Monday, June 10, 2013

The hustle and bustle of the end of another school year

While I am not a teacher in the traditional sense, I do feel the hustle and bustle of the end of the school year.  Getting the remaining work done, getting extra work done, administering gets hectic!  And the teachers are as ready to be done with the year as the students.  That's the time of year it is for me right now.  I finished up with one student yesterday and will finish with my other one the beginning of next week.  I do have to say that regardless, I really enjoy what I do and we are very lucky that I am able to work part time and make decent money while not having to use daycare.  Now, if you know me, then you know I don't have a problem with daycare.  There are people that don't want to stay at home with their kids, and they shouldn't.  You will be a much better parent if you are happy in what you are doing and if staying at home doesn't work for you, then go to work and use a daycare!  There are also parents out there that don't have a choice but to work full time. That's what they're there for, so please don't feel like I think working is the "wrong" thing to do.  I'll come back from my sidebar now.  :)

Because my schedule has been super tight, I've been making more casseroles and freezer meals.  But really, about all of my meals you can freeze right now because I'm not at home to cook in the evenings.  Richelle turned me onto so I've been trying some meals from there this week.  We had the Skinny Italian Spinach Meatballs at the beginning of the week.  Not my best effort.  If I had done everything as written I'm betting they would have been better.  I didn't think to thaw my spinach and was out of time, so I thawed it partially in the microwave then put it in the meat.  Didn't take any of the water out of it.  I also was out of parmesan cheese, so there was no cheese in them at all.  I probably didn't use enough garlic either because I was running low on it.  (This is what happens at the end of the school year!)  I also didn't buy anything special for this.  I used the bread I had on hand, which I believe is 1 point a slice. I (we) am (are) lucky in the fact that my parents buy their meat from a butcher in Bassett and they bring us meat when they visit, so we have really good meat.  I will tell you without hesitation that I am a meat snob.  My grandfather was a butcher and I refuse to buy meat in a typical grocery store.  I will buy it on occasion from Costco, and will buy from Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Fresh Market, but not the other big chain grocery stores.

Back to the menu.  I also made Chicken Divan, Lightened Up which Jefferson served with rice.  Again, I went with what I had.  For some reason I didn't make my grocery list very well even though I had the recipes in front of me.  While there's 5 of us, I didn't use 1 1/2 lbs of broccoli or 24 oz of chicken.  I used about a pound of chicken and about 12 oz of broccoli.  I cut the cheese in half and didn't put any on top simply because I only had sliced swiss.  Jefferson gets swiss on his sandwiches for work, so I almost always have light swiss slices.  I omitted the sherry because I'm too cheap to open a bottle of white wine for 2 oz and made chicken broth using Better than Bouillon, though I don't pay nearly that amount for it because I buy it at Costco.  I was totally out of parmesan still so I didn't use that either.  Regardless of the changes I made, it was really good.  There wasn't much left for me to eat when I got home. :)

Speaking of not much left, dinner from Wednesday night was a hit.  So much of one that Jefferson told me when I was on my way home to stop and get dinner because there wasn't any left for me.  Cheeseburger Casserole.  I didn't think that would be the best dinner ever, but apparently it is.  I added some more noodles because I thought it could use more and split it into two dishes for two meals.  Maybe I'll get some of the other one. :)

I did make a meal that was a blast from my past last weekend.  Its what we call Daddy Bob's Stuff, named after my grandfather.  The girls ate it like no other, so it will definitely be going into the rotation.

Daddy Bob's Stuff

1.  Peel, slice, and boil 3-4 good sized potatoes.
2.  Brown 1 lb ground chuck.
3.  Make a cream soup (I use this recipe.)
4.  Add about 1/2 C additional milk to thin the soup out a bit.
5.  Layer 1/2 the potatoes, 1/2 the meat, 1/2 the soup mixture, then repeat.  Sprinkle with cheddar cheese then bake at 350 for about 25 minutes.

Really simple and really yummy.  Even Jefferson said he liked it this time, which he usually doesn't care for it.  I guess it really is the difference in cooking from scratch.

Until next time....

Monday, June 3, 2013

How I became a private school parent

I went to public school my entire life; chose a public college; became a public school teacher; still work for a public school system, just not in the traditional sense of a teacher.  Jefferson teaches public school.  Because of this I have had many people ask me why we chose private school for Dori (with our other children to follow).

There are many answers to that question and I always worry that I'm going to sound stuck up or make people think I believe I am better than they are.  By no means is that my intention.  The education she is getting is of the highest quality which by far is the main reason I am happy we chose St. Catherine's.

There were many roads that helped lead us to attend St. Catherine's and I cannot be happier after the first year.  When Dori was born, my mother-in-law was hell bent she was going to St. Catherine's and I dug my heels in.  I'm not sending my child to a school that you have to get on a waiting list five years in advance!  I went to public school, public school is fine for her!  Wow, did I ever eat my words.  I did go to public school, but not here.  I grew up in a small town and went to the best schools in the county.  Our children would not be going to the best schools in the county.  We don't live in those areas and can't move to those areas.  Don't get me wrong, from what I have been told the elementary school we are zoned for is a good school.  There are better, there are worse.  When it came time to start looking we decided to try and see what came of it.  After all of the testing, meetings, and other various activities, we decided to apply to St. Catherine's.  And to correct an earlier statement, we didn't go on a waiting list 5 years beforehand.  We did the normal application route beginning September-ish of the year before she was to start.

The education she is receiving is phenomenal.  I cannot say enough about her teachers and the school in general.  I really feel as though every teacher and staff member at the school has the students' best interests in mind and puts in the work they need to in order to help them achieve the best they can.  That's not to say teachers in the public schools don't, but there are some that don't.  After seeing everything teachers go through (and its worse now than it was when I was teaching) who can blame them?  They're beat down and not appreciated.  The way they have to teach, in preparation for the tests is ridiculous.  I could go on and on.  Until a bunch of people that make the laws but aren't teachers wake up, it won't change.  It's holding students back and I don't want my children held back because of a test.  I really didn't want to rely on chance at her getting a good teacher; better yet I didn't want to take the chance she didn't get a good teacher.  Not only that, with all that teachers put up with now, it makes me not want to even think about going back into the classroom in a few years when I go back to work.  I only ever wanted to be a teacher.  Where do I go from here now?  That is a totally different post however!

Most of the things that happen in her school could be implemented in a public school but probably won't be because of testing and a lack of funding, or rather it not being seen as important.

Her school year ended Friday.  She was sent home with four packs of work.  One pack for each of the three months with a schedule attached and one pack of handwriting practice.  A total of about 75 sheets of paper.  Jefferson could send home copies with 6 of his students with his paper allotment for the month.  

She has recess daily and two specials a day including PE, Spanish, dance, Chinese, music, art, library, and computer.  I know all of this can't be implemented in public schools, but some of it can, however its not seen as important in the development of children.  

Dori went into school not reading.  She knew her letters and her letter sounds, but wasn't reading.  I wasn't concerned either because I knew it would come and if I forced it she would hate it.  She is now reading at the end of 1st grade, beginning of 2nd grade level and loves it.

I could go on and on, but won't because I already feel as though this is choppy and all over the place.  Bottom line, public schools need to be revamped and teachers need to be allowed to teach.  You want to know why our students can't compete with students in other countries?  Because they don't know how to think, they know how to test and that wasn't good enough for our children if we could do anything else for them.

First Day of Kindergarten

Last Day of Kindergarten

Dori and Ms. Houston

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The week of awesomeness in May

Last week was probably the busiest week of the year in our home.  Its that way every year.  It begins with Mother's Day, which at times is on the same day as Jefferson's birthday, but if its not then his birthday immediately follows, three days later Dori's birthday and somewhere in there is Dori's birthday party.  

Mother's Day was spent hanging out at home, not doing much, which was AWESOME!  We went for a walk, planted the garden (or was the the week before?) that the animals have already eaten, and just hung out at home in general.  I had sushi for dinner while Jefferson got the girls and himself pizza from Little Caesars.  It was a very nice, relaxing day.

The next day was Jefferson's birthday.  As is tradition, he picked the place for dinner.  He wanted Popeye's.  Myriam and I braved the not so nice part of town to get Popeye's which we had with a number of our friends.  Then it was cake time, a rather large chocolate chip cookie.  Dori gave him a "disappearing Tardis" mug and Ginny gave him a Doctor Who book.  Amelia and I gave him movie tickets.
The 6 year old!
Fast forward three days and you get to Dori's birthday.  She started the day out with pancakes, went to
school, then after I picked Dori up I took the girls to the nail salon.  Again as has become tradition, I take the girls (Amelia hasn't been able to start this yet) and each child gets either their finger nails or toe nails painted on the actual birth day.  It make for really great Mommy/Daughter time and is cheap.  After Jefferson got
home we did presents, which she got two Lego sets (the girl loves her some legos!) and a guitar.  Her restaurant of choice for dinner was Sakura.  We had friends join us there and everyone enjoyed a nice dinner.  Then home for Lemon Buttercream cake and to bed for the girls.

Lemon Buttercream Cake...I"ll try to find the recipe later...

I just think this picture is hilarious!

Parties are expensive.  Period.  After calling around to many party places in the area I was very pleased when she told me she wanted to have it at a park.  We went to Dunncroft Park and everyone had a really good time despite the fact that it had been raining on and off all day.  The kids played, the adults talked and everyone enjoyed themselves.  Her theme was Unicorns and Rainbows.  The kids decorated unicorn horns with stickers, played pin the horn on the unicorn, which Dori drew the unicorn, and we had a pinata.  Of course we had the requisite cake and food.  For food we had pigs in a blanket, taquitos, rainbow fruit, tulip vegetables, Doritos, and strawberry lemonade.  The cake was from Costco, because really, you can't beat the cost of a Costco cake and they're good.  Plus it saved me from having to make a cake from scratch, which seems to always be the thing that throws birthday parties behind for me.  Ok, one of the things, but the main thing.
Rainbow Fruit

Tulip Vegetables
I am back to working 4-815 every night of the week until school gets out.  The good news is that I really like both of the students I'm working with.  The bad news is that I'm not home for dinner or bedtime during the week, which puts a lot on Jefferson and is something I miss.  I try to make casseroles and freeze them or have something simple for dinner so that he doesn't have to do but so much.  Last night we had a Chicken Taco Casserole, which was really good.  Even the kids ate it!  The majority of my recipes are tweaked to what I have or want to add in.  I also get a lot of recipes from the site Six Sisters Stuff.  I have yet to try a recipe from there that was not good.  Their chicken taco recipe follows, with my tweaks below it.

Chicken Taco Casserole
1 (10 oz) bag tortilla chips
2 (10.75 oz) cans cream of chicken soup (I used 98% fat free)
1 1/2 cups sour cream (I used light)
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes and green chilis (Ro-tel)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (1 oz) packet taco seasoning
3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
2 cups cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9×13-inch pan.
In a large bowl, combine the chicken soup, sour cream, Ro-Tel, black beans, taco seasoning and chicken. Set aside.
Crush chips (I just crush them with my hands) and spread half of them on the bottom of the pan. Spread half of the chicken mixture over the tortillas.  Top with 1 cup of cheese.  Repeat layers.
Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly and cheese is starting to brown.
Recipe adapted from Plain Chicken
1.  I don't measure out my tortilla chips.  I crush them up and spread them until what I need covered is covered. 
2.  I don't buy Cream of Chicken soup any longer.  I use this recipe.  I buy Better than Bouillon from Costco and keep in the refrigerator.  I honestly don't know if its any cheaper than buying a can but its so much better in so many ways.  
3.  I didn't have any Ro-tel when I first made this recipe, but I had salsa so I used that.  It worked so well I haven't tried the recipe with Ro-tel any time I've made it.  
4.  I don't buy taco seasoning.  I make this recipe.  I make it in a plastic container and store it in the freezer for when I need it.  I think it tastes better and I know exactly what's in it.  
5.  I don't use 3 cups of chicken.  I use two chicken breasts and I cut them up with my salad choppers I bought when I was a Pampered Chef consultant.  
I then put the casseroles together (I make that plural because I split it into two dishes) and freeze them. When Jefferson decides he wants one, he gets it out and cooks it for dinner.  

I will also say, and I'm sure I'll hit on this in future posts, I do almost all of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's.  If you don't have one near you, I'm sorry.  Its cheaper, the customer service is phenomenal, and I don't have to read labels.  Is everything organic and nothing bad in any of it?  No, but its non-GMO, no HFCS, along with minimal processing.  If you have one near you and haven't been, go check it out.  There are times I can't get everything I need there, but for the most part I can and do.  I'm pickier about my produce so at times I don't get my produce there because its already packaged.  I have found that they sell bags of organic apples and pears where the fruit is small enough for the girls to finish the entire piece in one sitting, which saves so much because they aren't wasting half a piece of fruit.

I'll leave you with a great picture of Amelia.  If you're in a bad mood or want to smile, look at this picture. It will cure your bad mood and make you laugh!  Until next time....

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Financially how we are doing it.

Jefferson and I decided at the beginning of 2013 to venture down a different financial path in an effort to rid ourselves of debt.  Not just "bad" debt, but all debt.  As it turns out, it is a really long process (our fault) but we're doing it.  Slowly but surely.  A couple of my friends had posted on Facebook how they were debt free the Dave Ramsey way, so I decided to check it out.  A couple of books from the library, and a few forms printed from the internet later, and we were on our way.  We now use cash.  Envelopes are made for about everything.  The normal bills still come out of the checking account, but otherwise its cash.  Groceries have an envelope.  As does gas, offering for church, eating out money, basically anything outside of the mortgage, power, water, etc bills have an envelope.  When its gone its gone.  And you really do think harder about spending cash than you do about swiping a card.  My life, especially, has been so much better the past couple of months because there isn't the stress of where are we getting the money to pay that bill?  Instead it's, "I have this much money for groceries this week so I need to cut some things down.  What do I already have that I can add to in order to make a well rounded meal?"  Oh, and no credit cards.  Ever.  No borrowing money.  Ok, we have broken that rule and will continue to break that one until Jefferson is done with his Masters, but i'm not willing to give up what he's already completed because we have to take out a loan.  I do know we will pay more than the minimum in order pay it down more quickly when the time comes.  I just hate that its taken us this long to get to this point.  At least we're here and working it down.

One of the things I pride myself on is providing my family with (mostly) healthy foods on a pretty tight budget for 5 people.  I'm relatively certain I have budgeted less than a family of 5 would get for food stamps.  And my budget is for all household things.  Not just food.  Toilet paper, diapers, paper towels, dog food, etc. all come out of that budget.  

After reading through a few blogs I have gone to tweaking some recipes to make them more healthy and stay as cheap as possible.  Staples, for the most part, come from Costco.  I buy rice and flour in 25 lb bags.  We bought orange "Homer" buckets from Home Depot.  I washed them really well a few times, then we put the extra flour and rice in them for storage.  I got 25 lbs of flour for $8.39 and 25 lbs of rice for $9.99.  This month we needed sugar.  I bought 10 lbs of white sugar for $4.49, 7 lbs of brown sugar for a little more than $4, and 7 lbs of confectioner's sugar for a little more than $4.  I don't have anything special for storage outside of my normal canisters and the orange buckets.  The extra white sugar is still in the bag, sealed in a ziploc.  The brown and confectioner's sugar both have zipper seals on the bags.  


Rice (yes they have lids.  I just didn't use them for the picture.)

My girls all like oatmeal for breakfast.  Again, in my research, I found a recipe for making your own oatmeal packets.  It took a little bit of time, but Ginny and I did it together so it was a good mommy/daughter project.  I bought a huge box of oats from Costco for a little more than $8, used one of the two bags in the box, almost a 2 lb bag of brown sugar, a bag of raisins, and snack size ziploc bags.  I ran out of raisins and ziploc bags, so there are a few bags without raisins and a few oats left in the bag.  For less than $10 I made 65 homemade oatmeal packs that Jefferson and the kids like to eat. (I don't like oatmeal, so they can have all of it!)  

My recipe: 

1/3 C oats
1 tbsp brown sugar
a few raisins

Add 2/3 C water and cook in your microwave.  I can't tell you specific times.  My microwave has them done in a minute and a half at 50% power.  

There are so many other things that hopefully I'll have time to add to the blog about.  The main reason I decided to start writing again was because I figured other people want to do things the way that I am by saving money, so I can add in my tips as I come across them.  I hope you enjoy.  I'm going to leave you with a picture of Dori after she lost her first tooth because she looks so happy and innocent.  Exactly the opposite of the way she acted this afternoon! :)  

Until next time....