Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Just because it's free...

The other day I spent over an hour* wandering around a store, looking for something to buy that cost $5 or less.  The store had sent me a $5 reward.
     It was free money.
          I wanted to spend it.
               It seemed wasteful not to.
                    Because it was free.

But I have come to a place where not only do I feel like I don't need more, I value less.

I thought about getting a new hand towel to replace our 20ish year-old, frayed and threadbare guest hand towels, and I would have, but they didn't have the color I wanted, and in any case, we have extra hand towels in a color that will work just fine in that space.  We can make do.
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I thought about getting a new kitchen towel, but the container (shelf) where I keep kitchen towels is full, so if I bought a new one, I would have to get rid of one, and I'm not ready to do that yet.  I am content with what I have.
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I would have purchased a medium cookie scoop, which is something I actually would like to have, and I already have a place in mind to store it, but I would still have had to pay $13 for it.  It's not really saving money if it's not something I would have purchased anyway, and the cookie scoop is not something I would buy for myself, under normal circumstances.  I am perfectly capable of scooping out cookies using a regular old spoon, just like I've been doing forever.  It's not a need.
{Source}
I considered buying a gift for someone I hold dear, but it was a frivolous gift, and while she would have valued the thought behind it, I'm not sure she would have wanted to find a place for it in her home.  I value less for my friends, too.

There were a dozen other possible purchases that I considered, then rejected, because we didn't need it or, if it was something I wanted instead of needing, I didn't want to spend more than the free $5.

This all spirals back around to something that's been seeping in lately.  Just because something is free does not mean I need to accept it.

You see, the thing is, that free thing isn't really free.  It takes up space in my home, and in my brain.  It becomes one more thing to keep track of and take care of.  I have enough to deal with.  I don't need "free" things plucking at my sanity, destroying my peace.  I have enough.

I ended up buying a 6-pack of white washcloths that cost $4.99.  I told the cashier to keep the extra penny--the cost of me using it was more than I was willing to pay.
{Source}
I will use the washcloths to complete one of my 2017 goals.  I had been planning to buy cheap dollar store washcloths, and now I don't have to.  I got something for free that I would have purchased anyway.

I'm not saying that it's wrong to have stuff or to get new stuff.  What I am saying is when I have less (stuff) in my life, I have room for more.  More time, more contentment, more ingenuity, more gratitude, more love, more generosity, more peace.

I like that kind of more.



* * * * * 
*To be fair, I did need to kill about an hour of time between dropping something off and picking something else up.  If I hadn't been under that constraint, I thing I would have given up much sooner.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hoping for a sappy spring

My boys tapping trees four years ago--they were so little then
If you've been around for a while, you know that a few years ago, we tapped our box elder trees for sap, which we turned into syrup.  We collected a lot of sap, much more than we were expecting, and ended up with a lot more syrup than we were expecting.  And that was an amazing and wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, my boys like fake maple syrup--you know, the stuff that's made with corn syrup and maple flavoring--and I don't eat syrup.  I ended up dumping quite a bit of it out, needing the jars, and not knowing what else to do with the syrup.

So beautiful.
Our first finished pint of syrup from four years ago
In spite of that, I'm collecting sap again this year.  In the past several months, there have been too many recipes that I've wanted to make, but have had to reject because real maple syrup was included in the ingredients.  So I'm making some this spring.

My goal this year is about two quarts of syrup, and once I hit that goal, I am stopping (you all have my permission to take my milk jugs and ice cream pails sap collection vessels away if I keep trying to collect and boil sap after that).  From past experience, I'm estimating I'll need 20-30 gallons of sap to make two quarts of syrup.

As you know (if you've read my sappy posts), in order for the sap to flow, the temperature needs to be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night (I've noticed that it doesn't actually have to get below freezing at night, but below-freezing-at-night definitely helps prolong the sap run).
A mid-January forecast
We had a run of ideal sap collecting temperatures in mid-January, and I thought about collecting then, but January is crazy early for sap collecting.  Last time, we started near the end of March!  At the same time, I was nervous about missing the window, so when the forecast in mid-February showed about 12 straight days of warmer temps during the day and below freezing temps at night, I decided to just go for it.  If I got something, great; if I didn't, oh well, but at least I tried.

And so last Saturday, the boys, along with a guest, and I headed out to tap four trees.

And we got something!  A week later (aka two days ago), I had cooked about 3.75 gallons of sap down to about 1.5 cups of almost-syrup.

Almost-syrup
Then I had to take a break to let the trees catch up with us (the trees don't seem too sure that it's time for sap to run, so our yields have been lower than expected), and we're probably going to have to pause while some cooler weather rolls in (I saw some estimates of up to 20 inches of snow, which makes me happy), but the sap will start running again when the temps go back up.  In the meantime, we are well on our way to syrup success a second time.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Thursday meal plan?

I know you like Fridays, and you seemed to receive Wednesdays well, but how do you feel about Thursdays?

This menu plan post, guys.  It's been hanging over my head like a pile of melty snow about to drop.  I know that I will survive if I don't post it, and I know you all will be ok, too, but I just feel this obligation to get it out there.  So I'm just gonna do this.  And I'm also going to let you know that I'm not going to post a menu next week (you know, in four days).  Perhaps we will be back on track the following week.

I've been having some pretty crazy dreams lately.  Like pregnancy-dream-level crazy.  It's always amazing to me how in dreams I just accept the craziness as normal, even breaking-the-laws-of-physics impossible things.  As soon as I wake up, I realize I was dreaming, but during the dream, it seems real.  It's kind of fun to speculate just what my subconscious is trying to process through these dreams.  It's fun to share them, too, but honestly, don't you feel like most dreams are you-had-to-be-there type situations?

What do my crazy dreams have to do with food?  Well, for one thing, last night I was making butter with some college friends by playing broomball.  Butter is food.  And for another thing, some people think certain foods affect dreams.

Whew!  I wasn't reaching at all, there, for why I would include dream information in a post about menu plans.

On to the menu!  Here's what we're eating this week:

Supper:

Sunday Night Stew
from Pioneer Woman


Other:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Menu plan for the week of February 6

Hi everybody.  Sorry I'm a little late today.  I usually write my meal plan posts on Sunday evenings, and I was a little busy yesterday.  How about that game, eh?  We were a house divided, with one kid cheering for the Patriots, and another cheering for the Falcons, but even the Falcons fan had to appreciate that excitement at the end (it helps that he's not really a Falcons fan--he was just rooting for them to make his brother mad). 

And then this morning, the microwave and I disagreed on the question of whether my breakfast was hot enough.  Who knew machines actually had opinions about such things?  Certainly not me.

In other news, Laura over at Heavenly Homemakers is giving away a free week of Simple Meals--just click the link to read all about it.  I mentioned this menu planning service in this post, but to summarize, for less than $1 per week, Laura will give you not only a menu plan, with recipes, but she will also include a grocery list and some time-saving tips.  You can visit this post for another free week :)

And yes, I will continue to publish my weekly menu plans, so you don't have to panic.  Here's this week's plan:

Supper:

Other:
  • Taco bean soup
  • Egg roll in a bowl
  • Muffins (what's your favorite muffin recipe? I'm kind of in a chocolate chip rut)
  • Brownies


Friday, February 3, 2017

Progress on 2017 Goals: January's Trader Joe's Purchase

As I explained in my post "Resolved," one of my 2017 goals is to try something new from Trader Joe's each month.

My husband asked me what kind of store Trader Joe's is.  He thought it was a camping/outdoor store, and I must say, it does sort of sound that way.  Like if you squint at it.  He was confused by my goal to "try something new" from TJ's each month.  Like how many new camping supplies could there be for me to try?  And how much was this all going to cost?  I went back to look, and sure enough, nowhere in my goal or its explanation did I mention food.

So for all you unfortunate souls out there who have never heard of and/or been to Trader Joe's, it's a small, upscale grocery store with low prices and lots of store brand products, similar to Aldi.  They're even owned by the same company.  TJ's has also been described as Whole Foods at half the price.

Trader Joe's Logo

Trader Joe's.  It's a foodie playground.  I don't consider myself to be a foodie, but I do like food.  And I think about food a lot.  And I know a lot about food and nutrition.  And there is just so much good food to be found at Trader Joe's.

I knew I would have a hard time choosing just one item to purchase, which is why I brought along reinforcements.  AKD also loves food and thinks about food a lot, so I thought for sure he'd be willing to decide for me.  Nope.  He steadfastly refused to decide what I should purchase.  Boo.

I was walking around with chocolate mint tea in my hand for a little while, but as much as I would like to like tea, I don't (although if I was ever going to like tea, chocolate mint would be the place to start), so eventually I put it back.  Then the dark chocolate roasted pistachio toffee caught my eye.  Or, I should say the dark chocolate roasted pistachio toffee caught my eye.  I like pistachios, and I love dark chocolate.  I don't love toffee, but it's also not my least favorite food, so I grabbed it and made my way to the registers.
{Source}
Y'all!  I was so disappointed!  I was expecting a melt-in-my-mouth chocolate candy, with just a little bit of crunch from the pistachios and the toffee, but the toffee layer was too thick to even comfortably bite through, and the toffee flavor overpowered the chocolate and nuts.  I should have realized that the "dark chocolate" and the "roasted pistachio" were adjectives modifying the "toffee" noun, and as such, the toffee would be the most prominent flavor and ingredient, but I didn't see it because I didn't want to see it.  The product I wanted, and thought I was buying, would have been called roasted pistachio toffee dark chocolate.  

Is it wrong of me to be looking forward to eating the little bits of chocolate and pistachios that have fallen off the candy into the bottom of the package once the toffee is finally gone?  That's right.  We've had this stuff in our house since January 20, and there's still some left.

Let me just let that sink in.

Truthfully, I'm a little disheartened, and I'm feeling uncertain about completing my goal.  After much deliberation, out of all the fun things inside TJ's, I chose a dud.  What's to stop me from choosing another dud?  

Help a girl out, friends.  I'm headed to TJ's next week, and I'm not sure my goal can survive another TJ's fail.  What are your Trader Joe's favorites?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Challenge: Time Yourself

Do you find yourself not doing certain chores because you think they take a long time?  I do.  I'm talking about unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, folding laundry, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping the floor.  I avoid doing those things sometimes, because they seem like such arduous tasks.

Wait.  Are you laughing at me right now?  OK, go for it.  Laughter is good for the soul, and I'm glad I'm able to provide that for you.

But even if you are laughing at the thought of those things being arduous, I bet you have things too.  Things that you avoid doing because they'll take too much time or are too involved.

These days I'm heavily influenced by Nony (who is actually Dana) of A Slob Comes Clean.  If you read her work, you may recognize the container concept and rules, which I've touched on in previous posts.  Well, another of Nony's concepts is the concept of Time Passage Awareness Disorder, or TPAD.  TPAD works in a couple of different ways.  One way is not knowing how long it's been since you last took on a cleaning task.  You feel like it was a couple of weeks ago, when in reality it was a couple of (or more) months ago.  Another way TPAD works is in making you think tasks will take longer than they really do.

{Source}

So the challenge is to time yourself doing the tasks that you avoid because they "take too long."  The clock doesn't lie, and when you see that it actually takes less than 2 minutes to make the bed (that's including arranging a boatload a bedload of unnecessary, but mood-elevating, decorative pillows), and about 5 minutes to unload the dishwasher, it's a lot easier to convince yourself to actually do the thing.

I timed myself folding laundry this morning.  It was a load of towels, so I knew it would probably be faster than a load of clothes, but it took 2 minutes and 20 seconds to fold the towels, a mixture of bath and hand towels for 3 bathrooms, kitchen towels, and washcloths, and an additional 2 minutes and 3 seconds to put them all away (including one in the basement).  That's it.  Less than 5 minutes to fold and put away a load of laundry.  That's hardly arduous.

Do you have Time Passage Awareness Disorder?  What task or tasks do you need to time yourself doing?  Go ahead, do it, and report back.

Monday, January 30, 2017

No menu plan this week.

I don't know what's for supper tomorrow.  I'm feeling a little panicky about it.  Because I just know that those people who live here, you know, the ones who leave the lights on and forget to flush the toilet and fling their possessions about, they get hungry.  And they appear to be unwilling or unable to feed themselves anything other than cereal or granola bars.  I don't want them to eat cereal or granola bars, at least, not all the time.

The problem is, I don't want to eat the things those people want to eat.  And they don't want to eat the things that I want to eat.  And I'm tired of having to make food that one or more of the people who live here are going to be disappointed about every day.

Am I being too whiny?  OK.  I'll stop now.  The whining, and the meal planning.

On the bright side, I finally made the (deconstructed) turkey pot pie last week.  Well, sort of.  Not really.  But it was close enough that I don't feel like I have to put it on the menu again.  Not that I have a menu this week.  So I have nothing to put it on, even if I felt like I had to.

And on the other bright side, those people who live here won't starve, or become nutritionally deficient, if I take an itty bitty planning break.

So, friends, what's on your menu this week?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Menu plan for the week of January 23

Hi gang.

Too cheesy?  Yeah.  Agreed.  I won't do that again.

So...our Christmas tree is still up, but it's no longer in the house.  So that's a change.

The kiddos don't have school today, so I'm just gonna get to it.  We have a couple of rearrangements this week (meals that were planned for last week, that are now planned for this week).  That poor turkey pot pie.  This is its third week in the plan.  That's what happens when someone suggests a meal that I don't like.  It gets planned, but never executed.  In this particular case, it's something I don't like and it's something that involves bones.  It's doomed, that turkey pot pie.  You might also notice that we have a repeat this week--a meal that's planned twice.  Yeah.  That's because I asked the fam what they wanted to eat this week.  I'm good with that, 'cause I could eat that particular meal every day.  Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:

Other:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Menu plan for the week of January 16

Our Christmas tree is still up.  I asked the kids again on Saturday night if they would like to start taking ornaments off the tree, and they again politely declined.  My nativity is still up, too.  Both great reminders.

You'll notice a few repeats on the menu this week.  This time, it's not because of menu planning breakdown.  This time it was due to Hubby unexpectedly not being home for supper a couple of times this week, along with an unfortunate lack of milk on Wednesday, both of which led to rearranging and replanning.  Which made it much easier to plan for this week :)

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:

Other:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Resolved

I know that I've mentioned that September feels more like a new year to me than January.  But January also feels like a good time for a fresh start.  I used to make new year's resolutions, I think because my elementary school teachers thought new year's resolutions would make a good writing assignment.


But then I discovered that resolutions don't stick.  So I stopped making resolutions, and started making goals.

You see, a resolution is usually a broad, overarching statement.  It's too big.  A goal, however, is a specific, achievable intention.  I don't know, I guess goals seem less intimidating than resolutions.

Mine were always silly, fun goals, usually involving food.  One year my goal was to make a pie crust and get it into the pan without it cracking.  Another year my goal was to make paper.  You get the idea.

And then I got lost in the trenches of motherhood and couldn't find my way out long enough to think of a goal, let alone achieve it.

Finally able to pop my head up and look around, two years ago, I embarked on the Positive Project.

Last January I set two goals for myself:

  1. to make kale chips, which I did in August (they were disappointing), and 
  2. to stalk a Facebook friend of mine enough to show up in one of those quizzes on her wall, like, "who's in your reindeer family?" or "what does your week with friends look like?" or "which friends will be in the same nursing home as you?"  I achieved this goal in November.  I showed up in "which 20 names play an important roll in your life?" Yes, twenty.  And I told her to do it but give me about 10 minutes to go like and comment on everything on her wall first, but it counts!  So glad she was so cooperative (although she was probably happy to do it so I would stop stalking her).

It is so good to have goals.

So good, in fact, that buoyed by my success, I'm back at it this year, with more goals than ever before.  I hope I'm not being too ambitious.

My goals:

  1. Make reusable cleaning wipes (I know, it's kind of silly, considering the fact that whenever I spray cleaning solution, then wipe with a washcloth, I'm using something reusable to clean, but I want to have a tub of wipes.  And I want them to be reusable).
  2. Try something new from Trader Joes each month.  I love Trader Joes.  It's such a fun store, and it seems like there's always something new, but I hardly ever get over there because other errands take precedence.  And I hardly ever buy anything, because there's just so much to choose from--it's a bit overwhelming, because I want to try all the things.  This year, I'm scheduling a once a month visit (I might might take the summer off...), and I have to buy something each time (if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments).
  3. Have a prayer focus each month, praying for a specific person (outside of my family) or situation every day for that month.  
How about you?  Did you make any resolutions or set any goals this year?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Menu plan for the week of January 9

On the twelfth day of Christmas (which is January 6, for those of you who don't know), I asked my family if they would like to start taking ornaments off the Christmas tree.  They politely declined, and insisted that the tree needs to stay up for a while longer.  I think "a while longer" probably means at least until Valentine's day (we definitely need some valentine's ornaments...).

Whatever.  I've never really understood the compulsion some people have to obliterate all traces of Christmas as soon after the event as possible.  I mean, if anything, the decorations should be up longer after Christmas than before to remind us that God-with-us is indeed with us.  I guess there is something to be said, however, about January 1 being a new start--the calendar flip of all calendar flips--and people want the new start to be free of Christmas decor.

In any case, our Christmas tree remains decorated and standing proud, while our family goes about our regular business.  And while we go about our regular business, we will eat.

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:
Other:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rules

In my post about the Container Concept, I mentioned rules, and I wanted to explain what that's about.  I said,
Most of my containers are either cardboard boxes, or food containers of odd sizes that I can't have in my kitchen anymore because all of my containers need to be stackable (it's a rule--which is also a helpful organizing tool).
A rule is, well, a rule.  It's something that you always do when faced with a certain situation, so that you don't have to think about what to do.  In this case, the rules have to do with whether or not to keep an item.  

For the Container Concept, the rule is: all of one kind of item must be able to fit in the container (and remember, the container can be an actual container, or a shelf, room, closet, or even a whole house).

My food storage container rule is: all of my plastic containers for food storage need to be able to nest.  Anything that doesn't nest needs to go (or not come in in the first place).

For leftovers, I use three sizes of Glad food storage containers (with capacities of 3 cups, 1.5 cups, and 1/2 cup).
Get them here
I choose Glad because I wanted containers that would nest (obviously) and were inexpensive enough to get a lot of.  Glad happened to be the brand that was on sale when I went to the store to buy my containers.

The containers all stack together, the lids snap together, and I the only reason I ever would have trouble finding a container for leftovers is if all of the containers are being used.  And if that happens, I know it's time to have a leftover eating party.  I also have some larger containers that I use for cookies or muffins.  These larger containers all nest as well, and the smaller containers sit inside the smallest of the large containers.

It was not easy for me to get rid of the containers that didn't match.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with them except for the fact that they were odd sizes, and it goes against my frugalness-gene to get rid of things that are still potentially useful.  But the fact that my "tupperware" cupboard is streamlined--the rule--makes my life so much easier.  It also makes it easier for people who are not familiar with my kitchen to help put leftovers away.  It was worth the discomfort of letting go to achieve the peace of better organization.

Need another example?  Here's my sock rule:
Socks with holes in them are garbage.  Garbage is thrown immediately in the trash.  

I am not going to mend that sock.  I am not going to make something crafty with that sock, and if I do suddenly experience a strong desire to do something crafty with a holey sock, there will be another one soon--two of my boys, in particular, are very good at making holes in their socks.  So I can get rid of it without angst or regret.

The socks I used for these cuties' hats and scarves were
orphan socks, with no holes in them

Your turn: what rules work for you?  Or what rules could you implement to make your life easier?  Let me know in the comments!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Menu plan for the week of January 2

Happy 2017, y'all!  Good thing I didn't resolve to be punctual this year, 'cause I'm a day and a half late.

Our kiddos had a week and a day off school for winter break, and we spent the entire 10 days (the six days off, plus two weekends) with people, most of it away from home.  It would have been nice to have a day or two to recuperate before the boys had to go back to school, but we were happy to see all the family during that time.  Actually, let's get real.  It would have been nice to have a day or two to put the kids to work cleaning and putting everything back where it belongs before they went back to school... But alas, not having minions to do my bidding during clean-up is the price to be paid for all that extended-family togetherness.

Supper is low key this week.  I looked in the freezer to see what was available and planned from there.  Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:
  • Dutch style pigs in blankets, applesauce, mandarin oranges, carrots
  • Chicken and wild rice soup, French bread, carrots, fresh fruit
  • Meat sauce (from the freezer) with angel hair, green beans, garlic toast
  • Tacos (from the freezer) with taco fixings (including guacamole)
  • Pizza, salad
  • Potluck (cocktail weiners)
  • Pork chops, mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower
  • Brats or hot dogs on buns, grilled broccoli, caramel apple salad

Other:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Another stove cleaning hack

Y'all!  Yes, I know, I've already told you about stove cleaning hacks, but I found one that works even better than the ammonia one.  The ammonia got most of the gunk; this got even more.  You still wouldn't mistake my stovetop for new, but it's pretty darn clean.

The other day I canned some black beans.  This is significant because whenever I heat up beans to can, they always boil over.  Always.  And black beans--the cooking liquid turns purpley-black.  Very unsightly when spilled all over in the burner well.  And then the canner, I know it's supposed to be airtight, because, well, it's a pressure canner, but mine isn't air tight.  It hisses water and steam out from the sides and ends up making a mess of the burner well.  Always.

I cleaned up as much of the mess as I could, (because hello--guests are coming), which wasn't very much, with a scrubby cloth and water.  Then I made the magic mixture: baking soda, with enough hydrogen peroxide in it to make a paste.  I applied the paste to the mess, and let it soak in, then scrubbed with my handy dandy toothbrush, et voila!  Clean burners!  So easy.
Image source
If yours don't clean as easily as mine, try reapplying and letting it sit for a while before scrubbing.  As far as I can tell, this mixture is safe to use on glass or ceramic cooktops, as well.

I have heard that you can use this magic mixture to clean pots and pans, cookie sheets, and even to whiten teeth!  I would even venture to say that this stuff would clean grimy refrigerator handles quite handily (hi Uncle Bob!  You could also use a "Magic Eraser" or melamine foam to clean refrigerator handles).

That's all for now!  Have a great week :)
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