Monday, February 20, 2012

Couponing for "Normal" People

I wish this was my pantry!

Y'all, I am starting to see the light!  (although not in pantry organization- just yet...)  And I just have to share a good thing!

In the beginning, Sunday would roll around and I would dread looking online, choosing the best deals had organized, and then making my list... not to mention the shopping!

But after having done this now for 7 weeks, I am starting to see that all is well.  It is working!  Our grocery bill has been reduced by $400 a month!  (I have not gotten one thing for free and I have not used more than 5 coupons per week).  And we have MORE food and better meals NOW than when I was spending MORE!  The reason?  P-L-A-N-N-I-N-G

Additionally, my brain is actually remembering what good prices are for items.  CouponMom said that would happen and she is correct!

Adam downloaded her book for me on his ipad so when Davis is not using it for Angry Birds I read a few chapters.  Reading those chapters were JUST what I needed.

Here are the highlights:

#1 Make the number one goal to ONLY go to the store ONCE a week.
That is ONCE every SEVEN (not five) DAYS.  This is probably a no-brainer for some people but for me I truly only "saw" and planned for Monday through Friday.  I would forget about those cupcakes I need to bring to the kids' school or the appetizer I need to bring to the party.  And while it's hard to believe, apparently those "quick trips" were adding up!

#2 If an item is a good price, buy at least 2 weeks worth.  

#3 Post (in the kitchen) a list of dinners and healthy snacks kids can help themselves to.
This is great because, like adults, when kids read: YOGURT, FRESH FRUIT, POPCORN, HUMMUS  W/ PRETZELS... they help themselves to a healthy snack and there really is no discussion or complaining.  Similarly, when husbands can expect what will be the dinner for that night, there usually isn't any, "Hmmm do we have anything else?" at the last minute.

Those three suggestions really helped me.

So, in summary, here is what I do Sunday or Monday:

1. Log into, pick my state, pick my grocery store.  (for the first few months, I am sticking to one grocery store- trying to keep things simple until I get the hang of it)

2. Check the boxes of the items I think we will use* (sidenote: sometimes even though I click an item, I do not end up buying it.  For example, I decide that we just don't need anymore crackers!  Or I have the coupon but I see that the store brand is cheaper so I leave the coupon for someone who might want it)

3. Print out my selected items list.

4. On the same paper, I add other items I need in order of Produce/Meats/Dairy/etc.

5. Plan my week.  Remember ALL 7 days of it- Ha!  Look at your datebook.  I save this step until now because I personally find it easier to start my planning AFTER seeing what is featured on sale.  When I see that pork is on sale, I feel like having stuffed pork chops that week!

6. Make sure I have everything we need written down- don't forget household/toiletry items.

7. Go shopping!

Hope that helps!

Saturday, February 18, 2012


*Disclaimer:  My name is Olivia and I am addicted to unimportant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things-details. So my poor family had to suffer through my mood swings while I scoured for easy, but cute, ideas and then printed and cut and even cussed a little bit.

  Because I procrastinated so long, I had to make the invitations myself.  VERY inexpensive and easy to print out on the computer and then cut out.  Although they had to be hand-delivered because of the lollipop.

These little cotton candy ice cream cones were my favorite thing!  So easy, so cheap, and no melting!!

The semi-homemade cake... Mary Fowler's favorite: Red Velvet with Cream Cheese icing.

I like these pictures but I hate those puffs!  They were a pain to make!!

Mary Fowler wanted to use the flowers I bought to decorate the cake herself.

In what is becoming our family tradition (apparently we are Griswolds), we had a minor emergency 30 MINUTES BEFORE THE FIRST GUEST ARRIVED!  Hint: our garage smelled like p**p.  Luckily all was fixed before anyone could see this beauty in the driveway.

The girls LOVED the sparkling grape juice toast!

One of the few photos I had that still protects the identities of the invitees!  Ha!

Whew!  It's over!!  But seriously, I was so impressed with how sweet all the girls were.  Mary Fowler felt very special and we had a nice time.

Family Movie Night

I thought this movie was really cute!  We even rented it for Mary Fowler's sleepover and the girls enjoyed it.

Tortilla Soup

Ever since Kim introduced me via her blog to Tortilla Soup, I have been in love.  I kind of do my own version since I have to use the crock pot these days.  But that has also allowed me to add more yummy vegetables.  Kind of like a warm salsa??  But better.  And each time I make it, it's a little different but here are some basics.  And I'm chuckling now because I know this doesn't really look like a recipe.  But with soup, you can just kind of throw in what you have, right?  

*Added... if you'd like the real recipe with measurements, I've added it at the very end*

a little oil
onion, chopped
some kind of corn product (corn tortillas, crushed up corn chips or cornmeal with water)
green, red, yellow peppers, chopped
cilantro, chopped
28 oz tomatoes (I prefer crushed or diced)
carton chicken broth
2T cumin
2T chili powder
heat: cayenne pepper or jalapenos

And the toppings are a necessity!  Avocado, sour cream, and cheese.

Tortilla Soup (from Stop and Smell the Rosemary)
6 tbs vegetable oil
8 corn tortillas, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 medium onion, chopped
1  28oz can diced tomatoes
2 tbs ground cumin
1 tbs chili powder
3 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock/broth 
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4-6 cooked chicken breasts, shredded or cubed 
(I use 4 and I bake them and then shred them with two forks. Really, 4 is plenty of chicken).
Optional garnishes:
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
cubed avocado
Sour Cream
2 corn tortillas, sliced and fried crisp (or a few tortilla chips) 
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add tortilla, garlic, cilantro and onion. Saute 2-3 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes.  Bring to a boil and add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves and chicken stock.  Return to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Add salt and cayenne.  Simmer 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the chicken. Reheat for a few minutes.  Spoon into bowls and garnish with cheese, avacado, sour cream and/or tortilla chips.

Christmas Card Storage

It really is sad how much happiness it brings me to finally have a place for ALL of my precious Christmas cards that we receive each year.   I LOVE Christmas cards.  They are one of my favorite parts of the holidays.  You can rest assured that if I receive a photo, it will not be discarded in a wastebasket.  So after many, many years spent obsessing wondering how I should organize them all, I finally this January bought some red boxes, slapped a label on them and called it a day.

My real dream was to have a tidy photo album for each year but with the varying sizes and newfangled front to back printing... not to mention the quantity issue... and the fact that my own children do not have completed photo albums that just wasn't going to happen.

Impossible To Mess Up Toffee!

By now, no one else probably cares about my Trials and Tribulations with Toffee!  But I am one happy girl now that I have finally found a No Fail recipe!!  And of course it is from my mom's favorite neighbor!  And luckily it is a microwave recipe since I still do not have a working stove top!  DIVINE!!  This is so easy and so fast and so good.  What a great gift!

Just in case you cannot read this...

 Butter the top of a glass bowl

Butter the pan

I prefer saltines to the almonds

butter, sugar, salt, water... no stir!

This is what it looks like after being in the microwave for 9 minutes

I prefer only this many chocolate chips

I Want This!!

Soule Mama

A while ago I put a book on my Amazon wishlist (The Rhythm of Family) and it is written by Soule Mama.  I clicked on her blog for the first time today and look what her family built in their backyard!!  It is not a pond or an actual body of water thank heavens! but simply a layer of ice over plastic!  Sweet!

Adam and I have been talking a lot lately about having a pool installed in our new backyard.  This probably wouldn't happen for a year or so but my favorite part about any project is the dreaming part...  As opposed to the paying for or doing part.  These are a couple from my file...

Good to Remember...

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Resources for Changing Lives)

I grew up Catholic and I love so many things about the its tradition.  But one thing most of us Catholics agree on is that we were not raised learning the Bible stories our Protestant friends grew up with.

When I moved to Richmond I was looking to expand my comfort levels (since they were being stretched anyway!) so, I took the advice of two wonderful women I met here and joined a non-denominational Bible study.  It has definitely stretched me.  In a wonderful way.  

My (unsolicited) advice: If you are looking to be stretched, take note of the women in your lives whom you admire.  You may not know exactly what IT is about them, but IT is something.  Get to know them, find out what THEY do, and see if there is anything THEY do that YOU could do.

This is a fairly intensive study.  We spend two semesters (like a school year) on ONE section (like Genesis).  

During one of the lectures, this book was mentioned so I found it on and ordered it.  It is good- I would not call it a super-easy read but I am still enjoying it... on my bedside table... a couple of pages at a time...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Charlotte the Lover

Since the move Charlotte has become even more of a lover, and we didn't know that was possible.  Sure sometimes I call her the bottomless pit of need but I mean it in a good way.  She knows what we need.  Her goal in life is to love- to give it and to receive it.  To herd everyone onto the same sofa or bed and then curl herself in between it all- absorbing (by osmosis) the love.  Adam is her very favorite but she respects me more.  Ha!  Her love bucket is constantly getting filled up and then given out again.  Sweet girl!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Good Bye Garden Club, Hello...

Bible study!?!?

You know the saying, when one door closes, another opens??  Well, I had to laugh one day last week when I was sitting at my desk hand-writing a letter of resignation from the garden club I was a member of and received a phone call.  (Now that we've moved, I am not longer a resident of that city (obvi) so this is just a formality relinquishing me of my financial and time obligations)  The irony is that here in Richmond, we now have a BIG, FLAT, NEEDY yard and I really could use the advice of those talented ladies!

Perhaps I was feeling a little bit nostalgic... when we lived in Roanoke, we were members of right around 10 social organizations.  And while I loved them all for different reasons, when we moved, we consciously made the decision to change that up a bit.  The thing is- we LOVE people!  We feel energized when we spend time with friends!  Having said that, we were also craving a re-focus and a simplification back down to our little four-person family.  I don't know any better way to say it type it??

So back to that phone call... before I could even sign my name, the phone rang and it was my bible study core leader asking me to serve in a leadership position.  Now that's funny AND ironic!

Please remember, I told her... "I was raised Catholic and I am willing to bet that any Protestant 4 year old knows more Bible stories than I do!"

Apparently you don't have to be a Bible scholar to be a group leader...  So I am stepping out of my old comfort zone... and into a new one!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Matters of Food...

I was talking to my favorite cousin recently.  She recently returned from a spa in Arizona and she was telling me all about the healthful lifestyle lessons she learned while there.  It made me think of this documentary I watched on Netflix last year and I really enjoyed it.  Definitely "food for thought"!  

I am very wary, or suspicious, when I hear people talking about extreme dietary changes like diets or detoxes.  But my family so far is blessed with health.  Perhaps I would have a different perspective if we did have health issues.  For our family, variety and moderation is the name of the game.

I have added this book to my Goodreads "TO READ" list:

The main takeaways for me that I try to incorporate daily:

1. Eat mostly whole foods
2. Drinking water first thing in the morning (most times before coffee!)
3. Eating RAW foods as often as possible

I just like the idea that our bodies are meant to be healthy and fight off the daily germs we come in contact with.  We cannot control the trillions and trillions of germs (and those are just on the bottom of ONE foot!)!!    

Pink Gin Fizzy

Picture from

One of my favorite cocktails.  Tastes great in the summer... or in the winter when you want a little taste of summer in your mouth!

Pink Gin Fizzy

Gin or Vodka 1½ oz.
Sierra Mist or Club Soda 3 oz.
Ruby Red grapefruit juice 3 oz.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the Vodka or Gin and Ruby Red grapefruit juice with ice, and shake well. Pour contents into pint glass and top off with Sierra Mist or club Soda.

Garnish with lemon wedge and serve with straw.

Nothing Fancy Bread

I am a sucker for what I call little, old nothing fancy church cookbooks.  I guess I like things tried and true!  Well, I found this recipe in one of those that didn't even have any identifying information in it.

The submission said that this lady makes this all the time and people eat it until they're sick.

Sounds like my kind of recipe!  Ha!

Simply take a loaf of French or Italian Bread, whichever seems softest or goo-iest that day.

Spread lots of butter or margarine
Cover with Kraft parmesan cheese (the processed stuff- not from the deli this time!)
Finally sprinkle with a little bit of brown sugar.

Then bake at 350 degrees until you just can't wait any longer!!

Tomato Gravy

On Sunday, we had brunch at my in-law's house and I brought the ingredients for my family's tomato gravy. My husband fondly remembers the first time he tasted this (15 years ago) at my parents' lake house. He loved it! It's one of those southern gravies a lot of people have never had, but like once they try it. It is super-easy!

Tomato Gravy

2-3 Tb Bacon grease or butter or olive oil
Chopped onion (or onion powder)
2-3 Tb Flour
Chopped garlic (or garlic powder)
3 Cans tomato "sauce"

Melt the bacon grease or other 'fat' in a saute pan and saute the chopped onions (if using fresh) until translucent. Add the chopped garlic (if using fresh). Add the flour and stir to form a rue. Let the flour cook for a minute or so until it turns a light brown. This would be the time to add the seasonings like onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Once the rue has turned a light brown, add the cans of tomato sauce and let bubble for a minute before turning heat on low to prevent splattering.

Tomato gravy is delicious on toast and scrambled eggs.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Perfectly Plain Poundcake

Something about cold weather and snow makes me want to be in the kitchen! My mom and I have never attempted a pound cake because we always heard they were finicky. But we mustered up the courage and used this recipe. It was PERFECT! My aunt told me one way to make a piece of pound cake even more decadent... toast a slice in the toaster oven and slather with butter. I did it and it was divine!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

3 cups sugar

3 sticks butter or margarine (I used butter, but of course!)

8 oz. cream cheese

6 eggs

3 cups flour

2 tablespoons vanilla

Do NOT preheat oven. Cream sugar, butter and cream cheese. Add eggs one at a time. Gradually add flour and vanilla. Pour into greased and floured tube pan. Place in a cold oven; bake 2 hours at 300 degrees. Serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

If it makes a difference, these instructions worked perfectly on my convection bake oven setting.

Fried Ravioli

Another Cocktail Club favorite. I think there are better recipes out there (i.e. Paula Deen) but they involve several more steps and a much bigger mess so this one is what I always fall back on.

You can modify the flavor by choosing a more bland or more flavorful dipping sauce. I usually buy a jar of Vodka Spaghetti Sauce.
Fried Ravioli

In a sided skillet, heat 2-inches of oil, over medium-high heat. Oil is ready when the tip of a wooden skewer is inserted and the oil bubbles around it.

When oil is ready, carefully fry ravioli until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with a little salt while hot, if you like.  Serve with marinara sauce.

Key Lime Pie

I am laughing out loud!

A girl I went to high school with just found me on Facebook and left me a little message because she thought I might not remember who she was. (Of course, I did) 

In her message, she told me she still makes, "my key lime pie recipe."

She is way too kind. I certainly did not create it, and it is hardly a "recipe"!  Too funny!

Easy as it is, it tastes pretty good on a hot summer day and we do still make it from time to time. My husband who can grill/cook any meat to perfection but would be LOST if a vegetarian came for dinner proudly calls this pie his specialty... poor guy...

So, here it is!
Limeade Pie

1 tub of Cool Whip
1 can sweetened condensed milk 
1 small can limeade (in the freezer section)
1 ready-made graham cracker pie crust
a few drops green food coloring if you really want to throw them off!
lime slices to garnish

Combine the first three ingredients (I've never tried the food coloring bit) and pour into the pie shell. Garnish with the lime slices. Refrigerate or freeze for at least two hours, preferably longer so it will set up well.

Flaky Fish Sammies

You've Got Supper is a website started by some friends of a friend in Richmond.

It is totally free and you just sign up and they email you weekly menus. I have really enjoyed trying it out because once you click on the recipes you want to try, it will print out your shopping list organized by grocery department. Then, I just keep that list in the kitchen and add my other items until I make it to the store.

To make basil mayonnaise, blend mayo, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 cup basil leaves in a food processor until smooth. Set aside.

Brush 2 pounds white fish fillets with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill or bake until done.

Spread french rolls with basil mayo and top with romaine lettuce, fish, and thinly sliced red onion.

I Love Paula Deen!

Talk about comfort food!  I took dinner to a friend who just had her second baby, so I made THIS and it is divine!! 

Paula Deen's Banana Pudding

2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies

6 to 8 bananas, sliced

2 cups milk

1 (5-ounce) box instant French vanilla pudding

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount sweetened whipped cream

Line the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.

In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the creamcheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended.

Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

One of My Go-To Appetizers

As I was moving over some old photos and posts, I came across this oldie but goodie!  Before we moved, this was very likely what I'd be bringing to our good ol' Cocktail Club.  I got this idea originally from Sandra Lee on Food Network but I made some changes.

They look somewhat impressive, but they are SO easy!

I use the English cucumbers and stripe them both for taste and for looks!

Then just scoop out the seeds and make room for the filling!

For the filling, I usually buy a flavored cream cheese like vege or chive and maybe mix with a little sour cream or milk until it is smooth enough to go thru a pastry bag and tip. Then I just sprinkle with dill!

Recipe Cards

One of my very stylish friends once gave me a jar of her favorite salsa with recipe attached, written on her own personalized recipe card!  What a wonderful gift!

I made my own 4x6 monogrammed recipe cards but aren't these cute from Monogram Chick !  Willams-Sonoma also offers some that are more classical. 

While most of my recipes are just printed off, I think the handwritten ones are the best!  To see someone's handwriting is so special!  If I had some heirloom handwritten recipes, I would photograph or scan to preserve them.

And after you order your gorgeous personalized recipe cards, you can keep them in this gorgeous, monogrammed recipe book or the personalized acrylic box

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What a Woman Needs

My sweet friend Ginny sent this little book to me for my birthday a few months ago and I, like her, keep it on my bedside table.  It is really sweet and surprisingly did bring a tear to my eye.  It's a great little gift!  Sandy Gingras is the author and artist!  I loved her drawings.

I had to laugh, though, when Adam picked it up on day and asked sweetly, "Are you trying to tell me something?"

Katrina Kenison to Kelly Ripa

I think Katrina Kenison and I are distant relatives. She has written things that I have thought for years. My kind of books.  Funny enough, I'm not sure we would be close friends in real life.  I do that all the time... I think about which famous people or authors I would truly have things in common with in real life.  

So far, my "best friend" would be Kelly Ripa.  I love her!  And funny enough when we moved to Richmond several ladies came up to me at a party and said, "I'm sure you get this all the time, but you remind us SO much of Kelly Ripa!"  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Manly Food

My sweet sister and brother in law have invited us over for a Super Bowl party tomorrow and, as usual, thinking about the food is my most favorite thing!

We have SO much food in this house!  Between much better planning and much more productive buying, and going out to eat as we love to do I have so many fun choices.  So she helped me narrow down to two appetizers: Buffalo Chicken Dip and Nachos, and pigs in a blanket for the kids.

I have the ingredients for more "girly" appetizers but I will save them for another time!


I have just gotten back into and I love it!  Their website is so simple to organize the books you've read, are reading, or want to read!  Love it!  Let me know if you'd like to be "friends"- MUCH better than facebook!

One of my new, favorite friends with two young sons said this book was recommended to her so I look forward to reading it, as well!

Just Do It

How one couple turned off the TV and turned on their sex lives for 101 days (no excuses)

Oh my Lord!  This book intrigues me but I'd be too afraid for Adam to see it on my bedside table!  Don't want him getting any crazy ideas!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sloppy Success

I was talking to a friend I admire the other day as I was taking down Christmas decorations and I was telling her I need to make a list of some changes I'd like to make in my Christmas decor for next year.  For example,

All-matching wrapping paper & wonderful bows

Because usually, I have rolls left over from previous years and the presents are lucky to get wrapped at all!  Much less be adorned with lovely bows!

I'd also like to make:

A lovely glass ball wreath

Although I'm sure it takes a lot of searching and $$$ for the ornaments, patience to put it all together, and then I would probably be afraid to break it!  This one from Your Paris Market ($72) is made of non-breakable ornaments.

My list could go on and on!  I think of probably 10 projects a day I'd like to do!

And then I read an article in a local Richmond magazine by a woman who is a parenting expert.  She said that her mantra is "Our goal should be Sloppy Successes, not Perfect Failure."

This is what I need.  How many times have I tried to do something "perfectly" and end up frustrating my family and myself in the process??  Many times.  The costs do not outweigh the benefits.  We snap at our favorite people- our family- faster and easier than our friends.  At the end of the day I want my kids to FEEL how loved they are and FEEL that they had a mom who loved and cared for them more than anything.  Not feel that they had a Martha Stewart mom.

After talking with several friends, I know that this is a daily struggle for all of us.  But keeping this mantra in my head helps...