Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shhhhhhhh! Listen Closely!

If you stand very still in the heart of a wood
You will hear many wonderful things;
The snap of a twig and the wind in the trees,
And the whirr of invisible wings.
If you stand very still and hold to your faith
You will get all the help that you ask;
You will draw from the silence the things that you need,
Hope and courage and strength for your task.

Patience Strong

Friday, January 30, 2009

Floral Friday - Water Lilies

It's Floral Friday once again, and last week we were in Vancouver (Richmond) British Columbia, and this week we are in Lakeland, Georgia where we visited Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge last May. Banks Lake is a huge lake, just full of cypress trees and water lilies. We rented a canoe and tried to paddle around, but the wind was really stiff, and it was hard to navigate among all the plants in the lake. But it was incredibly beautiful, take a look >>>

I just love those lilies! Thanks for joining me for another Floral Friday! Becky

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tasty Thursday - Baked Macaroni and Cheese

First, before I start on this week's 'Tasty Thurday' I want to re-visit last week's recipe. I actually made the Dothan Chicken Pie last night, and made pics as I went along, and revised that post to show the step by step pics. If you want to see how it looks hot out of the oven, you can check it out HERE.

Now, on to today's recipe. One of my all time favorites, and the recipe is straight off the box, although the boxes today don't always have this recipe on them.

Muellers Baked Macaroni and Cheese

In a pot of salted water, cook 8 ounces elbow macaroni until just done.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine:

2 Tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dry ground mustard
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Stir in:
2 ½ cups cold milk

Stir until smooth.

Add 2 tablespoons margarine.

Stir constantly and bring to a boil.

Boil, stirring constantly for 1 full minute, but don’t overcook.

Remove from heat.

1 ½ cup (6 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Stir until melted and creamy.

Add cooked macaroni and stir until well coated.

Pour into buttered 2 quart casserole dish.

Top with 2 ounces (½ cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Bake uncovered for 25 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.

That's it! And don't be afraid to experiment with cheeses, either. Sometimes I add some mozzerella, sometimes whatever is in the fridge, and it always turns out great.

This is such an easy recipe, and you can even make it ahead, up to the baking point, refrigerate it, then bake it just before the meal. I've done this for holidays and it works great.

I hope you try it, and enjoy it as much as we do. Have a 'Tasty Thursday'!!! Becky

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Goodwill Store Finds

As I told you the other day, last Friday I made a trip to our local Goodwill store, and although it was covered up with shoppers (I think the economy is doing that, don't you?) I was still able to find three treasures.

First up, this adorable teacup!

Don't you love that sweet rose on the inside? This is no little dainty cup, either! It's 2" tall, 3 1/2 inches across, not including the handle. There aren't any markings on the bottom, so if you know anything about it, I'd love you to contact me!

I had bought this with the intention of using some pretty vintage chicken feed sack fabric and making a pincushion to sell, but now . . . . . .

I'm just not sure I can let this one go! The gold pattern on the outside is lovely, and there's very little wear apparent. What do you think? Make a pincushion, sell as is, or keep it?

Oh, and by the way - 55 cents for this little gem!

Next up is the vintage Fire King relish plate >>>

I've been collecting Fire King pieces that catch my eye for a number of years, and I just fell in love with this "LIKE NEW" relish tray. The gold trim (22K) is in mint condition, and there was even a part of the original sticker still on when I bought it, so it's never been used.

I have an old Gene Florence "Fire King" pricing book from about 11 years ago, and there is one like this in turquoise that was valued at $10.00 - $12.00 back then. But, sorry, this one goes in my collection for now! Oh, and by the way - $1.91 for this wonderful find!

And last up, and my very, very favorite is this plate that I'm calling a 'dresser tray' >>>

This is so beautiful! It's obviously old, and is only glazed on the top, so I'm thinking maybe it's bisque, but don't know too much about it. There are no markings on the plate. It measures almost 10" x 6.5".

The roses and lilacs are just wonderful, and lilacs are my very favorite flower of all time! I tell everyone who will listen that I think heaven will smell like Lilacs!

There are some scratches on the flowers, but no chips, cracks or such. This will eventually go on the antique dresser in my guest bedroom. It's my purple and sage 'Grandmothers' room!

This adorable piece was $1.61!!! I would love it if you can tell me anything about this piece as well!

So, that was my shopping trip to Goodwill. Maybe I'll go back before long and see what I can come up with!

Have a wonderful Wednesday! Becky

Wordless Wednesday - January 28, 2008

Wordless Wednesday Courtesy of French Lique, Texas

Theme - Garden

{Taken May 20, 2007 Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia}

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Bright Verse for a Cloudy Day!

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

J. M. Barrie

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Right Stuff!

Yesterday was errand day for me, and I started off by stopping at the local Goodwill store (I'll tell you about my finds in a later post), then went to WalMart for things like dog food, printer paper and light bulbs. Not to mention a few crafty things I needed, ummm, wanted. Then off to buy food to restock my quickly depleting pantry and fridge. And no, I rarely buy my groceries at WalMart, for several reasons, one being - they don't always have the lowest prices (gasp!).

But while I was shopping, I got to thinking about doing a post on grocery shopping, and couldn't get it off my mind during the almost sleepless night I endured last night. (Note, if I sound kind of loopy in this post it's because I finally got to sleep somewhere around 3am and woke up around 8:15am - 5 hours rarely does it for me.)

So, I guess my question for you is . . . . . "What kind of grocery shopper are you???"

These days, when food prices are skyrocketing along with the prices of everything else, and folks are losing jobs right and left, 401k's are dwindling, and we are being faced with smaller pocketbooks and larger expenses, how do you manage to feed your family???

Even when my husband and I were both working and had smaller expenses and bigger pocketbooks I usually watched what I spent on food. Of course back then we lived within 5 miles of almost any type of restaurant you could possibly want to visit, so we ate out a lot, but I also cooked a lot. I've never been one of those folks who just pushed a cart through the store, throwing random items in to the basket as they caught my fancy. Partly because when I did that I still didn't have what I needed when I got home. But mostly because of the shock I received when the cashier told me the total of my bill! YIKES!!!!!

And I've also never found it very cost effective to go to 3 different stores just to get what's on sale. By the time you factor in the gas for your car, the time it takes and the stress of going through checkout 3 times, it's just not worth it.

For the last 5+ years we've lived out in a rural area that is at least 10 miles from a decent restaurant (unless you count a Subway next to a gas station a decent restaurant!) and by the time hubby gets home from working a long hard day and then driving over an hour to get home, he doesn't want to go back out again. So I cook! And I'm not talking a frozen entree and a couple of cans of veggies. I cook! Every meal isn't a long drawn out affair, 5 courses and such, but it's usually a meat, a starch and a veggie or a couple of veggies. Sometimes it's a country meal of just veggies.

But I rarely use pre-made foods. Oh, occasionally, when they are on sale, I'll buy something to have on hand for a crazy day, but more often I'll make up dishes and freeze them and have homemade pre-made foods!

Here is my 'bakers dozen' list of tips for saving time and money on your food shopping:

  1. Find the one store that fits your pocketbook and lifestyle and shop there regularly. Kroger is MY store. I find I get more for my money there than any where else. The major players in my immediate area are Kroger, Publix, Ingles, Walmart Super and Super Target. But consistently I find I get more for my money at Kroger, so that is where I shop.
  2. If that store has a 'preferred shopper' plan with a card, USE IT! And don't give them a fake name and address like a friend of mine did - give them your correct current name and address, and in return they will send you coupons for things you actually buy! Once again, Kroger's 'Plus Card' saves me money and about 3-4 times a year I get a nice little packet of coupons for things they know I use. For example, back in November I got a packet of coupons that included one for $9 off if I spent $90 in groceries (that's 10% folks!), along with one for $1.50 off if I purchased $5 in fresh produce, and one for $1.50 off if I purchased $5 in dairy products. Oh, and $1 off of the purchase of 2 64 oz or larger Tropicana OJ, $1 off 5 Hunts canned tomatoes, etc. These are things I use regularly, and that saved me $14 on just 5 coupons! (Side note: We won't even talk about their gasoline savings of 10cents off per gallon of gas, but it's another great savings!)
  3. Shop their sales - if you don't get a sales flyer in the mail or a newspaper, get online and find their weekly special ads. Most stores have a few products that they have on a rotating sales schedule. For example, Kroger has their boneless pork loins on regular price around $4 a pound, but every month or 6 weeks they have them on sale for $1.98 a lb and they will slice them up however you want them. I buy 2 or 3 of them at a time, have them cut into either chops or small roasts just right for the two of us, take them home and seal them in meal-sized packages with my food saver and have them on hand all the time. I usually end up spending less than $2 per meal (meat only) for the two of us that way.
  4. Check their website for coupons that can be loaded directly to your preferred shopper card. Kroger has 'Shortcuts' program, and usually the coupons are for products they have on sale already.
  5. Find 'alternatives' to a grocery store. I'm very fortunate to live in an area where poultry is big business. Right in downtown there is a Tyson chicken plant, and they have a 'company store' where you can buy a limited line of chicken products. The best - 20 pounds of boneless skinless breasts, flash frozen individually and packed in 4 bags of 5 pounds each, for market price. Last time I got 20 pounds for $28, which is $1.40 a pound. Show me a grocery store where you can find that kind of deal, please! Also, a local butcher shop has the BEST ground chuck, ground fresh daily on the premises, and usually for much less per pound than at the big box grocery stores. It's literally on my way home from the grocery store, so when I need ground beef I stop in, buy 10 pounds, take it home and divide it up in 1 and 1 1/2 pound sections (because that's what works for me), seal it up in food saver bags and freeze it. I end up spending less that $2 a meal for ground chuck on average.
  6. Clip coupons for things you actually use. All those other things, either trash them or share them with a friend. Buying something just because there's a coupon just isn't pocketbook friendly! This can include coupons in the paper and online. If you aren't a 'brand name' person, and buy whatever is on sale or you have a coupon for, that's fine, but don't go and buy something that you don't already use just because you have a coupon.
  7. Don't buy personal care products, household cleaners, laundry detergents, pet foods, etc. at a grocery store! You are almost always going to spend more for them than you would at a discount (Family $, Dollar General, Walmart, etc.) or wholesale club store (Sams, BJ's, Costco, etc.). and that leads me to . . .
  8. PLAN AHEAD!!! I shop at my local BJ's wholesale store and buy enough laundry detergent, fabric softener, bleach, dish detergent, paper towels, tissue paper, etc. to do for at least 3-4 months at one time. I've found this saves me time and money in the long run, and we have shelves in our garage to hold it all comfortably.
  9. Make a list!!! Keep up with the things as you use them, and if you are running low on something, add it to the list. When I go through the sales papers I have my list in hand. Anything that's on sale that I use anyway, I usually add it to the list, too. If you know there's something you want to make for dinner next week, make sure you have everything you need and if you don't , add it to the list. Take the list to the store with you and check things off as you put them in your cart.
  10. Have a budget amount in mind! My husband manages our money, and I gladly let him! But when it comes time for grocery shopping, we discuss our financial situation and agree on an amount that works for that point in time. I have a trusty clipboard that I take to the store with me, with my list, coupons and an ink pen attached. As I put things in the cart, EVERY ITEM's price is written down on that paper and every so often I sub-total it so I have an idea how much I'm spending. Doing that REALLY makes me think about emotional purchases and choosing between things I need and things I want. I normally do a big shopping trip about once a month, and 1-3 smaller trips throughout the month for things like milk, oj, etc. Usually those smaller trips are done by hubby on his way home from work or on a Saturday afternoon.
  11. Don't be afraid to use store brands! This is a biggie for me! As a loyal Kroger shopper, I've tried many of their store brands, and rarely find them inferior to major brands, and often find them superior! I'll share a bit more about that in a minute. But if you want to try a store brand, just buy one or two of the store brand and see if you like it before you stock up - I think you will be pleasantly surprised!
  12. Plan your meals ahead of time! Once every week or two, sit down, look at your family's schedule and plan meals accordingly. At least write down the main dish you will serve so you'll know ahead what you need to buy or take out of the freezer.
  13. Buy in bulk as much as is appropriate for you and your family. A single person in a one bedroom apartment doesn't NEED a 36 roll package of tp, but if you drink a lot of bottled water, and you have room to store a 36 pack, go for it! The per bottle price will be much lower. If you have a family and cook a lot, and buy in bulk, invest in a vacuum sealing machine. I don't know what I would do without my food saver! Yes, the bags are expensive, but I always re-use them at least 2-3 times, so over time it's really not as expensive as you think.

These are my tips - tried and true for me - to shopping wisely. And they work for me. Every 'primary shopper' and 'primary cook' (usually the same person!) needs to look at their cooking habits, their shopping habits and come up with their own shopping guidelines that work for them. I'm not an expert on America's shopping habits, but I am an expert on MY shopping habits, just as you are an expert on yours!

Before I go, I wanted to share one thing about using store brand products. I find I save a of money by using store brands, but I only buy them if they are equal to, or better than the brand names we like.

One example, saltine crackers. I grew up eating saltines and loved them, always using the same brand - Nabisco's Premium Saltines. As I got into adulthood I found I just didn't like them any more, mainly because the aforementioned brand tasted flat and were gummy, almost like they were under-done or something. Now I buy Kroger's red box 'Thin and Crispy' crackers, and we LOVE them! They taste great, and the best part? They are about 1/3 to 1/2 (depending on sales) the price of the name brand. You can usually get them for somewhere between 99 cents and $1.30 a box, compared to well over $2 for the name brand.

Another of the Kroger brand I use is their cheddar cheese. Once again, I PREFER it to the brand I insisted on using for years - Kraft! The cheese has a better texture and better flavor. I buy the bricks on sale and keep them in my fridge until I need them, and I rarely buy pre-shredded cheese! For one thing it's usually more expensive, AND it's coated with something to make it dry out so it won't stick together, which I don't care for personally. Besides, it only takes a minute to shred up an 8 ounce bar of cheese! Yesterday when I went shopping, Kroger's 8 ounce bars of cheese were 3 for $5, or $1.66 each. I bought three, and they will keep in the fridge for ages and ages, much longer than they will actually last! Sometimes I'll buy a bar of mozzerella or swiss to use in recipes. I use what I need, keeping the leftovers in the original packaging, but sealing up in a foodsaver bag. Once again, the leftovers will 'keep' much longer than they will actually 'last'!

How about peanut butter? For many years, Jif was the only brand I would buy. A few weeks ago I broke down and bought a small container of the Kroger brand, and do you know what? It was just as good as Jif, and much less expensive! Yesterday I bought an 18 ounce container of the Kroger brand for $1.41 on sale. Jif was on sale for $2.49 for the same size. That gave me another $ for buying something else that I needed, and I did!

And one last item - canned tomatoes! I use a lot of the 'petite diced' canned tomatoes. This time of year I make a lot of chili and soups, in summer I make salsas and pastas using the same tomatoes. Yesterday Hunts petite diced tomatoes were on sale for 92 cents per can. Kroger brand petite diced tomatoes (same size can) were on sale for 50 cents per can. I bought 6 cans (42c x 6 = $2.52 cents), and I was able to spend that $2.50 on something else I needed, and still stay in my budget.

Now, I don't JUST buy store brands. I find Kroger's brand of breads are inferior (both fresh bakery and pre-packaged) so I bought a loaf of my favorite (Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White) which was on sale for buy one get one free. I bought one loaf for half price. I also bought a brand name of OJ (Florida's Natural, my 2nd choice) because it was on sale and it is better than the Kroger brand. We prefer Tropicana Pure Premium, but their prices have skyrocketed and they are rarely on sale for a decent price. But you should get the idea by now that I actually think about my choices.

I came home with about $115 worth of groceries (based on store brand vs name brand plus coupons plus store sales) for less than $85. And I felt very, very good - like a smart shopper, a good wife, and all because I spent a little extra time planning for my shopping trip, actually gave thought to what I was buying and why, and tried to shop wisely.

I sure hope I haven't sounded preachy today, but this has been on my mind a lot lately. And I thought that maybe someone could benefit from my years of experience at something that I really do know something about. I'd love to hear from you about how you shop. After all, we are all in this economy together, and this blogging community brings us even closer together, and through our blogs, we should be able to help one another any way we can.

Blessings friends, and happy shopping! Becky

Friday, January 23, 2009

Floral Friday - The Park

Welcome to Floral Friday.

In May of 2007 my husband and I had a wonderful opportunity. We took an Alaskan cruise, and we had a wonderful time - after the first 20 hours or so! The cruise departed from Vancouver, British Columbia on a Saturday, so my husband took an early day off work on Friday so we could fly out on Friday afternoon.

At the airport everything went smoothly and we were put on the plane on time, only to be told the plane had a flat, and they were going to change the tire, but there was a thunderstorm comiing through and they couldn't change the flat until the storm passed. Okay. So we sat there, and sat there, and sat there some more. Watched the storm go by. Sat there some more. At last they got the tire fixed and cleared us for take off.

Because we were taking an afternoon flight, and because we left so late, we got into Minneapolis late. Did I mention this wasn't a direct flight? Oh, no! We had to change planes in Minneapolis to go on to Vancouver. They asked everyone who was staying in MN to let those of us who had connections off first. We told them what flight we needed to make, and they put us on one of those carts and just FLEW us through the airport. We were seated on the very back, a reverse-facing seat, and holding on for dear life! It was actually kind of fun!

We got to the gate and they were literally closing up the gate. I ran up and yelled "Stop that plane - we need to get on it!" (Honestly, that's what I said!) So they guy looked up at me with an 'it's almost midnight and you said what???' kind of look. But they checked the tickets and sure 'nuff we were supposed to be on that plane, and they let us on.

The flight to Vancouver was uneventful, but when we got down to baggage claim - you guessed it, NOTHING! Our luggage hadn't made the connection. I had my laptop bag and that had my books and jewelery and laptop in it - nothing else. We filed a claim and took a taxi to the hotel we had reserved. It was about 2 am by the time we got there, and we tried to get a little sleep, but neither of us got much that night.

That next morning we had some time before we had to head for the ship, so hubby decided to go out and walk around the area for a while. I stayed inside to listen for news from the airport rep. We had talked about it and prayed aobut it, and decided we weren't going to let having no luggage ruin our trip, so at the very worst we'd wait until we got to Ketchikan (our first stop) where we knew they had a WalMart and go shopping there.

In a while hubby came inside and said "There's a park right there behind the hotel, and you've got to go see it - it's gorgeous!" So I put on my clothes, grabbed the cell phone and we went to the park. And he was right! It was early spring in that area, and the azaleas, rhododendron, forget me nots and all kinds of things were in full bloom.

(The view of our hotel room from the park!)

Walking through that park was just what we needed. Fresh air, God's beautiful creation, baby ducks and baby geese and the sound of water trickling over the waterfall. It was gorgeous. And it was literally right behind our hotel room.

The lady from the airline called. They hadn't found anything, but if it came in they would just put it on the truck to the ship if that was okay with us. It was, and we got ready and took a taxi to the ship. That taxi ride was another story altogether!

Anyway, we made it to the ship, found our cabin (thanks to a WONDERFUL sale we had a balcony!) and walked around the ship, had lunch and relaxed. Still no luggage! Eventually we heard something outside and opened the door to find one bag. Hubby's clothes.

A little while later I decided to go look around and see if one of our bags might be at the wrong place. Just as I opened the door, a man was about to knock on it from the other side. He thought our bag was at his room, directly across the ship. It was ours! Our shoes, coats and sweaters.

We decided if I needed clothes we could get them at WalMart, and started getting ready for the lifeboat drill. Literally, 30 seconds before they sounded the alert for the lifeboat drill, we heard a sound outside, and there - magically - was the last bag. We had all our clothes, praise the Lord! God does answer prayers, you know!

And we had a wonderful time on our cruise, and the couple of days afterward that we spent on Vancouver Island exploring.

The pictures you've seen throughout this post are from that park. I'll always remember it fondly, and always look back on the magical peace walking through the park gave us as we waited to hear about our luggage.

This was an incredible trip of the kind we rarely take. We are campers. We have a camper, and 95% (at least) of our travel is done in our truck with the camper hooked behind it, and the 'girls' rolled up in their blankets in the back seat. That makes the magical times we had even more special.
I sure hope you've enjoyed Floral Friday, and my tour of Minrou Park! Blessings Friends, have a great weekend! Becky

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tasty Thursday - Dothan Chicken Pie

Hello Everyone! Hope your Thursday is really tasty! Mine, I am afraid, probably won't be as I have to go pick up my parents and take them to a new doctor for a visit. When my dad's last blood tests came back they indicated some kidney problems, so we'll be going to see a kidney specialist today.

BUT! I'm still going to share a tasty recipe with you anyway! This recipe, I call Dothan Chicken Pie because my friend Fay made it for me once when I went to visit her, and on that same trip I found a local cookbook that had several variations of the same pie. Never content to leave well enough alone, I tweaked it a bit (added veggies and a few more seasonings) and now think it's just right! By the way, when I have a recipe I make a lot, I tend to write it in order of the steps involved. This makes it easier for me at the time I'm cooking it. You'll see that in a lot of the recipes I'll be sharing here.

Here's the recipe >>>

Dothan Chicken Pie

~~~Do ahead:

Cook and pull chicken breasts to make 3 cups of meat.

Reserve broth from cooking chicken.

Boil 2-3 eggs to hard boiled stage.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

~~~When you are ready to bake it:

Mix 1 can cream of chicken soup and 2 cups chicken broth. I usually use an immersion blender to make sure it's really mixed well.

In large casserole dish (9 x 13 pyrex works great) layer chicken.

Top with mixed soup and broth.

Season to taste with salt and pepper = this time I used Natures Seasons, Italian herbs and red pepper flakes (and any other seasonings you wish to use).

Drain 1 can of mixed veggies and sprinkle over chicken.

Chop or slice eggs and layer over veggies.

Mix 2 sticks melted margarine, 2 cups milk and 2 cups self rising flour until there are no lumps, and pour over other ingredients.

Bake for 1 hour or until bubbly and golden

This is so very easy, and I've taken it to familes who had just lost a loved one, to my aunt and uncle who were moving, and other occasions, as well as just making it for us to eat, and everyone loves it! Since it's just the two of us, I usually put it in two dollar store (throw away) aluminum cake pans and bake both, then freeze one of them for later.

I hope you try this recipe, and really hope you enjoy it. Let me know how you liked it! Blessings friends! Becky