Monday, December 31, 2012

Organization on a Dime!

One of my major goals this upcoming year is organization, while also maintaining a very strict budget... two things that don't always go together.  I have been on so many 'pre-made' websites, but they aren't exactly what I want/need, plus if I printed everything just to try it out (and figure out it didn't work), I would spend a small fortune on printer ink!  So, I thought of a way to organize my life, without expensive printer ink or fancy paper, and so far, it seems to be working for me!

What is it?

Simple:  card stock and post-it notes!  Some permanent markers to make the writing pop!

Reasons why it is working:

  1. It is flexible 
    • if I am done with a post-it note, I throw it away 
    • if I have something important that needs immediate attention, I can move it to the top with ease 
    • if I find I need a new category, I can make one, without having to go to my computer 
  2. It is color coded to help me differentiate between categories 
  3. It holds all the major/important things in my head in 4 highly organized pages 
  4. I can easily see what needs to be done/what my goals are, which helps me stay on track 
  5. It is on card stock, so I will be able to use the backing for quite some time 
Total cost: $0 (I had the materials on hand!!)

Vegan Crock Pot Meal - Lentil Chili-ish

This week is going to be very busy for us, between the New Year, working our normal schedules, still putting away Christmas stuff, and getting ready to have my future Mother In Law over for dinner on Tuesday... so I wanted to have a meal/snack ready for us whenever we got a bit hungry, but not wanting to ruin our healthy eating habits.  

A look in my pantry revealed that I had lentils, rice and sweet potatoes, and I managed to find celery, carrots, onion and two tomatoes - To the crock pot! 


1 cup green lentils, rinsed well 
1/2 cup brown rice (not instant) 
1 large sweet potato - cut to 1 inch pieces 
1 large onion - diced 
1 celery stalk - diced 
2 tomatoes - diced 
1 carrot - cut into 1 inch pieces 
1 tsp garlic powder 
1 tsp black pepper 
1/2 tsp rosemary 
dash cayenne pepper 
dash turmeric 
dash cumin 
1 tsp vegan condensed vegetable stock 
~3 cu water (more if you are not checking on it all day)

  1. Throw all ingredients into crock pot!
  2. I put mine on the high/4 hour setting, but I think it would be better cooked at 6 hours 
  3. Monitor the water level, lentils and rice suck up a lot!
Makes about 6 servings.  For being a 'throw together meal' this was fantastic!  Really good with crunchy garlic bread or croutons!  The sweet potato was an amazing addition!  

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Wonderful New Year!

As Christmas is over and we are inching closer to the New Year, I have decided to take a bit of time to pen my goals/expectations for 2013.  Some of them are more personal than others, and some are just 'things I want to do.'  Most are aimed at saving money, being healthier and overall improving our lives, which in the middle of this awful winter is hard to do.  

My Goals/Expectations:

During our annual health fair, I was told I have 'high cholesterol' which was befuddling to me, seeing as I have been a vegetarian for almost a decade.  Nevertheless, medication is not an option, so diet changes will have to do.  I fully intend to be vegan by May of 2013, while in the mean time, I have substantially lessened my dairy/egg intake and have been more aware of my cholesterol intake.  

As Daddykins and I prepare for our wedding, I am working hard to return to my 'pre-dating' weight, and I will be continuing to work hard (even if I am discouraged by the total lack of weight loss week after week after week!).  I will be setting up a little area in our room to encourage before work workouts, and Daddykins and I will continue to frequent the gym regularly during the winter months.  One of our pups is old enough to run (longer distances), so come warm weather, I will be out with her, slow and ugly as my running might be.  My goal is to be down at least 30 pounds by the end of the year. :) 

For Daddykins and I to have a wedding, we require a house for our backyard affair, therefore a large chunk of 2013 will be be spent focusing on our budget, spending, income and for myself, trying to get a bit more income through 'at home' work.  Our goal is to save over $12,000 by December of 2013, as part of the down payment/closing costs on our house. 

Although I just started this website, I hope to grow it into a useful/dependable site, like many of the awesome ones I see and rely upon daily for various things.  I hope to update it with useful posts at least twice a week, maybe even daily if it takes off enough.  I also hope to have photos in most of my posts, although I do not have a super fancy camera.  

My house is always in-flux it seems, with new furniture coming in, new pets coming in, people moving in and out, holding stuff in storage for some... it is messy.  And the beginning of my weeks are very busy between work schedules and finding time to cook, clean, etc.  So my goals as far as cleaning and organizing are concerned are:  Take 2 weeks to organize every room in the house (so in 14 weeks, I will have every room organized, with the basement and attic to be attended to once warmer weather hits), starting with the dining room (our main room of mess), and go from there.  I have created a 'what to clean when' chart, but have yet to find it useful as I cannot get through all of the clutter in my house!  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Vegan Crock Pot Meal - Potato Stew!!

I love, love, love stew... and although I have not eaten meat in almost 10 years, I still crave beef stew when it gets cooler out, so I make potato stew instead.  It is yummy, vegan and so easy that we eat it almost once a week in the winter!

I do not always follow a strict recipe.  To me, cooking is a combination of chemistry, art and a passion for feeding others.  So sometimes, I go with 'dash,' 'handful' or 'splash'... do what you think is best and what your family would like most.  

Potato Stew (in the crock pot):


4 to 6 large red potatoes, washed and cut to ~2in x 2in pieces 
1 large onion, quartered (or smaller, depending on your texture tastes) 
4 to 5 large carrots, the fatter the better, washed and cut into 2 inch chunks 
3 to 4 celery stalks, washed and cut into 1 inch chunks 
Italian Seasoning
Black pepper 
Vegan stock (I use the brand Better than Bouillon)
1/2 container of Tofu (silken) 
Corn starch 


  1. Throw all ingredients into the crock pot, add about 6 cups of water (enough to cover the potatoes and veggies), with spices on top.  
  2. Turn on crock pot to have it done cooking a half hour prior to dinner.  
  3. If you will be 'setting it and forgetting it,' heat a cup of water in the microwave for about 2 min and stir in about a table spoon of broth, mix well and add to the stew.  If you will be supervising, add bouillon directly to stew after 2 hours, and stir well.  
  4. A half hour before you are ready to eat, the stew should be finished. If you want a thicker stew, take a half cup of stew broth and put in a sauce pan.  Heat on medium low, and as it is rising to a boil, take a tablespoon of corn starch and add a small amount of water to make it a liquid (but not too thin).  Once broth is boiling, add corn starch slowly, while whisking quickly.  It will thicken as you continue to add the corn starch.  Once the broth has become thick and uniform, add it to the stew and stir, stir, stir!
  5. If you would like a creamier stew, take half a container of silken tofu and a few tablespoons of water and blend it until smooth.  If you would like a more flavorful stew, you can add a teaspoon of broth to the tofu as you blend it.  Once blended, add to stew and stir, stir, stir.  
  6. You can have both creamy and thick stew, or you can have a more soup like stew, up to you!  
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.  
Very simple and delicious!  I usually serve with a fresh green salad and homemade whole wheat rolls!  Yumm!!     

Monday, December 24, 2012

A 'mostly' DIY Christmas!

In our house, we do not believe in anything religious, but we do believe in giving gifts and being with family.  
This year, our budget was tight and we still wanted to do some nice things for people. 

The 'smaller' gifts:

I had my aunts and uncles, grandparents, Daddykins' step siblings, and neighbors to give gifts to, and I had been busy all summer trying my hand at canning, so for presents, I made jelly/jams.

For 8 people:                                                                              
  • they got 3 jars of jam each                                        $.66(jar)  ~$1 (jam) x3
  • wrapped in bags (leftovers from a few years ago)            $0
  • ribbons from the dollar store                                   $.33
  • little plastic plates from the dollar store               $.13
  • decorative fabric to top jelly jars                             $.16  x3
  • and "care cards" that I made from old scraps     $0

  Total each:  $5.92

The smaller baskets, with the small plastic plate to keep the jars stable.  
used old curling ribbon and scrapbook paper to decorate the jars.  

The 'bigger' gifts:

For the big gifts, I made the the 'couples' or dear friends presents that were a bit nicer and bigger than the smaller gifts.  

For my parents, Daddykins' parents, my sister and brother an law, and soon to be brother and sister in law, I made fun baskets.  We did baskets, but only had to buy 1 basket for these gifts.  Some baskets I was able to make one of the presents work as a "base" which worked out well.  

For 4 baskets:
  • They each got 3 jars of jelly (no plastic plate needed)                               $5.97
  • I crocheted each of the girls a scarf, with yarn bought on sale               $4.99
  • and the boys got small presents, which averaged around $10 (with the exception of my step dad who threw my budget out the window, with his only request for a gift in 20 years)      $10.00
Total each:  20.96 each 

The basket for Daddykins' parents...
strawberry, raspberry and blueberry/cherry jam!

Some of the scarves I made, wrapped in ribbon or tulle, 
put in the baskets with the jelly and guy's gifts  

The tag on how to ensure food quality were 
included in the presents!

For my close girlfriends, they got scarves and jelly:

For 3 baskets: 
  • They each got 3 jars of jelly (no plastic plate needed)                     $5.97
  • I crocheted each of the girls a scarf, with yarn bought on sale     $4.99
Total each:  $10.96

Random Present Expenses:
  • baskets                        $2 (dollar store) 
  • basket fluff                $6 (dollar store)
  • basket bags                $3 (dollar store)
  • candy                           $5 (dollar store)
  • wrapping paper        $3 (dollar store, recyclable) 
  • 'pet gifts'                     $10 
  • random stuff             $2
  • 2 Thomas Puzzles    $2 (dollar store) 
  • 1 Thomas DVD          $16
Total: $49

Total for 16 people:  $213.08

Lovely Laundry

I had posted the other day about homemade laundry detergent, and I forgot to mention the other steps I take to make sure our clothes are fresh, clean and static free.

In our house, we do the following for laundry:

1/2 cup - 1 cup homemade laundry detergent
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup vinegar
** I used to listen constantly for the washer to start the rinse cycle, but then one day, way back in a shelf, I saw an old Downy ball... so now I fill the Downy cup with vinegar and drop it in the load.  Saves me from running up and down with laundry all day long!

And in the dryer, I use a small bit of tin foil balled up (not too smooth, but not with huge ridges to snag clothes), and it helps keep the "fabric softener" feel without chemicals and waste.  I replace it every 2 weeks or so, as it breaks down.

****Please note, we rent and our house came with the 'old' style washer and dryer.  They work fine, but I am not sure how this method would work for HE washers!!****

Friday, December 21, 2012

Laundry Soap in A Messy Life!

In our world, our budget is our primary concern, and our laundry is the biggest chore, and we don't even have kids!  But between the fur (two border collies) and my job, we need our clothes to be scrubbed clean and smellin' fresh!  And we have the added bonus of Daddykins having sensitive skin, that only tolerated Tide (so expensive!) so I dove into my limited memories of high school chemistry and remembered borax, a fine base!  Which led me to my laundry soap recipe!

You'll need:

1 bar Ivory Soap 
1 cup Borax (found in the laundry detergent isle)
1 cup Washing Soda (usually right near the Borax.. it is Arm & Hammer, but it is NOT baking  soda!)
1 old sauce pot 
1 old cheese grater 
1 large stew pot
A large bucket (I re-use the powder laundry detergent buckets from work, but any bucket will work)

The How To:

  1. Fill the stew pot mostly full with hot water (about 2 gallons) and heat it on the stove top in high until ready to use
  2. Add about 6 to 8 cups of hot water to the sauce pot, and heat it on the stove top, also on high 
  3. Grate the Ivory soap into the sauce pan, and stir occasionally until fully dissolved (water will be cloudy) 
  4. Measure out one cup Borax and one cup Washing Soda while the soap dissolves, and then add in Borax and Washing Soda 
  5. Stir constantly until mixture becomes quite thick.  It will appear to thicken the moment you add the powders, but it will thicken to a texture similar to honey when it is done.  
  6. Empty mixture into your bucket, and then add the now close to boiling hot water to the bucket. 
  7. Stir vigorously  making sure it is mixed well.  
  8. Let it set for 24 hours, and you are ready to go!  

A few points:

  • The finished product will be a mix of 'water' and solid, don't worry, it will still work! 
  • Some recipes call for for Fels Naptha Laundry Soap, using only 1/3 of the bar, but with Daddykins' sensitive skin, I kept going with a full bar of Ivory soap because I knew he did not react to it 
  • Some recipes also call for using only a 1/2 cup each of Washing Soda and Borax, but we get very dirty, but still need to be very presentable so I use a cup of each. 
  • If you would like your laundry to be more fragrant, adding less than one ounce of your favorite essential oil when you are in the final mixing step will not hurt your laundry! 
  • I use about a half cup to a cup for each load of laundry, depending on size and soil level.


Tide = about 45 to 50 cents a load 
Home Made =  
  • Bar of Ivory Soap: 50 cents
  • 1 cup Borax: about 70 cents
  • 1 cup Washing Soda: about 70 cents
 = $1.90 per bucket and at least 10 loads (more like 25 per bucket = 19 cents per load (calculating high), and 7.6 cents (calculating low)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dreaded Paperwork!

I am slightly obsessed with organization, despite Daddykins'  annoyance when I 'misplace' something while organizing.  I have used products from stores in the past; however, I have begun to make my own, more tailored binders/materials recently.  I much prefer it, even if it is a bit more costly.   Most of my ideas center around simplicity and safety; making sure I have everything I need at my finger tips or where I can quickly get to it.  Plus, I am just constantly battling clutter, as I have an internal battle between my pack-rat self and my organizational self.

My first real organizational task was to organize my bills, appointments and general life... while leaving room for change and making the whole thing portable.  I began with the following:

  • A 3 ring binder, 3 inches - I used a trapper keeper... took me back to 5th grade!
  • Divider tabs - I used ones that had 8 per pack and the folder in front (so I could itemize things without having to file right away) 

    • Labeled:
      • Basic Info 
        • where I keep my running to do lists, stamps, cards etc.  
      • Money 
        • Bank Ledgers for accuracy 
          • eventually I will have the list color coded by entry (bills, food, gas etc) but for now, I use Daddykins for that!
          • I update this daily so I know exactly what we have and where it is going 
      • Menu/Grocery 
        • Menu planning for the week (I am quite bad at this, I go to the store daily it seems) 
        • Also keep coupons in here 
      • House 
        • As we hope to be buying a house sooner, rather than later, I file useful information here... as the process goes along this section will grow but for now, this works
      • Wedding! 
        • We started small, with little tid bits here and there, but once we officially got into planning, I started a new binder just for the wedding (I will post that later!)
      • Mail/Bills 
        • The few paper bills we do get are filed in here so I do not misplace them or forget to pay them!  Once they are paid, they go in the "to be filed" pencil bags
      • Medical 
        • Thankfully we have very little medical stuff at the moment, but when needed, this divider does help keep things under control!
      • The Dogs 
        • I have a special binder for each of the girls (I will share at a later date) but when I am on the run, this tab is a life saver in time and hunting for paperwork!
  • Plastic Sheets for regular paper 
  • Plastic Sheets used for coupon collecting and sports items
    • Used in:
      • Basic Info 
        • holds: stamps, bank info, spare blank cards 

      • Menu/Grocery
        • I use very few coupons (not much I want to consume is listed in the Sunday paper) but when I do find ones I want, I place them here 

  •  3 Plastic pencil bags (that will fit in a binder)
    • Each is labeled:
      • Receipts (that need to be recorded) 
      • Envelopes (so that if I ever need to mail something while I am at an appointment, at work etc, I have it) 
      • To File 
  • 1 good pencil bag (I prefer cloth)
    • Multiple colored pens, post it notes, tabs, paper clips etc.  
  • A binder calender, coordinated with our house calender and our online calendar  so we are ALL sure of what is going on when!  
I have been using this system for about 6 months now, and I find I am much more efficient and have everything I need right at my finger tips if there is a moment of 'down-time.'  All-in-all, I found the cost to be less than $40, and the system was created for me, so it has work well and I have kept it up.  

Vegan Crock Pot Meals?

In an effort to be green, cruelty free and keep my footprint small, I have been a vegetarian for almost a decade, and often do a lot of vegan baking.  I try to always use fresh ingredients, avoid pre-packaged materials and make most things from "scratch."  So I wanted to share some of my better vegetarian meals and vegan baking ideas with everyone

While I was at work today, serving a rather questionable crock-pot meal, I began to think of most things that come from a crock-pot... goopey, gelatinous messes that are usually made from pre-packaged materials, high sodium/low nutritional value ingredients, all in the name of "convenience."  

I have decided to make a number of healthy, fresh, vegan crock-pot meals and see how they turn out.  I very rarely follow an exact recipe, so I will try to remember my portions and post here as we go through them!  

(Seeing as it has been well over a week since I have had this idea, I doubt I will get to it before the 'Winter Celebrations' begin... so look back after new years! :) )

Vegan Baking

Vegan Substitutions:
In our house, we have 3 omnivores, and me; although the dogs don't really count.  Most of the time we do a strictly vegetarian week, but once in a while, I will make Daddykins a meat based meal.  Often times, we keep his consumption of meat so low, that we can splurge on organic meats, but in the name of the bottom line, that is not always an option.

The majority of our baking is vegan.  It is simple to substitute typical ingredients with vegan ones, usually making anything healthier and really it tastes the same.  We do eat honey, a contention in the vegan community, and we do use it in our vegan baking.  As of yet, Daddykins has not had any issue (or much noticed) any of my substitutions.

Here are the ones I rely on most:

  • flax seed for eggs (lower cholesterol, more fiber, and more omega-3s!)
    • 1 tbs ground flax (you can purchase it at a store, or grind your own) 
    • 3 tbs water 
      • bring water to a boil and stir in flax, it will become a gooey mixture, much like the whites of eggs 
      • add to recipe as directed for eggs
      • 1 tbs flax = 1 egg (at least in my recipes, I don't really measure/stick to a script)
  • soy milk for regular milk 
    • really a no brainer, however if you are like me, and constantly out of soy milk, but have tofu on hand:
      • blend a half cup of tofu with a cup of water, mix in a blender until the consistency of soy milk... tada!  
      • you do not want to drink this, but it works well in baking! 
  • Honey for sugar 
    • most white sugar is not vegetarian/vegan friendly (there are bones used in processing, believe it or not!), so I use honey whenever possible, or opt for the more non-refined, nutritional sugar options