Sunday, July 31, 2016

Day 31: July Food Challenge $1/day/person/meal Friends, Goats, Cheese, Butter

The milking has officially begun!
As has the cheesemaking, thanks to F&L, a totally groovy couple who were kind enough to show Ms B and I the ropes on safe, sanitary, reliable cheesemaking.
What a day!
If you had told me 32 days ago, that the end of July would find me standing in a goat pasture...,
That milking goats was in my future for at least six weeks...
That the last day of July would find me standing in another kitchen, my feet soggy from spilled whey, kneading fresh mozzarella that I had made from two gallons of goat's milk...
That kindness from friends would keep my house cool, despite my A/C going out twice...
That fresh veggies and fruits and jams, along with soaps, would be gifted and shared and that my food supply would actually be more abundant than I had imagined or, in my budgeting, thought possible...
If you had said, "Before the month is out, you'll meet homeless people on the street, stop your car, and they will pray for you. You will feed them physical food, but they will nourish your soul..."

Who me?
All those things could not possibly happen?
Yet, they did.
Those things and more.
Thank you for being a part of this journey with our family.
For cheering us on as we took on our July food challenge.
We learned so much.
Not just about food and budgeting and being mindful with our purchases.
We learned so much about friendship, kindness, and more of what it means to be a kind human in a world, that for me, radiated back more kindness at every turn.

Each day were little lessons:
Will you call the number of the woman with the milk?
Will you turn around the car and give the wanderer the "blessing bag" your children had made?
Will you look for the alternatives to spending money and still have fun?
Will you speak to the one who sits on the steps and acknowledge that his humanity is as valuable as yours? Will you push past the emotions and simply settle into this new adjustment of not being oblivious with your money, especially when it comes to your food budget? Your entertainment budget?
Will you be content with what seems ordinary and watch what unfurls?
Will you be yourself and be gracious in entertaining, whether as hosts or as guests?
Will you be generous and give with hands unclenched, sharing the abundance with those around you?
Will you be grateful, humble, and above all...
Will you be kind?

Today was a tremendously fun day.
I forgot to pack my lunch, which was really poor planning on my part.
Efficiency is not actual reality in most facets of life.
Milk gets spilled.
Butter turns sour.
A/C's break, again.
Friends show up.
New friends are made.
Things take time.

My lack of planning led me to the grocery store when I was both tired and hungry.
I went in for butter.
I had a small balance on my gift cards.
And some coupons for some free stuff.
The store was crowded.
I forgot about tax.
And then the store only accepted a certain number of my coupons.
So, I waited and asked the cashier to remove the extra.
It was confusing.
I apologized to the folks in the line behind me.
In the end, I owed the store $0.83.
The thought passed that I could keep working this and get it down to $0.
But there were people in line, who were trying to be kind and patient, as I tried with my checker to sort out our mutual confusion.
So, I smiled, thanked them, paid, and made my way home.

In a sense, it is fitting that I came just a little short of the goal.
Did our family "have to have" anything from the store today?
Not really.
Should I have gone to the store without a real plan, especially when hungry and tired and my mind not at its sharpest?
Probably not.
My tendency towards pride and vanity is a very real thing.
Did I sabotage my perfect record, to keep myself from being a braggart?
Smiling softly at you, Friend, I'll close with,

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Day 30: July Food Challenge $1/meal/person/day For the Love of Goats and Cheese

The air hung heavy with rain as I pulled into the small, brambled farm that smelled of sunshine and fresh cut grass. For the last 30 minutes I had driven deep into the countryside to procur three gallons of free goat's milk. As I turned down the dirt drive, I could see the goats in their pasture in what most people would have made a front yard, but not here. Every piece of this land, save for edges around the front and back driveway was a paddock or pasture for goats, billies, rams, ewes, chickens, and a garden that was beginning to be overgrown.

In my hands, I carried two zuchinni squash as a thank you for this unknown woman's kindness. I knocked on the door and was let inside by a red-faced woman in her late 50s. She was in the middle of canning pickles, hot from steam and boiling vinegar and spices. She waved her paring knife towards a chair, and told me to have a seat, until she reached a stopping point and we could go and meet the goats. "May I help you chop?" I ask. She shakes her head and turns her attention to the sink full of bowls and cucumbers. "No," she replies. "These cucumbers were given to me by a friend, but they are a bit big, so I'm turning them into relish." She holds up a massive cucumber, fully three times the size of store bought cuke. "Yes," I say, "It'd probably be a bit mushy if you tried making that into a big pickle." She works fast, zipping through seeds and stuffing the remaining pieces of vegetable into a food processor, where she grinds it into relish and packs into a large mason jar.

Dogs barked and her husband came out and introduced himself. He was off to get some hay and run a long list of errands. They take turns telling me that he worked the night shift at a local factory and only gets two Saturdays a month off. These are hard-working, of-the-land folks, and I did not quite understand why I was not simply handed my free milk and shooed out the door.

Because I feel dramatically out of place.
Like I should be doing something to help these good people, not vice versa.
So I offer again to help chop or ladle or do whatever this Missus would ask me to do to be useful.
She shakes her head and keeps zipping, chopping, and stuffing.
Instead, she talks about her family.
Their life now and their life before this place.
The goats and the sheep, that they consider like children, who made the journey across country with them.

She asks if I want to milk the goats and learn how its done.
"Oh, yes, please!"
We walk outside and it begins to rain.
The air is so hot, the rain evaporated before it touches my skin. I can smell it and feel it in the air, but it does not reach me. They've turned an old trailer into the milking shed and she sets to work, explaining the parts and showing me the steps involved. It seems simple enough and I am half paying attention, enjoying the smell of the sweetened feed and listening to the now soft tap of the rain against the metal roof. We walk out into the paddock to get the first goat. I clonk my head on the doorframe. That klutzy action brings back memories of my horseriding childhood.

Undeterred, I follow her out as she talks to her goats and brings the first one up for milking. Never have I seen such large teats on a goat! They are huge, like two giant brown carrots dangling down beneath her swollen milk sac. Silently, I wonder if she's abnormal. I was expecting something a little more discreet. Her name is Oreo and she settles in for her milking, happily munching the feed. Missus' tone changes to a soothing sing-song, whether talking to me or the goat as she explains and works in one seamless series of constant motion. She cleans the goat and pats and rubs and brushes her coat. In less than 10 minutes, we have a mason jar filled with 7 cups of milk. We clean and balm her udders, thanking her for the tasty milk she's provided for us, and lead the goat back to the pen. Now, it is my turn. Next goat.

And then the next.
Talking gently, rubbing, cleaning, balming, thanking each goat. We finish and I follow the woman back in the house where we strain and pour the milk into clean containers. She talks some more and it starts to sink in on me what she is saying. I repeat her words, "So, you are saying that from now until the middle of September, I can take over the milking of your goats and have all their milk?"
"Yes," she replies. "I am tired and, if it is helpful for you, it would be a blessing for me and for them."
In September, they will have a rest and then start the cycle of being bred, having a baby goat and being milked, once the baby is weaned.

I call my friend and fellow cheese hound, "Do you want to do this with me? Can you commit to this for the next six weeks with me?" She agrees. The Missus and I set a time to come out tomorrow, this time with my friend. She loads me up with milk and jars, and equipment, along with a recipe book and a cheese press to borrow. As an afterthought, she goes down the hall and comes back with four bars of goat's milk soap. "For you and for your friend." She walks me out to the van and then says, "Come and meet the other animals." We go and I am introduced to the wise old billy goat, who is nearly blind. His beard is at least nine inches long and his thin, dark face remind me of an ancient elder who has seen much of the world. There is the ram, a massive male sheep. And more billies who tussle and kick at each other. The sheep and lambs with their heavy woolen coats come expectantly to the fence, nuzzling their mistresses hands. We walk down the garden and she snaps off cucumbers and hands them to me and then okra.

"It is too much work to do alone," she says, "So, I just do what I can and leave the rest."
I offer to help and she says that it is too hot for working outside right now. Perhaps, in the evening, she'll get to cut the grass.

I thank her and pull her trash can down the driveway and to the curb. The truck is rumbling in the distance and I offer to wait and drag it back to the yard. "No. Louis will get it, when he comes home."

She heads back inside to finish her canning. I leave and promptly get lost in my excitement over free milk and cheese and the wonder of it all. How had I happened here today?
This morning, I had mentioned enthusiastically that I was learning how to make cheese and yogurt,  because I was trying to be mindful of my money.
This stranger mentioned that knew a woman, who at times, had free milk. He had her number. I could call and ask if she had any? With a shrug of his shoulders he said non-committally, "Perhaps she would have some or perhaps not?"
I thanked him, took the number, and did not hesitate to call.

Money spent: $0 from account; gift card and found/loose change ($2.50 @ the farmer's market, cheesemaking supplies)

Day 29: July Food Challenge $1/person/meal/day Looking Towards Next Month

Found today: red velvet ant
aka "the cow killer"
Money spent: $0 (did you expect to read otherwise?)
So, the last couple of days, The Spouse and I have been reviewing "what's on hand" and "what to buy grocery-wise next month."
It is interesting because almost NONE of the staples that I bought based off of Mr. Money Moustache's list of his family's staples were actually things we used (except eggs and cheese). Several things on his list have not even been opened. So, we certainly aren't buying those things for the next long, long while.

Instead, we made a list of what are actually OUR family staples.
Now granted, having a basic list of staples with which to make nutritious, healthy food in the house is important, so OK, we started there. And maybe he meant all along that you rotate each month what your "staples" are. Maybe, he even says that somewhere, but I must have missed that useful post. And I'm sure the things we have on hand will eventually be fully consumed, but on a month-to-month basis, our family's staple list is different the Senor Mustache.
And yours would be, too.
So, for August the list will be more "us." It'll have more bacon and more tomato soup. More green beans and no (additional) rice, potatoes, or oatmeal. It'll have more applesauce and eggs and yogurt and not quite so many carrots. We now know exactly how much milk, bread, cereal, and eggs we actually use in a month. We didn't know that before this adventure. Three gallons of milk A WEEK? Two loaves of bread each week. For the month: five cans of tomato/marinara sauce? Almost seven POUNDS of cheese? Six dozen eggs? 1.5 gallons of ice cream? Three bags of cereal? 20+ pounds of fresh vegetables. Nine pounds of meat. Nope. Had no idea.

And as happy as I am that we are going to have mastered this moustachian challenge for July 2016, for our family of five, with me on a restrictive food plan, we are not obligated to adhere to the $1/1/1 beyond Sunday when the challenge is ended.

Will we stay under $700/mo?
Absolutely! There are; however, several bulk items that I buy for my food plan that I am going to continue to purchase. It gives me joy and makes me able to keep doing what I'm doing these last four years and not weigh in at 300# (or more)! I've done the math and figured out how much per month those average out to, and it's about $65/mo.

We could put it in another category dubiously called the "Fat Tamer" fund or "Anti-Obesity" fund or "Remove-at-your-Peril" fund or the "IMAHANH" account (if mama ain't happy...) Just to give you an idea: one of those things is instant coffee. Don't judge me. The Spouse prefers coffee more mindfully prepared (read espresso). I like sugar-free flavoring in my cheap-o coffee. Our family budget can support those preferred items, but not on $1/1/1... I tried. We ran out of coffee. Even instant. It was not a good day.

So, for our family, we're going to hover around the $515 - $525/mo. That will still be a family savings of $175 each month (or more) from our past grocery bills. It will also remove the "freak out" factor from my day-to-day life.

Resolving that has taken up a lot of brain power, because the "competitive, good girl" in me wants to prove over and over again that I am just as good as anybody on any challenge. Yeah, whatever, Sassy Pants! My family, my food addictions, my kiddos, my life... it can be "good enough" as The Spouse and I mutually determine.

Come September, we may refine it even more. After all, school starts in six days. There's about to be a major change in routine.
The main thing that has happened is that we are no longer living in money oblivion.
I am now conscious of where the money is actually going, and fully acknowledging how much money we were pouring into food and into convenience purchases in the past.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Day 28: July Food Challenge $1/1/1 Like a Never-Ending Pregnancy

A part of my lunch
At least, that's how it always feels on the home stretch, "This will NEVER end!"
"I'm going to be enormously pregnant FOREVER!"

Waaaa. Waaaa. Waaaa.
Big deal, Lady.
Have you read some statistics on how many families in America actually experience hunger on a regular basis? How many American children do not have a reliable source of consistent, nutritious food?
I double-dog dare you to go look up those facts and then complain about not having bacon.
Instead, you'll find yourself looking through you cupboard going, "What can I give to my local soup kitchen to help?" Or "where local can I volunteer to DO SOMETHING about a real crisis?"

Food supply is great.
Honestly, I thought we'd be nearly out of bread and milk by now, but we've got more than enough for the next few days. Veggies literally everywhere we turn around. Plenty of cheese. Plenty of soy. Plenty of eggs. Even some chicken and pepperoni. Lots of apples, raisins, and I could probably go pick more figs, if I cared too. Tons of peanut butter, beans, oats, rice, potatoes. Oil. Even butter.

So there is nothing to complain about or grump about.
As I sit here trying to pay attention to the "What's really bothering you, Kid?"
So, I sit, and think, and then I talk over the phone with my best friend.
We talk about my stuff and her stuff. We listen to each other's pain and offer gentle comfort as friends.

It's actually not about the bacon.
For me, it's about wanting a pacifier to soothe the hurt.
Something, that I, as a food addict, want to put in my mouth and make me feel better...and not feel this pain of loneliness, rejection, or passive aggressive manipulation.
Something to make me forget the gnaw and the ache of being innocent and still "they done me wrong" and I don't know how to fix it.
Perhaps, it can't be fixed.
Perhaps, only time can heal and fix it...or at least blunt the rocky, jagged edges of the pain to a rounded smoothness.
Food, for most of my life, has been my go-to comforter.
My drug of choice.
My solace and my worst enemy all rolled into one giant, raging addiction.
Even now, more than 100 pounds later, I still want to reach for comfort food when I'm in emotional pain.
Tonight instead, I opened myself up to my friend.
Her words, both a combination of wise solace and tough kid humor, were a balm to my frayed emotions.
And so, I can stand here before you and say, "Yes, there is more hope, in abundance, and it was not found by burrowing into food, because I can not cope, or am afraid, of what these feelings are."
These feelings will pass.
And I will enjoy bacon again.
I just don't have to have "my fix" tonight in order to forget the pain.

On some brighter notes:
- the air-conditioning is FIXED! (Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!)
- This weekend, I get to learn how to make ricotta AND mozzarella cheese with another dear friend and a honest-to-goodness cheese-maestro!
- Money spent: $0

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day 27: July Food Challenge $1/person/meal/day Clouds, Parks, and a Dash of Love

It's been a good day, made more pleasant by clouds, parks, and friendship. Thank God it was cloudy today. And it rained.
And it stayed cloudy: all day!
The heat of our non-air-conditioned home was actually bearable because of those facts.
Still, we gladly let the kids have a sleepover with friends last night.
Yes, those same pizza-loving friends I wrote about yesterday.
And they played there and then later at the park. Late in the day, it was home again to relax in our bedroom, where our other neighbor-friends' portable AC-unit kept it as chilled down as any meat locker.
Seriously! That thing would probably "keep on keeping on" until it generated icicles! THANK YOU!

Tomorrow, the repairmen come and hopefully, the entire home will be back to normal. With the humidity, it's beginning to smell just a little bit like our two dogs.

To top off today's "good things," The Spouse cooked a delicious, veggie stir-fry for The Fam.
God bless our youngest.
Perhaps, he's overtired.
I can honestly say, he tried to bite his tongue and not complain.
He ate the broccoli and a little rice and three glasses of milk.
Of course, coming in from the heat and playing in the park meant that the decision was made to feed the kids ice cream at 5:30 p.m.
Before dinner.
I get it.

Tonight would have been one of those, "Let's just go through X, Y, or Z and grab a quick bite and something cold to drink!" To resounding kids, "Yesss!" $25 for that supposed transaction, easily. I know, because I've done it quite frequently in my past money oblivion.

But our family didn't do that.
We came home and had a treat here instead.
And The Spouse then proceeded to chop up a bunch of veggies and made a delicious meal.
Well done, Beloved.
There are certainly worse things than ice cream for dinner.
Perhaps, you forgot that time I served them popcorn for din-din?
Not once, but twice one distant spring.
Yes, we're human.
Happy, hot, and a little grumpy, but madly-in-love-with-each-other family.

Money spent: $0
Tons of food still remains: I promise.

Today, we had a request for bacon.
It's been off the menu for over a week.
"Oh, yes!" I replied, "We'll have bacon on Monday! Perhaps, for dinner."
"Do we have to wait till Monday?" (yes)
"How many days are left until Monday?" (Well, it's Wednesday now)
And then a request for another exotic food item.
"But this one, I think, only costs a dollar. Maybe two." (Well, we can add it to Monday's list, if you'd like)
"Do you promise me, you won't forget?"
"Do you need to write it down, so you can remember because Monday seems like a really long way away from now." (I promise that I won't forget. I'm very smart and have an excellent memory, just like you!)
And then the conversation moved to alligators and dogs barking and summer vacation coming to an end.
No tantrum.
No tears.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Day 26: July Food Challenge $1 per person/meal/day Kindness Everywhere I Turn

This morning, as I was drinking my morning coffee, I got a text from a friend. They are out of town and are members of an organic CSA. Their weekly box was due for pickup today: did we want it? ABSOLUTELY!
I've never been a part of a CSA and had no idea what was going to be in the box. It was fun to wonder all day, "What things are in season right now that I'll get?" (Tomatoes, cucumbers, figs?)

Lo, and behold, when I picked up the box, not one of those things were in there! What??? Not one. I wouldn't have minded and would have eaten every (allowed) bite, but instead, it was bursting with white eggplants, onions, bell peppers, poblano peppers, jalapenos, a good-sized cantaloupe, fresh eggs, and some okra. What an unexpected treat: thank you, Friends!

And then, as I was working on dinner, another friend, sent a text. She'd apparently spent the day canning and had a jar of fresh applesauce, one of apple butter, and one of strawberry jam with our family's name on it. Does our family like those things, she asked? Yes, Ma'am we absolutely do!

This morning we awoke to our air-conditioning being broken. It's under warranty, but the repair folks won't make it out until Thursday afternoon. Despite every fan in the house whirring at high speed and the windows open to help pull the outside air inside, the house was baking at 89*F this by early evening (think black asphalt shingle roof). A neighbor offered us the use of their window-unit AC. Actual cold air? People own units like this to have "just in case" (makes mental note to self)? It is humming away here in our bedroom, and I am sitting right next to it as I type these words out.

Also, today other neighbors invited us over for a casual "dinner with friends." They wanted to order pizza. Polite manners would be to pay for half or bring drinks (Tang anyone?) or do something that would cost money. What to do? What to do? How to stay on track without making someone, especially the host, feel awkward? We suggested that we bring homemade pizza dough and half the toppings and bake them together for a treat. "Oh! That sounds like fun! We've never made pizza from fresh dough before."  Well, The Spouse has been making fresh dough for years! The kids and adults all had a blast customizing their pizzas. Our hosts made homemade guacamole: devoured by The Fam. We took over, as our "hostess happy," a basket filled with some of the treats from the gifted CSA box. There was, after all, more than enough to share. We talked recipes and listened to the radio. Heard about their hike on the Appalachian Trail. Good, relaxing conversation and laughter: and no extra expense to our food plan. No awkward moments, just easy hanging out over a simple, fun meal.

Even the grocery store is showing acts of kindness. Yesterday, as I walked in, there by the door was a sign and a cooler full of ice cold waters: free.

So today, we spent $0.
We are one day closer to finishing the month on track.
We've had tests to our fortitude from multiple directions, yet it has all worked out just fine.
All in all, I'd say today has been one of the best days yet this month!
Kindness, friendliness, neighborliness: in every form radiates joy all over this fine day.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Day 25: July Food Challenge $1/1/1 Empty, yet Full

Money spent: $16.86
Money remaining in grocery budget: $0 (gave away the change to some folks at the change exchanger/coin machine)

Ok, Friends. Here we sit.
It's Monday night and the grocery envelope lays empty and gone.
Those of you, including myself, who thought we'd have money leftover: hee! hee!
(Though there are those two $5 gift cards at Target in case of a food "emergency."

Tonight, after work, I purchased:
- 2 gallons of milk
- loaf of bread
- small bag of carrots
- 1 bunch of celery
- bag of roma tomatoes (~3 pounds off the produce rack)
- bag of apples (~2 pounds off the produce rack)
- pint of sour cream (cheaper than other sizes)
- can of green beans (dented/clearance rack)

We can now back up that analogous cement truck that I referred to in an earlier post.
It is time to simply settle in for the week and eat what is on hand. If you read yesterday's post, you know there is a ton of food in the house, so now it's just a matter of being at peace and eating it.
There is more than enough.
For everyone.
Even you.
If you dropped in, we would feed you.
If you were hungry, you would not leave our home unsatisfied.
Plan. (your food budget and your meals)
Prepare. (your grocery trips and your food)
Protect. (your food plan/budget from "impulsive buying")
...and give thanks...for good measure. (it is more than enough) :)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Day 24: July Food Challenge $1/1/1 In the company of friends

An admirable front porch, made for conversation (Pensacola)
Money spent: $0
Money remaining in grocery budget: $17, some change, 2 $5 gift cards from Target, $4 in Walgreens "Register Rewards"
Days remaining: 7

Well, Friends, we are on the downhill slope. One more full week and we will be in August and July's Food Challenge will be completed. Do I think we will make it and stay in our spending plan? Absolutely! Aside from milk, bread, and some fruit, we're set food wise. There is enough of all of those for the first few days of the week. I'm guessing we need 2.5 gallons of milk ($8), 1 large jar of applesauce (or produce rack yummies) ($2.50) and 2 loaves of bread ($2).

(if you have food issues, just skip this paragraph)
Veggies are in abundance (fresh and frozen and even some canned).
Proteins include: milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt, peanut butter (2 large jars), soy, chicken, sausage, pepperoni, and salmon
Fruits: fresh apples, a literal handful of cherries, dried and fresh figs, canned fruit, applesauce, large bag of raisins
Bread: 30ish tortillas, 3/4 loaf of bread, 2 banana nut muffins, rice, instant potatoes, flour for baking biscuits or making more carbs
Dessert: 1/2 gallon of icecream, large bag of chocolate chips, other chocolate
Snacks: 1/2 bag of tortilla chips, 1 bag of chex mix, multiple bags of goldfish crackers, a handful of wheat thins

In other words... more than enough food for the week ahead.

Today was spent leisurely enjoying a spontaneous visit from friends. We shared lunch together, which included a surprise gifting of food from our neighbors. Together, we swam or sunned in the neighborhood pool, which we had completely to ourselves. Later, we spent hours relaxing on the front porch, enjoying the breeze and conversation. On the front porch, it is easy to say "Hello!" to the passing neighbors. One neighbor came up and enjoyed a coffee with us and filled us in on their recent hike on the Appalachian Trail. We took a water bowl down to a neighborhood dog who was sitting by the bench with his owner. We chatted with folks while they fished and just enjoyed sitting in each others company.

Unless you've lost a lot of friends, it is hard to imagine how precious having a real friend in your life is.
When, for whatever reason, you find your fairweather friends all flown away, those true friends who remain become even more treasured. And so, I find myself grateful for a day like today.
A day to just be.
No one important.
No showing off.
Guards down.
Simple, casual, relaxed, camaraderie.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Day 23: July Food Challenge: $1/1/1 A homeless man named Elijah

For over a month, we've been looking for him.
Or someone like him.
The children made "blessing bags" to give to the homeless at their recent session at VBS this summer and have been anxious to share their gifts with someone in need, but we live out in suburbia, so homeless folks are never seen. Today; however, on the busy highway, we saw him as we sped past.
We turned the car around and pulled up near him, the 11-year-old rolling down the window cheerfully shouting, "Sir! Sir! We have something for you!"
He came over, a young man in his mid-20s with sun-bleached, crimped, tawny hair and wired red beard grown out and wind blown. His face was burnt and peeling and one of his front teeth was missing. His eyes were bright and blue. Sweat poured off him, as he carried a backpack, a sleeping bag, and wore several shirts, including his outermost layar of long-sleeved denim. Aside from his eyes, he was, from head to toe, varying shades the color of red clay dust.

We asked him what his name was. He replied, "My name is Elijah." We introduced ourselves and asked if he would pray for us and that we would pray for him. He said, "May I pray for you right now?"

And so he did. A prayer for both us and himself. For both our journeys. As he prayed, I hoped the cool A.C. from the car would blow his direction, and not the heat of the engine. We thanked him and handed him a little money and said that we'd like his lunch or dinner to be on us and that we hoped good for him. As I left, the car was somber.

"If he's lost his license, why can't he just go get a new one, Mom?"
"He's a good man, why is he homeless?"
"It's too hot right now to be tramping around. He needs to go rest under some trees and take a nap until it cools down later today."

Tonight, at bedtime, the 11-year-old came back downstairs and said, 'Mom, can we please pray for Elijah?" We went to our prayer corner and bowed our heads and prayed.
Prayed that God would grant Elijah a peaceful and safe sleep tonight.
That he would find kindness along the way
And mercy.
That redemption would be given and his license restored.

As far as what I spent on groceries or wonderful deals (which I did get a few today), those all pale in the lesson we learned in humanity and the humble, gentle prayers of a man who wandered.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 22: July Food Challenge $1/1/1 Food "Happies" from Friends

Grocery Money Spent: $8
Housekeeping: $0

Over the couse of this week, our family has been blessed with the bounty of some of our friends and neighbors seasonal produce: crisp, fresh cucumbers, garden-grown tomatoes, figs,  some (yummy, but not local) cherries, ginger beer, and homemade fig preserves: what a treat! (Thank you, Friends! We've been noshing on these treats all week!)

The Spouse made a delectable poached egg at breakfast. Truly, a tasty work of art! I can see the warm, jiggly insides of that egg, just barely contained within the delicate whites. I'm going to put in a request for such an egg for breakfast tomorrow! The key, apparently, to a lovely poached egg is swirling the water first.

Someone asked what we eat everyday. Well, perhaps next month, I'll post my monthly meals, but here's what we ate as a family on this 22nd day of our $1/1/1 food plan:
Kids: cereal, fresh cherries
The Spouse: SE Asian Poached Egg (poached egg, sauteed onions, sliced celery, julienne carrots, fresh ginger, cumin, and sun-dried tomatoes, served on a warmed tortilla), with roasted figs, sliced green apple
Me: applesauce, yogurt, soy, milk, coffee

Kids: cheese quesadillas, with side of peanuts, granny smith apples, raisins, and milk
The Spouse: Raisins, peanuts, small side salad, hot tea
Me: Salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles and carrots, bacon, chorizo sausage, wheatgerm, butter, milk, and coffee

The Fam (except me): scoop of ice cream w/chocolate syrup

The Fam (except me): leftover Cottage Pie, thin-sliced celery, cucumber rounds, pickle, goldfish with milk
Kids: 2nd dinner: large piece of Dominos pizza (at a neighbor's house, swimming), big cookie (again, neighbors)
The Spouse: 2nd dinner/snack: leftover stroganoff, more peanuts, ginger beer
Me: green beans, tomatoes, wheat germ, soy, milk, butter, sesame seeds

At the grocery today, I purchased more coffee, a loaf of bread, and a bag of clementines. The bag burst open as I was walking down the aisle with it and a few of the oranges tumbles out. The produce clerk put the fruit in a clearance bag, so I ended up with $5 worth of citrus for $1. Sweet!

Fridays are a busy, busy work day: cook breakfast for the crew with my co-worker M. We sing lines of songs (he teases about being in a gang: the "Semi-Bad Asses" and he definitely has a band: "The Dentists" or something equally non-musical sounding) We laugh alot as we cook. We talk about religion, politics, philosophy, our kids, spouses, and movies. Today's breakfast movie: Pleasantville. If you haven't seen it, you should.

I'm going to try my hand at doing some preserving of some different things... already looking towards Christmas gifts. I put out a call for unwanted Mason Jars, and now, thanks to a friend, I am the proud owner of 7. Cost: $0.

Life is good.
Life here is very, very good.
I'm grateful we walk this journey together!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day 21: July Food Challenge $1/1/1 Fender Benders, Membership Fees, and a Year's Worth of Soap

Grocery Money Spent: $23.70
Housekeeping Money Spent: $0.56

Big News: I pulled out in a lane and clipped a passing car. No one was hurt. I followed the car into a nearby bank parking lot and said, "I clipped your car, so I'm here so we can call the police and file a report." Apparently, it wasn't her car. The car didn't have a tag. After a few moments, I looked up and the woman was speeding off down the road.

Huh??? Well, that's never happened before. I called the insurance company and asked what I was supposed to do? Do I wait? Do I call the police? Apparently, I was allowed to leave. I could file a police report to cya, but it was not necessary. Did I want to file a claim for my car? No thank you. My car now sports a nice shiner on her front bumper. But, hey, you see me coming, my car is letting you know: give this woman some space! Happens to be the same bumper, same side that my grandfather rammed into a fence post with. Comes with my blood apparently.

And yes, I'm driving my grandfather's old 1998 Toyota Camry. Thankfully, the beast just keeps on churning up the miles. I think I'll name her "Gussy." Devil-may-care attitude in a pale gold dress.

Secondary News: I forgot that my Sam's Club membership had expired. That was a no fun surprise. We've got memberships under our family spending plan under the category (you guessed it): Needful Frivolities (Sam's, Netflix, and Amazon).

Third News: We now possess, by my best estimate, a year's worth of soap. I am allowing 3 bars per month, which seems a bit excessive, but I have kids and they like bubbles, and I've never actually used one of these bars of soap, so it may "melt" quicker than I imagined and then I'd have to buy full-priced soap (this is how my monkey brain works)! Cost was tax only, so just $0.56 for 24 bars of soap (or 8 months worth).

Best news: The Spouse made a Cottage Pie for the family's dinner tonight (mine was different, due to my food addiction/recovery plan). This awesome meal-in-one was declared a family favorite! We used Colby cheese (what we had vs Cheddar) and other seasonings to replace the Worcestershire Sauce (don't have any on hand). Seconds were had by all, save the six-year-old who asked, "How many more bites do I have to take?" (10) Tried to bargain down, to which I said, "Well, you could just eat it all." We also had a cool little history lesson as well.

Later, I took the kids to swim in a neighbor's salt-water pool. They are out of town and offered us the use of it. They swam in the twilight and early darkness, jumping, splashing and shrieking together till an oncoming storm forced us out and back home to beds.

This evening, I've done some food prep and then have been just enjoying lounging on the couch and listening to:  the quiet. The two dogs are curled up and sleeping on the rug near our feet. The cat, too, has claimed a spot on the felt, stretched out, belly exposed in blissful trust. The Spouse and I chat about current events, but mainly just enjoy the silence.

In our past, we lived a life beyond our means, trying to impress others with our possessions, our gifts, our ideal family, our good deeds that we wanted you to know about, our expertise on all subjects, etc. We tried, to some extent to buy God's love and buy other people's love as well. "If I lavish this on you, you will love me, be good to me and do nice things for me." It was, in many ways, a form of self-preservation. A sign of immaturity (guess we are late bloomers over here). In part, we behaved this way because we did not believe, if you really knew us, you'd actually love us, or that we'd be good enough to talk to or listen to or be friends with. Today, for the most part, those things have been stripped away. (I still have to work on being a know-it-all.) These days, WYSIWYG with our family. If you don't like us, that's ok. I'd rather know the truth, than hide behind a veneer of pretense.

There's $40 and some loose change left in the Tilly till pay day in 10 days.
Cupboards, Refrigerator, and Fridge are all stocked.
I'm thinking, at this point, I'm going to have some money to spare.
The thought itself blows my mind.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 20: July Food Challenge $1/1/1 Couponing

Money spent on groceries: $0 (we're down to 1 quart of milk, thanks to my yogurt-making experiment and so will need to pick up a few things tomorrow.)
Money spent on household/cleaning needs: $15.53
Ok, so y'all remember earlier this month when I bought those cleaning wipes out off the clearance rack and stated, "$10 for the month on Household/Cleaning Supplies". Well, even if we subtract that $2 credit, that leaves $13 spent, or a $3 overage.
But I've got $8 in Walgreens Rewards Coupons that I can spend as long as it costs more than $2...and I got 12 bars of soap for $0.28!

Are you confused, yet?
Well, today, I got to have lunch with my Coupon Saint Q's lovely Queen B and was given some insight into how this couponing can actually work for someone like me, who can't spend $50 on $400 worth of amazing items. And, I'm probably wrong. And opinionated. And judgemental. And what's that going to do? Cost me money. Cost me wisdom. And possibly, if I'd kept at my donkey attitude, cost me a precious friend. You see, I'd voiced my skepticism before. If you've been a reader on my blog, you know that I have spent over two years of my life trying to downsize and declutter and not be a hoarder. So there is fear lurking there in my heart. Fear and worry. Worry that I'll fail. Or not be good enough. Or look stupid.

Ms. B gently and kindly made some good points. Thankfully, I actually listened to her, because not wasting money is a real thing with me now. She offered me an example:

   She had 4 coupons for $1 off any Jergens 3-pack bar soap (or lotion or hand soap)
   Dollar Tree sells all of these products for $1 each
   The amount I would owe Dollar Tree would be tax-only or $0.28 for 12 bars of soap.

That's a pretty incredible deal. It's about as close to free as you can possibly get.

Now, Ms. B does couponing in a way that actually earns her family income. I'm incredibly proud of her! She has a knack for finding the really good deals and then adding them to other deals, if possible and really making her dollar stretch. I'm not so good at that level of couponing. However; I wanted to try it out. I bought a packet of two different coupons: soap and then a $4 off coupon for Aussie shampoo/product. And as soon as I could, I went and bought the items. Today was one of the very few times (actually going to Dollar Tree and getting said soap deal) that I was like, "whoo hoo"! In my past, I've saved close to $45 in coupons, having spent over a $100 to get that $45 in savings. That was one other time in my adult life to get that kind of deal.

It takes mental effort and long-range planning... "How many bars of soap will I actually use for the next few months?" Answer? "I have no idea, because I've never actually paid attention to how much my family uses of something." I mean, let's be honest, Friends! It wasn't' until last week, when one of YOU mentioned "perhaps figure how much milk you use in a day to be able to buy enough to last for several days and save you having to go to the grocery so often." That piece of advice changed the game for me! But, I'd never done it. How many loaves of bread? How much fruit? So now, we're just taking it a bit farther into cleaning supplies so that when those incredible deals come around, you can pounce on them and say, "Our family needs 4 bottles of shampoo between now and Christmas." and you nab it.

So, speaking of shampoo...
I know it's a good deal, but it's like it is only halfway done.
Aussie hair products, regular size, on sale 2/$6.
Plus, the added bonus of a $2 register rewards coupon for the set purchase.
Coupon: $4 off any two Aussie products
Price per pair: $2.48 (tax on regular, $6 price)
In hand: $2 coupon
So, technically, I have $8 of "free money" to spend on other stuff at Walgreens.
I haven't used those yet, but I will, because they expire in about 2 weeks.

This is where Ms. B would advise, "Now you take this other coupon and go back and use it with your register rewards, so that each of these other products will only cost you $1 or less each."

So, I'm going to try to be wise.
Admittedly, I've gone over the budget I made up earlier.
Am going to give myself an extra $15 of household/cleaning money ($25/mo). Over the next couple of months, I should at least be able to accurately tell you, "my family needs this much...." and it be just the right amount.

Today's Housekeeping Haul: $15.53
- 12 bars of soap
- 8 bottles of shampoo/conditioner
- 2 bottles of liquid dish soap
- 2 bottles of liquid hand soap
- 1 package of dishwashing packets (17 count)
- $8 in Register Rewards money

And yes, I will be going back for more soap before my coupons expire!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Day 19: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Never again will I buy yogurt!
Money spent: $10.19
Wow! What an amazing day!
I MADE YOGURT! This is just about the easiest thing in the world to make. You just need milk, a little yogurt, heat and time. I used the recipe from About Food and then later saw this (which I'll use in the future) from Northwest Edible Life. Bottom line is: unless you are using raw milk, scalding your milk is not necessary. 110 degrees, which is barely over your body temperature, is all. Because I'm impatient and consider myself an innate genius, I did not follow the directions exactly. Yes, I used a quart of milk. Yes, I used a non-metal bowl. But I put my milk/yogurt mixture in the bottom of three mason jars versus using the same big bowl that my scalded milk cooled down in. Since, I just guessed at how much of the said mixture to put in the bottom of each jar, the third jar got a little skimped. As a result, it just turned into buttermilk and not yogurt. No problem. I'll make cheese with the buttermilk. If, by chance, you are local and need a starter, I'll gladly share. If not, I recommend a small container of plain, full-fat greek yogurt to start your new obsession with.

Today, I drove over with one of my amiable co-workers to the local health food store and spent a Hamilton and some change on two of my favorite food products. Very comforting to have that on hand now.

Harpsichord, Anyone?
Later, The Spouse and I took the children to a free music concert at our local art museum. We walked through a lovely flower garden and alongside a mosaic in-ground fountain to the main entrance and joined a shockingly packed house of all ages to listen to "John Paul, harpsichordist, performing Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier of J.S. Bach." I know, the excitement is mind blowing. It would be tempting to say, "Oh, I'd rather wash my hair." However, we went and are so very glad we did. Dr. Paul was a lovely combination of teacher and musician. He gave little talks before each of the five pieces, explaining what the fugue was for each piece and then playing it in parts, so that you could listen for it. By the end, two of the three children were squirming to be relieved of the duty of listening, but we stayed. And afterwards, we were gifted with a lesson for the children, where they could touch the keys, see all the little parts, learn a little more history and hear some of the differences between a harpsichord, lute, guitar, and piano.

Yes, the kids asked if this
was made for playing in, not just looking at.
Then amid thunderclaps and light rain, we walked back through the Art Garden, where I snagged a couple of seed pods (native hibiscus and Black-eyed Susans) and went into the Mississippi Art Center to see our artist friend (and one of my favorite people in all the world) -- Ellen Langford and her latest exhibit with fellow artists from Bottletree Studio. Oh my: what a treat! We met several of the artists, including Ms. E, and just relished the energy and vibrancy of the art. You want to feel alive? Go see this exhibit! Deep breaths, then dance. That's what the kids did and what my insides were happily doing as well. I love artistic souls and seeing them with their work. I love to look at art that leaves me room to play with it in my imagination. To join in the visual dance with the piece itself.

We drove home through the rain to clear skies and a sunset of golds and pinks and cotton-candy blue. The fountain, which has been turned off for the last week, in running again and now, magically, glows warmly in the darkened night.

"Then Everything is Safe"
painting by Ellen Langford
Obviously, I need to be surrounded by family, friendship, music, art, good food, and beauty. Today, incredibly, all of those things were mine to savor, relish, and enjoy. I truly must be the luckiest of women to have had a day a lovely as today to call mine.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Day 18: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

My overall attitude today. Ridiculous, Woman!
Staying the course, in spite of a bad attitude.
Money spent: $0
After all the money spent yesterday, you'd be shocked if I had posted spending money on groceries!
There was no temptation to go in and prowl and catch a good deal.
Rather, there was the simple satisfaction of knowing we are doing well and are now on the downhill slope of our challenge. It is interesting to me, as I start to plan ahead for next month, that there is probably a gentle cyclical nature to this process, if I will but pay attention and follow the path. For example, it is easy to see that I will not need to purchase several of the bulk, staple items that I bought at the beginning of this journey. In fact, it may be three more months before we use up some things. Other things, like eggs and carrots, will need a restock here at the halfway point. The major consumables: milk, bread, proteins, veggies, fruits... those are best bought every few days.

So, it's starting to make sense, even when I'm scowling at it and trying to make it not. This makes me laugh at myself, though sometimes it takes me a few hours to get over my angst. Those bulk items that I usually buy for my food plan can now be worked into the "staple rotation" and not make a dent into the more fragile, consumable side of the ledger. On a fun note, I've been doing some research into how to make my own homemade Greek yogurt. I'm headed downstairs in a moment to mix up my first batch. There just so happens to be a small amount of organic, Greek yogurt in my fridge right now... just the right amount for creating a 32 oz batch. Currently, we go through about a 32 oz container each week at a cost of about $3.50/container. A gallon of milk costs less than that, so it makes sense to give it a try.

And then I'd like to make some ricotta cheese this weekend. Not that we're going to turn into some kind of weird family...ok, maybe we already are some kind of weird family...just don't expect to see me wearing a prairie skirt and flour sack apron anytime soon! Yogurt, cheese, bread: it's got to be very easy and non-complicated for it to work with this household. As my father-in-law is prone to say, "So many moving parts!"

So, it's off to experiment: wish me luck!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day 17: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

The cupboard
Money spent on food: $42
Armed with a menu plan and a list, I hit the grocery store today to shop for the next several day's supply of food. On the list were things like ground beef (2#), milk (2 gallons), veggies (celery, lettuce, tomato, green beans, brussel sprouts), parmesean cheese, tomato soup, bread, can of chili, jam, instant coffee, pepperoni, diet tonic water, and wheat germ. And also a giant canteloupe from the produce clearance rack. Got everything on the list save wheat germ. The frozen veggies are on sale (3-day sale) for $0.77 each, so I will probably go back this evening (sale ends today) and buy the rest of the month's stock.

Today, The Spouse and I also did a thorough money inventory: paid all bills due, planned for upcoming expenses, talked about some future goals, and discussed "back to school" supplies. Again, armed with lists, I took the three kids and went and got all their listed supplies for the upcoming year ($75/child, included markers, glue, crayons, hand sanitizer, tissues, ziploc bags, reams of paper, folders, pencils, lunch boxes and backpacks). We still need to buy tennis shoes, but frankly, we were all rather pooped after trooping around the length and breadth of ole Wally-World. School starts in three weeks and we are prepared and ready...that feels great!

All told, there is now $107 remaining in the grocery budget to finish out the month. I've included photos of both the pantry and the refrigerator so that you can see the amount of food on hand. If, as my friend from Chicago, K, says, "a cement truck blocked all access to the outside world for several days, we'd be fine."

Dinner tonight is spaghetti and meat"balls" (chunks more like) with broccoli and fresh peaches and canteloupe. It's ready and waiting for our middle two kids to return from petsitting duty. Dessert will be a Valentine chocolate truffle for each of them. They have been tucked away, waiting for a night like tonight to celebrate silly things like school supplies and a Pokemon backpack. I'll let you know if there is a complaint about the chocolate, which I think is still "fresh"...we're about to find out!
The Fridge

2nd haul... $27 spent mainly on frozen veggies (Fam) + 1 gallon of "Party Pail" icecream (kids) + wheatgerm (me) + 1 blueberry cream cheese (kids + spouse) + 2 Chex Mix (son's favorite snack, on sale for $1/6 oz bag)
I don't get it. They put all their frozen, store-brand veggies on sale. Even the "good stuff" like stir-fry medleys and "Italian meal starters" ... way more than the usual "basics" (which are still good) that you expect to be marked down. Hey, we'll take it. The freezer is officially stuffed. I see a ratatouille in our dinner future.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Day 16: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Money spent: $7.61 (frozen treats) + ($30 + $7) gas + $26 admission to museum/park

Home again, home again, jiggity jog....
I don't know if the $7.61 should come out of the food budget or the vacation/entertainment budget, but the above list is what my last trip cost our family. My sister used her points for the room (heartfelt thanks). Free, yummy breakfast included. After leaving the sweet cousins to return home, we made a detour to Moundville Archeological Park just outside of Tuscaloosa.

Yes, Pokestops were part of the lure, but also, we've driven past the sign for years and years and never stopped, and perhaps never will again, but on a thought out whim, I informed the children and off we went.
We heartily recommend it! Not too big to be seen in a couple of hours, impressive Indian mounds, nice 10-minute movie to give you some basic knowledge about the Indians (ancient Mississippians) and their culture of which we know so little about. We hiked up the big Chief's mound (60' high) in the 91*F heat and hollered, "Helllllooooo!!!" to the grand world around us.

We met a friendly egret at the museum stop. Caught a few Pokemon and much-needed Pokeballs and learned about an advanced civilization from nearly 1,000 years ago. The park attendants were engaging and got right on the kids level of conversation. We learned about native crops that they grow on the site and their seed-sharing program. Due to the heat, I bought them each a frozen treat. They hadn't asked for anything, but their beet-red faces (from both the heat and the two hours spent swimming in the pool that morning) seemed to warrant it.

I think they were shocked. "No," I answered, when asked if they could have the larger or more expensive frozen treat. "You have two choices (with three sub-choices of flavors within one category), but not these other two choices that are too big or simply cost an extra dollar for the designer brand of candy." Inside, I'm thinking, "Just take the darn offer, don't question it or try to 'make it a better offer'." And again, inside there is turmoil, because I am used to giving in to that behavior, and so it is not the kids has worked for them in the past, so why would they not try it again? They didn't do anything wrong. They just did our family's old "normal." They chose, enjoyed, and it turned out to be just the right amount.

We ate lunch and dinner on the road, out of our bag, packed by myself and The Spouse (Thanks, Hon!).
Potty breaks (because we were on an Interstate Highway) at Rest Areas, save one at a gas station (hence the $7 in gas). Complaints:
- I made the 11-year-old throw out one of the dinner items after he complained about it. He quickly changed his mind, but I said, "too late, the raccoons will appreciate it more than you."
- to the 10-year-old who proclaimed her main course too greasy (cheese), I stated that she did not have to eat it, but this was dinner, so she would have to make do with the snacks in the bag, no exceptions.
- to the six-year-old who stated adamantly how much he did not like nuts (read crying/whining), I made the trade of 3 pieces of protein from the bag and then allowing his brother to have the "nut laden" granola bar.
- to the 11-year-old who while eating said granola bar mentioned that raisins weren't his favorite, I suggested that perhaps the raccoons would enjoy it as well. "Oh, no! Not a complaint, Mom! Just letting you know that I prefer Craisins over Raisins." To which I replied, "Hmmph." (and smiled at him)

What was in the bag you ask?
- strawberries (devoured by the younger two)
- bananas (eaten by the boys)
- peanut butter (eaten by the boys)
- cut apples (by the girl)
- whole Granny Smith apples (eaten by all three)
- sausage (eaten by me and the youngest)
- cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans (me)
- cheese (me and 11 year old)
- "chewy bars" (granola bars with no nuts, and some with chocolate) (kids)
- granola bars (chewy, but with much less sugar and apparently a lot of nuts (kids, sans youngest)
- Hershey's candy bar (kids + cousins)
- goldfish crackers (kids)
- homemade mini pizzas (made by The Spouse) (all kids, sort of, dogs--once home got remainders)
- chicken salad sandwich (raccoons)
- butter/salad dressing (me)
- peaches (no one...breakfast is coming)
- soyflakes (no one)
- honey (girl)
- gatorade, lemonade, water, coffee (all had some of what they wanted)
- ice (all)

During our visit, I spoke to my sister about my July Challenge. Her eyes got big and I could tell she was worried that we didn't have enough to eat. I tried to assure her that we actually had more than plenty. Cupboards and freezer that were well stocked, just not stuffed. That we were trying to be mindful and intentional about the money we put into our food budget. That wasting food was something we were trying to eliminate. The little girl in me desperately wants her approval and her pat on the back. The "You're amazing!" and "I'm so impressed!" vs this look of growing dismay at the thought of so little spent on food. So, I let go of my need to people please: it's not going to happen, and the adult in me sees that. I give my "elevator pitch" and pat myself on the back instead. Dear sister doesn't need to approve (though the look of alarm does fade to calm). No one needs to approve what our family is doing. As long as we are all fed nourishing food and well cared for, high marks all around! Obviously, looking at the list of food in the bag, and the solid weights of myself and my family, we are eating very well.

In the recent past, for years, I would spend on average $1400/month on food/eating out. My sister spends that amount now. Many people do. No guilt there, Folks: Enjoy! That's more than we can afford these days, and that's o.k. too. In the near past, for several months, I have been spending $700/month on food.
That this month, we are attempting to live on just under $500/month on food...and so far, we are making it just fine. Better than fine, actually.

For me and many "moustachians" the biggest impact you can have on your family budget is found in how you spend your food money. What could your family do with an extra $200/mo? $400/mo? $700/mo? These are things worth thinking about. Would you pay off debt? Put it in the vacation fund? Buy new/needed tires for your van? (Ahem.) Perhaps, pay off the mortgage quicker?

Sometimes, we don't need an extra job or extra income (though sometimes we do). Sometimes, we just need to plug a few leaks in our money boat.

Now, as a favor, please don't ask me to go on any more road trips for a while...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Day 15: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Money Spent: $0
The children and I are on the road again!
Well, that makes applying lessons learned pretty darn quick. (ack!)
So, yes, The Spouse helped pack the kids dinners, snacks, and drinks. (Thanks, Sweetheart!). Later, when eating on the road, the six-year old wondered why his sandwhich was so small, compared to his siblings. "Well," I said, "It looks like you asked to have all the crusts cut off and apparently only wanted the center of your sandwhich." "Hmmph!" he puffed. "You know I'm still going to be really hungry after I eat this." So, he ate. And then had a snack, followed by some fresh fruit and then a lot more snacks.

I packed all my food (including the infamous "just in case we get delayed dinner"), went to work, and afterward, we hit the road and arrived at our destination after several hours. Learning from the earlier trip, I was determined to not $2/visit our way down the highway, but we found a rest area and not even a partial fill up of gas was needed. Before we knew it, ththree-hourur drive was over: let the playtime with cousins begin!

Hotel/Motel/Lodgings in the Deep South in the summer must include a pool. This one's was suprisingly miniscule and felt quite crowded with our family and two addiitional children (8 in the water total), but the kids didn't seem to care. My sister brought snacks to share at the pool. We adults did not swim, but the kids burned up good energy shrieking and cavorting in the water.

The hotel provided fresh snacks as well: complimentary hot tea or coffee or cocoa, and for the youngsters there was even fresh cookies and milk. We hung out in the hotel "living room/foyer" for several hours playing board games (another smart sister move) and catching up since our last visit.

And that's the point of a visit, correct? To spend time together and act goofy together as you unwind and put down your guard and pretenses? It is not about being entertained or entertaining. It is about being able to enjoy the moment, the chaos, the lack of agenda, and for that to be perfectly, completely O.K.

(photo from Trip 1 earlier this week: Ft. Pickens Beach, Florida)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Days 12/13/14: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Trips and Food
We made a quick trip down South to see Sailor and Sugar before they moved over a thousand miles away. It required a hotel stay and meals.
We have a separate budget for vacation and entertainment, but still. I wanted to try to at least do better than I've done on past trips.
So, we did a bit of food prep beforehand. All my meals were packed in advance, since, you know, I used to weigh nearly 300# and have a very boundaried food plan. So, I packed lunch, and the pieces I'd need for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch the next day. We planned to be home early evening, so I didn't pack that. Turned out, I should have. We didn't get home till nearly 10 p.m. and by that point, I was hungry and quite irritable.

For good measure, we packed the rest of the family's lunch as well And lots of snacks and a few drinks. Then we gave our drinks away to the trash men, who happened to collect our trash as we were loading up the car. It was brutally hot, and they looked so thirsty. I couldn't help it. So, I filled some reusable water bottles for us and we hit the road, full of energy and good intentions.

Things I learned: 
1. Unplanned expenses. You can't take a road stop without potty breaks. If you stop at a gas station or restaurant, you are expected to buy something in exchange for using the facilities. With three kids and a six-hour drive, we made multiple stops. A $2 purchase here, a $2 purchase there. I had saved about $10 in grocery money, but at this rate, it was going really quickly. We filled up with gas, so no additional purchase there. Hotel paid for already. Pizza for dinner out of the entertainment budget, which would also serve as lunch. Free breakfast from the hotel. So that left dinner for all of them on the return trip back...and all those potty breaks.

Lesson: Short fill ups. I'm going to suggest not filling the tank completely at a stop. $10 at a time, perhaps. That would make additional purchases not required. We had a lot of leftover snacks that came back home.

2. What's forgotten, gets bought at premium prices. We ended up forgetting to bring sun screen and so purchased additional sunscreen, which we then forgot to use at the beach. We also bought more drinks and batteries. So, we spent money on something we'll eventually use, but apparently didn't need at the time. Cost: $26

Lesson: double check your packing list. We brought towels, but what was missing. Consider writing down those "extras" that you don't normally take on a trip. Check things like batteries, so you aren't left having to make a purchase for something you might have at the house.

3. Dinner is a meal, too. There were several long stretches of road that have nothing but scrubland or forest or pasture. We stayed later than expected and ended up getting on the road much later than anticipated and therefore dinner was now definitely going to be "on the road" for the majority of us. Mr. Money Mustache talks about "eating out of your backpack" and that is where this would have really come in handy. We had some granola bars, some nuts, some apples and some cheese. It could have worked, but because I hadn't figured out to present it as a "proper meal," I was intimidated about serving it to my family. Cost of my pride: $14 for fast food take out.

Lesson: don't be intimated by the unexpected. Roll with it. Be adaptable and teach your family to be adaptable as well.

Today is Day 14.
No money spent. $18 balance which due to the above overage, we'll roll into the next two weeks
All the food that we purchased on Saturday has kept us going and there is still food available for the next several days. There are plenty of frozen veggies, a day's worth of milk, half a dozen potatoes, the same amount of small apples. Plenty of canned veggies. A shockingly large amount of "staples"...all that rice, beans, dried potato, peanut butter. Just crazy.

So, another trip is planned soon. 
Just a little quick visit.
However, for this one, I'll try to take the lessons learned these several days.
Things like pack:
- silverware
- napkins: extra, and more extras
- dinner "just in case"
- adaptable spirit that doesn't require "hot meal"
- peanut butter, apples, cheese, nuts, some form of cracker or bread (if needed)...all work just fine for a meal

As our 11 year old put it, "We're on an adventure, and sometimes adventures have more difficult parts." 
I don't like the thought that eating perfectly good food that is simple is considered a "hardship", yet that is our "go to" reaction. At least, that's been our family's former habit.

And we're unlearning those habits, thankfully.

Today, as a bonus, we were invited to pick fresh figs at one of our neighbor's yards. The children and I went over to the home of folks we had never met, except via our neighborhood Facebook the day before. It took all of 15 minutes to harvest, and we gathered about six pounds worth of delicious fruit. The kids had never picked figs before. Never eaten a fig picked straight off the tree. It was a joy to listen to them chirp and exclaim about finding a ripe fig in between the leaves. Sweet of these new neighbors, now friends, pull down the branches and point out ripe ones that eager eyes had missed. Dozens upon dozens of figs were gathered. Hundreds were left to ripen. It was a good experience. We shared a few small bowls with our next door neighbors, for you never no if folks like or eat figs, so just a couple handfuls to be kind, without overwhelming someone with something they may not like. Happy times all around!

We're learning good things over here, and for that, this gal is very, very grateful.

Drat! I forgot to post the six-year-old "complaint report": Said at lunch, that he doesn't like ice cream with stuff added to it. "Why did it have to have all those moose tracks in there?"

Monday, July 11, 2016

Day 11: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Homemade, roasted soynuts
Today, everyone seemed genuinely grateful.
My children repeatedly said "thank you" for the food. Oh certainly, the six-year-old had comments about the roasted potatoes. Please note, World, he does not like them. He ate them all, but, well, still, he doesn't like them. Not even with catsup. Of course, his twinkling eyes gave him away, but, thank you, Child, for your put down. Now, understand, today's meals weren't special or favorites. Lunch was quite plain, to be honest.

Today's menu was:
Breakfast for the family: french toast with applesauce and milk
Breakfast for me: canned pineapple, plain yogurt, toasted soynuts, milk (for my coffee)
Lunch for me was (you guessed it): a salad with cheese and milk (for my coffee), family had sandwiches and chips and apple slices
Dinner: baked, seasoned chicken* roasted potatoes, corn/black bean/bell pepper medley (frozen), bread with jam
Din-din for me: salad, green beans, cheese, more toasted soynuts, butter and yep, I did it again... milk for my coffee. How else do you think I'm able to stay awake typing this late at night? ;)

This makes another two days straight not having to go inside a grocery store. I'm finding it a mental relief to not have to take time out of my day for even a short excursion. I think I'm enjoying not having to be surrounded by the opportunity to overspend. It's a lot like staying out of certain types of restaurants if you are a compulsive eater (which I am).

Today, I also found myself talking to someone who's been implementing some of the same practices, based off my daily journey. That's kind of cool. She had a good hack about where to buy the best-priced bacon, so you know I was all ears! We talked further about how this kind of mindfulness leads to mindfulness in other areas of life. Of being willing to do the hard, yet needful things.
I'm glad that I can still learn and become a deeper, better person.
That I can take correction and see the usefulness of it, and actually change, slowly, one day at a time.

To see this, 11 days in and wonder what all will have been revealed by Day 31.
That wasn't a part of the challenge: this radiating effect on my life and even, possibly, yours.
To cause us all to pause and consider.
It's a profoundly simple and lovely thing.

*Seasoning (mixed together in a jar that I keep on the shelf)
- Tony Chachere's (the base)
- curry powder (very close second)
- garlic powder (way distant third)
- onion powder (not too much)
- salt (because different salt actually tastes different)
- smoked paprika (dusting, which makes your tongue go, "ummmy yumm what is that?")

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Day 10: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Money: (already spent), trips to the grocery store-- 0!
Today, we had a rebellion.
Refusal to eat dinner.
Granted, I was trying to use up a food item that I had already served (in different ways) twice already this week. Granted, I knew that none of them particularly like said food item (but we had an excess of it, and we're being thrifty).

Flat out revolt.
As in first requesting a bowl of breakfast food instead for dinner.
Secondly, by pulling said offensive product out of meal and flat out refusing to eat it. One of them side-stepped by inquiring, "Tell us what you both really dislike being served for dinner?"

Smart kid.
"Things with eyeballs still in them."
(I wished I had thought of that, but sadly, all I could think on the spur of the moment was the ubiquitous, "everybody-hates-it-except-old-people" despicable, oil-filter-of-the-body protein.)
"Well, that's how we all feel about this stuff." the kid replied bluntly.
I laughed. To despise such an all-American food!
Yet, if I was honest, even as a kid, I didn't like the stuff either.

"O.k.," I said calmly, "I'll never serve it to you again for as long as you live. However, if you get invited to someone's home and they serve it, please be polite."
They agreed. Our two dogs, Molly and Pepper, are in for a treat these next few days as they finish off the leftovers. As for The Spouse and I, we'll choose our food battles.

It does help that we were never exactly fond of it either.
So, did they eat the breakfast stuff for dinner?
No, I had baked some other protein to help with tomorrow night's meal, which they had a portion of.
There was also some yummy protein leftover from breakfast.
We made do with that quite contentedly.

I think the kids were shocked and relieved that we listened to their food preference and acknowledged it as legitimate. If they decided to go vegetarian? vegan? Vegetarianism easily, even on this food challenge. Veganism? As long as they understood that water was going to be their main source of liquid, sure, I'd let them do that. Yet, I don't see that happening, at least, not for a few years, here in this house. That's not really the point, though.

What we should all learn from today's lesson is that for any food plan to work, it has to consist of food the entire family is willing to eat regularly. If they are not, change needs to happen immediately. Otherwise, the plan is doomed to failure. This particular plan of extreme thrift needs to be flexible enough to adapt to the preferred tastes of five distinct persons. It needs to not ever feel like torture or torment or a pain in the buttocks. Now granted, the six-year-old would eat an outrageous meal plan, if allowed. One that involved a world of no crusts, little spice, and no mixed food items, just as openers! So, let's keep it real and say firmly and cheerfully, "within reason."

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Day 9: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Today's big lesson was taking the three kids to the grocery store and getting them actively participating in the shopping and purchasing of our food for the next several days. Since I had a list, and knew the layout, we made a pretty methodical jaunt through the store. Overall, we did a fantastic job! The kids took turns pushing the cart, finding the grocery items, comparison shopping, adding up the math in our heads. We had a couple of coupons, but more importantly, we had a list of meals and the ingredients missing/needed to prepare those foods at home. We stuck to the list...mostly. We did purchase one item that we had a coupon for. It was on sale. (I know; I know.)

So, in the checkout line, our total came up $4 more than our cash on hand. (Yep, that unplanned item threw us over our cash in hand.) We put back 3 (other) items and managed to stay in our budget. Then, ironically, we got a $2 coupon handed to us with our receipt, so I had the kids push the cart forward and I walked back to the end of our line and purchased one of the "returned" items (still in the grocery checkers cubby) for a whopping $0.20. Later, in the parking lot, we bumped into one of the children's teacher's and jumping up and down, they gleefully told the teacher what we were doing. The kids were having fun. I think they felt a little more connected to the whole process of where the food comes from and choices impacting the money we have and the food we purchased.

There were no complaints at either lunch or dinner.
Overall, the day felt like a bit of a lark. Who knew a grocery trip, when armed with a list, a menu plan, and cash on hand could feel more like a field trip than a chore? My kids are good kids. They admired the sushi and asked if it could be put on the list for next time. They admired other items and wondered if, at some point, we could consider getting those things. A few things were easy to answer, "Sure, let's plan it in to the next trip." Others were more, "Hmmm, probably not, unless you really decide that you want that for your birthday feast, then we can talk about it." Other curiosities included, never having seen a wrapped/packaged frozen turkey and wondering on earth that large, oddly-shaped blob was, or the delight in seeing fresh, organic carrots, complete with stalks, and vigorously proclaiming them much healthier than the baby carrots we kept insisting on buying. Granted the slender organic carrots did look quite beautiful; perhaps this Fall, we'll grow some ourselves. It's a good idea.

Personally, I'm looking forward to not going to the store for several days and seeing how that plays out.
As for the food that our family is not going to eat, that I talked about got trashed.
Relief. No more constant reminders of money wasted or guilt over "why did I buy that and then not eat it?"
Whatever my intentions, whether overly healthy or too good a bargain to pass by, they are gone from my cupboard and freezer now. Maybe some wild creatures will eat it. Otherwise, may it bless the earth from whence it came.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Day 8: July Food Challenge $1/1/1

Money spent: $0
Meals: all good
Complaints: "dinner too buttery"
Food stash: there's a lot of food, though you can see holes now in the freezer and pantry

Friday breakfast! As a treat for the staff, I made my children's great, great grandmother's sweet roll recipe. Usually, this is just saved for special holidays, but, I thought it would be nice and, as a bonus, there would be enough leftover dough to make a few for the Fam as well. Of course, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product! I've included a picture of the recipe as a consolation prize. Handwritten by my dear mother-in-law. You'll note it calls for odd things like scalding milk and a bunch of complicated steps. You can do it that way, if you wish. Or, if you have a strong mixer, just dump it all in and stir it till nice and smooth, about five minutes. Then cover and set in the microwave for an hour. Then dump out and proceed to follow the recipe directions. (Note: I let them sit for a good 20 minutes before placing in the oven. It makes a difference.)
21 minutes is perfect in my oven, which tends to run a smidge hot.
Any longer and they are hard and dried out.
Were they worth the extra effort for the work crew?
Honestly, no. Love my team, but no. Extra two hours work, only to arrive at the office and still have to help with the rest of breakfast and then do all the clean up? No. Lesson learned.

After reading yesterday's post, a kind reader thoughtfully suggested that I try shopping once a week to save money and avoid the grocery store. Cool idea, which I had not considered, but liked the idea of immediately. Spouse and I are disagreeing over it.
I spent about an hour tonight, crafting a menu and grocery list: 5 days/15 meals.
No order of "on Saturday you must eat ___ and on Tuesday, we are having ___." I've done menu plans before and some days the mood just doesn't work for the meal planned, but having an idea of workable options that are flexible should be a help.

We'll compromise. It's what you do in marriage.
For me, the exercise is in "how much do we actually need" so that we do not end up with stuffed cupboards half-filled with food we don't want to eat. There's some of that now and I haven't figured out what to do with that unwanted excess. Trashing it is not an option. Soup kitchen donation? For stuff I don't want to eat? That hardly seems fair. "Hey, you're hungry, have something really yucky." No thanks. Not my idea of being kind.

This weekend, I'll find a solution or it'll find the trashcan...and I'll try to adopt Marie Kondo's method of blessing and sending on into the world, even if the end result is simple decomposition with a release of attached guilt as well. Looking at it everyday is not giving me peace. And it's stressing out my spouse.

More strawberry top water was attempted a smaller container. Still looks extremely subtle in flavor. Perhaps, if I was a gourmet, it would be more appreciated. I don't recommend it.

Our 11 year old is suggesting a compost pile. Hmmm. I don't think so. Seems like more work.
At least for now, I'm not ready to take on that challenge.
Remember that can of pineapple I bought a few days ago?
Good thing I did, since it's part of tomorrow's breakfast.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Day 7: July Food Challenge $1/meal/person/day

Oh my goodness! How good it is not to act out on negative feelings! Yesterday, in my pity party, I could have blown it. After all, Amazon is just a click away. As are half a dozen other food sites, I've been known to virtually lurk around.
But we stayed within budget.
The $1.21 is still here.
Incredibly, the grumpy, sulky feelings truly did passed. I didn't sleep until after 2 a.m. It was bad. Really bad. But rest eventually came and morning light broke and I was alive and solvent.

Folks, this may have been a first time in my adult life that I did not pacify my bad mood, fear and irritation with the double combo of either food or shopping! Or any other kind of binge.

Day 7 was a good day. Short on sleep, but a really good day.
Money spent: $5.90
- gallon of milk
- can of green beans
- 5 bananas ($1 rack)
- 2 pounds grapes ($1 rack)

Took one of our stockpiles of reusable bags with me and dropped by Kroger on the way in to work this morning. I was in and out of the grocery store in less than 5 minutes. Literally, walked back to the milk department via the produce $1 rack, carefully picked out what looked like the best of the two family fruit options, chop-chopped over to the milk, walked up the aisle with the green beans and to the cashier. And then clip-clopped my high-heeled self right out the door and on in to work.

Early. With my lunch already made and ready for later.

I felt strong, efficient, ready to take on the day.
Now, my hope is that, since I got the bigger container of milk, tomorrow I actually won't have to go to the grocery store. Tomorrow, the plan is that we just eat from what we have.
That makes me excited!

And to The Spouse, who's jumped right on board: well done!
We tried an experiment in cookery with Strawberry Top Water.
Felt good to be so "useful" with our berry tops, but in all honesty, it was deemed too subtle a flavor to be worth the effort. Still, we tried something new. To the barely-above-tap-water experiment, we added some highly concentrated powdered astronaut drink mix. All subtlety was lost. The container stands empty tonight.

Perhaps the best part of the day: the six-year-old didn't complain about dinner!
Tomorrow is Friday breakfast where I and one of my sweet co-workers cook breakfast for the staff.
It's going to be good.
I wish you could join us.
Can you guess what's on the menu?
You got it: BACON!!!