Monday, February 28, 2011

Money Monday - Coming Back Around...

It is time...

I've been in a spending habit. I'm not a spender. I'm cheap. Very cheap...like, wear the same clothes I've been wearing since high school cheap. Like, probably spend more in gas than I save by going to 10 different stores for sales cheap...

Just lately -  shopping is...well, fun. We did the whole bedroom remodel thing. It's not like we spent a bundle. We did the entire room - linens, curtains, wall hangings, lamps, and furniture for a low price - and I don't regret it. But - we need to get back to a stricter budget. I just feel better when we're saving a little more.

When we became debt free (except for the house) we stopped doing something that was one of the main strategies used for our success.

PAYING OURSELVES FIRST....well second. We pay God first, but you get the point.

When we were getting out of debt - I would, on the day we got paid, put a huge chunk of money onto our school loans. That way - I couldn't say later in the month that we didn't have the money.

Now that we're trying to save for ourselves, I find excuses - "because I DESERVE it!" I think it's time to change that attitude - though I don't want to. I need to start depositing our money into savings on the day we get paid - no excuses. That will keep us from taking that money later when we want to go out to dinner or buy something for the house when we've already used up the money budgeted for it.

If you want to make a change, make a change. Don't they say, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?" I think it has to get a little uncomfortable.

We have an emergency fund that is just about complete, two cars and a new roof to save for.

So, while I'm totally in love with my new bedroom...


...and getting haircuts...


...and new clothes...

It's time to get serious again.

It was fun while it lasted. :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday - Light 'n Hearty Easy Chicken Pot Pie

Matt's Aunt Dee made this for us when we had Emma and it was AWESOME!

1 can reduced fat/reduced sodium condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can reduced fat/reduced sodium condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup plus 2/3 cup of fat free milk, divided
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp poultry seasoning
2pkg 16oz each frozen mixed vegetables thawed (broccoli/cauliflower/carrots)
1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
1 1/2 cups reduced fat biscuit/baking mix (or a can of refrigerated low fat biscuits)

In a large bowl, combine the soups, 1/2 cup milk, thyme, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Stir in vegetables and chicken.

Transfer to a 13x9 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

 In a small bowl - stir biscuit mix and remaining milk just until blended. Drop by 12 rounded tablespoonfuls onto chicken mixture (or place refrigerated biscuits on top.)

Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until filling is bubbly and biscuits are golden.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday - Chocolate Oat Squares

These are delicious! I got the recipe from Taste of Home October/November 2000 issue.

Ingredients:

1 cup plus 2 tbsp butter - softened/divided
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
4 tsp vanilla extract divided
3 cups quick cooking oats
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt divided
1 tsp baking soda
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a mixing bowl, cream 1 cup butter and brown sugar. Beat in eggs and 2 tsp vanilla. Combine the oats, flour, 1 tsp salt and baking soda. Stir into creamed mixture. Press two-thirds of oat mixture into a greased 15x10x1in baking pan. In a saucepan, combine milk, chocolate chips, and remaining butter and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted. remove from the heat. Stir in walnuts and remaining vanilla. Spread over the crust. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool. Cut into squares.

Yield: 4 dozen

Friday, February 18, 2011

Family Friday

Well, Matt's off today and I'm on day 5 of this silly cold. To be honest - I feel worse today than I have all week. I'm cranky, my house is a mess, and I'm wondering if all of my efforts to keep Emma from getting sick are going to work. So far it has.

I think Matt and I will go out to breakfast after Hannah goes to school and try to get this house back together. I decided to scrapbook instead of clean yesterday - and I'm paying for it today!

Anyhow - I have to say - I love watching my girls together. Emma is starting to become responsive to all of us - especially her big sister. She'll follow Hannah around the room with her eyes and coo and talk back to her. She'll even yell to get her attention. I just adore the two of them and nothing makes this mama happier than to see them loving each other - now I get that whole thing! The photo above totally captures their relationship. Hannah is such a little mommy to Emma - she cleans up spit up, reads her books and pulls her hands away gently when Emma tries to scratch her face. So sweet!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not-So-Well Wednesday

I'm not well today...on day three of cold and cranky. 

Sorry for the lack of insightfulness. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tips and Hints Tuesday - Making Your Own Bread with BAGEL RECIPE!

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I like to make my own bread, hamburger buns, and now... BAGELS!

Why though? It does take a long time to do (as I don't have - or want - a bread maker), it's cheaper (but not that much), and it takes a little practice to get down.

Well, for our family it's a better choice because:

1. IT TASTES BETTER! There's nothing like homemade bread from the oven!

2. NO PRESERVATIVES! This is a biggie for us. All three of us have stomach issues after eating processed breads and macaroni. Not so with homemade bread. Also - if you've ever had a loaf of bread that was still soft after a month of sitting on the counter - you know they're putting SOMETHING that just isn't right in it to make it last. A homemade loaf of bread starts to go stale in a couple of days and is done by a week. I don't know what they do to that bread to make it last so long, but I don't want it in my body!

3. IT FILLS YOU UP FASTER! Not quite sure why, maybe it's denser, but you're satisfied after eating it!

4. You can do whatever you want with it! Italian bread, pizza crust, hot pockets, honey oat, rolls, bagels, buns....be as creative as you want! I actually ENJOY kneading the dough!

Here's the bagel recipe I've been asked for. I was surprised at how easy and tasty they were!! I added some crushed rosemary and olive oil to mine.

TWO TIPS FOR THIS RECIPE:

1. Use hotter water than lukewarm when mixing your yeast.
2. 1/2 ounce = 1 tablespoon.

ENJOY!

TIP:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Money Monday - Refinancing, is it worth it?

I saw something cool in my Parents Magazine that gave guidelines when you're thinking about refinancing your mortgage. Interest rates are at 50 year lows and it can be difficult to know whether or not it's worth it to refinance. Sometimes, with closing costs (averaging $2654) and fees, it's better just to stay put. I've heard that, as a rule of thumb, you should stay where you are unless the interest rate is more than a full 1% below what you're already paying.

Two websites that will help you calculate whether or not it's worth the hassle?

bankrate.com

hsh.com

Also keep in mind:

REFINANCE IF:

• Interest rates are at least one full percentage point lower than what you already pay.

• Your current loan has a variable interest rate. Rates are only going up from here!

SIT TIGHT IF:

• The value of your home has gone down significantly since the economic crisis and you are unsure if you're qualify for a new mortgage.

• You plan to move in the next few years.

I must say, I was shocked to get a 4.25% interest rate when we purchased our current house last summer that. Our previous house was 5.1% and I really didn't think people got much lower than that. If you're financially prepared - now is the time to buy.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday - Best Candy Ever

This past Christmas, a student named Ashley brought me some of the yummiest candy I've ever eaten...and I'm a candy snob! I had to get the recipe.

While I made one of these recipes already - I'm awful at dipping things in chocolate. Please tell me what the trick is!!! I get chocolate everywhere and the Bon Bons were falling apart! Help!

Anyway - here are the recipes that are SURE to please! They're GREAT for Valentine's day and don't have too many ingredients!

Thanks Ashley (and Ashley's mom!)

Graham and Peanut Butter Bon Bon

1 cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cup crisped rice cereal
12 oz. chocolate

(Ashley's mom uses Trader Joe's "Pound Plus Dark Chocolate" which tasted better than the semisweet chocolate that I used)

Set chocolate aside. Mix remaining ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate for one hour.

Melt chocolate.

Form Crumb Mixture into balls and dip in melted chocolate. Place on waxed paper.

Let cool and set up.

Makes 44-48 bon bons...Ok, I got maybe HALF of this - which is probably why I had such a hard time. I made them huge!! None the less - they were DELISH! Make them...TODAY

Chocolate Fudge - Peanut Butter Balls

2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup undiluted evaporated milk (or half and half)
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup chopped peanuts

Melt chips with evaporated milk in medium saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Whisk in peanut butter until blended. Refrigerate until mixture is firm enough to shape into balls but still soft, about 30 minutes.

Spread peanuts on waxed paper. Shape scant tablespoons of peanut butter mixture into 1 inch balls. Roll in peanuts. Store in refrigerator.

Candied Walnuts

2 1/2 cups walnut halves or pieces
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Place walnuts in a shallow pan. Heat in 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Cook sugar, water, cinnamon, and salt to a soft ball stage (236 degrees with a candy thermometer) without stirring. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and nuts. Stir gently until the nuts are well coated and the mixture becomes creamy. Turn out on a greased platter. Separate walnut pieces as they cool.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Family Friday - Planning Conversation

Do you have any Valentine's Day plans this weekend? We don't really have anything going on as a couple. Matt and Hannah are going to a "Daddy Daughter Ball" tomorrow and I think that's just adorable.

Having a new baby and an older baby has definitely made it more difficult for Matt and I to have time together. We have to consciously make an effort now to be affectionate and have good conversation. I'm surprised that one little 10 pound baby can do that!

We're totally loving our family. I couldn't feel happier or more blessed, but let's face it folks - whether we mean it to or not, our marriage often takes a back burner to the kiddos. I am a firm believer that a happy marriage produces happy children. Therefore, you can't feel guilty about focusing more on your husband or wife.

That said - how many times - when we do get a minute alone with our spouse, do we talk about the kids the entire time? We do - and we love it. We enjoy our children; watching them grow, spending time with them, talking about the cute things they do, planning activities and discussing discipline strategies. But, I don't want "us" to get lost in that.

I saw this silly article in a Parents magazine (Feb. 2011 issue) titled "Date Night - A Cheat Sheet." It's basically a list of conversation starters when you and your love have time together.

It gives a disclaimer at the beginning (which you're all gonna think when you read this anyway) that it's kind of sad to need talking pointers when you're out with your spouse - but it's fun. Hopefully one of the questions spurs on a delightful conversation preventing you from finishing the list.

Enjoy!

PS: I'm not advocating drinking (unless it's pop) :), I just copied this out of the magazine.



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wellness Wednesday - An Expensive Way to Beat Winter Blues

Last December 2010 - Pittsburgh

Last December 2010 - Disney World




I hate Winter. Why do I live in Pittsburgh??

Every year, around this time, I start getting a little down, claustrophobic, anxious....I feel like that gray sky is closing in on me!

Last weekend we were walking around Monroeville Mall and stopped in Brookstone. They have this really cool light. 


It's a "white" light that gradually increases in intensity based on when you set it for in the morning to help make it feel like the sun is coming up in your bedroom - thus making it easier to wake. I want one. I don't get up to an alarm anyway, but it still would be nice to have. But, at $100, it's a luxury!

What are some other...ahem...less expensive ways to boost your spirits?

Here's what works for me:

Spending time with friends - I have some pretty funny friends who make me laugh...a lot. Even chatting on the phone while doing mundane chores can help. 

EXERCISE - this is huge. I always feel better when I get in a little cardio. Even 20 minutes will help. Go out an shovel your driveway. Then you can get your exercise in while getting that annoying task accomplished. 

If it warms up to a remotely reasonable temperature and the sun is out - get outside! (This will save you the $100 cost of buying a lamp, ha ha)

Change things up - Have a picnic in front of a movie at dinner (we always sit at the table together,) have a dance party with the little ones, read a good book, play a game together, rearrange some furniture, search summer vacation spots on the internet...

Warmer days are ahead. A certain 5 year old groundhog fan told me so.


Hang in there and be useful during these yucky days. It won't be long before the blazing sun will have you pining for some cooler weather...but I'm not there yet!!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tips and Hints Tuesday - Storing Sheets


I've mentioned this tip before. I hate folding sheets. It really is a pain. Who in the world invented fitted sheets anyway? There's this famous "Martha's Stewart's way to fold fitted sheets" garbage that is stupid. I'm 5 feet tall and it is impossible to fold a deep pocketed queen size fitted sheet well.

So, I've resigned to doing my best to make it "look" like it's folded, when in reality, it's in a ball with a smoothed out top. So there.

But, that's not what this post is about. I can't give you a tip on folding sheets when I stink at it.

I do, however, have a tip on STORING sheets. After you wash your sheets fold them all except for one pillow case. Stack everything else and place the folded sheets inside the leftover pillow case and store in your linen closet.

It makes it SO EASY when you are going to change your sheets. You just grab the stack and go. No more - looking for that blasted fitted sheet or pillow case anymore.

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