Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homemade "T.V." Dinners

Knowing I was going to be away last weekend, I prepared some freezer meals ahead of time so my husband could have a home-cooked meal if he got tired of eating out. I tried to think of easy things that he would like and that wouldn't be too much for one person. He likes my homemade pizzas so I put several of those in the freezer that he would only have to bake-as easy as a frozen pizza from the grocery store.

While cooking dinner one night, I got the bright idea to make him some meals from dinner leftovers. This way he could heat up one container in the microwave and not have to cook a whole freezer meal if he didn't want to.

I used my favorite rectangular Pyrex leftover dishes that I talk about here. They are the perfect size for a meat and a couple of sides. Over the next few days I came up with three different meals to freeze.

This was so easy to do. It required no extra cooking; just remembering to save a portion back so I could freeze it.

I plan to do more of this as it would make for very handy lunches when there are no leftovers!

Sonshine has a post about making individual freezer meals to share with elderly family members or friends. I think this would be a fantastic way to minister to singles as well!

For more kitchen tips, please visit Tammy's Recipes!

Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm Back!

I'm back from the women's retreat. It was a sweet time of fellowship with ladies from my church as well as meeting some other fabulous women.

I'm still sorting out my thoughts on all of it and have a number of pages of notes from the sessions. There was a lot of good teaching and I came home with so much that I can apply to my daily life.

As I process it all, I'll be back with more details about the weekend.

A bright spot in the weekend was getting to know Abbie, one of the ladies from our church and to find out that she is into using coupons and is also a fellow blogger! How cool is that!?!

My goal for today is getting through the mounds of laundry, putting things away, cleaning the kitchen, and making a general plan for the week.

See you later!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ultimate Recipe Swap: Chicken Orzo

The theme for today's Ultimate Recipe Swap is freezer meals. I'm sharing my recipe for Chicken Orzo as well as some links to other dishes that I like to freeze!

My freezer was getting pretty low on ready-made meals so last week, I planned to spend a naptime preparing some things to freeze. That didn't happen but I did manage to double and triple some recipes a few nights while preparing dinner. I got a good deal on ground beef so I made up a batch of meatballs while cooking dinner the other night.

I'm rather hit or miss when it comes to making meals for the freezer. I don't really have a specific list of dishes that freeze well and I usually end up with a very odd assortment of stuff to freeze based on what ingredients I have on hand. It works, but my organized, list-loving personality would like to make a chart of what kinds of things that we like to freeze so I could have a better variety as well as come up with an actual cooking plan that would be an efficient use of my time. That is on my list to do next!

Anyways, some main dishes that I like to freeze are:
--spaghetti pie
--homemade pizzas
--chicken chimichangas(I want to try these with beef, too.)
--chicken pot pie

And here's the recipe for Chicken Orzo:
This is so easy to put together. Whenever I make it, I plan to make 2 and pop one in the freezer for later.

Chicken Orzo

1 or 2 cooked chicken breasts cut into strips or chunks or 1-2 cups cooked chunked chicken
1 cup Italian dressing
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta(rice-shaped)
1 can (2 1/4 oz.) sliced black olives
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 medium sweet pepper (green, yellow or red or variety) cut into small strips
a little chopped onion
Parmesan cheese(optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Mix chicken, dressing, olives, tomatoes and pepper into large bowl. Add orzo and stir altogether. Pour orzo mixture into greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until heated through. (If you make this right before dinner and all ingredients are still pretty warm, it might not take as long to heat through! I often make my dinners early in the morning and refrigerate until time to bake for dinner.)

For freezing-wrap pan well (I usually double-wrap.)and label with recipe name, cooking directions and date. To bake, remove from freezer(duh!!!:-), thaw and bake as directed above.

**Thanks to Life As Mom for hosting the Ultimate Recipe Swap!

Weigh-In Wednesday

I've continued with counting calories this week. I got way off-track over the weekend. Otherwise, I did quite well. When eating at home and making the menu myself, I find it not that difficult to stay in my calorie range. Meals that consist of mainly meat/protein and veggies are the easiest way to stay "in or under budget", so to speak.:-) Carbs like pasta really add the calories. I was surprised!

Doing ok with this.

I'm not exercising as much as I would like. It's been difficult to get back into the groove! I have been walking with the kids or dog almost once a day, which is good. I want to get back into running, though.

Staying on track with food during the week and not sneaking brownies out of the freezer! I've also done really well with not snacking between meals.

Resisting little girls selling cookies and cupcakes at yard sales. They were so cute!!

Exercising will-power when eating with other people.

Plans for next week:
I'm hoping not to gain too much since I'll be gone to a women's retreat this weekend. I plan to stay on track as well as I can without obsessing.

No weight loss this week, probably due to my carb-heavy weekend!

**Thanks to Happy2B@Home's Kate and Joy for hosting Weigh-in Wednesdays!

Dividing Financial Responsibilities

In the few years we've been married, I've done most of the financial stuff. Paying bills, keeping track of savings,and basically keeping us on track according to whatever my husband and I decided beforehand.

In our marriage, I am more detail-oriented and I have never minded doing this. We have always made financial decisions together, so even though I would take care of the nitty-gritty details, I've never felt as though it all fell on my shoulders.

Recently though,it's become more difficult for me to remember and keep track of everything. This has resulted in some big mistakes! Of course, I felt terrible about this.

We decided that my husband(at his suggestion) would take care of checking our online banking every few days and make sure that the checkbook matched up with that. I was happy to agree to that as the whole online thing is not my favorite, whereas he loves it!

We've been doing this for a month now. You would not believe the load that's lifted off my shoulders and the relief knowing that he is taking care of things.

I still take care of paying the bills, keeping a detailed spending plan and making sure that the correct funds are allotted to bills or our savings account. He keeps tabs on making sure everything is accounted for in the checking account.

Changing things up so that things move more smoothly and dividing up financial responsibilities works for me!

**Thanks to We Are THAT Family for hosting Works For Me Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Veggies For Breakfast

As a way to get more veggies into our diet, I've been finding ways to add them into our breakfasts.

I once worked with a lady who would eat a small salad for breakfast as a way to get extra veggies in. I don't know about you, but that really doesn't sound that appetizing to me at breakfast! Neither does a bowl of steamed veggies,for that matter.

Here are a few more pleasing ways I'm adding vegetables into our breakfasts:

--Green smoothies. I've been adding a handful or two of spinach into our smoothies for a while, and lately have been reading about them all around the blogosphere. Lindsay has written a very informative post with different combinations of fruit and greens. My husband doesn't care for too much green color in his smoothies, so I add more fruit than spinach! We really like strawberry with banana or pineapple, along with some plain yogurt, a little honey and a dash of vanilla.

--Scrambled eggs and omelets. Green peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach, and chopped tomatoes are good in eggs. For omelets, I usually saute peppers, onions and mushrooms before adding. But I add raw finely chopped veggies to scrambled eggs as they are cooking.

--Salsa. I like a spoonful of salsa on eggs!

--Sliced tomato. So the tomato is technically a fruit, but most of us use it as a veggie. My husband thinks this is a bit odd, but I enjoy sliced tomatoes alongside egg dishes.

--Avocado. I love the smooth texture of avocado. It's so good on toast, a bagel or with eggs(Can you tell we eat a lot of eggs?)

We don't eat veggies every morning, but I've been aiming for these healthy additions at least a couple of days a week. Not only do we get a few more nutrients, but we end up feeling full a little longer,too!

Please share any ideas you have for adding vegetables to your breakfasts!

**Visit Tammy's Recipes for more kitchen tips!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happy Homemaker Monday

On my bedside table:
--rereading A Woman After God's Own Heart by Elizabeth George

On my TV:
--Fox News
--Word World for the kiddos

On the menu for tonight:
--baked potatoes with ground beef, cheese and sour cream and salad

On my To Do List:
--clean kitchen
--lots of laundry!
--make a batch of meatballs for the freezer

New Recipe I tried last week:
--broccoli and cheese casserole. Can you believe that I had never made a broccoli and cheese casserole?! Or at least I don't remember ever making one. I was asked to bring one to a church meeting. I found a recipe and it was really good. Except for the broccoli, it wasn't at all healthy...but it was delicious!

In the craft basket:
I have many things but haven't made the time for them. I know this week won't leave much time for crafting and sewing, either!

Looking forward to:
--the Women's Retreat this weekend

Homemaking Tip for this week:
Always tip your homemaker for a job well done! (Sorry. That's the best I can come up with today!)

Favorite Blog Post of the week (mine or other):
I'm really enjoying "Our Story" at The Happy Housewife.
Favorite photo from last week:
I don't have a photo to share today.

Lesson learned the past few days:
--When doubling a casserole recipe, often the cooking time needs to be increased!

On my Prayer List:
--my husband
--women's retreat
--that God will bring someone into my life that I can lead to Him

Devotionals, Scripture Reading, Key Verses:
I've been meditating on the Parable of the Sower this past week in Matthew 13. Verse 23 really stands out and causes me to ponder whether I am being good soil-a faithful disciple.
Matthew 13:23: "But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

Thanks to Sandra for hosting Happy Homemaker Monday!

Menu Plan Monday

This will be a quick and pretty easy menu planning week. First off, I'm going to a women's retreat this next weekend so I won't be here to cook! Second, we are getting to the end of the month and the variety is getting low in the pantry, freezer and especially the produce drawer of the refrigerator.

Last week turned out pretty crazy. We had a lot planned and I had forgotten much of it when I made our menu plan. For instance, we had planned to drive 2 hours Wednesday night to witness some friend's missionary commissioning. I had planned chicken salad sandwiches for that night but we didn't want to to eat those in the car on the way with our dress clothes on. So we had the leftover chicken for lunch that day instead and I made some simple wraps with lunch meat, cheese and tortillas for dinner on the go. Lunches were switched around a lot this week and I had more leftovers than I thought to begin the week. Having a menu plan is so helpful but certainly not written in stone. Most weeks I follow my menu plan to the letter because that works for me. Other weeks, like this past week, it is used as a guide.

B-eating with our church fellowship. I took bacon and biscuits.
L-We were stuffed from a carb-heavy brunch!
D-church meeting. I took broccoli-cheese casserole.

To do: make meatballs for freezer
B-oatmeal, fruit smoothie
D-baked potatoes(ground beef, cheese, sour cream), salad

B-scrambled eggs, toast, sliced apple
L-leftovers or peanut butter sandwiches
D-lemon-herb chicken, buttered pasta, steamed carrots

To do: bake brownies for retreat and to leave for husband:-)
B-oatmeal,fruit smoothie
L-pinto beans(from freezer), brown rice
D-salmon patties, homemade bread, steamed broccoli

B-scrambled eggs, toast, orange
L-sandwiches of some kind before I leave for the retreat

I will be at the retreat the rest of the week. Husband will be eating some freezer meals that I have specifically stored away for this time as well as eating out some.

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ultimate Blog Party

It's time for the Ultimate Blog Party of 2009!

If you're new to my site, please do come in. Welcome to Mary Ann's House!

I've got some spices simmering in the kitchen so you won't be as quick to notice that I really haven't done much cleaning this week. :-)

I'm Mary Ann, wife of 4 and a half years to Andy and 'mommy' to our sweet dog Rock. I am a stay-at-home-wife and currently I work at home providing childcare to two little boys.

As a homemaker, I love to cook and bake and I find it a fun challenge to stretch our hard-earned dollars as far as possible!

What you will find here includes:
--practical and frugal ideas for homemaking
--lots of recipes and kitchen tips
--joy in the simple things

Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you come back soon! Please leave a comment so that I know that you've visited!
There are so many prizes to win at the blog party this year.
My top 3 picks are:
#19-$50 Target gift card from Shoot-Me-Now
#88-$40 Carrabba's Italian Grill gift card from The Divine Miss Mommy
#68-$30 Christian Book Distributors gift card from A High and Noble Calling

If these prizes are taken, I'd also be happy with numbers 21,22,26,93,91,113,121,123 or something for a baby as many friends are having new babies this year.


**Thanks to 5 Minutes For Mom for hosting the Ultimate Blog Party!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thirteen Things I Should Be Doing Instead Of Blogging

It's been a busy, hectic and crazy week. We've had quite a few evening things scheduled(including short road trips; last night was a 2 hour drive one way to a missionary commissioning) and most nights this week we haven't gotten into bed much before midnight. This results in getting up late so mornings are hurried and productivity has been low.

We normally lead a very quiet life but it seems that when we have one event planned, we have 3 or 4. All in the same week.

So here are 13 things I should or could be doing instead of blogging!

1)emptying the dishwasher
2)filling the dishwasher
3)folding a load of laundry
4)start working on supper prep
6)wash windows and mirrors
7)mop floors
8)clean bathroom
9)sweep porch
10)water plants
11)dividing homemade chicken broth to freeze
12)make spaghetti pie to freeze(since my freezer cooking afternoon hasn't happened this week and the ingredients are in the fridge!)
13)take a nap!!!

So while I go get started on this neglected house, feel free to read more Thursday Thirteen lists over at Happy2B@Home!

Ultimate Recipe Swap: Israeli Spice Chicken

When I read that the theme for today's Ultimate Recipe Swap was spicy foods, I immediately thought of one of our all-time favorite dishes: Israeli Spice Chicken.

This dish makes it onto my menu pretty often but certainly not often enough for my husband's liking! He says he could eat it several times a week and not get tired of it! I don't know about that but it sure is good!

This recipe is from Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals 2. When I first tried it as a newlywed, I had to first purchase the more 'unusual' spices like cumin and coriander. I had no idea that would spark a love for cumin, which I now purchase in the big container from Sam's Club. We like cumin in any kind of spicy or Mexican food now.

Anyways, back to the recipe. I sometimes follow her recipe exactly and cut 4 breasts in half. More often though, I only use a breast or two for frugal purposes or because it's all I have left! I often will cut this into chunks which also works well for stuffing into pita pockets.

Rachael recommends serving this spicy chicken with a marinated tomato salad, which is really good when tomatoes are cheap and in season. We like it with hummus, tabouli and pita bread. It's even delicious with boring sides like brown rice and a green vegetable which happens more frequently around here, especially on a busy weekday.

This spice rub is delicious on other meats, too. And if you don't use it all, it stores well in a covered container.

So here's the recipe that will open the cook's sinuses!

Israeli Spice Chicken
Serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts(1 1/2 to 2 pounds) split to make 8 pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
4 Tablespoons Israeli Spice Rub

Israeli Spice Rub
1& 1/2 Tablespoons paprika
1& 1/2 Tablespoons ground cumin
1 Teaspoon oregano
1 Teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 to 1 Teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1& 1/2 Teaspoons coarse Kosher salt

Warm pita or flat bread, for passing(if desired)

Place chicken in a shallow dish. Drizzle with olive oil to barely coat the meat. Rub chicken liberally with spice blend. Let stand 10 minutes.
Preheat grill pan or large nonstick skillet to medium-high. Grill chicken 6 or 7 minutes on each side or until juices run clear. (Smaller strips or chunks may not take as long to cook.)


**For more hot and spicy recipe, visit Life as Mom for the Ultimate Recipe Swap!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Weigh-In Wednesday

It's Wednesday and I know that means to chronicle my weight loss journey for the past week! I hope this isn't too boring for the rest of you!:-)

I started counting calories this week. This went very well. I already was watching my portion sizes but now I am much more aware of my caloric intake! I've been working on adding more veggies into my diet on a consistent basis, not only for weight management but also for general good health. I read some articles that mentioned non-starchy vegetables and that eating at least 5 servings of these each day will help to promote weight control as well as optimal health. I made a list of these vegetables and hung it in my kitchen to help me remember. This has helped me to include more servings of these veggies in my diet! Non-starchy vegetables include but are not limited to peppers, green beans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower,spinach, salad greens, tomatoes and cucumbers. I was able to buy a large bag of pesticide-free tomatoes for $1.51 on the produce clearance rack the other day, so we've been enjoying them! Most of these veggies are not in season currently so I rely mostly on frozen produce. The good news is that almost all of these are very budget-friendly!

Doing well on this!

I haven't exercised every day this week due to rainy weather. The other days I've been able to get out though! I've done some running but mostly walking with either the dog or kids. I figure as long as I am getting exercise, it's ok.

Staying pretty close to my daily calorie goals. Sundays and Mondays are always my hardest as we eat with other people. These meals are either potluck or pre-planned so it can be difficult to stick to eating a small portion or healthier foods. This week I did really well with keeping my portion sizes appropriate and utilizing a little will-power. I didn't record my food for Sunday as we all can use a day off, but I still want to make good choices as this has more to do with discipline and a healthy lifestyle than just losing a few pounds.

A very busy week with eating on the go which can make it harder to eat right!

Plans for next week:
Continue keeping track of calories and my weight goals by using calorie-count.com.

Weight Loss:
I dropped 6 pounds this past week! Yeah!!! I lost the 2 pounds that I gained last week with in a couple of days, which I am convinced was water retention. I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped on the scale this morning and saw that I had lost another 4 pounds! Since my goal at the moment is to lose 20 pounds, I have 16 more to go!

**This post is linked to Happy2B@Home's Weigh-in Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sandwich Ideas

One food that my husband really likes to eat is sandwiches. So lately, I've been trying to plan more sandwich-type meals into our menu plan. (It's only taken me 4 1/2 years to figure out that he would like to eat more sandwiches! Oh well...:-)

Lunch meat can be quite expensive. So I'm trying to think outside the (lunch)box and come up with a variety of sandwich ideas that are easier on the budget. I've also tried to keep my eyes open for good deals on lunch meat and buy at least one package a month since he likes it so much.

I recently came upon a really good deal on containers of lunch meat. After coupons and a mail-in rebate, each box cost just under $1. I was able to buy 4 packages and freeze them. We, especially my husband, have been enjoying the different varieties of meat on sandwiches.

There are so very many varieties of sandwiches to be made. With a little creativity, we can come up with all sorts of yummy combinations.

Here's a list of sandwiches that we enjoy:

Hot Sandwiches:
-grilled cheese
-sloppy joes
-french bread pizzas
-meatball subs
-tuna melts
-hot dogs
-philly cheese steaks(I hardly ever make these at home, but we enjoy them occasionally at a restaurant.) This variation looks delicious!

Cold Sandwiches:
-turkey, bacon, guacamole
-bacon, lettuce and tomato
-egg salad
-tuna salad
-chicken salad
-veggie sandwiches with a dill cream cheese spread(I will admit that this is more my favorite than my husband's! A slice or two of lunch meat can make this a bit heartier for the men.)
-veggie wraps with cream cheese and olive spread
-any kind of lunch meat and cheese combo
-any kind of sub sandwich

What are your favorite sandwiches? Any yummy suggestions for me?

**Visit Tammy's Recipes for more kitchen tips.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

To do: thaw chicken, soak oatmeal
B-peanut butter toast, fruit smoothie
L-Mexican Day at our fellowship. I'm providing cheese, salsa and some oatmeal cookies.
D-ham and cheese wraps

To do:make yogurt, make slaw
B-eggs, toast, sliced tomatoes
L-BLT sandwiches, salad
D-eat at church meeting; I'm taking brownies.

To do: freezer cooking in afternoon
B-oatmeal, fruit smoothie
L-chili-cheese dogs, oil & vinegar slaw
D-Rotisserie-style chicken(crock pot), mashed potatoes, green beans,salad

B-cheese grits, oranges
L-crustless spinach quiche**, applesauce, carrot sticks
D-chicken salad sandwiches, sliced veggies

To do: next week's menu plan
B-oatmeal fruit smoothie
D-white bean and chicken chili, corn muffins

To do: make pizza with extra to freeze
B-pancakes, scrambled eggs
D-homemade pizza,salad

To do: prepare food for Sunday
B-cold cereal, fruit
D-omelets, toast

**denotes freezer meals

Thanks to Erin from $5 Dinners for hosting this week's Menu Plan Monday!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bi-Lo Savings !

I had never truly gotten a good couponing trip out of shopping at Bi-Lo. Sure I would score good deals from their marked-down rack as well as getting some marked down dairy products occasionally. And I'd match a coupon here and there and come out pretty good. But mostly, I'd just get their sale produce and the extras that I couldn't get at Aldi.

Then my sister turned me on to Southern Savers and that has changed! Southern Savers has coupon match-ups for many of the stores here in the South including Kroger, Publix, Bi-Lo and Food Lion. I don't have a Kroger or Publix where I live but I do shop quite a bit at Bi-Lo and Food Lion. If you live in the South, this is a good site to visit for local deals(as well as lots of other great stuff)!

I checked her site for this week's Bi-Lo ad match-ups and began preparing for my shopping trip! I also signed up for "My Bi-Lo" and now have access to some printable store coupons.

Total before coupons: $35.04
Total after coupons: $8.40

I used coupons for each item except for the cabbage which was on sale for $.29 a pound.

Free items for this trip:
--2 Cascade rinse aid (FREE coupons from a mailer)
--1 store brand laundry soap with purchase of Purex(store coupon)
--8 boxes Mueller's pasta(internet coupon)

Salsa was $.90 and the organic salad mix only $1.50 after sale and coupons!

**Visit Money Saving Mom for Super Savings Saturday!

**Visit Southern Savers to see more deal posts!

**Visit the Crazy Coupon Lady for even more great bargain posts!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Food Goals Update

Today I'll post my progress on the food goals I made at the beginning of the year. It's helpful for me to check back every so often and see how I'm doing.

Here are the four areas of food/cooking that I want to change/learn/ improve on this year along with my current progress.

1)Learn to use my new grain mill.I'm eager to begin grinding my own wheat as soon as my grain order arrives!

Progress: The Nutrimill is really easy to use. I've only ground wheat berries so far but it has been successful. I'm finding that with grinding my own flour, a baking project takes significantly longer. I can only do one thing on the counter at a time in my small kitchen so I use the grain mill, then clean it up and put it away before moving on. Because of this, I've started grinding several extra cups of flour each time. I've been freezing it so it's ready to go for the next baking project. This is working great. I assume that since I'm freezing it right away, I'm still getting the nutrients from the fresh flour. Does anyone know anything more about this?

I special ordered a bag of Hard White wheat berries from my local health food store. They don't carry them normally and I get a ten percent discount for buying a big bag. Based on their bulk prices for wheat berries, I will pay several dollars more from them than from ordering from Azure Standard, but with no extra shipping fees. So I feel like it's a good deal. My order should be in by the first of next week. They already carry Hard Red and Soft White varieties so I've been buying that as I need it.

2)Begin soaking grains.Start with bread and basic grains and beans and as I'm successful and produce a finished product that we both enjoy, branch out to include other baked items.

Progress: I've successfully made soaked bread and tortillas. The main issue I've had is planning for the soaking time. This will take practice to get it into a routine. The last couple of times that I've cooked beans, I've soaked them with a little lemon juice or vinegar overnight. I haven't soaked rice or oatmeal yet. As I become more comfortable with using natural sweeteners and such, I'll try some other soaked baked goods.

3)Drastically reduce our consumption of refined sugar products. I would like to eliminate them altogether but realize that may not be totally realistic right away. My husband has a major sweet tooth and we both love our chocolate! I've already reduced the amount of desserts we eat and will continue to make more healthy options available. My plan for this is to use Rapadura and honey for baking. We've been quite satisfied with the muffins and cookies I've prepared with Rapadura in the past.I just need to stick with it and make this a habit!

Progress: This has been the hardest step so far! To be honest, I've cut back on the amount of baked goods that I prepare rather than experimenting too much. This is good for the waistline! Muffins and quick breads made with whole cane sugar or honey and whole wheat pastry flour have turned out great! I need to keep working on finding a good cookie recipe that is "healthy". I've made a few kinds that were good but not great. Sometimes the rapadura or whole cane sugar seems to not dissolve and gives a "grainy" texture which I don't really care for. My husband thought they were good and had no trouble eating them!

4)Eliminate high fructose corn syrup! This is in almost everything! Even canned beans. I make most of our foods from scratch already so where this affects us the most is with salad dressings, ketchup and barbecue sauce. I've already purchased some ketchup without HFCS and it is pretty good. More expensive, yes. But we don't eat a lot of ketchup so that shouldn't be too much of an issue. I'm going to experiment with some homemade salad dressings and barbecue sauce to find one or two that we really like!

Progress: I've made some homemade blue cheese dressing(my husband's favorite). We really don't care for too many vinaigrette-type dressings on a regular basis. We're more creamy dressing people.:-) The homemade dressing turned out good; next time I'll make it a bit thicker. I haven't had a need for barbecue sauce yet. I'm amazed at what all contains HFCS! We haven't been totally perfect with eliminating this from our diet yet but I'm much more aware now and certainly consuming less than we were before.

So as far as my food goals go, I've taken some baby steps and made a little progress but still have a ways to go. It's good that I still have 9 more months in 2009 to get better in these areas!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Update On New Year's Goals

Sine we're now almost to the middle of March, I thought I'd do an update on my New Year's goals. I've copied and pasted them from this post. For the sake of simplifying, I'm adding a note of my progress under each category.

--Reading and studying God's Word
Plan of action: Continue reading one chapter each day, writing down what jumps out at me and how it will change the way I live my life.

--Develop a meaningful prayer life.
Plan of action: Continue reading and praying through The Power of a Praying Wife as I seek to lift my husband up in prayer each day. Pray for people I know immediately as the Holy Spirit brings them to mind. Keep a list of ongoing prayer requests and a list of answered prayers.

Progress: I've been having a pretty consistent quiet time which has been so helpful to me. I've been getting up early to be able to do this before my day starts. I've found that if I wait, it just doesn't happen. So rising early has been a good thing for me right now.

I'm almost to the end of The Power of a Praying Wife. I have spent a whole week or more on some of the chapters as they were areas that I knew I really needed to be praying for my husband. What I like about this book is not that I have to pray just like the author but using her prayers as a springboard for a deeper prayer life.I really like all the specific areas and verses that she lays out. I have a list of prayer requests in my quiet time journal that I've been using to help me remember to pray. I still want to do a notebook for only prayer requests so that I can record the answers and be a bit more detailed.

--Exercise 3-4 times a week.
Plan of action: Currently, I'm getting started running by following this 8 week program. My motivation is my first 5k that I'm planning on participating in on March 7. Yikes!!!

--Losing a little weight.
Plan of action: Continue watching food portion sizes, eliminating most snacks and limiting fast carbs(breads, sweets, etc.).

Progress: I've been running but not making as fast of progress as I had hoped. Once I started running a bit longer distances, I started experiencing a lot of knee pain. Because of this, I've had to really scale back and do a lot more walking again, instead of mostly running. Up until the knee pain hit, I was still planning to run my first 5k on March 7th. I knew I would be really slow and possibly not even be able to run the entire thing, but I was still going to participate. This 5k was out of town and I was going to do it with my sister-in-law who was running the 10k that day. My knee pain really slowed me down and then some other things came up where we decided to not go out of town that weekend after all. In the meantime, doing more of a walk/run and applying ice and heat to my knee is really helping. So I'm continuing on, working up to more running again. I still really want to run a 5k eventually and I am continuing to work towards that.

Weight loss. This isn't going very quickly at all. I've lost 2 pounds total so far and now I've gained them back. Losing weight is much harder now that I'm in my 30's! I realize that with all the running, I was building a lot of muscle so that will slow down the weight loss. I'm starting to keep track of calories in hopes that I will see a bit more progress.

Plan of action: Simplify by continuing to declutter, carefully analyzing whether or not I need an item before purchasing, use what I have.

--Continue my quest for healthier living.
Plan of action: Find natural alternatives to all cleaning supplies and air freshener. Continue to cook healthfully by implementing more whole foods into and eliminating refined sugars from our diets. (More on this next week as I participate in this carnival!)

Progress: Unlike weight loss and exercise, this area of simplifying and homemaking is a fun one for me! In January, I sent several more boxes of donations to Goodwill. I've slowly been working through each drawer and shelf, reorganizing and decluttering. I'm not done by any means, but working on one thing at a time is certainly progress! For now, I've really focused on the kitchen. You know your cabinets need to be cleaned out when items fall out and break when you open the door! Next up is my drawer that holds my leftover containers. As I've slowly been switching to glass containers, it's time to weed out some of the plastic ones.

Even though we go to yard sales and thrift stores fairly regularly, I've been trying to be extra careful what I bring home. So far, so good!

I purchased some essential oils last fall. These oils have added so much to my homemade cleaners. I've been making a new all-purpose cleaner with castile soap that I really like. I scented it with peppermint oil and this smells so good as I'm cleaning! I still use regular Windex and furniture polish. Baby steps, baby steps. I have a recipe for homemade air freshener but I still have many cans of Glade to use up.

As for food, I'll be sharing an update on that tomorrow.


I don't feel very comfortable divulging many specifics on this topic since I have many real life friends and family reading this blog. I love them all very much, but I do like to keep some things private!

I will say, though, that our main financial goal this year is to continue saving for a down payment on a house. Last year, our goal in this was to get a house fund started, which we did. We haven't yet established a specific goal for this year.

Progress: Our focus right now has turned out to be our emergency fund instead of the house fund. We've been putting all extra $$$ towards building that up a bit more.

Are you making progress on the goals that you set for this year? Please share how you're doing!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Weigh-In Wednesday

Here's another look at how I did this week:

I did quite well with eating balanced meals with plenty of veggies and salads. That being said, I had a bit more trouble with snacking, especially the last few days.

Doing ok here.

I'm getting back on the wagon. Due to knee pain, I've scaled way back with my running and working my way back up. It's getting much better!

Saying 'no' to sweets this week. I took a nap on Saturday afternoon and when I woke up I really wanted a sweet snack. I went to rummage for something in the pantry. Right before tearing into a package of graham crackers(I really was desperate!), I was able to think clearly and put the snack away without eating anything. After all, it was only an hour until dinner! I was happy about that little moment of clear thinking.:-)


My will power is a bit on the low side when it comes to snacking and eating little bites of food while I'm cooking.

Plans for next week:
Start with calorie counting to see if I can speed up my weight loss a bit. I'm doing pretty well with portion control and eating mostly whole foods. I think I'm probably getting a lot more calories than I'm aware of.

I gained 2 pounds this week. So I'm now back to where I started! I really think this is more due to hormones than snacking, though.

Like Kate, I'm finding out that it is much more difficult to lose weight now that I'm in my 30's than when I was younger.

Visit Happy2B@Home for more weigh-in Wednesday posts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Simmering Kitchen Spice

I often enjoy simmering a pot of spices on the stove to give the house a pleasant, spicy, and homey scent. This 'concoction' usually includes a couple of cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, leftover orange peels and sometimes a bay leaf. I fill the pot with water and let it simmer.

The other day, I was poking around again on A Year Of Crockpotting. How I love this site! I was reading through her 'fun stuff' category, which is basically non-edibles. I came across this post about using the mini-crockpot as a room deodorizer or an air freshener.

Well, with one dog and two small childcare kids, this house needs plenty of deodorizing. Add to the fact that the windows in our rental are painted shut, this poor house can smell pretty stale pretty fast!

I noticed that the air freshener recipe was similar to the one I usually simmer on the stove. So I got out my $1 yard sale Little Dipper and got her going!

I added a drop of eucalyptus essential oil to the mixture of orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves and water. It worked and made the house smell great! I like that I can move the crockpot around throughout the house instead of having it just in the kitchen like the pot on the stove. I also noticed that the water doesn't evaporate as quickly as it does on the stove.

Whenever we eat oranges, I save the peelings in a freezer bag to use for potpourri. Apple cores and peelings make a nice scent as well. This is a frugal way to use up something that you would normally throw out.And makes your house smell awesome!

A word of caution: Whether you choose the stovetop or crockpot version for a simmering potpourri, be sure that you keep an eye on it and add water as needed. You do not want the pot to go dry and the spices to burn. Also, be sure to turn the stove off/unplug the crock if leaving the house.

**Thanks to Amy for hosting Kitchen Tip Tuesdays today!

Too Many Lids

This is what happens when I take my own advice too seriously-over 2 dozen leftover mayo lids living in my cabinet!

That's a lot of lids. Especially considering that I don't normally use more than 5 at once!

Even though I really wouldn't be considered a packrat, sometimes I religiously keep things to reuse never thinking of how many I already have or could possibly use.

Some examples:
--gift bags
--twist ties
--grocery bags
--rubber bands
--salsa, peanut butter and spaghetti sauce jars with lids
--paper that's only printed on one side

Reusing and recycling is good. But if not used, it eventually becomes clutter.

When you clean out your drawers and cabinets, what sort of things do you find that you've saved too many of? Please share!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Happy Homemaker Monday

On my bedside table:
--no books right now!
On my TV:
--Super Why for the littles

On the menu for tonight:
--eat at church meeting. I'm baking wheat rolls to take.

On my To Do List:
--clean kitchen
--laundry- I'll be able to hang laundry out on my clothesline today!
--bake bread for tonight

New Recipe I tried last week:
--Chicken Piccata. Yummy, yum, yum.

In the craft basket:
I have many things on my list. Maybe I'll actually get to them this week!
--felt pieces for the flannel board.
--curtains for shelves in office.
--denim place mats.

Looking forward to:
--hanging laundry out to dry today!

Homemaking Tip for this week:
A few minutes spent wiping down the washer and dryer and rearranging things can make a huge difference!

Favorite Blog Post of the week (mine or other):
How I lost 20 pounds in 2 minutes at Life as Mom.

Favorite photo from last week:

A bouquet of tulips adds a fresh touch of spring to my mantle!

Lesson learned the past few days:

--Snow and cold weather don't last here in the South. Last weekend was cold and snowy. This weekend we are having sunny summer weather in the 70's and 80's.

On my Prayer List:
--my husband
--our president and nation

Devotionals, Scripture Reading, Key Verses:
John 15:5:
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Thanks to Sandra for hosting Happy Homemaker Monday!

Menu Plan Monday

Another week, another menu!

Last week's menu went according to plan. I tried a new recipe, Chicken Piccata, which was really good. I didn't have any capers but will buy some for the next time I make this dish. Capers would add that tangy flavor the sauce was lacking. On a scale of 1-10, my husband rated this dish at an 8. I will be making this one again!

Now, onto this week!

To do: mix baked oatmeal, make cream cheese spread
L-crockpot of mashed potatoes, muffins
D-hummus, tortilla chips, veggie sticks, fruit

B-baked oatmeal, smoothies
L-wraps(tortillas, cream cheese and olive spread, shredded carrots and various chopped veggies)
D-eat at church meeting; I'm taking wheat rolls.

B-leftover baked oatmeal, oranges
L-pepperoni pizza**, salad
D-sausage and cabbage skillet dish, applesauce

B-baked oatmeal take 3, smoothie
D-tacos (taco shells, taco meat, lettuce, salsa, cheese and sour cream), fruit

To do: Start bread dough soaking.
B-eggs, toast, fruit
D-homemade macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli

To do: Bake bread.
B-cheese grits, smoothie
D-chicken paprika over rice(new recipe), salad, steamed veggies

To do: shred cheese, bake brownies for Sunday
B-cold cereal, fruit
D-breakfast sandwiches (homemade biscuits, eggs, cheese, sausage or bacon), some kind of fruit

**denotes freezer items

To look at several hundred menu plans, visit Organizing Junkie!

Extra Coupons?

We live in an area where we can get our own town's paper as well as a larger major metropolitan newspaper.

Our local Sunday paper costs $1.00 whereas the larger paper costs $1.50. So naturally, being the frugal soul that I am, I have been buying the cheaper papers each Sunday. After all, I figured that I'm buying the paper mainly for the coupons and the coupons would be the same in all the papers. Right?

I noticed that even though I always get the inserts I'm supposed to get for that week, I rarely get a lot of the coupons mentioned on coupon sites and forums. In fact most of the better food coupons were never in my inserts!

Recently, I read in the comments to this post that one lady had better success with getting a bigger city newspaper. She commented that a lot of the coupons would be of better value than the same inserts in a smaller newspaper.

Could it be? I decided to give it a try. Of the three newspapers I buy each week, I decided to buy one of the larger papers to check and see if the coupons were different. Would spending fifty extra cents be worth it?

Due to the larger papers being sold out by the time I got to my neighborhood market, yesterday was the first day that I was able to get one.

I eagerly spread the coupons out on the table when I got home and started going through the inserts. I had bought two smaller papers and one large. The first thing I noticed was that the inserts from the larger paper looked completely different. And there were different coupons in it.

Every coupon from the smaller paper was also in the larger paper. I counted 37 extra coupons that came from the larger paper that were not in the smaller paper. Thirty-seven! And that was from only 2 inserts!

So is it worth it for me to spend fifty extra cents on a larger newspaper? For today, it most definitely was! I would like to compare the two papers for a few more weeks before I switch over to buying all of the larger and more expensive paper.

What about you? Have you found different papers to be better values for the coupon inserts?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Free Lunch- A Finer Thing

Last weekend, Andy and I went to Quizno's for lunch. We redeemed our free sandwich coupons and brought them home to eat.

At home, I pulled out some chips and a bottle of Powerade to go with our free sandwiches. The sandwiches were absolutely delicious and we enjoyed being able to have a lunch out for free.

It wasn't until afterwards that I realized that the sandwiches weren't the only free items in our meal. The salsa-flavored RiceWorks chips were free with a coupon(and very good, by the way!) and the Powerade was gotten free after ECB's at CVS some time ago.

This weekend, we're planning another lunch at Arby's getting free Roastburgers with the purchase of drinks!

While I think that an occasional meal out is certainly worth the money, it's fun to get things for free sometimes, too!

Free or nearly free lunches. Definitely one of the finer things in life!

**Thanks to Amy for hosting Finer Things Friday!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Crockpot Lasagna

Traditional lasagna is delicious but can be time-consuming to prepare. I really enjoy making this easy crockpot version that is perfect for taking to a potluck or to have ready when you come home from church.

When I take this to church events, I rarely bring even a spoonful back home with me. It's a crowd pleaser!

Crockpot Lasagna

12 lasagna noodles,uncooked
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning(I use oregano and basil instead)
1 jar(28 ounces) spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup water
1 carton (16 ounces) cottage cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese,grated

Break noodles in half. Place half of the noodles in bottom of greased 4-quart slow cooker. Stir Italian seasoning into meat and spread half over the noodles already in slow cooker. Then layer half of the sauce and water, half of the cottage cheese, and half of mozzarella cheese over beef. Repeat layers. Cover and cook on low heat for 4-5 hours. Do not cook more than 5 hours.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.

**Today's theme for the Ultimate Recipe Swap is pasta so be sure to check it out!

**Visit Slow Cooking Thursday for more crock pot recipes!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Weigh-In Wednesday

It's Wednesday and I know what that means! Time to look at how the week went weight-loss wise. I'm sharing my progress along with Kate and Joy again at Happy To Be At Home. Be sure to stop by to read about their progress and perhaps join in!

I've done really well with portion sizes and not snacking between meals. I do need to keep working on eating more veggies.

This is going well.

We've had a lot of rain and very cold winter weather the past 5 days. I have not been out running or walking except for a couple very short strolls. I'm getting back into regular exercise soon, hopefully tomorrow.

Staying on the weight-loss train for 2 months now!

Getting enough veggies.
Getting back into my exercise routine.

Plans for next week:
I definitely need to get back into regular exercise as well as work on getting more veggies into my diet consistently. I eat veggies, just some days not enough.

I lost another pound! Woo-hoo!

Clean Swap

I was excited to be able to participate in another one of Carrie and Monica's sister swaps. The theme for this one was Clean. I always find these swaps as a fun challenge to see what I can come up with to go with the theme and this one was no exception.

It was so much fun to do a three-way swap with Monica and Wendi. I have been long-time readers of both of their blogs and it was nice to prepare boxes for each of them. Even though I have never met them in real-life, I still feel as though both ladies are dear friends!

For both boxes, I tagged each gift with an appropriate verse mostly centering around homekeeping and clean heart.

Wendi has been focusing on organizing and decluttering her home so I tried to put together a few items to help her with that.

I filled a blue organizing basket with:
--dusting cloths
--drawer organizers
--Glade air freshener
--small body wash and lotion
--Orbit gum/breath mints
--kitchen towel
--scrubbie for washing dishes
--small bag of clothespins with instructions for writing prayer requests on each one as a way to pray for family and different needs while hanging the laundry.
--handmade frame with verse from Proverbs 31 written on it.

My box from Wendi was cute and practical. She wrapped every gift in brown paper and tied little tags on that said,"C is for clean." Very cute!

The box included:
--a cute cherry apron that I think Wendi made herself!
--cherry dishcloth
--a book about a million uses for vinegar. Right down my alley!
--hand soap
--Glade scented oil candles and refills
--Mary Engelbreit magnetic note pad

Thank you, Wendi for your careful thought in putting my box together!

I filled Monica's shoebox with:
--a handmade hanging frame with a quote by Elisabeth Elliot:
"I'm mothering young children who some day will fill important and useful spheres in life, and washing clothes is part of my grand task in caring for these souls who shall live forever."
--a small bag of clothespins with instructions for writing names and prayer requests as a reminder to pray while doing the laundry!
--drawer organizers
--scrubbie for dishes
--small body wash and lotion
--kitchen towel
--Glade apple cinnamon candle
--Orbit gum

Monica's gift to me was also very practical which I love! She filled a plastic organizing box with:
--decorated spray bottle
--embroidered cleaning mitt
--fun container of dishwasher soap
--handmade apron that is so cute and looks like spring!
--small dish

I appreciate the thought that went into preparing my box. Thank you, Monica!

Visit Carrie's blog to peek at more of the Clean swap boxes!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Master Grocery List

Something I find very helpful is to have a master grocery list of all the items that we like to eat and keep on hand. This makes planning for grocery shopping so much easier and I am not as likely to forget something.

My updated list(below) is set up according to the layout of my local Aldi store. Although Aldi doesn't carry everything on my list, it is the store where I buy most of my staple items. For our area, Aldi definitely has the best prices on most basic items unless there is a good sale somewhere else.

Since I do my biggest shopping trip at the beginning of the month, I print out a new list for each month and go through the pantry checking off what we're running low on. I keep the list hanging in the kitchen where I can check off what I need as I go along throughout the month.

I don't buy every single item on my list every month. For both fresh and frozen veggies and fruit, I make sure I have several varieties on hand. On the list are the kinds we buy most often.

To make my master list, I started by making basic categories then listed the things we buy in those categories. For the next week or so, I came back and jotted down things I had initially forgotten until I felt it was complete enough to type up. Also, I can always edit the original document when it's time to change something.

Having a master grocery list helps streamline my shopping and is a kitchen tip that helps me simplify my life.

(Click on the right arrow to maximize the document. Arrows at the bottom will help you to see both pages 1 and 2.)

**Visit Tammy's Recipes for more kitchen tips!

**Visit We Are THAT Family for more Works For Me Wednesday posts!

Snowy Day!

We had a fun snow day yesterday! It doesn't snow much here in the South, so it's a big deal when it does.

It snowed from Sunday afternoon to sometime during the night. We woke up to a beautiful winter wonderland Monday morning! It's already pretty well gone now, but it was fun while it lasted!

I took a couple of pictures while I was out with the dog. Rock just loves playing in the snow. The only way I could get him back inside was with an opened can of wet dog food!


Rock felt it was his duty to move a rather large limb that was down!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Happy Homemaker Monday

On my bedside table:
--new issues of Southern Living and Country Home magazine

On my TV:
--Super Why for the littles

On the menu for tonight:
--eat at church meeting.I'm providing bread.

On my To Do List:
--clean kitchen
--bake bread for tonight

New Recipe I tried last week:
--turketti. A turkey spaghetti casserole. It was good; probably not something I'd make often but still fairly tasty.

In the craft basket:
--felt pieces for the flannel board. Didn't get to them last week.
--curtains for shelves in office.
--denim place mats.

Looking forward to:
--meeting with a friend or two to share what we are learning through God's Word. This will hopefully become an ongoing weekly occurrence.

--a snowy day today! Yeah!

Homemaking Tip for this week:
Don't be afraid to minimize and declutter. I haven't been happy with my hutch for a long time. It is really the only place to keep the dishes that I don't use daily and it was too full. Plus it shakes when someone walks by. On a whim, the other day, I got out a box and started to fill it with the items that aren't my favorites or used on a regular basis. I may get rid of a few things but for the most part I'm storing them away for now. Now there's room to breathe as well as add a decorative touch or two. I like it!

Favorite Blog Post of the week (mine or other):
--Living A Simple Life(A New Season) at Frugal Granola.

This post was so encouraging to me. It is a wonderful story of God's continuing direction and provision.

Favorite photo from last week:

Rock only knows one trick-"High 5". I think it's so cute and funny when he stands on his back legs!

Lesson learned the past few days:
--It's been a little more difficult than I thought to switch to baking with more whole grains and natural sweeteners. I'm still looking for a good cookie recipe. The peanut butter cookies I made the other day didn't turn out so well.

On my Prayer List:
--my husband
--my dad who is having outpatient surgery tomorrow
--baby daughter of friends who has been undergoing different surgeries and tests.
--teenage son of friends who is having trouble in school as well as making choices that are not wise.

Devotionals, Scripture Reading, Key Verses:
Romans 8:38-39:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thanks to Sandra for hosting Happy Homemaker Monday!

Menu Plan Monday

Last week's menu went as pretty much as planned except for Tuesday night's pinto beans and cornbread. That ended up being the menu for Monday night's meeting! Even though pinto beans and cornbread is one of our favorites, I decided to just skip it until this next week. I had tuna melts on the menu for Monday lunch but we had plenty of leftovers, so I moved the tuna melts to Tuesday night. I served the melts with a salad, cooked veggie and apple slices for a complete and filling meal.

Gail asked a great question in response to last week's menu plan:
I notice you have a couple meals where you aren't serving meat. How does your hubby handle this? I would like to do this but need some ideas how to get my meat and potato husband on board. Any ideas?

I answered Gail's question by email, but thought I'd answer it here too, if anyone else is wondering about this. Especially since this week's menu only has 2 nights with meat(which I totally did not think about when planning the menu)!

My husband doesn't complain about meatless meals as long as we eat some meat each week and as long as he gets enough to eat at each meal. I have always cooked this way and he really doesn't seem to mind it. Eggs and cheese are also a good source of protein and we eat plenty of those.

Eating less meat is a great way to cut down on grocery costs. Some ways to do this would be with soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, stir fries and "breakfast for dinner". Not all husbands go for this, though, so you need to keep your own husband's preferences in mind. My next suggestion is to look for other areas to save money so that you can serve a bit more meat.

Does anyone have other suggestions for Gail? Please share!

Here's what we'll be eating this week.

B-pancakes, apple slices
L-taking crockpot lasagna to our fellowship
D-popcorn, cheese, apples

To do: make yogurt, soak beans
B-oatmeal, grapefruit
L-mini pizzas(crusts in freezer), salad
D-eat at church meeting

To do:make chicken broth, make salad dressing
B-apple-carrot muffins, strawberry smoothies
L-peanut butter and honey sandwiches, cottage cheese, salad
D-pinto beans, cornbread, salad

B-eggs, toast, grapes
D-grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade tomato soup

To do: next week's menu plan
L-turkey, bacon, guacamole sandwiches, tortilla chips
D-salmon patties, homemade bread, green beans

B-apple-carrot muffins, strawberry smoothies
D-chicken piccata(new recipe), salad, breadsticks

To do: prepare food for Sunday
B-cold cereal, milk, fruit
D-omelets, toast, fruit

For more menu-planning fun, don't forget to visit Organizing Junkie to read lots and lots of menu plans!