Saturday, January 31, 2015

3 Ways To Save Money On Groceries

Something that inevitably shows up in your social media feed is someone asking for ideas on how to save money. This can be difficult to know where to start. Here are three things that have worked for me.

Set a Goal

Last year I challenged myself to start keeping my grocery budget at $50 per week. I had read all kinds of blogs that were doing $300, $250, and $200 per month, and I thought there was no way I would be able to come close. Our food budget at the time for two people was $400 per month. I decided to reduce our budget by half.

Now I'm sure you are wondering why I would try this goal when I was almost certain that I would fail. I felt that I needed to try. Even if I failed at $50 per week, I would save some money by trying. I chose a specific goal to give me something concrete to aim for rather than the ambiguous goal of: "Save Money."

I got a few negative reactions when I mentioned this goal to people. They were concerned that I was not eating healthy, or enough. I was pregnant at the time, and that was a concern. There was no need, because I ate really well, possibly even better than I had been.

Take Advantage of Sales

Buy mostly staples, meat, and produce. Most grocery stores have weekly sales ads. You can check your newspaper for them, and most stores are now putting their ads on their websites for even easier access. Plan meals around what is on sale.

I shop mostly at Aldi and Sprout's. Aldi has wonderful prices on everything--although I keep a running list of what is cheaper to buy in bulk elsewhere. Sprout's has sales on meat and produce that are wonderful, and the quality is outstanding.

Cook From Scratch

One way to save a lot of money on your food budget  is cooking from scratch. Pinterest is a wonderful resource for recipes to make homemade versions of your favorite convenience foods. There are recipes for Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-Roni, Pasta-Roni, macaroni and cheese, even "cream of" soups all from scratch. It's not much more trouble than from the box, and it's so much healthier for you. And cheaper. Always remember that. It's cheaper.

You can check out my personal board for this below. I've indicated which recipes I've already tried.

Follow Ashley's board DIY Mixes on Pinterest.

Starting out saving money on groceries is daunting, but it is a satisfying endeavor. Set a goal, take advantage of sales, and cook from scratch. Doing this, I hit my goal of $50 per week on groceries. I actually kept it closer to $40 per week on average. Sweetie was pleasantly surprised with my success. Go pinch those pennies just a little tighter, and cook something delicious while you do it.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Looking Up

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." Psalm 121:1

My dad took sick 6-7 weeks ago. He would start to recover, then relapse. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then his health really went downhill. 

Some of you already knew of this. Calls for prayer went out, and I know that God's people have been praying and fasting on our behalf. I think I speak for the whole family that we deeply appreciate each one that has prayed for us. 

I won't go into any details. I will only say that Daddy is very weak, and there have been times that we thought we were losing him.

One of my good friends came down last night to stay with me, and before she left this morning she reminded me, "by faith, and not by sight." It was something I needed, because when I got to my parent's house this morning, Daddy looked worse.

While different songs and scriptures have come to mind over the past few days, the one that I was inspired with this morning was Psalm 121:1. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." My human eyes see what is before me, the reality of our situation. My faith looks up to God, the One in control of our situation.

Looking up is what inspires my faith. It is when I fail to look up that I become discouraged. It was when Peter looked around at the waves--at the reality of what he was going through--that he began to sink. But when he looked back up at the Master he was drawn back up. When my faith starts to waver, all I have to do is look back up. 

We are still in the midst of the battle. We still crave your prayers. Pray that we will continue to look up. 

And if you are going through a trial of your own, I encourage you to look up. God cares, and His people care about you. There has been such an outpouring of love in this battle. Look up. 

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Miss Oblivious

I have always thought of myself as a detail-oriented person. I come from a family of detail-oriented people, so I just assumed I was the same way. This probably comes as a surprise to most people who know me, because I have a reputation for being a bit spacey. It all hit me about a week ago, and I saw myself a little more accurately.

You know how they say that you can miss the forest for all the trees? I miss the trees for the forest.

I was almost literally nicknamed "Miss Oblivious" at the office I worked at a few years ago. They had very good reason for this name. I can't tell you how many times I would be talking to a co-worker in the break room, and they would ask me why I didn't wave back when they passed me on our way to or from work on the interstate. I simply did not see them. I pay attention to the road when I'm driving, and very little other drivers' maniacal attempts to get my attention.

Probably the funniest example, and a story that my friends will not let me live down, happened one time in late spring. In Alabama, spring starts early in the year, and things become green fast. I did not have a window in my office, but the front doors in the lobby were all glass. One day in May, or maybe early June, I walked up to the front doors, looked outside, turned to the receptionist--who happened to be an old friend of mine--and exclaimed, "There's leaves on the trees!" Considering the fact that there had been leaves on the trees for a couple of months, it's understandable that my friend laughed herself silly before spreading the story throughout the office.

I also recently discovered that my mother does have a trash can in her laundry room. I've been carrying the lint from the dryer all the way to the kitchen trash because I couldn't find the can by the washer and dryer. Was it hidden? No. My brain simply failed to register what my eyes were seeing.

This isn't to say that I'm completely capable of detailed work. I'm actually pretty good with data entry, mathematics, and fine stitching like crochet and cross-stitch. but I think my mind wanders whenever I'm doing something repetitive. I suppose I am more of a big picture person. Details escape me for whatever reason, and I really don't know how to change that.

Does anyone else find themselves missing the trees for the forest? Any suggestions on how to train my mind to notice the details that it really needs to? I'd love to hear about it!

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Where's My Hamster?

I have a problem that most people, particularly mothers of young children, seem to suffer from. It's usually not too debilitating, but occasionally it makes every day activities next to impossible to perform.

Brain Fog.

It's not that it feels like my brain shuts down, it's more that it keeps moving, but it's not doing anything. "The wheel is spinning, but the hamster is clearly missing," or something to that effect. It really does feel like a fog, and I wander around the house aimlessly trying to figure out what I am supposed to be doing.

When it gets really bad, I can't even read. That's hard for a bookworm like myself to deal with. If you can't read, what can you do?

The other night it was even so bad I could barely do laundry. Almost like I was forgetting how to  fold clothes. This is not normal. At least, this extreme case is not normal.

What is normal is for me to lose my train of thought half-way through what I was saying. This is why I really try to rely on outlining when I write. Otherwise I just ramble and make very little sense. (I did outline this post; I hope it actually helps.)

It's very common for me, and has been for years, to forget a point I wanted to make in an online post after clicking the send button. I apologize to anyone if I miss a question when responding to comments. I promise I'm not doing it on purpose.

So, does anyone else find themselves suffering from this mental wandering? If so, what do you do to cope with it? I've figured out outlining for my writing, but what about other instances, like answering a list of questions, or attempting to do household chores?

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Five Nights of "Go Away!"

Apparently a new horror game came out in August, and references to it have been appearing in my social media feeds ever since. Perhaps you've heard of Five Nights at Freddy's? I wish I hadn't.

I actually have watched someone play the game, and frankly, it shouldn't be as scary as it is. But it plays on a particular fear of mine that I cannot seem to shake even though I know it is completely irrational.

I cannot stand animatronics. They absolutely terrify me.

My first personal memory was of my grandmother's crawling baby doll. That thing was just plain creepy. Inanimate objects are not supposed to move like that.

Then there were the characters at Chuck E. Cheese's. Yeah...the very chain that apparently inspired the nightmare that has been intruding on my normally horror-free media feeds. What made Chuck E. Cheese's worse for me as a child was the fact that occasionally someone would dress up as the giant mouse himself and greet the children. You think I had issues with him just up on the stage? One time my sister and I hid under the table when we saw him approaching, and had to be coaxed back out after he was gone.

This has presented some opportunities for my peers to mock me at theme parks. "It's a Small World" is still horrifying to me, even after the update. But back when it was looking a bit shabby...that was worse. If you've ever been to Six Flags Over Georgia, you'll find "Monster Mansion," a delightful little ride full of brightly colored animatronics that hopefully stay where they belong while you go past in your little boat. Then it takes a scary turn. You know, you go into the dark, and the music goes into a minor key and things are lit spookily? At least, I assume that's what it looks like. My fear of the animatronics means I've never actually seen that part of the ride.

My method of coping with rides involving animatronics has been to close my eyes tight, plug my ears with my fingers, and hum "Kumbaya." It works for me.

I honestly do not know where I got this fear from. Other fears, I can think of instances in my life that spawned the irrational behavior, but not this one. I've had it for as long as I can remember, and it is not doing away.

I usually avoid the horror genre as a whole. I have an over-active imagination that doesn't need help in producing nightmares for me. I could do a whole lot better without Five Nights at Freddy's in my life, though. Seriously, it needs to die.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

My Missing Filter

A question had been plaguing me. It's something I've noticed about myself, and something that is mentioned a lot when talking about introverts in general. Why do introverts need down-time?

Or maybe my question is why do extroverts not need down-time. 

I was thinking about it a lot the other day and came up with an hypothesis that I would love to run by some real-life extroverts. An extrovert should not be that hard to come by. Unfortunately, I come from a family of introverts, so it's more difficult than you would think.

I noticed that, personally, how soon I need my down-time correlates to how much is going on around me. In quieter settings, I can go all day, and be fine with a little down-time in the evening. In louder settings, I find myself escaping to a bathroom or outdoors throughout the day.

So it got me thinking. What if extroverts and introverts both have a "sensory data tank" that fills up with stuff they both have to process, but extroverts have a special filter that keeps irrelevant data from filling up the tank. Like background music. It distracts me horribly, but it seems not to bother the extroverts I'm around at all. What if they have a filter in their brain that tells them that it's not necessary to process that information? It would mean that their "sensory data tank" would fill up much slower, apparently to the extent that they can keep up with the input in real time.

It could explain why introverts--well, me specifically--will reach a point where they shut down. When the "sensory data tank" is full, escape becomes necessary so the data can be processed, or at least drained from the tank so it can receive more data. If escape is impossible, then I shut down emotionally and give monosyllabic responses to anyone attempting to draw me out of my shell of self-preservation.

If this filter does exist, I really wish I could develop one. It would be so handy. Three conversations going on at once? Just ignore all but the one you are actually participating in! Background music in a store? Don't have to pay attention to the lyrics, just enjoy the mood of the melody. My life needs this. Badly.

Do you think there's something here? I would really like to hear from extroverts as well as my fellow introverts on this. Do you think that it's a skill that can be developed? Let me know!

Want to read more about my introverted misadventures?
Check out these posts:

I Hugged a Stranger
Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Talking To Myself

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Friday, January 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo Editing Plans

Yesterday began the new year. January. I have had in my mind that I would begin revisions of my NaNoWriMo project in January. I've never done revisions like this, but then, I'd never written a novel, either. I think I can learn as I go.

I had very little idea for my plot when I started writing in November. I had a couple of character names, and I knew something about my ending. I did not even know where to start. Now that I've written most of it, I think I know where my story needs to start, and it's not where I started it to begin with.

See, I have a tendency with fiction to simply drop my reader into the middle of the action and explain things as they come along later. My mother was always frustrated with this tendency when I was required to write paragraphs for school, because I never finished those stories that I had started. While I've only written short stories up until this point, I think using the same method will be best with a longer piece of fiction as well. And now that I know my actual story I know exactly which action scene to drop you into. Bwahahaha!

Also, I desperately need names. I have characters, places, and a few animals that I used descriptive titles rather than names the entire month because I could not think of their names. I finally did manage to name one of my places. I've gotten my last two name ideas from street signs. Any suggestions would be welcomed. I am at a loss.

To top it all off, as I skimmed through my rough draft, I came to the conclusion that I'm basically going to have to re-write this whole thing. There is so much that needs to change. That's OK, though. I had fun doing it in November, and I have a better idea of what the story is now, so I'm going to start working on outlining based on my rough draft, work up some character sheets, and probably add some more world building. I'm actually looking forward to this process.

Want to read more about my 2014 NaNoWriMo project?
Did I Write Feminist Literature?
What I Did To Silence My Inner Editor
NaNo Is Over. Now What?

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chocolate Mess

When I made my post about my family Christmas traditions I made the statement that we did not have a traditional dessert. One of my cousins took offense at the statement and reminded me of a dessert that my mom makes almost every year in December: Chocolate Torte.

I'm re-naming it Chocolate Mess. It looks prettier sliced up and arranged on a serving platter. And let me tell you, they are tiny slices. They have to be. The whole cake has a grand total of five cups of sugar. That's right: five. But because of the small slices, this cake would appear at three or four different Christmas parties throughout December.

I'll post the recipe below for those that want to try it once I regain access to it. I would warn you, though, this recipe is for either the incredibly brave, or the incredibly stupid. Personally, I think I fell into the latter category considering the fact that I had a seven-month-old baby to take care of as well as make a time-consuming cake.

I could not find my cake pans when I began this venture. I decided that my loaf pans would do in a pinch. That was my first mistake. You cannot get a spatula down into a loaf pan well enough to loosen the cake layers, so all of those fell apart. I tried pan-frying the batter like a crepe, but couldn't get it quite thin enough, even when I managed not to scorch them.

Fortunately, my mother offered to help me with the cake, so the next day I brought my batter and icing over to her house and she began showing me how she makes this look so easy. It should be noted that my mother made this cake almost every year with no assistance. After my experience, I would recommend that you have two people working on it. It speeds this up and just makes everything go smoother.

There were so many things that she does that are not in the recipe. Like greasing the pans with butter. Granted, I assumed you needed to grease the pans, but Mom has a particular preference for using butter because of the taste. And spreading it with your fingers if you want to be sure that you really got the pan covered. We just used a paper towel with a dab of butter most of the time, though.

The recipe says that it is a twenty-two layer cake. Mine turned out with sixteen layers...I think. If it weren't for the layers that I ruined while attempting to make the cake on my own, I probably would have had twenty or more. Oh well. It still tasted good.

Make the icing in advance. It thickens as you cook it. This is another thing not mentioned in the actual recipe. Also, you will have to wash the pans in between uses. Every. Single. Time. I was actually hoping I could skip that step. No such luck.

But the number one recommendation I would have for anyone that wants to try making this cake for the first time? Find someone that has done it before. Mom finally told me that it took years of making this cake before she had it down to her smooth process. It's worth it, though.

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