Thursday, June 30, 2011

In the Kitchen with Jason: Turkey Tenders with Honey Mustard Sauce

This recipe originated from 2 different sources (Cooking Light Magazine and Cook This Not That Cookbook). The honey mustard sauce was originally a glaze used in a different recipe that Jess and I like. The first time I made the tenders, they had already came out of the oven, and it hit me that they were going to need a condiment of some type. I also just knew that plain ketchup wouldn't work. The only thing I could think of was the Honey Mustard Glaze from the CTNT cookbook. I whipped it up super quick and now we won't eat our tenders any other way. Both recipes have been modified slightly and then combined into one, but I need to give credit where credit is due.

(More of the honey mustard sauce is needed when eating the tenders,
but we were too hungry to take a picture before Jess and I ate the rest of it.)

Ingredients
  • 1 lb turkey tenderloin
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup egg substitute
  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 (or more) Tbsp canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Cut tenderloins in half lengthwise and  then cut into desired size tenders.
  • Put flour in a shallow dish.
  • Put egg substitute in a shallow dish.
  • Mix panko, cheese, salt, and pepper in a third dish.
  • Roll each piece of chicken in the flour making sure to cover it completely.
  • After you have floured each tender, dredge them one at a time through the egg mixture.
  • Once each tender has been egged, repeat the process one more time with the panko mixture.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and cook just until you can swish it around to cover the whole skillet bottom. If you heat the oil too much, the tenders will get very dark.
  • Place all the tenders into the skillet and cook them for 2 minutes.
  • Flip the tenders and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Place the tenders on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes.
  • Flip the tenders and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • In a microwave save bowl, cook the butter and brown sugar in a microwave for 30-40 seconds.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. This will be a little runnier than you think it should be but it will taste fantastic.
Serve with french fries and corn on the cob, or any other seasonally fresh veggie.
I hope you enjoy them.

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homemade: All purpose cleaner

This simple solution makes me regret all the fancy bottles of blue liquid I have ever bought. It's so simple that this cleaner recipe barely even needs instructions.


Add equal parts water, vinegar, and lemon juice in a spray bottle and give it a shake.


Now you have an amazing all purpose cleaner. I'm not a huge fan of the smell (it smells like vinegar), but my wife loves the smell of this.

-Jason

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In My Mailbox: free magazines!

Through SwagBucks, I signed up for 8 free issues of PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly. I scored 720 SwagBucks (equivalent to about $6.50 in gift cards to amazon.com). After receiving my first issues of both and receiving the SwagBucks for the offer, I called and canceled. I may receive one or two more issues. I think free issues of magazines is great - so long as you remember to call and cancel. Jason and I both are extremely diligent about this and have never had issues with risk-free offers like this. Just call, get the employee's name, employee number and confirmation number. Also, with most offers like this, you can cancel online.

I read both magazines, and I just have to say that Entertainment Weekly was not entertaining. I would never buy this magazine. And while PEOPLE can be entertaining, I find it so much easier (and cheaper) to visit people.com or usmagazine.com to catch up on the daily tabloid fodder. Or I can watch E! News if I so desire, but the only time I watch that is when I'm at the gym.

Through RecycleBank, I earned enough points for a Whole Living magazine subscription for a year. I was so excited! The magazine was a bit of a let down, but I thoroughly enjoyed the coupon for organic sugar. The coupon is good for 55 cents off Florida Crystals Sugar, which is the brand of organic sugar we typically buy (also, through the price book, we discovered this is also the cheapest organic sugar, even cheaper than Meijer brand organic sugar). So while I would also not buy this magazine with real money, I may redeem points each year to keep this subscription going. We'll see how the other issues pan out.

Share with us: What's in your mailbox this week?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Saving the Moola: Practicalities of Couponing and Giving


Couponing has emerged as this century's latest craze. With the economy in the tank (but dare I say, rising ever so slowly back to a decent place?) and shoppers trying to find every way to make every penny stretch a bit further, couponing is hot. And with TLC's Extreme Couponing to inspire and motivate (or so I hear), most every shopper I know is getting into couponing or already in the midst of it.

But, couponing is not necessarily the best bet for saving money. Let me say this first - anything that is absolutely free is a great deal, and even if you don't use the product, you should get it. And I'm not talking about an item being free after Register Rewards or UPCs or ExtraCare bucks (although if you have already put out the money on an earlier shopping trip to that particular drug store, thus making the item technically free and you want the item, go bananas). But I'm talking about a truly free item. Occassionally, an item will be free after coupons and sale prices alone. That is the best kind of free.

Coupons can also help lower a grocery bill if you are adamant about using a particular brand. If you own a Gillette ProFusion razor and that is the razor you always use, a coupon for razor blades is a great way to save on money, especially when coupled with the item being on sale.

Here's my warning, though: store brands will usually always be cheaper than name-brand items, even with a coupon. I urge all of you to create a price book and discover for yourself what the prices are of items you typically buy, so you can determine if a sale, or a coupon, is a good deal and you should stock up.

I received a free sample of Purex with Zout laundry detergent, which naturally also came with a coupon. I happily used the free detergent and went to Target last week to stock up on some beauty supply items (all with coupons as I am not usually a fan of store-brand beauty-type items). I took along my Purex coupon to see what the price was for this item (we've made our own homemade laundry detergent for the past few years so I am not in the know of what laundry detergent costs anymore). I was shocked to see the only-size bottle was $4.99 and it was only good for about 35 loads. Our homemade laundry detergent is also good for about 35 loads and costs about $2 to make. So for $4, with a coupon, I could have manufactured laundry detergent. No thanks, I'll make my own and save half off! But I did leave my coupon in front of the Purex in case a customer who didn't know the benefits of making one's own laundry soap wanted to buy Purex.

I'm not against couponing and encourage all of you to save all the coupons that ever come your way because you never know - a coupon coupled with a sale price may make the item free, and that's always a good deal.

So why should you pick up all the free items you can? Because even if you have no need for that item, someone in this world does. This past weekend, I printed a coupon to Petco for two free cans of cat food. Preston does not eat "normal" canned cat food, but the item was free, and I can think of about, oh I don't know, a gazillion or so cats in the world who would appreciate canned food. We're going to take the cans to the local Humane Society to donate them to cats who truly need the food.

And thus, our charity stockpile is born. I really can't stress this enough - if you have the abilities and personality to coupon like crazy, you should consider donating a part of your stockpile to homeless shelters, battered women's shelters, animal shelters, rescue relief organizations - whatever hits your heart the hardest.

If, in the midst of couponing, you're able to score yourself some wonderful deals and help others less fortunate, that is the definition of practical. Happy couponing!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Gaming Corner: Blokus

One of the many things Jess and I do to pass the time is play games. We enjoy playing a multitude of them, some that everyone knows, and others (like the one being referencing today) that most have not. In Blokus, each player plays using one or two sets of colored tiles (in the 2 player game each player plays 2 colors, in the 3 player game each player plays 1 color, but then takes turn playing the fourth color, and in the 4 player game, each player obviously only plays one color).

Each set of tiles has 21 pieces made of 1 to 5 squares as seen in the following picture.



Turns alternate placing one tile of each color you are responsible for on the board on each of your turns. Other than the first piece you play, which must be in your corner, each tile must have at least one corner touching a corner of another tile of its color. Also, when placing tiles, they cannot touch sides of any other tiles of their color already on the board.

This is what properly played pieces will look like. Jess is playing green and red, while I am playing yellow and blue, and 5 turns have been completed. 


For a demonstration of misplaced pieces, see below. If the horizontal piece was moved down 2 rows or up 3 rows, then it would have been properly played.


The game sounds crazy simple to you, doesn't it? Well, that is because it is. But once you play a game or two, you realize that it also isn't. It's a thinker that demands strategy if you want to win for any reason other than luck. And if you keep playing it, you will find yourself developing strategies on the best way to play all your pieces, or how to block the other player. 

When we started, Jess would tell me that I was playing meanly whenever I would block off some of her pieces from being played off of, but now she is better at blocking me than I ever was at blocking her. Though she still tells me that I am mean when I block her pieces - go figure! With such a simple concept, many would think that the game would get boring quickly, but they are wrong. No matter how many times we play, we keep wanting to, earning this game a permanent spot on our shelf.


This is what a completed game looks like. As you can see, there are alot of pieces left over and that is how you decide who wins. Scoring is easy. If you play all your pieces, you get 15 points, and if the last piece you play is the 1x1 square, you get an additional 5 points. If you didn't play all your pieces, you count all the squares making up the tiles you didn't play and you lose that many points. Whomever has the most points wins. The game above was scored as Jess: -17 (green and red) to Jason: -25 (yellow and blue).

Blokus is made by Mattel and can be purchased at your local Target or other large general merchandise store. It is rated for ages 5+, and due to the small size of some of the tiles, the game should be kept away from extra small children.

-Gamer Jason

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Peanut Energy Bars
Oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes
Rice cereal
Oatmeal
Breakfast burritos
Bagels
Toast and eggs
Donuts
Chocolate Banana Muffins
(if it's not obvious from the bevy of choices here - we really like breakfast!)

Lunch
Choice of:
Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
Burritos
Canned soup with potato rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

Dinner
Turkey tenders, Homemade French Fries and corn on the cob
Quesadillas and Spinach Rolls
Chicken Enchiladas
Hot dogs, Homemade French Fries, and corn on the cob
Hamburgers, Homemade French Fries, and corn on the cob
Rainbow Lasagna and Homemade Garlic Bread
Dinner at extended family's house - our contribution will be Creamy Macaroni Salad and Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
Berry and naner bowl (strawberries and bananas in a bowl!)
Carrots
Peanut Energy Bars
Spinach Artichoke Dip and chips

Recipes coming soon:
Quesadillas
Rainbow Lasagna
Creamy Macaroni Salad

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Book Room

I don't think I've ever been one to deny my love for books, characters, plots and feel-good endings. This love, this crazy, undeniable, unconditional love, has really made me not want to do anything other than read. I have a master list of books of I want to read, and it is long. Well, when a friend sent a link about how to build an awesome summer reading list, it inspired me to really take to heart the notion that life is just too short. So I cleaned out my book reading list and left only the titles that made me feel excited about reading! This was my first full week of re-dedicating myself to my true love - books.

Here's what I read this week:

I don't think I really need to say it again, but I will anyway - it's hard to find a good Christian author who doesn't write Amish Christian fiction (although I have to say that even as much as I point this out, I really adore Amish Christian fiction and plan to explore books by the most popular authors). Enter Kim Cash Tate, who joins the ranks with Kimberla Lawson Roby and Denise Hunter, as one of my most favorite Christian authors ever. Faithful, her first novel, is ah-mazing. The plot is believable, the characters are real, and love for God is woven into every page. I'm really looking forward to her next book, Cherished, which will be out later this year.

Not that the world necessarily needs one more cat series (I do love me some Lillian Jackson Braun and Clea Simon), but Leann Sweeney's Cats in Trouble series is unpredictable and, without sounding weird I hope, special. The main character, Jillian, is not someone I've ever met in a book before and Charlotte, a police officer who's shown up in books 1, 2 and I assume 3, is just as odd and lovable. That is my favorite part of these books. The first book, The Cat, the Quilt and the Corpse, was interesting, but the second book, which I read this week, The Cat, the Professor and the Poison was even better. So I can only with bated breath now for MelCat to be ready to release the third book, The Cat, the Lady, and the Liar, to other library patrons.

Jason always complains/observes that there are too many series in the world to read. He may be true - there are a lot of series in existence but none more than usual, I think - but series really allow a reader to delve into characters and their minds. And as I mentioned earlier, Kimberla Lawson Roby is a fantastic author. Her Reverend Curtis Black series is, at times, predictable and when it's not, it's shocking. The first book is Casting the First Stone, and this week, I read the second book, Too Much of a Good Thing. I think 10 books in total have been released for this series so I'm a bit behind, but I implore all of you to just try this series. Curtis is a bit unbelievable, but really, I think that's because we (or maybe just I, who knows) just want to believe that people are generally decent, and you're more likely to be generally decent if you're a man of God, and even more decent if you're a man of God working for God. Curtis Black is the opposite of decent. But he sure is entertaining...

Thelma Adams has an amazing resume - she's worked for Oprah and a bevy of other magazines. So my hopes were high for her first novel, Playdate. The book started out decently enough. Belle, an 11-year-old girl, is adorable, witty, and observant. Her father, Lance, is lovable but unfaithful and kind of not all there upstairs in my own opinion. But the book falls flat. At times, I felt Thelma wanted to write an article about "househusbands" and chose to write a book instead. I don't think that sort of writing is appropriate for a book labeled as fiction. I would not recommend this book.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In the Kitchen with Jason: Beef Stroganoff

When I was a kid, my mom would make me whatever dinner I would ask for on my birthday. Without fail, I would always ask for beef stroganoff.
Jess got me a cookbook, Cook This Not That! 350-Calorie Meals, for my last birthday and in it, we found a recipe for beef stroganoff that we love.

Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil (divided)
  • 12 oz white mushrooms (sliced)
  • 1 lb sirloin (cut thinly)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. low sodium beef broth
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt
  • Noodles (we prefer tofu noodles to keep this dish calorie-friendly)
Directions
  • Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.
  • Add 1 Tbsp oil and cook for about 5 seconds.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened and caramelized.
  • Remove and reserve.
  • Season the beef with salt and pepper.
  • In the same saute pan, add the beef and cook it for 5 minutes, until well-browned all over.
  • Remove and reserve with the mushrooms.
  • Again in the same saute pan, add the remaining oil and cook for about 5 seconds.
  • Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent.
  • Stir in the flour until it evenly coats the vegetables, then add the low sodium beef broth, balsamic vinegar, and tomato paste, scraping the pan to release any flavorful bits stuck to the bottom.
  • Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 12 minutes, until the liquid thickens and reduces by about half.
  • Return the mushrooms and beef to the pan and heat through, then remove the pan from the heat.
  • Let it cool for about 2 minutes and mix in the yogurt. (If the heat is too high and you add the yogurt, the yogurt will separate.)
  • To prepare tofu noodles, cut open the two packages of tofu noodles, drain and rinse the noodles.
  • Dry the noodles with paper towel.
  • Cook the noodles in the microwave for 1 or 2 minutes, depending on its power.
  • Serve the stroganoff over the noodles.
Makes about 3 servings.
Each serving is about 375 calories.

I was surprised by the lack of sour cream in this recipe, but the Greek yogurt replaces it properly. If you would like to use real noodles, use about half of a bag of egg noodles.

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Homemade: Laundry Soap

I know you are all out there waiting impatiently for us to put up our new posts about how to make stuff cheaply that you used to purchase for a lot of money. Since we already have shown you how to make homemade dryer sheets and suggested a clothesline, we should make your entire laundry experience a truly homemade one with laundry soap! And on top of that, it's so simple, a cave man could do it.


Ingredients
  • 1 Bar Fels Naptha soap
  • 1 Cup Borax
  • 1 Cup super washing soda

Directions
  • Shred the soap with a cheese grater or food processor. (The smaller the pieces, the better; if you pulverize it into a powder, you win)
  • Mix all ingredients

Add 1 tablespoon of the laundry soap to the washing machine. I'd also just like to note that even though grating soap sounds strange and impossible, it's really like grating a block of cheese so don't let that scare you off from trying this. Also, you can use any bar of soap you want, but we have found that Fels Naptha works the best.

Enjoy!
-Jason

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In My Mailbox

Jason and I recently joined Swagbucks, where you can earn points through a myriad of ways and redeem them for prizes. The best prize, in our opinion, is the $5 amazon.com gift card. We joined in mid-May and have accrued about one gift card a week. We recently placed an order and below is what what we got in that order and a free sample we received. We view all of these items as qualifying for "In My Mailbox" because we did not pay for anything shown below.

Here's what we got:



We desperately needed black printer ink so that was the main point of placing an order at this time. We paid about $22 for the ink and about $6 for the DVD, which we added to the order to make it at least $25 (this was also on my "want" list). We have $2 and change left for our next order and have already accrued another gift card. It's best to wait until your order is at least $25 in order to get free shipping, unless it's a Subscribe and Save order, in which case you don't have to spend $25 to get free shipping - shipping is free with any Subscribe and Save order, no matter the amount.

I've heard a lot of people use Emergen-C to ward off sickness so I thought it was appropriate we received these samples while we were sick! I'm looking forward to trying the product and seeing if I like it. I also received a coupon with the samples. I do try to take a multi-vitamin every day, but it tastes like straw and I have a hard time getting over that. So we shall see if the samples are awesome, and if so, I will definitely use this product!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Saving the Moola: Garage Sale Edition, Part 2

Garage sale season is still in full effect in the United States and thriving here in Michigan. A couple weekends ago, Jason and I went out garage saling and found loads of great items. Items I was looking for specifically were items for my dear friend Rose's baby. I attended her baby shower this past weekend and am so excited for her and her husband!

At this point, some of you may be thinking: wait a minute, did she just say she was looking for baby shower gifts at garage sales?!?!

This is the whole point of Part 2. First, I'd like to share what exactly I was able to gift the new baby and his parents with this weekend:


All items, minus the alphabet blocks, are in varying sizes from newborn to 9 months. I bought three long-sleeved pajama-type onesies (one organic), five bodysuit-type onesies, four caps, six pairs of socks, nine bibs, and alphabet blocks. My total bill: $10.

Rose and Joel are first-time parents and as such, they probably need a lot of items (more than a second-time parent would need, I presume). They registered at Target, and I viewed their registry. I noted general items they had registered for, specifically bibs and clothing which are rampant at garage sales. I prepared myself to deal with buying off a registry, if need be, but hoped I could find nice, quality items at a garage sale.

Some of the items, such as the socks and the pack of five bodysuits, are brand new with the tags still on them. None of the items had stains or holes. These are things I would buy my own baby if I had one (and just to make a greater point: I would never, never buy my kid new items unless I absolutely had to. It just wouldn't happen.).

Some of you may be uncomfortable with gifting used items, and that's okay. At the end of the day, you have to do what makes you happy and what makes sense for you and your family. I could have spent $15 at Target and bought one hooded towel and one wash cloth for the new baby, and I'm sure Rose and Joel would have been thrilled with that. But, being someone who enjoys garage saling, I thought if I could spend $10 and gift them with a whole smorgasbord of other items they also need, I would be blessing myself and them. A win-win-win situation, since I'm also blessing a specific family (the family I bought the items from) by putting $10 in their pocket as well instead of handing $15 over to a huge corporation.

Rose and Joel seemed pleased with my contributions to their new family member, and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. Here are a few rules I think are important to keep in mind about gifting already-loved items to loved ones:

  • If you don't typically buy already-loved items for your family (meaning you, your partner, your children, OR in other words: the people who actually live with you), it's probably inappropriate to do this for other people. Don't do to others what you wouldn't do to yourself.
  • Don't gift items, in any case with items from anywhere, that have stains or holes or, in other words, are not gently used. The idea is to prolong the life of an item already in existence, however, there is a life span to items. Holes and stains mean the item has come to an end (there are exceptions to this rule: if you yourself are okay with mending items for yourself or your family (please see definition above), knock your socks off. But you probably shouldn't attempt to mend an item just so you can give it to another family. This isn't cheap (well, it is, but the greater point is...), it's just uncaring. You should care enough about other people to gift them with items they can use for awhile and that are sustainable.
  • Never be offended if someone doesn't want the already-loved items. I'm happy Rose and Joel are happy, but if they went home at the end of the day and thought, hmm, I don't really think we have a use for these items and it's offensive they're used, I just hope they sell them at a garage sale, donate them to a thrift store, or give them to someone else who may need the items. I have to go to sleep at night feeling good about what I did with what God gave me (in this case, money), and this is what I felt was appropriate.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes
Breakfast burritos
Rice cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs

Lunch
Choice of:
Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
Burritos
Canned soup with potato rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

Dinner
Beef stroganoff and veggies
Pasta Bake and Spinach Rolls
Fiesta Casserole
Turkey tenders, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
Hot dogs, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
Burritos, corn on the cob
Cheeseburgers, Herbed Baby Potatoes, corn on the cob

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
Berry and naner bowl (strawberries and bananas in a bowl!)
Carrots
Mexican Layer Dip and chips

Recipes coming soon:
Beef stroganoff
Homemade refried beans
Mexican Layer Dip
Turkey tenders
Herbed baby potatoes

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This Book Room

June has plagued Jason and I in terms of sickness. It all started the weekend before Memorial Day. Jason came down with a fever. Then, Sunday of Memorial Day, I started getting sick and stayed sick for the entire week. Then, Jason got sick. I haven't felt normal the whole month and this week, it started getting worse again (coughing, sneezing, stuffed up, headaches, nauseated tummy, fevers, etc.).

So, basically, I've done of a loooot of reading this month because of all the resting I've been doing. Here's what I read this week:

I love reading Christian fiction, but sometimes it can be hard to find good Christian authors who don't write Amish Christian fiction, which I do enjoy, but I do not want to read all the time. Enter Denise Hunter. I've read all of her Nantucket series books and I've started reading some of her older books now. Enter Sweetwater Gap. I loved that the story was set at an apple orchard. As some of Denise's books can be, it was a bit predictable, but really, sometimes I just like books like that. Sometimes, I don't want to be surprised and confused, trying to remember a winding story and difficult characters. Sometimes, it's best to leave things simple. And Denise really excels at that.

Through GoodReads.com, I first learned of Barbara O'Neal. Her books looked interesting and chick lit-y, so I thought I'd give them a go. I was both happy and disappointed I did. Confession: I like reading books with characters that are similar-ish to me. Is that weird? I don't know. If I'm reading a book and think to myself, I would never do that (not out of judgement but more out of, if I wouldn't, who really would because there's a lot I would do (probably more I wouldn't, but whatevs!)), I'm turned off. I like to read books where the characters can be related to me. And this book didn't really have that. Nevertheless, the book was interesting and intriguing. It was surprising and not very chick lit-y, I thought. I could see men reading this book and enjoying it. So if you and your partner enjoy reading the same books so you can discuss them, this one may be a winner for you! I will try her other books to see if I enjoy them, as they do still sound good. We shall see!

And the real winner of this week, in terms of the fiction books I read, was The Book of Tomorrow. Ah, Cecelia Ahern, you never let me down. I love, love, love this author. Thankfully, I can say I knew her before - before the movie was created from her book, P.S. I Love You :) I love it when I can say that. Granted, that was the first book of hers I read (ahem, it was the first book she ever published). But I read it way back before a movie was in the theaters. P.S. I Love You is, for me, one of the greatest tales of love of all time. If you've seen the movie, you've been done a terrible injustice and you must read the book immediately to salvage what could have been, what should have been. Cecelia's books are imaginative, unique, and thought-provoking. And they are chick lit-y (is that a word?!?!) books. I get a little thrill whenever I see a new book is coming out from this wonderful author. And this book did not disappoint. A must read!

Since I was already feeling down and out from being sick, I guess my sub-conscious decided reading sad non-fiction books this week would be a good fit. I read I am Nujood, age 10 and divorced by Nujood Ali. This was, surprisingly, a quick read but sad. I agree with the author - people really shouldn't even been allowed to get married until they are 22 (or 25 - the age I always, always knew I would get married). It's not that I don't think you can find love earlier (I fell in love with my now-husband one week shy of my 19th birthday). I just think you need to grow as a couple and learn as a couple before taking a vow to stay together in love for all of time. Anyway, I digress. Little Nujood is impossible not to love. Her story is, sadly, not unique but likely a story Westerners won't have heard before, and I certainly hadn't. Eye opening and uplighting.

And finally, to my last book. I read Two Kisses for Maddy by Matthew Logelin. I first heard this story on the Oprah show back in 2009? 2008? I'm not too sure now. Whenever it first aired, I think. I heard a rerun ran this past week so if so, you may just be hearing of this story. Matt and Liz were high school sweethearts and married after college. Liz became pregnant and had a difficult pregnancy. She gave birth to Maddy prematurely, and Maddy was in the NICU right away before Liz could hold her. Liz collapsed on the way to hold her baby for the first time, and she died that day. An uplifting story ensues. Matt's language is a bit... well, let's say he drops the f-bomb a lot. But then again, picture your partner (particularly for you husbands, your WIFE) dying the day after your child is born. I think I'd be dropping the f-bomb a lot, too, to be frank. Matt is lovable, as is adorable Maddy. A great book, but one I fought tears through so have Kleenex handy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Friday Finds: Sara Lee Bakery Outlet!

Two weeks ago, I praised Aunt Millie's Thrift Stores in My Friday Finds. And while I still love Aunt Millie's for rolls and bagels, I have found a better place to get our other bread items!

While out gallivanting two weeks ago and visiting garage sales (tune in this Monday for Saving the Moola: Garage Sale Edition Part 2, and if you missed it, here's Saving the Moola: Garage Sale Edition Part 1), we stumbled upon a Sara Lee Bakery Outlet. The angels were singing when we walked in, I tell you! The prices are beyond amazing, and I am incredibly impressed with the variety of items.

This is what we bought (um, minus the adorable kitten... Preston just wanted to say hello to you all!):



Our total = $3.40

Yes, dear readers, $3 and change for FIVE items! LOVE!

I did not see any rolls, and the bagel packages were $1.50 (for six bagels). So for bagels and rolls, we are going to continue to patronize Aunt Millie's and happily so.

However, Sara Lee has benefits for us that Aunt Millie's just doesn't offer:
  • Convenient location - the Sara Lee Bakery Outlet we found is just a mile from the Meijer we regularly visit in Grand Blanc on Hill Road (exit 90).
  • Convenient hours - the Sara Lee Bakery Outlet is open on Saturdays until 6.
  • Variety of items - Canned fruit - HELLO! The price is the best we have found to date. They also had (please keep in mind that most of this is cheaper to make on your own, but if you're a spendthrift, you should consider shopping here instead of paying too much $$ somewhere else): a wide variety of baked goods, gravy mixes, crackers, noodles, and MUCH much more.
  • The prices - Hello, the prices! I cannot stress this enough. A loaf of bread = 60 cents (a loaf of bread is 79 cents at Aunt Millie's). Sixty. Cents. Hello, I am a loaf of bread for 60 cents. Hot dog and hamburger buns = available in packs of 8 for 70 cents (buns are 89 cents for 8 at Aunt Millie's).
  • The bread we purchased is the same caloric content as the Aunt Millie's kind (2 slices for a total of 70 calories - I have never found bread with less calories than this). However, we bought the only two loaves in the store, so I'm not sure if I will be able to easily find this in the future. But if not, I can also rely on Aunt Millie's who regularly stocks bread with the same caloric content.
I think the most important take-away from this is that no matter how much Jason and I know at this moment about saving money, there are always, always tips and tricks out there that we don't yet know. Here I was, two weeks ago, so geeked I could share with you all about Aunt Millie's (and I'm still geeked about this, don't get me wrong), but the next day, I find a place that sells loaves of bread and buns for far cheaper. This just serves to remind me that even though I've come a long way, I still have room to grow - and I think I always will!

Share with us: Have you visited an Aunt Millie's or Sara Lee? What did you like about the stores? What didn't you like?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Pasta Bake

If any of you know us at all, you know that we love cheesy noodly saucy goodness. And this recipe has all of it. On top of that, this recipe is easy and can be prepped the day before.


Ingredients
  • 1 pound noodles
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound of other veggies (We use bell peppers and mushrooms, but spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and many others would work)
  • 1 jar sketty sauce
  • 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Whatever spices you add to tomato sauced noodle dishes (We like oregano, basil, and parsley)

Directions

Cook the noodles as directed by the package. Cook the veggies in a large frying pan with a little bit of EVOO until they are at your desired doneness (3-5 minutes). Mix all ingredients except a bit of the mozzarella cheese in a large mixing bowl. Transfer to a 13 x 9 baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top of the mixture.

Now you have two choices:
  1. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 375 F
  2. Cover and store in your fridge. When you want to cook, bake at 375 F for 30-35 minutes.
Please enjoy responsibly as you could end up eating the whole thing in one night if you are not careful.

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Homemade: garlic bread

Don't you think it's crazy to pay $3 for garlic bread? We do! Looking back to Jess' My Friday Finds plus the readily available/cheapness of ingredients invovled, that makes this yummy garlic bread recipe a perfect alternative.


Ingredients:
  • 4 slices of bread
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • Salt
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Peel garlic and place cloves in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to boil; simmer for for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain water and smash garlic with a bit of salt and 2 teaspoons of olive oil, until the paste is semi-smooth to smooth. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Spread garlic paste evenly on each side of the bread and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 4 to 6 minutes.

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In My Mailbox

When 3 PM comes around each day, my heart starts a little pitter patter. The mail has come! Almost every day brings some sort of fun piece of mail. Sometimes, it's a magazine subscription I've bought, like Family Circle, TV Guide, or Health (among others!) or a letter from one of the two children we sponsor through Compassion International.

But sometimes, the fun pieces of mail are complete and total freebies. Here's what I got in the mail over the past week:



I got a Gillette Fusion Proglide razor with coupons for replacement razor blades. You can sign up for this freebie here.

At one time, Jason had a credit card through Nature Conservancy and they occassionally send odd freebies our way. Late last year, we got a 2011 calendar, which is hung in the kitchen, and last week, they sent us some free address labels. Jason's last name is wrong on them, but this one time, we won't care because (hello!) they were free.

I signed up for a free sample of Garnier shampoo and conditioner, and I plan to use this in my next batch of shaving cream mix.

Through RecycleBank, I earned points and redeemed them for a year's subscription to Every Day Food. This is a Martha Stewart magazine, and this was my first issue I received. I was really surprised at the articles and recipes - they were really unique. Jason and I are really geeked about this magazine.

Through moneysavingmom.com, I learned of a free offer that was running awhile back on a year's subscription to Thriving Family. I. love. this. magazine. I hope some of you were able to get this magazine for free when it was offered. If you have kids and/or are Christian, this magazine is, literally, a must-have. I love it. I really can't say enough about it. Browse through it next time at the store/newstand - you may just need to order a subscription.

And last, but oh so certainly not least, I have to sing the praises of Facebook. I learn about so many freebies on there, and I just love it. I "like" Oprah and all her other Oprah-sponsored things, like O Magazine, OWN, etc. Well, O Magazine had posted a status with a link, sending fans to sign up for a survey/tester-type group. There was some sort of line of "Want to get free beauty products?" Well, my boat just about floated out of the water when I received this amazing product from them. It's from Estee Lauder, and it's a new product called Idealist. It's supposed to even out the user's skintone. And.... (drum roll please) it's an $85 value! It's quite a large bottle, and I'm very excited to try this.

Share with us: Did you get any of these great offers? What fantastical things have you found in your mailbox recently?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saving the Moola: Amazon.com's Subscribe and Save program

It can be difficult to find ways to save extra money when you don't buy from Starbucks, you borrow books, CDs, movies and magazines from the library, and you make most of your meals from scratch. So imagine my surprise when a few months ago, I learned of amazon.com's Subscribe and Save program. I have never been one to want to order my groceries online - I think I generally prefer to shop in the stores, although since Jason has taken over this aspect of our home life, I don't really have a preference either way!

We eat canned soup a lot, and we also make homemade soup a lot. We're pretty soup crazy! Canned soup is super conveinent for "fend for yourself" dinners when one of us will be out at dinnertime, but the other will be home and doesn't want to cook for one (or create leftovers). They're also really handy for lunchtime when we're both working from home and neither of us wants to get up to make a sandwich.

I typically eat Amy's Organic Vegetable Barley soup - also typically only found at Whole Foods for $2.99 a can, which is pretty expensive for soup. Through Subscribe and Save, I pay about $1.77 per can. I eat, on average, 3 cans of soup per week which is a savings of $190 per year. Yowza!

Jason will eat almost any kind of soup, so we try not to pay more than about $1 per can of soup for him. He (and I!) both enjoy Healthy Choice's Chicken & Dumplings and Health Choice's beef Pot roast. we spent a little more than $1 per can through amazon.com, but we didn't have to watch for sales which we appreciate.

Here's our pantry. Some of the soup is on the floor, still in the case (other soup cans are on the shelves, but difficult to see in this pic):


The pantry actually doesn't look too full, but I promise - we have a ton of food in this house. Most of our bulk food is purchased from Sam's, like the huge animal cracker jug on the floor and the toilet paper up top. I've been checking amazon.com for other grocery items we regularly purchase and use, but so far, I haven't found better prices than what I pay at other stores. Also, store brands are always cheaper than name brands, and we buy a lot of our grocery items in store brands or no-name brands.

Also, if you're not a fan of amazon.com or you don't want to to Subscribe and Save, but you buy and use the same item regularly, check your local grocery store to see if you can get a case discount. Whole Foods offers a 10% discount on the case if you purchase a case, and you can purchase a 12-pack case of soup this way, for example. I imagine this would also work on macaroni and cheese, noodles, or any other boxed food.

Share with us: Have you ever ordered from amazon.com using the Subscribe and Save program? What item did you save money on this way?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

God Talk: Crazy Love

I read Crazy Love by Francis Chan this week. I hadn't really heard anything about the book, but the subtitle (Overwhelmed by a Relentless God) grabbed me. Francis seemed really sincere and down-to-earth, and I have found that is quite rare in a Christian self-helpish type book.

It also didn't hurt that some of what Francis focused on are the very issues I find myself struggling with every day. Issues like being truly humble and giving all, literally all, the glory to God. Has someone ever complimented you and you walked away, feeling prideful of yourself? Gah, I don't know how many times that has happened to me, and I hate it. I really hate it. Instead of being proud of myself, I should, and try, to give the glory of whatever was said to me to God. Pride is a sin I seriously have issues with.

Francis also reminded me that serving God isn't a convenient or easy choice all the time. It's easy, in theory, to think that I'm giving all I have to Him, but really, I know that's not true. How much do I try to keep for myself? Not just money, but time, energy, other kinds of resources. God wants all of what I have. Francis points out that most people struggle with this because of trust issues - and that is true for me, too. I trust God, but to what extent? Do I trust Him to care for my needs each day, or do I attempt to store up treasures on earth (such as money to tide me over in retirement), not trusting that He can take care of me? Not that I necessarily think I shouldn't have a retirement account, but I can't serve two masters, and I know I sometimes let money get the best of me.

The most important take-away from this book, for me, was the thought that if God came back right now, this very second, would He be smiling at what I'm doing? Francis shared a story of a time he went to a play with his wife, his mother-in-law and other relatives. During a break in the play, he leaned over and asked his MIL if she was enjoying the play. She said (paraphrase), "I don't really want to be here right now." When Francis asked why, she said she didn't want God to come back that very moment and see her at a play, wiling away the hours, when she could have been on her knees, as she spends each morning, praising Him and spending time with Him.

That struck me. Hard. I can think of many times now in my past that I definitely wouldn't have wanted God to pick that moment to come to Earth. God knows everything I do, think and feel, and still, I would want God to come back and witness me praising His name instead of wiling away the hours, doing something that in no way praises Him or spreads His word and name. 

This book was thought-provoking, sincere and humbling. I am thankful I read it, and that it resonated with me. If you read it or have read it, please share with me what you think of this!

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Peanut Energy Bars
Rice cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs

Lunch
Choice of:
Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
Burritos
Canned soup with potato rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

Dinner
Yummy Steak with Onions, Avocado, and Tomatoes and Homemade French Fries
Hot dogs, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
Pasta Bake with Spinach Rolls
Vegetable Lasagna with Homemade Garlic Bread
Burritos, corn on the cob
Cheeseburgers, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
Fend for yourself dinner! (leftovers, sandwiches, etc.)

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
Berry and naner bowl (strawberries and bananas in a bowl!)
Carrots
Peanut Energy Bars
Animal crackers

Recipes coming soon:
Pasta Bake
Homemade Garlic Bread

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This Book Room

The Princess Diaries' movies have been the sort of movies for me where I could, quite literally, watch those movies over and over and over again without tiring of them. I'm not obsessed with "the royals" or anything, but I just really like these movies. And I'm a huge fan of Meg Cabot, the author of the books. I'd never read the series before, but I've read some of her books and loved them. So finally, finally, I started to read the Princess series. Boy, was I in for a surprise! The first book, the Princess Diaries, is a lot different from the movie. And I think I like the movie better. In the book, her dad is alive and Grandma is mean! I love Julie Andrews and think she's one of the best parts of the movies so I did not like this aspect of the book at all. I really did not like the Grandma's character. Regardless, the book was cute, and I am looking forward to seeing where Princess Mia's journey goes in the books.

I should never, ever judge a book by its cover, but sometimes, I can't help myself. I will admit that what first drew me to When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt was the cover. But this book really surprised me! It took a bit for me to get really into it, but once I got to page 100 or so, I was hooked. A single woman makes a journey from Opi in Greece to America, and her trial here is just that: a trial. Poor woman. Everything that could go wrong does, and her strength and resilience are truly inspirational. I was reminded, through every page, of how blessed and easy my life is. Not that I'm without my own trials, but things are far different in America today than they were even 50 years ago. This book is set in the Civil War era, and it was interesting to see an immigrant's point of view of this time - which was that immigrants were largely unaffected by the early stages of the Civil War. Anyway, I really liked this book. It wasn't a quick read, but if you want to feel blessed, this book can achieve that for you.

Meg Cabot was calling out to me to read her this week, clearly. I couldn't stop myself from picking up The Boy Next Door, which is technically part of a series. I had read Boy Meets Girl, the second book in the series, already so I didn't start in the right order, but only a few characters stick around book to book and the story lines are not continued so it doesn't matter. I liked this book, but I think I'm sort of over the whole concept of books comprised of emails, texts, etc. Regardless, I will read the third and final book in the series at some point, but I'm glad the "series" is only three books. This is a young adult book, and I agree with that genre. Teenaged girls would love this book.


My final book for the week, which I had really been looking forward to, was 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik. Again, this book surprised me. I liked it, in general. John basically took the idea of Oprah's gratitude journals but chose to actually send thank-you notes out to people every day for about a year. I didn't really like John, though. He seemed sort of... ungrateful. Which is weird since the book's subtitle is The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life. I think his life was changed by this (hello, he got a book deal out of it), but I don't know if he was really grateful each day. All I know is, I've wrote a lot of thank-you notes in my lifetime, and I know you don't have to be feeling grateful in the moment you are writing that note to sound sincere. It's a thank-you note. It technically has no sound. But, I give the guy props for attempting to make himself a better person. It did remind me that I really should start a gratitude journal because I could just use a reminder each night of all I have to be thankful for, lest I forget.

Jason is working hard on bringing all of you a new Homemade and In the Kitchen with Jason post each week, and he's working on creating a new series for the blog: The Gaming Corner. Because of these things, he won't be contributing to This Book Room for awhile. He and I are both super excited to bring you a new series, one that will really add to the life of this blog and we hope, to all of your lives as well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Friday Finds: Bath and Body Works' Semi-Annual Sale with Coupons!

The Bath and Body Works' semi-annual sale (SAS), also known as Hello, Yellow!, began today in many stores throughout the US.* Straight after work today, Jason and I headed out to get our haul!

Here's what we bought:


We bought 16 items and spent a total of $32 before tax. We had two transactions so we could use a $10 off $40 coupon (printable online) and a free travel-sized item off any purchase (also printable online) coupon. The only items we cared about getting are the starters and the Wallflower refills. We bought 4 starters. The ones that came with a starter scent were $5, and the pretty flower starters were only $2. We would have bought 4 of those and saved $1 on them and the first scent, but we didn't want crazy colors in the guest bathroom or the dining room. We chose the white standard Wallflower for those rooms.

We bought dual packs of one scent I loved, and those were $5. But the single Wallflower scents were only $2!!! This is a very good sale and one that is not advertised online, from what I could see when I perused the site earlier.

I chose a Twilight Woods body lotion as my free travel-sized item. I keep mini lotions in a basket our Nana made for us in the guest bathroom. This is normally $5, but I'd have to say that anyone who would pay $5 for a generic BBW lotion this small is crazy.

We really wanted to start using Wallflowers in our home because these are way cheaper than the cheapest candles I have found (and bought and loved and will still buy for our living room). The Wallflower scents last for about a month so we have quite a few months' worth for all the rooms.

I've heard rumors the sale ends on July 3, so there should be plenty of time for to still hit up the sale! New stock is brought out daily/weekly in most stores, and if you're lucky (and we were today!), you can get a feedback coupon with your receipt. You call a number, give your feedback and get a code for $10 off a $30 purchase. So if we wanted, we could go back before July 3 and get more items from the SAS and use our coupon!

Share with us: Do you love Bath and Body Works? What item did you get or are hoping to get at this June's SAS?

*Please call your store to make sure they are a. participating in this sale and b. that it began today. In some parts of the country, the sale does not begin until June 20.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Yummy Steak with Onions, Avocado, and Tomatoes

This week I am bringing you a recipe found in the June 2011 issue of Cooking Light

Super yummy and super easy. (The recipe listed is halved from the recipe in the mag, but this is how we made it.) We used a George Foreman grill for the grilling and it worked perfectly.

Ingredients
  • 1 Red onion
  • Cooking Spray
  • 3/4 lbs. steak
  • pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 avocado
Directions
  • Heat grill to high
  • Cut onion into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • Lightly spray onions with cooking spray
  • Grill the onions for 10 minutes
  • Put the onions in a metal bowl and cover it with foil to keep them warm
  • Spray the steak with cooking spray
  • Season the steak with salt and pepper
  • Grill the steak for 6 minutes
  • When steak is done let it stand for 3 minutes
  • Thinly slice the steak
  • Cut cherry tomatoes in half
  • Mix onions with cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of kosher salt, and pepper
  • Peal avocado and slice into 4 slices
  • Slice each piece of avocado into 3 pieces each
To serve, divide the steak onto three plates, cover each plate of steak with 1/3 of the onion mixture and four pieces of avocado. We plated it with our homemade french fries and a glass of iced tea.

This recipe serves three (if you hadn't figured that out already) and has the following nutrition per serving: Calories 262, Fat 13.6g, Protein 24.3g, Carbohydrates 10.3g, Fiber 3.6g, Cholesterol 50mg, Iron 29mg, Sodium 393mg, and Calcium 31mg.

A Tasty Tip: If, like us, you only eat two of the servings, you can add the remaining serving to 1/2 lb of cooked noodles and make a yummy noodle salad. (I added a little bit of extra balsamic vinegar to cover all the noodles)

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Homemade: Dishwasher soap

Well here is our homemade household item of the week. Dishwasher soap!!!














Ingredients
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon dry rice (to prevent clumps)
Vinegar

Directions
Mix everything except the vinegar together. When ready to wash dishes in your dishwasher put 1 tablespoon of the mixture in the main soap spot of your dishwasher and fill the rinse agent with vinegar and BAM you are all done. Works like a charm.















-Jason

Monday, June 6, 2011

Saving the Moola: Garage Sale Edition, Part 1

No matter where you live in the country, we are in garage sale season, the official fifth season of the year. Depending on where you live, this may overlap with all four seasons. In Michigan, garage sale season can start as early as March and continue as late as October. I imagine the more south you live, the more months of the year you get to enjoy this wonderful season!

Jason and I went garage saling this past weekend and here are some of our finds (please tune in to Part 2 of Garage Sale Edition coming Monday, June 20 for more of our finds):



We had been looking for a bench for our entrance area in which our shoe tray would fit underneath. I had been very casually looking for this in retail stores but was unwilling to pay a penny more than $20, but I was really looking for a bench around $15, a price I felt comfortable paying. We went to a yard sale we found posted on craigslist that was actually in a (very nice!) mobile  home park about 2 miles from our house. I wasn't even going to get out of the car since it was our last stop and I had found everything I really really really wanted off my list. This bench caught my eye, though! I paid $5 for it, and as you can maybe see, it needs refinishing (at least I think so - my husband disagrees). So I've got myself a little project on my hands and I will share the finished project with you in a future post.... (aka when I actually get around to refinishing it).

Jason had one item on his list and one item only: computer speakers. STN (the company I work for) gave us a desktop computer for free when the company moved offices and he desperately wanted computer speakers for it. He wasn't willing to pay more than $5, and he found these at the mobile home park yard sale for $4. Score!

We're always looking for 1,000-piece puzzles and found this really cute one for $2. It's a collage of sorts of Michigan - so cute! I suck at puzzles but like hanging out at the dining room table reading while Jason works on it - he loves puzzles :) We're geeks. Get over it.

Our extended family is huge - we have 11 nieces and nephews between us and one more on the way. We're always looking for items for the tots at garage sales for birthday presents, Christmas presents or just-because presents. We found 5 Christian books at a garage sale and paid $1.50 for the lot of them.

The church near our house was hosting a flea market that day so on our way home, we quickly stopped there. You never know what you might find! The flea market was very, very small, but we found 12 jelly jars (many without rings or lids) for $2. I will buy lids and rings at Meijer for about $3 for 12 and save myself a little more than $3 if I had bought a lot of 12 new with lids and rings (despite the fact that I still have to buy another 12 with lids and rings to make what I'm planning, but at least I found some used!).

Garage saling is a serious business. Here's my tips and tricks to garage saling effectively:

-Dress in layers. This is Michigan, people, and the weather changes every five minutes. On Saturday, weather.com predicted a 40% chance of rain all day. We didn't know if it would rain or when. We dressed in layers, and thankfully so - it was blazing hot!

-Craigslist.com is the best place to find garage sales in your area. The search function is incredibly useful - I searched for garage sales in Fenton, garage sales with baby boy items and garage sales with computer speakers. I checked the website throughout the day on Friday and Saturday morning when we were getting ready to leave - I added a couple more to my list and one that I had added, I bought what I was really looking for and the majority of what we bought that day.

-Use a GPS or mapquest or some other map device the night before/morning of to track your route. Your craigslist research should have the following things: the address of the garage sale and the times of the garage sale. Most people who host a garage sale aren't open to selling early so don't show up early! It's just rude. Find the best route to go.

-Be prepared for anything - bring sunscreen, sunglasses, umbrella, a book, the GPS (a must-have), water, iced tea or coffee, snacks, cell phone, extra keys, extra money, etc. You never know what might happen weather-wise, if you get stranded somewhere, if you find something you didn't know you wanted/needed but just have to have, etc.

-Have a budget and try to keep to it. I had allotted $25 for our garage saling this past weekend and spent $28. Know what your own comfortable limit is for certain items and don't pay more than that if you're comfortable with it. This seems simple, right? Maybe not so much. I'm really not a fan of haggling unless a sign is posted that indicates the prices are negotiable. I don't like people haggling with me if I'm selling something so I doubt if other people really like this. You've put a price on your item - I assume that's the minimum you think it's worth or are willing to part with it. I'm not going to place a lower value on something you cared about having in your life. However, if I'm not comfortable paying more than $2 for a puzzle (which I'm not), I'm also not going to pay more than $2. I may tell you I'm not comfortable with that and let you take the lead from there, but at the end of the day, I need to be happy with myself. So have a budget for the day/weekend and for each item. It'll cause less headache and less regret later.

-Be flexible. You don't have to go to every garage sale you found. On your list from craigslist, you may also want to note what was listed in the ad that caught your eye. Does 3228 Swan's Cove have computer speakers that your husband wants listed? Then, you probably don't want to pass that one up. Does 4167 Sunset Cove have household items and clothes listed? That's pretty vague and while there's always a chance you'll miss out on something you may have wanted, there's also a really good chance you would have drove to it and found absolutely nothing. And if you're already tired, cranky, hot, thirsty (did you not hear me say bring water and another beverage?!?!), skip it. It's not worth it.

-Have a list. Whenever you think of an item you'd like to have, like a blender when you're craving a smoothie or a book you really like, write it down. Take this list with you to garage sales to be able to sift through the contents more easily.

My last thought on tips and tricks: garage saling should be fun. If you're not having fun, you're doing something wrong.

Share with us: What are your tips for garage saling effectively? What's the best item you've ever found at a garage sale?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Donut Muffins
Rice cereal
Raisin cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs

Lunch
Choice of:
Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
Burritos
Canned soup with potato rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

Dinner
Grilled Flank Steak with Onions, Avocado and Tomatoes and Homemade French Fries
Hot dogs, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
Beef tenderloin with horseradish-chive sauce, asparagus, herb potatoes
Grilled char with yukon golds and tomato-red onion relish
Subway
Cheeseburgers, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
Turkey tenders, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
Donut Muffins
Beef jerky
Berry and naner bowl (strawberries and bananas in a bowl!)
Carrots

Saturday, June 4, 2011

This Book Room

This was a big week for me in reading (possibly because I was sick all week and read a LOT)! Let's get started.


First up, I finished the Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. If you are looking for new ways to save money, read this book. Since the gazette was printed in the 1990s, some of the information is outdated. One reader tip was that we should email instead of send letters since email is quicker (uh, DUH!). But back in the day, that probably was a really good tip and email was not the norm.

I personally have found new ways to save money because of this book. Please check out my Saving the Moola post on a price book - this has saved us a ton of money already on our grocery bill. We've challenged ourselves to $70 a week (which Amy would say is a lot for 2 people), but it's difficult because we prefer organic and buy that as much as possible. So far, we're doing good with it, though.
If you have kids, this book is a must read. I didn't pay as much attention to these tips as I do not have kids, but there are a lot of good tips.

Also, Amy shared some really unique recipes that I had never seen before. I have a recipe/how-to for making whole-wheat crackers (I didn't even know you could make crackers from scratch!!!), a cheese ball recipe, and a hot chocolate recipe (using powdered milk).

Amy also shared tips on saving on car insurance. Since we don't drive often (about 200 miles a week total between Jason and I), we will be able to save on that. Check with your car insurance provider to see what steps you need to take to get a low-mileage discount. We will have to install a Snapshot device in our car (device provided free from Progressive) and drive with it so it records how often we're driving.

Next up are my fiction books I read this week. I was dubious of Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda because I tend to not like books that have plots set in different countries - don't ask me why because I don't know. I just don't resonate with them. I guess I'm too American. But, I really liked this book. It was really interesting, and I learned a lot. I even wikipediaed India afterward to learn more about the country. If you have a soft spot for adopted kids or for kids who come from countries who don't value children, read this book. It was englightening beyond what I had already knew (that a lot of countries do not favor girls - to the point of killing them as soon as they are born).

I was so excited when I saw Rachel Herron was continuing her Cypress Hollow series. If you love to knit or read about knitting, this book is definitely for you. Her first book is How to Knit a Love Song, and the second book, which I read this week, is How to Knit a Heart Back Home. Her third book in the series, Wishes and Stitches, will be released later this year. This series is a bit smutty, but not too much (thank goodness), but I really really like this series. I liked the first one a bit better, only because it really sets the scene for the second book, and I presume, the third book.

I was (keyword: was) so excited when I first read the synopsis for Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer. I enjoy thriller, suspense-type books (love Mary Higgins Clark!). But this book was a huge disappointment. First, it was just boring. It was not intriguing at all. A man goes into the woods to relax, basically, then finds a man kicking a dog. A fight ensues, and the man who was kicking a dog dies (rightfully so, might I add - you kick a dog, you should die). Spoiler alert: the man who kills him is never found out, but I didn't even really care. The whole story was boring. Man kills man, first man is horrified at what he did, and blah blah blah. Don't read this book. Or if you do, tell me if you thought it was as boring as I thought it was.

I first heard of Megan Hart's book, Precious and Fragile Things, through Goodreads.com. I love this website - if you can join, find me and we can be friends! I was a little freaked out when I saw she typically writes erotica.... but rest assured, this is not an erotica book. It is a thriller-ish book, and I really liked it and hated it at the same time - which really is what any good book makes you feel. I think this book would be perfect for a January read.

Last night, I finished Choker by Elizabeth Woods. This is technically a young adult book, but the storyline was a bit mature, I thought. I don't want to say too much for fear of giving away the ending, but this book was really really good and perfect for our generation. A girl is bullied at school, and her best friend returns but is hiding out at her house. Two girls that bullied the first girl end up dead, and at first, they're thought to have drowned and commited suicide. Until it looks like someone killed them... who is the murderer? It will surprise you!

Because I read so many books this week and wanted to share them with you, Jason is taking this week off from This Book Room, but he wanted to share that he is still continuing the Southern Vampire series and looks forward to sharing with you all next week!

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Friday Finds

A couple weeks ago, I really discovered Aunt Millie's Thrift Stores, also knows as Aunt Millie's outlet stores. Here's the scoop:

Each location may stock different items. Each location never really knows what exactly they're going to have, but every time I've went (twice now), they have exactly what I'm looking for. I have been to two locations: Davison and Ypsilanti. Check the location hours as they are sometimes restrictive - not open on weekends or only open until 5. Davison has great hours and has specials on Sunday.

Locations have bread, bagels, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, pita bread, tortillas, cookies, crackers, popcorn, etc. etc. etc. Also, the items are not restrictive to just Aunt Millie's. They also have Meijer and other brands, and if you only buy/eat organic, they do stock Meijer Organic bread.

This is what we bought this week:


We usually go every other week and stock up on what we need. Every time we go, we buy two packages of bagels. Jason likes to eat these for breakfast or a snack. Each bagel package is $1.09 and depending on what kind you like, you get either 5 or 6 bagels. The multi-seed onion and garlic (pictured to the right) have 5 to a package but the everything bagels (pictured to the left) have 6.

We also like Aunt Millie's potato rolls. These are $0.79 for 12 rolls.

Other items we purchase:
Hamburger buns (8) - $0.89
Hot dog buns (8) - $0.89
Aunt Millie's Fit for Life bread - $0.79

The prices are insane. The best you will find these items (excluding coupons - and Aunt Millie's website does regularly have coupons) is 4 for $5.

The only catch, if you can call it that, is that the items are usually a few days away from expiration. Since we bought our bread on sales anyway, we have always froze these items. We're a family of 2 and we never use 8 hot dog buns in 1 week (the typical expiration from when purchased).

We don't have a deep freezer, just a little tiny one and this only shows a portion (a little less than half) of our freezer:


We have 2 loaves of bread, bagels, hot dog buns and hamburger buns in our freezer.

Aunt Millie's has saved us tons of money on our food bill. Check their website for a location near you.

Share with us: Have you ever tried Aunt Millie's? What's your favorite Aunt Millie's item?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Homemade french fries

These are so super simple and the most delicious homemade fries you will ever eat.

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs potatoes
4 shakes pepper
4 shakes crushed rosemary

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
  2. Get about 2 lbs of potatoes
  3. Wash the outsides of the potatoes and then pat them dry.
  4. Cut the potatoes into the shape of fries you want. I do about 1/4 to 1/2 in strips. You can do wedges if you like or any other shape you can think of.
  5. In a bowl, mix the potatoes with about pepper and crushed rosemary (from my shakes, I end up with more pepper than rosemary, and that seems to work just fine).
  6. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and put the potatoes evenly over the foil.
  7. Bake for 35 minutes.
  8. Enjoy!
-Chef Jason