Thursday, January 31, 2013

Guest Post: Changed Outlook on Life

I was contacted by Heather, a fellow blogger, and she asked if I could share her story.  I jumped at the chance to spread her message.  She blogs about her struggle with Mesothelioma here to try to educate others on the disease.  For those you who don't know what that is check out more details here.  I know that I didn't know much about the disease except to know that it was like lung cancer and it was from asbestos exposure. 

My father in law, Steve, passed away from lung cancer (and complications from lung cancer) which I am not sure was ever diagnosed as Mesothelioma.  He most likely got his exposure while building a ship for the Navy so the VA doctors weren't really jumping to diagnosis something that would make it "their fault."  Luckily, he was able to meet his grandchild before he past.

Here is a picture of Heather and her daughter, Lily.  Read below for her whole story (and don't forget to check out all of her posts for more heartwarming stories).

My Struggle with Mesothelioma Changed My Outlook on Life

Shortly after my daughter, Lily, was born in August of 2005, I returned to work. My family was in the midst of one of the happiest times of our lives. My parents, extended family and numerous neighbors and friends stopped by to see our beautiful new baby and to welcome her to the world. Little did I know that our lives
would take an enormous turn in the very near future. 

Soon after I returned to work, I started feeling consistently ill. I was losing around five pounds a week and I constantly felt fatigued and lethargic – much more so than is normal for even a new mom. I also felt breathless for no apparent reason. When these strange and alarming symptoms persisted and showed no signs of letting up, I went to see my doctor. After a series of tests were ran, it was eventually discovered that I had mesothelioma.

It was only three months after our Lily was born when my doctor told me that my diagnosis was malignant pleural mesothelioma. This is a type of cancer in the lining of the lungs that is the result of exposure to asbestos. When I was a kid, I had been exposed to asbestos without anyone knowing about it. Many years later,the symptoms that I thought were typical to post-labor conditions actually turned out to
be symptoms of mesothelioma.

The doctor told me that if the cancer was not treated, I would only have around 15 months to live. While the prospect of going through endless rounds of chemo, radiation and surgeries was certainly not appealing, I knew I had to think of Lily and my husband. I could not just give up hope and not make an effort to get better. 

My husband and I flew to Boston where I started extensive treatments for mesothelioma. During this time, my parents took care of Lily and I just cannot imagine how we would have made it through the entire ordeal without their help. In addition to my parents going above and beyond to be supportive, we also received help in numerous forms from family members, friends and co-workers.

With mesothelioma behind me, I definitely have a new outlook on life. I am so grateful for everyone who provided us with invaluable support, as well as my husband who acted as a wonderful caregiver to me.

Thrifty Thursday: Buying Quality and not Quantity

I spent a lot of time thinking about what saves me money and what other people can do to save money and be more thrifty.  For some reason I was out of ideas this week.  I know that isn't what you want to hear but I have been doing this for so long now that it is almost second nature.  I am not sure if I am actually doing something that is saving money because it is somehing that I have been doing for so long.

I decided to look back and see what topics I covered previously and what was most popular.  The two posts that got the most reads were ways to reuse plastic bags and how to make homemade baby wipes.  I can't really figure why those are the most popular and what they have in common but if you want to check them out, please click on the above links.  Most of the topics are about cooking and crafts.

I came up with about three or four ideas, one which I promptly forgot before writting it down.  Since I was just days before I needed to post this, I went with the idea that first entered my mind.  I am hoping to remember the other one soon to post for a coming week.  That being said, back to the topic at hand.

My husband and I were having a discussion yesterday which was still fresh in my mind.  Make sure you buy quality items so that they last a long time.  The better quality item ends up costing less money in the long run.

We are trying to decide on a quality microwave so that the money spent over the years that it lasts is less.  It might cost $450 upfront but if it last 10 years then we would have only spent $45 per year.  Our current microwave was about $300 and it lasted 6 years which works out to the same $50 per year (we actually got a rebate on our microwave when we bought it that sent us back $100-$150 so it was even a better deal).  I know it seems like more money to pay for the high priced item upfront but it saves money in the long run.
It is sometimes hard to figure out what the quality choice is which is what usually takes me so long to decide but there are many things that can help.  On big items like electronics, we like to use Consumer Reports.  We have a subscription to the magazine but you can always check them out in the library too.  We also use the online report because it gives the most recent report.  We used it to pick out all of our baby gear, cars, cameras, appliances and much more.  We also like to ask friends what they have and like (or don't like) because it is always good to make the choice based on both sides- good and bad.  Always ask people that you know for their advice when you are trying to make a decision.  You don't have to listen to what everyone says but advice adds pieces to the big picture.  Check reviews online on the item you are looking for like Amazon and others.  There are people all over the country that talk about

Finally, go with your gut instict!!  Use your research, your reviews, and opinions to make the best decision but eventually it goes on your gut.  Make the decision that you think is best for you.  Just don't always think that the cheapest opinion is the cheapest over the long haul.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gingerbread Scone

I know that gingerbread is supposed to be a holiday thing but I saw this recipe and it seemed like it would be a wonderful breakfast treat.  I decided that winter is enough of an occasion so I opted for the very tasty gingerbread scone as my first scone to make from scratch and boy, was my tummy happy.  My husband really loved them too and they were gone really quickly.

I got out all the ingredients to make sure that I had them all and I did mostly have them.  Check out the original recipe here.  I don't have allspice so I changed the spices to increase the cinnamon (because you can not have too much) and added a little nutmeg not in the original recipe.  Have I mentioned that I love recipes that use things that I always have at home and don't have to get special ingredients from the store to delay the process?  They are my favorite and they usually get made again :)

I mixed all the dry ingredients and then cut in the butter with a fork (because I don't have a pastry blender).

Then, I made a well in the middle of the flour mixture and added the liquid ingredients (which I had mixed in a measuring cup starting with milk and adding the other liquid ingredients).  I had used most of the molasses and I was at the end of the jar so I scrapped all the extra into the mixture too...yum!

After it mixed together, it pulled into a sticky dough.  I prefer to knead dough in the bowl when possible so that I don't get the whole kitchen dirty.  I added a little flour and mixed the dough into a ball.

With my hands, I flatten the dough onto a cookie sheet. I know that it looks sort of gross but it one of the ones that is supposed to be seasoned.  Don't you see my finger marks?

Then, I whisked the egg whites until they were bubbly.

I spread the egg whites on the top of the dough and topped with my white sugar crystals (in my Christmas sprinkle container).  It made a really nice topping but when I run out, I am sure that normal sugar will also be yummy.

I put cut marks into the dough and then baked the dough.  It didn't rise a lot which I had expected so I got flatter scones then I thought.  Next time, I might not spread out the dough as far but they were still super tasty and moist.

The cut marks made it much easier to divide the dough and get out nice triangles.

I hope that you try this recipe for yourself soon and challenge yourself to stay out of the hot scones straight out of the oven.  Because once you smell it, you won't be able to help yourself!!!  I know that I couldn't.  I might have had two right away since I was worried that they might be cooled when I got home from picking up my son.  I might have eaten more if I was still home :)  My husband told me to that he would totally eat that recipe again and he might have even requested that he get to eat the last one.  Normally, he saves the last ones for me so I know that he would like to have these again soon!!!!  I hope that you try them for yourself.


Gingerbread Scones

2 c. flour
3 T. brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. butter
1 egg, separated
1/3 c. molasses
1/4 c. milk
sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (first nine).  Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or forks until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together egg yolk, molasses and milk.  Add all at once to the center of the flour mixture.  Stir with a fork until combined.  Knead dough on a lightly floured surface for 10-12 strokes or until nearly smooth.  Add extra flour if needed to make not sticky (I added 1/8 cup flour).  Pat dough into a circle (or oval which is all that I can manage).  Beat egg white until frothy; brush over tops of scones and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut into 8-10 wedges.  Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before serving.

Linked up at Homemade Mondays Week 14 at Being Frugal by Choice

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shopping, Shopping and more Shopping on 1/28

My son and I were spending the teacher workday together with a quick trip to the foot doctor for me followed by a long day at the Play N Learn location in Chantilly (for those of you around NOVA and MD, well worth the trip to check it out).  This is what it looks like there:

This is the first time that my son has wanted to try out the trampolines and he had a blast.  He didn't want to get off them but he did go back and forth from one to another.  We were there for over 2 hours.  I normally let him stay at least 3 hours but we had to do some other stuff after and I knew that he was exhausted.  I was kind of afraid to put him in the car at all because I thought that he was going to fall asleep and I wasn't going to get anything done.  Luckily, we made it through everything!!! Here are the spoils:

First stop was the new Aldi's!!!!  I checked my wallet before getting out of the car to see how much cash I had and I saw that I had $31.  I drove past it on the way to the play place and I didn't think that it was open yet but I thought that we would drop in and check it out because even if it wasn't open yet, it might have a sign on when it was going to be open.  Ummm,  I was super excited because it was open.  I grabbed my bags and headed in. 

We got chips, saltine crackers, and pretzels which were all very important per my son.  Then,  I checked the next aisle with flour and baking goods but nothing tempted me enough to pick it up.  I did make note of a few prices and I know that I am going to be going back there to get some stuff soon.  After that aisle, something drew me into the meat section at the end of the store even though I had already walked past it.  They still had the chicken from the Wednesday meat special!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Goodness!!!!  I grabbed three packages and we headed to the check out because I knew that I couldn't carry any more.  Lucky that I did because my total was $29.85 so I wouldn't have had enough to get much more and I walked out with only $1.15 in my pocket.  I did drive past my bank in the parking lot.  I really should have pulled in and gotten out money to buy the rest of the chicken in the store but I wasn't thinking clearly because there were so many other things to get.  We started eating the pretzels as soon as we got in the cars.  (pictured on the left)

Total OOP $29.85

Next stop on the list was Wegman's.  I was planning on buying Saltine crackers which I just got at Aldi's so I needed to get the Wegman's Mac and Cheese and the Gerber purple bananas for my son.  We checked on the Gerber aisle and they only had 7 purple bananas and my coupon was for 8, plus they had a higher price than Walmart so I didn't get any.  We compromised by getting 8 boxes of mac and cheese instead. 

I also wanted to check to see if the flour was still on sale.  I didn't make it there in time for the $0.99 flour which I should have gone there immediately and bought everything that had because it was a great deal and my stock up price.  I go through almost 5 pounds in a month of regular flour and we are very low but they were $1.99 so I didn't get any.

On the way out, my little man decided that he needed frozen pancakes too so we stopped and got those too.  I tried to get him to go with the cinnamon toast waffles (because they were cheaper) but he really wanted the pancakes.  Little did I remember that we still don't have a microwave to cook them so we had to put them in the toaster oven.  They ended up being okay, thank goodness. (pictured on right)

Total OOP $5.55
Total Savings $1.28

Last stop was at Walmart to get the Gerber purple bananas and turkey lunch meat.  I forgot about the lunch meat until we got in the store and I realized that I left the coupon in the car.  They only had 6 purple bananas there so we took what they had and checked out.  I also looked for the South Beach bars since I had two coupons and I couldn't find them so I gave up. (pictured in center)

Total OOP $6.03

We put the purple bananas in the car and grabbed our reusable bags and turkey coupon.  Back into the store again to grab turkey lunch meat.  On my way there, I passed a few coupons for pizza so I decided that was my message to buy a Red Baron pizza with the coupon.  We went to the cash register to pay for the two items with our two coupons. (pictured in center)

Total OOP $5.13

It was a long day but our many stops were well worth it.  It shot my monthly total up a lot but I got a bunch of things that I needed for the month.  Now, I just have lots of chicken to cut up for the freezer. 

Harris Teeter Shopping Trip 1/26

I decided to go to Harris Teeter when I saw the special on milk in my evic e-mail.  We were totally out of milk and I really want to get the split chicken breasts for $0.99 per pound.  I just didn't want to make a special trip there just for the chicken so the milk was a great excuse.

I grabbed the last package of chicken left in the meat area :(  I really wanted to get some but I guess that was what was meant to be and maybe all I had time for cooking. 

Moving on to the dairy case, I got the evic deal on the butter even though I didn't have a coupon (I know, it almost killed me).  My husband prefers Can't Believe it's Not Butter so getting at $1.17 after evic sale and evic coupon was the best that I could do since it is normally $3.29.  I prefer free for butter and usually wait to stock up until then but I wanted to make sure that I kept my husband's butter in the house.  I also grabbed the Kraft cheese since it was on sale Buy One, Get One (which means half off at Harris Teeter).  It still left the cheese at $1.87 and I normally don't pay over $1 for a bag of shredded cheese but I splurged since we are making pizza every week now and I only had two left in the freezer. 

Then, I cruised down the aisle to see the Campbell's Skillet Sauces on sale for $2.00!!  Are you thinking that doesn't sound like a good deal.  Well, they are normally $2.99 so it wasn't a great deal but I had a coupon for $0.75 off which doubled making them $0.50 each.  Then, I also had an e-coupon for $2 off 2.  So that made me a $1 profit on two sauces which look like they will be really yummy for dinner some night.

I stopped in the Health and Beauty Section to check on the Halls Drops and see if the Vitamin C drops were included in the promotion.  I was super happy that they were so I got $8.76 worth of Vitamin C drops for $2.38 after sale and coupons.  That makes them about $0.60 per bag.  My husband loves these all year round so it is great to stock up in the winter when the prices are lower because he will use them for the rest of the year.

With such good deals under my belt, I decided to splurge and buy Cheese-Its.  There was a coupon in the paper and they were on sale for $2.50 so I figured that $2 a box was the best that I have seen in awhile and I bought a bunch back when they were on sale for $1.99 without a coupon.  We only had a few boxes left in the cupboard so I am sure that they will get eaten long before the expiration date gets close.

The milk fridges were almost empty.  We usually get fat free or skim milk but there was none left.  I would have said forget it but we were totally out and didn't have enough for little man in the morning so I decided to pick one which said 1/2%.  Have you ever heard of such a thing?  I was hoping to get two since they were offering them for $2.57 which is a great price for milk here but the dates were horrible and they didn't have the kind we usually drink so I just grabbed the one.

The Dial soap was the last thing added to the cart because it was on sale for $0.97 (limit 2) and I had a coupon for $1/2.  They ended up being $0.50 each which seemed like a good deal for foaming soap in the season of sickness where we are washing our hands a million times a day.  I was going to leave the store but I turned around to get the last deal and then I was on my way.

Not the biggest haul but I got a lot of food at a good price.  It balances out all the great prices that I got at the beginning of the month.

Total OOP $16.55
Total Savings $35.20

Hannah's List Book Review

Hannah's List (Blossom Street) by Debbie Macomber was a wonderful free find at the local library.  They have a section with books that didn't sell at their book sale or that people donated that they don't need so they put a shelf out with FREE BOOKS!  I saw this one as I was passing by to get to storytime last week and grabbed it.  When I finished with the book that I was working on, I immediately picked it up.  I know I was supposed to read another of the many books that I have in my pile but I often get distracted by new books.  It was a super fast read and very entertaining. 

Dr. Michael Everett lost his wife, Hannah, to cancer a year before and has been leading a very lonely life since her passing.  On the one year anniversary, he receives a letter from Hannah which makes his promise to live and love again.  She doesn't want him to spend the years alone so she gives him a list of three women that Michael should go out and meet in order to pick a wife.  Seems a little strange on the surface but when you start to think about how much thought his dying wife put into the choices, it really brings tears to your eyes.  The uncomfortable search for someone to spend his life with makes him open up his life in other ways too like getting back into a weekly poker game with his friends.  Michael changes his whole life with a little pushing from his best friend and brother in law to make sure that he doesn't do anything that would disappoint Hannah's wishes.

Check out this book at your local library or bookstore (and if local, you are obviously welcome to borrow it since I am done).  I think that I am going to look at the library for some others in this series of books to check them out.  I hope that you let me know what you think if you pick this one up too :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Menu Plan Monday 1/28

Monday- Tacos
Tuesday- Sausage Pasta with garlic knots
Wednesday- Grilled Chicken with white rice
Thursday- Herb Butter Roasted Whole Chicken
Friday- Homemade Pizza
Saturday- Grilled Cheese and Soup/Autry Chicken Fingers
Sunday- Leftovers/Little Caesar's Pizza for the game (per request from my husband)

I am trying to run through the rest of the freezer supply and force myself to get creative but no matter how far I get, there always seems to be enough to get me through another week without trying out new recipes and using some of the other things in the freezer.  After two very low spending months (on groceries that is), we should be almost out of food but I keep pulling out one more meal out of something that I didn't know we had!!  I splurged and bought some groceries at the end of the month at Harris Teeter since the total was so low even though they weren't at the lowest price possible.  The good news is that I got some chicken to boil and make some shredded chicken for buffalo chicken sliders.  YUM!!!  I hope that you have a great week planned too :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Common Sense Storage Book Review

Common Sense Storage: Clever Solutions for an Organized Life by Editors of CPi was something that I found when I was surfing around the library website.  I reserved it and and it came in recently.  It was a really heavy book so it got put to the bottom of the pile becuase there is nothing worse than carrying a heavy book back and forth places in order to read it.  I finished all of the other books from the library so I was determined that I would sit down and read this one too!!

The great part of this book is that there are really large, detailed color pictures.  There are also lots of ideas and solutions to fit in big spaces.  I don't think that there was a single idea in the book that I could do in my house.  The problem with storage is that you have to spend a lot of money on custom cabinets and have a big room.  No matter how I rearrange my kitchen, there isn't room for a island.  The more the book talks about that as a storage option, the more it makes me want to return the book before finishing it.  Then, the bathroom section talks about fitting extra storage cabinets between the sink and the tub...okay, that is where I have my toliet.  I just know that they aren't talking about my room because I had to get an extra small towel bar because it is the only one that fit in the room.

After reading the book, I read the two reviews on Amazon and for the first time ever, I think that they really hit the nail on the head.  This is not a great book unless you are interested in looking at pictures and getting useless advice.  There is no reason to tell me to get this really cool gadet if you don't tell me where to get it.  I don't think that it is even worth picking up (especially taking in to consideration the weight to carry it home).  I am going to tell you if you really are interested, look at the library before even bothering to bring it home.

Weekly Goals 1/27

Another week gone by so quickly and I wonder what happened to January because I think that I missed it!  I don't know what happened but I think that we were super busy.  I am not sure what we ended up doing for most of it but I guess that mostly it was around the little man's birthday.  Can you believe that the end of this week is February???  I hope that you had a great month and enjoyed the cold weather.  I am just confused when it is 60 one day and snowing the next.  I can't get used to this winter weather this year but I am bracing myself for more. 

Last Week:

Family Goals
  • Spend time with family- We had a great week and lots of great quality time with a three day weekend with a trip to IKEA and other fun activities.
  • Get to preschool on time- We had a great week getting to school.
  • Holiday playdate at a friends house- We got the sickness and didn't make it out of the house!!  UGH :(
  • Talk about Rocks at the library- We made it to the library even though he was still a little sick because he was going crazy stuck at home and the little man fell asleep in the back of the car two minutes before we got there.  Yup, fell asleep at 10:30 am  and said that he wanted to sleep.  I got him into bed when he we got home and he slept for three hours.
  • Playdate with friends at the house- We had friends come over and play in between snow storms.  Thanks goodness because my little man is going stir crazy with this weather and keeps asking when we are going outside...except he HATES the cold.
  • Dentist for little man- He had a fabulous time at the dentist.  He got his teeth brushed with a flamingo toothbrush (the lady asked him to guess what animal it was... I told her that I didn't even know what it was).  He got his new lion toothbrush, a basketball bouncy ball, an animal print balloon with a giraffe tied on, stickers, and strawberry chapstick.  I tell you that he comes out of there with more toys than Chuck E. Cheese. (okay, we haven't been there but I can only assume).
  • Birthday party at a friend from school for little man- We had a great time at our friend's birthday party.  We played with lots of friends and lots of new toys.  Little man said that he really liked the chocolate ice cream :)
Personal Goals
  • Cut coupons- I didn't get any coupons last week because the newspaper was finally at the library with no inserts.  Of well!
  • Get coupons at library on Friday- I went on Friday at 11:45 and there was nothing yet.  My husband nicely stopped on the way home and he got me my papers.  They had the coupons from last week and this week so I was more than happy!  Now I have lots of cutting to do this week.
  • Shut off computer 6 nights to save energy- I shut the computer off every night this week and did great with keeping it off.
  • Read rest of The MoneySmart Family System: Teaching Financial Independence to Children of Every Age by Steve Economides and Annette Economides- Finished on Sunday and wrote review
  • Start next book- Decided on the next Robert Parker book and finished it on Tuesday and wrote review.  I started his next book on Tuesday at bedtime which was quickly finished.  Review posted and on to the next book but panic- no more library books.  I picked a book off the shelf waiting to be read.  It was an English book which always takes me a little to get into because of the language and foreign references but once I got in, I was reading.  Luckily, still going to be working on that book next week.  I did get a bunch of books from the library as well, just in case :)
  • Dentist appointment- Not the most comfortable when I was at the dentist but I was up and running the next day like nothing happened just like the old days.  I am feeling so much better and I can't wait to get the last crown in mid-February.  That will be my last dental appointment from the last 6 month check up and then I have my cleaning and 6 month check up in March (yup just a month from my last appointment from last time).  I am looking forward to getting a clean bill of health (mostly because I think that my dental insurance will again be done).
Home Management Goals
  • Clean dishes, counters and floors at least 5 days of the week- Done!  I cleaned the kitchen more times than I can count this week but I did also do a lot of baking and cooking which always makes a big mess.  I got a new handheld broom for Christmas so I clean up with the dry swiffer and then sweep it neatly into the handheld dust pan with the broom.  I am so excited every time that I do that but I am sure the new thrill of my new toy will wear off soon :)
  • Clean dishes one night and not wait until the morning- I haven't done a great job getting the dishes done the night before but my husband has picked up the slack and cleaned most of the dishes at night and in the morning!!  What a great husband!  I don't know if I get credit but since they were done, I am still crossing this off the list.  I finally did the dishes all by myself on Saturday night after going to the grocery store.
Blog Goals
  • Post one post everyday- Done.  I got them all posted ahead of time.
  • Schedule at least 7 posts so that can spend more time with family- Done.  I got them all posted ahead of time.
  • Review book reviews completed during the week (if done)- I finished my books and scheduled my reviews.
  • Work on a few posts to work ahead for the coming week- I got lots of posts done and I have the rest of the month already scheduled.  I was hoping that it would keep me ready for a visit from my parents when I don't get any work done but they delayed their visit so I have to keep the nose to the grindstone a little longer to make it through their visit in February.
  • Post Weekly Goals, Menu Plan Monday, and Thrifty Thursday Tip- Done
This Week:

Family Goals
  • Spend time with family
  • Get to preschool on time (including PJ and stuffed animal day)
  • Play N Learn Playdate with friends
  • Storytime at the Library
  • Storytime at the Bookstore
  • Playdate with friends at the house
Personal Goals
  • Cut coupons
  • Get coupons at library on Friday
  • Work on February Menu Plan
  • Shut off computer 6 nights to save energy
  • Finish Getting Over It by Anna Maxted
  • Start next book
  • Foot Doctor appointment
Home Management Goals
  • Clean dishes, counters and floors at least 5 days of the week
  • Clean dishes one night and not wait until the morning
Blog Goals
  • Post one post everyday
  • Schedule at least 7 posts so that can spend more time with family
  • Review book reviews completed during the week (if done)
  • Work on a few posts to work ahead for the coming week
  • Post a guest post
  • Post Weekly Goals, Menu Plan Monday, and Thrifty Thursday Tip

    Saturday, January 26, 2013

    Nana's Chocolate Cupcakes (or cakes)

    My father's mother, Nana, made the best chocolate cake and it was what I asked for every birthday.  This year, I got the joy of making the same cake recipe for my son's birthday.  I made it for his birthday party over the weekend and another batch for his birthday party at school. 

    I got a lot of help from my son so I didn't get a lot of pictures taken because I was too busy keeping the batter in the bowl and nothing spilling (and his hands out of it).  The batter is fairly normal thickness and then you add hot water which makes the batter really thin.  I promise that it isn't wrong but it is good to know that upfront because some people worry and don't add the water.  This recipe is also the great test to see how even your oven is because the cake with tilt to one side if your oven isn't flat which my mom and I found out one year when we were living in a rental house in Maryland.  My oven is much better at this house so I got even looking cupcakes.

    Then, we frosted them, put on sprinkles, and M&Ms, and Cars decorations.  Yummy cake with kid decorations so that they are exciting for everyone.

    Check out the moist interior of this yummy cupcake.

    I hope that you try this recipe for yourself so that you can enjoy the yummy cupcakes or cakes.  I promise you won't be disappointed!!

    Nana's Chocolate Cake

    1 1/2 c sugar
    1 c oil
    2 eggs (unbeaten)
    2 1/2 c flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 tsp baking soda
    1 c sour milk (1 c milk with 1 tbsp vinegar or milk past the date)
    1 tsp vanilla
    5 tbsp cocoa powder
    1 c hot tap water

    Combine all but water.  Mix well, add hot tap water.  Mixture will be liquid. 

    Bake in greased pan at 350 degrees until done, about 30-40 minutes.

    Linked up at Homemade Mondays Week 14 at Being Frugal by Choice

    Friday, January 25, 2013

    Homemade Pantry Book Review

    The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila was suggested from some other blog (which I sadly can't remember) so I went on the library website and reserved it.  I was in a waiting list but it came in and it was worth the wait.  I don't know about you but I have an addiction to cookbooks.  When I was reading this one, my husband said are you reading every recipe???  Umm, yup!!!  It has tons of interesting stories at the beginning of each recipe from the author with candid stories about her life.  I highly recommend this one if you also have the unhealthy obsession with reading cookbooks, this is the book for you (Ann, this means you).

    It started with how to make ricotta, mozzarella, and buttermilk.  I am totally interested in making all of those things but I know with certainty that I won't make them in my lifetime.  All the recipes seem really great and if a friend made them, I would totally eat them.  I really want the whole all natural thing but I might be a little cheap and lazy that I don't want to make them.  I guess I will have to figure out if the cost savings and see if it makes it worthwhile but I hope that I can try to make at least one of them at some point in my life.  What do you think??  Are these things that you want to try or do you just want to pick them up at the grocery store?

    There are some other recipes that are a little more interesting to me like pie crust, hamburger buns, bread, and tortillas (all things that I have tried before).  Of course, the longer that I read the book, the more that I thought that I could make anything in the book.  With all the extra time that I have in a day, I am sure that I will have time to make homemade wheat crackers and twinkies.  Okay, I can't even figure out how I get to the start of the day to the end of the day and get everything done that I need to get done.  It took me until the middle of January to get the Christmas books packed away.  Here is hoping that if I make note of a few of her recipes, that I will actually try them. 

    I hope that you check it out at your local library or bookstore soon.  I don't know if I will make a lot from the recipes but I certainly learned a lot.  It renewed my interest in trying to garden and can.  I don't know if I will move towards actual doing it but it makes a goal to add to the list.  I hope that you check it out and enjoy it as much as I did!!!!  I think that if you like to cook or bake, then you will enjoy all the stories as much as the recipes.

    Thursday, January 24, 2013

    Thrifty Thursday: Making a Cupcake Tower

    My son wanted to have cupcakes for his birthday so I wanted to figure out a way to display them so that I could carry them to the table like a cake.  I have a really big platter but it seemed so boring.  I had a tiered wrought iron stand but it is a Christmas tree shape so not really birthday celebration material.  I thought of a few different ideas with pottery turned upside down but then I couldn't move them because they wouldn't be attached. 

    I remembered a post that I saw many moons ago and I am so sorry for not remembering where I saw it but they made something from boxes.  We still had a basement full of boxes from Christmas so I set out to find the perfect boxes.  I wanted them to be square which was a really big challenge.  I thought that there would be three layers so I got a big box that we were still using for the item so I emptied the box to use it.  I found the box from my son's camera from Santa.  The top was a challenge because I only wanted it to fit one cupcake.  I found my husband's Rubik cube.  I used a plain light green wrapping paper to wrap each box just like a present.  Then, I taped the layers together so that it was one piece and wouldn't separate.  What do you think??  Pretty neat looking right?

    My son's favorite color is green so we made chocolate cupcakes with green frosting, green sprinkles and green M&Ms.  Then, I put the decorated cupcakes on the wrapped layers.  Trying my best to evenly space them but it was really hard to do.  I didn't use cupcake liners because I prefer cupcakes without them and it makes for more mess to clean up with little ones trying to eat the frosting off them.  Without the paper liner, the cupcakes made little marks on the paper so I couldn't move them much when they were placed.

    To make them more kid friendly, I wanted to have decorations on the cake so I made little toothpicks with stickers at the top for the ones for the kids.  I just used stickers that we already had at the house and toothpicks from the cupboard.  Luckily, there were two of some stickers so I just put one on each side to match and pressed over the toothpick.  It was pretty easy and entertained the kids.  I am going to have to work on my patience to make more complicated cakes in the coming years but my creativity payed off this year in a frugal solution.

    Check out the top with the Big 4 candle (thanks Aunt Lynn) for the birthday boy.

    It was a super frugal idea that ended up working out really well.  I used everything that I already had around the house with the addition of a jar of frosting that I got at Target Christmas clearance with coupon!!  If not, I would have tried to make homemade frosting instead so I guess there is always next year.  I hope that you try a cupcake tower for your next cupcake adventure!!  It was so easy and means that you don't have to keep more special dishes around the house taking up valuable cupboard space.  If you only have Christmas paper, turn it inside out and you have a white tower which you can decorate with stickers or other pictures.  I can't wait to use a tower again and I hope that you try it too!!

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

    Chicken Tortilla Soup

    I got this recipe from a friend before I started blogging so I don't have a clue where it originated from.  I made this a few times in the past and I really enjoy it.  I try to keep the ingredients in the cupboard so that I can make it when I want it but I haven't made it in ages so my son's birthday was a great occasion to make soup for a big group.  Normally, I print out the recipe and check off each ingredient when I put it in the crock pot.  It helps me to make sure that I remembered everything.  It is funny because most recipes usually stay on my computer screen but I prefer to have this right next to my crock pot.

    There was a little technical difficulty at the start of this adventure because I opened up the first crock pot liner, only to find out that my hand could go from one side to the other.  Luckily, I have used these before or I would have been even more confused.  I guess that one end didn't get sealed so I folded it and put it back in the cupboard to deal with later.  Crossing my fingers, I got out the second liner and it worked great.  I put some of the first ingredients in the crock pot after I have filled it with the crock pot liner like the enchilada sauce, chicken broth, corn and seasoning. 

    Then, I gathered together the canned goods.  The diced tomatoes, green chiles, and onion were my next targets.  Normally, people would just dump those items in the crock pot as well but I don't like tomato or onion texture so I blend them first to make them more part of the broth.

    I chopped the onion into small pieces and dumped the rest straight into the blender.  I used the blender to make sure that there aren't any chunks since I am not a fan of chunks and the original recipe doesn't call for this so feel free to skip this step if you don't mind tomato and onion texture (like a normal person).

    I poured the blender ingredients into the crock pot.  Lastly, I put in the shredded chicken.  I used to boil chicken breasts on the bone and shred the chicken but I haven't gotten a lot of great deals on chicken breasts so I used the chicken from the whole chickens that we have had and I had frozen.  It is a super great way to save leftovers to use for a later date.  I left the pot to simmer for 6 to 8 hours per the instructions and then I had this yummy soup.

    Do you want a spoonful??  I suggest making some for yourself.  It is a really easy recipe, check it out below!

    Chicken Tortilla Soup

    1 1/2 pounds shredded, cooked chicken
    1 small can chopped green chile peppers
    1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
    1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
    1 large onion, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 teaspoon garlic salt
    1 tablespoon tomato paste
    1/2 teaspoon onion powder
    1 1/2 cups water
    1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
    1 teaspoon chili powder (1 1/2 teaspoons for a bit more kick)
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    1 bay leaf
    1 package frozen corn
    1 1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
    8 corn tortillas
    vegetable oil

    Put everything but the tortillas in the crockpot. Cover, and cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours or on high setting for 3 to 4 hours.
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly brush both sides of tortillas with oil. Cut tortillas into strips, and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with the corn tortilla chips.

    Shared on Posed Perfection

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    Pizza Knot Dippers

    I have changed the name of these a million times before writing this post but what you call them doesn't matter because they are so yummy!!!  A little while ago, I made garlic knots

    During the creation of this experiment, I ended up with some "knots" that were not garlic buttered.  I was planning on buttering after to make them fresh when we wanted to eat them. 

    Then, it hit me- heat them up and dip them in seasoned olive oil.  I don't know if you have been to Bertucci's Restaurant but that is what they serve for a bread.  We loved them back when we went out to eat so I figured that it was worth a try!  They were amazing!!!

    They were super easy to make and I think that I might make a bunch and freeze them so that we can have them whenever we want.

    Just roll out pizza dough and cut into small pieces that you tie into knots.

    Put them on a cookie sheet, leaving enough room between them to rise.

    Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until brown.  Serve hot with olive oil and seasonings. 

    Normally, I take a bunch of seasoning from the cupboard and taste them until they are yummy.  I have a Sicilian blend which has doesn't say what spices are in it.  I add garlic salt and Omaha Steak seasoning salt (yup, my husband thought that was a little weird but I added it once to rave reviews).  There are a ton of recipes on the Internet for different dipping oil but I have so many weird mixes already in the cupboard that I probably won't use them until that stash runs out.  Usually, I will make it up based on what I have but you need something a little powdery and something that isn't in order to make a good balance.  I also used a flavored grape seed oil that I had before and it was great. 

    I hope that you enjoy these yummy treats sometimes soon.  They couldn't be easier to make from frozen or fresh or store-bought or homemade pizza dough.  It is super flexible and if you make it for guests, it will make a normal pasta dinner (even a frozen lasagna) into a meal wonderful for company.  They are so easy to re-heat you can even make them when you aren't busy and reheat when you need them.  I love, love, love them and I can't wait to have them again soon!!!!

    Pizza Knot Dippers

    1.  Roll out pizza dough on floured surface.  Cut with pizza cutter into long strips.  Tie dough into small knots (or any design that you get the dough into).

    2.  Leave knots to rest covered with a dry towel and let double in size.
    3.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. 

    Serve hot with seasoned olive oil for dipping!!! 

    Shop Girl Book Review

    Shopgirl by Steve Martin was book that my neighbor gave me after we had our joint yard sale.  I knew that I had heard of it but I had no clue what it was about.  I guess there is also a movie but I missed that one too :)

    In case you are as clueless as me (missing both the book and the movie), let me recap.  Mirabelle is the main character and this book takes you through her life using different perspectives like her wealthy older boyfriend, Ray Porter or her co-worker, Lisa.  Mirabelle works at the glove department in Neiman Marcus so she doesn't get a lot of interaction with people because there aren't a lot of people out there buying fancy white elbow length gloves.  By night an artist and by day a "shop girl," Mirabelle is a wall flower who doesn't reach out to meet people but is very lonely.  The story goes through her trials and tribulations becoming more outgoing and creating a life for herself.

    I don't think that was one of my favorites but I was entertained enough to read the whole book in less than 24 hours.  It was short and seemed more like a movie script than a book so it might be a good movie to see at some point.  Check it out at your local library or bookstore and tell me what you think. 

    Monday, January 21, 2013

    Menu Plan Monday 1/21

    Monday- Sloppy Joes (moved to Sunday Steak and Mashed Potatoes)
    Tuesday- Kraft Fresh Taste Pork Chops with stuffed baked potatoes
    Wednesday- Olive Oil Pasta
    Thursday- French Dip Sloppy Joes on homemade rolls
    Friday- Homemade Calazone
    Saturday- leftovers/Whole Chicken for Roasted Chicken
    Sunday- Brunch/Chili Cheese Fries

    Last week I was feeling kind of yucky so the menu got changed a few times because I really didn't want to make dinner and I was exhausted from all of the birthday celebration (and clean up).  We decided to go with Little Caeser's Pizza on my son's actual birthday since it is his favorite food and he ate 3 slices of pizza which is a lot for an adult let alone a 4 year old.  We ended up eating leftovers on Wednesday which was the challange to heat up everything in the toaster oven (in case you didn't hear, our microwave is not working).  Here is hoping that our toaster doesn't join it after getting over worked :)  I am planning for a pretty simple week this week and I already put everything in the freezer upstairs to make sure that I am ready!  Hope that you have a great week planned.

    Okay, this week the menu flip flopped days because things came out of the freezer and were defrosted and other things weren't.  We still ate everything on the meal plan with a few arrows on the calendar to different dates.  I changed the menu above to reflect the new menu.

    Sunday, January 20, 2013

    Weekly Goals 1/20

    This was one heck of a week and next week looks to be about that busy too.  We went to IKEA on Saturday and got some toy organization systems which I am super excited to say are set up and working.  I am very tempted to go back and fill the whole house with them.  I hope that they get to stay as organized as they are right now.  I am not holding my breath and there are a few more toys that need to be rearranged but I am happy with how it has turned out so far.  I took the advice of my dear friend Ann and didn't get any of the big bins.  Good thing because the small bins are overflowing and heavy!!!  I can't believe all the stuff that fit into them and I am looking forward to my little man testing them out more next week.  I hope that you had a great week and big plans for the coming week.

    Last Week:

    Family Goals
    • Spend time with family- We had a great weekend and a sugar filled week with way too many birthday celebrations!!
    • Get to preschool on time (with cupcakes on Monday)- Made cupcakes on Sunday and frosted them Sunday night before sitting on the couch so that I would make sure that I got it done.  This birthday stuff is serious with party, school, and the actual birthday.  It is going to be a busy week.
    • Celebrate my son's birthday (on his birthday) with a special dinner with Aunt Kimmie and Steve- We got pizza and ate Georgetown cupcakes.  My little man had a great time and it was hard to get him to calm down and go to sleep!
    • Playdate with friends at the house- We had friends over for little man's birthday and he really enjoyed running around like a crazy person and ended up falling asleep on the couch right before dinnertime!
    • Storytime at the library- We sent Dad to the library to return all of the DVDs that we had checked out and then I grabbed a few of the books to return.  The little man doesn't like to see everything going back all at once but we had a lot due to the library.  We went to storytime first and then went on the hunt for books.  We came home to have a friend come over and play which made the afternoon go really fast.
    Personal Goals
    • Cut coupons- Finally started and finished on Saturday.  I got a little help from my little helper until I tired him out so much, he decided to go to bed. 
    • Get coupons at library on Friday- I went twice on Friday and twice on Saturday and the library didn't get the local paper.  I even checked the grocery store and the newspaper bin and no dice!  I am going to try again on Sunday but that is my last attempt.  I am going to have to find a better system of getting papers.
    • Shut off computer 6 nights to save energy- I shut off the computer every night without fail!  I kept it off for a few days too but mostly I was using it :)
    • Finish Reading Homemade Pantry- Finished on Sunday before watching the football game
    • Start reading next book- Read Hannah's List, one of my free library finds and started on the next book (as well as picking up a few more on the list from the library).
    • Foot Doctor appointment- Had my second shot in the foot to see if they can fix my ouchy foot.  It does feel better just from the first one so I am hoping for the best.
    Home Management Goals
    • Clean dishes, counters and floors at least 5 days of the week- I kept the kitchen clean through out the week and this week was even tougher because there were more dishes that didn't go in the dishwasher because the microwave wasn't working.  Who would have thought that the microwave would cause me to have less dishes.... rethinking this waiting to figure it out and might have to go get one next week!!!
    • Clean dishes one night and not wait until the morning- We got all of the dishes in the dishwasher on Monday night and Tuesday night and there was nothing to clean up.  There were a few dishes to go into the dishwasher on Thursday morning but there wasn't anything to wash.  Making the week a little easier for the menu, meant that it was a little easier on the dishes.  Sadly, not as healthy on the wallet or stomach with take out and leftovers but it has been a long time since we have done anything like that.
    Blog Goals
    • Post one post everyday- Done
    • Schedule at least 7 posts so that can spend more time with family- Done
    • Review book reviews completed during the week (if done)- Done
    • Work on a few posts to work ahead for the coming week- Done!  I am super excited on how many posts I have done and all the work that I have done ahead.  Here is hoping that I stay ahead and get a few more ideas done next week.
    • Update reading list- I tried to do it on Saturday but my computer overheated from too much use so I shut it down and started over on Sunday. I went back and checked and it finally took.
    • Post Weekly Goals, Menu Plan Monday, and Thrifty Thursday Tip- I got them all posted.
    This Week:

    Family Goals
    • Spend time with family
    • Get to preschool on time
    • Holiday playdate at a friends house
    • Talk about Rocks at the library
    • Playdate with friends at the house
    • Dentist for little man
    • Birthday party at a friend from school for little man
    Personal Goals
    Home Management Goals
    • Clean dishes, counters and floors at least 5 days of the week
    • Clean dishes one night and not wait until the morning
    Blog Goals
    • Post one post everyday
    • Schedule at least 7 posts so that can spend more time with family
    • Review book reviews completed during the week (if done)
    • Work on a few posts to work ahead for the coming week
    • Post Weekly Goals, Menu Plan Monday, and Thrifty Thursday Tip

      Saturday, January 19, 2013

      Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn

      I was searching through websites and came upon this recipe which sounded interesting.  The most interesting idea was that it was from all things that I had at home.  I thought that the whole family could enjoy the yummy and frugal treat of some sweet popcorn for a change of pace.  I noticed that the blog referenced that she found the recipe on another blog so I clicked on Posed Perfection recipe.  This is how I loose my evenings when I find another great food blog.  Please check out her blog because all of her recipes sound great.  I can't wait to try another few but first on my list was her Sugar and Spice popcorn.

      I started to make the recipe and made my changes to.  I don't think that I am a fan of nutmeg (except in pumpkin pie) so I doubled the cinnamon instead.  I love cinnamon so I almost added more but I kept it under control.  I decided that I would go with the highest amount of sugar based on a vote from my husband.  We agreed, cinnamon only, sugar and salt.  I pulled out the ingredients and measured the cinnamon and sugar. 

      I decided that I was going to use my microwave popcorn popper.  I made my first batch and poured it in the big Tpperware bowl that I had set out. 

      I did the second bowl and the microwave made a weird noise.  I tried to do the third one and none of the kernels popped.  I am really sad that we might have lost our microwave in this experiment.  It is one of those built in ones so I know that is going to be expensive to replace.  Back to the recipe.... umm, still don't have that air popper because I was trying to limit the amount of speciality kitchen appliances (even though I have always wanted one) so what was I going to do, scrap the whole recipe and just eat the popcorn...NOPE.

      To the stove and the old fashion method.  I put a little oil in the bottom of the pan and used 4 tbsp of popcorn.  My dad used to make this for us when we were kids but I have had a microwave popper for so long, I don't think that I have ever made it on the stove.  It was fun and a little action packed because I had to stop to pour out some and the kernels were flying.

      The whole time that this was going on, I was multitasking and already started melting the butter.  I usually use margarine but I had butter in the fridge so I decided to try that instead.

      Then, I added the pre-measured seasoning to the completed melted butter.  It didn't mix together too well but the sugar was dissolved so I figured that it was good enough.

      I was in charge of stirring and my husband was in charge of pouring the sugar mixture over the popcorn.  Minus the microwave mishap, this was the easiest recipe to make and we really loved it. 

      I don't think that this picture shows how yummy this treat was but my husband and I ate the whole bowl between the two of us.  He thought that it needed it a little more of the sugar mixture (or less popcorn) which I agreed at first but the more that I ate, the more that I thought it was perfect.  With my bad stirring skills, you got a really coated piece every once in awhile and it was a real treat but it tasted like a yummy kettle corn sort of treat that we only used to get at the Fall Festivals.  I know that I will make this again even if I have to do it on the stove top again.

      I hope that you try it as a special treat for your family.  I think that it is a great way to kick up popcorn to a new level!!

      Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn

      4 quarts popped popcorn (1/2 C kernels)
      5 Tbsp butter or margarine, melted
      3 Tbsp sugar
      1/2 tsp cinnamon
      Salt to taste

      Mix the butter, sugar and spices until the sugar begins to melt a bit (I did it on the stovetop but you could do it in the microwave).  Pour over popped popcorn and mix very well.

      Linked up with Frugal by Choice Cheap by Necessity

      Friday, January 18, 2013

      Garlic Knots

      I have wanted to make garlic knots for ages and I don't know what took me so long.  I went to a restaurant by my parents house and my husband and I ate the whole basket (okay maybe two baskets).  For many times after, whenever we visited, my husband asked to go to the garlic knot restaurant.  My father sadly told him that it was closed but it didn't stop by husband from wanting their garlic knots.

      This recipe was so easy and so tasty.  I usually make pizza dough double so that I freeze one which I took out this morning to use.

      Then I took out my mat (but feel free to use the counter).  Put a little flour on the mat and put pizza dough on flipping to cover a little bit of flour on both sides.  Use a rolling pin to roll out and cut with pizza cutter (thanks Ann for the hand model). 

      Test different ways to knot your dough and see what you like.  We made them about ten different ways and they were all tasty so feel free to get creative.  We started by knotting what was on the long piece of dough to see how long we needed it.  It turned out that we could cut ours into three pieces for each strip.

      Then, we made a few different kinds like this roll.  It was just the knot without the end pulled out.

      Then we finally figured out how to make a knot that still stayed tight.  It was fun to experiment with the different shapes and we ended up with the different rolls.  We put them on the cookie sheets with enough room for them to rise.  I covered one with a dry cloth and one with a damp cloth (just to see if they would react differently).

      Next, I started making the butter mixture by melting the butter in a pan on the stove.  Adding the minced garlic until it was nice and fragrant.  I added the additional seasonings as I figured out what I was going to add which I decided on parsley and garlic salt.  I was going to take a pictures but it more or less looked like a black pan and I couldn't see the yummy butter since it was really low.

      There were conflicting ideas across the web on when to apply the butter mixture.  Before, during or after baking???  I decided to try both ways.  I made one pan where I started cooking it, and brushed the butter mixture on rolls.  I reapplied two or three times during baking.  Here is what they looked like:

      Then I made the other pan without any butter mixture.

      After removing the garlic butter knots, I reapplied the butter mixture and sprinkled some Parmesan cheese.

      They were fabulous and my husband said that they were a lot like the ones from the restaurant.  We might have eaten a whole pan with the two of us!!  I am totally going to make these again!!  I hope that you try them soon too!

      Garlic Knots

      Pizza dough (homemade or store bought)
      3 tbsp butter
      1 tsp minced garlic
      1/2 tsp parsley
      1/2 tsp garlic salt
      Parmesan cheese

      1.  Roll out pizza dough on floured surface.  Cut with pizza cutter into long strips.  Tie dough into small knots (or any design that you get the dough into).

      2.  Leave knots to rest covered with a dry towel and let double in size.

      3.  Melt butter in a sauce pan and add minced garlic.  Cook on low and add additional spices to taste. 

      4.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned.  Can brush with butter sauce during cooking or after.  When cooked, top with additional butter sauce and then Parmesan cheese.