Grocery Challenge - Month 3

And I mean "challenge" in every sense of the word. Wow, I cannot get over how expensive just day-to-day living is now! Here's the breakdown:

Groceries - $383.17
HBA - $27.73
Restaurant - $101.18
Gas - $151.37
Misc. - $104.05

As you can see, groceries are down, while restaurant spending has doubled from last month. After looking at the dates, it seems that we've been relying on fast food alot closer to the end of the month. That makes sense, we've been consumed by the system update at the store and have spent very little time at home.

Gas? That was 2 fill-ups for each of our cars. Yowza!

And, if our spending wasn't disturbing enough, we now have a new hurtle to cross. The ceramic cooktop on our stove broke this morning, and the appliance guy said it would take almost 2 weeks to order the part in (and I'm not even gonna go into how much it's going to cost). So I'm limited to a crockpot, oven, toaster oven, and the grill for the next few weeks. And rather than complaining while I order up a pizza, I'm rising to this challenge, AND adding the Zone diet to the mix. It's gonna be interesting.

Goals for next month:

  • Find a way to make healthful meals out of the pantry.
  • Inventory-ing the pantry & freezers to maximize efficiency.
  • Seek out and test 3 new crockpot recipes and posting their result.
Fingers crossed?


Are You in the Zone?

After hearing me whine for a few weeks about being stressed and eating everything in sight, my buddy Ryan (the personal trainer, don't I complain to the right people?!?!) got me some Zone Diet paperwork and started coaching me on getting back into a healthy lifestyle. He hit me at just the right time, too. After inhaling a yummy taco salad and an order of fried ice cream (and don't forget the margarita...oh, I'm drooling right now!) for our anniversary dinner yesterday, I'm just feeling sluggish and loathesome, and prepared to reach out for a solution.

Today was D-day.

Okay, I'll be the first to tell you that the Zone Diet isn't easy. It's complicated, especially for a math-challenged individual such as yours truly. Much like Weight Watchers, you have a tendency to obsess over what to eat, what's it's value (blocks instead of points), plus the added bonus of having to eat carbs, proteins, and fats with every meal. Luckily, I'm one of those detail-oriented people who thrives on this type of thing.

So I've been calculated to have 12 blocks per day. That's broken down to 3 for breakfast, 2 for lunch, 2 for snack, 3 for dinner, and 2 for late snack. And, to make it even more confusing, those 3 blocks for breakfast is actually 3 protein, 3 fat, and 3 carbs. You see what I mean? And I'm not even talking about calculating block value of foods not included on their list (which is pretty short).

The good news? Eating clean for a few months is a great launch into Zoning. It's far easier to block clean foods than processed foods. And you get more volume eating clean.

So today was a good day. I have new incentive to NOT lick the pizza cutter at work (don't worry, guys, that's a figure of speech...though I'm guilty of picking off the errant topping from the cutter). And I've stuck to the plan as I understand it. I'm really looking forward to getting into "the Zone", which the website promises after the first week or so. But, at the same time, I'm a little apprehensive about what this is going to do to our grocery budget. There, again, Ryan manages to inspire me, the man eats everything out of a can...green beans, potatoes, tuna, and he makes it work!

So I'll get back with you in a week, to let you know if the renewed energy is fact or crap. You're also supposed to notice changes in your clothing within the first week. We'll see.



Today is the 5 year anniversary of the happiest day of my life. My husband and I were married on a warm May afternoon at a B&B in Reading, PA. And today I pause to reflect on lessons learned in our married life.

  1. Don't let things go until it's too late. There's lots of help out there for the asking, but what you have to do is be willing to beggar your pride and ask. People are often more than happy to help you, unless you latch onto one of those "Negative Nellie's". In that case, look harder.
  2. You don't have to have your parent's marriage. Your parents are often your strongest example of what is normal in marriage. But that doesn't mean they are normal, or even good examples. Don't be afraid to question if their version of marriage is going to work in your life. And don't be afraid to adopt another style.
  3. Know that, above anything else, the person you've committed your life to is the one who truly has your best interests at heart. They should, for if you go down, you're taking them along, right?
  4. Divorce is not an option. Period. Man up and get through and past your problems. Or, if you're the fairer sex, put on your big girl panties. There's a reason why you chose to join with your spouse...now concentrate on that reason.
  5. Be a team. Work together for the greater good of the family. And share your struggles and faults with your spouse. Often we marry a person whose strenghts are our weaknesses, so capitalize on that.
Okay, I'm all out of pearls of wisdum. But I just want to say Yasar, you are my soulmate. You are my balance, my counterpoint, and my partner. And I can't wait to grow old with you, either. Phebeck, habibi!


Mid-Month Grocery Blues

You know, I really had a reality check last night. I went to Meijer to get the weekly groceries. Nothing exotic, just the basic milk-eggs-bread, plus taking advantage a few specials (very few). And I'm rolling the cart out to the car to load up the trunk, and it hits me...my cart is scarily empty for just having spent almost $50.

Now, I read all the same articles you do - recessionrecessionrecession, the price of everything is going sky-high, Amerca's public getting a hard pinch - but I guess I didn't really believe it until last night. And that realization has me really taking a step back and assessing our situation. How is this going to affect the future of my family? Will we be doomed to eat more pizza?

And I just read a blurb from Gary Foreman of Dollar Stretcher fame, that the government just approved a "farm bill". You'd think this would be a good thing, helping out the farmers of America to lower prices in turn for us, right? Wrong. This benefit is strictly for farmers making more than 1.5 million per year. Yeah, that's what I thought, the little guys who might actually NEED it will be geting some relief. Riiiight. And, in true US government style, they're pushing for legislation that benefits themselves again, buying the big farmers' votes in advance.

Meanwhile, I'm happy to get a gallon of milk for $2.50.

I think we just need to brace ourselves, because this is going to get worse before it gets better.


A Prayer for the Chapman Family

I have to say, I've disputed blogging about this for days. But my heart is so heavy right now. Hearing that Steven Curtis Chapman, the popular Contemporary Christian artist, lost one of his daughters this week has kept me in very frequent contact with God.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Steven, besides being a talented singer/songwriter, he has made it his life's work to promote international adoption through his organization Shaohannah's Hope. He has been such a driving force in exposing the world to the number of children in underdeveloped countries in need of loving homes. And he's worked hard to provide support, both financial and spiritual, to families going through the international adoption process.

So it's heartbreaking that one of his daughters went to be with Jesus so early in her life. My prayers are with that whole family. I hope that yours are, too.



1 cup brown lentils ($0.50)
1 1/2 cup regular rice ($0.75)
1 large onion ($0.50)
1/2 cup vegetable oil ($0.50)
5 cups water (pennies)
salt to taste (pennies)

Simmer lentils in water until almost cooked (skins will split when you blow on them). Add rice, bring to a simmer. Drop heat very low and cover. Cook until water is gone and rice is cooked (you might have to go below the top layer of rice to test it).

Slice onion very thin. Cook on high in oil until almost burnt. Mix into rice mixture and let sit for a few minutes.

Serve with plain yogurt ($2.00) or a cabbage salad (see below)

1/2 head green cabbage, shredded ($0.75)
1 large onion ($0.50)
1 large tomato, diced ($0.50)
1 peeled and seeded cucumber, diced ($0.50)
lemon juice (pennies)
olive oil ($0.50)
salt and pepper (pennies)
dried mint leaves, crushed, or red pepper flake (pennies)

Mix together and serve on top of mujudarrah.

This is what the wasouf household calls "Syrian poverty food". Don't knock it till you try it...it rawks!

Serves about 8, and these are large servings.

Per serving, with yogurt - $0.53/serving
With salad - $0.63/serving


First Kids Preschool Graduation

(sniff sniff) My baby graduated tonight. Yeah, it's only from preschool, but don't blink, right? Here's some pictures. Also check out the YouTubes for sing-along sound bytes.

Andrew and Victoria are bestest friends.

Andrew's big moment.

The happy family


4-year-old Sexual Harassment?

Did you see Glenn Beck this past week? He was commenting on a situation where a 4-year-old in Texas has been accused of sexual harassment against his teacher. Apparently her rubbed his face in her breasts while giving her a hug. The child's parents petitioned the school to have this label removed from his education record, and they were granted a reduction to "inappropriate physical contact".


Are they serious?!?

Sorry, I just had to pause a moment while I picked my chin up off the floor. Are you kidding me? I have a 4-year-old. The closest he gets to inappropriate physical contact is touching someone's "private area" just for the negative reaction he gets (after all, a negative reaction is better than no reaction at all, right? So goes the logic in a preschoolers' mind...). As if I didn't already have enough issues, now I have this to keep me up at night? Lord, what is this country coming to?

What would possess someone to make such a claim? What kind of depraved individual would interpret a preschooler as capable of sexual harassment? You know, Andrew's preschool teacher wasn't allowed to hug him, even if he asked, until I gave her permission. Isn't it sad that now we'll have to think twice about that, lest something get misunderstoof (or grossly blown out of proportion) and trail him throughout his educational career. The teacher who made this claim should be absolutely ashamed of herself. What a pathetic way to get your 15 minutes of fame!

And the school not reneging this claim and adding this incident to the child's permanent record? Unbelievable! You'd think someone whould have enough sense to step back from this situation and look at the big picture. So much for our faith in the education system, too. I guess the "checks and balances" theory went right out the window.

The bottom line is we need to assume a new hat in parenthood. Well, maybe not new, but definitely underutilized until this last generation. Not only do we have to be mommies, chauffers, cooks, housekeepers, tutors, and boo-boo kissers, we now need to be advocates. Because, from the example this case sets, the world really is out to get us, and our kids. When will it end?



~ Keep a small bottle of baby powder in your beach bag. When you're ready to leave the beach, sprinkle some powder on yourself and your kids...the sand will slide right off your skin.
~Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it, but can't digest it. In a week or so, you should be ant-free.
~To get rid of fruit flies, fill a small glass with apple cider vinegar and 2 drops dishwashing liquid, and mix well. Flies will be drawn to the liquid and gone forever.
~When you purchase a new bike, place your child's picture inside the handlebar before putting on rubber grips. If the bike is ever stolen, you have proof of ownership.
~When you throw a baby/bridal shower, buy a pack of Thank You notes for the guest of honor. During the party, pass out envelopes and have guests address one. Much easier for the frazzled new mom/bride to send out their thank-you's.
~Keep a dryer sheet in your pocket to repel mosquitos.
~To warm biscuits/pancakes/muffins, microwave with a cup of water to keep food moist and reheat faster.
~When using canned frosting, whip with an electric mixer for a few minutes. You can both double the volume and lower the calories per serving.
~After drying bed sheets, fold and place inside the pillowcase. No more searching for matching linens.
~Ladies, use leftover hair conditioner to shave your legs. Works great, cheaper than shaving cream, and it's a great way to use up that conditioner that you're not really fond of.
~Before pouring sticky stuff into a measuring cup, fill with hot water and dump out. You'll be surprised how easily that pb comes out.
~Use a chalkboard eraser to swipe fog off of windshields. Works better than cloth, and easy to stash in the glove compartment.
~Place a safety pin on the hem of your skirt/slacks to relieve static cling.


Wildlife in Suburbia

Okay, we seem to have a pair of male ring-necked pheasants living in our backyards. This morning they were as close as the back of our deck! Tiger's going wild, and we're going to have to figure something out when it comes to him and "outside time" - he's such a born hunter, it wasn't so long ago that he caught a garter snake and brought it into our living room....ALIVE. It wouldn't be good for him to be hunting baby pheasants. Anyway, this was thrilling because I'd never seen a pheasant before that wasn't stuffed in some hunter's ego-display. We're so fortunate to have these guys visit, and hopefully they'll stay around for awhile!


Strawberry Sour Cream Freeze

Okay, we're completely addicted to this ice cream machine. Andrew gets the biggest kick out of it! Here was last night's experiment...

1 pint failed strawberry freezer jam
12 oz reduced fat sour cream

Blend together, refrigerate until cold. Whirl through the ice cream machine until set. This is very rich, serve with a side of cinnamon graham crackers. Yum!


In Recognition of Mother's Day

Real Mothers don't eat quiche; they don't have time to make it.
Real Mothers know that their kitchen utensils are probably in the sandbox.
Real Mothers often have sticky floors, filthy ovens and happy kids.
Real Mothers know that dried play dough doesn't come out of shag carpets.
Real Mothers don't want to know what the vacuum just sucked up.
Real Mothers sometimes ask "Why me?" and get their answer when a little voice says, "Because I love you best."
Real Mothers know that a child ' s growth is not measured by height or years or grade...It is marked by the progression of Mama to Mom to Mother...

The Images of Mother
4 YEARS OF AGE - My Mommy can do anything!
8 YEARS OF AGE - My Mom knows a lot! A whole lot!
12 YEARS OF AGE - My Mother doesn't really know quite everything.
14 YEARS OF AGE - Naturally, Mother doesn't know that, either.
16 YEARS OF AGE - Mother? She's hopelessly old-fashioned.
18 YEARS OF AGE - That old woman? She's way out of date!
25 YEARS OF AGE - Well, she might know a little bit about it.
35 YEARS OF AGE - Before we decide, let's get Mom ' s opinion.
45 YEARS OF AGE - Wonder what Mom would have thought about it?
65 YEARS OF AGE - Wish I could talk it over with Mom.

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole, but true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows, and the beauty of a woman with passing years only grows!

(thanks for this, Chris! and Happy Mother's Day everyone! Now go call your mom!!!)


Stocking Up?

Here's something new and disturbing...the Wall Street Journal is weighing in on more than the stock market. They've recently published an article about stocking your pantry as a means of getting a better return on your money.


Apparently food prices are rising at a much faster rate than the best interest rates you can get on CD's and money markets these days. And I guess it must be true, my savings account in paying out a whopping 1/2 percent interest, and eggs have gone up almost $0.50 a dozen in the last few months. But isn't fearmongering like this putting us further into this position? Scare people into thinking rice is doubling in price, or becoming scarce, and won't people buy in bulk, stockpile, and make that a self fulfilling prophecy?

And since when is WSJ a valid resource when it comes to matters of the home? They have their niche, reporting on all things financial. But this is a new territory for them. Should we take them seriously? To be honest, WSJ weighing in on this is a little scary for me. It lends validity to the "rumors" of recession, something which I've heard and understand in abstract, but still don't take as reality. But am I going to take up a bomb shelter mentality? Absolutely not. Thanks to my genetic makeup, I'm already predisposed to OCD, and my pantry and storage freezer are already pretty full, thank-you-very-much. My husband has enough of a hayday rolling his eyes at my "crazed-squirrel-in-autumn" mentality. He doesn't need any more ammo.

More important to me right now is finding other ways to economize. My brother is a true inspiration to me...he's taken to riding his bicycle to and from work, instead of starting up his SUV and burning a non-renewable (and very expensive) resource. While that's a great example, emulating is just not very feasible living in the 'burbs with a preschooler. What we do is just try to consolidate our errands as much as we can. It's important to me to reduce our grocery bill and still be able to serving healthful food to my family. And if I stumble on a great deal along the way, well, I can put on the crazy squirrel hat for awhile.

So does the Wall Street Journal dictate what we'll do about this recession? Yes and no. Sure, it makes me worry a bit, and maybe pay more attention to my spending habits. But am I looking to buy a survival kit yet? Maybe instead I'll just buy a few more cans of green beans....


Economic Stimulus? ROFL!

You know, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. An extra check from Uncle Sam is jakers with me. But what baffles me is that we're so easily bought, and with our own money.

When is the last time you truly looked at your pay stub, and recognized the tax dollars going into our goverment's pockets as money we earned? We're completely oblivious to the 23ish % that gets taken from our income, probably because we're so conditioned to this practice. But really, take a minute and think about this. Our government takes it's cut of our money even before it gets into our hands. Doesn't that make your blood at least simmer a little? That the good old USA considers itself top priority, even before you feed and house yourself. A quarter of your check, gone. And what say do you have in where it's spent? None, my friend. It will go wherever our leaders, ever true (NOT), decide it will best line their pockets. It's sad, but you don't have to look very hard to see the truth in that statement. Heck, even the Reader's Digest outlines the pork barrel spending every third month or so.

So why are we so ecstatic about the $600 we'll be getting here in a few days? Does Bush really think, in this impending recession, that people are going to go out and buy a new car, or pay for a vacation? Purchase a new Plasma TV? Seriously? I know people who are in a good-enough financial position to pull that off, and I know more people who aren't, but are naive enough to buy into the hype. We're trying to be financially responsible with our $1500. We'll drop money into new tires for our old car, pay some bills, and sink the rest into a JIC cushion. A cruise to the Caribbean? Not on our agenda at this time. Or in this lifetime, apparently.

Since you're waiting for a gesture of grattitude, here goes...Mr. President, thanks for the stimulus check, which was really my money to begin with. Thank for giving me a little of my own money back to help our family stay afloat in the up-and-coming economic hiccup. Thanks for being foolish enough to expect me to spend this check frivilously, when in fact I will be saving it for the dark days to come. Now go do something even more meaningful, and fix this economy. Earn that fat paycheck you get from the sweat of my brows, and stop wasting my tax dollars.


Mango-Neufchatel Ice Cream

2 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped
8 oz. brick lowfat cream cheese, room temp

Liquify fruit in blender, add cream cheese and blend again. Then add milk and whirl until a thick pudding texture, and sweeten (sugar? Splenda? your call...) to taste. Cool overnight in the fridge.

Roll it in the ice cream maker until set. Enjoy!

Ooooh, baby! This is definitely going to make an appearance at my next Indian Night! Kinda tart, kinda sweet, and just divine!

A Funny Thing Happened Today....

You know, I'll be the first to admit that seeing this weekend on the schedule was a little intimidating. I wasn't expected into work, and Yasar was only working something like 4pm-9pm Saturday. It was a little nerve-racking, it's been that long since we've had a day off together. We needed a catalyst, and we found that in a few gallons of paint.

Being face-to-face has been a little uncomfortable lately. We've been dealing with some baggage we've been carrying for a few years. So it was a pleasant surprise that we could work side-by-side so well. We spent the last two days talking, and not just about the business or Andrew (what seems like our only two topics). We were comrades, on a level playing field (unlike when we work together at the pizza joint, at that he's FAR better than I am), and I can't get over how much fun we had. Even he commented on it. Our vibe was just dead-on.

And the fruits of our labor? Here's a peek....

For the most part, all east/west walls are avocado/sage-ish color, and north/south walls are "canary". It feels very "Madrid" in our family area now.


Crockpot Chicken Cordon Bleu

2 eggs ($0.50)
2 cups milk ($0.50)
2 tbsp melted butter ($0.50)
1/2 cup diced celery ($0.25)
1 tbsp chopped onion ($0.25)
8 sliced cubed bread (preferably those bread ends you keep in the freezer for just this purpose) ($0.75)
12 thin slices deli ham, rolled ($1.50)
2 cups shredded swiss cheese ($2.99)
2 cups cooked chicken breast, trimmed and diced ($2.00)
1 can cream of chicken soup ($0.75)

Beat eggs and 1 1/2 cups milk in a large bowl. Add butter, celery, and onion. Stir in bread cubes. Mix soup and 1/2 cup milk in separate bowl, set aside. Put half of bread mixture into greased crockpot. Top with half of chicken, cheese, and ham, then half of soup mixture. Repeat layers.

Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours, until thermometer inserted into bread layer reaches 160 degrees. Serve with a salad and some fruit cocktail. Tastes much more decadent than it costs!

6 servings @ $1.67/serving.