Sunday, April 19, 2015

SNAP Food Budget Challenge: Groceries for 4, $80/week

I've been rather fascinated by all the buzz surrounding the #foodbankNYCchallenge this week - one of my favorite topics, grocery budgeting, has gone mainstream! If you haven't heard, the challenge is to use $29 per person for food for a week. You can't use food you've already bought, and you aren't supposed to rely on food from others. The idea is to raise awareness about the realities of life for those who rely on SNAP benefits, as recent cuts to the program have left many struggling to put food on the table.

The numbers given are actually higher than what I budget for our family per week (I suspect that might have something to do with the higher cost of living in NYC), though I do buy in bulk and rotate types of food purchased throughout the month (one week I'll spend more for meat, another I'll buy several packages of frozen vegetables, etc). That means I use food already purchased in any given week, but for the month overall I budget for $320 for our family's food. That's $80/week for the family, which works out to $20/person. I don't generally use coupons for food, because I don't tend to buy name brand items, but occasionally I'll encounter a coupon or flier while I'm in the store and take advantage of a good deal. I'd love to be good at couponing, but we don't have a lot of storage available for packaged food, so it just doesn't work for us right now - and that's okay. It's frankly easier for me to just think week to week and month to month when I shop, and probably more realistic in the scope of the above challenge.

You're probably wondering what I buy and what we eat - so let's get to the good stuff. My grocery list usually has the following items:

  • milk
  • half and half (for our coffee)
  • yogurt
  • sour cream
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • tub margarine
  • bananas
  • apples
  • whole carrots 
  • celery
  • some other seasonal fruit (strawberries, oranges, etc)
  • potatoes/onions
  • tortilla chips
  • wheat crackers
  • chocolate chip cookies
  • peanut butter 
  • cereal
  • ground coffee
  • baking supplies (flour, sugar, etc - I don't often get more than one per week)
  • beans (some canned, some dried)
  • rice (bagged, not instant)
  • pasta
  • boxed macaroni and cheese 
  • chicken ramen 
  • frozen vegetables
  • lunchmeat
  • one type of meat (ground turkey, chicken thighs, whole chicken)
  • casserole ingredients (canned soup, canned green chiles, salsa, canned tomatoes, etc)
  • bread/tortillas (I buy a large pack of tortillas every other week)
(**I also buy household goods like paper products, toiletries, diapers, and dish soap, but those go into a separate category in our budget  - $30/month for everything but diapers, $30/month for diapers.)

What do we eat? Glad you asked. We eat a lot of casseroles for dinner, which work nicely for a few reasons. One, you can work with a few base ingredients and vary the seasonings to make several different meals. Two, they can be made ahead and frozen, which is very nice for a busy working mom of two young children. Three, they cook in the oven with little hands-on time required, which means I can be playing with the girls and getting them dinner while our dinner cooks. Four, they use smaller amounts of meat, which is great for stretching our budget - one pound of ground turkey can make two or three casseroles with about six servings each if you do it right. On the nights we don't have casseroles, I typically make something in the crockpot, we eat leftovers, or we have something very simple like quesadillas and beans or soup and bread or cereal. The girls aren't much for grown-up food yet, and I don't force the issue at the moment. I offer a small amount of what we're eating and give more if they like it. They often just have fruit, toast, and either cheese or yogurt for supper - a few times a week they'll have macaroni and cheese, which they love (I typically do that on nights my husband is working late and/or I know I'm making something they aren't going to like).

There was a time in our married life where I wasn't so sure about generic brands. I wondered if the food would taste the same. Once the girls were born, I started driving a bit further to WinCo, our local discount grocery store, and taking full advantage of their low-priced store brand foods to stretch our tight maternity-leave budget. Guess what? For the most part, there's no difference between generic and name-brand or off-brand products. The only disappointment was the lowest-priced fruit yogurt cups, which tasted strangely diluted to me. Luckily, the girls were willing to eat those that week, and I stuck to the next cheapest regional brand after that. There are some items that we've found we prefer, such as the house brand coffee, macaroni and cheese (Erin actually won't eat the name brand!) and canned goods. The store is very large, but the aisles are wide and it's always well-stocked so I don't worry that we'll have to go elsewhere for anything on our list. It's a small investment in extra time and effort that really pays off in the end. At this point, after 3 years of shopping there, I really struggle to find things at other area stores! It's a good thing I work close by so I can make a quick emergency stop as needed.

Emergency grocery runs brings me to my other main money-saving technique, which is only shopping once a week. I typically shop on the same day, and I start making a list a couple of days before I go. If we run out of something, I do my absolute best to substitute or make it from scratch. I am a bit of a fanatic about knowing exactly how much of any given food we'll use in a week, and trying to always have just a little bit more than we'll need. The only things that would drive me to the store during the week (barring an unforeseen illness or other minor catastrophe, like a toddler dropping all of the eggs as she helps put away groceries) are running out of coffee, half and half, milk, or bananas. We actually run out of bananas at least once during the week, but that's just a given - one of us gets them on the way home from work. What can I say? We all like them and go through at least 10 lbs a week - they just don't keep well enough to buy that many at a time. Thank goodness they're cheap! As for the other must-haves, I try to buy just a little more than I know we'll use and ration what we've got if we're close to running out. I'll put a little milk in the half and half to make it last, and I'll drink water or tea instead of milk. For all other packaged goods, I bought one extra at a time over a period of a couple months, so when I see we're close to empty on the ketchup and get a new bottle, there's actually already one in the cupboard and I'm replacing the extra bottle. That way, if things get really tight (and they do sometimes) I can wait a few weeks before I buy more than the bare necessities. Once a week shopping has made me very conscious of what we can do without on a regular basis, and I've gotten pretty creative when it comes to substitutions - most worked, some not so well.

Obviously I have a lot to say on this subject! I'll spare you any further rambling, but I'd like to end by reminding you that food banks are a very worthy cause. Stopping to consider the realities of such a tight budget, plus the numerous challenges of living in poverty, makes me even more grateful for the ways our family is blessed. If you can, please consider a donation to your local food bank, and don't waste food if you can help it - cutting down on waste will save you money.

I'm linking up with the lovely Julie at The Corner With a View for the SNAP Food Budget Challenge! Head on over to read how others make it work on a tight weekly food budget!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What I Wore Sunday

I braved the earliest Mass this morning with Miss Emily, after a week at home where all three of us girls were sick. Needless to say, I haven't been at my best energy-wise, and I am officially exhausted at 9:30 in the morning. Emily started by howling and yelling, but after several minutes in the cry room she calmed down somewhat.

Outfit details:
Dress - thrifted, brand unknown
Boots - Christmas gift from my husband a few years back (Ann Klein brand
Leggings - Target kids' department
Scarf - local Real Deals store, gift from Dan's mom
Earrings - from my mom's jewelry box

Head over to Fine Linen and Purple for some more Mass attire (and possibly some less exhausted bloggers!)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

When Mother's Day is about what you can't do

My first Mother's Day holding Erin (L) and Emily.
I've been sick for the past ten days. Other than the weeks I spent recovering from my C-section and the concussion, this is the sickest I've been since I became a mother. I've almost completely lost my voice at this point - ironic, since I'm actually starting to feel better! - and I've been at the mercy of all the help family and friends could offer this week. It's taken all my energy to go to work each morning, and chores have been pretty much out of the question. Thankfully, the girls have been sick too, so they have been just fine with lots of Netflix and minimal mess-making for the most part.
Except for this mess - Emily and Erin delight in emptying this bookshelf several times a day. 

I got to thinking this morning about how Mother's Day seems to be about all that moms can do - all the sacrifices necessary for raising your children, all the meals cooked and laundry wash-dry-folded, the long nights, the stories read and tears wiped and squabbles refereed. But what about when moms can't? We get sick, too. Does that make us any less as mothers? Do we measure up solely by the number of things checked off a giant, universal to-do list of parenting?

I've gotten my answer to this question this week. Regardless of how active I am, how much I'm coughing, or the fact that my voice is a hoarse shadow of its former self - my girls still love me. They still snuggle with Mommy and want to show me what they're doing. They still want hugs and kisses. They don't seem to mind that they've eaten mini bagels, cheese, bananas and baby food for almost every meal this week.

The help I've had has been nothing short of miraculous, from my mother coming over and watching the girls on an hour's notice so I could go to the doctor one afternoon to my in-laws taking the girls for Friday evening so I could rest. Laundry and chores got done by people other than me. When my husband finally had a day off this week, he let me sleep all afternoon and rest on the couch in the evening while he made frozen pizza for dinner and gave Emily and Erin a bath. It was wonderful to know that things were being taken care of, and that my girls still loved me, just for being Mommy.

So to all you mothers out there, no matter what your state of motherhood - know that you measure up. Know that you are enough. Know that you matter, simply because you love your children. You may not have ever held them. You may not have birthed them. You may not ever get to do either of those things. You may never know the fearful, wonderful days of parenting a newborn. But whether you are a physical, spiritual, or adoptive mother doesn't matter. Loving the children in your life makes you a mother. Happy Mother's Day, and may God bless you and your children always.
Me at around 1 1/2, at the beach with my mom.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What I Wore Sunday

I got the inspiration for this one from Jill Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting fame. She was wearing something similar in her recent engagement photos. I had some trouble getting the belt to stay put, as you can probably tell in the picture, but this was the only shot where I wasn't being photo bombed by a pajama clad toddler.

Poor sick Erin. She's miserable. She has a cold, I think, but she's been sick for 4 days and is developing kind of a nasty sounding cough so we'll probably be off to the pediatrician tomorrow if she doesn't sound better. It's so hard to tell when they're too little to describe their symptoms!

We all were home last Sunday, but Emily and I were able to go to Mass this morning. She was very well behaved-a bit chatty, but we stayed in the sanctuary and even the pew  the whole time!! Dan still has a pretty bad cough and thinks he might have a sinus infection, so he stayed home with Erin so they could both rest. Healing prayers would be greatly appreciated! Between the girls having Fifth Disease and Dan and I getting sick, it's been a long several weeks. I know others have it so much worse, and I'm doing my best to offer up our trials for those who must deal with chronic and more severe illness.

We had some glorious weather this week- it was actually 92 on Thursday- but it's back to the rain we need now. I love these boots for spring weather when you can always figure on rain or wet grass at least. I never imagined quite how useful cowboy boots would be, but there you go!

Have a blessed Sunday, all!

Linking up with Fine Linen and Purple!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Please, come talk. Come visit. Come home.

An open letter to women who have left the Catholic Church:
We want to invite you to come talk with us, and we are excited to meet you! Just like you, we are daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers; students, professionals, and stay-at-home moms. We are teenagers, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and beyond. We are from many walks of life and from diverse backgrounds, but we share a common faith - one we want to invite you to revisit.
Some of us have been away from the Church, and by one way or another we've come back. Some of us never left - but that doesn't mean we’ve never questioned nor been confused. Some of us were raised outside of the Church, and made the decision to join as adults. In one way or another, each one of us has come to know and love Christ in the Catholic Church - and in keeping with Pope Francis’ request we want to share that love and joy with you.

Being Catholic isn’t easy, and we’ll be the first to tell you that we aren’t perfect; we have many planks in our own eyes to worry about. Our faith embraces paradoxes, challenges our culture's values, and makes us feel uncomfortable when we are called to examine our actions and our motivations. But - as you already know - just because something is challenging does not mean it is not worthwhile.

We know that you are intelligent and capable. We believe that you deserve answers to your questions, and explanations for the teachings with which you're struggling. We’ve all struggled with various aspects of our faith, but we aren’t here to judge or condemn you. We simply want to listen to what you’re feeling. We want to understand what is making you uncertain about being part of our Catholic faith. We want to help you find the answers and explanations that helped bring us home. We want to meet you, we want to hear about your experience, and most importantly, we want to invite you back.

Feel free to email any of us with questions or concerns you may have about the Church, her teachings, or what reversion means. If you’re not ready to bare your soul to complete strangers, we’d love to direct you to sites that helped us (and still help us) as we discerned our calling in life.
Wherever you are, whatever you believe, know that we are praying for you. You are our sister - another woman navigating a challenging world. We look forward to talking with you!
In The Peace and Love of Christ,

The members of #cathsorority

Friday, February 28, 2014

What not to say when they're expecting

You've probably seen or heard a pregnancy announcement. An ultrasound picture, a cute shot of the couple or family with a little pair of baby shoes. Maybe a phone call or a chat over a cup of tea.

If you're like me, your heart fairly bursts with happiness for the new life God has created. How wonderful! You rush to offer well wishes.

But what if the circumstances seem less than ideal? Should you offer condolences, admonitions, or ask them if they "know how that happens?"

No. You shouldn't. It's not your decision. It never will be, and it never was. New life is cause for celebration and joy, no matter if the couple has zero, four, eight, or twelve children. It doesn't matter how many bedrooms their house has. What matters is the tiny miracle developing in the warm comfort of his or her mother. God chose them as parents. That's what matters.

What if it's their first child, and you already have children? Shouldn't you tell them how their lives will change forever?

No. You shouldn't. It's an insult to their intelligence, for starters. In this age of information, they're probably overwhelmed with all sorts of facts and opinions about life as a parent. If they are curious about your experience, they'll probably ask.

What if the relationship (if one exists) is not a stable, happy, marriage? Shouldn't you tell them how terrible this is-or worse, say it to everyone you know behind the mother and father's backs?

No. No. NO. Absolutely not. "Congratulations!" is appropriate. Leave it at that. If you're close to the new mother, offer your support-"I'll help you in any way I can. I'm here for you." Maybe that means knowing she has a place to stay if things aren't going well at home. Maybe it just means accompanying her to a doctor's appointment to help her get the best care possible. Maybe it's something much more powerful, like offering emotional support if she chooses to give up her baby for adoption. Maybe, for a mother of several littles, it means offering to help her family through her crippling all day sickness in the first few months. Your support in these cases could be life changing.

What if they've got several other children already? It's our duty to make them aware of "how that happens" or the current state of the rest of the world, right? Your only duty is to congratulate them, and offer to help if you can. Bring a meal. Come over to their house and watch the other kids so the expectant mama can go to a doctor's appointment in peace, or just so she can put her feet up. Unload the dishwasher. Fold some laundry. Offer her a list of ways you'd like to help them out and support them, then let her choose and follow through.

Our/my life ended when we had children, and it's my mission in life to pass that on to every first time expecting couple I meet. Right?

Absolutely not. First of all, if you actually feel this way, I'm sincerely sorry and I'll keep you in my prayers. Second, it's not your job to pass on your own regrets to other people. Yes, they will sleep again. Maybe not until noon on weekends, but sleep comes eventually. So do dates and regular clothes. And the fullness and richness of parenthood more than makes up for this, in my experience. So strike this from your lexicon.

Finally, if you flubbed your response to a pregnancy announcement, it's okay to apologize and admit you were wrong. I've done this. A close friend announced a new baby on the way, and I said (honestly) that it was  a surprise. As soon as it left my mouth I knew it was wrong. So I apologized, and expressed my joy at the new life they'd been blessed with. Turned out it had been a surprise, but the apology was still appreciated, if not entirely necessary.  So if you think you may have said the wrong thing, don't hesitate to go back and make amends. Chances are you will be glad you did!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Incorporating scarves into your outfits

So per reader/fellow blogger request (thanks for the great idea, Mandi!) yesterday, today I'm going to show you some ways you can incorporate scarves into your outfits. I don't remember exactly where I read it, but a while back I ran across something that talked about having three items to make an outfit. In cooler weather, it's easy to add a sweater or something that pulls your top and bottom together, but in warmer weather or while you're working and getting warm, it can be more difficult. It's the same rule of three you'll find in decorating manuals - three things pull together nicely. Breaking a design into thirds helps to balance it. You get the idea. So three things it is. Top, bottom, and scarf!

Scarves, to me, are the ultimate accessory, particularly for moms. You can wash them, use them in a pinch for a nursing cover or a pillow for a sleepy toddler, distract a baby or small child while you're waiting, and you look more put-together when you're wearing one. Plus they come in all sorts of fun patterns and colors, and you can even make your own if you can't find what you're looking for.

This is a fairly simple way to tie a scarf. In this picture,
the length is hiding my post-baby tummy nicely!
The simplest way to tie a scarf is to fold it in half so the ends are touching. Lay this over the back of your neck, then pull the ends through the loop you've created. Don't pull too tight! Adjust the ends and folds so the pattern shows nicely. This is the quickest way to put on a scarf, and one of the warmest as well.

This scarf is much thinner and shorter and can only be
tied one way or worn as a headband. It
pulls the outfit together, though!
Thinner or shorter scarves can't really be worn any other way. If you've already got a three piece outfit, that's okay - they'll still be a nice accent. It's best to make sure they blend in with both pieces as in the above picture. I love mixing patterns, but I think a thin scarf that doesn't match at all looks a little silly on me. If you disagree, by all means, mix away! One of the great things about clothes is making your own rules about what matches and what doesn't.

Another way to tie a scarf: wrapped around and around.
The scarf doesn't have to "match" your top, either!
If your scarf is long and wide, you can bunch it up to make it thicker. This means you can tie it other ways, too! In this picture, I'm wearing a scarf that's actually a huge rectangle, all bunched up and wrapped around my neck. I tucked the ends in for some reason - you don't have to, but it looks a little neater. This scarf has fringe so I think that's why the ends are hiding.

You don't have to match your scarf to your outfit, either, particularly if you're wearing a neutral top and jeans. This is where you can introduce the bold, colorful patterns.

Close-up of above scarf. See the owls?!

Bright patterned floral scarf with bright yellow sweater.
Nice and dressy for Sunday Mass.
One of the best things about scarves is how the same one can be worn with several outfits. The above outfit is a closeup of a Mass outfit - I'm wearing a dark gray skirt and heels with the floral scarf and sweater - and I felt very put together. Below, it was Mother's Day and we'd just gotten back from eating dinner out without the girls. I was wearing a tee and jeans, with the same scarf, and while I felt more "dressed" than if I hadn't worn the scarf, I certainly wasn't "dressed up." So one scarf, many outfits - and they take up so little space, they're a great addition to even a minimalist wardrobe!

Much more casual. Same bright floral scarf dressing up a tee.

Very bright and fun scarf, tied neckerchief style.
Subtle pattern on the skirt, but otherwise all solid colors.
Sometimes, a small scarf can't even be looped around your neck. In that case, you can just knot it behind your neck, cowboy style. I've been known to turn them forwards sailor style as well! This particular scarf almost always gets worn as pictured, though. I love the bright, colorful pattern. The neckerchief style is great for making a low-necked shirt more modest, also - a huge plus when you're at work or out playing with your kids and have to bend over a lot.

Close-up of the pattern on the scarf in above shot.
Immediately postpartum, I was very interested in hiding my belly. As soon as it cooled off that fall, I wore scarves to distract from my remaining pudginess. My stomach will probably never be flat again, and I don't mind that (the gift of new life is worth it!) but if you're in the new-baby stage and wanting to distract from your midsection, I recommend wearing a long scarf. Not only is it great camouflage, you can use it to cover a nursing baby while they latch on or let them play with it to distract them. In the below picture, I'm just wearing the scarf to stay warm (this was taken just a few weeks ago) but since most of my shirts are on the tighter side, I still appreciate the extra coverage!

Same scarf as in the first picture, but I'm not using it to hide
anymore - just to stay warm on this day!
How do you wear scarves? What's your favorite way to tie a scarf? I'd love to hear - leave a comment and share!