Saturday, March 31, 2012

Simple Things I Love #1: My Super Saucepan

I'm definitely one of those people who appreciates the simpler things in life - I prefer bikes to cars and books to big screen TVs. As technology gets more and more complex, I find myself noticing how many of my most treasured tools are ones that have been around for a lot longer than Ipods!

As my longtime readers may have already figured out, I'm a kitchen minimalist. Even though I cook three meals a day from scratch, I have far fewer tools and gadgets than most people I know. One of my hardest-working kitchen tools is my trusty heavy-duty large saucepan. This particular pot was a wedding gift and has been pressed into near-daily service over the past sixteen-and-a-half years (often being called upon more than once per day).

Its functions in my kitchen include:
-soup pot
-milk heater (for yogurt making)
-rice cooker (also used for cooking other grains and pilafs, too)
-potato boiler
-popcorn maker (stovetop popcorn is the best ever!)

The poor thing hardly gets any rest - I'm sure it's glad when we take off for a camping trip and give it a few days off :)

When I stop to think of how much use I've gotten out of this simple but sturdy pot over the years, I'm filled with appreciation at how many tasks it performs for me, week in and week out. Plus it takes up a whole lot less space than a rice steamer and popcorn maker, a bonus in my space-challenged kitchen!

What simple things do YOU love?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Spend Less Than $100 a Year (Per Person) on Clothes

Clothing (along with food and shelter) falls in the "basic necessity" category - you can't exactly choose to go without it, no matter how tight your budget is. And it can be a real budget-buster if you let it - I've read that the average North American family spends about $3000 per year on clothes.

Although I haven't tracked our clothing expenses super-closely until I started this blog, I know we've always averaged less than $300 per year on clothing (or $75 per person) for our family of four. That's one tenth of what the average family spends! And although we hardly look like we're going to be strutting down the runways of Paris, we look like a fairly typically dressed family in our middle-class neighbourhood. So how do we do it?

Here are the strategies we use to keep our clothing expenses as minimal as possible:

Welcome hand-me-downs: I ALWAYS say yes when a friend or relative asks me if I'd be interested in some clothing they no longer need. I want everyone to know that I happily accept hand-me-downs, and if I say "no" once, they may decide that I'm uncomfortable or offended by the offer, and never offer again. After all, it's pretty easy to pass along anything we don't need to someone else. I hardly bought any clothes at all for my boys for the first few years of their lives, due to the generosity of friends with older boys passing items along. And hand-me-downs aren't just for kids - we've received some great articles of men's and women's clothing from friends, too! Freecycle is another great source for potential free clothing items; my husband received some gorgeous dress shirts through Freecycle a few years ago that are still looking great today! Just make sure to "share the wealth" and offer items back to the Freecycle community that you no longer need.

Buy secondhand as much as possible: We buy nearly all our clothing secondhand, with the exception of undergarments and socks (for obvious reasons!). I *have* actually found a few pairs of boys underwear with the tags still on at thrift stores, and I'm perfectly okay buying them in that type of situation. Our primary source of secondhand clothing is our local Value Village stores, and we almost always wait for 50% off days to do our clothes shopping. We do two big clothes shopping excursions per year, one in the spring for spring and summer clothing, one in the late summer for fall and winter clothing. Other good sources of secondhand clothing are yard sales, church rummage sales, and online classifieds like Kijiji or Craigslist. Secondhand does not have to mean second-rate; we've found many fabulous items of clothing over the years through secondhand sources. On one Value Village outing last spring, my hubby scored several like-new dress shirts by Ralph Lauren, Eddie Bauer and other expensive labels (for an average of about $3 a shirt!).

Know what you need: Another key way to save money on clothes is to make sure you only buy the items of clothing you truly need. Most people wear 20% of their clothing 80% of the time, so why not focus on that 20% and forget about all that seldom-used stuff? This saves a ton of space as well as money! I try to keep good tabs on our clothing situation so I know what items I need to be on the lookout for, and what we have a surplus of and don't need at all. Before we head out on a major clothes shopping expedition, I do a detailed inventory so I know exactly what items each person in our family needs to fill in any wardrobe gaps.

Think classic and coordinated: I usually only need to buy a few new items of clothing per year for myself and my husband, to replace items that have worn out. This is because we buy clothes in classic, basic styles that always look good (most of the time I think the "trendy" looks are pretty ridiculous, anyway!). We also both stick to a few coordinated colours so we have a mix-and-match wardrobe (my clothes are mostly black, white, red, light blue, navy, sand, and dark denim).

Consider borrowing seldom-needed items: I don't have a big need for dressy clothes as I don't work outside the home or go to a lot of formal social events. I did manage to put together a decent holiday outfit for my husband's work party for under $10 at Christmas, and in that case I bought a top and shoes to work with a skirt I already had. Another good option would have been to borrow something from one of my friends with a more extensive wardrobe than mine.

Care for your clothes gently: Making clothes last as long as possible is another key piece of keeping your clothing budget low. Harsh detergents and the dryer are your clothes worst enemies! Firstly, don't wash your clothes until they actually *need* washing. Items like pants and sweaters can usually be worn several times before they need washing. Treat any stains as soon as possible to make sure they come out. Wash with a gentle detergent (I use soapnuts) and line-dry clothes when possible. Mend any small tears or ripped seams as soon as you notice them, so they don't become large, item-destroying tears.

"Cycle" your clothes: Clothing goes through several phases in our house. It starts out as the "good" stuff that is meant for public consumption. When it starts to look a bit shabby, it gets relegated to the work clothes pile for doing yard work, heavy cleaning, etc. When it gets REALLY bad, it gets relegated to the "wear it for painting and other extremely messy and clothes-wrecking tasks" pile. When pants get too worn out around the cuffs, they become shorts. Spent T-shirts become rags or T-shirt yarn (I'm hoping to accumulate enough of this to knit some throw rugs out of it!).

Buy name-brand undergarments: I've learned my lesson on this one over the years - cheap socks and undies fall apart quickly! We wait for a good sale on name-brand ones and stock up.

What is your family's clothing budget? Do you have any great tips for saving money on clothes?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Clean, Green and Cheap, Part 2: Spring Cleaning

Back in October, I shared some of my strategies for switching to less-toxic personal care products without breaking the bank. Seeing as how spring cleaning season has officially arrived, it seems like a good time to share the products and potions I use to clean my home as "green and cheap" as I can. So here's a roundup of what I use to keep the different areas of my house as dirt- and germ-free as possible:


Counter and cutting board disinfectant: Straight up white vinegar will do the job here. Since I saw this orange-infused vinegar over at Frugally Sustainable, I've been meaning to brew up a batch as I love the freshness of citrus in the kitchen!

Dishwasher tablets I know some people have success making their own dishwasher detergent from equal parts washing soda and borax. Unfortunately, this extremely inexpensive solution does not work well for me at all - it leaves my glassware all cloudy. I have a feeling that our extremely hard water may have something to do with this problem. I've tried out a variety of natural products and found that the one I've been most pleased with is Method Smarty Dish Tablets. The only thing I don't like about them is the price! I started cutting them in half a while ago and have found that half a tablet still has adequate cleaning power for a load of dirty dishes. (Warning: The tablets are VERY hard to cut in half - we use our heavy-duty butcher knife and it still takes a good deal of force to get the job done.)

Dishwashing detergent: Again, I've tried a variety of different products and been less than thrilled with most of them. Right now I'm using Greenworks dish detergent, which works great and is very affordably priced.

Scouring powder: To get those baked-on bits off pots and pans, I simply sprinkle on some baking powder and scrub away

Degreaser: To deal with areas that have a lot of grease buildup (like the stove and range hood), I use a mixture of 2 cups of water and half a cup of Murphy's Oil Soap that I keep handy in a spray bottle.


Tub and sink cleaner: I use a combination of Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap and baking soda. Usually I just sprinkle some baking soda in the tub/sink, squirt a bit of Dr. Bronner's on top, then scrub away with my scrub brush. For more stubborn areas, I mix together the baking soda and soap to form a paste, then apply to the area and scrub with a toothbrush. Dr. Bronner's can be expensive, but a little goes a long way! I also buy the largest size (944 mL), which is a lot cheaper on a per-unit basis. The large bottle costs about $20 and will last me at least a year (and I use it for body wash, too!).

Glass cleaner: I use Crunchy Betty's glass cleaner recipe, which uses basic ingredients you're sure to have around the house.

Toilet: After years of scrubbing away with baking soda and vinegar, I decided I needed something a little more potent as my toilet bowl can get pretty heinous (hey, I live with *3* guys!). I'm using Greenworks toilet bowl cleaner right now, and have been impressed with how well it cleans up the really nasty areas.

Air freshener: During the growing season, I simply put a Mason jar full of mint sprigs on the back of the toilet tank. I might give these homemade gel air fresheners a try once the colder months roll around again!


Detergent: I've been using soap nuts instead of laundry detergent for close to a year now and love them - you can read more details about how I use them here.

Pretreating/Stain Removal: I scrub heavily soiled areas with some Dr. Bronner's before washing. For tougher stains, I make my own "homemade oxiclean" by mixing about half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with a tablespoon of washing soda. Straight hydrogen peroxide can be very effective for removing blood stains (it does have a mild bleaching effect, so be cautious about using it on coloured items).

The rest of the house:

Floors/Baseboards/Doorframes: We have mostly hardwood floors in our home, and I find Murphy's Oil Soap does a great job on them. I also use Murphy's to clean baseboards, doorframes and any furniture that's particularly grotty and needs a deep cleaning.

Furniture polish: I've been looking for a good nontoxic solution for furniture polish for a long time. I'm planning on trying out a homemade beeswax and olive oil polish (4 parts olive oil and 1 part grated beeswax melted together) and really hope I'm satisfied with the results!

Freshening drawers, cupboards and closets: For storage areas that have developed a stale smell, I put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball and place it in an unobtrusive area (make sure not to set it on clothing or linens, which the essential oils could stain).

Do you have any favourite natural cleaning products or recipes? Please share them with us!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Local & Organic Challenge: Field Notes #1

Since I started my local & organic challenge a little over a month ago, I've been keeping my eye out for great deals on organic foods. While the food coop I belong to has great prices on many items (especially if you buy them in bulk), it doesn't have the best price on every food item I'm looking to buy.

As I've been paying more attention to the selection of organic foods at stores I routinely shop at, I've noticed that more and more options are available as all the major grocery store chains are now offering their own line of organic foods.

Metro seems to be working on having the largest selection of fresh organic produce. While I don't find their food prices to be very competitive overall, their organic produce is often the lowest priced in my area. They usually have organic bananas for 89 or 99 cents a pound (regular bananas are usually 69 to 79 cents a pound). I've also noticed that occasionally they will do a sale offering one item, either organic or regular, for the same price and I've been taking advantage of those sales as much as possible (one week I got *3* bunches of organic broccoli for $5, which was an incredible deal!). They have also got their own line of organic foods out now, Irresistibles Bio, and I've been keeping an eye on these products to watch out for any good deals.

Loblaws has had their line of President's Choice Organics out for quite a while now, and some of their products are very well-priced. A pound of their red lentils is $1.99, which isn't much more than I pay for regular ones (and is a better price than through my coop). Their organic, fair trade coffee is $11.99/lb, which is very competitively priced. They also offer diced or whole canned tomatoes for $1.99 a 28 oz can (unfortunately, they don't have crushed tomatoes in their line, which is what I prefer for most of my recipes). I've also noticed that my Fortinos store often has unadvertised specials in the "natural and organic" section of the store, so I've started doing a quick browse through that part of the store whenever I'm in there to see what I can find. One week I picked up some Yves organic corn for $1.99 a can. They also have a great regular price on Que Pasa tortilla chips ($3.99 for a 454 g bag) which works out to a better price than the sale price for that well-known national (non-organic) brand :)

Shopper's Drug Mart also has a line of organic products (Nativa Organics). While many of the items are snack foods and other overly-packaged products that I prefer not to buy, I've noticed they seem to be expanding the line a bit lately based on what I see in the sales flyers. I recently picked up a 1.1 kg container of their organic popcorn for $3.99, which was a better price than I paid through  my coop ($5.45 for 1 kg).

Although it's nice to see the national chains starting to offer more organic foods at competitive prices, one thing I find frustrating is that it's often difficult to tell the origin of the foods (most of the packages say things like "packed for X company by Y" then give you the address of the company, but no information about where the food itself came from). My preference is to try and support in-province food production as much as possible, but so far I'm finding it can often be a trade-off between choosing local or organic on a lot of items, or paying more for the locally grown organic compared to what the chains are charging for their organic items.

Still, I'm fairly pleased with where I'm at just a few weeks into my challenge, and I still plan to do a lot more exploring to see where I can find more great local deals, especially since we're heading into the growing season.

For my non-Canadian readers, you might not have found the specifics of this post very useful, but the general principle of checking out a wide variety of sources to find great food prices still applies, no matter where you are!

Have you found any great deals on organic foods lately? Please share!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Weekly Menu Retrospective #62

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

If you'd like a whole book full of inexpensive, quick and kid-approved recipes,
my book, Cheap Appétit : The Complete Guide to Feeding Your Family for Less Than $400 a Month (While Eating Better Than You Ever Thought Possible) IS NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon (, and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble.  I've included page references to recipes that are in the book in my menu plans so you can locate them quickly. For more details about the book, go here.

Breakfasts: Granola (p.92), peanut butter toast, cornbread with jam, pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip muffins (subbed pumpkin for bananas in this recipe, p. 96)

Lunches: sandwiches, leftovers, pizza


Monday: Chickpea and Barley Soup, Cornbread (p. 212)

Tuesday: Chicken Enchiladas (p. 127), green salad

Wednesday: Sausage on a bun with sauteed onions, Broccoli, Bacon and Cheddar Salad (p. 204)

Thursday: Pad Thai

Friday: Turkey Pinwheels (p. 111), sweet potato fries (using the same basic method as my Easy Oven Fries, p. 194)

Saturday: Bacon, Egg and Potato Hash (variation of Make-It-Your-Way Potato Hash, p.140)

Sunday: Barbecued chicken with lemon and herbs, Coconut Rice (p. 199), green salad, Rhubarb-Raspberry Crostata

In keeping with my local and organic challenge, I'd also like to note the local and/or organic items on this week's menu:

Organic: coconut oil, coconut milk, sunflower oil, , turbinado sugar (in coffee), brown sugar (in granola),  raisins (in granola), oranges, bananas

Local: apples, potatoes, carrots, pumpkin (in muffins), cucumbers (hothouse), milk, eggs, sour cream

Local AND organic: oats (in granola and muffins), milk (to make yogurt), rhubarb (grown by my neighbour!), popcorn, sesame seeds (used to top bread loaves)

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Garden is Springing to Life!

Yesterday was an unseasonably warm and sunny day here in Southern Ontario and I sized the opportunity to soak up some warm sunshine and do some spring garden cleanup. We had such a mild winter this year that the plants are all growing well ahead of their usual schedule. I was treated to quite a few signs of life as I removed leaf mulch from my garden beds:

My parsley overwintered! This is the first time I can *ever* remember that happening in all my years of gardening.

Not to be outdone, several other herbs are poking their way out, too:


(blurry) Oregano

And the Freecycled lemon balm I planted last year is really going to town already!

The strawberries are raring to go, too. If this mild weather keeps up, we may have one of the earliest strawberry seasons in my lifetime this year! I think we'll need to be jamming well before our traditional Canada Day session.

The rhubarb is starting to make an appearance, too. Aren't those itty-bitty rhubarb leaves adorable?

I guess I better finish planning this year's veggie garden pretty soon - at this rate I'll be able to start planting some spring greens in the very near future.

How is your garden growing this spring? Are you going to be planting something new this year, or going with the tried-and-true?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

40 Bag Challenge Update #2

It's time for another progress report on my 40 Bag Challenge. This week we continued working on cleaning out the boys' rooms, and started sorting through mine and hubby's clothing. We ended up with this addition to our donation pile:

Although my boys have an easy time sorting through their stuff and getting rid of items they have outgrown, for me it can be quite an emotional process to watch them discard items that were once much-loved and remind me of particular periods in their childhood. As I watch the last remnants of "little boyhood" exiting my house, I am reminded of just how fast my boys have grown and that the days when I will have someone climbing on my lap to snuggle up for a story or three are long gone. ::Sigh:: I suspect this a hard time for most mamas out there! Of course it is a lot of fun to have 12 and 14 year old boys, too (although I've only seen them for approximately 32 seconds today as it's March Break and they had a sleepover at their friend's house last night, rushed in to drop off their stuff, then promptly departed for the park.) off on a bit of a tangent there :) I told you decluttering had a tendency to make me all wishy-washy!

My big success this week was unburying my desk, which looked like this:

Yes, more than a little embarrassing. While I don't have too much of a problem keeping the rest of the house fairly neat, my office is usually somewhat of a disaster. Paper clutter seems to be my nemesis! I'm not too sure why this is. I have a great system for organizing my bills, and they are filed as soon as I open them. Junk mail goes straight in the recycling bin. So what *is* all that stuff? A lot of it is related to my creative process - notes on blog articles I might want to write, recipes I want to make, interesting information related to local issues that I don't want to forget about. Yes, I know I should just file all this stuff - but my brain seems to work on an "if I can't see it, it doesn't exist" sort of basis. If you think it looks bad now, you should have seen it while I was in the thick of writing my book :)

Despite my previous failures with various filing systems, I've decided to give it another shot. After I was done sorting, tossing and filing, I was pleased with the results:

Hey, there *was* a desk under there after all! I am hoping I can keep it looking a lot closer to this than to the "before" picture - fingers crossed.

I think that puts me up to 10 bags/boxes of "stuff" that have been removed from our house so far. I may not make it up to 40 by the end of Lent, but I'm ecstatic to have cleared this much clutter in such a relatively short period of time.

If you've joined me in this challenge, how are you doing so far?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weekly Menu Retrospective #61

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

If you'd like a whole book full of inexpensive, quick and kid-approved recipes,
my book, Cheap Appétit : The Complete Guide to Feeding Your Family for Less Than $400 a Month (While Eating Better Than You Ever Thought Possible) IS NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon (, and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble.  I've included page references to recipes that are in the book in my menu plans so you can locate them quickly. For more details about the book, go here.
Breakfasts: Granola, pumpkin oatmeal choc chip muffins (subbed pumpkin for bananas in this recipe), cinnamon whole wheat bagels and cream cheese, apple cinnamon pancakes and bacon

Lunches: leftovers, sandwiches, pizza


Monday: Pasta e Fagioli (p. 168)

Tuesday: Smothered Pork Chops (variation of my Smothered Meatballs recipe on p.143), mashed potatoes, peas and carrots

Wednesday: Spaghetti with Tomato-Vegetable Meat Sauce

Thursday: Turkey and Vegetable Coconut Curry

Friday: Vegetable, Bacon and Mozzarella Puff (variation of Spinach, Bacon, and Mozzarella Puff on p.181 with leftover cooked vegetables), Creamy Cucumber Salad (p. 205)

Saturday: Leftover Buffet

Sunday: Barbecued Pork Chops, noodles alfredo, peas and carrots, Viennese Chocolate Chip Squares (had a different meal planned then ended up with guests visiting for the afternoon and no time to cook what I had originally planned!)

In keeping with my local and organic challenge, I'd also like to note the local and/or organic items on this week's menu:
Organic: coconut oil, coconut milk, sunflower oil, , turbinado sugar (in coffee), brown sugar (in granola), millet and kamut puffs (in snacking squares), raisins (in granola and snacking squares), oranges, orange juice (bottled locally)

Local: apples, potatoes, carrots, pumpkin (in muffins), cucumbers (hothouse), milk, eggs, sour cream

Local AND organic: oats (in granola and muffins), milk (to make yogurt)

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Friday, March 9, 2012

RECIPE: No-Bake Ancient Grain Snacking Squares

As I'm the mother of 12 and 14 year old boys who eat like it's going out of style, I'm always on the lookout for quick and easy recipes for snacks that are relatively nutritious and calorie-dense enough to fill the vast void of their empty stomachs for more than 15 minutes.

These squares are super easy to prepare and with their blend of protein and carbs are great for a pre- or post- sports snack. Of course, they're good just about any other time, too! They will not stand up well to warm temperatures, so don't stuff one in your pocket or take them hiking on a hot summer day or you'll have a big mess on your hands.

Feel free to mess around with this basic recipe as much as you'd like. Any type of puffed cereal (like wheat or rice) can be substituted for the kamut and millet. In fact, you can use just about any type of cereal, and I've even made a batch with my homemade granola. Any type of nut butter would probably work in place of the peanut butter, and you could do a nearly infinite number of combinations of nuts, seeds and dried fruit. If you want them a bit more on the spicy side, try adding more cinnamon, some ground ginger, or some finely chopped crystallized ginger. If you find a particularly delicious combination, be sure to let me know, okay?

3/4 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups puffed kamut
1 1/2 cups puffed millet
1 cup salted peanuts
1 cup raisins

In a large saucepan, melt honey, peanut butter, chocolate chips and cinnamon together over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and stir in kamut, millet, peanuts and raisins.

Press into a greased 9 x 9" pan and chill until firm. Cut into 16 squares.

For over 125 more quick and easy family-friendly recipes just like this one, check out my book!

I shared this recipe at Friday Favorites, the GCC Recipe Swap and Sweets for a Saturday.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

40 Bag Challenge Update #1

It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff I can find to get rid of every time I start a big round of decluttering. I haven't spent as much time on this project as I'd like to have over the past week, as I've been really busy working on promotional materials for my book.

I have made some good progress, though. The boys and I went through some other areas of their room and purged toys and books relentlessly. My hubby took 3 big boxes to Value Village yesterday, and after he left we found still more:

One of those bags is garbage, and one is for donation. The drawers you can see immediately behind are the bottom of the armoire I was aiming to get cleaned out this week, too. I did tackle one of the drawers, which was absolutely crammed with assorted papers, markers, pencils and about a jillion of my kids' old drawings. I went through it with the boys to make sure I didn't throw away anything they wanted to keep. Surprisingly, it wasn't too hard to select a few keepers and toss the rest into the recycling bin.

So far, our total purge count looks like this:

1 bag of garbage
1 bag of recycling
4 boxes + 1 bag of donations
1 box of gaming equipment sold

That's 8 bags/boxes of stuff out of our house so far - and I have a feeling there will be quite a bit more yet to come before we're done!

As so often seems to happen at our house, this 40 bag challenge has inspired yet another, larger project which will involve totally rearranging 2 floors of our house. Currently, my husband and I have our bedroom in the third floor attic, and the boys each have a separate room on the second floor. One thing that has been bugging me a lot lately is that we don't have a proper "family room" or den where we can all hang out together and watch movies, or just all be together doing a variety of activities (reading, playing board games, etc) while one or two people are gaming. We do have a living room on the main floor, but I am very firm that I do NOT want a TV in that room. Our basement is unfinished, and is likely to stay that way for quite a while given the large number of projects that are ahead of it on the list priority-wise. Our compromise was to have a TV in one of the boys' rooms, which gives them a space to hang out with their friends, and a TV in our bedroom, which gave us a space to curl up and watch DVDs/movies, but it's certainly not been conducive to the whole family hanging out in the same room together.

My brilliant plan (which has received approval from all of my family members) is to move the boys up to the attic, have us take over the larger of the two second floor bedrooms, and convert the remaining bedroom to a family room. I wasn't sure how the kids would feel about sharing a room, but they both seem fine with it and are actually excited about making a change. After taking a million different measurements and planning the rearrangement and elimination of furniture, and the redoing and re-designation of available storage spaces, I think it's all going to work out quite well. It is going to take one heck of a lot of work, though! Not only do we have to switch out three rooms' worth of furniture, we also need to redo each of the rooms as well. They all need wallpaper stripped, wall repairs, closet re-dos, painting, and new light fixtures (most of those things would need to have been done whether we switched the rooms around or not, as we haven't made any significant improvements to any of these rooms since we bought the house). There will also need to be some rearrangement of electrical outlets in at least two rooms. My husband and I are also going to go down from two closets to one, so a clothing purge along with a creative plan to maximize the one available closet in our new bedroom will be necessary as well.

We've all agreed that we're going to paint all three rooms white, so that we can easily switch out the functions of the rooms again in the future if we decide we don't need or want this arrangement at some later date. I feel both excited and exhausted at the thought of tackling this huge project; at least I have three other eager family members to help me out!

If you've joined me in this 40 Bag Challenge, how is it going for you? Have you been inspired to tackle any other large projects while you've been decluttering?

Friday, March 2, 2012

RECIPE: White Chili

We all love chili around here, and it's such a quick and easy meal that it appears on our menu quite often! Although my Black Bean Chili is a family favourite, I wanted to mix things up a bit by bringing a white chili into the rotation. This recipe is what I came up with, and it was a definite hit at my dinner table..

I always cook up big pots of dried beans and freeze them in 1 1/2 cup portions so I have them ready to go for meals like this. If I happened to have a fresh jalapeno pepper kicking around, I might mince it up and toss it in with the onions and garlic to give this an extra kick.

My Garlic and Cheddar Biscuits make a great accompaniment to this dish!

1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1-2 cups chicken stock
meat from 5-6 cooked chicken thighs or drumsticks, shredded
3 cups cooked white beans (such as navy beans)
12 oz can of corn, drained
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

In a deep-sided skillet or large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, saute the onions and garlic in butter until tender. Add the flour and stir until well coated with fat.

Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Add 1 cup of chicken stock, chicken, beans, corn, and seasonings. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes to allow sauce to thicken and flavours to blend. Add more chicken stock if necessary to get sauce to desired consistency.

Serves 4-6.

I shared this recipe at Friday Favorites.
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