Saturday, November 20, 2010

Family Game Night - TV Show




We have recently gotten a new channel on Direct TV called "The Hub" (channel 294). It plays the most random shows during the day, but at night it runs things like Family Ties, The Wonder Years, Happy Days, Growing pains, etc. We have noticed, that on Friday nights, it runs a new game show hosted by Todd Newton called Family Game Night. It's sponsored by Hasbro and has families of 4 or 5 competing against each other in life-sized games such as Sorry, Boggle, Guesstures, Cranium, Connect 4, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Simon Says, Bop It, etc.

It this generation's Double Dare, but without the slime! We absolutely love it and have started watching it every Friday night while we eat pizza and play board games. The boys really look forward to it and we have the most fun cheering on the families. We always split up into two teams and each root for a team. I'm so glad they still make fun family shows like this.

The boys have already started asking when they will be old enough to compete on this show! :)

Child Craft Books



Because you know I love all things 1950's, you may not be surprised that I have a love and appreciation for the Child Craft books of that time.

My mother had these when she was a child and she has passed them on to me. I have volumes 1-15 from the early '50s and I read to the boys from them almost every night.

Right now we're reading from Once Upon a Time and Poems and Rhymes. I just love the old fairytales, some of which are almost impossible to find anymore. I adore the old illustrations, the smell of the 60-year-old book, and the simplicity of the poems. The boys are really enjoying it and we've had the most fun reading from them.

We can't wait to dive into some of the other books like: The World of Animals, The World of Planets, and See the World. I highly recommend adding these to your children's libraries. You can find that at garage sales, on Ebay, used book stores, and other online places. I have seen them at used bookstores for only $3 each.

Our Willow Tree




We have the most beautiful willow tree in our front yard. It has grown so much the past 4 years that you almost can't see our front door anymore when you're coming down the street. We live in an area that gets it's fair share of rain, so the willow tree is great in soaking up all of the excess water.

My favorite thing about the tree is that it never stops moving. Even when the air seems still, the long branches seems to move ever so slightly. When it's very windy or during the storm, the branches flop all over the place whip through the air. The boys love to walk through the branches and pretend they're in the jungle.

I absolutely love our tree in late afternoons. We have 27 windows in this house and I keep the blinds open on every one of them every day to let the natural light in. In the late afternoon, we get the most beautiful shadows from those branches blowing in the wind all over our floors and walls. It's so relaxing and peaceful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies



I love fall baking, and each year I have a few standards my family can always expect. One of my favorites is Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. They always remind me of fall and I can't wait to bite into them when the weather gets cooler!

The boys got out of school a little early today, so we set off making these as soon as they got home from school. It took us about 2 hours from start to finish, but little Beaver was with me the entire time in his little apron, totally enjoying himself. He even served one warm to Ward, who was patiently waiting in the living room while the sweet pumpkiny smells swirled all around.

We're having family game night tonight with pizza, so this is the perfect dessert to go along with our night of fun!

Holiday Music




Like most people, this is my absolute FAVORITE time of year. The weather has FINALLY cooled down and the highs are in the upper 50's, where they should be for this time of year. The leaves are still falling (but not for much longer) and the grasses have finally turned almost completely brown. Yea! Fall is finally here in all it's glory.

As a rule for myself, I try not to "rush the seasons". In the fall, I like to bake pies, make "pumpkin-y" things, put orange and yellow and brown decorations out, and watch Thanksgiving movies. But mid-November gets a little overlappy for me. I know Thanksgiving is only a week away, but the day after Thanksgiving is when we typically start decorating for Christmas, so there's virtually no time to downshift between Thanksgiving warm and fuzzies and Christmas Wonderland.

This year, we're going to be out of town for Thanksgiving and won't be home until November 30th, so we'll miss our traditional "decorate on Friday" fanfare. I can't help but get in the Christmas spirit just knowing that we're going to decorate THIS weekend instead of next. I can hardly wait to get everything down from the attic tomorrow! It's like discovering my dishes, blankets, trinkets, and ornaments all over again.

To get myself in the Christmas spirit, I LOVE to turn my TV to the radio station channels. Direct TV has the Holidays and Happenings channel. The TV screen goes blank after a few minutes, so no one would ever know the music was coming from the TV. Most of the songs on this channel are old Christmas standards sung by Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, etc.

I LOVE to have a perfectly clean house, a fire in the fireplace, all the blinds open, and Ray Charles singing "Winter Wonderland" in the background. When they kids come home from school, they throw their backpacks in the couch and lay on the floor in front of the fire place and play with the cars and trucks and sing along to 50 year-old songs without a care in the world. What could be better than that???

Monday, November 15, 2010

Playing at the local park



I am sure, all over America, cities small and large have local parks. Kids have been going to parks for many many years and I'm sure this tradition will continue on for the foreseeable future. We have a couple of parks in our city and we've visited them from time to time, but we definitely have a favorite park that we visit 90% of the time.

We found this park about 3 years ago and it's located 7 miles from our home. The park has 4 separate play areas. The main play area is a pirate ship with a set of swings. Not far from that is a jungle gym (with no benches for the parents). This playground doesn't get near the traffic that the pirate area does, but it butts up against a field of goats and horses and the kids love to try to woo them over to the fence. The third area is located about half a mile away (all within the big park) and is on the other side of a pavilion, so it's not noticeable from the road. This one RARELY has any traffic and is a small area with just a slide and some swings. Our favorite area is across the river on the least visited part of the park and it's a playground made of a wooden jungle gym with two slides. There's also two swing sets and two see-saws. Near the play area is a pavilion. In the 3 years we've visited this area, we have never once seen another child playing on this playground.

The area has many pine trees, so there are always a lot of dried pine needles on the ground, which the boys love to use for building forts. It's so wonderful to go there because they always have the entire area to themselves. We see people drive into the park and pass right by it to go to other areas, but no one ever stops to play here.

I took the boys there one day last week after school and we stayed for 2 hours until it got dark and had the most fun.

I hope no one else ever discovers our secret park :).

Church Chili Supper




We attended our church's annual Chili Supper for the first time last night and had a great time. This is the biggest fund-raiser for our youth each year. Each youth member makes a batch of chili and the church members come to taste test and give donations to eat there. While we're eating, there's also a silent auction bake sale going on. After the meal, there is a live auction for things such as car details, vacations, helicopter rides, romantic dinners, etc.

Beaver and Wally went down to the church playroom and stayed down there for 2.5 hours while Ward and I hung out for the dinner and auction. We had an absolute blast and the auctioneer was a hoot. Overall, the youth raised $3500, which was just wonderful.

I made 4 loaves of my challah bread, and each loaf went for around $16. I just love our church and I hope it continues to grow!

A day of hiking!




Last weekend, Ward and I took the boys to hike at a nearby State Park. We love going to state parks and decided a couple of years ago to make that our family hobby. We started in the fall of 2008 when the boys were 3 and 5 and have since taken them to 6 state parks in our area. We've been cabin-camping once and tent camping once and we've had so much time.

Since Ward spent the summer recovering from his knee surgery, we haven't done much in the past 7 months, but we finally got to go hiking about 9 days ago. We went to a park we hadn't been to in about a year and a half and had lunch at the lodge there (which we had never done before). Ward's knee wasn't quite up to the hike, so he drove around and visited the look-outs while I took the boys on a short hike to see some caves. The lunch was delicious and we were surprised to find out they were rebuilding the lodge and the restaurant would soon be closed down for a year and a half.

We were lucky to get to eat there when we did. We went to see a waterfall that the park is famous for, but since it's been so dry around here lately, there was no water! We let the boys play on the playground for a bit and then headed home after spending about 4 hours at the park. They were exhausted and slept the whole way home. Great day!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Church Carnival




The boys had a great time at the church carnival last night. The youth puts it on and that a lot of fun games, plus a "dark room" with glow in the dark bubbles, glow in the dark face painting, black lights, glow in the dark art projects, etc.

The got plenty of candy and Silly Bandz and even participated in a costume contest. Beaver wore his Bumble Bee Transformers costume and Wally warm his Scream Ghost costume. They gave out awards such as Funniest, Most Original, and Best costumes and they divided them up by age. Neither of the boys won anything and Wally was fine with it, but Beaver really got his feelings up. He marched right up to the judges with his mad face afterward and returned the pumpkin book he was given as a consolation prize. It was sad to see him so upset, but I was disappointed in his reaction. After I talked to him, he finally got over it and went and apologized to the judges and got his book back. He was back to running around and playing the games in 2 minutes!

We had a pretty good turn out. All of the youth and children who normally participate in these activities were there (minus one family I'm sure is about to leave the church since they've been going to other churches on Sunday mornings) and I saw several kids that go to church on Sunday mornings, but don't go to Sunday School or Wednesday Fellowship, or any other "extra" activities.

I am hoping these kinds of fun activities will encourage more families to bring their children to the "extra" activities at church.

Ward and I have a meeting with the pastor this morning, as well as another couple (our closest friends in the church and the ones we fear are leaving). I know he wants to talk to us about ways to grow the children's and youth ministries as well as keeping the families we still have on board. I know good things will come out of this meeting and we're really looking forward to it!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes - Martha Stewart



While on my cooking spree today, I also made Snickerdoodle cupcakes. These are, without a doubt, the BEST cupcakes I have ever had in my entire life. And I know what the secret is.....CAKE flour. Not regular flour, but CAKE flour. They are SOOOOO soft and moist. I highly recommend.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self- rising), sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, plus 1/2 teaspoon for dusting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for dusting
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.
• With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.
• Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored up to 2 days at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
• To finish, combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar. Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip (Ateco No. 809 or Wilton No. 1A), pipe frosting on each cupcake: Hold bag over cupcake with tip just above top, and squeeze to create a dome of frosting, then release pressure and pull up to form a peak. Using a small, fine sieve, dust peaks with cinnamon-sugar. Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are frosted; keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Seven Minute Frosting
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
6 large egg whites, room temperature

• Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230 degrees.
• Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating to combine.
• As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230 degrees, remove from heat. With mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream. Raise speed to medium-high; whisk until mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes. Use immediately.

Croque Monsieur - Ina Garten



It's French Saturday here at the Cleaver home and this time I've chosen Hot ham and cheese sandwiches with a Bechamel sauce. I am so proud...this is another GREAT dish! I can't believe I've now made TWO French dishes. Ward and the boys all said it was wonderful and I should definitely make them again. I liked Ina Garten's recipe the best when I was digging for the one I wanted to try.

I will say...the ingredients for these meals are much more than I'm used to paying for our dinners. I try to keep us on a tight grocery budget, so our meals are usually less than $10 to feed all four of us. This one cost about $25...and it was just FOUR sandwiches! We have enough leftover to make 2 more sandwiches tomorrow, but that's still pretty steep for us. That's $4 a sandwich (for 6). On the side, I made "french" fries :) and pickles.

What a great meal! I'm so glad we're trying new things.

I was in the kitchen all day today! I made Mickey Mouse waffles and bacon for breakfast, mini cheeseburgers for lunch, and then the Croque Monsieur for dinner.

I'm exhausted!!!

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.



Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

A Trip to the Pumpkin Patch



Nothing says "fall" like a trip to the local pumpkin patch. We've stopped going every year and go every other year, just so it seems new and exciting to the boys. Wally didn't go, because he's going to a corn maze with the Wolf Scouts next week, so I went with Beaver's class on a field trip. I must say, it wasn't as fun as I remember, and I know it has something to do with this lingering hot weather.

When we went 2 years ago, it was 60 degrees and a little cloudy, we all wore sweaters and we could see our breath when we talked. This year, the kids wore shorts and t-shirts, it was 88 degrees, and we were all sweaty and tired by the end of it all.

Note to self: Only go to the pumpkin patch when it's chilly! :)

A Trip to the Zoo



As a reward for good grades, I took the boys to the big City Zoo and then to a local diner and to a bookstore.

We had the best day! The zoo was relatively dead since it was the middle of a school day, but the boys were out for parent/teacher conferences, so I figured this was the best day to go. We saw almost every single animal they had. It was a beautiful day, so all of the animals were out and active. We even rode the little train! We stayed for about 2.5 hours and then we went to the bookstore where they spent their allowance. Wally bought a new Lego game and Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 and Beaver bought a remote control car and a Magic Treehouse book about pirates.

After that, we walked over to the diner and had burgers and ice cream. Both boys kept telling me all day how this was "the best day EVER". I really enjoyed spending time with them and making more great memories. Plus, I LOVE going to the bookstore and definitely wrote down a few things I want for Christmas!

Report Card Time!





Wally and Beaver did very well on their report cards!

I went in for parent/teacher conferences on Wednesday and had great visits with both of their teachers. Beaver doesn't get a report card the first 9 weeks of Kindergarten, but his teacher told me he was tested for special needs (along with every child in his class) and they discovered he was actually very gifted and scored a perfect 10 on the test, which was the highest in all 5 Kindergarten classes! We are so proud of him. It's been tough to tell if Beaver is "smart" because he doesn't take life seriously at all. He's a very happy-go-lucky kid without a care in the world. Reading by himself or taking the extra time to learn something new on his own is not something he's interested in doing. It was comforting to know he's very gifted.

Wally's visit went well and he got 6 A's and a B+...he missed a A in Reading by 1 point! He was frustrated, but his teacher assured me that if averaged an A with all 4 report cards in every class, he could still get the Principal's Achievement Award, which is something he got last year and is determined to get again.

I love our Christian school so much and we feel so fortunate to be able to send our children there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Berenstain Bears




Growing up, I LOVED the Berenstain Bears books. I didn't have a lot of them, but the ones I did have I absolutely cherished. I loved their colorful pages and heart-warming stories and wished I lived in their treehouse with them. When I was a teenager, I began collecting them, but ended up giving away the collection when I got married.

Since my boys were very little, I've begun collecting them again and we have about 20. I know there are many more out there and I plan to continue collecting until we have them all.

I was ecstatic to discover that the Sprout Channel shows reruns of the Berenstain Bears several times a day every day! Wally just loves them and gets so excited when they come on TV. I've even started DVRing them during the day so the boys can watch them when they get home from school. It makes me feel like a little kid again and I am so happy that my boys love them as much as I did.

I've even gotten some of the chapter books for them and Beaver is starting to read them!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The appeal of a small church




Ward and I have been to MANY churches in the 9 years we've been together. We've attended services at Methodist, Presbyterian, Luthern, Episcopal, and Catholic churches. We've had good experiences and bad ones, but we finally found a church home about 2.5 years ago and we're so happy. Our church isn't that big (we regularly have about 200 in attendance each Sunday), but it's big enough that it has plenty of "extra" activities. We participate in a Wednesday night fellowship, attend Sunday School, and go to "Big Church" each week and we're happy. We have made friends with several other couples who have young children and we enjoy getting our boys involved with the youth. We love this church and feel so warm and welcomed every Sunday and Wednesday.

There aren't many kids in the youth program at our church (I would say there are about 20 active kids between the ages of 4 and 12) but our church is really trying to ramp up these programs and attract younger families, without changing the Sunday service and overall "traditional" theme of our church. And I'll admit, they're struggling. It seems most young families today are choosing their churches based on the "extras" and so many of those "extras" seem to be more and more secular. We have a few Mega Churches in our town that offer literally 50-100 different types of activities or groups for you and your children to be a part of. They range from age-defined, to hobby-defined, to gender-defined. And while these social opportunities are great, it would never make or break our decision to join a church. But I'm finding out we aren't like most people.

We had just started making friends with a group of 30ish parents with kids under the age of 8...there were about 5-6 couples in our group. We'd sit together at Wednesday night fellowship and and our kids played together at other church functions and I was really starting to get to know them. We recently found out that 2 of the couples and their children have left the church for a mega church, and our closest friends at church have been secretly attending services at a Mega Church and will likely leave at the beginning of the year. Another couple in the group that have no children may not stay because they are related to one of the families leaving. It's down to just us and another family (from the original 6 families that hung out together) and they aren't attending church regularly anymore...maybe once every three weeks.

I'm so disappointed. I know there are other families we will get close to and hopefully other families will start joining the church, but I wish they would have stayed to give things a chance. It's so hard for the small church to compete with the Mega Church these days. I worry that small churches will end up folding because they can't stay afloat, and people will end missing the wonderful experience of belonging to a small church. I love that the older people in the church know who my kids are, know what activities they're involved in, and know what's going on in their lives. I feel we wouldn't have as much of that in a Mega Church, and it's very possible we'd only get to know a tiny percentage of the congregation.

Ward and I feel called to be a part of the development team for the Children's Ministries at our church, so it looks like that's another project I'm going to be working on this fall and winter. I hope we can help in some way.

Lord, give me guidance! :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gooseberry Patch Cookbooks




About a year ago, I discovered Gooseberry Patch Cookbooks and I'm in love. These are spiral-bound cookbooks and remind me of church cookbooks, but they have the most adorable farm drawings on every page, as well as cooking and entertaining tips and family stories. I enjoy the "extras" almost as much as the recipes!

For my birthday, my Mother-in-Law got me my first one "Christmas" and I've since gotten the "Slow Cooker" and "Grandma's Table". I can't wait to collect them all!

I went to a new store in my town and found they even make calendars, planners, and "mini-cookbooks" to add to my collection. Yea! :) They are about $15-$18 each, so I'll have to collect them slowly, but they're definitely going on my Christmas list this year!

I love cookbooks!




I learned to cook when I was a teenager, I think around 16. I developed an interest in looking through my mom's cookbooks, but only the ones with pictures. The other ones just bored me. Over the next 5 years, I didn't cook much, and when I did it was mainly desserts that my boyfriend's mother let me cook in her kitchen. They were nothing difficult (cookies, cakes, pudding, etc.) but I LOVED making them and I pretended I was a little wife in my little kitchen making treats for my family.

When I got my own apartment in college, I had to cook for myself for the first time. I didn't have ANY cookbooks, so I just went and bought a little Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and cooked the easy recipes, but like most college kids, I ate out a lot and fixed sandwiches.

I think I really came into my own as a cook when Ward and I got married. (9 years ago). I started with simple meals of grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and canned biscuits, but eventually I moved up to more elaborate meals and I even do all of the cooking for Christmas and Thanksgiving now. I am very proud of the cook I've become and I'm excited to be learning new dishes in the near future.

But with this love of learning came a love for cookbooks. I absolutely adore them. I can spend HOURS just sitting on the couch looking at my cookbooks. I have a lot of Paula Deen, Sandra Lee, Southern Living, Taste of Home, church cookbooks, and Pillsbury and Betty Crocker newsstand cooking magazines. I try to cook from my cookbooks at least 2-3 times a week, and when I do I put a small sticker next to the recipe along with the date. This lets' me know how often I'm using a particular recipe and when I made it last. That way I don't make something too much.

I already have a big list ready for Christmas and I can't wait to add another 4-5 books to my growing collection. Today is Sunday, so after church I will make lunch for my family and then sit on the couch and look at my cookbooks for several hours while Ward and I watch NFL football. What a great day!

Rearranging Furniture

Growing up, we lived in a 1300 sq ft 3-bedroom, 2 bathroom home. It wasn't big, but I found TONS of ways to rearrange the furniture in our living room and my bedroom. I don't know if it's because furniture was smaller back then, or maybe because we didn't have very many windows, but I could make 5 or 6 different arrangements in each of those rooms with no problems.

Now that I'm grown up and have a 3100 sq ft house, it seems I can't find a way to properly rearrange any of the rooms. We've lived here for 4 years and we've never rearranged any room other than the livingroom, and that's been so minor it's barely noticeable. I think it's because we have bulky furniture and our house has 27 windows, which makes it very hard to move things around without blocking one of them.

Well, a few weeks ago, Ward and I decided that our formal livingroom was a complete waste of space, and with me coming back home to work, we thought I needed my own workspace since Ward uses our office as his workspace. We decided to move our formal diningroom into our formal livingroom, get rid of the formal livingroom all together, and make the formal diningroom my new office. Even though our formal diningroom is now a carpeted room, I'm really pleased with how things turned out.



We also made my office a room for the kids to do their homework. We added some school posters, a wall calendar, a floor mat, and two school desks for them. They love having a place of their own and they've been using it almost daily.



Looks great, don't you think?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gratin de Pomme de Terre et Saucisson




My first concoction from Julia's book! Luckily I found this on the internet. There are MANY variations on this recipe, but I'm confident I found her original one. The name is fancy, but this is basically polish sausage with potatoes, eggs, onions, and cheese. And let me tell you....it.was.DELISH.

2/3 cup minced onions
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes
1 package of pre-cooked Kielbasa, Hillshire Farms or similar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Swiss cheese (I went to the deli and had them slice 1/2 pound - about 8 slices)

Fill a saucepan with 3 quarts of water over high heat and bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, peel and slice the potatoes, and slice and Kielbasa. When the water is boiling drop in the potato slices and cook for 6-8 minutes until barely done. Remove them from the heat, let drain and cool a bit.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When melted, add the onions and saute until tender but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Coat a baking dish with butter, oil, or non-stick spray. Spread half the potatoes in the bottom. Distribute half the onions over the potatoes. Spread half the Kielbasa over that. Then do it again: spread the remaining potatoes over the dish, followed by the onions and Kielbasa.

Put the four eggs into a mixing bowl along with the cream. Add the salt and pepper. Beat until slightly thickened. Pour it over the potatoes and sausage. Lay the cheese over the potatoes and sausage. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 8 portions and distribute them evenly over the top of the cheese.

Bake for 40 minutes in the upper third of the oven until the cheese is nicely browned.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking




So....I finally watched Julie & Julia this week and I loved it! I'm a total foodie, so I love anything that has to do with cooking, but this really hit home with me. I find myself leaning towards church cookbooks and anything from one of the Food Network stars, but I completely forgot about Julia Child! How is that possible???

I was looking for a new project, so I've decided to learn to cook French foods. I'm not going to cook everything in her famous cookbook, like Julie did in the movie, but I am definitely going to start cooking things a little more difficult than spaghetti or tacos.

I'm thrilled about this new project and I've already started looking up types of French foods online. They all look so wonderful! I don't own Mastering the Art of French Cooking yet, but I'm definitely going to ask for it for Christmas! Until then, I guess I'll just find stuff on the internet. Wish me luck!!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall is here!!!




This is the start of my favorite time of year. I LOVE fall and winter. I adore pumpkins, apple pie, crisp autumn air, football games, the county fair, the air show, Boo at the Zoo, hayrides, fires in the fireplace, etc. My least favorite time of the year is mid-July to mid-September. This is the hottest time of year for us here, and at times it's so hot that we won't even let the boys go outside to play. Up until this past weekend, our temperatures have still be in the high 90's. But we got a storm Friday night that brought with it some cooler temperatures and a high of 72 yesterday and today!

I can't believe it's finally here. After I get my housework finished this morning, I'm definitely going to crawl up in the attic and pull out my fall decorations. I try to pick up a few things on clearance each year, so my collection does grow a tiny bit every year.

Ward mowed the front and back yard this weekend and we can finally see some dead grass under the green. Yea! I am so excited we've finally gotten to this point of year. The next 7 months are heaven for me because I love to be cold!! I even put the boys in long pants for school this morning.

Welcome autumn!!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brotherly Love




Wally and Beaver are 23 months apart in age, and I remember when Beaver was born I really wanted them to be close...best friends even. I wanted them to love each other as much as my sister and I did when we were little. And I lucked out...it happened. Those two are inseparable. They rarely fight because Wally is a natural leader and Beaver is a natural follower. Beaver lets Wally be the boss, and Wally loves to protect and care for Beaver. They sleep in the same bed every night, cuddle on the couch in the morning while they're watching cartoons, and play for hours together in their rooms or in the yard. They adore each other and I hope it lasts for many more years to come.

My sister and I grew apart in our teen years, and sadly we rarely even speak anymore. I hope Wally and Beaver's relationship turns out differently. I am really enjoying watching them grow up together.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Nights at home




For most people, going out on Friday and Saturday nights is standard fare. You work and/or go to school all week, so by the time Friday comes around, you're usually ready to hit the town. You might go out to eat, catch a movie, hit the bowling alley, or hang out at the mall.

But we don't do that around here. For us, Friday night is Family Night. We look forward to playing board games and watching a movie on Netflix while we all cuddle up and eat popcorn. I love that we never make plans on Friday nights because that's "our night" to be together. We also let the kids spend the night with us in their sleeping bags on Friday nights. We've done this for about 3 years and I hope the tradition continues for many years to come.

Tonight, we picked up a pizza from Little Cesar's and we're watching "Big" while we play a round-robin chess tournament. Wally and Beaver are only 7 and 5, but both know how to play chess well.

I cherish these memories and I don't ever want them to get big! :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday at Church




Growing up, I didn't go to church very often. In fact, it seemed we only went on special occasions, maybe 2-3 times per year. Sure, I went to my friends' churches several times, but I didn't really start going to church regularly until I got my first serious boyfriend in High School. He was Freewill Baptist, so we went to a church every Wednesday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night. Although the church was small, every family was very involved so we had a good group of kids that came to all activities "religiously"...if you'll pardon the pun. I enjoyed going to that church and bonding with the other families, but I fell out of habit once my boyfriend and I broke up.

After Ward and I got married, we joined a local church and decided to get as involved as we could. But, as it sometimes happens when you have children, we got really busy and didn't participate as much as we would have liked.

Now that Wally and Beaver are 7 and 5, we're finally at a place to get more involved. We all started Sunday School 2 weeks ago and we've started going to "Way Out Wednesdays". The kids are really enjoying this. We have dinner at church....the kids usually find a "kids table" to join and then they head off to Children's choir, while the adults sit in the fellowship hall and socialize. I'm so glad we've gotten more involved because now I truly look forward to Wednesdays. I want the boys to grow up remembering that we were at church a lot, and always doing something fun. So far...so good!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Donna Reed




I've said it before....but I just love Donna Reed. Growing up in the late '80's at the dawn of Nick-at-Nite I was subjected to a LOT of old sitcoms. We watched Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Andy Griffith, The Anne Southerland Show, Mr. Ed, Patty Duke, Dobie Gillis, and My Three Sons. I love all of those shows, but Donna Reed was BY FAR my favorite.

It used to come on every night at 7:00pm. My mom worked at an accounting firm and got home around 5:30 every night. She used to fix dinner still dressed in her heels and we'd usually eat around 6:30. I always knew it was dinner when Wheel of Fortune was coming on, and dinner was over when it was going off.

I remember, my sister and I would hurry through the dinner clean-up routine so we could get in our pj's and grab our blanket and get on the couch by 7:00pm sharp to watch our favorite show. My mom was thrilled that we enjoyed watching shows from her youth and it was so nice to watch it together.

I loved watching the light and happy episodes about first dances, remodeling the kitchen, a camping trip gone wrong, birthday mishaps, etc. It was all so innocent and comforting and I always dreamed of being Mary Stone. I wanted to look like her, talk like her, act like her...and more importantly, I wanted to be in the 1950's. I wanted to be a teenager during a time when girls didn't call boys, families spent most of their time together, and TV wasn't the most important thing in the world.

Sadly, Nick-at-Nite stopped showing reruns of my favorite shows and I went years without seeing any episodes. Luckily, a couple of years ago, they started releasing seasons of the show and I now have the first three seasons on DVD. It was like discovering the show all over again, I barely remember any of the episodes!

Now that I have them, I watch them daily. After I drop off the boys at school, I come home and turn it one and do my housework. Watching Donna makes me feel very domestic, so I tend to get more done when she's in the background. The boys have even taking a liking to the show and I catch them laying around watching it from time to time. I know I don't have any daughters to pass on my love of homemaking to, but at least my boys have an appreciate for my love of life in the 1950's.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Hardy Boys




About 3-4 months ago, my sweet Granny called to tell me that her cousin was having a garage sale, so she went to piddle around in her things. In a box, she found about 50 original Hardy Boys' books in mint condition. This books look identical to my Nancy Drew set, but they have blue binding instead of yellow. I have never read the Hardy Boys, but I was THRILLED when she offered to buy them for Wally because I knew I'd finally have someone to share my Nancy Drew stuff with, given that the Hardy Boys are basically the male equivalent of Nancy, Bess, and George.

When she brought them to the house, I was ecstatic. They are in PERFECT condition. I showed Wally, and he was super excited. He loves to read, and even though these books are a little advanced for a 7 year old, he loves for me to read them to him.

We didn't get much reading done the 7 weeks I was working in the big city, but now that I'm back home, we've picked right back up on our nightly reading. And after finishing a few we had stacked up on his night table, we're finally 5 chapters into the first Hardy Boys book, The Tower Treasure, and Wally is really loving it.

I love reading these old books to him and I love that he loves it. I've always said Wally was an "old soul" since he likes to watch old MGM cartoons, prefers to read and play with his toys instead of watch TV and play video games, likes to dress nice and wear cologne for school, likes to watch The Andy Griffith Show and The Donna Reed Show, and likes to read the classics. Now...if only I could get him to start watching old movies with me.... :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nancy Drew




When I was around 9 or 10, my mother introduced me to Nancy Drew. She had the entire original Nancy Drew series, which totals 56 books. Already an avid reader, I couldn't wait to dig-in to these classics. I didn't know anything about Nancy Drew at the time, but I was intrigued by the beautiful painted covers of the series. Each book's cover depicted some mysterious scene from the book, and boy did I judge the books by their covers back then!

I loved reading about Nancy's adventures with her friends Bess and George, and her dates with Ned Nickerson. I loved reading the descriptions of her wardrobe and the delicious meals that her housekeeper, Hannah Gruen prepared for her. I'm 32 years old now and I STILL read these books on an almost daily basis. I love them because they remind me of my youth, and because they remind me of my mother. I love the smell of old books, and I love that my mother has her name written in cursive in all of the books, with a list of the books she has lent out to her friends. I also love that these books are set in the 40's and 50's. I love references to malt shops, old cars, and the fact that no one has more than one TV, no cell phones, compters, or beepers, and people still talked to each other on the streets.

For about the past 10 years or so, I have started with the first book and read all the way to the 56th book. Once I finish 56, I start all over again at number 1....and I never tire of them.

I'm sad that I don't have a little girl to pass on these wonderful books to, but I imagine I might have a granddaughter that will appreciate them someday.

I know there are plenty of good "serial" books for young girls to read these days, but I can't imagine a better heroine than my Nancy Drew. In my mind, she will always be the girl I'm trying to be....polite, beautiful, smart, witty, perfectly manicured at all times, respectable, charming, friendly, and intuitive.

Apple Crisp




I try to "cook with the seasons", which means I make lots of lemon and blueberry and 'salady' stuff in the spring and summer, and lots of pumpkin and apple things in the fall. I want the boys to associate certain foods with specific times of the year, so I'm careful not to serve pumpkin pie in July so they have something to look forward to in the fall.

Well, one of our favorite things in this house is apple crisp. Once September comes around, I usually make it 2-3 times a month until about March, and then I don't make it again for 6 months.

I made a batch yesterday (even though it's still 95 degrees here) and just the cinnamony smell wafting through the house was enough to get everyone's fall juices flowing. It smelled absolutely heavenly.

Here is my recipe:

6-8 apples, peeled and diced
2 sticks of butter (softened)
2 cups of flour
2 cups of brown sugar
2 cups of rolled oats
2 TBS cinnamon
1/4 cup of water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the diced apples into a nice sized casserole dish (not quite as big as 13x9) and pour the water over them. In a large bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients. I always start mixing with a wooden spoon, but end up just using my hands to make sure it's really mixed well. Spoon the "crisp" portion over the apples and then pack it down tight (especially around the edges) to keep all that moisture under the crispy top. This keeps the apples especially soft. Bake until the top slightly browns....usually about an hour depending on how deep or long your casserole dish is. Delicious!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cub Scouts Popcorn Sales




Since Wally and Beaver were babies, I knew they were going to be Cub Scouts. I had envisioned being a 50's mom with a clean house for them come home to, a safe neighborhood for them to play in, a great church to be involved in, after school snacks on the counter, home-cooked meals every night, family date nights with movies and popcorn, involvement in local sports organization....and membership of the Cub Scouts Organization. It's always been important to me that the boys be involved in scouting because I love what it represents, and they're so proud of themselves when they earn their achievements.

Ward and I decided to lead Wally's den this year and we had our first meeting last night. Our den has 18 boys this year and we're thrilled with the high turn-out. We took them to a local indoor play facility and let them play in the maze while we had our parents' meeting, and then we brought the boys back together at the end to work on their motto, promise, salute, handshake, and symbols. Some of the boys were knew to scouting and super excited to be doing anything scout-related.

This is my favorite time of the year for scouting because everything is new and exciting and you get to kick off the year with Popcorn Sales! This is a major fundraiser for the boys and last year Wally sold $380 worth just to earn a Lego set. This year he is determined to sell $600 worth so he can win a marshmallow gun. It made my heart sing to sit on my front porch and watch him go door-to-door last night in his uniform. He basically skipped down the sidewalks to each house, with little Beaver hot on his trails. He was so proud to come home with $150 in sales already! This year there is a "buy online and support your favorite scout" option, so this will definitely help him get sales from our friends out of state.

I can't wait to see how well he does with this!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The School Morning Shuffle




No matter how early we wake up, our mornings always seem so rushed! We have to leave by 7:50am to get the boys to school by 8:05. School doesn't start until 8:20, but they like to get there 15 minutes early to do their "quiet activities" at their desks.

I have been waking them up at 7:00am and making them leave the breakfast table by 7:30am to get dressed and brush their teeth and comb their hair.

They seem to do ok in the mornings as long as I am completely ready and can nudge them along, but on the mornings I'm not ready and I have to be back in my bathroom getting dressed while they're in the living room getting dressed....nothing gets done. They just hang out in the living room and either talk to each or play or lay back down.

Well, since I'm "back home" after a 7 week unsuccessful working-in-the-big-city venture, I decided to get us back on a good schedule.

Last night, I ironed their uniforms (they go to a Christian school), and laid them out with their socks, belts, and shoes. I also completely packed their backpacks, lunchboxes, snack packs, and water bottles.

I got showered and dressed before I even woke them up. And you know what? It all went perfectly smoothly!! They were actually ready to go 10 minutes early!

There is something to be said about serious organization. I'm going to do it this way from now on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Big Brother



So....everyone has guilty pleasures, right? Well, one of mine is Big Brother. I watched Season 1 many moons ago and I didn't really like it, so I never watched it again. Well, about 6 years ago, several of my co-workers were really into Season 5 (the season with Jase and Cowboy and Drew and Diane and Nakomis) and I felt so left out when they'd come in three times a week and talk about it, that I vowed to watch the next summer to see what all the fuss was about. So, I started with Season 6 (the season of Janelle and James and Howie and Kaysar)....and I was HOOKED after that. I have since gone back and watched every season in full, except for season 4...I just can't make it through that season for some reason.

I don't know what it is about this show that has me so captivated, but I watch loyally every year and I always get a little sad about this time of year because I know it's coming to an end. :(

I will miss you Britney, Hayden, Enzo, and Lane!

Until next year...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kids in the bed




Usually every Friday night, Ward and I let the boys spend the night in sleeping bags at the foot of our bed. I don't know when this started, but it feels like we've been doing it for years. Well, this past Friday night, they got in trouble for rough-housing, so their punishment was no spending the night, but we said we'd give them another shot at it Saturday night. Well...we forgot Saturday night.

This morning, at about 5:00am, Beaver came in our bedroom and got right in my face while was sleeping and started kissing me on the mouth a few times until I woke up, which just seemed so odd in the middle of the night! When I opened my eyes, his arms were crossed and he looked mad and said....We were supposed to spend the night Saturday night! I said, fine....get in bed with us now. And he said...wait! I need to go get Wally. So, a few minutes later, they're both got our bed with their favorite blankets and several stuffed animals and we all went back to sleep.

I never really settled back into a good sleep after that, but it made me feel so good that they wanted to get in bed with us. They almost never crawl in bed with us anymore and I know our years of all being in the bed together are almost over.

I'm trying to savor every minute of this that I can! I want so desperately for them to stay little that I tend to cling to every "babyish" thing they still do.

Can't they stay little forever?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back Home




Wow...it's been a while since I've posted, and it's been a VERY long and mostly trying summer.

In late April, we found out that Ward had some floating bone fragments in his knee leftover from a previous sports injury (or so we thought) so we had to schedule an outpatient surgery for late May. The day before his surgery, Ward started working from home full-time. He had one office in the house and I have an office across the hall from him, as we both work for the same company. My work is light and mostly secretarial and I don't work as much as he does. It's a flexible and low-stress job that allows me to be home with the boys and be very involved in their school activities.

Ward's surgery did not go as we had hoped and his doctors found severe arthritis...and Ward is only 32. He said the recovery initially would be around 6-8 weeks on crutches (we thought it would be more like 3-5 days) and 6-12 months for total recovery. We were told he'd most likely need both knees replaced before turning 40. Needless to say, Ward was devastated and his time on crutches was hard for everyone.

During his time at home recovering, we started going over the medical bills and saw that between Ward's MRI, surgery, physical therapy, and Beaver's medical bills from his hemophilia-related medicines...we were sinking fast. We knew we had enough to pay our regular bills with a little for savings, but these bills were just too much. While we were trying to decide what to do, my old boss from my full-time fast-paced job from 2 years called and said they were re-starting the company and getting the old gang back together. I immediately said "thanks, but no thanks" and went about my regular life. But the thought stayed in my head, and every few days, he'd call back and ask if I had given it anymore thought. After going back and forth for a few weeks and really thinking it through, Ward and I decided it would be best for me to go back to work in the big city. We knew this would be a huge change from the life we had been living for the past 2 years. We would go from having me home 24/7 and being majorly involved at the school, to having me home every night at 7:00, working every other Saturday, and working every other holiday. We knew that would be a tough transition for everyone, but we reasoned it would be worth it because I'd have something for me (a great career opportunity) and we'd have money like we'd never had before.

I selfishly started making lists of everything we were going to spend the new money on. We were going to pay off our medical bills in 3 months, I was going to get a year-round tanning package, start getting my hair cut and colored every 6 weeks, get monthly mani/pedi's, go out to eat every Friday night, and set aside $200 a month for me to buy new clothes and accessories.

I have NEVER been a woman that is into any of the above items, but I reasoned that I wasn't into them before because we never had the money for them, but since I was working in the big city again...I DESERVED all these things.

I knew the boys would be upset by not having me around all the time, but I assured Ward and myself that they'd get over it once school started and they'd forget all about me.

Boy....was I ever wrong.

Going back to work on July 26th was the worst decision I've made in years. From the first day I regretted my decision. The boys were devastated not to have me home, and on the third day I drove to work, Beaver chased me down the driveway crying and started waking up at 5:30 in the morning just to spend time with me before I left for work. Ward did a great job cleaning the house and preparing dinner the first few days, but after about a week, the house began to fall into disarray, the laundry got ridiculously backed up, the dishes piled up in the sink, and we started having cereal for dinner almost every night. I was so tired when I got home at 7:00 that I had no time for homework, stories, games, or even giving them their baths. It was awful. I cried to Ward and told him I'd made a terrible mistake, but we both knew it was too late. I had already quit my wonderful but lower-paying work-from-home job and had even provided my boss with a replacement for me. I was stuck and I knew it. I decided we'd just have to get more organized and the kids would just have to learn to depend on Ward for everything.

And then my old boss called. He's still Ward's boss, so he talked to Ward from time to time about my situation and he knew I wasn't happy. He asked me to stop by his office after work one day, and within 3 minutes of being there, he asked me to come back to work for him. I cried with joy on my way home from work. I couldn't believe my luck. I always loved this work-at-home job and never took it for granted, but I thought having tons of money with this new job was more important. And I was dead wrong.

I was finally able to give notice at my new job this past Friday (after only having been there for about 7 weeks) and I am hoping that once the big boss receives my resignation on Monday morning that he will send me straight home (with pay of course) and I can resume my wonderful secretarial job.

I miss being at home.

I miss puttering through the house on rainy days. I miss the sound of the dishwasher while I'm folding clothes in the livingroom and watching the Food Network. I miss making lunch for Ward and I and sitting on my bed watching The Young and the Restless while I cut coupons. I miss making after school snacks, waiting in line to pick the boys up from school, walking into the kitchen at 5:00 sharp to get dinner started, being finished with dinner and ready to play with the kids by 6:30, getting 9 hours of sleep per night, always having a clean house, being able to run up to the school and eat lunch with the boys.....and most of all....I miss having a 10 second commute to my job. :)

I am so glad to FINALLY be back home...where I am loved and needed. And where I belong.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Guest Blog for Coupons Post #2

Well, I'm back for week 2 of this couponing bonanza series! I hope everyone has had a chance to review the first post and get started. By now you should have made a budget, made a buy-price list, started menu planning, picked up the inserts out of the Sunday paper, checked out a few coupon blogs, and printed a few coupons online. If you have...then you're ready for this week's new stuff. If you haven't, that's ok too! The beauty is, you can pick this up at any time.

Now that you've got a few coupons in your hand, you're probably trying to set-up some sort of organization system. It is very important to ORGANIZE YOUR COUPONS. If you don't, you'll have some in your purse, some in the car, some in your pocket, some still inside the newspaper, and some in a drawer and you'll decide it's just not worth it and throw your hands up and say "fuhgetaboutit".

There are a few different ways to organize your coupons, but I'll just tell you the way I do it. Once you really get into this, you may come up with a way that is much better for you, but this is what works best for me...

When I get the inserts out of my Sunday paper (I buy 4 each week) I date the front page with a black marker and I put it away...I do NOT clip coupons until I need them. I bought 4 plastic paper trays and have them stacked up on my desk in our home office. In one tray, I have my Smart Source inserts (SS is how it's abbreviate online), in another tray I have my Proctor & Gamble inserts (PG), in another tray I have my Red Plum inserts (RP) and in the top one I have my All You Magazines, Weekly Kroger coupon booklets that come in the mail, and monthly Walgreen's store coupon booklet. I highly recommend getting a subscription to All You. They are sold at Wal-Mart exclusively, but you can get a subscription online. They vary in price depending on which deals they have going on, but I got a 2-year subscription for $14 a few months ago. Each magazine has over $80 in coupons and there is an alphabetical index in the front of the magazine telling you were to find all of the coupons. If you are not receiving weekly coupon booklets in the mail from Kroger, you need to go to www.kroger.com and register there. Not only will they send you "themed" coupon booklets (game-day, grilling out, breakfast, cinco de mayo, etc.) but once a month they'll send you personalized coupons based on what you normally buy...and they'll usually include a coupon for something free. These
rock!


I do carry an index box with me to the store, but this only has my most common food purchases and the coupons I have printed off of the internet inside because I make my list before I leave the house, grab the coupons I need, and then head to the store (more on this later)...and this really prevents me from impulse buying because I can't stand to buy something I don't have a coupon for. Because I actively read my blogs, I know exactly what's on sale and even what is on close-out. The only surprises I see at the store each week is what is on clearance over by the U-Scan area. If I find a particularly good deal and it's something I know I want to buy multiples of, I'll just run back home after I check out, grab my coupons and come back. Now, the thought of this might drive you CRAZY. If that is the case, feel free to cut all your coupons and keep them in your box, envelopes, or binder...whatever works best for you. The key here is to ORGANIZE them in some way.
I clean out expired coupons the first of every month since so many coupons expire on the last day of the month. This keeps my box from getting to fat and heavy.



Now that your paper coupons are organized, it's time to LEARN ABOUT ELECTRONIC COUPONS or e-coupons. I only discovered these babies a few months ago and they make me very happy!! These are coupons that are loaded to your Kroger Plus card and come off automatically when you buy the qualifying product...but here's the beauty of this....you can STACK a paper coupon with the e-coupon!!!! This means that if you have an e-coupon for $.40 off of Betty Crocker potatoes, you can stack a paper coupon for $.40 off of Betty Crocker potatoes (which Kroger will DOUBLE to $.80 off) and you will end up saving $1.20 on one box of Betty Crocker potatoes. You will want to go to www.shortcuts.com and www.cellfire.com and www.kroger.com to load these coupons to your card. You will have to set-up accounts for these, but it will take less than a minute to add your Kroger card. Cellfire loads their new coupons on the 9th and 23rd of each month and Shortcuts and Kroger do it whenever they feel like. The good news is...the coupon blogs will tell you when new coupons have been loaded, so if you're reading them regularly, you'll know when to go load new coupons. The coupons will expire (usually 1-2 months out) and sometimes you'll get multiples of a certain item, so it's possible you'll have 2-3 coupons for the same item on the card. This is good. It's important to note: Each e-coupon is good for one item one time. Once you use it on that one item, the coupon will disappear from your card. The good news is, you may have 2 potato coupons on Cellfire, 2 on Shortcuts, and 2 on Kroger.com. That means you can get 6 boxes of potatoes if they're on special and save 6 times! It's also important to note that these e-coupons don't stack on top of each other. For example, if you buy 1 box of potatoes and have 6 e-coupons, all 6 e-coupons will NOT come off...just one coupon per item. This is just another way to enhance your savings. And you will notice a pattern with these coupons...they are almost exclusively General Mills products (Betty Crocker, Yoplait, Pillsbury, Old El Paso, etc.)

UTILIZE THE CATALINA PROMOTIONS that Kroger offers. This is one of Kroger's little secrets, and I don't know many people that use this, let alone even know about it. Did you know that Kroger runs promotions like: If you buy 3 boxes of Kellogg's cereal, we'll give you $2 off your next order? Some of these are marked with a red and white tag next to the item, but most of them they're not. You will want to regularly check http://mommysnacks.net/snack-summary/kroger-catalina-offers/ and http://www.hotcouponworld.com/forums/kroger-catalina-deals-post-them-here/ to see the current Catalina promotions. This is great because they are actually PAYING you to buy their products...on top of this, you can roll this "coupon" to buy more of their products. For example, on the Betty Crocker Potato deal, they are paying you $3 when you buy 3 pouches of potatoes at $1.15 each. My 3 e-coupons will knock them down to $.75 each and then I will use 3 $.40 off paper coupons (doubled to $.80) and MAKE $.15 for buying these three bags. On top of this, they'll spit out a coupon for save $3 off your next order. I can turn right around and buy 3 more bags of potatoes (using no coupons at all if I don't have any) and spend $.45 on three bags of potatoes and it will spit out ANOTHER $3 coupon. This can go on and on forever. When I find a good deal like this, instead of using the $3 to buy more, I'll use my coupons and pay next to nothing for it and hoard the $3 coupons off my next order. Once I get to about $30 off or so, I'll take them in and buy a bunch of meat for free!

Next up....Change the way you MAKE YOUR GROCERY LIST. In the past, you've probably kept a running list during the week, just adding things as you ran out. Then, once you had thought about your needs for the week, you added those items as well. Then, while at the store, you threw in a few extra items that appealed to you as well. I used to shop that way, but now I shop a little differently. I have an excel spreadsheet for my grocery list and it looks like this:

As items come up that I need (milk, bread, sugar, etc.) I check the ads to see if anyone is running a special on that item. If not, I will usually pick it up at Kroger and I'll find any coupons I can for it, and list it in the proper category. Then, once my blogs come out with the weekly sales, I spend a lot of time looking it over to see which sales appeal to me. The blogs will have coupon match-ups with each item that has an available coupon and they'll tell you where to find it. For example, if Bryan Hot Dogs are on sale for $2, they'll tell you that you can find a coupon for Bryan Hot Dogs in the 3/28 RP for $1 off of 2 items. This keeps me from searching through tons of coupons. I just go straight to it, clip it out, and put it with my pile that will be going to the store with me. While going over the weekly ad, I will also print out my shortcuts, Kroger.com, and Cellfire accounts so that I can see what coupons are being held on my Kroger card. I also go to the Catalina lists to see the "hidden" deals that Kroger doesn't go out of their way to advertise. This way I can see all of my savings and I know what to expect to spend. I usually try to spend no more than $50 on "need items", $20 on "stockpile" items, and $10 on toiletries/household items per week. This keeps my weekly spending around $80. After I see what I will be getting, I review what I have and then I sit down and make my menu plan for the next week. So I'm making my plan based on what I have, not on what I want.

Hopefully, this post will help you get to the second level of couponing...going beyond cutting a few coupons out of the paper. If you plan and get yourself into the habit of committing to saving, you will be able to: Organize your coupons and keep them organized, learn about and utilize e-coupons, learn about and utilize catalina promotions, and change the way you make your grocery list. I know this seems like a lot to do, but I always tell people...there's a lot to do in the beginning of this process, but the maintenance is a piece of cake! You will be so glad you did this once you get started!

I was going to post about keeping track of your savings in this week's post, but I think I'll save that for next week's post. At that time, I'll also be posting about buying coupons on EBAY, free samples, shopping at Walgreen's and shopping at Target.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I love a rainy day!




I look forward to Springtime every year not for the flowers and warmer weather and signs of new growth...but for the rainstorms!

I love to stay home and putter around the house on a rainy day while Ward is at work and the boys are at school. Our house has 27 windows and I open the blinds on every one of them and I can see the rain coming down in sheets, the willow tree bending over on it's side, and the wind whipping through the trees down our street. I watch the neighborhood animals dashing for cover, and see people sprinting to their mailboxes with newspapers covering their heads. I love to hear the thunder crashing and know that I'm safe and cozy in my house.

I got to experience this for about 3 hours this afternoon and it was heaven.

Now it's gotten dark again and we're expecting a second round. I think I'll go in the kitchen and put on a pot of chili and enjoy our rainy season.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm a guest host!!!




I was asked to guest host over at www.bugsandsunshine.blogspot.com about couponing!

I am so excited to share this information with others! I have been asked to do several posts about it.

Here's the first post...


I am so happy to share my knowledge of couponing with you guys! It has been a long and fun road to get to the "Crazy Coupon Lady" level, and I'm proud to give you tips on how to get there yourselves. When I started couponing, I was saving about 25% each week at the store, now I save between 62%-91% and I feel guilty if it's less than that! It sounds ridiculous, but it's possible for ANYONE to do this...all it takes it a little education, and some planning.

Before we get started, I should warn you...couponing is addictive! Once you really get into this, you will never want to pay retail for anything again! On some days it's difficult for me to accept the fact that I can't get everything for free or less than $1! :) I'm so used to handing over a stack of coupons that it feels odd to buy something without one. But I didn't get here overnight. There is definitely a method to this madness, and if you're patient, and take this one step at a time, I know you'll all be pros in no time! The key is COMMITING TO SAVING MONEY!

You all should know...I do NOT shop at Wal-Mart. I will teach you that you don't need to depend on "Everyday Low Prices" and you don't need to go straight for the "off-brand" to get the best deals. When you learn to combine coupons with in-store specials and in-store coupons, you can buy name-brand on almost everything for much less than the store brand. I shop exclusively at Kroger, Target, and Walgreen's, and except for my son's birthday cake from their bakery, I haven't stepped foot in Wal-Mart in over 2 years. And it feels great!!!

This first post is all about GETTING STARTED. To me, getting started is the hardest part. It's so easy to say..."I'll start couponing once the kids are out of school this summer, once I get settled into my new job, after the holidays, etc." The truth is, there's no better time than right now. Even if your first trip to the store only saves you $4, at least you've started saving money! Now, let's talk about where to begin.

Step One: If you haven't done this already, MAKE A FAMILY BUDGET. Before you start your shopping trips, you need to know how much you're allowed to spend at the store. Once you've made your budget and you know what you can spend, go back through the last 3-6 months in your bank account and figure out exactly what you DID spend. Were you within this budget? I bet most of you probably spent WAY more than you thought when you added up the trips to Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Walgreen's, Fred's, Big Lots, etc....not to mention how much you spent going out to eat (which is something my family does MAYBE 6 times a YEAR) When I first started couponing in 2008, I had budgeted $600 per month on groceries and household items. Once I sat down and looked at the actual statements, I realized I was spending $900-$1,000 per month not including the $300 a month we were spending on eating out. What in the world were we buying????. I was astonished! We now spend between $300-$350 for our family of 4, and this includes ALL groceries, toiletries, medicine (non-prescription) and household goods.

Step Two: Once you've decided how much you can spend each week, MAKE A BUY-PRICE LIST. This is a list of common purchases at the store for your family, and the amount you are willing to pay for them AFTER COUPONS. On this list should be items like: Milk, cereal, bread, chicken, potatoes, lunch meat, frozen dinners, etc. It's important that you make this list because this list will change A LOT during your growth as a savvy couponer. When I started this, I put $3 per box on cereal as the price I was willing to pay...now it's $.75. If I can't get the box for $.75 or less, I won't buy it. Carry this with you every time you go to the store for a while and make note of the prices of your favorite items. Are they all over the place? Moving up and down from week to week? This is to be expected. This will help you figure out how little you should be paying for these products. It's important to note: Virtually everything in the grocery store will be priced at its lowest price at some point during a 6-10 week period. If you are carrying your Buy-Price list with you and watching the prices rise and fall on your everyday items, you will learn what the bottom price is for those items. Once you see that price, that's when you want to go in and stockpile - buying enough to get you to the next 6-10 week cycle.

Step Three: LEARN HOW TO MENU-PLAN. Stop making grocery lists based on what you feel like cooking that week and start making grocery lists based on what you already have and what's going to be on sale. In the past, I would sit down and make weekly menus based on what we were in the mood for, then make a list of all of the grocery items I needed for those menus. Then I'd take my list to the store and buy what I needed. When I got to the checkout line, it just cost what it cost. I'd just shrug my shoulders and say..."well, we needed it" and accept the high amount. But no more! Each week, Kroger, Walgreen's, and Target put out their weekly circulars highlighting their best deals. Not every deal is listed, but it's a great place to start. Once you get better at this, you'll be able to pair your stock-piled items with the sale items and make super-cheap meals. For example, I was just able to pick up Uncrustables for $.84 per box (with 4 inside) at Kroger with my coupons. I bought 5 boxes. This makes for a very cheap lunch for my boys at $.21 per sandwich. I make sure he gets 2-3 of these per week. That will last me 6-10 weeks (until the price bottoms out again). These circulars are found in each of the stores, and Walgreen's and Target's are in your Sunday newspaper. You can also view these circulars online at hundreds of different couponing blogs (we'll discuss these a little later) a few days before the sales begin. This gives you more time to collect your coupons and make your grocery list. If you see a good sale on chicken, buy 5 packages of it and stick them in the freezer until you're ready for them.

Step Four: PICK UP THE SUNDAY PAPER. Finally...we're talking about coupons, one of my favorite subjects in the whole wide world!!! I LOVE getting my newspapers every Sunday. Because I look at my coupon blogs daily (we'll talk about those next), I know what coupons are coming, so I know exactly how many papers I want to buy. It's important to note: Coupons usually don't come out on Holiday weekends, so make sure to check this website http://www.southernsavers.com/2009/12/2010-sunday-coupon-insert-schedule/ to see which coupon inserts you should be expecting. Depending on where you live, make sure to pick up the biggest newspaper that your area distributes. Your local newspaper probably won't have as many coupon inserts as your "big city" paper. Also, before you buy your papers, check to make sure every insert you are expecting is in there. There's nothing worse than getting home and finding out they're not in there. Remember, not every newspaper, even the big city ones, carries all the inserts available. For example, our newspaper doesn't have the Red Plum insert. But don't fret...you can always go to EBAY (we'll talk more about EBAY couponing in another post) and BUY 5 inserts for $1.25 plus shipping. I recommend this if you want to make sure you have ALL the coupons at your disposal. It's very frustrating when a great deal comes up and you don't have the coupons to match with it.

Step Five: DISCOVER THE WORLD OF COUPON BLOGS. This is where I totally changed the way I shopped. For my first 2 years of couponing, I just took my circular and matched it with coupons and shopped that way and felt I was doing a great job. But these coupon blogs make it so much easier and really take couponing to the next level. They actually go through the circulars for you and tell you exactly where to find the coupons to match with the sales....LINE BY LINE. My favorites are:

www.southernsavers.com
www.wildforwags.com (Walgreen's stuff)
www.totallytarget.com (Target stuff)
www.asupersavvysaver.blogspot.com
www.frugalfritzie.com
www.savingaddiction.com
www.couponcravings.com
www.mommysnacks.net
www.printablecouponsanddeals.com

I keep all of these tabbed on my toolbar and refresh them about 5-10 times a day, depending on how much I'm on the computer for that day. Each blog will post 5-15 new entries a day and they tell us where we can find the best coupons, unadvertised deals, clearance and close-out items, free samples, rebates, and best coupon match-ups for each store. When you first go to these sites, (and if you spend some time researching you can certainly find some favorites of your own) I suggest reading the last 10-14 days worth of posts. This will help you see all the deals you've been missing (this will HURT at first! :) ) and it will let you see what kinds of posts to be expecting. It's also very educational. Once you're "caught up" on these sites, you'll just be able to refresh to see the latest posts and you can take advantage of the deals that appeal to you.

Step Six: START PRINTING COUPONS ONLINE. I resisted doing this for the longest time because I thought these coupons weren't "as good" as coupons clipped out of the newspaper and I was almost embarrassed to use them because I thought they looked "homemade" or even "fraudulent"...but now I have seen the errors of my ways. I have never had any problems using these coupons and some of them are for ridiculously high amounts. Most of the blogs listed above will tell you exactly where to go to print these coupons, but if you don't want to scroll through the posts to find them, I recommend:

www.coupons.com
www.eatbetteramerica.com
www.pillsbury.com
www.bettycrocker.com
www.smartsource.com

The very first time you print a coupon online, you will have to download a coupon printer. This is totally legitimate and takes less than 1 minute and you'll never have to do it again. This is required because of the barcode that will be on the coupon. It's important to note: Most coupons can be printed twice. Once you print it the first time, click the back button and you will probably get to print it one more time. If it's a particularly good coupon and you want more than two, you'll have to use a different computer because it recognizes your IP address. And remember...it's fraudulent to make copies of coupons, so let's not do that! :)


Well, I'd say that's probably enough information for the first day! Spend the next week doing all 6 of the steps I mentioned above:

Make your budget
Make a buy-price guide
Learn how to menu-plan
Pick up the Sunday paper
Discover the world of coupon blogs
Start printing coupons online

By the end of the first week, you'll have coupons in your hand and you'll have a plan and you'll be ready to start saving money.

On next week's post, we'll talk about Organizing your coupons, Making your grocery lists, The difference between blinkies, peelies, tearpads, and inserts, and Keeping track of your savings! See you guys next week!!!

Ham and Cheese Pockets



My kids love these and I make them on busy nights at least 1-2 times per month.

I don't even need to list the ingredients, it's too easy!

Make your favorite pizza dough recipe (there are a million online) - mine is:

1 pkg yeast
1.25 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 TBS oil
2.5 cups flour

Mix it all with a fork (don't need to let the dough rise) and then roll it out to the shape you want, constantly dusting with flour.

I can usually make 6 pockets with this recipe. I just make 6 rectangles, fill them with sliced ham and shredded cheddar (I always use the bar, not bagged - tastes MUCH fresher). Pinch the sides closed and lay on cookie sheet seam-side down. Brush beaten egg whites on top, cook at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes until tops are lightly browned

YUM!!!

I love a clean kitchen!



In general, I love a clean house. I don't love the work it takes to get there, but I looooove the finished product.

I'll admit though...our house is tough to keep clean. It's 3100 sq. ft and with the boys' rooms right off the kitchen/familyroom area, a lot of their toys end up in there. And when they really want to mess up the house, they make their way back towards our bedroom. I feel on most days, as soon as clean one room, they destroy it while I'm working on the next room. So, I'm constantly cleaning in circles. I can find the time on most days to pick up the day's mess, but I can't seem to find enough time to really get down and CLEAN. Well, yesterday...I made the time. The boys' worked on cleaning their rooms (a process that took 8 hours and basically nothing got done) Ward and I worked on the kitchen and family room. I worked all day on those two rooms, rearranged some decorations, thinned out the junk drawers, and even dejunked the front of the refrigerator. I'm so excited that I'm posting pictures because I'm not sure it will ever be clean again!!!



There are no dishes in the sink, no dishes in the dishwasher, no crumbs on the counter....it's all DONE! We're going out of town this afternoon and I'm so excited to know I'll be coming home to a clean familyroom and kitchen. I am really going to make an effort to keep this straightened up. I love the way our house looks when it's clean and it's so rare I get to see it that way! :)



I've been reading some blogs lately that are reminding me of the importance of making your home a haven. We're all so much happier when the house is clean and there's less temptation to mess it up. When it startes getting dirty, that's when everything seems to fall apart because no one takes pride in keeping it clean anymore since it's already "messy."

My goal this week? Take another picture of the kitchen next Saturday and hope it looks just the same! :)