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Monday, January 31, 2011

What's For Dinner?

Now, don't get all excited - this is not going to be a blog full of recipes. I grew up with a Mom who not only was a phenomenal cook but also very daring. We dined on anything from liver and onions to cow tongue and that was in the days before chicken nuggets - not that she would have made a separate meal. My sister took after my mom and I have 2 sister-in-laws who could create their own cookbook. So I decided early on to be good at other things.

But I do cook dinner just about every night. Now most people make a schedule of dinners for each night of the week, grocery shop and then cook accordingly. But I never felt comfortable having so much power over the dining enjoyment of 5 other people.

So when I go grocery shopping instead of making a list (I'm bound and determined to prove that i didn't lose all my memory giving birth to 4 children) I shop what is on sale. If chicken is at a good price I buy 5 - 6 packages, if spaghetti is buy one get one free - I fill the cart. Then when I get home I write down all the different meals we could have that week from what I bought and post it on the fridge. Then the requests come in "can we have chicken scampi tonight?" "I have volleyball - just soup and grilled cheese on Thursday". I make ONE meal for the night - no ala ca rte - and then I cross that meal off the list. This way the family knows what they might be eating that week and when they want to make dinner- they know all the ingredients are on hand.

Another time and money saver is the crock pot - it's the miracle of the kitchen - and to think, I got it as a wedding gift! I will put a whole chicken in with a can of tomatoes and like magic - dinner! I can make 3 different meals from that 1 chicken and the best part is that it is already cooked and ready to go for the next meal.

A number of years ago I had the whole family brainstorm their favorite meals. I wrote them on cards and when I was stumped as to what to make, I consulted the cards.

Dinner times are family time in our house and this system puts good, nutritious meals on the table with minimal effort and expense and doesn't that just make cents!!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Walk Is Cheap

There used to be a "little" health club in our town called the NAC - I say used to because now it is an entire kingdom of physical fitness. But back in the day when my kids were little we joined the NAC. It seemed like the perfect solution - free babysitting while mom and dad got physically fit. But there is something about paying to exercise that makes me not want to do it. You would think that psychologically it would click that if I am shelling out money each month I would be motivated to get there. But it never seemed to work that way.

But right outside my door is a whole world of physical fitness just waiting and for some reason it works for me. I live in a great neighborhood that has 1 main street and that street is exactly 1 mile in length so if I leave my house and walk to the end of the street and back I have logged in 2 miles. Now this has always worked for me in the warmer months but until this year I haven't ventured out to conquer snow walking. I started as all good Americans do on Jan. 1st to walk everyday. I laid out my clothes the night before - 2 pairs of sweatpants, socks, sweatshirt, hat, gloves and winter coat. Cued up my ipod with my playlist and just got walking. Normally I am always freezing in winter - but something has happened since I started walking - I'm invigorated, energizes, blogging!! Who knew that 30 minutes of sunshine, fresh air and exercise could do this to a girl. And the best part is that it's FREE!!! Yes, no gas to get somewhere, fees to pay, sweaty bodies to fight over equipment with. It's right at my doorstep. It takes a little self talk - "you can do it Mary" "I'm so proud of you" and some sweet notes from my husband that he leaves by my coffee but I am committed and a little hooked on it.
And of course - it just makes cents!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Opportunity" Solver

After graduating from college, getting married and moving to Dallas,TX I got a job teaching 3rd grade. Imagine my excitement after a 20 minute interview and writing sample I was offered a job. Little did I know the "opportunities" that lay ahead. I use that word opportunity because my principal refused to hear the word PROBLEM - there were no problems in his school, only opportunities. Well, being a young teacher in a rough inner-city school, I had PROBLEMS!

Now I tell that story because over the years I have become a self-proclaimed problem solver - what Mom isn't?! My husband and kids have come to rely on my ability to mull over a problem and come up with a solution - hence the title - Problem Solver.

I thought it would be fun to talk about one such example.

We have a cocker spaniel named Riley - or as she is known in our home Roo-Roo. Riley is a lively dog who has run away more times than I care to recall. At one point we had an electric fence, but she decided that freedom far outweighed shock therapy. So when Riley needs to relieve herself, she must be put on her chain. Which works out great in Spring, Summer and Fall but in Winter her leash clip lays on the cold, hard cement waiting to be clipped to her collar. Sometimes it is hard to open because of the cold or has been left in the snow because of laziness. So I got to thinking it would be nice to hang the end of the chain up off the ground. I tried bringing it inside, but the door wouldn't shut, I contemplated drilling a hook into the side of the house, but knew the zoning board a.k.a. my husband would reject that plan. Then I noticed my wrought iron shepherds hook in my garden. Being winter it was not being used, it was the right height - about 2 feet and the clip would fit perfectly on the end of the hook.

Problem Solved!

I share this story to show you most problems have a solution. It doesn't need to be expensive, elaborate or time consuming. Think outside the box, try new ideas and make sure when you do solve that problem you gather your friends and family to see your achievement - believe me, they may not seem impressed, but deep down they are.

It just makes cents!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Help Wanted

I know a number of wonderful ladies who have cleaning women.

 It got me thinking - Why don't I have a cleaning lady? I have a house, I like it clean therefore doesn't that equal a cleaning lady? But I have always said if I were to hire help the first employee would be a masseuse and the second would be a cook. And I actually like to clean - being a bit of a neat freak as well as a type A personality (and as any teacher will tell you an A is better than a B or now it's a 4 is better than a 3)

I grew up with a wonderful mother who taught her children the importance of house work - She worked full time as a nurse, was a fantastic cook and kept a spotless house. Her secret? Children!! Now you might say children just make a mess - true, but they also can learn how to clean up that same mess. Every week we were assigned a job. Mine was always dusting. At the time I had not become the neat freak that I am now -miracles do happen - and I was content to spray, swipe, move on - DONE! But then I was sent back to redo the job. Week after week I was the duster, my sister the sweeper - how I longed to sweep and be rid of dusting.

So now it is present day - 4 kids, job, house, dog - how do I get the help I need and get everyone on board -
                                        THE JOB LIST
 - yes, that's how it works. Ever since the kids were able to put socks on their hands and dust a table, I have enlisted their help. I would write on a piece of paper the jobs that needed to be done that week - basically dust, sweep, kitchen, bathrooms and then I would yell "jobs posted". Now, I am not exaggerating when I say they would come running to sign up for the "best and easiest" job. Each one had their own opinion about that. I think that is the secret. I didn't assign them and they had the freedom to do the job they wanted for that week and they raced because then they were guaranteed that job. I would usually take the unwanted job that no one signed up for which also gave me variety,too. Then I would set the time limit - sometimes it would be by lunch,other times it would be by the weekend - once their job was crossed off, they were free to do what they wanted to do - instant cleaning lady!

Now these jobs were not paying jobs - this was a "do you want to sleep inside or out" job. But I do post paying jobs for those kids that want to make money and not have to pay taxes. It might be cleaning the garage or washing the van. Those I would post on the fridge with a money amount I was willing to pay.

This system has worked wonders in our house. My one son is away at school living with a bunch of guys and it is fun to hear him complain about how messy they leave the bathroom and what he had to do to clean it up. Maybe he needs to institute the job list with them? Anyway, job well done!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

ice cream cake or the beginning of a blog

So this all started at a going away party for my daughter. She was leaving to do her student teaching in the Dominic Republic for 6 weeks and wanted to have a party to say good bye, be prayed for and basically have an excuse to eat something yummy!! Being so soon after the holidays I knew no one was expecting anything heavy, elaborate or remotely resembling a Christmas cookie. So what to serve? What do you make when it is 20 degrees outside and you aren't quite sure if 10 or 50 people will be showing up (who invented the e-vite anyway?) Ice Cream Cake to the rescue! Now, let it be known that our family LOVES ice cream - no matter the temperature or occasion - we've been known to serve it instead of birthday cake since everyone would ask for "ice cream hold the cake". And I could NEVER bring myself to shell out $30 for a Carvel cake that would feed 10 (did I mention that I was "thrifty" or as my husband would say "cheap" - I take it as a compliment with 4 kids, 2 in college, a roof over our heads, food everyday, a dog to feed and having traveled around the world - thrifty is GOOD!) So I made my own giant ice cream cake. To me it was a no brainer but the night we served it you would have thought I had created a new food group - "you made this" "it must have taken days" "you're so clever" - oh, that last one was me. I tend to do thing that just make CENTS - I see the problem, solve it and do so as frugally as possible. That night they told me I should write a blog with all my good ideas - you can be the judge of that!
Here is my recipe for ice cream cake - use what you have, improvise where needed and create to your own taste - but most of all pat yourself on the back for saving money and doing something yourself - quickly and might I add - quite well:

Tub of vanilla ice cream - 3 gallons
Tub of Chocolate ice cream
Chocolate Syrup
3 Whipped Cream
Crushed generic oreos- put in a plastic bag and smash with a heavy spoon
jimmies, sprinkles or whatever your fam. calls them
Any other ingredients you love in your ice cream - coconut, caramel, candy pieces but I don't recommend pretzels - they get soggy

Let the ice cream sit out till soft - it's just easier. I use a big tin baking pan from the dollar store to make it in. Spread a layer of cookies, then spoon out a tub of ice cream - spreading evenly. Another layer of cookies and chocolate syrup. Second tub of ice cream on top of that. More cookies, syrup and then spread whipped cream on top and sprinkle with cookies and jimmies.My kids like to write a message on top of the cake with the chocolate syrup. Place back in the freezer over night - cover loosely-. When you are ready to serve, let it sit out for 10 minutes.
Enjoy!! - I think I'll go have a piece now.