Saturday, December 20, 2014

turkey bingo bandits

When we went home to Ohio, idiot that I am took one picture.  ONE!  Seriously?  We were there for seven days, what the heck?  In any case, it is an adorable picture of my husband:


He's holding all the loot we won in turkey bingo, which was super awesome and useful stuff.  Yes, toilet paper is useful!  But we also got fun things like a squishy football, and yummy things like marshmallows and popcorn, plus useful things like toilet paper, soap, zip ties, and thank you cards.  Big score...we made out like bandits!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

meatball sub casserole

Another successful recipe!  Whew...two keepers after a string of 'eh' recipes.  This recipe is a meatball sub casserole I found online.  It uses two new recipes that have been keepers lately:
  • easy French bread
  • homemade meatballs (link not available yet because I haven't blogged about them yet!)
So the premise is basically lay down the bread in slices, put a creamy sauce atop the bread, then cover with meatballs and sauce, top with cheese and bake.  Sounds delicious, right?  It was! 




Golden brown cheese is so pretty:


Now the recipe is not the prettiest thing I've ever seen:


But it doesn't matter...it tastes very good.  Andy made a great suggestion for a change next time.  Instead of using slices of the bread, we're going to tear/cube it up and later the bottom with the pieces.  Trying to cut the slices after baking was sort of hard to do, so it will be much easier if we pre-cut the bread so to speak.  So that's in the plan for next time, and what I wrote on the recipe card as I put it in the 'keeper' box!

Monday, December 15, 2014

"you have way too much time on your hands"

Friends and I have talked about this phrase: "you have way too much time on your hands" when said as a response to homemade things.  I was just thinking I am so lucky because the people that I give homemade things to, most recently our Christmas cards, are so grateful.  The people at work are so sweet and complimentary and say the nicest things about my cards.  It's wonderful and makes it so worth the time and effort.

However, there are other people in this world who come off as less gracious in these situations.  When they are presented with something homemade, either as a gift or as a 'look what I did', their response (and often FIRST response) is "you have way too much time on your hands." 

http://islamzpeace.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/time-travel2-photo-courtesy-of-junussyndicate-on-deviantart.jpg

If this phrase has ever come out of your mouth, please try your hardest never to say it again no matter how well you know the person.  It easily can come across as insulting for the people who made the craft/card/clothing/food/etc.  You're basically telling them that they have no life, and it also suggests that they are wasting their time doing homemade things.  Whether or not you mean it that way, that's how it can come off (as per the way I have felt it when I have heard it in the past as well as my friends have felt when we've chatted about it). 

So trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, we were guessing that people may really mean "it's so lovely you have time to make things, and I wish I had that time for creative things".  If that's the case, SAY that.  Don't say something that can be construed as an insult about how someone else chooses to spend their time.  Odds are they are making things because they enjoy it and it is not a waste of time to them when they choose to do so.

Again, I am extremely lucky in that I haven't heard this phrase in a few years, but its existence still bothers me.  So be sure that your response to homemade gifts and items is gracious and has less of a chance of being misinterpreted!


Saturday, December 13, 2014

homemade french/italian bread

I feel like I have had a few non-keepers in the new recipes I've been trying, but all that changed when I made my own French bread!  Or Italian bread?  I've seen it called both...basically it's the loaf of 'good bread' (what my Dad calls it) to have with Italian food :)

Since my oven was so successful with this awesome proofing thing, I want to make more bread!  So I found a recipe online for easy French bread.  And compared to other recipes I saw, it is super easy.  It requires a stand mixer with a dough hook and no additional kneading....just some resting and shaping. Perfect!  Well except for the fact that it didn't use the proofing setting on my oven.  HA.

So after mixing you have to divide the dough into thirds (which for me is so hard to make even...I prefer to do half of halfs with an even number).


Then you make it pretty shaped with slits and brushed with a beaten egg.  The shaping requires folding and shaping, so I suggest you check out the website of the recipe for detailed step by step instructions because it's photographic and very easy to follow!


Bread is so much prettier baked:


I had all sorts of little 'knobs' sticking out of the bread because my folding and shaping needs some practice:


I love how the one on the right slide sideways - but it all tastes the same!


Inside it looks pretty perfect, if I do say so myself:


So this is totally a keeper!  It makes three smaller loaves, and we used one and froze two of them for future purposes.  One I used a week later and one I used about a month later.  I wrap a loaf in aluminum foil and then put it in a gallon ziploc (the benefit of having three smaller loaves).  That froze perfect, and I just set it on the counter the morning I wanted to eat it.  Voila!  This is a keeper and an easy recipe to make anytime you need some 'good bread'.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

tis the season outside our house

We normally decorate our house outside with icicle lights on the roof line in the front.  That was the plan this year, that quickly went awry when we tried to do that right before Thanksgiving and our trip to Ohio.  Turns out that some of our icicle lights were not working in various sections, some of which we figured out AFTER we put it up (with Andy on a ladder and that whole annoying thing).  They worked when we plugged them in prior to hanging them, then hung them and they didn't work.  Two strands worked when you held them a certain way, then stopped working when you moved the strand.  Annoying!

So we decided to not hang them and come up with an alternative.  So I'm looking at images online to get ideas, and found this:

http://st.houzz.com/simgs/12c1f1fd008886a3_8-4647/traditional-exterior.jpg

No, that is not our house.  But I thought - huh, lighted garland that is swagged above our garage door.  Much lower for ladder work, bonus!  And, I recall that we already own garland.  We had bought some long ago to decorate the inside for Christmas and put it above our kitchen ceiling like so:


We then never took it down because it wasn't specifically Christmas.  Then when we hung the plates we got from my Grandma, we left the garland on some of the areas and then just pushed it behind the plates on the others:


So we got up there, got the garland down, then I took the remaining icicle light strands and wrapped them all around the garland to make it lighted.  We then used some bows that we already had (thanks Mom for all the wreath hand-me-downs and extra bows).  So then we could hang it like this:


That IS our house.  What's amazing is that the amount of garland we owned and icicle lights remaining fit the garage exactly!


That's right, that is a 'free' solution to our outside decor issues using things we already had...all it cost was a few hours to wrap the icicle lights in the garland.  But that will stay wrapped for next year so that is easy.  Here is is lit up at night, and I'm glad that you can see the red bows at night - I wasn't sure if you'd be able to.



It sure feels festive around our house!!

Monday, December 8, 2014

cubed steak adventures

A lot of what we got from our 'quarter cow purchase' was cubed steak.  Therefore, I'm on a mission to find a good recipe for it!  I found one online that claimed it was the easiest ever!  I have to say it was super easy....not much to it with some ranch dressing, Bisquick, and butter (plus the cubed steaks).


My coating must have been a little thick because after it was done, you could still see some of the Bisquick flour:


So overall it was super easy.  But we didn't love it.  I find cubed steak to be somewhat of a tough steak, and my mother-in-law makes it in the crockpot which goes a long way toward helping with a tough cut.  Well this left the meat sort of tough, so neither Andy nor I loved it...not a keeper.  Next cubed steak recipe will be in a crockpot!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

chipotle chicken and corn chowder

I love trying new recipes and soup is always a favorite of mine.  It is tricky sometimes because most soups have lots of veggies, and Andy doesn't love all veggies.  But usually if I cook them soft, he'll eat any of them in a soup. 

So I saw a recipe online for a Chipotle Chicken and Corn Chowder and thought that sounded great for us! 

It came out looking delicious and we had homemade biscuits and a salad with it:



However, neither of us loved it.  It wasn't a keeper, but I can't really say why oddly enough.  Our favorite soup is still our potato soup, and Andy's second favorite is cheeseburger soup compliments of my sister.  My second favorite soup is probably what my family always called the bean dish, which is close to soup.  So when you have favorites, for new ones to become keepers, they have to be pretty stellar by comparison!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

dave ramsey's baby steps four and five

I haven't posted in awhile about our progress in Dave Ramsey's Seven Baby Steps.  So I thought it was time for an update since I've been talking about money a lot in the last few months.  Why?  Well I'm teaching financial literacy sessions to a lot of the university orientation classes this semester (almost 600 students) and surveying them about their money opinions and situations.

So here is an overview of the 7 Baby Steps:
  1. Save $1000 in an emergency fund
  2. Pay off all non-mortgage debt
  3. Increase emergency fund to 3-6 months of expenses
  4. Save 15% of income in retirement funds
  5. Start saving for your kids' college fund
  6. Pay off your house
  7. Build wealth and give
So here are some details about how WE are doing with the baby steps:

We started Dave Ramsey's class on January 20, 2013, after hearing my sister talk about it.  It cost $89 for the in-person class and related materials (book, workbook, lifetime access to take classes as many times as we want in person, and audio CDs of his lessons).  The class finished on March 17, 2013.

Baby Step 1:We had some money in savings already, so it really only took us a few weeks to get $1000 saved for an emergency fund.  We were able to check this step off in February, 2013.  I blogged about this step and the beginning of step 2 previously

Baby Step 2: We were excited to use the debt snowball to get rid of our debt.  We had what we thought was normal debt: house, car payments, and interest free store loans for furniture and appliances type of purchases.  We could make our payments every month and never got behind, but we felt like we couldn't quite get ahead to save for fun trips for vacation and whatnot.  Our total debt at the beginning of the class was $21,093.70.  That sounds like so much to try and pay off, but the debt snowball made that go fast in the grand scheme of things.  We finished this step at the end of November 2013!  I blogged about completing this step previously.

Baby Step 3: Upping our emergency fund took awhile, but we finished this step in May 2014.  Our progress slowed down a bit when I needed a new stove and when we ended up getting an amazing opportunity to go to Berlin with  my work.  But we worked diligently to keep saving so we'd have a big cushion if something drastic happened.  I previously blogged about finishing this step, which includes details about budgeting and how we estimated three to six months of expenses.

So then I realized I hadn't blogged anymore, but we have been making progress!

Baby Step 4: In May 2014 we met with a financial advisor (recommended through Dave Ramsey's network of people) to start saving for retirement.  I say "start" saving, but honestly since I have always worked for a state university, I have state retirement and pensions as part of my working life.  So although this baby step is to save 15% of income for retirement (and not to depend on social security for retirement), we were told we could do 10% because of my work pension.  As per Dave Ramsey, we were first doing any matching that my work does (because matching means that the university puts 'free money' into my retirement account), and then we were considering a Roth IRA because it saves a LOT of tax money down the road.  We decided to max out our Roth IRAs, even though that is more than 10% of our household income.  This money started coming out in June 2014.

Since we no longer needed money every month for the debt snowball or to build up our emergency fund, this didn't really put a hit on our monthly budget.  It was just now a different thing to focus on.  Interestingly enough, since this money is auto deducted from our bank account every month, this step was basically done in June 2014 when everything was set up!

Baby Step 5:  DONE!  Okay, well we got to skip this step.  We do not have children and don't plan on ever having any, so this was done before it started.

Baby Step 6: This is where we are now....paying off our house early.  We have less money to put toward our house every month compared to baby steps 2 and 3 because of our Roth IRA contributions.  They are important and will help us retire in style, but this will take awhile.

Right now we have our mortgage payments automatically set up to make $400 extra payments every month going directly toward the principal.  For anyone with a mortgage who has seen how slow the total balance goes down...we still feel like it's very slow, even with the extra money.  It has gone down over $7000 since we got it in October of 2012, but considering our monthly payment it should be faster!  But it's still progress, plus we have a few mini goals within this though.  We borrowed more than 80% on our home when we moved to Tennessee (and before we took Dave Ramsey's class), so we pay PMI, Private Mortgage Insurance, every month to the tune of about $130 a month.  Once we pay off 20% of the value of our house, and it's been 5 years (a stipulation of our FHA mortgage), then we'll stop paying PMI.  That $130 will then get folded into our extra house payments, so that will certainly help.  Only three more years to go until we can do that.  We'd meet the 20% stipulation but we have to wait for the 5 years unless we refinance to a non-FHA loan.  We also plan on throwing extra money toward our house like tax refunds, raises, or extra jobs....every little bit helps.  I think, realistically, we are going to pay it off in about 8-ish years, which seems like forever compared to how fast we've moved with the other steps.  But that's okay, because we have a plan and we're always making good progress!

Summary:
So that is where we stand at this time.  I think it's a little funny I forgot to blog about getting to step 6 because money just isn't always central to our thoughts because we have a plan and are doing so many good and responsible things with our money.  We no longer thing about money negatively - we feel very rich and blessed.

So here are some things that we've learned and things we still work on:
  • We each get personal money each month that is ours to spend as we want without every asking for permission.  THIS...IS....AWESOME!  I cannot stress how important I think this is for any couple, plus it is so much fun to just buy whatever I want.  It rolls over month to month so we can save up for bigger purchases.  Some of the things we have purchased include remote control airplanes, toys, games, fun clothes, movies, laser hair removal (okay that's me, not Andy), etc.  
  • Budgeting gets so easy month to month because it's been almost two years now.  We have an idea of our spending habits and have figured out how to make it work every month.
  • Maxing out or Roth IRAs ($5500 each per year) is not exciting.  It will be awesome when I retire at age 57, but it is so not exciting now.  But if I do AARP's retirement calculator and estimates, it does say we are saving enough per month so that is awesome. 
  • We are often torn between how much to throw toward the house and how much to save up for future expenses like our next car, making home improvements, etc.
  • We got through baby steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in a matter of 16 months, which is amazing when we think about the dollars involved!!
All in all, I consider us a money success and we are very happy with our lifestyle.  I'll be excited to pay our house off, but we don't feel quite the pressure to do that the way we felt with the debt snowball, emergency fund, and saving for retirement (because the earlier you save the better off you are).  I would recommend Dave's class to anyone and everyone, no matter how responsible you think you are with money.  We thought we were very responsible and now we think "oh if we had only done the first four years of our marriage differently, we might not have a mortgage!"  But at least we were able to develop a plan NOW and didn't wait until our 50s :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

virginia

I'm glad in all our travels for work we were able to swing a trip to my sister's as part of it. They have such adorable animals as part of their farm complete with goats:


So when the goats get fed, the cow comes to eat and RUNS to mealtime.  It's so funny.


Isn't their pasture of cute animals so pretty?  Plus in the far top right is the mountain line you can see as well.


Chickens various fowl in front of the outbuilding:


Gobble gobble:


Okay I didn't just stare at the animals all day.  We went to one of the fall festivals and there was a horse-drawn wagon ride!


We went on it and there was story time by the local librarian while we were on there:



Here is the only picture I'm in while we were there:


Our trip to the Millers got cut a little short because Warren got sick and Andy wasn't feeling great.  We wondered if it was related and didn't want to trade germs...but it turns out it wasn't related because Warren had appendix problems!  His was punctured/ruptured and ended up in the emergency room and then the hospital for days, and will go in for surgery next month to get all the pieces removed.  That was a crazy time for them all, but I'm glad that he is pretty back to normal now - maybe just a wee bit less energy than he used to have (which makes sense because he was sick a long time plus lost some weight).  So even though I had my appendix out previously, I'm pretty sure I didn't pass that along to Warren!  :)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

amish friendship bread

I had never done anything related to Amish friendship bread...but it's the bread that requires work for 10 days, and then it makes more starters to give to others.  When we visited my sister she gave me a starter.  We diligently followed the instructions including 'mash the bag' lots of days.  That was Andy's job:


Then mixing up the actual batter finally on day 10 (although we cheated and did day 11 since it uses vanilla pudding mix and I didn't have any). 


But the bread came out find waiting an additional day.


So there is a ton of cinnamon and sugar in this recipe, which is AWESOME.  That's what makes it so good!  I would definitely categorize this as a dessert bread.


It was easy to make, even if doing things for 10 days sounds like a lot it's about 30 seconds out of your life for 8 of those 10 days.  And it is so tasty it is definitely worth it.  It makes two loaves, and I froze one until Andy's parents visited and then thawed it.  It tasted just as good as the first batch!

So if anyone in Cookeville wants a starter, I have three of them in my freezer up for grabs - then I can give you the recipe with it!  I am also posting it below more for my own records (I do use the blog as my own picture and recipe archive storage place) because although it is in my recipe box, I do not want to lose it!  Sorry to those who don't have a starter and think it looks tasty :)

Amish Friendship Bread
The mixture will bubble and ferment...that is normal.  If air gets in the bag, let it out.  Do not use any type of metal spoon or bowl for mixing.

Day 1: do nothing (this is the day you receive the batter - date the bag to keep track)
Day 2: mush the bag
Day 3: mush the bag
Day 4: mush the bag
Day 5: mush the bag
Day 6: add to the bag: 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk.  Mush the bag
Day 7: mush the bag
Day 8: mush the bag
Day 9: mush the bag
Day 10: make bread as described below

  1. pour entire contents of bag into a non-metal bowl
  2. add 1.5 cups flour, 1.5 cups sugar, 1.5 cups milk
  3. measure out 4 separate batters of 1 cup each and pour into 4 separate gallon ziploc bags.  Give away or freeze
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 and add the following to the bowl: 3 eggs, 1/2 c milk, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1.5 tsp baking powder, 1/2 ts salt, 1 large box vanilla instant pudding mix, 1/2 c oil or applesauce, 1 c sugar, 1/2 ts vanilla, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 c flour
  5. grease loaf pans
  6. mix 1/2 c brown sugar and 1.5 tsp cinnamon, then dust the greased pans with half of this mixture
  7. divide batter evenly between loaf pans and sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture over batter
  8. bake for 1 hour
  9. cool until bread loosens from pan and remove
The finished bread loaf also freezes well in foil then in a ziploc - let thaw on the counter and then serve!