff was a hit, but I knew it would be (well the husband and I liked it...the daughter...well see above comment about  food dislikes).  And the leftovers and beef roast...well it's left overs and beef roast what can you say about that *laugh*.

Now, the most addicting thing I made this week was BY FAR the lemon mardi gras squares.  The bars the first night were so light and fluffy they were actually hard to get out of the pan (it made a 9x13 pan full, so I figured eating some ahead of tonight wasn't going to hurt anything at all) and so yummy!  I stored the leftovers in the fridge and that made the bars firm up a bit and just become moist wonderful yumminess since then!  We still have a few bars worth left and I SO look forward to eating them *laugh*.

Today I had fun using my Crock Pot Express, mainly by accident, but it was a happy accident.  I was hungry at lunchtime, but didn't really want leftovers, so I decided to make myself some steel cut oats for lunch (seen up top there).  I made them in the pressure cooker and then topped it with some raisins and some cinnamon sugar as raisin and spice oatmeal is one of my favorite flavors. 

I then washed the pressure cooker and I steamed salmon parchment packets for dinner tonight.  The directions in the booklet called to steam the packets for three minutes, but I went with five because the fillets I was using were frozen.  The salmon had dill, basil, lemon slices, a knob of butter and salt and pepper on them when you put them into the parchment paper and made a little packet to put into the cooker to steam.  It worked great!  I'm still having a hard time liking salmon, I have to admit.  I'm just more of a white fish person, but the husband's doctor wants us to eat more fatty fish, so I'm trying.  The husband did like how his salmon turned out, so that was a plus and the daughter (with much badgering by me and my husband) ate about 80% of her piece, so I call the dinner a win.  Sorry for a lack of a photo with that one as the salmon came out looking neat in the little parchment packets, but I forgot to take a photo.

This week's menu is going to be continuing the "stick to this menu" plan as I know I have everything that I need to make the things on the menu, thus no "quick trips" to the store to get that one needed item to make a meal happen and things. 

So, let's get to it!
Wednesday:  Salmon parchment packets (pressure cooker), home made whole wheat rolls, fruit cocktail.  Dessert:  Lemon squares. 
Thursday:  Rissoles (hamburger combined with leftover ground beef roast and ground turkey) on whole wheat bread, peaches, turnip greens (from freezer).  Dessert:  Strawberry pudding (free Jello mix from pantry.  Leftovers will go in daughter's lunches, so I hope it's good *laugh*). 
Friday:  Homemade Canadian Bacon and Black Olive Pizza (Canadian bacon from freezer).  Make full 1/2 sheet pan to have leftovers for daughter's lunches.  Light on cheese. 
Saturday:  Eggs Benedict (use leftover Canadian Bacon) on home made crumpets, peaches.  Use last lemon to make Hollandaise sauce from fridge. 
Sunday:  Minestrone (big pot for leftovers), rolls or bread on side. 
Monday:  Chicken Alfredo, peas. 
Tuesday:  Pork chops, rice, corn.

And there you are folks.  Our menu plan for the next week. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

It was a hectic weekend to be sure.  I was hoping to get my baking done in one day.  Yeah.  I'm still not completely done.  The son was a challenge all weekend long as he wasn't happy about not being out driving or out playing all weekend long.  We went out driving Saturday, but we were doing a balancing act to try and save gas and not spend money, but also give the son a fun outing.  I think we accomplished both, but we couldn't make a habit of it all weekend and the son wasn't happy about that.  So, dad didn't get much sleep and mom had a heck of a time getting baking done.

Bright side I did manage to accomplish some things.  I've just had to split it up all weekend, which wasn't in my original plan.  I was hoping to get all the baking done one day, clean the next and then catch up on laundry and mending today.  But here I am, still baking today.  I still need to get a couple more loaves of bread made (have plans for everything I'm making, so I really can't just say, "Eh, that's good" and move on) and a few other things, but at least I made progress.  Friday I made gingerbread cookies (still need to ice them, though) and rainbow chocolate pieces (think M&M's) cookies (from a Betty Crocker mix).  These will go into children's lunches in the coming weeks for treats.  Yesterday I made crumpets (couldn't afford English muffins in the budget this time around, so decided to make an alternative as I have plans for needing English muffins in the coming week in the menu plan), 2 loaves of German 3 grain bread (one will go into the freezer for use later), some rolls and a loaf of bread from the bread in an hour recipe (I added whole wheat flour to this batch to get more whole grains into everyone's diet). 

 I even made an attempt at pan de mie.  I used the King Arthur Flour recipe was a fail on the rising front as it never got up to the point I could get the flat top on the loaf and it took FOREVER to rise in a very warm kitchen, unlike what the recipe said it should take.  I finally put it in to bake at 9:00 nearly in sheer desperation to just get it done and get out of the kitchen by midnight.  I want to try making the bread in an hour in the pullman pan as it should give me the light and airy texture I am trying for with Alvah, so stay tuned for that experiment and I'd like to give pan de mie another shot, but next time I'm using the recipe I book marked instead of trying to shortcut the long rise times involved (because it didn't work!).

So, I was juggling bread dough in various forms all weekend, while juggling a grumpy kid, dealing with my daughter's stomach cycling and me feeling like I was coming down with a cold (I still have a sore throat and am REALLY tired, so we'll see how that works out).  Not a lot of fun.  But, at least I'm getting there!

So, yeah, let's get onto the other adventures for the week!

1.  This was the first week where I made my list for the next two weeks and pooled my grocery budget to see if shopping for two weeks of groceries at a time was viable.   For the two weeks, so far, I've spent $91.00.  Not too bad as I know I'll have to buy milk and maybe another 12 pack of soda before the two weeks is over.  I was even able to get the husband some aftershave (he was out) and get enough cat food to last the rest of the month and cat litter as well.

2.  I had to run to my in-laws to get my husband's W2 for last year (still waiting on the rest of the tax documents to come in the mail so I can work on taxes) and quickly ran into Target to get tuna salad kits for the son for his lunches in the next couple of weeks (it's on the same road I take to the in-laws and very much on the way), since they used to be WAY cheaper than the other stores (like over 1.00 cheaper).  I found that the tuna salad was no longer so cheap that I would stop into Target to buy it there when in town, which was kind of sad, but I did still pick it up there as I was saving myself about 1.00 or so on all by buying it there.  I did not look around while I was there as I knew even if something was a good deal, I couldn't afford good deals, so it didn't fall into the category of a "good deal" at that point.

3.  My husband gave me a prepaid Visa card we had used toward car parts with 20.00 left on it so I could use it toward groceries if I needed to.  I am hoping to hold onto the card until we get paid again and use it to buy a big block of Tilamook cheese as the son has been eating a lot of it lately and since it's real food versus Cheetos, you bet I'm going to encourage that behavior!

4.  The headlight went out in my car.  We blow through headlight bulbs for that car to the point where we need to buy them in bulk.  I talked to my husband about it and since we can't afford to convert the car to LED right now (to help extend the life of the headlight bulbs) he told me to just get the basic bulb replacement instead of going for the more expensive bulb type.  Instead of nearly 40.00 for a bulb, I paid 14.00.  I was kind of down that the bulb chose this week to die on us, but at least it was a decently cheap fix.  The husband installed it over the weekend, saving us having to pay labor costs to someone else (I can NOT imagine how much we would have paid someone over the years replacing bulbs on that car.  It's nice to have a husband who knows how to do things :).

5.  I find that I really don't get to spend a lot of time with my daughter because my son is such a pull on my time.  I thought about it and came up with the idea that since my husband worked last night I could put the son to bed and then the daughter and I could stay up late watching the TV in my bedroom (a Christmas gift from my sister was a new Roku TV for my bedroom to replace our old TV that died a couple of years ago).  She was THRILLED with the idea and we had fun watching "Ever After High" for about an hour before we both ended up crashing (it was LATE by that point due to the pan de mie debacle).

6.  I introduced my daughter to "Lassie" yesterday and she's been having a blast watching the old episodes on YouTube.  I'm really glad that my husband and I have always  exposed her to old programming so watching things like Lassie in black and white doesn't bug her at all as it really has helped to expose her to a bunch of different movies and TV shows that she wouldn't have enjoyed otherwise.  I even explained how when I was a kid we had the old analog black and white TV in our house and she was utterly fascinated that you could watch color programs in black and white if you had the right TV *laugh*.  Sometimes it really does amaze me how far technology has progressed in just the last 30 years or so.  

7.  We gave the son a haircut this week.  Always fun as it takes one parent holding the child down (the husband) while the other parent (me) shears him with the clippers, but everyone is thrilled with how nice his hair looks now, and I'm just glad it's over and done with for a while *laugh*.

8.  We got the news on my son's yearly ski trip with the special needs programs through the schools.  Due to budget issues, we were concerned that the school wasn't going to do the ski trip at all, but they actually did cover the initial cost of the trip by having all the kids apply for a scholarship through the program that runs the ski lodge where the kids will be skiing.  We were going to have to pay a 30.00 fee to pay for bus fare however.  My husband had already decided this year that he was going to drive Alvah himself (as both of them did NOT enjoy the bus trip last year), so the school waived the 30.00 fee for the husband and son to go because they weren't taking the bus.  Since that's about 3/4 of a tank of gas in my car, we are definitely saving money this way.

9.  The kids had their dental check ups this week.  No cavities, both kids got high marks for having their teeth so clean (which with Alvah I honestly think it's more of a miracle than anything else, as brushing his teeth every night can be HARD when he doesn't want it done) and the son even got a punch balloon because he was so good during the appointment.  I always have huge amounts of anxiety coming up on dental appointments with the kids, especially Alvah as he has to be put under to get dental work done, so I was thrilled to hear good news!

10.  I am running out of sandwich bags and coffee and I knew that I wasn't going to have the money in the grocery budget for both the next couple of weeks, so I thought about it and decided I'd try to use reusable containers instead of sandwich bags (I usually use them to put Goldfish crackers and things in with the children's lunches) and I'd just make the coffee stretch as far as I could and then switch to tea when needed.  I've been using my coffee grounds to make two cups of coffee at a time versus one (which with store coffee leads to a kind of weak cup of coffee the second time around, but it's drinkable) and we shall see how it goes in the coming weeks.  

And there you are folks.  Some of the fun adventures we've had this week.  How did you do?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Monthly Goals: January, 2018

Okay, so we're NEARLY halfway through the month and I'm just getting these posted.  Oops!

I've been so busy I nearly just skipped making myself a list of things that still needed to be done, but really I get a lot more done when it is written down, so hopefully I can get the rest of my list done in the time I have left this month.  Hopefully tons of appointments and things won't get in my way of doing what needs to be done. 

The main goal this month revolves around the loveseat.  "Old Tattered" really needs a redo, so I'm going to look through my materials and come up with something to cover the eyesore (pic of how it looks now seen up top).  At the moment my son is delighting in ripping the leather away as it shreds, so yeah...something needs to be done to stop that from happening.  I am NOT looking forward to redoing another piece of furniture (all hail the blisters!), but you do what you got to do.  Stay tuned for that.  Hopefully I can make it look better...although I doubt that would be hard at this point *laugh*.

So, yeah other than that, let's get to the goals for the month!

Sewing Goals:

  • Sew new couch cushion covers for loveseat
  • Sew new arms onto the loveseat
  • Work on mending and clothing alterations (in other words...hem some pants)

Household Maintenance/Cleaning Goals:

  • Change water filter on fridge (I got a four pack of filters with our Christmas gift card from my family).  Done!  They came in a couple of days ago and I got that done.
  • Change water filter on water softener.  Done!  Husband did that earlier in the week.
  • Take down and clean pieces of chandelier in kitchen 
  • Clean ceiling fans
  • Clean children's air purifiers
  • Take down and wash curtains
  • Move beds and deep clean under them
  • Gut children's closets, clean and reorganize
  • Remove caulk/Dap from around tubs and redo them (this requires scheduling out times with the family since you can't use the shower for 24 hours after doing it)
  • Replace guts in children's toilet (we have the kit to rebuild it, it just needs to be done)
  • Wash down wooden surfaces with Murphy's Oil Soap (I've used the same container for YEARS...a little of it goes a long way) and oil any that need extra sealing (excluding kitchen those next month)
  • Move furniture in children's rooms and shampoo carpets (this kind of goes hand in and with cleaning under their beds and's long over due!).

Financial Goals:

  • Wait for paycheck to come in and figure out budget for remainder of the month (we got paid today and got paid early last paycheck as well, so the next pay period is super long, money is tight after paying the mortgage this paycheck as well.  So, budgeting is going to be SUPER important the next 20 days or so)
  • Pay residual dental bill (done).  We got a surprise bill from my husband's dentist from back in July.  They were really apologetic about it as the computer did some funky things (thus why every time I would call on it in the past they would say we didn't have a balance in the account due) and they had caught it when they audited the system at the end of the year.  Which led to 50.00 I wasn't planning on having to pay out this month, but at least we had the money to cover it.
  • Make do!  (It's always good to write that down to keep motivated)

Baking Goals:

  • Bake bread based foods this Saturday.  Make enough bread to last two weeks, freeze and defrost as needed.  This is going to include crumpets or English muffins (depending on what I have for rings around here to use as molds), whole wheat and white breads,  pan de mie (I'm going to check my Julia Child's cookbooks first in case she has a recipe for a loaf pan that large) and probably sweet roll dough to make cinnamon rolls and maybe some other sweet roll for a breakfast treat next weekend.
  • Make cookies this weekend for snacks to send to school with daughter.  Make strong flavored gingerbread cookies and frost with royal icing to send with the son (he REALLY likes the gingerbread house, so I'm hoping that he might get to liking gingerbread).
  • Put together a few freezer meals if possible

And, yeah, that's my goals for the rest of the month.  I have NO IDEA if I'll get it all done, but I'm hopeful at this point.  How about you?  Got anything you need to get done this month?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What's For Dinner: This Week's Menu

Well, I'm still behind on blogging.  I do have a list of goals for this month that I'm hoping to share tonight or tomorrow, so stay tuned for that.  I would have posted it up earlier, but I've been busy around here.  Over break we started the son on Ritalin to see how he'd do.  I ended up putting it off until after Christmas as I didn't want him reacting badly to it, if he would react badly to it, and wreck Christmas for him (and everyone else). 

I'm glad I waited.  I was kind of iffy on how the Ritalin was working as it seemed like, at times, the son's mood was off and not in a good way, but I thought it might have been because he was just on break and everything was off for him.  Turns out I was wrong.  He started school Monday again and had a terrible two days, at school and at speech therapy, so I decided to say "no" to the Ritalin today and voila!  Son was instantly better.  So, yeah, all the hopes that I had that Ritalin would help him to concentrate and wasn't meant to be.  Kind of depressing, but at least he's not freaking out anymore.

When it comes to the menu plan, I sat down today with my new spiffy menu plan book that I ordered and while Alvah was in speech therapy I wrote out the menu plan for the next two weeks.  I then put together a corresponding grocery list for each week for what I would need for that week's menu (I LOVE the new book I got as the grocery list is on the same page as the menu so I can make notes as I go along).

I'm just going to share one week's menu at a time, even though I'm going onto a two week menu and grocery shopping plan here, just to make it simpler for people to follow.  You'll notice notes and things as you read...those are for me for reminders and things, so sorry if it confuses you (the blog is kind of my back up in the event I lose the hand written menu plan).

So, let's get to this week's menu plan!

Wednesday:  Chicken Devan, left over peaches 
Thursday:  Brined chicken (I used the brine ingredients in the duck recipe, but used straight orange juice.  I'm just going to cook the chicken in the crock pot, though), braised turnip greens (from freezer), roasted potatoes. 
Friday:  Ravioli Lasagna (cutting the recipe in 1/2, use ravioli from freezer)  
Saturday (Baking Day!!!):  Beef Stroganoff  (made with ground beef) .  Lunch:  Tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. 
Sunday:  Lunch:  Chicken salad sandwiches (leftover chicken from Thursday).  Dinner:  Leftovers 
Monday:  Beef Roast, bread or rolls (depending on how much I get done on Saturday), mixed veggies.   Note:  Make Lemon Mardi Gras Squares (For Wednesday.  Won't have time later. 
Tuesday:  Crepes with triple berry fruit topping (from pantry), ham (from freezer)

And there you go folks.  My menu plan for the week.  How about you?  Making anything good this week?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

The new year just starts and I'm already late on posting Frugal Friday *laugh*.  I'm off to a stellar start ;).

It's been busy around here.  I've been trying to get some deep cleaning done house-wise this week as after the holidays and things I just want my house decluttered, cleaned and as zen as I can make it in preparation of the coming year.  Between that and just trying to keep the kids busy and happy and me feeling just wiped out and not feeling great all's been a challenge for sure.

But, hey let's get to the week, shall we?

1.  We ended up getting a decent amount of snow earlier in the week and I had to share the pics of sunrise the next morning as everything looked like a winter wonderland!  We finally got enough snow at one time, combined with temps with a high of 30 the next day so I took the kids out sledding in the backyard for over an hour.  The kids had a blast, everyone got really tired trudging up the hill over and over again to sled down it (I got to run up AND down the hill every time the son went sledding, so hey, I got my cardio in for the week *laugh*), and hey, it was free to do!

2.  This week saw me trying to get some cleaning chores done that I hadn't really had much of a chance to do the last year due to the weather and such.  I took the H2O at Home cleaning glove I had gotten last year and cleaned all of my window screens with it.  I had read online that it was excellent for that job and I REALLY needed something that would do a good job on the screens without removing them as most of the screens in the house are broken after some bad wind storms blew them out of the windows the first couple of years we lived here...they are now held into the windows with nails to reinforce the screen frames, so cleaning them requires a bit more planning than it used to.  The glove worked awesome and now I have nice spiffy clean screens to show for it!

I also got all of the Christmas stuff put away into the storage van and the other places the things were meant to go.  I felt great getting that done, honestly, as last year Christmas stuff was in the den until about March due to the long, cold and very snowy winter we had.  I then went into my furnace room and just started brutally decluttering it and getting rid of things I hadn't used in forever and weeded a bunch of stuff out that was just ready to go to the used store.  While in there I was also, finally, able to find the Spring and Summer decorations for the den (I do a coastal theme with some shells and things to remind me happily of summer through the rest of winter) and put those out, which made the kids happy as they both love the decorations and playing with them.  So, yay for already being ahead of last year on the cleaning and organizing front!

3.  When putting away my wreath for the year I ran into an issue.  See, my wreath holder is SHOT and I mean SHOT.  At some point it had been out in the garage one Christmas season and my husband had fired up his air compressor, which somehow the wreath holder had fallen onto the belt of said air compressor for a moment, which had burned and sliced a nice hole in the cover of the wreath holder.  From that point on the wreath holder had just cracked out from the hole, to the point that it was coming apart this year.  I had fixed it with duct tape, but my son found it and proceeded to play with the duct tape, thus wrecking my repair job, so I was kind of back to square one.  I took some different types of tape (out of duct tape after repairing the wreath holder the first time so I used a combo of strapping tape and packaging tape) and fixed it as well as I was able and then took super glue to it as well.  I have to store the wreath inside this year to make sure the wreath holder survives another year, but it worked!

4.  Shopping went pretty well this week!  The biggest highlights of the trip were getting bread and hamburger buns (on the list of things my son will eat) for .97 a piece (on sale with a coupon at Carrs).  I also got a half gallon (or what passes for a nearly half gallon) of ice cream for 1.49 (on sale with a digital coupon, limit of one) and the vanilla actually doesn't have a peanut warning on it, which was a nice find.  I also got boneless skinless chicken breasts for 1.77 lb on sale when I ran in to get my son's medication filled early in the week and I got some thin cut steaks for 3.87 lb on sale.  I did go over the grocery budget by 10.00 because I bought a thing of olive oil (7.99 for a quart of good quality olive oil on sale with a coupon) and some cereal (2.00 per box on sale this week at Carrs).

5.  My daughter insisted I share this photo and tell you how great she is at doing puzzles.  She even said, and I quote, "You can put it up, mom, because we own the puzzle so it was something free I did!"  *Laugh* like mother, like daughter ;).

We also had a lot of fun playing Candy Land and Connect 4 this week.  I went and dug out the buried basket of board games from the den (that had gotten lost behind the couch) and put them up on the TV stand upstairs.  We're playing the games a lot more now, which is really nice.

6.  I mended a shirt and a pair of pants this week.  And managed to dig up a BUNCH more mending as I got the laundry completely caught up and put away, but such is life.

7.  My husband went to the dump last weekend and we found that we were nearly 30 lbs less in our waste.  I feel pretty good learning things like that, knowing that the efforts I make to waste less are paying off.

8.  I repurposed containers and baskets we had around the house to help organize things as I cleaned.  It's amazing how many different ways I've found to reuse a container or other object in the house instead of having to go out and spend money on something new.

9.  My husband and I have been digging through the free videos on Amazon that we can stream with our Amazon Prime membership for free.  We were thrilled to find some Rifftrax movies that we had been wanting to see, a documentary on John Millius that my husband had been wanting to see forever (and had been hoping to buy), but wasn't available in the US on DVD (it was excellent by the way) and we also found that they have Unsolved Mysteries on Prime too!  We love that show, so we're looking forward to watching more of those in the coming weeks :).

10.  I have also been having fun re-watching, "Edwardian Farm" online.  It's funny.  At first, "Edwardian Farm" was my least favorite of the farm series, but the more busy and hectic my life has become with juggling appointments and things while also essentially running a household by myself 5 days a week (with my husband working the shift he does), the more I really relate to how the team is running around all over in "Edwardian Farm" and it has actually kind of become my favorite out of all of the series of farm series of late.

11.  I have found a couple of side benefits to having my hair at shoulder length.  One is that I'm not blowing through hair elastics now, which means I don't have to buy extras (I have been using my extras to put up my daughter's hair instead because she loves her longer hair) and I'm using way less shampoo when washing my hair *laugh*.  A small savings, but a savings none the less.

12.  I made sure to eat up leftovers, so we didn't waste food (a constant habit anymore, but a good one).

And there you are folks.  Some of my week in a nutshell (I know there was more, but MAN I'm tired and am zoning here).  How did you do this week?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Yearly Goals: 2018

You know, I'm not sure why, but the "year in review" post and this post are the hardest posts I have to write all year.  It's really hard to close out the previous year and then think ahead to what I need, or want, to accomplish in the coming year.  A year seems like such a HUGE amount of time when it stretches before you and then you blink and it's gone.  Sometimes it's a really painful blink, like getting sand thrown into your eye by a really nasty wind and you're trying to blink around it, but it does seem to pass in a blink none the less.  Looking toward the year ahead, for me, is always the struggle of battling a keen sense of optimism and doom at the same time.  I want to plan such lofty things, but know that unless I'm realistic about what I want to get done, it'll all be doomed for failure.  And so I sit, staring at a wall with my mind running through all the things I'd wish would happen ("Get Alvah to talk this year, somehow"), to things that need to get done ("get new truck"), to things that I feel like I can realistically accomplish if things work out on my side.

So, let's get this mental plate spinning under way, shall we?  And we shall see in a year's time how realistic vs optimistic I was *laugh*.

When it comes to last year's goals, I feel like I did pretty decent overall.  I did, indeed, try really hard to smile more and spend less (and really, just smile more), the self sufficiency thing was worth a shot, but failed in the outcome (garden did get expanded, but got wiped out, chickens had to be rehomed, etc).  I never did get to using my pressure canner all year round, mainly because I invested in a stove top pressure cooker and anytime I needed something that I would have pressure canned, I just had to throw it into my pressure cooker and had it in no time flat and didn't need to babysit a pressure canner for an hour or more.  Now that I have an electric pressure cooker, I'm really looking forward to using it more in the coming year to help cut down time on meal prep items like beans.  I baked more, I am proud to say, and actually find I really do enjoy doing it more than I had in the past and I did, indeed, cherish time with my kids and focus more on hearth and home last year.  And I am really happy I did as I think it not only benefited me a lot more, but I think it benefited the kids as well and helped lead to some good memories for them in the future.  I mean right now the son is having a blast eating the remains of the gingerbread house.  Who knew he'd like gingerbread cookies???

And so, what about the goals for this year?

Well, allow me to welcome you to

Scrimp and Save Year on "The Make Do Homemaker"

Or, sub-heading, "Get Thyself Organized, Dear Erika"

This is the year, I am determined, that the savings account is going to go from 0 to something.  I don't know what "something" is at this point, but darned it, I'm determined that there has to be places that I can save money and start putting it away to start SOME KIND of emergency fund again.  I haven't seen a nice positive balance in a savings account in about five years, so to have a cushion where I'm not panicking over any life event hitting would be such a blessing.

I have to say that this is the first year in a long time that I'm not dreading the year right out of the box.  I'm not really sure why, maybe because the dental bills are finally nearing their end (I hope.  Here's praying for a good tax return!), but I am optimistic about how the year is going to go.  I hope it's well placed optimism.

The first thing I decided to do this year is actually keep my books and keep them current.  I've gotten kind of lazy the last few years due to the wonder that is being able to look up your bank account online, so I could keep track of the balance in the account that way.  Now that I really want to put my nose to the grind stone and start saving pennies, keeping an actual set of household accounting books and reconciling things constantly will help both my husband and I to stay accountable for our spending.  My husband might get tired of the nearly daily financial updates, but I think this is going to be the best way to start snowballing some savings into place.

1.  Organize Time and Finances

I am kind of tired of feeling rushed all of the time, so I'm hoping this year to get to managing time better, along with finances.  One way I decided to do this was to start a home management system.  Part of it I found online at DIY Home Sweet Home and printed the sheets off that I thought would come in handy in the coming year and then the other parts I ordered from Amazon with part of the gift cards my family sent us for Christmas.  I ordered this system (associate link) and I ordered a weekly menu plan with an incorporated grocery list (also an associate link).  I know I could have printed those off as well, but when it came to printing off 52 pages for the menu plan alone...I decided 5.00 was more than worth saving a bunch of printer ink (that stuff ain't cheap!) and with the budget binder system, I thought I'd give a pre-printed one a shot that I could then supplement with home printed materials.  I've historically had a hard time with a huge binder system working for me, so I'm curious to see if I finally have enough discipline to make it all work this year.  Here's hoping!

So, let the saving of nickels and dimes to victory begin!  Well, after Monday since that's when the rest of my stuff is supposed to be in *laugh*.

2.  Bake yet more, but with healthier options in mind.

I really need to start incorporating more whole grains into our diet around here.  I have a white bread loving daughter and son and I need to work on them to see if I can get them to start eating some healthier options.  So, baking more creatively is going to be on the agenda and I ordered a Pullman pan to help, hopefully, create my own "store bought bread" type of effect in the hopes that the kids will be more willing to eat the home made bread put in front of them (especially Alvah).

3.  Eat healthier period.

This is where reading Graham Kerr has proven to be a real God send as he has a lot of advice on how to change your diet for the better without having a family completely revolt on you.  I'm hoping to use his tips and tricks to get my husband more on board with eating healthier options when it comes to food as we're supposed to lower his cholesterol and things this year and I could certainly use a healthier diet for the sake of my health.  I'm determined that I can do this and make the food taste good (so far I've struck out a bit, but I'm working on it as I try recipes I know I'll find ones that work and taste good).  I know I'm up to the challenge.  The biggest concern is doing so carefully for not only the sake of the willingness of the participants but also to keep it within our grocery budget.

4.  Speaking of the Grocery budget...

Now that my husband is on a two week pay cycle, I'm hoping to just lump two weeks together at a time for grocery shopping, so I'll be working on 100.00 every two weeks for a grocery budget instead of 50.00 per week.  Same difference really, but I'm hoping that I can maybe cut down on trips to the grocery store and just go two weeks at a time.  If I can get menu plans dialed in right and do my grocery shopping accordingly, I really do think I can make it work pretty well.  It's definitely a new way of thinking when switching from a variable income mind to a "we get paid every two weeks" mindset, but I know I can finally get this thing tackled. 

One thing that I'm thinking I might be able to do is start to get more room in the freezers freed up since I won't have to stock up so much when meat is super cheap.  Yes, I will still stock up when things are on sale, for SURE, but I don't have that need to have like a year's worth of meat in the freezers at a time now.  I still believe that food storage is important, don't get me wrong, but I don't have to go nuts when doing it now and I think it's time to start scaling back a bit.  If I can free up room in the freezers by summer I'm hoping to have room in them to store more produce.  Which leads to goal five...

5.  Hit the U-Pick Farm more this summer.

Hopefully I can budget for this, but after this last summer I really need to be careful with what I plant in the garden and yard this summer or the moose will just wipe it all out.  Once moose know there is food somewhere, they come back.  I am hoping to be able to afford some garden soil to fill up some Rubbermaid totes a bit and plant up on my upstairs deck this summer just to keep it up and out of the way of the moose and I do plan on planting potatoes (since most animals will leave those alone since the plants are toxic), bush beans, lettuce and chard or kale, but things like cabbages and peas just aren't in the cards this year as they are moose magnets, at least in the garden.

If container gardening doesn't work well, I'm figuring I will have to hit the U-Pick farm for things like cabbage and other vegetables.  So, I will hopefully be working picking vegetables into my normal weekly grocery budget this summer and will have room in the freezers to store them.

6.  Get Home Maintenance Projects Done

We got a quote for redoing our gutters, so I'm hoping to save up the 1600.00 to get those done this summer.  We also need to get our sewer pumped this summer.  Those are my two big goals to get done.  Past that hopefully we can pay for new doors if we get dividends this year (I still have doubts the way our corrupt legislature is going).

7.   Continue to Smile and Roll with the Punches

This is just a goal to keep a positive mindset, no matter what happens.  Things can only get done when you believe they can get done, so keeping on target and positive in my mindset is definitely an important goal.

8.  Continue to Focus on Family and Home

I am going to continue to work on improving my home, both in a physical and mental sense.  It really did benefit me last year to know that I could improve my home with little to no money invested in projects and spending time with my kids and husband.  So, I'm hoping to continue that this year.  We're hoping to play more board games, spend more time playing outside, hopefully find time and money to do some fun things around the state this summer and stuff.  Here's hoping things work out so we can make that happen :).

This also means trying my best to sew more around here and things.  I learn a bit more every year, so here's hoping I can continue to improve skill-wise.

And the most important goal I have...

9.  Always Move Forward.  No Matter What.

As my grandfather used to say, "Just keep moving forward.  Even if you fall on your face, at least you are falling forward.  Dust yourself off and keep going."

Happy New Year, everyone!  May it go well for us all!