Thursday, June 30, 2011

Homemade bread...nom nom nom!

Today, while making what seemed like 100s of envelopes, I also baked some bread! I love baking bread from scratch.  I don't even have a bread machine anymore, and knead my dough by hand.  While I miss the convenience of the bread machine (I kind of, um, uh...ruined it back in October or November), I really love getting my fingers and hands into the dough.  I often get hand and finger cramps, and have found that regularly kneading dough helps prevent the cramping and aches, plus it's a great workout for your biceps and forearms!

I love the smell of fresh bread baking, don't you?  YUM!  And, I credit the book pictured with my loaf for transforming my bread baking!  The bread I baked today is a basic white bread, but every recipe I've tried from this book has been great!  

When my bread was cool enough to cut into, I nibbled on the crusty end, and then slathered homemade blueberry jam on two slices!  So yummy!  The jam is from this Martha Stewart recipe...since I wasn't sure how it would turn out, I did a half batch.  I wish I'd done the whole recipe!  So yummy! 

If the boy isn't careful, I may eat up the entire loaf before he gets to try it! Heeheehee....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Part II - How we homeschool...

If you missed Part I of how we homeschool, you may read about how we organize books and supplies here.  Today's post will focus on daily lesson plans; how I keep daily and weekly materials organized.

First, let's start with lesson planning.  Every few weeks, I sit down and think about what my son should cover over the next four to six weeks.  I then take that information and put it into a table.  For a while I used Microsoft Excel, but found that I like making tables in Microsoft Word much better.  I just made a table of six columns across - one for each day (Monday to Friday) and one for a subject column, and then a row for each subject.  After creating the table, I fill it in with each lesson, day by day.  You can see from this example, that I also list websites and texts in the far left column.  As JP goes along doing his work, he simply draws a line through each item he has completed.

Once I have finished several weeks of lesson plans, I then compile the materials that are readily available and match them with each plan.  If we are using workbooks, I generally always dismantle the workbook, hole punch the pages, and put it in a binder, with the cover as the first page.  That way, I can just remove the pages needed for that week.  Seeing only a few pages versus an entire text or workbook helps alleviate anxiety.  Once I've matched lesson plans to materials, I need somewhere to store it all.  I've tried a wide variety of options, but what I have found works best for our family is an accordian file folder.

 The one I chose, pictured above, is quite durable and has 14 pockets.  In the first pocket, I put a list of household and homeschool rules, along with a list of positive and negative consequences.  I also keep a list of The First Tee values in this pocket.  My son and I both enjoy golf, and The First Tee is a fantastic organization for junior golfers.  Check out their values here.  The second pocket of the file folder holds several lesson plans for writing and language arts.  These are stand alone units that I eventually will have JP complete.  One example is "This I Believe."

After the future writing lesson plans (it just occurred to me that I should hole punch them and put them in the workbooks and worksheets binder!), I dedicated several pockets to individual weekly material.  These pockets contain the spreadsheet I discussed above, and the corresponding materials.

Every Monday, I pull out the materials for that week, and gather anything else necessary like journals, reading material, and so on, and put it in a pile on the table.  Although I leave the choice about where to do his work to JP, we tend to gravitate towards the kitchen table, or the living room couch.  Regardless of where we work, the materials can always be found in the same spot: the kitchen table.  I also put a dry erase board, markers, erasers, and pencils with the pile, and our "resources" binder.  The resources binder contains various notes, charts, glossaries, pages of math formulas, and much more.  When JP has a question about how to do something, or what something means, he can look in the binder for the answer.  I will write more about this binder in a future post...

If you have more than one child, I suppose a few ways to customize this style of planning would be to color code the chart and include everyone on one chart.  For example, group all of the math into the same section, but have blue text for one child, purple for another, and so on, and keep a consistent color per child throughout the chart.  Then bundle the materials with paperclips per each child for filing.  Or, perhaps buy a different colored file folder for each child.  Or, buy one of the generic brown tagboard type of file folders and let each child decorate his or her own.

I hope this post helps some of those parents out there who feel lost when it comes to organizing their homeschool.  And, for the rest, thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eat your fruits and veggies!

Along with cutting back our budget (see this post), I have also been focusing on improving our eating habits.  This is so easy and simple, that I can't believe it took me so long to do it...  Early every afternoon, I have been making a focused effort to put out a tray of fresh fruits or fresh veggies for us to snack on.  It just sits on the table while we work and go about our business.  When we are hungry, we swipe some carrots or strawberries from the tray and snack away.  Having the food already prepared and out makes snacking healthfully so much easier!  Seriously, give it a try!

Although I had read about putting out a crudite platter (that's what these trays of fresh fruit and veg are called), I had never actually done it before except on special occasions.  And, it wasn't until this past school year that I had ever seen anyone else put out a platter on ordinary days.  One of the familys that I tutor for puts out a tray every single day as the afternoon snack for the children.  When I realized a few weeks ago that my favorite jeans are getting a bit tight, I decided to give this a try.  We've both had more energy, and fewer junk food cravings since I began doing this.  Not enough time has passed to see any change in my waistline, however...stay tuned for that news in a few more weeks.


I have also been making a more conscious effort to drink water and eat breakfast every day.  I usually down a ton of coffee and forget breakfast entirely.  We do have a Brita 42629 Slim Pitcher but it is kind of small.  So, I invested in a gallon size water pitcher.  Every morning, I filter water and fill up the ice cube trays and gallon pitcher.  Then, I pour a glass of water, pour a mug of coffee, and settle down to breakfast.  I have to tell you that I am hooked on Special K Red Berries and scored some great sale prices last week (see this post).

For the next three weeks, I will also be focusing on eating the food we already have in our pantry and fridge, only going to the store for produce and absolute essentials that we run out of along the way.  Tonight, we are having tacos.  Tomorrow, we will be having this amazing looking dish:  Chicken Oat Cutlets and Mashed Potatoes with Lemon Sauce from Maroc Mama.  We don't have chicken in the fridge, but I do have some turkey cutlets in the freezer that will be perfect, and I have everything else necessary (subbing dairy/soy-free margarine for the butter).  YUMMY!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Couponing and Grocery Store Savings

Some friends and I were recently discussing couponing and grocery store savings.  While comparing notes I wrote the following, and thought I would share with you all.  Please note, I am NOT an extreme couponer, and have no idea how extreme couponers can walk out of the store with $200 worth of groceries for only $1 or whatever.  But, often I manage to save 40 to 50%.  Here's how:

I watch the weekly ad comes out every Thursday night and is good from Friday to the following Thursday. I make a list every Thurs or Fri with the items on sale, the price, and the size/quantity limits. I usually co...mpare two store ads, keeping in mind the prices for similar items at Trader Joes and the market around the corner from us.

On Sunday, I usually buy two papers - our local and the New York Times. The local is purely for coupons, the Times is for coupons and because I actually read it. I flip through the coupons and ads first, clip any I think are worthy, and set them aside, keeping in mind also what is currently on sale.

Then, I go to,, and a few other sites to see what coupons are available, plus checking our local store's website for printable coupons.

Our store also doubles coupons up to 99-cents supposedly, but sometimes they've doubled to an even dollar. Recently, I walked out of the store with 15 boxes of expensive cereal for less than $1.75 each, and four bags of expensive coffee beans for less than the price of one bag.  I had *almost* thrown away the coffee coupons because I was never going to pay that much for a small bag of beans (I forget how much to be honest with you), but held on to the coupons anyhow. I had one for $2 off 2 bags, and one for $1 off one bag. The coffee turned up in the ad for B1G1 free, so I did the math and scooped up 4 bags, Did the same with the cereal, and several other items.

I go through my coupon stack every Sunday tossing coupons that have expired. JP recently found a few coupons inside boxes of cereal, Italian ices and a few other things we had recently purchased.  So, always look inside packages before tossing boxes into the recycling bin (you ARE recycling, aren't you?).  I also just emailed a few companies asking if they had any free coupons they could send me. I got some for So Delicious (coconut based products like yogurt, milk, etc). Waiting to hear back on others. Some companies have e-mail lists that you can sign up for and they will send you coupons, but you also will get a lot of junk email from them. For those, I set up a "junk email" account and just use that email address when signing up for any sort of e-list or coupon list.

Also, I have started to only buy my spices/herbs in the "ethnic" sections of the store - the Mexican food aisle, Asian food aisle. Same exact stuff, different brand, WAYYYYYYYYYYY cheaper! I need bay leaf and the name brands we'd all recognize were $4 or so for one container. I got TWICE the quantity for $1.25 by going ot the Mexican aisle!

And that, is how I do it.  I'm not saving nearly as much as I would like, but it is a decent amount.  I've added links to some books that have really helped me over the years.  Some of the tips and ideas are a bit over the top, but there are many others that have saved me a pretty penny!  If anyone has any other tips, I'd love to hear them. After all, I am a single mama on a budget!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


On my path back to frugality (see this introductory post), I realized that some of the products we love and refuse to part ways with are rather expensive.  So, I began writing a few emails asking for coupons or samples.  I only just began, however, so I haven't seen a lot come through the snail or e-mail.  The first to respond was Turtle Mountain, maker of So Delicious products.  YUM!  They sent me a brochure of coupons totalling about $6 or $7 in value (I've used some already so I can't tell you the exact dollar amount).  Bonus, our local grocery store doubles up to $1 so the 50-cent coupons actually were double their value!

Then, today, I came across this interesting experiment.  This guy sent 100 snail mail letters to 100 companies asking for free stuff. The results are fairly interesting, and some of the letters he wrote are pretty funny!

How about you? Have you ever requested free samples, coupons, or other stuff and had a positive response?f

Part I - How We Homeschool...

This is the first in a series of posts about how we homeschool.  I am always curious about how others organize their materials and curriculum.  So, I thought I would show you some of how we do it...

We do most of our work in the kitchen.  I bought two inexpensive bookcases at the local drugstore, a fabric basket/crate, and put it all together in an empty spot in the kitchen.  You can see the two bookcases here, as well as a new dry erase/cork board, and our world map.  Now, to be fair, we have another bookcase in the living room that is filled with only books, and then we also have several random piles of books throughout our apartment.  But, the core materials for our homeschooling system, and the core materials for my graduate studies are housed in the kitchen.  I also keep all of my tutoring materials here.

A close up view of the two bookcases in the kitchen.  I am a bit of a type-A person, so our bookcases have a very definite organization to them.  The top left is primarily science equipment, and a box where I put my son's work after he has completed it, and I have reviewed it.  Every couple of months, I organize the box so that everything is by subject and date.  At the end of the 'school year', I go through and sort it further, reflect on how much we have or have not covered, and then I bundle it together with a list I create of material and subjects covered over the year.  That bundle gets saved in the closet for at least a year or more...another post will deal with record keeping.  

The top right shelf is full of books related to my graduate studies - poetry books, books on writing, poetry and literary dictionaries, and so on.  The middle shelf, on the left, is primarily tutoring materials (in the black bin), and a couple of dictionaries.  The middle shelf, on the right, is languages, literature, and history.  On the bottom left, we have binders full of curriculum for my son, curriculum for tutoring, and materials for my grad program, a binder filled with homeschooling, personal, medical, etc records, and so on.  The last shelf on the bottom, right, is all social studies and science.  

Now, the top of the kitchen bookcases!  This is one area that kind of makes me crazy.  I am constantly reorganizing and cleaning it up!  We keep all of our pencils, pens, erasers, glue sticks, and any other office supply type of stuff here.  

Above the bookcases, I just installed a dry erase board with a cork strip.  Next to that, you can see our world map.  I am a serious list-keeper, so the dry erase board will come in handy!  Along the bottom, tacked to the cork strip - a thank you note from the parents of one of my tutoring students, a flier for a farmer's market, and my son's birthday wish list.

I could go on and on, but just wanted to share a little slice of our homeschooling life in this post.  Next time, I will write about how I keep records for homeschooling.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On the path (back) to frugality...

I am a private tutor.  That is my primary source of income during the school year, but leaves me a little panicked as I look towards summer.  All three of my primary students are likely to not need summer tutoring.  As I scramble to find summer students, I am also looking at the many ways I might save money on our everyday expenses.  Early in my son's life - he will be 12 this summer - I was beyond frugal.  I made tightwads look like spendthrifts!  So, I am working towards getting back to those penny pinching ways.

Since we moved to New York - just outside New York City - we've had to make a lot of adjustments.  Finding new ways to be frugal hasn't been at the top of my list, although I haven't exactly been a spendthrift either.

My closest friends know that I tend to be a bit of an environmentalist, and so it won't surprise anyone that I've been watching loads of shows and movies about environmentalism recently (thank you Netflix streaming!).  What does that have to do with being frugal?  The way I see it, you can be environmentally friendly and spend a TON of money, or you can environmentally friendly and super frugal!  I plan to do the latter...

I was watching "The Lazy Environmentalist" on Netflix, and was fascinated by an episode that included hypermiling.  To be honest with you, it looks a bit too complex for an exceptionally uncoordinated person as myself!  But, what caught my eye was a little gadget that keeps track of your gas mileage...why don't cars come equipped with these little gadgets???  I've been investigating MPG (miles per gallon) meters, and am pretty sure I'm going to buy the PLX Kiwi in order to see just how efficient my car can be, and to keep track of my own driving habits.  Although I'm not buying my Kiwi immediately, other aspects of the tv episode that resonated with me are all about personal driving habits in general.  Overall, I work to be a safe driver, but I haven't spent much time thinking about how my driving habits impact the amount of gas I use...and thus the amount of money I spend on gas.

From a cross-country drive last summer...

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've been doing some of the following in order to reduce my gas/dollars waste:

  • brake early, slow, and steady
  • coast when safe to do so
  • drive the speed limit, or just a bit under (I try to do this anyhow, but have you been on a freeway lately? Some of those other guys are going FAST!)
  • keep the tires properly inflated
  • don't use the a/c unless you really *need* to use it
  • anticipate stops/red lights and coast to a stop, if you can
Overall, I've spent about two-thirds of what I usually spend on gas!

My next few posts will be about other environmentally friendly changes that we've been making that are having an important financial impact over the course of our summer.