Rhymeswithsmile Nursery

Today, I finished the nursery!  Since we moved in, it's been the holding space for pretty much everything in the house that didn't have any other place to go.  But today, it's a finished baby space - and ready for the little one's arrival sometime in the next 2ish weeks.  Just thought I'd show a few little things and link up to the tutorials.

Hanging over the crib is fabric in different sizes of embroidery hoops.  I originally had these hanging over my sewing table, but needed something for a wall that I would be seeing more frequently than the sewing nook for the coming weeks.  And it'll be so easy to change out when my mood/the nursery space/the season changes.  I've seen lots of embroidery hoops in second-hand stores, on craigslist, and on freecycle, so this kind of art collection would be easy to put together on a budget.

The set of five pictures over the rocking chair was inspired by the collection of ideas for upcycling toddler art that I saw here.  I felt like I wanted Little Girl to contribute something personal to the new baby's room, but wasn't really sure what that could look like.  Looking around on Pinterest got me thinking that it wouldn't be a Bad Mom Move of me to cut up some of her art ... so, we delved into painting:
 ... and ended up with lots of painted half-sheets of paper (and paint all over the kiddo herself) ...
 ... then I found free clipart silhouettes of animals online, traced them onto the painted parts of the paper, and cut them out (because of some of the white space below, you can't really tell what the animals are - but there is a pig, a duck, a rabbit, a cow, and a turtle) ...
... I replaced the pictures that were in these 8"x10" frames with Little Girl's artwork, taped onto cardstock.  If you look closely, it's definitely homemade.  But whatever.  The new baby won't care, and the Mr. and I are pleased with Little Girl's contribution to the room.

Believe me, it's REALLY REALLY easy to make
a crib sheet out of a couple yards of fabric.
I'm not just saying that.  It really is.
I made my own crib sheet using this tutorial.  We got the fabric at Ikea (the Torva collection) to coordinate with the curtains in the room.  Fun fact: my cousin saw the fabric and said, "You would make a crib sheet out of that.  It's all garden and green and family and vegetables."  Yes, yes I would.  And I did.  I love it.

Tucked away next to the crib is a crate full of fun toys for Little Girl herself.  I'm so thankful for friends with experience in this keep-the-older-sibling-occupied thing - we've received some fun and interactive gadgets to keep her entertained while I've got my hands full.  Thanks, friends!

Awesome chair from the side of the road ... that was a surprise blessing!  I am so excited to have a fully functional, curb pickup, good condition, glider/rocker for the nursery ... partly because I know I'll be sitting in it a lot, and partly because it means we get to keep the other rocking chair in the living room.  Yippee!
And last but not least, a Craigslist find for $15.  We just needed a plain, sturdy changing table - nothing fancy really.  This one is solid wood, but it was somewhat dinged up so I repainted it white (with paint I got off my local freecycle network).

So, we're ready!  Come on, little one!


Storm Ready

This is how almost-two-year-olds prepare for impending doom of disastrous weather:

 And here's how boring adults prepare:

Bring it, Frankenstorm!  We're all set around here.


Applesauce-Raisin-Nut Bread

This recipe was printed in the Winston-Salem Journal in the fall of 2007; I clipped it and saved it because it was a prize-winning cake recipe submitted by a friend's mother-in-law.  I've made a few alterations (like cutting down on the amount of sugar the cake calls for, and using whole eggs instead of egg substitute - these changes are reflected in the recipe below).  But I would like to give a shout-out to Mrs. Balser, wherever you are these days ... I love your recipe, and have stocked up a couple dozen hearty and healthy muffins to help welcome Baby #2!  I mean, I've stocked up on muffins to help keep me from dying of hunger in the middle of the night ... 

Makes 2 large loaves or 36 muffins

2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (or 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour and 1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1 c. raisins
1 1/4 c. plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 c. chopped walnuts

Stir the raisins into the applesauce to plump.  Set aside.  (This can be done up to a day in advance and left in the refrigerator).
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour two large loaf pans, one 12-cup Bundt pan, or prepare muffin tins with 36 muffin liners.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and cloves.  Add applesauce and raisins, yogurt, eggs, oil, and walnuts; stir until thoroughly blended.  Pour into prepared pans.
Bake 50-60 minutes (for loaves or Bundt pan) or 15-20 minutes (for muffins), or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pans 15 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack.  Cool completely.
If desired, frost with Cream Cheese frosting (recipe below) and sprinkle with ground walnuts.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Whip 3 ounces room temperature cream cheese until smooth.  Add 1/4 cup room temperature butter and mix thoroughly.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar.  Beat until smooth.

Yes!  One more thing on the to-do list DONE!  That feels good.


Freezer-Crockpot Meals: The Recipes

Here are the recipes for the freezer-crockpot meals I've already prepped and frozen.  I've got plans to try a bunch more, but freezer space is getting slim.

I got started with inspiration from Aimee over at Six Cents, and followed her link to Ring Around The Rosies.  Then I searched out other crockpot favorites in cookbooks and websites I love (like The Pioneer Woman and Southern Living).

I've also just found Six Sisters' Stuff, a blog with a fantastic array of freezer-to-slow cooker meals - including a shopping list, step-by-step instructions, and side dish ideas.  Boo-yah.  None of the recipes I've prepped came from there directly, but there is some overlap.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to pick up the ingredients for the Hearty Beef Stew and Chicken Broccoli Alfredo on my next shopping trip.

A few "tweaks" that I made across the board ... 
1. We prefer dark meat to light, so I bought two giant packages of chicken thighs for these recipes in place of chicken breasts.
2.  I make my own "cream of [whatever] soup" ... I assume one commercial can is about 1 cup of homemade soup, give or take.
3. I chose these recipes because of what was on sale, and what ingredients overlapped.  Onions, tomatoes, and chicken were predominant in the first three, and Italian seasoning shows up in the first and last recipe.  That helped me cut down on having a bunch of leftovers I didn't know what to do with.
4. Since these are "future meals" and not "eat right away meals," I had to decide how to fit the bill into my regular food budget.  I decided that we'd eat a little more modestly this shopping cycle (aka, less meat, more beans) and would not spend any extra on these meals.  It worked!  We've eaten a lot of quesadillas, nachos, soups, sandwiches, and pizza in the last couple of weeks, but I am so pleased that I didn't have to spend money outside of my normal food budget.

Sausage and Peppers (from Ring Around the Rosies)
6 Italian Sausage or chicken sausage
2 green peppers, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 large red onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans Italian diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning

Split between 2 bags, seal, mix, lay flat, and freeze.
Add drizzle of olive oil, cook on low 8 hours, serve over hot noodles or or fresh French bread with mozzarella cheese.

Chicken Curry (from Six Cents) 
6-8 chicken breasts
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
1 cup of dry cooking sherry
½ cup of butter
8 green onions chopped
4 tsp of curry powder
salt and pepper

Directions: Divide everything except butter into two bags evenly.  Add butter to crockpot when ready to cook.  Cook on low for 8 hours. Serve over rice with a side salad.

Chipotle Lime Chicken (from Six Cents)
2 cups diced onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrots
8 skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tbsp miced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup cilantro
2 sliced avocodos

Directions:  Split all ingredients into two bags except avocado.  Cook on low 8 hours.  Serve with avocodo on top.  Serve on top of rice or noodles.

Italian Drip Beef (from The Pioneer Woman)

1 whole beef chuck roast, 2.5 To 4 pounds
1 can beef consomme or beef broth
3 Tablespoons (heaping) Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1/2 jar (16 Oz) pepperoncini peppers, with juice
Buttered, toasted deli rolls

*PW's instructions were not specifically for the crockpot, but I made it work ... as with most recipes adapted for a slow cooker, you may require a little more or less seasoning or liquid than the original recipe calls for*
Directions: Place all ingredients in a bag except for the deli rolls.  Cook on low 6-8 hours or until meat is fork-tender and falling apart (if it's not falling apart, keep cooking!)  With two forks, completely shred all meat, leaving no large chunks behind. Serve immediately, or keep warm.
Serve on buttered, toasted rolls. Top with cheese and melt under the broiler if desired. Serve with juices from the pot.


Freezer-Crockpot Meals: The Idea

The Freezer-Crockpot Meal is one of Pinterest's most amazing gifts to me.  It's revolutionary enough to take over the world (or at least a good portion of my available freezer space).  I can't believe that I've never heard of this process before - I don't know whether that's because I'm in a technology vacuum with a 5-year-old computer and no smartphone, or whether the idea is really something new.  Either way, I am excited to have stumbled on such an easy way to prep a bajillion a handful of easy meals with about as little preparation time as a girl can hope for.

Here's the gist of what a "freezer-crockpot meal" is: dump all ingredients for favorite slow cooker meals into a gallon-sized plastic bag and freeze it.  (This includes meat - with the exception of ground beef which should always be pre-cooked before adding to a slow cooker, the meats for the recipes can be raw!)  When you need it, run the bag under warm water for a bit to loosen the bag, and place the frozen contents into the crock.  Turn it on, leave it all day, come home to an amazing main dish, and throw together some quick side like garlic bread, rice, pasta, a salad, or sauteed vegetables.

So simple, right?

I'll post some of the recipes I've prepared tomorrow.


An Un-tutorial for a Cape

This has nothing to do with a cape!
It's a family portrait from last week's camping.
Yes, Little Girl is in two different kinds of stripes.  Don't judge.  It was cold.
Here's a confession: I am about to give you a mediocre tutorial for a superhero cape I made.  There are much more detailed tutorials out there, like this one from howdoesshe or this one from thelongthread (which is where I got my basic inspiration), so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel.  I'll just show you what I did, and let you figure it out from there ...
(ask questions if you need to ... I'll do my best to answer, or at the very least, I'll point you to some other tutorial that has an answer).
Basic measurements
Cut two of these on the fold 
This is what it looks like when you unfold it
(no, I did not iron before cutting.  No shame.)
Add an applique if you want ... I used Wonder-Under and
had to follow the instructions on the paper, just like I have to every single time.
I didn't want to end up with a backwards 'e'.
[Insert other helpful tutorials here for detailed instructions on stitching, turning, ironing, topstitching, and adding velcro.]
Finished product!
Cape in motion
Cape + Bedhead: One Super Girl, Indeed!
This is going in Little Girl's dress-up box for Christmas (which means it's one more thing I've gotten to check off THE LIST).  I still have a few more things to add, but this was one I really wanted to get done.


Whole Wheat Oatmeal Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. whole oats
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 c. milk plus 1 tsp. white vinegar or lemon juice (to make sour milk)
1 egg
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1-2 mashed bananas, optional

Stir together dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients, then pour into dry mixture.  Mix by hand combining all ingredients.  Pour in greased muffin pan.

Bake at 425 for 10-12 minutes.

This is one of my favorite muffin recipes for oh-so-many reasons!  First, they really do take only 10 or 12 minutes to bake.  That alone is worth it!  Hot from the oven muffins in like, 20 minutes!  Yowza.

Second, they are so versatile.  You can substitute other kinds of flour, add extra spices (I added a hefty teaspoon of cinnamon this morning), use yogurt instead of sour milk, replace the oil with applesauce or (dare I divulge a secret?) a jar of baby food, and/or throw in whatever fruit or nuts you have around.  I have even stirred in leftover oatmeal a time or two.  Sometimes tweaking the recipe results in a different bake time (like an extra minute or two), but it's worth it.

Third, these have been termed "nursing survival muffins" by my friend Amber, who originally shared the recipe.  They're filling, delicious hot or cold, healthy, a little sweet (because of course that's a necessity in my book), easy to freeze, and good for any meal of the day or night.

What's not to love?


Cloth Diapers 101

One thing checked off the to-do list today: wash our "new" (second-hand Craigslist) cloth diapers.  

In honor of that, I'm going to share a little bit of cloth diapering info that I passed along to some girlfriends last summer (when literally everyone I interacted with regularly was pregnant, considering pregnancy, or had just delivered.  Everyone.)

Image from www.bakersfieldmom.com
Disclaimer: cloth diapering is not all blue skies
and artistic pastel colors in a picturesque field.
Sometimes there's real poop involved.
Feel free to write off this post if you're not into it.  Ain't no thing ...

First of all, I'd like to make a disclaimer: I like cloth diapering, but it's not for everyone.  If you don't want to read this, and if you don't agree with my position, that's OK!  I absolutely don't want to be pushy or to make you feel like EVERYONE should be using cloth diapers just because I'm on board.
Image from www.keeperofthehome.org
This is for those of you who have babies, are getting ready to have them, or may want babies in the future and are considering cloth diapering.  I felt really intimidated by the diapering systems before the Mr. did research about them and picked the one that he wanted (see how intimidated I was?  I wouldn't even do the research!)  But we discovered that cloth diapers basically fall into three categories: covers, pockets, and all-in-ones.  And I was still intimidated until I just decided to take the plunge - Baby Girl was a month old, diapers were expensive, and we had cloth ready to use.  So here are a few things I have learned...

The covers are modern "old-school" cloth diapers - you wrap an absorbent rectangle (called a prefold) around the baby, secure it, and then put a waterproof cover around it.  This used to be with those giant pins and plastic pants, but thank God, there are new and easier ways to secure the prefold and new types of covers!  One of the benefits of this style is that you just have a few covers that you can reuse - if the baby pees, you just replace the prefold and can use the same cover!  So there's not a huge stack of materials to deal with.  There are also more fitted "prefolds" out there that are super absorbent, have snaps or velcro, and fit tidily around the baby so that you don't have to do origami every time you try to wrap a rectangle around a squirmy baby.  You still put a cover over them. Thirsties brand diapers fall into this category, as does Flip and Imse Vimse.

Pocket diapers are what we have - BumGenius is one brand that does these (and this is what we use).  You still have the waterproof cover, but you slide or snap the absorbent pad into a pocket in the diaper.  You can add extra absorbency by using a second liner at nighttime or other times when you won't be changing the baby's diaper as often.  These are popular because while they are cloth diapers, they're very similar to conventional diapers in style and use.  We are using BumGenius and we love them - and we've gotten our families to use them too with relative ease.  Fuzzibunz makes pockets also.

All-in-ones are just that - the cover is attached to the absorbent piece.  I think a lot of brands make these - we have a few BumGenius all-in-ones that we like, but the only downside is that they take forever to dry.  So I only use them when we're in a pinch.  All-in-ones are popular because they are the most like disposables - one piece, nothing to assemble or disassemble.  Easy as pie.

The brands that I'm most familiar with are Bumgenius (pocket and all-in-one, or AIO), Thirsties (covers),  Fuzzibunz (pocket), and Kissaluvs (pockets and covers). 

Some extra things that come along with cloth diapering -

(1) detergent that has no additives, brighteners, scents, or colors.  We have used All Free and Clear as well as Charlie's Soap (made in NC!).  Washing in other things can deteriorate the waterproofness of the diapers.

(2) wet bags for cloth diapering on the go - if you change a diaper at church or your parents' house, belive me, you don't want it sitting wet (or worse) in your diaper bag.  Wet bags are washable and waterproof.  They are your cloth diapering friend.

(3) washable trash can liners - these have elastic around the top and fit into a large size trash can.  We have two, and when we wash diapers we just dump all the diapers and the liner into the machine to be washed.  That way, we don't ever have to touch poop.  I can't remember what brand we have, but we purchased two of them on amazon for about $25.

(4) cloth wipes and spray bottle - I didn't do this for a long time, because I thought that I would be pushing myself over the edge from "Mainstream Though Somewhat Granola" to "Really Weird - Watch Out".  But, I gave in.  I cut up a flannel receiving blanket, zig-zagged the edges, and bought a 97 cent spray bottle at walmart that I filled with water, 1 tsp. of baby oil, and a few squirts of baby soap.  I shake up the bottle before spraying, wet the wipe, and then use that instead of disposable ones.  Note: I only use it for wet diapers.  Dirty diapers still get the throw-away wipe treatment.

(5) drying rack - with a few exceptions, you're not supposed to put the waterproof part of anything in the dryer because it breaks down the waterproofness.  So, some kind of line or rack is super helpful! 

A few nice "extras" ...

(1) Someone gave us some Kushies Diaper Liners - these are flushable sheets that go in the diaper between the baby and the diaper.  That way, when there are solids, you don't have to touch any poop or anything.  You just lift out the liner and flush it.

(2) We also have a diaper sprayer that hooks up with our toilet so that we can spray the solids that are left in the diaper if the liner doesn't do its job or if we forget to put one in there.  It's like one of those sprayers at a kitchen sink with a little button you push to spray.  We like ours - it's the bumgenius brand - but I read somewhere that you could build one yourself out of hardware store parts for like $4 if you know how.

(3) We don't cloth diaper all the time.  We used disposables for the first few weeks, and usually when we travel for the weekend we'll use them.  So don't feel like if you're using cloth that you're locked into doing it all the time.

I like cloth diapering, but I will let YOU ask ME any questions.  My goal is to not-offer unwanted advice.  Just know that you CAN do it if you want to try.  There's a learning curve, but take it easy on yourself and just give it a go if you want.  Buying one or two of different styles, or looking to borrow from friends, or purchasing used cloth diapers on craigslist or ebay are all great ways to get started in the adventure.  

The end.


THE list

This is the pre-baby, nesting, crazy-brained mama, overwhelming-to-all-involved to-do list that I finally consolidated yesterday onto one sheet of paper (previously it was absurdly divided on a snowflake post-it note, a grocery store receipt, the whiteboard in the kitchen, and my scattered/unreliable brain.)

I'm not sure if there's anything more boring to blog about than a to-do list, but I want to write about it so that I can hold myself somewhat accountable to getting some of these things done.  Yes, I purposely wrote "somewhat accountable" and "some of these things" because I have a healthy respect for naps, a dirty house, and going to bed early.  I am also severly comfortable with putting certain things off.  I might probably will delegate some of these to other family members (head's up, Mom!)

Here's the list, in no particular order (except for the first one) -

-make a to-do list (yes, that really is the first item on my list) DONE
-stock freezer with 3 dozen muffins (applesauce-raisin muffins, whole wheat oatmeal muffins, and/or blueberry muffins) DONE
-start the quilt that Aunt E has commissioned
-prep freezer-crockpot meals (I will blog about this - it's an ingenious idea!) DONE
-figure out rocking chair cushion situation - make or buy cushions?
-register at hospital - DONE
-plan emergency details if I go into early labor (aka, if my mom isn't here yet) DONE
-thorough house cleaning (I should probably make an entirely separate list just for this)
-wash and prep "new" cloth diapers (recently purchased on Craigslist) DONE
-sell a couple things on ebay or CL
-date night with the Mr.
-date with the Mr. and Little Girl - pumpkin patch?  McDonald's?  Inside pizza picnic?
-write down family mission statement
-Christmas ?!?
-birthdays (we have 8 family member birthdays in the next 8 weeks)
-finish Little Girl's Christmas present (dress-up box)
-finish Little Girl's birthday present (play refrigerator and play food, apron, shopping bag)
-homemade pretzels
-pack hospital bag - DONE
-research good food for labor; prep food for the hospital stay - DONE

Whew.  I am so proud of myself for having completed ONE of those things ... even if it was just making a to-do list!


The Camping Trip

Hobo Dinner
serves 3

1 lb. ground beef
2 large whole carrots, cut into sticks (or 10-12 baby carrots)
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
6 Tbsp. butter, divided into 3 pieces
salt and pepper to taste
aluminum foil

Lay out three large sections of foil (double the layers if you're not using heavy-duty foil).
Divide the beef, carrots, potatoes, and onions equally between the three foils.
Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper (potatoes always need more salt than you think ... so, really, be generous here.  Camping is no time for cutting corners).
Place the butter on top.  Yum.  If you want more butter, then by all means go for it.  (Re-read previous sentence beginning with "Camping is ..." if you need affirmation)
Fold up the foil into packets, making sure to seal the ends by folding up a few times.  You don't want to lose the juices that cook up inside.
Place foil packets in hot coals of a campfire and cook for 15-20 minutes or until beef is cooked and vegetables are tender.  (Note: coals work better than flames.  Just a head's up.  Wait for the hot coals ... it's worth it!)
Prepping our hobo dinners
All you camping gurus out there ... can you believe this was my first ever cooked-in-the-coals foil dinner?  I can't believe we've never done it before.  They were so easy to prepare, and required such little clean-up.  I think that the Mr. and I have a new camping recipe to add to the mix!  Our second night of cooking, I substituted a bratwurst for ground beef but still used carrots and potatoes (and of course butter).  It was delicious, too!  Man, oh man.  I am now scheming about how to use our fire pit in the backyard in new and ingenious ways for cooking.

We did have a fantastic time camping.  Massachussets in the fall is gorgeous, and though it was COLD (low of 20 degrees on Friday night) everyone in the group managed to stay warm.  We are thankful that not only did we get to spend time with new friends, we also did not have to birth a baby in our tent.  Should such occasion have arisen, though, one of our camping buddies is a midwife (who planned ahead with a CD of labor music and a clean towel or two for me), so I felt very safe and taken-care-of.
Saturday morning: cold.  VERY cold.
Fashion flies out the window when it's cold.
We hiked at a local state park on Saturday and saw a really beautiful and interesting waterfall cascading through a natural tunnel.  We picnicked at a grassy area at the top of the hike, and then headed back for one more night at the camp while the other two families headed home due to prior obligations.  The rhymeswithsmile family enjoyed a second - and much warmer - night but woke up to rain, so our plans for exploring the area on Sunday were squelched.  (And, to be completely frank, I was glad to have an excuse to sit in the car instead of walking around.  Eight months of pregnancy really starts to wear on a girl.)

Little girl did a great job ... I think she stayed warmer than we did the first night, and except for a few wake-ups when she called out for us, she slept pretty well.  She even stayed in her own sleeping bag (a hand-me-down from somewhere) - this is a good sign!  We're on our way up in toddlerhood.

This is my last hurrah, in the outdoorsy arena.  I will not be attempting any more pregnancy camping or camping-with-newborn.  It's New England, and it's going to be really cold.  And, we'll have a newborn.

I am settling in for hibernation, and will emerge for another camping trip next July (maybe).


at 35 weeks

We're going camping this weekend.

And I'm this big:
I think the skillets hanging on the wall make me look rounder.
In preparation for camping 35 weeks pregnant, I have done all of the following:
- informed the Mr. that he will need to provide me with two sleeping bags that zip together so that I can have enough room to sleep (or not sleep) in the most comfortable position(s) available
- baked an 8x8" dish of chocolate-peanut butter-shortbread bars ... for myself (the Mr. doesn't like the chocolate-peanut butter combination, and Little Girl is sensitive to nuts.  Yes, I baked them on purpose, knowing that 2/3 of my family members would be averse to eating them)
- packed snacks for approximately 26 snack times (we will be out of our house for about 48 hours.  I hope it's enough snacks)
- purchased enough s'mores ingredients for our entire church congregation
- raided the Mr.'s winter clothes for the stretchiest, biggest, warmest outfits I can find.  Friday night's low is 32 degrees, people!  I need me some maternity long johns.

I will let you know upon return how it was.  Until then, wish me luck, and pray that the snacks suffice.


Tips from You

Hey friends!  I've gotten some really great ideas from folks who have read my recent posts and shared ideas with me regarding budgets, meal planning, and menu ideas.  It's been helpful to me to see how others have managed the same process in different ways, so I thought I'd pass along a few to you ...

- Buy gift cards - "I decide my food budget for the month and then on the first put the money on the cards. That way I cannot go over. I made a rule...no using my debit card to buy groceries! This is the 3rd month and it has worked really well."

- Use that calculator - "This plan came right after I'd officially switched to cash for groceries ... and was feeling a little overwhelmed. Not sure WHY I'd never thought to carry a calculator - now I do it every week!"

- Plan meals for the month, and supplement as needed - "[This list] actually might last most the month except for buying the staples and veggies we need weekly."

-Plan ahead - "Cook once, eat twice (or more!) meals. A whole chicken is always cheaper than parts. So for example, the first night, roast the whole chicken. After dinner pick the carcass and save the leftover meat and throw the bones in a crockpot or stockpot overnight to make chicken stock. The second day you can have chicken sandwiches, or enchiladas, or stir fry etc. And maybe even a third day of chicken noodle soup or chili. With chicken the possibilities are endless. I freeze my chicken stock in approx 2 cup portions to pull out as needed."

- Use the savings - "Don't just shop the sales for your current menu plan. If you have leftover money in your budget pick up one or two extra items that are at their rock bottom prices to have on hand for when you need it. This saves you from ever having to pay full price for an item, and over time this savings adds up specifically."

- Know when to buy -"To know when an item is at its rock bottom price, you need to also know its regular price, and how often you can expect it to go on sale etc. Also there are sales and then there are good sales. I suggest figuring out the top 15 grocery items you purchase and figuring out your buy price and stock up price for each. The buy price is the price it has to be before you will buy it and the stock up price is the price it needs to hit when you'll buy more than one (for most things 75% regular retail, but not all)."

- Use coupons - "Typically I save over 50% every week just by matching coupons with sale items and stocking up. It could be higher, but the bulk of my grocery budget goes to produce, and its hard to get that at 75% off. You don't have to do these matchups yourself, there are tons of blogs that do it for your local stores."

- Break it down - "I've had the most success planning meals by prices. Like, I think of the total price of the meal, then I think of how many times it will feed us. So a $7 meal sounds cheap for our big family but if it leaves no leftovers it's actually pretty expensive. And a $15 meal that gives us dinner Monday night and lunch the rest of the week is totally worth it."

- Some meal ideas:
Chicken Florentine Pasta (Pioneer Woman)Meaty Spinach Manicotti (Taste of Home) ChiliCalzonesAutumn Chowder (Taste of Home) & drop biscuitsQuicheCrock Pot Sesame Chicken (Pinterest)StewTortilla SoupChicken and SaladSpaghetti with MeatballsItalian Chicken Soup (PW)Taco SaladSalmon PocketsSushi & eggrolls

Thanks to KR, MW, GT, and JP for the insights!  Ya'll are awesome.


Our New England Life

Today marks three months since the Rhymeswithsmile family moved to New England.  Wait, let me qualify that ... moved to urban suburban mega-suburban typical Southern stereotype of New England, Connecticut.  It's hard to come up with the right word to describe where we live: quaint New England village isn't quite right (because the state capital is 1 mile down the road), but it's no bustling metropolis either.  I think it's exactly what I thought it'd be: neighborhood living where folks really care about their lawns and take a lot of pride in their clothing choices (I think I'm the only person within a 10-mile radius who ventures out of her house - gasp - wearing yoga pants and no makeup), and a really amazing downtown that has nothing we can afford.

I think it's awesome.  I am loving being in the center of a tiny state where "far away" is 20 minutes.  Taxes are high, but the parks and libraries are fantastic.  We're within arm's reach of beach camping, mountain camping, island camping, and lake camping.  We're anticipating a spectacular display of fall foliage (don't disappoint us, New England).

I don't like to spend money anyway, so it's kinda nice that everything we think we might want is unaffordable anyway.  Folks in my neighborhood put things on the curb all the time (we're talking good things ... like glider rocking chairs, and double strollers), and the Freecycle community up here is phenomenal.
Free!  And in great shape!
I'd like to share a few rules for Living in New England that I've learned, based on personal observation, conversations with other transplanted Southerners, and the ever-popular stereotypes.  One day, I may be a successful local. We'll see ...

Rule #1 - Accept the taxes are high, shrug it off, and fiercely love your town.

Rule #2 - Be a bad driver like everyone else, but make allowances for all the other drivers who are worse than you.

Rule #3 - Have a favorite restaurant that fits in one of the following categories: is ethnic, has outdoor seating, is downtown, and/or has waitstaff in uniform.

Rule #4 - Do not disrespect Dunkin' Donuts, even if their donuts are undunkable and disgusting.

Rule #5 - Come to understand that "near" means within THIS town's limits and "far" means anywhere else.

Rule #6 - Be touristy and drive 25 miles for ice cream from the UConn dairy bar, because it's worth it.

See that giant cone of ice cream?  Less than $3.
E appreciates Aunt Becky's willingness to share.

Rule #7 - For that matter, get out and do anything ... because you can, and because you'll only have to drive an hour at most to get there.  You can be back by dinner.

Rule #8 - Accept that Chacos are not a "thing" here.  The only people I have seen wearing them are not from around here.  Believe me.  I've asked.

Rule #9 - It's OK to still be "southern" here.  I've had utility company workers and nurses at the doctor's office complement me on my accent.

The list continues.  But for now, I'm done.  I'm going to go sit in my (free) rocking chair and listen to the rain while I scheme about what we'll try to pack into the next three months ...