Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Week in Review: Rhyming Play, Cute Quotes and Skiing

So, I started this week in review thing in part to remember cute kid quotes.

Hence, a few moments of dialogue from the past week:

(After mooching a piece of catfish off her father's plate during our Sunday dinner out): "I hope it's not made out of dead cat!"

(Same dinner, after taking a bite of corn on the cob and managing to squirt me -- sitting next to her -- in the eye with corn juice): "It wasn't in my eyes, because my eyes are up here, and my mouth is down here."

(At dinner at home, after commenting that her chicken was a bit spicy, and my comment that some spices are healthy for your body): "Like bacon?"*

(After singing a song learned in church choir, "I Just Wanna Be a Sheep" -- a song that alludes to following the Good Shepherd): "Mommy, I'm Jesus's horse. Are you Jesus's bear?"

The ridiculously bitter cold finally ended toward the end of last week, easing into some unseasonably warm weather in the 40s! During the deep freeze, there was a lot of playing with blocks at our house, building "houses" for a couple of rubber mice. There is apparently a lot of play value in these mice -- they've since moved into the play kitchen, where they are residing in the pretend coffee pot, occasionally being served dinner, and occasionally being baked into a mouse pie.

They also participated in the "play" that the four-year-old requested we perform with last week's hit of the library books, Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas. She found the book hysterical, memorized it quickly and, since there are four characters -- three dust bunnies who occupy themselves with rhymes and a fourth who tries to warn them of the advance of the enemy vacuum cleaner -- it worked out perfectly, in her mind, for she, me, and each of the rubber mice to say one of the characters' lines upon numerous readings of the book.

(Part of the reason we acquired this book from the library is that she's been obsessed with rhymes for a while, constantly asking "does __ and __ rhyme"? And, it's hard to tell if it was merely the memorization of the book -- but she may have been sounding out and actually reading some of the simple three-letter words, like "hat," "mug," etc!)

Part of our weekend activities included another literary event: the Borders bookstore kids' party for Silverlicious by Victoria Kann, the latest in her Pinkalicious series (a huge hit with little girls: how can you go wrong with books that so prominently feature things like the colors pink and purple, rainbows, unicorns, etc.?) I was informed a few days later that she enjoyed that party, so I think it was a hit. :) It consisted of a Borders employee giving a very animated reading of the book, and then some crafts (very glitterful) based on the book, and some take home prizes -- like stickers and shiny pencils. I had also budgeted for a book purchase while there, and made sure to take my Borders coupon with me -- although the idea of so many books rather overwhelmed the four-year-old, and I had to help her make her choices after we had read a few in-store. (We ended up with a couple of Little Golden books -- The Little Mermaid (Disney version), Barbie in a Mermaid's Tale, and a My Little Pony title.)

Prior to the Pinkalicious party, we had attended a showing of free animated films at a nearby library. This month, they focused on winter themes, with a European short about a mole and his snowman, a Swedish one (with subtitles) about two Claymation rabbits building a snowman then getting lost in a winter storm, and the Chuck Jones 1970s version of The White Seal by Rudyard Kipling. (That last one was a little bit long and slightly scary for the preschoolers in the audience - lots of true stuff about hunters and seals --  but I think they try to make these appeal to a wider age range.) She thought the other films were funny, though, and also enjoyed the cupcake the health food people who were cooperating on this event helped the kids make -- they made faces or designs with strawberry slices, blueberries and raspberries, and they provided granola bars and juice boxes for "movie snacks."

We attempted to be even more healthy on our Sunday afternoon excursion to the park -- we started out sledding, but were distracted by the many, many people out on cross-country skis on such a nice day. The four-year-old asked to learn to ski, and I thought it was a good idea -- after all, she lives in Minnesota, so she's going to need to embrace winter, and the sooner she gets used to being active, the better. (Also, I hadn't cross country skiied for a long time, and have been really wanting to -- it was part of my physical education requirement in college and, although I initially signed up because the one-weekend trip allowed me to take more academic courses in my schedule, I ended up really enjoying it. I'm just not very good. :) )

The park rents skis and boots, including kids' sizes, and, after we finally got her boots into the bindings of her skis, the four-year-old actually did really well for the first time -- even figuring out on her own that it was easier to ski in someone else's' tracks. I was not the most graceful skiier ever -- especially since I knew she was losing patience, and finally gave up on actually getting my own left boot into the binding - I just stood on that ski the whole time without it being truly attached -- but I definitely got some exercise. Even more because I had to haul her up from her falls, including the (at least) 15 falls in the same spot that pretty much ended our excursion (every time I'd hoist her up, she'd immediately fall down again, which led to a meltdown).

I suppose it didn't help that her socks were evidently soaked -- becasue she insisted on splashing through every puddle in the parking lot on the way into the park, to the point that we had to scrub purple dye from her boots off her feet at home that night. Still, I'd like to go skiing again.

 * There is an explanation as to why she thinks bacon is a spice. I will provide it if asked.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How I Can Shop So Frugal-ly

(Please sing the title of this post to the tune of "that you and I should get along so aw-ful-ly," part of the lyrics to "People Are People"  by Depeche Mode. In large part because I used to regularly annoy my sister by chanting those lyrics to her and creating a 1980s earworm. She can thank me later.)

I'm in a season right now of not doing as much grocery shopping as I have been -- truly, constant subzero temperatures make it unpleasant to contemplate getting out of the car any more often than necessary, and nearly frozen fingers have a hard time flipping through coupons. This has given me time to think about why, in "normal" seasons of life, it currently works for me to do the things I do (soundtrack here: The Temptations) -- grocery-shopping-wise, anyway.

First of all, my overall grocery shopping strategy for the past couple of years has been the "stockpiling" method, in which you purchase items at a low price, based on the store flyers' loss leaders and coupon matchups for sale items, and plan your menus based upon what you acquire/have on hand as a result. It's a method that's been discussed fairly frequently in the blogosphere, so I won't go into great detail. If you want a quick summary, check out this post from Get Rich Slowly; if you want a more in-depth tutorial, read this 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series from MoneySavingMom.

I will, however, make a couple of quick notes on this: shopping this way "forces" you to eat more seasonally, since the produce that is actually in season is much less expensively priced. This ties in nicely with a conscious seasonality, which is one of my broader life goals anyway. Also, the resources I use for coupon matchups are the coupon database from -- a free resource, and the oft-referred-to Grocery Game doesn't even index the stores in my area* -- and -- which is relatively local to me, and does provide detailed listings of sales and coupon matchups for my regular grocery stores.

Two key words in that preceding paragraph describe my grocery shopping strategy: "local" and "stores." I am lucky that local, for me, is the Twin Cities, Minnesota, area. This means that it's a major metro area, with a lot of stores, including at least one that does coupon doubling (on certain days, with certain rules, yadda, yadda). That means I have a lot of choice about where I spend my grocery dollars.

I'm also lucky that no one in my immediate, living-in-my-house family, has any food restrictions that require the purchase of more expensive food. It's only when we're feeding extended family that we have to worry about whether this particular "modified food starch" might be code for gluten-ous wheat, or whether something  has been "prepped in a plant that also processes peanuts."

So, I have choices in what and where I purchase. Not only that, but I have choices within choices -- that don't require additional trips out of my way. On my way to or from work, I (can) go by two different CVS locations, three Walgreens, and locations of both of the mainstream grocery stores -- including the coupon-doubling one -- that I shop at. This is lucky because a) I'm not using any extra gas, b) I can take advantage of various stores' savings programs, and c) the Walgreens two blocks from my house has horrid pharmacy service.

I am also lucky in that the Twin Cities area has two major newspapers -- which means two sources of Sunday coupon inserts. We subscribe to the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, but also purchase the Sunday (St. Paul) Pioneer Press, which means I generally have two copies of that week's SmartSource, RedPlum, sometimes Procter & Gamble, etc., inserts -- not to mention the ability to print coupons from websites. (And heck, no, I don't clip all those coupons -- I just file the dated inserts in sheet protectors in a binder, and clip when needed according to the weekly coupon/sale matchups from the aforementioned sites.)

So, my current ability for frugal shopping essentially boils down to what used to be the mantra for the real estate industry (you know, before "foreclosure" and "short sale"): "location, location, location." I'm lucky that way.

*(or at least it didn't when I checked into it a couple of years ago)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Books of 2011: 1-5

Now that I have introduced my concept of my book list on this blog, here are the first entries in said list.

1.,2. The Tightwad Gazette II by Amy Dacyzyn, The Tightwad Gazette III by Amy Dacyzyn

I did not start with number one because I didn't have number one; I acquired these from freecycle a while back, and they've been sitting around my house largely unread. This January, I finally got around to reading them, and really enjoyed them. They're a bunch of (mostly) short articles from The Tightwad Gazette newsletter published in the 1990s, containing the sorts of things that today would show up as posts on frugal living blogs. Some of the content is outdated -- but, on the other hand, it was a nice little trip down nostalgia lane for me -- but a lot of it is not, and the ideas for fostering a "do-it-yourself from what-you-have" attitude really appealed to me. As did some of the recipes, which incorporate that attitude with cooking, which I also enjoy. Homemade gelatin and orange marmalade sound pretty cool to me. It's also given me an alternative to purchasing a card holder for my kid's small hands.

3. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

(read for book group, January) It was OK -- I can now say I've read this classic, and it was an easy enough read, but I feel no need to pursue other books by this author (even though I am suitably impressed that she was the first American woman to win the Nobel prize in literature -- I looked her up in my Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of American Writers). It reminded me somewhat, in its explorations of traditional Chinese family life, of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I liked that one better, though -- because, even though it deals with a historical time period, it was written by a contemporary woman? Because it deals more with women's lives than men's? I don't know for sure; probably those reasons and more.

4. When Organizing Isn't Enough: S.H.E.D. Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Julie Morgenstern

(from my 2008 library list) Seemed like a good idea to read an organizing book in January, except this one really wasn't about organizing; I guess I would say it was more about optimizing your stuff, your time, and your habits, using her Separate, Heave, Embrace, Drive methodology. I think it's a valuable book, and one I may come back to again, but it just wasn't speaking strongly to me at the point in time when I read it.

5. Wellspring of Magic by Jan Fields

I acquired this one through a direct mail promo -- they sent the book along with their literature for the stuff they were trying to get me to buy. And it actually is an awesome book (and if "my girl," as they refer to her, were a little older, I would be quite interested in checking out the Creative Girls Club craft club). It's aimed at the seven- to twelve-year-old audience the club is meant for, and features five or six girls whose neighborhood park hosts a portal to another world where each of them is a princess, in some area related to her creative abilities and interests, and must use her royal power and sway to save the inhabitants of this fairy-like land.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book List: An Introduction

So, I am a reader. I love to read, participate (more or less) in two real-life book groups, and usually read around 100-ish books a year. (Last year, I made it only to 92. What a slacker.)

As part of the experimentation that is this blog, I may be posting my reading list for the year here. Or there may be some bulging gaps in it -- because it is entirely possible that not everything I read is high quality literature that I would be proud for the whole wide web to know about. (I am not talking here about the books I read to the four-year-old, including that truly awful Barbie novelization from a while back; I am talking mostly about the books that I occasionally read and consider "brain candy.") Also, on principle, if one gets upset when the government talks about wanting the ability to subpoena records of what people check out of libraries, and one's librarian friends, family and acquaintances get so up in arms about this that they then start talking about how their systems are designed to make it impossible to keep such records, one has to have a smidgen of second thoughts, then, about posting everything one reads on a website.

(Some college friends of mine were once freaked out by finding a book I had left lying around about nuclear arms treaties. It was for my political science class, people.)

Other introductory thoughts: the book links are Amazon affiliate links, which means I make some small amount of money if you buy them (or anything else on Amazon) by clicking through the links on this blog. Partly this is because I may someday get around to actually setting up a page on this blog with links to things I think are particularly cool on Amazon, and partly because my theory is that this may make it easier to show/link to the book cover images from Amazon, instead of going through the pain in the patoot process of photographing book covers I own in order to provide visuals.

Do note, however, that, personally, I am cheap enough that I get most of my reading material from the public library -- and you can, too.

Which brings me to another introductory point about this list: my library has this great feature which lets you keep "lists" on your online account. I have several such "lists" of things I want to read -- and I try to only be about two years behind in getting the books on those lists read, so that I can then add a bunch of new stuff to the current year's list and not feel *entirely* overwhelmed. (Sometimes there are waiting lists of, oh, say, 500 people for a new book the year I put it on the list. If I wait a couple of years to read it, it's often a lot easier to access from the library -- and is, usually, still a good book.)

Of course, I do read books acquired from other sources, as well. Like the ones that are sitting all over my house.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Week in Review: Dentists and the Usual Drill

Last week was dentist week, part 1 for our family -- appointments for me and for the four-year-old. Husband's dentist appointment is coming up in a couple of days. For some reason, I found myself spitting for at least an hour after my appointment ended -- rather curtailed my planned trip to the grocery store after that errand (the howling wind and sub-zero temperatures were not encouraging, either, but I also don't think it's particularly appreciated to be expectorating in the produce aisle). The four-year-old picked out a purple plastic race car as her prize at the pediatric dentist, and spent a lot of time last week constructing ramps for her toy cars and driving them around.

My playtime last week consisted of a game night with women's group friends, playing Apples to Apples, Word on the Street and the card game 99 -- none of which I'd ever played before. It was a fun time, even if I did end up having to play on someone else's honor after I lost too many rounds of 99 -- at least adding up those numbers stretched my brain into some math skills directions after I spend most of my days thinking about words. :)  I made some Buckeye Bars from this Gooseberry Patch recipe as my contribution to the snacks.

Our family watched the Puppy Bowl together this weekend, but not much of the Super Bowl -- we let that be mostly DH's province, while the four-year-old and I (finally) finished up thank-you notes for late Christmas gifts, and got some practice in on doing dishes.

It was actually rather an aquatic weekend for her, as we also did a "what will sink and what will float" experiment at bath time (it's amazing how fast that kid will pick up toys if she's been promised an experiment in the bathtub) and then her Sunday school class made "aquariums" (plastic water bottles full of what I assume is water with blue food coloring in it, with plastic "sea creatures" they picked out to float in it) when they studied the story of Jonah.

We've also continued the ongoing obsession with horses -- this past week, I had to read descriptions of several horse breeds while she worked on putting the stickers on the correctly matching shape in the horse sticker book,  she got for Christmas.

Unintentionally, except for church, we ended up not going out of the house all weekend -- which was probably a mistake, since the weather was in the 20s on Saturday and is supposed to be back to its frigidly cold temperatures this week. Instead, I finally got over the unproductive blahs I seem to have been suffering from all week and got our family paperwork, which I had been "filing" in a plastic accordion file -- a process which was not making stuff any easier to find -- moved into a different filing system. Still need to sort through some things, but now at least things are not all mixed up with each other because it was too hard to file them. Plus, I've been tracking cash spending throughout January, and started a new Quicken file for 2011, moved all of our bank transactions into it, and got everything categorized. (This is supposed to help with a snapshot of the family finances, and could/may eventually lead to a formal budget.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Menu Plan

Finally got around to making the Orange Marmalade recipe from The Tightwad Gazette this weekend - -and it was truly awful. On to Plan B for increasing my fruit and veggie consumption with healthy(er) breakfasts. (So far, I have no Plan B.) The Zucchini Bread I also made this weekend from some of last summer's shredded zucchini in the freezer, and the recipe from the BH&G red and white cookbook turned out much better. I ate some of it warm with my leftover Ham and Bean Soup on Sunday -- and also put the last of our leftover white rice from our Chinese New Year restaurant dinner in there to stretch it further. And I'm hoping the Blondies Bars I made for a funeral reception at church this week turned out better than the marmalade -- but, since I'm not attending the funeral, I probably won't ever know.

Monday: Macaroni & Cheese or Zippy Macaroni. These are the choices I've left with DH as I go to a church book group meeting (and hand-off of the funeral bars). They actually both use the same basic ingredient: a box of the Kraft mac & cheese -- but the Zippy Macaroni extends it into more of a casserole, using some eggs and some salsa (and believe me, after I stocked him up for Super Bowl snacks, we have some salsa around the house).

Tuesday:  Hot Dogs and Beans or Fruit. The hot dogs were on sale last week, along with other Super Bowl type food, the buns were on hand in the freezer, and the beans -- I had planned to pick up at last week's Walgreen's sale, but never got to. That means I either need to make a quick bean run at some time, or change the "side dish."

Wednesday: Church Supper.

Thursday: Chicken Mozzarella. Did another stockup on buy one/get one chicken deals last week, and also purchased some mozarella cheese on a good sale, and have tomato soup in the pantry and leftover pasta from last week's Corn Casserole -- all of that will go into this recipe from Campbell's kitchen, which I found in a magazine ad insert.

Friday: Pizza.

Saturday: Shrimp and Wild Rice Casserole from The Best of Wild Rice Recipes by Beatrice Okajangas. It's a family favorite of the four-year-old and the husband, and I finally replenished our family wild rice supply. Also picked up some shrimp with a local store's decent sale coupon, so it's time to eat the bag in the freezer from the previous good shrimp sale.

Find more menu plans (like her Ham Caribbean, which looks delicious) at

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Menu Plan (Midweek)

With our trip to the play last Saturday, and our family's off-kilteredness earlier in the day due to middle-of-the-night Friday awakenings, we didn't get the goulash made last week. Also, I realized we are out of tomato sauce -- and the husband is not adventurous enough to use the substitutions I probably would have, such as ketchup and/or tomato soup (both of which we do have). So, no goulash -- so far. It may show up on next week's menu plan.

Instead, last Saturday, we ate at Wendy's (his choice), had Sunday dinner out at an Indian restaurant after church, and popped up some popcorn on the stove and added a bunch of M&Ms to it for a Sunday evening supper with Secretariat viewing.

This week's menu has/will also consist(ed) of:

Monday: Two-Cup Corn Casserole. Had the macaroni set out for the planned goulash, so used some of that, plus a couple of cans of cream of chicken soup, and the last of the corn trimmed for last summer's ears out of the freezer. (Now we're down to commercially frozen corn.)

Tuesday: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. I had thawed some of the browned hamburger and didn't want to let it go too long unused, so we threw it -- and some chopped onion, also from the freezer -- into the half jar of Ragu sauce that was in there to make a meaty spaghetti sauce. (Also because I was thinking of the winter health benefits of onions and garlic.)

Wednesday: Ham and Bean Soup with Apple Cheddar Bread. It's a week for hot soup, and this recipe (from Nestle, posted on was wonderful when we made it with leftover Easter ham last year. I did have to buy the beans, but I pulled evaporated milk out of the pantry, and a bag of leftover, ground-up ham, some frozen peas, and a chopped-up onion out of the freezer. There's also some dried rosemary from herbs grown on the deck a summer or so ago that some of us put into this. The Apple-Cheddar Bread (recipe from Gooseberry Patch Celebrate Autumn cookbook) also came out of the freezer: I tried the recipe with last fall's apples, and it made two loaves. I really liked the bread -- the husband and the kid were sort of indifferent, but oh well.

Thursday: At DH's request, we'll be going to a Chinese restaurant on the Chinese New Year.

Friday: Pizza.

Saturday: Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce. Look, it's Thanksgiving in February! Actually, it's that my workplace gives me a free turkey every holiday season, and I need to get its largeness out of the way in my freezer, cooked up (on a cold day when I won't mind having the oven on for a few hours), and eaten and then ground/chopped up into leftovers to be frozen for future turkey-based meals. (You notice that the rest of this week's menu plan is providing plenty of room for this bird to thaw in the fridge...) Also, the four--year-old (and I) love mashed potatoes, and I have a couple of boxes of them in the cupboard, as well as a couple of cans of jellied cranberry sauce, from Thanksgiving-time sales.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Week in Review: Doubting the Groundhog

They say that official groundhog Punxsatawney Phil did not see his shadow today, and that it will be an early spring. Just based on empirical evidence (i.e., looking around at the weather here and around the nation), I'm dubious. Of course, we were lucky to have a 40-degree temperature rise last week -- it hovered around 20 degrees above zero for a while -- but this week, we've been plunged back into the deep freeze of below-zero temperatures. And we were lucky enough here in Minnesota to miss the mammoth snow and ice storm that hit much of the rest of the country. But we got another three inches or so Monday, to add to the several-feet-tall drifts on either side of our driveway and sidewalk. Know what I'm mostly tired of this winter? The constant need to kick out accumulated snow and crud from the wheel wells of my car. It never gets warm enough for these annoying appendages to melt away on their own.

During our brief warm spell, the four-year-old and I went sledding again -- many more families there this time. We also took a moment at the bottom of the hill (out of the way) to stare out at the snow, the ski trails, the trees bare of leaves and the lake covered with ice and snow, and to offer a prayer of thanks for its beauty.

Upon arriving home, she hauled out the sand buckets and shovels again for more snow play. We've also tried making and painting with snow paint -- a recipe from Let's Explore's January play suggestions , involving flour, salt and water -- which did not come out as sparkly as we'd been led to believe. Perhaps we applied it too thickly to our construction paper. I also tried introducing cutting paper snowflakes -- which did not go well. I think she needs more scissors practice, but I obviously need much more patience to deal with her frustration levels when she's doing a project that would give her that practice.

Weekends have brought visits to the soft play area at our local mall, and to an indoor park with gym and climbing structure, both for "running around" time. And, this past weekend, we took her to her first theatrical play -- a local children's theater's premier of If You Give a Moose a Muffin, based on the book by Laura Numeroff. It's a musical, about an hour long -- and the casting of Max the Moose is what makes the play. (This book series has been very popular with our four-year-old; we currently have If You Give a Cat a Cupcake checked out of the library, and own an anthology with the mouse, moose and pig stories, as well as the Christmas-themed If You Take a Mouse to the Movies.)

We also acquired the movie Secretariat and have so far watched it twice -- and listened to several household horse racing play-by-plays which culminate in an excited "Secretariat wins!"

She seems to be feeling fine after getting everyone up in the middle of Friday night to vomit. (She was fine the day before; she was fine the day after; it seems to be one of those "I am a kid and every so often I am going to throw up in the middle of the night for no reason and get everyone's schedule off track.")

I am hoping that the leftover pound cake I meant to take home after a Bible study meeting -- we're doing some Beth Moore DVDs -- last week is somewhere that I am not going to find it by smell in spring -- since that meeting was on Thursday, I remembered it Sunday, and could not find it in the likely locations.

And, also last week, we registered the kiddo for kindergarten.