Friday, July 25, 2014

Budgeting/Bill Paying the K Way

...She doesn't.

Well, I should say, I don't. Our bills are the same amount every month, with very little changes even in the electric or gas or water amounts. I'm talking less than five dollars here. So as long as Poke brings home enough to cover all our bills, we're good to go! Everything else is gravy. Unfortunately, there are weeks where he doesn't get any overtime, so I have to put all the gravy in the savings and use it for the slow periods. But he has a substantial 401(k) through his employer, so right now savings isn't the number one priority.

Here in Ohio, the old saying goes "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" and unfortunately for some, that leads to outrageous utility bills. Our 1956 ranch home was double insulated by the previous owners, has all new (within the last 10 years) windows and doors, and we removed the carpeting in 90% of the house last fall. All these have proven to give us incredibly low bills, and combined with my miserly ways, we pay less than $140 per month for all three utilities - even in winter. I keep the air conditioning off until the temp hits 86F, and then the thermostat goes to 77F and we run fans. In the cold weather the thermostat is set at 62F, no higher, and we use blankets, sweatshirts, etc. to keep warm. We all shower every other day, and JI rarely gets his own shower or bath; he showers with us almost every single time. I water my flowers and lawn using leftover pool water before we dump it out (it is not chlorinated), we do 4 loads of laundry per week and run the dishwasher only 1-2 times per week on average.

A few months ago, we finally cut the cord with cable TV, and our bill is now less than $65 dollars per month - down from $125. We have the highest speed Internet available, which allows us to utilize Hulu Plus ($8), Netflix ($8), and Amazon Prime (included with $79/yr membership) streaming video services without many glitches. I thought we would miss cable, but to be honest it hasn't been that difficult at all. I like being able to choose what I'm in the mood for rather than having to wait for the scheduled air time!

I have zero credit cards, and Poke has five. Of those five, three have very low balances (under $100) and two are slightly higher. We get the low ones paid off and try not to use them very often, and pay double the minimum payment on the higher balance cards. Every year at tax time, we pay them all off in full. We don't put things on credit cards that aren't tangible, like gas or food. I use them occasionally for clothing, and the others are for major car repairs or emergencies.

We go out to eat twice per week, normally, although with my strange cravings it has been more often lately. When we go out, we spend $20 or less for the three of us to eat, and more often than not we use a coupon or get the specials. I never buy JI a kid's meal because he doesn't need extra crappy toys and I don't want him eating a ton of processed frozen foods. He eats a la carte sides, like green beans or black beans, and either Poke or I will order a slightly larger adult meal and give him some of our entree. Sometimes he just wants soup, or he just wants a fruit bowl, and it is cheaper to add one to your meal for $1.29 than to order the kid's burger meal with fries and soup for $5.99. As for drinks, it is water all the time! The only exception is a special occasion margarita or mixed drink (but we won't be doing that until after February!)

For home cooking/eating, I make 95% of everything from scratch. We don't normally eat junk food like chips/cookies/candies (another thing that has changed since pregnancy... yuck...), there are no processed or prepackaged foods like Helper, Pasta-Roni, etc., and we rarely do frozen foods other than garlic bread (yum... Texas Toast... hey, I'm not perfect!). As I've mentioned before, every time I make a meal, after JI and I have eaten what we want, the rest goes to Poke's lunches and into the freezer. Prior to being pregnant, I spent $350/month on groceries (including alcohol, cigarettes, toiletries, etc.) and once every 7-8 weeks I would do a big freezer meal cooking day and stock up. Our shelves and our fridge/freezer have been getting bare lately, but I have no energy and no desire to cook! Also, I know we have been spending more on groceries because I literally cannot make up my mind on what I want to eat. It is so lame.

As for the other miscellaneous things, our car insurance is very low because we have excellent driving records and we have combined our home & auto policies to get a discount. I have my own life insurance, we have our alarm system (which also gives us a discount on home owner's insurance), and a few other bills that aren't negotiable to lower. Overall, our monthly budget, in which I include everything - going out, groceries, etc. - leaves us with a little extra "fun" money. Unfortunately, after having a pretty rough and horrible two years prior to Poke's current job, the fun money isn't used for too many fun things these days! But we are able to do what we want, with what we have, without going into debt, and while having a wonderful fun family time. It doesn't take a lot of money to make a lot of memories.

Cooking with M: Summer Chicken Salad

I love chicken salad, especially in the summer because it doesn't need an oven that'll make the house hotter, doesn't take much effort and it's nice and cold. Perfect for a hot summer day!

Thick and oh-so-tasty.

Ingredients
I forgot to include the apples in the pic.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup diced celery
1 apple, diced
2 cups mayo (more or less depending on your preference)
3/4 cup craisins

Directions

  1. Cook chicken in slow cooker until it comes apart easily. Pull apart with a fork once it's done.
  2. Chill chicken in refrigerator. I put it in the bowl I'm going to end up making the salad in.
  3. Prepare celery and apples.
  4. In large bowl, combine chicken and all other ingredients. Stir until well-mixed.
  5. Serve as-is, on bread or in a bun. Add lettuce if desired. Enjoy!

Stirred up and ready to eat.

Open-faced sandwich.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Third Birthday Adventure

For JI's third birthday, we decided to do something a little different and something memorable. After all, it was really his first birthday that he might remember! I thought about having a kids party with our friends from the neighborhood, but that just seemed like a LOT of work and since I've been exhausted lately, it was less than appealing. So I came up with the idea to head up to Cleveland and eat at my favorite restaurant that Poke & JI had never been to, visit Lake Erie, and take the birthday boy for a day of super awesome fun at Memphis Kiddie Park!



We left Wednesday afternoon and drove straight to Wickliffe, about two hours from Columbus. There we ate at Petti's, an Italian place my family has been visiting for at least 29 years (my first memory is going there at age three!). The food was amazing, however, the service lacked greatly. I was kind of disappointed. JI did get free choo-choo wheels with red sauce and a free scoop of vanilla with a candle in it, so that was nice. By the way, kids always get free choo-choo wheels and a free popsicle, but I asked if they had a birthday special and she offered the ice cream.




After our delicious and filling meal, we headed west to Lake Erie. It was cloudy, rainy, and the temp had dropped to 64F. The red flags were up on the beach, so we were not able to actually go into the water, but JI was able to climb on some boulders. Some of the lake water had formed a puddle on a boulder, so JI dipped his foot in as a way to "step in the lake" even though we couldn't really! At Edgewater Park there are a lot of wide open fields, which JI thoroughly enjoyed running through; He cried when we had to leave because it started drizzling.

Family Selfie
Mommy and JI looking at Lake Erie

Running to Mommy through the field

Giving baby a hug

It took about 20 minutes to get to the hotel from Edgewater Park, and check in was easy. The hotel was actually at the airport, which made it fairly simple to locate - a little bit harder to get into the parking lot, however! I'll admit that I had to drive in a circle - but just once!


We promised JI that we would go swimming in the pool, so as soon as we set our suitcases down in the room, we unpacked our suits and got ready to swim. My mom bought a swim vest for JI, which he didn't want to wear at first, but once he got in the water he was happy to have it on. 


JI has never been afraid of the water, thank goodness, and this was no exception. With the swim vest on, JI was able to practice his doggy paddle, kicking his little legs and flapping his little arms like a duck beneath the surface. We were so proud of him being able to swim away from us and to the side of the pool! Of course he also had to get out and jump in about a hundred times, but that just shows how brave he is!


He just came up from under the water!

Escape toddler!

Thursday was the big day. We got up, checked out, stopped at an amazing donut shop (BACON DONUTS! YUM!) and headed over to Memphis Kiddie Park for the big birthday surprise. Parking and admission are both free, and rides cost one ticket per person. I should say per child because the height limit for rides is 50", except the Little Dipper coaster, the carousel, and the train. For only $29 you can get a book of 30 tickets that includes food coupons also. We were there for three hours, and ate lunch there too, and spent less than $50! You can't even get a kid into a regular amusement park and feed them lunch for $50 these days.



JI had tons of fun riding the rides by himself. I thought he might be scared, but he picked the "wildest" ride, The Comet, as his first choice and went on it three times! I had to convince him to try the roller coaster, and there was some whining involved. Once he got on the coaster, however, it was all good. He was ecstatic over the coaster!




JI rode all the rides (except the crazy cars - he said "boring") at least once, and most of them two or three times. I spent most of the time taking pictures, and Poke got the honor of riding the coaster and the carousel with JI. I did go on the coaster once and both times on the train!

Ferris Wheel

Boat Captain! Ding Ding!

Space Ships - not impressed

Driving the race car on a track

Riding in the pony cart
We were home in Columbus on Thursday night, and had time to rest before JI's family party Friday evening. I spent most of the day Friday running around getting things ready for the party, because I hadn't wanted to get the food and stuff before we left for Cleveland. I'm always afraid that the power is going to go out while we're gone and we'll come home to a fridge full of nastiness! It was kind of relaxing to run errands alone, something I haven't done in awhile!


When we have a big party, it is usually a potluck, and this was no exception. Our guests, as always, did not disappoint! We had so much delicious food and so many leftovers! It was awesome.

Our big gift to JI this year was a swimming pool. He'd been using the baby pool since he was, well, a baby, and it was time to get our little guppy something in which he could really splash around! Poke set it up while I was gone, and it was ready to go by party time. 


A couple of our friends brought their kids, and all the youngins loved the pool. They were splishing and splashing, in between bites of burgers and fruit salad. Everyone said they had an excellent time! I know I did.


JI is a strange child in that he does not like to open presents. It isn't that he hates it, he just doesn't care, and would rather keep playing. Luckily his girlfriend was there to open the presents for him, and he checked out each gift as she handed it to him. Kids!




JI's birthday was a robot theme, but since nowhere on earth had robot decorations, we had to make do with an awesome robot cake and a homemade poster. The cake was good enough to make up for cheapy little doo-dads! I'll take a good cake over decor any day.


Overall, I was extremely happy with how everything turned out. JI took his first trip as a big kid, everything went without a hitch, and we had a lovely time with our family and friends. Yay!

PS - The cost of our entire three day trip, including gifts and food and everything for the party was less than $300. It would have cost us that much in hotel and admission alone if we had gone to Cedar Point or Sesame Street World or any other big park!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cooking with M: Weekly Menu July 19-25

It's time again to do the menu planning for the upcoming week. You might notice a theme for Tuesdays--this day I try to have a green salad as a meatless veggie meal. I also have pasta once a week (usually without meat but this week is an exception) to have another meatless meal and because M2 loves her pasta. It's also easy and makes leftovers for A.

We also keep fresh fruit in the house for breakfasts, snacks and lunches throughout the week. M2 has fruit for breakfast every day. I base the fruit on what is on sale and looks good at the store. There's also a stash of frozen fruit and some can fruit in case we get in a fruit pinch.

This week's fruit
Apples, oranges, bananas, green and black grapes, peaches and nectarines
Saturday
Spaghetti and meatballs with side salad
Sunday
Whole roast chicken, parsley buttered potatoes and mixed veggies (I picked up a whole chicken when they were on sale, froze it and it's now defrosting)
Monday
Chicken and dumplings (I've been craving this and the whole chicken leftovers are great for this)
Tuesday
Green salad
Wednesday
Grilled cheese and soup
Thursday
Steak, baked potatoes and green beans
Friday
Leftovers

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cooking with M: Easy Southwestern Taco Salad

Quick, easy relatively light dinners are an important staple of summer. When we were visiting A's dad a few weeks ago, he introduced us to taco salad. We liked it and decided to make it at home. The problem was, I didn't have the right type of beans and didn't feel like going back out to get them. There were also ears of corn in the fridge that needed to be used up. What's a stay-at-home-mom to do? Why, tweak the recipe and turn it into Southwestern taco salad, of course!

The finished dish.
Ingredients
Tortilla chips
French dressing
1 lb. ground beef (I used 93% lean)
1 can black beans, drained
Cooking up the yum.
2 ears of corn or 1 cup of frozen corn
Shredded cheddar cheese
Lettuce

Directions
1. Brown ground beef in medium skillet.
2. When ground beef is almost finished, add the can of beans (drained) and corn. Stir together well. Heat until all is cooked. If the corn is frozen, heat it to room temperature in the microwave before adding.
3. Arrange chips on plate. Pour meat mixture overtop. Add however much cheese and lettuce you'd like then drizzle French Dressing over it all.

If you don't like the dressing (like me), you can leave it off. A's dad's version uses kidney beans and no corn. It's just as tasty.

So tasty. Even M2 loves it.
This is what M2 was doing while Mama put this post together.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cooking with M: Back on the Meal Planning Wagon

Since I've had horrible morning sickness, I've slipped on planning our weekly dinners ahead of time. There just didn't seem to be a point when I was too sick to cook or too disgusted by food to even follow through. The last few weeks I've been doing better so am back in the swing of things. Yesterday, I started putting together a list of our go-to recipes. This list will have a companion "to try" version as I find new recipes to try from the internet and magazines. I have a folder with recipes to try that are torn from magazines. Today, I planned out our weekly menu to share with you.


Saturday
Pork stir fry over rice
Sunday
Chicken salad
Monday
Herb chicken with veggies
Tuesday
Green salad
Wednesday
Grilled steak with baked potato and veggies
Thursday
Leftovers or fettuccini
Friday
Mandarin orange chicken with fried rice