Monday, December 31, 2012

Meal Plan

Time to come up with a plan for the week.  I decided not to make a plan last week since I figured we'd have leftovers and Alan home a bit more often which would keep things a bit more informal. Seemed to work but I've been reminded that with the size of our family, leftover turkey meat simply does not last as long as it once did.  I think we only got one pot of soup and 2 days of sandwiches out of the leftovers.  Kind of sad. I'll have to plan the use of the two turkeys in my freezer better later this year.

Due to some upcoming financial changes (new taxes anyone?) plus needing to plan for increased bills (it looks like we are going to get stuck with some extra medical bills because there is apparently a way to code an ambulance bill for insurance purposes to make it appear as if the ride was not an emergency even if the person transported was not breathing which means then the insurance does not pay for it) and a massive jump in the mortgage payment due to a massive increase in local taxes, we are going to have to make a few changes in the meal plan department.  I'm very grateful that the kids love soups because they will be eating a ton of them. Bread prices jumped last time I was at the store (unless you buy the cheap bread and I refuse to buy bread made with corn syrup because that is just wrong and not healthy for you) so it is  time to get into the routine of making our own bread.  Unfortunately I was only able to stock up on 115 pounds of flour over the past few weeks while it was on sale so we'll plow through that amount rather quickly.  In order to make the budget work, our grocery budget has been cut almost in half and since I've been struggling to say in the other budget, I'm thinking it will be hard to stay in this one.  I have January to load up the pantry stores before the new budget kicks in so I'll be grabbing as much meat as possible this month to freeze.  Wish me luck on finding sales and marked down products because we'll need them.  I also need to figure out which one of our coolers we can fit a crockpot insert into because we learned this weekend that not only will bread not rise in the kitchen in the winter but yogurt also will not set without being incubated in a cooler.  Yes, our kitchen lacks proper insulation and gets incredibly cold in the winter.  It's rather quite annoying and the children poked a bunch of holes in the large styrofoam cooler I was using to incubate the yogurt last year because they enjoy doing things that drive me crazy.

So here is the weekly meal plan, made up as I am typing.

M: eggs and bacon (B), FFY (L), pulled pork, coleslaw, potato salad otherwise known as party leftovers (D)
T: pumpkin bread (B), chili (L), spaghetti (D)
W: cereal (B), pbj (L), honey glazed chicken (D)
T: muffins (B), soup (L), tacos (D)
F: eggs (B). tuna sandwiches (L), hoping for leftovers (D)
S: cereal (B), FFY (L), pizza night (D)

I have to spend some time today using up the rest of the yogurt that did not set right.  We are using it as a buttermilk substitute and making bread and muffins with it which will be used for breakfast this week.  I am also searching for a tortilla press.  Making them by hand saves a ton of money when you use 20 to 30 tortillas at a time (which we do) but is rather time consuming. They do taste a ton better than store bought but it can take me 2 hours to hand roll enough for our family.  It is much cheaper than buying them though so I am hoping to find a decent inexpensive press to make my life easier.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Karate Class

I've decided that I totally suck at trying to get pictures while the children are moving.  Yes, there is a setting on my camera to make it easier.  Yes, I always forget to take the time to switch over to it.  Yes, perhaps that is a sign that I am a tad lazy and complicating matters more than I need to on a regular basis.  And yes, it means way too many pictures end up out of focus. Sigh.

Anyway, half the class was unable to attend karate this afternoon so I thought I would take the chance with fewer kids in the way to grab a few pictures.  Just the middle kids since the older two are in the adult class. Please ignore the slightly goofy karate instructor.  I swear some days he's worse than the kids in the class but perhaps that is why they seem to click with him so well.

Ice Skating

We headed to Batavia today to meet up with some friends and go ice skating.  The rink has open skating in the middle of the day when most folks are in school or at work. This translates to a mostly empty rink.  Which is the perfect venue for a bunch of kids who are learning (and falling).  Since I was hanging out with the younger two, the pictures are wee bit blurry at times and not so close.  It's a bit hard to get decent pictures when you are not near the action but I did try.

 Gabe did an awesome job. He actually stayed out on the ice for most of the time we were there and even let go of the wall.  His oldest brother spent a decent amount of time helping to haul Gabe back off the ice and onto his feet.  I have to say Bryan did a wonderful job of willingly helping Gabe try to figure things out.

Abby spent the first few laps around the rink using the wall for support but then she let go and took off a bit.

I know the kids would love to do this on a regular basis and I truly wish we could because everyone has a great time and comes home just a wee bit tired.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Picture Time

Court of Awards

The boys' scout troop had their annual Christmas dinner tonight.  The evening also doubled as a Court of Awards.  This is always an interesting event for us since it is meant for the entire family.  Usually the younger children only make it part way through the evening before they are done and ready to head home but aside from a minor meltdown from Robert, they did rather well tonight.
Bryan and Sean both advanced to the second class rank.  I'll admit that I am not entirely sure where this puts then in terms of Boy Scout rankings but I do know they are making steady progress.
Kieran will join their troop in January and is looking forward to the chance to be with the bigger boys.  Ok, he's jumping out of his skin excited over the chance to join the big kids.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Christmas Carol

We've always intended to take the kids to plays on a regular basis.  Maybe call it part of their school experience.  But we've had a hard time fitting it into our lives.  Regular shows are often too expensive and the cheaper shows for school groups often are not welcoming of infants and toddlers so it just hasn't happened.  So we jumped at the chance to take the kids to A Christmas Carol for free.

We took the older six kids to the Geva Theatre and they had an awesome time.  I was a bit surprised that the theater was so small.  It would be rather hard to find a seat that did not provide you with a fairly up close and personal view of things.  I was also very surprised by the quality of the special effects used during the play.  It's been a long time since I've seen an actual play so I really was not expecting that sort of thing.  It was very impressive.

Everyone enjoyed themselves and a thank you goes to Geva Theater and the sponsors of the Home for the Holidays program for giving us the free tickets and the chance to enjoy a wonderful night out with the kids.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prayer Quilt

I don't know the ladies who spent the time to make this wonderful gift for us but I just have to say I am very thankful for it.
It arrived on Friday and was made by the Prayer Quilt Ministry at Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Fredericksburg, VA.  A wonderful group of folks who took time out to pray for our family in the days following Isabel's death.  This is an amazing gift that we will treasure for a long time.

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

Yet another idea to file under frugal ideas.

This is a simple recipe using common inexpensive ingredients you'll likely always have an hand. The most expensive part of the solution is buying a spray bottle.  This is assuming you have the same issue we have around here.  You see, I bought some all-purpose cleaner in a sturdy spray bottle from the store.  The same basic recipe I make here.  But when the kids finished up the cleaner, they forgot to save the bottle and given that I was still under the weather a bit, I did not notice until several days later. So we gave up on that idea and bought a package of 6 commercial quality spray bottles at SAMS Club.  The awesome thing about these bottles is that the sides are labeled with the markings to tell you how much water to add to dilute your cleaning solutions to the strength you desire.

So here are the simple directions for an orange based all-purpose cleaner.  First you need to collect a bunch of orange peels in a clean container with a lid.  I do believe that we actually used tangerine peels this time and used all of the peels from snack one day.  Put the peels into your container and cover them  with plain white vinegar.  Put the lid on and shake everything up a bit. Make sure when you are done that all of the peels are completely under the liquid, then store the container away from the light.  (I just stuck the peels in a quart sized canning jar, put on one of the reusable plastic lids, and stuck the container in the snack cupboard.)  Leave it to sit for at least a couple weeks.  You can add more peels over time if you desire.

After a few weeks, pour off the vinegar into a clean spray bottle.  Strain if necessary.  Add water to the bottle to dilute as desired. Shake to mix it all together.  You can add some dishwashing liquid if you want more scrubbing power.

The best part of this cleaner (aside from the cost) is that you can leave bottles easily accessible to your children and not have to worry if a toddler should grab one.  So you end up with a cleaner that is both affordable and non-toxic and adding the orange peels to the solution prevents the smells that is left behind from using straight vinegar to clean.

Meal Plan

M: oatmeal (B), baked chicken legs (D)
T: yogurt (B), tator tot casserole (D)
W: cereal (B), Boy Scout Christmas party (D)
T: eggs (B), soup and muffins (D)
F: pumpkin bread (B), green chili chicken enchiladas (D)
S: pancakes (B), pizza (D)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cookie Decorating Party

Alan and I will admit that we are not quite up to trying to do everything we normally do for Advent and Christmas this year.  I did not make an Advent calendar and even failed to buy the chocolate ones at the store.  The nativity sets are not out (although I'm not sure where we would put them anymore).  Most of the feast days have not been celebrated. I really doubt any cards will go out this year and the few adults we do usually send gifts to won't be getting anything this year.  It's just not where we are at the moment.  And yet there is a need to try to keep things a tad normal or fun for the kids. So we invited some folks over today for a cookie decorating party.  Translation: we just came up with an excuse to have some friends over.  Cookies, lunch, playing outside, and a house full of friends who just came to spend time together.  Something we really need to do more often.  And, yes, I did totally lose count of how many cookies were eaten and watched a few little ones dump entire bottles of sprinkles on top of their cookies.  But it's all fair in love and sugar, right?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

And There Goes the Streak

Last night Gabe took a header into the hat and mitten box.  Apparently that is what happens when you are running in the house. Which led to a trip to the ER because, of course, you can't split your head open in the middle of the day when you can go to the doctor or earlier in the evening when the urgent care center is open.  You'd think a head wound on a child would be a reason for some urgency but apparently not.  They spent about 5 hours there in total.  Perhaps the problem was that Alan had managed to do a decent job patching things up before they left home so the wound was not gaping or bleeding heavily.
Either way Gabe finally made it home with 6 stitches right smack dab in the middle of his forehead.  Our first kid ever to need them.  I'll admit that I am a bit shocked that we avoided them this long.  Apparently there is a lot of appeal to getting to spend all that time alone with Dad and leave the house at night dressed in your jammies.  So Gabe is none the worse for the wear.  Just hoping next time someone splits their head open that they are polite enough to do it earlier in the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Making Detergent

Ok, file this one under frugal hints.

This week I made a triple batch of laundry detergent.  Nothing fancy or earth-shaking here but it seems folks have forgotten that you can make such things and cut down on your expenses.  So I just thought I would share the recipe for anyone who might be interested.

First I will say that we don't always use the homemade version.  If I can get laundry detergent inexpensively I will.  Usually the case lot sales have decent prices on it in bulk but when Alan picked up our order last time, they were out of the detergent I had ordered.  Since he did not know the prices himself, he opted not to buy the other detergent they had in stock (which was not at all a bad choice).  Coupons and matching sales can bring the prices down at the regular stores but sometimes I just am not on top of tracking those things.  When I've run out of the cheaper stuff and am not in the mood to pay the regular price for detergent, I make it.

The version I use is 1 bar of soap, 1 cup of borax, and 1 cup of washing soda.  Grate the soap and mix it with the rest of the ingredients.  You want to use a soap made for laundry or something that lacks extra ingredients.  Fels-naptha, zote, and ivory are all great choices.  Ivory is probably the best option cost wise since you can easily get it for free with coupons. I had 9 bars stashed away that I paid less than 10 cents a bar for earlier this year.

Next week I'll mix up a batch of all-purpose cleaner (once I find the missing spray bottle).  When done alone, these things won't make a bit of difference to the budget but when added together you will see a difference.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why I Don't Like the Elf on the Shelf

It's that time of year.  The time of the year when hordes of parents give up on parenting their children in favor of threatening to tell the Jolly Old Elf all about how their kid is not behaving.  In years past, I always hated going to the store this time of year. It never failed that I would hear at least one parent threaten their child with "If you don't listen to me, I will tell Santa that you aren't being good" because apparently the only way to deal with your child is to either bribe them or threaten to tattle on them.  Yup, this bugs me more than I can even begin to articulate.

Now the lack of parental authority is taken a step further and millions of parents are paying to have some ugly looking toy in their house to help them with the tattling on their children department.  Yup, this bugs me.

I will openly admit that we don't do the whole Santa thing around here. The blank looks on my children's faces when strangers ask them if they are excited about Santa coming somewhat cracks me up.  It's not that I am completely against the idea of Santa. But society has taken what was once a small part of the holiday and turned it into the entire reason for the season.  So we leave him out of our celebrations for the most part. Yes, the kids watch movies and read about him in books but he remains simply a fictional character based upon a great saint.  So there is my bias to begin with and I do know it colors my view.  But good grief, parent your child. If they are throwing a fit in the store, pick them up and take them out.  Or put the toy back. Or ground the child. Do something, anything other than threaten to tattle on your child because in case you haven't noticed, the kids are winning and you are left looking like a fool.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Menu Plan

We are still working through various meals in the freezer and otherwise trying to keep things simple around here.  I discovered on Saturday that SAMS has boneless skinless chicken breasts on sale by the case for $1.64/lb.  Since the chicken shipment from Zaycon foods was cancelled due to the hurricane, we are hoping to be able to take advantage of this price in the very near future to fill the freezer a bit.  Hopefully the price will not go up before we are able to do so.

Lunches this week will be sandwiches and leftovers except on Friday. On Friday we are having some friends over for a cookie decorating party and will have something in the crockpots for lunch.  Taco soup in one and I'm not sure what will go in the second one as I am struggling to come up with something more child friendly than I usually seem to cook when cooking for a crowd.

M: eggs (B), salisbury meatballs (D)
T: oatmeal (B), honey glazed chicken (D)
W: cereal (B), soup and muffins (D)
T: breakfast casserole (B), lasagna (D)
F: muffins (B), ham and scalloped potatoes (D)

We are also apparently entering the beginning of potluck season.  Alan has one at work on Tuesday and there is a Boy Scout dinner/potluck next week.  This Thursday we also have the Frontier Girls Christmas party.  They should keep us just a tad busier than normal and making lots of extra desserts to take with us (I think we will be sticking with caramel corn for most of them since it is cheap, easy, folks seem to love it, and most folks now seem to never have a chance to have homemade caramel corn).

Saturday, December 8, 2012

St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas Day was celebrated in a somewhat low key manner this year.  No movies, no crafts, just candy.  And Alan still refuses to allow the kids to eat just candy for breakfast so he even insisted on making sure the kids only had one piece of candy before breakfast.
One thing I've noticed as the shoes get bigger and the line of shoes gets bigger is that I am now having trouble getting all the shoes into one picture.

Happy Birthday Kieran!

Kieran turned 11 on Wednesday.  Yes, this post is a wee bit late because I was waiting until I pulled the pictures off the camera.  I've been running a bit behind on most things lately.
 Kieran is rather focused on trying to be different than everyone else lately.  I suppose that sometimes happens when you are part of such a large crowd. So he requested a pie rather than a birthday cake.  He also made sure to pick a restaurant for his dinner out that no one had chosen before.  He's currently taking fencing lessons (a birthday gift) and is thoroughly enjoying them.  Alan says he is picking up on things very quickly.
Here's hoping you had a wonderful day buddy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

At Least They Were all Dressed

My how things change on you.  Once upon a time, we only had a few kids.  So few in fact that you only needed one hand to count them all.  So few that we could always make sure every child was holding an adult's hand.  So few that we always were able to make sure every child was neat, presentable, and matching when we left the house for important events like Mass.

Now, well, we have a few more kids.  We need two hands to count them all.  And there is no way everyone will be holding a adult's hand when we leave the house unless you count the teenagers as adults.  And we now apparently settle for just making sure everyone is wearing clothes when we leave the house.

We attended an evening Mass tonight so that Alan could join us after work.  Robert arrived wearing a pair of water shoes because they were the only ones we could find in his size tonight.  Ellie arrived wearing two different soft sole shoes (both cast-offs from an older brother so very much masculine looking shoes) because her sneakers have gone missing.  Half-way through Mass I noticed that when her older sister got her dress, the dress went on backwards.  She was also sporting some leftover blue marker streaks on her face from her adventures with the box of markers this morning.  And if you stood above her and looked down, you noticed the numerous bald patches on her head from where one of her siblings gave her a haircut.  Gabe was wearing nice matching clothes.  But the pants kept falling down and I'd look over and notice he was mooning everyone in the rows behind us. Several of the older children managed to walk out of the house without really combing their hair.

But we were all there. Together.  And the kids pretty much behaved.  So that's all that matters, right?

Happy Birthday Ellie!

Ellie turns 2 today.  Currently several of her siblings are arguing over who will get to make her birthday cake.  This pretty much illustrates exactly what her role is around here. She's the one everyone wants to spoil and take care of and fight over.  Right now I am currently fighting a battle with her older siblings trying to convince them that it is not necessary to spoil her so darn much.  As cute as she is, I can see the attitude becoming an issue if it is not reigned in soon.

I can safely say that Ellie loves her baby dolls.  She is often seen carrying one or two of them around the house.  She still seems to think that the diapers somehow go on the dolls' heads but we're working on that one.

She also loves her brother Robert.  I've watched her climb into his lap and just walk up to him and hug him. The two of them rather remind me of Katie and Liam at the same age.  Which just slightly worries me.

Her favorite book is Wrapping Paper Romp and she will ask you to read it over and over and over again.  The other day she brought the book to Gabe to read to her.  Gabe did his best considering he has not yet mastered reading.  He told her he would read it to her silently.  After flipping through the pages, he handed the book back and informed her he was done.  Ellie was not amused and looked at the boy like he had two heads. Clearly he did not understand the read to me request.

I will admit that I consider Ellie's happy temperament and laid back personality to be the result of having so many wonderful siblings around.  To be completely honest, I have spent most of the past two years being slightly or not so slightly emotionally burned out.  About the time she was born, I was still dealing with a wee bit of a mental breakdown due to life and family.  Once I finally started getting back on my feet we were knocked over by a miscarriage and then the pregnancy.  But luckily for Ellie, when Mom was not available to pick her up and carry her around and dote on her, she always had a sibling standing by who was more than willing to rock her to sleep and toss her in a baby carrier and spoil her slightly rotten.  She may not have always had a parent taking care of her but she has always had more than enough love and care.  We've found ourselves pointing out to the older boys that she likely views them as another adult type person in her life.  Yes, Mom and Dad are special but those big boys get just as many hugs and smiles and she runs to hang on them when they come home.  I hope they all realize what a special relationship they have together.

Anyway, happy birthday to Miss Ellie.  You truly hold a special place in our family.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Menu Plan-Birthday Edition

This is one of our busy weeks.  We have 2 birthdays plus St. Nicholas Day to celebrate plus a Holy Day on Saturday.  Did I mention the boys are scheduled to serve the early morning Mass on Saturday? And we have to leave here 40 minutes early to make sure they are there on time?  So much for sleeping in I guess. So there is my reason for putting this together a bit early.  Hope you can deal.

Sunday is Ellie's birthday but Alan has reserve duty so we won't be able to go out for her birthday dinner until later in the week.  But we'll still have cake after dinner.  What we'll have for dinner, I haven't a clue.  Ellie is talking quite a bit but as of yet, I have not been able to determine what her favorite meal would be.  I can tell you that she is really great at saying snack and no and gets really upset if her dad tries to put one of her stuffed dolls into his shirt pocket.  "No, Daddy! No!"

M: yogurt (B), sandwiches (L), hopefully we'll get out for Ellie's birthday dinner (D)
T: oatmeal (B), sandwiches (L), meatloaf (D)
W: Kieran's birthday so whatever he picks for breakfast and lunch and going out for his birthday dinner followed by pie for dessert because he said he does not want a cake this year
T: St. Nicholas Day so I'm sure the kids will eat mostly candy (B), sandwiches (L), soup (D)
F: breakfast casserole (B), leftovers (L), drawing a blank (D)
S: whatever can be grabbed and eaten in the car (B), FFY(L), pizza night (D)

So how is that for a rather scattered and not quite organized meal plan?  In the end everyone will be fed but I can pretty much promise it won't look exactly like this by the end of the week.