Thursday, January 31, 2013

Debt Free Christmas: Start Early

Picked up for only $1 a pair
Just this past week I took down the last of the Christmas decorations, so why am I already thinking about next year? The best way to save money is through planning and preparation.

My kids want to "go big" on our outside decorations next year. So after Christmas is a great time to find clearanced items. I also want to build a couple of pieces to add next year, so the sooner I get started the better. is just one of many daily bargain sites to pick up items to store away for next year. Jewelry is small and easy to store for a year. My nieces, and daughters where excited to get earrings and necklaces that I had picked up throughout the year.

Start putting away 5 dollars a week today. You can even save all of those $5 Target gift cards that you get with purchases.

Many stores also have toys on clearance, that they stocked up with for the holidays. Take advantage of those sales and find a good hiding spot. (I have several around the house.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pretzel Sprouts

This morning I asked my kids what they wanted for breakfast. One answered scrambled eggs and toast, the other said scrambled eggs and "the green stuff with salt". Uhm Ok?

After some questions, I guessed Brussels sprouts. She enthusiastically responded "Pretzel Sprouts!" What kid asks for Brussels sprouts? I was married for 12 years the first time I ever had them. My mom didn't like them, so we were never offered. FYI - that means my kids will have to wait at least that long, to try cabbage stew.

We actually really like them in our house. Maybe it's how they are prepared?

Easy and yummy Brussels Sprouts Recipe:

Start by boiling water in a pan on the stove. Meanwhile, cut off the tip of the sprout and remove any leaves that aren't appetizing.
Once the water is  at a boil add the sprouts. Cook on high until it returns to a boil. Continue to cook for 2 minutes. The goal is bright green and hot through, but not cooked to mush, they should still be crispy when you bite into it.
Remove from pan, sprinkle with salt. I prefer the large grains of a kosher or sea salt. Serve immediately.

Say Goodbye to Dried-out Markers

As a Pre-K teacher I am in a constant struggle to keep the lids on markers. I have tried a variety of solutions with limited success. While looking through a teacher catalogue I saw this great idea. $7.95 plus shipping, for essentially a piece of scrap wood with some holes drilled? I don't think so.

I had some scrap 2x4's sitting around, so decided to see if I could make them. I had My Vet chop them to 8 inch pieces.

Using a tape measure, I marked each block for 8 holes. (A standard box of markers has 8 different colors)

 Then grabbed a drill with a 1/2 inch bit. Put some tape on the end of the bit to keep me from drilling too deep, and drilled my holes. Went in the house to test it with a marker, and my holes were just a bit too small.
So I tried a 9/16 inch bit, which made the holes to big to snuggly hold the lid. Now what?
Initially, when the hole was too small My Vet recommended just wiggling the 1/2 inch bit to make a slightly larger hole. (I of course, insisted on using the 9/16.) So I did what I should have done in the first place, and wiggled the bit while it spun, making a slightly larger hole. Those holes worked like a charm! It took a bit of finagling to get the lid in, but once it was there it wasn't going anywhere.

I hit them with a sand block to remove any possible splinters, and walla!

We made 5 in all, 1 for home and 4 for school. I can't wait to test them at school this week!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Lots of ugly things to distract, but notice
her feet are NOT on the floor.
Months ago, I took today off work in anticipation of talking to a couple of parent groups about extreme couponing. (I was rescheduled to later in February, which is going to work out better.) What to do with a random Thursday off work though?

Eating bon bon's didn't last as long as I thought it could. So why not replace the mirror in the bathroom? My favorite bloggers are going to think I've lost my mind. I decided to replace a wooden framed mirror with a builder-grade ginormous monstrosity. Why would I do such a thing?

For starters look at the "before" photo. Yep, I'm laying in the tub to show you how my kids get ready in the morning. They have to stand on the side of the tub, in order to see their reflections in the mirror. Not cool.

So I got on Craigslist and started looking. It took a couple of months, but I found one nearby for free. I brought it home and realised that it was just a bit too large. I would have to cut a hole for the outlet, move the light, hang it oddly too far to the left, or get it cut.

My Vet voted for hanging it oddly too far to the left. (I think he was worried about getting roped into any, more complicated, solutions.) I voted for cutting a hole for the outlet, it will look so nice. I started by hanging the mirror in place, then tracing around the mirror on the wall. I removed the mirror and measured from my pencil marks to the receptacle and then drew the lines on the mirror with a Sharpie. Easy Peasy.

I then Googled "how to cut a hole in mirror"... what's a tube drill? Where do I find glass cutting oil? Better read the reviews... "go to a glass company, well worth the $50." What? $50 to cut a hole in a free mirror?

In a moment of pure inspiration I called the local hardware store. The lady that answered said "Sure, we cut glass. It wont cost more than $10) Yippee! Let's go kids. I carefully navigated the sheets of ice on my side walk and in the parking lot at the store. Carried it to the back counter, were a man with a southern accent told me in no uncertain terms, there was "no way he could attempt to cut mirror this thick, can I help you get it back to your car?" Ugg now what?

Normally, I am pretty resourceful, but I was feeling defeated. It's bad enough I am replacing a framed mirror with a frameless one, I just couldn't bring myself to hang it oddly off center. We live in a fairly small town, and I didn't want to drive 40 plus minutes to find a glass company, so I threw a Hail Mary Pass (Getting myself psyched up for the one game of football I watch a year. Go Commercials! I mean team, which ever one of the 2 that are playing.)

I stopped my our local Auto glass place. The young man that was there, didn't want to attempt to cut an outlet hole, but thought he would have no problem cutting the mirror down by roughly 6 inches so that it would fit without the aforementioned odd hangover.

There are still more things I want to do in
here, just taking my time to find the deals.
I was nervous as he got out his tools. I really didn't want to spend months looking for another mirror on craigslist. I just prayed I wouldn't get charged if he broke it. I did notice he used glass cutting oil, now I'm so glass cutting smart. I walked a safe distance away and closed my eyes to prevent flying shards of glass from blinding me, and to hide any possible tears. I heard the loud cracking noise and looked. It was a clean break! He cleaned up the edges with a belt sander and carried it to the Honda for me.

I followed him back in to pay, and was told no charge. Just be sure to come back there when I need any auto glass repairs in the future. Like I would go anywhere else? Have I ever told you how much I like this town?

I brought my mirror home and installed it using 4 mirror clips that I already had in my tool box. Wiped it with some glass cleaner, and called in the girls to see.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Skillet Corn Bread

On uber cold days like this, many people ask "Why do I live here?" Then I head into the kitchen to see how I can warm up. Since today are the final playoff games, chili is traditional favorite. That doesn't get the oven going to warm up the house though, Hmm...
Then I got it! Corn bread, it goes great with chili and I have been wanting to try a recipe using my cast-iron skillet. I went to Pinterest and Google to find a recipe that sounded good. I wanted one that used cream corn, but wasn't too soft or mushy.
I started with this Alton Brown Recipe. I didn't have any buttermilk so I took a cup of milk and stirred in a Tablespoon of lemon juice and let it sit for 5 minutes. I also made some other modifications based on the reviews.
Skillet Corn Bread:
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk substitute (1 cup of milk and 1Tbsp lemon juice)
2 eggs
1 can creamed corn
2 tablespoons bacon grease (Vegetable oil can be used)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet into the oven.
In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk together to combine well.
In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, and creamed corn, whisking together to combine thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture and stir to combine. If the batter will not pour, add more buttermilk to the batter.
Swirl the bacon grease in the hot cast iron skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet. Bake until the cornbread is golden brown and springs back upon the touch, about 20 minutes.

Black Bean Chili

It's Sunday, It's 3F outside, It's NFL playoffs, it's the perfect day for chili! 5 years ago I made this black bean soup recipe. It was delicious and with just a few changes it would make an excellent chili.
Black Bean Chili:
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, pressed
3 cubes of chicken bullion
2 cups of water
1 quart jar of stewed tomatoes
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 ounce can dice green chili's
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans black beans
2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans chili beans
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can kidney beans
1 pound ground beef, cooked
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime

Put the bacon into a large heavy pot and place it over medium heat. Cook until it starts to give up its fat, about 4 minutes. Stir in the onions and cook, stirring, until they start to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until you can smell it, about 1 minute. Add the bullion, water, tomatoes, ketchup, Worcestershire, and chili powder. Stir in the beans, chili's, peppers, and beef turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the soup is bubbling gently and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir cilantro into the soup when it has been simmering 10 minutes. Cook until the soup is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lime juice. Serve with my skillet corn bread.

Calm Before the Storm

Look at Saturday. It actually got to 36F, yep a 40F swing in just a few hours!
I told you earlier this week about how drafty our house is. A couple of weeks ago we were able to pick up 3 rolls of R19 insulation for just $20 after rebate. So we grabbed 3 and have been trying to find the time to get to it.

Don't worry, I left the vent gap along the ceiling
joists, it's just hard to see in the photo.
Today was the day. We have had a pretty mild winter. It has even been in the 40F's this week! That is changing as I type. This morning was a balmy 36F, a couple of hours ago the wind started to pick up, and it is blowing in some nasty cold. The weather guys are saying this is going to be the worst cold snap we have seen in 40 years! We couldn't wait any longer.

We moved some furniture in order to access the attic space. The small hole that we cut a few years back to run wires for surround sound, wasn't large enough for My Vet's broad shoulders. Uh Oh. You already know I have some DIY fears, crawling into an attic is another one of them.

As I became aware that it would be me going in, I felt my anxiety rising. Asthma, attic dust, and fiberglass particles isn't a good mix. I donned some safety gear, and took a deep breath.

I worked slowly with My Vet passing supplies through the small hole. I was careful not to jar any of the speaker wire, or step on any of the recessed lights. Initially we thought that the existing insulation would be pretty thin. What we found was, during the wire pulling and pushing up the lights, some of the insulation had been pushed up, leaving big holes for air to escape. Those were easy enough to fix. The only thin spot was a 4x8 section over our entry way. After adding insulation there, I had plenty left over, so we decided to roll it out and add another layer. It might not help any, but since we already had it, what could it hurt? Yes we are so energy inefficient, we are going way overboard in order to not miss anything.

Getting firewood stacked closer
to the house, to save time outside.
I also tackled a small project of replacing the weather strip around the french doors. I was able to see light at both the top and bottom of the doors. It didn't take much to patch those small areas. I just used some of the weather stripping My Vet had purchased for the ice house. Meanwhile My Vet and kids, hauled and stacked firewood closer to the house. We don't want to be outside any more than necessary for a few days.

Today's project probably won't have a significant impact on our energy bill. We still have a big project for the summer, but every little bit makes us feel a bit better.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Baby it's Cold Outside

Our utility company has recently changed the format of their statements. There is now a neat little graph in the corner that shows how much energy you use compared to others in town. I know our utilities where high, but seeing how we compare, shocked us. My Vet and I are pretty frugal, so we already put plastic over the windows, insulate the outlets on exterior walls, and turn off lights when we aren't using them, etc. That apparently, is not enough.

We now have lots of plans to improve our energy efficiency over the next year. I don't like all of the green technologies being shoved at us, but many of them could help us save that $1000 a year in utilities, our more efficient neighbors save. Our big plan is slated for this summer, but is there anything we can do right now?

 reenactment only, no one was
harmed in the filming
Our basement has always been really cold in the winter. Since we use our fireplace as a significant source of heat, it has always made sense that the lower level would be colder. We also live in an old house, so I didn't think too much about it. Then one, recent, afternoon I was in the basement looking for things in the craft area, and noticed light from outside pouring in around a conduit line.

Having just seen the above graph for the first time, I wasted no time in trying to fix it.

My Vet gave me a can of Great Stuff he had in the garage, but it was cold and needed to warm up. He then found a roll of unused insulation in the garage. I had to wait a day for the can to warm up. In this time, a good blogger would have grabbed the camera to show you just how big this hole was. I on the other hand, hustled back up the stairs and warmed myself by the fire.

I suited up with long sleeves, goggles, breathing mask, and gloves. Partly to keep the fiberglass from hurting me, but really to stay warm. I started by using the Great Stuff to fill the gaping hole that I found, and then went around the foundation adding to any holes that I could feel a draft from.

Using a 2x4 and a utility knife, I cut the insulation to fit the small spaces between the joists that rested on the foundation. I added 2 layers in each space that had none, and added an extra layer to all the rest. I don't know if it was needed, but I had it and figured it couldn't hurt.

It is still cool in the basement on the Sub-Zero days, but I can actually do laundry in my stocking feet! The best part is we've seen almost a 10% reduction in our energy costs!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Green with Envy?

Hard to tell in the photo, but the color is almost and exact
match to the walls!
I have been slowly working on my kitchen. Last winter I found a photo that I loved. I contacted the artist and was able to secure a poster sized print for my dining area. Since it says "Coffee Shop", I thought it would be neat to find some retro style mugs for when I have coffee with friends. I looked into getting some custom made with the logo from the sign, Ouch! I decided to just wait and see. Then, one day I was reading the Pioneer Woman and ran across her post about mid-century Anchor-Hocking Jadite. It is green glass dishes, often referred to as "restaurant ware". Perfect for my little homage to vintage restaurants. So I decided to keep an eye out for it.

Totally surprised and thrilled!
While visiting with my mom over the summer, I mentioned my search for Jadite and asked her to keep an eye out for it. According to my mom, my grandmother had an entire collection that was auctioned off many years ago! It seems none of the kids appreciated it, and I was just a kid myself at the time. Bummer for me, but it's nice to know I share that affinity with grandma.

I had forgotten that I had mentioned it. Then on Christmas morning "Santa" left me a gift with my stocking. Inside where 2 mugs, the exact style that I was looking for. Then my mom gave me a refrigerator box that had her mom had used. One piece had survived!

Stored over my sink so I can enjoy them daily. Bad news is,
it also draws my eye to the Eddie Munster detail on the
The nostalgia of them strikes a chord in me. I have always enjoyed my weekly coffee with Marytina. Now, I will be reminded of the play dates I had as a kid, while my mom visited over coffee. I also hope that some of my other friends (hint, hint) want to stop by now too!