Monday, June 27, 2011

Budget 1: Food

With the looming added expense of additional daycare, we sat down to figure out our budget. My poor hubby, as competent as he is, has tried his damnedest to clue me in to the importance of a proper budget. I'm able to admit that I'm as hard-headed as they come. However, thanks to our banks and a free online program like Mint, I was able to visually see where I was hemorrhaging money: food/entertainment & impulse shopping. Many familiar budgeting systems didn't work for me. However, like with anything, it required buy-in. Well, for my 34th birthday, I finally came to it on my own and realized that if I were more financially minded, I'd be able to reach and exceed my goals (consequentially, since we are halfway through the year, I didn't meet them...boohissboo). All that to say, the light bulb went on and in the past two weeks I've already seen MAJOR improvement. The catalyst, aside from not meeting my goals, as Don was entering the monthly receipts, I slunk away and pulled out everything I’d bought. Nothing was of great importance, nor was it an essential. In many cases, it was food that I’d consumed and the evidence lingered on my waistline. Here’s a series of budget-related posts to share with you what works for me. I’m no expert, but I know what works for me and maybe one of these things will work for you.

During our discussion, we not only challenged ourselves to save, but to also shed inches and fat. One place where we could trim the fat is going out to eat, or entertainment expenses. I know I just had a baby, but I want to be strong again. I want to be able to do an unassisted pull-up. I want to be able to run a 5K in less than 27 minutes. I want to be like 85% lean meat instead of bargain beef. This doesn’t just come from intense exercise, but it comes from what we put into our bodies. As you might have guessed by the title and what I’ve already discussed, this focus will be on food.

FOOD WASTE

One of the things we noticed when we first started cooking at home at the beginning of the year was how much food we were throwing away because we didn't consume it before it spoiled. This was tough to handle because we wanted to eat fresh and healthy, but not preparing the foods was like throwing away money. 

Or if we prepared the food, the leftovers wouldn’t be eaten before they went bad. That was an even bigger slap in the face to me because of the wasted time spent preparing the food and then throwing it away. I don’t like leftovers, but I’ve learned that I don’t mind leftover pasta. Smile

Composting is an easy way to see just how much food you are wasting each week. We don’t compost, but in one meal we saved items to compost for my sister. I was SHOCKED by the amount of waste! (sidenote: this new concept of a grocery store is awesome) I also noticed how much food we wasted when we would go out to eat. If I ate everything, then I over indulged and consumed too many calories. If there were leftovers, I wouldn’t eat them and then we’d we’d throw it away. Thus the added trash of food and to-go containers. Not cool!

MEAL PLANNING

Not long ago, we'd cut out as many processed foods as possible. We look for whole wheat items and multi-grains too. Lately, we are on a quinoa pasta kick! It is a little more than regular pasta, but because it is a more complete vegetable, we reap the added benefits. Additionally, we plan our meals…or rather plan at least 4 meals for the week. They aren’t always dinner either. At least once a week, we’ll have breakfast for dinner. We’ll also have some type of pasta dish at least once a week too. Instead of chips for snacks, we indulge in fresh fruit that is in season.

Like I previously mentioned, I also use Everyday Foods as a resource to help with meal planning. Since many of the recipes involve produce that is in season, it is a no-brainer for us! Even better is that some of the recipes (if not all of them) contain the calorie information.

You’ve seen that show Extreme Couponing. It sounds well and good to me, but all of the food they buy is processed. I applaud them for wanting to feed their families on a tight budget. What sometimes bothers me is seeing all of that food they have in their storage, yet there are so many that go hungry. Why not donate some of that stuff they got for free? Also, why are there never coupons for fresh fruits & vegetables? Ever notice how there aren’t many coupons for items found at the perimeter of a market?

You may be able to buy a frozen pizza in the $1-$10 price range, but you don’t know what ingredients were put in it, including the preservatives. Here I talked about making your own pizzas for a little more than $2 a pizza. Added bonus, time spent as a family preparing the meal. Can’t get so caught up in the electronic world and television if you are busy in the kitchen talking to your family. There’s no better way to learn cooperation and teamwork than when you prepare a meal together.

HEALTHY EATING

The organic cream cheese and eggs we purchase cost more, but they are healthier. The cream cheese doesn’t have weird preservatives that I can’t pronounce. The eggs don’t have the added hormones and well, that’s important for the growing girls in our home. We don’t want them to mature prematurely. The changes: we don’t struggle nearly as much with constipation with Mari. (TMI, I know, but still.) Additionally, cutting out the refined sugars, she’s better able to keep attention. She’s still a very active 3 year old, but she’s noticeably less out of control than before. Her tiny body is an efficient machine and quite frankly, I wish I was as strong as she is. She can do two uninterrupted/unassisted pull-ups. She can jump non-stop for half an hour or more. She can also run a half mile without having to stop. That’s pretty remarkable!

The first part of my life was spent eating simple meals with beans, rice, and some type of beef. Many of the vegetables were canned. Some times, we even had potted meat as a snack or even Vienna Sausages. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It is what I knew and what I grew up with. As we got older, the meals became more processed. Hamburger Helper became a staple. Summer times were filled with fresh fruit, but the rest of the year, nothing, except for Christmas. And me, I didn’t like fruit. My mom used to watch these three kiddos (hello Anthony, Preston, & Kymberli). Their mom brought over their prepared their meals each morning. I was intrigued! She included freshly steamed potatoes, lima beans, black-eyed peas, and corn! All of these were freshly harvested from her garden. I was impressed. But when we moved away, I’d forgotten about all of that until I became a mother myself.

Well, you can imagine my shock when Don presented the first meal he prepared for me:  a whole wheat tortilla filled with eggs scrambled with spinach and loads of fresh salsa. I knew I loved that man because I ate every last bit of it (even though I didn’t really like it…ha ha). When he met me, I didn’t even dare eat Pace Picante, mild. Now, I eat fresh jalapenos with gusto! I still can’t, however, eat any sort of green bean unless it is Del Monte’s canned. Weird, ‘eh?

Anyway, any item that has potential to have added growth hormone (meats & milks), we try to stay away from. Our grocery story includes an awesome NuVal score that shows an unbias number stating the healthy-ness of an item. This definitely makes it easy to compare like items (cream cheese to cream cheese).

But Bianca, where is the savings? Well, the savings is in long-term health. In theory, we’ll have less medical expenses because of the preventative care. Well, I’m not sure how you put a price on that, but I know quality of life will pay off in the long run. If you knew you could prevent open heart surgery by changing a few habits, would you? I’d like to think so.

Let me know if you’d like for me to share some more recipes. I’d be glad to share!

Next up…plastic tricks…

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Imp Among Us

I thought I was losing my mind. I chalked it up to mommy brain. BUT…
I kept going over and over in my head where I put this or that. One night I stayed up all night fretting and replaying the last details in my brain, willing it to remember what happened. Such was the case when I was ready to go on a sewing frenzy. I had my set up: two machines, in fact, one for ruffling, one for straight stitching. I had my patterns. I had my materials. I went to thread the machines and BAM…no thread! I had the thread I’d recently purchased, but I needed bobbin casings and the thread I was certain I already had. I made do with what I had and only sewed two items.
Later, I lamented the loss of my sewing kit. I was glad to have gotten a picture of it when I did. I figured, maybe I tossed it out accidentally. But who knows. The same story goes for two necklaces, some of my rings, my address book (aaack!), and bobbin case (which I just bought for myself as an early birthday gift. I never needed one before, but I somehow accrued over 15 threaded bobbin cases and was happy to have a home for all of them).
no. freakin. clue.
And then it was laundry day. The Sugarbean was at school, so I decided to attempt to catch up on all her laundry, including the sheets. While I was at it, I figured I’d straighten out her closet. It’s an exercise in futility because no sooner is it organized and put together than…KABLOW, toddler explosion ensues and well, a good portion of her clothes, shoes, books, dolls, etc. are strewn about the floor and her shelves. Yet, at the beginning of the month, I do this organization of her closet almost like clockwork. (Wish I did it for my own!)

Guess what! When I pulled off the sheets, not only did I discover my little artist had colored her beautiful purple sheets with crayon, marker, and highlighter (my personal favorite were the giant ovals and circles she practiced), but I also found two of my missing necklaces! Later, when I was crouched at the bottom of her closet in search of hangers, I found some of my rings and coins! Then, after I had moved her laundry hamper into the laundry room, there it was, my old friend smiling at me, happy to have been rediscovered. My blue sewing kit! Of course, why didn’t I think to check for it on top of her princess shoe dress-up organizer! DUH! {shakingmyhead}
The address book is still missing, along with the bobbin case, but I’m thinking a certain small someone is responsible. Unfortunately, when I question her, she looks at me with those big brown eyes, grins, and says, “I don’t know, mommy.”
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Restaurant Review: Love & War

Back when we were experiencing epic Texas weather of torrential rains and tornadoes, we set out to eat Love & War in Texas so I could satisfy my peach cobbler craving.
We were friendly greeted and immediately seated in a more quiet area. Outside, they had a large picnic table seating area where a live music performance was in full swing. Clearly they weren’t worried about the rain (even if it was leaking through the tin roof).
Our server was quite animated and made some great suggestions. When Mari dropped her corndog, he immediately replaced it and didn’t charge us. Then came our food. I ordered the El Paso. It was a 5 oz. steak with enchiladas, rice and beans. I opted to swap out the rice for spinach and the regular beans for the Shiner Bock beer beans. Additionally, we ordered a side of Texas cornbread.
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The spinach was hearty and I was glad to have eaten it. That was about the best thing I could say about my meal. My steak, while only 5 oz, was full of sinew and fat. I definitely had more of a 3 oz steak. On a positive note, it was cooked properly, just a poor cut of beef. The enchiladas, while pretty, were undercooked. Much of the cheese on top of it wasn’t even melted. The cornbread tasted like a mix and the beans were not at all what I was expecting. I didn’t send my meal back. I ate my spinach, the mushrooms, and some of the steak. After all, I came here just for the peach cobbler. Initially, we ordered it to go because we were given the warning that three tornadoes had been spotted in Arlington. We made the call, to stay put until the storm passed, so we sat to enjoy dessert.
I took a photo and deleted it. It was a sad state of affairs, folks. The peach cobbler was old and tasted stale. Sad smile I wanted to cry. The crust, I could taste that it was undercooked. It was almost like eating thawed out frozen cobbler from, the grocery store. However, it was served with Henry’s Homemade Ice Cream, so that was a bright point. Unfortunately, I had a still hungry and curious Sugarbean, so I shared my ice cream with her. I considered ordering a drink to drown my sorrows, lamenting the poor food and dreary weather. Instead, I opted to devour the energy from our lovely company. Dining with friends is always a treat and usually, it doesn’t matter the food you eat, the company will always make up for it. In this case, it surely did!
The beer was good (or so I was told), our server awesome (after all, he’s an aspiring professional mascot), and the atmosphere very Texas-ish.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pizza & Cookies

Do you crave pizza and cookies after watching that DiGiorno commercial? (BTW, why does the guy have two gallons of milk for a dozen cookies? Random.) Anyway, I’m not knocking DiGiorno or Nestle Tollhouse Cookies. However, I thought that Don and I could do better. (We can make about 4 pizzas for less than $10. Even cheaper now that our neighbor has shared her home grown arugula! Also, preparing the meal as a family is an even better activity.)
I found this awesome pizza dough recipe that I wanted to try out. In this month’s Everyday Foods, they also featured a recipe for Pizza Bianca. Why not!
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Pizza Dough

1 package yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
  1. Mix yeast and sugar. Let sit and become creamy. (About 10 minutes)
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients. When the dough forms, hand knead on a floured surface.
  3. Knead until it gets the right smooth consistency.
  4. Place the smooth dough in an oiled bowl and cover for 30 minutes.
  5. Roll out on a smooth, floured surface and top with your pizza toppings and/or sauce.
  6. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
For our pizzas, we use Ricotta cheese as the base sauce, add toppings (like arugula and/or mushrooms), and cover with mozzarella cheese.
(Yes that’s eggs on the pizza. This breakfast pizza is my favorite!)IMAG0883 IMAG0882
I also made this cookie recipe. It is supposed to help with lactation. I wanted to give my supply an added boost so I can build up a greater storage for when I return to work. (EEEK, only 4 more weeks) I like them, but have found them to be quite sweet. Additionally, I added craisins to the recipe for added punch.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Infant/Toddler Pants from a Sweater

Since we are doing cloth diapers, at night, I like to put an outer Thirsties cover on Tesla or if it is cooler, then a pair of longies (knit, fleece, or wool pants to help soak any leaks).

Sidenote: Have you ever wondered what was in a disposable diaper? Ignorance is bliss, I tell ya.

Remember when I had my sewing party? Well, one of the gals made a nifty bag out of a thermal-like sweater-shirt. Because the sleeves remained and I thought they were cute enough, I wanted to try to make a pair of longies for Tesla. I happened upon a tutorial. I figured you could make this a tutorial for pants for a toddler as well, provided the arm sleeves were long enough. Anyway, here are my photos during the process:

Start with your two sleeves:

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Next, from an existing pair of pants, measure where the bottom of the crotch will be and mark it with a pin.

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Cut at the seam of the arm down to the pin. Cut from the top of the sleeve because the bottom of your sleeve will be the "natural" bottom of the pants. Hooray for not having to do hems!

Turn one sleeve inside out and put the normal sleeve inside of the inside out sleeve. Fabrics should be "kissing." Line them up.

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Sew together. I used a zig-zag stitch.

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Measure the waist. Leave room for the size of your elastic plus a little extra. Mine ended up being low rise, so I would've have cut three inches higher than I guessed. Fold down and pin to make the waist. Here is where it is important to measure the hips accurately for a cloth diapered bum! ;)

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Sew the waist and be sure to leave an opening to put in your elastic. Again, I used a zig-zag stitch since it wasn't fleece (and I don’t have a serger).

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Ta-da! Knit longies for my cloth diapered baby. The Sugarbaby looked so stylish with her fancy new pants.

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Such cute teeny-tiny legs! Can’t wait to rummage through my giveaway stash to see if there are more cute sweaters I can repurpose for her.

2011 Birthday Wishes

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite things here, which could be translated to a birthday list of sorts. I’ve made a graphic below of the things I love. But before that…

The number one thing I want for my birthday is for each of you reading this to do some random act of kindness for a stranger and if you feel like it, post the story here. It could be buying the person behind you in the drive-thru’s meal or coffee. It could be leaving an anonymous note for someone having a bad day. Any ol’ random act of kindness will do. Putting out the goodness in the world for my birthday would be a pretty darn amazing gift! Smile

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  1. New Speed Vibram shoes $ not sure since they are release June 1 – W40
  2. Canon 5D Mark II – oh how I love thee. This is the year, I can feel it! $2500
  3. Shabby Apple Upper East Side Dress $72 – Large
  4. Ballatore Gran Spumante $5 – I’m such a sucker for cheap champagne! LOL
  5. Starbucks Gift Card – I’m about 18 drinks from becoming a gold member. To do that, you must use a registered SBUX card and I always forget mine, but not any more! I want to be a gold member.
  6. Canon 16-35mm lens $1700 – man this is a sweet lens that makes me happy. I’m a fan of renting it.
  7. Louboutin Bianca $755 – Such a sassy and stylish shoe…fancy!
  8. DSW Gift Card – I could probably buy 10 pairs of shoes (at least) from here for the price of one Louboutin pair
  9. Painting Class $30-$60 – This one is tricky because I don’t want to go alone. I would love to go with some friends to a painting class, where we’ll munch on light bites and sip champagne while creating a masterpiece on canvas! ZING!
  10. Paper Source Gift Card – I could spend hours in this store looking at all of the pretty things. Someday I want my craft room to look like this store.
  11. Sephora Gift Card – I’m not much into make-up, but I’m trying. Having a coupon or a gift card will always get me to go out of my shell and try new things.
  12. Not pictured – A Peony or Hydrangea plant for our home. I would love to add some color to our lawn. Not long ago, Don planted some beautiful lilies in our front yard and they bloom every spring. It makes me happy and think of him each time they return. These flowers make me happy, especially peonies!

So what about you folks? What are some of your most favorite things? Any fellow Geminis care to share their wishes?

AMF Summer Unplugged Bowling Tour


Hello friends! Have I got a great deal for you for this summer. Are you thinking of things to do indoor to beat the summer heat? If you live here in the South, you might already be in search of the cool sanctuary! Anyway, AMF is offering free bowling for kiddos under 16 (not including the shoe rental). Yeah, free for the kiddos and a decent price for adults. Check out below for details:
Fun. Active. Social. Local.
AMF's Summer Unplugged
is this summer's best bowling deal!

Zip, Zero, Zilch for Kids 16 and Under

  • At select AMF centers, two free games of bowling per day for kids 16 and under. (Shoe rental not included, but they’re worth paying for.)
  • Time: open until 8:00PM, 7 days a week.
  • Dates: Monday, May 30 (Memorial Day) through Monday, September 5 (Labor Day).
  • Parents go to http://bit.ly/AMFfree to select a participating center (over 200 locations) and complete a simple registration form.
  • Free game coupons emailed every Sunday starting May 29 for the following week – it’s that simple!
GREAT DEAL FOR EVERYONE OVER 17
  • Share the fun and save!
  • For families of registered kids, a one-time payment of $27.95 buys 2 games per day for 4 people all summer long – it’s the AMF Summer 17 Plus Pass. (Same dates and times as above.)
  • Less than $7 per person for 2 games everyday all summer.
  • Available online at http://bit.ly/AMFfree.
THE EXTRAS
  • Kids combo meals all summer for $2.99.
  • Pin decorating contest:
    • Most votes on Facebook in each of 4 age divisions wins a $2500 scholarship prize
    • AMF donates 25 cents per vote up to $10,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure®
  • Schedule of learn-to-bowl and fun competitive sessions.
So there you have it. Check it out online at http://bit.ly/AMFfree
**I participated in this campaign as a member of One2One Network and am eligible for a prize drawing.  All opinions stated in the post are my own.**

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