Friday, August 31, 2012

Fall Bucket List 2012

I didn't get half as much done this summer as I wanted to - marked off only 31 of the 51 things on my Summer Bucket List - but here's another season and another chance to make every day count! :)

1. Make molasses cookies and take some to Professor Maloney
2. Get a fall drink at Starbucks
3. Buy new bubble bath (hot baths are one of the best things about the cold seasons!)
4. Order prints of favorite summer photos
5. Write a letter by hand
6. Start early Christmas shopping
7. Take a road trip
8. Go to the fair
9. Crochet something
10. Have a "movie theater night" with the kids
11. Make pinecone bird feeders with Abby
12. Bake soft pretzels
13. Clean out closet and start a "wish list" for spring/winter
14. Start a recipe book
15. Find a new recipe for the crockpot
16. Do a pumpkin craft
17. Host a fall craft party
18. Go on a walk/hike to see the fall leaves
19. Visit the corn maze
20. Read a new book
21. Carve/decorate a pumpkin
22. Make hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks
23. Go to a bonfire
24. Buy a new sweater
25. Learn a new skill
26. Buy a new pair of socks
27. Pull out fall bedding and buy new sheets or pillowcases for fall
28. Go star or moongazing
29. Sleep with the windows open
30. Make a leaf craft
31. Make jam, jelly, or preserves
32. Go to a craft show/fair
33. Go to First Friday
34. Make treats to send with Abby to school
35. Go to a farm
36. Decorate for Fall
37. Go to a sporting event (soccer game!)
38. Burn a "Autumn Mix" CD
39. Snuggle with someone :)
40. Have a Fall photo shoot
41. Plan out Rebekah, Khy, and Joe's visit (in January)
42. Write something
43. Buy a new pair of boots
44. Curl up on a cold/rainy day and watch Bones
45. Eat some honeycrisp apples
46. Make chili and cornbread

I'll probably be adding some things along the way, but this is the start. :) As always, I can't wait to see what's on your bucket list! What do you love doing as the seasons change?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday

I have a confession to make: we had company twice this week, and I was responsible for both nights, so I totally made Crockpot French Dip Sandwiches again. I am in love with this recipe - I totally was running late, didn't have time to sear the roast or deglaze the pan or anything, and basically threw all the ingredients in the crockpot together for about four hours. It still came out perfectly - I could tell the difference, but it still made a very company worthy dinner.

So I had all this lovely au jus left over, and I figured I'd take the leftover meat, add it to the broth, add some veggies and top with mashed potatoes, and call it a day. Unfortunately, my family ravaged the roast, and I barely had any meat left (lol!). So I altered my idea a little bit.

This isn't really a recipe, since I wasn't taking measurements, but it should give you a pretty good idea of what I did.

Pour the au jus and any leftover shredded meat and onions into the crockpot. I didn't really have any leftover meat, so I added 2 pounds of ground beef. I added one big bag of "soup veggie" mix (peas, diced carrots, and corn) and a good sprinkling of Trader Joe's "21 Seasoning Salute", turned it on low, and left.

When I got home, I poured out all the broth and juices from the crockpot, thickened them with cornstarch, and poured the resulting gravy back over the meat/veggie mixture. I mixed up a batch of mashed potatoes (instant... :( real would have been SO much better) and spread it over the top.

When you scoop the pie out onto a plate, the veggie and meat mixture ends up on top of the mashed potatoes, all covered in a nice gravy. :) Not the most visually stunning meal, but yummy and filling and easy.

Next week I'll be making chili and cornbread (or possibly corn fritters - I haven't decided yet)!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Saving Money Online

Anyone else fascinated by the show Extreme Couponing? I have to admit, I kind of have mixed feelings about it. I completely admire the people who spend some time to provide for their families in a way they wouldn't be able to otherwise - especially the ladies who "make up" their income so they can stay at home with their kids - but some of those people make me sad, cuz they seem so motivated by fear. :( This isn't really what this post is about, though, lol, so I'll get off my soapbox.

I'm a "sale queen." When my dad wants something, he usually tells me, and I can usually find it for him at 50-75% off. While I'm not usually a couponer (I can't seem to find coupons for products I use, in amounts that I could consume in my lifetime lol), I am a huge sales freak, and I want what I want for less. :)

Disclaimer: I'm not someone who never pays full price for anything - if it's important enough, or if I'm in a pinch, I will sometimes buy something right off the shelf.

Here are some of my favorite places/ways to scoop up bargains when I'm shopping online.

What it is: For anything electronic - laptops, mp3 players, cameras, etc - I almost always turn to 1saleaday. The trick here is to start looking long before you need something, and to check every day; they tend to sell things in cycles (in other words, if you pass up or miss a laptop sale, you might have to wait 6 weeks - 3 months before they come around again). Things are marked anywhere from 25-80% off, depending on the item. Each day they offer one sale in five categories: "main," wireless, family, watch, and jewelery. They also offer "flash" sales that you have to register to access, but registration is free and easy and this is where the really hot deals - tablets, higher end electronics, laptops, computers, etc - show up.
My own experience: I think I'm up to three digital cameras bought through 1sale, as well as my Asus Transformer tablet, and too much various stuff - skins for electronics, accessories, etc - to count. The prices are amazing, shipping is minimal, and I've never had any issues with them. My dad and best friend are also fans, and we've all been very pleased. :)
What is it: Ebates is an online cash-back rebate company. It seems so simple that I was distrustful of it for a long time, until a trusted blogger shared how she used it frequently, and now I'm a complete fan. Not only do you get cash back without needing to use a special credit card or toolbar, but it also offers coupon codes, free shipping codes, etc. Here's the deal: you sign up through When you want to buy something online, you go to first, sign in, search for your retailer (let's say "walmart") and any coupon codes you might want, and click on the link to be redirected to the retailer site. Your purchases are automatically logged, and every three months they send you a check for the rebate amount (usually 2-5 percent, but occasionally as high as 10). Cash check. That's it. :) (A really good in-depth review can be found here)
My own experience: I signed up in... 2009? And have made $22.78 per year in cash back rebates, and saved countless dollars through coupon codes. When you consider that I make only a few online purchases a year, this is well worth the few extra seconds that is takes. I've used this for plane tickets, Wal-Mart purchases, clothing, hotel rooms, etc, all using my favorite retailers (Orbitz, WM, Avenue, Lands End, etc). Although I don't always remember to check this site before buying, I find it's always worth my time when I do!

First, some guidelines:
The best way to buy online (at least that I've found) is to buy from retailers that you're already familiar with. Especially when purchasing clothes, you want to be familiar enough with the brand to be fairly confident in your sizing and quality- does it run small, large? Is the quality hit or miss (if so, be doubly sure to check out material descriptions and/or reviews)? This will save money in returns and exchanges!
Also on that note: make sure you read the return policy carefully. Often you can return things you purchased online to a brick-and-mortar store with no problems. I've done this before if I wanted something that the store either didn't carry, or didn't have in my size/color.
Another note: if you find something in a store that you love, but it isn't in your size, color, etc, ask a store employee if they offer free in-store shipping. You'd be amazed at how often they do!
Look closely at the details; use the pictures wisely. If the neckline/waist seems to gap on the model, chances are it won't treat you any better. :)
Finally, read reviews, both on the retailer site and on any other blogs, columns, etc you may find. I find this especially helpful on sites like Old Navy, whose clothing size and quality is all over the board. If something runs large, is much more sheer than shown, or otherwise abberant, reviewers are usually quick to point this out! And write a review, either positive or negative, when you've received your item. :)
What it is: If Ebates is easy to use, RMN is even easier. Visit the site, type in the name of the retailer, and scroll down a list of discount codes for everything from free shipping (sometimes with minimum orders, often not), percent off, BOGO, etc. Find whichever one works best for you, copy, and use it at checkout. Save. :)
My own experience: I have to admit, when I first heard about RMN, I was super excited... until I tried it. It seemed like I could never find codes that were relevant to me - either the minimum orders were $100 (and mine are usually under $50), offered minimal savings (10%? Really?), or were for retailers I never used. In the past year or two, however, either RMN or I have completely changed. Off the top of my head, I can think of two times I've used in the last few months, and I've saved a total of $40, and spent less than $100. RMN is especially great for free shipping codes, which I LOVE - I HATE paying for shipping! - but also offers some amazing savings codes.

Retailer emails
What is it: Most retailers will take your email address and send you emails if you let them. What's in these emails can range from the ridiculous (Catos comes to mind - they frequently send out emails that basically boil down to "check out knit tops in our store") from the immensely helpful (Kohls, for instance, who sends me more coupons that I know what to do with!). If you love a particular retailer, see if you can sign up for their email list. Often you will get a coupon or sale code just for signing up, and if they're worth their salt, you will get weekly or daily coupons to use either in store or online.
My own experience: Today I received a 15% off offer from Kohls, a $5 T-shirt offer from Old Navy, a "free shipping on all dresses" code from Lands End, and an email listing fare sales from D.C. from Expedia. While I won't be using any of them today, I'll definitely be checking out dresses at Lands End over the weekend, and this summer I booked a hotel room using a sale email from Expedia. The trick is to use these offers to buy what you already need. :) Don't be tricked into buying something just because it's on sale!

Buy used with Amazon
What it is: Amazon is my go-to site for used books, DVD's, or CD's. And, to be honest, also pretty much anything else. :) The great thing about the Amazon "used" marketplace is that a lot of "used" things are still factory packages, sealed, etc, so it makes gift-giving a lot less expensive!
My own experience: Looking through my past purchases, I've bought a statuette (still sealed, about 30% off), an herb drying rack (still in plastic, about 25% off), a season of Star Trek (mint condition, about 50% off), and too many books and CD's for myself to name. Around Christmastime, I hit Amazon hard and fast. :)
Books are especially cheap on Amazon. Often you can find an excellent-condition "used" book for literally a few cents, so all you're paying is really shipping (which is usually minimal).
What is it: PBS is a free book-swapping service (hardbacks and audio books are also accepted, despite the name lol). You register, and post a list of books that you're willing to give away. Someone else wants your book, and you send it to them, paying shipping, which is usually around $2.50. Once they receive the book, you get a "credit" for it, which you can redeem for another book (one credit=one book).
My own experience: I just discovered PBS this year and I've fallen in love. Not only has it allowed me to "cash in" a pile of unwanted books, but I've used it to fill in a series I was reading and I still have plenty of credits left over. I don't mind paying the minimal shipping to have access to so many books for "free." Tip: Use wishlist, and turn it on to automatically request books on your list as soon as they become available.
PBS also has two sister sites, and While I haven't used them myself, only because I really only buy DVD's and CD's if I really like them, and thus don't really get rid of them, lol, if you have extra multimedia it could be well worth your while to trade them in!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


- I now have two chickens laying dependably every day, plus one chicken laying sporadically. I'm guessing that the two dependable layers are my two Golden Comets, as the eggs are smaller and roughly the same size, and the sporadic layer is my New Hampshire Red, as the egg is much lighter in color and HUGE. I actually felt sorry for whatever chicken laid it when I found it, because that was a jumbo egg if ever I saw one, lol.

~ Chicken coop is finished carpentry wise - big shout out to my dad, who gave me a hand installing hardware on Saturday! - and looks adorable. Maybe even cuter than I originally envisioned? But it still needs painting. I spent $20 at WalMart buying paint that wasn't even the colors I originally wanted (French Cream and Ivy Green), and then I came home and none of the paint worked. *sigh* I ended up buying two "testers" of higher-quality paint at Lowes for under $6 - yes, I'm kicking myself - and they covered beautifully (although the green still isn't exactly what I was envisioning, and I can't promise that it won't get repainted sometime in the future.

~ My goal is to get the rest of the painting done this evening so that it can by dry and ready to be moved into the bigger dog run on Friday. The hens are ready for bigger digs, and I'm terrified of letting them free range (I love them and would be devastated if something got one of them!) so they need a bigger run. This one I'm putting them in is more than twice as big as the one they're in now - I can actually stand upright in it! Which will be amazing lol - and has room for the coop. Exciting.

- Here's a cool fact about eggs: Did you know you should try to avoid wet-washing your eggs? It actually INCREASES the bacteria content of your egg because it opens the pores (yes, eggs have pores) and causes them to draw IN bacteria. Plus, eggs have a natural, God-given coating called a "bloom" that is actually antibacterial! I found this pretty cool. :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesdays

Around here, Wednesdays are my night to cook (mostly cuz all the other cooks in the family are either gone all day or insanely busy!). I love to cook, and I love having a regular night to do it in, but because I'm gone all day at work, and lately I've just had a hard time coping with everything, I've been leaning pretty heavily on the crockpot, with some successes (stewed chickpeas, stuffed peppers, and pot roast), and some failures (last week's spaghetti and meatballs).

I realized recently that I'm really not good about keeping track of recipes, so instead of trying to remember which blog/magazine/etc I found a recipe at, I'm just gonna post an update after each meal. :)

Tonight's success: Crockpot French Dip Sandwiches, courtesy of the blog Simply Scratch (which I've become ridiculously addicted to!)

You can view the original recipe through the link above, but here my own alterations/additions:
  • This isn't an alteration/addition, but just a note: DO take the time to sear the sides of this roast before putting it in the crockpot. It so makes all the difference.
  • I diced my garlic instead of smashing it (so that I didn't have to remove it later)
  • We didn't have any wine OR beer on hand :( - plus, some members of my family have been reacting weirdly to different foods lately, so they requested that I hold off on adding alcohol until they eliminated it as a "problem" food (which was easy since, you know, we didn't actually have any...). I replaced the red wine with beef broth and simply didn't add the beer or the water, and it turned out fine, with a perfect amount of liquid (although if I made it again, I think I'd go ahead and add extra broth so that I could use the leftovers to make stew).
  • I subbed worchestershire sauce in for the soy sauce because I thought the slight sweetness of the w. sauce would make up a bit for the lack of wine. Next time I think I'll add both (it was definitely none too salty)
  • I subbed in gel/liquid beef stock concentrate instead of granules.
  • I cooked it on high for 2-3 hours, then finished it on low for an additional 2-3 hours.
Verdict: Amazing! I served it with crusty ciabatta rolls, sprinkled with olive oil and lightly toasted (gluten free rolls for my GF family members), and had horseradish, mayo, and chips available. We ate up all but one bowlful of the meat/sauce, which dashed my hopes of making a stew for next week, but also confirmed that we will be having this again. :)

Go ahead, go make some! I promise, you'll make your family very, very happy. :)

Monday, August 13, 2012


I wanted laying hens.

They grew some.
Became outdoor animals (lol).
Went through a scrawny phase.
We had setbacks, but overcame.

This weekend, we hit another big milestone. :)


Friday, August 3, 2012

Addicted vs. OVER!

Addicted to:

~ The new fro-yo shop in town. My fav combination so far is peanut butter tart with brownie bits and caramel syrup. So not good for you... hoping this addiction passes by quickly!!! (But I just discovered that their sorbet is dairy-free, which means that I can take Maggie with me, so... yeah, prolly not.)
~ The new Progressive commercial with Flo and a badger who is stuck in some lady's attic. I've googled and googled hoping that it was on youtube but I can't find it. If you've heard it on the radio, you know why it cracks me up each time I hear it. :)
~ Back to school plans. I'm so ready for fall...
~ Liam Neeson. My uncle taped Taken for me and it totally reminded me of how obsessed I am with Niam Leeson. I have a complete crush on him. (And the thought of Taken 2? Be still, my heart...)


~ The heat. Please. When 87 degrees feels like a cold snap, it's totally time for summer to be over.
~ Warehouse 13. I liked this show when it first came out, but I haven't kept up with it (though I did see Eddie McClintock IN PERSON at Shore Leave last year), and last week when I watched the marathon on Scyfy it just fell flat for me. No chemistry. :(
~ Boxes. If I have to unpack another box, I'll scream. Which seems inevitable since I do, in fact, have more boxes to unpack. *sigh*

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Not Chos

On Sunday my family was on the way home from a weekend in Pennsylvania, and I knew they'd be hungry when they came home, so I went into the pantry to find something I could throw together in the crockpot. I had no ideas when I walked in, but the first three cans I touched were black beans, enchilada sauce, and chilis, so Mexican food it was! :)

This was a complete hope-and-a-prayer meal, but it turned out so well that I made sure I wrote down the recipe! We ended up jokingly calling it "Not-Chos" because they ended up being sort of like nachos... but not really. :)

Not Chos

2 lbs ground beef
1 can black olives
1 can fire-roasted chilis
2 cans black beans
2 cans enchilada sauce
1/4 cup fajita seasoning (adjust to taste)
1 orange and 1 yellow sweet pepper, diced

Throw everything in the crockpot and cook on high for 4-5 hours (I put the ground beef in frozen, so it took closer to 5 hours, but if the meat was thawed, it would take much less time).

It looks somewhat greasy but in reality it's almost all juice from the chilis, and sauce.

 I served it with jarred salsa (no tomatoes, or else I would have made homemade pico de gallo), chopped cilantro, lime wedges...

 ...and homemade corn and flour tortilla chips.

Yummy! Super easy, too, so I'm sure I'll be making this again in the future.