Grocery Challenge - July

The Breakdown:

Groceries $306.32
Health $208.19
Misc $146.05
Restaurant $94.64
Gas $216.59

The Skinny:

Groceries are getting more expensive (like...DUH!). We probably could have trimmed this back a little more by not ordering those Dr. Melina protein bars from Amazon.com. But since I'm back working in the nursing home more than I usually do, these are such a God-send when there's no time to hit the breakroom (and that's a daily occurance). We've also spent more money at the farmer's market this month, and have been absolutely making ourselves sick of zucchini! :) Nothin' like a cheap, filling meal - sliced zucchini, sliced onion, a little evoo and some good italian seasoning, fry it together and top with parmesan cheese...mmmm! Anyway, I'm pleased that we've managed to spend less than last month, especially accounting that we had visitors for almost a week. WTG! Next month's going to be even better, too!

Health - poor Yasar is having some major dental issues. This has all been medications and, finally, the extraction of his tooth. RIP.

Misc - You know, looking through the things bought in the misc category, I'm very pleased. Yasar spent $45 at Autozone to get what we needed to change our own oil, and then did both the cars! For some of you, that's not a big to-do, but we've never really made the time to do these types of things (is this time found now that we've divorced DirecTV? Maybe?). And we got a Haynes manual for my car, since she's starting to show her age a little.

Restaurants - Looking back, we did really well with the eating out budget the first two months of this project ($35 and $59 respectively). After that, we started jumping into the triple digits. This month was better, but next month....

Gas - Better than last month's $300+ bill, but still more than I'm comfortable with. In the last week, gas prices have dropped from $3.96 into the $3.50's. So hopefully this trend will continue in the Miami Valley, and will be reflected in next month's report.

Goals for August:
  • We are going to knock the restaurant budget back into the $60 range. Period.
  • We should be able to continue the decline of groceries, since the tomato plants and cukes are full of big green fruit, and should keep us in good eats all month long.
  • We're probably going to have to make a trip to Sam's Club for rice, flour, and some other staples, and my goal is to keep that trip under $75.


Angel Food Ministries Update

Okay, I left a voicemail for the AFM contact at Safe Harbor this afternoon, and just received a call back.

Angelia is going to be contacting AFM concerning the produce quality of this last delivery, and would be calling back when she had a response.

I also requested to keep the produce box on next month's order, so long as I could inspect it at pickup. That was agreeable. So all's well.

Looking forward to next month's delivery!

One Step at a Time...

My weight is officially out of control.

There, I said it.

And I can sit here and flagellate the reasons (depression, low income, stress, accessibility of fast food, etc. etc. ad nauseum), but the fact is only one person can change my BMI.

So, Saturday morning I faced my fears, and the scale. It wasn't pretty. In fact, pretty durn ugly. But I know what I'm up against now. I have seen the enemy and it is me. And I'm fighting back.

So, since I'm not so brave as to verbalize my weight in the court of public opinion, let's just call it "starting point".

It's been two days on my diet so far. I'm trying to limit calories to 1200-1400, stay high in protein (though that's very hard to do on our limited budget...there's only so many egg whites a girl can eat!), and get some form of exercise daily.

Where this is going to stop, I have no idea. But this weight thing is probably going to be a life-long struggle. That's a depressing thought right there. I need some support in this, and I'm not talking Weight Watchers. Or the food police (i.e. my wonderful DH, who I love dearly but who has been fortunate enough to have inherited some skinny DNA and will never understand the struggles of obesity).

Okay, I'm done ranting now. Off for a protein shake (MMM-MMMMMMMM!).


Angel Food Ministries - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Well, we went to pick up our Angel Food Ministries budget box and produce box today. Here's the lowdown...

The Good:

The food looks to be of good quality. Hawaiian Punch, Banquet crockpot dinner, lots of frozen meat. No broken eggs. A carton of shelf-stable milk, which is always a nice thing to keep around. Frozen broccoli and a peas-n-carrots mix. Blueberry muffin mix, even though it's the $0.50 version sold at Save A Lot. All around, I'm pleased with the selection and quality of the budget box.

The Bad:

Unfortunately, much of this food is the type that I wouldn't buy at the grocery store. It came with corn tortillas, canned spaghetti sauce, and something dubiously called "chicken fritters" (think fried clam strips, only it's chicken in there instead of clams...hmmmm, reserving judgement until I can taste them). So I'm left with the dilemma of deciding if it's cost-effective to try (and possibly fail with) new recipes. Hey, I'm up for the challenge. Chicken fritters on top of salad? Sounds like a plan....

The Ugly:

I'm really disappointed in the produce box. Of the 4 oranges received, 2 were in an advanced state of moulder. Ditto with 3 of the 6 ears of corn. And there was a putrifying carrot in the sack of carrots. Also, there's a tiny watermelon that looks suspectly too green to enjoy, and the same with the pineapple. My guess is that, once all the waste was tallied, I probably only broke even on the cost of AFM versus Meijer.


While this service has it's flaws, I'd certainly purchase AFM again, and have already signed up for next month's delivery. However, I'm probably going to call the local AFM site and request the money returned for next month's produce pack.

Oh, and BTW, I was interviewed by the local news affiliate outside the pickup. I'm sure they were digging me dressed in my scrubs (I'd gone there straight from the nursing home) and driving my pizza-logo festooned car. Thet'll make for a terrific public interest story! Ack!


Frugal Entertaining

Our household has been graced with a very old friend and her relatively new husband (and even newer son) this week...I know you wondered why it was so quiet here! And, since the financial situation hasn't made an improvement, we've had to get creative with entertaining our guests. Fortunately for us, Melissa is a frugalista herself, and we've spent alot of time comparing notes and absorbing information. And she's hip to the cash flow dilemma, so we've made it a point to do more for less. Like what, you say? I thought you'd never ask!!

Chatting over coffee (or your favorite beverage, as long as we're not talking a bottle of Black Label....cha-ching!). Like I said above, I've learned alot from this visit. She's spent some time teaching me about my computer, we've had some laughs about how cheap we can get, and our hubbies and kiddos have had important male bonding time. Cost? Practically free!

Parks. We've been so blessed to have had great weather this past week. And our small town is known for it's abundance of parks. So we've spent alot of time playing with the kids, and playing ourselves. Bringing along your own lunch makes it seem "a step above" the normal park visit, and it really transforms into an enjoyable afternoon. Kiddos sleep better at night, too (at least, mine does).

Cooking together. Melissa's husband, Nate, is a fellow foodie, and it's been so interesting to watch how he "rolls" in the kitchen. I'm telling you, I got a lesson on brining chicken legs...with sugar! He's stretched my mind into some different directions, and completely inspired me to experiment a little myself. And yes, the chicken legs were divine.

Bike riding at dusk. It seems our M.O. to get the kids, both large and small, on wheels as the day winds down. Andrew, Nate, and Yasar on bikes, Lucian (their baby) on a push-car, me and Melissa on the legs God gave us. And it's been just so much fun! Even the mosquitos appear to cooperate and leave us alone. :)

You know, it's always been my philosophy that, when you have guests, you spoil them rotten and disregard the expense (until the Visa bill comes in). But it's a new dawn, a new day, and I feel good! Seriously, we've not spent a heap of money, had a great time, and I don't have that buyer's remorse to look forward to the minute our guests head off into the sunset (what is it with me and the sun today?). Lesson learned! And we had a fantastic time learning it!


Introducing Izzy Beau!

This is our latest family member. Izzy is another friend found outside the pizza shop, just like our other baby, Tiger. She (at least, we're pretty sure she's a "she") is sweet as sugar, so sweet that she's even managed to win Tiger's old tomcat heart. We're so glad to welcome her into our family, and into our hearts.
Mommy, please stop rolling your eyes.....


More Frugal Tips From the Trenches

Bath & Body Works Twisted Peppermint Lotion - this stuff is liquid gold right now! After a cold shower, slather some of this on you and turn on the fan. No problems going to sleep in a hot bedroom anymore!

Iced Tea - Instead of spending lots of $$$ on drinks, we've gotten quite adept at making iced tea by the half gallon. Boil 1 liter of water. Drop in 6 tea bags, & let steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, take the other liter of cold water and put into a pitcher. Add sugar to taste. Pour in steeped tea, mix, & refrigerate.

Calculating Your Per-mile Costs - Being aware that driving one mile in my little car costs me approximately $0.13 keeps me weighing every excursion. So, if it's a short jaunt, maybe up to the Meijers or something, we'll likely take the bike. Yesterday Andrew and I went to Dairy Queen as a treat, and it was really hard to justify the 14-mile round trip, even with the BOGO ice cream coupon.

Alternative Entertainment - We've been spending more time chatting it up with our neighbors than usual. And networking with other moms at our weekly McD's jaunt. There's even been talk of a group cooking session between a few of us, which would be slammin' good fun! Oh, and there's another form of entertainment in our family right now, but I'll save the details for Monday. :)

Baking Soda as Hair Care (see previous post) - Believe it or not, this works! Hair is squeaky-clean, DH says it smells fine - not froo-froo, but clean. And after one day, it seems less greasy than before. Yay!

Subbing Bacon Grease for Lighter Fluid - this was a reader-contributed idea in a Dollar Stretcher this week. Paint your charcoal briquets with leftover bacon grease. Your charcoal will light better and impart your food with that wonderful bacon-y aroma. Mmmmm!


What Lengths Will You Go To?

One of the frugal newsletters that finds it's way into my inbox had an intriguing tip to save money and be greener. From the Dollar Stretcher Tips, 7/18/08:

Natural Hair Care

I'm saving money on hair care. You can save a lot of money by not buying shampoo and conditioner. Instead, make your own. It's cheaper and healthier.

To clean your hair and scalp, put 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of baking soda in a recycled water bottle. Add warm water and shake to dissolve. Closing your eyes, pour a bit over a section of your wet hair, working it through hair to scalp. Repeat on other sections. I do this with the shower turned off, so I'm not wasting water as I'm massaging it through. Then, rinse it out.

To make a hair rinse, pour 2 to 2.5 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a recycled water bottle. Add water. Close your eyes and pour some over your hair to help with the tangles (you may not need this every time).

The results are great! I wash my hair half as often as I used to, because my scalp isn't over-producing oils. The detergents and solvents in shampoo are very harsh, causing your scalp to continually replace the oils you keep shampooing/stripping out. That's why you get the overly "greasy" look if you don't shampoo daily. Instead, clean your hair every two to three days with your homemade solution, and let your scalp readjust to its normal, healthy self. You're also preventing all those chemicals from going into the water system, so it's easier on the environment, too.

Lisa B.

Would you try this? I'll be doing this today, and will let you know the results....


Basic Chowder

1 tbsp butter, margarine, or bacon fat - $0.25
1 large onion, diced - $0.25
3 stalks celery, diced - $0.50
2 1/2 cups tap water - negligible
5 large potatoes (or the equivalent), peeled and diced - $1.00
*protein (see below)
4 cups water + 1 1/3 cups nonfat powdered dry milk - $0.50
salt & pepper to taste - pennies
1 cup cold tap water - negligible
1/2 cups AP flour - $0.10

Melt fat in soup pot, add celery and onions and sweat until tender. Add 2.5 cups water and diced potatoes. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add protein (see below) and cook for another 10 minutes. Add milk, salt, and pepper and heat gently.

In a small jar, combine 1 cup cold tap water with 1/2 cup flour. Shake the jar until no lumps are left. Add to soup. Stir and bring to a slow boil until thickened.

Best served with OTC crackers (for you east-coasters)


1/2 lb white fish, frozen and diced approx. the same size as the potatoes - $3.00
2 cans chopped clams, undrained - $3.00
1/2 lb bacon, diced and fried, and 2 whipped eggs (you'll have to stir this into the potato mixture - $2.25
no protein, just a can of drained yellow corn - $0.50
open up your imagination. And your leftover drawer. This recipe is so versatile!

Cost per serving, based on 8 servings:

$0.70 per serving with $3 proteins.

Muchas gracias to the Hillbilly Housewife recipe pages, from which this was adapted. :)


What We're Doing to Trim Our Budget

  • "Navy showers". You know, jump in, rinse, shut off the water while you lather up, shampoo, and shave, then turn the water back on to rinse. Estimated monthly savings - $10
  • DIY haircuts. Yasar and Andrew both use an at-home kit. And, believe it ot not, we've gotten pretty good at it. Nothing fancy, but good enough that it's not blatantly obvious we're not hitting the salon. Estimated monthly savings - $20
  • Angel Food Ministries. It's the first month we're trying this, but I have alot of faith in it. Estimated monthly savings - $20
  • Discontinuing the DirecTV. We got our government coupons in the mail and ordered our DTV converter boxes. DirecTV contract ends in 2 days, and I'll be on the phone with them cancelling that day. Estimated monthly savings - $70
  • Library. I wish I could put a figure on this. We've been spending so much more time reading, and Andrew gets plenty of free DVD's to watch. Estimated monthly savings - ???
  • Amazon Subscribe & Save. If there's something in the grocery department you use regularly, check prices on Amazon. If you sign up to have it sent at regular intervals, they give you 15% off, plus free shipping. Estimated monthly savings - $5
  • Aldi's. I stop in there about once a month for nonperishables. Really, you can't tell the difference. Estimated monthly savings - $10
  • Window Fans. Honestly, so far this summer we've only used the central air in our home when we have visitors. So our electric bill has stayed relatively consistent with winter's usage. Our trick for sleeping is a cool shower right before bed, then fans directed on you all night. Estimated monthly savings - $30

What are you doing to economize?


New Post

This blank screen is frightening today. There's alot on my mind right now, but is it really something I want floating around cyberspace?

My friend Melissa calls it "Funk". Brenda says it's normal for her. Can seasonal depression happen in the summertime? Winter blues are at least understandable. But this is summer, time of fun in the sun, extra vitamin D boosts every time you step outside. Ice cream trucks and overabundant tomato plants.

Or is it situational? Summertime is always something we "survive", with the business we're in. And with food costs being what they are, and profits getting leaner, summer is just not something to anticipate. The recession that everyone else is feeling the "pinch" of is crushing us in its fist.

Either way, it's starting to eat away at my emotional state.

Maybe I shouldn't say "starting". If I'm gonna throw it out there, I should at least be honest, right?

Thanks for listening.


A Letter to Me, Circa 1993

Hey Me! How's it going? I'd say "long time no see", but I get the mingled pleasure and pain of checking out you plus 15 years every morning in the mirror. Confused? I completely understand, since that's pretty much your normal state these days.

Eighteen years old, huh? Lots going on for you right now. Getting your driver's license, legally buying smokes, graduating high school. It's all pretty exciting! Take a deep breath and enjoy, because this is a high point in your life and there's an awful lot of wasteland coming up.

Anyway, I wanted to give you a few pointers on life in general, and love in particular. Grab a drink, this could take awhile. And stop rolling your eyes!

1.) High school graduation should be celebrated feverishly. You'll never look back at those people again, and for the most part they won't look at you, either. And that's a blessing, let me tell you.

2.) That guy you're staying up all-hours to spend time with? He's gonna break your heart a few years down the road. But the lessons you learn from both the relationship and the heartbreak are going to benefit you for a long time. Just stay away from his creepy dad.

3.) Slow down behind the wheel. Sure, it's fun to be a little daring...after all, you're gonna live forever, right? Well, I can vouch for 33.5 years, but after that, it's all in God's hands.

4.) Speaking of God, would you believe that your religion is going to be important to you again? Hey, I'm being serious here! All those years you're gonna spend sinning are going to come in handy, too, when it comes to relating to and guiding younger girls. At least, you'll like to think so.

5.) Hold onto the friends you have. Melissa and Joy are going to be there for a long time, and nothing's cooler than friends who know all your dirty laundry!

6.) Don't waste your energy being terrified of pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnancy is fun, childbirth is a piece of cake, and your son is going to be delightful.

7.) Your parents love you, but have a hard time showing it in a way you'll understand. In a few years you'll be better equipped to appreciate that, but until then, just trust me. And, when they get into "extreme parenting", it's really because you've pushed them past the point where they know how to deal with you. Someday you'll understand it, but it'll probably take about 20 years.

8.) Smoking isn't cool, it isn't sexy, it doesn't make you tough, it doesn't make you thin. It makes you cough, it makes you look old, it makes you stink, and it will eventually send you to the emergency room with an asthma attack. And that will be the cathartic moment you need to finally kick that disgusting habit.

9.) Appreciate your metabolism, girl! You can enjoy a slice of pizza without tacking it onto your thighs immediately. Not so in the future. Carpe diem!

10.) You're going to go through a few rocky relationships before you finally meet the man of your dreams (yes, he's coming, don't fret). As hard as they're going to be, each one comes with a distinct lesson. One will teach you alot about what to look for in a life partner, in particular when it comes to familial relations. One will address your need for individuality. One will help you understand that you cannot change a man through loving him. One will show you why it's important to wait for relationships to be mutual (actually, two will teach you that lesson). Anyway, take notes to reflect on once you've matured a few years.

Anyway, me, more than anything, enjoy every day. You're only this young and carefree once in your life. Sure, it's not easy being 18. Been there, done that. But it sure isn't easier at thirty-something. Enjoy gaining experience. Remember everything. Sit on the wall at the Pagoda. Go on that blind date. Drive to NYC just for great lasagna. Enjoy a movie at the drive-in. Soak up those moments, so you can take them out and turn them over in your hands later.

Oh, and the mall hair? C'mon, what is that about?

Love you!


Green Tomato Pie

Double crust for 9" pie
2 tbsp flour
4 large unpeeled green tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tbsp butter

Sprinkle flour over the bottom of the pie crust. Layer in tomato slices.

Mix sugars, lemon juice, and cloves together. Pour over tomatoes and dot with butter.

Cover with top crust, flute and vent. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then drop the heat to 375 for an additional 30 minutes.

Serve with vanilla ice cream. This makes a very juicy pie, but it's amazing. Very reminiscent of apple pie, but with a different texture.



Riding the Fence, Again

Andrew and I spent a cold and rainy 4th of July morning standing on the town square and watching the Independence Day parade march it's way through the heart of Troy. Most of it was fairly predictable...drum corps, veterans, pagent queens in corvettes, but one entry caught me by surprise. There was a line-up of very vocal teenagers, with arms linked at the elbows and shirts that spelled out O-B-A-M-A-!

It's amazing to see teenagers, usually the most apathetic of all humans, really reaching into a cause and making it their own. These kids weren't just marching, they were believing, and wanting to take you along for the ride. I was struck by their passion. And I'm praying that they're right, and don't end up jaded after this up-and-coming term in the White House.

No McKane? No, I guess it's not p.c. for Young Republicans to be out there exposing themselves to the masses. I mean, what do you picture when I use the term "Young Republican"? Some stiff prep-school kid in a blazer and tie? Me, too.

I've made it to my early 30's without ever having espoused a political candidate. It's not that I don't care, it's that I have no faith in these people that make promises and never deliver. How can you, when we get burned every four years, like clockwork? They spend lots of time and money blowing pretty pink smoke up our rear-ends and expect us to bow over and thank them and forget when it comes time to "pay the tab".

No thanks.


Andrew's Shining Moment

And, within the hour, he was riding all over the place.

My baby's growing up! :(


Lessons from Gremom's House

I miss my grandparents. Is that something you ever get over? I often spend a few minutes lost in happy memories from childhood, teleported back to a time when things were simpler and life still made sense, when I felt loved and completely secure. And what can I cull from all those happy times and apply to life today?

1. It's NOT okay to throw things away! My grempop was the original packrat. If he thought it would even remotely possibly be useful at some point in the (far) future, he'd find a place to stash it. Even his home, which he built with his own two hands, was made up of a menagerie of bricks and paving stones from demolished factories. And even gremom was famous for her smidge dinners...if there was even a tablespoon of some food item left, it would find it's way into some redneck Rubbermaid and show up at the next meal.

2. You can't get those moments back. Grempop would spend hours playing Connect Four with me, and making projects with me in his musty-but-well-appointed basement. Gremom would bake with me, and make homemade playdough. In our rushrushrush day and age, it's tempting to squeeze time from the most forgiving source, which is usually family. But time is fleeting. And sometimes, the best remedy to our stress-riddled life is to hunker down with your preschooler and discuss what's happening inside that anthill.

3. Gardening is a big step towards being self-sufficient. Grempop was known far and wide for his garden. To my childhood eyes, his garden was just huge! He grew everything, from rhubarb to sweet corn, mint to bell peppers. We ate so well over the summers, all that good produce seasoned with the satisfaction of growing it yourself. It was cheap, and very healthy, except for the browned butter that Gremom insisted on pouring over everything (but who are we to roll our eyes? they both lived well into their 90's).

4. Unconditional love is a gift that costs nothing, but is unparelleled in value. Having an older brother & sister, I spent alot of time being picked on. But Gremom's house was always my soft place to land. All that was required of me was to pick up the phone, and Grempop would be on his way to drive me back to their house. I was never "too much of a bother", they just always welcomed me, no matter what.

5. Aloe Vera fixes everything. :)

What would I give to have 10 minutes with them again? Just to thank them for these lessons, and the multitude of other kindnesses that came so naturally to them. Guys, I miss you. Can't wait to see you again....

This picture was taken by some unknown (to me) person, who caught my grempop and I taking a nap in the backseat of his car. We didn't know this existed until we were cleaning out the house after Grempop died and Gremom needed to go to a long term care facility. Hands down, this is my favorite picture ever.