Friday, April 30, 2010

and the winner is....

Congratulations to #5 Elisabeth! Your Jiffy Lube gift card will be arriving soon.


Only a couple more hours to enter the giveaway posted here! Enter for your chance to win a $35 Jiffy Lube gift card. I got mine this week. I'm glad because I'm really overdue for an oil change AND our AC needs to be recharged! A winner will be announced this afternoon. Enter now!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Resource Review- Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it

I love looking at cook books. Seeing all the pretty pictures of food. Thinking about what it would be like to eat that yummy food. But I rarely actually try a new recipe. We stick with our favorites and slight variations on them. If I do want to try a new recipe, I generally opt for the children's books! The recipes are easy to follow and I usually have all the ingredients on hand.

I've recently discovered a book entitiled "Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it" by Karen Solomon. The twelve chapters in this book will give you different methods of making your own foods and preserving them. Each recipe comes with very clear instructions, including the time involved for the project and prep ahead instructions. But not just recipes are included in this book. There are reference pages that will give you direction in how to can produce, how to smoke meat on your grill, and how to make your own cheese press!

The big question when starting on make it yourself project is if there is actually a cost savings. I've done some rough calculating before starting many projects and have discovered that the answer's not easy. Making something myself is generally less expensive than the comparable store-bought version, but more expensive than the cheaper products I tend to by. Bread for example. Making a yummy whole wheat bread myself is cheaper than purchasing a high-quality bread from store or bakery, but it is time consuming. However, I usually buy cheaper bread at a discount bread store, and that is much less expensive and less time consuming! Since the quality of that bread is fine, that's what I usually do! If you buy your products in bulk or on sale, that also reduces your home-making costs. Ultimately, I'll try just about anything once or twice, as long as there isn't a huge expense of equipment. And if it's fun and much better, we'll keep doing it!

Canning is a whole other ball-game. There's an initial expense in equipment (or you can try freecycle, which is how I got dozens of jars for free!) and using a large pasta pot will work for the water bath method while you're trying to figure it out. Canning produce from your garden or homemade jam is a great way to feed your garden goodies to your family throughout the year. It also makes great gifts. Think about it. Everyone would look at you funny if you gave your child's teacher a can of green beans as a Christmas gift. But if it's green beans you canned from your garden with a pretty bow on it, suddenly it's a great gift!

If you're looking for a book that will show you how to make marshmallows, or your own ravioli, I highly recommend "Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it." Let me know what you think!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Vehicle Maintenance and GIVEAWAY

Where do you get most of your savings? Do you count on your grocery budget to maximize your monthly savings? Or do you also shop thrift stores for clothes, buy floor models for appliances and furniture, and shut lights off when you're not in the room? All of these are great ways to save money. Another way to save money is by spending a little. It's true! Routine maintenance costs money. But we still wash our clothes and have our coats drycleaned. We spend money on putting in a garden bed because it's fun and we'll get yummy strawberries. And we need to give our vehicles proper maintenance, as well. 

Sometimes it irritates me to bring in the van for an oil change when there's nothing else wrong with it, but I know it's paying off in the long run because our eight year old van has over 100,000 miles and has never had any issues. Spending the money on an oil change a few times a year is much better than spending a LOT of money on a major repair. It saves a lot of stress associated with having our primary vehicle in the shop, too! Well, did you know that April is National Car Care Month? It is! And I should totally take our van in for it's over-due oil change.

That's why I was so excited when My Blog Spark and Shell Lubricants offered me a $35 Jiffy Lube gift card to get my oil changed. Apparently April is also National Informed Women Month. What do you know about your car? I for one, have never even popped the hood of our van! If we had a flat tire, I wouldn't even be able to tell a kind Samaritan stopping to help where the tire changing stuff is stored.

Well stop by and take a little quiz to test your motor oil knowledge. (I scored 6 out of 7) While you're there take a look around learn something new about your car's oil. Come back and tell me about it, and you could win a $35 gift card too! That's right, I get to give away one free oil change to a lucky reader! Here's how you can enter (please post a SEPARATE comment for EACH entry)

1. Earn one entry for visiting the Motor Oil Matters website and learning something new. What misconception was laid to rest? What's something that surprised you? What did you learn?

2. Earn an extra entry for being a follower/subscriber to my blog (links on right-hand side of page)

3. Earn a third entry for blogging or posting this contest in another format, leave a link and let me know!

The winner will be selected at noon on April 30th. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Resource Review- House Works

Do you know how to clean your house, I mean really clean your house? Or are you and your family up to your eyeballs in piles of paper and heaps of toys? Do you roll your eyes at people who dust their ceiling fans because that is the least of your worries? Me too! I think I'm cleaning-impaired. I know I need help. I have loved utilizing the methods from Sink Reflections in my life and have seen some amount of success over the past couple of years.

House Works by Cyntia Ewer is a great resource for any home, but especially those who have trouble in the cleaning area. The brightly colored pictures inspire me to raise my standards. The before and after pictures of clutter areas help to see how it can be done. There are lists for things to include in your pantry and how long typical items are good for. My personal favorite is the step by step instructions for folding a fitted sheet! With pictures and everything!

Ms Ewer starts the book by examining different clutter personalities. Everyone has stuff that can't bare to get rid of, but do you know why you keep it in your house? I have learned that I am a combination of the hoarder and the perfectionist. Knowing this about myself and having some tips on how to combat my natural tendencies, I will hopefully be able to more thoroughly rid my home and life of the clutter. This first section includes tips for organizing your home, instruction on how to clean like a pro, and a chapter devoted to helping you maintain a structure for ensuring these jobs are done.

The second half of the book takes you through some of the biggies of our home- food, clothing, paperwork, and more. Everything starts with a plan. What is that you actual need and use? What's the best method for storing the items in your home? How do you keep it from becoming cluttered again? All of these questions are answered in a simple logical format. Each page is one tip or idea and makes it so easy to flip through the book and pick one thing to implement today.

I started reading this book last week and have been struck by one particular phrase. "Things should be harder to take out than they are to put away." This will revolutionize the way I think about storage. If it's difficult to take something out family members (especially kids) won't take it out unless they really want it. If it's easy to put away, then clean up is a snap! I'll be going through the kids' rooms and things and keeping this principle in mind as I reorganize their storage space. I'm thinking this will be a useful principle to apply to my desk space, as well!

Has the spring cleaning bug bitten you, yet? What's a space in your home that's a cleaning or organizational nightmare?

Mine is the kids' clothes. We have two dressers packed to the gills for the four kids, and no space for another dresser once the baby moves into their room. The closet is used for out of season, out of size clothing storage with some hanging space reserved for the girls' dresses. Any tips or suggestions for me?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

With spring comes sunshine and beautiful flowers. Open windows and a desire to clean. That's what I've been doing these past two weeks. How about you? I feel like I could be cleaning all day every day and not really make much progress. It takes almost all of my energy just to maintain our household, let alone add in some closet cleaning and pile dumping. But I'm tired of the clutter and ready to get it out of my house. And I wanted it done yesterday.

My kids are good helpers for a little while, but eventually they need their attention turned to something else. So, I'm stuck doing most of the work myself while my kids are playing and messing up a recently cleaned up bedroom. I'm reading a new book right now and a phrase keeps popping out at me: "It should be harder to take out than it is to put away." I'm trying to figure out what that means in my home. The example given is to use a tub for books instead of a shelf. Kids need to flip through the stack until the find one they want, then they just slide it back in when done. We have tubs for the kids toys- small ones for cars and wooden blocks and larger ones for kitchen toys and baby dolls. I thought that these were easy enough to put away. Maybe it's hard because they tend to use the blocks to make buildings and roads, then they each have a couple dozen cars and animals out as well. That's a big job to clean up no matter how easy the work is!

I love reading books about cleaning and organizing. My favorite so far has been Sink Reflections. I'm reading another one right now that's looking really good. What are your favorite resources for keeping your home in order? How does your spring cleaning system work? What jobs do you wish you had the time and energy to tackle?

Monday, April 5, 2010

DIY- Raised Garden Bed

While at Sam's Club recently, I saw a kit for making a raised bed garden. It was pretty sophisticated. It had built in trellis pieces that you could raise into place and a pump and sprayer for automatic watering. Even with all those extras, I would not be willing to pay the $150+ that it was priced at. The one without all the accessories was still close to $70. We built our own raised bed this week, and I took pictures just for the purpose of sharing with you! Our cost? A mere $25 for the wood and fill dirt. And a little bit of work for my husband. :)

Raised beds are great for small yards (like ours). Having an area contained for the garden also helps teach the younger children where they're not allowed to walk. The garden is clearly defined and it's not a nebulous line between yard and garden. First, pick a spot to put the garden. We already have one raised bed, and thought we would put the second near it. In fact, there's enough space to do three beds across the back of our lot by the alley, so we'll probably be adding another one next year. Our first bed is 4 ft by 4ft. We've utilized the square foot gardening method for this bed and have managed to have quite a nice salad and salsa garden. The second bed will be home to some transplanted strawberries. Make sure to call your local digging hotline before beginning any work. Expect them to take a week or so to come out and mark things.It's hard to see the flags in the pictures, but where we wanted to dig our garden is about a foot away from the lines.

Building your box is relatively easy. Go to the local lumber store and purchase some 8 foot boards of treated lumber. Saw in half and screw together. Now you've got a square!

Digging up the sod is probably the toughest part of the job. It takes some elbow grease for this part! Put your frame where you want your garden to be and mark out where you need to dig. We reused the orange flags to mark our corners! If it's good weed-free sod, it can be reused in your yard if you have any areas full of weeds to dig up. We have lots of "helpers" for this part of the job. They were mostly on worm rescue!

Once you have your sod out, it's time to put the box in place. Our spot was on a slight incline, so Greg pulled out his level and dug a little more. If the box is nice and level that means you'll have a good level planting area. Water won't pool in one corner or wash away your seedlings.

Next it's time to fill your garden with dirt. We filled ours with a top soil and compost mixture. The top soil was purchased at the store and the compost was free from the dump. Now is a good time to treat your soil if it has any special needs. You can see the stakes put at the corners of the first garden. During the growing season, we wrap chicken wire around the garden to keep the bunnies from eating my lettuce!

Now, you're ready to plant your garden! This box is home to about 20 transplanted strawberries. They've been living in a plastic sack all week. I hope they perk up soon. And I'm really looking forward to fresh strawberries this summer!

The finished product! Just a pile of compost we'll use to fertilize the yard and some sod scraps that we'll use to patch some weedy areas. Now it's time to dig through my seeds to determine what we'll be planting next month. Should I focus on salad or salsa this year?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Shopping One Friday Morning

It was a beautiful morning in Nebraska. One mom and her five children decided to head to the stores. First it was Sam's Club. They climbed on top of the cans of tomato sauce. Ran into other people's cards. They hid behind posts. The lack of free samples gave her nothing to bribe her children with. Luckily, she had a few powdered donuts that had been leftovers at the previous day's MOPS meeting. "If you're good in Hy-Vee, a donut for each of you!" While this mom was digging through her coupons in the yogurt aisle, the kids were poking the eggs. While she was trying to figure out which pop was on sale, they almost knocked over a display of wine. She didn't even make it to frozen foods, instead deciding to check out and be done with it. While she piled the items on the belt, the kids rearranged the candy. Finally, she had enough, "Sit down with your backs on the wall and your hands on your knees." She had been hoping to fit one more store into their morning, but alas it would not be. Amazingly, the man bagging the groceries complimented the behavior of these naughty children of hers. As she paid her bill, she sighed, at least she had gotten some good deals!

HyVee does have some good deals this week. These are the ones I took advantage of. I'm so frazzled that I can't even tell you if these are weekend sale items, or they will be going through Tuesday. If you plan to hit the store on Saturday, you should get these same prices. My total for this transaction was $21.37. I had around 12 dollars in savings from coupons alone! How awesome is that?
4 Dr Pepper 12 packs 4/$10 w/coupon from circular
2 Russet Potatoes $1.18 for 5 lb 
2 Betty Crocker Potatoes 5/$5 used $1/2 MQ from Con Agra booklet
1 Wesson Canola Oil reduced to $2.99 used $1 off MQ from Con Agra booklet
1 Nestle Chocolate Chips at $1.69 with circular coupon also used $.75 coupon (from Nestle Baking Club?)
1 Yoplait Yogurt FREE w/MyBlogSpark coupon
1 Philidelphia Cream Cheese Minis FREE w/First Taste mailer
1 Bunch Celery $.58
1 C&H Sugar $1.88 w/circular coupon used $.50 MQ from online (not sure where I printed this)
2 Blue Bonnet Margarine $.77 each
2 Betty Crocker frosting tubs $.89 each used $1/2 MQ from Con Agra booklet

I hope I have a chance to get to Super Saver this afternoon. It might have to wait until Greg gets home, so we don't have a repeat of our frustrating morning! They have 4 pounds of strawberries for $4.98. Add that to the bananas and blueberries I picked up at Sam's and we'll be enjoying some cheap smoothies. I love spring! Any other good deals this weekend? Let me know!

We Have a Winner

Thanks all for entering the Yoplait giveaway. I got my free yogurt at the grocery store this morning, and wish that I could be the one to eat it. Alas, I got a cherry cobbler for Greg. We'll see how he likes it. The winner of the My Blog Spark Yoplait giveaway is comment number 6- Mrs Rohlf. Congratulations! Once I confirm your address, your package will be on it's way. Don't forget, you can get a coupon for Yoplait yogurt here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Do It Yourself

I have a hard time spending money. Especially on things that I feel I should be able to do myself. Pay someone to install our new floor? No way! Someone to landscape my yard? My kids can dig a hole, and I can stick a flower in it! It's easy to see how one could save money by doing the bigger projects yourself, but what about the small things? How much money are you paying someone to do some easy, but time consuming tasks? You may not think there any, but if you look at your grocery list, I bet you can find a couple! It's easy to make refried beans and chicken stock for pennies. It's a fun family project to make and can salsa and pesto.

The types of projects I'm thinking about are the ones that women used to do more frequently, things that used to be considered common knowledge. The first time I made refried beans, or canned a jar of pickles, I spent hours at the computer or leafing through library books. It's tough to take the knowledge of the written word and transfer it into a kitchen or garden setting, at least for me! My favorite cookbooks are the ones for children because they include a picture for each step. I'm going to do that for you! I'm not a crafty or handy person, so I figure if I can do these projects, anybody can! On my list of projects to share with you this summer will be the following items. Most of these are ones that I do on a fairly regular basis:

how to can salsa (and other food items)
making refried beans
making a good broth or stock (chicken, beef, ham)
what to do with that broth or stock (soups and gravies)
building a raised bed garden
what's up with square foot gardening?
frosting- why buy a can?
cornbread from scratch
pizza dough in your mixer
baby food in your blender
my husband brought home a deer, now what?
grinding sausage
drying jerky
turn a can of tomato sauce into something edible (marinara, soup, pizza sauce)
blanching vegetables
dividing plants

I have spent the last couple of years figuring out how to do these things. It's been a struggle, and I'd love to share what I've learned with you, and see if you have any tips for me. I'm always up for trying something new, though, and would love to add to my list of things we make ourselves. What kinds of things do you wish you knew more about? Let's learn together! Leave a comment and I'll add it to my list. I'm looking forward to a great summer of working in my garden and reaping the harvest. Are you?