Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Present

...and Frugal Friday.
(Just wanted to mention that I re-discovered recently that Biblical Womanhood hosts a Frugal Friday Mr. Linky party every week. I had forgotten all about it, but I didn't copy, I promise! She requested no Halloween posts today, but maybe next week I'll start linking to it.)

This year's frugal costume line up:
1) a pony costume purchased at Goodwill for $9 (I figured this was a good buy based on the dress-up play similar costumes got a few years ago)

2) a chihuahua fashioned from a generic brown suit (also from GW, a couple bucks). It probably was the Lion King at one time. Handsome cut off most of the tail and used the fuzzy tip to create ears. Don't tell Skippy it kinda looks like a bunny; he's satisfied that it's a chihuahua. I got several assignments home from school in the last few weeks that went something like this:

What I Want to be for Halloween
I want to be a chihuahua.
They are my favorite animal.
If my mom can make the costume, I will be one.
I hope my mom can make a chihuahua.

Yeah, no pressure.

3) a basically free Lego brick made from a box from the basement and six Solo drinking cups already in the pantry (oh, the spray paint was about $1). We decided that his original idea of a Lego minifig was a little too involved.

The troop is already back, and stuffing their faces. I once heard of a mom who let her kids eat all they wanted Halloween night, and then got rid of the rest. I always thought it was a good idea, rather than having a constant candy-fest for the next several weeks, but I've never been brave enough to try it. However, some of the stash seems to mysteriously disappear....

Handsome carved the pumpkin last night, and I roasted the seeds. We love them roasted with olive oil and sea salt, but several years ago I found this recipe in Family Fun magazine, and these are very yummy too.

Pumpkin Pie Seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds, rinsed and dried
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt
6 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (if I had been thinking, I would've tried my coconut oil)

1. Spread the seeds on a large baking sheet and roast them at 250 degrees for 45 minutes, or until completely dry and lightly browned.

2. In large bowl, stir together the pumpkin pie spice, salt, and 2 tsp of the sugar; set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

4. Add the seeds and remaining 4 tsp sugar to the skillet, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until sugar melts, about 45 seconds.

5. Scrape seeds into pumpkin pie spice mixture and stir to coat.

6. Allow to cool and store in airtight container.

Frugal tip: if, like me, you don't have any pumpkin pie spice on the shelf, you can throw together this little concoction {2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cloves} to keep on hand as needed.

HaPpY HaLLoWeEn!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Past

Here are some of my favorite photos from past Halloweens (at least, the ones I could choose from that are on the computer; some are prints in a shoebox somewhere).

2000 Skippy's first Halloween: Li'l Punkin (I was still too overwhelmed at being a mother of two to make an actual costume)

2001 Firstborn is very proud of his pumpkin arrangement (okay, so this is just fall, but it was too cute!).

2002 Eeyore, Tigger, and Pooh (the Pooh costume started out as Simba the Lion King and I remade it. Pretty good Pooh face, huh?)

2003 Warning! Warning! Firstborn is a robot complete w/ flashing lights.

2003 Pinkerbelle is a butterfly. My mother-heart goes all a-flutter when I see these pictures because my baby has since metamorphosed into a big girl!

2004 A duck, a puppy, and a cactus. The best decision I made that year was to purchase two of the costumes; they got a lot of use for a couple years. The cactus was Firstborn's idea and it turned out pretty cute!

2006 A black cat, an architect, and a bat. A construction hat, a suit jacket, and a roll of "blueprints" made up the architect. The bat's wings were made out of an umbrella (sans wire) and flew out quite convincingly when he ran with arms outstreched.

2007 Aargh, matey! Look at the lashes on that pirate!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gone-All-Day Supper

Maybe you know you're going to be out all day, say, going to thrift stores with your friend (yes, again!). And you also know that you will be too beat when you get home to stand around in the kitchen cooking. This is a super-simple meal for those kind of days.

In the morning, throw some chicken breasts in the crockpot. They can even be frozen, but if I do it that way, I prefer to be around to pour off the extra liquid once they've thawed. And I know some people are worried about the safety of putting frozen food in the crockpot, but I've been doing it for 16 years and never had a problem. However, just to cover my behind, I will not advise anyone else to put frozen meat in the crockpot. Do so at your own risk.

Okay, so the chicken is in the crockpot. Pour your favorite bbq sauce over it. My family likes KC Masterpiece. Turn the crockpot on low, and go do your thing. At supper time, shred the chicken with two forks. It will be super tender. Pour more sauce over it, if you like.

Serve it on hamburger buns, with a green salad or carrot sticks, and a few chips. Done.

It's not gourmet, but it gets the family fed. And it is pretty good, after all. Firstborn would eat this every night of the week if he had his way.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Rhoda from Southern Hospitality is having a giveaway for a Better Homes and Gardens decorating book. Check it out!

House Tour

I'm a little late to the party, but that's how to make an entrance, right? I'm going to take you on a tour of my sister's cozy Colorado cottage, partly because the photos were quickly and conveniently already available on my computer, but mainly because she has a great decorating knack and can make any place feel like home. I don't have any before pictures, but apparently this place was not much to see before she got her hands on it. I also must confess that I've never yet been able to visit her at this house, so you're getting the tour I got, by photos.

I love a red house. The style hardly matters; if it's red, to me it's welcoming. Not that I don't like the style, sis. I know you don't, but I think it's cute.

I love the entrance: the potted plants, the birdhouses, the wreath on the black door.

I'm assuming the entrance comes into the living room here (remember, I've never been there). Look at her charming vignette under the table and the folded quilts.

Looking into the living room and the very comfy over-sized couch. I know, because I have the same couch (and so does my dad and step-mom; we like to keep it in the family). To be fair, she had it first.

Looking from the living room into the kitchen. I'm pretty sure the table and chairs are the ones she bought at a flea-market when she was about 19. Even then she had a good eye. See the "Kitchen" sign? I have that too, but I think she copied me on this one, because I'm pretty sure she was with me when I bought mine. Maybe she actually bought it at the same time. But it was still my idea.

The master bedroom. A large part of my sister's cozy style is her use of warm, rich colors and inviting fabrics.

The hallway outside the master bedroom. She was lucky enough to get my grandma's little rolltop desk.

My niece's room. She is an accomplished horsewoman.

My nephew's room. He is an outdoorsman. The other side of the room has a log wall with a bearskin on it. Love the suede bedspread and the plaid drapes.

This is my favorite spot. Downstairs in the tv room is this little reading/guest nook. I love the chandelier and the french door with the curtain. My sister does all her own sewing, and in fact has an at-home business sewing curtains, pillows, etc. for clients.

I hope you have enjoyed this little peek into my sister's home. Maybe one day I'll get to see it in person! Check out all the other fun tours at the party at Hooked on Houses.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Souper Saturday

Two years ago I started a fall/winter tradition: Souper Saturday. This started because I often did not have a plan for supper on Saturdays, and was just throwing together some sandwiches or scrambled eggs or something, and I wanted to be a little more proactive without spending a lot of time in the kitchen. The kids were anti-soup, so I never made it and Handsome and I missed it. Thus a regular Saturday supper of soup was born during the cool months, and that way I could even do it in the crockpot if we were running around during the day. I figured if that's what the kids had to eat, eventually they'd warm up to it (get it? warm up? oh, never mind).

They have, kind of. It's still not their absolute favorite, and some soups are more well received than others. Nevertheless, I like it. Soup is simple, warming, comforting food and it doesn't take a lot planning or time on my part. Tonight was the first Souper Saturday of the year. As you may recall, I had the leftover roast chicken waiting in the fridge.

First, I pulled off most of the remaining meat and set it aside, then broke up the bones a little and put them in a pot covered with water. I added an onion cut in half, with its skin, a big carrot, unpeeled and in large chunks, a bay leaf and a couple peppercorns. Usually I would put in some celery, but I didn't have any, so I tossed in a little sprinkle of celery seed. Doesn't that look homey?

I let this simmer for about an hour, then I removed and discarded all the bones and veggies and strained the broth through a sieve. That left just broth, or technically stock. There are ways of clarifying the broth, and you can refrigerate it until the fat solidifies and skim it off. I did neither. There wasn't too much fat, and in any case this was a free-range organic chicken I got straight from the farmer, and the fat is actually good for you. For more on that, visit Kelly the Kitchen Kop and peruse her blog.

Now, I do not really have a collection of tried and true favorite soup recipes. You would think after two years of this I would, but usually what I end up doing is searching Allrecipes and finding a recipe with good ratings that sounds good and for which I have the ingredients. Tonight I ended up with Spicy Chicken Rice Soup, although I didn't have a few of the ingredients (celery, green pepper, crushed red pepper flakes), but they wouldn't have gone over well with the kiddos anyway.

I prefer to use brown rice, but didn't have enough, so went ahead with regular white rice; I also added a dash of cayenne in place of the pepper flakes. I chopped up the reserved chicken and added it at the end of the rice cooking time, as I just wanted it heated up and not cooked more. BTW, I will not review this recipe for Allrecipes, as I always think it's a little silly when people say a recipe was either great or terrible and then list all the changes they made, basically ending up with something different all together.

Both boys said it was "actually good, Mama" (victory!). I thought it was good, but not fantastic. Probably not a do-over. But all in all, a successful kick-off to Souper Saturdays '08-'09.

Afterwards, in another fall tradition, we went out in the back yard and made s'mores. I love these firepits which became popular 2 or 3 years ago and allow us city-slickers to play with fire. Happy Fall!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Frugal Friday

I made an unplanned stop at a garage sale this morning after dropping my kids off at school. They had loads of stuff and she promised several times that there was more that she would put out tomorrow and next week. I found several items that I can (hopefully) put to good use.

Four first reader books for Pinkerbelle, (.10 and .25), a desk lamp for Skippy ($1.50), two unopened packages of icicle lights (.50/ea), the top only of one of those old-fashioned chicken basket thingys (.25), and the twin to the basket I have hanging on my front door , already painted black ($1)!

Two more plastic garden urns, $1/ea. These will eventually be painted.

Lastly, this cute little shelf for $1.50! It's in my powder room right now, but may or may not stay there. My powder room is really builder white as we haven't painted it yet, so it's just bad lighting that's making it look so yellow.

The little chicken is from one these vintage (maybe?) things. I don't know how old it is, or if it's worth anything, but it's nostalgic for me as both my mom and grandma had at least one of these.

It's a cute little addition to my collection of white dishes that is currently in my corner cupboard, although this is only part of my collection...just the stuff I've purchased since we moved into this house. The rest is still packed away somewhere. And, just so you know, this is not a thought-out display. I've just tossed stuff in there as I've brought them home. I wouldn't want you to think that I think this looks good, you know? I'm also contemplating a make-over for the corner cupboard, so I won't show the whole thing here.

So, that was my haul for the day, pretty cheap, but maybe not technically thrifty, since I could have survived without any of these purchases. But fun.

Now, last Friday I did a post on my frugal heritage, with the intention of discussing some ways that I can get back to doing more things to save money. I wouldn't say I'm extravagant by any means, but in the last 5 years or so, as our financial situation has become a little better than it was previously, I have become less careful. Here's one example that has for some reason burned itself in my brain: about 8 years ago, when things were extremely tight, I remember standing in the toothbrush aisle at Walmart. I wanted the $3 toothbrush, but decided I couldn't spend that much when right next to it was the Wally brand toothbrush for $1. I guess that was a pretty low point in my life for several reasons, but 'having' to buy that cheap toothbrush made me feel really deprived. These days, I don't even think about it, I just grab the $3 toothbrush if I want it.

For the most part, I still am a careful spender. I do a lot of my shopping at Aldi (although less and less lately the more I get looking into nutrition), I have no problem buying clothes for myself and my family at Goodwill, and 8 times out of 10 I do purchase the store brand. But I wonder, how much less could I be spending if my mentality was more like it was 8 years ago, when Handsome was making half of what he is now? (Not the feeling deprived part, though.) Or if I was even more strict about it, like my mother?

So, I'm going to try a little series, Frugal Friday, and see how it goes. Hopefully it will encourage me to try new things every week, instead of just thinking about it. Then I'll share it with you here. They won't be huge steps, but little steps put together create a journey.

This post is already very long, so for today I'll just quickly list two things I did this week.
1) I bought inexpensive reusable containers for the kids to pack their sandwiches in, instead of using a zipper-top sandwich bag every day. In the long run, this will save money, as I won't have to buy so many sandwich bags. As an added bonus, it's also environmentally friendly.
2) I roasted a whole chicken instead of using boneless skinless chicken breasts. It was only 3lbs, so I didn't have as much left over as I thought I might, but there's still plenty to make a meaty chicken soup out of, so that will be 2 meals for a family of 5. Let's just say, however, that I need to work on my roasting and carving technique!

What tips do you have for saving money? Leave a comment, and I'll see you back here next Friday for more!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Award" (Wink, wink)

I can't really claim this as a true award, but Leslie at Feathers in My Nest was tagged and passed it on to anybody who hadn't yet received it, and I needed a topic today. She said to tell six random things about yourself, so here goes.

1. I was born in Quebec (but am a U.S. citizen). We moved away when I was still an infant and I've never been back.

2. Holes gross me out. I can't explain it really, it's just the perfect roundness and the vacancy...and if they're not vacant, that can be worse. Like these things, hate 'em...gag, something just came up in my throat.

3. I went to boarding school for eleventh and twelfth grade (church school, not because I was a troubled teen).

4. If you ask me my favorite color, ice cream flavor, Bible verse, book, etc., I can't narrow it down to just one. I don't want to commit.

5. I have moved at least 20 times in my 37 years, and that does not include all of the moving back and forth between boarding school or college and wherever was home at the time. In the last 9 years alone, I have moved 8 times.

6. I skipped first grade because I was such a little smarty-pants.

Okay, your turn. If you haven't received this award, or if you're feeling lonely in the blogosphere**, like I was, grab it and run.

**hint, hint: if you're reading this (or any other post), I'd love to see your comments! :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Plethora of Projects

Remember last Wednesday's post about laundry, and I mentioned that next I needed to get a cute laundry hamper? Well, the very next day I stopped into one of my favorite thrift stores and found this large wicker chest for only $19.90.

I thought it would work well as a hamper, and at that price it was a bargain. Have you priced nice wicker hampers? They can be upwards of $60 and higher! I took the fabric cover off and spray-painted the chest black, and got some batting and fabric at Walmart. After I took out the screws and took the lid off, I folded and cut the batting to fit on top of it. Then I tacked the batting to the lid at each corner with a staple gun.

Next, I put it face down on top of the fabric. There's Daisy the cat checking it out; realistically, she'll be the only one that sits on it, so I guess that's okay.

Then I folded the edge of the fabric up and over and stapled it to the wood frame.

I trimmed away the extra fabric to make it easier to work with. Look ma, no hands!

Then I folded up and stapled the other side. For heaven's sake, here's the dog, Lila, getting in my way too! Note to self: next time, lock the animals up.

The corners were a wee bit tricky because of all the extra fabric, but I just tucked and folded and pulled it over and stapled it. It doesn't have to be pretty on the inside.

Here it is all finished, and after screwing the hinges back on, it's in its new spot at the top of the stairs, right across from the laundry. See, I knew it wouldn't take long for Daisy to stake her claim. Now the trick will be getting the family to actually put their laundry in it!

Okay, next, Firstborn wanted me to feature the Lego town he's working on. There's Steak n Shake, a meat store (notice the chicken drumstick over the door), and the YMCA. You can probably see it better if you click on the photo to enlarge it. He's been a Lego maniac lately, and wants to be a Lego minifig for Halloween. He'd better get working on his costume.

Lastly, for the mac-daddy of projects, check out my cousin Heidi's kitchen remodel, which is featured in the current issue of BHG Special Interests Kitchen and Bath Ideas. Oddly, their website does not appear to be up-to-date, so there are no photos for me to link to. If you pick up an issue, her kitchen starts on pages 82-83. In one photo, on her bulletin board, if you know what you're looking at there's last year's Christmas photo of my kids. Skippy said "We're famous!".