Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Frugal Gardening 101- Humble Beginnings

Finally, something blooming!


I posted back in March about our garden aspirations for this year. Since then, we've had a few obstacles come up. Our first batch of seeds did fantastic, but our cats decided the little seedlings looked delicious and ate the tops of all but one. Sigh. So, we started over.

Then as April rolled around, the old adage about April showers really proved to be true. We had several weeks of nonstop rain and cloudy days. The ground couldn't be tilled, and is just today being done. Although I can't really complain about storms and rain, compared to the devastation the folks down south are dealing with.

So, today we're tilling the ground and getting started planting the cool weather crops. Potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots, turnips, radishes, peas and cabbage will be planted over the next few days. We have 6 varieties of tomatoes, jalapenos and bell peppers, and eggplant growing in our basement under a grow light.

Here they are, and check out our super professional setup:


There on the left is the lone tomato plant that survived the Kitty Massacre of 2011, all of the others are still pretty young. Hopefully they will be ready to go outside at the end of this month.



If you see the spot in the back, that was a shed we tore down to expand our garden. The plot up front is last year's garden, which will we use as well. The new garden will go from the back of the fence, up to the tree.


A local guy we know has a huge tiller and will come do the yard for about $20, which is much cheaper than renting or buying a tiller. He's coming today, and I'm super excited! Then we can finally get some things in the ground. Hopefully in the next few weeks we'll be dining on fresh from the garden lettuce, spinach, kale and radishes!


This post is linked to Frugal Gardening 101 at The Finer Things in Life

Stepping Into The Coupon World

For years I've marveled at the coupon divas who could get such great stuff for so little. I've considered trying coupons, but it always seemed so confusing and overwhelming. Plus, we're trying to get away from processed foods. This is what I've told myself every time I considered diving in. This past Sunday, we were getting gas and I ran in to pay. The Sunday papers were staring at me, and I impulsively bought one. We've got a 3 month totally unpaid maternity leave coming up, so stocking up on some essentials seemed like a good idea. Here's what I've found so far:

Target:

Pantene Mousse & Hair Gel- $3.50/each
$3/Two Coupon From Sunday Paper
= 2/$4
Gillette Mach 3 Razors- on sale for $6.74
B1G1 Coupon From Paper
=$6.74/2

Kroger:

Ivory Body Wash- On Sale $10/10
$1/1 Manufacturer Coupon
=Free! I was pretty excited about this one.

CVS:

I finally signed up for an Extra Care Bucks card, and found a promotion that would give me a bunch of ECB's to start off with.

Maalox & Benefiber- Buy $20 in Maalox, Prevacid, Benefiber and get 10 ECB
Dawn- On Sale for .99
.25 Manufacturer Coupon
= .74
Dawn Plus- On Sale .99
.50 Manufacturer Coupon
=.49

So I wound up with 2 super cheap Dawn dish soaps, and $10 in ECB to use on my next purchase. My goal is to buy things that earn ECB's WITH my ECB's and hopefully get them for free or nearly so.

Walmart:

Glade Spring Collection Candle- On Sale $2.50
Up to 3.99 Free Manufacturer Coupon
= FREE! Love that.
Air Wick Air Freshener- On Sale .97
B1G1 Manufacturer Coupon x2
= .48/each
Gillette Mach 3 Razors On Sale $6.50
B1G1 Manufacturer Coupon
=6.50/2 ( My husband flies through razors so this was a GREAT deal)

Cub Foods:

Equaline Bandages- .69 with in-store coupon

Duncan Hines Brownie Mix- On Sale w/in-store coupon .77
.50/1 Manufacturer Coupon
=.27

Crest ProClinical Toothpaste- On Sale $3.06
$2/1 Manufacturer Coupon
= $1.06

Kashi Cereal- On Sale 2/$4
$1/1 Manufacturer Coupon x2
=$1 ea

LOVE this one. Kashi is some of my favorite cereal but is always pricey.

Not Pictured:
Ocean Spray Juice- On Sale 2/$4
Buy 2 and get 4pk Ocean Spray Sparkling Juice FREE

I did this deal, but they were out of the sparking juice, so the hubby is going back today to get that. However, as I was searching for them, I found coupons for $1/1 and they are also on sale for 2/$4. So we will get our free 4 pack, plus another for $1. THEN I noticed as I checked out that a store coupon printed for $1 off my next shopping trip. So we'll get two four packs for free! Pretty sweet.


This week has been pretty fun, I think I may be hooked! Last night I finally got our printer up and running ( so I can print coupons, of course :) and think I'll keep going with this. One thing I quickly realized is the need for a binder and a system. Fumbling through a pile of coupons at the store is no fun. What do you think? Do you coupon? Or is it just too confusing/too much work?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Menu Plan Monday



While I didn't stick to any specific plan last week, I did cook at home, so that's a definite win. But this week I'm going to get back on the organization bandwagon!

Monday- Lasagna, Broccoli, Garlic bread ( I'll be at work so hubby will heat up)
Tuesday- Crockpot Chicken Tacos
Wednesday- Chicken Rice Casserole, Broccoli
Thursday- Pecan Crusted Catfish, Rice pilaf,Salad
Friday-Pizza
Saturday-Steaks on the grill, Baked Potato, Salad
Sunday- Mothers Day dinner with family

One night this week I'll also be making a super easy recipe for fruit cobbler that I found in one of the cookbooks I received as a wedding gift. It took virtually no time to prep and was really yummy! Even my chocoholic husband enjoyed it ( with a scoop of ice cream on top, of course)

Our blender is on the verge of dying, so I'm on the hunt for a new, high-quality replacement. Apparently all of our green smoothie-making puts a blender through quite the torture test. Any suggestions? We want to keep going with these because both of us have seen noticeable benefits in our energy levels and overall health!


This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday at I'm An Organizing Junkie

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Naptime


Sooooo........apparently keeping up on menu plans and blogging aren't on the agenda for this week. There is SO MUCH to do around here. I'm quite honestly overwhelmed. Every day I make a new list of what we need to do inside the house, outside of the house, and before the baby comes.

1. Paint Evie's new room and nursery
2. Find& purchase big girl bed
3. Find & purchase ( through the classifieds, consignment shops or Craigslist) a crib for my parents, a glider for me, and a swing for the baby
4. Pull weeds & plant new flowers
5. Plant garden ( if it ever.dries.up.)
6. Organize the garage
7. Find curtains and blinds for 4 different rooms ( yes, its kind of like living in a fish bowl. apologies to the neighbors.)
8. Finally hang the pictures and prints on the walls ( our walls have been totally bare since we moved back in, um, September?)
9. Organize and separate clothing to donate ( working on it)
10. Install ceiling fan in our room, pedestal sink and ceiling tiles in the downstairs bath

..And about 50 other things. Ahh!

Today I was off work, so the munchkin and I grocery shopped and went for my appointment with the midwife. After that, I was beat. Beyond exhausted. I forgot that this happens in the 3rd trimester? So what did I do? Work furiously through her nap and get TONS done?

Nope. I napped too. And it was glorious.

So today, that Works For Me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Real Food

Photo Credit

Several years ago, I picked up The Omnivore's Dilemma out of curiosity. Little did I know how shocked and dismayed I would be after learning the real history of food here in America. I implemented a few changes in my diet, filed away the rest of the information, and moved on.

Last year I finally decided to really attempt to change our diets, and little by little, have worked in new changes. It really is a struggle though. Where we live ( central Illinois) is dominated by large chain supermarkets, with a small health food store here and there. While I enjoy visiting them, the prices are totally cost prohibitive to us at this point.

So what can we do, as a family on a budget? The answer, for us has been to pick and choose. We can't go and buy everything 100% organic, but we can purchase differently. It has kind of been a transition to 'whole foods' more than anything. I started purchasing whole wheat flour and baking our own bread. Ideally we'd buy wheat berries and grind our own, but I've yet to find a decent grain mill that isn't outrageously expensive. Ideas, anyone?

We switched from margarine to olive oil and butter. I've heard many people singing the praises of coconut oil, but I'll admit I don't know much about it. No white tortillas, or pretty much white anything. We stopped purchasing white, refined sugar and have instead opted for Turbinado sugar and honey. I try to avoid artificial flavors and colors, but I'm not perfect on that yet. I haven't cut out all white flour, because some recipes really need some to come out correctly, so I've at least switched to unbleached in that department.

Call me naive, but I never realized how bad lunch meats really are, and I love a good turkey sandwich. We found one brand that has no artificial preservatives, nitrates being the main offender. Its a bit more expensive so we don't buy it as often, which is probably a good thing.

Beyond more conscientious shopping, we've simply quit eating out as often and cook at home. Sounds simple, but it helps enormously. When I make the meal, I can choose what goes into it. Most restaurant food is insanely unhealthy. Have you ever looked at the nutrition information from Chilis? I think I cried. My favorite 'salad' had more fat and calories than some of their fried stuff! So depressing. We still have an occasional meal out, but have really come to love cooking at home. Not to mention the savings! Even with buying healthier food, making it yourself is so much cheaper than a restaurant!

Its definitely a slow progression. We still buy supermarket meat, although in quantities not nearly as big as before. This year we'll be purchasing part of a local, grassfed cow, and part of a local hog. The farm from which we get our CSA sells chickens, so I'd like to get a few of those as well. On Craigslist yesterday I found a local guy selling an upright deep freeze and I think we're going to snag it up! That means I can freeze/can/preserve what we grow and actually have space for it. I don't really know what I'm doing, but there are so many great resources online that walk your through, step by step.

What do you think? Have you made any steps ( no matter how small) to move toward a more 'real' foods diet?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I...Don't Have Cable

Why I...



1. Money.
When we had Comcast, it was running us approx. $100 a month . More than we can afford to pay at this stage in the game. That's over $1,200 a year just to have the box in the house. What debt could I have paid off or what amount could I have saved in all of those years? Yikes.

2. Time.
TV was taking over our lives, even if we didn't really notice it. I could get sucked into TLC or HGTV for hours a day, and my husband would stay up super late just to catch a re-run of some show that really didn't matter.

3. Reading
I'm an avid reader, or so I used to be. But more often than not I'd just flip on the TV and stare at it mindlessly for a few hours. Between working and caring for a baby, laying on the couch and zoning out seemed easier.

4. My Daughter
At 20 months, my toddler still has no idea about kids shows. She doesn't know who Barney is or watch the Backyardigans. She loves to read and will spend the day outside getting muddy, playing with babies, or pretending to cook like Mommy.

5. Being Careful of What We See
I realize that one has full control over what is viewed, and can turn it off at any time. I'm one of those people who loves crime shows, and Criminal Minds is my absolute favorite. I can watch episode after episode. But one thing my husband pointed out is that I wind up being fearful afterward. I become more paranoid about locking doors and windows ( not necessarily a bad thing), and worried about a boogeyman around every corner ( bad thing). What is the saying? What you put in, you get out? Deliberately putting things in my head that lead to a spirit of fear can't be positive or edifying. At least in my scaredy-cat case :) Not that I won't ever watch Criminal Minds again, I've just benefited from not having it available 24/7.

Lest you think I'm being legalistic, know that I understand the day will come that Evie WILL want to watch movies and shows for kids, and that's okay. I just love the idea that she is learning how to play and learn and imagine without needing TV. And sometimes, not having cable has its downsides. Last weekend we went to a drive-in with some friends and their son. We saw Hop. Well, I use the term ' we' loosely. *I* spent the movie chasing a toddler around, and around, and around. Occasionally she would glance at the screen and say ' bunny' or ' chickie', but that's it. She wasn't having it. Her attention span for watching even a kids movie isn't there.

We've saved a lot of money by not having a cable bill to pay, and if I really MUST watch the new episode of Law & Order, I can use the digital box and pick up a local channel. But one of the neatest things I've noticed is how our family time has changed. My husband, instead of sitting in the recliner and falling asleep, now works on projects around the house. I'm back into reading. We go on more walks as a family. I cook more and spend time researching recipes. We spent 3 hours the other night plotting out our garden, never switching the TV on.

I love technology and don't think TV is bad, but this has been a really good choice for our family.

** Side note, I am truly thankful you can find most TV episodes online, because occasionally there is a show I'm just dying to check out. Extreme Couponing? Yesss.**


Check out Vanderbilt Wife for more stories of those participating in this really fascinating series!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

T-I-R-E-D

Whew. Apparently I've forgotten how wiped out pregnancy can make you! I've been working a ton, and working weird hours. I had a day off today, and after a midwife appointment, grocery trip and a few other errands..I'm exhausted! So much for Menu Plan Monday, but here's Menu Plan Wednesday?

Wednesday: tortilla-crusted cod fish tacos, homemade pico de gallo, spanish rice, salad

Thursday: grilled chipotle pork chops, roasted red potatoes, broccoli

Friday: homemade pizza, salad

Saturday: lasagna, garlic bread, salad

Sunday: TBA- probably dinner with family


On a side note, do any of you shop at club stores? Do you find them to be a good value or a waste of money? My mom has a Sam's Club membership, and I went with her today. I found some excellent deals on bulk walnuts, almonds, oats, yeast, frozen fruit, cheese, etc. But the whole experience left me a bit overwhelmed. I could tell many of the items weren't really a ' good deal', they were just uber big sizes. I so wish we had a Costco around here, but Sam's is it :(