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I have a perfectly good explanation for this February 11, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Creating, Knitting, Monthly Challenge.
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This wasn’t supposed to happen until March.

Wingspan 4On my list of projects to complete in February is “Purple scarf for the silent auction at church in March.” Technically, what I meant by “complete the scarf” was “start and complete the scarf,” I just didn’t add that little detail to the list. The yarn above, although it includes purple, is not the designated purple yarn. That would be this purple yarn, with the flashy silver flecks.

Purple yarn

I took a little trip last week and needed something to knit. I’d started a scarf using the purple yarn a few times and it just wasn’t working. I thought I’d use the yarn in the top picture instead and donate that scarf to the silent auction so I tucked it into my bag, along with needles. Turns out the needles were too small for the scarf I planned to make — it was barely three inches wide. I ripped it out and wondered what could I knit, without a pattern, out of fingering yarn and size 4 needles? A Wingspan, of course!

I couldn’t just sit there drinking coffee all day.

Sunday in the Kitchen February 10, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Gluten Free, Groceries, Monthly Challenge.
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I did my monthly grocery shopping yesterday. I’ve decided that’s how I need to think about it — that I grocery shop once a month only. I might make a quick dash into the store to replenish milk or produce, but anything else will wait for my big shopping trip. I was pretty good about sticking to my list. There were a couple things I remembered while I was in the store and one or two impulse buys (a big jar of pickled cauliflower for only a dollar, for one). Mostly I bought a LOT of produce and I’ll be making that the star of my meals for the next couple weeks.

Today I’ve been doing some of the prep work so I actually use the produce. I hate to admit that too often I buy the stuff, then I’m too tired or rushed or let’s face it, just too lazy to prep it and cook it. So today I roasted some beets (will be cut up for salads or as a side dish), sauteed mushrooms (add to salad, and use as a base for soup), enjoyed some fresh guacamole* and will be putting together some jars of salad. My plan is to eat one of these salad jars daily for either lunch or dinner. I’ll also be making a batch of this celery salad with Feta cheese.

Around Thanksgiving I bought a crate of butternut squash and split it with my daughter. I have only a few squashes left and I’ve been experimenting with this recipe for Butternut Fries. I think the picture in the link might be real potato french fries because they look nothing like how mine have turned out. I did a couple batches this past week with the squash cut think like the link shows. As they are baked and not deep-fried, they don’t really crisp up. The thin fries were very floppy. Tasty dipped into a little ranch dressing laced with Frank’s Buffalo Sauce but floppy. I tried again today cutting them about a half-inch thick and was pleased with the results. Still not crispy, but they browned nicely and had enough substance that they weren’t floppy. I don’t see these as an alternative to french fries made from potatoes, but for a healthy snack, they fit the bill. (I didn’t use the non-stick spray on the squash but instead used about a teaspoon or so olive oil.)

Butternut Fries

Guacamole

* Guacamole – Smash an avocado in a bowl, add some chopped tomatoes, diced onion (I prefer red), fresh cilantro and some type of spicy ingredient (I used a spoonful of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle in adobo). Squeeze on juice from half a lime, salt and pepper to taste and enjoy with tortilla chips.

 

February Challenge progress February 3, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Creating, Monthly Challenge, Quilting.
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This weekend I was able to cross a few things off the February Challenge project list. Woo Hoo! Progress feels great!

First the Shop Hop Quilt Top. This top has been in process for a long time — at least 12 years. That’s when the quilt shops in our area held a “Shop Hop” with special sales and a special pattern. One piece of the pattern was provided by each store so, in order to have the full pattern, you had to make it to each store. I went, along with my daughter and a friend and we had an enjoyable day. We bought a yard of fabric at each store and divided it into three. Then, we used that fabric and the patterns provided, to make the blocks, each of us using a background fabric of their own choosing. There was some friendly competition going on to see who could finish their top first and, as I recall, my daughter won. I got as far as making the blocks and then they sat. And sat. And sat.

Recently I came across that box of blocks and thought I’d crowd source a quilt design. The blocks went up on my design wall (a neutral flannel sheet tacked up in my hallway) totally randomly and I started playing with designs. I left it up over the Holidays and my kids also played with the blocks. This is what it looked like at one point

Shop Hop Top 3While I liked the combination of randomness and bits of patterns, it just wasn’t gelling. Once everyone went home, I went at the design again and finally found something I liked. This is the end result. It’s more structured but not quite symmetrical. There is a bit too much white space near the bottom but that will have to be ok. The top is sewn together and will go back in a box to wait until I know how I want to finish it. Hopefully it won’t be another 12 years!

Shop Hop Top

I have two more projects to check off the list — when I had the iron set up last night to press the quilt top I fixed the pant hems as well. Five minutes and a couple of strips of double-sided hem tape and I was done. I was so happy to get those pants back in my closet I wore one to church this morning.

I was going to add some pictures of past knitting projects to this post but I think that deserves one of its very own.

January Challenge – Reporting Out February 2, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Groceries, Monthly Challenge, My No Spendy Year, Shopping.
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At work, when asked to provide information about project results, or statistics for a time period, it’s called “Reporting Out”. As in “Be prepared to Report Out in our meeting.” Or “Will you gather the monthly stats for such-and-such Client so I can Report Out to the Big Boss.” I don’t know if this is a common term in the corporate world (although I guess it might be) because I only have experience at this corporation. The phrase does fill a need and I’ll use it each month to document how successful (or not) I was with each monthly challenge.

My January Challenge limited my grocery purchases to fresh produce and milk. Everything else needed to come from my freezer and cupboards. I am happy to Report Out that the challenge was successful.

I did not intentionally stock up prior to this challenge but the kids had been home for various Holidays and various lengths of time. I bought more food through December than I would have purchased just for myself. And there were those ‘clearance’ meats I found on my last grocery trip of 2012. I didn’t go to the store that day with the intention of filling my freezer as that would have defeated the purpose of the challenge, but that did end up happening. The only non-produce, non-milk purchases I made this month were either from the clearance baskets at Woodman’s or from my Free Spending Money.

Woodman’s is the biggest grocery store close to me. It’s far enough away that I generally need to make a special trip rather than just pop in but I think that’s a good thing (less impulse shopping that way). Prices are generally good (although I can find some things cheaper elsewhere) and I can find just about everything I need. I like the fact that they are employee owned and they get special bonus points for being open 24 hours. It’s nice that I don’t have to think about closing time for those occasional late night trips. They also have a full sized liquor store attached but mentioning that runs the risk of sounding like a lush.

One thing I love about Woodman’s is their clearance baskets. When you walk in the store there is a line of grocery carts with overstock items, out of season, or close to the sell-by date. Sometimes I can find bags of produce as well. I always cruise through and see if there are any treasures. On my one trip in January there were a few boxes of Gluten Free crackers I had not tried before for only $2.00. Gluten Free anything generally starts at about $4.00 and only goes up so this was a great deal and I bought one box each of two different flavors.

My total for that one trip to Woodman’s was $39.68. It wasn’t all produce and GF crackers — my youngest was with me and I know he picked up something (some Lara Bars if I remember correctly) but I don’t count that. I bought a big bag of grapefruit and another of oranges, some apples, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery. I also made another trip to the closer store to get a Serrano pepper. So that’s it for grocery spending in January!

Well, almost… like I mentioned earlier, I did spend some of my Free money. One of my weaknesses is tortilla chips. Preferably On The Border brand or the traditional restaurant kind that taste like they were made from cut up tortillas. I did buy two bags of those this month. And when I bought the pepper, I also bought a block of sharp cheddar cheese. Cheese is the one thing I ran out of this month that I really missed. I still think I was successful (but it’s OK if you think I cheated, I won’t hold that against you.)

I still have quite a bit in my freezer and cupboard. I’m going to make one planned trip to the store after my next payday, and then extend this challenge for another month. I’ll go to the store with a list and if something is not on that list I won’t buy it. The only exception will be if I find something in those clearance baskets or on sale for a great price. No other impulse shopping allowed.

I haven’t yet inventoried my cupboards but I pulled everything out of the freezer yesterday to take stock of what was there. My only freezer is the little one attached to the fridge, but as you can see, there is more than enough to feed one person for at least another month. Depending on what I find in my cupboards, I may need to get a little creative but I certainly won’t starve.

  • Tilapia filets – 2
  • Boneless chicken thighs -8
  • Italian sausage links (chicken) – 4
  • Italian sausage (pork, cooked and crumbled, ready for pizza) – 1 serving
  • Ground turkey – 2 lbs
  • Pizza sauce (enough for one pizza) – 2
  • Spaghetti sauce – 1.5 cups
  • Chicken stock (2 cups) – 2
  • Sofrito (used to make Arroz con Gandules)- 1.5 cups
  • Blueberries – 2 cups
  • Bananas – 4-5 bananas, in chunks
  • Mixed fruit – 1.5 or 2 cups
  • Pumpkin, canned (1 cup) – 2
  • Pumpkin, cooked at home (1.5-2 cups) – 1
  • Cranberries – 1 lb
  • Corn – 1 lb
  • Broccoli – .5 lb
  • Green Beans – .25 lb
  • Pound cake slices (homemade, GF) – 6
  • Cinnamon raisin bread, GF – half loaf
  • Chalupa – 1 serving
  • Hot dogs (Oscar Mayer, packs of 5) – 3

I must have been thinking about this Reporting Out last night before I went to sleep because I dreamed about grocery shopping. I was at Safeway (haven’t been to a Safeway since I moved from California 15 years ago, but yes, it was Safeway and I’m pretty sure it was the one I went to as a child so maybe 40+ years ago… dreams are funny that way) and buying asparagus. I remember thinking I didn’t need to buy as much as I initially grabbed because I would be the only one eating it and that I put some back so it wouldn’t be wasted. The dream went on from there in weird directions as dreams often do and I woke up amused. I rather like the fact that this mindset is becoming so ingrained that it shows up in my dreams.

Look for another Grocery Shopping Challenge Reporting out March Second.

February Challenge – Finish what I’ve started February 1, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Creating, Knitting, Monthly Challenge, Sewing.
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In general, artistic people tend to fall into two general categories: process focused and product focused. The product focuses individual creates to obtain the end result. They generally have only one project in process at a time and are very focused on completing it. When at the fabric or yarn store, they are not sidetracked by interesting finds, but buy supplies for a specific project. The process focused individual on the other hand, dives into a project for the love of the craft, be it sewing, knitting, origami or whatever catches her interest. They love learning new skills and trying them out in different ways. Projects that take a weeks or months to finish don’t deter the process focused crafter. This type of crafter feels no obligation to finish one project before starting another… and another… and another.

One peek into my sewing/crafting/yarn storage area will tell you I am most definitely a process crafter. I love planning projects and love trying out new skills. Putting things away in an organized fashion takes time away from starting the next new thing. Some day I want to learn to do it all — crochet, spinning, scrapbooking, stamping, knitting, sewing, quilting, carving, soapmaking, silk dying, jewelry making, and more and more. I can do some of the things on that list now, others are “some day” projects.

Too often I move on to the next project before I finish the current one. This means I have plenty of partially completed projects in various stages pining away for my attention. (I recently unearthed a box in my garage with sewing projects cut out and ready to go including a pair of size 6x pants for my youngest son. Currently he is six weeks shy of his 18th birthday and 6’5″ and still growing. That one’s been sitting a while.)

February is the month I complete as many of those projects as possible.

This list is created without checking to find everything in process. I’m sure more could be added but this will certainly keep me busy.

Mending – I admit, mending is not exciting. It’s a necessary, if boring, evil. Some of these items have been waiting for a restored life for longer than I care to admit:

  • 2 Pair dress pants with ripped out hems (double sided hem tape to the rescue)
  • 1 Dress with ties with one tie ripped off. I need to decide if I will replace the tie or alter the dress to remove the ties. It also needs to be shortened.
  • Replace lining in my winter coat (I bought the fabric at the beginning of last winter)
  • J’s favorite pants have been waiting to be patched for so long I made him try them on recently to verify they still fit. They do and he still loves them so I really should fix them.

Knitting

  • Glittens (Glove-Mitten hybrids – fingerless gloves with a mitten cap) for a friend. Both gloves are finished, I need to knit the mitten cap and sew in all the ends (my least favorite part).
  • Glittens for me. These also have the gloves finished and are waiting for the mitten cap
  • Purple scarf for the silent auction at church in March

Quilting

  • Shop Hop Quilt Top – I almost finished this last weekend but I ran out of thread in my bobbin and knew I had more wound but couldn’t find them. I just want to get the middle blocks sewn together and then it will be set aside because I have no ideas yet for borders or backing
  • Super Secret Quilt – group project for a friend. The top is about 75% finished and the backing and binding fabrics picked out. The biggest challenge here is the actual quilting.

Sewing

  • 6 Pair Pajama Pants. These were planned as Christmas presents for my kids (and me) but I couldn’t give them cut out pieces of flannel with nothing sewn together. Maybe they’ll turn into Valentine gits. (Kids, if you’re reading this, pretend to be surprised when you receive a package in the mail.)
  • There is that box of already cut out projects I mentioned above but I’m in no rush to dig in to that. Those projects have already waited what, ten years or more? They can wait a little longer. Everything except for the kid pants was for me and I’m not sure they’ll fit or be in style.

Bonus Project – I’ve been eyeing this tutorial to make myself a new purse for a few months. I know what fabric I want to use for the outside and I think I know what I want to use for the lining. Since this project is still in the planning stage and not the “in process” stage, it doesn’t really count as “completing what I’ve started”. It will need to wait until a good chunk of the projects above are completed, or ideally, all of them.

February only has 28 days and I listed 16 projects above. I’ll keep you posted on my status.

A day late but no dollars short January 22, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Finances, Monthly Challenge, Spending Diet.
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According to the schedule, I’m supposed to post a weekly update every Monday. I was out of town this weekend and took Monday off as well so it felt like it was still the weekend. Today felt like a Monday except that I worked from home like every other Tuesday. Work wise it was all catch-up so in that respect it felt like the day after a mini-vacation. Too bad work doesn’t take a vacation along with me. It would be nice to log back into work and not find fifty gajillion e-mails waiting for me. Ah well, I (mostly) like my job and it pays the bills so I will try not to complain.

This week was uneventful in the money department. I’ve taken my breakfast and lunch to work every day that I’ve gone into the office this month but I did buy a bit of supplementary cheese to add to my chili one day last week. Eighty-four cents worth of grated cheddar to liven up my leftover chili topped cauliflower.

I spent money this week but it was all planned. Tuesday I went in for a very overdue haircut and color. My bangs were so overgrown she cut off about two inches. I was surprised that no one commented on the change later in the week. I’m not sure if that was because the cut wasn’t as much of a change as I thought it was or if it didn’t look good and people were being polite. I’m going with it wasn’t that big of a change.

One of the big reasons I started this challenge was so I could get away from living paycheck to paycheck. It’s still early in the year, but already I’m starting to build a little bit of a cushion. It’s a good feeling to check my bank balance without inciting a panic, wondering if the little bit there will last until my next direct deposit paycheck.

My January Monthly Challenge has been to eat what I have on hand, only buying fresh produce or milk when needed. This week I didn’t buy any groceries at all. I definitely see the dent in my freezer and cupboards but there is still quite a bit there to test my creativity.

January Challenge January 1, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances, Groceries, Monthly Challenge, Spending Diet.
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Each month I want to challenge myself to save money in new and different ways. My challenge for January is to eat out of my pantry and freezer. The only groceries I’m allowed to buy in January are fresh fruits and vegetables and milk. Everything else must come from my pantry or freezer. In all honesty, I think I can extend this past January but for now the challenge will last one month.

I have more than enough protein foods to feed me for the month. On my last grocery shopping trip in 2012 I cruised by the discounted meat bin right after it was stocked and picked up some treasures. I had Italian Sausage on my list because I planned to make Sausage Lentil Soup sometime this month. I found some Organic Chicken Italian Sausage for only $2.99 a pound and picked up two pounds. I separated the links and froze them separately so they would be easier to access. Now I can pull out ‘just enough’ from my freezer to flavor a small batch of soup. I also found a family pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for $6.33. Those were also frozen individually so there are 15 portions in a bag in my freezer. Add to that at least a pound each of at least six different dried beans and I’m more than set.

I think I have enough fruits and vegetables on hand to last a couple of weeks, possibly more. In the refrigerator vegetable bin there are about two pounds of carrots, two heads of cauliflower, some mini sweet peppers (that might need to be tossed as they’ve seen better days), a full head of celery and a few limes. I also have some sliced, sautéed mushrooms (that will be turned into soup today) and a bit of cooked cauliflower (seasoned with a bit of butter and lemon) from our big family dinner on Sunday. In the freezer there is a bag and a half of broccoli, maybe some frozen peas (or maybe not) and some frozen blueberries. Oh, and about a cup and a half of frozen Classico spaghetti sauce — I’ll probably use that as a soup base rather than for pasta. Add to that a few cans of assorted tomato products in my cupboard — crushed, sauce, diced, paste.

Milk is on the buy list because I need it for coffee (ok, do I really need it? probably not. I could learn to drink coffee without milk but I prefer it that way) and to make yogurt. My typical breakfast is a bowl of Greek yogurt with fruit and homemade granola. A couple of months ago I dug out my dusty yogurt maker and perfected a Greek yogurt recipe, saving a TON of money. Good Greek yogurt goes for $5-7 dollars a quart. I can make a bit more than a quart for the price of a half-gallon of milk. Well worth the (decidedly minimal) effort.

My son once told me “Mom, you don’t keep food in the house, you keep ingredients.” I’m looking forward to seeing just how true that may be. I like to cook and most of my experiments are at least edible and generally pretty tasty. My biggest downfall lately has been taking the easy way out (which is just a nice way of saying I’ve been lazy). It is easier to pick up something instead of cooking from scratch, or to treat myself to dinner out at my favorite Mexican place. I need to break those habits for good. Takeout and eating out need to be treats rather than habit.

Anyone want to join me? Adapt my challenge to meet your needs and let’s encourage each other!