Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pantry challenge - eat what you have

Hubs and I recently sat down with our budget to see exactly where we can cut back. While we're trying to live on one salary, we're spending more than we're making, which is a big problem. Of course we can't do anything about our mortgage payment or water bill, but my personal challenge is to save more money at the grocery store.

I think I already do a pretty decent job of saving money on groceries. I check the weekly ads and I try not to buy too much that is not on sale. I use coupons occasionally, but that is certainly something I can improve. But the biggest problem I have is not planning well and letting food go uneaten.

I recently organized my pantry and saw how much food we have that is rarely touched.

Hence the "Pantry Challenge". I want to eat the food I have in the pantry (and freezer) before going on another large grocery run. Sure, there are some things I won't be able to eat without getting another ingredient at the store, and some of our dinners might be super random (beans and pasta?). But for a couple of weeks at least, we can cut back on our grocery bill this way.

For our first pantry meal, I have everything I need for Creamy Italian Chicken Pasta.

Ingredients:
2 pounds chicken breasts
1/4 cup melted butter
4 oz cream cheese & chives
1 can of cream of mushroom OR chicken soup
1 package Italian dressing mix
1/2 cup water
angel hair pasta

My substitutions: I only have plain cream cheese, so I'll add dried chives to the mix; I don't have a package of Italian dressing mix, so I'll just use Italian seasoning from my spice rack

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Back chicken for about 20 minutes or until cooked. While baking, mix melted butter, cream cheese, soup, Italian seasoning and water. When chicken is done, drain the fat and pour creamy mixture over chicken. Make sure each piece is coated. Put back in oven until warmed through. Serve over angel hair pasta.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How my self-imposed spending hiatus became a necessity

At the beginning of the year I decided to go on a little spending hiatus. I've seen several bloggers who do this, and after Christmas/beginning of the New Year seemed like a great time to try it.

I did it for a couple of reasons. The first one is probably pretty obvious - December is a huge spending month for us, as I'm sure it is for most people, and after the regular gift giving among our friends and families, plus hosting a Christmas party for about 50 people, I decided that we could use a little extra savings for a couple of months.

But while saving money is always a good thing, the second reason was really more important to me. I want to teach myself to be happy and content with what I already own. This is hard.

Imposing this spending hiatus right after Christmas is probably kind of a cheat because I had just received lots of gifts, including some new clothes, a few things for the house, and the most beautiful pair of earrings for my birthday. But...it is amazing how quickly I become dissatisfied.

For the months of January and February, I was in control of my spending. (Ok, I did buy one $20 vest from Old Navy, but that was it!) I was disciplined. Because it was my choice. I was choosing not to spend.

Then things took an interesting turn. At the beginning of March, I left my job (which is another story that I won't get into here). Suddenly, my spending hiatus wasn't just a choice anymore. It became a necessity.

Still for another month or so, I was fine with it. I didn't need new clothes because I ran my errands in jeans and t-shirts. I didn't need to go out for lunch because I was already home with a full fridge. But most of all, I still viewed the spending hiatus as a challenge.

Until April. And the warm weather. And the cute spring clothes in every store. The thing is, I really believe that if this spending hiatus was still my own choice, it would probably be easier not to spend...that whole challenge aspect, right? But it's not a choice anymore...and I don't like it.

I think the first step to be content is to be thankful. I have a comfortable home with air conditioning and heat. I sleep in a warm bed every night with a man who I adore and trust completely. I never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, and I when I want to go somewhere, I just grab my keys and go. These are luxuries I too often take for granted.

Beyond that, I don't have a breakthrough solution (yet). But I'd like to regularly share about my personal experience with budgeting, saving money, and the constant struggles I face with this "new" lifestyle. (Like when I just want those really cute Steve Madden pumps, and right now, too!)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

a new look, a new direction

After two years of blogging, a completely random assortment of posts, and a recent three-month break, I asked myself - what can I really bring to the blogging world that people will find interesting and useful? After bouncing around a few ideas, I realized I've slowly gained a passion for (trying to) simplify life:

decluttering my home
being content with what I already own
maintaining a budget along with budget-friendly ideas for the home
creating healthier eating habits
living "green" to be a good steward of this earth
a few other things that will come up along the way :)

Of course, all these things are quite easier said than done, so I want to be really honest and share my personal journey along the way, both triumphs and failures relapses.

I believe living a simpler lifestyle doesn't have to be all about the budget, salads, and recycling...there is definitely room for interpretation and of course, the occasional splurge, whether it's a physical item or an experience. Trust me...I know how to splurge.

I've been thinking about the "new blog" and talking about it with friends for quite a while, and even though I don't feel fully prepared to take on this new challenge, I figured the best way to start is...well, to just start!

In addition to this new direction, the blog needed a new look, courtesy of my friend Marina at Penny Lane Designs. I love the simplicity of the look, but it still has a little flair to add some interest...I hope that will reflect the content as well!

Let's see where this takes us...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rustic arrangements

I'm not sure if I'm using the right term, but I love the rustic arrangements in each of these images. I think they're probably a good substitute for traditional greenery, which I don't personally care for. But greenery is a great way to warm up a space, so hopefully the rustic arrangements below can also solve for the lack of warmth in a room.

images from The Nest (clockwise starting at top left: 1) loving the turquoise shades (turquoise is the official color of 2010), 2) I can't tell for sure, but is this arrangement hanging on the wall?, 3) the arrangement is as wide as the table, which creates a little bit of drama; also love the chocolate brown walls and white trim; 4) good height, draws the eye up)



image from Sproost.com - I don't really like the flowers at the bottom of the arrangement, and the painted tree on the wall makes things a little too busy for my taste, although I love the idea of painted trees for a focal point in a bedroom.



image from
Sproost.com - not my favorite example of the rustic arrangement, but I love the lantern light fixture and the wood stacked in the fireplace



image from Sproost.com this is my favorite image on this post. I love the pop of color in the vase and little flowers (although I probably wouldn't choose pink), and I like how it takes up quite a bit of unused wall space



image from Room Remix - I feel like this one is crowding the lamp a little too much?
Love love love the white bed frame and plush headboard

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reconsidering pink

I don't really consider myself a girly-girl, and therefore I'm not a huge fan of pink. I've always thought I would avoid the color in home decor, even for a girl's nursery or bedroom.

However, this picture makes me reconsider. I love the boldness of the pink on the wall (Pink Sky from Ralph Lauren Paint), with the white flowy bedding and curtains and the pop of matching pink in the pillow. This room needs a lot of natural light, which unfortunately the bedrooms in my house don't have. I also might not include glass lamps in a child's room, but I love the look of it.

image from Southern Living found via Room Remix

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shelf styling

I have absolutely no expertise in shelf styling, so I will let these professional pictures do all the work. Hopefully I can learn enough to style my poor barren Ikea Expedit bookcase in my dining room.
Interesting idea and nice pops of color, but I don't think I'll try this one at home.


InteriorArcade.com
This is most like my Ikea bookcase. I prefer when there are a few empty spots
as demonstrated here. It feels less busy and cluttered.

This is a good example of a shelf that is too cluttered for me, but I like the frame
mounted on the outside of the shelf and the books grouped by color.
I love when the backs of shelves and bookcases pop with an accent color.


DesignShrine.net
I'm intrigued by the vase painted on the wall...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sometimes this feels true...

Happy Monday!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Curtains! (it's about time)

About three months ago, I excitedly shared that Hubs and I were finally going to hang curtains in our dining room after two and half years of living with our ugly brown mini-blinds. Unfortunately, the weekend we were supposed to go shopping, both of our cars ended up in the shop, and we decided to put off some home decor purchases. A new engine (Explorer) and new alternator (F-250) later, we finally got back to the curtains.

As a reminder, this is what our room looked like before.

I debated over whether or not to hang colorful curtains for a more dramatic effect or neutral curtains for a softer and calmer look. I finally settled on these curtains from West Elm, which unfortunately were the most expensive of all my options.

However, each panel is 48 inches wide, and my narrow windows are only 23 inches wide. My mom is an excellent seamstress, and we decided that we could easily buy one panel per window, cut it in half, and hem them up to make two panels. This cut the cost in half, although it still turned out to be the most expensive option. I'm a bargain hunter and love to find a deal, but I can also recognize a worthwhile splurge here and there.

This is the room now.

(Please excuse my glowy-eyed puppy and the poorly decorated shelves,
which is my next challenge and future blog post.)

I absolutely love how the room looks. The curtains are definitely neutral, but the print adds a pop of interest, and the room feels bigger. They let in enough light during the day, while also providing privacy. I chose the extra long panels (96 inches) and hung them high so the windows look bigger, but you can see in the first picture, they really aren't that tall.

Don't curtains make such a difference?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Make-ahead meal

If you're like me, you like the idea of preparing a fresh, homemade dinner for your Hubs or family. If you're like me, you are often tired after a long day of work, and cooking is the last thing you want to do. But I know how much my Hubs appreciates it when I cook, and it's one way I can serve him and make him happy. (And then he serves me by cleaning the dishes. It's two-way street, after all.)

But back to that thing about being tired after work...oh yeah, that won't go away.

One solution:
Take some time on a lazy weekend to prepare a couple of freezable casseroles for later in the month. Or if there are only two of you, separate a 9x13 dish into two 8x8 dishes, and freeze one for later. I've recently grown more comfortable with freezing food, and it has been a great time saver. Freezable dinners are also excellent to take to new parents or someone who is sick, since they are probably getting lots of meals and can't eat everything right away.

So, here is one recipe I made earlier this week. It's easy, it's freezable, it's tasty, and it's even a cute presentation.

Spicy Chicken Lasagna Roll-Ups




Ingredients:

1 jar (26 oz.) spaghetti sauce

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tsp. crushed red pepper

3 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken (in a hurry? use two large cans of chicken)

2 cups shredded mozzarella Cheese, divided

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used shredded and it worked well, too)

2 eggs, beaten

12 lasagna noodles, cooked, rinsed and drained


Directions:

HEAT oven to 375ºF. (I would cook the lasagna noodles completely before turning on oven, otherwise your oven will be on for a while before the cook time, which wastes energy.)

MIX spaghetti sauce, Italian seasoning & crushed red pepper; combine 1/2 cup of the sauce mixture with chicken, 1 cup mozzarella, Parmesan, and eggs.

SPREAD 1/2 cup of the remaining sauce mixture onto bottom of 13x9-inch baking dish

SPOON 1/4 cup chicken mixture onto each noodle & roll up. Place lasagna rolls (seam-sides down) in dish, then cover with remaining sauce mixture and mozzarella.

BAKE 25 min. or until heated through


If freezing:

Follow all steps until you reach the BAKE step. Cover dish with foil. Place casserole in large freezer-weight resealable plastic bag. Freeze up to 1 month. When ready to serve, heat oven to 375ºF. Remove casserole from plastic bag, but do not remove foil. Bake 1 hour or until heated through. (No need to thaw before baking.)


recipe (slightly altered) and image from KraftFoods.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

LOST Supper

My Twitter is abuzz with talk about the new promos from LOST.

click images to enlarge

To me, the most interesting thing about LOST promos is who is pictured and who is not. Juliet is not pictured which may confirm her death at the end of Season 5 (tear), while newcomer Ilana is included. Claire is back after being gone for two seasons, and for some reason she and Miles have switched places in the two promos. John Locke is in the Jesus seat. The table is made out of an airplane wing, skulls are littering the ground, and perhaps most suspiciously, everyone is clean-shaven and well dressed.

The final season begins Tuesday, February 2 on ABC at 8pm CST with a recap show at 7pm CST.