The Week Behind: Clear Skies?

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Saturday: We had a meal plan in place this morning when the boys woke up: their choice of eggs or cereal, bananas and donut sticks. They weren't so sure of the donut sticks oddly enough (a Little Debbie's favorite). I know that it's a weakness for their daddy so not likely something he keeps at home but he was pretty pleased when I held up one I'd reserved for him when he came to pick up the boys.

Found Josh's library book when I finished clearing up the living/dining room. I called Sam so he'd stop back by on his way home. He and the boys had headed off to get haircuts and go to the grocery store. He's commanded Bess to stay home unless escorted and she stayed home today.

John went outdoors to putter in his shed, a space of time he's giving me or him or both of us daily lately. He cleared off a shelving unit that he no longer needs. He said he needed the space to put something else and asked if I'd like to have the shelves. I thanked him nicely because I'd heaps rather use what we have than buy something new.

He decided while the sun was shining to treat the tons of ant hills in the yard. Fortunately the week ahead is clear until Friday so hopefully the ants will be poisoned by then.

The boys were pleased with the cake yesterday but both ate very small slices. I'd meant to send some home with them but they weren't going straight back home. It made me rue the decision to use make a layer cake. Typically I make two layers and put one in the freezer. Never mind. They were duly impressed with a layer cake that was frosted and covered in sprinkles just because they were visiting. I can freeze a portion of this cake since I used butter cream frosting which holds up well in the freezer.

Despite being able to save a portion of this cake I am not foolish enough to think using a sale priced cake mix is saving me any money. No indeed! I saved money only on the mix itself. I still needed to add butter and eggs and water or milk to the mix. However, cake mixes have a way of always turning out that made from scratch cakes don't always do...and as said I haven't a good chocolate cake recipe at present but many recommended the Hershey's cocoa recipe. I'll have to look that one up since it is the most recommended recipe.

John and I both have talked about that month gap between pay and retirement and both have worried about it at various moments. We've not let it consume us but we've both had it rear it's head at times. Yesterday as I worked on our bills for the coming pay period, I decided that it was high time I figured out just what it was we'd need to make it through the gap period. I was shocked on two counts.

I was shocked first because I realized that most of what we 'pay' is money we set aside for sub accounts or savings. And naturally if we haven't any income for that time frame we won't set money aside. It really brought home to me how much of a habit we've made our savings. We just don't even consider it as optional anymore.

Second, I realized we have only two bills that will come up for which we might not have money aside for...Two. These are both utility bills that we pay in halves each month and never have any extra set aside. It's a ridiculously low sum, one which we will ably meet with the small check coming to us. I plan to use what groceries we have on hand during that month rather than planning any expenditure for anything but the absolutely necessary. So that is not an issue.

And it occurs to me now that in future I might want to set a little extra money aside to cover those monthly utility bills besides what we typically set aside. It seems to me it would be a second worthwhile 'emergency fund' to have that banked ahead as we do our annual fees.

Yesterday while I was making lasagna, the sauce splattered and went all over the front of my shirt. Naturally I'd forgotten to do as I promised myself and hadn't put on an apron. I thought about it as I put stain remover on the shirt that had I done so I'd likely have had only a few spots instead of the entire front of my shirt to spray with remover. And naturally it was a shirt that up till then had no stains...Aprons must become my habit!

Back to lasagna. It can be mighty expensive to make but like all such recipes you can make it more cheaply. Traditionally lasagna is made with ricotta cheese. That's about $4 for a 15 ounce cup. Mama never used ricotta cheese when she made lasagna. She always used cottage cheese. I do, too, and I buy it on sale. Mozarella and Asiago are inexpensive enough at Aldi, as is cream cheese...and yes, I use cream cheese. My late father-in-law grew up in an Italian and Irish neighborhood in New York state and he was taught to make lasagna by an Italian lady in his young years. I like the cream cheese because it adds a richness missing when you use just cottage cheese. Again, I buy cottage cheese when it's inexpensive, usually about 79c for an 8 ounce block at Aldi. Cream cheese has a long shelf life and I buy a dozen or so blocks at a time and keep them on hand. The rest of the ingredients are not so expensive. I added a 5 ounce log of goat cheese we weren't eating which I'd purchased before Christmas just to use it up. I used sale priced meat, and leftover bits of spaghetti sauce I'd saved in the freezer (I keep a jar and add to it when we have any left until the jar is full. Sort of a soup jar only it's spaghetti sauce). I can pay quite a bit for a whole wheat lasagna noodle...but I seldom make lasagna more than once a year and I figure using the less expensive lasagna pasta from Aldi is fine for such a rare dish. I'm not saying lasagna is a cheap dish but it's less expensive to make in my way. And just as a comparison, a local pizzeria offered a made to order 9 x 13 pan for $50 a pan. The same size pan from Stouffer's which is nowhere near as good as homemade costs about $14 in most stores. I figure my pan of lasagna comes in at around $10 but it's meatier and more full of vegetables. I always load my spaghetti sauces up with lots of vegetables. And remember the sauce used was all leftovers (about 1 quart and 1 pint of sauce). Bonus is that I got the 9 x 13 pan as well as a loaf pan of lasagna which is an additional three generous servings.

Sunday: We were all ready for church and about to leave the house when the dogs began barking and I heard the sound of a motorcycle. I kept thinking it was some of the four-wheeler ATVs that like to run up and down our dirt road but then watched as a motorcycle went by on the lower driveway. John went out to confront the trespasser and disappeared, then I heard Sam's truck tearing across the field. They never did find the cyclist whom we're all assuming turned around and came right back out, though I didn't see him exit. Sam picked up John and brought him back home. We'll be putting up a private property sign and plan to install a gate before long. Both those things have been planned for some time but we felt no real urgency to do so when my brother lived on the place but now...well, I don't want to go on vacation and come home to find my place has been taken over!

Despite leaving late, we picked up mail, dropped off trash at the dump and posted a bill that must reach it's destination before end of the week, all before we left town. And arrived at church just after the first song was sung, which must be a record for us!

Stopped at grocery on our way home. Our expense was light enough: 1 liter bottle of Coke and a newspaper. We dropped some things off for Bess' mom who lives nearby. She's ambulatory but not able to walk long distances nor drive yet. I passed off a series of books I was sent by an author that I thought she'd enjoy. She passed me a few magazines she thought I'd appreciate (and I do!). I'd have like to visit but our morning trespasser made John ready to get back home. We stopped again to fill up with gasoline.

Once home, I turned up the heat which I'd turned down to 65F last night. The heat pump was coming on and lingering on for a long time this morning when we got up so I turned on the propane heater rather than bump up the thermostat at that time. Which worked out fine because we didn't need to leave it raised when no one was home.

Bess stopped by on her way into town to bring another bag of hand me down boys clothes for Caleb. I'm going out with Katie tomorrow afternoon and will pass them to her then. I offered up a big serving of lasagna and some of the chocolate cake to Bess who happily took them home with her. She's been on a lasagna kick for months now and I figure by the time Millie is born that craving will die quick and hard.

Monday: No clue where those clear skies were today! It rained last night and I think it rained again before I got home this evening if the road was an indicator. It did clear about sunset though...and I was happy that Katie and I were returning home about that hour and could see the massive clouds silhouetted against the sunset skies. So awesome! Made my heart fill with wonder and gladness.

But that was the end of the day. I was at the beginning...I did a quick pick up of the house this morning. No hard labor but plenty to be done. I stripped the bed and argued mildly with John who was determined to help but not doing things in my way, sigh. Truly doing the household laundry is his task but I've always done rugs and curtains and sheets and towels. That's my thing. I might be willing to turn it over to him if he'd alter his method to suit my desired end results. Well never mind. I forgot to put the washer water temperature over to hot and added too much bleach and then had to dry everything in the dryer because it was so heavily clouded outdoors.

I was busy finishing up my bill work when John came to stand next to me. I looked up and he was fully dressed. I said "You ready to go?" "As soon as you are..." he replied. Well I hadn't planned on going anywhere. I'd told him so the past two days but he wanted me to come along. So I hurried up my work and got ready to go with him and told him I'd just have him drop me off at Katie's which is when we made plans for our supper. He'd get the casserole she'd made for us and I'd text him when to start heating the oven...Stay tuned on this, lol.

We took off trash (stuff he'd tossed from his shed) and picked up mail, picked up his check, did banking and mail and then he went by the hardware store. He asked me to take him home...are you listening? So I went on to Katie's by myself. So I had the casserole in a cold pack in my car...and it wasn't until he texted me that he had the oven heating that I said "We've messed up our own supper plans...Katie had just finished her eye exam and we still had shopping to do. I figured rightly that we'd not be home until 7pm and to still have to reheat a cold casserole wasn't going to work for us. I told him I'd grab us something and bring it home with me.

We were in Walmart. I'd seen a YouTube video that featured some floral picks of lamb's ears and lavender and another flower that were $3 each and absolutely gorgeous. Remember I found peonies for that price last year that were quality looking florals and so I made sure to check out the floral aisle while I was there and bought three of the lavender picks. I should have gotten five. I really need two more for the fullness I want in my pitcher.

I will not speak of my total at Walmart but I will say that other than the floral picks my items were strictly necessary ones and nothing frivolous nor fun. I'd have spent that amount on those items and got a better buy on at least three items than I'd seen anywhere.

I purchased a submarine sandwich for our supper which was easily eaten without a delay when I got home. Then I had to finish all my Harvest week tasks and clear up the dishes I'd left in the sink when we'd initially left home. I hadn't planned to be out of the house for 7 hours but I was!

Oh and I did get snuggles with my baby boy while I was out. Zoey came by and licked the top of his head then she kissed my nose, lol. She likes having her family with her.

While we were picking up his check today it occurred to us that we've let that silly gap worry us for nothing. FOR NOTHING. Because there won't BE a gap. There are funds we'd forgotten about that will come in during that time so we'll have what we need to go through this period between work and retirement. DONE!

Tuesday: Not a lot of work needed in house today so I hurried through and went on out to empty the compost. I broke up the rest of that flower bed and then set to work on my shed.

I put the new to me shelf unit in place and unloaded an old metal milk crate full of items onto it. I then began to sort and organize and pile items for donation. I didn't finish my work there because I reached a point where it's necessary to get the donations out of the way so that I can get into the back corner to clear it out. I'm really pleased with my progress today though and hope to get the donations off this week.

I didn't just put things aside for donations. There's a couple of items to give to others and a small stash to possibly sell. I'm thinking of going the route of Facebook Yardsale with these items, I think. I've been gradually building a small stash of things to sell.

John did our taxes this afternoon and I must say that the task went much more smoothly. When he said we'd get a refund this year, I celebrated and ordered the dishes I showed last week (thank you Sue for pointing me to them on Amazon!) and the Downton Abbey movie.

Our supper was the casserole Katie had made which was yummy. It was broccoli, pasta and chicken with a Bechamel sauce and it was good. We'd just finished eating when Katie texted she was coming by with the bubby for us to see. And then Bess texted she had loads of eggs and could we please take some? We took two dozen and Katie texted she'd take another and Bess was much relieved. She had eggs coming out of her ears and was freezing all she could but was still overrun. It was so pleasant to sit here with family in the room with us. Bess is not due for another two weeks but we're all ready for that little girl to come meet the family. And I'd already had a very brief visit from Sam and Josh this afternoon. I only missed seeing Isaac today...I told Bess I'd keep him for her next doctor visit as she is getting so close to her time.

Sam called to tell Bess he'd come get her since she'd walked over at sunset and it was dark. I told Bess I'd take her home. Sam begged for a cup of coffee from our single brew Keurig. He said he hated to make a quarter of a pot to get just one cup. I understand too well. It's what led us to buy a Keurig.

Some days I look back over my day and see nothing but a path of blessings behind me and it's such a lovely feeling!

Wednesday: Sigh. Heavily overcast and cold. Rain this afternoon...Where on earth is those clear skies we were promised this week?!

It was my day to visit with Mama. It's different to plan to visit her when John is home. I suppose it's a good way for us to get a break from each other though I admit I felt no need to 'break', lol. I find I'm rather enjoying having him nearby all day long. Never mind...Off to see Mama.

We had lunch out and then she asked to go back home. I can't fault her. It was cold and damp out and her bones ached. I offered to go do her grocery shopping for her. It's tedious but thankfully I am familiar with most of what she wants. It's just a big shop and I'm alone doing it so all the loading and carrying and unloading and carrying is on me. Her 'short' list filled the buggy to overflowing and even had things piled underneath. I hope it's enough to carry her for a couple of weeks until I see her again!

Mama's insistent that I buy MY groceries as well. I do not do so...but I did agree I'd accept the 'free' half of the items she needed that were buy one get one free deals since she doesn't want two of anything in the limited kitchen cupboard space. This meant I got a 'free' ketchup, mayonnaise, kielbasa and salsa all of which are quite useful to me.

When I came in from my day, John had a pot of peppermint tea steeping and waiting on me. It was so good after being out in the cold to come home to that!

My menu is messed up this week. I've done nothing even vaguely resembling our written out plan. Tonight's dinner was Kielbasa with Cabbage, Potatoes, Apples and Onions. It was a sort of one pot meal and if you've never added apples to your pot you absolutely should try it. My apples were Galas and tartly sweet which adds to the appeal of the dish in my opinion.

Thursday: I slept really late this morning which is surprising since I went to bed earlier than usual last night and wasn't sleepy or so I thought. I went right off to sleep however! John and I have done a 21 day fast. He's actually not eaten from sunup to sundown so our biggest meal has been in the evening and I've pointed out that I've slept incredibly well most nights. I think the larger meal before the 'fasting' is what has worked so well with me. Or perhaps it's the lack of coffee...Because that was what I fasted (and chocolate candy and Coke). Whatever the reason, we've agreed that we will return to having our largest meal each day at the end of the day...and we'd not have those BIG breakfasts except on the rare occasion...Changes to go with our retirement days.

I went out to the shed to retrieve cups and bowls to wash in the dishwasher. Since I'm getting the new dishes, Katie asked for my set of Corelle which I happily agreed to give her. But I definitely want to give her clean dishes even if she does take them home and rewash them. While there in the shed, I loaded up my car with a trunk load of donation items. I knew we were going to grocery shop this afternoon and I wanted to drop off donations while we were in the near vicinity. It felt so good to get those things out of the way.

The UPS man brought my new socks this morning...Those socks from Amazon that I noted were mens', netted me a comment from Angela about similar socks she'd bought herself. They are lovely soft and all my dingy white and gray socks went into the trash can today. I got good use from those socks over the five or six years I wore them but paint and dirt had taken their toll. I smiled every time I looked down at my striped feet today.

UPS man is 7 months out of retiring and talked over his anxieties about it with John today who suddenly feels like the 'old pro'...Well he's very relaxed about things these days I'll say and I suppose with just one shift to go and having had the most of four months off, he's starting to feel he IS the old pro.

We took off trash (which had to sit on the back seat), picked up our mail, and then drove to drop off donations before heading to the grocery.

I didn't need much at the grocery today as I told John. I really needed only potato chips and lettuce. However, I went over my pantry inventory and noted the items I had none that was my list to fill gaps in my pantry. Chips were 99c a bag at Aldi today which is a savings of about 50c per bag. I bought six bags. We won't eat more than we normally eat, just taking advantage of the fact that we could save and stocked up.

I didn't use all of my grocery budget this pay I had the balance of what I would usually spend put on an Aldi gift card. John asked if I was going to give it away. I am not. It is a 'reservoir', a place to save unused grocery money until we find we're in need or want cash to stock up on a good meat sale and so we'll have grocery money to use for other necessities. That's how I mean to use it.

Tonight's dinner: Steak, Potatoes with Onions and that's all. It was a meal made while I unloaded groceries and it was delicious however simple it was.

Friday: My new dishes arrived this morning! They are every bit as pretty in person as they were in pictures. I had already cleared the cabinet of my Corelle plates but I'd forgotten about the need of room for my new cups, and that the new bowls were deep ones, and that necessitated moving out the pastel bowls I bought last Spring. All the old things moved out, all the new things were washed and put away. I can't wait to begin to use them!

We did our usual Friday morning routine housework. It took little time to set the house to rights.

I am trying to get back on track with our menu. Tonight we'll have the chicken and wild rice casserole. The recipe makes enough for two casseroles for us. Tomorrow we will have the leftover Eye of Round roast with roasted potatoes and Brussels Sprouts. I plan to make a cobbler to go with that meal tomorrow, probably a peach cobbler.

That's our week...How was yours?
(C) Terri Cheney

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