Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Aaaaand yep, still alive

I really don't know how the good blogs do it, writing posts often and even more importantly, keeping them interesting to read!

I'm back from my last Summer vacation, and feeling ready to tackle my poor blog again. So stay tuned, because I swear I have more coming soon!!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reforming the Queen of Snooze

I loooove sleeping. I try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, 8 if possible. When I left my job, I was getting pretty good at waking up early so I could get stuff done AND enjoy some peace and quiet, all before humans and animals woke up.

A couple months into it, I started slacking and "sleeping in". With a toddler, sleeping in really isn't as fabulous as it sounds. :) Regardless, I was hitting snooze so often that it's a good thing my husband is a deep sleeper otherwise he would have been pretty annoyed with my phone's rooster noises. Every 5 minutes. for 30 - 45 minutes. Oopsy.

I could not get myself to stop with the snooze button!! Even though it didn't make me feel more rested and in the end made me feel more stressed. I wasn't getting my quiet time and I wasn't getting a jump on anything, so I felt so behind in my day by 7 AM! Worst of all, sometimes coffee didn't get made. I know.

And then along comes, who announces over the weekend that she'll be starting a new three-week challenge: Make the Most Out of Your Mornings. It's like she's a mind reader.

Like all her challenges, she gives you daily motivation, tips, and then "homework". It's all meant to help you work on meeting the challenge goals. It's a great way to take baby steps towards, uhh, making the most of your mornings. :)

Yesterday was Day 3 of the challenge, so here's a quick recap:

Day 1: The challenge kick-off and introduction. Get excited to wake up early, people!

Day 2: I call this one Getting Your Beep Together the Night Before. Which seems like an obvious thing to do, but during my "sleeping in" days I was usually leaving things in disorder at night. I wasn't giving my morning self a jump on the day, which was making my mornings even more hectic and stressful. Blech. So Day 2 walks you through choosing a bed time for yourself, and creating a list of five things to do every night before bed. And making a commitment to stick to the bed time and 5-things for the next three weeks. So here are mine:

Bed time: 10:00 (trying to be in bed by 9:30 to read)
5 To-dos before bed: Prep Zach's lunch, Put kitchen in order, Tidy up living room, Kitty litter, Read

Day 3: "Getting Out of Bed On the Right Foot". Get out of bed at the same time every day, and don't hit snooze. Gulp. Being the queen of the snooze button, this is a toughie for me. BUT, this is a challenge and I can't fail! So I pledge to wake up at 6 AM for the next three weeks. I'm going to try some 5:45 AM test runs to start with because in the end I'd like to wake up even earlier. I'm going to put my alarm clock (aka my phone) far enough away from me that I have to get up to turn it off. Gulp again. I'm going to do this so I can make coffee asap and enjoy some peace and quiet. That is my motivation!

Today is Day 4 of the challenge, and I'm excited to see what it brings! Crystal at posts her challenge updates at 1 PM Eastern, and I look forward to each new post. It's so nice to have a sort of "coach" help me improve something that I truly want to improve!

So far the most difficult part of the challenge has been my daughter. She has also signed up for this challenge, because this week she's been waking up much earlier than normal! Today I heard her wake up at 6:15 and had to get her at 6:45. I feel like my early-morning challenge is being thwarted by this little stinker. I'm hoping this is a temporary trend and that she eventually goes back to her 7:30 (on average) wake-up time. Pleeeeeeeeease go back to your 7:30 wake-up time, Annabel!!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Aaaaand.... break!!! After 48 minutes.

My almost 20-month old takes one nap per day: two hours on average, sometimes three if I'm lucky.

It's my only "quiet time" during the day during which I can cram in as much as I want to do! Aka, watch soaps. Orrrrr, not.

More like, clean and organize like crazy, and maybe get some cooking crammed in there too!

I have a tough time making room for any kind of down time / things I would enjoy doing (scrap booking, sewing, surfing the Internets, attempting a blog post, etc).

At the same time, I tend to let my cleaning/organizing/cooking get randomly distracted by quick email/Twitter/Facebook checks, which ultimately prolongs the boring must-dos.

This morning during one of those quick twitter checks, I encountered a link to this article: The Power of 48 Minutes

In a nutshell, the goal is to work with NO DISTRACTIONS for 48 minutes, then relax for 12. Set a timer to ensure you stay dedicated for that amount of time, and so that you can see how much time you have left.

Intrigued, I attempted this during the first hour of my daughter's nap. And, it worked! And, I liked it! It made me not check my phone, which is kind of a miracle in and of itself, especially for an entire 48-minute time period. And then I made myself a tasty coffee beverage and settled down into my computer chair for some blog posting and then.... Annabel woke up crying and couldn't get herself back to sleep. D'oh.

But I like this approach, and I plan to try this again tomorrow during Annabel's nap time. And methinks I will be more productive than normal.

So if you're like me and need a new way to stay on target when you're trying to get something done (be it housework or office work), then try out the 48-minute technique. Even better, let me know if it works for you!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Creating a Budget. Gulp.

When both my husband and I were working, we didn't make a budget to follow. We had a very casual "let's not spend more than we make" approach, which was working in the sense that we were indeed not overspending... usually! But other than a set monthly amount for our daughter's college fund, we weren't saving much. I reeeeeally wish we had created a budget for ourselves, because we could have saved so much more money, but, alas! Stupid hindsight.

As the hubs and I discussed whether or not we could make it on a single salary, we crunched the numbers and found that we could definitely live on a single salary... but that we couldn't have the same lifestyle. And that I'd have to create and make us stick to a strict budget. It was a bit intimidating for me, but at the same time I saw it as a fun challenge and part of my new job as a homemaker. So we bit the bullet and I've been a homemaker for almost four months, and the budget is working! Don't get me wrong, I'm no pro, and I'm constantly refining the budget and trying new ways of saving money. But so far, so good! So I'd like to share my approach to the undertaking and what I've learned to date, all in the hopes that it maybe helps someone else or offers some ideas and/or inspiration!

Spreadsheet = Sanity

I strongly recommend going digital with your budget. It's so much easier to manipulate a spreadsheet; even the simplest of spreadsheet shortcuts can save you loads of manual work! If you don't want to drop lots o money on fancy programs, just install OpenOffice, and use the OpenOffice Calc program. It's a lot like Microsoft's Excel program: less bells and whistles, but it's free. And free is good.

There are many budget templates out there, and after trying a few I decided that I just needed to start my own from scratch. I wanted something really flexible, and I also wanted spending categories that were more granular. So even though my end result isn't as pretty, it does the job for me!

Within the spreadsheet, I have multiple "worksheets". Think of these as separate pages all within the same spreadsheet. I won't prattle on about those details in this post, but maybe in a future post??

Understanding Your Expected Spends

Regardless of whether you go spreadsheet or hand written, you need to be able to understand your "expected spends". Aka recurring costs like energy bills, garbage bills, mortgage, rent, etc. In my spreadsheet, I created a worksheet to capture these costs.

Put simply, just start listing out all items that you know you're going to pay every month. My list looks like this:

  • Home/car/life insurance
  • Energy bill
  • TV+Internet bill
  • Garbage bill
  • Utilities bill (Gas, water)
  • Cell phone bill
  • YMCA bill
  • Public Radio donation
  • Loan payment (for a home project we did)
  • Mortgage payment
  • Gas (For our cars: this is an estimated amount)
  • Annabel savings transfer (to our daughter's savings account)
  • Vacation savings transfer (to a savings account to be used for vacations)

How do you account for bills like energy, gas, and water, that change per month? That's a tough one, and I waffled on what amounts to put down. In the end, I decided to be safe and use the highest bill amount I've seen in the past six months (or so). I rounded up the number just to have something nice and even. This way, if the bill is lower for that month, then yay, we get a windfall of extra money! Well maybe not a windfall, but you know what I mean. It puts you in a much better place than underestimating, because underestimating could put you in the red for the month. Also, some of my bills (utilities and garbage) aren't monthly. Regardless, I include them in the total costs for the same reason: to be safe!

Math Skillz

Next up, total up those expected monthly costs into a single "total expected spend per month" amount! 

And temporarily move on to creating a list of the amounts that you plan to make in a month. If you are salaried, then this part is easy. If you're hourly, then estimate the minimal amount you could make per month. If the amount will vary greatly per month, then you'll need to take the time to estimate this per month.

Next, subtract the total expected spend from the total amount of money you will make per month. The end result is... your discretionary money!

(Total amount made per month) - (Total expected spend per month) = Discretionary $!

Err, what's discretionary money? That's all the money you have left after all the bills are paid off... aka the money you can use for other stuff like food, toiletries, unforeseen medical needs, clothes, etc. Discretionary money is what you'll be using to keep your family fed, healthy, and as happy as possible. So knowing this number will help you understand how much you should be spending per month in order to NOT overspend, and better yet, in order to save money!!

Discretionary Money... Now What?

There are maaaany different ways to proceed. I'll tell you what I did, from a high level:

1 - Out of curiosity, I divided my total discretionary amount by 4, to see roughly how much discretionary money I could technically have per week. This was enlightening, to say the least.

2 - I decided to NOT spend that actual amount per week. I wanted to make sure I left myself with a "discretionary amount cushion" per month to account for unexpected spend (hospital trips, prescriptions, house needs...).

3 - I decided to use a very light version of the "envelope system" to help keep me on track per month. The simple definition of an envelope system is "a popular method for visualizing and maintaining a budget. The key idea is to store the cash to meet separate categories of household expenses in physically separate envelopes.". 

I say I'm using the light version, because I simply decided to choose an amount that I want to spend per week, TOTAL. This amount is for groceries, toiletries, house goods, and pet supplies. And I make myself stick to that amount. More on that in another post, methinks.

Back to the Spreadsheet

I haven't mentioned the spreadsheet for a while, so time to get back to that! In a nutshell, I use the spreadsheet to track literally EVERYTHING that we spend money on per month. I track the when, where, total amount, and cash/credit card/bill pay category. I even created different categories to use, so I can see totals per category (auto gas, utilities, restaurant, food, etc). 

I even have a spreadsheet cell that lets me track my discretionary amount per month, so I can literally see the total number decrease as the month goes on, as a constant reminder to stay on target with my discretionary spending! 

It all sounds nerdy, but whooooo boy does it save me time. And WHOO BOY does it keep me honest.

Sometimes I want to slack on the spreadsheet, but that directly correlates to bad spending behavior, for reals. So I keep at it, and it has been the key to success thus far. A spreadsheet, or some other way of tracking ALL spend, is the only way to keep yourself honest and on track. In my opinion, it is a necessity.

Finis... for Now!

I better stop typing for now, as this is getting lengthy and I think I accomplished my goal of explaining the basics of how I tackled the budget creation process. I'll try to create more posts to go into more detail about some of the topics I touched on, like the envelope system and more spreadsheet details that I've found helpful! For now, let your brains rest. And then... to the spreadsheets!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Experiments with "Homemade" Cleaners

Being a person who greatly enjoys Pinterest, I've seen many a homemade cleaner recipe get pinned. They always catch my eye, and I've pinned a few promising, er, recipes, to try out as time goes on.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

When I ran low on toilet bowl cleaner, I decided to try out one of the recipes! Yeah, combining "toilet bowl" and "recipe" together sounds gross. I shall discontinue that combo.

Anyway, the... steps for making homemade toilet bowl cleaner are very simple. It involves combining baking  soda, water, castile soap, and tea tree oil. I've been subbing dish soap for the castile soap. I strongly recommend sticking to the listed amounts, otherwise your solution will be too runny or way too chunky!

Long story short, you combine the ingredients together and put them in a container that allows you to get it into the toilet. I simply saved one of my last toilet bowl cleaner containers, took off the lid, and used a funnel to add the ingredients. Then use like you would regular ole toilet bowl cleaner... and it works! It does indeed clean out a gross toilet, and it smells very clean afterward. And it seems less chemical-ly than your usual toilet bowl cleaner.

It is indeed a lot of baking soda to use consistently, but did you know that you can get a 13.5 lb. bag of it from Sam's Club for $6.68? Well they do, and you too could feel really proud that you have an abnormal amount of baking soda in your closet! Because I sure do.

Where do you buy tea tree oil? My Target had it in the pharmacy section, hidden in a weird spot. It was about $7, which seems kinda pricey. But you only use a teensy bit, so it goes a long way. I didn't do a massive tea tree oil hunt, so there may be cheaper options out there! If you find one, do tell.

Dusting Spray

I was a little more wary about trying this out, but I wouldn't let myself buy Pledge until I tried it, so it finally happened! I found this blog post that touts a solution of water, vinegar and olive oil. I know... olive oil?!? Hence the wariness.

But my stubborn side prevailed, and I tried it today. Survey says... not too bad. It did indeed allow me to dust, didn't leave a residue behind, and left surfaces shiny and streak-free. My main beef with this solution is that you have to shake it... a lot. Because, well, oil and water, people!! And I assume it won't last long with the olive oil. So... we'll see how I proceed. I may search around for some other ideas, or I may just be cheap and stick with this one, or maybe some Pledge coupons will come along and I'll give in. Suspense!!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Meal Planning Newb

I still don't know how I was in the dark about meal planning, but boy am I glad it's now in my life! There are varying degrees of meal planning: the simpler end of the meal planning spectrum is to plan out meals one week at a time. The more complicated end of the meal planning spectrum belongs to those folks who plan out an entire month of meals. It boggles the mind, right? I don't think I'll ever get to the latter, so for now I'm sticking to the weekly meal planning level.

I prefer weekly meal planning because:
a) It's been a very easy transition from absolutely NO meal planning to weekly meal planning
b) I like anticipating the Sunday grocery deals, and using those as my inspiration
c) I like going to the grocery store(s) in general, so I like being able to go every week
d) I have visions of me and a grocery cart full of a month's supply of food and other stuffs, and it scares me

So how do I form a plan of attack? Thought you'd never ask!

Analyzing Sunday Deals
I now get reeeeeally excited for the Sunday paper. My husband now also gets excited for it, and we usually "fight" over the ads. He wants to quickly get his foods added to my list for consideration (usually items like Pop Tarts, pizza rolls, and Coca Cola :) ). I read through all the grocery ads and start writing up a list of stuff per store by hand, including the prices. At this point I usually don't know what I want to make for the week, but the deals serve as my inspiration later on.

Getting Nerdy With a Spreadsheet
Once I have all the items written down that piqued by interest (due to good prices and/or something seasonal that looks great), I turn to le computer. I created a very simple spreadsheet (thanks, Open Office!) that I use to keep track of the week's meals, and it includes a section where I list out all items per store and their prices. This lets me see the potential grand total, and tweak items if they don't work with the desired total. Let me emphasize that this spreadsheet is SUPER simple. It's just meant to help me develop and stick to my "food schedule". It keeps me sane, for reals. Want to see it? Mk, here's a simple template version!

Fun research, I swear! After starting to add to my simple spreadsheet, I give my pantry, freezer, and fridge a once-over to figure out what I already have. Then with that knowledge, and the deals I've written down, I go to the internets to look up recipe inspiration. That lets me finish my list of items that I want to buy for the week, and it lets me fill out my meal schedule for the week!

Money Cap
I mentioned desired total. This is obviously going to be very different for me. Regardless of your financial situation, setting an amount you will spend (whether it's a total per week, per month, total per category - food, gas, etc....) really holds you to a number, and helps you save so much more money. I really wish we had been doing this even when I was working and our combined salaries were very comfortable. We would have a lot more money in the bank! Alas, hindsight. Aaaaanyway, the way I have set my desired total is a more complicated explanation than I'll go into at this time, so I will simply say that I have decided how much I want to spend TOTAL per week. This includes food and other household stuffs.

Making a Shopping Date
I henceforth declare Monday as: The Day to Shop. Well, for me anyway! :) I just decided that I'd make Monday the day to haul my daughter off to a few stores in the morning after breakfast, and we get 'er done for the week. It feels great to get it all done in one day! Every now and then, I have to run out later in the week to get a few supplementary items, but I try to avoid that as much as possible.

Coupons. Argh.
I should also mention the coupons. I love coupons, and hate them. They honestly stress me out a little bit, which I think is partly to due with the fact that I can't figure out a good way to organize them so that it's easy to go through them on demand. I don't rely on coupons to make the weekly meal plan; for now, I see them as a bonus. After I have my list of things to buy, I go through the coupons to see if anything matches up to my list. Or if I have time, I'll see if any of my coupons match up to anything in the weekly ads. But I don't spend loads of time on this, because it's pretty darn time consuming, and there's lots to do, y'all!! If anyone has any good couponing tips, please share!! I don't know how those Extreme Couponers do it. :S

That's what I feel like sharing for now... I hope this is inspirational / useful for at least one person. :D

I'm Alive! Really!

Whoo boy, I have been a bad, bad blogger! Apologies all around. I can sorta kinda explain.

My routines that I talked up in May? Well I've been verrrrrrrry loosely following them in July, and the cleaning routine has been collecting dust. I had some wonderful family visits at the end of June into early July, and I used them as an excuse to become a big ole slacker. Oopsy! Don't get me wrong, I have been cleaning! But I haven't tackled every cleaning project I should. Please don't be scared of my house. :)

While I've been slacking in the routine department, I've been doing pretty well in the food department. I've been doing really well with meal planning, improving my grocery shopping skillz, and dabbling in freezer cooking.

So now I just need to:
a) get back to work on my cleaning routine, and
b) update the flipping blog at least once per week!!

More to come...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Simple & Tasty: English Muffin Bread

What's that you say? You love homemade bread but don't like all the mixing of dry ingredients, then wet ingredients, then everything all together, then waiting for all the rising action, then... well, you get the point. There are often a lot of steps.

Ohhh and you love English muffins???

Weeellllll then aren't you lucky, because here's the recipe for you: English Muffin Bread

Why is it so easy? Because:
- It's only FIVE ingredients (water, yeast, salt, sugar, & flour)
- It involves only ONE bowl, for mixing everything AND for the first rise
- Mix all 5 ingredients, let rise once, put in loaf pan, let rise a second time, and bake.

See? Easy!! And the results are really tasty. It has the telltale English muffin bread air pockets, it's very light, toasts great, and is super yummy coated in jam.

Find the recipe over at, including freezing instructions! Yep, just bake, cool, slice, and freeze!

The second rise happens right in the loaf pan!
Finished product!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Magical Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Most inconsistent blogger, yes, yes, I know!!!!!! I'll get the hang of this. Some day. Maybe.


Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I have to share a most fantastic way to prepare sweet potatoes. The hubs & I lurve us some sweet potato, and we used to eat it pretty often. We were on a sweet potato hiatus for a good long while, but thanks to the new frugal life style, they're back in our lives.

Sweet potatoes were $.79/lb the other day which seemed like a good deal, so I bought just over 2 lbs. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try out a recipe I'd seen on America's Test Kitchen.

Ever watch America's Test Kitchen? It's on public TV, and is a cooking show that walks you through recipes using techniques that they've chosen after a long testing and comparison process. They're like chef scientists, with tasty experiments to share with us. And they're usually pretty simple to make. The other day they made mashed sweet potatoes using such a simple method, that I knew I had to try it!

Aaaanyway, I did. Tonight. And here's what you do! (Note: Unfortunately their recipe is visible only if you are a paying member, but I'll share what I learned from watching the show.)

Peel sweet potatoes, and cut them into approx 1/4" wide strips. You want the pieces to be thin and small, so they layer well. I cut each potato lengthwise once, then a second time. Then I cut the long strips every 1/4" (pieces end up triangle-shaped), and thew the resulting pieces in a medium-sized saucepan.

Apparently the key to making delicious, non-gluey, non-watery mashed sweet potatoes is the liquid! Sweet potatoes contain a lot of water, so you should not add much liquid. They end up steaming themselves to a perfect softness thanks to their own water! Who knew? Thanks, chef scientists!! Scientist chefs? Err...

Aaaanyway again, to the sweet potatoes (I had about 2 lb worth) I added about 4 T butter (I went with salted), 2 T heavy cream, 1 t sugar, 1/4 - 1/2 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper. I mixed them a bit, turned the temp to low (between 2-4 on my stove top), put the lid on, then let them cook, mixing every 10 mins or so. After about 35-40 minutes, I had very soft and mashable sweet potatoes.

Remove them from the heat, add one more T of heavy cream, and mash away with a hand-masher. I did this right in the sauce pan. Piece o cake! Only took a bit of smashing, because they were so perfectly soft.

And the results: Delicious, pillowy, soft, perfect-tasting, mashed sweet potatoes. Nom.

So if you need a new way of presenting sweet potatoes, give this a try! Saves time, money, is healthy, and most of all, super delicious. I paired mine with a super simple roast pork loin, and it was a dynamic duo of delicious. Yep.

PS - Sorry for no photos. I got all excited about making them, then eating them. Then they were gone. Oops.

Magical Mashed Sweet Potatoes:
- 2 lb sweet potatoes
- 4 T butter
- 3 T heavy cream (divided into two portions: 2 T and 1 T)
- 1 t sugar
- 1/4 - 1/2 t salt
- 1/4 t pepper

1 - To sweet potatoes: Peel, then quarter lengthwise and cut into 1/4" wide pieces
2 - Add sweet potatoes, butter, 2 T heavy cream, sugar, salt, and pepper to a medium-sized saucepan
3 - Set saucepan to low, with lid on
4 - Cook for 35 - 40 mins, mixing every 10 mins
5 - Remove from heat
6 - Add 1 T heavy cream
7 - Mash away!
8 - Eat, and enjoy

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cleaning Routine: Key for Sanity

Now on to the cleaning routine. Like my general daily routine, the cleaning routine has been key to maintaining my sanity. Like I said a month ago, I used iHeart Organizing's cleaning chart as my inspiration, and started with a list that I haven't really changed much:

Weekly cleaning tasks Monthly cleaning tasks Quarterly cleaning tasks
  • Clean toilets
  • Wipe bathroom sinks/counters
  • Clean bathroom floors
  • Clean bathtubs + shower
  • Sweep wood floor
  • Vacuum first floor
  • Vacuum second floor
  • Vacuum stairs
  • Dust first floor (basic)
  • Dust second floor (basic)
  • Wash sheets
  • Wash towels
  • Clean refrigerator
  • Clean microwave
  • Full kitchen counter wipe
  • First floor windows
  • Second floor windows
  • Purse / diaper bag reorg
  • Clean kitchen garbage can
  • Wash bath rugs
  • Wash comforter
  • Mop wood floor
  • Flea meds for dog
  • Change air filter
  • Wash pillow cases
  • Wash couch cover
  • Clean oven
  • Vacuum mattresses

So am I getting every weekly task done per week? Hahahahahahahaa.... no.

But, I manage to get most of them done. Usually! :) And what I don't get done one week, I prioritize the following week. This has kept me from beating up on myself for missed tasks. Vacuuming has been the hardest to get done, because A) I HATE vacuuming, and B) Annabel is sooooo scared of the vacuum. Good enough reasons to slack, right?

Being that it is the last day of May, I can say that I only have one outstanding monthly task left: Clean refrigerator! Will it get done by the end of the day? Er, maybe. I'll leave it at that. Why yes it did!! Apparently posting my negative feelings towards finishing the last May cleaning task made my brain say: Challenge accepted!! Barney-style. And now every single May cleaning task is done. Big sigh of relief right?

As for quarterly cleaning tasks, I have one month left to do the lone outstanding task: Vacuum mattresses! Woo!!

I may keep adding to the lists going forward, but I can vow here and now that the cleaning routine is here to stay! It's given me a lot of satisfaction to keep the house clean, and to cross stuff off my lists. It's also kept me from going out of my mind trying to remember what I cleaned and when! has some recent articles with other great cleaning routine ideas & inspiration:

My Money Saving Mom® Inspired Cleaning Schedule
Q&A: How do you stay motivated to get housework done?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Routine: Ready for Prime Time

A month ago, I talked about my efforts to create and try out a routine for my new life as a homemaker. After a month of running my routine pilot, I'm happy to say that it's now in production!

The core of my routine is almost identical to the original, with a few tweaks. The biggest change was in my morning routine. I'm a YMCA member, and had an epiphany a couple weeks ago:

a) As a Y member, I get free child care
b) The Y has some nice showers and changing areas
c) The Y has tasty free coffee
d) The nice Y child care ladies will watch Annabel for me, allowing her to have fun with some other kiddos while I work out, take a shower, maybe even dry my hair!!!, and grab some coffee.

As a result, the routine now looks like this:

Morning routine
  • 6:00 Wake up time – Em
  • Get dressed for YMCA
  • Coffee + breakfast
  • Start a load of laundry
  • Make Zach's lunch
  • 7:15 Wake up time – Annabel
  • 8:00 Breakfast - Annabel
  • Switch laundry to dryer
  • YMCA
  • Errands OR fun time
Afternoon routine
  • 11:30 Lunch – Annabel
  • 11:45 Nap – Annabel
  • Fold laundry
  • Clean up kitchen
  • Straighten bathrooms & bedrooms
  • Cleaning task
  • 2:00 Wake up – Annabel
  • Fun time!
Evening routine
  • 5:30 Dinner
  • Clean up kitchen
  • 7:30 Bed time – Annabel
  • 10-minute house pickup
  • Scoop kitty litter
  • Read
  • 10:00 Bed time – Em
And I keep reminding myself that (as Crystal from says) the routine "is not a regimented schedule with detailed time blocks for how you’re supposed to spend every minute of every day." This is pretty critical for maintaining sanity, since things do not always flow according to my nicely bulleted list. :)

Homemade Baking Mix: More Delicious Creations

Pancakes & Strawberry Shortcake

I don't have any photos to prove their existence, but I used the homemade baking mix to make pancakes on Sunday using the recipe found on the original homemade baking mix site. Just had to add milk and eggs, mix a bit, and the lumpy mixture produced delicious and luscious pancakes. Fast and easy!

And tonight I used it to make strawberry shortcake, by following the original Bisquik recipe for the cake part and subbing in my mix for the Bisquik! Just took the homemade mix out of the freezer and mixed it right up with the rest of the ingredients. Topped the warm cakes with $.99 strawberries from Aldi and Cool Whip, and the hubby and I were happy campers.

So, yeah. Homemade baking mix = super awesomeness.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's In a Name?

Name Changing

Recently I started second-guessing my blog's original name, Annabelly Bea & Me. With my blog, I want to tell you about what works for me as I navigate my new homemaker role, not necessarily to focus on what my daughter (Annabel Bea) and I do together. Of course, she'll play a key role in my blog no matter what. :)

I really wanted to name my blog "Becoming the Housewife". But since that name was taken, I present you with my blog's new name: Becoming the Homemaker

I think this name better reflects what I plan to keep writing about, and I hope you dig it! Both the blog, and the new name.


Remember Me? Cooking Update!

I've been a sad excuse for a blogger, and haven't posted anything mildly interesting for a couple weeks. I actually have some things to share, so here they come... finally!

First up, a li'l cooking update. More like, a long-winded cooking update.

I haven't followed along exactly with's freezer cooking challenge, but it's been inspiring some of my recent cooking endeavors and providing me with great recipes to try in the future.

Brown Bag Burritos

When looking at's freezer cooking recipes that she was planning to tackle this month, I was most excited to try out the Brown Bag Burrito recipe. They sounded like something the hubby & I would enjoy because we're suckers for Mexican food. I tackled the recipe last week,  cooking the meat filling one day, then letting it hang out in the fridge overnight. I was glad I did this, because the mixture was a bit soupy and may have resulted in soggy tortillas.
With the overnight fridge time, it was the perfect consistency to scoop onto a tortilla! And let me just say, it was fun having a kitchen island + counter full-o-burritos!
Even better was having them all wrapped up and ready to freeze. :)
We had them for two dinners last week and they reheated great! The oven method was easiest because I could leave them to do their thing, although I found I had to cook them for 15 minutes longer than the recipe called (45 minutes total at 350 degrees). The real testament to their tastiness was when my husband said he really enjoyed them! Phew.
I highly recommend this recipe: it's easy, makes a whole slew of burritos, and is delicious.

AND, you can make it super inexpensive. I got a great deal on lean ground beef to make these.I bought about 3 lbs, used 2 lbs for this recipe, then formed the rest into hamburger patties and froze those. Just had the burgers today for lunch and will have the rest tomorrow for lunch... yay for multitasking meat purchases!

Pizza Dough made freezer-friendly pizza dough, but I had actually tried out a different pizza dough recipe from the Rachael Ray food magazine "Every Day", and froze it a couple weeks ago. I used it to make pizza last week, last night, and will do the same tonight. It worked out great; the dough defrosts well, and it's great to have on hand when you can find good prices on cheese, pizza sauce, & toppings. I actually found a ginormous thing of pizza sauce from Sam's (107 ounces for $3.88... I know) and froze it in about 3/4 C servings. So now when I need some pizza sauce, I grab a cube-o-frozen sauce and I'm good to go! In my previous life, I never thought I'd be buying so very much pizza sauce.... and then freezing it. Ha.

Cookie Dough

I've been making cookie dough and freezing it off and on for months, but I've been doing it more frequently over the last month to save time. And because I love cookies. And because there's nothing better than a fresh, warm, delish cookie. And maybe because I bought the biggest bag of Nestle chocolate morsels ever from Sam's.

My personal fave is chocolate chip, and I use my grandma's secret Nesslay Toolhouse recipe (one of my fave Phoebe moments from Friends :)). I was glad to see that is also a fan of frozen cookie dough!

I was feeling adventurous, so I baked some dough on the spot, using two scoops per cookie to make some bigger cookies.
And popped them in the freezer. A couple hours later... I added ice cream. Homemade ice cream cookie sandwiches. 'Nuff said.

Homemade Baking Mix = Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins

This past week, I was excited to finally try out the homemade baking mix that I made a couple weeks ago. So I found a really simple sour cream blueberry muffin recipe from, and made them Monday morning. Super fast to assemble thanks to the homemade baking mix, and only five ingredients required (the mix, sour cream, blueberries, eggs, and sugar). I did NOT let the baking mix thaw at all, I just decided to take a risk and use it straight from the freezer. No problems encountered!

End results: 1) Delicious blueberry muffins, 2) Super happy me (with the knowledge that I made my own Bisquik and have  a bunch in the freezer).

Homemade Sandwich Rolls: The Obsession Continues

Lastly, the homemade sandwich rolls. I made them two Sundays ago, and I'm still obsessed with the recipe. And the fact that they indeed freeze SO WELL. So please make them, now. Because I can't even explain how amazing it is to be able to have fresh sandwich rolls on a whim (a whim being a minimum of three hours of thawing)!!! And I actually think they're better post-freezing, because they end up rising as a taller roll (when I baked them with fresh dough, they were short and wide).

The proof: Pulled-pork sandwiches that we made last weekend using thawed buns. The hubby & I were making annoying "mmmmm" sounds the entire time we ate them. True story.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Target: Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent + Free Oxi Clean Stain Remover Deal

So I haven't posted yet about "deals", but I was pretty excited about this one so I feel like sharing!

Target has a deal where if you buy two Arm & Hammer laundry detergents (any size), you get a free Oxi Clean Laundry Stair Remover spray. My Target store's sign about this deal said it's a free 21.5 oz spray bottle, but in fact it was actually a free 31.5 oz spray bottle.

I had two Arm & Hammer coupons:
- a Target $2 off TWO laundry detergents (excluding travel and trial size) that expires tomorrow, Saturday, &
- a manufacturer $1 off ONE Arm & Hammer laundry product coupon.

I bought two x 75 oz laundry detergents at $4.99 each, and the value for the Oxi Clean spray was $2.79.

In the end, I only paid $6.98 for 150 oz worth of laundry detergent, and a 31.5 oz of stain remover!

Normally, I buy Target Up&Up laundry detergent, 100 oz, at $7.99 each (and usually a $1 off Target coupon), so this was a great deal!!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homemade Sandwich Rolls: Be Still My Taste Buds

While my homemade hot dog bun attempt was acceptable for a first try, I was determined to make up for their so-so-ness by making a better baked good, and ASAP.

Last night we roasted a chicken, and planned to have leftover chicken sandwiches tonight for dinner. I wasn't relishing the thought of delicious chicken on boring store-bought sandwich bread, so my thoughts turned to tasty sandwich rolls... and thus I was inspired to try making homemade sandwich rolls!

After some quick internets research, I found an incredibly promising recipe for Homemade Sandwich Buns in 60 Minutes:

1 - It sounded fast.
2 - It's from a blog called Wives with Knives, and that is a fabulous name. I will be digging deeper into their blog later!
3 - The photos are incredibly enticing.
4 - I had all the ingredients on hand!

It's a super easy recipe to follow. I decided to strictly use my Kitchenaid Mixer for the mixing and kneading (I haven't trusted the mixer for kneading to date, but for ease of clean-up I tried it out), and it was a piece of cake!

I followed their recommendation and used my kitchen scale to measure out the buns, and chose to do 4 ounce balls to get bigger buns. (Have to admit, "bigger buns" made me laugh. I'll never grow up.) :)

This resulted in 9 buns + 1 mini bun.

Only things I did differently:
- Let the buns rise for about 70 minutes; they weren't puffy enough after 40.
- Let 3 buns + the mini bun rise, but froze the rest in their pre-risen state, to test how they defrost and bake!

Before baking, I brushed the tops (very gently) with egg yolk, and sprinkled them with kosher salt + caraway seeds to make them into kummelweck rolls (it's a Buffalo, NY thing).
Then I baked them at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, and they looked perfect so I took them out without checking the internal temp like they recommend in the recipe.
Waiting is not easy!!
And... they looked DEEEElicious.
Luckily I had the mini bun as my taste test, and the results were... two enthusiastic thumbs up!!
I am soooo excited for dinner now. Thanks, Wives with Knives!!!

I want to estimate the costs per roll for kicks... but I think this effort is well worth it no matter what. Inexpensive store-bought buns are so darn dense, but these are SO light on the inside and crusty on the outside. And the ingredients are the usual suspects, so assuming you have them on hand then you don't need to risk a trip to the grocery store that may result in purchasing other stuff!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

More Freezer Cooking Fun: Carb-Fest

I've been on a carb-related freezer cooking roll in the last week.  :)

1 - Butterhorns
On Wednesday I tried out Money Saving Mom's recipe for Butterhorns. They looked very Pillsbury crescent-like, and my husband and I love us some crescents. And I liked the fact that I'd be able to freeze them and enjoy freshly baked rolls on a whim! Yes please.

It's an incredibly easy recipe to follow; so easy that I assumed I had messed something up and they wouldn't actually be tasty. Regardless, I dutifully rolled them up like crescents, and placed them on a silpat + baking sheet and popped them in the freezer overnight.
I left two Butterhorns out so they could finish rising and then baked them for dinner, as a taste test. And let me say... NOM. Major nom! Very light and buttery. Not as flaky as a true Pillsbury crescent, but delicious in its own way. My husband and I both enjoyed our Butterhorns with some honey!

Once frozen, I put them all in a labeled freezer bag and sucked out all the air.
The next day, I took out two frozen Butterhorns about six hours before dinner, letting them defrost and then rise on a silpat + baking sheet. Baked them for dinner and again... deliciousness!! So let's just say, I love having a bag of them ready and waiting in the freezer. And this recipe will be used again soon...

2 - Homemade Baking Mix
On Wednesday I also assembled Money Saving Mom's Homemade Baking Mix recipe, because it's really, really easy. So I figured I could get it done and be really happy about adding TWO yummy things to the freezer in one day. I felt so productive!!  :D

The hardest part is patiently cutting shortening into a mix of dry ingredients... other than that, it's just mixing! The end result is a Bisquick-like mix that you can use to make a whole bunch of things (biscuits, pancakes, cinnamon rolls...)... nice! Haven't made anything with it just yet, but I will soon.

3 - Hot Dog Buns
I'm easing my way into the "envelope system" with money (more to come on that). So when I decided this week that I had spent all my grocery money, I realized the one last bit of food I needed was... hot dog buns for our weekend lunches. Part of me thought... I can let myself go over budget a bit with some really cheap hot dog buns for about $1. But then the other part of me thought... I wonder if I can make hot dog buns with the ingredients I already have on hand?

I did a little reading and found some promising recipes, and ended up having all the ingredients for a very simple hot dog / hamburger bun recipe. I didn't actually calculate out the costs but based on what I read, making your own hot dog and hamburger buns costs about as much as it would to buy inexpensive buns, if not more expensive.

In the end I decided to accept the challenge! For two reasons:
1 - I wanted to be stingy :)
2 - The really inexpensive hot dog buns are so dense and not super tasty... I could make something better, right?!?

So this morning I woke up early and made this simple hot dog bun recipe. They didn't end up rising as much as I expected (I used yeast that was still technically good, but I'm now thinking I should have tossed it in favor of brand new yeast I just bought). And they were a bit small (I cut the recipe into 16 buns, but should have done 12). But, they looked like hot dog buns! And they tasted good!
They weren't as light as I was hoping, but they also weren't as dense as the cheap store buns. So if I attempt this again, I'd like to try this very yummy-looking recipe. Those buns look reeeeal good!

I baked 8 of the buns, and froze the other half in a bun-shaped pre-risen state. I'll try desfrosting them next weekend, and will report on the results!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

L'eggo My Pricey Eggos!

Freezer Cooking Mini Test: Silver Dollar Pancakes
Last week I alluded to my "Freezer Cooking Mini Test: Silver Dollar Pancakes". My daughter, Annabel, looooves carbs. She especially loves pancakes and french toast sticks, and to date I've been buying Eggo silver dollar pancakes and Eggo french toast sticks. If you get them on sale they're not too expensive, but I still couldn't help but wonder... can I do that??

Like I said last week, I used my go-to super simple Better Homes and Gardens buttermilk pancake recipe (so fast to put together!) and made 50 silver dollar pancakes (well 51, but I had to taste test... right??).

Cost Comparison
The Eggo silver dollar pancakes package contains 40 pancakes, and costs about $3.

I didn't have my receipts handy, so I turned to a guest post at Money Saving Mom that provides a simple recipe cost calculator. I used it to rough out the cost of the pancake recipe and the result is... $0.43. For 51 mini pancakes. Wow.

I won't go into many details, because pancakes are so darn simple and you've probably made hundreds yourself. The only thing I'll share is that an electric griddle makes pancakes a breeze! It provides a big surface, even heat, and is non-stick (aka quick clean-up!). And when making silver dollar pancakes, you can really fill up the surface with loads of li'l pancakes! It's one of the reasons why the whole project only took about thirty minutes, from start to finish.
I made sure they were completely cooled before putting the entire cooling rack o'pancakes into the freezer. I left them there overnight and they were frozen solid by the morning. So I put them in a labeled freezer bag and squeezed out all the air. And just like that, the easy part was done! :)

The Pint-Sized Judge
I have to admit, I was pretty excited for the taste test. :D

To be as fair as possible to the pancakes (hehe) I heated up two of each type, and placed each on the same plates.
I microwaved them (about 20 seconds for the Eggos, 15 for mine) and cut them up, then drizzled them with a bit of syrup. And then I set them on Annabel's tray at exactly the same time, and watched the action unfold!
Mom, why do I feel like a guinea pig?
Aaaaaand... Annabel tried one of each, but then polished off the Eggos. D'oh!!
Sorry, Mom!
Darn those fluffy little Eggos! I felt bad at first, but THEN she ate all of MY pancakes! Phew!!!
More, pease!
I told myself I wouldn't care either way, but I did. And I was really relieved that she actually liked my creations too. ;-)

Final Verdict
I'm going to let Annabel finish off the last of the Eggo silver dollar pancakes, but then I'm going to stick with the homemade pancakes from here on out (unless we encounter a pancake shortage emergency situation, of course). Annabel likes the homemade kind, and the Eggo version is seven times more expensive!

I may however try some different recipes to see if I can achieve a fluffier more Eggo-like mini pancake. If I do, I'll share!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Freezer Cooking Fun

So I did have time to sneak in two freezer cooking challenge recipes today! I made Money Saving Mom's pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, & her banana bread recipe. I now have great snacks for the next few days, & the rest is frozen & ready for a future meal!
Fyi, I wasn't so sure about the muffin recipe because I'd never mixed pumpkin & chocolate before. But turns out these are delicious; I don't even taste the pumpkin. They're just super moist & deeelish!

Stay Tuned

Posts will be a bit delayed over the next few days as I celebrate my youngest sister's graduation from college... so stay tuned!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Next Undertaking: Food

I have two big challenges when it comes to food:

1 - My husband, Zach, is the chef, and I'm the baker. I'm so lucky that Zach loves cooking and is truly a great chef. I've been his sous-chef for ten years, so my cooking skills are lacking. It's just been so convenient to rely on his cooking initiative!! But it's time for me to step up and cook, to help with the next challenge...

2 - Leaving my job is a huge hit to our income. So we now stick to a tight budget, which means no more froufrou foods and no buying food just on a whim. To date, grocery shopping has meant buying whatever looks good, whether it's on sale or not. Which means this new frugal life style is a BIG change for us!

Getting Started

I've been trolling the internets for ideas about how to eat more frugally, and for fun recipes to get me excited about cooking. Again, Money Saving Mom has been a treasure trove of info, and I've found a few other sites with useful information. With the info I've learned so far, I'm going to focus on three food-related efforts:

1 - Meal Planning
2 - Smarter Grocery Shopping
3 - Freezer cooking

1 - Meal Planning
Zach and I almost always made our dinner decisions last minute, which often resulted in unhealthy quick dinners. It may sound funny, but I hadn't heard about this meal planning concept until coming across some ideas on Pinterest a couple months ago! But it's total common sense: Plan your meal for the week and you know exactly what you need to buy. No extra unnecessary grocery store trips, and no take-out dinner slip-ups. Plus it sounds fun to be able to show your family a menu of what to expect during the week! I'm going to work on easing my way into meal planning.

2 - Smarter Grocery Shopping
This ties into #1 - Meal Planning. I rarely paid attention to grocery sales when both Zach and I were working. Now I'm constantly on the hunt for a deal. But, I'm going to work on tying these deals into meal planning. Based on what I've been reading, the best thing to do is sit down over the weekend with grocery store sales fliers, and plan the week around the sales as much as possible. Factoring in any pantry items that may be reading and waiting! I'm assuming this will get easier with practice.  :)

3 - Freezer cooking 
Over the last couple years, I've frozen cookie dough balls and banana bread; that is the extent of my freezer cooking and knowledge. Little did I know that people put so much effort into cooking and freezing entire meals and/or key pieces of a recipe, to save time later. Genius! But, kinda intimidating. However, by sheer coincidence, Money Saving Mom's May challenge is just that: freezer cooking! The challenge is calling "4 Weeks to Fill Your Freezer", and she designed it to ease her readers' fears about freezer cooking. It involves cooking and freezing one meal type per week: "breakfasts the first week, lunches the second week, dinners the third week, and snacks and desserts the fourth week." Perfect!! I'm going to start the challenge next week...

What's Next?

This is a really busy week for my family, so I don't have much time to do anything other than more research to better prepare for my food challenges. I'll share what I learn as I start tackling them!

Freezer Cooking Mini Test: Silver Dollar Pancakes
I did do a mini breakfast freezer challenge today, making silver dollar pancakes. Annabel is a carb fiend, and loves her some Eggo frozen french toast sticks and silver dollar pancakes! As I was nuking her li'l pancakes yesterday I thought... $3 for 40 of these teeny things?!? Could I make the equivalent? And how much will it cost?

So today during her nap (and after my cleaning tasks), I did just that. I used my go-to super simple Better Homes and Gardens buttermilk pancake recipe (so fast to put together!) and made 50 silver dollar pancakes (well 51, but I had to taste test... right??).

I'm going to do a taste-test with Annabel tomorrow morning, to see which pancake she prefers. :) Then I'll post the results and more info about how I made then froze (and finally reheated!) them.

My Routine: Pilot Status Check

I'm on day 3, and still enjoying my new routine! Much more than Annabel enjoys mowing the sidewalk. :D

Some minor tweaks here and there, but the core elements are still there. And I have to admit that even though I'm doing it all digitally at the moment, crossing things of the list has been reeeeeeally satisfying!

Since things are going so well, I need to get a new pilot going... so food is next. More to come on that!

In the meantime, here's where I'm at so far for the day:

Morning routine
  • 6:00 Wake up time – Em
  • Shower, get dressed
  • Coffee
  • Start a load of laundry
  • Make Zach's lunch
  • 7:15 Wake up time – Annabel
  • 8:00 Breakfast
  • Switch laundry to dryer
  • Fun time!
Afternoon routine
  • 11:00 Lunch – Annabel
  • Fold laundry
  • 11:30 Nap – Annabel (12:15)
  • 12:00 Lunch – Em
  • Clean up kitchen
  • Straighten bathrooms & bedrooms
  • Cleaning task (Sweep wood floor, dust first floor, clean kitchen garbage can, + made pancakes)
  • 2:00 Wake up – Annabel
  • Fun time!
Evening routine
  • 5:30 Dinner
  • Clean up kitchen
  • 7:30 Bed time – Annabel
  • 10-minute house pickup
  • Scoop kitty litter
  • Read
  • 10:00 Bed time – Em

And for my cleaning routine tasks:

Weekly cleaning tasks Monthly cleaning tasks Quarterly cleaning tasks
  • Clean toilets
  • Wipe bathroom sinks/counters
  • Clean bathroom floors
  • Clean bathtubs + shower
  • Sweep wood floor
  • Vacuum first floor
  • Vacuum second floor
  • Vacuum stairs
  • Dust first floor (basic)
  • Dust second floor (basic)
  • Wash sheets
  • Wash towels
  • Clean refrigerator
  • Clean microwave
  • Full kitchen counter wipe
  • First floor windows
  • Second floor windows
  • Purse / diaper bag reorg
  • Clean kitchen garbage can
  • Wash bath rugs
  • Wash comforter
  • Mop wood floor
  • Change air filter
  • Wash pillow cases
  • Wash couch cover
  • Clean oven
  • Vacuum mattresses