Saturday, July 31, 2010

Simple Saturday and Sunday - veggie salad

I've been enjoying fresh garden produce from my dad's garden. I've also enjoyed being able to go out and help a bit this year. With the cucumbers and tomatoes fresh right now - I've been enjoying the following simple salad. Not a lot of exact science in the measurements!

cucumbers - approx. 2 cups sliced
tomatoes - about 2 cups of 1 inch pieces
onion - about 1/2 medium onion chopped
Italian Salad Dressing - 1/4 cup (I've been using fat free)
Black pepper to taste

Mix and refrigerate/serve! If I'm having it as a main dish for lunch I add some feta or blue cheese.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Family Friday - Carcassonne

Time for another family board game! This week we had the opportunity to play Carcassonne with friends and I was reminded what a great family game it is. It is easy to learn, there is no reading required, and although a younger child may not "get" some of the deeper strategy, they can play, and have a good time. But, I think I'm getting ahead of myself!
Carcassonne is a tile laying game - so there is no "board" you create it as you go. Players take turns drawing tiles and attaching them to the tiles already played to create or extend cities, roads, farms and cloisters.

When you play a tile, you have the opportunity to "claim" any of the above mentioned items (farm, cloister, road, or cities) that will eventually earn points. Since the person who has the most points at end game wins - well, that's a good thing! Each player has a finite number of "meeples" (the colored wood people in the photo) they can play. When a road, city, or cloister is complete - that player scores their points and their meeple is returned to it's owner, and is able to be played again. As you can see from the tiles - the sides are either city, road or grass/farmland, so it is pretty easy to see where you can/can't play a tile.

I do realize this has been a pretty quick overview of the game - but honestly, there are a lot of tutorials, reviews out there - (check out YouTube!) But I do want to let you know a bit of the Chewy families take on a couple of particulars with the game.

Farmers - A lot of the time when we are playing with people new to this style of game, we skip the farmer rule. When playing with the chewy kid - we usually leave out the farmers as well. When he has his strategy down with the roads, cities and cloisters down (as they are easier to "see") we'll probably add it back in.

Expansions - This game has A LOT of expansions available to change/plus the game if it is getting "stale" I guess. In our family, we have discovered less is more. We might play with one or two of the smaller expansions, but for the most part, after one MARATHON game, we mostly play the base game.

Number of players - One thing that works very well for us with this game is that it plays very well with anywhere from 2-5 players - so we can play as just the grown-ups, with the chewy kid, or with friends. Strategy is also different in each of these scenarios, so that helps keep it fresh.

Time to play - It's not a horribly long game to play (as long as you don't use a whole bunch of expansions!) and experiences players can play a game in about 45 minutes to an hour. If you use a bag to draw the tiles from - set up and clean up are easy as well.

I hope you consider giving this game a try if you are looking for a new/unique style of game for the family.

After you enjoy the video of a "30 second game" Consider leaving a comment. Have you played Carcassonne? Comments if you have? Do you do any adaptations to make it more family friendly, or for any other reasons?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Talk back Tuesday - summer meals

Inspired by our first garden tomatoes (which became BLT "pockets" in wheat pitas) what are some staples on your summer menu! I like to talk about eating local and in season, so let's share some ideas.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Miscelaneous Monday - Disposable items

I've been thinking quite a bit about Mr. Chewy's post that I referenced here last Wednesday. When did big ticket items become disposable? Whether it's an Ipod, t.v., washing machine, dvd player, I have heard often "it can't be fixed" or "it's too expensive to fix" -- "so we'll just replace it". When did we stop fixing things, and when did we stop building things to last? But, perhaps, more importantly, are we throwing away things that can be fixed? Last week I spent 10 minutes mending tears in our reusable grocery bags. Not difficult, I had the needle and thread from other projects, and it didn't even have to look pretty. Not too long ago, I probably would have thrown them out - they aren't expensive and easy enough to purchase about anywhere.

I can easily think of places where I choose NOT to use disposable items, (cloth diapers, napkins, grocery bags) and where I reuse items (food jars, plastic and paper bags)What items am I treating as though they were disposable, even if they are not?

One that comes to mind is Computer Printers - It really bothers me that home printers have become a disposable item. After a couple of years, it always seems our type of ink cartridge has become obsolete, or jumps so much in price that a new printer is an obvious way to go. I suppose you can donate these printers - however, someone frugal enough to buy used, or your charity of choice don't want/need to be buying super expensive ink cartridges either.

Another place I know I can do better is clothing. Simple repairs (buttons, minor tears) I'm ok with. I've also taken pants to the cleaners to get new zippers. What I need to do better at is when the clothing reaches the end of it's current life. Can it be worn for cleaning, camping, painting, crafts? Can it become rags, baby wipes, something else?

As far as purchases go - I am going to be more conscious moving forward. If I am buying a larger appliance, I will ask about life span, repair, and what happens when it is disposed. When it comes to smaller appliances/gadgets, we already tend to purchase a lot of used items. If I can trade, or have them haul off my old appliance, what happens to it?

What are some steps we can take this week to move towards eliminating this mentality?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Simple Saturday/Sunday - Bring a mug!

Have you ever taken your own mug to the coffee shop? We usually do. I know at the shop where Mr. Chewy works part-time, they will make any drink for your mug (not just straight brewed coffee). Whether it's your local "Caricoffeebucks" or the corner gas station, using your own mug makes sense. If you have a good travel mug it works better in addition to not creating more waste. Many places will give you a small discount if you use your own mug as well. Although when people say "It's not enough of a discount to be worth it" I always wonder, "Really? What about the cost of the extra waste?" Not to mention, anything to keep the shop's expenses down saves me more money in the long run.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Family Friday - Outdoor Play

Remember when we were growing up and we would play outside -- pretty much all day in the summer? How much time are our kids spending outside now? And, almost as important, how much of that time is for "free" or creative play. I remember building forts, playing "house", "castle" or hundreds of other imaginative games outside with other kids in the neighborhood.
Now, think about how much time your kids are spending outside in free play? Are they having opportunity to explore their surroundings? Have they seen an ant carrying food back to the nest? Do they know that if you peek at the underside of an old log on the ground, you'll find all sorts of living creatures to watch?
Can you find some time this weekend to get the family outside, with the only plan being not to have one? Can you find an outdoor area without a playground and help teach your kids to explore and play in nature? Can you remember some of the fun you had outdoors growing up? Please feel free to share your stories!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What others think Wednesday

If you are looking for a great photo today - you won't find one here. This morning I read two great blog posts - that carried similar themes - Are we living for ourselves or considering what we pass on to our children and the rest of the world?

The first is from the Waukee Community Church blog: "As Long As It doesn't Affect Me"

The second is from Mr. Chewy's blog: "What I think Wednesday, Stuff I don't Like"

I do hope that you take the time to check them out!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Try-it Tuesday - Kindle

About a year ago, Mr. Chewy started talking about wanting an e-book reader. I'm pretty sure I was less than supportive...(sorry sweetie!). After Christmas, he had scraped up the money for the Kindle he'd wanted for quite some time. Since it's arrival - it has been used daily. At one point, he downloaded a book that he knew I would enjoy for me to "try it". It was far more intuitive to use than I had thought and I was pretty much hooked. (Thanks, Honey)

So I decided I "needed" (ok, really wanted) a Kindle of my own. Mr. Chewy loves to shop for these kinds of things, so I set him a looking and he found a used Kindle with case within my budget, and it was on it's way to me.

Mr. Chewy - who is far more techno-knowledgeable than me set it up on his Amazon account and showed me how to "shop" for books, and shared a few books he had purchased (you can have up to 5 registered devices) with me. I also learned very quickly to find free books available for download. In addition to numerous "public domain" titles including most classic literature, Amazon releases several titles a week for free. I used to have a crazy time trying to find them, but again Mr. Chewy steered me towards which has a handy chronological list of the current free books from Amazon.

I was worried that I would end up spending more for books. So far I haven't. In fact, I have spent less - no library fines. I have not paid for a book yet. There are a few books I am interested in purchasing and would like to read, however, I can't even keep up with the freebies at this point, and have quite a few books loaded ready to read. I may purchase a book or two before vacation - as I've been known to do in the past. (And I won't have to pick which ones get to travel on my carry-on!) I know Mr. Chewy also converts blogs and other items to the correct format and downloads them on his Kindle, however, that is currently beyond my realm of understanding.

I'm not going to get much into all the features, what the screen looks like and all that as there are plenty of reviews and descriptions out there. Like the rest of my try-it Tuesdays though, I will list what I like, and not so much.

What I like about the Amazon Kindle:
  • It is big enough to read/hold easily, yet fits in my purse/bag easily
  • I can take along countless books, in less space than I would use for one print book
  • If I only turn the wireless option on for downloads, the battery lasts weeks
  • Amazon offers plenty of books at no cost
What I find "not so much" about the Kindle:
  • Still not a totally widespread format for new books, especially from smaller publishers
  • Maneuvering through books that you don't always read in page order (cookbooks, Bible, etc.) can be VERY "fiddly"
What I think makes the Kindle a good choice for a "Chewy Family"
  • Doesn't use paper
  • Shop for books without driving to the store/library
  • Saves space over traditional books
Yes, I'm aware there are other e-book readers out there - and I'm sure a lot of this information is the same for them as well, but I am speaking in Kindle context, because that is what I know firsthand. Hope you find it helpful, but for me - it's time to go read!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mish Mash Monday - randomness

Here are some random things I've come across that are worth checking out:

Cloth for the Coast is collecting used microfiber towels, burp cloths, cloth diaper inserts, cloth prefolds and other diapers without snaps or velcro to assist with the oil clean up and specifically the rescue and care of the wildlife affected by the oil spill. For more information you can check out their information at this website: They also have a Facebook page, just search "Cloth for the Coast" It also appears they are beginning to work with local charities taking donations of used diapers (including ones with snaps, velcro, etc.) to distribute to families that have been financially affected by this crisis.

"Weesh" is a great webcomic that our whole family enjoys. Creator Dan Hess describes it as: The Merle kids, upon moving into their new home, discovered a magical wish-granting rodent-like character, visible only to children, already living there. Fueled by licorice, Weesh grants whatever wish comes to the kids' minds. Tate, the middle brother, is a font of bizarre wishes, often steeped in science fiction lore. Olivia, the youngest sister, leans towards flights of fancy and everything pretty and innocent. Last, but not least, Zoey, the eldest daughter, wants everyone to just leave her alone.
I love that I can have no worries about the chewy kid reading it - and that we all find it entertaining. No violence or profanities needed. Thanks Dan! Check it out at

This week we added yogurt to the Chewy tot's diet, and he is loving it. While I am mostly making our baby foods - I did purchase some yobaby yogurt by Stonyfield Farms. We don't have a large selection locally - but he does seem to really enjoy the apple. There are also coupons available on their website if you are interested in giving them a try.

How about a little opera? Courtesy of our friends at Muppet Studios...

Clearly the best combined performance by these three artists since this one...


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Simple Saturday and Sunday - Buy Local

When it comes to food, the more locally produced items you can purchase, the more sustainable the local economy, as well as the need for less energy to get the food to market. I was very surprised to see the sweet corn at our local grocery this week labeled as "Georgia Sweet Corn" In mid-July, I don't see much of a need for Iowans to purchase corn hauled half way around the country.
While I do this pretty easily in the summer months, I do know this is something I need to work on - Checking out where my food is made and purchasing the option that is closest to "home". Even if it is something that comes from out of state (say peaches for example) I can make an effort to purchase Nebraska or Missouri peaches instead of ones from farther away. My grocery is very good about labeling the produce with where it comes from, and if not - the produce staff have always been able to answer when asked. My next step is working on meat - our location is great for beef, pork, and poultry, not so great for seafood.

I also need to hit some farmer's markets and make some connections, maybe there are more ways for me to purchase directly from the small farmer. What are some items that you are able to get locally? (wherever you are?) and any tips for buying more local food are greatly appreciated in the comments!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Family Friday - Geocaching

Several years ago I was introduced to geocaching as a new camp activity. I immediately recognized it as something that my techno loving hubby, who prefers to have a purpose for wandering around in the woods would latch onto. So, we borrowed a GPS and on a mutal day off - looked for a few local caches - even after a combination of hits and misses we were hooked.

So - for those not "in the know"...

What is Geocaching?

Handheld gps units are by far the most effective tools. We have never had any luck with our Garmin Nuvi (in the car) in getting to the actual cache site (referred to by cachers as "ground zero or gz"} However, in areas we are not familiar with, the Nuvi has been very helpful in maneuvering streets, or getting us on the right side of bodies of water, etc.

As the video suggests - the coordinates merely get you in the general area - coordinates are considered accurate within about 30 feet. Considering that the person that placed the cache could be off by up to 30 feet and the person placing could be off by up to 30 different feet - it can be a bit of a search sometimes. Add in the fact that sometimes weather or people move caches from their original location and sometimes it gets interesting. Caches can be as small as a penciltop eraser (nanos) or as big as a treasure chest or 10 gallon bucket.

Geocaching is something that our entire family enjoys - The Chewy Kid loves the trading aspect and that is often an incentive to have him clean through several of his small toys! Mr. Chewy and I like the competitive nature, and getting outside and moving - and Chewy Tot - just loves being outside and coming along for the ride. In fact, here is a photo of us after finding the Tot's "first" cache when he was just 1 month 2 days old.

Recently Mr. Chewy and I made a pretty big investment in this hobby - and purchased the following handheld unit:

The Magellean eXplorist GC Handheld Geocaching GPS Navigator is specifically designed for geocaching, and so far - we're still working out the nuts and bolts of it, but am finding it a great tool and are looking forward to the chance to use it even more. One of the great perks with this unit is that it is designed for paperless caching, when it downloads the coordinates for a cache it also imports all the other information on the cache including hints, and logs from those who have previously found the cache - which can be a bit helpful if you are struggling to find a cache. We still kept our older Garmin hand held - as sometimes it will be nice to have a second unit and it will be a great teaching tool.

I realize this was definitely a speed tour through the hobby of geocaching - but encourage you to check out more information at Since it can be an investment to get involved - I think it's a great idea to try to borrow a unit, or tag along with some equipped cachers to give it a try. When you do, maybe we see you out caching!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thrifty Thursday - Glass Cleaner

Oh, how I wish the windows, mirrors, and other glass surfaces would clean themselves. But really, with the right cleaner, it's no big deal to give them a spray and wipe down every so often (with little boys, even more often!). Since Mr. Chewy and I had both worked in small retail stores, with a lot of display cases, we had the wonders of Windex ingrained in us. Awhile I go, I managed to switch us to store brand glass cleaner, and everything was still standing a few weeks later. In more recent history, we ran out on a cleaning day, and I remembered my grandma had made homemade glass cleaner - so I went to the trusty small town United Methodist church cookbook, and in the miscellaneous recipe section found her recipe:

1 pint rubbing alcohol
2 T. ammonia
2 T. dish detergent

Put in a gallon container and fill with water. For safety, add a little food coloring. Use in any spray bottle.

Well, we didn't have that much rubbing alcohol or any ammonia - so off to look for another recipe - and found several like this:

1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent
2 cups water

put all ingredients in a spray bottle, shake to mix and start cleaning!

We had all of these ingredients, so gave it a try - and it is working just great!

What I do like about the vinegar cleaner, (besides the fact that it works!) is that I'm not so worried about the Chewy kid helping to clean, or if he gets a bit wild with the spraying. Watered down vinegar with a trace of soap is not going to hurt him, or much else. Even if he manages to hit his toothbrush with a stray spray - not really any worries.

Bit of an entertaining story on Grandma's cleaner though, I remember hearing her tell someone that Grandpa didn't like it - said Windex worked the best - so she started coloring it blue and storing it in a Windex bottle and he never knew the difference.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Talk back Tuesday

I have not had a chance to do a review this week - so I'm taking a tip from Mr. Chewy's blog - and we're having a "Talk-back Tuesday" instead. Of course, this involves participation from you please!

So, tell me, what is at least one of your (or your family's) favorite summer activities?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Manic Monday - Camp

The Chewy kid is off at camp this week. Going away to overnight camp at Camp Hantesa is one of my fondest memories of my childhood, and has made a huge difference in who I am today. I also feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work in such a great field for most of my full-time career. I believe strongly that all kids can benefit from a camp experience - but I believe just as strongly, as a professional and a parent that parents need to do their homework to find the right camp. The American Camp Association is a great resource for parents, helping them find programs that fit their needs, and explaining the importance of choosing an American Camp Association Accredited Camp for your child. More information for parents can be found at there website: Many camps still have some session openings for this summer, or you can start planning for next year.

Because of Camp I:

Learned more about nature, and gained a desire to help preserve it
That sleeping out under the stars isn't scary, especially when you are surrounded by friends
Learned how to be myself, not what others expected me to be
Had the opportunity to become "that counselor" that played with kids, and helped make magic
Learned to live and work in a group - and the importance of give and take
Can cook about anything over a fire
Grew up with a passion for youth development
Know the importance of a silly song and have several memorized for a silly song emergency
Want my kids to have a chance for the same experience

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Simple Saturday and Sunday - Turn it up (or down)

This week I decided to "Turn it up" The thermostat that is. I wondered what difference raising the temperature on the air conditioning would have. so I raised it a total of 4 degrees during the day and 2 degrees at night - we are now at a constant 78. I realize it will take awhile to see what the effect is on our energy use and billing, but I feel like I did something that did not have a drastic effect on our way of life. I'm also hoping to turn down the heat a bit in the winter, although we do keep that on the cool side compared to most already (between 62 - 66).

The verdict -- I'm ok with it - Mr. Chewy thought it was a bit stuffy last night and went to check the thermostat to see what it was at, and it turns out the batteries were dead - once we replaced that, we were good to go.

I challenge you to bump your thermostat for the summer up - even just a degree and see how it goes. And when the weather is nice - turn it off and open the windows.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Family Friday - Family Podcast

We enjoy listening to podcasts in the car - and while a lot of our favorite podcasts are Disney ones, there is a special place in our family listening for The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd. The unique blend of history, villainy, time travel, and of course humor make it a show we all look forward to. It is a serial following the adventures of our hero, (Dr. Floyd) his assistant Dr. Grant and their faithful robot companion (and navigator) C.H.I.P.S. Dr. Floyd, a brilliant scientist created not one, but 2 time travel devices (being that he is also frugal and took advantage of a 2 for 1 sale) but one was stolen by his arch nemesis Dr. Steve and his sock shaped assistant Fidgert. Their own description on their website states:

The Radio Adventures Of Dr. Floyd is a weekly, 5 minute, family friendly show that combines the fast paced, episodic hilarity of Rocky & Bullwinkle and the imagination inducing power of “old time” radio. It’s Stan Freberg, Jay Ward, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Prarie Home Companion, and Sesame Street all rolled into one!

The show is a perfect mix of entertainment and education. And while the heroes do a great job of capturing the audience, I believe it is their assistants that hold my heart. I don't know if it's that Dr. Grant sounds kind of cute or that Fidgert seems more of a victim of circumstance than a "real" villain - for me these two are my "stars" of the show. Although, Dr. Steve's musical skills for special events are pure genius, even if his plans for thwarting Dr. Floyd are not.

So the next time you are looking for something to listen to for 5 mintues - head on over to (or subscribe via itunes) and get caught up in a great story. It's truly something the whole family can enjoy.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Try-it Tuesday - Calorie Count

About 3 1/2 years ago I had the opportunity to travel abroad for work, followed closely by a family cruise and visit to Walt Disney World meant a lot flights. (I boarded 16 different planes over the course of a month.) It also meant a lot of photos of me, as well as plenty of walking. All of which made me realize how out of shape and big I had become. I started out with walking and trying to eat better, and it didn't take long before I was trying to track calories - and while searching for calorie content on something, I stumbled across With a little snooping around, I decided to sign up so I could track my weight and food online. That, along with the support of several online friends, I believe was the cause of my weight loss success. Over the course of about 20 months, I lost just over 100 pounds. Yes, I will to carrying almost half of that again (by product of going crazy during pregnancy....) and am back on Calorie Count to lose that baby weight!

The premise of calorie counting and weight loss is simple, eat less calories than you expend. By answering a few simple questions, I was able to set realistic goals for healthy weight loss. Not only are there hundreds of thousands of foods in their database with complete calorie/nutrition information, but you can also input your own recipes to have them analyzed (and save them for future use/reference). The tracking system also makes it easier to look at your meals and days as a whole, so you can make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need over the course of the day. The program does also work for anyone who needs to gain weight, although since my experience is with weight loss, that is where my focus is.

The site also includes ways to track exercise, tools to help you make a weight loss plan, and community forums for support and have questions answered. And best of all, it's free!

So, in Try-it Tuesday fashion.....

Things I really like about
  • tracks both weight and food online
  • huge database of food and drinks - including quite a few dining out items
  • easy to adjust portion sizes
  • the recipe analyzer
  • weight and food logs allow you to compare over the long term and show trends
  • weight log has a space for comments so I can note things that might have been cause for a weight spike
  • it's free!
  • ability to enter by "hand" items not in the database, and then save for future use
  • you can see timelines for healthy weightloss
Things I'm not so crazy about
  • As with many public sites, if you spend much time in the forums you'll find people who see their way as the only way
  • There is almost "too much" available - there are tools and resources I've never made it to
  • it's easy to get pretty attached to -- cutting the cord can be a challenge when you are ready
I will say it is pretty similar to other sites - most notably Sparkpeople (also free) and Weightwatchers online (fee based). If you are looking to start a weight loss program I encourage you to check it out.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mish Mash Monday - Cookbooks

First of all -- whatever Mr. Chewy says, I DO NOT have too many cookbooks. Ok, maybe a few too many. But I have thinned the herd over the past few years. (Sorry to my sister's husband, as they ended up at her house!)I like to read them, and yes, try some of the recipes too. Over the past few years, I'm more likely to check a cookbook out from the library, and decide if it's worth the purchase after perusing it for awhile - often I'm able to then find it at half-price books, or I do realize that there are now millions of millions of recipes available on the web - but there is just something about that book, whether it's looking at others cookbooks and knowing where the best recipes are by where the book opens to (or where the pages are stuck together!)

So, here are my top picks for cookbooks that get used over and over again here,(in no particular order) maybe they are home to a favorite recipe, a great reference, or just an entertaining read (doesn't everybody read cookbooks?).

Better Homes and Gardens - When I need something basic like a sauce, or looking for cooking times/temps. This is the one that comes out. I know I can count on "the red book" to have a variety of recipes that have been tested over and over again, directions that are easy to understand, and will please most. Also good nutrition information that allows me to create meals as healthy (or unhealthy) as I would like. I have mine, and my grandmas - very different, but both great resources.

Pampered Chef Recipes from the Heart - Not one I use a lot - but it has some great party and brunch recipes. Although the page it opens too is for chocolate pudding cake. It's a great quick recipe that I pretty much always have the ingredients on hand for, so if I need a dessert on the fly - it often gets made. It's the one with the blue cover sold by fundraising groups. A close 2nd from the Pampered Chef collection would probably be the Stoneware collection cookbook (which has a great baked french toast recipe!).

More with Less This is another one that has been around for awhile - about 25 years. This compilation of recipes from Mennonite kitchens around the world focuses on feeding ourselves and the world by examining what we eat and working to eliminate excess calories, meat, and packaging - all the while saving money that can be better spent to help others. Definitely a great timeless choice for chewy families.

Grandma's church cookbook I'm pretty sure there are more recipes in this book than there are people that live in the town, but it's a good one. For awhile I would call my parents and ask questions like: "I'm going to make banana bread, and I have recipes by these three women, which one should I make?" It contains recipes for everything from homemade playdoh to window cleaner to countless cookies and bars, and some pretty good "grown up" slush recipes as well!

Walt Disney World Cookbooks including the one at left have a special place in my collection. One of the highlights of our trips is the unique and varied dining experiences available. It's always fun and a bit of vacation anytime to try to recreate some of our favorites at home. I also have a few of the Food and Wine festival cookbooks. Whether it's Walt Disney World or other travels, a cookbook has become a favorite souvenir. Food is always such a big part of travel - so why not bring it home?

So those are just a few of the cookbooks on my shelves that get repeated use/readings. What are your "go-to" cookbooks?

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Oops, for those of you on readers or subscribed - I "oops" published Monday's post - and have since pulled it back for release on Monday. Sorry for any confusion. I think that is a sign I need more sleep!

See you next week!

Thrifty Thursday - Baby Food

In an effort to be thrifty and know exactly what my son is eating - I have been "making" the majority of his baby food. It has been a very rewarding and simple process so far. While I've gotten plenty of input as to "what food when" I have primarily been referencing the following chart from
So far - everything has been very simple. Bananas and avocados are simply fork smashed and fed. (Although the chewy tot does NOT like bananas.) At right he is enjoying some avocado!

Ripe pears and peaches spend some time in the food chopper.

Carrots, squash and chicken are cooked and then prepped in the food grinder. I received this as a gift - and while it does get used, I wonder if something like a "magic bullet" would get used more and be more effective replacing the chopper, grinder and the food processor that gets used for large batches.

Another favorite has been unsweetened applesauce, which needs no extra preparation.

When looking at how to prepare the food, the website has been an invaluable resource for cooking techniques as well as simple recipes when you are ready to combine foods. Last week when I was referencing cooking a squash, I found a recipe and ended up making a batch of rice with apple and butternut squash.
While I have dabbled some in making our own cereals - I have found purchasing the cereal to be our best bet. I can get organic cereals for a reasonable price that don't need to be cooked before serving - so we'll go with it.

When making the larger items (squash, sweet potato, chicken, etc.) after preparing the food, I have been using my small spring handle scoop (like a cookie scoop) to dish out approximately 1/8 cup "mounds" to be frozen on a plate or sheet, and stored in a freezer container. I can then pull out the number of scoops I need to thaw and we are good to go. I know most sites/books recommend using an ice cube try - which is also great - but I didn't have one - so I've gone with a tool I already owned rather than purchasing another one.

Has the chewy tot ever had store bought baby food in the little containers. Yes, we were given some as gifts, and some people have had it at their homes for us when we visit. It is great for travel, and I keep a couple of the small plastic containers in the diaper bag for when we are out longer than expected, or in case he gets really hungry and goes through what homemade food we bring. We have also started doing some yogurt, which I am not making at this point either.

Overall, creating the babies food has been very easy and does not take as much time as I had originally anticipated - not at all. I really do appreciate knowing exactly what he is eating and where it comes from. We are also saving money and not using all those little containers. And, before I know it - all this mashing and smashing will be history and he'll be chomping on carrot sticks and sandwiches!

Simple Saturday and Sunday - Buy in season

Ah Summer! Fresh produce - oh so tasty and less expensive - there is a win/win! If you can get to your local farmer's market great! I'm enjoying the great prices on several fruits and veggies right now - including blueberries, peaches, green beans, and more. Here in Iowa - tomatoes and sweet corn aren't too far away either. Those apples and oranges can wait for their season - I'm enjoying the summer bounty now. Amazing that fresh food is one of the few things that is least expensive when it's at it's best.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Family Friday - We're going to the zoo!

Or maybe I should say we are going to the ZOOS and MORE!
This summer we decided to purchase a membership to our local Zoo - Blank Park Zoo. I knew that this summer I'd want to take to boys out and about more since I wasn't working full time. I was also a bit nervous about paying admission, not knowing if we'd have a baby meltdown (or Mommy meltdown!) and would rather do shorter trips more often. Taking this into account, and the fact that we were looking at trips out of town a couple of times over the summer that would include visits to their local zoos - we decided to purchase a Family Plus Membership to the Blank Park Zoo. Our membership not only gives our family admission to the Blank Park Zoo, but we are allowed to bring up to 2 guests on each visit, and we have reciprocal admission (or discounts that is usually 1/2 price admission) about 200 other zoos and aquariums throughout the US. We have already used the discount for Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo on the Chewy Kid's Birthday trip.

We also chose to add a membership to Living History Farms - a local living history museum. We are looking forward to going to an 1875 rules baseball game, and feel like it will be a great way for the Chewy Kid to see and experience a lot of the concepts he'll be learning in Iowa History next year. Grandpa and Grandma are also looking forward to being our "guests" on some of our trips here. With so many special events, I'm glad we don't have to pick which events to go to. Two trips with our family, and our membership will be paid for - and we can bring guests too.

I'll admit it, the Blank Park Zoo is not a huge zoo - but it is a great facility for the Des Moines area with a variety of exhibits. The Chewy Tot enjoyed watching the penguins - they made him laugh. They chewy kid had the opportunity to ask some questions of a zookeeper working with the servals, and as a budding photographer is able to get some great practice with his camera skills.

Although the memberships to both Living History Farms and Blank Park Zoo are a bit of an investment for our frugal family. I know we will be encouraged to get out and bring others along to these great local resources. They are also resources that I think are a great asset to our metro area, and am glad we are able to help support these cultural and educational non-profit institutions, and I'm looking forward to spending a bit of extra time at both over the next year.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thrifty Thursday - Coupons

I've mentioned in the past that I use coupons to help save on our grocery budget. I don't usually save more than about $5-10 in a week using coupons, but am working on it. I am also one that doesn't focus so much on the amount saved - as often, it isn't as much as the coupon if I compare to a like store brand product. The easiest example is cereal as I tend to use more coupons for cereal than anything.
For the comparisons, please assume the box sizes are the same. I know I can get store brand "tasty o's" for $1.99 regular price. Cheerios are often in the $2.50 range. If I have a coupon for $1.00 off Cheerios, my receipt will show that I saved $1.00, however, since I would have spent a maximum of $1.99, I really only "saved" $ .49. Big brand cereals often go on sale for anywhere from 3 boxes for $5 to $2 a box. I watch and combine coupons with these sales for the best deals - getting cereal for between $1.25 - $1.50 a box most weeks. We're pretty picky about cereal (frosted mini wheats is about as "sugary" as we get) so stock up when I can combine coupons and sales.

Where do I find these coupons. Yes, I do get some from the Sunday paper. But only when I can procure one free. We can get a free paper when we spend at least $15 on gas at a local station, usually one of the vehicles needs gas on Sunday. Also, I sometimes get my dad's coupons too. Most of my coupons are now found online. and Smartsource are two great resources for coupons that I check weekly. I have also recently heard about Redplum as another site - although it doesn't look like they have as many grocery coupons. If there is a product I regularly buy, I will check their website for printable coupons. Please let me know if I'm missing a great site by leaving a comment below!

If you are truly being frugal, it's important to remember that Coupons don't always save you money! When don't you want to use a coupon?
  • If it's a product you wouldn't purchase anyway (or if it's not replacing a similar product on your list) $1 off poptarts isn't a bargain since we don't purchase poptarts.
  • If you can get a similar product for less. A lot of times, when I can't combine a coupon with a sale, I'm still better off getting the store brand product if there is one. $ .50 off Kraft shredded cheese, if it's not on sale, still doesn't make it cost less than the store brand.
Maybe I'm a bit of a frugal nerd - but there is nothing like the feeling of combining a sale with a coupon, and if you are really lucky, a sale, store coupon and a manufacturer coupon. No, I'm not saving enough for a Mediterranean vacation by clipping coupons, but what I am saving is true savings.

Of course, one consideration is that you have to have a system so that using coupons doesn't take too much time. Last Christmas - my stocking had a coupon sized accordion file in it! I've organized it with the aisles in the grocery store I do the majority of my shopping at, the same way I do my shopping list.I leave the front pouch open, and move coupons I'm going to use there after I put the product in the cart. I check the online sites once a week, after the sale ads come out - and only print the coupons I think might get used. Printing, cutting and sorting into the file takes about 20 minutes - maybe 30 if I'm getting "help" from the Chewy tot! I save the Sunday coupons to deal with at this same time so I'm only cutting and sorting once.

I'm a bit competitive, so the whole coupon thing becomes a game - and sometimes I get a pretty good score. Once, I had a manufacturer coupon for $1.00 off 2 packages of breakfast sausage. I waited until they were on sale for $1.00 each and used my coupon. Now they were $ .50 each. But I also had a store coupon for $ .50 of any meat item. So my total paid for 2 packages of link sausages was $ .50 or only a quarter apiece!

Please let me know about a super coupon deal you've had, or if you have any other sites to check for coupons.