Sunday, March 18, 2012

Let the light shine!

Before Photo of my dark living room, even with the light
streaming in the windows.
All the tools I used. (I forgot to photograph the fish line)
I doubt many of you have noticed, but I rarely post pictures from activities in my living room. There is good reason for that. My Living Room is a dark cavernous hole. I have attempted a few things to fix it. When the sun is up, my windows are open. I painted the underside of the front porch white, to reflect light inside, I placed a mirror over the couch, opposite the window. Yet still super duper dark. I have been mulling around the idea of recessed lights for some time. There is attic space above the living room for access, and I love the clean look of recessed lights. I was just waiting for my opportunity. Then last Friday, My Vet got a text, and 6 days later he was on his way up to Lake of the Woods for some ice fishing. That meant I had roughly 4 days to see what I could get done. Since I have my preschool helpers, I figured I might be able to get the popcorn ceiling down, and just maybe get lights installed, before he came home. After prepping the ceiling, I compiled all the tools I figured I would need.

I started by measuring my room roughly 20x12. Then based on the manufacturers recommendation, and the spacing of my joists, I mapped out the placement of my 6 fixtures.

I measured and marked where they would go.

I scored the cutout with a utility knife

Then used a drywall saw to cut a precise hole. A specialty tool for working with drywall that is worth the $5. Be careful measure twice, cut once. Any mistakes will need to be patched/repaired it is easier to erase pencil marks than it is to patch a bunch of holes.

Fish the wire from hole to hole. Make sure you have a continuous line of wire to each can, (creating a complete circuit) before pushing the can into the ceiling and securing.

Connect the wires. I have this cool tool that cuts and strips the wire in one squeeze of the handle. (Sorry for the poor resolution. doing a tight shot in bad lighting...)

Push in can. Be sure to use proper cans for your installation. I needed remodel lights rated for direct contact with insulation (IC). Install housing/trim and bulb.

Ceiling, Walls, Lights, After
It took a few hours and some effort, but I am more than ecstatic about the results.  I still have a ways to go before I am finished with the living room, but I am 1 step closer.

**Before starting this project I did some looking online. Thanks to that looking I found a 6 pack of recessed ceiling housings at Lowes for $48 (Menards and Home Depot were over $100) While at the store to pick them up, I found a clearance deal for a 6 pack of trim for $12 (Originally $40) Since I live in a rural area, I didn't want to miss anything so I grabbed a 100' of wire and bulbs. My total for everything at Lowes was $110. By shopping (and getting a bit lucky) I was able to do this entire project for very little $$!

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Popcorn belongs in mouths NOT ceilings!

Bad Popcorn
Previous popcorn removal in the kitchen.
I hate popcorn ceilings. Whoever sold the idea that this was a good way to finish a ceiling, needs to have their head examined. Since this type of drywall treatment is an epidemic, I have found myself moving into homes with this blight. Thanks to a small leak in the kitchen ceiling that caused the popcorn to fall in areas, I have already tackled the removal. Because the leak had been fixed, (Not Exactly) the prior owners had orchestrated a patch job that made it's removal a real pain. That experience made me nervous about attempting the living room, but after a year of admiring the Kitchen ceiling, I was ready to try it again. I was very fortunate that this time around the scraping went smoothly. Because if you attempt this project you will learn that clean up, not scraping, is the hard part.

You will see that I didn't cover my walls...
Start by covering everything. Unless you intend on wiping down your walls when finished and repainting, I would go so far as to cover the floors and the walls with plastic. If you do not cover your walls do remove clocks, art work, mirrors etc. Also remove all the furniture from the room. This is going to get messy.

I think this is the fun part. I LOVE seeing it go!
After your room is prepped. You will want to wet down your ceiling. This softens the popcorn so it comes off easily. (If you suspect that your ceiling has been painted over, do a small test spot. If it has, the popcorn will not absorb the water and you are out of luck.) Do not use a spray bottle for this, your fingers will go numb and you will not be able to saturate the plaster well enough. I like to use a weed sprayer that I fill with water, pump to create pressure then just squeeze the trigger. You want enough water that it is lightly falling like mist, not rain! Then use a wide drywall scraper and it should just fall.
Me and my sprayer. I sprayed and scraped
1/3 of my ceiling at a time.

Popcorn on my shoes
Then comes the hard part. You will need to wipe down or sand your ceiling. I lucked out and it was primed underneath so I was able to wipe it down with a wet towel, rinsing my bucket often. If you have to sand, be sure to wear a mask and tape of the room. The fine dust you will create will go everywhere and make cleanup even worse. Be thorough at this step, or you will be finding white particles all over your house for a long time. My kids tracked it all over the first floor during this project...

Good Popcorn
Paint with ceiling paint and your finished. I find that ceiling paint is very thin, so it may need 2 coats. Also if you are planning on painting the walls be sure to bring your ceiling color down onto the walls a 1/2 inch or so. This will give you a crisper paint line between the ceiling and wall paint, and not allow the previous color to show. I have a small telescoping roller that I like to use on my ceilings. I find that a longer handle makes it easier on the arms.

I couldn't leave the walls since I had painted ceiling color around the top. Luckily I have been going to Ace Hardware every Saturday this month so I had several free quarts of  Clark+Kensington Paint+Primer in One, tinted Mystical 1038. I combined the quarts into a bucket prior to painting, in case there were any color variations.

Since I had ceiling paint left over from a previous project and I even got my paint brushes free using Menards Rebates. This project was completely free!

My room isn't finished yet. But here is my progress..

Ceiling After

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hunger Challenge Day 7 - Finale!!

It's over, Kind of..

Catch up by reading: Getting Started, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The girls enjoying their $3 splurge today.
(Thanks to the missions team at New Life Church
for the yummy looking cupcakes!)
Today is the final day of the Challenge and the day I was the most worried about. It is the day of the Annual Princeton Business Expo. As Business owners we have a booth and spend most of the day on our feet talking to current and prospective clients, making balloon animals, as well as chasing our kids through the exhibit hall and networking with other business owners.

Obviously restaurants are businesses and they all set up shop in the School Cafeteria to sell their wares. There is also a Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. I know that this is going to be a budget buster. How do I have 2 preschoolers at this event for 6 hours and not allow them ANY treat?

Chicken Salad Sandwiches.
They were such a hit, I didn't get one!
I got some left overs at home.
In anticipation, I made sandwiches and packed snacks and refillable water bottles. Since we eliminated the kids $27.35 from our original budget, I am NOT going to beat myself up if I go over budget to treat my kids while supporting local businesses/charities.

Today is a great day to look back at the week. There are a few changes I would make if I were to do it over. I would have gotten 1 less chicken, 1 more dozen eggs, 4lb bag of sugar, no popcorn, and made instead of bought bread. This would have allowed for a little more variety and loosened the budget up enough to pick up more kinds of fruit. I hadn't realized just how much I rely on the fruit preserves in my pantry as well as my freezer. Other than the amount of time I've spend blogging, for the most part this week hasn't been significantly different for us. Saving and living on an extremely tight budget prevents us from the travel and entertainment that our friends are able to enjoy, but we don't spend hours everyday commuting, we have paid off lots of debt, and we get to spend lots of time with our kids.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Hunger Challenge Day 6

Previous Days: Getting Started, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This morning's breakfast choices were slim. The girls finished off the cereal and I had some yogurt, and an egg on a tortilla, trying to save the bread for tomorrow's lunch. Luckily I have a plan for tomorrow's breakfast. Lunch was abundant though. My Vet continues to have salads and I had a giant bowl of white chicken chili.

Help from my sous chefs!
Because we always live on a pretty tight grocery budget, I have regularly scheduled treat meals. So today is Pizza Day. Sometimes we are able to splurge and eat out. More often we eat pizza at home: both Aldi and Walmart have very inexpensive take and bake pizzas ($6-7 each); when I can pick up frozen pizza for close to $1, I buy as many as I can; When I have enough time, I like to make it from scratch. I have used the premade crusts ($4 for 2), the basic dough recipe from Betty Crocker, bread machine dough, and sourdough. Tonight we are going to eat the $1 frozen pizza I picked up for the Challenge, and supplement it with a from scratch version, with sliced tomatoes covered with veggies and some of the Cheddar Cheese I had left. It was yummy, and we ate way to much!

After eating Blueberry Dessert Pizza on a recent splurge pizza night, I decided to try making it. Dessert pizza is super simple to make, and tastes fantastic! (I did a plain version with just cinnamon this week).

One of the grocery items I picked up for the challenge
that I didn't need to waste the budget on. :-(
After dinner, My Vet spent some quality time with the girls, while I was at the High School, setting up our booth for the Business Expo. Hockey is on tonight so I will be catching a movie on Netflix, when I finish this post!

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Dessert Pizza

Friday night is pizza night at our house. Most the time we just make one at home (Frozen, take-n-bake, or homemade) Then there are times like last week, when we ate out. We were in Elk River doing some shopping and decided to eat at the New Pizza Ranch in town. I have eaten dessert pizza many times, and always enjoy it, but at Pizza Ranch they made it with one of my favorite fruits - Blueberries. Yummy, delish, fantastic, mmmmmmm, fab, finger licking, seconds, no wait thirds please? I had finally been inspired to make dessert pizza at home. It was simple to make and only has 4 components.
Sous Chefs poking the holes.

Start with your favorite pizza dough, shape your crust, puncture with a fork and bake at 375 for about 8 minutes. (If you like your crust doughier you can skip the prebake)

Fruit Filling:
You could use a prepackaged can of your favorite pie filling, or slices of your chosen fruit.
I used a can of my blueberry preserves. I added 1 Tbsps of Corn Starch and brought it to a boil in a sauce pan to thicken the juices before spreading on the crust.
If you want to forgo the fruit filling, just sprinkle the crust with a cinnamon sugar combo.

Streusel Topping:
I use this for so many things. I often have a freezer bag of prepared topping in my freezer.
1 Cup Flour
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 Stick of Butter (not margarine)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
*You can blend with a fork, I use my food processor (store any extra in the freezer)
Sprinkle has heavily as desired, over fruit filling, then return to the oven until golden.

Frosting drizzle:
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1-2 Tbsp of milk
**add milk slowly as you will not need a full 2 Tbsp. Mix until desired thickness then drizzle over hot pizza.

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DIY: Cooking Spray

For my second post in this 12 part series on DIY convienence products I am tackling Cooking Spray. There are many different recipes for this online. You can even purchase special bottles. It doesn't have to be that complicated though.

I purchased an inexpensive food grade metal spritzer bottle at a local health food store. Poured in my favorite oil, replaced the lid, and started spraying. It was that simple. It is a small bottle and everytime I add oil I will thoroughly clean the bottle and sprayer, being sure to pump soapy water through the sprayer. Because it is small it should get cleaned about once a month. This cleaning is super important because I chose not to put any additives in my spray oil.

Other recipes call for Liquid Lecithin and/or water among other things. The water is to thin the oil to make is spray better and to keep the sprayer from glogging. Lecithin is an emulsifier that keeps the oil and water mixed. (Oil and Water do not naturally mix, and if they seperate the oil will float and the water will sink, since the hose to the sprayer is at the bottom of the bottle you will only get water and no oil, unless you thoroughly shake it every time you spray.) Lecithin is also the ingredient in commercial oil sprayers that make them NOT compatible with non stick surfaces. Over time the lecithin creates a sticky layer that doesn't easily wash away. Not really something I want to add to my food. Also I recently changed to a cast iron frying pan and really want to be careful with what I put in it, as it should last the rest of my life.

***Update. This spray bottle clogged quickly. So I purchased a Misto. And have been successfully using it to spray regular cooking oil with no problems for several months.***

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hunger Challenge Day 5

Previous Days: Getting Started, 1, 2, 3, 4

Where did today go? I don't remember doing anything significant today. Just spent the day trying not to FAIL.

It started out OK I was the first person in the house out of bed and I figured it was going to be a productive day. Instead I found myself constantly running behind. It started with the most mundane of all tasks...Laundry. I forgot to start the dryer, so the girls soaking wet snow pants, boots, coats, hats, and gloves were still wet, 30 minutes before we needed to leave for school. Brought to conclusion when the girls and I where at the clinic answering the phone while My Vet was at a City Council Meeting. He called to ask where the White Chicken Chili was, because what he saw in the slow cooker looked like a soup. "A yummy soup, just not White Chicken Chili."

It was a day full of just getting by in the nick of time. As I tucked the girls in to bed, I took time to sit, and realized my day wasn't that bad. I was constantly on the run, but I was just missing fail after fail. So after we did our evening prayers to thank "God & Jesus" for all of our blessings. I said a special thanks to my girls who ate every bit of their White Chicken Chili, while praising how "every time, you cook good mom."

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White Chicken Chili

The first time I made this recipe was during The Hunger Challenge. Here is my original Recipe, with variations for a fully stocked pantry.

1 medium Onion Chopped
2 stalks of celery finely chopped
1 cup chopped sweet peppers (mix of green, red, yellow)
1 tsp minced garlic
- Saute in pan I used the fat off the top of my chicken stock, but you could use butter or oil
1/2 Cup flour
- stir into pan of veggies.
4 cups chicken stock (This made it very liquidy, and My Vet likes thick stews,
                                     not soup so I will only use 2 cups in the future.)
- Slowly add to floured mixture, stirring constantly then bring to a boil. ****
3 Cups cubed cooked chicken
1 can white northern beans (would do 2 in the future)
1 can kidney beans
1 Tbsp Grill Mates, Montreal Chicken Seasoning
- Heat through and serve with a garnish of shredded Cheddar Cheese.

**** Because of they day I was having I skipped this step and just threw it all in the slow cooker on low for about 5 hours.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hunger Challenge Day 4

Previous Days Getting started1, 2, 3

Tonight's dinner, Creamed tuna on toast
Living well on a frugal budget should extend beyond your stomach. I coupon to provide most of my family's consumable household goods at significantly reduced prices. My Vet and I have a huge list of DIY projects we have completed over the years. Recently I saved $400 with a DIY solution!

Since I have already blogged about some of those ideas, I though today would be a good time to discuss Entertainment. It is important to have fun. I want my kids to grow up with lots of great experiences. However, museums, movies, and vacations can get really expensive. With just a little guidance you too can do all that on a meager budget.

Enjoying free admission to the MN Zoo
Lets start with museums. Did you know that in most major cities across the US, Target sponsors free admission family days throughout the month? In the Minneapolis area every
1st Saturday Walker Art,
2nd Sunday  Minneapolis Art Institute,
3rd Sunday the MN Children's Museum .
Como Zoo and Conservatory only requires a free will offering, and if you live in the Minneapolis Metro area you can go to the library and 'check out' free passes to the MN Zoo!

Puss in Boots for less just $21
Movies. Most everyone knows that a Matinee is cheaper than going to a movie in the evening, but did you know it can be even cheaper? In my area Marcus Theater in Elk River often runs a movie series of new'ish movies in the morning for $2 a ticket. Their series right now is sponsored by American Family Insurance, and if you are a customer you can score free tickets from your agent. Milaca Theater is a small family run business, that has excellent rates. I went on a Friday night with my mom and 3 kids on opening weekend with popcorn for $21!!! Sure the seating is old school, and so are the bathrooms, but the movie shows the same and we still get to enjoy an evening out, while supporting small businesses. (Milaca Theater runs popcorn coupons in the weekly shopper, be sure to look for it.)

Camping in early September
Vacations. There are lots of ways to save on vacation. Stay close to home, visit friends or family. Today groupon is offering 3 days in Wisconsin Dells for just $199, There are longer packages available as well. Last spring I used exploremn to book an amazing girls weekend in Bloomington. We had looked at some girls weekend deals at a few hotels, and their best price per night divided by 4 is what we were able to book using exploremn. (roughly a savings of $375 for 1 night, and it included lots of extras!). As I've mentioned we are surrounded by generous people, and last summer we were given money and told that we could not pay bills it was for fun! We decided to use the money on camping equipment, tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, etc. We spent a long time researching quality and price shopping to get the best deal. (Being good stewards of 'free' money is just as important as what you 'earn'.) We have been camping as a family and had a lot of fun, and now we will continue to be able to take mini vacations at very little extra cost.

Harlem Ambassador's basketball game that My Vet played in.
Local Events. If you look, there are free or inexpensive events going on every week in your area. Participating in school carnivals, parades, block parties, school plays, etc is a great way to have fun, while meeting your neighbors. This isn't limited to events in your city. I would say anything in a 30 minute drive time is local. So watch your shopper for what is happening. This Saturday, I know we will be at the Princeton Business Expo. Stop by My Vet's booth and say hi!
Sledding at the local hill this morning.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hunger Challenge Day 3

Previous Days: Start of the Hunger Challenge, 1, 2,

The best way to get your children to eat,
is to have them help you cook!
Today my Vet works late. Breakfast and lunch follow what we did yesterday, but supper has to taste good, be kid friendly, and taste as good a few hours after it's originally ready. I knew my Vet didn't want chicken again so I gave him some choices. He picked Egg Salad Sandwiches. It has been over a year since we have had those, so I am looking forward to it! We still have lots of snow on the ground, but egg salad sandwiches, the end of daylight savings time and seed catalogs in the mail.... It's feels like spring!

So instead of spending all day typing, I am going to do some spring cleaning and enjoy the balmy weather we have today! (I am testing some home made cleaner recipes that I will be part of my self imposed sustainability challenge for 2012. So be sure to follow me!)

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Hunger Challenge Day 2

Previous Days: Starting the Hunger Challenge, Day 1

Pot Pie fresh from the oven
Monday means back to work. I am thankful that yesterday, I spent so much time prepping to make today nice and easy. We tend to do breakfast on the fly we have a nice selection of yogurt, eggs, toast, and cereal to choose from throughout the week. Lunch is salad for my husband and left over chicken soup for me. I will pack a snack of celery and peanut butter to get me through the afternoon munchies. And dinner is Chicken Pot Pie, I a typing as it cooks I wish you could smell the awesomeness that I smell.

Hamburgers I made and froze
after getting a great deal on meat.

My pour husband is going to get sick of chicken this week. As a savvy shopper I have learned to stock up on whatever items are at their best price. From week to week it means that we have a well stocked Freezer/Pantry to choose from every day. For the purpose of this challenge, we are stuck with what was on sale this week.

If you are reading me for the first time here are some of the tricks I use to feed my family on a tight budget from week to week.

Living on such a tight budget doesn't happen over night. It takes time to learn the sales cycles and for items to cycle through their rock bottom prices. And it takes some effort. In the beginning I spent a lot of time on my favorite blogs learning the ropes. And I still check them on a daily basis to keep up, but it is not as time consuming as it once was.

Our garden the first year.
My first step toward being frugal though was not couponing, it was planting a garden. I reached out to friends and family and asked lots of questions. Through them I found inexpensive ways to build my garden, and fill it with produce. I was able to get 2 trailers full of free compost to build it initially. It was a lot of shoveling, but well worth it. Then I was able to share seeds with friends. (Most seed packets contain more seeds than you need for a back yard garden, so sharing is a great way for everyone to save.) In the years since I have been able to share the cost of renting a tiller, get free manure - more shoveling, and share excess produce. Due to a variety of factors your tomatoes may be great, and someone else might have better luck with peppers than you, share and you both win. I now have a larder filled with free produce I grew and preserved myself.

Jams, Jellies, and Fruit Preserves
I know that our family has been blessed beyond measure. We have been surrounded by a generous group of friends and family that share excess garden seeds and seedlings, produce off their trees, and bushes, and from their gardens. I can't explain why so many people are willing to share with us. All we can do is thank God everyday for the grace he shows us.

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