Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shoes, simplified

Yesterday, I pulled out the boy's box of shoes from the attic. 
I had them try on their shoes from summer, then switch out the pairs that were too small with large sizes from the box. 

What is it about summer that makes children grow so quickly? 
Each of my boys had grown at least 2 shoe sizes.

Each of our boys have 4 pairs of shoes as they transition from summer to fall.

1 pair of flip flops or crocs
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 pair of boots
1 pair of cleats

When it is truly fall, the flip flops will go into the shoe box in the attic. 
I love being able to shop for the next season from our attic. 
Shopping is one of my least favorite ways to spend time, 
and I am thankful for any chance to avoid it. 

The boys shoes, as well as the most frequently worn pairs of Matt's and mine,
reside in a large wire basket in a closet off of the kitchen. 
Having a single place near the entrance to drop shoes has made life much simpler. 

For fall, I will transition out of Chaco's, and will rotate primarily between 3 pairs of shoes

1 pair of Simple Shoes
1 pair of brown knee boots
1 pair of either Converse or Kigo's

In the next week or so, I am planning to go through the bins of clothes in the attic and pull together the boys' wardrobes for fall. I am guessing that I will need to purchase at least a few things, since boys are notorious for blowing out the knees of their pants (as it is now, I have a stack of 5 pairs in the laundry room, awaiting knee patches).

If you could only have one pair of shoes to wear, which would they be? 
I would have a tough time choosing between my Chaco's and Simple Shoes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

For the love of running

I laced my running shoes at twilight, instead of the usual break of dawn.
I left my running watch at home, for the first time in months.
Instead of staring at my running stats, I delighted in how pretty the road is to our house.

And for the first time in ages, I remembered why I had started running in the first place.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Timer and 15 Minutes

This afternoon, I called my mom. When she answered, I started laughing hysterically but it was because I felt like crying.
I was totally overwhelmed.
The house was a bomb, the kids were wild and in need of naps, and I just stood in the kitchen, paralyzed into inactivity.
She was about to go out of town, and was feeling overwhelmed too with packing and the to-do list.
We reminded each other that we didn't need to do everything, we just needed to do the next thing.
We got off the phone, and set our timers for 15 minutes.

Setting my timer for 15 minutes and racing the clock is such a helpful exercise for me. It really brings me in to focus and gives me a jolt of energy. I am always amazed at how much I can accomplish in 15 minutes.
For example, this was my kitchen this afternoon:

This was my kitchen, after working for 15 minutes.

It wasn't perfect, but it was better.  As flylady says "even housework done incorrectly (or incomplete) still blesses your family!"

Thursday, August 19, 2010


                                         An organized pantry is a beautiful thing.

Mason jars are practical, timeless, and lovely.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Good Food, Small Budget, post 1B

A few more words on paring down the food budget...

Pay with cash. When I want to insure that I don't go over the budget I set, I take the money allotted for groceries out of the bank, and then leave my check card at home. This gives me no choice but to make careful, calculated purchases. And, it becomes a game to see how much I can buy with the money at hand.

When you think you can't go another day without going to the store, go one more day. Some of my most creative meals have come from the times when I think "we have nothing in the house to eat". This week is a great example of that.
Last Sunday night, I thought that I HAD to go to the store on Monday. We only had 3 eggs in the house, no sandwich bread, almost no cheese, and were low on fruit.
Additionally, I was having friends over for various meals several times during the week. I decided to make myself wait until Wednesday to go to the store, and to get creative with what was already in the pantry and fridge/freezer. Wednesday came and I decided I could wait a few more days. Now it is Sunday afternoon, and I still haven't been to the grocery store this week. I spent $31 at the health food store (kefir, bulk grains and nuts, butternut squash ravioli, toothpaste), and $2.50 at the farmer's market (mung bean sprouts). I now have 1 egg, still no sandwich bread, cheese, or fresh fruit (except for the pears that a friend brought over from their tree).
Last night, I was trying to think of a dish to make for our fellowship meal at church today. I kept thinking that I was going to HAVE to run to the store to make anything decent. I looked through the freezer and pantry several different times, waiting for inspiration to strike. In the end, I made a chow mein-like dish and some stewed pears.

Chow Mein (ish)
1 box of whole wheat spaghetti ($0.50, purchased on sale)
1 squash (free*)
1bell pepper (free*)
1 onion (free*)
mushrooms (free*)
mung bean sprouts (1/2 package, $1.25)
2 carrots ($0.25)
green beans (free*)
garlic ($0.25)

*These were all gifts from friends' gardens, with the exception of the mushrooms, which I received as a sample from a food show.
I sauteed all the vegetables (minus the mushrooms and sprouts) in a hot skillet with a little oil, just until they were warm but still crispy. After the spaghetti was cooked, and drained, I added it to the skillet of vegetables, along with the mushrooms and sprouts.

In a measuring cup, I whisked together:
1 T honey ($0.10)
2 T soy sauce ($0.10)
1 T worchestershire sauce ($0.05)
2 T garlic infused oil (free, gift)

I poured this over the mixture in the skillet, tossed, and salted to taste.
It was sooooo good and cost $2.50 to make (it easily served 6). I could have made it for much cheaper, if I had sprouted the beans myself.

In the words of Plato "Necessity is the motherhood of invention!"
Not only did I save a lot of money by staying out of the store, but I also have a yummy new dish to add to the rotation.

What are your best "make do with what you have recipes"? Do you have a dish you absolutely love, that you came up with when your pantry was bare?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good Food, Small Budget, post 1

This summer, and the last several summers, I have given myself a very meager grocery budget. In years past, the budget was $50 a week. This year, I raised the stakes, and made the budget $40 a week for 6 people (hubby and myself + 4 boys, ages 7-1). I maintained this budget for 9 weeks over the summer.

Several friends have asked me for the nuts and bolts of how I did this, so I thought I would spend a few posts outlining how I made this work for our family.

I am happy to share what worked for us, as long as it is clear that I in no way consider myself some kind of expert, nor a mama that has it all figured out. I am not saying that you should do as I do. Nor do I believe that I am doing anything radical or would turn up blog after blog and article after article, covering everything I am going to say here. However, sometimes hearing (reading) from someone who is like you, or that you can relate to, can be helpful. So, maybe some of my friends who are reading this will find it useful.

First, I would say that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a $40 a week budget for our family year-round. I choose to significantly reduce my budget in the summer, b/c we live in an agrarian area of the country, where fresh, local fruits and vegetables are available VERY inexpensively most of the year but especially in the summer. In fact, during this 9 week period, I would say that I received 90% of our produce for free from friends and families whose gardens were producing more than they could use.
During the rest of the year, my weekly grocery spending hovers in the $75-90 range.

Also, another thing that made it possible to stick to our $40 a week budget is that no one in my family has any food related allergies, or any illnesses that require dietary restrictions. My children are all generally good eaters (though they could be better), and I enjoy preparing food for my family and friends. All those factors worked in my favor for keeping our budget low.

For the rest of this post, I am going to talk about how I have worked to trim our food budget DOWN, over the last few years. My current low budget is the cumulative result of small, progressive changes to the way I shopped and prepared food.

Food is a VERY important part of my life...besides the need of food-as-sustenance, I really love to read about, think about, shop for, prepare and serve food to my family.

While my food budget it small, I place a high value on purchasing foods that are local, seasonal, healthy, and fresh.
My focus is to create as little waste as possible in my food purchases.
This is fleshed out in bringing my own reusable bags, going without produce bags whenever possible, buying foods with as little packaging as I can find, and shopping from locally owned, small businesses.

Sometimes this means paying more for some groceries than I would at a big-box store. Supporting small business owners is an important value to me, and so often I am willing to pay more for certain groceries, if I have to, in order to do that. None of these values were compromised while only spending $40 on groceries.

Here is a list of some of the ways I reduced my grocery spending:

  • I do not purchase disposable diapers, paper napkins, paper towels, zip lock bags, plastic wrap, etc. Instead, I use cloth diapers, cloth napkins and towels, tin foil (which I wash and reuse, then recycle), and rewash/reuse zip lock bags from several years ago. I do purchase toilet paper and wet wipes.
  • I do not buy meat. 90% of our meals at home are vegetarian. Occasionally, I will cook seafood, or use deer meat (which my husband killed, and was therefore free). Sometimes my husband will grill meat. When we eat meat, he purchases it through his job (he sells food to restaurants), and it was not figured in to my $40 a week budget.
  • I don't buy much dairy. If I buy yogurt, I buy a large container of plain yogurt, not the individual cartons. If I buy milk, I purchase pasteurized, non homogenized milk from a local dairy for $4.50 a gallon. I buy about 2 gallons a month. The rest of the time, we use almond milk. We do use a fair amount of butter and cheese.
  • I buy seasonal produce. That means that I buy asparagus and strawberries in April, apples and sweet potatoes in October, watermelon and sweet corn in July. Not only does it taste indescribably better, it is also much, much cheaper. Probably about 80% of the produce in our house is local and in season. Other things, such as bananas and mangoes, that will never be in season where we live, I purchase sometimes.
  • I make my own laundry detergent.
  • I buy very, very little prepackaged foods. Occasionally, I will buy a box of crackers or cereal. It is rare that I buy anything in a can or box. I really focus on buying INGREDIENTS. 
  • When something is in season, I buy a lot and either can or freeze it for later. During the summer, I fill my pantry and freezer with homemade pasta sauce, whole canned tomatoes, cream corn, green beans, blueberries, strawberries, etc. This keeps my grocery bill much lower the rest of the year, and gives us food to use that is delicious, inexpensive, and local. I didn't do much canning this year, but I did freeze a lot.
  • I shop the sales cycle. When olive oil goes on sale (Buy 1, Get 1 free), I look for a coupon online, and buy enough to last 6-8 weeks, when it will go on sale again. A bottle of extra virgin olive oil that is normally $7, would then be $3.50 when it is B1G1, plus a $1 off coupon, brings it down to $2.50, for a savings of $4.50. I usually buy 3-4 at a time, for a savings of up to $18.
  • I use a few coupons, maybe 4-5 a week, for items that we use a lot of, such as toilet paper, almonds, almond milk, and olive oil. I save them until I can pair them with a sale, for maximum savings. 
  • I buy the best ingredients I can afford. Pure maple syrup, local free range eggs, non homogenized milk from a local dairy, blocks of parmesan cheese, sourdough bread from the bakery in town, etc. Using good quality ingredients saves me money in 2 ways. First, I am more judicious with it, because I don't want to waste it and second, it is more flavorful, and a small amount can go a long way to flavoring a dish. 
  • Because my husband is in the food-sales industry, every now and then, he brings home samples. It doesn't happen that often but for the sake of full disclosure, I will mention it :)
  • Sometimes, I purchase foods in bulk from my husband. This isn't something I rely on regularly, but perhaps once every 2 months or so, I will order a big box of organic spinach, or several logs of goat cheese, which saves money.
  • My mom supplies me with fresh eggs from her chickens, blueberries from their bushes, and green beans that she cans for me that my grandparents grew. I know, I am a lucky girl. I am so, so grateful for those food gifts! 
What ways do you save money on your groceries? What is one of your biggest food-related expenses? For me, it is dried cranberries. Random, I know, but they are pricey ($4 for a small bag!) and 2 of my boys absolutely LOVE them. Also, my dark chocolate with sea salt obsession can be an expensive indulgence...especially when the boys catch me and I have to share! :)

In the next posts, I am going to talk about what I do spend my money on, and then, what a week of eating looks like around our house. 

If you want to look back, here is a post from a few years ago on the same topic:

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Short Season

While we sat there watching them play, we talked about the years to come, when we won't be bringing floaties and swim diapers, when we won't need babysitters or be confined by nap times. 

We know that when we get there, we will be remembering these days wistfully.

Sometimes, looking forward helps us appreciate the here and now.