You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2016.

After stocking up at the Can-Can sale, I found myself staring at an unholy number of cans of tomatoes.  It was time to do something with them, and fast.  What better than to use some on a dinner that would mostly cook itself?  We’re still getting over winter illnesses here,  so I needed something that I could prep in the morning when energy was high, and enjoy later when I’d already crashed.

Slow Cooked Meat Sauce

Slow Cooked Meat Sauce

This recipe is great for a busy winter day, when you’re craving a comforting meal and abundant fresh produce and herbs are off-season.  It does require a two-step cooking process of browning the meat before putting it into the crockpot, but it’s worth it to be able to drain off the fat.  My daughters begged me to let them try the sauce before it was fully cooked, and I caught my husband drinking leftovers. So, that speaks for itself.

Ingredients

2 lb. lean ground meat (we use Turkey)

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

2 (28 oz) cans of tomato puree

2 (6 oz) cans of tomato paste

28 oz water

1/3 c. olive oil

1 T* (each) dried parsley, basil, and oregano

1 t* salt

1 t pepper

2 T sugar

Note:  *T stands for tablespoon, t for teaspoon

Directions

Spray a large a skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high.   Sautée the ground meat, garlic, and onion until browned, about 10 minutes.  Drain well, and transfer to crockpot with slotted spoon.  Add remaining ingredients to crockpot, and stir well.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours, stirring once about halfway through.  Serve over your favorite pasta, with a tossed salad.  This makes enough for a full pound of pasta plus I filled three large jars with sauce, which I froze for future use.

Share your weekend dinner family favorites.  To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

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Homemade playdough

When my kids were toddlers I was very weary of letting them use store bought play dough. I know it says it’s not toxic, but my fear of them taking a giant bite out of a colorful pretend cookie kept me from purchasing.  I found this fabulous recipe and now I’m sharing with all of you! Every ingredient is edible which makes it safe and digestible should any of it find your toddlers mouth. Using Kool Aid gives the dough vibrant colors and it will smell amazing!

Ingredients:

2 Cups flour

½ Cup salt

1 packet of Kool Aid

1 Cup boiling water (I ran my tap until the water was at its hottest)

3 Tablespoons oil (Sunflower, or Vegetable works best)

Instructions:

Mix the flour, salt and Kool Aid together first.  Next, add oil to the boiling water before pouring into the bowl. The fun part is watching the colors magically appear.

Stir all ingredients together until it resembles crumbles. That’s when it’s time for all hands on deck! Everyone can take turns kneading the dough until it becomes a smooth ball.

play dough crumbles

Store the dough in an air tight container, or plastic baggie. I found these adorable boxes with clip top lids at the Dollar Tree.

play dough boxes2

That’s it! You’re done. You can use whatever cookie cutters you have on hand, or the kitchen rolling pin. All of the ingredients are food products, so no worries of contaminating your kitchen gadgets with chemicals. The kids can go play while you cleanup and maybe take a few sips of coffee while it’s hot.

If your child is gluten free I’ve got you covered! I found this recipe for Gluten Free Edible Playdough at Fun At Home with Kids. I might try it just for fun with the kids. It’s always nice to have alternatives.

So, if you’re looking for a fun, easy and inexpensive project with the kiddos this is it! Your little ones can learn to scoop, measure and mix. There is a wonderful sensory component to kneading the dough and of course the power of using their imaginations will keep them entertained for just a little while.

 

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

 

Introvert

Are you an introvert?

If you’re not sure, check out these 24 signs you’re an introvert. Life as an introvert can be isolating if you don’t get out of your head sometimes. I often look at my husband and how he easily navigates social waters and oozes confidence and I wish I could try on his skin. Man, what might that be like to know, really know how good you are? Call it confidence or cockiness it’s really the same principle. When you know what you want and believe you deserve it, you often get it.

The Answer Is A., No B., No, Definitely A.

I think the biggest thing that plagues the introvert is self-doubt. We SUCK at multiple-choice tests. We agonize over every decision and conversation and we replay the negative highlight reel till we’re convinced we should just crawl under a rock somewhere which is why being social is a concerted effort that sometimes leaves us completely drained. So if we’re hiding in our room watching Netflix, don’t take offense.

It took an ah ha moment today to make me realize that my step father’s words to me years ago were true. He told me, “you’ll get everything you want in life.” When I look back at my life thus far, I can recall making life changes happen by going after what I want, which is no easy task for an introvert.

Sounds Easy, Right?

Here’s the hardest first step because it sounds like an easy question.

Step 1: Answer this: What is it that’s going to make me happy? – The answer will likely change during different seasons of your life, but step one is to figure out that answer. If you tell me the answer is win the Powerball you know I’m going to roll my eyes.

What do you love and value so much you would sacrifice for it, that you would do it for free, and that you would move Heaven and Earth to make happen? That’s the answer you need to find.

When I was still on maternity leave with my first daughter, I felt so horrible about going back to work full time that I cried for weeks. I had to figure out what I needed to make myself happy. Back then, it was working part-time. I had to do a whole lot of work, a whole lot of asking and a whole lot of hustling to make it happen. I don’t think anyone was more shocked than me when all my efforts came together and I successfully worked in a job share I negotiated.

Step 2: Overcome The Fear of The Ask – Most of us will never get what we want not because we don’t deserve it, but because we’re too afraid to ask for it. Asking for things is the introvert’s worst nightmare.

My first job after college was doing marketing and special events for a local non-profit and I got thrust into the nightmare of asking for donations pretty quickly. I’d white knuckle the phone, start to sweat and have to take several sips of water before I could muster up the nerve. I’ve asked for financial donations, in-kind donations of goods or services and even had to sell raffle tickets outside grocery stores.

After years you’d think it would become second nature.  For an introvert like me, perpetually worried about “bugging” people, it never did. You just learn to do it anyway.

There will be times you hear “yes” and times you hear “no,” but if you never ask for what you want the answer is ALWAYS “no.” So your odds increase by 50 percent just by biting the bullet and asking. If you sit around waiting to be comfortable, worrying about the rejections, you’ll never hear “yes.” When you do hear “yes” hold tight to it. You’ll need reminders of the wins the next time you have to ask.

Step 3: Research First– Working in a non-profit you always check a person’s giving history before making an ask. In real life you also have to do your homework first. When I hatched the idea of splitting my full-time job into two part-time positions I first had to research job share proposals, and weigh the pros and cons for my family, myself, and my employer. I had to crunch numbers, create a written proposal, and be prepared to answer everyone’s questions of “what’s in it for me?” Whether you’re asking for a raise at work, contemplating staying home with your kids, or starting a business you have to think about all parties involved and then put yourself in their shoes.

Let me tell you that after pitching my mother on the idea of watching my kids while I work, my husband on the idea of a pay cut, my boss on the idea of hiring a new employee and restructuring my position, my husband was the hardest one to sell. He was the one who really wanted to see the numbers. The things you want will often require the cooperation of people in your life. The key is NOT to expect it, but to ask for it and be grateful when you get it.

Step 4: Make Sacrifices – If you can’t or won’t make sacrifices to attain what you need to be happy, you won’t get it. Choices always have consequences. There is always a price to be paid. If you want to start a business you’re going to have to put in some serious time and perhaps sacrifice time spent on hobbies, with family or friends. If you want to stay home with your kids, you might have to make financial sacrifices and give up some luxuries you enjoyed while working even if you didn’t consider them luxuries at the time (hello over-priced coffee addicts, I’m talking to you). If the sacrifices make you so miserable you want to give up then you probably need to go back to step one and answer the question again.

Step 5: Kick Self-Doubt’s Butt – Self-doubt plagues the introvert to no-end. You could be convinced one minute that you’ve created a masterpiece and when it comes time to share it with the world you find yourself sweaty and panicking. This is one of the hardest things to live with. The introvert is always worried if they are good enough (Ok, that could just be me). We lack the confidence extroverts so easily display. Hence we often wish we could borrow their skin and pretend for a little while we know we are masters of the universe. Sometimes you have to fake confidence.

Think Detours, Not Dead-Ends

Other times you just have to surround yourself with people willing to tell you how awesome you are. When an introvert is defeated, it’s usually in our own minds. Nobody knows themselves the way introverts do. We spend so much time analyzing ourselves. This unfortunately means that we know our flaws better than anyone and it’s easier to get fixated on our flaws instead of our many positive attributes.

Remind yourself daily that you CAN do what it takes to make you happy. Failures and “no’s” are not dead-ends; they’re detours. When you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, simply go back to step number 1 and ask yourself in light of the new situation, what’s it going to take to make me happy?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found blogging at Hudson Valley Parent Magazine and thenodramamama.com when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her otherwise three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow me on Facebook or Twitter for my delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails.


Many of our meals have been recreated without dairy, due to food allergies that run in the family.  Every once in a while, though, we can revisit dairy for a special meal.  I found some freshly made gluten-free pasta recently which just begged for a homemade sauce.  My family requested Alfredo, and I had to agree.  I looked to make it lower fat and with a little bit less dairy, so I fiddled around with ingredients until I got it just how we liked it. So much so that we made it again a week later.  I’ve tucked away the recipe since then, because it is just too good. My older daughter scribed the recipe for me as I cooked, and affectionately gave it its name.

Alfredo

 

Homemade Alfredo

Ingredients

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

½ stick of butter

½ c. milk (I used skim)

½ c. half and half (cream would be fine, but this is a little healthier)

1 ¼  c. Parmesan cheese

¼ c. Nutritional yeast (this is optional; more cheese could be used instead)

* T = tablespoonFettuccine Alfredo

Directions

In a large frying pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add chopped garlic and sautée until lightly browned.  Add milk and half and half, simmer for five minutes on low.  Whisk in the Parmesan cheese (and nutritional yeast, if using) and stir until smooth.  Add in 12-16 oz. of cooked pasta, toss well, and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

This recipe comes together easily, and could be enhanced with grilled chicken or shrimp, broccoli, or spinach.  Share your weeknight dinner recipes below.   To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

DIY (1)

If you have been following along you already know my kids are dino obsessed. If this is your first time reading my blog let me catch you up on the obsession. Last spring we took a road trip to Mystic Aquarium and on our way home we stopped to see a giant fossil made by dinosaurs. My kids were in heaven! We continued the craze over the summer with a frozen dinosaur smash, and a dinosaur counting folder game. And now (drum roll) we are making our own fossil cookies!!

Here is what you will need to make your own:

dino ingredients

Favorite sugar cookie dough (store bought counts too)

Toy Dinosaurs (clean)

Baking tray

We started out with a dino washing station to be sure our dinosaurs were clean enough to press into the dough.

dino wash

Next slice the dough and cut slices in half, or in quarters. Then roll the pieces of the cookie dough into little ball shapes. Have kiddos squish them flat before using dinosaurs to make an imprint.

dino slices

You can use just a foot, a tail or the head of the dinosaur to make your fossil print.

dino prints

Bake according to package directions. That’s it!! Enjoy with your favorite glass of milk or hot cocoa for “lava.”

Our dinosaur friends took one last trip through the dino washing station before returning to their bins. Then we enjoyed a good book about dinosaurs while the cookies finished baking. My kids were thrilled with the results!

Tips:

Cookie dough tends to fluff up a bit when baked, be sure to keep the dough shapes small and make the imprints deep. This will ensure you do not lose the print as the cookies bake.

If you want to get a little fancy, make some dirt cups with chocolate pudding topped with crushed Oreos and add a fossil cookie.

If you want the fossil craze to last use salt dough instead of cookie dough. Bake according to recipe directions and let your kids paint. Store them in a box with your kinetic sand, or rice bin so kids can excavate later.

How do you play with your dinosaurs?

fossil foot

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

Find more from Roxanne at The Whatever Mom. 

I’m not a big fan of politics. I don’t like watching the debates on TV, unlike my CNN addicted husband. I guess I’m not unlike the majority of people who wonder if their voice even matters to candidates once the elections are over. Despite my misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised by a visit from Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther at my daughter’s Girl Scout troop meeting this week.

Aileen Gunther with Girl Scout Troop 767

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther spoke with Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson Troop #767 about her job and what it means to make your mark on the world.
Top row from left to right: Morgan Degraw, Hayden Marie Herrera, Alexia Clark, Lilly Betancourt, Angelina Alvarado, Hannah Johnson, Sara Gagnon, Alyssa Velazquez, Dalila Dixon. Bottom row left to right: Adryana Kozachuk, Brin Degraw, Carissa Ciorciari, Sierra Velazquez, Addison Alvarado, Jordyn Wall-Carty, Maya Ballard

I Work For YOU

She was so friendly and open with the girls. She answered their questions, said she would put up their posters in her office in Albany, and spoke to them on their level about what it is that she does as an assemblywoman. My hands down favorite quote of hers:

“I work for you! Did you know that?” she asked the girls. Imagine being a six or eight year old girl listening to an adult in power saying that to you. It was incredible.

I think it’s a sentiment I often forget when mired in the political rhetoric on TV. It’s true though. We tend to forget, that while they have the power to make laws, we (the voters) are in fact the ones who gave them that power.

When the girls asked if people thought she was amazing, Assemblywoman Gunther smiled warmly and said, “I don’t know if people think I’m amazing, except perhaps my grand-kids, especially during the holidays.”

International Dot Day

In addition to telling the girls how she helps people, much like she always did in her position as a nurse, she told them about International Dot Day. Based on the wildly popular children’s book The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds.

According to www.thedotclub.org:

“The Dot is the story of a caring teacher who dares a doubting student to trust in her own abilities by being brave enough to ‘make her mark’. What begins with a small dot on a piece of paper becomes a breakthrough in confidence and courage, igniting a journey of self-discovery and sharing, which has gone on to inspire countless children and adults around the globe.”

Make Your Mark

All children should be inspired to “make their mark” in this world. In honor of that lesson, I gave my daughter Hannah the opportunity to write about what she learned from Assemblywoman Gunther. Hannah is my mini-me, always a nose in a book or writing furiously some new work of fiction. I wanted to give her a little taste of what it means to be a writer and also let her know that what she thinks matters to me and the world.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther

Assemblywoman Gunther and Hannah Johnson of Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson Troop #767

Hannah Writes

Hannah writes: “At Girl Scouts I learned a lot of stuff. Some of the stuff I learned Is: Aileen Gunther is an Assemblywoman. Her co-worker is really nice and shares a lot, and invited our troop to go visit her office in Albany. I had an awesome time and it was really fun. She also answered a lot of questions we had. The questions we had were usually about her job and lifestyle. It was a lot of fun at Girl Scouts with Aileen Gunther. She is nice and kind and sweet!”

Assemblywoman Gunther talked about doing what she calls “The Diner Tours,” stopping to speak to seniors at local diners to hear their suggestions and frustrations with government. She said that since they can’t come to her, she goes to them. She spoke with the humility and gratitude of a true public servant; one who just “loves helping people,” as she said.

So perhaps now I’ll pay a little closer attention to politics, especially when it concerns the County I live in. Maybe our voices do matter after all. If nothing else, I hope my daughter has learned both by this visit and through her guest appearance on this post that her voice does matter.

Is there really any better lesson we can teach our children?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found blogging at Hudson Valley Parent Magazine and thenodramamama.com when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her otherwise three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow me on Facebook or Twitter for my delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails.

 

 

 

 

This cold weather has me in hibernation mode.  I’m doing everything that needs to be done, but feeling like what I really want to do is surround myself in warmth (blankets, multiple layers, my fuzziest slippers) and go under cover.  Meals have been simpler and quicker, which works out just fine because I’m spending less time on dinner prep and (more importantly) the clean up.  I’ve been keeping up with meal planning, though, to keep afternoons running smoothly.  Join me for this week’s edition, and may it inspire you to minimize stress and maximize your time cuddled under blankets!

A week of healthy, simple, gluten-free meals

Lazy chicken (I had a jar of orange marmalade I needed to use up, but most sauces or marinades will do) which I served over rice, with steamed vegetables

Quiche

Crustless spinach quiche, homemade fries, fruit salad (The recipe calls for a shredded potato crust, but I skipped it since we were having fries; also, I don’t use chili powder on the fries, as my kids find it too spicy)

Spaghetti, meatballs, salad (confession- my freezer stash of homemade meatballs were used up, so these were purchased gluten-free turkey meatballs, because sometimes, that’s all there’s time for)

Taco night (tip for a busy day- we browned the meat the night before, making double so we could freeze half for another meal)

Crockpot minestrone soup (Perfect hearty meal for a super busy and chilly Friday)

I was pleased with the week’s meals, as I fit in two vegetarian meals, was able to use the crockpot on two busy days, and turn on the oven twice, which made the house even toastier.  There were lots of opportunities for the kids to help (chopping fruits and vegetables for soups and salads).  Quiche and soups are great way to include extra vegetables, as both get gobbled up in our house. Starting the year off with healthy, streamlined, well-planned meals keeps a flow going that I really appreciate.  Share your favorite weeknight meal ideas with our readers below.  To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

I was chatting with another mom at gymnastics class the other night and something she said stuck with me, “I just try to find things to keep her busy.” I thought, “Aren’t kids the busiest people we know?” They have their entire adult lives to be “busy,” but now is a truly wonderful time to help them engage in what’s happening around them. Of all the activities I do with my kids cooking is the one activity that engages all five senses, their minds and even their bodies.

My kids can’t make a four course meal just yet, but they do make pizza, mix together cookie dough, layer in parfaits and make their own sandwiches. When they were infants I pulled their high chairs into the kitchen with me while I made dinner, handed them each a wooden spoon and talked them through my cooking steps. Eventually, they out grew the high chair and sat on the floor next to me stirring their imaginary creations in bowls. As soon as they were stable enough to stand on a chair to reach the counter (around age 2) we started making food together.

The first thing I taught my girls to make is a parfait. You simply layer in your favorite fruit, berries, yogurt and cereal. That’s it! All the ingredients are pre-made and require zero cooking! Kids of nearly any age can easily spoon the ingredients into a bowl or cup and feel accomplished when it is complete! The best part is you can control the contents- whether you use all organic ingredients, low sugar, or even gluten free ingredients.

Here is our favorite parfait recipe:

1 Banana (sliced)

1/2 cup of plain Greek Yogurt

1 TBSP peanut butter (optional)

1 Apple (diced)

1 cup granola or crisp rice cereal

Honey to drizzle

  1. Mix peanut butter into the Greek yogurt and drizzle with honey.
  2. Add bananas to the bottom of cup, or bowl.
  3. Top with 2 TBSP yogurt mixture.
  4. Layer on diced apple.
  5. Top with 2 TBSP cereal.

Repeat the layers twice to create one serving.  (You can also drizzle a little honey on the top most layers). Eat right away and enjoy!

Other easy things you can make with your kids today (that require zero cooking): peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, homemade trail mix, deli roll ups, pudding, even ice cream in a bag! Another one of our favorites, for another post! Cooking is not only a fun way to keep kids engaged, but it’s an important life skill every kid needs to have!

 

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

Find more from Roxanne at Hudson Valley Parent and at Masshole Mommy

What does debt have to do with parenting?

When you’re a parent you are always aware that your kids are watching, listening and learning from you how to be an adult. Even if you think your kids don’t know you’re up to your eyeballs in debt, chances are they know something is up. They have an uncanny ability to sense your stress and frustration like little bloodhounds.

Christmas Presents

Did the holidays leave you in debt? Give yourself the gift of getting out of debt and you’ll give your family a legacy of financial security.

When I was a little girl I remember bountiful Christmas mornings, but I also remember many occasions in which our lights or cable were shut off as a result of overdue bills. I remember the constant calls by debt collectors and being warned not to pick up the phone. All of it made an impression on me. Though I might not have made the connection clearly until years later, I got the point that while we weren’t in dire financial straits, we weren’t on a good path either. It’s one of the reasons it’s always been my goal to be able to pay all my bills on my own (laughs the Stay At Home Mom). That to me became a marker of success, not being chased after by bill collectors, but that was only one part of the picture. It took enough mistakes with credit to make me realize that we would NEVER be successful without first getting out of debt. The lesson I inadvertently took from my family’s financial missteps were that your stuff should never own you; you should own your stuff.

Nearly four years ago, I became a Stay-At-Home Mom and it became more important than ever to get out of debt. Here are 6 surprising strategies that have helped us. Once we get our tax refund in a few months, all our debt except our house debt will be paid off. WOOO HOOO!

1. Ditch the Denial – Sometimes we don’t even want to know how much debt we’re in. That denial keeps us comfy and cushioned from our mistakes and allows us to play the “I pay the minimum balance” game, which keeps us focused on making payments instead of paying off debt. The first thing you have to do is get real with yourself and your spouse. Lay it all out, every balance, every minimum payment and look at it. If that doesn’t get you fired up to see how much money you’re spending each month on stuff you already “own” I don’t know what will.

2. Find a Financial Guru – For me it was Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman that I looked to for advice when I was first staring down our mountain of debt. Dave Ramsey breaks down saving, debt repayment, retirement, college funds and even giving into baby steps. Get your butt to the library and check out what the experts have to say (sorry Dave and Suze, but I didn’t have the money to pay for your books). Follow them on social media. Follow their blogs. You’ll find helpful advice and inspiration to keep pushing you forward.

3. Get an Emergency Fund Stat – Why does Dave Ramsey tout this as Baby Step #1? Because life happens, cars need repair, hot water heaters go, or an unexpected trip to the ER are all bound to happen. We don’t know when or where they’re going to happen, but I guarantee you they are coming. In our second year into paying off debt we had both cars taken out of commission in the same week. Without savings, you’ll go running straight to credit to bail you out. That’s like walking the treadmill while eating Oreos. Sure you think it’ll all balance out, but the more debt you stack on top the harder it is to get out from underneath it. Dave recommends $1,000 to start and once debt is paid off to move onto saving 3-6 months of your income.

4. Start Small – This seems counter intuitive to start paying off the smallest balance first. Why not start with the highest payment or the highest APR? It’s because we’re creatures that need constant motivation. If we go years before we see our first debt erased most of us will quit before we get there. Get some quick wins by erasing small balances first and you’ll want to keep going.

Similarly, when you’re looking for ways to cut your budget start small. Start by giving up things that don’t hurt so much, like that extra night of eating out a month, the manicure, or the subscription you don’t use anymore. It can be SO tempting to cut all the fat right away, but when you start out small and give up one or two things at a time it doesn’t feel so hard. Just like dieting, cutting too much out at once makes us feel deprived and we eventually decide we can’t do it. Small changes are what add up over time. Start with the small changes in your lifestyle and then challenge yourself to do more. It’s how you build lasting lifestyle changes that’ll keep you financially fit even after the debt is gone.

5. Stop Thinking Saving Money is the Answer (By Itself) – There are thousands of articles floating on the net about how to save money. Heck, I’ve written a ton of them. The truth is that if you don’t apply those savings toward your debt, it’s going to fall through your budget cracks and get spent on other things.

When you don’t take those savings and unexpected financial windfalls (raises, bonuses, tax refunds) and apply them right away, chances are you won’t. Put together a debt repayment plan. The first thing I did when I became a SAHM was to track our prior month’s expenses and then set up a simple budget. The second thing I did was create a debt repayment plan. It’ll help you see at a glance what debt you have, what money you’ll use to pay it off and the time frame it’ll take you to do it. Here’s a sample of mine – Debt Repayment Plan Template. If you love charts, by all means do those too. Whatever motivates you, will keep you moving forward during setbacks.

6. Get Excited!!!! – Looking at debt repayment as a chore will get you nowhere. I know it can be hard because it seems daunting when you’re in a lot of debt. It’s probably going to take you years to get out. You didn’t get in debt overnight, so can you really expect to get out that quickly? You gotta find joy in it. I think of each debt gone as one less link in the chains that bind me and our family. I know some people can’t even imagine what it would be like to be out of debt, I URGE you not only to imagine it, but to know it’s going to happen. Let that thought take up residence. When you can’t picture it, you don’t usually move forward let alone start sprinting toward it with open arms.

I’m so excited for our tax refund I can hardly sit still. I don’t dream of new cars or expensive vacations. I dream of what it’ll be like to actually have the money we earn instead of just watching it come into our account and go right back out. Don’t be bummed by the sacrifices you are making. Be proud of each stride, even when something throws you temporarily off course. Don’t be upset every time you say “No” to your kids, your friends or your spouse. Think of how many more times you’ll be able to say “Yes” in the future. Think about how much less stress you’ll have.

Game of Life

If we want to teach our kids how to win with money, we have to show them by example. The Game of Life is a good game to show kids the importance of making good financial and life choices.

Real Lessons From the Game of Life

Most importantly, remember what you’re teaching your kids during the process of getting out of debt. You’re teaching them how to be responsible with money. You’re teaching them to be patient and work for things instead of just expecting to get them right away. I was playing the game of Life with my kids a few weeks ago and I thought, “Man, this game is spot on!” If you want to get a higher paying job you have to take the college path which is longer and delays your paydays. If you take out debt you have to pay more back to the bank than you borrowed. It was an awesome game to teach your children to make smart choices.

I hope this year will be a better financial year for you and me. How much debt have you paid off and how did you do it?

Looking for ways to scrape up cash to pay down debt? Check out – 20 Ways To Make Ends Meet When You’re Scrapping By, Part 1 and 2.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found blogging at Hudson Valley Parent Magazine and thenodramamama.com when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her otherwise three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow me on Facebook or Twitter for my delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails.

When you’re busy, meal planning is a helpful tool for minimizing the last minute “what’s for dinner” panic.  It also will cut-down on unplanned grocery runs, and reliance on frozen meals or take-out.  Being gluten-free, this is even more essential, as there’s limited takeout, and frozen gluten-free meals are little more than pizza or chicken nuggets.  As often as possible, double recipes and freeze an extra batch of meatballs, meatloaf, taco meat; but you can’t eat a frozen meatloaf, now can you?

Meatloaf

Try to maintain the habit of planning at least a week ahead.  A month is ideal, but takes a good deal of time.  Keep a meal-planning notebook and use scraps of downtime so that doing so isn’t a huge deal.  For example, plan out a week while sitting at an activity waiting for the kids, or if they’re doing their schoolwork and you’re sitting alongside them to help as needed.  Keep a list of favorite meals, recipes to try with corresponding cookbook page numbers, and ideas.  Look at your schedule.  If you have a few busy afternoons that will leave you getting home at dinnertime, plan on a crockpot dinner, or something that can be prepped in advance.  Aim for at least one meatless meal per week, and build in leftovers if you expect them.  Finally, go with a theme.  If it’s summer, choose some easy BBQ recipes so you’re not likely to bail on dinner because it’s too hot to turn on the oven.  If it’s chilly, go with soups, comfort foods, and dishes you’ll look forward to all week long. Before you plan your meals, check your freezer, the pantry, the sale circulars.  Look for something you’ve been waiting to use up, or take advantage of an ingredient on sale, and google recipes to use it creatively. This week, I was focusing on the five pounds of ground turkey that I’d just bought, and simpler, comfort foods. We’re dealing with pneumonia in our house, and evenings of single parenthood due to my husband’s work schedule.  Here’s what I came up with:

Meatloaf

Sunday: Chicken soup (I make this easier by using chicken breasts rather than a whole chicken.  We love it cooked with a ton of cut up carrots and celery, and either rice, noodles, or matzo balls)

Monday: Turkey chili with cornbread

Tuesday: Big salad with foccacia bread (A big bowl of lettuce and baby spinach, and little bowls of carrots, strips of pepper, cucumber, celery, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, beans, chunks of apple, and everyone makes their own, salad-bar-style)

Wednesday: Turkey meatloaf with russet and sweet potatoes roasted alongside. (This was an opportunity to make two and freeze an extra- it was literally no extra work to double all of the ingredients, and put two meatloaves in the oven instead of one)

Thursday: Chicken pot pie.  This one is more labor intensive, but it was a special request from my daughter, the one who has been sick since last week.  (To make life easier, I planned on making extra chicken and setting half aside to use in chicken lo mein over the weekend)

Friday: Banana bread sandwiches with turkey bacon (This idea comes from Silvana, and we love it)

Saturday: Chicken lo mein (Using shredded chicken already made from Thursday)

Disclaimers.  I always accompany dinner with cooked vegetables and fruit.  Sometimes, there’s a night when I’m just too busy to get to dinner prep, in which case I will draw from our freezer supply.  Or, if we’ve accumulated a bunch of leftovers, we’ll do a smorgasbord of choices and I’ll save one of the dinner ideas for another night.  We’ll have a stretch of time when my husband wants to BBQ chicken or turkey burgers, so I submit, and make an easy side dish or salad while he’s outside grilling.  It’s not a system without glitches, but it helps to have some organization planned for when things get busy and we need to run on autopilot.  It’s always fun to find a new idea, so share your dinner recipes below with our readers.  To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

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