Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WORDLESS WEDNESDAY - The Horrible Unspeakable Invasion of the Slimy, Nasty, Hopping, Green Amphibious Creatures from the Murky Netherlands

Should I add "frog legs" to the menu???!!!

Monday, July 28, 2008


Want to challenge yourself to save a buck and help another family all at the same time? Then head over to Be Centsable. The girls over there also have a great workshop if you are new to saving and couponing. Remember the story about my friend Red... Believe me, clipping coupons in the parking lot and having them blow out the window isn't the most organized method!

My challenge this week will be to stay under $50.00 for all household and grocery expenses. I will have to be creative! I am well stocked on lots of items, so my needs are very few. The challenge will be to walk away from a deal unless it's totally awesome. I'm so impulsive when it comes to good deals!

I'll post my results at the end of the week.

If you're going to join the challenge, please post to let me know!

MENU MAKING - What's on Sale? Time to fill our Make-a-Menu Calendars...

What "main ingredient" (meat, cheese, etc.) is on sale at your local grocery store this week? I notice that my HEB sales flyer lists Tyson Chicken Breast Tenders for $1.99/lb. and HEB Chicken Thighs Sesasoned Fajitas Value Pack for $1.49/pound. They also list pork tenderloin for $2.99/lb., and even though I don't like to pay more than $2.50/lb. for meat, I'll buy one.

So, my Menu Making Friends, what do I do with this bit of sales information? Drumroll, please...

STEP #1: Check out the Make-a-Menu Notebook's Family Favorites List. I notice that my gang loves the following:

* Oven-Fried Chicken Fingers
* Crocked Saucy Chicken with noodles
* Chicken Cordon Bleu (from a computer cookbook)

The Chicken Fingers recipe is already in my "chicken" section, but the other recipes aren't. I quickly print the Chicken Cordon Blue and write out the Saucy Chicken recipe on a blank sheet. Then I add the recipes to the "chicken" section. (Wow! My cookbook of family favorites is really starting to grow!)

STEP #2: Jot the ingredients for all recipes. I'd like to put a couple recipes of each in the freezer, so I'll be sure to write down the correct amounts on my shopping list.

STEP #3: Jot the recipes on my Make-a-Menu Calendar, remembering not to serve the same meal twice in one week. I really like to wait two weeks between serving the same meal. Even if it is a favorite, they don't want too much of it! I notice that I'm already printing out a September calendar!

STEP #4: Plan to prep the chicken after I shop. I'll shop tomorrow. When I get home, two packages of chicken tenders will go straight to the freezer for the Saucy Chicken. I'll use two more packages of tenders to prepare easy Chicken Cordon Blue and flash freeze. On Thursday, I'll prepare 3 recipes of Oven-Fried Chicken Fingers. I'll serve one recipe for dinner and freeze the rest.

Keep trying and you will get the hang of planning, shopping, and cooking this way. Soon enough your menu will be planned, your freezer will be full, your wallet will be fatter, your evenings will be easier, and you will experience No-Brainer Nirvana!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

MENU PLAN MONDAY - Is July almost over? Say it ain't so!!!

Is July really coming to an end?? Say it ain't so!!!! That means I only have two more weeks of summer left. Yep, it's back to work for me.

Looking back, it seems that the month of May just ticked by. Yes, it went t-i-c-k, t-i-c-k, t-i-c-k. Finally June arrived and by mid-month I was away from the office with the promise of summertime freedom and fun. Weeeeee!!!!! The third week of June was spent driving the girls an hour each way to art classes and packing for our week-long camping trip.

July has just seemed to float by. We camped, swam, slept late, went to more art classes, crafted, baked, played with friends, enjoyed some much needed rain, and even had a few moments of "I'm bored". And now it's almost over. "Oh, July... please slow down!"

August means back to work and back to school. It means I need to hurry up and finish remodeling the bathroom. (A project that I thought would just take a week and, well, just isn't!) August means it's time to shop for shoes and clothes and school supplies. August means that new FFA animals will arrive and we'll be rising early to feed them. August means training myself to get to bed on time and rise-and-shine early.

But for now it's still July. For now I will savor the last two lovely weeks of summer. For now my mantra will be "t-i-c-k, t-i-c-k, t-i-c-k".


The menu at our house for the last week of July is:

Sunday - Chuck roast with carrots, sticky white rice, green peas, brownies (Yes, this is last Friday's meal cooked today instead.)
Monday - tortilla soup, tortillas, lemonade
Tuesday - Pioneer Woman's Chicken Spaghetti, steamed fresh broccoli, garlic Texas toast, chocolate pie
Wednesday - Cowboy Ham Beans and cornbread
Thursday - Oven-Fried Chicken Tenders, corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes, cookies
Friday - Hot Dogs, left-over beans, tray of veggies and pickles, chips, ice cream
Saturday - Meatball calzones, salad

Blessings and have a great week!

~~Leslie, aka The Menu Maker Mom

Friday, July 25, 2008

FRUGAL FRIDAY - Looks like Play-Do, but isn't...

This is sooo easy that an 11-year old can do it!! In fact, an 11-year-old did do it! While she only made one color of play dough, it was the coolest blue play dough ever on the face of the planet. This recipe is softer than commercial play dough, smells better, and molds so much better. And you can make it in a jiffy!

Here's the recipe:
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
food coloring

Mix all the ingredients in a 1-1/2 quart saucepan. Using a wooden spoon, cook this over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until it forms a ball, stirring constantly.

Turn it out onto a cutting board or roulpat and let it sit for 5 minutes to cool.

Using a bit of flour, knead it until it is no longer sticky, but remains very soft.

Look! You've made play dough!
Now make something cool!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Wednesday night 7/23/08:
We're inland far enough to look forward to the rains that a Gulf of Mexico hurricane might bring yet not be frightened of the damage that a hurricane winds might bring. In the case of Dolly, we've been promised a good drenching for our parched land. In hopes of being touched by Dolly's arms and fingers (thank God we won't get her eye!), we even strapped down the trampoline. Finally, some dark clouds lined the eastern sky late this afternoon. We were getting all giddy and excited about the thought of puddles and mud. Things were looking promising, but... far we've only had a drop or two. And a few gusts of wind.



Thursday, 7/24/08 ~ 7:01 A.M

Woke up to rain and wind. "Good Morning, Dolly!"


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MAKE-A-MENU SAMPLE - The Rubber Chicken

Do you remember my post about the Pilgrim's Pride chicken that I purchased with my coupons? I bought 10 of them. Wow... That's a lot of birds! What does one do with that many cluckers? Well, you follow the steps to Make-a-Menu and make cooking a no brainer! (Or, should I say, a "bird-brainer"?) Okay - enough with the bad jokes...

Step #1:
I found 5 recipes on my Baby Step #1 Family Favorites list that use cooked chicken pieces as a main ingredient. I then made a page for each recipe by either printing out the recipe or making a copy. I put the pages behind the "chicken" section of my Make-a-Menu Notebook. Here are my 5 recipes:

* Almost Famous Chicken Patties (From The 30 Day Gourmet)
* Crispy Chicken Tacos
* Mom's Chicken and Rice Soup
* Ree's Chicken Spaghetti (from Confessions of a Pioneer Woman)
* Stuffed Shells (From The 30 Day Gourmet)

Step #2:
I then wrote those 5 recipes down on 5 different days of my calendar:
July 16 - Mom's Chicken and Rice Soup
July 24 - Almost Famous Chicken Patties
July 29 - Ree's Chicken Spaghetti
Aug 3 - Stuffed Shells
Aug 6 - Crispy Chicken Tacos on Aug 6

Step #3:
After I wrote these recipes down on my Make-a-Menu Calendar, I took a look at each recipe and jotted down any ingredients that I'll need on my grocery list.

Step #4:
Now comes the time to do a little prep work. It will pay off when I have a busy night!
The last thing I did was boil 3 of the chickens. After cooling and chilling overnight, I threw away the layer of chicken fat, and set aside 10 cups of chicken broth for freezing and using in the chicken spaghetti at a later time. Then I picked the meat from the bones (I HATE, HATE, HATE this part of the job!!) I packaged 4 bags with 2 cups of chicken each.

The remaining 2 cups of chicken and defatted broth was used to make the chicken soup that night. It was sooo yummy, and I had enough left over for the next day's lunch and to freeze 2 large containers of soup for two other meals, which I wrote on my calendar on August 4 and 25.

Let's review:
3 Chickens for around 3 bucks each so my budget will be preserved...
8 Meals each for 4+ people (my kids always have a guest, it seems!)...
My menu already made out so my sanity is saved...
Half the cooking done and in the freezer so my nerves won't be frazzled at dinnertime...

Those chickens stretched a loooonnnnngggg way. Don't ya just love a rubber chicken???!!

Monday, July 21, 2008


Here's what on the menu for this week:

Monday - Left over grilled venison sausage, funeral potatoes, spinach salad
Tuesday - Grilled marinated pork steaks, twice baked potatoes, garden salad
Wednesday - Pulled pork soft tacos with homemade salsa
Thursday - Almost famous chicken patties, cheesy potatoes, boiled peas and carrots
Friday - Crockpot chuck roast with carrots and potatoes, gravy, steamed green beans
Saturday - Sirloin & Shrimp Kabobs, Rice Pilaf, Steamed Broccoli, Watermelon Margaritas
Sunday - BBQ Beef Ribs, Boiled Squash, Sliced Tomatoes, Corn on the Cob, Pinto Beans


Quick notes on the Make-a-Menu plan:

1. Have you printed out a calendar for August? If not, be sure to do that soon. You should be filling it in as you grocery shop. Remember to make menu planning a no-brainer!

2. Are you checking your menu ever evening after you're finished with the dishes? Are you checking it again before you get your morning started? Again - by using your menu, you make cooking a no-brainer.

Obviously, the goal here is to use our brain as little as possible!!!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

TIME WELL SPENT - Making time for each of my daughters...

I love planning a little one-on-one time with each of my twin daughters. Now that they are in their tween years, I can sense when one or the other is feeling a little removed, a little moody, or a little bit of a "pair" and not occupying a special place in our family all of her own. This is when I like to plan a special project for us to work on together, just the two of us.

Well, Sam and I have spent some great quality time together lately, but it seems that Miss has been doing her own thing. I could feel the need for us to connect. Since both the girls adore any kind of craft making, I thought a good craft session is what was in order.

So off to the local Wal Mart went Miss and I to hang out at the fabric department and look at the pattern books. The plan was for her to pick out something that she could start the new school year with. I really thought she'd find a cute top to make...

Instead she chose this messenger bag.

And here's the fabric we picked up, along with finds from my stash: buttons, ribbon trim and an American flag patch. This fabric is sooo her personality! She's all spunk!

We still need to pick up red trim to bind the edges, and we'll go to the fabric store in San Antonio to purchase it this week since we'll be there for art classes anyway. I really wish that we had a fabric store in our small town, and I really wish that I was brave enough and had the money to open one myself, but that's for another post!

While we're at the fabric store, Sam will pick out her fabric too. She's so excited about making a messenger bag as well and has some awsome ideas about what will make a really cool bag for her books. She has been busy picking out buttons and looking at color combinations. She's really a very creative designer!

Both of my girls have already learned to do some basic hand sewing and machine sewing. Now it's time to learn how to use a pattern. I can't wait to work with them individually and spend some special mom-and-daughter time together before we get back into the busy routines of school and fall activities. (Seems like that's just 'round the corner!)

Friday, July 18, 2008


I am a consumer. I am frugal.

Can I honestly include those two statements on the same line and in the same paragraph? If I am a consumer, can I truly be frugal? Is frugality an ideal that I can never really reach because I will always be at odds with the polar opposite of frugality, which seems to be consumerism? Or, do I just accept the fact that true frugality might merely just be the personal management of consumerism.

To begin to answer my own question, maybe I should examine what I consume. I consume electricity, water, gas, television, wireless telephone, land-line telephone, internet service, food, vitamins, water, clothing, furniture, toiletries, household cleaners, shoes, medical services, public school services, and so much more. I continue to bring in new stuff at a discount, then either sell the old stuff at a garage sale or give it away. And most of the time the old stuff is in pretty good shape.

I’m not the only one. My neighbors are consumers. The people in my community are consumers. The thousands of folks who own the cars that I see lined up at the mall are consumers. You are a consumer too.

We are a nation in debt due to the funding of our habitual consuming. Most of us work hard at one or more jobs just to fund this machine. Sometimes we even do without sleep or quality family time so that will be able fund the desire or need to consume and collect more and more stuff.

We love to say we “need” a new couch or car or whatever. But how much of our consuming truly falls into the category of need? The folks at Wal Mart are so convinced that we believe we “need” the items in their store that they’ve stocked it to the roof with everything imaginable and cheap. They know that we’ll walk through the door and just HAVE to spend $19.98 on a neck warmer shaped like a cow. Can’t live without it. And it’ll take an hour on the job to earn the money to buy it, but that doesn’t ever enter our mind.

It amazes me that during this time of economic tightening us consumers haven’t really slowed down. We all talk about it. We all complain about the prices. We clip coupons and raise the thermostat and tell the kids to keep the doors shut ‘cause we’re not air-conditioning the world. Yet we still purchase all kinds of useless things, things that we have to sacrifice time and energy in order to bring it into our home. We buy things that we will sell for ten-cents-on-the-dollar at our next garage sale or just give away. This "stuff" is an ever-growing pile that causes us to stress over how to organize it and manage it. Some of us even build outbuilding to store it or rent storage units to house it. Sounds kind of crazy, huh?

When I think about it, it all seems so ridiculously silly and like a gigantic waste of time.

This makes me realize that I have been focusing all my frugal habits on a tiny area of my life. I clip the coupons. I cook from scratch. I conserve my gasoline. I keep my air conditioning turned up. I line dry most of the clothes.

But what else can I do? What else can you do? For example, is cable TV a necessity? Do we have to have a television in each room? When I replace my fridge, do I need a brand new one when I know there is someone out there who just bought one but now has to move and can't take it with them? What about that new pair of shoes or that new couch? And if we decide that we actually need something, is it better to spend more on quality or spend little on cheap?

The answers to these questions are not always clear cut. It’s not all black and white. It requires that we stop being a nation of impulse consumers of useless stuff and start thinking more clearly about the impact of our consumerism on our pocketbooks, our families, our communities, and our world.

The final question here is: How can I start to be more responsible and better steward of all that God has given me and my family? As far as I’m concerned, I know that when I truly start addressing this question, I’ll really be on the path to being truly frugal.

FRUGAL FRIDAY - Hot Air Ain't Cheap

Hi there! I'm sorry I haven't been around during the last week. Seems that around our house we've been in a dog-days-of-summer, spinning-our-wheels, being busy with a whole lot of nothin' kind of time warp!
Before we discuss the high cost of hot air, let me tell you about what we've been doing lately. The past week has been full of all kinds of frugal family activities! Here are just a couple of the things that have filled out time this week:

We've made bird houses...
painted pots and repotted plants...

Shopped for tennies and school supplies, and did our weekly coupon-bargain grocery shopping...

We played with our food!!...

We had the thrill of new kittens, visited friends and had friends visit us, and we've done a whole lot of other wonderfully mundane things!

In addition to these summertime activities, we have unfortunately been the victims of "The Horrible Unspeakable Invasion of the Slimy, Nasty, Hopping, Green Amphibious Creatures from the Murky Netherlands". More about that later...

Aaaahhhhh, don't you just love summer???


NOW... On to Frugal Friday and the fact that Hot Air Ain't Cheap...

Today our task is to clean this house - the place where we have been doing so many mundane and messy things! Of course on the top of the list (on top of every day's list!!) is to do a load of laundry. While I have never calculated how much the dryer costs, (I don't have time for that!) I do know is that jeans take a really long time to dry, and while the dryer is running the electrical meter is spinning faster and faster! And the faster it spins, the louder I hear "ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching"!

Believe it or not, it is so hot and dry out here in South Texas that a load of jeans can actually dry faster on the clothesline than in the dryer! The only items that I won't dry out on the line are towels and socks/underwear. I really like my towels to be fluffy and I guess I'm just too darn lazy to hang out all those little socks and underthingies.

So, in honor of Frugal Friday, and to save a little "ka-ching" on hot air I will... And no, I do not mean that I will stop talking!!!

Back to what I was saying... To save on hot air, I will hang the jeans on the line today!

Have an awesome and Frugal Friday!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

THURSDAY'S TOP TEN - Ten ways to save!

10. Take a camping vacation! An entire week of family vacation fun can be had for less than $400.00 in a nice RV park, and for even less in a state park! (including gas for transportation, food, overnight fees, and all the incidentals!)

9. Plant a square-foot garden. Read Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew from your library. It is the best gardening book out there!

8. Look for free and low cost entertainment in your city. Museums often have free or low-cost evenings, movies are discounted on certain days, picnics in the park don’t cost more than the gas to get there (you were going to eat anyway!), libraries, swimming in rivers or lakes… Don’t forget to plan weekend activities like family game nights. Enjoying life doesn’t have to be expensive!

7. Go to the bread thrift store! You can fill your freezer with a month’s worth of bread, English muffins, rolls, chips, fried pies, and other treats for about 10 bucks!!!

6. Start a gift box! I keep a box in a closet with lots of little bargains that I come across. When I need a gift for a friend, I go shopping in my closet! Sometimes, of course, when I find just the right thing for someone, I label it with their name so that I don’t accidentally give it to someone else.

5. Check out your land line phone bill. Do you really need call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding, metro service, etc.? If you have a cell phone, as most of us do, you probably use it for most of your phone services. Consider reducing your selection of phone services to the very basic ones. Or maybe you can get rid of that land line phone all together!

4. Plan your errands! Gas is just too expensive these days! Choose a day to run errands, plan your best route that creates the least amount of backtracking, and make the most of your gas. Also, don’t forget that now is the time to discover how to buy the things you need locally instead of traveling to another community. This is really important for those of us who live in small towns! You’ll save a buck on gas and support a local business!

3. Share with others! What can you trade or share? You can share a movie that you’ve purchased, and you can borrow one too! You can share an evening together playing games. You can trade plant clippings to landscape your yard. You can trade babysitting services with other families. It’s possible that the economy will force us into being good neighbors towards each other and find new ways to entertain ourselves and shop for the things we need.

2. MAKE A MENU!!! What more can I say???

(drumroll please!....)

1. PLAN YOUR WORK AND WORK YOUR PLAN! It’s an old saying, but oh, so true. A little planning of your work and playtime will make it all work out! With a plan, life just "clicks"!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

ODE TO THE COUPON - Everyone is singing praises of coupons!

Heard this on NPR. Enjoy listening! "Coupons Make a Comeback Online"

KITCHEN TIP TUESDAY - Make a List, Check it Twice!

I’m a list maker. It’s a problem. Sometimes my lists have lists. Sometimes I need to include “checking a list” or “making a new list” on my daily To-Do list. It’s embarrassing. It's a sickness. Somebody help me, please.

Anyway, my most valuable Kitchen Tip is: Make a list… Check it twice!

Here are the lists that rule my life:
1. Grocery List – this is a check-off form that hangs on my fridge. It lists all the things we ordinarily use. When I run out of butter, I just put a check next to “butter”. The best thing is that the grocery list is arranged by department. When I’m at the grocery store, I check off the entire department on my list when I am done. That way I don’t forget anything. People look and stare, but I never forget the butter.

2. Menu – well, you know the story here.

3. Weekly To-Do List – Nothing fancy here. On Sunday, I open my spiral to a new page, list the days of the week with enough space beneath each to accommodate my To-Do’s, I get out my calendar, and I start listing. Each day, I love crossing things off as I accomplish them. Sometimes when I’ll realize that I've accomplished something that wasn’t on the list, I’ll add it, just so I can cross it off. Call me crazy.

4. Yearly To-Do Lists – These are major To-Do lists that really resemble goals. I make these lists at the beginning of the year. And no, they are not resolutions. They are things I’d like to do, hope to do, want to do, or need to do. Periodically I check out these lists and add them to my calendar, which will eventually end up on the weekly To-Do List. I call this system "Trickle-Down Home Economics". My husband calls this system "My Wife's a Nut".

5. Camping List – I never start loading my camper without looking at this list, which is stored on my computer. It lists everything that should be in the camper, and everything that I need to add at the last minute. It turns packing into a “no-brainer.”

6. Gift Lists – This has three parts: first I have a list of what I intend on giving, then I have a list of what I have in my Gift Box, finally I list what I gave people so that I won’t give the same gift to someone else or give it to them again. Now, this list does not guarantee that I'll give a gift on time. But, when I do give the gift I'll have it on the list!

7. Fun Stuff Wish List – I keep a list of places we’d like to go and events we’d like to participate in. I look at this periodically and add the info to my Calendar, which eventually ends up on the To-Do List. I call it "Trickle-Down Home Economics". This list usually leads to being awarded THE MAMA. (Most Awesome Mother Award)

Lots of lists, but it makes life so auto-pilot!

Do you have a system that absolutely makes your life work? Please share!

Monday, July 7, 2008


The week is off to a great start! Why, you might ask? Well, after arriving home from our vacation I had a filled out menu waiting on my fridge door, and all the ingredients in the fridge/freezer/pantry just waiting to be prepared. Ahhhh... the comforts of a well-made menu.

How are you doing with your menu? Stay tuned to this blog for the third segment on how to Make a Menu. It will be on this site next Monday!

On the menu this week:

Sunday (yesterday) - Hamburgers and all the fixin's at the home of BNL & his family. Ben (that's his wife - my SNL) is an awesome and old-fashioned cook.
Monday - Grilled cheese sandwiches, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, ramen soup. (Quick and easy... going to the matinee movie tonight!)
Tuesday - Spaghetti with meatballs, steamed broccoli, garlic toast. Pudding cups for dessert.
Wednesday - Super nachos made with refried beans, cheese, chicken, lettuce, tomato and guacamole. Yum!!!! Ole'!!! Ice cream for dessert.
Thursday - Boiled Polish sausage, German kraut, steamed rice, boiled English peas. It's a European extravaganza!! Brownies for dessert.
Friday - Fried catfish, baked potatoes, cabbage slaw, hushpuppies. Mississippi Mud Cake for dessert if the brownies are gone.
Saturday - It's date night! Kids can have frozen homemade pizza and ice cream floats.


Well, hello there! We're back from vacation, and boy do we need a vacation from our vacation! We're pooped from having so much fun. Last week was full of relaxing times and loads of laughter with great friends, old and new, and family. We "Tubed the Frio", played games, drank margaritas, cooked over a fire, drank wine, went to dances at Garner State Park, drank cold beer, watched catfish by snorkeling, drank pina coladas, swung off rope swings, took a break and drank cold iced tea, rode our bikes, drank mudslides, did a little shopping, and generally had a very busy time doing absolutely nothing. Ahhh, the good life...
Flying from a rope swing hung from the branches of an ancient Cypress and dropping into the cool, cool Frio is loads of fun! This is, of course, an activity for the young and under-100-pounds group. My 43-year-old arms don't quite hold my swinging body from a tiny rope too gracefully!

This huge rock was perfect for acting like a flying squirrel. Teenagers and grown-up teenagers took turns taking a flying leap into the air. Also, the fourth tree from the left had boards nailed into it to form a ladder. People climbed the ladder to top branches and flung themselves from 60 to 70-feet high into the air, plunging into the deep water below. I'm such a scaredy cat. I could imagine every accident possible. Several of us older folks were forced to drink lots of beer just to numb any preoccupations with death by tree jumping. Personally, I could barely watch! Of course, I let my daughters know that they were never ever to climb that tree, or any tree like it, or climb any rock, or leap like a flying squirrel off of any tall object, or do anything that involves making their body airborne. Never ever ever ever ever ever. Ever. Ever. Or else.

TUBIN' THE FRIO! The river was pretty low this year, as we haven't had too much rain. Still we found places to float. We're very dedicated tubers!!!!