Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Spending Freeze

If you haven't already guessed it, I tend to lean a bit toward the frugal side of life. Not cheap mind you, but frugal. (There is a difference, trust me!) I wasn't always this way, in high school money burned through my pockets as soon as I could make it to the mall. In college I, um, well, you know that credit card that my dad gave me for emergency purposes? Yeah, I learned what 'over limit fees' were and found out quickly that my parents' idea of emergency did not include The Gap or American Eagle.
After graduating, I found myself engaged to be married to a man who was in the process of beginning a decade of post graduate schooling and training, and so we had to learn the art of budgeting very quickly! I thought I did a good job of clipping coupons and shopping the sales, but about two and a half years ago with the arrival of Mistress, I decided to try out an experiment that I had read about. We went on a month-long spending freeze. It was one of the best things we have ever done.
For one month, we did not purchase any extras. All of our regular bills (mortgage, utilities, preschool tuition, etc) were paid as usual but all the extras were slashed. We lived on a strict budget of $100 a week that had to cover all gas, groceries, diapers, and toiletries, as well as anything else that popped up. Sound like a lot? It's not. Trust me. $100 a week for a month for a family of five was tight. I learned a lot though, and my shopping habits have been changed since then. It has been proven that it takes about three weeks to learn a new habit. By doing a budget freeze for a month, I was able to effectively change my shopping habits. I stopped impulse purchases, stayed away from the dollar bins, and stopped running to the store for those last forgotten items. I went to the grocery with a strict list and went only ONCE per week. I learned to make do with what was in the house for dinner, used up the things in the cupboard, and came up with creative solutions for needs that popped up. It was a successful experiment. So successful that we decided to begin doing it annually. Make that bi-annually. Two months out of every year, we freeze the budget. It helps to solidify those good habits and cleans out the cupboards. This time, we will be setting the budget slightly higher, at $125 a week. (Our reasoning being that we now have three children to feed, as the last time MM was still nursing and now she eats like a regular three year old!) I will also allow one mid week milk and banana run, since we no longer have an extra fridge to keep the extra, and bananas are the only fruit Buggy will eat these days. Think we can do it? Keep tabs on me! I'll be posting a week by week progress! Starting tomorrow, no more extras! Goes well with Stashbusting September, right? Make sure to sign up, it starts tomorrow!!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Dinner

Hey there! Sorry about yesterday, my parents were in town visiting and so we all headed off to Jim 'n Nick's Bar-b-que for dinner. YUM!!! Anyway, instead of Sunday dinner this week I'm posting Monday Dinner as an alternative. Better late than never, right? In an attempt to be completely honest though, I have to tell you that I actually cooked all this on Friday...

So on the menu was The Easiest Dinner EVER, a Mexican crockpot concoction that I was just dying to try. It was SO good and really lived up to it's description of the easiest dinner ever. Seriously, maybe a five minute prep time.
And second, we had the Two Ingredient Lemon Bars. Again, super simple and I will most definitely make them again. They were light with a fantastic flavor. I will say though that I baked them for about an extra 10 minutes, 20 minutes just didn't cut it in my oven.
So there you have it, my fast and easy Sunday turned Monday cooked on Friday dinner. Hope you enjoy! Don't forget, in just a few more days begins Stashbusting September, and I'm taking it a step further. Not only am I not buying any crafting supplies in September, I am also doing a budget freeze! Yup, more on that later, but suffice it to say September will be a lean month in the household!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Dinner

The garden is going CRAZY!!! Well not all of it, but the tomatoes are plentiful and I haven't yet killed my basil plant. :) I have a TON of tomatoes, and there is nothing better than cooking with something that you picked fresh from your garden. So with that in mind, I used these:
And this:
Added some garlic...
And made an AMAZING Chicken Bruschetta Bake. Yum! It's actually a pretty light dish, so it's great for summer. I also like that it's a one dish meal, it's colorful, and most importantly, my children eat it without complaining. (Everyone except Buggy who doesn't like chunks of tomatoes. Can't win them all...)
Then for dessert I made Brown Sugar Banana cupcakes with homemade cream cheese frosting. A friend of mine showed up at my door with a plate of these several weeks ago and the kids LOVED them, so I wanted to make them as a special treat for them. If you're brave, let me know how the avocado buttercream turns out, my friend used homemade caramel icing and I was going to do the same but didn't have all the ingredients to execute my plan. Cream cheese frosting turned out just as well though!
By the way, I'm finding LOADS of amazing recipes and ideas these days on Pinterest! If you haven't checked out this fabulous new website, run on over to check it out for yourself. You'll be as hooked as I am! Feel free to follow me at!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mistress's Birthday on a Budget

I suppose that you've been kept in suspense long enough, did anyone guess the theme? Garden Party was a good guess, but actually it was an Alice in Wonderland Tea Party! (That turned more into a regular garden tea party...) Whatever, the kids had a great time so no matter what the theme it was a success!

We were lucky enough to have the temperature drop this week into the mid '80s, plus we have a great shade spot in the afternoon. I started off by stringing some tissue paper flowers up between two trees, three of which were left over from a baby shower I helped with in the spring. I made the purple ones because it is Mistress's favorite color, and had a festive decoration for a small amount of money. Cost? $2 for the purple tissue paper. Everything else I already had. We also used the table and chairs from Mistress's room, and the one chair from the front porch. I actually liked the mix and match look and it worked perfectly. Cost? $0. The little topiary came from my friend's little girl's party and she was nice enough to offer it to me to use for Mistress's party. Again, no cost to me!
The tablecloth and napkins were a vintage find on ebay, for only $5! The little tea dishes are ones that my mom got for Mistress when she was first born. It was nice to get them out and use them!
I spent $3 on these little paper cups from Michael's arts and crafts and used half of them for strawberries. I also enlisted my sister in law to cut out ham, turkey, cheese, and bread into little scalloped circles for tea sandwiches.
Since we had just done the cupcake thing last weekend, I got Mistress's favorite cookies from Target and added the words 'Eat Me' to go with the whole Alice in Wonderland theme. A cake decorator I am not...
I also used the great idea of pre-scooping the ice cream before the party starts, using more of the little muffin cups. It saved so much time!
Mistress and Miss K find the table...
Mistress, Miss K and Miss A all find the tea party to be a lot of fun!
We did a simple craft, all the girls made footprint butterflies! We used paint that matched all of their rooms and each kiddo made three butterflies. Then at the end of the party each girl took home three prints, one of her own and one of each of the other two girls'. It ended up being really cute, and I've already hung Mistress's up in her room as a special keepsake!
After the party was over, we put the tissue flowers up over MM's bed. She is so excited!!!
Overall it was a successful party, although The Professor was attacked by wasps when DH stumbled across a nest in our railing. Luckily, it turns out that he is not allergic. The girls all played in the water table after eating using plastic tea cups and teapots, and ran around the backyard with their brothers. They are all worn out from the afternoon, as am I. It will be an early night tonight since tomorrow is a big day...SCHOOL STARTS!!!

Growing Up Gardner

Pink Hippo Party

Sunday Dinner

I'll bet you thought I forgot this week, didn't you? Well, I kind of did. The thing is though that we didn't have anything worth posting. Mistress turned three, and the kids in the house get to pick their birthday dinner. She picked tacos. Follow the recipe on the back of the package, they aren't difficult. :) We also had cupcakes from a box and cantaloupe. I'll be back next week with a real dinner, but until then here are her cupcakes and I'll finally reveal her birthday party theme later this evening!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Dinner

For the first time, I am doing all recipes from my own repertoire! I spent the day in the playroom cleaning out, so I wanted to do something that was slow cooker friendly so that I didn't have to spend a ton of time in the kitchen. Therefore I started my day by putting together dessert, (start with the best first, right?) and loaded up the crockpot for dinner!

For dinner today, we had:
Honey Butter Pulled Pork with
Rice and Corn
Strawberry Pie for dessert!

First off, the pie. I don't know where my mother got this recipe, but I have been eating it since I was a little girl. It is fairly quick, easy to make, and DELICIOUS! It's great for a summery dessert.

Strawberry Pie:
1 envelope Strawberry gelatin
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cup water
First, bake a pie shell. Maybe you are one of those people who can make a good pie crust, I am not. So in my case, I follow the directions on the box. Next, combine all the ingredients together in a saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat. The liquid starts of opaque and changes to clear with cooking. After the mixture clears:
Set it aside to cool. Meanwhile fill your cooled pie shell with washed, hulled, and sliced berries. A little over a quart will do it nicely. Then pour the mixture over the berries and place in the fridge for at least two hours. It's best to let it sit all day. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. (Or both if it suits you!)
Next, Honey Butter Pork Tenderloin. This is one of those recipes that started off as one I made from an actual recipe and I have modified it to my liking over the years. When I was pregnant with Mistress I ate it at least once a week. DH got sick of it and we didn't eat it for at least six months after she was born.

Start by putting two tenderloins in a crock pot. Cover with water and cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8. You basically want it to be at that falling apart stage. Yum.
Next, in a skillet, melt 1/2 cup butter and add
1/2 cup(ish, I never really measure but I squirt four to five good sized dollops) of honey, 1/2 cup water, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Get it mixed up and simmering and add your tenderloins:
Then using two forks, shred it up in the honey butter sauce.
Let it simmer for 15 minutes or so, turning it frequently to get the sauce soaked in. Serve over rice and enjoy. Seriously addicting!
Happy eating everyone, and enjoy! See you next week!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bathroom Re-Do

Remember how Knit Knots lived in our great room?
Yeah, he lived in our Master Bathroom too.
Cream walls,
Beige tiles,
White fixtures, you get the idea.
So we decided on a re-do! First we painted a color called "Weimaraner" by Benjamin Moore. We wanted to pull in the greyish tones from the border tile without going too grey, but also tie in with the grey in our bedding. And here is the finished look:
I made these 'His and Hers' chalkboard frames using an 8x10 frame and some black paint. I actually just painted the glass with two coats and put it back in the frame. I'm not sure this would hold up to daily chalkboard use, but I'm not planning to erase the words anytime soon!
In the water closet we put up two shelves for storage, and I added these white vases. These five vases are just plain glass florist vases that we all have in our basements and garages. I spray painted them with high gloss white paint and they took on a great look!
This is the best shot to see that the paint color pulled in the colors in the border tile while remaining greyish enough to tie in with our bedding.
Finally I used a credit to Pottery Barn and bought these three jars to store bathroom necessities.
While the bathroom is still very neutral, I think we warmed it up quite a bit. It makes me happy to get ready in the morning now, and ties in with the bedroom nicely. Eventually I may end up adding some slate blue towels (which is the color of our bedroom) and I'm always on the lookout for new accessories, but for now I'm thrilled with the results!

A Tu-Tutorial!

Mistress Monstress will be three in a couple of weeks, and so I am in the process of working on things for her birthday party. If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that I am big on inexpensive birthday parties. Buggy's birthday last winter and The Professor's Birthday (also last winter) were both done on the cheap, and the kids had just as much fun as they would have had if we had spent a mint on their party. With that in mind, I started today working on the favors for MM's two party guests!

Ages ago, I decided on a theme for her party, and although I'm not going to share the theme quite yet, these tutus are going to be part of the favor bags and will tie in nicely with what I am planning. These could almost be no-sew, but I did stitch the ends of the elastic together. Anyway, I started by measuring MM's waist and cutting elastic that size. I overlapped the ends and stitched them together firmly. (lots of backstitching to make sure that it holds together! I forgot to take a picture, but you will get the idea in a couple of pictures. For the tutu part, I bought three rolls of 6 inch tulle in emerald green at Hobby Lobby with 25 yards per roll. It retails for $2.99 a roll and they were half off so I spent $4.50 in tulle. Elastic is cheap, I used 3/4 inch and one small package was enough for two tutus. I think it was $.79. So we're at just over $5 for two of them if you're keeping track!

Next, I cut strips of tulle that were 20 inches long. Lots and lots of strips. (The finished length will end up being 10 inches, which is perfect for a 3 year old. If your child is older, you may want to make the strips longer.) I would highly suggest some music to make the time pass faster. Take each strip and fold it at the center.
With your elastic pinned to the ironing board, loop each over the elastic and pull the ends through tightly. The first couple were a pain, but then I got into a rhythm.
Push each strip close to the next one, and repeat the process. A lot.
Continue all the way around until you have a finished tutu! This took me around an hour or so, and was really very easy once I got into a rhythm.
Paired with a flower headband from the $1 spot at Target, you have your first clue as to the theme of her party. Care to take a guess?
Check back in the coming weeks to see more projects from her party and find out the answer to the "What's the theme of Mistress's party?"