Personalized Housewarming Gift…

Recently, I was invited to a housewarming dinner for a new friend. I wanted to bring something to welcome her and her husband to their new home but was at a loss for what. I wanted the gift to be practical but personal. My budget was limited but I wanted something that she would appreciate. She had mentioned to me earlier that her house numbers are not easily visible from the street. She was concerned that no one would be able to find her house when they came to visit. That gave me the idea for my housewarming gift….

A personalized potted Rosemary plant with their house numbers on it!

personalized pot

 

I looked on Pinterest to find examples of the kind of look I was going for. I wanted to include the kids in the gift since I think the best way to teach them to care for other people is by example. Brittany volunteered to find the stencil online and print it out for me to use. She had a lot of fun coming up with different fonts and sizes. I had the pot already in my garage and the outdoor paint was purchased months ago at a garage sale. If you don’t already have the pot, you can purchase them inexpensively at yard sales, thrift stores or even Michaels with a coupon. I cut the number stencils our using a razor to get exact lines. I then taped them onto the pot and traced them with a pencil (in case I made any mistakes). Going slowly so it would look good, I hand painted the numbers on with a teeny tiny paintbrush. All together the personalization probably took 30 minutes including finding the stencil online. I purchased a rosemary plant from Home Depot for $6 and planted it in the pot. This way my friend could have fresh rosemary to cook with year round. When I wrote a card to go with the plant, I explained the rosemary was to give their new home flavor and I included a recipe for a family favorite – Rosemary Bread.

This gift turned out great! It came out exactly as I had envisioned it would and now I am thinking of stenciling a pot on my front porch in a similar fashion – maybe even adding our last name or family initial to it. If you are looking for a fun, creative, personalized gift that doesn’t cost much, try making a personalized pot!

Shelf Life of Food…

I try to clean out the refrigerator on Sunday night, since the garbage comes on Monday morning, and Wednesday night, since Thursday is grocery shopping day. In between these times, I am always trying to use up what we have so that we throw away a minimum of food. I recently read that 25% of groceries are thrown away and not eaten. That is a huge number! For every $100 you spend at the grocery store, you are throwing away $25? No thanks! So, in an effort to get everything that is purchased eaten before it goes bad, here is a handy dandy chart that my brother recently sent to me on the Shelf Life of Food. I was surprised by some things and maybe you will be too. What do you have in your pantry or fridge that needs to be eaten or thrown out?

Menu Plan Monday 3/4/2013…

menu

This past weekend was an unusual one for us. John and Josh headed off to Space Camp with the Cub Scouts, so that left Brittany and I home alone. Since we had known this event was coming, I had asked Brittany a few weeks ago what she wanted to do. Her request was simple – she wanted me to sit down with her all day long and watch the Harry Potter movies. Now, the idea of sitting for hours watching movies was both appealing and appalling. I knew I would love spending time with Brittany and it being just the two of us cuddled up in pjs. I also knew that sitting and doing nothing for 12 hours straight would be hard on me since I tend to not just be a doer but a multi-tasker.  But if this is what Brittany wanted to do, how coud I say no? I have a theory that if your kids ever request to spend time with you, you say “yes” because the day will come that they will rather be with their friends.

So, how what the weekend? It was wonderful. We did exactly what she asked and didn’t leave the house for anything. Just parked ourselves in front of the television and watched the Harry Potter movies 4-8 (we had already watched 1-3 since we knew we physically couldn’t watch them for 20 hours!). We talked, cuddled, ate whatever we wanted and just enjoyed being together. And Josh and John had an equally great but exhausting weekend with the Cub Scouts.

Here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Quesadillas, leftover rice, carrots, applesauce, salad
It was just Brittany and I for dinner since John and Josh were headed back from Space Camp.

Monday: Chicken Fingers, Tater Tots, Apple slices, carrots
John won’t be at dinner tonight so I wanted an easy kid friendly dinner but still had some nutritional value. 

Tuesday: Almost Waffle House Waffles, Bacon, fruit
Another easy kid friendly dinner that will also provide breakfast for the kids for the rest of the week.

Wednesday: Chicken and Dumplings, Green Beans
A warm meal for a cold night.

Thursday: PF Changs Mongolian Chicken, Potstickers, Rice, Broccoli
It’s Asian Thursday! I found some great tasting potstickers in the frozen food section at Publix (brand: Ling Ling) and I’ll be serving these with dinner tonight. 

Friday: Fried Catfish, Roasted Potatoes, Fried Okra
The kids have been wanting fish for a few weeks now, so I will accomodate. I’ll buy whatever fish is on sale this week, so it may not be catfish.

Saturday: (Crockpot) Roasted Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Spinach
I will save the leftover chicken for Sunday’s meal of Chicken and Dressing Casserole.

I am linking up with OrgJunkie.com, so be sure to check out that site for more Menu Plans to help you with getting dinner on the table!

 

Family Pleasing Menu Planning…

menu plan

Looking to simply our lives, I took a look at my menu planning and decided to give it a re-work. I really like to try new recipes and kinda use my family like little taste testers – a new dish here and there. Most of the time, they are good sports about it and will eat whatever I fix. But in an effort to streamline the meal making process and save time and money, I decided to change up my menu planning.

First, I printed a list in excel of every dinner meal that I have made in the past two months. I then eliminated those that I knew the family didn’t like or was too expensive to make again. I also eliminated any duplicates, which weren’t that many. Normally, I try to not repeat the same meal twice in a month even though my family doesn’t mind repeating favorites. I used this fact to my advantage in the new menu plan.

Second, I gave each family member a list of the meals that I had made. I gave them specific instructions to cross through any or all of a meal that they did not enjoy. So, if the menu called for spaghetti, meatballs, salad and rosemary bread and they did not like the bread but liked everything else, they could just cross through the bread. John took it upon himself to also put big stars next to any item that he particularly liked, I think in hopes that I would put that on the menu more often. I was very surprised to find out that most of what I make, they like.

Next, I compiled the lists and marked on my master sheet who did not like a particular food. I simply put an “X” next to any meal that got cross through on the lists. Since there are 4 people in our house, we went my a majority ruling for most items. If it got 3 “X”s then the item was eliminated from the menu plan.

After I had a master list of the foods that my family likes to eat, I set up to create a re-occurring menu plan for each month. Most of our meals revolve around chicken as the main entree but I made sure to put either ground turkey, beef or fish in there once or twice a week. I also tried to keep the side dishes varied enough that we didn’t end up eating broccoli every night for a week. I ended up with 21 meals that we eat the first 3 weeks of the month and then I took the favorite items (as denoted by John’s star system) and repeated those meals the last week. I made sure that the meals that were repeated were in the menu as far from the last week as possible so that it didn’t feel monotonous.

In the end, I think I got a workable plan for each month. I am sure there will be some tweaking here and there as we learn to work through it. And it doesn’t mean that I won’t try new menu items, just with less frequency than normal. Everyone is happy about the new menu plan and I am glad to have things a little simpler around here.

A Simpler Christmas…

I was determined to simplify our Christmas this year in order to make it more enjoyable for all of us. I have listed a few key areas that I want to improve upon to help make this a more meaningful Christmas.

Budget

One way to make Christmas easier for all of us is to plan out the budget. For years, John and I have had an old-fashioned Christmas account. We keep it in an online bank and add to it every month so that when it is time to buy for Christmas, the money is sitting there. I am typically responsible for the planning of the Christmas budget and I try to include everything that I can think of in there. I list out everyone that we are buying for making sure to include people that are sometimes forgotten in budgeting, like the kids’ school teachers. Once we have the list of who we are buy for, giving we are going to do and activities we will be doing, I put a dollar amount into each one and make sure it adds up to what is in the Christmas account. John will get the cash out of the bank toward the end of November and give it to me to divide into envelopes. I make an envelope for gifts, giving and activities and inside each envelope, I divide up the dollar amounts using post-it notes. That way when it is time to buy, I know exactly how much I have to spend.

Gifts

In an effort to make Christmas more simple, we began drawing names on my side of the family a few years ago. We still buy for each of the kids but the adults do a name draw on Thanksgiving for the following year. My grandmother keeps a record of who drew which name in case we forget by the next year (we always forget). The jury is out on what to do on John’s side of the family. There aren’t many people to buy for (no kids except ours) so we currently buy for everyone.

Activities

The best memories during the Christmas holiday season are not the gifts that we give or receive but the activities that we do together as a family. We asked each of our kids this year to tell us what events make Christmas special for them. They decided that Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the “Pink Pig”, which is a Christmastime ride, and “Back to Bethlehem”, which is a walking trip through Bethlehem that a local church sets up. Both of these events are low cost and very easy to accomodate. They were not interested in seeing the mall Santa Claus, which is fine with us since that line is long and you can’t take any pictures unless you buy their overpriced packages. One of our local churches is also holding a Christmas Cantata at no charge that we might attend and a friend of mine is having a ladies cookie exchange.

Food

Speaking of cookies, last Christmas, I made a cookie-a-day here on my blog. It is more effort than even I realized it would be before I started. I have decided this year to not repeat that process and instead just make the few cookies that I know my family loves. I have saved most of the cookie baking for this week. I asked each family member to tell me what cookie they love at Christmas and here is the plan: John has asked for Grandma Rodi’s Springerle cookies, Brittany loves the Peanut Butter Blossom cookies and Josh wants the Soft Sugar Cookies. I love the Snowball cookies and John and I might whip up a batch of Linzer Cookies together. We have already made the Big Soft Ginger Cookies for the cookie exchange and rolled out sugar cookies and gingerbread men for fun.

For entertaining, we are trying to keep it simple and fun by hosting a make your own pizza party for one part of our family and a traditional sit down potluck dinner for the other side of the family. I am not sure the plan to keep food simpler this year really worked since so much of Christmas in my heart is tied to food.

What do you do to make Christmas simpler and more meaningful? Are you successful? We will just have to wait and see how it all turns out after December 25th even though I will be gearing up for John’s 40th birthday on December 26th. Merry Christmas!

 

 

Menu Plan Monday 10/8/2012 (on Tuesday)

Sorry I am late this week but at least late is better than never, which was the case last week. The days get so busy that I don’t take the time to come on here and say hello. This week is more of a normal pace with football on Monday and Thursday and camping on Friday night. That leaves Tuesday and Wednesday free and open. Except that I might take the kids to the Cumming Fair on one of those nights. We always seem to have something going on around here!

I am trying to clean out the fridge, freezer, pantry and crispier drawer this week. I don’t like it when I see food not being eaten that I have bought. So, the kids are having some unusual school snacks and lunches but I figure that makes life interesting.

Dinner Menu Plan

Sunday: Lasagna and Biscuits (we went to the pumpkin patch so I thawed out a lasagna that I made a few weeks ago – I love freezer meals!)

Monday: Leftover Lasagna and Biscuits (football practice)

Tuesday: Oven Baked Tilapia, Macaroni & Cheese, Roasted Asparagus

Wednesday: Baked Chicken Fingers, Rice, Broccoli

Thursday: Unbelievable Grilled Chicken, Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Parsnips

Friday: (Crockpot) Salsa Chicken and Chips (Cub Scout camping)

Saturday: BBQ, Beans and Salad (Cub Scout camping)

Menu Plan Monday 9/17/2012

Yeah! John is back home! That means that dinner is more of a normal nature than last week. We still have a few nights of football practice, a 5k run and atleast one night of Cub Scouts so some nights are easier than others but that is a normal schedule for us.

Today is also Muffin Monday! I have my Ladies Bible Study tomorrow and I offered to bring muffins. Of course, I can’t just bring one kind of muffin, I had to make three different kinds of muffin. I baked a pumpkin muffin, chocolate chip muffin and a blueberry muffin (they look different in the pic because I added a brown sugar crumble on top). They all turned out great but just by smell, I think the pumpkin ones will be the winner. Good thing I threw two loaves of pumpkin bread in the oven too!

Dinner Menu Plan

Sunday: Roasted Butternut Squash Linguine, Grilled Chicken, Garlic Bread (I will post the recipe for this later this week)

Monday: Baked Chicken Tenders, Macaroni & Cheese, Apple Slices (fresh grown apples from the farmer’s market – delicious!)

Tuesday: Pioneer Woman’s Sloppy Joes, Oven roasted potatoes,

Wednesday: Dinner @ Windward Challenge 5k race

Thursday: Crockpot Applesauce BBQ Chicken, Rice, Broccoli

Friday: Leftovers for Girls Only Night w/Brittany

Saturday: Sandwiches, Chips & Fruit (everyone is gone for dinner so I am keeping it easy for me)

 

Healthy School Snacks…

Josh in 3rd and Brittany in 5th

Today dawned the third day of the school year and providing the kids with healthy snacks are on my radar. I have never been a mom to give my kids cookies, cake or other desserts for snack in the classroom. Our typical snacks over the years have involved a cracker of some kind – Cheezit, Saltine, Ritz or Goldfish. While these are not completely unhealthy snacks, I think we can do better. Here are some of my ideas for providing the kids with a better snack this school year.

Apples and Peanut Butter: If I buy the precut apples that do not turn brown and throw in some peanut butter, the kids will eat them at school. I have tried to cut up my own apples and dip them in lemon juice and/or Sprite but it always seems to affect the taste of the apples and then the kids won’t eat them. This is not exactly a frugal option but there is a greater value in knowing the kids got an additional fruit in them that day.

Cheese and Crackers: While crackers are still on our list for the school year, I want to pair some kind of protein with it to provide more nutrition. My kids love peanut butter but do not like it on crackers. They will eat cheese on crackers so that will be my solution to the protein problem. I can also see throwing in some kind of meat with it on occasion – whether it is ham, turkey, chicken or  pepperoni.

Yogurt and Granola Bar: The yogurt provides protein, especially if I can find a greek yogurt that the kids enjoy. I just want to watch the amount of sugar in some yogurts. I bought some greek yogurt last week and I didn’t pay attention to the sugar content. It wasn’t until I was recycling the empty container that I realized it had 20g of sugar in it – more than a candy bar!! I have been buying the Simply Gogurt tubes lately and the kids like them but I would like to find something with more protein in it. I have also been giving them a granola bar to go with it although I have a new recipe for a homemade granola bar that I want to try. I will update the blog with the recipe and review after I get them made. I love the fact that you can throw in all kinds of dried fruit and nuts to up the nutritional value.

Veggies and Ranch: This is more for my little guy than my daughter. Both will eat carrots but neither LOVE them. Josh will normally gobble them up if there is ranch dressing to dip them in but Brittany has never been a dipper so she eats them when she doesn’t have any choice. I am going to try to also throw in some broccoli to try to get them to eat more veggies.

Muffins: I like the versatility of muffins. I can add just about anything I want to them and the kids will eat them. Last week I baked banana muffins and blueberry muffins and the kids took them to school for snack. But had I just packed a banana or blueberries, they would have not wanted to eat them. I also like that I can hide extra servings of veggies in muffins and they don’t even realize they are getting them. To make muffins healthier, I also try to replace at least part of the oil with applesauce. So far, no complaints.

The good thing about providing healthier snacks at school is that they are a captive audience. If they do not have any choice but their snack to eat, suddenly the healthy snack mom provided starts to look better than being hungry.  What do your kids eat for a healthy snack?

 

Local Harvest…

I spent this morning at a beautiful little farm just 10 miles from my home, Cane Creek Farm. I went to volunteer orientation and to get more information on supporting my local agriculture. I signed up to spend 4-5 hours every Tuesday in the hot Georgia sun harvesting vegetables for the entire summer. Why? For several reasons.

1) I want to learn more about gardening, especially organic gardening. This was my primary reason for signing up to volunteer at the farm this morning. I figured that there is no better place to learn than directly from the source. And I am a big believer in hands on learning, that is how I learn best. I need to do something in order to truly understand it.

2) I want to eat cleaner and cheaper. I will not be paid in dollars for my work on the farm but I am going to be paid in something else – a share of the CSA. A share is equal to a basket of fresh organic vegetables, limited fruits and herbs that is grown on the farm. Today I saw broccoli and lettuce that was planted and growing. I was shown a field that held potatoes and another that had turnips. This to me is worth more than if they were paying me in cash. I am trying to eat cleaner with more fresh fruits and vegetables and I want to do it cheaper than what I can do in the grocery store, so this seems like a great solution.

3) I want to support the small local farmer. It is important to support the small farmer who is trying to grow the food that we all need to eat. I want to be able to buy from the farmer who is growing food just miles from my house and not just the farmer who is 3000 miles away. In order to do this, I have to support their efforts. I want to know what it takes to grow the food and what they struggle with so I can help support their efforts. And I think our bodies function more effectively when we eat food that is locally grown. Pollinated by local bees collecting all the local pollen that covers my car right now.

So, I will try to update the blog during the summer with what is happening on the farm. I will take some pics and pass on any stories, tips and recipes that I get from the people that I meet. And maybe even share some of the beautiful produce with those who know me IRL. Spring is coming and so is the harvest.

Free Weights…

Brittany asked me this past weekend if I have always taken things that were in the trash. I told her that there was time when I wouldn’t have done that because my pride got in the way. I look back and think of all the great things I probably missed because of it. Well, not anymore.

We got the deal of the weekend when we went yard saling this past Saturday. Free weights. For free. So I guess that makes them free Free Weights. We happened upon a man who decided that yard sales were not his favorite thing to do on a Saturday morning and gave us almost everything in the above picture (we already had the smaller hand held weights on the top shelf of the weight rack). I took a look on Amazon when we got home and here is how it broke down:

Weight bench: $50
Weight rack: $100
6 Hand Weights (Barbells): $270
Total: $420

Now, these are new prices not used but even if you bought it for half price used, this was still a great deal to get it all for free! And he also gave us a Kenwood stereo receiver with speakers, 2 DVD players, 1 VHS player and a 7′ curtain rod (which I had been looking for at the yard sales).

I also came across 2 shelving units that a local church was throwing out that were in good condition. I took them home, cleaned them up and now have new shelving in my attic. The cost at Lowes for the same units were $50/each!

The moral of this story is that is pays to shop the curb and keep your eyes open. You never know what you might find.