Photo by Chunky Monkey Photography

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Menu Planning

Okay, here is what our weekly schedule will be like.  Of course we'll be flexible with this and the monthly menu but you have to start somewhere, right?  You'll see Church Supper as one of the options on Wednesday.  At our church you can sign up for Wednesday night supper for $4/person with a maximum of $12 per family... $12 is a bargain for a family of six so when the menu is something we like, then we'll eat there.  When it's not, we'll have a light supper of salad or potatoes, or maybe leftovers.  I don't have a day dedicated to leftovers because I pack for my husbands lunch and dinner (he works 48 hours at time) from the leftovers.  The kids and I sometimes eat leftovers for lunch, too. 
Here is the monthly menu.  You'll see 31-Dec in the upper left corner because that is the first day of this menu.  I have some rearranging to do to make sure my husbands favorites are planned on the days he will be home to have it fresh.  And.... I drew a blank on some days.  For pizza night, we will be making our own pizza most weeks topped with extra stuff I've prepped for meals earlier in the week.  We love homemade pizza but occasionally grab take-n-bake if we happen to be in town and I remember to grab a coupon for Papa Murphy's. 

Budget and Junk Food Cuts

We have been budgeting (and spending every bit) $880 for groceries.  By that I mean anything you can buy at the grocery store (food, paper products, pullups, toiletries, etc.) That doesn't include the feed for the dog and chickens.  I don't know what the average grocery bill is in east TX but this is our biggest expense and even if it is for a family of 6 it seems like an awfully lot of money to me. 

I've been looking online at other blogs to get ideas.  I have menu planned before and it always helped but I never stuck with it.  I only did a weekly menu which meant shopping every week.  I have tried couponing and it's just not for me, no matter how much I could save.  (Go all you couponers!)  So.... what I'm trying out for the month of January and plan to stick too is this:

I created a 4 week menu plan that begins with this Monday.  Each day of the week has the same theme all month.  For instance, we will have chicken every Thursday.  This makes it easy when meal planning.  I am also going to buy in bulk either at Sam's Club or at Brookshire's when they have sales... another thing monthly menu planning will help with.  Yesterday I bought all the meat, snacks, potatoes, and non-perishables we will need for the month as well as some perishables we'll need for the first week or so. So I should only have to go to the store for our weekly gallon of milk and some fresh veggies here and there.  I know shopping less often will help cut down the bill too.  Oh.. and going ALONE!  It is so distracting and easy to put more in the buggy than you need when you have 4 sweet little helpers with you! Haha!  :) 

Another thing I'll do is watch the sales.  Even if it's not on the menu this month but it's on sale and something that we DO use regularly and is non-perishable or freezable, then I'll buy it and put it in he menu.  Our local grocery store has an awesome Buy 1 Get 1 for a penny sale that always has loads of stuff that we use. 

I'm also trying out some "off" brand items and avoiding processed foods as much as possible.  I need to get back to making my own bread.  I already make my own seasoning mixes (like taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix) and that is cheaper and healthier.  We also have a garden that we are trying to get most of our produce from... we will plant a bigger garden next season because this garden wasn't quite enough.  I'll also have more meatless meals since we really do eat WAY more meat than we need and it'll save us money.

One last thing I'm doing is making a price list.  I put everything I bought yesterday in a spreadsheet with the number quantity, the total price, and he unit price.  I also dated each item and put which store it was at.  I'll do this for a while so I can get an idea of who really has the cheapest regular price and so I will know when a sale really is a good sale.  Once I've tracked everything for a while, I'll just check every once in a while to see if it's still current.  Along with this, I'm keeping track of how often I have to buy things.  After a couple months of all of this, I will have a better idea of what our budget should be.  I'm really expecting to spend a lot less than $880 a month but I just don't know how low is realistic.. I want to save money but still feed my family healthy food!

If there is any interest, I'll post my monthly menu and our daily themes.  Please share your ideas, too! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Jack's Harvest

Jack was so happy with his harvest yesterday!  I was too... I was also happy that my dear husband not only cooked us a pancake breakfast when he got home from work, he was also on board with me redoing the little boys room, let me sneak off by myself for over 2 hours (all spent in TARGET!), and had dinner cooked when I got home.  What a treat!  Another cool thing... our dinner included a pork loin from a hog that he got while hunting (got while hunting replaced killed.... somehow that sounds "nicer"), corn from my aunts summer garden, and carrots and cauliflower from our garden! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Tree!

This year we went to a Christmas tree farm!  It was great fun.  We got to visit some animals...

Go on a hayride...



Pick out a tree...
And cut it down.  Nelson, Henry, & Jack... but mostly Nelson... cut down a small tree for Nelson & Henry's bedroom. 

I ended up picking out a big Frasier Fir for the living room that was precut.  I can't resist a good fir... they are my FAVORITE for Christmas. 

Our Garden: 3 Months

We have been enjoying our broccoli! Next year we will have to plant more. One harvesting is barely enough for one meal for us! We are amazed at how much better it is than store bought!
I believe the next thing we harvest will be cauliflower! Five of those plants have heads growing pretty good. Yum!

We also have one good head of cabbage going... I can't wait for some cabbage fried with bacon and garlic... mmmmm.....

What I'm MOST excited about are these little gems.... 
Can you see that?  Hold on... here's a close up...
Teeny, tiny, BRUSSELS SPROUTS!!  Yay!!


Tragedy in Connecticut

Today is a sad day... heartbreaking actually.  I have sat here in tears off and on today... snuggling my children on the couch.  It's unthinkable.  It's incomprehensible.  For someone to commit murder is hard enough for me to understand.  For someone to invade a kindergarten classroom and kill 18 beautiful, innocent, PRECIOUS children is... there is no word to describe it.  My heart aches for the familes of these 18 children as well as those of the adults who were senselessly killed in Newport, Connecticut today.  All I know to do is to thank God every second for my own children and their safety.  And to ask God to please find away to bring these families closer to Him and to comfort them and give them peace.  I can't imagine ever being able to feel comfort or peace after losing a child so tragically but if anyone can give that gift, it's our God. 

I want to address two statements I've seen multiple times in response to this event besides the outpour of love, concern, and prayers:

1.  This is why we need to increase gun control. 
2.  This  makes me want to homeschool. 

In response to guns.  Maybe it's where I'm from (Texas) but last time I checked, guns don't kill on their own.  Gun control does nothing to all the gun toting criminals out there.  It only leaves law abiding citizens helpless... or depending on what laws change, will make normally law abiding citizens in to "criminals."  Gun control would not have helped this.  Now, I don't think guns belong in schools but what if the principal was trained and allowed to carry protection (in a safe manor that keeps kids from having access)?  I'm not saying that's what I think should happen but it makes me wonder.  Or what if all schools had a full time police officer (or more depending on the size)? 

In response to homeschooling.  Physical safety was not on our list of reasons for choosing to homeschool our boys (who were previously public schooled).  While I am thankful school is one less place I have to worry about my kids, I also know that fear should not be the sole reason for choosing homeschool.  Unfortunately, this type of incident happens in all kinds of places our children should be safe... school, church, the mall, movie theaters, etc.  Look it up.  It's happened in all those places.  So if you make choices out of fear, you and your kids will miss out on lots of things.  Choosing homeschool or public school doesn't make you a better parent.  Neither options is right all the time for all people.  Choosing homeschool should not be done lightly or out of fear.

These are just my thoughts, my opinions, that I needed to get out. I hope and pray that we all learn something from this tragedy today even if it is just to not take tomorrow for granted. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Side of Beans & Rice

In attempt to meet a financial savings goal, my husband and I are making some changes to our spending.  We are already debt free (excluding one mortgage) but we really feel the need to buy a piece of land to live off of and build a new house.  In addition to cutting out some extra's like cable tv and dining out, I am revamping our grocery budget.  I stumbled upon Danielle over at Blissful & Domestic and was inspired to start menu planning again.  Instead of doing a week at a time like I did previously... long ago... I am shooting for a monthly menu plan.  We'll have the same basic theme every week (Fish Friday, Pizza Saturday, Crockpot Sunday, etc.) to make it easy.  Hopefully I'll put a lot of the pinterest ideas I have to good use so we won't get bored!  Another tip I like from Danielle's blog is to shop monthly instead of weekly like I do now.  There are some things I'll set grocery money aside for (like sales and perishables) but for the main part I would like to have one major shopping trip a month.  This will take some getting use to!  We are going to start January since we are in an busy month of meal times with family and travel.  This will be a big help to our budget!  Once I get started, I'll post our daily theme schedule and the monthly menu to hopefully inspire you!  Oh, one more thing... as of now, we spend about $220 a week on groceries (including toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.).  We spent less when I was doing a weekly menu plan.  What do you do (besides couponing) to help cut back on your spending?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's Finally December!

Well, it's 4 days in to December now. We are excited to be getting in to the official Christmas season... although I believe the Christmas spirit should be around all the time I do like to wait until December to put out the decorations.  We are a little behind because we need Dad's help (attic, cutting down tree, etc.) and he has been stuck working overtime lately.  The kids got started by going caroling with the children's ministry on December 1st.  They really enjoyed it!  Then, on Sunday, we enjoyed a beautiful Christmas musical put on by the children's choir at our church.  3 of my boys participated and I must say, I was very proud of them.  ALL the children did wonderful and you could really tell they worked hard to learn their songs and memorize their speaking parts. 

Yesterday we enjoyed going to a local Christmas tree farm.  It was unseasonably warm so some of us wore shorts!  It seems kind of strange to be doing all this in such warm weather!  I am ready for the cold.  Anyway.... we had a hay ride, picked out a tree for the boys bedroom that THEY cut down!  (I picked a pre-cut Fir for the dining room)  We got to see goats, chickens, play with the friendlist lab puppy, and had a duck race.  It was quite an experience!  I'll post more pictures of this in it's own blog post later.  Unfortunately we were all tired and cranky by the time we got home... and had a difficult time getting the trees to stand up straight in their stands... so we did not get them lit or decorated.  That will be this weeks goal! 

We also started the Christmas Angel this week.  It's similar to the cute and famous Elf on the Shelf.  There's a sweet story that you read then the kids find the angel with her message in gold of a good deed to do for the day.  Henry found ours first thing this morning in the undecorated Christmas tree with the idea to bake cookies for a new neighbor! 

Oh! And one more thing!  We got to harvest broccoli yesterday.  I am amazed at how different it is than the store bought stuff. So flavorful, smells sooo good, and much more tender.  We snacked on it raw yesterday and today I'm steaming it to go with my lunch!  Mmmmm

What have you done to prepare for Christmas?  Any special traditions you'd like to share?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Meal Planning?

I've been off the meal planning wagon for a while.  It's time to get back on it.  It is so much easier to have a healthy, balanced diet when you plan in advance.  It also saves money!  While I don't have a full menu plan yet... I do know we'll be having the Kale and Potato Soup again this coming week.  I'm also going to cook a grilled chicken and goat cheese fettucini.  I bought some rapini broccoli to try but I have no idea what to do with it yet.  Whatever I do I'm sure it will go good with grilled chicken.  :)  Do you have any tried and true freezer meals? What's on your menu?  I need more ideas!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chops & Sweet Potatoes

I failed to prepare in advance for supper tonight so I grabbed a bag of boneless pork chops from the freezer (they thaw quickly).  Unfortunately it only had 4 in it so I had to share with the baby. (Dad is at work tonight).  I seasoned them with lawry's, garlic powder, and a little black pepper and tossed them in a skillet with olive oil.  Then topped them each with a green apple slice and a handful of cranberries (the dried sweetened kind but I'm certain fresh would be just as or even tastier!).  When they were done, I moved them to another plate, added a tablespoon of butter to the skillet and put in a diced sweet potato, salt, and pepper.  YUM.  I am already a huge fan of cranberries and pork so this is right up my alley It was delicious!  All the kids liked it, too.  And... it's healthy.  Big score in my home!  I only got a crappy cell phone picture but here it is. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Our Garden: Almost 3 Months

I took some pics of the garden last week.  I forgot the brussels sprouts and cauliflower but here is the broccoli, the cabbage, and the carrots. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Creamy Chicken Chili

My family really loved the Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Chicken Chili recipe I tried out a while back.  The last couple of times I made it, I adapted it to be "from scratch." (not use the prepackaged seasoning mixes).  We loved it even more this way!  Here is the recipe I came up with... I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does!

Creamy Chicken Chili

1 can black beans
2 cups of frozen corn (or fresh if you have it!)
1 can Rotel, undrained
1 cup water or chicken stock
1 ½ tsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp dried oregano
¾  tsp paprika
1 tsp salt (optional)
1 tsp black pepper (optional)
1 tbsp parsley
½ tsp dill
2-3 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
1 8 oz package light cream cheese
4 chicken breasts halves – boneless/skinless
2 green onions, diced
½ bunch of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Drain and rinse black beans. Place chicken at bottom of pot, then pour on whole can of corn, rotel, and black beans. Top with seasonings and Worcestershire sauce. Stir together. Place cream cheese on top. Cover with lid and cook until chicken is done. Stir in cream cheese. Use 2 forks to shred chicken (or just take the chicken out and chop it). Add a little water or chicken stock if it needs more liquid. About 20 minutes before serving, mix in cilantro and green onions.  Serve with shredded cheddar and diced avocado. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kale and Cool Weather

Not only is kale a beautiful vegetable, it's packed full of nutrients!  I've tried it a couple of ways and it was okay.  The recipe we added it to today was delicious!  My kids loved it.  The kale was not hidden and yet my kids Gobbled. It. Up. 
The weather has finally cooled off.  Not just a little cold front in the 80's but like real cool weather that makes you want to snuggle up with a bowl of hot soup in front of a fire.  To celebrate, I made a pot of soup!  My aunt gave me the recipe over a year ago.  It calls for spinach but she suggested kale and well, it was perfect.  I'll share the exact recipe I cooked then I'll link the original recipe. 

Potato & Kale Soup

1/2 lb breakfast sausage (like Jimmy Dean)
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3 slices bacon
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 15 oz box of chicken broth
3 medium/large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 c milk
1 head of kale, stems removed
Salt & Pepper to taste

Brown sausage with crushed red pepper in dutch oven.  Drain and set aside.  Cook bacon in dutch oven.  Drain, leaving about a tablespoon of drippings in pot.  Crumble bacon.  Pour chicken broth in dutch oven.  Add potato slices, sausage, bacon, garlic, and onion powder.  Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are fork tender.  Reduce heat and add kale and milk.  Cook until kale is just wilted.  Season to taste with salt & pepper and serve!

Adapted from

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Journey to Fitness

I'm journaling my adventure to being healthy and fit HERE <----Click if you are interested in following that.  I'll try to figure out how to put a link at the top of this blog later.

Our Garden: 2 Months

Our radishes are just about done... I think we have a couple more left to harvest soon.  The peas are not really growing like we excpected but we are seeing a couple of pods.  I think that row needed more water.  Or maybe it got too much?  I don't really know.  The broccoli plants are HUGE!

 I can't wait til they start showing some actual broccoli.  The cabbage is also doing really well except one plant that seems to have gotten bugs or something... it hasn't spread to the others so we're not treating them with anything for now. 

The carrots and cauliflower are doing great, too. You can actually see the carrots now!

I am most excited about the brussels sprouts though!  They are growing pretty good they have a long way to go.  I can't wait to harvest them...  my mouth is watering for some carmelized brussels sprouts with bacon and garlic.   YUM!!!


We had a wonderful vacation/field trip in October. We went to Florida and spent a few days on the beach.  It was still warm, the beach was almost empty of tourists, and the one day of rough waters while there washed up thousands of seashells!  We collected so many pretty shells... even a couple of whole shells! 

This prompted us to skip our Apologia astronomy science for a week and learn about seashells!  We first learned about the different types of seashells and the boys divided ours into two categories representing the most common types:  Univalve & Bivalve

I didn't take pics of the rest of the lessons BUT, we learned the names of some of the shells.  We have one slipper shell, a spiny jewel box, lettered olive, part of a shark eye (or moon snail), a couple of fighting conches, a little Florida cerith, one half of an angel wing, several scallop halves, egg cockle halves, imperial venus, jingles (these are nearly clear!), possibly a beaded periwinkle... and our favorite find:  Lightning Welks!  The lightning welk is the Texas state seashell.  We never would have known that if it wasn't for this little adventure away from our regular curriculum.  This website has the names and pictures of all the seashells listed above along with many more.