Archive for the ‘Homemaking’ Category

What I Spent This Week (2018.09.28)

September 28th, 2018

I went way over budget ($61.02) the second week of September and have been working to get myself out of that hole. I had to keep my groceries to just $77.71 for this week to come out of September on top.

Monday, September 24

I had an eye appointment right across the street from an ALDI and we needed butter desperately (I made tomato soup using oil and mac and cheese using schmaltz – that’s how desperately!), so I did my ALDI shopping for the week early.

ALDI purchases 9/24/2018

$28.71 leaves me and even $49 for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, September 25

Walmart Grocery pickup was $56.36 – but $4.17 of that was laundry soap and $9.33 was Vitamin D for the little ones, which means $42.86 for groceries.

Walmart Grocery pickup 9/25/2018


I stayed under budget, even with buying formula!

Thursday, September 27

And then we had a doctor’s appointment and all of us got our flu shots – and the little ones were screaming and I had left bottle nipples at home so I couldn’t feed the littlest one her formula except by cup (which she was NOT happy about). So I promised the kids donuts when we went to Walmart to get some bottle nipples.

They desperately wanted to break the budget, suggesting that I purchase all sorts of expensive treats. (I’m not going to lie, I saw a rotisserie chicken that sounded SO much better than the cold beef salad sandwiches I’d packed for lunch). But I stuck to my guns, bought a $2 box of donut holes ($2.15 once taxes were done), and we’re ending September in the black.

What I Spent This Week (2018.09.21)

September 20th, 2018

Results are in, and…

I am officially great at predicting when I’m going to majorly blow my budget.

Also, I am officially terrible at giving weekly updates.


Tuesday, September 11

I spent $96.09 on my Walmart grocery pickup!

Walmart pickup 9/11/2018

Thankfully, $25.07 of it was on diapers. Which means I only have to claim $71.02 for grocery. Still.

I needed more pinto beans, and Sam’s Club has the cheapest around – assuming you’re buying 50 lbs. Which, of course I am! I also got individually packed Ruffles (because it’s ultimately better for me to know that there are potato chips at home that I can indulge in occasionally and in moderation when needed than for me to be picking up entire family-size bags every other week at the grocery store and inhaling them on the drive home. Just sayin’)

Sam's Club Pickup 9/11/2018

After I subtracted my oxygen bleach, it was $62.27

So… with a budget of $115 per week – I spent $133.29 on Tuesday alone. But I didn’t buy any fresh produce, so I still needed to do my ALDI shopping on Thursday.

Thursday, September 13

I spent $42.73 at ALDI – all of it on groceries.

ALDI 9/13 - Sometimes you just don't have time to arrange things

And sometimes I just don’t have time to arrange the groceries to look pretty once I get home :-)

So I ended the week $61.02 in the hole.

Monday, September 17

I sent Daniel to Walmart to pick up prescriptions for the kids and I – and to get us some ice cream. Sometimes I just feel the need. $4.30 for two containers.

Tuesday, September 18

Another ginormous Walmart order – $75.24

Walmart grocery pickup 9/18

But, just like last week, I get to subtract diapers (as well as some storage bags and plastic wrap.) After I take out those, I’m at a more respectable $41.68 for groceries. – and that 25 lb bag of all-purpose flour should last me at least a month :-)

I didn’t do Sam’s Club this week – the block of cheese from last week is still unopened in the fridge and Daniel’s Sun Chips to keep at work will wait until we’ve got more to order from Sam’s.

Thursday, September 20

Knowing that my budget was in the red, I intended to shop strictly by my list at ALDI this week.

And I almost did.

ALDI haul 9/20

But there were hams for $1.19 per pound and I don’t have any ham in my freezer right now (a rare event, let me tell you!)

And I had some extras I needed for lunch (I’d packed lunchmeat and mustard since we didn’t have any bread or easy-to-eat-while-out fruit or veggies in the house.)

Purchased to be eaten quickly... ALDI 9/20

So I also bought some bread and sliced cheese for our sandwiches, some mandarin oranges to go along with them, and some trail mix for a pre-storytime snack. (Also pictured? The bread for pizza bread Thursday evening – I’d forgotten to include it in the previous picture!)

That was $68.06 minus $4.29 for the scrub brushes I’d bought for kids’ activities. So $63.77

Okay, time for some quick math (see kids, math does come in handy in your future life!)

*Under breath* 63.77 plus 41.68 plus 4.30 Wait – am I actually going to do this in my head? I suppose, now that I’ve got the numbers down on screen it’s easy enough. Five, carry one. Seven, carry one. Nine. Ten.


Folks, this would be lovely if I weren’t in the hole already.

To review…
Week 1: $18.48 below budget
Week 2: $61.02 above budget
Week 3: $5.25 below budget

I’m still $37.29 in the hole for the month.

I’ve got one more full week in the month and I need to keep my purchases down to $77.71

Can I do it?

The good news is that I’m working my way through the first cycle of my new fall menu and putting a half dozen or so entrees in the freezer each week – which means the second time through the cycle should be a) less work and b) less expensive. Also, now that I’ve bought beans and flour and chips and ramen (another “because mama needs something on hand just in case she wants to sulk in a corner with hot food”), I’m not going to need those again for quite a while.

The bad news is that we’ve still got one more week in that first four-week cycle – which means I’m still trying to double up (and don’t really want to make too many substitutions).

Even so, I think I’m up for this challenge. Bring it on!

What I Spent This Week (2018.09.07)

September 9th, 2018

Online budget accountability is great… until you meet a stressor that is likely to be both hard on the budget and hard on blogging.

Like, for instance, getting a new foster child and then immediately getting a stomach bug. And then traveling to pick up a newly butchered beef.

I’m speaking purely in hypotheticals, of course. :-)

So the rest of August was…

August 11 – Gas Station (snacks while traveling) $6.79
August 14 – Walmart Grocery Pickup $35.49
August 14 – Sam’s Club Pickup $21.50
August 15 – Walmart for Formula $27.89
August 16 – ALDI $59.94
August 21 – Walmart Grocery Pickup $21.79
August 23 – ALDI $39.01
August 26 – Sam’s Club Pickup $21.78
August 28 – Walmart $28.48
August 31 – Walmart $37.14
Total $299.81

My budget of $123 per week times 3 weeks means I had $369 to spend – so I came out ahead by $69.19 for those three weeks and $186.36 for the month.


Lest I get too confident…

I started off September by spending $500 to buy a quarter of beef (197 lbs) from my uncle.

Since I’ll be eating that all year long, I’m going to do a bit of alchemy to spread the load and reset my weekly budget a little lower at $115/week.

Wanna see my work?
$500 minus $186.36 for August = $313.64
$313.64 divided by 43 weeks from September 2018 to June 2019 = $7.29/week
$123 minus $7.29 = $115 (always round to allow yourself the most wiggle room – in this case, down)

And now onto this week…

Wednesday September 6
Shopping was weird this week because we traveled up to Lincoln on Sunday to get our beef and came back down to Wichita on Labor Day – which meant I was in no state to do a grocery pickup order for Tuesday morning. So Wednesday it was.

I spend $34.13 for grocery pickup at Walmart on Wednesday afternoon. All of it was groceries.

Walmart pickup 9/5/2018

Thursday September 7

Then it was right out to ALDI the next morning for more groceries – $62.39 worth.

ALDI 9/6/2018

I didn’t add things up and just happened to end up $18.48 below my budget – but it’s not going to last because I have a GINORMOUS Sam’s Club order coming up next week.

Complicating matters, we do receive a stipend to reimburse expenses for fostering – and some portion of that will be added to my grocery budget to cover the expense of formula. I expect to look over our foster care related expenses and determine how we allocate that stipend at the end of each month – and I won’t necessarily include that in my expense reports. So things might look wonky here and there :-)

What I Spent This Week (2018.08.10)

August 10th, 2018

Tuesday August 7

Tuesday is grocery pickup day and I got pickup from both Sam’s Club and Walmart.

Notice, no cheese

I ordered a 2 lb block of sharp cheddar cheese from Sam’s Club for $6.30 – but I only ended up with razor blades. I need to start actually reading the confirmation emails – sometimes they also let you know that something’s out of stock! So no grocery from Sam’s Club this week.

Walmart purchases

Then there’s $66.39 from Walmart – but the diapers ($47.77) make up the bulk of it. Once I subtract the diapers and my multivitamin ($4.26), which belong in “Household – Consumables” and “Pharmacy” respectively, I’m down to $14.36 for groceries.

But don’t be thinking I’m coming out ahead this week – a beef went to the butcher this week and a quarter of it is mine. I don’t know the bill yet, but I can guarantee you it’ll be more than the $108.64 I have left for the week.

We’ve also been out of town part of this week, so I mostly cooked to clear the fridge. Next week, we’ll be at home and will be filling the fridge back up.

What I Spent this Week (2018.08.03)

August 3rd, 2018

I’ve been doing a rather terrible job of keeping my grocery budget under control of late (only in part because we’ve added children to the family since the last time we increased the grocery budget). So, inspired by Kristen’s “What I Spent, What We Ate” feature, I’m going to try a little bit of this online accountability thing.

We’ve upped my grocery budget significantly this year (for our new fiscal year of July to June!), and I’m now at $123 per week

Tuesday July 31
I got grocery pickup from Sam’s Club and Walmart.

Sam's Club purchases

$22.58 from Sam’s Club – all grocery.

Walmart pickup

$35.71 from Walmart – including Vitamin D for the little ones ($9.33) and a couple of spray bottles ($2.10), bringing the grocery total down to $24.28.

That leaves me $64.71 for ALDI on Thursday…

Can I do it?

Thursday August 2

I kept $64 in mind as I shopped, adding the cost of items (always rounded up) as I added them to my cart.

Our ALDI haul

My mental math told me I was buying $57 worth of groceries. The check out total said $56.18

My mental math wasn't bad

Not shabby (as far as keeping to the budget AND as far as mental math goes.)

What was left after lunch

I hadn’t made and packed a lunch for us for after our ALDI and library trip – so I picked up lunch stuff for us at ALDI. This is what was left after we were done :-)

Picking up more thoroughly, less frequently

July 23rd, 2018

Homemaking does not at all come naturally to me.

I am a messy, if ever a messy was. I’m a piler, a clutterbug, a have-everything-spread-out-in-front-of-you person. I lose myself in projects and forget to budget energy to finish all the way to clean-up.

Which means that my house has perpetually been a mess.

I hate it.

The living room BEFORE

**The living room before naptime**

I hate walking in to a messy room. Hate looking at piles of stuff. Hate not being able to find what I’m looking for. Hate tripping over junk or having grit all over my feet from unswept floors.

But for years and years I’ve felt powerless against it.

Before I had kids, I figured that the messiness was a matter of discipline and once I applied myself to fix the problem I’d manage to get and keep things clean.

Then I had kids and I tried. I really tried. But I never managed to get things even picked up.

I was picking things up all. day. long. and never making headway.

I was tripping over things, banging into things. I had bruises all over from falls caused by the clutter.

And I was anxious about anyone coming over because the floor was perpetually covered with junk.

It was terrible.

The dining room BEFORE

**The dining room before naptime**

Worst of all, I felt so defeated.

I had always assumed that if I tried, if I just applied myself, I could keep a clean house (or at least a non-messy one). But I was trying and I couldn’t do it.

Then I was either reading Mystie Winkler’s blog or listening to her podcast and she said something that I decided to implement. She encouraged mothers to not clean up amidst their children’s play. Don’t try to clean up the Legos while the children are playing with them. Choose a time, before lunch or whatever, that you clean up and do the clean up then – not all through the day.

I figured I had nothing to lose. It was worth a try. What I was doing was clearly not working.

The living room AFTER

**The living room after naptime cleaning (20 minutes for the whole house)**

I chose naptime. Getting a handle on things for my own sanity was more important for right now than teaching the kids how to pick up after themselves.

So I stopped picking up while the kids were awake. Once they were asleep, I picked up the living areas.

I quickly realized that picking up wasn’t all I needed. I made a point to sweep the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen each day. That way, all the little scraps of paper and crumbs of food and broken pieces of crayon would be dealt with daily.

And, wonder of wonders, my house started being picked up.

Even at its messiest, it could still be picked up and presentable within a half an hour’s time.

No more four hour cleaning sessions just so I could feel comfortable letting someone sit in my living room (yes, that’s how bad it was!)

The dining room AFTER

**The dining room after naptime cleaning (20 minutes for the whole house)**

Picking up more thoroughly, less frequently is definitely working for me!

When labels mislead

February 10th, 2018

I have a deep, dark secret. It’s bound to have other dietitians ready to throw me out of the club.

I don’t read labels.


I generally buy food based on price and count on my general tendency towards minimally processed ingredients for ensuring that I don’t end up with too much sodium or added sugar in our diets (although, who am I kidding, we get plenty of added sugar in our diets – I know it’s there because I’m removing it from my sugar bins by the cup- and spoonful.)

Anyway, there is one item where I routinely read the label (or at least read it when I’m deciding between stuff – then I go on autopilot.)

I read the labels on cans of fruit.

We eat canned fruit almost every day. If we were to try to get our 3-4 servings of fruit per day from fresh fruit alone, it could get pretty expensive (or pretty unvaried during certain seasons); but by using a combination of canned, frozen, dried, and (seasonal) fresh fruit, I can feed my family a good amount of fruit without breaking the bank.

But since I feed my family canned fruit on a daily basis, I have nutritional criterion for what I buy. I want as little added sugar as possible. What’s more, I want as little added sweetener as possible.

So, when possible, I try to get fruit packed in water. If that’s not available, I’ll go with fruit packed in its own juice or in extra light syrup. If fruit is packed in some other kind of juice, I want the concentration of that juice to be the same as the concentration of straight juice (so no using half the water to reconstitute fruit juice – that’s the nutritional and flavor equivalent of heavy syrup.) I only buy fruit in heavy syrup as a treat (for instance, you can’t buy canned plums any other way – and I have fond memories of my mom’s home-canned plums so I pick some up a couple times a year.)

Then came Splenda – and fruit canners decided all their dreams had come true. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, Splenda is heat-stable AND replaces sugar molecule-for-molecule. This means that they can use Splenda to get the same results as sugar (sweetness and better fruit texture) without the extra calories/added sugar that consumers don’t want. Perfect. They started using Splenda in their canned fruits.

I am not a fan.

Not to say that I’m not a fan of Splenda in general. It is a wonderful substitute for those who need to reduce sugar and still want to make their own recipes (so, it’s a great choice for diabetics who want to be able to eat their favorite dessert without having to make the rest of the meal completely carb free).

But even in the absence of the calories from sugar, I don’t want my children to grow up thinking canned fruit should be as sweet as it would be if it were canned in heavy syrup. I want to train their taste buds to think that water-packed (or “own-juices-packed”) fruit is “the way canned fruit should taste.”

But then I started using Walmart grocery pickup, where reading labels isn’t as easy as scanning visually while you’re tossing a can into your cart.

At first, I bought the Great Value fruit labeled “No Added Sugar.” But that was packed in Splenda. No go.

I switched to fruit “With 100% Fruit Juice”. It contains an extra 3 grams of sugar per serving (that’s 3/4 teaspoon) than fruit canned in water would.

But last week, I saw that there was a new item available: Great Value canned fruit packed IN WATER.

“Hooray! At last!” I thought, as I added it to my favorites and ordered some cans.

My hooray turned to disappointment when I looked at the label before I opened the first can of peaches.

These were not peaches packed in water. These were peaches packed in Splenda. They’d just changed the name of the “No added sugar” variety.


Not gonna be a hero

October 23rd, 2017

Usually, I reserve my dishwasher for tableware – plates, bowls, glasses, mugs. I handwash those big, bulky cooking and serving things.

But I had a stomach bug this weekend that got me all behind on dishes – and my in-laws are visiting next weekend (so it’d be kinda nice to have a semi-clean house). So I ran a dishwasher full of the normal stuff this morning – and ran a dishwasher full of big glass bowls and metal pans this evening.

My dishwasher

Not gonna be a hero.

Dishwasher contents

Not this time.

Cookbook Review: Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals

January 11th, 2017

While I enjoy complicated techniques and fancy ingredients on the occasion, I generally have three priorities in cooking. I like my recipes cheap, quick, and tasty.

Which is why I’ve been selecting cookbooks from the “quick” section at my local library.

Rachael Ray features prominently in this section, and I chose Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for my first foray into the world of Ray.

Rachael Ray book cover

The Recipes

With 500 or so recipes, this book doesn’t skimp like some do. The recipes are divided into 4 broad categories: Everyday, Parties, Date Nights, and Kid Chefs. Each recipe contains a side-bar “menu” that includes the entree and suggested sides (recipes for sides may or may not be included depending on their complexity: “Green salad and Crusty Bread” does not have a recipe.) Some recipes include a little blurb with recipe descriptions or personal stories, but not all recipes do.

I tagged quite a few recipes in the “everyday” section as interesting (most of the party recipes were a bit too fancy for me, see above) – and I tried three recipes altogether.

Our family loves curry, so I was eager to try Ray’s “Curry in a Hurry”, which used golden raisins and mango chutney for sweetness (rather than the coconut milk we often use in our curries). I tried it with green curry paste and added extra vegetables (green peppers and sweet potatoes if I remember correctly.) We found that it was INCREDIBLY mild and quite sweet. I suppose we shouldn’t have been terribly surprised – green curry paste is much milder than red curry paste, so we’ve often felt the need to add more green curry to recipes (especially those written for the generic American). Also, both sweet potatoes and bell peppers tend to be sweet vegetables, so… Even so, while the idea was interesting, the reality wasn’t even compelling enough for me to try modifying it for future use.

The second recipe we tried was “Mamma’s Broccolini and Ricotta Pasta”, which was very easy to put together, but lacked something in oomph. Perhaps it was because I used frozen brocccoli instead of broccolini (does broccolini have a stronger flavor?), but we ended up loading this with Parmesan cheese (not in the recipe at all) to give it a bit more flavor – and still found it pretty bland. Sad day.

The third recipe we tried was much more successful. “Chili for ‘Veg-Heads'” is a vegetarian chili recipe with three different types of beans (black, red kidney, and refried beans) as well as peppers and onions. I love me a vegetarian chili, but Daniel likes to have meat in his meals, so I added a pound of ground beef but otherwise made this as written. Daniel conceded that it was good enough to use as a base for developing our own recipe (hooray! I’ve tried a half dozen or so chili recipes over the course of our marriage, none of which merited such high praise – the most common complaint Daniel has had is that my veggie-loaded chilies are too sweet.) As written, the chili is VERY mild (do I sense a theme?) – so most of our modifications have involved adding heat by mixing up the pepper types and/or quantities. I’ve included our favorite rendition below.

Overall thoughts

From the recipes we tried, it appears that Ray really does deliver on the 30 minute promise. Even with cutting up vegetables, I was able to complete the recipes we tried in half an hour. So that’s good. As far as my other two priorities: cheap and tasty? Eh. Many of the recipes call for unusual ingredients, which are generally more expensive (both because they’re harder to find and because you’re more likely to have ingredients left over that you can’t figure out how to use.) As far as taste goes, the three recipes we tried all ended up on the bland side. Then again, we tend to like highly seasoned dishes – so your results may vary.

As far as health goes, I was not tremendously impressed with the suggested menus, which were starch-heavy and vegetable-poor. Skip one of her starches and add an extra vegetable side (or two) if you want a balanced meal. Also, Ray apparently has no idea what constitutes “healthy”, so just ignore anything she says about health (thankfully, she mostly avoids discussing it.)

How is this book for browsing? As mentioned above, some recipes have little blurbs, others don’t – which means you often have to read through a recipe in order to get a sense of what it’s like. You may or may not enjoy that. There are full-page photographs every 5-6 pages (or so, I didn’t actually count), and smaller photos more frequently than that – but a fair number of the photos are of Ray rather than the food, which I find HIGHLY disappointing.

Overall, I am not impressed with Rachael Ray (based solely on this cookbook – I don’t have any other knowledge of her or experience with her.) She fails at two of my primary criteria for recipes (cheap and tasty) – and provided a sub-par recipe reading experience. Again, your results may vary.

Sample Recipe: Chili for Veg-Heads
Liberally adapted by Rebekah Garcia :-)

  • 1 lb ground beef or pork
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or 4 tsp pre-potted minced garlic)
  • 1 tsp beef base
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 quart diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups black beans (drain and rinse if using canned)
  • 2 cups kidney beans (drain and rinse if using canned)
  • 1.5 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1.5 Tbsp chili powder
  • 0.5 Tbsp Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
  • 2 cups refried beans
  1. Brown ground beef or pork. Add onions, peppers, and garlic and saute until onions are translucent.
  2. Add rest of ingredients and heat through. Serve with your choice of chili toppings.

Washing before I wash

June 6th, 2016

Dad teased that my grandma washed her dishes before she washed them – immersing them in soapy water and wiping them down before carefully placing them in the dishwasher for a cycle.

I smiled at Dad’s teasing, wondering at Grandma’s methodical refusal to take advantage of the wonderful convenience she had in her kitchen.

A dishwasher! That washes dishes at the press of a button! Just put the dirty dishes in and, a couple hours later, take the clean dishes out!

We didn’t have a dishwasher, you see. My dad proclaimed he had seven – with no need for another.

I never in a million years imagined that I would become my grandmother.

Yet I have.

After nearly every meal, I walk into the kitchen and fill a dishpan with hot soapy water.

Plastic containers, knives, and lightly soiled mixing bowls and pans get washed first – and rinsed in hot water in another dishpan before I set them in the freestanding drying rack to dry.

Then I place the plates and cups and bowls and utensils from the meal in the dishpan of soapy water. I lift them out one by one, inspecting them for food debris, which I wipe off with a dishcloth before placing the dish in the dishwasher.

Finally, I wash the heavily soiled “big stuff”, soiling my dishwater in the process. But by then it doesn’t matter. I’ll dump the dishwater down the drain or throw it on some plants or use it to soak a pot with persistent cooked-on gunk. No need for clean water for those purposes.

Why did my grandmother wash her dishes before she washed them?

I don’t know.

But I do know why I do.

Because the idea of a dishwasher that turns dirty dishes to clean in the touch of a button is a myth. It might be true for the first few cycles, but eventually, you’ll end up with food particles spread throughout your load of dishes and dried on by the “autodry” function. You’ll have to disassemble the bottom arm and clean out all the detritus that has collected from improper rinsing. It’ll stink.

The alternative most people take is to rinse their dishes prior to placing them in the dishwasher, scraping off the food gunk with a fork or knife and rinsing the rest off under running water.

But, as environmental folks are wont to remind us, the process of rinsing can often use more water than our super-efficient dishwashers do.

So what’s a semi-crunchy-but-still-wants-clean-dishes mama to do?

She washes her dishes before she washes them, using every ounce of water to its greatest advantage.

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