Friday, October 21, 2016

Updates on 2016 Goals

We're working away on our 2016 goals, but its been a while since we revisited them, so I thought this might be a good time to do so.

Saving More and Paying Down Debt:  We keep making progress toward getting the home equity line paid off, but paying for little man's specialized preschool for speech has made this take somewhat of a back seat.  With my small pay raise and having both spaces rented, we're still diligently chipping away at this goal though.  We're looking forward to next year when we home little man will qualify for preK through our very good quality public schools, which would be free and save us almost $500/month in preschool fees. (Baby would still be home with Daddy.)

House and garden projects:  This is the big list we've been chipping away at.
  • Paint trim in boys room, including closet doors by March.  (This includes new caulk, etc. where needed)  Ha!  Need to get this done...
  • Touch up trim/paint in rental spaces by end of January.
  • Advertise upstairs rental through Samaratin's Purse and have rented by February, if not sooner.  Advertise both spaces for August/when lease runs out and have filled by April for upcoming season. Both spaces are filled through December!  Yay!  We're actively advertising the upstairs space for spring with several prospects.
  • Install Ecobee thermostat in apartment by January 15 (this is when our new tenant moves in).
  • Organize garage space by March 15.  This includes installing some drywall and pegboard, as well as generally sorting and storing tools, etc. Space is much more organized, but still needs drywall and pegboard.
  • Have new mulch spread and gutters cleaned by March 15 (this is a job we will hire out).
  • Paint shelving and trim in craft room downstairs by March 15.  Paint chairs to go around table in craft room.  Ummm, yeah... the space needs a general overhaul now from the paint and playdough debris that has overtaken it.
  • Move forsythia bushes to front bed and plant creeping Jenny ground cover.  Have this done around the same time as mulch is spread so that mulch and compost can go here.  (March-ish, depending on soil workability.) Partially done, still need to have mulched and plant creeping Jenny.  Maybe can do this fall still.
  • Mulch leaves with mower and add to compost by end of February. Now there's a new batch of leaves!
  • Have mower serviced for spring by April 30.  Thankfully, this was an easy self-repair after a chat with the friendly folks at Lowe's.
  • Paint exterior doors in chosen new color by June 30.
  • Have new front porch railings installed and bead board on the ceiling of the porch.  Maybe an outdoor ceiling fan installed over the table area?  by June 30
  • Can at least two batches of peach salsa and two of berry jam for Christmas gifting and personal use. Ended up freezing berries and peaches instead.  Just too crazy with two little ones for canning this summer and heating up the house.
  • Have both porches re-stained (we're thinking of hiring this out to a contractor who Benny does a lot of work for at the paint store).  Still working on this, but we've got a contractor in mind.
  • Maintain garden beds with regular weeding and trimming throughout growing season.  Prepare for fall/winter by October 30. I'm on the way to getting the garden beds prepped, the perennial beds are deadheaded and mostly weeded.  Veggie beds need to be cleaned out and trimmed back.  Just need to plant the garlic, but I have some donated straw, so won't need to purchase that!
  • Make curtains for craft room shelves to hide some supply bins by November 30.
  • Make reusable coffee sleeves for Christmas gifts by November 30. (And learn how to use new sewing machine)
  • Make at least one batch of citrus marmalade by December 15 for Christmas gifting. Purchased citrus from the local high school band, so on the way to that soon!
Try two new recipes each month:  We've done pretty well with this, especially with using our crock pot.  I've really enjoyed trying things out in my copy of Not Your Mother's Slowcooker cookbook, including the marinara sauce, pizza sauce, and granola (this was more of a miss we had to tweak).  We're slowly finding our cooking groove while balancing parenting two littles, but we've got a system that works now.  It includes at least one crock pot meal a week, meal prep in the evenings after the boys are in bed, and making one breakfast casserole (eggs, baked oatmeal, or overnight french toast) a week.

Read at least 26 new books this year:  Ha!  Who was I kidding?!  I did get to skim a new book for small group, read a few memoirs while home on maternity leave, browse two new cookbooks, and am now reading Farm City, Grounded, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  So, for a year with a new baby and a three year old finding his way in the wide world, I'd say that's pretty good!

Take at least 26 dates with Benny:  We're doing well to average at least one a month, whether out or at home.  Mom has been wonderful in helping to make this happen since little man is now excited about slumber parties at Nana's house.  We are getting some time with a cup of tea and some conversation after the boys go to bed most nights of the week, so this is great for us.  We know we're on our way to raising two awesome boys and we won't get this time when they're tiny back, so we're savoring the moments, grabbing time for just us when we can, and calling it good.

I feel like overall, we're doing pretty well with our goals and habits to cultivate for 2016!  There are still plenty of house projects left to do, but I'm loving where we are as a family right now.

How are you doing with your goals and habits for 2016?  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This week we're still trying to keep the grocery budget low, but I did pick up a few staples we were out of (canola oil, sugar, salt, and dried parsley).  We're doing a great job of keeping our weekly expenses low in general, so hopefully that'll help out with the home equity line and saving for a new car.  (My 10 year old one is starting to rust out thanks to our winters, so we're starting to save for purchasing a new-to-us late model, used car sometime next year.)  Here's how we kept our expenses low this week:

  • Continued to make all meals at home.  Enjoyed three shared meals with family and friends that were pot luck.
  • Used the crock pot for several meals, saving energy.
  • Accepted bread, mushrooms, kale, 2 lbs of strawberries, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes from the food pantry that were going to go to waste.  
  • Used pantry and freezer items to plan meals for the week including lentil and sweet potato soup, kale salad with sun dried tomato dressing, hot German potato salad with sausages, veggie stir fry over rice, winter squash baked oatmeal, and winter squash waffles with fruit smoothies.
  • Processed peppers from CSA for the freezer.  Chopped tomatoes and froze them for later use in chili.
  • Purchased canola oil and sugar in bulk to save overall.
  • Took leftovers for lunch each day, saving on prep time and money.
  • Made most of our meals meatless, saving on the cost of meat and choosing more nutrient dense foods like beans, lentils, potatoes, and greens.
  • Composted as usual including tea bags, coffee grounds, and kitchen scraps.
  • Washed laundry in cold water (except diapers and towels) and hung clothing to dry inside or on the line outside when weather permitted.
  • Swapped desserts with our housemate, giving us more variety and a fun shared experience.
  • Gleaned apples from an apple tree on commercial property this week, with the owner's permission.  Plan to process apples tonight for making applesauce.
  • Continue to make do with hand-me-down clothing for the baby, even with the changes in seasons, we're able to make things work with short sleeves and a few jackets.  (Most of our things from little man are the wrong season for the size that the baby's at right now.)
  • Carpooled to work four days, saving on fuel.
  • Combined errands and planned our route as much as possible to save on fuel and time.
  • Continued to advertise the upstairs rental space to be filled in December.  A few promising leads, but nothing firm yet.
  • Weeded out a few things in the closet to donate to Goodwill for a tax receipt.  Will try to do more before the end of the year.
  • Ordered two Christmas gifts for the boys using gift card money, so no funds out of pocket.
  • Began planning little man's Halloween costume using things we already have.  He wants to be a fireman this year, so his fireman raincoat and gifted fire hat will be taking on starring roles.
What did you do to live and save green this week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

October Menu Plan

This month is all about using seasonal ingredients and making use of what we have.  We have a huge stockpile right now, and we're trying to make a dent in the home equity line loan, so this month I'm focusing only on purchasing absolute necessities (usually milk, cheese, pie crust (it's just too hard to find the time to make it with two littles) and maybe yogurt or fresh fruit).  I'm also working to use our crock pot to its fullest potential, which means using it for roasted veggies, large batches of beans from dried, and soups/stews.

Here's the basic plan, recognizing that some things may shift and change if we are gifted items, especially fresh produce.

Breakfasts:  french toast casserole, banana nut muffins, zucchini flax muffins, pumpkin nut muffins, egg and cheese sandwiches, steel cut oatmeal with fruit, smoothies, baked oatmeal  (we have a lot of fruit, winter squash, and shredded summer squash in the freezer that needs to be used)

Lunches:  leftovers, roasted veggie sandwiches/wraps with hummus, bean and cheese quesadillas

Dinners:  veggie quiche, kale and chick pea stew with toast, lentil sloppy joes, winter squash waffles with bacon and smoothies, black beans and rice with fixin's, macaroni and cheese with tomatoes and green beans, black bean tacos, black bean chili and corn bread, chicken salad sandwiches with side salad, veggie stir fry with egg rolls, crock pot roasted veggies over rice, homemade pizza x 2, pesto pasta with side salad

Snacks:  roasted squash/pumpkin seeds, popcorn, winter squash pie, fresh fruit, hummus and carrot sticks

Batch cooking/putting up:  process winter squash and freeze puree, make applesauce/pear sauce and freeze, dried tomatoes, chive and sage herb butter

I'd love to hear how you're living and saving green in the kitchen this month!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week has been all about food preservation for us.  We got a boatload of tomatoes from the food pantry (heirloom green zebras), so we've been drying them and making sauces.  I've also been trying to put up some of the carrots that are rolling around in the fridge and taking up too much space.

Here are our weekly accomplishments for this week:

  • All meals were made at home.  We shared three community meals with family and friends, which helped with time and budget.
  • Took advantage of meal provided at school on a day we had a workshop
  • We made six cups of pizza sauce using this recipe.  I added some gifted mushrooms.  We froze this. (We plan to make another batch or two.)
  • We made two batches of dried tomatoes overnight in the dehydrator.
  • Processed winter squash for baby food and stored in freezer in ice cube trays.
  • Used food pantry bread for egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfasts.
  • Froze fruit from food pantry for use in smoothies and Popsicles.
  • Used brown paper bags for draining bacon rather than paper towels
  • Used crock pot to make three meals/sides
  • Composted all kitchen waste
  • Washed most laundry in cold water, except diapers.
  • Continued to hang clothes to dry, either inside on racks or outdoors.
  • Did shared family baths with the boys to save on water.
  • Used rags for cleaning and washable mop pads for mopping the floor
  • Skipped grocery shopping and relied on pantry, fridge, and freezer staples.
  • Combined errands to save on fuel
  • Carpooled to work most days
  • Began weeding and deadheading the gardens for fall.  Need to rake leaves to add to the compost or use as mulch in garden beds.
  • Had a contractor come for quotes on various jobs around the house.  Hope to compare with another contractor in a week or so and compare.
  • Posted upstairs rental space ad on Craigslist to be filled by January.  Hoping for responses soon.
  • Made new chore chart for little man and hoping to re-implement this with him so that there's more motivation to clean up toys in his room and common spaces before bed each night.  Added clearing the table and setting the table for dinner.
What about you?  What did you do to live and save green this week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week we did pretty well with sticking to our budget.  Benny did take off work on Saturday to spend the day with little man, which was awesome and I think they both benefited from a "boys day."  Mom and I took baby boy to a baby shower for my cousin (out of town), and Mom drove, which saved us on gas and wear and tear on our car.  It was a great weekend for us all and we had some much needed family time, even though we were all in different places.

  • We cooked all meals at home.  We had several shared meals, which saved time and money with meal prep.
  • We composted all appropriate kitchen scraps, brown paper, and paper towels.  We're calling this week to pick up spent grains from a local brewery for more compost material.  
  • Used the crock pot twice to fix black beans and black bean chili.
  • Made an expired corn bread mix that was donated to us.  It didn't rise as much, but tasted great, so we'll use the rest of the mix up soon.
  • Appreciated heirloom tomatoes donated to the food pantry (they came from a farm and they were the ugly ones that wouldn't sell... they donated over 150 lbs!).  They were going to be bad by Wednesday, so I took a box and made homemade pizza sauce in the crock pot.  We'll eat the rest fresh or freeze them for later use in soups.  If I weren't juggling the boys, I would have taken more to make and can salsa.
  • Used our herbs and garlic from the garden to spice up meals.
  • Made smoothies with food pantry fruit.
  • It was super doubles at HT this week, and I managed to stock up on several necessary items and keep the food budget in tact.  The bill was $40.
  • Continued to hang all clothing and diapers to dry.  The season for using the outdoor clothesline is waning, as the fall rains begin to set in, but we're making use of our drying racks and ceiling fans to dry things indoors.
  • Used family cloth and cloth wipes while at home to cut down on the use of disposables.  
  • Repurposed mismatched pillow cases for changing pad covers.  They work great and are easy to change.
  • Gratefully accepted some hand-me-downs for little man from a coworker.  He loves the new clothes, and it's nice to have a few things he can grow into.
  • Reused gift bags and greeting card fronts for gifts for a baby shower and birthday party this weekend.  Little man made a tie dye t-shirt for his friend using a kit we had, so it was a cheap gift and he had fun making it.  It's also nice that these can be made ahead and are unisex, so they work for either gender.  
  • Began getting estimates for some carpentry work we need done around the house.  We had planned to do it earlier this summer, but it just didn't happen.  We're hoping that we might get a better rate on it now that its not the busy season and people are needing jobs more.
  • Spent time weeding the garden some and planning for fall preparations.  Would like to find some free straw bales for the garlic beds so I don't have to purchase any.  
What did you do to live and save green last week?  I'd love to hear from you!  I'm linking up to The Prudent Homemaker today.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week we did pretty well with our budget.  We've thankfully filled our rental space upstairs, at least until December, so that eases the budget (and she's a great fit so far!).  We did have a hefty dental bill this week, but it was for expected cleanings for me and little man, so it was within the budget and paid with our HSA money.  The food pantry was a huge help this week and we were glad to be able to save some produce that would have otherwise gone in the dumpster.

So, here's the breakdown for those interested in specifics:

  • Made all meals at home.  We did have one treat out thanks to Mom, when a local restaurant was having a fund raiser for the food pantry.  Packed lunches from leftovers.
  • Composted kitchen scraps, brown paper, and paper towels for minimal household waste.
  • Put one quart of strawberries in the freezer from the food pantry.
  • Froze one gallon of mixed fruit from the food pantry for use in smoothies.
  • Put up two quarts of bell peppers in the freezer from the pantry and our CSA.
  • Made a quart of pickled jalapenos from some that were in the freezer that needed to be used.
  • Picked up a few veggies from the food pantry that I knew we would use in meals this week including mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and celery.
  • Used bread bowls from the pantry to make two batches of croutons.  We're loving these in soup, and they're a popular snack lately.  They are a nice free substitution for crackers, since they fit that crunchy craving.  Little man loves them.
  • Used the crock pot to make a white bean and kale soup with ingredients we had on hand, saving on electricity.
  • Took advantage of two shared meals.
  • Made mint tea with mint from the garden.  Need to harvest more to freeze or dry.
  • Spent less than $30 at the grocery store for milk, cream cheese, some yogurt, and a little fruit on sale.  Also picked up four packages of natural sausages for $2 each on discount.  We love these on the grill or in jambalaya.
  • Enjoyed snacks at our parenting class for kids with speech delays.  They provide child care, so even though we're paying for the class, we don't have the additional cost of child care.
  • Used rags to clean spills
  • Made homemade shower cleaner (need to make one for upstairs too) using white vinegar and dish soap
  • Hung most laundry to dry, except sheets and towels, which needed a quick turn around this week.
  • Used HSA money to pay for two dental cleanings, which meant that we could use this money pretax from my paycheck, saving us some in the long run.
  • Carpooled most days to work, saving on gas.
  • Continued to pump breast milk at work, saving on formula.  It is nice that the baby is getting close to solid foods, so I won't have to pump as much soon.  We keep our pumping supplies minimal, using a hand pump and one bottle that we wash between feedings.  This minimalism really helps us cut down on clutter and saves time in the long run not having to worry about set up, etc.
  • Figured out Benny's work schedule and Mom watches the boys one day so that he can work.  He's working about 12 hours a week, which is nice for the budget and gives him some time away from the boys.  Grateful to have a mom who will keep the boys for free.
  • Accepted an invitation to a baby shower.  Taking some things that we didn't need for the boys, as well as a few hand-me-downs she might appreciate.  Made a card and will reuse a gift bag.
  • Grateful for a scholarship for one of little man's preschools.  He goes two mornings a week to a speech/language preschool and two mornings to a church preschool.  The speech/language one isn't cheap, so we're glad to get help with the other.  We're hopeful that by investing now, his transition to school in a few years will be much easier.  
  • Used a gift card to purchase two bed pillows for us for Christmas (we needed some new ones badly).  The older ones will go to the boys' room.  We're trying to really use gift cards and coupons to keep holiday spending minimal. (Does anyone know how to environmentally responsibly dispose of used pillows that aren't natural materials?  I've thought of reusing the filling for something, but not sure...)
What did you do to live and save green this week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

September Menu Plan

This month, as usual, is all about making what we can at home and saving the most of our paychecks.  To that end, we're going to continue taking advantage of the gifts we get from the food pantry at church (food items clients don't want or items that will go bad before the next open day for clients), make use of our CSA veggies, and our freezer stash.  Our hope is to glean some apples later in the month from some friends for drying and making homemade applesauce and apple butter.  We'll also continue to take advantage of shared meals with family and friends, and community meals when possible to stretch our leftovers.  If I can save enough, we might use a portion of this month's budget to stock up on some wine for the year when they have the case sale at HT.  Hopefully, we can continue to keep our grocery budget to $100 or less this month, especially with still getting CSA veggies and pantry items.

So, without further ado, here's the plan for this month:

Breakfasts:  baked oatmeal (using the recipe from Simply in Season), bagels with cream cheese or as egg sandwiches, french toast casserole, blueberry muffins, winter squash muffins, zucchini flax muffins, zucchini and oatmeal waffles, egg and cheese sandwiches, smoothies, breakfast egg casserole with veggies

Lunches:  Our lunches are mostly leftovers.  Right now we're rounding out lunches with fresh tomatoes (so yummy from our CSA), salads, and seasonal fresh fruit (mostly peaches).  I know that at least one lunch this month will be free for me at school, since our PTO is doing a lunch for teachers.

Dinners:  beans and greens stew, pot roast in the crock pot, black bean chili with fresh tomatoes, peppers, and onions and corn bread on the side, veggie stir fry with egg rolls, homemade pizza with pesto and veggies x3, breakfast for dinner with homemade applesauce, tomato basil soup, meatball subs with roasted veggies, veggie wraps with hard boiled eggs

We've been doing pretty well with trying out new recipes, even amidst finding our new groove as a family of four with me back to work.  We loved the zucchini oatmeal waffles, and are anxious to try the beans and greens stew.

What about you?  I'd love to hear your menu plans, or if you've found new recipes that might be a cinch to make with two little ones in the mix!