Friday, December 12, 2008

A Christmas Perspective

I recently stumbled across a blog written by a formerly aetheist woman who became a Christian (Catholic) in the last five years. Along with being a good writer, her perspective and many of her ideas I have found fascinating. I wanted to share with you a recent blog she wrote about what it is even those who don't believe in Christ still catch hold of at Christmas.

What I loved About Christmas was Christ

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shopping Notes

This week I went a’CVSing and Walgreening and was delighted by what I saw.
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CVS I didn’t buy a lot; however, there were a couple of deals I did want to partake in. I shall only describe the best one though…which was rather amazing (thanks to Money Saving Mom for helping detail how to make this one work).

Duracell batteries were on sale for $3.00 per pack. Add to that the tear-off coupons CVS was offering for $5 off 2 packs. So, I paid $18 for 6 packs, Subtracted $15 in coupons and I wound up paying $3 oop! And, I got back $5 in ECBs!

I will admit, there are times when following through on all the couponing and planning can get a little tiring. And there are weeks when I just don’t do it. However, deals like are a nice boost to my determination to follow through on doing this.

If I had just gone and bought those six sets of batteries without coupons or sales, I would have paid $31.74. And instead, I got paid $2! That’s good enough motivation for me.
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Walgreens: This was an interesting shop for me. Walgreens has a nice deal going on right now where if you spend $25 (after coupons, etc), you can get $5 back in Register Rewards. I know some people will not only figure out the best deals, etc but also then do a whole bunch of transactions to get every possible penny of savings out of it. Most of the time I can’t be bothered. It takes extra time to do it that way (planning and shopping), and I really don’t have it in me. Today; however, I did three transactions (I’ve found one girl who is normally working at lunch time during the week; she’s super sweet, very efficient and helpful, and she works at the makeup counter as opposed to the main checkout, so I feel less bad taking my time with purchases because there’s rarely anyone else in line behind me).

Transaction One: Theraflu
Theraflu is, nicely enough, GLUTEN FREE! I’ve discovered through research that what I used to take for cold/sore throats I can’t take anymore. But this should work. Any ways, Theraflu was on sale (and very timely with my current cold) for $3.99 a pack. I bought three, used three $2/1 off coupons, and wound up with a total of $5.97. I did this as a separate transaction because I have to mail this in for a rebate at which point I will get back an additional $2 (maybe $4) making my total per just over $1 each. If I get the $4, it’ll make it $.65 each!

Transaction Two:
In addition to the previously mentioned deal (spend $25 get $5 back), there is also a current offer that if you buy $25 in certain Walgreen health related items, you’ll get $10 back in rebate.
So, as Ibuprofin doesn’t really seem to have much in the way of coupons (that I’ve experienced thus far at least) and we were totally out, I went ahead and bought several packs of Ibuprofin, band-aids (filler), and several bags of cough drops (on sale for the charming price of $.39 each!). I hit my $25 mark, so my final cost (with the $5 RR and the $10 rebate) was $10!

Transaction Three: Some highlights – once again getting $5 back in RR on my total.
  • Sure Deodorant (deodorant has become one of those things – like toothpaste – that I just don’t like to pay hardly anything for any more because so often I can buy it for free or near free). $2.99 - $1.50 Walgreens coupon - $1.00 reg. coupon = $.49! (This actually should have been $.09; however, I didn’t realize you needed to buy two and I only had the extra coupon for one – still a decent deal though).
  • Arm & Hammer Detergent: on sale for $1.99 (usually $6.99) plus I had an additional $1/1 coupon. $.04 a load; I approve!
  • Ryan foil wrap: on sale for $.99 each plus I had a $1/1 coupon = FREE!
  • Gift tape: $2/2 (they were actually sets of three each) and I’ll get $2 back in rebate! So, FREE!
  • Schick Quattro Razor – on sale for $6.99 plus the Easy Saver book had a $3/1 coupon and I had a $4/1 coupon, so once again, FREE!

And, with the soon to come rebate and the current Register Rewards I now have, I'm feeling a bit happier shopping at WG again. I really don't find them as convenient as CVS because their system is a little more difficult to use and highly in favor of the store over the customer. When I don't have any money on my gift card or no register rewards, its makes me not want to shop there as much. However, they do often have better deals than CVS, so it's all a delicate balancing act!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for - I don't know what exactly, but it is something that you don't mind so much not having at other times.

Kate L. Bosher

And Now Let's Talk About Christmas - some random notes

I finished decorating for Christmas this past weekend. And now my house is pretty and glittery with beautimous white Christmas lights everywhere (I'm - with a few exceptions - anti colored Christmas lights). And it makes me happy! I love decorating for Christmas; my poor husband truly does not understand the point. But it makes me happy, and so he tolerates it!

Our Ugly Tree party is this weekend, so it's always a good incentive to make sure I get all Christmas decorations up prior to that annual event. For those who are unfamiliar with that crazy party, check out an exlanation here.

We've not had a real snow yet just a couple of pretend attempts. I was under instructions from my mother to let her know the minute we had snow. And so, five minutes after I got off Skype with her, I called her back to let her know we had flakage! But it didn't last at all. The weather has been bizarre. One day it's 50F and then next it's 20F! I hate cold; I love snow, but I hate cold. However, I can deal with cold. But I much prefer to do so when it's consistantly cold. When I don't know if I'm preparing myself to freeze or be just a little cold, it becomes really difficult to dress in the mornings. And that bugs me.

I've been busy trying to finish up our Christmas shopping. A somewhat difficult task this year as we're trying to fit it around crazy amounts of homework for my poor husband. We were looking at his schedule for the next few months and realized in full the true craziness of this course he's in. He has Christmas vacation. And then he has one week off in March. And then one week off in June. And then not another week off until.....THANKSGIVING! 44 weeks of non-stop classes - craziness! However, he keeps plugging away at it, and the whole degree will be over before we know it; it just sometimes gets stressful in the middle of it all!

For Christmas this year, we are going to make up for our lost Thanksgiving trip and go down to Texas to celebrate with Chris' aunt and uncle (and their five children) and his grandparents. We're both really looking forward to that delight.

Sorry for the random notes. But that's what it takes sometimes!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Let's Talk about Thanksgiving

So Thanksgiving this year was interesting. And random!

The Plan: To go to Texas to spend it with Chris' lovely Aunt, Uncle, and their five children (one of whom we haven't met yet, and I'm absolutely DYING to see!).

The Problem: Sickness...not our sickness but the family we were going to see. It was one of those tricky decisions: do we go and hope that the illness will clear up before we get there or that we won't catch it or do we stay home and avoid getting sick ourselves and also not put extra burden on the ill and the caretakers thereof by being extra people in a house of sick kids (and potentially adults!)?

The Solution: After much discussion and sadness on our parts, we decided it was better to stay home.

New Problem: What to do for Thanksgiving?

New Solution: (a regular holiday fallback) - invite over our "other" family (friends who are like family to us) as they had no where to go for Thanksgiving either. So Thanksgiving was spent with much playing of Star Wars Risk and eating of delectable tasties (I made homemade cranberry sauce which actually turned out pretty good and gluten free French bread which is really, really yummy plus of course other delectables!)

And then, for the best part, we decided to go ahead and take a much shorter road trip (with the same friends - a Christmas present for them) to go see the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Trans Siberian Orchestra, please feel free to watch a few of the videos below that have some of the TSO songs I love dearly. They started out with only Christmas music - with a rock twist - but have moved on to include many other classical pieces as well.

Christmas Canon

Carol of the Bells


Their concerts are great. We went to one a few years ago and absolutely loved it. The music is phenomenal and they have an entire light show that goes along with their concerts. The first half is their basic Christmas program but the second half is composed of a random selection of their other pieces. Oh, and they play for three hours!

I had originally looked a few weeks ago at buying tickets to see their show for our anniversary; however, all the shows around here were right over Thanksgiving weekend. And since, if we had to choose, we would far rather go to see Chris' aunt, uncle, and cousins, I left it for another year. However, when we had made the decision not to go to Texas, I knew the perfect solution (and a nice way to stave off disappointment!).

So end result, despite unexpected bumps, we had a good time and much thankfulness was had by all!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving today - where ever you may be in the world. I will tell you about our random Thanksgiving week at a later point!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shoppings - keeping up on "free money"

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a shopping update. However, I was pretty pleased with the results of this week’s shopping expeditions, so I just couldn’t resist sharing!

CVS:
While CVS had several really good deals this week, none of it were things I was really interested in. However, I had a dilemma, I had $14 worth of ECBs that I didn’t want to just expire nor did I want to have to start over with zero ECBs. While it builds up quickly, it does require spending a little more to get the ECBs built back up. It’s the sneaky trick of CVS to keep you coming back! A trick I’m okay with though.

My solution: They were doing a deal on L’Oreal moisturizer. Buy a moisturizer for $15.99 get $15.99 ECBs back. I figured I could spend my $14 ECBs and pay $2 oop and earn $15.99 back and come out basically even (while then establishing more ECBs for future shopping). However, CVS has this great little machine that you can scan your card at and it’ll pop out extra coupons, etc (and your quarterly ECB rewards). So, I scanned my card and what should come out? A $2 coupon off of the any L’Oreal product! Perfect! I was getting $15.99 back in ECBs after spending only $13.99!

And then, just because I could, I did a quick browse down some of their sale aisles, and found the last of the fall stuff on sale. All for 75% off! Long story short, I wound up buying 5 really pretty fall decorations (including a really nice wreath) for $6.95. Spent $7.42 oop (including tax) and got $15.99 back in ECBs.

I’m very cautious about my fall and winter decoration spending and try to only buy a few things each year (at most – generally I limit it to 1 sometimes 2 items). However, to get five lovely fall pieces for $6.95, I call a fair deal.

Walgreens:
Check Mix was on sale here for $.99 plus I had a $.60 coupon, so I grabbed a bag of that for $.39 (even though Chris is also trying to get away from a lot of the processed foods, we go to a lot of things that ask us to bring a snack or something…so super cheap chips, etc are always a must buy!).


Puffs was also on sale for $.99 per box


And then the best price was Almay mascara. This was one of the FAR items for the month. But what made it even better was that I had a coupon for $1.00. So, I paid $5.99 for the item but will get back $6.99!


Total: $9.96 - $1.60 coupons = $8.91 (with tax). I paid for most of that with the last of my gift card and then paid the last $3.29 oop.

Again, like CVS, to really keep the balance going on paying minimal out of pocket, you have to sometimes spend a little more than you might have otherwise to reap the future benefits.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Post Election Giggle

So one week ago today, Chris and I were up early to get to the polls before work to cast our ballot. And then we were up very late watching the end results of the election. Now that the dust has settled a bit and life is continuing on a bit better, I thought I would share with you a story I found very entertaining and revealing about America’s voting knowledge.

There is a woman at my work who hails from the Czech Republic. She is here in America on a Green Card, so therefore is NOT an American citizen (naturalized or other). A few weeks prior to the election, she had received a voter registration card in the mail, which we discussed whether or not she should fill it out and just see if she could get a voting card. Decided against this plan; however, I’m still curious as to if they would have given her a voting card.

Any ways, when I saw her last Tuesday, I was highly entertained by the fact that she was wearing an “I Voted” sticker. We were joking about her sticker (given to her by her boyfriend after he voted), and I made a passing comment about wondering how many people would actually accept her wearing the sticker as if she actually had voted (keeping in mind that everyone at work – we’re a small company – knows she’s not an American).

Imagine my shock when she told me later that of the eight people who had noticed and commented on her sticker that day, SIX actually thought she had voted and engaged her in a discussion about the voting this year, etc. Only two of us (myself and another missionary lady) just laughed at her upon seeing the sticker.

Oh, I weep for this country some days…even if it is weeping through tears of laughter at times.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Yoghurt Success

A few weeks ago I attempted making yoghurt. I've always been a huge yoghurt fan but with a lot of my dietary changes, I've been finding that a lot of the yoghurt I used to buy from the store I can't eat any more. Many of them contain high fructose corn syrup (which I've decided is an item I no longer want in my diet) and even more of them contain gluten or potential gluten ingredients. The one brand that I really love is an active culture yoghurt and very expensive (especially if you eat yoghurt a lot - which I do). So, I decided to bite the bullet and try my hand at the art of yoghurt making.

I did lots of research, bought everything needed (not much!), and earlish one Saturday, started the attempt.

And failed. It turned our runny and gross looking and tasting and just was not a success.

Undaunted, I attempted it again. This time, I had a little more luck. It was edible but not very tart or tasty and not very creamy. Much runnier than I like my yoghurt. I ate my way through the batch, but knew that I was going to have to find some solutions because of the amount of work it took to make the yoghurt (the constant checking of temperatures, etc), it really wasn't worth it for me, despite the lower cost.

And then I found an interesting concept. There is a blog that I ran across the other day: A Year of CrockPotting. This lady made it her goal to use her crockpot every day for a year. And so she has a year's worth of crock pot recipes...some good, some bad, all reviewed by her. And one of them was how to make yoghurt in your crockpot.

Intrigued, I read the directions. Super easy! I was skeptical, but hey, if it worked and made yoghurt that came out better at all than what I had come up with previously, it might just be worth it. So I tried it. And let me tell you, it was amazing. Super easy and it came out creamy and tasty and tart and just as yoghurt should be!

I've written the recipe out on a seperate post (I found her instructions a little overwhelming), but enjoy!

Crockpot Yoghurt (plain)

- 8 cups milk (whole seems to come out best for thickness but you can use lower fat...isn't quite as creamy).
- 1/2 cup natural, live, active culture plain yoghurt (I highly recommend Dannon - Activia). Once you've made yoghurt once, you can just save 1/2 cup from your current batch and use it in the next batch (although I've read that it's a good idea to start fresh every few batches).
- 1 packet of plain gelatine (optional but seems to help with the thickening; I've also heard to try powder milk as well, particularly if you use a lower fat milk to start).
- thick bath towel
- crock pot

Plug in your crockpot and turn to low. Add the 8 cups of milk, cover, and cook on low for 2.5 hours.

Unplug the crockpot and leave it for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, scoop out 2 cups of the milk and put in a bowl. Add the yoghurt and gelatine (if you wish) and whisk it together (try to get the gelatine and yoghurt as dissintegrated as possible).

Dump the contents of the bowl back into the crockpot. Wrap the crockpot in a heavy towel for insulation and let it sit for 8 hours.

After eight hours, you should have a nice, thick yoghurt!

Chill in a container in the fridge. The yoghurt will last for 7 to 10 days.

Don't forget to save some starter for another batch!

Easy, easy, easy! Just make sure you start so that you can go to bed or whatever while it's sitting for the eight hours!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Apple Pork Chops

Last week I shared my menu for the week. And here at last is that Apple Pork Chops recipe I promised to post!
  • 4 pork chops
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 large apples (sliced)
  • 1 cup apple/orange/ juice (I actually use grapefruit juice as the acidity of orange juice really bothers my stomach - turns out amazingly!).
  • 1/4 tsp thyme

Sprinkle pork chops with salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Dice the onion. Sauttee in butter.

Add pork chops and brown on both sides.

Add juice and apples.

Turn heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes (stir frequently) or until done.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

It's Election day here in America. Given the fact that I came home to SIX messages yesterday all asking for my vote, it's about time! We're having some people over tonight to watch the election coverage. Regardless of who wins, I can't help but wonder what is going to happen to this country in the next few years.

If you can and you haven't - go do your civic duty and VOTE! And win a pretty sticker.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Menu Planning

One of the big things I've been working on in my menu planning is to be really conscious of using up food before it goes bad. I will admit, over the years of learning to keep house, I've had a bad habit of letting certain things expire or go bad before we eat them up. Leftovers, not so much. However, certain condiments or even fruits and vegetables...yeah, those went bad a lot. I think a much of the problem stemmed from really not being fully aware of what is in the fridge at all times. I was always good about cleaning it out (i.e. tossing the bad stuff), but not so much about the planning ahead to make sure it doesn't go bad before we eat it!

Any ways, long story short, as I'm planning, one of the first things I do is check to see what we have and what needs using up. Rather than determining what we might want to eat first and then seeing if we have the ingredients, I'm starting at the opposite end and determining what ingredients I have and then determining what I can make from them. It's really helping the budget out with only having to buy one thing to fill in a gap rather than buying 5 things so we can eat whatever meal it is that sounded good. And it's forcing me to increase my cooking repertoire looking for recipes that use the ingredients I have! (For those veterans of you out there who are much better at this sort of things than I am, shake your head all your like, but I'm figuring it out!)

A secondary goal of mine is working on stretching food.

Nearly two months ago now, as I began seriously working on the whole menuing thing, I started trying to incorporate a "meatless meal" into our week. Why? Because it's cheaper! And I think it's good for the body as well. Besides, I never have time to cook breakfasts, and as so many of those are meatless, it just fits in really well.

The other thing I've been doing is seeing how I can stretch the meat at meals where we do cook meat. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 pound of hamburger, I'm seeing if I can use 3/4 of a pound (add more filler to make up the difference) and using the other 1/4 of a pound in something else that doesn't call for as much meat. Actually, because (continuing my example of hamburger) packets often contain a little bit more than a pound of meat, setting some of it aside for a second meal really doesn't effect the amount of meat in the current meal.

I've come to realize that when I cook, I tend to use whatever is in the packet (I know, I know, the stores just love me!). I guess it's that whole convenience thing. Rather than thinking, "hey there's an extra 3 ounces of meat in this packet, why I don't I brown it all, set aside some of it for a meal tomorrow that calls for meat, and then make the rest of whatever meal I'm making today"...I instead just use the whole packet.

Any ways, those are some of the habits I'm focusing on as I really try to develop good menuing skills.

So, this week, I was going to give you a glimpse of my dinner menus for the past week. Telling other people my plans tends to make me a little more conscious of actually following through on said plans! Although since I've already followed through on these plans, I don't know the logic on that. Oh well!


Sunday: I made roast chicken with green beans and baked potatoes (made in the crockpot! How? Very simple. Wash them, poke holes into them, rub them in olive oil and salt, wrap them individually in foil, and cook for 4 to 6 hours on high in the crockpot. Very little mess and they come out fantastic!).

Sunday afternoon, I stripped the rest of the meat off the bones, and boiled the bones for broth (some to be made into soup and some to be frozen to be used in a soup at a later point)

Monday: Scrambled eggs and toast. Yummy! I love breakfast for dinner!

Tuesday: Chicken Enchiladas (made with the chicken from the roast on Sunday) and Mexican rice (made my own; turned out pretty good...well...other than the whole burning the bottom of the rice thing...have to work on that!).

Wednesday: Pork chops and Apples and broccoli and mashed potatoes. A new recipe for me (developed by the whole menu planning thing of looking in my fridge and going, "My brother just gave me a ton of apples - what do I do with them?" (and as of yet not being brave enough to try making gluten free apple pie...something to attempt in the nearish future I believe). I will post this recipe (well, my version of this recipe) sometime soon.

Thursday: Leftover day. Because Chris leaves for class at 5:30, I've designated this leftover day every week.

Friday: Mexican Omelet (this requires ground hamburger - or in my case - ground turkey). I made stuffed peppers on Saturday and set aside some of the turkey to use in this. Tasty recipe from my Mum which I had never actually made until just recently.

Saturday: white chili with corn bread

Sunday: roast beef and baked potatoes (I bought a big bag of potatoes the other day - got to use it up!) This will be for Chris with the plan of freezing some for a later time, but it will also translate into lunches for the week for him. Sadly, beef and I are truly not getting along very well, so I will not be partaking. However, I'm a sucker for Poor Man's Pasta, so I think I'll make that do! Besides, I bought the roast awhile back - prior to realizing my bodies new aversion to beef - and it really needs eating up. We're supposed to have a guest this weekend, but I'm not sure if that's going to pan out or not. I think I'll go ahead with the roast regardless.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Shoppings and Month End

So after September's budget upset, October has proved to be a much better month. Most successful, actually! To recap, having learned a lot of the fun rules of this shopping game I've been playing, my next goal has been to start the harder task of seriously reducing our monthly budget (food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, eating out, etc. There are still some things that I have a seperate allotment for [clothes, dog related stuff, and such], but our basic month to month expenses are all counted in that total).

I've shrunk our monthly budget down to $60 a week. While I would ultimately like to get my total down a little bit from there, I honestly don't know how much more that will be possible because of the price of all of the fun and far more expensive gluten free products for which I see few deals. Regardless, I've shrunk our budget down by over $100, so that's good. I'm going to leave it at $60 a week for now and see how it goes for a few months before making further budgetary slashes.

Admittedly, not having the option of eating out that much is really helping matters (sad but true...and I'm actually beginning to cringe a lot at the price of eating out...). As is the fact that I seem to finally be getting into a really good rhythym of menu planning. Even on the weeks where I plan a menu and then end up not following it some days, it's still helping me to focus a lot more on really thinking through what we have, planning out ahead of time (setting meat out to thaw before getting home from work), and those sorts of things.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I will admit I went over my budget by $10.00 and so had to pull that $10.00 from the gas budget; however, as our gas prices went down to (prepare yourself.........) $1.98 this week (screams of shock, doors slamming as people run to pack their bags and move here...), I think we'll survive.

So, why the $10.00 extra dollars? Well, here's the story.

I started this week with $55.43 left to spend for the month. Having determined the week's budget and checked to see what essentials we were running low on, we went to WalMart/Aldi's and picked up the basics for a grand total of $36.29 (that included stocking up on a couple of items which were on a really good sale).

Walgreens not really having much to interest me this week, the only other place I hit was CVS. They did have a couple of really good deals:
  • Laundry Detergent on sale for $5.99 B1G1 plus with a $1.00 coupon = $4.99 (making my total about $0.07 a load).
  • Bic razor was on sale for $4.99. I had a $2.00 off coupon and received $4.00 back in ECBs. Talk about getting your money's worth!

CVS is also running a really good deal on medical related stuff this week. Basically, spend $20 get $10 back in ECBs. Well, I didn't need a whole lot; however, Chris has wanted to try this disgusting sounding thing out called a Neti Pot (it's supposed to help with clearing your nose out, click here to see a rather disturbing demonstration! He has horrible allergy and sinus problems, so if it works, great. But I still say it looks disgusting.), and there were some eye drops that I needed. I figured this would be a good and relatively inexpensive way to let him try out the nose pot.

So, the Netti pot cost $11 and the eye drops were $9.00 (name brand) minus a $2.00 coupon that happened to be on the pot (love those) and a $3.00 coupon for the solution, I totaled $15.00 with $10.00 back in ECBs.

Now, I also had a $10/$50 coupon that I got for CVS last week (they've been doing a lot of the $/$$ coupons lately - love them!), so I decided this would be a good chance to buy the popcorn maker I really have wanted to get. Since all regular microwave popcorn seems to be covered in things I really need to avoid and buying organic microwave popcorn is ridiculously expensive, buying a popcorn maker to just air pop my own seems the cheapest solution (yes, I could do it even cheaper on a stove with oil, but I prefer the taste of air-popped). So, I snagged my popcorn maker.

End result, my total was $55.98. Minus $18.00 in coupons and $9.00 in ECBs, I spent $28.98 oop thus going over my budget by $10.00 (but getting back $15 in ECBs). $10 for a good pocorn maker - an acceptable price!

And I'm feeling pretty confident about being able to really make this whole smaller budget concept work!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Points - online money maker

Since June, I've been playing with a new way to earn some easy money online. It's called MyPoints. What you can do through MyPoints is earn points that eventually earn you gift cards to places. No money out of your pocket (unless you so choose) and yet you get money back! How?

Well, there's basically three ways to get points:

1. MyPoints sends you emails daily (about 5 or so a day), you open them, read the ad, and click through at the bottom (for the paranoid - as in myself - I checked this out before signing up and couldn't find any reports of virus problems or anything like that). You don't have to sign up for anything and it automatically credits you 5 points per email. Now, if you should decide to follow through on the offered ad, then you can earn more points. There's been a couple of free offers that I signed up for out of curiosity, but nothing else.

NOTE: I would highly recommend you open up a junk mail account if you decide to try this - particularly if you actually take up some of the offers. I've heard that if you don't ever sign up for anything, the junk mail isn't too bad...but I wouldn't trust it!

2. You can shop online at tons of stores through MyPoints. And every dollar you spend at the store, you get points for. For example, I bought a book the other day through MyPoints. The book cost me $8.00 and I earned 16 MyPoints. Not an amazing amount, but hey, every bit counts!

There are other sites that I'm also looking into that do a similar thing; however, I went with MyPoints first as it really is one of the least complicated (at least thus far - more reports on other sites to come).

3. I believe there is a credit card you can sign up for with MyPoints and earn points for all your purchases through the credit card. Please note, I have not signed up for this card (I'm very loyal to my American Express!) and really can't attest to anything about this angle of MyPoints.

[Also (just have to say this!), I highly recommend that you do not sign up for any kind of credit card unless you know you can handle a credit card. While Chris and I do put just about everything on our cards, our bill also gets completely paid off every month (we use the card to build up frequent flyer miles - very important in my world!). I know of too many people who cannot handle the freedom of a credit card and wind up getting into debt by its existance (and yes, I do speak of personal - if minorish - experience in this matter). OK, off my soap box!]

So, since June, I've earned 2649 points. This was with no work on my part other than clicking through emails. I've received a $10 Borders gift card back for 1400 of those points and am close to being able to get another gift card (there are tons of options and price ranges for what is available - just depends on how patient you are in letting the points build up!).

I went ahead and got the Borders card just to check out if this works, and it seems to be just fine! Next time I'm going to try to save up points for longer and get a higher gift card. I've considered using this as a resource for buying gifts for people or buying household stuff that we need/want but don't necessarily always have extra money for (like new sheets or towels or pillows...you get the idea!). Or just on whatever. It's still up in the research phase.

Any ways, if you're looking for a money idea, I highly recommend this one.

Oh, and do me a favor (pretty, pretty, please)...if you're thinking of signing up, leave me a message (don't worry I won't post it) here with your name and email address. I can then refer you through my MyPoints account. For every person I refer who signs up with MyPoints I earn 250 points! So help me out folks! Share the MyPoints!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cream of Soups (Gluten Free)

Since I've started this whole gluten free diet I've learned a lot about food. Actually reading the ingredients of prepackaged food has become a rather disturbing experience to me as I'm discovering not just how much gluten there is in everything but how much garbage is in the food we - as a Western society - eat. When I'm reading a label and realize I don't know what half of the words are, there's a problem!

However, we are also a pre-packaged society. Recipes tend to call for things like 1 can of cream of chicken soup or other such ingredients. And since these ingredients tend to be full of nasty glutenies, I'm faced with the problem of - how do I make this for myself?


And so here is the answer to at least one of those conundrums: cream of soups!


Now, I will say, my only issue with this recipe (and it's variations) is that the soup does come out a bit more watery than a store-bought can of creamed soup does. Just be forewarned. Also, please note, that while I have made the cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups, I have yet to make the others. So if they're disgusting - I apologize!


Mix the following. These can be stored in an airtight container and used as needed. This mix makes the equivalent of about 8 or 9 cans of soup:



1 cup non-instant dry milk or nondairy substitute
1 cup white rice flour
2 tbsp dried minced onions
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp GF powdered chicken or vegetable soup base (note: I've found that Herb-Ox is a great GF bullion that seems to be readily accessible from regular grocery stores. Very fresh tasting and no MSG).



Cream of Chicken soup:

Blend 3 to 4 tbsp (depending on how thick you want the soup) of soup base with 1/4 cup cold water. Add 1 cup hot or cold water (or chicken stock) and cook, stirring, until the soup thickens.


Cream of Mushroom Soup:

Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use the liquid from one 4-oz can of mushroom bits and pieces as part of the water (reserving the mushrooms). After the soup thickens you can add the mushrooms.



Cream of Tomato Soup:
Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use one 5.5 oz can of V-8 juice as part of the liquid.



Cheese Soup or Sauce:

Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use 1/4 cup creamed soup base. Add 1/4 cup extra water. Stir in 1/2 to 2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese before removing from the stove.



Shrimp Soup or Sauce: (this is the one I'm a little concerned about!)

Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use one 8oz bottle clam juice plus the 1/4 cup water, and add one 41/2 oz can broken shrimp (drained) or 1/2 cup cut-up, cooked shrimp before removing from the stove.


Tasty Cream Sauce:

Melt 1 tbsp butter in small saucepan and ad 1 tsp chopped chives or 2 thinly sliced green onions before putting in the soup base. Add 11/4 cups hot water and cook as directed for Cream of Chicken Soup.


To Use in a Casserole:

If the casserole calls for canned soup and is to be baked over 1 hour, just tumble the Creamed Soup Mix with the ingredients and pour on 11/4 to 11/2 cups hot water. What you're supposed to do if it calls for less than 1 hour, not a clue!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Free Taco!

Taco Bell is giving away a free taco to anyone who requests one from 2 to 6 pm tonight! See the details below or go to the website.

Finally, something good to do with baseball!

The Media

OK, this is not really going to be a political post. However, I did want to draw your attention to the following article by Orson Scott Card. If you are unfamiliar with this man, he is an author and newspaper columnist (his most well-known book is probably Endor's Game). Although he is a Democrate, he wrote the following article taking a shrewd look at the media today. Click on the link below to read a very interesting look at what has happened to journalistic integrity.

Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?

Anyone else ready for the voting to be over?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Settlers, Books, and Pumpkins

It's been a full weekend and quite lovely.

Friday night we had a friend over for dinner (whom we really hadn't seen in forever) with a couple of other friends who joined us afterwards to play games. Settlers of Catan of course because that seems to be the only playable game around here lately!

Saturday, was the annual library book sale. End result was 8 new books for the grand total of $3.25. I love book sales! I found several books I'd been looking for for quite awhile including a new copy of Emily of New Moon. I love Madeline L'Engle and although I'm obviously a big fan of the Anne books (almost a given for a L'Engle fan), I actually am a bigger fan of the Emily series. Emily's just a little more human than Anne. Anne is at times annoyingly perfect and happy and bleagh. Emily has spice and flaws and that makes me happy. Anyhoo...back to the new copy. My old copy was falling apart - literally. I've taped it up so many times, but I always wind up reading it in sections because that's how it's easiest to hold it - broken up into the little 25 to 50 page sections that the book has fallen apart into!




Saturday evening was a little sad (and a little relieving simultaneously) as we decided we could not keep Penny. Three dogs (even if one is pint-sized) was a little much. So we handed Penny over to Chris' boss and her family who will take good care of Miss Penelope. I miss the lap-dog concept; however, it's a bit of a relief to be back down to two dogs.

My sister was a little sad to see the Penny go as well!

Sunday has been a great fall pumpkin day. Annually Amber and I try to go to a pumpkin patch, enjoy the fallishness, and then carve pumpkins. This year, we went to a new farm that we'd never been to before (really liked it, although of course my camera ran out of batteries...so sad). My baby sister came with us, so that added to the fun. And now I'm comfy on the couch watching a Gilmore Girls and munching on yummy pumpkin seeds.



Hope your weekend was fun!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Getting back into the swing of things.

So once again I apologize for my sporadic appearances of late. Think I’m finally getting back into updating my dear little blogging world. And so to celebrate, I thought I’d do a shopping post!

You may (or may not) remember near the end of August where I talked about wanting to try to start focusing on really cutting down on our shopping budget now that I’ve gotten the hang of this whole couponing game. Well, September was a bit of a disaster. I stayed within my old budget (not my new, aimed for budget); however, really cutting back was not much of an option as all sorts of things that I haven’t been planning for kind of blew my smaller budgeting dreams to bits. Another lesson in the necessity of planning ahead.

However, this month, I’ve done much better, and actually am quite excited to see how well I can make this work for the rest of the month! I will give a full report next week, and I’m hopeful that it will be at least close to what I want to see.

Shopping this week was very interesting. Because I spent some extra money last week, I really only had about $15 to work with. Fortunately, we’re well stocked up food-wise, and it happened to coincide with a not-so great deals week (at least nothing that I couldn’t live without) at Dillons or other places, so I’ve actually managed to stay (mostly) within budget.

Went to three places: CVS, Walgreens, and Akins (one of the health food stores here in town of which I have become a regular customer).

CVS: While there weren’t a whole lot of deals I wanted to take advantage of this week, the ones I did tackle were very nice. I was working very hard on disciplining myself and staying within my budget limit (which basically was about $1 out of pocket this week!); however, I unexpectedly ran across a really good deal on an electric razor (which Chris has desperately been needing a new one of), so I had to cut out a couple of things and go over my budget a little bit to secure the razor. In the long run though, it’s a cheaper deal by buying the razor now than it would have been if I’d waited until his razor actually died and I was forced to pay full price!

Always Infinity Pads. $4.99 minus $2.00 coupon making my total $2.99 and then I got $1.00 in ECBs back (bought two sets of these)
MaxFresh toothpaste - $2.99 - $1.00 coupon = $1.99 with $2 in ECBs (essentially making it free!)
Quattro for Women razor $9.99 - $2.00 coupon - $7.99 with $3.00 ECBs
Another good deal that I wound up not getting because I wanted the razor for Chris was Listerine Agent Cool for $4.99 - $1.00 coupon = $3.99 with $3 in ECBs. As we weren’t in desperate need of Listerine, I decided to pass on this deal so that I would have less to pay out of pocket at the end.

End result:
My total was $32.95.
Take off $5.00 because of a simply charming $5.00 off $30 total coupon that printed out for me!
Subtract $7.00 in coupons.
TOTAL: $20.95.
I then paid out $14.00 in ECBs leaving me with a total of $7.43 out of pocket! Like I said, a little bit over my $1.00 budget, but worth it in the long run. And besides, I got back $7.00 in ECBs for next time.


Walgreens: Just a few items here; however, I didn’t actually spend anything oop because I’ve got a gift card with my rebates on it from last month. If you get your rebates put on a gift card rather than as a check, Walgreens will throw on an additional 10% to your total. Not a lot, but hey, every penny counts, right!

Drano (desperately needed) - $4.99 with $1.00 rebate
Lysol toilet bowl cleaner – B1G1, so I bought two, paid $2.79 – two $0.50 coupons = $1.79 or $0.90 each!


Akins: This is where my shopping costs go up quite a bit. I bought sesame oil (I like this for a lot of my cooking as regular vegetable oil tends to be full of soy and other scariness and this oil really doesn’t leave much additional flavor unlike olive oil). The second item I didn’t actually need but wanted to try and since I was being scatterbrained this morning and completely left without a lunch, I decided this was a good day to try it. Annie’s brand (organic type stuff) has recently come out with a microwave-dinner mac’n’cheese that’s gluten free. So I tried it. Pretty good. I’m not a big fan of microwave meals; however, the occasional quick meal is a necessity, so it’s nice to know I’ve got at least one option to fall back on that can be bought in a store!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Random Notes

Fall is happily setting in and despite the cold, it looks lovely. Need to obey my mother and go take a walk in the leaves.

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Blessing on older brothers who own their repair/construction businesses. I now have a new fan/light combo that works in my living room, a new fan/light combo in both the guest room and the study, our electrical problem in our kitchen has been fixed, and my roof is fixed! YAY!

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I have a random husband who is too soft-hearted for his own good. I came home yesterday a little bit late because I had to finish up a project at work. As I drove up, I saw my husband sitting outside our house in a lawn chair. Not an unusual sight. Occasionally he'll let the Mara Jade run around without her leash on (not Calista because she doesn't listen well enough) in the front yard. So I'm looking around for Mara (not wanting to run over her) and I can't see her. However, as I get closer, I realize that there is a furry creature sitting on his lap - a creature unknown to me. As I got out of the car, I realized it was one of the most adorable black and white puppies I've ever seen.

Long ears, darling eyes, quite smart, seemingly at least partly house-broken, very cuddily but also adorably playful, and thus far quite a non-annoying bark. Sadly, we suspect she has experienced at least some minor abuse as her reactions to being scolded are WAY out of proportion.

Long story short, she got a flea bath last night and we're taking her to a vet on Monday (of course keeping an eye out to see if anyone has actually lost her) to see how big she's going to get and if there is anything wrong with her we should know about. Depending on her size, we may keep her. We're still in the discussing stages.

But in the meantime, my heart is falling deeper into love with this cute puppy.

Oh, and we named her Penelope - Penny for short.

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Christopher has finished his first class - with an A! And with a sigh of relief. And immediately he started working on his next class.

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I love the brand Enjoy Life. They make soy-free (and anything else that might be an allergen free) chocolate. I finally can make chocolate chip cookies again! So exciting (I've had a rather small world lately and am easily excited). I'm very happy that I found this brand.

I've also found an absolutely delicious dark hot chocolate mix that is also making me very happy. The brand name is great - Dagobah!

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This past Saturday Christopher and I went with a friend of ours and her new man to a concert. Christopher was very confused as it was a Big Band concert but was played by the Springfield Symphony. For some reason this was a hard to understand concept.

It was a lovely evening starting with dinner at Bambu (the local Vietnamese restaurant - has a gluten free menu and tends to be pretty good about actually following through on their gluten free promise) and followed by the enjoyable concert. And the new couple is very "cute" (sorry, had to thrown that in just for you, Helena!).

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Hope you don't mind my random notes!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stuck in my mind

I've been neglecting my poor blog the last few weeks. Not that I haven't had plenty of thoughts and ideas that I've wanted to pour out here. It's just that sometimes when I've got topics on my mind I find it hard to address even the mundane or non-related topics in writing - or at all for that matter. There are times when I feel like I get stuck in my own mind, and actually getting those thoughts out and expressing them is very hard to do.

I will return, just have to find my way out of the bottom of my mind.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Getting Mail

Getting mail has been and probably always will be one of my favorite things in the world. There is an unmatchable feeling of ancitipation when it comes to opening up a mail box, seeing pieces of mail laying there, wondering who they come from, what is in them...it's just fun!

I think some of this pleasure has been instilled in me by my parents. Opening the mail was always a sacred time in our house. Every afternoon (just about) my parents would settle down with a cup of a tea, a cookie, and open the mail together. My mum also has always written me. Growing up it was little notes in random places - the lunch box, my bag, when I went to Uzbekistan as a young teen for two months, she even wrote me enough letters that I could open up one every day I was there! And somehow she actually managed to actually send me a couple of letters while I was there (miracle of miracles). Since I moved out of the house, I've always received mail from her - random jokes, articles she thinks I might enjoy, cards, and of course letters.

End result, I love mail!

Sadly, however, the art of snail mail is dying. Slowly but surely it is becoming an obsolete concept of the past. Letters are all in the form of emails and it seems less and less do I find interesting things in the mailbox. And while I do enjoy receiving emails from people, they lack a certain level of charm that snail mail had.


However, recently my love of getting mail has taken a whole new turn and has become very exciting again.

Since I started this whole frugal journey, I've discovered a whole new world of mail to be had. How? Because there is so much free stuff out there that you can sign up for, it results in an almost constant deluge of fascinating mail. Last week alone I got a cookie from Kashi, a whole pile of coupons from P&G for doing a survey for them, sample feminine products (I've gotten a ton of these the last few months - and of course the best stuff always comes with coupons as well), my mypoints reward (more about that in a later post) of a $10 Borders gift cards, several other random coupons for things, and a mini Betty Crocker chocolate dessert.

This week on Monday I got more feminine products plus coupons from another company, a trial face wash that smells amazing (grapefruit - yummy!), and two very cute, mini bottles of calcium pills from Nature Made.

Delightful!

Not quite as personal as a letter, but still fun to find and open.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shopping Fun at CVS

CVSing outdid itself this week.


In a summary, I spent $7.08 (including tax) out of pocket. But, I got back $14 worth of ECBs (talk about doubling your money)! Total before coupons et all...$50.95 (before tax)!


Quick Breakdown for those interested:

  • Dawn Detergent: on sale for $0.99 each - $.25 coupon = $0.74 each

  • Old Spice Deoderant: on sale 2/$5 - $1/2 coupon = 2/$4

  • Sunsilk gell and mouse: on sale 2/$7 - 2/$1.50 coupons = 2/$4 and I got $2.00 ECBs back making it $1 each.

  • Gillette Fusion Power Razor: on sale for $9.99 - $4.coupon = $4.99 and I got $5 in ECBs (this was advertised as $4.99, but hey, I'll take an extra penny!) making it FREE!

  • Colgate Total: on sale at 2/$5 - $1.00 off CVS coupon that printed for me and another $1/1 coupon = 2/$3 with $2.00 ECBs making it $0.50 each.

  • (My favorite today) Post-Its were on sale at 2/$5. I had three $3/2 coupons which brought each set of 2 down to $1.00 each. Plus, I got $5 in ECBs back ostensibly making each post-it pack $0.16 each!

  • And I got a couple of other items to remain undisclosed due to gift-giving probability. Well, one is a definite present the other has really good gift-giving potential and definite other uses potential. Plus, buying this item brought my total to just over $50 which meant I could use my lovely $10 off of $50 CVS coupon.

  • Plus, I spent $17 of ECBs from prior shopping trips.

Just a note for those newer to playing the CVS game. If you have a coupon for x amount of dollars off of x dollar amount of purchases (for example, my $10 off of $50 worth of items coupon today) always give that coupon to the cashier FIRST. Unlike Walgreens which annoying requires that you can only use one of those coupons AFTER all coupons have been applied, CVS let's you use it whenever. So by giving that coupon first, you don't have to buy as much to make the coupon worth something.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Springy Corn Bread (Gluten Free)

It's Fall and with Fall and Winter comes chilli. And with chilli comes - corn bread. Monday I had planned to make a white chilli with corn bread. But of course the obstacle of how to make a gluten free corn bread had to be faced.

Below is an extremely tasty and difficult to tell apart from regular corn bread, corn bread recipe. Once again this recipe is one that builds off of a basic flour mix, so don't get all confused!

The instructions below are for an 8" square pan, greased.
In a mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients:
Four Flour Bread Mix - 1 cup
Yellow Cornmeal – 1 cup
Xanthan gum – ½ tsp
Egg replacer – 1 tsp
Sugar – ¼ cup (although I used honey in place of this – just mix it with the wet ingredients)
Baking soda – 1 tsp
Baking powder – 1 tsp
Salt – ¾ tsp

In a second bowl, blend the wet ingredient:

Plain yoghurt – 1 cup
Eggs, beaten – 2
Margarine, melted – 2 tbsp
Orange juice or water – ¼ cup (as orange juice and I have been having rather violent disagreements the last few months, I used the Simply grapefruit juice – worked brilliantly!)
(add the honey at this point if you are replacing the sugar)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just blended. Spoon the dough into the pan and bake at 400F for 20 to 25 minutes or until the bread springs back when gently pressed. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Makes 9 servings.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Confession

Yes, dear readers, you are going to find out a horrible, awful secret that I have been bearing the last few weeks. I would hide this from the world if I could, but a few other key people know about this already, and so it would come out someday. Someday when I'm running for president it would get spilled to the vile news-media and my deepest, darkest secret would be revealed to the world. And I would have to hide in shame. Flee the country. Change my name, my life, my citizenship. And so I decided it would be better to face up to it now, get it over with, bear my shame to the world.

What is this horrible secret?

Brace yourself.

I will confess.

I have officially become concerned about the security and safety of our country from zombies.

Think I've lost it? Perhaps I have. But it is true, nonetheless...to my everlasting shame.

Allow me to explain.

It all starts with a book. Well, two books. The first book is called The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks. This is a practical manual on how to protect yourself in time of zombie attack. A friend of ours got his hand on this and started telling us how to protect ourselves from the zombies. This of course generated all sorts of discussions among the boys of the best ways to kill a zombie, can zombies climb stairs, how fast can a zombie travel, etc.

Us girls shook our heads, laughed, mocked, and basically put up with it.

Perhaps the greatest illustration I can provide of the crazy obsession of these boys is to tell you of my husband's reaction to the fact that we woke up one morning and realized that our garage door had been open all night and anyone could have walked into the house very easily. Did he say something like, "We're lucky we didn't get ____ (fill in the blank: robbed, murdered in our sleep, etc)." No, no he did not. His immediate reaction was, "We're lucky the zombies didn't try and come in. There would have been no stopping them!" Seriously obsessed.

Then the next book appeared: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War also by Max Brooks (why this man's obsession with Zombie's, I have no idea).




Chris read this book incredibly fast, raved about it, and informed me that I absolutely needed to read this book. He assured me that I would really enjoy it, and it didn't read like a creepy zombie book but more like an oral history book.

After months of his commenting about how I should read this book, I finally caved. It's good for a wife to make her husband happy, right? And it was a little thing. With all the books I read, I might as well read this one book he was dying to share with me. And so one night, I began reading.

I will admit, I was immediately intrigued. The man writes this whole history of a Zombie war (humans against zombies - humans who have been infected by some type of disease which basically makes them undead) from the perspective of a reporter who is doing interviews with people. Which means that he has to tell all these different stories and connect all of these different sections of this make-believe war from a whole slew of different voices. While there are parts of the book that gave me chills to even consider what that would be like to live during, for the most part it was not a scary book. It was just intriguing. He lays out years worth of war through these interviews, provides commentary on politics, ethics, and other such difficult subjects while at the same time giving flashes of emotional, real life, humanity in his work. It's well written enough that I could almost believe this war had actually occured.

There was a night, however, when I knew things had gone too far. I had turned off my light and lay in bed listening to the breathing of my husband and wrestling of the dogs. And as I glanced at our window in our bedroom, I couldn't help but start thinking: You know, we have a problem. American windows have no burglar bars. They are just screen and then glass. If a zombie attacks, there's no way we could stop it from getting through the windows. And the rest of the house is just as bad. The front door really wouldn't stop anything that determined to get in and our book is a glass sliding door. A zombie could totally break in.

And it was at that point that I knew I had gone to the dark side. My self-respect shattered, memories of teasing the crazy boys for the zombie obsession haunting me, I groaned as I realized that I had been sucked into this crazy, zombie-obsessed world. And there was no turning back.

And so there you have it, dear reader. My confession of shame. I have gone to the dark side and am now obsessed with whether or not I could escape and protect my family in time of zombie attack.

Monday, September 22, 2008

FlyLadying - Week 3 September

Home Blessing
I'm proud to say that I thoroughly blessed my home this week. It's the first time in several months probably that I actually made it through five days worth of blessings. That was happy!

Zone
Last week's zone was the laundry room. I got started with this and managed to clean out the cupboards; however, I still need to pull out the machines and do a good vacuum behind each of them. And I also need Chris to help me pull the hoses out so we can actually vacuum the dryer hose as I haven't done that in a shamefully long time!

All in all though - a pretty good flying week!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Movie Review: Ballet Shoes

I watched a movie last night I just had to share. As you've probably deduced from the title of my blog, it's called Ballet Shoes. If any of you have had the delightful experience of reading Noel Streatfeild Shoes books - Ballet Shoes, Skating Shoes, Dancing Shoes, and Party Shoes - you will love this movie.

Actually, quick note on Streatfeild's works in general, I love them. Always have; always will. They just have that comfortable, charm about them that make them classics. And of course the fact that many of her books have to do with the performing world is an additional draw factor for me. She not only is a talented author but due to her own background in the performing arts, she can describe the emotions and experiences of those in that world with great accuracy. Love her!

Ballet Shoes is one of my favorite books of hers, and the movie actually held true to the plot! It's about three young girls who are all orphans and are brought up together by this woman who herself was an orphan as a child. Due to financial difficulties, they take an opportunity given to them to train for the stage. And the movie follows their paths in that training. As Chris said when the movie was done, it's just a wholesome movie. It deals with some hard issues of the performing world but does so in a delightful way.

Highly recommend it! Oh, and Emma Watson is in it. That's another good draw for the movie!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spiderman and School

Chris started classes this week. He is going back for a second undergrad in Communications. Why a second undergrad? Because (a) the program is really good and is designed for working adults and (b) as his first degree was in psychology, he's a bit more comfortable starting with the basics rather than trying to get straight into a master's program.
So, for the next 22 months of our lives, his schooling is our focus. Basically ever Thursday (he gets the occasional odd break here and there but very few) from 6 to 10, he is in class. Each class lasts 5 weeks and then he switches classes and starts all over again. So, needless to say, he's going to be very busy in the days off because he's got between 10 to 20 hours of homework every week.

To celebrate this momentous transition, I felt he really needed something to lift his spirits. Get him properly outfited for school so that he could feel confident.

So I bought him a spiderman lunchbox.

And filled it with school supplies.

Just to make him laugh because I can.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Funny Dogs

One of the jobs around the house my darling husband takes care of is that of washing the dogs. We do this rather wet job in the guest bathroom tub (don't worry, if you're ever staying at our house, we do clean it out!). He has the dogs well trained via treats in the tub. They don't necessarily like the bath but they tolerate them for the sake of the treats they get.


He has them trained to turn around in the tub so he can scrub their back end and one of their biggest tricks is to shake when he tells them to shake (with him outside the tub and the curtain safely drawn).


So as I sat in our living room, he was giving Mara Jade (the smaller of the two dogs) a bath. Calista, typically, was pacing around nervously being (a) seperated from her beloved Mara and (b) jealous of Mara getting treats and her not.


As Mara came to the end of her bath, I heard Chris in the bathroom telling her to shake. And all of the sudden to my great amusement, I hear the flapping of Calista's ears and tail as she proceeded to follow instructions very well and shake! Needless to say she earned herself a treat. Partially for being such an obedient dog and partially for just making us laugh.

FlyLadying - Week 2 September

Home Blessing - I wasn't very good about blessing my home last week. Probably because I was sick again most of last week and miserable. Tends to really affect how much I can do.

Zone - Kitchen: Theoretically, I'm supposed to just do 15 minutes a day in whatever zone I'm working on and not work on the weekend. However, given how tired I've often been during the week lately, I'm not always succeeding at doing this. So, this weekend when I was feeling better, I tackled my kitchen on Saturday. And boy did it need it!

The biggest thing I needed to do was to declutter my cupboards. Now, I'm normally pretty good about not hanging on to kitchen stuff that I don't use. I really don't like lots of random items around that just take up space.

What I did need to get rid of was food. Yup, lots and lots of food. Basically all the items that are perfectly good but were things that were gluten filled. Don't get me wrong, we've still got plenty of gluten contaminated food in the house. However, these were things that either I bought for myself to eat and Chris doesn't really like or things that I cook with (for example, cream of ____ soups) but there's no way Chris will eat without them being IN something. And since they were all lurking there taking up space in my cupboard now desperately needed for a whole slew of flours and other new gluten-free items....they had to go! And besides, I think I'm becoming paranoid of accidentally grabbing the wrong thing and poisoning myself.

So I now have quite a large box of food that needs to be given away (we have some receipients in mind).

In with all of this food decontamination, I also rearranged our pots and pans. I hate pots and pans. They don't fit. They're always falling over and getting in the way and driving me crazy. But obviously, as they are absolutely necessities to life, I can't just get rid of them. Chris helped me with this, and I think between the two of us, we did a good job rearranging. We'll see how it goes in the next few weeks. If I start kicking them again, obviously a bad sign!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Phones

I know I've been absent the last few days, and sadly, I'm not actually going to say a whole lot today! However, I wanted to post this very interesting thought I ran into the other day on Comical Coupon Cents. She did not originally write this and does not know where it originated.

CELL PHONE vs. BIBLE
I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bibles like we treat our cell phone?
-What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?
-What if we flipped through it several times a day?
-What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?
-What if we used it to receive messages from the text?
-What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it?
-What if we gave it to Kids as gifts?
-What if we used it when we traveled?
-What if we used it in case of emergency?

I know I don't own a cell phone, but I was reading through this list and actually applying it to several other items in my life that seem to take precedent over the actual important items at times.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

You Know You're a coupon addict when...

You go shopping, are putting the food away, spy two coupons on your cans of organic Del Monte (GF) tomato sauce, and stop the entire putting-away process just so you can rip those coupons off the cans and stash them in your coupon binder! And it makes you smile.

Stupid Coloring

It's 2am. No doubt you are asking yourself why I'm up at 2am. Especially given that "night owl" is definitely not in my description.

Artificial coloring.

Yup, two stupid little words and not enough attention on my part.

And what contained this lovely gluten contaminated, two worded, curse? Cheese.

I thought I had made sure all of our cheese was safe, but I think this may have been some cheese my baby sister bought when she was still here. Regardless, I wasn't paying close enough attention last night, dumped it on my chili-mac' as I had a very late dinner, and viola, 5 hours later I'm wide awake as my body makes very clear to me it is anti-articifical coloring and thus is going to punish me by keeping me up.

The really annoying thing is that I can generally tell within 4 to 5 hours of eating if something is going to be a problem. Actually, I can often tell much earlier than that, but whether it's going to keep me up or not is easily discernable in 4 to 5 hours. i.e. Right around the time I go to bed because we tend to eat dinner pretty early. So I've learned to ward off a sleepless night by taking either prescription or (if it's not to bad) non-prescription sleeping aide.

Well, because I ate late last night, my 4 to 5 hours later was about midnight. When I had already been in bed several hours. And now I can't take anything because I need at least 8 hours to get a sleep aide out of my system and I don't have 4 or 5 hours! GAH!

Let this be yet a lesson to me and all gluten-intolerant people out there...STOP, THINK, and READ labels before eating!

And so, since I have nothing else to do (except sleep which I can't do...) I've posted a new GF bread recipe and a couple of baking tips below. Enjoy!

Some Random GF Baking Notes

1. I'm not sure what ingredient does it; although, I think it's the xanthan gum, but if you ever lick beaters after making a lot of gluten free bread recipes, you will find the dough tastes very metallicy. Something seems to enhance the metal of the beaters. However, you can't taste it at all when the dough is cooked. Why? I don't know! But it had me really worried the first few times I started baking some of these GF recipes!

2. Also, be aware that home-made bread tends to go bad a lot more quickly than store-bought bread. But if you really want to make it go bad super quickly, put it in the fridge! You need to store it in an air-tight container on the counter if you're not freezing the bread.

If you consider what must go in store-bought bread to make it keep that long on the counter or in the fridge and taste exactly the same as when you bought it - BLEAGH!

Basic Featherlight Rice Bread (Gluten Free Bread)

I LOVE this bread! Closest thing to actual wheat bread I've had yet! And it doesn't crumble.

The amounts I'm giving here are enough to make three medium sized loafs or two large loafs of breads. Make sure you have a big bread pans though if you're only making the two loafs.

Dry Ingredients:
Featherlight Rice Flour Mix - 4 cups
Xanthan gum - 3 tsp
unflavored gelatin - 2 tsp
egg replacer - 2 tsp
salt - 1 tsp
sugar - 1/4 cup (I replaced the sugar with honey and it came out great - just make sure you don't put the honey in with the dry ingredients!)
dry milk powder or nondairy substitute - 1/2 cup
dry yeast granules - 2 1/4 tsp

Wet Ingredients:
Eggs - 3
Margarine or butter - 1/3 cup
Dough Enhancer or vinegar - 1 tsp
honey or molasses - 4 tsp
water (more or less) - 2 cups

Grease your chosen pans and dust with rice flour.

The water temperature will be different for hand mixing and for bread machines. For hand mixing have it at about 110F, for bread machine, read the directions in your manual.

For both hand mixing and machine mixing, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

In another bowl (or the bowl of your mixer), whisk all the wet ingredients (except the water) until blended. Add most of the water to the egg mixture. The remaining water will be added as need after the bread has started mixing (either in your mixer or in the pan of the bread machine).

Bread Machine: place the ingredients in the machine pan in the order suggested in the manual. Use the setting for medium crust.

Hand Mixing: With the mixer turned to low, add the dry ingredients (including the yeast) a little at a time. Check to be sure the dough is the right consistency (should be like cake batter). Add more of the water as necessary. Turn the mixer to high and beat for 3.5 minutes.

Spoon into the prepared pans, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 35 minutes for rapid-rising yeast, 60 or more for regular yeast or until the dough reaches the top of the pan.

Bake in a preheated oven at 400F for 50 to 60 minutes, covering after 10 minutes with aluminium foil.

I'm still testing how well this bread freezes. Will try to remember to update this when I find out!

Featherlight Rice Flour Mix (Gluten Free flour mix)

This particular flour mix and the bread recipe, Basic Featherlight Rice Bread, is easily the best gluten free bread I've found yet for making a bread that is the closest I've had to having a wheat bread texture. It's great with sandwiches, toast, etc.

The amounts below will give you 12 cups of flour which can then be used in various recipes.

Rice Flour - 4 cups
Tapioca Flour - 4 cups
Cornstarch - 4 cups
Potato Flour (not potato starch) - 4 tbsp

Dump it all in a zip-lock baggie, squish it all up to mix. Make sure you mark the bag with what kind of flour it is. And viola, flour for bread recipes!

*Note: The previous recipe I posted for Bette's Four Flour Bread Mix is higher in protein than this particular mix. Something to keep in mind for the nutritious conscious.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

FlyLadying - Week 1 September

When properly utlizing my systems, I have every day broken down into things that need to get done. Helps my stress levels and it's amazing what you can get done in 15 minutes or less!

Home Blessing:
FlyLady has what she calls a Home-Blessing day where she spends one hour getting her whole house in general cleanliness. Not deep-cleaning just a general dust, vacuum, changing sheets, sweeping, etc. Each item takes 10 minutes (no more than) and the idea is that with one hour of work the house should be guest ready. Ready to be checked with a white glove? No. But presentable.

Now, I've found that doing one hour on one day just wasn't working for me; inevitably the day I picked to do my Home Blessing I would be tired, extra busy, whatever. So, I've broken my Blessing down to a daily thing. One job takes me 10 minutes (max), and it's done for the week.

Success this week - well, considering we got back on Tuesday and had left the house clean, I didn't do a whole lot. I hit a few areas that needed it, and otherwise didn't do a whole lot of Blessing this week. Next week Monday will be when I try to start getting into my regular daily Blessing. So more on that later!

Zones
The Zoning idea is one of the more brilliant ideas of FlyLady (so I felt). Basically, each week focuses on a different "zone" of the house. This is a time to declutter, deep clean, and generally really focus on that area of the house. Now, her zones didn't match my house very well, so if any of you readers happen to be a FlyBaby, I'm not going to be in the same Zone as her at any time. Just an FYI!

Basically what I do with a Zone is spend 15 minutes (no more than unless I'm really feeling inspired) decluttering (for those unfamiliar with this term - getting rid of extra things that you really don't need in your house) and deep cleaning.

This week's Zone was my hallways, the porches, and the guest bathroom.

The porches, sadly, didn't get touched. They need it, but I didn't have time. And while the perfectionistic side of me sometimes goes a little crazy wanting to clean EVERYTHING, RIGHT NOW, I've come to realize that it's not that helpful and if anything ends up stressing me out. So, having accepted the fact that I just wasn't going to get to them this week, I focused on what I could do.

The hallways got decluttered (not deep cleaned though), especially our back hallway as it tends to wind up with random things on the coat rack hanging on our wall. I think the next few months might find me doing a lot of rearranging as I have some ideas for utlizing our space better and making it feel less strangulated. I do have a pile of things sitting in the hallway right now that need to be put into the garage. That'll happen tomorrow (I think!).

And the guest bathroom got cleaned. Not as thoroughly as I would have liked but enough so that I don't feel embarassed with anyone using it! I tend to be pretty strict on that 15 minute rule with myself.

On top of my regular stuff, I did a quick tidy of the whole house this afternoon. We just had randomness piled up in weird places. It's amazing how much cleaner a house feels with just the stuff being put away. Is it necessarily actually, cleaner? No. But it looks it!

So, September, week 1, I'll give myself an A-! (Yes, yes, go ahead and laugh at me. Get it out of your system. It's allowed. I laugh at myself!)

Order and Chaos

Life is beginning to slow down again, and as far as the changes in my life go, normalize a bit. My baby sister (who lived with us all summer) has moved back out to the dorms, our number of visitors has decreased somewhat (I counted it up, since April - not counting my sister - we have had 2 full 7 day periods of time without guests; it's no wonder I'm a little tired!), and life is beginning to fall into patterns and routines again (upon which I thrive!).

In an attempt to keep myself accountable (if I know I have to 'fess up somewhere, I'm more likely to do it!), I'm going to be talking more about reestablishing my routines around the house - cleaning, decluttering, menu-making, devotions, exercise, etc, etc. Everything has kind of fallen down around me the last few months, and now that I finally feel I'm beginning to get a bit more control over my health, I want to start refocusing my energies on other parts of my life!

Now, as far as cleaning/decluttering, etc a lot of what I talk about in those areas are ideas that come from FlyLady. If you are unfamiliar with FlyLady, she is the charming woman who has a website all about the establishing of routines and systems to get your house (and your life) out of chaos and into order.

When I first started reading her website, I found I was intrigued. I'm a pretty tidy person. I view my home as my sanctuary and so want it to be as clutter and stress-free as possible. However, I really struggled for a long time with how to consistently keep it clean, etc, especially when I was teaching full-time and working 60 or more hours as week. FlyLady gave me some really good ideas in those areas. Did I follow her exact methodology for doing things. Um, well, maybe for a couple of weeks! What I did do though (and this is what she's constantly encouraging people to do) is to take her concepts, rework them to fit my life, and run with it. And with the personalization, her ideas really did change a lot of how I do things. For the better, of course.

Unfortunately, I really haven't been utilizing them lately. So, onward I am going to reutilize good things and revitalize my life!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bette's Four Flour Bread (Gluten Free)

This is a gluten free springy bread that is quite nice. I have only made it the plain, simple way shown here; however, I'll list some other ideas that are supposed to work with this bread (and which I plan on experimenting with).

I don't really find this that good of a sandwich bread - I have a better recipe for that. However, it makes a tasty snack or a light breakfast bread.

The amounts I have listed below are for 1 loaf of bread. Obviously double (or triple or whatever other multiplier you desire) to make more.

Dry Ingredients
Bette's Four Flour Bread Mix - 2 1/4 cups
Dry Yeast granules - 2 1/4 teaspoons

Wet Ingredients
Eggs - 2
Margarine or butter - 3 tbsp
Dough enhancer or vinegar - 1/2 teaspoon
Warm water, milk, or nondairy substitute - 1 cup (more or less)

Instructions
Grease your chosen pan(s) and dust with rice flour.

The liquid temperature will be different for hand mixing and bread machines. For hand mixing, have the liquid at about 110 to 115F; for your bread machine, read the directions in the manual.

For both hand mixing and machine mixing, combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, margarine, and dough enhancer. Add most of the water (liquid of your choice). The remaining liquid should be added as needed after the bread machine has started mixing, either in the bowl of your mixer or in the pan of the bread machine.

Hand Mixing: with the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients a little at a time. Check to be sure the dough is the right consistency (like cake batter). Add more of the reserved liquid as necessary. Turn the mixer to high and beat the batter for 31/2 minutes.

Spoon the dough into the prepared pan(s), cover, and let rise in a warm place about 35 - 45 minutes for rapid rising yeast, 60 or more minutes for regular yeast or until the dough reaches the top of the pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 400F for 50 - 60 minutes. After 10 minutes, cover with aluminium foil.

Bread Machines: place the ingredients in the bread machine in the order suggested by your machine manual. Use the setting for white bread with medium crust.

Variations
  • Lemon-Poppy Seed - for each cup of mix used, add 1 tsp dried lemon peel and 1 tsp poppy seeds to the dry ingredients
  • Quinoa Bread - for each cup of mix used, add 1 tbsp quinoa four to the dry ingredients and 1 tsp honey to the wet ingredients
  • Almond Bread - for each cup of mix used, add 1 1/2 tsp almond meal to the dry ingredients and 1/2 tsp almond flavor to the wet ingredients
  • Cinnamon-Nut - for each cup of mix used, add 1/2 tsp cinnamon to the dry ingredients and stir in 2 tbsp chopped nuts after the dough is mixed
  • Sesame Bean Bread - for each cup of mix used, add 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds to the dry ingredients and 1 tsp molasses to the wet ingredients.
  • Other Suggestions: cocoa powder, grains, nuts, fruits

Nutrients per slice: Calories - 90; Fat - 3 g; Carbohydrates - 14g; Cholesterol - 0mg; Sodium - 90mg; Fiber - 1g; Protein -3g

Bette's Four Flour Bread Mix (Gluten Free)

This is a basic flour mix that you can keep a bag of ready to add to any number bread recipes that I'll be trying out and possibly putting up here in the future. The nice thing about this is that once you have the basic flour mix prepared, when you actually come to bake the bread, you don't have to mess around with a lot of dry ingredients. Basically you add the wet ingredients and go!

I'm going to list the amount to make 12 cups of the flour (which will make 6 loaves of bread); however, it's easy enough to double the recipe and have enough on hand to make 12 loaves.

Instructions: Throw all of the following ingredients in a bag together. Mix (I do this just by squishing the outside of the bag). Write which mix the flour is (as I'm going to be posting more than one type of flour mix like this!) on the front of the bag. Store for future use.

Garbanzo and Fava Bean flour - 3 cups
Sorghum Flour - 1 cup
Tapioca Flour - 4 cups
Cornstarch - 4 cups
Xanthan Gun - 3 tablespoons
Salt - 1 tablespoon
Egg Replacer - 1 tablespoon
Unflavored Gelatin (optional) - 3 (7 gram) envelopes
Sugar* - 3/4 cup

*I refuse to use sweet'n'low or any of the other fake sugars as I think they're about as bad for you as actually using regular cane sugar. However, I have been incorporating rice syrup into a lot of my recipes and plan to try applesauce, maybe fruit juice, or some other sugar replacement ideas I've run across. Haven't done so yet, but I will let you know how it turns out. But, if you do use a wet replacement, obviously, don't add it to the bag of flour otherwise you'll have to use all of the flour immediately! Just don't forget to add it into your list of ingredients for making the actual bread!

Gluten Free Eating

I wanted to put up some of the new GF recipes I've been making lately, so the next few posts are all GF related. I feel like I'm slowly getting into a better place as far as food goes. And I think I'm finally getting to a place where the idea of feeling sick and nasty is emotionally frustrating enough that foods that lead to that state of being are becoming more repulsive to me. Still have the occasional craving, but it's all coming together slowly.

Any ways, I'm going to make a recipes label that will become (theoretically) full of GF goodness (and possibly some not so GF goodness as well - thanks to the Domata flour, I can still make a lot of my old baking recipes with just a few adjustments here and there).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Memphis

A few weeks ago, darling Husband and I were discussing the start of his upcoming schooling and we realized that we really wanted to take a vacation prior to the craziness of the next two years starting. You might remember that we cancelled our vacation in July at the last minute because I was having a hard enough time finding food to eat ate home at the time never mind finding food while on the road! So, after some hemming and hawing, we finally decided to come and visit L & M - some friends of ours in Memphis, Tennessee. So, a few emails later, a bit of packing and arranging, and Friday we headed off.

It was a beautiful drive down and included the entertainment of choosing whether to go to the random towns of Egypt or Pocahontas.

Saturday we spent a lot of the day looking around Memphis - a town that mentally I have always associated with music and now emotionally associate with music!

We:

  • went to St Jude (where M is going to be a doctor)


  • traversed the Mississipi


  • went to a baseball game (where I was entertained primarily by a baby, watched probably about two minutes of the actual game, learned that baseball is a very dangerous spectator sport as objects really do come flying at you, and watched my husband eat a disgusting Memphisian food combo of Nachos, cheese, chicken, and barbecue).


  • walked down Beale street and got a feel for the night life of Memphis



Sunday was church and hanging out playing games.

Monday

I was entertained watching Apple, L & M's pug, wake Chris up in the morning.


Then we went back downtown and watched the ducks walk to their pond in the Peabody Hotel. This was definitely an entertaining show. Due to evacuees from Gustav, there was a ton of people at the hotel for the show. Basically what happens is that these ducks live in a suite in the hotel. Every day at 11am, they are taken down to the lobby of the hotel where they walk a red carpet to a pond in the middle of the hotel lobby and proceed to spend their day swimming around the pond. Then every day at 5pm, they are taken back up to their suite! Totally random? YES! The result of too much alcohol? I believe so! But still fun to see.





The other exciting part of Monday was going to the Gibson guitar factory in Memphis where we saw the factory where the guitars are put together. There were no works that day because it was Labor day; however, it was still pretty cool to go.


Monday night we hung out and played more games (Settlers of Catan - our new favorite addiction and a game L had recently received for her birthday, so we were helping her master strategy for the game). We also had a brief Readers Response session as both Chris and I read and then reviewed for L a story she had recently written (she's working on her masters in Creative Writing at the university in Memphis). Both of which activities Chris and I enjoy doing very much!

And then Tuesday morning it was up early and driving back to Springfield. Tired but happy for having had a brief break.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Frugal Shopping Thoughts

So the last few months my main goal (in terms of shopping/money) has been to get used to this new shopping stuff as well as build up our stock pile of supplies.

I've learned how to cut/organize coupons efficiently.

I've learned how to figure out the best sales and what's worth buying (although that's still a lesson in progress).

I've learned some valuable lessons and rules regarding couponing/frugal shopping (I need to update my rules list I posted before as I've come up with some more since then).

I'm working on trying to plan meals a week in advance and actually follow through on the menu (this has proved to be challenging somewhat, especially when I I hit a gluten-attack and wind up exhausted and cranky and in pain).

As September gets closer, I've been thinking about how to tackle the next month.

(side note - A very wise person told us before we got married that a great budgeting technique is to always be one month ahead of yourself in pay checks. In other words, all of the pay checks we receive in August get put in the bank and not a penny is touched until September 1. Then at the beginning of the month we have our entire month's budget already in hand and we go from there - as opposed to living from pay check to pay check. I don't remember where it was we picked up this concept, but it has been amazingly helpful. Any ways, so when I look at finances and stuff, it's very easy for me to plan a month in advance because I'm not theoretically projecting what we will have in the bank, I know what we have!).

So, in September while obviously continuing the rest of the above techniques (especially the meal-planning because I can't escape people talking about how that is the best way of saving money on food), I'm going to try adding another step to my shopping.

Currently I have a monthly amount of money set aside for groceries etc. I want to break that down into a weekly amount (slightly smaller than what our current budget would allow weekly) and see how I do on that.

It's going to require really thinking through what I'm buying every week, but I think it will be good in the end. And I think that's going to be the real way to start cutting down on our actual grocery budget.

A tricky part is that everyone I've read on this stuff is emphatic about only using cash. And while I do see the benefits of that (forcing you to limit your spending, etc), we use a credit card because of frequent flyer miles (the card get paid in full every month - never again do I want to experience the agony of paying off credit card debt!). And in my family situation (being spread out all over the world), frequent flyer miles are an essential part of life. So I'm going to have to work on being really disciplined on still paying with our card but only allowing x amount per week.

Oh the fun and joys of frugality!