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....