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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Monday Musings:Weeks 50 and 51


I haven't posted since December 10th when Esther turned 12. Since then, we traveled to San Antonio, had our oldest daughter and her husband here for a week, made a couple of trips to Dallas, hosted two family gatherings, attended numerous church functions, and celebrated Christmas. The last of our company left 5 hours ago. All this to say that the blog has been low on my list of priorities.

 I have a rather large stack of receipts on my desk since I haven't been doing such a great job tracking my spending since the 7th. Since there are so many receipts to tally, I've decided to wait until the 31st to log the remaining spending for December. At that time I'll make a monthly spending report for December and a report for the entire year of the 2014 spending challenge. I'll post my results on Monday, January 5th.

In the mean time, I plan to spend time deciding the future of this blog. It's taken much more time than I expected, but the exercise and discipline have been good for me. I hear from some people that they enjoy reading it, and they want me to continue. The dilemma of putting something "out there" is wondering if it has meaning to anyone but me -- if it helps anyone else -- if it's worth the effort and time. There are so many blogs out there. Am I just one more self-important voice, or am I meeting a need and sharing something of value? I would appreciate any input you might have that might help me in my decision. 

Until then -- HAPPY NEW YEAR!



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Baby Turns 12

A little bit of heaven drifted down from above,
A handful of happiness, a heartful of love.
The mystery of life, so sacred and sweet,
The giver of joy, so deep and complete.
Precious and priceless, so loveable too
The world's sweetest miracle... baby, is you.


12th Birthday wishes to dearest Esther – the caboose of the Newman children. Here are 12 pictures that will give you an idea of what a special person she is. I can’t imagine life without her!














Sunday, December 7, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 49


Week 49 Spending (Dec. 1-7, 2014)
Groceries  
$95
Entertainment
$19
Gifts
$26
Toiletries
$1
Total  
$141.00


The Christmas crunch is here. Since I am madly trying to complete multiple projects and prepare for multiple activities, this post is going to be short and sweet.

On Wednesday, my baby turns 12. Please stop by later this week for a photo essay about this precious girl who brings joy to everyone she meets.

In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy this beautiful Christmas rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Post-Holiday Hamburger Stew

After Thanksgiving's overindulgence, I always crave a meal that is lighter and healthier. This hamburger stew fits the bill. I cook it in my crockpot on low while we listen to Christmas carols on Pandora and take down our fall decorations in anticipation of breaking out the Christmas regalia.


HAMBURGER STEW

Note: Serve with buttered cornbread.

Ingredients
2 pounds ground beef
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
4 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) stewed tomatoes
8 medium carrots, thinly sliced
4 celery ribs, thinly sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice (optional)
1 to 2 tablespoons salt
1 to 2 teaspoons pepper

Directions
Cook beef and onions over medium heat; drain. Add tomatoes, carrots, celery, potatoes, water, rice, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes until vegetables and rice are tender. Uncover; simmer 20-30 minutes longer or until thickened! 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 48 and November Spending Report



Week 48 Spending (Nov. 24-30, 2014)
Groceries  
$53
Entertainment
$22
Gifts
$26
Toiletries
$61
Benevolence
$29
Miscellaneous
$5
Total  
$196


October Spending Report
Category
Spent
Budgeted 
Savings
Groceries
$629
$700
$71
Miscellaneous
-$8
$120        
$128
School
$26
$50
$24
Entertainment
$56
$75
$19
Toiletries
$86
$100
$14
Piano Lessons
$30
$30
$0
Clothing
$0
$60
$60
Gifts
$56
$75
$19
Hair Care
$0
$30
$30
Benevolence
$29
$35
$6
Discretionary Cash
$25
$25
$0
Total  
$929
$1300
$371

Except for the past two months, the majority of my savings were from the food category. That makes sense, because over ½ of my budget is devoted to feeding this hungry crowd. As October and November approached, I found some serious space in my pantry. That made me a little bit nervous. We live 25 miles away from the closest large grocery store, and the cost of eating out is prohibitive for our group, so I need to keep food on hand. I also pride myself on my ability to feed my family well on a pretty tight food budget. To do this, I have to be able to take advantage of bargains when I see them, For example, around Super Bowl time, Kroger usually has a great sale on Rotel tomatoes. We use at least 1 of these cans of deliciousness each week, plus a few more. The regular price is around $1.29. When Kroger has a sale for $0.50 a can, I can buy 64 cans for $32. That’s a savings of more than $50 off the regular price of $82.56. Now that’s significant. I stopped by Wal*Mart on Sunday afternoon. I just happened to glance over at the fresh turkeys. Imagine my surprise delight when I saw fresh turkey breasts with a use by or freeze date of December 5th marked down from $2.28 to $0.50 cents a pound. You can bet 5 of those little beauties jumped into my basket. I’ll cook one this week and the other four are already in the freezer – 32 pounds of prime turkey meat for just $16. Whoop!

I need to learn to balance stocking up on  great deals with economizing and using the things I have on hand. In the meantime, I have four weeks left in the spending challenge, and I’m hoping to finish strong.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 47


Week 47 Spending (Nov. 17-23, 2014)
Groceries  
$84
Discretionary Cash
$25
Gifts
$13
Total  
$122

As we approach Thanksgiving, I would be remiss if I didn't share a few things for which I am thankful. This year has been a tough one, and while I may have been tempted to ask, "Why me?" I know that my response needs to be one of gratitude. No matter how difficult things have been, they could have always been worse. As our dear Uncle Ross said to me the other day, "I know lots of parents who would trade problems with you any day."

What I should really ask is,"Why not me?" Each day, each trial, each struggle of the past year has been an opportunity for me to draw closer to my Savior and to seek my strength in Him. Syd and I have grown closer as a couple. I have realized that I have some of the greatest friends and family members on Earth -- without any judgment, they have walked alongside me, encouraging me, praying for me, praying for my children, reminding me of truth.

My children have challenged me to be a better mom -- to let loose of the things I want to control, and to trust God with their lives. We've made many changes, including putting a child in public school. This was huge for us, but even in that, God has blessed our son with Christian teachers who genuinely care about him. They have worked to help him make this transition, and while we still have a long way to go, there is light ahead.

So, on Thursday as we gather at my sister's house for Thanksgiving, I will have literally hundreds of things to be thankful for. I hope the same is true for you. Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fluffy Pumpkin Dip

 

This dip is especially good on graham crackers and crispy apple slices.

Fluffy Pumpkin Dip

Ingredients
1 30 oz. can of pumpkin pie filling (I used Libby’s brand)
2 3.4-oz. packages of vanilla instant pudding
2 cups of heavy cream, whipped or 2 8-oz. tubs of Cool Whip

Directions
Mix pumpkin pie filling and pudding mix together in a large bowl until blended.
Stir in whipped cream or Cool Whip.
Refrigerate one hour.
Serve in a bowl or a hollowed out small fresh pumpkin.

This is how I plan to serve it on Thanksgiving Day. The picture shows caramel dip in the bowl, but I'll use the Pumpkin Dip instead.


Adapted from Kraft Foods’ Pumpkin Fluff Dip recipe.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 46


Week 46 Spending (Nov. 10-16, 2014)
Groceries  
$195
Entertainment
$11
Gifts
$17
Toiletries
$15
School
$30
Total  
$268

I don’t have a lot to report this week. Although busy, our home life has been unusually peaceful. It’s just a little more than 5 weeks until Christmas, and I really need to get things done by mid-December because that’s when we gather for the Newman Clan to celebrate Christmas. I pray the upcoming weeks will be filled with happy, productive days, Christmas music playing on Pandora, and an overall atmosphere of peace. Here is a great video to watch to help you get in the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lion House Restaurant Dinner Rolls

I made these rolls for Sunday lunch. They were soft and had a wonderful flavor. I doubled the batch without any trouble, and froze the extra unbaked rolls to use for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Lion House Restaurant Dinner Rolls


Ingredients:
2 - cups warm water
2/3 - cup nonfat dry milk
2 - tablespoons active dry yeast 
1/4 - cup sugar
2 - teaspoon salt
1/3 - cup butter, softened
1 - egg
5 - 5 1/2 - cups all purpose flour (I used ½ whole wheat and ½ unbleached flour)

Directions:
In your mixer combine water and dry milk. Stir until dissolved. Add yeast, sugar, salt, butter, egg and 2 cups flour. 

Mix on low speed until ingredients are wet, then for 2 minutes on medium speed. Add 2 more cups flour, and mix on low speed until ingredients are wet, and 2 minutes on medium speed. 

Add remaining flour. Once combined, knead with hands, or turn on your kneading function on your bread mixer. (If you are using a Bosch or similar mixer, you can knead dough for 5 minutes, skip the first rising, and go straight to cutting & shaping rolls)

Place dough in an oiled bowl. Turn over once so dough is covered with oil. Cover with plastic, and let rise in a warm place until double in size. Place dough on floured surface. 

Roll out dough, and brush with melted butter. Cut rolls into desired shape and size. Twelve rolls should fit in a 13 x9 pan. Place on a greased or parchment paper lined baking pan. Let rise in warm place until rolls are doubled in size. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until browned. Brush with melted butter while hot.

Here is a great video of a Lion House baker demonstrating an easy, quick way to cut and shape the rolls.  

To freeze rolls: After shaping the rolls place them on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Place the rolls in the freezer and freeze until firm. When the rolls are solid, transfer to a freezer bag. Freeze for up to 4 weeks.



To use frozen rolls: Arrange frozen rolls on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Cover rolls with plastic wrap coated with baking spray. Place in a warm place and let the rolls rise until doubled in size. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with additional butter while hot.


Recipe yields: 2 dozen large rolls
Adapted from: Lion House Bakery Cookbook


Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 45


Week 45 Spending (Nov. 1-9, 2014)
Groceries  
$297
Entertainment
$23
Miscellaneous
(-$13) refund
Toiletries
$10
School
$26
Total  
$343

I’m still feeling the need to stock the pantry for winter. When I was perusing my food stores, I didn’t have the ingredients for even 1 batch of taco soup. In addition, I was completely out of canned green beans (a winter staple) and the supply of diced tomatoes was getting dangerously low. So when Kroger advertised all of these goodies for a sale price of $0.49/can, I went a little crazy. I came home with 24 cans each of green beans and tomatoes, and enough staples to make two pots of taco soup. They also had a lunchtime favorite, Chunky Soup, for $0.99/can which is the best price I’ve seen all year. Consequently, there are 12 cans of that in my pantry too. Then our local Brookshire’s had a special on sirloin steak. I’ve been paying $5.99 a pound, so when I saw an advertised price of $3.50/lb., I grabbed several packages. Combine these with the regular purchases of milk, produce, a few holiday items, and I ran that grocery bill right on up to nearly $300. That’s the first grocery shopping marathon I’ve done in 11 months, and I must admit that I enjoyed it immensely! I find it very gratifying when I get a receipt from the store that says: “Total $86.67, followed by Total Savings $85.50.”

Syd grilled steaks for Sunday lunch which was a real treat. He fixed 7 pounds of steak for 11 people. We had baked potatoes, green salad, homemade rolls, and tea. I figure we had $35 in the meal, which means we fed everyone a delicious steak dinner for about $3 per person – pretty impressive! I tried out a new roll recipe that I want to bake for Thanksgiving dinner. Yum -- they were worth every bit of carbohydrate splurge. Watch for the recipe on Wednesday.


My iron levels are improving, but I find I really have to get 8-9 hours of sleep or I tire very easily the next day. This has forced me to slow down our pace and learn to say “No” without feeling guilty. I’m trying to reserve my time and effort for really important things like homeschooling Essie and Josiah, our volunteer work at the food pantry and helping friends within my areas of strength. Of course, basketball takes a lot of time and energy, but thankfully Josiah has gotten his driver’s license, so he can get Esther and himself to practice. I have come to the place where I can say ”no” to great buys on clothes and even school supplies (my Achilles heel), but I tend to repeatedly over commit to activities and responsibilities that consume large amounts of time. I wish I it was as easy to budget time as it is to budget money.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Owl Family Cupcakes

Owl Family Cupcakes
Josiah, Esther, and I made these for the hospitality room of our basketball tournament last Saturday. They were fairly simple to make, although we did have some trouble with cracked cookies. It took an entire package of Double Stuf Oreos and another package of the mini Oreos to make one batch of owl cupcakes. Of course, there was no lack of volunteers to eat the scraps!

12 regular size cupcakes
24 baked mini cupcakes
(We were able to bake all of these from one Duncan Hines Swiss Chocolate cake mix)
1 batch chocolate frosting -- you can use the store-bought kind, but homemade is so much better!
1 package Double Stuf Oreo Cookies – technically, you only need 24 cookies, but there will be some casualties
1 package Mini Oreo Cookies – you’ll need 48 uncracked cookies with filling intact
24 brown and 12 orange M&Ms
48 brown and 24 orange mini M&Ms

1.    Frost all cupcakes.
2.   Separate all Double Stuf cookies by carefully slicing along one cookie, leaving filling on one side of each cookie. Scrape any cookie crumbs off filling.
3.   Gently push M&Ms into filling to create eyes.
4.   Place 2 cookie halves, filling side up, on each standard size cupcake.*
5.   Insert orange M&M into frosting to make beaks.
6.   Use leftover cookie halves to make ears. Tuck into top of each cupcake behind eyes.
7.   Repeat process with mini cupcakes , mini cookies, and mini M&Ms.

*If making ahead of time, hold off as long as possible on putting Oreos on cupcakes. If you do it too early, cookies become soggy and owls will start to fall apart.

Adapted from Owl Cupcakes recipe, Family Circle Magazine, November, 2014.