Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Goals Post: The Wrap-up

So, it's the last day of January and people are writing about how their goals have gone. I do indeed have goals, even though I haven't yet written about them because I've been trying to get them into some sort of orderly format. Something like "broken down into areas of focus for me, with subsets" kind of a deal. I've also been working on adding a goals tab to this blog, with such breakdowns. But it's slow going when, in such workings-on, I manage to erase more than half of a list.


My (unstated) focus for January has been "finances and organization." In practice, what that has meant is that I have put in extra effort to organize all the accumulated paperwork, particularly that which relates to bills, finances, etc. -- and get rid of some of it.


Accomplished: Organized all file folders from kitchen basket into actual, logically sorted files. Sorted out lots of stuff for shredding. I shredded some of it, but I think I am actually going to pay to have an office supply store do a bunch of the piles: we have a home shredder, but considering that it jams up every few minutes on stuff like this, and I have a lot to shred, I think that's a better use of my time.

Bonus: Getting all the paperwork sorted meant that I submitted the paperwork to get the last out of our FLEX accounts from 2011, and was able to get paperwork for a couple of things (childcare and kindergarten tuition) that could be deductions on our taxes.

Also, the kitchen island is looking soooo much better.

Accomplished: De-Christmas-ing and storing all of the Christmas decor together.

Accomplished: Sorting through my books in family room, and doing a purge. (I admitted to myself that if I ever read some of those books again, it's probably not going to be in French.)

Bonus: Was able to sell some books online for what should be a total of about $13.

Accomplished/Bonus: Sorted and organized the kid's craft supplies kept in a three-drawer rolling bin and a large tote in the living room coat closet. I wasn't necessarily planning this, but when the five-year-old says, "Mommy, I think we should clean out the closet today," I'm going to jump on it.

I spent a lot of time on the phone, tracking down paperwork -- and a check the mortgage company managed to lose (not for a payment), but otherwise, didn't accomplish my specific financial goals for the month. They need to move into February;

1) creating a monthly budget
2) changing direct deposit allocations into checking/savings (need to do because our bank is changing its accounts and we will get hit with fees if we keep our current configuration)


Overall goals for the year include
- Work on building N's cooking skills, let her choose recipes
- Read-aloud books using lists as suggested in The Read-Aloud Handbook , Honey for a Child's Heart , Ambleside Online

Accomplished: We've read at least Aunt Minnie McGranahan , The Truth About Poop , The Mitten (for school book club), as well as others

Accomplished: Made Squash Muffins, Strawberry Muffins and Molasses Crinkles cookies together


Goals include
- Read through Bible chronologically
- Read "off the shelves" (read at least one book a month that I already own and that is on my shelves, thereby accomplishing potential decluttering and achieving a "should do")

Accomplished: Read through Genesis, Job and parts of Chronicles using this chronological one-year Bible reading plan: http://www.oneyearbibleonline.com/readingplan.asp?version=51&startmmdd=0101

Accomplished: almost finished The True History of Tea, a previous year's birthday present (January is National Hot Tea Month, as well as National Get Organized Month. It's also usually a good month to snuggle under a quilt, which explains some more of those titles on my 2012 Book List  page)
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase on Amazon after clicking through one of these links, a portion of the proceeds goes to support this blog, at no additional expense to you.

This Week's (and Last's) Menu Plans (Last Half of January 2012)

I like keeping track of my weekly menu plans because it helps me in my planning, my using stuff from the freezer and pantry, and having a good rotation of meals. Since I do recycle the menu plan posted weekly on our fridge, however, writing it down on this blog gives me a record of it.

So that's why you get to read about things we already ate.

Saturday (Jan. 21): We had a few hamburger buns left over from the Sloppy Janes meal earlier in the week. And, since we were low (in other words: completely out) of ground beef, I bought a family pack from the grocery store on that week's run, and cooked part of it up for Saturday dinner as Sloppy Joes -- also using some of the canned soup I won from 5MinutesForMom  as an ingredient. The five-year-old and I had also made Strawberry Muffins (strawberries from our freezer, picked last summer) that day.

Sunday (Jan. 22): For the day before Chinese New Year, DH suggested we go to the buffet at the Chinese restaurant at our mall for our midday repast. For supper later in the day, the kiddo and I had Popcorn and M&Ms as we watched Barbie and the Diamond Castle -- acquired cheaply as part of our local Blockbuster brick and mortar store's sell-off as they go out of business.

Monday (Jan. 23): There was a call for a low-fiber meal this night, due to a required medical test last week for a family member who recently turned 50 (not me). That ended up being Crockpot Lasagna -- I used some of the hamburger I had browned and "onion-ified" on Saturday. (I browned most of the rest of the family pack and put it in the freezer, except for a a portion that I left raw and froze as hamburger patties.)

Tuesday (Jan. 24): We still had a bag of frozen Voila pasta and vegetables in the freezer -- it's a handy post-travel meal for us -- that I had purchased before the holidays. Since one bag really only feeds two of our family well, it was a good night to have it when only two of us were eating.

Wednesday (Jan. 25): A day of driving to appointments and errands. I put some Cranberry Chicken in the crockpot in the morning, using up the last Thanksgiving-era sales can of cranberry sauce from the pantry, and cooking up the whole family pack of chicken thighs from the freezer.

Thursday (Jan. 26): The Plantation Ham Pie  from a Quick Cooking collection used up the last of the cooked and shredded Thanksgiving ham from the freezer, plus a bag of frozen broccoli from the same source. I made up homemade "cream soup" (butter, flour, milk) for those ingredients. And I did *not* roll my dough up into jellyroll style: I just plopped it on the casserole. Might not have looked pretty, but it tasted fine. Since our grocery store's sales on cottage cheese (an ingredient in the lasagna) always seem to require buying two containers, we also had a salad of Cottage Cheese and Raspberries (from last summer's pickings, from the freezer).

Friday (Jan. 27): Pizza. 

Saturday (Jan. 28): I'd had a hankering for Chicken and Dumplings for a while, so I simmered up some turkey broth from the freezer, and shredded up the cooked but uneaten chicken from the family pack I'd crockpotted on Wednesday.

Now, we're up to this week.

Sunday: Indian restaurant, leftovers.

Monday: Crockpot Chili, using browned hamburger-and-onions from the freezer.

Tuesday: School restaurant fundraiser. I am being forced not to cook in order to support my child's education.

Wednesday: Spaghetti Carbonara. We have numerous garlic cloves from last summer's CSA sitting around in our pantry, plus one lone strip of bacon that's still residing in the fridge and hasn't gone bad -- yet.

Thursday: Two--Cup Corn Casserole. Pasta from the pantry, corn from the freezer, homemade cream soups -- and a wintertime hot comfort food.

Friday: Pizza?

Saturday: Apple Oven Pancake?
Those two might get switched up.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday Night Chit-Chat (on Monday)

A quick recap of the week based on a blog meme hosted by Carla at halfdozendaily.blog.com (which I first read about via Sharon at midlifemommusings.blogspot.com). Posted on Monday, but truly, my Sunday reflections on the weekend and the week just passed.

What are you ...

Reading ...

Finished Clutter Clearing Choices by Barbara Tako; in the book of Job on my chronological reading of the Bible for the year.

Watching ....

Barbie and the Diamond Castle, due to DVD sales from the going-out-of-business brick and mortar Blockbuster in our town. Watched with a bowl of popcorn and M&Ms, and a five-year-old on my lap.

Listening to ...

VeggieTales Incredible Singing Christmas Tree was, for some reason, the music chosen to accompany our cooking session.

Cooking/Baking ...

Weekend baking: strawberry muffins and molasses crinkles cookies. Also browned several pounds of hamburger (family pack) to freeze for future meals and put items for crockpot lasagna into crockpot.

Happy you accomplished this week ...

Major progress on kitchen island decluttering/paperwork sorting, sorting bookshelves for (some) purging.

Looking forward to next week ...

Making more progress on goals; reading winter-themed books during actual winter weather (snow!).

Thankful for today ...

Being able to make a little girl happy, and spend time with her when she's little.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Super Savings in the Bathroom

Working on the finances and saving money is a pretty common January goal. I got a couple of nice little boosts on that in the past week. First, I finally received the Disney bath products package I won through 5MinutesForMom (I also won the Disney cold and flu pack giveaway over there, so maybe that's why it took two and a half months to ship stuff, hmm?)

This worked out well, because we had been running low on kid bath soap. We do like to use "kid stuff" separate from the adult stuff (it just makes it nicer and more fun for everyone in our family if we have separate bath products) -- but I seem to have a heck of a time finding it my regular shopping stops. Now, we're set for quite a while on both soap and shampoo, and we used the Disney Princess strawberry-scented bubble bath right away for a weekend bathtime. (I don't think there were any branding conflicts with the Barbie Puppy Swim School Pool being in the same tub ...)

We've also tried out the Mickey Mouse apple juice as the send-along beverage for an ice skating excursion. The taste got good reviews, but it seems harder to open for a young kid than it first looked.

I also had one of those "once in a while" great deals days at CVS: My favorite brand of toothpaste and DH's favorite brand of soap were both on sale, as was liquid hand soap. The toothpaste came with an Extra Care Bucks deal, and so did three Hallmark cards -- such as the 99¢ ones. Plus, I had coupons for the toothpaste and the hand soap, and I had previous Extra Care Bucks on hand.

So, I purchased:

1 tube of Colgate at $2.77
1 package of Irish Spring at 99¢
1 container of Softsoap at 99¢
3 kids' birthday cards* at 99¢ apiece
- $1,00 coupon for Colgate
- 40¢ coupon for Softsoap
- $4.00 ECBs
Total Out of Pocket: $2.88
plus, gained $1.00 ECB on Colgate and $3.00 ECBs on cards
With the ECBs, I came out $1.12 ahead on the deal

(By the way, regarding the title of this post: thank you so much, Magic School Bus DVD, for avoiding the explanation of the normal final stops in the human digestive system, so that I then have to tackle the topic during bathtime for my little tactless scientist. That was sarcasm. We shall see if similar thanks are in order to The Read-Aloud Handbook's science recommendation
on the topic.)

*(A category in my "cards on hand" that was running dangerously low. The other category that needs replenishing is, sadly, sympathy cards.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Menu Plan Week of January 16

So, you know how I said I thought we'd probably eat something last weekend? We did.

And I'm still doing pretty well on the eating from the pantry thing -- although I'm not being as strict about this as I have been in previous years (in part, because our January weather has been decent enough -- until now -- that going to the grocery store hasn't been as much of an ordeal as in other winters. I hate fighting the weather and the frozen fingers that have trouble manipulating the lists and the coupons).

What we ate on Saturday was "Mini Pot Pies," a recipe found on the Gooseberry Patch blog.
Ours were created with some cooked turkey from the freezer, the last can of cream soup from the pantry (I sometimes make my own, as it's basically used as an ingredient, but sometimes buy it if there's a really good sale), shredded cheese and refrigerated biscuits. We served them with applesauce. It wasn't a meal that took a lot of effort, but it was good.

We had our pizza meal last Sunday instead of Friday, because our family ended up needing to go to a memorial service for a former coworker of my husband's - who had been married to a woman I'd come to know through a church small group -- on Friday evening. We changed up our usual Sunday family meal out to Friday night, afterward.

This week, there are a lot of other things on the schedule, so the plans have seemed to come down mostly to "kid-friendly and fast" meals (sometimes I wonder if my own tastes have ever outgrown "kid meals"...).

Monday:Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup (from the pantry).
Tuesday:Parmesan Chicken (chicken from the freezer) and Mashed Potatoes (from the pantry; a free bag of one of those bag mixes).
Wednesday:Sloppy Janes in the crockpot (hot dogs and buns from the freezer from summertime sales, mixed with canned beans from the pantry) and Cornbread (made with pantry ingredients).
Thursday: some sort of Pasta

I also needed to use up the acorn squash that had been sitting on the counter since last fall -- and were starting to turn more orange instead of green. I scrubbed them off and put them in the crockpot for a few hours with some water, which created easily sliced squashes with pureed insides. I froze some of the puree and used about a cup of eat to make Squash Muffins. The recipe called for raisins, which would indeed have been healthier, but my kiddo is currently on an anti-raisin strike, so I substituted chocolate chips in the hopes of persuading her to eat them. (It didn't work.) She also helped me make them -- we're working on her cooking skills this year. I've been finding a couple of them to be a nicely hearty winter breakfast, particularly when consumed with a cuppa tea.

Speaking of the tea, I've changed my ways on that as well. Since I take morning medication that prevents me from eating until an hour after I've swallowed it, plus have to get people up and going and to places in the mornings, on the days that I work outside the house, I end up eating breakfast at my desk. I had fallen into the habit of buying chais from the vending machine (I don't drink coffee). This month, I've finally begun brewing my own tea at work, using tea bags and an electric teakettle (a wedding present from 13 years ago). It did take me a few days to remember, first, a mug, then something to set the used teabag upon (I do reuse it a few times), then a container to actually pour the water into the kettle, but -- by the second week of January -- I've managed to shift the habit away from the vending machine and toward the kettle. I have bought one vending machine chai, and also treated myself to one from a coffee shop -- yay for gifts cards so I didn't actually spend anything out of pocket! -- but, overall, I've definitely reduced my daily and weekly spending in this area, plus it's probably healthier, too.

Visit orgjunkie.com for more menu plans (many of them posted in a more timely manner). 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Menu Plan Week of January 9 (Eatin' From the Freezer)

Among the "new year" organizing projects completed this past week was a new, and complete, inventory of what's actually in the freezer and the pantry. (There is a lot in the chest freezer. And moving it all out to count it was an exercise in itself.)

Now that I know what we have, we can work on eating it down -- partly because that is what we generally do in January (normally, it is bitterly freezing during a Minnesota January and any excuses not to freeze my fingers off getting into the grocery store are most welcome -- unlike this year's bizarre balminess); partly because there is a lot in there; and partly because, in looking over my financial records of tracking spending for last year, I noticed significant upward creep in the grocery spending category in the last months of the year.

I think that's due to a variety of factors: rising grocery prices overall, seasonal celebrations, figuring out what to feed a kid who's started school for snacks and lunches, and the fact that the end of the year got so busy that I basically said "what they hey..." (or some less flattering language) and gave up on many of the extra efforts to keep grocery spending in line.

Anyhoo, I actually find it fun to try to incorporate frugal and/or old-fashioned tactics like meal planning, planned leftovers, eating food that's been somehow preserved from the bounty of the harvest, etc.

This coming week, I'm thinking we shouldn't really need to buy groceries --- except possibly for milk (we seem to be going through a lot of milk lately) and toilet paper (does not, I hope, need explanation).

This past week, a couple of our meals used up some pantry/freezer food: a dinner of Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, plus Blueberry Muffins (the potatoes were some of the last from last summer's CSA; the carrots were in the fridge from some time in December; and the beef broth -- I did this in the crockpot -- was from the pantry. I did buy the actual meat at the store, but it came with a free bag of onions, which will get used in other meals, too. The blueberry muffins used the last half of a container of blueberries in the fridge freezer, rather than the chest, because I had used the top half for -- something. The fact that I cannot for the life of me remember what is worrisome, because I'm pretty sure it was some time this year -- the one that started eight days ago).

Some of the beef from the pot roast got a second life -- beyond straight leftovers -- shredded up as the meat for a Black Bean Taco Bake (a recipe that orgjunkie linked to on a previous Menu Plan Monday). That also used a can of black beans from the cupboard, some tortillas from the fridge (cut up into bite-size pieces); and one of the containers of salsa I made from last summer's CSA produce from the freezer).

Here's my eatin' it up plan for the coming week:

Monday: Corn Chowder in the crockpot; Crescent Rolls. Uses up the last of the CSA potatoes, plus an onion from the free bag, the remaining carrots from the fridge, and a container of homemade turkey broth and some corn, both from the freezer. The crescent rolls were in the fridge. (I was going to make something more homemade-y for bread, but decided to have a more restful Sunday instead.)

Tuesday: Shrimp Pilau (a recipe from my dad's homemade cookbook). Will use shrimp from the freezer, tomatoes from either the freezer or cupboard (canned), rice on hand, and we'll substitute spinach (I did go to the store this past week -- just hoping not to need to again this month) for the okra, since my husband despises okra. Also uses an onion and some bacon, from the freezer. I'll be using other spinach previously for a salad, with orange slices, for my lunch.

Wednesday: Spaghetti. Pasta and jarred sauce from the cupboard.

Thursday: Bacon and Pancakes/Waffles. Thawing the bacon for the shrimp pilau means we'll need to use it up somehow (I've had it go bad on me unfortunately quickly before.) We may break out some of the waffles from our last batch that are in the freezer; if made fresh, they might incorporate something like blueberries, or pumpkin, or maybe that last apple that's getting slightly squishy and might not make the best straight eating....

Friday: Pizza. A family tradition, plus I'm lazy at the end of the week.

I'm pretty sure we'll eat something on the weekend, too.

For more menu plans, visit Menu Plan Monday at www.orgjunkie.com.

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2: Christmas Trails Off; Beginning of a New Year

Happy new year!

We're finished with our three (one on each side of the family, plus our own little nuclear family) Christmas celebrations; the calendars have been transferred, and "real life" starts up again (sort of) tomorrow. (There's still no school.)

No white Christmas this year; we did get a white New Year, but it's unlikely it will last to the end of the week -- which is when I'll be putting away Christmas (I time it for Epiphany).

I do plan to put some more thought into New Year's goals/resolutions/whatever you'd like to call them; they're kind of broken into themes this year, with sub-goals in each theme. Right now, let's just say that January's themes are "finances" and "organization" -- because, well, it's January.

So far, in our downtime, in keeping with those themes, I have gone through and entered receipts into spendingdiary.com; balanced the checkbook (including inputting more money into the school lunch account before it starts up again); purged and filed coupons; created a sort-of grocery list for the week and a meal plan; did a purge and clean-out of the refrigerator and its attached freezer (which included cleaning up the popsicle juice stains from last summer -- both flavors! no I didn't taste); started on a new inventory of what exactly is in our freezers and pantry; did a kid artwork reboot and magnet reorganization on the refrigerator; and cleared off some of the papers, junk, etc. from the kitchen island (a major hotspot in our household).

I also finished a reread of The Metcalfe Family Album by the lights of the Christmas tree (along, um, with significant portions of Christmas/birthday candy...); and played numerous card games of "Blink." I was able to win over the five-year-old once. I quit handicapping her. The whole family also enjoyed the Rose Parade on TV today, and a higher-end restaurant Sunday buffet yesterday.

And the five-year-old took an hour-and-a-half long bath today. This

(seen here on the day of its arrival from Santa Claus when we celebrated our family Christmas) could have had something to do with it.