Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Crochet Hook

So, Sunday I dropped by the local JoAnn's store and bought a new crochet hook.
Susan Bates brand, which I had not really used before as I prefer the Boye brand.  However, I was looking for something a little more hand friendly and had seen some one using one of these hooks.  WOW oh WOW what a difference.  I was just shocked at how different the hook felt and the result in my work.  At first the hook was a bit awkward to use, seems I am used to holding my crochet hook up rather high and my hand was barely even on the wood handle part.  Oh and that bamboo wood handle is so nice and smooth.  Once I got started using it and making an effort to position my hand more on the handle part it soon was feeling quite comfortable to use.  I also noticed that my tension in the stitches was not nearly as tight for some reason with this new hook.  That is a wonderful thing for me because I crocheted way to tight.  I only bought two, but will be going back for some additional sizes soon.

A friend of mine requested a green crocheted hat that I pinned to my board on Pinterest.  So, pulling out the green yarn (her color request) I decided to work with the new hook and before I knew it I was finished.
This is called the Easy Peasy Hat and you can find the pattern for free here. Mary has a wonderful blog so stop in and read it sometime.  The pattern for the flower came from somewhere else, I went to Crochet Pattern Central and searched from flower patterns.  There were so many, but am pretty sure it is one of the six petal ones.

Well, on another note, last week I listed a few books to sell on Amazon.com.  I had forgotten that the account was linked to a different email account so it took me a few days to discover that several of the books had sold.  I started getting them ready for the mail, took several to the post office on Friday only to get back home and find that I had put the wrong pre-paid postage label on one of the books.  I am hoping that the book will some how find its way back to me, but have learned that I need to put on my glasses and be very careful with shipping details from now on.  I am going to the store today to get some sticker paper so I can print the labels out and then peel and attach to the packages.

Guess I better get moving, I am driving my mom and one of her sweet little friends to lunch today.  This should be an experience to say the least.  The friend uses a walker to get around and my mom should.  We are going to the new Golden Corral, buffet style service, so am sure I will be making several trips to the food for them. Guess it will help me work off what I eat.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cleaning - Organizing

So, I have spent three days cleaning out one room, and am still not done.  I had patterns and yarn in every nook and cranny in the room.  Not to mention all the other craft plunder I am hoarding.  Yes I admit it, I am a hoarder.   I have been watching the new hoarding shows, seems that every network has a version of them, and while I am not quite to the extent that the shows view, I am part hoarder to be sure.

At any rate, I am working to figure out just what I have in the way of craft stash supplies and equipment, and more important just where it all is.  As I said, printed crochet patterns were everywhere.  All stuck in different places, some of course still with the UFO that would turn in to it.  I had one binder that I was putting patterns in. The plan was to simple get the binder organized and then put all the patterns in that binder.  The binder was broken and not nearly large enough.
All categorized and divided up between two large binders, I was set.  Nice job I told myself.  Then, I found some more piles of patterns and ended up having to add two more binders.  At last, I think I have it all together as far as the patterns, except the ones I just printed out this morning.  I found some interesting items while cleaning to be sure.  A sweat jacket (meant for surprise gift for youngest daughter Miss Zebra) and two shirts that were supposed to be sent to the grandsons in Texas.  Such fun, cleaning out over stuffed closets. And I barely got started, can't even really tell I even made a dent.  However, I found I have more yarn than I thought.
I found this cool little contraption at the store.  As you can see, it is meant to hold shoes in the outside pockets  which encircle the layers.  The center is open to one side so you can put hand bags, scarves or such in the center.  I didn't buy it for that purpose though.

I bought it for yarn.  The area for the handbags hold exactly four one pounder skeins, the shoe pockets hold two balls of Peaches & Cream thread or one each of a regular skein.  You can see the way the pockets go around from the bottom photo.  I also found the plastic soft zipper bag that my new comforter set came in, it is stiff enough to stand on its own so that has become the catch all for all the scrap bits and pieces of left over skeins.  I may actually get to a point that I can sit down one evening and work on something.

Now, years ago I was gifted a knitting machine, along with 27 plastic bins (all color coded) of yarn for the machine.  I never really figured it out, and it took up an enormous amount of floor space, then I went to work full time and had not time for any type of crafting.  So, I gifted it to a co-worker's wife, along with most of the yarn.  I did however, keep a few interesting cones because I just really liked the color.  It is a finer thread than you I can just go buy at the store but am told that I can still crochet with it.  I am thinking it will make some great socks, doll clothes or baby items.  They are a bit strange and wonderful member of one of my crochet groups is helping me to figure them out.
The variegated pink in the center back is about the size of a soccer ball or basketball.  The one thing I am really not sure of is how much there is on a cone.  I would hate to almost finished with something I had been working a really long time on just to run out of yarn and know that I cannot get more just like it.  One of the cones is a chenille type, still in the plastic wrap, and it has the yarn stores label on it.
It has gone up in price I am sure, that was about 6 years ago when it was all given to me.  The label states that it is 1100 yards per pound, net weight is a little over one pound.  I googled the the store and they are still open in Anaheim.  However, looking over their website, I would need a lot more information before I would be able to order anything.  Their yarns are in photos of swatches.  Oh well, I will do something with them that is for sure.

Well, the baby is just not sleeping today so better go take care of him.  Thanks for stopping in and please feel free to leave a comment.  Come back and visit again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Crochet - That is Old Project.

In my recent cleaning burst, I found several UFO projects.  For those of you new to crafting or just wondering about the meaning of certain terms, here is a crash course.

UFO - unfinished object

WIP - work in progress

PIGS - projects in grocery sacks

Frogging - ripping out stitches (crochet, quilt, sewing or embroidery - knitting too though I don't knit)

Stash - all the supplies you buy and store away.

Hooking - crocheting (get your mind out of the gutter)

Guess that is about it for now.  If you find something you don't understand, just ask me.

I have made a resolution that I am not starting any new projects until I finish some of these.  In particular there are 6 projects I want to work on finishing.  Two are crochet, two embroidery, one counted cross stitch and one quilt.  All of these are in various stages of completion.  For example the quilt only needs to be basted and quilted, while the counted cross stitch is started just enough to know it is started.

Now, last night I finally finished the John Deere afghan.
I started this project when my first grand son was about 3 or 4, was in a John Deere tractor phase at the time.  I don't know what it is about these colors, I just can't stand to look at them.  No deep dark past abuse or disappointment is associated with the colors, just really can't stand to look at them, at least not all together.

I hate working with black yarn, it is very hard to see the stitches.  Am finding that same problem with a yarn I recently purchased that is a patterned yarn called Peruvian Print made by Red Heart.
The yarn is colored in such a way as to make a pattern as you crochet the project.  I used it in one of the scarf sets I recently crocheted.  I didn't really get the effect in the scarf or hat, but others are making some rather nice projects, especially sweaters.

NOT MY WORK. This was made by the Pam at In Stitches and she has an interesting story about how she accomplished the striping that is supposed to just happen.  After reading through her blog, I don't feel so bad that I couldn't really see the striping or patterned effect.

Okay, so I started a little sweater vest last night for youngest grandson, or maybe to sell.  Will have to see how it turns out first. LOL I am using the Peruvian Print yarn.

On to the next UFO I found.  This has now taken the top of my "to finish" list.  I think I need to try and find one of those tracker things for my blog that shows my progress.
This is a project I thought was a lost cause.  I started this project in the mid 90's.  I put it away when I had to make room for our youngest child, born in 97.  My craft studio at the time needed to be changed in to a bedroom for oldest daughter (15 at the time) so I could turn her bedroom in to a nursery for the youngest daughter (just born). When I found the project again, the pattern was missing.  I kept the WIP, now a PIGS, because I just couldn't bring myself to play frog with all the work I had done and was hoping that some day I would be able to find the pattern online at some point, or at least a similar enough one that I could just finish it as a doily.  Fast forward to 2011.  In turning son's old room (now off to college) into a sewing/craft room I was able to start going through boxes of craft supplies that had been stored since our move in 2000, miraculously came across the pattern book.  I put the two together and here we are.  As I said, this will now move to the top of my "to finish" list.

Here is the up side of old projects.  You find something you thought was lost, and now it is new.

Here is the down side to a project as old as this one.  I have no idea what size hook I used and will never be able to match dye lots.  However, this was started with Ecru crochet thread so will be pretty easy to match as it is a common color and thread.  The pattern book for this project calls for a size 11 hook.  There is no size 11 hook.  Although I have one, stainless steel, and it is very fine in size.  I think I mentioned this before, but I hold my thread so tight that I have to go up about two hook sizes to get the same gauge so after doing a few sample chain stitches am pretty sure I used a size 9, stainless steel, hook.  Will see what happens as I start working on it this evening.  I really hate working with thread, it is so small and delicate and very hard for me to see, but I will bite the big one and slap on my glasses and get it going.  Thankfully, I had the presents of mind to use a small safety pin to hold the stitches in place.  Also, am amazed that I was clear headed enough to mark the pattern with my progress so I know exactly what row is in progress.  This is not the norm for me I assure you.  At any rate, next week hubby will be gone a few days and meal time will be very simple and quick around here so will be able to spend some constructive time hooking.

You may have also noticed there is no menu plan for this week.  That is on purpose.  I have some meals planned, but am waiting to see if I get my oven working or not.  The part arrived last night by UPS so now to see if sweet hubby gets it installed before his trip.  Hopefully, he will work on it tonight and I will just get us some fast food as I won't be able to use stove or get to microwave while he is working on it.

Guess I better finish up here and head to the store.  Need a few things and the grand baby has had a good nap.  Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment.  Come back to visit soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hooking Again.

I have been doing a little hooking lately.  Steel hooks and yarn. LOL  I have been crocheting.  I have on and off over the years crocheted a lot of things.  Basic things, as I am mostly self taught and consider myself a beginner.  When I was little, it was necklace's.  Teen years it was granny square afghan's and baby blankets.  When I married, it was baby blankets a few lace collars and attempts at Barbie clothing.  Then it all go packed away and I didn't touch the stuff for many years.  Like about 15 years or so.  Then, I was asked to help make some hats for a couple of soldiers.  Will have to see if I can find those photos.  At any rate, I dug out my hook, bought some black yarn and started hooking again.

Those soldiers wanted more hats for their buddies, I made them up and sent them, 250 of them.  Then I tried my hand at some slippers, sent them.  Received an email from my soldier explaining that one of the guys had really big feet, could I make some for him.  So I did, and for a few of their friends, about 100 pairs when said and done.  Then I made some baby sets, which I sold as a gift set with a hand made quilt.  Then I put the hooking away, with all my quilting supplies, when I took a full time job for a few years.  Now that I am no longer working, some things have a way of working their way back out in the open.  I had intended to take up scrapbooking, card making, stamping and such, along with beading.  I have a room now over flowing with all these supplies.  As I was making the decision, and more importantly acting on that decision, to start paring down the supplies, the allure of hooking, and quilting, and sewing, called to me once again.

This time, it started with a cryptic email from my oldest daughter, the teacher.  She sent me a photo of a crocheted scarf.  Nothing telling me that she wanted it, nothing asking if I could make one, nothing even asking for one.  I did a little research, found out that it is called Queen Anne's Lace. So, I tried it out.
And I made one, gray, just like the photo.  Now, the photo was of one that a woman made and sold on Etsy. That of course put the seed of an idea that maybe I could do the same thing.  I think it looks nice.

Now, while all of this is taking place, our church put a little notice in the bulletin announcing that they are taking donations through January for cold weather items (scarves, hats, gloves, socks, etc.) for the Rescue Mission (a local homeless shelter)  My brain, which gets me in to more trouble than I care to admit, popped in to gear and told me to start hooking again.  So...I spent last week working on some sets in the evenings.

And there you go.  Two sets to take to church, along with some that I bought at the dollar store (that are thin fleece) so feel that I have participated enough.  I have also created/designed my own pattern for a scarf.  It is pretty simple, but I am well pleased with the look of it.  Although, it is taking me way longer than I like to get very far along with it, so have put it up for a few days while I work on something else. However, that little seed of an idea, about Etsy, just kept growing and I took the plunge, I opened an account and will start listing some things there.  You can list hand made goods, vintage items and supplies. I have some one in the family that would love to get some American Girl outfits, feel pretty sure that they would sell well too. I will be spending some time (okay, a lot of time) photographing some vintage shoes, patterns, figures and such to put in my store. Listing some supplies as well that I have found while cleaning.  There will be more I am sure when I hit this Diva Den aka sewing/craft room for a mad cleaning and organizing session.  Also going to move things around a bit to see if I can make a little more working room.

Did I mention that when I head in to a hobby I head in head first with both feet?  I have found a couple of PIGS (projects in grocery sacks) I am going to finish up and then see if I can either sell them or donate them.  And, as if I really have enough time for that kind of thing (taking care of a baby again) I have jumped in and joined some crochet swaps once again.  However, this time I am at least attempting to be more organized about it.  Before I signed up for the swaps I completed my offerings for the swaps then created a detailed spread sheet for swapping.  Oh go ahead and laugh, but when I use to swap, I would mail out 10-12 packets every month.  I also know myself well enough that it won't be long before I am up to that point again.  There are crochet swaps, embroidery swaps, quilt swaps and more.  When I was doing paper crafts, I was mailing off at least that many per month, but I am not letting myself getting back in to the paper crafting on that big of scale.  Only to make a few private cards or lay outs.

On the menu plan front, I have planned out a few weeks worth, for the most part I have been following it.  Not exactly, but close.  My oven is still out and so I am working on trying to make the same dish either in the microwave, on the stove top or in the crock pot.

Well, I have pretty much wasted the day away, just not feeling well and the wind is blowing in a winter storm along with a ton of dust.  Makes my head hurt.  So, I am off to do a little hooking before I have to start our dinner.  Not part of the menu plan, but when hubby offers (with a lot of prodding) to grill steaks, I don't complain, just accept it.  Thanks for stopping by, come and visit again soon.  Feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Strange Week

This has certainly been a very strange week.  For the first part of the week I didn't have the grand baby, he was with the other grand mother.  I have been cleaning closets and plan to clean out the sewing room, which I have decided to call the DIVA DEN, since us Divas hang out there.  Although my daughter is the only Diva around here.  I am always amazed at the things I find when I clean out an area completely.  Patterns and projects I have completely forgotten about, as well as supplies that I had forgotten I even had.

That being said, for the moment, the activity of the day (okay for a few days, for the moment anyway) is crocheting.  I will post photos later, but have completed two hat and scarf sets to donate to the church and have almost finished a scarf for my oldest daughter.  This is a funny thing for her, she sent me a photo of a scarf.  Nothing about if she likes it, wants one, doesn't like it or anything, just sent me the photo which was from some one's Etsy store.  So, with a little research, I found the name of the pattern and found several free patterns for that on the internet.  Bought some gray yarn like the photo, and so it began, I am making a Queen Anne's Lace scarf for her.  Hope she was sending a hint. LOL

I have the baby today and tomorrow, so not much time to post.  Youngest daughter is out of school tomorrow so will be able to get a little more done as she can keep up with the baby.  I did get my Etsy shop opened, not still need to set up a little bit, and then start listing some items.  Hopefully will be set up more completely by next week.

Baby is awake, have to run.  Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment.  Come back soon.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Menu Plan Monday 1-16

Wow, the week went pretty fast.  Youngest daughter has a school holiday today so am hoping to take advantage of that and get a little work done around here.  Will see if that actually works.

So, still waiting on part for the oven, so the menu plan for the week may change a little, but here is what is planned for this week.

Mon. - Crockpot stuffed chicken rolls, veggies, foccacia bread
Tue. - Ground beef & tomato casserole
Wed. - Creamy lemon chicken, pasta
Thu. - Pork chops, stuffing, black eye peas
Fri. - Garlic shrimp, spinach pasta
Sat. - Mini shepherd's pie
Sun. - Spicy honey brushed thighs, rice, brocolli

I have to say that for the most part I stuck to the menu plan very well.  A few changes here and there because of the oven problem, but I didn't go buy any extra ingredients.  I was a bit surprised to once again see how little trash I had this week due to the real food challenge.  An added bonus from the planned meals and using what is in the pantry is that I used almost half the gas in the car that I normally do.  This week should be pretty light on the gas too as I won't be picking up the baby or doing any shopping trips for my mom.

If you need a little inspiration, go check out MPM over on Organizing Junkie.  Hundreds of bloggers link their meal plans up each week there.

I did however, make one trip to the store that cost more than I should have spent.  I purchased a generous supply of various colors of yarn.  Our church is doing a collection drive for cold weather items for a local mission.  I plan to crochet several hats and scarves to donate.  I was looking through my yarn stash, even made one set using some of it, but after looking at the finished set decided that it was just a little too feminine looking for a man.  Therefore...expensive trip to purchase yarn.  Will post my progress.

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Staying on Track

I know it has only been a few days, okay so it is Thursday of the first week of my new organized life, but this is actually the longest I have stayed on goal before.  Sad, I know, but true.

Tuesday meal was the chicken meatballs.  We bought these at Costco.  I fully admit that they do not fall under the rules of the "Real Food" challenge, nor did the teriyaki rice mix.  I pulled out the carrots left over from last week and served them as well.  It is extremely hard to get everything hot and served at the same time when it is all cooked in the microwave.  I will be so happy to get my oven back.  This is also not a cheap meal by any means (approx. $14 per box, two meals worth), but hubby bought them after getting a taste sample so I have to use them.

Last night we had pork tenderloin that I cooked in the crock pot.  It was supposed to cook for another hour, but I put a meat thermometer in it and it was done.  Ended up a little overcooked as it was really dry and falling apart.  My crock pot has been going south for a while, the digital timer was messed up so you couldn't tell by looking how much time you put on it.  Had to count it out when I entered the time.  It also cooked really hot on high, and not so hot on low.  I had learned to compensate for the problems for the most part, but last night I had enough.  We went and bought me a new one at Costco (the club membership was my gift from son and his wife) which was a little cheaper than the original one I purchased (several years ago) and came with a little mini crock pot as well.  I got it home, cleaned it and put it on the counter, then realized that it is about a quart and half larger than the old one (and here my family is shrinking) but I guess I can double up on some things for planned left overs.  At any rate, back to the meal, I made mashed potatoes and fried okra with it. Not the sides planned, but since it was unexpectedly just the two of us it was easy and I could control the amount better.  I froze the left over meat to make in to pulled pork sandwiches next month.  The whole meal was $3.30 for everything.

Tonight's recipe is a type of stir fry, so thankfully will be a quick cook and on the stove top.  It has potatoes in in that are cooked in the microwave first.  Tonight's meal will be 100% completely with in the rules of the "real food" challenge.  The unexpected advantage of cooking more from real foods, less processed items, and cooking from scratch is that the amount of trash we have is at least half of what it was last week.

Just another little bit of information.  Since we had fallen in to a rut lately, same old meals over and over, when I planned out my menu plans for the next few weeks I purposely planned all new dishes.  I am wanting something new, something fresh, and a bit more rounded meals for the family.  Not ground beef or chicken every night or around here, tacos and baked chicken at least once every week.  I know that these are family favorites (at least the tacos, burgers, hot dogs) but we really need a little change around here, not to mention that I am including more pork and fish (okay, seafood)

Now, I have to mention something here about a cookbook I bought recently. Well, last year sometime.
I thought this would  be a great resource book, which for the most part I guess it was.  I do however, have to challenge her price analysis of the meals.  There is absolutely NO WAY that I can purchase the ingredients of a dish for as cheap a price as she does.  I realize that she lives in the midwest, but that is just no excuse.  I even emailed her and called her out on it, she wrote back that she did calculate each recipe according to her best sale price.    Which are way lower than my best sale prices.  Here are some examples.

I just bought store brand unsalted butter on sale for 2.98 a package, there are 4 sticks, 8 tablespoons per stick, for 32 tablespoons for a package. That calculates out to .09 per tablespoon.  She calculates .05 per tablespoon.  If I use margarine it would be closer, but still not that low. The main ingredient I debate the price with though is ground beef.  She averages a pound of ground beef for $1.50. The price however is very inconsistent through out the book. One recipe has 1/2 pound ground beef for .75, one recipe has 3/4 pound for .76 and such.  You get the point.  Most of the beef dishes are just not priced accurately.  Now, I totally understand that she was shopping sales, one recipe may have been made with a better sale price than another.  I totally accept that beef prices in the mid west are most likely cheaper than here in California.  I even agree that since the recipes for the book were made and created in 2008 and 2009 that things may have been a bit cheaper.  However, my point is that it is just a bit misleading.  I mean, this is 2012 and groceries just last year pretty much nation wide took a 24% to 28% increase across the board.  But, I can get eggs, cheese, canned goods, milk, pretty close to her prices, even chicken, but I just don't believe that the beef prices are true. There fore I think that she should not keep claiming that the cost of her meals are $5 or less. She has a web/blog site and continually claims the low cost of her recipes.  The site has some great recipes though along with some really creative ideas from readers, as well as links to great coupon and highlights good sales.

That being said, she has some wonderful recipes in the book.  I will be purchasing her second book "$5 Dinner Mom Breakfast and Lunch Cookbook" but will not be anticipating actually making the meals for $5 or under. She does share some great shopping strategies that I can use to get cost as low as possible.

Have you seen "Pioneer Woman" on the Food Network?  Ree Drummond is the host.  She is wonderfully down to earth with her dishes and her stories.  She lives on a working ranch in Oklahoma.  Ree stormed the blog scene with her stories of meeting her husband (she calls him the Marlboro Man - enough said), going from being a big city girl to a country gal, her children, her children's books and her photography.  Read her blog by the same name to learn more about her.  I am so jealous of her kitchen, believe it or not, her husband converted a small house on the ranch into a large kitchen and dining space.  She has three work stations so every one can cook together, 3 stoves, 3 sinks, huge counter top work space.  She is awesome and for the most part uses normal ingredients and simple techniques to cook her meals.  Oh, and did I mention that she beat Bobby Flay in a throw down?

Well, little man is awake...again, so need to jump off of here and tend to him and then grab a bite to eat.  Thanks for stopping by, feel free to leave a comment, and come back soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quick Change

It is the fourth down, 90 yards to go, 1 minute left of the clock.  Let the hail mary go.
This Taco Casserole was last night dinner.  Not a touch down, but enough for the first down.

So, this family lives on football.
Now, I am not the best at cooking with out a recipe, more the type of person that needs exact precise directives.  However, I stand behind what I made.  I still have no oven, so had to improvise and adapt.  I am also sure that I did not really make up this recipe all on my own, just not really that creative in the kitchen, but here is what I did.

Taco Casserole (for lack of more creative name)

1 lb. ground beef
1 package of taco seasoning (Walmart brand)
1 can of chopped tomatoes with green chile (store brand - same as Rotel)
1 can of whole kernel corn (fresh & easy brand organic)
1 can black beans (store brand)
1 can black olive wedges (love these, but hard to find)
flour tortillas (I used about 6)
grated cheddar cheese (store brand)
sour cream (store brand)

1.  Brown the ground beef, stir in the taco seasoning to just coat the meat. 

2.  Add the canned vegetables and let simmer.  

3.  Cut the tortillas in to wide strips then square them.  Mine were probably about 2 inch square. Add to simmering mixture and stir.  

4.  Pour in to microwave safe baking dish, sprinkle with cheese. Cook for 30 minutes on power level 5.

All the vegetables are in it, so don't really need to serve anything else with it.  The tortilla squares get soft and chewy, much like a noodle. 

The total cost of this meal was $7.76 and it made enough for two meals.  That actually comes out to $3.88 for the meal or $1.29 per serving.  Ground beef is incredibly high around here and I consider my self lucky to get it on sale for under $4 a pound.  Especially since I only use the more expensive 93% lean, which this meat happened to be 97% that I bought at Costco.   It may have been a little cheaper, I don't have that receipt recorded, but not by much.

This was not exactly what I had planned for the first night of my new menu plan experience, but hey, two major goals were met.  I used the same ingredients (for the most part) as I had planned and everyone ate the evening meal together at the same table and on time. I had planned on making beef empanadas, with a rice dish.  However, both need to bake and while I could have cooked the empanadas in the toaster oven, the rice dish just is not all the same cooked in the microwave.  For some reason, my experience has been that the rice in the microwave gets mushy and starchy.  Now, baked in the oven, that green chile rice dish is out of this world.

Thanks for stopping by, come back soon.  Grand baby just woke up so time to play memaw a while.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Menu Plan Monday 1-9

Well, here we go.  Here is my first contribution to Meal Plan Monday over at I'm An Organizing Junkie.  Hundreds of bloggers post their menu plan for the week and some share the recipes as well.  It is great for inspiration and entertainment.  I love reading what everyone is cooking as well as finding out a little about their lives.

The Menu at the Blair Casa

Mon.  Beef empanadas, beans and green chilie rice.
Tue.  Chicken meatballs, rice and garlic mozzarella wontons.
Wed.  Pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, lemon pepper brocolli.
Thu.  Pepper Steak with potatoes,bread machine garlic bread.
Fri. Baja style fish tacos, chips and salsa.
Sat.  Luau Chicken, rice and stir fried veggies
Sun.  Bubbly Ranch Roast, marinated green beans and mashed potatoes

These are all new recipes, will post them if they turn out.  As I posted the other day, if the recipe doesn't go over with the family or doesn't work well with the way I cook, I will throw that recipe out.  If it is well received by the family it goes in to the "Keeper" file.

Now, this is just a game plan so to speak, nothing is ever set in stone.  So, some of these dishes may be swapped out if I don't get my stove fixed.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Thanks for stopping by and come back soon.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Grocery Shopping - Victory & Defeat

I did my big grocery shop yesterday.  Victory is that it is done and all put up.  Defeat is that I spent about twice what I had planned on.  On the up side of that, I am pretty sure that looking over my list I shopped for four weeks instead of two.  I will see how long I can go before going back to the store.  Well, will have to go back for milk and bread, but not much else.  Actually, this is the first time in a really long time, that I have been sitting this well prepared on the meal front.  It feels pretty darn good.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find that when I copied my purchases in to my new spread sheet grocery money tracker that very little of the groceries were processes (or what I considered processed or pre-packaged) items.  Straight forward products for cooking meals (canned goods, baking supplies, meat, produce) and a smaller portion than I thought was for household items (paper goods, cleaning supplies) so that was good thing.

The second defeat was in trying to use coupons and store loyalty cards.  I have seen it done several times, so thought I would give it a try.  You know, on that totally unhonest, bordering illegal, show "Extreme Couponing".  Those women swipe their loyalty card which has preloaded coupons, then hand the clerk a big bale of coupons to bring the total down even further.  This was the first time I have gone online to download coupons to my loyalty card.  I did this at the Von's store.  They had the items on sale, so I thought I would get the added savings of a manufactures coupon.  NO...NOT HAPPENING.  First of all, it seems that the sale price in the circular is with the coupon (had to read the little fine print for that info) so am wondering why bother to pick the offers I want to go on the card.  I really think that this is just a bit misleading to the public.  At any rate, to boil the whole episode down in a nutshell (which included a conversation with the manager) if you have loaded coupons on to your card (which you don't have to do because just using the card gives you the discounted price) you cannot use paper coupons.  So in other words, I can't use any other coupons on items that are on sale that week.  He explained that I couldn't get double savings, the manufacturer only reimbursed the store one time, so I could use either the store card, or the printed coupons.  Also he explained that the companies were opting to go with the online loading to the card to reduce their cost of printing thousands of coupons that aren't used. (Guess he hasn't seen "Extreme Couponers" where they dumpster dive for those unused coupons) At any rate, he further explained that it works well for all, the customer gets a little savings, the store isn't out any money, and it forces, I mean urges, the customer to use their store.  I politely explained that I understand the policy, but that the cashier kept my paper coupons, so had now lost them for a future purchase.  He came back with that I still had the card savings.  To which I replied that I could use the printed coupons at other stores.

So, lesson learned.  Once again, couponing just doesn't work in real life the way it is set up for the show. No big surprise their.  And, will not be using the online card system any more.  If I can get the same savings by just running the card, why bother.  Besides, Von's is so much more expensive than the other grocery stores that I will just go back to shopping only the loss leaders there.

Now, here is the other little defeat.  I was making dinner last night, which was really good.  I cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot, then heated up left over fried okra and potatoes augratin.  Meal cost next to nothing and have just enough chicken left to repurpose in another dish, plus about 2 quarts of wonderful tasting broth. I pulled out a can of crescent rolls and started preheating my oven while I got the rolls ready on a pan.  Went to put them in the oven, it was still heating.  Thought I must be moving faster than normal so gave it a little more time.  I then opened the oven to see how warm it was, ice cold.  My oven has quit.  So...here I have all these menu plans, groceries bought just for those dishes, and no oven.  I know, I can cook with the crock pot, the microwave, a toaster oven, and of course all the burners are working.  But I use that oven a lot.  Hubby is pretty sure he can fix it today to work until we can get the part (about $70) so am keeping my fingers crossed.

Well, got to go get the crew up for church.  Thanks for stopping by and come again soon.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Exciting Friday!

Well, exciting for me.  I am so happy to say that I have met most of my goals for my list of tasks to complete before Monday.  You see, our schedule around here has been so crazy that I decided that Jan. 9 would be the actual start of my new year.

I have been battling some kind of wicked bugs (yes plural) the past few weeks.  Kind of like having a head cold, flu and stomach bug all in one.  It has made me extremely worn down, all the holiday cooking didn't help with my energy level either.  But, to give an update on what all is happening, here we go.

I cleaned out and defrosted my freezer just before Christmas and created an inventory list showing what I have in there.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I actually do have and the variety as well.  I caught a sale, not a great "stock up while you can" price, but better than normal so I bought a few chicken breast for the freezer.  Since I already had a few in the freezer (along with a whole chicken, several packages of parts and some ground turkey) I decided to cook up some of the breast in the crock pot, packaging them for the freezer to have meat already cooked for the recipes that call for cooked chicken.  I found a package of marinade for Lula Chicken so mixed it up and put a couple of the breast in a resealable bag with the marinade. In order to keep up with my resolution to stay organized, I then put that inside another bag and placed the empty envelope between the two bags so I know what it is marinaded with.  Yes, I know I am genius, no one on earth has ever thought of this. (hope you see the sarcasm intended.  Also, in the freezer, are the pies and cheesecakes that were not even touched from the holiday meals.
Now, I know what I have.  Oh, and when I inventoried, I noted what each shelf holds so I can find it quicker.

As I posted earlier, I also cleaned out my pantry.
From this over stuffed chaotic mess. Which was actually worse than this, just too embarrassed to show the actual before shot.
To this. I created an inventory of every product in there and how many.  Getting ready for that first bill of groceries in 2012.  The one which will be for normal food, no holiday meals, no camping trips, just every day staples.  Actually I am kind of giddy to have it all organized and find I have so much.  Funny how it looks less when it is organized.

So, the next step was to create some menu plans. Out came the recipe file, and I do mean file.
See, I did say file.  Being a little over enthusiastic when I first start a plan, and having fun with my label maker, I set up categories (bread, beef, you get the picture) breaking up some of them like desserts by type.  These are hanging files by the way and hold recipes I printed out from various web sites, mail groups, magazine pages and such.  Any way, each category holds a "keeper" folder inside that file for the recipes I try that go over big with the family.  Some I want to try sooner than later are put in the "Try Soon" file.
I have written out a calendar page listing what is planned for the week, along with the recipes (in order).  Now, as I posted earlier, my first attempt was not planned well.  Too much chicken, not enough beef.  Also, I  didn't pay enough attention to the ingredients, amount of prep time or cooking techniques so there were an awful lot of recipes that would not make it around here.  So, I scraped the whole plan and started over.  Over all, the second, more thought through, menu plans were much better.  I did go back and tweak them a little when I noticed that I was having three days of Mexican flavors in a row or three days of pasta.  Which by the way, pasta does not go over well in this house.  Makes it kind of hard to be cheap when they don't like pasta or rice, but I throw it in anyway.  Back on topic, before I knew it, I had a full 8 weeks of menu plans written out, not even making a dent in my recipe file.  The next step was to write out a shopping list for the first two weeks.  I then compared it to the inventories of what I have on hand and only have a very small shopping list. Which is great because there are a lot of household items I am out of.  I will be posting my menu plans each Monday linking up with I'm An Organizing Junkie's blog for Meal Plan Monday. Each Monday hundreds of bloggers link up with her site posting their menu plan for the week.  It is quite fascinating to see what other people are having around the world.  I will also post links to anything menu related I find out there.

In keeping with this organizational goal, I will be creating an budget spread sheet so I can see where the money disappears to.  Some things of course I just don't have any power to control the cost (mortgage, car loan, insurance, utilities) for the most part.  Sure I can do little things to make sure that I am using electricity in a wise manner, shop around for the cheapest insurance, make the gas last longer, but I do have the powder to reduce the amount we spend on groceries, eating out, entertainment and such.  I had been keeping a price book (listing the cost of various products for which stores) but the prices change from week to week (even day to day at some stores) so gave that up.  My new approach is to create a spread sheet that will show exactly where the grocery budget goes.  What part is actually food because I think that while the majority of the spending is for food, I want to know exactly how much of my budget is for actual food and how much is paper goods, cleaning product, personal items or pet related.  I want all my facts in order when I discuss the money with hubby.  You see, I have a budget for each pay period for groceries and more and more of it is going for non-groceries (school lunches, gas and such).

I have joined the Pantry Challenge over at Jessica's blog Good Cheap Eats which is great site. We aren't going to starve, or just eat beans and bologna, but I am going to use up what I have already bought first.  My mother always accuses me of having enough food to feed an army on hand, so it should feed us three well.  This plan should also help me to be able to take advantage of the weekly specials and loss leaders better.

To help with my resolve (notice I didn't say resolution) for healthier eating, I am also doing a real food challenge.
You can read more at the Real Food site. Going strictly by Lisa's definitions of "real food" may be a little extreme for this family, but I hope to ease us in to it.  To help us get started there are mini challenges at the site, I am starting the 10-Day challenge on Monday.  Basically it cuts out the majority of all processed foods or products having you used whole foods for the meal.  I am a bit lazy in the kitchen at times, using my busy schedule with the grand baby as an excuse for not being able to put a proper or decent evening meal on the table.  I also use it as an excuse to run out and get fast food from my lunch.  I am actually going to experiment and each time I really (just die if I can't) want to go drive thru, am going to put the amount I would have spent in a jar for savings.  Am also going to jar up all my coupon savings and any cash left in the budget each time as well.  I am hoping to have saved enough this month to get at least half the amount I need for a new bed for my daughter Miss Zebra.  That is a whole other story for another time.

It is late, so I am headed to a warm bath and my bed.  Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment. Come back again soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New savings plan

I just signed up for a new savings plan.  It is called SavingStar and sounds like a pretty good program. I have not used it yet, but have created my account and loaded the coupons.  I have used an Ecoupon program that is linked with my Von's loyalty card, but I seldom buy from there because of the higher cost.  The Saving Star program is connected to loyalty cards.  Here is the interesting thing about this program.  Instead of giving you the cents off at the register, it gives you the savings of the coupon back in the form of either a paypal payment or an Amazon card.  I will post on how this works for me.  At first thought, it sounds pretty good.  However, if I had a printed coupon that the register would take off the price then that would be less money out of pocket.  On the other hand, I am thinking that this would work as an added little benefit from buying items that I would normally purchase and would not have coupons for.  In my area this program has linked to my loyalty cards for Albertson's, CVS, and Riteaid.  For me, those three stores are literally blocks from my house and on the same corner.  I plan to build up a little spending fund for my Amazon budget.

Family is gone skiing for a few days.  I am here taking care of grand son.  I love taking care of the baby, but I do already miss them so much.  Was very hard to sleep last night.  All the strange noises and knowing that no one is in the house.  Also, am cat sitting for son who is on the trip.  His cat made all kind of noises ALL night long.  It is going to be a long few days.

Well, baby is making it known that he is ready for some attention.  Stop back any time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy 2012!

When I was younger, somewhere around end of high school and early marriage years, this date seemed so very far away.  I remember sitting at my oldest daughter's kindergarten graduation and the teacher introducing the kids as the class of 2000.  At the time, it seemed so far away.  Now it is just a memory.  That same daughter is now married, mother to two boys and a school teacher.

Just last night hubby and I were talking about the movie Back To The Future 2.  On Facebook, several posted that they knew the world would not end in 2012 because Michael J. Fox visited 2015 in the movie.  That of course led hubby to make the comment about wondering about the drop down thing in the kitchen and automatic cooking computer thing.  He of course was making a joke.  However, I reminded him that we used to watch the Jetson's cartoon where they had video phones, and that now we can Skype.  That we used to watch Star Trek and they would push a button on an ear set to talk, now we have hands free bluetooth.  Of course, he had no comeback for that.

Today the hubby, Miss Zebra, Mr College and his friend left to drive up to Mammoth for a few days skiing.  I stayed home.  For one, am just not feeling very well, am fighting off this bug that has hit just about every one.  For two, I don't do cold weather very well.  However, I do already miss them.  Mr. College's cat comes in the room occasionally to make sure I am here which is kind of cool.

I have a list of to do things, just not motivated enough to actually start on it.  Don't really know where to start on it.  I did get my pantry all cleaned out and sorted.  Now I at least know what I have and don't have.  It shouldn't be, but it is always a revelation to me on what I find...and don't find.  I have three jars of pickle relish, but only one little small can of chopped green chilies.  I have a ton of broth, but no idea what to do with it.  However, I do know what I have to work with, what I need to buy when I get groceries.  Sometimes it is just as important to know what you don't need.  My major goal is to get on track with the household chores and menu planning. I am really wanting to cut our spending drastically.  I am the major offender, so I will do all I can to change this. I actually sat down with my recipe file and planned out about 6 weeks of menu plans.  I was just so proud of myself, had even started on a grocery list to make sure I had all the ingredients I needed.  That was one of the reasons for the pantry clean out, so I wouldn't buy what I already had.  Then came the realization that I had not thought out the menu planning well enough.  I was so concentrated on making sure that we didn't have chicken each night (because I have a lot of chicken in the freezer) that I filled out the month with every other day a chicken dish.  That will not go over well in this house.  I also discovered that I have a freezer half full of beef that the family prefers so I need to incorporate the beef more. SO, since I have beef, chicken, pork and a bit of fish in the freezer, I printed some clean blanks and have decided to go about the menu planning in a different direction.

This evening, I will pull out the files and start over fresh.  I will color code according to the four kinds of proteins.  Then, will plug in beef every fourth day, chicken every fourth day, filling in with the pork and fish.  I have such a huge collection of loose recipes, cookbooks as well as back issues of a few cooking magazines, that when you add in the internet that gives me access to an unlimited supply of recipes.  This time around I will plug in once or twice a week a family favorite for that meal.  Also, will be paying much more attention to prep and cook times.  I will be keeping the grand baby until late two days a week while my sweet daughter-in-law begins taking college classes in the evening.  I sure don't need a complicated or time heavy evening meal that will take hours to prepare on the those nights.  At least now I feel like my head is working a little more correctly.

So, here is the plan.  Create several weeks of menu plans, making an effort to be more nutritional minded with them. Set time limits for the activities that eat away my day, such as Facebook or reading blogs.  Schedule my day to organize my chores in to manageable task so as to not overwhelm myself.  May give Fly Lady another try with that.  Most important to me at the moment is two areas of great need.  Setting time aside in my day for studying God's word and getting my family back to the dining table for the evening meal.  It is a sad statement that I fix a meal and hubby takes his plate to his chair in the living room, I bring my plate to my lounge (so I don't have to watch what hubby is watching) and Miss Zebra takes her plate to her room.  It is the only time of the day we are all together at the same time, just seems we should be taking advantage of that.

So, that is how things are rolling at this end of the street.  Thanks for stopping by and come back any time.