Monday, February 25, 2008

Happy Birthday to me!

Is it bad form to tell the whole world that it's your birthday? Oh well. Celebrate with me! Since I firmly believe that I'm only as old as I act, happy 12th birthday to me all over again...

I've been celebrating since the 10th, when I had my first party with my sister-in-law, whose birthday was the 4th. Everyone gave me either money or gift cards, so I bought a ton of books and DVDs for myself on Amazon, and I've had packages arriving every few days. The celebration will culminate next weekend when my friends come over for a bead-making party, a party shared with my dear friend Carla, whose birthday is day after tomorrow.

As for my immediate plans? I took today off of work (yay!). I have big plans - sewing, reading, watching Gilmore Girls on DVD. Tonight I'm making chicken cordon bleu for dinner, because I love it, and I haven't made it for a very long time. We'll also be having Girl Scout cookies and Rocky Road ice cream for dessert.

So happy birthday to me! Party on, people!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Leave it to me... get the flu on the first gorgeous weekend in a long, long time. And a three day one, no less! Perfect weather for getting the garden enlarged, and we had plans to take the dogs out to play, and I was supposed to go to the symphony with my mom (fortunately we got the tickets switched for a different concert).

And here I sit with a temperature of 101.4. Lucky me...

I hope you all are enjoying your weekend more than I am!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Let's get gardening!

The days are getting longer, the air is getting warmer, the seeds have arrived and I have the gardening itch! I started seeds last weekend, and last Saturday I even had a little time to clean out the herb beds.

I have big plans for the garden this year. We're going to widen it by another couple of feet, and we'll either make it about four feet longer, or I'll convince hubby to build me a cold frame at one end. The talks continue in that regard, LOL! Things are growing UP this year, too. I ordered a six-foot-tall bean tower from gardener's supply, which I'm actually going to use for peas (shh, don't tell!), and we're going to build a trellis to hold the cucumber, vining tomatoes, and squash.

The herb beds will continue to expand - most of what I planted last year is still around, with the exception of a few annuals (I try not to buy those, but how can you say no to your husband when he looks at you with those big puppy dog eyes and says "PLEASE, can we buy this sweet sweet plant?" So the stevia came home with us. As well as a few others - marjoram, pineapple sage, and cilantro. Those will likely be replaced, and I'll get more. One of the beds will turn into a salsa garden - I'll grow my peppers and some garlic out there, too.

I'll also be adding a potted lettuce garden as part of our new front yard landscaping (Ringo the greens loving dog will eat anything I plant in the back yard). We're going to get a few half barrels and I'll be planting several varieties of leafy greens.

Here's what my first order from Territorial (my favorite seed company) looked like:

- yellow beans
- purple beans
- beets (cool ones, with red and white rings!)
- carrots
- celeriac (aka celery root)
- leeks (which, by the way, are an all-season crop around here - the ones I planted last year are still going strong!)
- lemon cucumber
- lettuce (a blend specifically for growing in pots)
- vit (salad green, aka corn salad)
- watercress
- purslane (yep, it's a weed. Also a salad green!)
- walla walla onions
- red onions (thin your onions by using the shoots when you need green onions)
- peas
- turnips (oh, yeah, I forgot to order those!)
- spinach (somehow forgot to order that too!)
- pattypan squash (that was fun to grow last year)
- currant tomatoes (little itty bitty things that grow on a vine)
- sauce tomatoes (for cooking - like Romas)

and one herb so far - borage. I plan to put that in the new side bed when we do our landscaping, but I may grow some in a pot for now - it's taller than I want to put in my front beds.

Now - let's get gardening!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Budget recap

Tomorrow is payday, and so we have officially reached the end of another budget month. I worked really hard to track everything this month, so I have a good feel for where we are. We did really well in some areas, and not well at all in others! All in all, we ended up about $60 over budget, which still left us $220 to send as an extra truck payment, so that makes me happy.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - for two people, we spend an obscene amount of money on food. I think a lot of this has to do with my love of cooking and my desire to constantly try out new things, and to use high quality ingredients whenever I can. I'm also a stock up shopper, so if I see a good sale I'll tend to buy it, even if it's not in my plan. This is something I need to work on! I budget $300 a month for groceries (which usually includes over the counter medicine, cleaning products, paper products, and stuff like that, but not pet food or supplies). We were about $86 over this month.

I also budget $200 for eating out. Usually we blow this figure out of the water, by $100 or more. We made a concerted effort not to eat out as much, and we actually came in under budget by about $5! Yay!

We also went way over budget in gas. I knew we would, with the new gas-hog truck, but I didn't know where to put the benchmark so I left it alone for this month. I budgeted $250, we were over by $57. I'll bump it to $300 for next month, though I think we would have come in close to budget if not for a few extra trips across the river because of my grandfather's death, including one in the truck because of ice. These things happen, though, so it's important to plan for them when budgeting!

Our other over-budget areas were donations (I made an extra donation this month), electric (our electric bill shot up $15 and I still haven't figured out why!), and water (just a couple of bucks). We came in right at budget or with a couple of bucks to spare on most of the rest of the categories.

Our saving grace overall was our car insurance - because we traded in two cars when we bought the truck, we got a credit and our bill was $100 lower than we expected this month. This won't last but it sure helped fill in some of the gap this month!

So, it's time to rework things to start over fresh with a new month. I may try to go cash-only on groceries this time to see if it helps, we'll see. We're coming to the bottom of the freezer (finally!), so I'll probably need to buy some meat this month, but if I make a concerted effort to use more pantry stuff, we may come out ok.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Tuesday's Kitchen Tip - Veggie Cubes

I'm rapidly realizing that it's kind of hard to think of kitchen tips! I probably do a lot of things that others would consider tips, but they're either like second nature to me so I don't think about it, or else I've picked them up from someone else so they're not original and I feel weird about posting them. But I'll keep thinking...

Here's one thing I do from time to time that sometimes helps speed things up in the kitchen. I started doing this a couple of summers ago when my onions were ready to be picked from the garden, and I wasn't going to use them all up before they started going downhill (I grow walla wallas - they don't keep in the ground as well as some others).

I took a bunch of onions and peeled them all, then chopped them into the standard size I use in all my cooking (I put onions and garlic in just about all of our entrees, even if the recipes don't call for them). Then, I took some old ice cube trays and put the onions evenly into them, added a tablespoon of water to each cube section, and froze them. Popped them out of the trays and into a freezer bag. Then, when I need onions for whatever I'm cooking, I just have to grab them out of the bag, throw them in the pan, and it's ready to go. No muss, no fuss. No chopping, and no crying! I use about four cubes for one medium onion.

I've also done this successfully with celery. One of these days I'll try it with bell peppers. I have heard it works well with certain herbs, like basil and parsley, but I haven't had enough of a crop to try them yet. I need to try it with cilantro, which always grows much faster than the rest of our salsa ingredients!

Monday, February 04, 2008

We made it!

Well, it's official. Over the past six weeks, we have done a thorough heavy cleaning of our entire house. Floors, ceilings, walls, windows. Dusting and scrubbing. Curtains and rugs. Everything. Our home is well on its way to becoming a haven.

Yesterday we cleaned our last two really bad rooms - the bedroom and the master bath. We each still have one thing to do - I need to scrub the outside of the shower door, and hubby needs to scrub the walls (I ran out of energy, and he ran out of Magic Erasers). Those should each take about 10 minutes, though, so that's a piece of cake.

From here on out, it's just maintenance. I'm thinking if we work at it, we can probably each tackle two rooms each week, and keep things looking even nicer. This week we'll have to do that, because my whole family is coming over on Sunday so we'll need to do the kitchen, dining area, living room and hall bath before they get here. So we'll use this as a test case and see how it goes. The more often we do it, the less scrubbing there will be, that's for sure!