Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekly Savings

Life got extra busy over the past week, and I did not have a chance to do anything extra.  I should have taken time to jot down some of my savings.  Since I did not I will hit the ones that stick out best in my mind.

I have started back entering online sweepstakes and instant wins.  It is a free hobby and only takes a few minutes each day.  Over the past two weeks I received a coupon for Thomas bread products which I used to get two free packages of bagels (the only bread I do not make from scratch).  I also received a speaker for my MP3 player from Kool-Aid.  It is small but has a good sound.

We returned some unused items from the construction of our foundation for a credit.

We planned to get rid of our couch which was a bit worn and smelled a bit too much like Leo.  W set it on the front porch but had not had time to haul it to the landfill.  A neighbor stopped to get some eggs and asked about the couch.  I explained the problems but she still wanted it.  She offered to pay, but I refused.  She was saving us money (and time) by taking it.

I once again stuck to my $30 grocery budget.  I was honestly a bit surprised that I have a cushion of $6 which I can use for stocking up.

I made ranch and honey mustard salad dressings.  Both are super easy to mix together.  The flavor is so much better than bottled dressings.

Thus far all of our construction trash has fit in our regular weekly trash can.  This saves us from paying additional fees to dispose of the trash.  It also means we are not producing an enormous amount of waste.

I did the usual:  packed W's lunch in reusable containers, hung laundry outside to dry, cooked meals at home, and opened the windows thanks to the mild weather.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix

I loved Mark Bittman's book A Bone to Pick so much that I jumped at the chance to get his newest book, Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix.  Kitchen Matrix is a different type of cookbook.  Rather than featuring hundreds of individual recipes, it provides various options for recipes.  You start with a basic recipe and are then presented with alternatives  For example in Tomatoes +12 ways readers are given four categories of tomato preparation:  salads, soups, stuffed, and sauces.  Each category then has three options.

My favorite part of Kitchen Matrix is that it helps cooks build on basic recipes and techniques.  I can see using it to expand from a simple recipe to something with flavors that I would not have normally considered.  I already make gnocchi, but this cookbook offers instructions for turning a basic gnocchi into carrot or spinach gnocchi.  Kitchen Matrix covers everything from soups and salads to desserts.

Most of the ingredients are common.  For those of us living out in the middle of nowhere some are impossible to find.  The knafeh a la creme looks amazing, but I will never (ever, ever) be able to find knafeh pastry (shredded phyllo).

I am not sure that this will be one of my top go-to cookbooks, but it does offer something for everyone.  I can easily see me using it to expand my menu.  The 10 recipes for spice blends is a great section.  I love cookbooks that are made with basic, real ingredients.  This cookbook fits that perfectly!

disclosure:  I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Review: Flipped for Murder

Flipped for Murder is the first book in the Country Store Mysteries series by Maddie Day.  This cozy mystery is set in Indiana and focuses on newcomer Robbie Jordan.  Robbie has opened a country store/restaurant.  Things are off to a great start until the mayor's much disliked assistant turns up dead.

I enjoyed the storyline as well as the characters.  It was an interesting portrayal of life in a smaller town.  As far as cozy mysteries go, this could be the start of a favorite new series.  The story had enough twists and turns to keep things interesting but not so many that it left my head spinning.

If you are a fan of cozy mysteries, I recommend you give this book a try.  Flipped for Murder will be released on October 27, 2015.  I am already looking forward to the next book in the series!

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley in exchange for this review but was not otherwise compensated.  All opinions are my own!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Furry Friday: Introducing Thea

About a month ago when W fed the chickens by himself, he asked me did I know there was a cat in the chicken house.  I had no idea.  He found her eating an egg.  A cat in the chicken house was no problem.  A cat in the chicken house eating eggs was a big problem.  I solved that by putting out bowls of food and water.  We rarely saw the cat anywhere but up a tree after that.  The cat food was disappearing, but we could never prove she was actually eating it.

Fast forward a month and we have officially been adopted by a gray calico kitten we named Thea.  She still lives in the chicken house but no longer eats eggs.  She will allow us to pet her a bit and comes when called for supper.

Thea likes to watch while I work in the garden.

She loves to play and cannot understand why none of the chickens want to play with her. 

We have no idea if she was left at our house or found it on her own.  She is a sweet cat and has a forever home with us!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Key Lime Cake

Last month my father-in-law asked me to bake a cake for my mother-in-law's birthday dinner.  I remembered that she loved key lime pie, but I needed a cake recipe.  I turned to Pinterest of course.  I found several recipes for key lime pound cake.  I wanted something a bit grander though.  Then I stumbled upon this key lime cake recipe from Bakerella.  The recipe used basic ingredients for the most part and was easy put together.

As usual I made a few changes to the original recipe.  I used juice from regular limes (at 25 cents each) rather than key limes.  I also added some lime zest to the cake and the frosting.  I substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream only because I had yogurt that needed to be used.  I cut the amount of sugar in the cake to 1 cup.  I also halved the frosting recipe.  It was plenty of frosting for the cake.  I cannot imagine trying to put a full frosting recipe on one cake.  I added a fresh lime slice to the top.

The cake was delicious and not too sweet.  It was very moist.  I ended up making the cake again for a church dinner the following weekend.  This recipe is a definite keeper!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Holiday Grand Plan Week 7 and Last Week's Recap

Recap first and then my plans....I managed to do a bit of cleaning but not much.  I am beginning to feel like I should just give up.  Every little bit helps though.  I did get my craft room table cleaned and worked more on the Christmas cards.  I spent some time working on the baby blanket.  It is coming along well.  The weather finally cleared, and I was able to work in the yard.  I spent a couple of days in the garden and another afternoon cleaning up construction mess.

Week 7 of the Holiday Grand Plan can be found here.  I do not have a guest room so I can continue to work on catching up.

*I will try again to finish the bathroom.  Keeping up on regular cleaning keeps me busy enough.

Holiday Prep
*I will continue to work on the Christmas cards and may simplify the design slightly to go ahead and finish those this week.

*I am crocheting dish cloths and scrubbers to donate to a church sale so the blanket is on hold for a week.  These come together quickly, and crocheting relaxes me.

*Continue to move donations and Operation Christmas Child stuff to the church.
*Spend some time organizing the freezer in the house.  I do not want to do a major cleaning, but it does need some work.
*Keep up with cleaning the construction mess in the yard.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Weekly Savings

We received a bill from the building supply company for the materials delivered.  I compared the bill slips with the delivery slips and discovered we had been overcharged for blocks.  I took both receipts in and was credited for $10.11.

I stuck to my $30 grocery budget this week.  I used coupons toward milk, lettuce, frozen pizza, and frozen fries.  That amount also includes purchasing a pack of red onion sets for the garden.  I planted 50 and passed the others on to family members who also garden.

My mother gave me a vase of flowers.  They were used in a wedding and then used in a church service.  The original arrangement started to fall apart.  She saved the best to make individual arrangements.

I put out some Halloween decorations once again using items I already had on hand.  I have things that I love so I happily use them over and over again.

I planned leftovers for lunch on the day that I worked.  Having a meal already planned removes the temptation to pick up something from a fast food place or the grocery store.

I put together a simple birthday gift of lotion and candles using items from my pantry.  These items were free or very cheap so I had little out of pocket cost.  It made a nice, useful gift though.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book Review: Cluttered Attic Secrets

Cluttered Attic Secrets is written by Jan Christensen, a new to me author of cozy mysteries.  The book started off strong and had a good flow throughout.  The story opens with friends Tina and Leslie investigating a possible haunting in Leslie's home.  The story takes a more sinister turn when a murder occurs.  The book has a touch of romance but not so much that it turned me off.  (I am not a fan of romance novels at all.

The plot kept me wanting to read just a few more pages.  The support characters added to the story rather than causing confusion which is often a fine line.  Once again I did not realize that this was not the first book in the series until after reading it.  Cluttered Attic Secrets stands well on its own.

My only criticism of the book is the sprinkling of minor errors throughout.  Perhaps this was due to the ebook copy that I received and was resolved in final editing.  While the errors did jump out at me, I was not annoyed to the point I wanted to quit reading.

disclosure:  I received this e-book through NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

My New Adjusted Grocery Budget & a Coffee Discount

Last week Susan from Retirement Fun(ds) left a comment regarding my grocery budet:

How will you be able to cut $20 from your grocery budget?  Won't you need every dollar to stockpile your pantry for Christmas baking?

 This is a great question considering that my budget was pretty small ($50/week for 2 adults) to start.  We eat 99.9% of our meals at home.  Here are some ways I plan to cut that to $30/week for at least the next few months.

  1. I already have a well stocked pantry.  My aunt lives near a larger city and loves to bargain shop.  She keeps me supplied with many basics  (pasta, sugar, etc) and also picks up some free after coupon items.  I currently have a large home freezer that is full of garden produce.  I also canned several buckets of tomatoes.  
  2. I cook basic foods.  Fancy ingredients are fun to use, but they are also more expensive.  Basic spices bought in bulk can be transformed into many things.  I have said before that I often toss packaged convenience foods, but I very rarely throw out flour, cocoa, salt, pepper, etc.  Having basic ingredients means you can easily create a wide variety of meals.
  3. We process our own meat (venison).  W is a hunter.  I know many people are against hunting, but meat does not grow in those wrapped packages you see in the grocery store. It is difficult to find meats at the grocery store that have been raised humanely.  I buy very little pork and only one brand of chicken.  W only kills what we need to eat and nothing more.  We have our own equipment for processing the venison and a vacuum sealer to keep it fresh in the freezer.  
  4. I buy in bulk.  I can get two pounds of yeast from Sam's Club for less than one jar of yeast at the grocery store.  also purchase flour and spices in bulk.  If you do not think you can use everything, consider splitting with a friend or family member.
  5. I buy items only when they are on sale.  This is a big money saver.  For example I never buy milk if it is not on sale.  Milk freezes well so I buy several gallons when it goes on sale.  By eating what I have in the pantry, I have a little extra money to buy things on sale to replace holes in my pantry stockpile.  
  6. I grow a garden.  I am fortunate to live in a climate where I can grow something year around.  Even if you cannot grow in the winter months, you can grow something in the summer.  Limited space?  Many things grow well in containers.  I have an abundance of peppers so I have been freezing them to use during the winter months.  Lettuce grows well here this time of year.  A package of seeds and homemade salad dressing means we can eat cheap but delicious salads.
Those are just a few of my money saving tricks.  I fully expect that some weeks I will go over the $30 budget.  That is okay.  Setting the $30 budget makes me think about my purchases.  It makes it easier for me to say "NO" to impulse purchases.  It is also forcing me to use what I have in the pantry.  

One purchase is non-negotiable, and that is our Camano Island Coffee.  I would switch over to grocery store coffee.  I am not saying I would like it, but I would make the sacrifice.  W on the other hand says this is one of the last food areas he will give up.  The coffee is shade grown, organic, and fair trade.  While the first two are good, I feel strongly about the last.  It is also roasted fresh-to-order  We use the Coffee Lovers Club which costs $34.99 for two pounds of coffee.  Yes, it is more expensive, but the taste is beyond comparison.   We each generally drink two cups of coffee a day, and this amount lasts us for 10 weeks.  That comes out to $3.50 per week.  Many people spend that much (or more) on one cup of coffee.

Now for the discount, by using this link you can get $20 off your first order.  (disclosure:  I will also get a $20 discount on my first order if you sign up through my referral link.)  You can choose the type of coffee and the grind.  You also get to choose how often you want the coffee delivered.  If you try it but do not like it, you can cancel any future shipments.  Details on how can be found at this link.  Just be forewarned that the coffee is delicious!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Holiday Grand Plan: Week 6 and Last Week's Recap

This week I will start with a recap.  Let me say if you are building a new house, do not plan to do much else.  I did not get any extra cleaning done.  I had to go into town three days - standing volunteer work, errands (mainly for the new house), and work.  The last meant extra money which is good.  My craft room is a disaster so I did no work on the Christmas cards.  The weather was wet all week so no work in the yard.  (My prayers go out to the flood victims, and I am thankful it was only damp and a minor disruption here.)  I never made it to the church to do work on the shoebox stuff.  Finally I gave up on doing the felt paper dolls this year.  They became more of a dreaded chore than a lovingly crafted gift.  I will plan to do them for next Christmas.

I have given myself permission to accept that things are not always going to go as planned.  Building the house is a once in a lifetime adventure.  For this season of my life, I will do what I can and let the rest go!

That does not mean that I do not have plans for the coming week and for the Holiday Grand Plan.  Here is a link to the official list for Week Six.  The good thing for me is that I have no kid's room to clean so I can try for a bit of catch up.

I am going to try again to clean the master bathroom.  If I can get the cabinet decluttered and the bathtub/shower scrubbed, I will be thrilled!

Holiday Prep
I hope to clean off my craft room table enough to work on Christmas cards.  I now need to keep an eye out for six little girl gifts.

It is a relief to not have to think about the felt dolls.  I am back to crocheting the baby blanket which will be a Christmas gift.  I am about 1/5 of the way done.

Depending on the weather, I hope to work in the yard.  My other plan is to haul boxes of items to the church for a yard sale at the end of the month.  I am donating the items just to get them out of the way.  I also want to move all of the Operation Christmas Child stuff to the church.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Weekly Savings

I had to go into town to volunteer at the nursing home on Monday.  I went straight there and back home spending nothing than a little gas.

Wednesday was another trip to town to pick out a tub and a shower insert.  I stopped at the grocery store and only bought 2 gallons of milk.

I lined dried all of our laundry working around the cloudy, misty weather.

I started back doing Swagbucks.  I decided that I could use some of the Amazon gift cards to buy general things for the new house for nothing out of pocket.  That will free up some money for other things.

I taught a private computer lesson at the local technical college.  I was able to pick up some paperwork for the new house on this day too.  I planned ahead for an easy lunch when I got home.  I made potato salad the day before and put ribs in the crockpot before leaving the house.  It kept me from picking up anything easy at the grocery store on the way home.

We had a dinner at church today.  I made deviled eggs (free eggs from my chickens), layered salad (with lettuce leftover for a salad later this week), six pans of dinner rolls (brought home leftovers to freeze), and a key lime cake (for $1.50 worth of limes).  I also made some sauces for the chicken tenders using items from my pantry.

I received $2 in Amazon credit for Kindle books by choosing the No-Rush shipping rather than Prime.  I was not in a hurry for the items and can use the credit for a free or discounted book.

I picked peppers and herbs from the garden.

I stopped at Dollar General on the way home from teaching to pick up dog and cat foods.  The dog food was on sale and had a $1 coupon on the package.  Both foods are cheaper there than anywhere else.

I have been making orange envelopes to go along with my homemade Halloween stationery.  I make the stationery and envelopes from copy paper.  It is much cheaper than buying stationery.  I use a Martha Stewart scoring board and glue sticks bought on sale at back to school time to make the envelopes.

I stopped buying air fresheners since they aggravate my allergies.  Instead I have been using essential oils in my diffuser to freshen the house.  It is cheaper and smells much better.

I picked up a few bananas and used fruit already on hand to make a big bowl of fruit salad.  It seems that when there are bits and pieces of fruit we will eat it better when made into a fruit salad.

I made a double batch of mini spinach quiche.  These and a salad make a nice meal for me when W is at work.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review: Called for Life

I think most everyone can remember the news story of the first person treated for Ebola in America.  I do not watch much news coverage, but I distinctly remember watching Dr. Kent Brantly step out of an ambulance and walk into the hospital.

Called for Life:  How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic by Kent and Amber Brantly with David Thomas takes that basic news coverage to another level.  It puts human faces and names with the generic stories of the Ebola outbreak.  The book begins with the story of how Kent and Amber Brantly met and eventually became missionaries in Africa.  It transitions into the start of the Ebola outbreak and to how Kent Brantley first became sick.

I enjoyed how the story unfolded from both Kent's and Amber's points of view.  I started the book and read a couple of chapters.  Two days later I had intentions of reading a couple more chapters.  Instead I read until I finished the entire book.  The story was both fascinating and heart breaking.  It was a story that needed to be told.  Called for Life is a book that I will recommend and share.

disclosure:  I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Furry Friday

 Leo has happily acted as supervisor while everyone has been working on our new house.  He has done more than enough barking as workers come and go.

Paris could not care less about the construction.  She was more interested in the string that was used to square up the house.  Fortunately there were some extra pieces for playtime.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Decorating for Autumn on a Budget

I shared this wreath earlier.  I have used it for several years so it has paid for itself long ago.  Using a wreath over and over is very frugal.

I bought all three scarecrows on clearance over 10 years ago.  They are older so I decided to use them on the porch rather than in the house.  The pumpkins are left from last year's harvest.  I have been feeding some to the chickens.  These were still in great condition so I decided to use them for decorating and will give them to the chickens after Thanksgiving!

The decorations are not fancy, but I was able to decorate without spending a penny.  That definitely works for super savings mode!