Free Dresses, Dancing, and the Little Black Cast ~ by Sam

It’s been an interesting week.  Spent the first part of it trying to make sure Justice was (finally) enrolled in all of the classes she needs in order to graduate high school and get in to the college of her choice.  Cannot believe we have reached this stage of her life.  Seems like only yesterday she was lacing up her tiny, shiny red boots and yelling, “Tum on!  Let’s Det Doin’!” (“Come on!  Let’s Get Goin’!” for those who struggled with the translation.)  The college mail keeps arriving at the door, so it must be true.  Her future is bright, and, as much as we miss that tiny, spunky little girl, we are incredibly proud of the young woman she is becoming.

Hallie started rehearsals for her latest play this week, Into the Woods, in which she will play the Stepmother; and Kaia spent the night at the mall with her Girl Scout troop.  She has just bridged from “Junior” to “Cadet” Girl Scout, which is pretty awesome.

On Friday, I went in to the podiatrist for a check up on the foot I injured some time ago.  After 1 week in an orthopedic shoe, followed by 4 weeks in a cam boot, I had made no progress whatsoever, so the doctor decided to go ahead and put me in a cast.  After another 4 weeks, we will remove the cast and see how I am progressing.  I chose the elegant black cast, so I can attend my many soirees.  I jest.  There are no soirees; but I hear the black cast looks cool if you have people sign it with metallic markers.  Besides, they were out of the light blue I most wanted.

I’ve injured a tendon, and it’s tough to know how long it will take to heal, since poor circulation to my extremities due to Raynaud’s disease will slow my healing.  I have fashioned myself a few small toe cozies from socks, to keep the toes toasty warm, and, hopefully, speed along the process somewhat.  I am bored out of my skull, not being able to go for long walks or do all of the running around I usually do, but I am spending a lot of time practicing my banjo, looking for a few good books to read, and planning to take up my knitting again, so it’s not all bad.  I’m determined not to let it get me down, and to try to keep myself upbeat and active…at least in my upper body and my mind.  My foot’s a little sad, I think, and sort of claustrophobic.  However, it seems to feel much better in the cast than it did in the boot, which had two thick straps right across the injured area.

Later that day, I happened to pass the Gap, which was having a 30% off your entire purchase event.  I’ve been walking around for months with this $40 reward coupon I got from them for some reason, so I decided to go in and see if I could find anything I liked.  The young man there was super helpful in trying to find me some jeans that might fit over the cast, but, after 4 or 5 pairs, we were forced to give up the ghost.  I did, however, find two cute dresses in the clearance section, and, with the additional 30% off and my reward coupon, they were essentially free (I think I paid a couple of bucks , just due to tax).

Here is a picture of me in one of those dresses, at our daughter’s annual school picnic yesterday, dancing on one foot, to get a coupon for a free pretzel.  Y’all know how much I like free stuff.

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Shane won a $25 Macy’s gift card at the picnic, too, which was a nice surprise.

Oh, and here is a picture of my foot, propped up on a pillow, where it ought to be for the first couple of days in the cast. CastFootPillow

On the up side, I am spending so much time sitting around practicing banjo that I should be a veritable virtuoso in, oh, I don’t know, five or six years.  🙂  But, hey, at least it is starting to sound like music!

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Is it worth it? Probably.

It would have been so much easier (and cooler) to order pizza for dinner this evening, rather than make our own; but we had the cheese, we had the sauce, we had all the ingredients to make the crust, we had toppings… It seemed silly (and wasteful) to buy it when we already had everything we needed. So, I started making the dough. I am tired. I am hot. I have a headache. I have had a frustrating week. And now I have to go finish making pizza that I probably won’t even eat. It’s okay. I’m sure I will feel better after a few minutes of kneading dough; the kids will get a slightly less junky dinner than they might have; and I will save us the cost of having a pizza delivered. That’s good, right?

If it turns out pretty, maybe I will come back and post a picture. If it turns out ugly, I might come back and post a picture, purely for the comedic value of ugly pizza.

So. There you have it.

Grumpy day. I am thinking pizza might help. I have another project waiting in the wings. If it turns out pretty…

Well, you know the drill.

EDIT:

That was quick!  Okay.  I was totally right about the kneading.  It’s like meditation.  Good for the soul, and, on a purely mechanical level, good for the still rehabilitating wrist and thumb.  So.  I think it’s going to be worth the effort, as I suspected.  Of course, because i was making the stuff, it did not go as planned.  Turns out, I lied up there.  We do not have toppings, unless you count cheese.  So, 2 cheese pizzas it is!  (I was going to do one cheese, and one with other stuff, too, but that would involve having other stuff.  I offered to make canned green bean pizza, but I don’t think the kids were impressed.  I also didn’t have 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, so I had to use about a cup of whole wheat flour to make up the difference.  See?   It’s going to be WAY better for them than delivery pizza.  Right??  Ha.  Yeah.  It’s health food.  But, hey, we have homemade crust, homemade sauce, real cheese ~ that’s not so bad, really.

I used this recipe:

In a large bowl, whisk together 2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast and 1-1/3 cups warm water.  Let stand 5 minutes.

Add:

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 t0 1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar (optional)

Stir (or use electric mixer) for about one minute, until the dough kind of forms a ball.  Turn dough on to a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Oil the inside of the bowl with olive oil.  Return dough to bowl, turning once to coat all sides with oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (awesome ~ the Valley is warm) until doubled in volume, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide in half.  Roll each half into a ball, then let rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475℉.  Grease two 12-inch round pizza pans and dust them with cornmeal.

Flatten each ball into a 12-inch round.  Transfer to prepared pizza pans. press little indentations on the surface of the dough to prevent excessive bubbling, rush with olive oil, top, and bake until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Done.  You made pizza.

You see my dilemma.  This is going to take YEARS!  The pizza delivery place could have had it here in seconds.  But this will be cheaper, and better for us, and it will probably even taste better, too.

Okay.  Off to that other project!

Back again!  Here is an out of focus picture of pizza.  One more cheesy, and one less cheesy, as per kids’ request.  They seem happy.
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I mean, the kids seem happy, not the pizzas.  The pizzas seem relatively yummy.  I just had a little bite of crust with the cheese pulled off, so I cannot speak with authority.

 

Jammin’ ~ by Sam

As always happens at about this time of year, about a week ago, I realized that the school year was swiftly coming to a close, and I was going to have to come up with teacher gifts.  We don’t always give end of the year teacher gifts, but I try to, when I can.   I know how hard teachers work, and I just think it’s a nice way to let them know we appreciate them.  And this year was special.  We had one kid graduating from middle school, and another graduating from 5th grade.  The 5th grader was graduating from the same elementary school at which we had been parents for 12 consecutive years.  It seemed like an especially good year to remember our teachers.

Usually, at the holidays, I send baked goods because I happen to be making them, anyway.  At the end of the year, however, I usually find myself harried, and I end up buying small Starbucks gift cards and calling it a day.  However, since Justice had 7 teachers this year, Hallie had six, and Kaia had one, that added up to a lot of teacher gifts.  I hate to be miserly, but I was trying to think of some way to give nice gifts and not break the bank.

I had recently gotten a good deal on raspberries and blueberries, and was planning to make jam, so I got this idea.  What is I gave each teacher one jar of jam?  That would be a nice, personal gift, something they would probably enjoy, and, since I was planning on making jam, anyway, it wouldn’t really be any extra trouble.  After I had made the raspberry jam, I did some math.  If I got as many jars of blueberry as I did of raspberry, I would have just enough for each teacher…and none for us.  Well, that didn’t sound like a very good idea.  So, I decided I needed one more variety.  Marmalade!  I had always wanted to make marmalade!  Ah…but, that recipe takes a couple of days, and, about this time, Kaia and Shane got really, really sick, and I had to find a way to make more jam real quick, and still take care of sick people.  I looked through my Ball Blue Book, and found a recipe for Quick Grape Jelly, using bottled grape juice, sugar and pectin.  It seemed simple enough, and it was!  Not only was it simple, but it was delicious.  In fact, it was my favourite recipe I had tried since I started canning.  Everyone who tried it loved it.  I think Justice and Hallie ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and dinner for a couple of days.

Here’s a picture of my beautiful grape jelly:

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So then I got to thinking.  If I could make grape jelly with bottled juice, could I make other jellies with bottled juice?  Apple, perhaps?  I did some searching on the internet.  Some people said, “yes;” others said, “no.”  In the end, I decided I had nothing to lose but the cost of a bottle of juice.  I picked up a bottle of organic apple juice at fresh & easy.  I think it cost $4.69.  After reading through a couple of different recipes online, I decided to see if I could work out one that would work for us.  In fact, it turned out so well that now I am not sure which I like better, apple or grape.  Luckily, it is really quick and easy to make, so I can make sure we always have plenty.  Here is the recipe I came up with:

Simple Apple Jelly

5 cups organic 100% apple juice

6.5 TBS Ball Classic Pectin

5.5 cups organic sugar

 

In a large saucepot, whisk together pectin and 1 cup of juice until thoroughly combined (no lumps).  Whisk in remaining juice . (It may help to do this a cup at a time.)

Add sugar, one cup at a time, whisking until dissolved.

Bring to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping of pectin.

Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and perform spoon test or plate test* to determine if your jelly will set to the consistency you prefer.  If it is not thick enough, whisk in more pectin (I would add no more than 1/2 TBS at a time), bring to a boil, boil for one minute, and test again.

Ladle in to clean, hot half pint jars.  Top with 2-piece canning lids (lid and ring), and process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.**

Turn off heat, remove lid,  and let stand for 5 minutes, then carefully remove jars using a jar lifter and place on a heat proof surface.  Do not tighten rings.  Allow jars to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours.

* Please consult your canning book or a reliable online source to learn how to perform the spoon and plate tests.  I am having trouble sharing links, but will try to add one later.

** Please refer to your canner manual or another reliable source (I find Ball’s Blue Book indispensable) for complete canning instructions.

It was so pretty while it was cooking that I couldn’t resist taking pictures.

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Isn’t that a gorgeous colour?

There was a little more than I had half-pint jars for, so I put the leftover bit in a pint-sized jar and put it right in the fridge for our immediate use:

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And here it is all nicely processed and ready to give:

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I have a LOT of jam pictures, because I had a lot of fun making jam, but I will just share one last one here, of all the jars, labelled and ready to package up with freshly made biscuits.

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I am pleased to say the teachers all liked their gifts, and there was plenty left over for us (though kids gobbled up the remaining biscuits pretty quickly).

Moving Right Along ~ by Sam

Well, we have not kept up as well as we should with our blog.  I’ll see what we can do about that.  I want the kids to post more, but they are all so busy!  It’s nearing the end of the schoolyear, and we have one going in to middle school and one going in to high school in the Fall, so that’s been two new schools to find.  We have had really great luck with that.  Hallie will be attending her #1 choice high school, a visual arts magnet, and Kaia will be attending her #1 choice middle school (the same one Justice attended), which has a phenomenal music program.  So, now that they have been accepted and all of the paperwork has been submitted and they are officially enrolled, we call all relax a little…I mean, except for those of us who have to prepare for middle and elementary school culminations, or take AP exams, and finals, and turn in project, and participate in final concerts, dance performances and other school events.  Eh, whaddaya gonna do?  We’ll rest when we’re dead!

Justice was accepted to the California State Summer School for the Arts, which is a HUGE honour.  She will be going away for 4 weeks over the Summer to study music.  I am not sure how we will get along without her, but she won’t be far away…and she is a big girl (16…going on 17)…but, you know…I’m the mama.  I will NEVER be ready.  *sigh*  So excited for her.

Hallie will again be attending Camp Bravo, a theatre camp, for one week during the summer, thanks to exceedingly generous grandparents, and Kaia will be attending Twilight Camp (a Girl Scout day camp) for one week, as well.  I am glad they will all get to do things they love over the summer.  Oh, and Kaia won that scholarship for private music lessons, too.  It’s going to be a great Summer.

It sounds like we will be sticking close to home over the summer, which will give us time to work on some home improvement projects, as well as save us a little money.  You know how I feel about saving money.  $$$ 🙂

Recently, we were able to secure health insurance again.  It is not cheap, but it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind.  I have chronic health problems, and, in September of 2012, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  But I haven’t really had a regular doctor, so it was just like…oh.  um…okay.  I mean, I did a lot of research on my own, and I have tried some strategies (some helped, some didn’t), the clinic doctor who diagnosed me tried me on a couple of medications that did not work out for me, before hitting on one that helps a little bit.  So, that’s something.  Anyway, having insurance means that a) I can have regular checkups.  I had my first mammogram since 2008 or 9.  Given my family history, I should have been having them much more often, but, to be honest, I was afraid they’s find something, and then I would have a preexisting condition and be uninsurable.  Now, I don’t have to worry about stuff like that.  b) We are able to explore things a little more in depth, confirm my diagnosis, and make a treatment plan.  I have had quite a lot of lab work done ~ something I could not afford to do without insurance ~ and am awaiting results (first batch were okay; second round of tests were just started today, so we’ll see).  In short: Insurance is a big expense, but, in my opinion, totally worth it.  The next step is for Shane and each of the girls to schedule a physical, because it has just been too long since they’ve done that.

Okay.  So.  I really came to talk about a couple of nice, money-saving things we have done recently:

1. I found a cute little shelf to hang on the wall in Justice’s powder room.  It cost $2.99 at the thrift store, and it actually cleaned up nicely.  We were planning to paint it, but, after cleaning it up with a little furniture polish, we are just going to hang it, and decide whether or not to paint it when we paint the room.

2. I bought an avocado tree.  It was on sale for about seventeen bucks, I think, which seemed like a really good deal.  I got a smaller variety, which will top out at 20′ high and about 10′ wide, since we have a small yard.  We originally worried about planting such a big tree int he back yard, because we didn’t want to lose much of our tiny little space, but we decided a) as it grows, it will provide some shade, and help cut energy costs, b) we love avocados, eat them often, and they are expensive, c) we really miss the avocado tree we had at the little house we rented before we bought this one, and d) it’s not like we’re in the back yard playing football.  Trees are nice.

I have also been reexamining how we shop.  I kind of fell in to that thing of shopping at stores with which I am most familiar, even if they are far away, and not the cheapest option.  I do still like to shop farmers markets when I can.  I prefer to buy local produce, and support local farmers, and, often, I can find organically grown fruits and veggies there at a better price than I would find them at the store.  It’s not always the cheapest option, but I think it is important.  So, I am trying to look for deals there, and shop in season, which helps.  I have also discovered that Costco is stocking more organically grown fruits and vegetables.  I have been getting our bananas and sweet potatoes there, because they have the best price I have found on organically grown ones.

Now, I will admit, I don’t always buy organic.  I know it is best for the environment and for our health, but, sometimes, it is just not in our budget.  That’s why I like when we can trade produce with friends who garden at home.  It saves us a lot of money, so we can feel a little better about spending a tad more on what we do buy.  This season, we are taking a break from the vegetable garden due to the rampant pest problem (‘though I keep being very tempted to pick up some zucchini plants), but we will still have fruit to trade.  Mulberries are already coming in, and it looks like we are going to have TONS of guava, so, if you’re local let me know if you want to trade.  Some time ago, I found a list online of what they call the “dirty dozen,” which lists the 12 most heavily sprayed crops.  The idea is, if you can’t afford to buy all organic, you might want to look for organically grown varieties of those 12 fruits and veggies.  I will try to come back and post a link.  I printed up a list to keep in my wallet, but I lost it like 3 wallets ago, so I should probably print it up again.

I have been shopping at the 99 cents only store for some groceries (surprisingly, I often find organically grown salad greens and berries there), and the local Food 4 Less, which is the grocery store nearest our house.  They have great deals on some staples, and I save gas by not having to drive to a farther away store, which is good for the budget and the environment.

We are in a drought situation here in sunny So-Cal, so we have had to become rather miserly about our watering.  My top priorities are the fruit trees, the bananas, the raspberry and blueberry, the herbs…you know, the stuff we will eat.  I will admit that the roses, jasmine and the little flower garden along the driveway and at the back wall get watered.  I water the flowers once a week, and most of them were chosen because they don’t require a ton of water and do well in our local conditions.  The roses were here when we moved in.  I don’t know if I would have chosen to plant roses, but they are beautiful, and we often cut and bring them inside, or bring them to others as gifts. In the longrun, they are saving us the expense of buying cut flowers, and I really can’t see a reason not to keep them.  The grass, on the other hand, is really not a priority. I mean, grass is nice, but, let’s face it, during a drought, a nice lawn isn’t all that necessary.  Our front lawn is doing okay, because we have sprinklers set on a timer to water the mulberrry and guava trees that also grow there.  The grass just happens to get water, too.  The backyard looks a little sketchy, I’ll admit.  I do give it a little water ever now and then, because I don’t want a bunch of dead grass out there creating a fire hazard, but I guess I am trying to strike a balance.  Our water bill is still quite low, so I guess we are doing okay.

I guess that’s it for now.  I recently purchased a deal on LivingSocial to have all of the ducts and vents in our house cleaned for $49.  I also purchased two music lesson packages ($99 for 8 lessons) for Hallie and me.  Hallie has been wanting private voice lessons, so that’s how hers will be used, and I am going to pick up an instrument, because I have been told that, for the sake of my brain health, I need to keep challenging myself to learn new and unfamiliar skills.  Stay tuned for more news about that latest development!

More Thrifty Shopping ~ by Sam

Visited one of my favourite thrift stores, Sun Thrift Store in Sunland, today and got two really cute bebe tops.  The first is a black and white long-sleeved blouse with white collar and cuffs.  It cost a whopping $1.99.  The second is this really cute red top.  It looks brand new, and I am pretty sure it’s bebe, because the label is partially cut out, but sure looks like a bebe label.  Anyway, it was $2.99, and it looks like this:Image

I feel so stylish, and I didn’t break the bank 🙂

Happy thrifting to you!!

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Thrifty! (and some other stuff, too) ~ by Sam

 

 

 

Interesting.  Well, see, I wrote this whole post about everything we have been doing lately, and it all disappeared, except for the pictures, which I couldn’t see while I was writing, so the whole situation is terribly confusing for me.  I will give a brief synopsis:

Damn, are we ever busy!

I went to the thrift store and bought this top:

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and this top (which has a “free people” label, so ~ score!)

freepeopletop

and this dish, which looks like carnival glass, but is probably not the real deal, but is something I have needed and on which I did not intend to spend much money, and is pretty:

photo 2

The shirts were marked $4.99/each, and the dish was marked $3.99, but my tab came to about $11, so something was on sale.

Hallie got in to her #1 choice for high school, Justice was accepted to the California State Summer School for the Arts, and Kaia won a scholarship from the Los Angeles City Elementary Schools Music Association for private trumpet lessons.  She received her award at a ceremony on the 9th of April, her dad’s birthday.  He was working in Vegas at N.A.B. at the time, so she sent him this picture, with a caption telling him that, for his birthday, she saved him a bunch of money on trumpet lessons:

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So, yeah…busy, busy, busy!!

Recently returned from a Spring Break Trip to Maryland/DC.  First time we have been back to visit my hometown and my family in about 3 years.  3 years, for the record, is way too long!  We saw lots of people we love, spent a day sightseeing downtown, and even did some sewing (just what every vacation needs to make it absolutely perfect).  I will post more pics soon.  I think.  We’ll see.  It’s crazy around here, as always.

Here are some cherry blossoms:

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Here is Hallie, taking a picture of some cherry blossoms:

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And this is me, this morning, in my new blouse:

Photo on 5-2-14 at 8.35 AM #2

This afternoon, Justice has a music festival, Hallie leaves for a weekend of dance/acro-sports in Palm Springs, and Kaia is having a school chum over, so I have to hit the road, now.  So much to do!  Enjoy your day!!

Yard Sale Find! ~ by Sam

I keep forgetting to post this one!

A couple of weeks ago ~ when we were right in the thick of painting the Party Room ~ I drove by a yard sale and saw this gorgeous cabinet.  

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The seller wanted $100 for it, but I managed to talk him down to $75.  Then, I realized I only had $72 in my wallet.  Luckily, he was willing to take that.  Now, $72 might have been more than I had to pay.  He agreed VERY easily, so I am thinking I could probably have talked him down even more.  Nevertheless, I think it is a nice piece of furniture, and I am very happy to have it.  When I picked up the girls from their religious education classes, Kaia saw the cabinet in the car and asked, “What happened?”  The answer?  I drove by a yard sale ~ THAT’S what happened!  Luckily, it is a piece we will use.  We ALWAYS need more storage, and I think it suits our “eclectic” decorating style.