Let the Holidays Commence!

I do.

This is what I’ve been looking forward to-the next few weeks will most likely be an unending stream of idea diarrhea.  The stuff just keeps flowing because I love the holidays. Christmas is one of my very favorite times of the year.  Despite all of the poopy stuff we have going on (SHINY PENNIES FOR CHRISTMAS!  SHINY PENNIES FOR CHRISTMAS!) I am determined I am going to delight in the things that I love most for the next month.  Here are all of the reasons why I love this time of year so much.

1)  Excuses to watch my favorite movies.  What honey?  You said you want to see “ELF”?  Well let me pop it in.  No movie makes me smile as much as that one.

There is nothing funnier than this…

2)  CHRISTMAS MUSIC!  I like the older music.  I’m not a big fan of most of the newer stuff.  My parents had the original Time Life Christmas records.  The best music ever.  I thought I had found it on CD a few years back, but it wasn’t the same.  I’m still looking for the recording of Jack Jones singing “Do You Hear What I Hear?”  Can’t find it anywhere!  I love Handel’s Messiah, and of course I couldn’t be a band geek without mentioning Sleigh Ride.  I have a story about that, you’ll hear it later this month.

3)  Christmas lights They are even supposed to be up and lit this time of year!  It’s so much fun to drive around and see all of the different displays people have in their yards and on their houses.  We never decorate the outside of our house, so it’s especially fun to see what others have come up with.

I must admit I’ve never seen anything like this yet!

4)  The goodies.  I’m not going to lie and say that I won’t worry about how much I’m consuming, because I will.  But when else do you get to eat so many homemade goodies.  I hope to make some this year.  I want to try to make the big pretzels dipped in chocolate.  YUM!

I’ve never made these. Maybe I should!

5)  Wrapping paper.  I love beautiful wrapping paper adorned with ribbon and bows.  One year I used wide gauzy ribbon to wrap all the packages for the growm-ups.  I just love the way they look under the tree.  I may be wrapping empty boxes this year but dammit they will be pretty!!!!

Not pretty, but quite useful.

6)  Creative decorations. Oh darn, I have to spend lots of time on Pinterest finding ideas for decorating.  Breaks my heart.  This year I’m looking for ideas for a new wreath.  Ours was looking pretty shabby last year.  I’m thinking jingle bells and ball ornaments.  We’ll see what I come up with!

Hmmmmm…

7)  The Wonder of It All.  My kids are at very fun ages.  It’s all so magical to them.  I know that they are most concerned about what they are getting on the big day, but they are so excited about everything.  The next few weeks we will see time and time again what we refer to in my family as “The Christmas Eyes”.  I will find pictures of my sister and I with our Christmas eyes on, and will post them.  I see these on my kids every year.

See? Christmas eyes!

So keep an eye out for all of my crazy posts.  I have drafts galore lined up for the next few days!  To paraphrase my daughter:  “Let the holidays COMMENCE!”

Our Black Friday: Replace Defective or Missing Christmas Decorations Friday

Maybe it’s because I’m already a pretty good bargain shopper, but I’ve never really had any desire to do the Black Friday thing.   I’ve gone once in my life with my in-laws, and I wasn’t really enamored with the whole experience.  You that like that sort of thing can have it!

Each year I go out later in the day after the initial madness has died down, but not for bargains.  We try to get our tree up that day, and I’m usually going out for that one Christmas thing that we can’t live without to finish putting up the tree.  Our tree stand broke last year-we can’t exactly put the tree up without it.  We tried it-we tied the tree to the ceiling with some fishing line.  After it fell over twice, we figured it would be best to just invest in a good tree stand.  It’s always something essential.  We couldn’t find the star for our tree one year.  We looked everywhere.  It wasn’t until after we had packed the tree up and put it away that we found the old one.  Another year we couldn’t get the star to work, or the string of lights wasn’t long enough, or they just plain didn’t work. I believe it was two years ago that I couldn’t find the ornament hooks.  Important stuff.

This year we’re going out later in the morning, but not for shopping.  We’re going to get the kids hair cut.  It’s a bit of a hair emergency-it’s been a while!

There’s just nothing that I really want badly enough for my kids or myself to stand in line for hours to buy.  We’ve never been ones to have to get this year’s “it” toy or item.  I tend to wait until it gets close to Christmas and get stuff when it goes on a good sale, or on clearance.  We buy a lot of things that were never opened or second hand and in good condition at consignment and thrift stores for a fraction of the price they go for in stores.  No stress, no getting trampled, no getting up early.

I have some friends who do it every year.  They make it fun-they go out and get coffee and go out for breakfast beforehand.  I have a cousin who is a whiz at getting some of the coveted items and does it every year.  Maybe if I had a fun group of gals to go out with I might consider it.  Or if I had any money to spend.

It seems like they keep starting Black Friday sales earlier and earlier.  Some stores are now opening on Thanksgiving.  Back when I was in college, I worked at Kmart and they have been open on Thanksgiving for years.  Not so much the Black Friday hype, just a store open for people to get stuff they needed.  I’d go in and make my time and a half by working a voluntary four hour shift, then go home and eat Thanksgiving dinner.  Nowadays more and more stores are opening on Thanksgiving and opening even earlier each year.  Pretty soon Black Friday will be starting the day after Halloween and going clear through until after Thanksgiving!

This year we won’t be doing much shopping at all.  I kind of wanted to go out later this weekend, but a major snafu at the bank took care of that.  We had two car payments instead of one come out of our account.  No money until the end of the month or until they resolve the issue, one or the other… Bummer.  Oh well, no matter how we’re looking at it this Christmas will be remarkably slim for the kiddos and no gift exchanging for the grown-ups.  Look honey, a shiny penny for you!  What a great gift!  😉

If we did have some money to spend, I’d be trying to help some smaller businesses.  The Saturday after Thanksgiving is Small Business Saturday.  My Dad is a small business owner, as are many of the stores we shop at on a regular basis.  I’m hoping that other people take advantage and check them out!

So for you Black Friday shoppers-have fun and help stimulate the economy.  I’ll be home in my nice warm bed fast asleep!

This COULD possibly get me motivated to go one of these years… could be fun!

How To Save Money On Food, No Dumpster Diving Involved

We’re in an economic pinch, yo.

Since I quit doing all of the odd jobs that vanished for my last employer, things are a little tight.  Kind of like being squeezed by a boa constrictor but not yet eaten.  We’re doing ok.  We’re not going to starve, we’re not going to be homeless, and Guido won’t be coming out to break anyone’s legs (Thank goodness, I need those!)  It’s just amazing how that little bit of money I made helped out with our monthly finances.

I can’t say that I am real great at the whole homemaking thing, but I have figured out thanks to my frugal family how to save a few bucks here and there on groceries. I’m not like saying I’m totally awesome or anything, but I’d like to show folks out there how we save on stuff when we can!

I’ve talked quite a bit about the bread outlet in All Hail The Used Bread Store.  It’s an amazing way to save a ton of money.  I don’t think I need to keep beating that horse.

POINT #1:  Remember, bread outlet stores are CHEAP!

Since I’m not consistently good with coupons I don’t use them a ton like other people do.  Also, most of the time coupons are for stuff my family won’t eat anyway or junk food, or at least it seems that way.  The state where I live does not double coupons, like a lot of other places do, which is kind of sad.  I DO use them though, at least at Target when I can stack ones for stuff we buy a lot that I know there are coupons for every month, like detergent, pet food, juice, etcetera.  I’m not terribly organized, but I can usually pull that one off.  I still have been known to misplace them between the house and Target, or even the car, or miss a coupon all together that is right there in my stack!  We also have the Target debit card, which saves us an extra 5% without racking up a balance on a credit card.  This isn’t perfect though.  It doesn’t come out right away like other debit purchases, which has majorly messed it up for us a couple of times.

POINT #2:  Cut coupons, print Target coupons, and use em together with a Target debit card.  Bring a list and wear blinders in the store, because although Target is awesome, it’s also extremely dangerous.

Don’t even get me started on extreme couponers. Those people REALLY make me mad! I coupon because I need to save money for stuff like, I dunno, GAS to put in my husband’s car so he can go work for a living!

My Mom recently took me to Aldi’s.  I’ve never been a big fan of the place, but there are things I will buy there that are worth it.  Mainly milk, Jennie-O ground turkey, their baby carrots when they’re on sale, and some of the canned stuff.  I just hate going there because it’s out of the way and I never seem to have a quarter (for the cart).  I try to stick to stuff for meals, because I think we have enough snacky stuff.  It’s not all wonderful, but most of it is pretty good.  I personally would rather go to Trader Joes for cheap HEALTHY food, but it’s quite a ways from here, and I can’t justify the gas to go there right now!

POINT #3:  Aldi’s is worth going out of your way for if you can work it out.  I should probably go there first, better behavior from the kid, and me.

I won’t always go the cheapest route.  Everything I buy is whole grain or whole wheat.  That tends to be more expensive, but at least we have the bread store to help on the bread end.  Pasta is more expensive that way, but luckily it’s not that expensive anyway!  We eat a lot of tortillas and pita bread, all whole wheat.  It helps us poop.  We like to poop.

POINT #4:  You can still eat whole grain.  Constipation is bad, regularity is good.

Years ago we decided that we were no longer going to purchase red meat regularly.  I am not a big fan, and it is not exactly healthy for you.  Instead we starting substituting ground turkey in all of our ground beef recipes.  It’s not always cheaper anymore, but I feel we’re a little healthier for it.  I’m not a big fan of MEAT anyway, I am a recovering vegetarian…

POINT #5:  Skinless ground turkey=better for you

Another way to save money on meat that I like to do is buy whole chickens when they are 79 cents a pound or cheaper, instead of buying just the packages of breasts. I’ve gotten it as cheap as 59 cents a pound at Hy-Vee.  Fareway will honor the ad, but you usually can only get one chicken.  Since we don’t live in town anyway, it’s better to just go to HyVee in that case.  A lot of times we get a whole chicken for about the price of one pound of chicken breasts.  I know dark meat isn’t as healthy as white meat, but we use it in soups and other recipes where we blend it together with the white meat whenever possible.

POINT #6:  Buy the whole stinkin chicken when it goes on sale and cut it up yourself!

This is a great recipe that I picked up somewhere a long time ago and it is our favorite.  We usually cook three chickens at a time.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Take out the giblets. Mix together olive oil and spices in a small bowl-I usually do minced garlic, oregano, basil, rosemary.  You could probably do whatever you think tastes good together.  Here’s what makes it so good-you separate the skin from the breast, and rub the mixture underneath the skin onto the chicken breast.  I also rub what is left over the top of the chicken.  Then add a 1/2 cup of water per pan of chicken.  I cook the chickens for about an hour and a half and then doublecheck to be sure they are done with the meat thermometer.  It is absolutely delicious!  I’ve never actually had a rotisserie chicken, but I imagine it’s close as far as taste.  It is just perfectly cooked and full of flavor.  We use part of the meat of two of the chickens, and often never touch the third one.  After everyone is done eating, I have my husband slice the third chicken’s breast so that we can use it for sandwiches.  I put that in a container, then I take as much meat off the carcasses as I can and put it into containers.  We use this for a variety of dishes:  chicken and biscuits, fajitas, chicken casserole, etc.  Then I put the bones in a big stockpot of water, minced onion, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper, and boil for a couple of hours.  I strain the liquid afterwards and freeze it in containers as stock.  The meat I get off of that goes into a container to be used as meat in soup.  We get quite a few meals doing it this way!  Since I use stock a lot, I don’t use a lot of canned chicken broth.  I’ve really cut down on what I buy.  We buy the container of the soup base instead of bouillion.  It really makes a difference in our recipes.

POINT #7:  Roast yer chickens, use everything you can.

We quit buying the boxes of the helpers a long time ago.  We usually make our own type of that stuff.  There’s a great website that shows you how to make the homemade version of pretty much any hamburger helper box, to see it click the link here:  Chickens in The Road.  One thing I’ve concluded is that you really can’t replicate Kraft mac and cheese.  I’m the mean mom who won’t buy my kids the character ones anymore.  I buy the huge packs with 5 or 6 boxes in them.  My kids eat a lot of it.  If I’m going to spend a little more, I get the Annie’s Naturals ones.  Target has them on sale a lot and there are often coupons.  It’s my favorite.

POINT #8:  Help yourself, don’t buy helpers.

I also make a lot of seasonings.  I make taco and fajita seasoning from the spices in my cabinet.  The only seasoning we still buy is the Chi chis Restaurante seasoning-I can’t find a recipe to replicate it!  I have some others that I want to try.  For example, I got a recipe for a mix that is supposedly great to use in place of cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup, staples in our house.  But for now, I buy the generic brand, and use them in lots of our recipes.  This recipe is supposed to be just as good if not better.  I want to try it because I worry about the sodium in these recipes.  Damn Anxiety.  Here’s the link, maybe you’ll try it before I do:  Condensed Cream of Something Soup Dry Mix.  I’m not sure where I got the taco or fajita seasoning recipes.

POINT #9:  Make your own seasonings!

If I had a better budget, I’d do much more of my shopping at the local organic store.  Someday I hope I can buy all of our groceries there! Here is a great website that I really love to look at and that makes me feel bad about the fact that I am a) Too ADD to do a lot of the recipes and b) Too poor and addicted to pop to do the recipes.  100 Days of Real Food.

I just have to keep telling myself that this money situation is just a really big pothole in the street of life.  Sooner or later I have to find my way out of it.  I can’t stay in the sewer forever, right?

There has to be a way out. Right?