Farewell to March

It rained this morning.  The photo above is a rainy morning last summer, but it looks remarkably like this morning, even to the leaves on the trees.  It was as dark at 9am as it had been at 7am when light was just beginning to break and then the thunder and lightning and rain began.  I wasn't unhappy.  We needed the rain and I had planned to stay home today anyway.  What better than rain to make me feel quite happy with my choice?

It is the last day of March...Does it seem as though it's flown by to anyone else?  It most certainly has seemed so to me.  I won't bother to share my progress with March goals.  Truth told I accomplished very little, dismally little.  It wasn't a good month for my plans.  I did manage to keep apace of housework and of the deeper cleaning chores I'd meant to do.  One reason for that was I soon learned that windows of opportunity had to be taken advantage of, so the odd afternoon at home when I'd thought I wouldn't be meant I hopped to and did housework and reviewing my lists of tasks soon revealed lots of little jobs that could be done in fifteen or thirty minutes.  I did those while waiting for coffee to brew or when I was waiting for John to be ready to leave or I was ready earlier than expected for an appointment.

Thrifty Thursday - Preparing for Pantry/Freezer Challenge

 Homemade cookies fill the cookie jars at our house.  I made two different batches this week.  I'll need to make more Sunday...John's liked these cookies very well.

Friday:  We had a terrific time at the EMS dinner last night.  Won a very nice door prize, a gift card we'll be putting to good use.  It means we'll have a nice windfall amount left in each of our personal savings accounts...I think mine might be used to buy slipcovers for two of the living room chairs.

Ever have one of those days when you really just don't want to cook?  I knew when I woke this  morning I was having such a day and you all know how much I love to cook.  Never mind.  I made an easy breakfast (sausage and waffles) then pulled a prepared entree from the freezer to thaw.  My 'cooking' today involved heating up that casserole and making croutons from bread I'd stored in the freezer.

AC turned up as soon as John got up this morning (well before I did, we were out very late last night).

For reasons known only to Maddie she felt possessed to tear my cilantro out of the pot it was planted in last night and half dig up one of those palms I was debating possibly maybe getting rid of as well.  Sigh...I didn't sweep that soil off the porch into the yard, but am 'recycling' it adding in fresh dirt and using it to repot other plants. 

April Pantry Freezer Challenge

April is fast approaching and you know what that means?  Time to adjust the budget for all those little unexpected increases and decreases that occurred in the first quarter of the year.  We've had our share here in the Blue House, let me assure you.  I know that come this season of the year we have fewer holidays (that means a pay decrease), we've seen the effects of the tax credits that weren't renewed (another decrease), electricity usage will go up (increase), gasoline has gone UP (increase) and groceries, too (another increase).  Unfortunately all those increases are on the wrong side of the budget sheet!  The money coming in must be stretched just a bit tighter.  Fortunately I had some wiggle room.

However, we will have less of a cushion each month for the next three months.  My husband wants me to be more vigilant in stocking up our spare freezer (there's nothing in it and hasn't been since I filled the bigger freezer) and pantry.  Well the money must come from somewhere if I'm to stock up and so I've decided  the most fitting way to do so is to do a pantry freezer challenge.  This is where I take the regular grocery budget and buy foods for the pantry and freezer, keeping purchases for current eating to a minimum of produce/dairy items and pet food.  I'll be doing this challenge for the month of April.

Menu Monday - Planning Ahead

I decided this week I needed to plan ahead, so I started working out menus yesterday.  I didn't quite get finished then but I had a good start which made it even easier to make the rest of the plans this morning.  It's Spring here.  The mornings are cool and the days are a little warmer.  I don't want food that is too lightweight nor too heavy.  It's a balancing act!  I think I have a good plan to work with for the week.

Monday:    Chicken Paprikash, Rice, Green Beans, Russian Salad
I'll make just a half recipe of the chicken dish.  I only took out two breasts to thaw.  I'll make extra rice to use later in the week.  Our salad will be shredded lettuce, sliced beets and hard boiled egg slices with a tomato vinaigrette dressing.

Tuesday:  Steak, Cheesy Potatoes, Tossed Salad
I'll divide this sirloin into three portions and cook just two for today.

Thrifty Thursday - Later than usual

A pre-makeover preview.  Muslin $2 from thrift store, accent pieces are color options to match pillows bought on sale and stored last year.  New color scheme will be cream, chocolate, celery or fern green. 

Friday:  I knew I had to spend the day doing things outside the home, so I tried to accomplish what I could before I left.  I didn't however, rush about or push hard to accomplish too much.  The day ahead of me was bound to be stressful, why add to it while at home?  I've learned this lesson the hardest way possible: experience.  This might not seem like a 'savings' tip but think about it and you'll see that it is.  Being less stressed when I start out 'saved' me a world of frustration and aggravation.  Going into my day more relaxed meant less stress...Seeing the pattern here?

A few weeks ago I found a small metal box with a handle, more than likely a makeup box but I looked at it and saw a box suitable for John's microphones to travel in...Only thing it lacked was a nice thick foam padding to keep the mikes stable and cushioned.  Ha!  Mama had an orthopedic wedge meant to be a throw away after use that happened to be dense and thick foam.  I looked at it and saw a suitable filler for that Mike Box.  So did my husband when I brought it home.

The petunias that wintered over on the front porch this year have rewarded me well by opening into dozens of blooms this morning. 

We're using AC already. The air outdoors is 'misty' looking with pollen and smoky too with lots of controlled burns going on.  I find it's important to monitor our usage but coming out of 'winter' and into 'summer' so soon means that our tolerance for summer is low.  We started with the AC set on 70.  Every day I've been slipping it up one degree higher. Now we're at our more usual setting of 76. Next adjustment is for the 'night time' temperatures.

Menu Plan Monday - Changing Routines

Good Morning!  I meant to get an early start on menu planning this morning.  We've a slight change in routine this week and John promoted change for grocery shopping, one I'm not sad to have occur.  He suggested last night that we shop on Wednesday for groceries.  I told him I'd meant to do it on Tuesday since he had other things to do on Wednesday this week.  He was disappointed!  Seems he's enjoyed this process of going out for groceries on his first day off, he finds it relaxing.  Who knew?  So I'm changing a pattern I've had for the past 16 years:  I'll now be shopping on Wednesday.  This is ideal in many ways as it will mean I can shop weekly (when he's off and again the following week when he returns to work).  I"ll be better able to take advantage of sales (hopefully lowering my costs overall) and no longer do Big Shop, which I've been slowly working away from anyway.

Our weather is very warm at the moment so I'm looking at warm weather foods.  I'm not fooled though.  Reading through past newsletters I find many mentions of cold April days and nights despite warm March temperatures. This week it's warm days all the way.  I'll have to plan meals accordingly.

Monday:  Tacos, Corn, Spiced Molten Lava Cakes
I'd meant to have tacos yesterday but worked too long and too hard and was too hungry to make a fussy meal.  I wanted food right away and managed to find something.  Today I'm planning to work ahead.  I'll go ahead and cook and season the ground beef, prep the vegetables and all I'll need to do later is to heat the meat and corn, while I fry the tortillas.  I can handle that no matter how hard I work.

Thrifty Thursday-Late Like Everything Else This Week!

My fancy Asparagus keeper, just an a pewter stein with a bit of water and sides high enough to hold the asparagus upright.  It worked very nicely and kept the asparagus fresh for a full week after I bought it.  And you know I saved the end pieces I snapped off, right?  Cream of asparagus soup will be on my menu next week.

Friday:  Tried a hint I found online.  Take a bunch of bananas, break away two or three and put the rest of the bunch in a plastic baggie (I used a produce bag), and seal it.  Theory is the bananas outside the bag will ripen while those in the bag will remain green.  We'll see how this works.  Worse comes I'll have more ripe bananas than I'd planned on, right?  This much I know thus far.  The three we left out were almost ripe today.  The three in the bag look about as they did two days ago. ***We took these out of the bag this Tuesday and they were just ripe.  I will do this again in future.  However, I must buy smaller bunches...I now have three ripe bananas that no one seems to want to eat!***

My meal plan for tomorrow included strawberry shortcake.  I decided to make a plain yellow cake as the base. I used the same recipe I made in February for our baby birthday cakes.  It was so good plain that I figured it would be equally as delicious as my shortcake base.  I usually prefer a real shortcake (sort of an overgrown sweet biscuit) but the truth is it's a bit messy to cut and serve.  The yellow cake will cut nicely and if there are leftovers I can frost the rest of the cake for our own use.

John asked I make beef stew.  The day dawned rainy and cooler, perfect weather for stew in my opinion.  The package of beef was more than we required for stew, so I put half in the freezer for shish kebab later next month.

Coffee Chat

I know I've been awfully lax about writing of late.  I've been so busy...First there was Mama's hip surgery and the first week I spent 6 days out of 8 running to the hospital or nursing home.  I've managed to stay away since last Tuesday without a bit of trouble.  I'm glad of that.  The gasoline costs alone were starting to stack up rather high and deplete our balance a bit.

Wednesday John and I needed a break from job, hospital, and other things and so we took a lovely drive into the foothills to the grocery there.  I'd recently been shopping at Aldi's and I was really liking how inexpensive they were...and I found out just how much so.  At the grocery in the foothills: Milk was nearly $5 a gallon (Aldi's price $1.98), a four pack of baby artisan lettuces $4.99 (Aldi's had it on sale two weeks before for just $.99, the very same product name and packaging!).  I spent every penny of my money and the 'extra' I'd set aside for our groceries that day and we easily toted in all we bought without a strain.

Not regretting the shopping trip at all.  We love the views along Highway 19N and always enjoy that ride.  On the way back we took an older route, a former stagecoach road through a historic old town.  Little did I know my appetite was just being whetted for the weekend.

Menu Monday - I'm So Late!

I know I'm terribly late and I've got no good excuse, except letting time slip away.  We were tired after our long weekend, a great weekend, but long, and I sat down to dream of the past via old photos and history sites and next thing I knew I was delving into family lines and got excited about my findings.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  Afraid I enjoyed it so much that I got up this morning and went at it again.  I'd meant to do other things.  I did look over the household lists for the month (we won't discuss those, okay?) and my goals list for the month (no talking about that one either).

For all that wasting time having fun, I did plan meals for the first part of the week or so...

Monday:  Barbecued Beef Ribs, Potatoes Au Gratin, Slaw, Strawberry Shortcake
We bought these ribs at the meat market and boy were they good!  Next time I'll probably put them in the crock pot to tenderize them still more, but oh boy was my homemade Bbq sauce good.  Really enjoyed that.  The shortcake was leftovers from our Oneg dinner dessert.  That was pretty tasty too.  I didn't make a shortcake proper but a yellow butter cake, the same recipe used for our birthday cakes last month.

Bits and Pieces That Make Up My History

I was so pleased when Granny gave me this cat and two kittens...I'd considered them 'mine' for as long as I can remember...

I don't know the history of these three little pieces, nor how old they are.  Labels were once upon their bottom sides but only glue remains.  The ear of the kitten on the left is chipped badly and the Mama cat's legs have been broken and glued back on.  I am afraid I was responsible for each of those breaks.

Granny kept these cats on the mantel for as long as I can recall.  When we'd stay overnight, she'd make up an army cot for one of my brothers, a folding bed for me (which was, by the way, wonderfully comfortable.  The old mattress was of the same sort of rolled cotton used in quilts and quite thickly stuffed), and another bed on the sofa for my other brother.  We almost always slept in the living room in those early days visits.  No doubt because it was the warmest in the house in winter and right near Granny's bedroom.

Thrifty Thursday

Daffodils planted this past fall.  A bag of 40 odd cost about $10.  They should multiply and come back for years and years to come.  There's a toxicity about the bulbs and stems that keep deer and moles away from them, and they are somewhat drought tolerant as well.  A very hardy perennial to add to any yard, I think. Even those that Maddie chose to lie down upon have bloomed, albeit while lying flat upon the ground.  I'm happy I finally listened to my inner longing and bought them!

Friday:  John's phone stopped working last night.  We tried all the fixes we knew, but it turned out to be a problem with the ear piece/headphone jack.  Thankfully we've had insurance on his phone and the carrier replaced it for just $45 a savings of nearly $150 to us.

 I spent nearly all day long with Mama at the hospital, getting her admitted to nursing home, etc.  I ended up eating a very late dinner/early supper at a restaurant nearby the nursing home while waiting for her to be transported.  I ate at a place famous for it's lovely gift shop.  I didn't spend a dime extra on gift items.  And I thank goodness I had the last of last pay period's grocery money upon me to use to purchase my meal.

Stopped at Mama's to leave her car (which we'd thought we'd need to do the transfer) and went ahead and 'worked ahead' watering her plants.  The idea was to avoid a stop on Sunday.

It was a pretty rotten day all around for one reason and another and I worked hard when I got back home at 5:30 to have the house completely ready for Shabat at sunset.  I was tired beyond words.  My husband came in later and took over.  He ran a tub of warm water, lit candles and incense, ordered me to get in the tub and soak, put on soothing music, turned out the lights and shut the door, leaving me alone.  Not one of those things cost extra but I'll vouch I'd never have done any of them for myself, simply because I've gotten out of the habit of tending to myself in that manner. My husband made the wheels in my brain turn a bit, wondering just why it is I'd forgotten something so simple and soothing as taking time for myself.  

I got Sunshine...

 For months now I've been complaining about my camera's date...Just realized it is set just fine, merely in European format and not the more usual American MM/DD/YYYY format.  Huh.  I am easily confused by things like that.

I was not feeling well the day I took this first photo.  The sunlight coming into the window was dazzling and the violets look so healthy and pretty.  I just love the way the window blind creates a shadow and sunlight mix upon the plants.

Menu Monday - Semi Home Cooking

I don't think I made more than two meals at home last week.  Mama had hip surgery and while I carried a meal along on the surgery day, the rest of the week was shot.  I was so busy gathering stuff she needed, going about trying to get things taken care of, that when I'd start to head home it was late and I was struggling with tiredness, hunger and overwhelm.  I ate out a lot.

My menu plan for last week:  1 meal got made.  That was it.  I can't even remember what was on my menu plan, sigh.

This week things are still in the air, but there's some opportunity for routine too.  I might make it through this if I can hang on to the normal days.  Meals won't be difficult by any means, but boy they will taste better than anything I had last week!

Monday:  Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Salad, Homemade Croutons
The croutons were courtesy one of my meals out this past week.  I stopped at Olive Garden and brought home the bread sticks (and half my entree).  We used one of the bread sticks for our Shabat bread and I used the rest to make croutons for salads.

Thrifty Thursday

In the mood for new porch furnishings last year, I repainted the pieces I had.  $3.59 a can for paint vs. $359 for a new table and chairs...I like my 'new' furniture a great deal.

Friday:  Cooked four chicken breasts, only seasoning two for our dinner.  The rest were set aside.  

While I was working on prepping dinner, I worked ahead and prepped more of the same vegetables (onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms) and grated cheese  for pizza that night.  The pizza dough was homemade. 

Leftover rice was put in the fridge for another meal.

Made the Easy Molten Lava cakes by the recipe posted last week.  I got four little cakes.  We set two aside for dessert later in the weekend.
Leftover pizza put in fridge for another meal.

I used up the last of a jar of spaghetti sauce I'd opened last weekend as sauce for my pizza.  

Made rolls from the leftover dough to have as our Shabat bread.

Washed a full load of dishes.

Diary for July: Week Two

July 7, Shabat Saturday:   So very much I want to chatter over today and perhaps I will...I don't typically write on Shabat, having al...