Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Menu Plan Monday Update

Hello! I hope everyone is having a fabulous holiday season! I am really looking forward to the New Year! I am hoping that my continual goal of simplicity allows more time to Blog. One thing I have learned about trying to have a simple lifestyle, it requires constant change. For quite a while now I have been getting CSA Boxes from Underwood Family Farms. We have really enjoyed the boxes. Even my kids get excited to see what is in them each week. However, I am going to be trying something new. After much thought & reflection, I have decided it's just too much for our family right now. The boxes did force me to work more veggies into our menu and I loved the quality of produce we got. We just had too much stuff, even with the small box, and I found I would like a little more control over the amount of each item we got. For example, lately there has been a ton of lettuce & mizuna in the box, which is great if we are eating salads all week, but my kids don't eat salads yet & I get bored of the same stuff all the time. There would also sometimes be something I absolutely loved, like fennel, but we would only get 1 bulb & I found myself wanting more. I still highly recommend Underwood Family Farms CSA Boxes, especially if you have a larger family and are looking to work more fresh, quality produce into your menu. It's just a bit overwhelming for us right now.

So, with that, this week I will be starting my new strategy. For produce I will be shopping at Sprouts on Wednesdays, when they have their double ad days (this weeks ad & last weeks ad are active). A few friends of mine do this & walk out with great deals! I love that Sprouts has their ads online as well - you can even click on the items you want & create & print out your shopping list.

I will most likely not be posting our menu plans anymore, but I will have lots of fun & new topics focused on simplicity for the new year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

12/19/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Family Farms CSA Small Box

Small Box
1 Iceburg Lettuce
1 bunch Orange Carrots
1 Fennel Bulb
1 bunch Mizuna
1 bunch Turnips
2 bunches Purple Kale
1 pound Broccoli
1 bunch French Radish
2 Leeks
1 Butternut Squash
1 pound Satsuma Tangerines
1 Bacon Avocado

Spiced Squash with Yogurt Dressing

Vegetable Soup - Irish Style

Radish Dip

Grandmother's Radish Leaf Soup

Kale and Potato Spanish Tortilla

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12/13/11 Menu Plan: Underwood Family farms CSA Smal Box

Small Box

1 bunch Round Carrots
1 Red Leaf Lettuce
1 bunch Arrugula
1 bunch Tatsoi
1 bunch Candy Beets
1 Celery
1 bunch Black Kale
1 Acorn Squash
1 Honey Bear

*Lettuce & Arrugula used for salad & sandwiches.

*Using the Honey to make Melomakarona, a Greek Christmas Cookie.

Roasted Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza

Kale Smoothies
- A bunch to choose from on this site! The purple one uses Beet!

Chicken Salad Holiday Sandwich Wreath (use celery to make chicken salad) - I will also be referencing this recipe since I am opting to make my own chicken salad & not store bought.

Curried Carrot Soup

Peanut Egg Noodle Tatsoi

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

12/06/11 Menu Plan: Underwood Farms CSA Small Box

Hi Everyone! Keeping it way simple this week because, well, some weeks are crazier than others! I'm not assigning days to specific recipes this week, just posting some recipes. Enjoy!

Small Box

1 Green Leaf Lettuce
1 bunch Red Chard
1 bunch Bok Choy
1 bunch Arugula
1 bunch Yellow Carrots
1 bunch Italian Parsley
1 bunch Japanese Turnips
1 Celery
1 Fuyu Persimmon
1 Heirloom Tomato
1 Kobacha Squash
1 lb Satsuma Tangerines

Persimmon Salsa

Veggie Tomato and Onion Soup

Quinoa with Red Swiss Chard & Carrots

Almond Orange Tossed Salad

Arugula and Goat Cheese Tartine

Cheesy Squash

Glazed Turnips & Carrots

Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Ginger & Garlic

Monday, November 28, 2011

11/28/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Family Farms CSA Small Box

Hello Everyone! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I'm getting back into the swing of meal planning and am excited to see what's in our box this week!

Small Box

1 White Cauliflower
1 bunch Tatsoi
1 bunch Mizuna
1 bunch Purple Kale
1 pound Broccoli
1 Celebrity Tomato
1 bulb Fennel
1 Romaine Lettuce
1 bunch Round Carrots
3 Artichokes
1 bunch French Radish

*A salad for lunches will be made with some Lettuce, some Mizuna, some tomato, carrots and radishes.
*Lettuce & tomato will also be used for sandwiches.
*Fennel will be roasted with some olive oil, salt & pepper for a yummy snack.
*Some Kale will be made into Kale Chips.

Tuesday, November 29th

Pasta with Lentils and Kale

Wednesday, November 30th
*I need something super quick this night!
Leftover Pasta & Salad

Thursday, December 1st
Cheesy Mushroom & Broccoli Casserole

Friday, December 2nd

Artichokes - Check out How to Cook Artichokes in the Microwave
Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Casserole

Saturday, December 3rd
Eat Out!

Sunday, December 4th
Warm Roasted Mushroom & Feta Salad (using Mizuna & Tatsoi)
Vegetarian Sausage

Monday, December 5th

Cauliflower Soup

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

11/16/11 Menu Plan: Underwood Farms CSA Small Box

Small Box

1 Iceburg Lettuce
1 bunch Purple Kale
1 Fennel Bulb
1 bunch Beets
1 Colored Cauliflower
1 bunch French Radish
1 purple Carrots
1 bunch Mizuna
1 bunch bok Choy
1 Napa Cabbage
1 Butternut Squash

*Iceburg Lettuce, Radish, Carrots, & some Mizuna will be used to make a salad for lunches.
*Fennel will be roasted in the oven with a little oil, salt, pepper & parmesan for a snack.
*Also using some lettuce for sandwiches, and some carrots the kids will gobble up.
*I will be juicing the Kale with some frozen fruit.

Wednesday, November 17th

Amish Slaw
To accompany the slaw I am throwing some chicken breasts in the crock pot. Save some cabbage for tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 18th

Rainbow Stir Fry - You can sub the beef with chicken, shrimp, or just go vegeatarian.

Friday, November 19th

Bok Choy Beef Soup & Rice

Saturday, November 20th
Eat Out!

Sunday, November 21st
Roasted Beets with Feta
Pasta with Mizuna

Monday, November 22nd

Black Bean Butternut Squash Chilli

Thursday, November 10, 2011

11/9/11 Menu Plan Monday (Thursday!): Underwood Farms CSA Small Box

Small Box

2 Artichokes
1 Green Leaf Lettuce
1 Broccoflower
1 bunch Japanese Turnips
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 Leeks
1 Celebrity Tomato
1 bunch Yellow Carrots
1 large Fuyu Persimmon
1 pound Fuji Apples
1 Accorn Squash

So, I'm a lot behind this week & have had some things come up & still have a ton of veggies to use up! Supercook to the rescue! I entered all the CSA Box ingredients and a few staple ingredients I always have. Here are some links to some great recipes Supercook returned to utilize a bunch of the veggies in a more condensed time period. Enjoy!

Cauliflower-Leek Bake (using the Broccoflower)

Roast Chicken with Fall Vegetables

Grandma's Turnips & Carrots

Prociutto with Persommons


Monday, October 31, 2011

Tiny Task #1: Purge Cookbooks

So, my first Tiny Task on my road to simplification & getting rid of stuff is to purge my cookbooks. I haven't touched most of the cookbooks on my kitchen cabinet shelf in years! Most of my recipes I get online and I save the ones we like in a binder organized by category. I ended up keeping 13 cookbooks, my binder, and my recipe card box. This still seems like a lot to me, so I may end up purging it even more in the future. I was able to put 15 cookbooks in my donate pile. I can't believe I had 28 cookbooks! Crazy! Here's what my cabinet looks like now:

The top shelf has our lunch boxes and aluminum foil (which is huge - won't fit in my drawer!). Middle shelf now houses all 13 cookbooks, the cookbook stand, recipe card box and I now have a nice easy place to set my binder down on (it won't fit right side up on the shelf.) I used to have to struggle to get that thing in the cabinet - no more! The bottom shelf houses all of my coffee & tea necessities.

I shared about my cookbook purging on my Facebook page & had a few friends share their great ideas & what they are doing with their cookbooks. I am amazed at the creative ideas these ladies shared! Here are some of them & some ideas of how to simplify your cookbook stash:

1) Donate to your local library or thrift store.
2) Find friends that would use them.
3) Post them on Freecycle.
4) List them on to make some extra cash!
5) If you've got a lot of hand written, favorite, or family recipes in a box or binder and you'd like to put them in a nice format, check out Tastebook! You can make your own customized cookbook & make it look so pretty!
6) Check out to swap books! This is for all kinds of books!

So, Tiny Task #1 is complete! I am donating my cookbooks to a local Thrift Store run by the National Charity League, Fibber McGee's.

I've been trying to think of how I am going to apply the 100 Thing Challenge to my own simplifying. I've decided that I am going to keep track of how many things I am getting rid of. In the last few years I have donated a ton of items to the thrift store, library, charity sales, and even sold things through a consignment service, and had a garage sale. Just the other day I dropped off 5 boxes of baby stuff to be sold at my MOPS Sale coming up in December. I wish I would have started with counting all of that stuff - I'm sure the numbers would be breathtaking! But, I'm starting today with the following list of what is currently in my donation box. It will be fun to see how high I get even though I've already gotten rid of a lot!

Stuff I've Gotten Rid Of:
1 piece of Christmas Decor
15 cookbooks
1 photo album
1 calculator
TOTAL = 18

10/31/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Farms CSA Small Box

Small Box

1 bunch Tatsoi
1 bunch Bok Choy
1 Celery
1 pound Blue Lake Beans
1 Red Leaf Lettuce
3 Bi-color Corn
1 Fennel Bulb
1 pound Summer Squash
1 Cherokee Tomato
1 bunch Kale
1 bunch French Radish

*I will be reserving some Lettuce & Tomato for sandwiches, and using the Celery, Kale & Fennel for snacks.

I absolutely love Fennel! 1 bulb is never enough so I may need to get some more. Here's a wonderfully tasty recipe: Roasted Fennel with Parmesan

Easy Kale Chip Recipe

Tuesday, November 1st
Salad made with Red Leaf Lettuce, 1 Corn, Tomato, Radish
Baked Fish

Wednesday, November 2nd

(I have a much needed Mom's Night Out Planned! Needed an easy night!)
Leftover Salad
Trader Joe's Frozen Pizza

Thursday, November 3rd
Summer Squash with Turmeric Butter
Stir Fried Tofu & Quinoa

Friday, November 4th

Browned Butter Pasta with Tatsoi
Grilled Chicken

Saturday, November 5th
Eat Out!

Sunday, November 6th
Beef Stew (using the Blue Lake Beans)

Monday, November 7th

Sesame Stir-Fried Bok Choy
Sausage of your choice (I'm using the vegetarian sausage)
Brown Rice

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The "100 Thing Challenge" & Tiny Tasks

Hello! I just finished reading the book "100 Thing Challenge" by Dave Bruno. I got the Kindle edition for my iPod touch.

I naturally love books about organization & simplification - it's my nature! I can honestly say Dave took a journey I think we should all consider, at least in some form. He purged his stuff down to 100 things and lived with only 100 things for 1 year. I don't think 100 is the goal for all of us (and neither does he) but if we set some kind of specific goal to live with less I believe it would have a profound impact on our lives. I won't give too much of the book away - there were details covered such as how he defined the 100 things (he has a family of 5, so some definitions were clearly necessary!), revelations he got from the experience & great insights on American-style consumerism. I'll be sharing with you this week some of my aha's and paring down projects I am undergoing as a result of being inspired by Dave. He also offers some great insights on his Blog and the 100 Thing Challenge Facebook Page.

I'll admit being inspired to downsize can also be a bit overwhelming. In the past BK (Before Kids), I would go after a project with gusto on a weeknight or weekend, get it done & feel quite accomplished. Now, in order to accomplish my projects, it takes more planning, more patience, and some creativity to see them through. It also takes longer than I'd usually like, but that's something I'm getting used to as the result of the blessing of having a family. In order to not overwhelm myself, I've decided to break up my simplification projects into "Tiny Tasks." This term is not something I came up with. I got it from Geralin Thomas, a fellow Professional Organizer whom you may have seen on an episode of "Hoarders." On her Facebook page she occasionally posts great Tiny Tasks for the day - little organization projects or tasks that can make a big difference. I love them! I think those of us who just don't have hours upon hours like we would like to have to focus on such projects should view our "Tiny Tasks" as our way to see things through. They won't be overwhelming, and we can still get a sense of accomplishment.

For a long time I've known that simplifying my household & paring stuff down helps a ton with housework, efficiency & being able to focus on more meaningful experiences & quality time spent with loved ones. Heck, I even was quoted by Peter Walsh in his book "Lighten Up" on the subject! Here's my quote from page 24:
"Dear Peter, Going from two incomes to one was and still is quite a transition. However, we've been able to handle that transition quite well. We've gotten rid of many extra expenses, I buy used baby gear and clothes when I can, I cut coupons, use cloth diapers, and we're always looking for what else we can cut out. I have discovered that there is something very freeing in my spirit when I live a simpler life. I am finding that with less stuff, only the essentials and stuff that is really important to me, it's a lot easier to clean my house and I actually am less stressed and able to spend more quality time with my family. It has made me reflect on times when life was simpler, too. We don't need extra storage garages or more stuff piled in the garage: we just need to honor and support our life with what matters most, and what matters most is not the stuff clogging up my closet!"

However, I have been struggling so much to see things through because of my busy life. I think things got a little bit more out of control when my daughter was born. Adding a second child put a lot of stuff on the back burner, and for good reason! Stuff has piled up yet again & stuff is all over the place. It's been very frustrating! So, let's start getting back on track with some Tiny Tasks and take steps on this journey together.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bra Recycling!

This is a bit of an odd post, but I figure I can't be the only woman out there experiencing this! I had 2 kids in 2 years. My weight & bra size has fluctuated quite a bit! Today I got measured and bought a new bra in my new size. It is so comfortable! Amazing how some of the littlest things in life can make quite a positive difference in how we feel. I have a bunch of bras in my closet in varying sizes, but really only end up wearing about 3 different kinds. Being the unclutterer that I am, I know I need to get rid of the old ones. But what do you do with them? I figure, who really wants a used bra from a thrift shop? Some of the bras have lost elasticity so even a shelter or similar organization may not actually end up using it because of the condition it's in. So do I throw the more beat up bras in the trash? That seems like such a waste. This led me to an online search and I found some great solutions!

First, for the ones in good condition, go ahead and donate them. It looks like Goodwill and other similar organizations do have sections for bras. I came across a few other options too.

This organization takes bra donations and ships them throughout the world wherever there is a need.

This blog has some pretty creative things to do with old bras - everything from making lavender sachets out of them to Freecycling them and even making an iPod pocket onto your sports bra!

Apparently the stretchy material is also good for making doll clothes.

So, we've got a lot of options here! I know one thing for sure - I will not be keeping them in the "what if I lose the weight & they fit one day" pile. I already have too many clothes put away in that pile which is another subject in itself!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

10/4/11 Underwood Farms CSA: Taking a break for 2 weeks! + Recipe Websites

Hi Everyone!

I have some busy family stuff going on for the next 2 weeks, so I will be taking a break from menu planning for the Underwood Farms CSA Box contents. I will resume in late October. Thanks!

In the mean time, here are some of my favorite recipe sites.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No, I Don't Have It All Together! . . . And Neither Should You.

It is 11:30pm. I just finished most of the dishes (not all because the dishwasher was full and there was not enough room on the drying rack for the rest), picked up some toys that did not get cleaned up earlier, packed my diaper bag for tomorrow, changed into pj's and will probably be up for at least another hour since I decided to write this post. I occasionally have people comment to me "You have it all together." or "You're so organized" or my personal favorite "How do you do it all?!" (I really roll my eyes at that one!) The fact is I do not have it all together, I am not as organized as you'd think I would be or as much as I desire to be, and I do not do it all. "But you're the Neat Doctor!" you may be thinking. Yes, I do love organization & simplification. But I am human, and have a life and 2 little kids. If you walked in my house at any given moment you are bound to find something to question my organization skills. I do have many things that are clean, organized, and streamlined in my home & routines, but I am not where I want to be. Notice I used the word "want" and not "need." I think I am exactly where I "need" to be. Although, it has taken some times of prayer & reflection to realize that.

Tonight I am taking some time to highlight things I am not on top of. I think it is healthy for us to admit places in our lives where we are weak, need some work, and highlight our ducks that have fallen out of line. Highlighting our strengths comes naturally. Many of us post on Facebook what an awesome dinner we just made, how we lost 5lbs this week, or post pictures of our fun adventures. I would like to challenge you to share some things you need some polishing on. It is good for us to know & acknowledge that we are not perfect, we're all in this together, and to laugh together at the areas where we often stumble.

So here goes. I'll even post some pictures!

1) My laundry piles are really rediculously high right now. I'm trying to do at least one load a day, but somehow it got out of hand. I even had to break into my small underwear pile from before my pregnancy because I ran out. I still have 17lbs to lose to fit in those again. Nothing like tight underwear to make your day a little less comfortable!

2) My dining table is a pile of paperwork & clutter. This is a picture from 2 weeks ago, but it's not much different now. In fact, I think it's a little worse. I keep saying that one of these nights I'll tackle it - especially all the coupons & paperwork I need to purge. But, somehow it becomes late again & I'm stuck in a big whirlwind of life circling the table all day & just adding to the pile. I am hoping my little efforts will dwindle it down soon. Usually when something starts to bug me enough, I just have to block some extra time out to just finish it.

3. I have a few more clutter hot spots in my home. My desk has paperwork I need to go through and some empty wipes wrappers with codes to be entered. Our hallway still as stuff from our office (which we moved there over a year ago when we turned our office into our son's room) that has yet to be gone through & organized. My hall is filled with stuff I am in the process of getting rid of. In the corner of my bedroom is a pile of Christmas gifts covered with towels so my kids don't see them. My plan is to wrap them and store them in the garage. But somehow they have been sitting there since July.

4. My Kitchen often looks like this, with it only being clean for about 8 hours as I sleep.

5. I make mistakes with my scheduling. The other day I thought it was odd that the class I take with my son was not on my calendar. So I typed it back in. Thank goodness someone mentioned today that Thursday is a holiday & there would be no class. Oops. Yeah, I would have showed up wondering where everyone was.

6. As much as I try to keep things clean & sanitized, my shower has sadly taken a downward plunge. I cleaned it a little the other day, but it needs more than a little cleaning. It's just a task I hate doing, so it goes undone until I cannot stand it!

I am soooo tired right now. In fact, I have nodded off about 5 times while proofing this! But, I think this has been really therapeutic writing this. There are many more things I am not on top of right now. Will I ever get those things done? Yes, eventually one day they will be done. Although not at the same time like I so desire. And that's the way it's gotta be.

Monday, September 26, 2011

9/26/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Farms CSA Small Box

Here's the menu plan for next week. I will be taking a break from menu planning for a few weeks, as we have some family events coming up that will get us out of our routine for a few weeks. I will resume posting these towards the end of October or beginning of November. Enjoy!

Small Box

1 Artichoke
1 French Morning Melon
1 Cherokee Tomato
2 Jalapenos
1 bunch Yellow Carrots
1 pound Yellow Wax Beans
1 bunch French Radish
6 Bi-color Corn
1 Romaine Lettuce
1 pound Summer Squash

*Melon will be balled & prepared to eat with breakfasts & lunch. Lettuce, carrots, corn & Tomato used for lunch salads & sandwiches.

Tuesday, September 27
I have never cooked an artichoke before. Luckily I found this:
Baked Fish

Wednesday, September 28
Fish Tacos (Made with some leftover fish from Tues.)
Black Bean & Corn relish (I'll throw in a tiny bit of Jalepeno)

Thursday, September 29
Burger Night!
Make it whatever kind of burger you want - we're trying to eat less meat, so we'll be opting for some Morningstar Farms burgers.
Corn on the cob
Sweet Potato Fries

Friday, September 30
Yellow Beans & Potatoes
I'll be doing the crock pot version of this:
Grilled Lemon Chicken

Saturday, October 1
Eat Out!

Sunday, October 2
Gyros with Radish Tzatziki
Yes, I know this is a repeat from last week but we loved it! I'll be using vegetarian sausages instead of lamb meat.

Monday, October 3
Summer Squash Casserole
Corn Bread with Jalepenos - I will just use a corn bread mix & add the jalepenos

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Greek Night! Opa! Plus a great way to disguise radishes!

Happy Sunday! Tonight I fixed Bobby Flay's recipe Gyros with Radish Tzatziki. This was highlighted on my menu plan as Thursday's dinner, but we ended up doing it tonight. It turned out wonderful! I absolutely hate radishes. I just cannot stand the taste. When I throw them in a salad, I end up picking them all out. They are a beautiful vegetable though & we've gotten them a few times in our CSA box. I figure we are bound to get more, so I really was on the hunt for some way to incorporate them into our meals in a tasty way. The radish tzatziki was so delicious! So much so that I think I may fix this every time we get radishes. The greek yogurt, onions, garlic, lemon zest & other spices really work together to add a certain zip to the rest of the dish. Instead of lamb meat, I fixed a Tofurkey Italian Sausage & just cut up fresh pineapple tomatoes with a tiny dash of salt to serve on the side. Lesson learned: if there is a produce item you do not like, keep hunting for a recipe that will transform it into something delectable. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall is in the Air! Fall Traditions, Savings & Tips

Happy first day of Fall! I love Fall. Although we do not get a "real" fall here in California, the winds do kick up, days get a little more overcast, & there's definitely a fall feeling in the air. This is my favorite season. It means there are only 3 months left in the year to celebrate, and the holidays are right around the corner. I'd like to share some things I've done to make fall fun, frugal & a little simpler in my household.

Fall Tree
First, I consider the first day of Fall in my house September 1st. Our new family tradition is to put up our Christmas tree on that day. Yes, I said Christmas tree! It's a small fake tree I purchased back in my single days about 10 years ago probably for around $50. It has definitely gotten some great use! We decorate it with orange lights, spiders, jack-o-lanterns, gourds, and some garland of autumn leaves. When November hits, I take off the spiders and turn around the jack-o-lanterns so they look like plain pumpkins for Thanksgiving. Then, the weekend after Thanksgiving all we have to do is swap out the decorations. Being a small tree it's a fairly easy task for our busy family. It's also super frugal since we do not have to spend money on a tree & it lasts a lot longer than a real one. It's a really green option too. We may decide to one day opt for a bigger or even real tree (hopefully a live one that can be replanted), but for now this fits our budget wonderfully and is fun! If you are considering starting a Fall Tree tradition, you might want to mark the day after Halloween on your calendars to hit the craft stores & score some great deals on decorations. Don't forget your coupons! Joann's usually has some wonderful coupons in the Sunday paper.

Halloween Costume Savings

Some people are just now starting to think about what Halloween costumes their kids, or even themselves are going to wear. I want to encourage you to think differently & plan way ahead next year. You could try to estimate what size your kids will be next year, and shop the stores & online for deals after Halloween. I found my kids costumes on a few months ago. Each box listed is only $5 plus shipping, usually totaling $15. They may still have a deal going where your first box is free. I was able to score 3 Halloween costumes for a total of $25. One box had 2 costumes. So, I sold one costume at a local consignment sale ( for, if memory serves me correctly around $8. I also sold another costume we used from last year there. It does take a little estimating to figure out what size growing kids will be. Estimate on the generous side! If you're lucky enough to have hand-me-downs from family & friends that can be a great way to save too! Last year we borrowed a costume from a friend. I also received a costume as a hand-me-down which will most likely fit my daughter next year. I will also be saving my son's costume in hopes that it will fit my daughter the following year. Goodwill is also an excellent place to shop for costumes. Also, if you are handy with the sewing machine, you will have a lot more variety at your fingertips for not too much cash!

Slow Cooker & Freezer Meals
I'd like to highlight 2 websites I recently discovered and absolutely love!
With the cool & busy days upon us, I would like to implement more Crock Pot Meals.
Also, I know a lot of people in colder climates do freezer cooking for the winter. I hope to do some of that too. Passionate Homemaking has what they are calling their "Nutritious Freezer Meal Carnival":
This is where I will be turning to stock my freezer soon!

Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Ahh yes, it's that time of year where you can once again enjoy Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSL's) at Starbuck's again. I have successfully not bought a Starbuck's Latte in a long, long time! Instead, I have been turning in Starbuck's coffee grounds packages for free cups of regular coffee (You can get it iced too). But, I got to thinking, what if I could create my own at home & stumbled upon this at home recipe. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9/19/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Farms CSA Small Box

Every week I want to blog on topics other than just my meal planning. Somehow time is just eaten up and my efforts to simplify life so I would have time to blog about my other adventures just don't pan out. I am hoping this will change soon and I will figure balance & my routines out a little better. In the mean time, my family has to eat, so here goes. :)

We watched the documentary "Forks Over Knives" the other day. It is amazing. I highly recommend this film which is available on streaming Netflix. This will affect the recipes I am choosing, as I will focus more on the veggies and less on the meat & dairy. I am also going to do 1-2 leftover nights. Even when eating leftovers for lunch, I'm finding we just can't eat it all!

Small Box

1 Red Leaf Lettuce
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 White Bell Pepper
1 Brandywine Tomato
1 Pineapple Tomato
1 Green Cabbage
1 Green Kale
1 bunch Easter Radish
1 Galia Melon
1 bunch Round Carrots
1 basket Raspberries

*Lettuce used for salad & sandwiches. Tomatoes, Bell Pepper & some radishes also used for salad. Raspberries eaten with breakfasts, Melon cut up & eaten throughout the day. I gotta admit, I am not too fond of radishes. Blech! If anyone knows any great things to do to them to make them more tasty, please post!

Tuesday September 20

Turkey Sandwiches on whole wheat buns with lettuce & tomato
Kale Chips

Wednesday September 21

Chinese Chicken Salad

Thursday, September 22
I was looking for something different to do with the radishes & came across this yummy looking recipe. Great thing is, you can adapt this according to your needs. If you don't like the lamb, just make the tzatziki to go with another protein or even to use as a bread or veggie dip. He also highlights how to do the grilled tomatoes. So versatile!

Friday, September 23

Round Carrots, Salad & Baked Fish
(A fast food night!)

Saturday, September 24

Eat Out!

Sunday, September 25
Leftover night - chances are we'll have leftovers from our eating out dinner, or even from other dinners & lunches.

Monday, September 26
"Meatless Monday"
I'll be cooking up some Tofu & we'll eat any remaining salad & toss in whatever veggies we have left.
Red Pepper Hummus with Toasted Pita Triangles - I'm just substituting with the peppers that came in the Box.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/12/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Farms CSA Small Box

It's time to plan some wonderful meals again! I am finding that the small box is plenty enough for our family. In fact, we're about a day behind on my planning because we had so many leftovers! So, I will be starting the menu plan on Wednesday instead of Tuesday and opt out of an eating out day to save some cash. Enjoy!

Small Box

1 pound Sugar Snap Peas
1 Tub Orange Gem Tomatoes
1 pound Summer Squash
3 Bi-Color Corn
1 pound Blue Lake Beans
1 bunch Japanese Turnips
2 Green Bell Peppers
1 Green Leaf Lettuce
1 bunch Yellow Carrots

*Salad made with lettuce, carrots, 1 bell pepper, tomatoes, & some leftover corn. I will also be cooking some of the carrots for my baby & toddler and saving a few for the Sloppy Joe recipe.

Wednesday, September 14th

This turnip recipe was so delicious the other week we'll be doing it again!
Marinated Salmon

Thursday, September 15th
Corn on the cob

Friday, September 16th
Chicken with Creamy Mushrooms & Snap Peas

Saturday, September 17th

Summer Squash Sloppy Joe's

Sunday, September 18th
Baked Fish (variety TBD on trip to market)
Using the Blue Lake Beans here instead of the canned beans. I'll need to add a little water - hopefully this will turn out good!

Monday, September 19th
Sunset Patio Pasta using the Bell Pepper & any other appropriate leftover veggies.

Monday, September 5, 2011

9/5/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Farms CSA SMALL Box

I hope everyone is having an amazing Labor Day Weekend! We decided to give the small box a try because we were finding the large box to be just a bit too much. It was a great variety & good amount of stuff, but we found ourselves not being able to quite eat up all of it. So, we'll give the small box a try for the next 4 weeks. The past few weeks I have found the need to flip flop a few recipes. Be flexible with your meal planning. The great thing about planning ahead is that you have a plan and can adapt it as the week goes on. At least you will already have shopped and have the ingredients at home all ready to go no matter what meal you decide on that night. I am also trying out some recipes from a great new website I discovered, With the busy Fall Schedule coming up, I will most likely be doing quite a few of these recipes!

Small Box

1 basket Blackberries
1 Romaine Lettuce
1 bunch Orange Carrots
1 Cherokee Tomato
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Purple Bell Pepper
1 pound Yellow Wax Beans
1 pound Zucchini
1 Classic Eggplant
3 Bi-Color Corn
4 Roma Tomatoes

The raspberries will be eaten with breakfast. Lettuce, once again will be used for both salad & with sandwiches.

Tuesday September 6th
*If you haven't noticed by now, Tuesday is usually our "fast food" night.
Corn on the Cob
French Onion Chicken

Wednesday September 7th
*I have something going on this evening too! Another quickie meal!
We will have leftover chicken from the night before.
Salad using the lettuce, 1-2 tomatoes, leftover corn, 1 Bell Pepper

Thursday September 8th
Sweet & Spicy Yellow Beans
Grilled Steak

Friday September 9th
Cherry Coke Pulled Pork
Carrots (I am boiling the carrots & adding a little butter or spices as needed and per each individuals taste. I need to make them tender enough for my 10 month old to eat.

Saturday September 10th
Eat Out!

Sunday September 11th
Black Bean & Butternut Squash Chilli (Using a Bell Pepper from the box. I am not 100% sure butternut squash is in season, so I will use whatever squash I find.)
Corn Bread

Monday September 12th
"Meatless Monday"
Middle Eastern Eggplant Dish - using eggplant, tomatoes & zucchini
Brown Rice

Monday, August 29, 2011

8/29/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Farms CSA Large Box

It's that time again! Crazy how fast the week goes by and poof! Time to plan another week of meals. The CSA box contents are already posted, so I am tackling the menu planning a little early this week. I am really happy the box contents are posted a bit early because I need to go to the store tomorrow & love it when I can combine trips! This will hopefully allow me to focus on some other projects tomorrow night. A few things I wanted to note. We will be giving the Small CSA Box a try for the next 4 weeks. Also, just a reminder to be flexible. I do this menu plan in order to maintain some of my sanity and not stress out over what to have for dinner. I am not one of those types who can just look in the pantry & fridge & whip a delicious dish out of seemingly random ingredients. This week I found myself not exactly cooking the meals as planned. I flip flopped 2 nights and we had a bunch of leftovers so one meal I did not even cook. So, I am sticking some meat in the freezer for future use. Also, this menu plan is good to use as a guide, or a way to get a recipe idea or 2 for your week. What's good or seems tasty to my family may not seem as tasty or even practical for your family. Underwood has some posts on their blog as well with additional recipes made with ingredients from the CSA boxes:


1 Yellow Seedless Watermelon
1 Red Leaf Lettuce
1 bunch Gold Beets
1 bunch Easter Radish
1 Brandywine Heirloom Tomato
1 pound Summer Squash
5 Bi-color Corn
1 bunch Mizuna
1 Classic Eggplant
1 pound Pickling Cucumbers
1 Yellow Bell Pepper

Again, I will be balling the watermelon mainly for my kids - they love it! It also makes for a tasty snack for mom & dad. I will be using the lettuce for both a salad & for accompanying sandwiches and burgers. Some mizuna, some corn, radishes, and the tomato will end up in the salad too. I am also going to try my hand at pickling the cucumbers. Here is the recipe I am going to try. I love that this recipe is so easy & you can just simply place the cucumbers in the jars. These will make a great pairing with sandwiches:

*We have a need for a "fast food" meal this night.
Fish Sticks
Corn on the Cob

Turkey Meatloaf (using Yellow Bell Pepper instead of the Red.)
Salad (There will be leftover salad from Tuesday!)

Eat Out! This is our date night this week.

Eggplant & Sweet Sausage Bake

Roasted Balsamic Beets

Grilled Chicken
Summer Squash with Turmeric Butter

MONDAY (Labor Day!)

I've already used up all my veggies for the week! We will be grilling some burgers. I will most likely have some ripe tomatoes from our own plant to put on the burgers, along with some sweet potato fries.

Have a great week and safe holiday!

Monday, August 22, 2011

8/22/11 Menu Plan Monday: Underwood Farms CSA Large Box

Here's what the box contains this week:

Large Box:
1 pound Yellow Zucchini
3 Bi-color Corn
1 Yellow Seedless Watermelon
1 Green Leaf Lettuce
1 pound Blue Lake Beans
1 Texas Sweet Onion
1 Sharlyn Melon
1 bunch Rainbow Chard
1 basket Raspberries

*Melons will be cut up to feed the kiddos & for dessert.
*Raspberries will be served with breakfast.
*Some Lettuce will be prepared for use on sandwiches & on burgers.


(We need something super quick this evening! So, this is my version of fast food.)
Corn on the Cob
All Beef Hot Dogs (I use Hebrew National)on whole wheat buns

Salad (Using the lettuce, extra corn from Tues, & some bell peppers that are still good from last week)
Burgers (without buns)


Pan Roasted Cowboy Rib Eye with Creamed Swiss Chard

Alton Brown's "Best Ever Green Bean Casserole"

Eat Out! (We always eat out on Saturdays.)

This is my Birthday, so I am not cooking.

Vegetable Couscous
I will be leaving out the yellow squash.
If I have leftover zucchini, which I think I will, I'll make zucchini bread:

Have a great week! I am now off to a late night supermarket run to make sure I have all the necessary ingredients.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: CSA Large Box from Underwood Farms

Hello! Tomorrow I will be picking up our 3rd CSA Box from Underwood Farms in Moorpark, California. So far we love it! It really is forcing my family to eat more produce and less processed stuff, and it's a fun way to try new recipes. Every Tuesday afternoon I pick up the box. That afternoon & evening I immediately tackle prepping the food. This includes washing the lettuce, cutting up fruit we will eat right away, and prepping veggies. With the veggies washed, cut & ready to go I am more likely to use them. My days & weeks are extremely busy. Luckily I've been able to fix the veggies as I go along throughout the week, but with not much time on my hands, I found myself at 5pm getting ready to fix dinner & thinking what am I going to do with this stuff?! Today I took the time to plan ahead and look up a recipe, with the eggplant being the focus for our meal tonight. Wow what a difference in the quality and tastiness of the dish when I take time to plan! I chose this quick and easy Rachael Ray recipe. My husband and I are not huge eggplant fans, so I thought this would be a great way to incorporate it without it being the dominating flavor. I modified the recipe slightly based on what I had on hand and also included a cherry pepper from the box to kick the flavor up a notch. As Rachael would say, Yummo!
This got me thinking, if I prepare for each week like this, I would lessen the stress I put on myself every night as dinnertime approaches, and we would have much tastier experiences. So, I am going to attempt to plan out my meals for the next week every Monday night. The veggies I am receiving in the box are posted and I am ready to dive in to a new week. Hopefully this will also help fellow Underwood CSA lovers plan their meals as well. I should also preface this meal planning by saying we are a family of four, including a 2.5 year old and a 10 month old infant. That does affect some of the planning as the baby is not eating everything yet (she doesn't have any teeth yet!) and my toddler can be picky. I like to fix easy to make meals, and love things my husband and I can also have the next day for lunch. I also hope to do some freezer meals in the future. At this point I am also just focusing on planning dinners. I know some meal plans go the whole 9 yards and include breakfast lunch & snacks. This simple mama is not ready for that yet! Baby Steps. Ok, so here we go!

Week of August 15th:
1 Yellow Sweet Bell Pepper
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Purple Bell Pepper
1 Hungarian Bell Pepper
1 Black Beauty Bell Pepper
1 Red Leaf Lettuce
1 bunch Japanese Turnips
1 bunch Mizuna
1 bunch Bok Choy
1 Saticoy Melon
1 Galia Melon
1 Ambrosia Melon
1 Hass Avocado
1 bunch French Radish
1 Cherokee Heirloom Tomato

My immediate thoughts: Stuffed Peppers & what the heck is Mizuna?! We will eat the Melons as is, no recipe needed. When I prep a melon, I use a melon baller and scoop out the entire thing, storing the balls in a container in the fridge. My teething baby especially likes the cold melon on her gums. I use the most ripe melon first, and do not ball the others until ready to serve. I also do not need a recipe for the avocado - that will be gone the first day served with eggs for breakfast. The tomato will also be eaten right away either on sandwiches or as a snack. I will immediately wash & prep the Red Leaf Lettuce. Some I will keep whole for putting on sandwiches, and some I will cut up & put in a large salad bowl. I will also include some Mizuna in the salad. I will also cut up all of the radishes, placing some in the salad. Last week I had way too many radishes. I need to find something else to do with them. So, my recipes will need to focus on the peppers, turnips, mizuna, bok choy & radishes.

Green Beans (From last weeks box) tossed with soy sauce & sesame seeds
Chicken Breasts
Salad (I have some radishes & corn left from last week I will be tossing in this salad. Plus my toddler will eat a corn on the cob.)

Braised Radishes
Fish Sticks (Yes, we do occasionally eat more "convenient" foods that my toddler likes too!)

Slow Cook a Whole Chicken
Pasta tossed with Chicken, Mizuna, tomato, onion, & garlic (much like the Rachael Ray recipe mentioned in the beginning of this post.

Marinated Wild Alaskan Salmon (frozen - from Costco - so easy!)
Black Beans (Prepared ahead of time - I soaked & slow cooked a huge batch, placing some in the freezer to use later.)
Bok Choy - cooked with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper


Sauteed Japanese Turnips
Chicken Alfredo & Pesto French Bread Pizza (using the Slow Cooker Chicken.)

*I try to make Mondays "Meatless Mondays."
Make a salad with any leftover veggies.
Morningstar Farms Veggie or Blackbean Burgers (We usually have both in the freezer.)
Sweet Potato Fries

So, I just finished all this planning & I forgot all about the BELL PEPPERS! We're getting 5 of them! It's 11:52pm & I'm tired! Guess we'll just cut some up for the salad, throw some in the pasta dish & use some for snacks. Goodnight & have a great week!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect: Trying My Hand at a Rainbow Cake

My daughters first birthday is coming up in 2 months. I saw a blog a while ago on making a Rainbow Cake and thought - "How pretty! I could do that!" Unfortunately, I couldn't find the original blog I looked at, but I did find this one, with an easy to follow recipe.

I've done things without practicing before and let's just say they've not worked out quite as well as I would have liked. So, I thought I better practice. With only 2 months, and not too much cake making time on my hands I got to this ASAP! I got all of the ingredients needed. I opted to use the diet lemon-lime soda substitution for this recipe, because quite frankly we do not need the extra calories at the moment. For the actual birthday cake I will be using all the normal ingredients of eggs, oil etc. I know this cake is filled with chemicals from the diet soda & the gel food coloring, but I have to agree with the Omnomicon author on this one - I am not feeding my family this every night for a month, just an occasional indulgence. And rest assured, the baby will not be eating this version - only the one with the real ingredients!

Here's the final product:

And the Inside:

I doubled the recipe & have to say this makes for some HUGE cake slices! I will try the single recipe for the next practice cake. We're having a very small celebration, so the smaller cake may be more appropriate not only for the celebration but our waistlines as well! Also, I used the neon gel colors as those were the only ones the grocery store had. I would much prefer to have the classic colors.

I am quite pleased with how my first stab at Rainbow Cake turned out. What better way to celebrate at 12:04am than with a slice of rainbowy heaven and a tall glass of milk?! Oh, and the diet lemon-lime soda substitution tastes quite yummy!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Preparing for Our First CSA Box!

This coming week we will be trying out a large box of produce, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Box from a local farm. It's a great way to get healthy fresh produce and support our local farmers. We are trying to eat more healthy and add more fruits and veggies to our diet, so I'm hoping this box will inspire us to do that. I am also anticipating it will help introduce us to produce we normally would not buy. We're trying the CSA program from Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark, CA. The cost for a large box is around $25. Based on what I currently spend at the grocery store, and the fact that every time I go to their produce stand I end up spending around $30, this is a very reasonable cost and an investment for our family's health. They have a deal going right now where if you sign up for a subscription you get 1 week FREE! (See link below.) If we end up liking the CSA program, another great benefit is that we get free admission to the farm! Our family loves this farm and all of the wonderful activities they have for the kids. We currently have season passes, but if we continue as active CSA members, we won't have to pay for the season pass, another added money saving benefit!

It's the weekend now, so I have a tiny bit of extra time on my hands, but once the busy week begins, I have found it really hard to just plan meals day by day. So, some meal planning is in order. I used to meal plan every week, but I fell off the wagon. Luckily this farm posts what you're going to get in the box ahead of time. I am using to search for recipes. I love this site because it's customizable. You enter what food you have as well as staples in your pantry and it comes up with a list of recipes. You simply click on the ingredient you want to highlight & it lists a whole bunch of recipes for that item. So, for example, I am getting the following in my box this week:

1 basket Raspberries
3 Bi-color Corn
1 Green Leaf Lettuce
1 bunch Red Chard
1 Cherokee Tomato
1 Texas Sweet Onion
1 French Morning Melon
1 Saticoy Melon
1 pound Yellow Wax Beans

I entered these items into my Supercook account and updated some other staples in my pantry. I first decided to highlight the chard, since I don't think I've ever cooked it! Immediately a whole list of links to recipes showed up. I chose a chard & beans recipe, thinking it will be a great way to use 2 of the week's ingredients together. I will continue with other produce as well as some chicken and beef I have on hand to continue my meal planning for the week. I am planning on doing this on a weekly basis, writing the plan on a magnetic calendar I have on my refrigerator. I am also going to print out the recipes and arrange them in order on a magnetic clip on my refrigerator as well. With a little planning, meal time will be a little less stressful and a lot more tasty!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Our Frugal Journey . . . A Summary of Our Family's Frugal Adventures - So Far

For the past few years, my husband & I have been chipping away at living a more frugal lifestyle.  We are doing this because we have certain goals, values, and ways we want to live our life in the future in mind.  We have done a lot, little by little.  I have really been amazed at how some of the changes we have implemented have positively affected our lives.  Some of the positive outcomes were expected like being able to get out of all consumer debt, and saving more.  Other positive affects were a surprise, like actually enjoying life more without cable.  I do not miss cable at all!  Here I have compiled a list of things we have implemented.  We are still learning a lot, and still in progress, but this is definitely an exciting journey we are on!

1.  Cut Cable

2.  Cut traditional phone line & switched to Voice Over IP (VOIP)

3.  Shop for best internet service price and switch to another if a better deal is found - you may have to do this every few years.

4.  Switched to pre-paid cell phone plans.

5.  Use iPod Touch instead of opting for a smart phone - you have the benefit of the same apps, and with so many public places offering free wifi, you really can't go wrong.  Plus no data fees!

6.  When our family grew we saved up and paid for a used mini-van in full. No car payments, saved a ton over buying a new car (which loses 25% as soon as you drive it off the lot), and saved a ton in interest!!

7.  Keeping our other car (which has been paid off for years) and opting to pay for repairs when needed instead of buying another.

8.  I am using cloth diapers most of the time with my youngest.  I also used these with my oldest, so I am getting a lot of mileage out of them!  I could write a whole other blog post on how much these save!

9.  Trying to not use as many paper towels. Instead I am using more kitchen towels, rags, flour sack towels, and glass cleaning towels.  (Smart & Final has great prices on glass cleaning & flour sack towels!)

10.  I make my own cleaning solutions with vinegar & baking soda.  These are super cheap at Costco - a huge jug of vinegar is under $4!  I still have other household cleaners I am using up so they don't go to waste & a few I will rebuy, but for those I only get when on sale & if I have a coupon.

11.  We have recently started our own "Extreme Couponing!"  We're still learning a lot, but already we have saved a ton & on products we actually like & use.  It's not just junk either (although I did get a free candy bar today)!  This weekend alone I got 2 free razors and my husband got paid to take 2 toothbrushes from the store.  We are figuring out a couponing strategy which best meets our families needs. A great resource for couponing info. and classes is:
12.  I follow several frugal sites on Facebook & am alerted to deals and freebies.

13.  We have taken time to ask other frugal people what they are doing and seize opportunities to learn more.  We recently graduated from Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, an amazing course.  I also take tips from friends - I am now shopping for produce at Sprouts, which has double ad Wednesdays to maximize savings thanks to a friend's advice.

14.  I rarely buy new clothes for my kids.  They are either hand me downs or bought at consignment sales.

15.  Craigslist!  We have scored some great deals on higher priced items on Craigslist.  We got a train table for $25!  I even got my gym membership on Craigslist, as I found someone who had moved away & was looking for someone to take over the contract.  Thanks to another friend who recommended I look there for this deal - I now save approximately $40 off the current price for this membership!

16.  Online shopping - sometimes online is the way to go , pending shipping costs don't offset the savings.  I've been very pleased with Amazon, especially with the Amazon Mom program.  I am enjoying free shipping for a year now because of that program.  Always google to see if there's a coupon code when online shopping or check out

17.  Eat out less often.  Also, we look for coupons & deals like kids eat free.

18.  Enjoy free or nearly free family activites; parks, beach, running through the sprinklers, the list of free stuff you can enjoy is too long to list here!

19.  Gardening - I am starting small with just a bell pepper & tomato plant.  It's so exciting to see the veggies growing!  I am getting a ton of veggies - way cheaper than buying at the market.

20.  Selling things we are not using on ebay, through consignment, or Craigslist.

21.  Learning to be content with what we have & having fun getting creative with things.  I am a sucker for organizing products; baskets, bins, cute boxes, but those can be expensive.  I have learned to accept that my house does not have to look like the homes in Martha Stewart Magazine.  It's ok that my recycle bin in the laundry room is a diaper box, and one day when I have time I can decorate it.

22.  Getting as much mileage as possible out of products:  cutting dryer sheets in half (by the way I returned the dryer balls I mentioned in a previous post - just not worth it), trying to use less of products, squeezing as much as possible out of bottles, etc.

23.  Dying my own hair.  I did have to switch hair color, as I just could not get the blonde right, but I love the change.  This hair applicator has made the process of doing it myself so easy:

I'm sure there are other things I am not thinking of right now.  It is quite late (12:32am).  I am having a moment of inspiration and want sum up everything we've done.  I have other things I plan on implementing which I will cover in future posts.  Hopefully some of these ideas will inspire you too.  Please share what you are doing too! Have a great week!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

FREE Father's Day Gifts at Vistaprint!!! (Just Pay Shipping) AND MORE!!

Thank you to my friends at She Saved, I was alerted to a deal Vistaprint has right now to get 6 Father's Day gifts FREE!

When you go to the website highlights the 6 Free products you can get on the first page. They include a mug, t-shirt, business cards, mouse pad, photo flip book, and desk calendar. I started with customizing a t-shirt.  That was pretty easy, although I had to type pretty slow.  Be sure to proofread very carefully! After that it gets a little tricky.  I could not get back to the first page that highlighted the 6 free gifts.  Very frustrating. I then went to type in the free products in a search box, only to find there was no search box.  I had to go to the homepage (which was different from my first screen) and click on the "Free Products" category both under "Business" and "Home & Family."  I managed to find the free desk calendar.  I could not however locate the free mug, mouse pad or photo flip book.  Business cards I found but I didn't want those.  I noticed that there were other free products available such as pens, invitations, rubber stamps, bumper stickers & checks.  So, in my first order I got a t-shirt, desk calendar, pen, and bumper sticker.  I paid $6.82 in shipping.  I then was able to start over again at  I placed a second order for a mug, pen, bumper sticker, and 10 invitations and paid $6.61 in shipping.  Not to shabby to get all of that for a grand total of $13.43.  I am using the t-shirt, mug, pens, desk calendar, 1 bumper sticker (for a craft) for Father's Day gifts.  I am using the other bumper sticker as a colorful way to label a notebook and the invitations I customized with a princess theme for my daughters 1st birthday.  Her birthday is not for a few months, but I did not want to pay extra shipping at a later time & I can still add all the details to the invitation very easily by myself & still have it look professional.  So get your creative juices flowing!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Downgrading Cell Phones, Upgrading Future

While it seems that everyone else is getting smart phones, we just downgraded to plain jane phones & pay as you go plans. This cut our bill in half from $80 to $40/month for 2 cell phones. It pays to evaluate how many minutes/texts you really truly need & are actually using & adjust from there. Our iPod Touches are fun to use where there is wifi, and those have no data charges. I personally find it liberating to not be connected all the time. Believe me, I get enough connectivity on my laptop at home! I guess I just want to focus more on being in the present & not being so connected to a screen. We also have an Ooma home phone (VOIP) which after paying for the unit, which we got at Costco, only costs under $4/month. This saves us approximately $35/month. I know some people need the smart phones for work obligations etc. I'm just putting this thought out there for some to ponder about . . .Remember when cell phones were for mainly for emergency use? Do you really need to be this connected all the time? I do agree that cell phones are handy to use if you're meeting friends when out & about etc., and I still plan to use mine for those purposes. Our savings by doing these things is $75/month or $900/year. Think about what you could do if you had similar savings. Pay off debt? Put it to a better use? If you have kids think about this: If you put that money in a savings account, not even adding in any gains on investments, you would have $16,200 in 18 years. Now that's a nice chunk of a college fund! Even after taking into consideration the costs of the units ($29 per cell phone, $229 for the ipod, and around $200 for the Ooma), the breakeven points are really early on & you start seeing the savings right away. I'm sure some people think we're a little crazy for cutting back like we have been lately, but doing without some of the little things that are truly wants for us and not needs can really pay off in bigger ways in the future. Thank you Financial Peace University for inspiring us! I hope some others out there are inspired to do things like this too :) It's so much fun to save!  As Dave Ramsey says, "Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Week of my Favorite Blogs: iHeart Organizing

Hello!  It's been a while.  Sometimes life just gets a little crazy.  My 2 kids are amazingly napping at the same time right now.  This will probably be short lived so I am doing a short post.  I thought I would share this week some of my favorite blogs.  Today I will highlight iHeart Organizing.  I was recently introduced to this blog by a friend of mine (Thanks Jennifer T!) & absolutely love it!  Jen Jones is the author and has a house that is absolutely inspiring.  She even has an Etsy shop where you can buy customized checklists as well as an Amazon store with some of her favorite products.  Many of her DIY projects are very frugal yet stylish.  I hope you enjoy browsing it as much as I do - I will highlight other blogs I follow throughout the week.  I often turn to these as inspiration.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

I follow another great Blog, Frugal Granola, which I highly recommend.  Michelle writes about "Living a Simple & Sustainable Life of Passion for God, Family, Organic Food, & Bargain Shopping."  So much how I wish to live my life as well!  She does a "Menu Plan Monday" each week where she plans out breakfast, lunch & dinner for the week, including activities she needs to do to prepare foods for those meals.  This kind of planning definitely lends to a more simpler life in my household.  While I only plan out dinner, it makes the week go so much smoother.  I'm happier because I am not frazzled, my kids are happy to have good food, my husband gets to come home to a fresh cooked meal, and we can enjoy a family dinner together.  Let's face it, there are those days when I don't plan, and when the 5 o'clock hour rolls around, I am frazzled, tired, and stare at the fridge & cupboard with no idea what to make, and totally unmotivated to cut up produce or cook at all.  However, if I put a little effort into planning dinner for the week, I find dinner prep to be a much easier experience.  When planning, I take into consideration activities for the week.  If I have a particularly busy day, or if we have an evening activity planned, I make sure to do a super easy dinner, perhaps even a slow cooker meal.  Also, if there's any prep involved, I try to cut things up or defrost if necessary the day before.  This doesn't always happen, but when it does, I am so glad I prepared!  This preparation also helps me utilize what I already have & have less food spoil or go to waste.  I'm not caught in the "I don't have anything to make so I'm going to go shopping again mode."  I also have heard of people planning on a longer term scale, such as the whole month.  This allows for use of value sized foods that can be split up & frozen for the month, saving money.  Do what works for you.  I personally like planning on a weekly basis.  I also plan on shopping at a local farm more often, so the fresh produce I get each week will have a lot to do with my planning as well.  Cheers to healthy eating & some added simplicity to the crazy evening hours!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Today's Frugal Activity: Dryer Balls

On my quest to live frugally this year, I am hoping to discover little changes in my lifestyle that could add up to big savings in the long run.  I have a huge pile of laundry I am trying to conquer today.  With a family of 4, a dog, and a baby who has just entered the frequent spit up stage, we have a lot of laundry!  I look for good deals on my favorite detergent & use coupons for it when I have them.   I also use dryer sheets, but this is an area I can save money on.  I have one box of dryer sheets left.  Today I am going to cut those sheets in half to get double the use out of them.  I am also going to purchase dryer balls, which means no more need to purchase dryer sheets!  I don't use fabric softener, but apparently dryer balls eliminate the use of that as well.  From what I've researched online, if you gave a family of 2, you could probably get by with 2 balls.  Larger families, or if you want fluffier laundry, add more.  I am going to start with 4 balls.  I'm going to try these Nelie's Dryer Balls.  They got good reviews, and come with a 2 year buy-back guarantee.  I'm also buying these from Amazon, as we get Amazon Gift Cards periodically & I am earning Swagbucks to get Amazon Gift Cards as well.  (I'll most likely do another blog on Swagbucks - I'm still pretty new to the system & learning about it more!)  Living in sunny California, I could save even more money if I dry my clothes on a clothesline & save the energy of the dryer.  But, sometimes when trying to live a simple, green & frugal life all together, I need to make the decision to go for convenience every so often to save my lifestyle from getting too crazy busy.  I do have a small clothesline installed on my porch as well as some hanging lines in my laundry room to hang dry stuff that cannot go in the dryer.  Maybe one day when the kids are a little older I'll have some more time on my hands to utilize a clothesline, but for now I choose the dryer!  On a trip to Greece we stayed in an apartment in Athens and got to experience using a clothesline on the rooftop as the did not have a dryer.  I actually liked the experience!  The clothes came out a little crunchy, but I'm sure there is a way to prevent that if I ever go that route.  At least we have front loading HE, Energy Star machines to save some energy.  I also try to run loads that are completely full, which is no problem for us!  I keep a bag for dirty dust rags & once they accumulate to fill the bag, I then do one big load of dust rags only. Now how much money will these balls really save?  I found one article that put dryer balls to the test - they found the following: "What about the cost savings to you? We put a calculator to it. Let's say you dry six loads of laundry a week. The cost to do that is roughly $100 per year. But, when you use the dryer balls and cut your time by 15%, you save $15. On top of that, you will not have to buy dryer sheets, at approximately $20 a year. A $35 savings over the next three years will give you a total savings of $105."

I do more than 6 loads of laundry a week, which means we get to save even more!  Subtract the cost of the dryer balls themselves, and we still save.  Every little bit helps.
Happy Laundering! 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fighting the Clutter Battle: Weekly

I look forward to Friday every week.  But probably not for the reason you're thinking.  Friday is trash day!  It's the day that so much stuff is purged from our home.  It's kind of amazing how much trash we generate each week.  Luckily we have more recycling than trash, but it's still a lot.  I want to work on reducing it this year.  We have a composter in our yard, we're just not using it.  Considering the fact that I hate worms, I don't know if I'll personally take on that task or not. I know by living more frugally & focusing on only buying things we really need, the trash should be reduced as well. I am always eager to get rid of excess packaging.  It's amazing how much extra cardboard or paper products are involved in household goods.  I just can't stand it though - it takes up so much extra space!  As soon as I get stuff home from the store, I usually shed the packaging, unless it's an item I am seriously considering returning if it doesn't work out.  Some goods like freezer goods from Costco we have to shed packaging right away, otherwise it wouldn't fit in our freezer! But I also find that shedding packaging of other stuff helps to take up less room, and I can more easily organize.  For example, I like to have 2 tubes of toothpaste in reserve for my husband & I.  I bought some toothpaste (with coupons) the other day & immediately opened the boxes up, put them in the recycling bin & put the toothpaste tubes in our bathroom drawer.  They take up so much less space that way.  On Thursdays I love scanning the house in search for what else I can get rid of. I have to be careful not to fall into the "but I might use this one day" trap.  Ah how I hate clutter, but I also hate things going to waste.  Sometimes though I just decide to ditch the thing, even if it means money went down the drain.  It is very rare that I have thought "darn, I wish I hadn't thrown that thing away."  In fact, I cannot even think of an example of that.  This week I really want to challenge myself to seek out things we are really not using & ditching them or find someone who can use the item.  As I sit here now, I know of one item I need to just toss - an anti-fungal toenail treatment.  This is a little embarrassing to admit, but this example demonstrates a point.  A few months ago I started having pain on my big toes.  I thought I may have some type of fungal thing considering my toenails were yellowish - turns out it was just from constant nail polish wear & I had ingrown nails, which required an entirely different treatment regimen.  (On a completely unrelated topic, I am now "detoxing" my toenails - not polishing them & just working on them myself to get them back to their beautiful more natural state & saving money on pedicures!) I had spent $14.99 on this fungal treatment that I didn't even need.  I had never needed this stuff previously in my life either.  It's just not a health issue I deal with or could foresee myself dealing with in the future.  But there it is, sitting on my medicine cabinet shelf.  I look at it every time I open my medicine cabinet - which is at least twice a day when I do my night & morning routines.  It's not an item I can pass on to someone else who would use it.  I mean, what am I going to do, advertise on Facebook to my family & friends saying - hi does anyone need any foot treatment I used once?  Yuck!  So right now I am just going to toss the darn thing.  There, I got up & threw it in the wastebasket. Does wasting $14.99 hurt?  Yes indeed.  But in order to have an uncluttered life, we sometimes have to just cut our losses & let go.  I can think of some cleaning products we have as well I just need to get rid of, which no longer fit my desire to use more natural cleaning products.  There they are taking up space in my cabinet because "I might use them one day" and "I'm wasting money if I throw them away."  They haven't been used, nor do they align with the healthier way I want to keep my home clean for my family.  So out they go!  I challenge you to do a similar scan & shed each week in your home the day before trash day.  It's a great way to fight the clutter battle on a weekly basis, and feel the freedom of having less.

I need to get one of these compost waste collectors!  That way we have an easy way to collect kitchen waste & carry it to the yard.  Getting over my fear of worms has to start somewhere :).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Confessions of a Holiday Card Shredder

Yesterday was Epiphany, "a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi."  I also recently learned that many people keep their holiday decorations up until January 6th in celebration of Epiphany.  I took my indoor decorations down last weekend, but the wreath & lights remain, most likely to be taken down tomorrow.  I like the idea of Epiphany & working more meaning into the holidays rather than focusing on the commercialism of it all, and I think we'll start this tradition in our family.  Besides the wreath & lights, I also have a huge pile of holiday cards on my kitchen counter.  Every year I add a page to our family Christmas photo card scrapbook with our own photo.  It's fun to see how we have changed each year & will be so special to look back on as the kids grow up.  I have to confess though, with a bit of guilt, that I shred everyone else's cards.  I just don't have room or time to keep them all.  So I'm sorry if you're reading this and sent us a card, and now have visions of your beautiful family's face going into the shredder.  :( I do take the time to sit down and look at everyone's picture and messages one last time.  As I do this I say a prayer for each family for them to have health, peace & prosperity in the New Year.  For those who have a bit more time on their hands, I've also heard of people creating photo albums or scrapbooks to keep all of these photos in every year, which would be another lovely option.  
I try to go green whenever possible.  I just googled if photo paper could be recycled, and am quite disappointed that it cannot be.  The majority of the cards we got are on photo paper.  I saw a suggestion from a post online that you could cut the decorations off the cards & use them for kids crafts & scrapbooking.  I love scrapbooking, but have not had the time lately, and my kids are a little too young for this type of craft, so unfortunately this year the shreds go in the trash, with the exception of a few paper cards which I'll recycle.  This also makes me re-think our card option for 2011.  I had planned on going through Costco again, which had a deal where you get 50 photo cards plus a bonus 4 photo calendar cards for $14.99.  The lady at the photo center also informed me that if you plan ahead & do your pictures in November, they usually have a $5 off coupon, which means you'd get this deal for $10.99!  Wow that would fit our budget & be awesome for my resolution of living frugally in 2011!  But, it's not the most environmentally friendly option.  Photo cards done through Send Out Cards, Tiny Prints, Shutterfly, or other retailers that indicate cardstock or paper would be great viable options if you've got some extra cash & want the environmentally friendly option.  I'll re-evaluate which path we'll take come Fall :).  So, this afternoon I am praying for many families whom have blessed our lives & getting rid of some clutter in the process.  

Please share your ideas & what you do with holiday cards!  (And please reassure me I am not the only one who ends up throwing them away!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Simplifying New Year's Resolutions: Resolution #3: "Live Frugally"

My 3rd & final Resolution for 2011 is to "Live Frugally."  I already try to keep our family spending to a minimum, but I think I could really step it up a notch.  We are a single income family, as I am staying home to raise our 2 kiddos.  It does require some extra work to make 1 income work, but for us it's worth forgoing the extras we used to enjoy before kids & when I was in the workforce.  Bye-bye wine club!  Seriously though, I really feel like it wasn't too hard of a transition.  Saving money has actually become quite a fun hobby for me. We've already implemented a lot, which I'll share in another blog post.  What I would like to see in 2011 is to unearth things I haven't done yet to stretch our dollar even further.  I'm a huge fan of Dave Ramsey - as he would say "Live like no one else so you can live like no one else."  I know I can be smarter about coupons without the effort taking over my life.  I want to ask myself even more - "Is this a need or a want?" Do I really need that Starbucks coffee today, or could I make do with brewing some coffee at home & for a treat adding a smidge of whipped cream?  I'm not talking about totally denying ourselves some little luxuries, but we're big Starbuck's fans & I want it to be more of a treat than a usual thing.  Our bank account would thank us for that!  I also know we could look into ways to cut down our electric, water & other utilities.  I am already a during-the-day-at-home-cloth-diaperer, but I know I would save even more if I can do cloth diapering at night & when out & about too.  Overnight diapers are expensive!  I just bought a box for our son today & could have saved $20! If you are interested in implementing a frugal lifestyle, it may take on an entirely different definition for you & your family.  Everyone is in a different situation.  I am excited to share my journey with you & to have a dialogue about how to save even more.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Simplifying New Year's Resolutions: Resolution #2: Be a Health Nut

My 2nd Resolution is to "Be a Health Nut."  For me & my family that simply means buying more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, (organic when possible), and staying away from processed foods, especially sweets.  (Although we will still indulge in the occasional piece of dark chocolate or a frozen yogurt.)  When at the grocery store, I am going to concentrate on shopping the perimeter of the store where all the "real" food is.  I will keep the processed stuff to a minimum & not be drawn into the "deals" offered by store specials & coupons on food.  (I'll concentrate my couponing on non-food items.) I also am going to try & get the bulk of our shopping done at Trader Joe's & Farmer's Markets.  We used to eat like this a lot when we were first married.  2 kids later we have too often fallen into the convenience food trap & our waistlines are showing it!  I am still nursing our daughter (an awesome calorie burner!), so I am not going to worry about counting calories.  I still have 20lbs to lose out of the 40 I gained from the pregnancy.  I'm not even going to concentrate on the numbers on the scale.  Between eating healthier & being active with my kids every day, the weight should naturally come off.  If it doesn't in the next year, then I'll look to take further measures in 2012 like stepping up the workout routine.  Throughout the year I will post easy healthy recipes I come across that we try out & like.  I also want to do more research into what foods are good to ward off sickness & good for the heart.  I think the hardest part of this resolution for me is to snack on things like fruit, veggies & healthy nuts instead of processed stuff.  My kitchen is currently only filled with healthy stuff - so I'm not giving myself the option!  I am also going to pack my husband's lunches as much as possible & keep eating out to a minimum - eating out will become a treat for us instead of a regular occurrence.  This will also help with my next Resolution of Living Frugally. Happy Tuesday & cheers to eating healthy in 2011!