Saturday, June 28, 2014

A great Saturday after a very long week!

I got up this morning & made a yummy breakfast with some garden ingredients:

I served the fresh tomatoes, basil & peppers with eggs & rolled it into tortillas. Delicious! Love having breakfast that you (mostly) pick in the yard. Too bad we don't have any chickens! :-)

I also did yoga this morning, & went for a quick run before interviewing a potential nanny. I think we found a great fit! We're mostly just looking for help after school, taking the boys to practice, helping with homework, etc. Her schedule is pretty flexible, and she did extremely well with the kids. Now we just need to find a day for a trial run, and figure out how much we can afford to pay. I'll be very relieved if we can get some extra help with the boys.

Other than that, it's going to be a very mellow day, and I need one after the week of craziness. I'm hoping to sit in the backyard and enjoy the sunshine, read my book, prep some freezer meals, and spend time with the boys before we take them to camp tomorrow. Another big milestone - a few nights at sleepover camp! They are extremely excited, so fingers crossed that it all goes well.

And, my week definitely turned around - I found out that I'm getting a stock option "refresh" of my existing options. It won't be very much all at once (vests over four years), but we're hoping to devote all of that money to our travel fund, which would cover trips to see the family, etc. That would free up cash flow from our standard budget for paying down our mortgage, etc.

I never got to go to sleepover camp, but it was a huge dream of mine growing up. Have you ever been, or sent your kids? What was your experience?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I'm having one of those weeks

It's an insanely busy week at work, and my son injured himself & couldn't go to sports camp yesterday. So, mad scrambling to get coverage during the work day, leaving early, trip to the urgent care, etc. Luckily, he just has a very light muscle pull & is fine. My windshield also cracked on the way to Urgent Care. . .

Today, I went to our spare fridge to grab extra milk for my coffee. And, after pouring, took a big drink & realized the milk was sour. Went back to the fridge/freezer and realized that when putting away all of their various balls this weekend, one of the kids inadvertently dislodged the freezer/fridge plugged & all of the food was bad. Probably $500 or so worth of: all of my prepped meals, meat, 2 large jugs of milk, 36 organic eggs, two bricks of cheese. . .

And, all of my time of preparing all of those meals. :-(((((

Onward, and upward. It was an accident, and I got a chance to clean my fridge & freezer at 6:00 this morning. So, there's that? ;-) And, I no longer have pesky worries of how to utilize everything in my freezer.

I do need to figure out how to quickly restock what we lost & start restocking all of our freezer meals. That will be no small feat.

In awesome news, I posted an ad for a nanny, and already have a great response. We really, really need help right now, so this is awesome.

And, my kids are happy & healthy, & I have a great family. Keeping my eye on all of the good things.

I think tonight will be a yoga night. Deep breathing! :-)

Since I now need great recipes, please share your favorite freezer meals!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday, already?

The weekends fly by at record speed, and sometimes it's hard to reconcile the amount of time I *think* I have on weekends, with the actual amount of time available. ;-) Do you ever have that problem?

I need to work like 20 hours today, which is not going to happen. Maybe 2 hours before bed, plus wake up a couple of hours earlier in the morning? Talk about starting the week off on a bad note. On the plus side, I have a long weekend coming up in two weeks (4th of July), and I desperately need the time off. There is just way too much work on my plate. Ick.

Anyway, what's on the agenda for today? I'm continuing my effort to use up all of our green peppers. Our plant is producing like mad. So far, we've tried two different recipes - this grilled pepper with goat cheese appetizer was amazing. I also liked this sausage & pepper dish, but we prefer chicken, so I may substitute next time.

Nick had a friend over for a play date yesterday, that extended into a sleepover. I felt like my mother after I pulled him aside to let him know that asking someone to come over/stay longer, etc ALWAYS first requires parental approval. Was that something your mom always said as well? Now I know why. ;-) His friend was sweet, and it wasn't a problem, but he keeps kosher & we were having cheeseburgers for dinner, so it required some tweaking of the plans. C'est la vie.

On the list of projects to tackle today:
  • 12  mile run. I'm trying a new park today - the one within walking distance of my house is amazing, but extremely hill, which requires me to run up 6 miles before turning around and running 6 down. Both ways are hard, with all of the extreme downhill being hard on my knees & ankles. Fingers crossed that this trail is better for long runs.
  • Yoga. I'm super tight & need to stretch.
  • Bake bread for lunches.
  • Get everything ready for camp tomorrow. It's going to be a crazed day, so I need to get ahead & plan.
  • Wash all sheets & make beds.
  • Write up an ad for an afternoon nanny. I'm getting anxious to get some help when school starts again.
  • Plan the menu for the week. 
  • Find a disposable camera & a couple of books to send to the kids when they are having their overnight camp next week.
  • Use up some buttermilk that's lurking in the fridge
  • Find more risotto. I can find it at multiple shops, but it's typically very expensive. I'm hoping to find a cheaper source.
Other than that, it will be a regular day of hanging out with the boys, working in the garden, and hopefully relaxing a bit this evening. I brought a bunch of books home from the library yesterday & have already read one. I love reading!

What about you? What are you hoping to accomplish today? Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Making inexpensive meals at home using the meal block concept

I thought I would share some tips on how I get dinner on the table during the crazy work weeks, even when I have late calls & work too much. Luckily, that never happens. ;-) I've been doing this type of meal prep for 5 or so years. We went through a stretch right after the boys were born where we were eating out a ton. Our plan evolved over time, but the concept of having a variety of meal items ready to go at any time that can be mixed & matched into other meals has been with us for a while. I've never thought of it as a meal "building block", but once I read Mortgage Free in Three's post, I realized -that's what I do as well. Although, I'm not nearly as organized as she is. Love her blog! :-)

As a general rule, I do most of my prep during the weekends, and here are the kind of things we prepare. Obviously, we don't do all of these things each weekend. Or else, we're eating A TON of chicken. ;-)

  • Grilled chicken. M marinates (in spices - no barbecue sauce) 20+ lbs of chicken & then grills it. We freeze in individual dinner-sized bags. 
  • Hamburgers. While best fresh off the grill, we also freeze grilled burgers.
  • Homemade meatballs (and, Costco style as a backup for desperate times). 
  • Taco meat. Seasoned & browned, then frozen.
  • Pesto. Made from homemade basil & frozen in very small serving sizes.
  • Pizza dough - made in the breadmaker & frozen. Can quickly be defrosted.
  • Bolognese sauce
  • Homemade chicken taquitos
Using these building blocks, I can always put together a reasonably healthy & quick dinner. We also always have certain things on hand to mix with the other dinner "blocks":
  • Pasta
  • Tortellini
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Lots of fresh veggies & tomatoes
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Homemade hummus
  • Rice
  • Tortilla shells
With these ingredients, we mix & match each week. On weekends, I make more elaborate dinner recipes, and double them. Some favorites are: chicken risotto, wild rice with sausage, homemade pizza, soups, etc.

For the nights where we don't have leftovers of the weekend dinners, I review the pantry & freezer & tend to make the following:

  • Tacos (beef or chicken)
  • Pasta with either bolognese sauce or pesto + chicken. 
  • A big chicken salad
  • Quesadillas with chicken
  • Chicken pasta casserole
  • Taquitos with salsa & salad
A few other convenience foods that we keep on hand, to avoid eating out:
  • Breaded chicken from Trader Joes. It's more expensive than making your own, but awesome for throwing together something fast.
  • Breaded tilapia from Costco.
By keeping the freezer stocked with a few easy meal blocks, my sanity is saved. We typically spend around $500 on groceries, and another $150 on eating out ($100 devoted to date night :-). While not incredibly frugal, the majority of our budget is spent on produce & lean meat, so I'm fine with the cost. We do have quite a bit of repetition in our menu, but I have one reasonably picky eater, and this also meets all of the demands of the eaters at my table. ;-) 

Next up, I have to figure out what to do with 18 green peppers. My plant is currently about to collapse due to having too many peppers on the vine, so it's time to harvest.

How do you ensure you always have something to serve? What are your meal blocks, or easy meals you prep in advance? Do you use a similar concept? 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Toddling along

Or rather, moving at lightning speed! The boys had their last day of school (as comparison, first day of school on top)

As you can see, they have both grown & are now nicely tanned. All of that California sunshine. ;-)

The end of the school year was crazy with activities and events, and we are now settling into the summer camp routine. I'm working too much, and trying to make time to continue my running & working out. We continue to look for ways to save money & reduce spending. We eat meals at home, minimize waste, and trim our spending when possible. We are by no means perfect, but are continuing our efforts to keep our spending in check, even during the crazy phases.

Last weekend was M's birthday & Father's Day, so I missed my regular post. We did, however, have an absolutely fabulous date night. And, we've watched A LOT of soccer with the boys. They are very into the World Cup.

I hope you are all doing well. I'd love to hear your best money saving tip when you're in a hurry. How do you save yourself time & money?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Menu Plan Monday

Here's what we're having over the next week or so (including a weekend look back)

  • Saturday - We had a fantastic & easy shrimp pasta dish, with fresh basil from the garden. I served it with caprese salad. 
  • Sunday - Copper river salmon + caprese salad (possibly with the first ripe beefsteak tomato. Yum!)
  • Monday - Leftover shrimp pasta
  • Tuesday - Taco Tuesday, with guacamole & chips for non-dieters
  • Wednesday - Grilled chicken (freezer) with pesto (freezer) pasta
  • Thursday - Homemade chicken taquitos, and leftover guacamole
  • Friday - Any leftovers, or caprese risotto
How about you? Have you tried any good recipes lately? I need to work in our green peppers, but have just been adding to salads.

Hope you're having a great Monday!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

May financial recap - where did all the money go?

It turns out, I wrote the IRS check in June, so this month wasn't as bad as expected. June, on the other hand . . . ;-)

Alright, here's where things netted out for the month:

Standard income:
Salaries - $15,517
Rental income - $3,800
Total income = $19,317

Total Budget for May = $19,098.
Total Actual Spend for May = $16,770

We came in under a bit, but that money will be rolled over to our tax expenses for June. All $5,600 of it.

Areas where we were over:

  • Car - my car was due for a full service, which was $500.
  • Charity - we went over our standard donations by another $100, to cover additional donations to the boys school.
  • Dining out - over by almost $200. This is unusual for us, but is primarily from my trip to the beach. I treated for multiple meals.
  • Gas - over by $70, due to lots of traveling for soccer games.
  • Gifts - over by $160 - Mother's Day & me getting a few things for M's birthday & Father's Day (both in June)
  • Groceries - over by $400!!! Wow. Would not have guessed that, had I not reviewed our budget. We've had a few low months in a row, so this was a stock up month. We were out of lots of things. I also made 15 batches of pesto (in the freezer), & the pine nuts, olive oil & parmesan cheese definitely added to the budget. That said, we won't be buying any pesto for A LONG time. ;-)
  • Alcohol - over by $160. My favorite wine is in stock at Costco, & they only carry it from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It's very cheap ($8/bottle), so I bought a case.
  • Travel - over by $570. This was our deposit for our Hawaii trip in November.
Okay, and for areas that we were under:

  • Boys categories (clothes, misc, lessons, etc) - under by about $300. That will all be used up when the soccer deposits are due.
  • Child care - under by $460. This is due to reimbursements from my dependent care account.
  • Cleaning - under by $360. We canceled a service, and I used cash that M won from his last trip to Las Vegas cover this, & reduce expenses.
  • House - under by $100
  • Utilities - under by $400. I feel like I must have missed a payment on something. I'll need to go investigate.
  • Taxes - under by $2000. Again, this will all be spent (plus more) in June. 

And, for the final tally, our net worth is up just slightly as of June 1st. We went from a net worth on May 1st of $1,403,200 to a net worth on 6/1 of $1,411,033. So, a slight gain of $7,800. Gains came from paying down our liabilities (two mortgages) + standard retirement contributions.

How about you? Do you regularly track your expenses? How did you do against your budget in May?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

June Goals!

I'm definitely late this month, but best just to get them posted & focus. It's now or never. :-)

Here we go!

  1. Run/walk 100 miles.
  2. Complete 1100 minutes of cardio.
  3. Complete 10 strength workouts.
  4. Complete 6 stretching workouts.
  5. Lose 3 lbs.
  6. Track my calories in MyFitnessPal every day.
  7. No treats at work (I've had one so far, so no more).
  8. Renew my passport.
  9. Book flights for all summer vacations.
  10. Get Father's Day/M's birthday stuff sorted out.
  11. Come up with financial plan to rebuild emergency fund/save for Hawaii - post the 2011 tax debacle.
  12. Stick to our monthly budget.
  13. Inventory our freezers.
  14. Get organized for summer camps (put together cheat sheets of locations/hours for each one, & what we need to bring, etc).
  15. Have a date night with M.
  16. Do something social with friends. Still trying to work on the meeting people aspect of moving. I now know a few moms, but not enough to really call anyone a slightly better than acquaintance. ;-) 
I think that's it! We also have a ton of produce getting ready to ripen in the garden (so excited!), so I'll be figuring out how to incorporate all of that into our weekly menus.

What's on your list of things to tackle in June? 

May goals recap

First up, Sam (my second grader) came in 5th place in his school for their weekly running event. Each week, the kids run laps on Fridays. He ran a total of 50 miles this year, which was the 5th highest mileage in the school. He was so proud! :-)

And, I grew my first green pepper! We had it diced with eggs this morning. It was yummy. Our green pepper plant is growing out of control. I'll have to figure out what to do with all of these beauties.

Here's how I did with my May goals!

  1. Lose 3 lbs. This is a must do. Time to really focus on my weight. - I lost 2.1 lbs, and feel much more toned! Feeling very good about this. :-) 
  2. Track my calories every day using MyFitnessPal - Done!
  3. No dessert at work! For the entire month! Again - loved this goal last month. - Done, and I think my weight loss reflects this!
  4. Complete 1,000 minutes of cardio. (Workout 20 days). - 1,123, helped by some big runs & walks. Woohoo! Most cardio in a year!
  5. Complete 8 strength workouts. - Close. I got in 6.
  6. Complete 8 stretching workouts. :-( - I only did 3. This one remains a challenge to fit into my schedule.
  7. Continue Half Marathon training. - Yes! I'm now up to the more challenging distances, & still making it work.
  8. Have one date night with M. - Yes, we went on a double date.
  9. Finalize our vacation plans for the rest of the year, and create a budget. - Our budget took a huge hit with the unexpected 2011 tax situation, & I still need to book some tickets. Otherwise, we're in good shape for the planning side.
  10. Do one social activity. - Yes, I've been going to a group workout class, & carpooling with moms from my neighborhood. It's an awesome workout, & I enjoy the social time in the car. ;-) 
  11. Stick to our budget. - I know this is a huge fail, due to the taxes, but will have a full accounting up soon.
  12. Determine if we should lower our vacation house sale price, & get it in shape when I'm in town over Memorial Day. - Done! We lowered the price, and cleaned out a bunch of stuff we didn't need, plus met with our realtor.
  13. Renew my passport! I need to do this for work, as I have a trip to London coming up. - Oops. Forgot this was even on here. Will move this to June. ;-) 

My June goals still need to be posted, and I need to finish my May financial accounting (shudder), but that's how May went! What about you? How did you do with your May goals?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Menu Plan for the week

Here's our plan for the week ahead (and, a look back at the weekend!)

  • Saturday - The boys were with a sitter while I was on my long run. Pasta & chicken nuggets, + fresh vegetables.
  • Sunday - Chicken risotto + kale salad.
  • Monday - crazy day, as the boys have soccer tryouts. We'll have taquitos (Costco kind for the boys, and a healthier/homemade version for me & M) + kale salad. Taquito recipe -
  • Tuesday - Leftover risotto + salad
  • Wednesday - Lubia polo from the freezer (it's a Persian rice/ground beef/bean dish). It's not the best reheated, but I forgot & made a big batch a while back. 
  • Thursday - Taco Thursday. ;-) Chips & guac for non-dieters.
  • Friday - school barbecue. I need to make something healthy, so I won't fall off track with my eating plan. 
  • Saturday - burgers & corn on the barbecue
  • Sunday - homemade chicken pesto pizza to use up some fresh mozzarella & the never ending pesto supply.
What about you? What's on your menu plan for the week?