A Note to My Lovely Followers

Hi all!  Tomorrow is a big day– I’ll be making the switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.  It’s a move I’ve been thinking about for a while and I feel like the time is right.  I’m excited to have a little more flexibility and control over my site.

If you are following my blog, through WordPress.com or email, you should still get your usual updates.  Just in case, you might want to click the link on the right to get email updates on the new platform.  I definitely want to stay in touch with all of you!

To my WordPress.com followers/friends, I’ll continue to check my reader regularly to keep up with your posts 🙂  I’ve so enjoyed getting to know you gals!

Hopefully there won’t be any hiccups in the process, but please be patient if anything looks a little wonky tomorrow– I’ll be on it!

Thank you for reading and for your support– this has been an amazing journey so far and I’m just getting started!!

-Stacey

My Couponing Experiment: Week One

Today was the official “kickoff” of my couponing experiment.  Here’s a look at the receipt from today’s trip (coupons & utilizing the store’s weekly sale ad) compared to last week (pre-couponing):

How much money can you realistically save on groceries using coupons?

Our total bill was $11 higher this week for roughly the same amount of items.  However, according to the store, we saved $30 through our efforts, while last week we only saved a paltry $4 (makes sense because we weren’t trying!)

If we supposedly saved so much money this week, then how come our total cost was greater?  A couple reasons this might have happened:  (1) we had company over for dinner this evening and served salmon with jumbo shrimp– those ingredients alone were almost $40; (2) we got two trays of sushi for $14 (not something we usually do but today was unbelievably busy and we didn’t have time to prepare our own lunch).  Otherwise, our cart was generally the same as always.

Some observations:

  • We were only able to use a few coupons because many of the items we buy are fresh produce and meat — these things don’t have manufacturers’ coupons.
  • The weekly store ad was the best way for us to save on produce and meat by steering towards things that were marked down. (Example: chicken thighs on sale vs. chicken breasts at regular price)
  • Coupons will come in handy for toiletries, kitchen goods, and cleaning supplies (trash bags, toothpaste, etc.) that are only bought on occasion.  I have quite a few stored in my “later” envelope for when it’s time to restock.

saving money grocery shopping by couponing

I feel good about our first week of active couponing and sale shopping.  Because of a couple big-ticket items, our bill appears slightly higher at first glance.  However, we actually saved $26 compared to last week.  I anticipate that our efforts will be reflected in the total cost next time since we don’t have any family meals or special purchases planned.

Check back next week for another update!

10 Minute DIY Easter Egg Wreath - A craft so EASY anyone can make it!

The Easiest DIY Easter Egg Wreath

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a craft whiz.  However, while on a walk this morning with Annabelle, I found inspiration!  One of our neighbors had a festive Easter wreath on their front door.  I hang wreaths (store-bought usually…again, I’ve never been confident in my DIY abilities) for every occasion– Christmas, Halloween, etc., but I didn’t have one for Easter!

Then I remembered a bunch of extra plastic eggs my mother-in-law had brought over last year and I had stuffed in the hall closet.  And for some reason we had a couple metal wreath frames in the closet too.  I started getting more and more excited as I thought about it– I had extra pastel pipe cleaners…and a hot glue gun…surely I could put something together!

I laid out my supplies:

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These are all things I had on hand: plastic Easter eggs, pipe cleaners, a 10″ wreath frame (figured I would start small for my first attempt), and a hot glue gun — but you could buy this stuff for probably $15 or less.

I simply glued the eggs to the frame.  (Before I did this I arranged the eggs in a pattern so I wouldn’t accidentally end up with two of the same color next to each other– I had a limited number of eggs since I was only using what I found in storage.)

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Once all the eggs were attached, I decided to jazz up the wreath with some pipe cleaners.  I played around with it until I had created some faux bows.  Here’s how:

Easy DIY Easter egg wreath Easy DIY Easter egg wreath

Slide one pipe cleaner under the wreath.

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Cross the ends of pipe cleaner and twist twice to keep in place.

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Slide a second pipe cleaner under the wreath and fasten the same way by twisting.

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Fold the ends of the second pipe cleaner in to form a “bow.”

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Twist the first pipe cleaner over the ends of the bow to secure.

Easy DIY Easter egg wreath

Last, I trimmed the ends of the pipe cleaners so they didn’t stick out quite so far and tied on a ribbon bow for a finishing touch.

I’m so happy with how my first DIY Easter wreath turned out!  Especially since it was easy and free!    I think I could get the hang of this crafting thing. 🙂

Easy DIY Easter egg wreath

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Zinfandel

This week I was on a mission to revisit types of grapes that I had at some point in my life decided were not to my taste.  One such wine on my dislike list is Zinfandel.  I’ve only ever had a few, and I can’t even remember which specific brands, but for some reason I’ve avoided Zinfandel for years.  It doesn’t really seem fair to write off an entire selection of wines from a few bad experiences, so that is how I found myself at the grocery store recently trying to decide which lucky bottle was going to redeem the entire Zinfandel name for me.

After about fifteen minutes (hubby, knowing my indecisiveness, usually leaves me alone in the wine aisle and continues shopping) had it narrowed down to two bottles.  One appeared serious and “respectable,” the other boasted a cheesy moniker on a faux-burnt label: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel.  It was so corny looking that it couldn’t be legit– so of course that’s the bottle I picked.  Priced at $12, it wouldn’t be a huge loss if it turned out to indeed be terrible.

An intense ruby, almost blood red color in the glass, it was actually a very attractive wine.  I took a whiff before I tasted any– it smelled pleasant enough.  First sip– “Oh!”  I think I actually said that out loud.  It was full of deep, complex flavors and I really liked it.  Subsequent sips (or gulps) only solidified my happy surprise.  There’s plenty of smooth, jammy fruit: ripe cherries, blackberries, and plums.  There is a dose of warm vanilla and cinnamon, balanced by a hint of the spicy burn of black pepper.  A little earthy leather rounds out the palate.

It is still a bit difficult for me to look past the kitschy bottle and name, and maybe it’s not what you’d give the boss as a meant-to-impress Christmas present.  However, it is a really tasty wine and I would absolutely buy it again to enjoy in my home or to take to the rare, but much-needed “Girls’ Night.”  And really, for $12 you can call it whatever you want as long as it’s good!

Why I Turned Down a Job to be a Stay at Home Mom

Why I Turned Down a Job Today

The original plan was never for me to be a stay at home mom.  When I quit my job in November, I intended to enjoy the holidays at home with my family and immediately begin looking for new employment after New Years.

Within days of resigning, I had an interview lined up already.  It seemed a very promising opportunity.  After a month-long interview process in which I was all but guaranteed the spot, there was a “miscommunication” and I was told they were going to “pass.”  Definitely a bummer, but perhaps a blessing in disguise– I might have ended up working for another shady company.

“Why don’t you just stay home with the kids?  You don’t need to go back to work– we’re doing fine.  It’s been so good for the girls.”  I couldn’t believe my husband was suggesting such an idea.  Work was all I knew.  It was part of my identity.  I’d been a part of the workforce since I was old enough to legally do so.  (Actually, I started much earlier as a groom at the stable where I took lessons in trade for attending horse shows.)

To be honest, it was such a relief to think my world would no longer revolve around someone else’s schedule (except two little girls!)  I had been so happy for the past month– apparently I had been more miserable than I realized at my last job.  It was as if a fog had been lifted and I was truly enjoying life.  I was reluctant to do anything which might jeopardize this newfound happiness.

So I stayed home and resolved to do all the things that had fell by the wayside while I was working full time.  I caught up with the laundry (for a day…then of course it was piled everywhere again, but hey I did it!)  I thoroughly cleaned and reorganized our exercise studio/game room.  I made sure the kitchen was spotless every night before I went to bed– waking up to an empty sink and sparkling counters is an amazing feeling– even I can hardly believe I just said that, but it’s true!  The girls and I took leisurely walks whenever the weather allowed.  Matt and I ran errands on his days off– just enjoying being together as a family.  I re-dedicated myself to my writing.  Work had sucked my energy to where I was literally just surviving every day.  Now I was actually living.

This went on for a few months and our family settled into a comfortable routine.  Then I got a call from a former work colleague.  She too had left the company I worked for last due to the negative environment.  Now she was asking if I would like to come meet the owner of the new spot she had gone to– they were looking for someone with my experience and she thought I would be a great fit.

Panic set in.  Things were going so well at home, was it worth it to rock the boat?  Annabelle still had a couple months before we could start weaning– I couldn’t bear the thought of dusting off the dreaded pump.  Would I still have time for my writing?  That was my “me” time– I looked forward to it every day.  Did I even want to go to work outside the home?  Was I lazy or selfish for even having these feelings?

“So don’t do it.”  Hubby said matter-of-factly.  “You don’t have to.”  He sees the world very black and white.  It’s easy for him to make decisions without getting emotional.  If only it were that easy for me! I decided to at least go in for a meeting and see exactly what the position entailed.  I was flattered that my friend had suggested me and felt I owed her that much.  I figured that it would be at least 40 hours plus some nights (as most event jobs are) and that I would simply be unable to meet those demands.  But at least I would have “tried” and given the opportunity a fair listen before politely declining.

Fast forward a few days and I’m sitting in front of one of Houston’s culinary greats.  He is an imposing physical presence, but at the same time very warm and easy to talk to.  “So what schedule would work for you?  Do you need to leave by 2?  Can you be here at 9?  Family is important to me, so I understand your situation.”  Well this was not what I expected.  Here he was asking me what would be my ideal schedule.  He was so willing to work with me that I wanted to take the job for that reason alone.

I had anticipated an easy out– a schedule to which I would be unable to commit.  Instead I had an offer on the table for a part time job with hours that were tailored to me.  The pay wasn’t great, but what part time job would be able to compete financially with the salary and commission I pulled before?  Plus I could probably learn a lot from someone so knowledgable in the industry.

Hubby was less than excited.  “It’s not that much money.  It’s not really worth it.”  At first I was frustrated– he wasn’t even listening to the positive aspects!  “If you really want to do it, we’ll make it work,” he assured me. “But I love having you home.  And what about your writing?  You won’t have as much time.”

He was trying to be supportive, but I could see that he did not want me to accept.  Could I blame him?  Sure, the part-time schedule worked great for me, but what about him?  As a night manager he often doesn’t even get home until 4am.  If I was leaving at 8am every morning, it meant he would get an absurdly little amount of sleep.  No one could function on 3-4 hours of rest every single day.  It really would be asking him to make a huge sacrifice– for what amounted to only a couple hundred extra bucks a week.

I agonized (probably more than I should have) over the decision for two days.  However, when I thought about what was best for our family as a whole, it is for me to be exactly where I am at the moment.  It still didn’t make it any easier for me to write a letter of regret turning down the job.  To accept that for the time being I am not the prime breadwinner.  To let go (at least temporarily) the part of me that sees myself as a working woman and embrace this new identity as a stay at home mom.

That is what I am right now, but that is not ALL that I am.  I am a writer.  I am a counselor to family and friends who come to me for career advice (I was there for over 15 years!)  I am a motivator to those that need a little extra encouragement to make a positive change in their lives or pursue a dream (leaving a fairly lucrative career to stay home and commit to my writing was a risk, but it is my dream).  I am the backbone of our family– keeping home and finances in order.  I am molding two little girls into strong and intelligent little ladies.

Typing it out and owning it is such an empowering feeling.  If writing is not your thing, I encourage you to say it out loud mamas!  Often when we make the choice to stay home, we often lose a little bit of ourselves and our identity as an independent woman.  But it is still there inside– your assets and gifts that you offer the world, whether it be from an office or your house.  Remember your strengths and your passions and know that you are still as important, if not more so now, than you were before!

I do feel truly blessed that I am able to have this time with my family and my girls, though it was not without sacrifice–read about the one lifestyle change that we made which allowed me to be a stay at home mom.

My experiment trying couponing to see if coupons can really save our family money on groceries.

My Couponing Experiment

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the lifestyle change our family made which allowed me to be a stay at home mom: meal planning.  The response was overwhelming– so many fellow moms let me know (through my site, BlogHer profile, Pinterest) that our savings inspired them, or offered tips for saving even more.  Over and over I was told: try couponing! 

I’ve never really bothered with couponing– of course I’ve seen the shows with extreme examples of grocery shopping trips that end up being free, but in real life, it seemed like a lot of work for what would likely only amount to a couple bucks savings.  However, hearing that so many of you have had great success with coupons, my curiosity was piqued.  So I decided to do an experiment to find out if couponing really would save us money.

Here are the “rules:”

  1. We would continue to shop at the same stores as before.
  2. We would continue to buy the same products as always.
  3. We would not buy items we do not normally use or need just because they were free or cheap.

Easy enough!

My first step was to go to the website for the grocery store we generally patronize.  I followed a link to the coupon site with whom they are partnered.  The coupons listed were mainly for toiletries, household cleaning items, and packaged foods.  Still, I was able to “clip” quite a few for items we need (or will need before the expiration date next month.)  I divided them into two categories: ones we would use during our next shopping trip, and those that we could use in the near future.  Labeled envelopes will make it easy to keep track:

cutting coupons organizing coupons

Next, I printed the store’s weekly ad.  I went through and circled items we buy frequently that were marked down to a special price.  There were a few that could be combined with coupons I had printed for extra savings.  This particular store offers a lot of buy-one, get-one deals, but most of these are for processed food we don’t eat and therefore won’t be of use.

print weekly ad for grocery savings print weekly ad for grocery savings

The last step will be to go through hubby’s shopping list (which he usually does on Sunday evenings) and note which items have a coupon or are on special in the weekly ad.  Since coupons for next week’s trip will also be ready at hand in the “Now” envelope, hopefully this will be a foolproof system.

Last week’s shopping bill was $200 exactly (plus a few cents), and we didn’t make any unusual purchases.  This will make it easy to see just how much can be saved from doing nothing but buying what we need, to adding coupons to our program.  I’ll stick with the experiment for a month (longer if it is found to be worthwhile!) to be able to note spending and saving patterns.

Stay tuned for next week’s update, and feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions for other places to find coupons or savings– after all, I’m a true couponing rookie!

Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato mac-n-cheese

Healthy, Gluten-free, Dairy-free Sweet Potato Mac-N-Cheese

Today hubby and I were very busy in the kitchen.  This is the second new recipe we made– I guess we were on a roll!

When I was in college, I became lactose intolerant.  It was a major bummer for someone whose favorite foods included mozzarella sticks, fettuccine alfredo, and ice cream.  But what I missed the most was mac-n-cheese.  I used to eat it almost every other day.  Now, out of necessity, it was banned from my diet.

I’ve tried various dairy-free (I use this term to mean lactose-free…butter doesn’t have lactose, and therefore is not a dangerous food for me) recipes throughout the years, but they just weren’t tasty.  At all.  I pretty much gave up on being able to have my once-favorite food, and settled into a life devoid of mac-n-cheese.  Until today.

While on an airplane recently, I read an article which featured a spicy and smoky vegan mac-n-cheese recipe made with sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes?  Mind blown!  Of course as soon as I got home I gave hubby instructions to create his own gluten-free AND dairy free sweet potato mac-n-cheese, minus the smoke and the spicy-ness (so the kiddos could have some too.)

Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free, sweet potato mac-n-cheese

Hubby suggested adding a little bit of bacon, because everything is better with bacon right?  I went back and forth on it– should I stick with vegan or go with bacon…mmmm, bacon.  So it was settled– bacon it is!  (Note– you could definitely leave out the bacon and use a butter substitute and it will be a vegan dish.)

I think I made the right decision– the finished product was not only good, it was out of this world!  It was rich, creamy, and bacon-y.  It tasted like there was NO way it could be good for you, but it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and each helping has two servings of veggies.  It’s totally good for you!  In moderation of course…don’t forget about the bacon! 🙂

Here’s what you need:

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  • 1 box gluten-free pasta elbows (we had quinoa pasta on hand, but brown rice pasta would work well too)
  • 1 large sweet potato (use two if your potatoes are on the smaller side)
  • 1 package (7oz) of shredded cheddar “veggie” cheese (soy-based cheese)
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup butter (technically, this counts as dairy, but it’s safe for lactose intolerant peeps like me)
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (we like a lot, but you can use as much or as little as you please)
  • juice of half a lemon

STEP 1: Prepare pasta according to directions on package.

STEP 2: Cook bacon and set aside.

STEP 3: Bake sweet potato (or microwave) until soft.  Remove skin and add potato to mixing bowl.  Mash well.

STEP 4: Roast sliced mushrooms for 10 minutes at 350° with a little salt and oil of your choice.  Add to mixing bowl with sweet potatoes.

STEP 5:  Add cheese, butter, onion powder, almond milk, lemon juice, and 1 cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked.  Mix well.  (We used a stand mixer on low.)

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STEP 6:  Add pasta to mixing bowl and stir by hand until well combined.

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STEP 7:  Pour entire mixture into 9×12 glass casserole dish.  Coat with chopped bacon and green onions.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 350°.  Uncover and bake for 10 additional minutes.

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This stuff is soooo good, it’s addicting!  I’m definitely not missing out anymore!

Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato mac-n-cheese Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato mac-n-cheese