Saturday, February 27, 2010

Non-Casserole Freezer Cooking Ideas

I just found a great post by Crystal over at Money Saving Mom. She's got ideas for freezer cooking if you and your family don't like casseroles.

I personally really like casseroles, but I've had friends ask me what they can cook ahead if their family doesn't like them. I've really been at a loss as to what to tell them!

Well, now I've got some ideas up my sleeve, and you can too--check out the info HERE.

Thanks, Crystal!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Coupon Preview

If you'd like a preview of what coupons will be included in this week's Sunday papers, check out THIS site. They update in the middle of each week, so it's worth a bookmark.

I buy my papers each week, so if I know there will be some really good ones, I'll buy extra. If the pickings look slim, then I'll just get 2 (always buy an even number so you can take full advantage of buy-one-get-one-free sales).

Happy Couponing!

Homemade Onion Soup Mix--Great Site!

I love this website--I found it a few years back. Her advice is so helpful, and she has a lot of practical ideas for cutting costs and living frugally.

Hillbilly Housewife

Specifically, I wanted to keep track of her recipe to make your own Onion Soup mix--you know, the kind that costs a ridiculous amount of money at the store, considering it's basically beef bullion and dried onions.

Prepare to spend a little time looking around over there, it's a great site.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday To Swagbucks!

Today is Swagbucks 2nd birthday and to celebrate they've unveiled a new look to their website. I just missed a code for 7 swagbucks, but there will be more to come today, from the sounds of things.

If you haven't signed up yet, do it today--Frugal Coupon Living has a bonus code for new members worth 60 Swagbucks!

Throughout the day today, The Swag Guy will be revealing new ways to earn swagbucks besides just searching, too!

I really like the new look of the Swagbucks home page and the new features sound exciting. There's really no reason not to join up and start earning free stuff!

Check it out HERE.

UPDATE! Another website claims to have a bonus code for new members--if you decide to sign up, go HERE to get the code. You'll see a box like this on the right side of the Swagbucks home page:

You just enter the bonus codes in that box and your account is credited. Fun!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Random Dozen!

I have no brain power to think of an original blog post for today, because I'm totally grossed out by the spaces where I had two teeth pulled today. UGH.

1. Have you ever fired a gun or shot a bow and arrow? Yes, my first boyfriend was the hunting type, and he taught me to shoot a gun. I shot a bow and arrow in PE in 7th grade.

2. Do you know where your childhood best friends are? Mostly, thanks to Facebook! LOL

3. Do you usually arrive early, late, or on time? I used to be the early type, but 13 years and 8 kids have transformed me into the perpetual latecomer to everything.

4. Are you more of a New York or California type? I've never been to New York, but I loved California when I visited years ago. I think after living a slow-paced life in the Midwest, I'd be more suited to beaches than high-rises.

5. Do you have a special ring tone? No, but I helped my DH get some great ones for his phone.

6. What is your favorite type of chip? Sour Cream and Cheddar Wavy Lays. Yum!

7. Best comedy you've ever seen is .... Jim Gaffigan

8. Have you ever cut your own hair? Yes
To quote Dr. Phil, "How'd that work for ya?" It was actually ok--I didn't do anything drastic, but took off a couple inches.

9. If you were going to have an extreme makeover, would you rather it be about your house or your personal self? It can't be both? Probably the house, then--I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin.

10. Are you allergic to anything? An anesthetic I received during tonsil surgery as a kid--they don't use it much anymore, I'm told. Food-wise, lots of things--but I've 'outgrown' most of them, and pretty much eat what I want now.

11. Why is it so hard to change? Maybe so we'll have to depend on God to help us--it's pretty much futile to try it on our own.

12. One last question dedicated to February love: CS Lewis said, "To love is to be vulnerable." Please share one example of that assertion or share any thought you'd like to about this topic.
There is so much potential for rejections and disappointment when you give your heart to someone. The Bible says in Proverbs, "Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." I think we do our kids a huge disservice by not teaching them to guard their hearts, and they suffer so much for it sometimes. But once you've found the one you're committed to stay with for the rest of your life, and that love is returned--what a gift!

Making Do

How often, in this convenience-centered world of ours, do we miss opportunities to learn new skills because we think we don't have time?

If you're a mom committed to living frugally, or just starting out trying to cut expenses, I have a challenge for you. I'm not going to ask you to give up any and all convenience foods and make everything from scratch. BUT--the next time you start cooking something for supper and see you're out of one of the ingredients, see if you can 'make do' with something you have on hand. Or if you start a project and are missing a non-essential element, use your imagination to see what you can come up with as a replacement.

I think that so many times, we overlook our capacity for creativity. If we give ourselves a minute to stop and think, I think we could be surprised by what we can do.

People often look at my craft projects and tell me I'm so creative and they could never do that. But that's really not true! I grew up as the bookworm who always followed directions and did what she was told. My mother often reprimanded me for not thinking about what I was doing and not having common sense. I never even took an art class after elementary school--it was never required in Jr. High and High School. I think you get my drift that I'm not naturally the artistic/creative 'type'.

But I *learned* to be creative through the first years of marriage when money was tight and new babies were showing up every other year. I *had* to make do with what I had, because we couldn't afford to run to the store every day or two, and even if I could--we all know that dragging little kids to the store in the middle of the afternoon when they're all tired and/or hungry, is not a fun time.

So, I substituted different types of pasta. Or used canned veggies instead of frozen. Or made up my own seasoning mixes from recipes found online. As time went on, I got more daring. Out of tater tots for tater tot casserole? I bet french fries would work fine. No tortilla chips? I can make some out of tortillas--flour or corn, baked or fried.

I learned to make my own bread if we ran low for the week. Make biscuits so I didn't have to buy the canned ones. Found a recipe for homemade cream of chicken soup that I could use in a pinch, and taped it inside my cupboard so it would be handy.

If you're low on milk for mashed potatoes, mix together some sour cream and water or broth and use that (hey, it's dairy--and it's pretty yummy, even!) What about that can of evaporated milk in the back of the cupboard--reconstitute it by adding an equal amount of water, and you're in business for baking or cooking pretty much anything.

And, while I've focused on cooking here, this mentality really can spill over into anything you do. I ran out of gallon-sized baggies last week. So as I used up the contents of a few baggies in the fridge, I quickly shook/wiped them out and re-used them. Sewing projects can be completed using un-needed pillowcases, worn-out jeans, or unloved shirts. Need to organize a drawer? Try the boxes from those bricks of processed American cheese, nice and sturdy. Or cut down cereal boxes to the right size. I've got my entire medicine/health cabinet organized with these, labeled on the ends so I can see at a glance where things are.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Let's see what we can accomplish, and how much money we can save our households, by 'making do'.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snow Day Activities

Well, have you reached the end of your patience for snow days? We've had so many of them this year! Being a homeschooler, they really *shouldn't* affect me much, but just knowing that the public schools have the day off, does something to my motivation.

And you all know that snow makes kids go crazy, right? (And if you didn't before, you do by now!)

So, here is a list I put together of some 'fun' activities that my kids don't get to every day. Maybe they're a little messy, or take a bit more of your time than you're usually willing to give up. But maybe you're in a place where you're willing to sacrifice a little to keep the kids happy and occupied. *smile*

  • Puzzles
  • Play-doh
  • Obstacle Course (set up 'cones' to run around, chairs/benches to climb over, cushions to jump on, etc.)
  • Board Games
  • Card Games
  • Memory (I hate picking up all those little cards afterwards, so this one doesn't come out often)
  • Lacing cards/shapes for little ones
  • Block Party--go on a hunt all through the house to find all those lost blocks. Then bring them all to the living room and built a giant city/fort/tower together!
  • Boxes--my little kids love to play with boxes. If you have any that are big enough to sit/stand in, you've got instant cars, trains, houses, or whatever else your kids imagine.
  • Tents--set up a real one, or drape blankets over chairs
  • Legos
  • Tea Party
  • Wii Sports Tournament (maybe video games are a cop-out, but when you pit the whole family against each other in a tournament, it gets pretty interesting!)
  • Cut & Paste pictures/collages
  • Paint pictures
  • Play/Puppet Show--some kids are born for this kind of thing :)
  • Science Experiments
Or, if it's the end of the day and you just don't have the energy for any of the above, just sit on the couch and start reading aloud. I bet it won't be long before you're surrounded by quiet kids. :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Swagcode right now!

Check out the widget in my sidebar--hover your mouse over the words 'code alert!' and it will give you the code. It's good until 6 pm central time. Hurry--gotta love those free swagbucks!

Watch That Register!

I was reminded again recently of the number one, basic, frugal shopping tip.

Watch the register.

Since I've been couponing, I've been more motivated to look over my shopping receipts to be sure that items rang up at the correct price, and that all my coupons were deducted. It's great fuel to review how much you saved and keep up the hard work.

But you'd be AMAZED at how many times the register is wrong!

Some stores, like my local grocery store, may have policies to keep them accountable. Here in my little town, our store promises that items will scan at the correct price or you get it free.

Now, I don't like taking advantage of this policy. I get embarrassed when pointing out other people's mistakes (unlike when I was a teenager *grin*).

But when I'm being charged regular price for an item that is on sale--usually a good 40-50% savings--I'll speak up.

This weekend, I bought some cookies that were on sale, using a great coupon that brought the price down to 50 cents per package. I don't buy cookies often, but I can't make them for that low price!

Imagine my frustration when I got home and saw that I had paid DOUBLE the price they were advertised for. You can bet that I drove back to the store and pointed out the error. Especially since I had purchased two packages, and thus was penalized twice for a computer/programming error. The manager on duty was happy to refund my money with just a quick glance at the receipt and the copy of the ad that I had brought with me, verifying that the sale was in effect the day I made the purchase.

Now, don't think I'm happy about this--I would much rather have just paid the correct price in the first place, and saved myself another trip to the store. But it would have been easier on me if I'd just watched the register while checking out, or at least checked over it in the parking lot before driving away.

Just don't be embarrassed to question the register receipt--I don't think there are many cashiers, or managers, these days who would take it personally. Don't we all blame computers for most of our mishaps these days? Your eagle eye could keep you from paying too much--or even end up getting something free. If you don't watch out for you, who will?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Never Buy Waxed Paper Again

So maybe you don't like waxed paper as much as I do. Growing up, it was always around and being used to protect counters, cover foods in the microwave, and wrap up goodies.

Well, you'll never believe how much waxed-paper-equivalent you've been throwing away! A good friend was amazed that I had never heard of using the bags from boxes of cereal.

I have to admit, the thought had NEVER occurred to me.

But they work perfectly! For no-bake cookies or 'people chow' snacks, it's great to use one of those bags, opened up to lay flat and in one layer, to protect the counter. Nothing sticks to it. It's already pre-cut into multi-purpose pieces, just pull the bag open along its seams, or use scissors instead.

It's very easy to shake the crumbs out after finishing a box of cereal, and simply fold it up and place it in the drawer with the plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Or save an empty box from sandwich baggies and stow the pieces in there.

Check out THIS SITE with even more uses for this trash-turned-treasure!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Double Swagbucks Day!

It's Friday! You know what that means--double Swagbucks!

Search for anything and everything using as your search engine. You'll get great results because their engine is powered by both Google *and*

Your swagbucks will add up even more quickly when you install their toolbar, making it super simple to use their search from any site on the web.

You can also refer friends and earn swagbucks when they do! Or trade in your old cell phone or video games to add to your earnings.

The Swagbucks gang are a generous bunch, and frequently send special 'swag codes' into cyberspace via their newsletters, blog, twitter, and the like.

Sign up today so you can get in on the 7 bonus swagcodes and TRIPLE Swagbucks on February 25--the second birthday of the web's premier digital dollar.

Have I mentioned how much I love swagbucks? There's something about 'winning' that just makes me happy! LOL It always puts a smile on my face when I do a search and get a swagbuck.

What can I say--I'm easy to please. :)

But I just earned my second Amazon gift card of 2010 --you can't beat FREE money! Surely that would please anyone. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cooking on a Budget

I found a great blog that shows, step-by-step, how to create delicious and frugal meals for your family, without skimping on nutrition.

$5 Dinners

I subscribe to her e-mails and get one several times a week. They usually feature a yummy original recipe and/or money-saving grocery shopping tips. I've really appreciated the way she demonstrates skills essential to living on a budget: shopping the store sales, meal planning, and working with what you've got instead of running to the store constantly to buy expensive ingredients.

I made her Roasted Red Potato Salad this evening and it was fabulous! My kids aren't big on potato salad, but I didn't hear any complaints about this one. I love the texture of the spuds when roasted instead of boiled--so creamy and delicious. Give it a try, or any of her other free recipes!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Younger Man

The other day as I was teaching history to a few of my kids, my 3 year old climbed into my lap. In an uncharacteristic moment of affection, G. smilingly stroked my face as he said, "I just love you, Mommy. We're married!"

I apologized to my dh later, as I told him I just couldn't resist the younger man who swept me off my feet. :)

You can't beat that to brighten a mommy's day!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spanish Language Podcast for Beginners

I found THIS podcast over the weekend--News in Slow Spanish. I've only listened to one so far, but it's so nice to practice when I'm busy with other things and can't sit at the computer for lessons at, or at the table to do exercises in my book.

I really appreciate the fact that they're speaking slowly and they even repeat phrases here and there to be sure you understood. The podcast notes are so helpful because, while they are also in spanish, phrases and words that may be unfamiliar to you have english translations. You just hover your mouse over those words and the translation pops up.

The podcast is free, as well as a few additional helps such as partial transcripts and short lists of expressions, and more. Much of that extra content is abbreviated, though, and requires a paid subscription to see it all.

Any other good spanish language media out there that I should know about?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Something to Keep You Busy!

OK, for all those deal-hunters and bargain shoppers, HERE's a post for you!

Frugal Coupon Living has a great summary of current deals and freebies over at her blog.

This is one I'd recommend subscribing to, she is always posting some great information!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Swagbucks Birthday Bash!

If you haven't already joined Swagbucks, now is the time! They are celebrating their second birthday, beginning February 25, with lots of fun 'festivities'--which usually means bonus swagbucks for us!

Go ahead and join up now, and if you do twitter and facebook, or have a blog, be sure to follow them and/or put their widget on your blog. That way, you'll be sure to know how to get your bonus bucks when the party begins on the 25th.

Go HERE to check it out and join up!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Baby Knitting!

I don't know if I mentioned it, but as of Sunday evening, my first foray into fair-isle.....failed.

Well, really, it was more like sabotage.....of the toddler variety. Due to mommy-brain malfunction. I seemed to forget about one year olds and yarn, since it's been SOOO long since I've had a one-year-old. (insert sarcasm here *smile*)

Anyway, I'm moving on because we've got a new member of the (extended) family! A dear cousin welcomed a sweet baby girl into the world Sunday night, so I'm knitting with PINK.

If I've got enough yarn, I'll make matching berets for baby and big sis. We'll see when we get the baby version done.

Yay for plain stockinette (even if only for 3 inches). Oh, how I've missed thee.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Super Bowl Recipe--Crab Rangoon

I just wanted to post this here so I wouldn't lose the link. We're hosting a Super Bowl party for some friends this Sunday, so I'm figuring out my food plan.

I checked out some ideas HERE and HERE, then stumbled upon THIS. It's a recipe for Baked Crab Rangoon. I LOVE crab rangoon! And to have it at home, without all the mess of frying, sounds heavenly.

Definitely going to try this. Any favorite appetizer recipes out there?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bulk Cooking Day

I told you I was planning to do some 'freezer cooking' the other day. Well, Saturday came along without any activities to take me out of the house, so I charged ahead with the plan.

I started out by browning about 6 pounds of hamburger with 3 diced onions. That was a lot of meat in one big pan! When you have that much meat to cook, it really does take a while, so I just set it on medium heat and stir it around now and then while I'm doing other things.

In the meantime, I started shredding the chicken that had cooked in the crockpot all Friday night. I got some great deals on IQF chicken breasts last weekend and stocked up. I love having cooked chicken in the freezer to throw into casseroles or mexican dishes! I got 2 quart bags of shredded chicken, and another bag FULL of chopped chicken.

Once that was done, I started mixing up some bread dough. I don't have any big fancy kitchen machine/bread maker type things, but I've got my KitchenAid and I love him. (Yes, it's a he. Humor me.) So we whipped up some dough and got it to rising.

Next up were the meatloaves. I doubled our usual recipe HERE and had the brilliant idea to just shove the meat mixture into a couple of gallon-size freezer baggies and squish it into shape and freeze just like that. I usually line a loaf pan with foil, add the meatloaf, wrap the whole thing up nicely, freeze, then remove the meatloaf from the pan (still wrapped in foil) and stick that whole thing into a baggie.

I've gotten away from using loaf pans for meatloaf anyway, so this way I can just pop the frozen meat-chunk out of the baggie and into my 9x13 pan to thaw in the fridge before baking. It just saves the step of messing with foil. Nothing like this is ever in my freezer long enough to need that extra layer, anyway. *smile*

That afternoon, I was joined by two of my dear daughters who wanted in on the cooking fun. (okay, so it was getting to be quite a bit of work by now, and I kind of begged them to help. But I think they kind of enjoyed it. A little, anyways.) One whipped up a batch of muffins, which went into the oven as soon as the bread came out. The other kept busy cooking pancakes--a chore no one ever wants to do first thing in the morning! We will all enjoy these special breakfast treats in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I used up the last of my thawed hamburger by forming it into hamburger patties and freezing. I really don't enjoy frying hamburgers, so we don't eat them much in the winter. But a couple of the kids had asked for them recently, so I guess I can suffer through it. *smile*

I mixed up another batch of bread dough and some dough for dinner rolls at some point, though it's all a blur right now. I just put the bread dough in the freezer to use later--maybe it will be bread, maybe pizza crust. I like leaving my options open.

I went ahead and formed the dinner rolls, then froze the dough balls on cookie sheets before I put them all into freezer baggies. I plan to thaw the dough overnight (next weekend) in order to bake next Sunday morning for our church's potluck lunch.

All in all, a successful freezer cooking day! I like looking over the list of everything we got done:

2 loaves bread
2 lbs. bread dough
2 dozen dinner rolls
2 meatloaves
10 hamburger patties
5 qt. bags browned hamburger
3 qts. cooked chicken
2 dozen muffins
17 LARGE pancakes