Tuesday, February 10, 2015
I hate giving my kids candy for things like Valentines, Easter, Christmas stockings - you name it. Candy means fights. Candy means begging. Candy means messes and junk and not eating actual food. I'm not crazy over sugar, chicken nuggets or junk in general. I just always feel bad giving them an amazing stock of candy just to tell them no constantly because they don't understand why they can't eat it all. It just doesn't feel fair to me. Also candy x3 kids means candy in my face ALL THE TIME. Temptation at it's finest.
Long ago when SK was still our only baby I decided instead of candy gifts I would get them something they could use. I am not talking about making these smaller-ish holidays rival Christmas by any means. When Matt and I talked, we decided to get them something they needed/could really use but that they would think was fun.
I came up with the idea of graphic tshirts. Seems simple but my kids love character and funny tshirts. I loved the idea of getting them something that they can wear and wear again. Yes buying tshirts is SLIGHTLY more expensive than candy or something else for each kid, however it isn't buying them junk and it's more useful. Old Navy has cute shirts that are not expensive at all. I had a $20 reward coupon from my Gap card so I literally didn't spend any money at all. .83 cents out of my pocket so that's easy!
A little on what I chose: SK - the bulldog shirt is because we are all RIDICULOUSLY obsessed with my mom's bulldog Maxine. Anything bulldog is a yes in our books. For H - a cat shirt. She LOVES cat shirts. I love cat shirts. Cats with a mustache, cats wearing glasses, grumpy cats, Hello kitty, anything cat. So a bunch of little confetti cats making a heart - yes please. And for W - Minions. We love them. Period.
Posted by A Houser at 9:27 PM
Monday, February 9, 2015
The start of a new year brings inspiration, desire to change, and just a fresh breath of air to look at our lives and see what we can/need to work on. For Matt and I, as a couple, it was our budgeting or lack there of. For me personally, it was meal planning.
Back what seems like forever ago....I meal planned like a champ. I even wrote about my month of meals here for anyone that's interested. I did this for a while and LOVED it. Like any good thing that is working fabulously for me, I fell out of the habit. When I fall out of a habit I fall directly into the drive thru line at Chic Fil A (I love them with my whole heart).
So here is what my fridge looks like and a little explanation for all the magnetic clips and what that junk is for!
I knew I needed to get myself in gear. I have started meal planning a little different lately and so far it's been working better than ever. We are using a modified envelope budgeting based on Jordan's method at funcheaporfree.com. Instead of weekly budgeting as she does Matt and I broke our budget up into what we call "cycles." We get paid once a month so doing 10 day cycles was easier for us to keep up with. We simply divided our montly allotment for groceries by 3. That does create an odd amount but that doesn't bother me. One other thing.... doing 10 day cycles means that I don't just grocery shop on the weekend. Our cycles end at various times. The new upcoming cycle that I just planned for starts on Wed. That might stress some out but honestly it has worked well for me. It gives me a little added pressure during the week but I don't have to spend my weekend shopping and prepping etc.
That works out well for me because my kids go to Awana at my mother in laws church on Wed night so I'm free. I sit down with my recipe box. Sometimes when I see a recipe that seems easy, few ingredients that I want to try I'll jot it down on a card and drop it in my box. I sift through my box for whatever looks good and for inspiration. I ask Matt what days he has to supervise ballgames, and jot down any other events going on that would redirect supper whether it is our monthly supper club with friends, late meetings, ballgames, birthday parties, anything where I won't be cooking. I then write down the days on a white notebook with the dates including the schedule in a different color.
On nights that Matt works late I will make sure not to make his favorite thing that he will miss. If he thinks he will eat when he gets home I'll make something that reheats well or is simple (I won't make pancakes because that's not great leftover). I then ask Matt for any special requests and sit down and write out what I want to make. I will take into account anything needing to be used in my freezer or ingredients needed to be used in my fridge. After jotting down the menu I make my shopping list based on the recipes and what I will need.
So here is a picture of my 10 day calendar sketched out. I quickly jot down what all we have.
One random tip for meal planning is make it easy!!!!
When I buy ground beef I try and buy extra or in bulk. I then brown it when I'm cooking supper one night and then divide it into amounts used in most of my recipes and freeze in a freezer bag. This makes any meal that requires ground beef SUPER easy. After church this week I had planned on making taco salad. When we come in from church everyone is already starving so I didn't want to spend a ton of time prepping and cooking lunch. Before we left I took out a frozen bag of pre-browned ground beef, water and my packets of taco seasoning and put them in my croc pot. I keep my croc pot on my counter since I use it almost daily. I turned it on and by the time we got back from church my meat had thawed, was warm and had been simmering in the seasoning. All I had to do when we got home was cut up a tomato and get out the things we eat on our taco salad. Easy peasy!
I shop at Aldi. My list is arranged based on how the store is laid out. Aldi is a little difficult when you initially start shopping there, but as soon as I learned what they had, and where it was in the store I was in love. You do have to bring a quarter for your cart and then bag your own groceries, however it's worth it. I can buy twice the groceries at Aldi than I can anywhere else. I don't feel like I am accepting sub par groceries either. I love all their stuff.
Cereal for under $2 a box REGULAR price that tastes the EXACT same as name brand? Yes please. If you have seen the Houser's cereal stash you would understand that this alone is worth the Aldi trip for us.
When I initially sit down and meal plan I will pull the recipe cards that I need for the week and clip them on my fridge. This keeps everything at my fingertips and helps me not to be digging through things later in the week when I'm trying to remember how to make something or what the exact measurements for something are.
Back a while ago I ordered this cute magnetic shopping list. I originally intended to use it for meal planning but there just wasn't enough space for me to write what I need. Using the plain white notepad with no lines that I got at Walmart for SUPA CHEAP is my jam. I didn't want to waste this cutie though so I use it to record things that I am totally out of during the week.
I am absolutely notorious for getting ONLY what's on my shopping list. I will know full well that we are out of an absolute essential (read hazelnut creamer and K cups) and walk right past them because I am laser focused on the list.
I am also horrible about forgetting that we pack kid lunches every day. Not sure how I forget but I do. I will be so focused on supper stuff that I won't add bread, peanut butter, yogurt, etc. to the list and come home happy only to realize I have NOTHING to make a kid lunch with. So this helps me to record those things. When I sit down to draft my final list (and put it in store order) I will just quickly copy things from this list onto my actual full shopping list.
I am 100 percent certain there are more efficient ways to meal plan. This is just how I do things. I have utilized numerous different methods but I think this works best for me right now. I keep everything at my finger tips on the fridge which is right where I am cooking. If I need to add something to my list or refer to the recipe it's right there. I do keep a chalk board on my wall in the kitchen with a menu on it as well. It's mainly for looks and my kids read it to see what's for supper. If you want to stress them out - don't follow the menu and adjust for whatever reason. They can't deal. If it's written on the chalk board, buddy it better be on the table that night! Ha.
I hope this helps you like it has me! I will be also updating soon with a follow up post to this about freezer meals, what I love, what I hate and how to make it work without being a crazy person who spends their entire Saturday cooking freezer meals. (I might just name the post that!)
Happy Monday y'all.
Posted by A Houser at 4:00 PM
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
I have gotten TONS of questions regarding my laundry soap after I recently posted a picture on Instagram. I was making a new batch to gift at Christmas and decided to document my products and the process via pictures. I quickly took these on my phone with the help of some cute assistants. I will say a few things. I adore this laundry soap. It's my favorite. It's also so stinkin easy that it's ridiculous. I made this while my kids were eating supper at the table. It only takes 10 min to make an entire batch that will last for MONTHS! The longest part of my process was filling small jars and making the tags cute! That took 3x as long as making the soap! Anyway enough yammering on.....
I get my recipe from http://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/2012/08/make-a-years-worth-of-laundry-soap.html
You can alter this in numerous ways. I use the Gain crystals. I have used Purex in the past but for me, it is simply, I like the smell of Gain the best. I have a friend who uses organic soap from the health food store and essential oils in place of the fabric crystals. You can also eliminate the fabric crystals all together for a more allergy free version but it has zero smell - which to me was always weird. Anyway the recipe is above - I keep a recipe card on hand so I can refer to it or take a picture of that to text people that ask me.
The ingredients are:
* 2 cups baking soda - this is the only thing you will have to measure.
* 2 fabric crystal bottles - you can also buy one large one - or use less if you wish.
* 1 regular tub or 2 small tubs of oxy clean
* 3 bars of fels naptha (some people also use zote)
* 1 box borax
* 1 box washing soda
Now to the method -
Start by cutting up your soap like this. My kids always comment it looks like cheese. I slice it into pieces like this and usually give it another rough chop to get square pieces. (side note - I have read a million methods for doing this part - I choose this because it's the easiest, quickest, and doesn't make a huge mess).
Once you have your soap cut up put it into a food processor. This food processor is a mini size. I have had it since SK was a tiny baby and I used it to make baby food. I have used it numerous times to make laundry detergent with no problem. If you hate to use your good food processor that you cook with, you could always get one at the thrift store for next to nothing. (Also there are other methods - this is just my favorite - I apparently don't have the arm strength and endurance to grate the soap on a cheese grater. It may also have to do with the fact that method took me forever, made a mess, and it still wasn't as fine of a powder as I thought I needed. There was also a method involving using the microwave which gave me visions of exploading soap and trying to scrape soap residue from the microwave - no thanks).
This is IMPORTANT - add a couple scoops of the oxy clean powder in with the soap in the food processor. The soap is sort of a waxy consistency. When you don't have the powder the soap just clumps together and doesn't make the fine powder that we are after.
My food processor has 2 buttons for chop and grind. It is rough (mainly because my food processor is so small) so I have to hold the lid on. I use both buttons because it makes the blade spin both ways.
When you are finished if your soap looks like this STOP. This is WRONG and you want to fix it before going on. This is too clumpy. You need more powder. If you don't get the soap fine enough it doesn't totally dissolve in the wash, thus leaving you with clumps when you're done. No bueno. To fix this add another scoop or so of the oxy clean and go again.
This is what it should look like. It's a very fine powder. My food processor only holds 1 bar of soap at a time. I used 1 bar of soap to 3 scoops of oxy clean to get this. The measurment doesn't matter just get the powder fine. I did 3 rounds of this until all 3 of my bars were a fine powder.
When you are done enlist a cute helper and then pour ALL ingredients into a trash bag (or whatever). I use the double bag method - I have found this to be easiest. I would suggest using 2 bags. If you happen to get a small hole in the one actually holding the powder it won't spill out everywhere on the floor. (I may or may not have learned this the hard way). I just twirl the top of the bag closed and fold it over and flip and shake and roll it around until it's totally combined. I have also used a small rubbermaid container to mix but that involved stirring which I didn't like, it also made all the powder dust come up in my face which I also didn't like. If you put it into something to mix I find it's hard to dump it back out without making a mess everywhere. Just use the trash bag and thank me later. You can just toss the bag when you are done. :)
This batch I used for gifts for my kiddos teachers. I poured them into cute jars and made fun tags and voila. The silver scoops included are coffee scoops found at Walmart on the kitchen utensil aisle. I ALWAYS include the scoop when I gift these. It is also the exact scoop that I use to measure mine as well. The recipe calls for 2Tbsp per load. The coffee scoop is 2Tbsp. This seems TOTALLY CRAZY I know! Especially if you have been using the store bought kind where you use large scoops. Trust me. I rarely use more than 1 scoop. If I have a particularly stinky or dirty load I MIGHT use another half scoop. My clothes always come out clean and I haven't found this to be a problem.
This batch made the jars seen (6) and the other 1/2 of the batch is in a larger jar that I am gifting to someone else. Because you are making a decent amount, plus you only use 2Tbsp - this will last you forever. The last time I made some I snapped a picture and posted it so I could look back on how long it had been. It lasted me 6 months. That being said - there are 5 people in my family and we do A LOT of laundry....PLUS.....I gifted SEVERAL of the smaller jar sized amounts from my batch for wedding and shower gifts during that 6 months so it wasn't a true measure of how much we use. Without getting down to the exact time it will last your family - just trust me it lasts WAY longer than the box you buy at the store and it's WAY cheaper.
When I am not gifting these I pour my entire batch into my large jar I got at Walmart. It holds everything. I want to use this disclaimer to say - you make your own choice about what you use in your washing machine. But.... I have an HE washing machine and I use this. HE washers don't use as much water, thus requiring a low suds soap. This detergent is virtually no suds so I haven't found it to be a problem and I haven't worried because of that.
Happy Washing! And let me know what you think of it!
Posted by A Houser at 12:00 PM
Sunday, August 31, 2014
I have been wanting to expand our chicken flock for a while. I have successfully convinced my hubby (he probably wasn't listening but he still said yes) and I ordered 10 tiny chicks. Waiting for their arrival I was SUPER anxious. I spoke to the post office every day and was thrilled when my chicks FINALLY arrived. On a side note I'm still super amazed you can just order these live little chicks on the internet! Crazy!
When they arrived we FLEW from school that day straight to the post office to pick up our peeping package. The lady at the post office had already fallen in love and kept our little package by her side all day.
We brought them home and opened the little box up and there were 10 precious fuzz balls inside. The kids faces when the box opened were priceless. I thought the box looked tiny for having 10 but when I opened it I realized they were all snuggled together anyway.
We put them in their new luxurious home for the next few weeks - the Lowes box! I immediately dipped each of their beaks in water to show them where it was. You may be curious about how they survive while being mailed. I thought this was so neat! When they hatch (our hatchery it's in the wee hours of Monday morning) they ingest the yolk sak in the egg. They are then mailed Monday afternoon. We had ours by Wednesday. They can live off that yolk sak and need no other nourishment for 72 hours. That's why hatcheries mail day old chicks instead of week old etc.
The kids were CRAZY about these chicks! When we picked them up they felt like you were holding a cotton ball they were so tiny. I was amazed how they immediately ran to the feeders and waterer and knew exactly what to do.
I had read that baby chicks will just fall over asleep and it's scary. So I noticed this one immediately seemed super tired. As I watched the others I noticed they would sleep and pop back up and sleep and pop back up again. This precious one seemed to only sleep. I would try and wake her and she would just lethargically sleep in my arms. I tried to hand feed her and dip her beak in water to give her strength. I began to worry something was wrong because she would flip onto her back and just wasn't acting like the others. Sadly she didn't make it. I cried and cried and felt like I had failed her as a chicken Mama and I immediately felt like I didn't know what I was doing. I have worried over the exact temperature of the box and Matt even joked that I looked like I was in the waiting room of the hospital because the night we brought them home I sat in a chair and watched them for hours. Matt kindly buried our peep in the backyard. The next day I worried as I was at work and rushed home. They all seemed fine but as the night went on another started to act the way that the first had. I noticed her only laying down and never getting up. We fed her sugar water and read online and tried everything. I was actually amazed at how long she survived because I was certain she was dying within moments numerous times. She didn't make it either. After speaking to the hatchery and watching our remaining 8 I have realized that some just are weak and that's life. It breaks my heart but it's also been an interesting lesson to SK mainly about life. A friend of me was telling me about her dad's comments when her sons fish died. He told her that it's sad but having pets die is a way that children learn about life and death and come to an understanding - especially because at some point in their life a person will die too. We have talked about this with SK and had prepared her ahead of time that some could possibly die on the trip or after. I felt she was prepared. I apparently hadn't prepared myself.
This is our pin worthy brooder box. I initially was going to set them up in our garage because it's very warm in there and chicks need to be kept very warm. I couldn't take the garage so I immediatley moved them inside. It's a large, completely in the way, area! My sweet husband hasn't complained a single time that the chicken brooder is overtaking our laundry area and where he keeps his treadmill. It allows me to keep an eye on them, and the kids to frequently check on them. My biggest worry about them inside was Oakley. I should have known she would be fine. She is the best dog! When they first came inside she looked at them and looked in the box and hasn't even given them a 2nd thought since. We do have the child gate around the box just in case though.
Here are some of our sweet friends. I can't tell all of them apart just yet but they are so precious! This little girl loved roosting on my finger.
This little one below is my most fiesty hen. She is adorable but flips out if we try and pick her up!
The one below is the only one who has been named. Matt named her Harriet and I love her. She was a surprise on hatch day. We had originally ordered 2 silver gray dorkings (the one pictured above). I got a call from the hatchery on hatch day that only 1 had hatched. I was given a choice of what was available. I was thrilled when a breed that wasn't available when I ordered was that day. Harriet is a silver laced wyandotte and I can't wait to see how beautiful she is when she grows up.
It is absolutely amazing to me how fast these chicks grow. In just a few short days I can already tell how much bigger they have gotten. One of the neatest things is that when they arrive they look like balls of fuzzle. They begin very quickly to get feathers in and actually look like chickens. This one has the most pronounced "real" feathers on her wings that you can see in this picture. Catching them at this stage is hilarious. Luckily they are in a small box so it isn't hard. You wouldn't think that at a week old they would be so fast but it would be similar to catching a mouse for how quick they are. They also can bob and weave and really try and avoid being caught. I look forward to them getting bigger so they can tolerate the temperature much better. We will be extensively handling our chicks so they are very friendly and of course easy to catch. We also have a friend who's father is hatching chicks in the next few days. We are anxiously awaiting their hatching as we will be purchasing a few from him as well.
I know many think we are crazy chicken people - and by many I mean my husband who doesn't even like birds! I can honestly say that keeping chickens has been so much fun for us and we are super excited for these to grow up and incorporate into our flock. We are also super excited for the day closer to winter time when they will begin laying eggs.
SK will be selling eggs once all these begin laying eggs. If you would like to regularly receive eggs from her please contact me and let me know. We will be selling a dozen for $4 and a 1/2 dozen for $2.
Posted by A Houser at 9:55 AM
Sunday, July 20, 2014
So it's high time that I document one of the funnest (yeah I know that's not a word) adventures we have taken on recently. WE HAVE CHICKENS!!! So you might ask yourself....how does a farm girl - married suburbian - decide to keep backyard chickens? The answer - have yourself a Skater. When I was pregnant with SK my mom bought a tiny box of peeps. She started with quite a few. Several have died along the way but she still has 3. It's really neat that they are the same age as SK. SK has LOVED interacting with Nammy's chickens. All our kids are thrilled to collect eggs and think watching the chickens is so fun!
While browsing the aisles of a local store Matt and I passed a chicken coop. If you know my husband you will be shocked with the following.... so we passed the coop, I stopped and said OH MY GOSH this is so cool! He then starts looking, asking how much it is, and checking it out. I asked him what he thought about getting it for SK 6th birthday coming up. He thought it was a fun idea and wondered if my parents would be interested. I casually texted my mom and told her that SK would love it and nothing else was mentioned.
A month or so before SK birthday my dad called and asked if we were serious about keeping chickens. Matt and I talked and I told him yes. My parents bought her the coop, set it up at their house and my mom bought a box full of baby peeps.
SK spent the night at Nammys and discovered these sweet babies and was instantly in love! She didn't know they were hers and would carefully help Nammy take care of them and handle them so they would be gentle.
Tilda swinging. Even our sweet Chelle who dislikes birds (okay lets not lie, I have seen her sprint at 9 months pregnant, screaming, away from my moms chickens- why oh why don't I have a photograph of that???) Anyway - even she was entertained by chickens swinging!!!
Skater and sweet Tilda. This chicken is more like a dog than a bird! She loves to creep up and sit beside us on the deck. I have to say that I have loved her from the start.
Our silly birds don't sleep in the coop. Tilda started flying first and jumped on the roof. Everyone must sleep together and so they all sleep on the roof of the coop. One night it was storming horribly and I went out and there they all were on top. They love it!
We have recently started letting them out to roam in the yard. Initially I was scared they would scatter in a million different directions and never be able to get em in the coop. They have the best time in the yard! We have LOVED watching them in the yard. And by we I mean me and the girls because they stress Matt out in the yard! We are having to constantly shoo them from the garden and the flowers.
The Mayor keeps the girls in line. He looks like he is pacing back and forth in this picture and I LOVE him. When he started crowing Matt elbowed me at about 5am and said HE IS CROWING - and of course I FLEW out of bed to peek out the window and watch him!
Skater has learned how to catch the chickens and she is constantly found packing them around. I have to remind her that not everyone likes birds (ahem - aunt chelle) and to remember to not bring them out and pack them like pets around everyone! haha.
Here is our whole gang. All 3 kids, 5 chickens and our kitten Rocky. Oakley is missing from the picture (because she is a bird dog and really would love to eat them!)
Tilda wanted to join us for breakfast. I made scrambled eggs.
And....drumroll please - after much anticipation - one of our hens has laid an egg! I have been waiting and knew it would be soon but was thinking a few more weeks. Back last week I had cleaned out their coop and put down a lot of bedding in their nesting boxes (where they are supposed to lay eggs). Usually when we are home we let everyone out at least once a day for a while if not more than that. Today after church we headed to moms to eat, I had a reception for a friend getting married, and my sweet nephews birthday party. Needless to say we weren't home. When I finally got out there today to water the garden and check on everyone it was starting to get dark. Chickens can't see in the dark and they start heading to their coop at that time and so it wasn't the time to let em out. I had to remind SK of this when she came out to watch me and said "MOOOOOMMMMM we haven't had em out all day!" I have been checking their nesting box expecting nothing and I lifted the lid and there it was. AN EGG!!!! I squealed and told sk who went FLYING into the house for her boots, followed by me for my camera. W was screaming and Matt came to look but was watching us like we were lunatics. SK immediately called her Nammy who couldn't even understand her because she was so excited.
We came right in and fried up our precious egg. Everyone had a bite and it was the BEST egg I have ever had. I cannot believe how proud we are of our hens!
Posted by A Houser at 9:43 PM