Friday, June 29, 2012

Story time

I'm loving the summer programming at the library. So far we've seen a naturalist who brought critters such as an owl (see Nate posing) a magician, and something called Mo Fun with Mo Willems, where the kids heard a few stories then did art (see Nate' Pigeon and Duckling.) Zack is mostly glad for the frequent trips to get more books.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The past two days

...have been lovely. Baking and cooking. Reading books. Hanging out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Market Days

Things I have learned doing my $100 a week grocery challenge:

::I cannot be trusted to post regularly on any topic
::Gatorade, candy,drink mixes, sweets, and wine aren't food, and are the total sum of what pushed us $92 over budget for the month.
::I shouldn't be taking inventory for the store (I'm finishing the month with a pantry loaded, granted with good things like dry beans, grains and lentils.
::trying to exclusively shop the farm markets is a bit pricey, and not terribly practical. Values must be balanced with practical matters such as finance , time and energy.
::multiple grocery stops aren't good for my budget, and tempt me to veer off my list.
::my kids eat more vegetables when I eat more vegetables
::I dislike transcribing grocery lists

The hardest part is the daily challenge of thinking up some new way to fix the veggies or dress the salads. Having a supply of chive, cilantro and basil in the garden helps. As does a block of Parmesan and a supply of good vinegar and olive oil. And homemade bread daily.

The other hard part is getting used to veggies as the main dish. We fall behind. In my kitchen I have varying quantities of: tomatoes, onions sweet and green, yellow and zucchini squash, kohlrabi, radishes, beets, ginger, lettuce, green beans, peaches, apples, bananas, grapefruit, oranges, raspberries, blueberries, peas, celery, watermelon, corn, broccoli and cucumbers.

On the menu this week we anticipate roasted, sautéed, and grilled veggies over rice or couscous, summer pickles, salad, bread, pie, veggie frittata, soup, gazpacho and lots of green juice.

I will continue throughout the summer to pursue this goal and do my best to post updates as we go.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weekending

Part one of the weekend was more baseball: the scouts got to spend the night at Huntingon Park in the outfield after the game, which was so fun! They even showed a movie on the scoreboard! We had a wild morning getting Zack and a friend to our ball park for 8am little league games. Happily it was another win for the Braves! Also had a visit from the boys' God-Mama who reads this blog (hi B!!!)

Part two was sleep, and lots of it. Too hot and dry to mow, or do much more than water the garden. Our naps were punctuated by simple meals at home and a trip out to celebrate my aunt's birthday.

Linking with Amanda today.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thrifty Thursday---Summer Fun

A few thoughts today on keeping the kiddos busy without breaking the bank.

First topic on my mind is the pool. The thing I sometimes catch myself doing is thinking the membership is the obvious thing to do. But early in the spring I decided to be really weird and calculate the a la carte price vs the membership. At $300 for my family, the boys and I would have to go at least 12 times to make it worthwhile. I had to really ask myself: do I want us to spend the summer poolside? Sure it sounds great at first, but believe me, somewhere in July they get really bored with the pool. Plus they will have swimming at scout camp and two other camping trips we have left. We agreed that we would go maybe once a week or so, on the hottest days, maybe five or six times total. At $26 per visit, I find this reasonable---it is a giant pool complex with water slides, a lap pool, a splash park and a lazy river. Plus we pack our own food, and I let them stay as long as they want. (And yes, it's weird---I explained all this to a clutch of Gucci wearing SAHMs yesterday and they looked at me like I was from the moon...)

Now is the part where I backtrack on what I just got done saying and tell you about two things we do have memberships to: bowling and the zoo. AMF is doing a national promo this summer where kids can get 2 free games a day all summer, and you can purchase a pass for $29.95 to get two games a day for up to 4 adults. I thought this was a great deal! (and no I'm not being compensated to say that!) It doesn't include shoe rental, so we all bought shoes, which Ken and I will keep, and the boys' shoes I can later sell when they have outgrown them. The shoes were a total of $117, so I figure that bowling 5 times will "pay for" the pass and shoes. Also my boys are like German Shepherds in that they require a lot of physical activity, so you'll find us at the bowling alley on all rainy days! Plus we can invite friends on our pass.

We have always kept a zoo membership and find it worthwhile. Our zoo is so huge that you really can't adequately see everything in one visit. Plus it has always been important to us to allow the boys to explore and take as much time as they want seeing the animals. A family membership is about $100 a year, so the by the third trip it "pays for itself." And we use it throughout the year---it is a great place to walk during the winter months. Sadly I can see that in the coming years this one will need to be reevaluated, since we seem to be getting busier all the time.

Our only other major expense was art supplies. I do try to watch sales throughout the year but still lose my head when school ends. I bought clay, markers, window markers, dry erase markers, oil and acrylic paints, sketchbooks, tee shirts and fabric markers, pastels, and a fresh box of crayons. These things are coming to good use, but I know I spent too much.

I did us a huge favor and radically limited camps this year---scout camp (free for Zack, $70 for Nate, $10 for me) and VBS ($10 a kid.)

We are also seeing two minor league baseball games with organizations that get us reduced tickets at $14 for the family, and $5 parking. The trick at the ballpark is to feed them dinner before we go---drinks and dogs are as much as a sit down restaurant!

Everything else we like to do is basically free. We went to the arts fest, we hike at our local metro parks, we visit the library for books and movies, summer programming for older kids, and the summer reading program, we have friends over, we ride bikes on the trail, we hopefully will take in some free outdoor music, and honestly if we need more entertainment than that we are doing something wrong!

My summer budget advice:

:: Calculate the cost of all memberships and be realistic about your use.
:: Beware the phrase "it pays for itself." Everything costs something and you have to evaluate whether the expense is worth it to you.
:: Pack your lunch or eat before you go. Get your kids in this habit early.
:: Recognize that the whippersnappers don't need every precious minute of summer to be filled.
:: Paying for activities a la carte gives you a lot more freedom: that expensive membership to wherever can end up being very burdensome by midsummer.
:: Make supplies available for creativity. This can be their own toys, art supplies, or even items you might normally toss . My boys will content themselves from time to time by building something out of things I've stowed under the sink, like metal frozen juice lids , coffee cans, shoe boxes, yarn, fabric scraps and lots of duct tape.

Any tips to add? What do you do with your kids all summer?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Game Ball

He wanted to play ball this year.
Out of the clear blue.
He walked in knowing nothing about the game, and had no idea that the rest of these boys started tee ball at age 4.
He did everything the coaches asked with all the energy and good attitude you can imagine, never losing face.
Coach says you never walk on a baseball field, and my guy only runs.
Even in the early practices when he dropped every single ball that was thrown to him.
So last nights game ball was no surprise. Even though we lost (to a great team!) Zack fielded great, hit a double bringing in a runner for Zack's first RBI, and later stole two bases, getting himself into position for a run of his own.
Coach looked pleased as punch to be giving that ball to Z. I am so grateful for these coaches who put a lot of work into arguably the "worst" kid on the team.
So proud of the character Zack has shown this season.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Weekending

Spent a lovely weekend camping with our friends Erin and Tom. First camping trip for her...I just loved her cozy tent!
Swimming hiking playing baseball stargazing and cooking over fire.
Fathers Day we broke camp early to the sound of thunder.
Spent the rest of the day sleeping and reading and watching television and eating Chinese takeout while the rain came down.
Also stepping over Nathan who slept on the floor for five hours, exhausted by the life at camp.

Linking with Amanda today

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Artists workshop #2

Inspired by our snake friend who lives in our compost bin, we created some serpentine art. What I learned: even if the boys don't seem into it at first, the always join in when they see me working on something!

Summer art

We are only in the second week of summer and my big ideas about doing daily art projects are slipping, just a bit. However I'm not giving up, and realizing that sometimes I've got to keep it simple and go with the flow.

Also we are loving the Crayola window markers!

Thrifted Thursday: A Tale of Two Cats




Last year, around Halloween, I had a bit of an epiphany. I started to realize that my enjoyment of junking was at odds with my desire to return to a more minimalist lifestyle. However, I was feeling festive and creative. I was decorating shelves and really really really wanted a vintage black cat of some sort.

Now of course this isn't very minimalist, I concede that. But what's even worse is that I went trolling the thrifts for a suitable cat and found none while spending over $30 in the process on stuff I didn't need. I realized that it would have been cheaper for me to just pay the $20 an Etsy vendor was asking, and I did. He is pictured above nestled into his little white cubby.

Fast forward to spring. My Nate and I were paying a visit to the church rummage sale when I spotted not one, but THREE black cat figures, almost exactly like the one we already had. Priced at $2 each. Murphy's Law at work big time. To make it worse Nate begged to buy all of them but I settled for buying one. And yes, I considered buying them all to resell! But I'm done with that so I left the other two for someone else to discover, and now I have two black cat statues in my house.

The point of all this: I guess I could go two directions here. The obvious thing I learned was to be patient. Finding good things at the thrifts takes time and repeated trips and patience. On the other hand, for me repeated trips to the thrifts or any other store eats up my time and money, and ultimately space in my home with all the junk I haul in. For me, I think the desire to pare down and the fact that I have so little time for anything else right now trumps the junking.

This is not to say I'm giving up junk. Heavens no! I like those cats---I also like the decor that I have right now. What I will be more aware of going forward is that if I really want some specific item I should sometimes just get the thing I want. And when I do go on the occasional junking excursion, it will be a treat.  I should go to sources I know have good junk, and never ever settle and buy something that is not quite right for me. Also, having these types of objects in your house may not feel very minimalist, but as long as the decor pieces don't overtake me I reckon I'm doing fine. My intention is to unload most or all of my stored decor items because I recognize that I will always be changing things.  I've massively started this in the kitchen: I've slowly but surely replaced most of our barware with vintage glass, our plates with Fiestaware, and a lot of gadgets have gone bye bye to make room for things like a 60s fondue set in orange. My vintage doilies and fabrics and notions have a home in vintage suitcases instead of plastic tubs.  It's all good.  When I get to the point that I'm tired of fondue and black cats I will either sell or donate them back, happy that I enjoyed those things while I had them.

Linking with Cordelia today who is also doing a giveaway!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Market Day Week One recap

Our first week of my little summer experiment went surprisingly well. I stuck to the $100 budget, only shopping at the farm market, plus a stop for milk midweek. Here's what we got:

Our $33 CSA share:
2 bunches kohlrabi
2 bags shell peas
2 big heads lettuce
1 head napa cabbage
1 bunch radishes (large!)
1 bunch green onions

Farmers market $64:
4 sausages
1/4 farm cheese
Dozen eggs
3 good tomatoes
1 pint blueberries
1 quart strawberries
1/4 peck apples
1 loaf of bread
2 small fruit pies
10 oz. wild honey
18 oz. cherry jam
Small plate of buckeye candies
1 whoopsie pie

Walgreens $3
One gallon milk

Obviously there were a couple problems, first and foremost being that I let my kids talk me into buying pie and candy and cake, which ate up $15.50 of our budget! Not cool, considering we could make that stuff ourselves. They have been advised to bring allowance money in future. Still I love that they enjoyed being there and talking to all the people and trying the samples.

Protein was another issue. We relied heavily on freezer and pantry staples such as fish and beans.

The good news is that we ate very well all week, and we ate nearly everything. I did make several loaves of bread, and had to turn to dry milk for cooking uses as the week went on. And we stayed out of restaurants (aside from the baseball game, ugh, and a couple of previously scheduled lunches with friends.) We saved money, tried new things and lost a couple pounds in the process.

Our favorite meal of the week was the soup. There wasn't a recipe, but what I did was peel and cut kohlrabi into chunks along with radishes, sweet onions, green onions, a tomato and a zucchini. These I sautéed in oil right in the cookout (and just a pat of butter, for flavor.) I then added a couple tablespoons of flour and cooked that down and poured in a cup of milk and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. A few minutes later I added chicken broth, some leftover peas and a can of garbanzos. The beauty of soup is that you can do this with any of your leftovers once you get a handle on the technique. I've made many of Rachel Ray's "stoup" recipes, and I tend to just follow the principles these days. I'm also loving the Internet for ideas for things that I'm not familiar with. In all, this is going pretty well.

Next weeks post will be very different---we are going camping with friends so we will be hitting the grocery store for sure. Hopefully I can score some deals!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekending

Our weekend was all about baseball: little league, batting practice, Reds on tv, a Cal Ripken Jr. video, and finally the Columbus Clippers. Our first time seeing a game at Huntington Park and the kids running the bases at the end, and once again I'm wowed by my hometown. Oh, and the Clippers even won!

Linking with Amanda

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Artists' workshop #1


Today's art inspiration was the large snail shell Nathan found near the pond at the park yesterday.  I am loving being able to pace our days our own way, and was very VERY happy to finally settle in and do some art with the kiddos.  They aren't always receptive, but generally when they see me sit down to work on something they will follow suit.  Also I bet they appreciate me blocking out a hunk of our afternoon just to spend with them.  We're going to try this every possible day I think.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

School's out!

Finished the last day of school.
Nathan cried at the end of the last day, despite the fun luau they had, so I took him bowling.
Zack got to play baseball *under the lights* against another undefeated team, and our boys pulled ahead from a tied game in the last inning! Plus Z got his first ever base hit. Truly an awesome evening!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Market days



Kicking off a little summer goal of mine, which is to spend under $100 a week on groceries while mostly staying out of the traditional grocery stores. We joined a CSA which was $33 a week, so that leaves me just $67 to spend on everything else. I will be making good use of things I have on hand while trying to find the best deals I can on healthy foods from alternate sources. This afternoon we got our CSA delivery, and later we will head over to our local farmers market. We also have a country market where we get things like fresh butter, local deli meats, cheeses and cheap bulk grains, and a local butcher and a local fish monger to try out. Hopefully this will be fun as well as money saving, so I will try to update often about how we're doing with this!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My fair city

Went to the arts fest today. It was beautiful and inspiring, especially the new Main Street bridge. I guess Columbus is a cowtown no more!