Monday, August 31, 2009


In an excellent preemptive score for my Super Frugal September, I got 10 grocery bags of free organic apples from my Great-Aunt's orchard for free. It must be a bumper year for apples, because all 10 bags are from a single tree, and they represent only about 1/10th of the apples on that particular tree.

I put both my kids and the kids we were babysitting today to work peeling apples with my apple peeler/corer. That thing kicks serious butt. Even taking into account the "no it's my turn" fights, the apple peeler/corer cut the hassle factor of preparing apples for pie and sauce by at least half.
I save the peels and boil them with brown sugar, water and cinnamon to make cinnamon apple pancake sauce. I think I might make this for Christmas gifts this year. I certainly have enough apples.

We made two pies today, one for our snack and one for the boys we were babysitting to take home as a birthday present to their dad. They were very excited about that.

All told today I made two pies, half a gallon of apple cinnamon syrup, froze a large bag of apples for crisps and pannekoeken and made a couple quarts of apple sauce and I'm about halfway through a single bag of apples. I may be visiting the food shelf for a donation before all is said and done.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Gateway Trail

The Gateway Trail stretches 18 miles from Downtown St Paul to Stillwater, MN on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. For probably two years now Zach has been bugging me to take the kids the full 18 miles, but I've always declined. This past weekend we decided that even if we couldn't make the entire trip, we'd like to at least check out the trail. It is just beautiful, and much flatter than I had anticipated. Apparently it used to be a railway corridor.

Bella rode on the tag-along bike, Cheyenne rode her own bike and I walked and pushed James in the stroller since he is too little to ride in a bike trailer.

We packed some popcorn, raisins, pistachios and a gallon of water for snacks, which was a good thing because round-trip we made it 5 miles. That's not a ton by adult standards, but I was pretty pleased with the girls. We heard not one single "I'm tired" complaint the entire time. I think once James is old enough to ride in the bike trailer we may indeed be able to make it the entire 18 miles.

I'm enamored of the idea of non-motorized travel. When the kids are much older we'd like to take them all on a biking and camping trip from my mom's hometown on the Wisconsin side of the St Croix river all the way North to Superior Wisconsin. Eventually, when the kids have moved out Zach and I would like to follow in the footsteps of a friend of mine who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. You know, before we set off on that sailing tour we want to take. Yeah, I like to dream big.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Super Frugal September

Image courtesy of r-z

I have joined a challenge on a message board I post on to try and have a Super Frugal September. Since October, November and December are looking to be pretty tight months financially, buckling down in September and putting as much money away as possible seems like a pretty good plan to me. I've talked to Zach and we've decided to see if we can keep our non-food and non-bills spending to about $100 for the entire month.

I decided to break our spending down into categories and see what we need and what we can come up with to save money.


We really only need to drive on a regular basis to church (twice a week) to preschool and on Friday nights to my friend's house for Girl's Night. The bus will take Cheyenne to and from Kindergarten and the grocery store, pharmacy and bank are all within easy walking distance of our house. On nice days Zach could actually bike Isabella to preschool too. I suppose I really could bike to my friend's house, but I usually leave there after dark and I'm not so comfortable riding home from there at night as it involves a busy street. My goal is to try to make it an entire month on one tank of gas.


We are actually pretty well stocked here. We will need toilet paper, diapers and possibly laundry soap, but we have plenty of soap, dish soap, shampoo, razor blades and conditioner. We're low maintenance people on this sort of thing. Diapers will be about $20, toilet paper about $10 and laundry soap (cheap stuff) will be about $5.


This is one of the areas I enjoy spending money on, but realistically there's no reason I can't go a month without spending money in this category, especially when school starts. Not spending so much time on fun stuff will also give us a chance to tackle a few projects we really want to tackle, like organizing the garage, for example.

I have my Friday Night Girl's Night which consists of hanging out at my friend Martha's house and watching movies or talking about everything from politics to Vampire theology on her back porch and occasionally having a bonfire. Other than the gas to get over there, it's entirely free.

We'll continue to use the park to go fishing, bike riding and walking and we'll attend the free Grand Opening. I will, however, bring my own coffee and avoid the brownies. That will be good for my waistline anyway and it won't cost any money.

Saturday nights my dad takes the girls to Perkins to see the clown, get their faces painted and have Rainbow pancakes so DH and I can have a date. Instead of going out to eat for our dates I will cook and we'll go for a walk or rollerblade or something.

I'm going to do some stash busting for my crafts, which is good. I have a lot of stash to bust in fabric, yarn and embroidery. It's time to tackle some of that anyway. DH's main hobby is games, from video games to chess. These are free.


This is the category we'll be spending the most money on. We have some odd one-off expenses in September.

-$6 for earphones purchased through the school for Cheyenne
-$40 to replace our lost birth certificates

That's all I can think of right now.

My goal is to make this Super Frugal September as pleasant as possible. Now that I've written it all out, it doesn't seem like it should be all that hard.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gigantic Man-Eating Cinnamon Rolls

In an effort to resist the scrumptious organic caramel pecan brownies at the coffee shop at the park, I decided to whip us up a Saturday treat before we headed out for the day. I turned to my favourite source for all things bread related, The Fresh Loaf, for inspiration and was once again blown away. These lovely, gooey, enormous cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting were a hit, to say the least. Better than Cinnabon, I'm not kidding. They did the trick too. I wasn't even remotely tempted by the brownies. We followed this breakfast of champions up with two and a half hours of walking which might have burned off half of the calories we consumed at breakfast. It was worth it, though.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Green Hour- Park Exploration

As I expected we have been at our new park every day this past week. We've gotten to know a lot of the workers there from Michael and Paul, two very nice groundskeepers, to Christine, Janelle and Marilyn, the fabulous coffee shop staff and Rosemary, the information desk lady who turns out to be the mother of a friend of mine from high-school. They've come to expect us. Everyday the girls report to Rosemary and tell them whether they've been good or not and everyday we make a game of searching for Michael to say hello. Even if it just means waving to him from outside the maintenance shed.

We're there in rain

or shine

We've brought old friends (I'm still jealous of Julian's grandma-made schnitzel sandwich)

And made new ones

And explored both inside

and out

And it's only been a week! We've met a lady and her parrot, stopped and listened to musicians playing on the Great Lawn, chatted with neighbors over coffee and embroidery on the patio and seen all kinds of animals from turtles to bats. I can already tell that this park is going to be the source of many fond memories for my kids.

Happy Little Tea Towel

I've been working on embroidering this tea towel most of the week and I've decided I'm keeping it. I never keep anything I make for myself. I have some sort of guilt complex that makes that impossible. It's like I can only justify the expense of something if I give it to someone else. Well, I'm done with that. I like this happy little tea towel and now it's all mine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Green Hour- Our Very Own Letterbox

Ever since our first outing, Letterboxing has become one of our favourite hobbies, so when our fabulous new park opened up I decided to scope out a spot to put our very own letterbox. I think checking out the messages left by other letterboxers would be a fun thing to do on our walks through the park, and may give us motivation to get outside more even in the winter when the walking paths turn to skiing and snowshoeing paths.

I am still deciding between this one, which is relatively easy to get to and could be accessed by very small children and one deeper in the woods that would be more complicated. The stamp was an easier decision. I found this one on Etsy for a mere $2.25 plus $1.50 shipping. I've mentioned before that Zach and I have daydreams of sailing around the world and if we somehow won the lottery we've both agreed we'd love a ship like this one. Of course I have no idea how hard those may actually be to sail, but it's a daydream, so it really doesn't matter.

Now all that's left is to get the stamp pad and log book and write the clues. Oh, and we should probably check with our new friend, the groundskeeper to make sure it's OK.

I'm very excited to see what kind of messages we get!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Silverwood Park- My New Hangout

I am beyond excited about this. Across the street from my house there is a large patch of wooded land that used to be a Salvation Army camp when I was a little kid. It was always a source of intrigue for me because, like most little kids, I found nothing so interesting as a "Private Property, Keep Out" sign. We'd sneak over the fence and look around, ducking behind trees when we heard someone coming or paddle over from my friend Geneva's house on the other side of the lake. It was great fun.

Then the camp closed and the lot sat vacant. I, like a lot of people I knew, was afraid that the land would be developed. It's lakeside property in a great school district 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. It's just the kind of place developers love. Fortunately, the county park board bought the land instead to turn into a combination park and center for the arts. The idea is that the park will give Minneapolitans a sort of arts based urban retreat.

The park has been closed for a year and a half for construction and opened this week. They tried to rehab the park in an environmentally friendly way. For example, the visitor's center uses geothermic heating and cooling and the rainwater is directed into a 5000 gallon cistern for reuse and to prevent runoff into the lake. There are also compost and recycling bins next to all the trash cans. The hope is to bring the park to as close to a zero waste facility as possible.

I think this is my new hangout. It has a coffee shop with fair trade organic coffee, compostable cups with recyclable lids, organic, local milk, wifi and a killer view. Excuse the dark pictures, it was a really gloomy day today.

A beautiful patio with rocking chairs and lounge chairs

an outdoor fireplace

And, again, a beautiful view

It has a beautiful event hall overlooking the patio

A gallery with lots of natural lighting (the woodwork is from the trees that had to be taken down in the park's construction)

And an outdoor amphitheater for summer concerts

They are going to have both art classes and nature classes at the visitor's center, both of which I am really interested in.

And then of course there's the hiking, fishing, canoeing, birdwatching, picnicking and walking. And the first Friday family nights and community events. I think this is going to be a huge asset to our community.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Marshmallow Mermaid Pie

I have a weakness for marshmallows. It's not even so much the flavour, especially with store bought marshmallows, as it is the texture. I love the sweet, airy creaminess. So two years ago when I saw the movie Waitress I filed away the idea of Marshmallow Mermaid Pie in my head, only to randomly retrieve it last night when I was rolling pie crusts. I looked it up on the internet and found the recipe on the movie's website. I decided that this is the kind of thing I should get out of my system before my Year of Temperance begins.

Marshmallow Mermaid Pie

9 graham crackers
1/2 C. sweetened, flaked coconut, toasted
5 Tbs. butter or margarine, melted
34 lg. marshmallows (8 oz.)
1/2 C. whole milk
1 1/2 C. heavy or whipping cream
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, grated

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine coconut and graham crackers in food processor until coarse crumbs form.
2. Combine crumbs and butter with fork. Press to bottom and side of 9-inch pie plate. Bake 10 minutes and cool on wire rack.
3. Heat marshmallows and milk in 3-qt. saucepan over low heat until smooth, stirring constantly. Remove saucepan from heat. Cool completely (30 minutes.)
4. In large bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat cream until stiff peaks form. Fold marshmallow mixture into whipped cream with grated chocolate. Spoon filling into cooled crust. Refrigerate pie at least 3 hours or overnight.
5. Top with mini marshmallows, maraschino cherries and rainbow sprinkles.

Good Lord, was this a good pie. It wasn't nearly as sticky sweet as I had imagined it would be. The girls and Zach all agreed that this is a winner and one we will definitely be making again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Frugal Cooking- Squirreling Away Food For Winter

This is my great-aunt Beulah. I want to be just like her when I grow up. Beulah's one of those old-fashioned Grandma types who makes everything from scratch and always had a freezer full of stuff like butter sponge cake and homemade twice baked potatoes and strawberry sauce, you know in case there's a winter storm and twenty hobbits are stuck at your house and in need of provisions. I love it.

In my efforts to be like Beulah, I've been working for years on coming up with a similar system to hers for freezing, canning and otherwise preserving and preparing food for the winter months. In my case it's not a necessity. I live in the city within walking distance of a grocery store, but it does help to make weekday meal planning a whole lot easier. There's been a lot of trial and error. I've learned that there are plenty of things I really don't use, things that don't can or freeze well and things that are just not worth the freezer space. I feel like I'm starting to hit my groove now.

This past week I've been working hard on this project. The school year is less than a month away now and life is about to get a little more hectic.

Tonight I made and froze some pie crusts. Eight pie crust, to be exact.

In the winter I like to make quiche and pot pies, as well as sweet pies, of course. The Pillsbury stuff just isn't the same. While pie crust is easy, it's messy, so I have to be in the right mood to make it. Once it's made I roll it out on wax paper, roll it up and put the crusts in a ziploc bag for freezing. It makes it easy to store and easy to retrieve.

One of my experiments this year is with freezing dough for fruit tarts. It's crumbly, so I stored it in a ziploc bag. When I'm ready to use it, I'll unthaw it and pat it into a tart pan. It's really not very different from pie crust, so I am hopeful that it will freeze well.

My neighbor has been bringing me tart cherries, so I've been using them to make cherry freezer jam and cherry pancake sauce. I love cherry jam. It's one of my all-time favourites, especially on jam cakes and in jam tarts.

Beans are another thing I like to cook ahead and freeze. These are baked beans. I made enough to fill four bags with enough in each bag to feed 5 people in a meal. I have some black beans with a little onion and a dried pepper in the crockpot now. I like those for black bean chili and black bean burritos.

Finally, they had overripe bananas on sale at the grocery store, 4lbs for $1. I froze them individually and then put them in a bag to use later in smoothies or banana bread.

I've been thinking about what else I'd like to make ahead and I've come up with the following list.

-Cinnamon/caramel rolls
-Dinner rolls
-Pizza dough
-Cookie dough
-Twice baked potatoes
-Raspberry freezer jam
-Raspberry pancake sauce
-Pumpkin puree
-Cornish Pasties
-A few batches of Potato Leek Soup

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Colouring Book Holder

We have so many colouring books and notebooks that things tend to get a little messy in our dining room. I was leafing through Family Fun magazine and came across a picture of a magazine holder made from an old cereal box and decided it was just the ticket for solving my storage problem.

The directions are simple. Take a cereal box and cut it at an angle so that it looks like a magazine holder. In Family Fun, they left it like this, but I wanted to make it look a little more attractive.

I decided to decoupage. Decoupaging 3-D objects makes me nervous. I am living proof that the gift-wrapping gene is not standard-issue on the second x chromosome and this process is very similar. On the other hand, I was decoupaging paper I had gotten for free onto an old cereal box, so if it didn't work out I was out the maybe $.05 in Mod Podge it took me to coat the box.

I think it turned out nicely.

Friday, August 7, 2009

National Night Out

I am pleased to announce that my town won second place in our category for this year's national night out. We have always had a big turn-out, so I'm not surprised. It was a fun evening. James was passed around the whole night from neighbor to neighbor, so I actually had a chance to eat a meal in peace. It was lovely.

There was plenty of food, games for the kids, prizes, ice cream and swimming. The kids went home about 9PM, but I stayed out talking until well after 10:00.

Later that evening we got a chance to see our town's fire department in action as no fewer than two fire engines, four cop cars and three fire rescue vehicles rushed to change a neighbor's smoking light bulb, thus answering the age old question, "How many firefighter's does it take to change a light bulb." Oh well. At least we know we are safe if anything does ever happen around here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Image courtesy of feverblue

One of the things I'd like to work on in the next year is correspondence. I am spectacularly bad at this. I cannot count the number of times I've gotten Christmas cards filled out for 25 people, only to have them sit in a drawer until Easter when I finally get rid of them out of frustration. I am also bad with birthday cards, baby announcements and, as noted in my last post, thank you cards. I mean to change this. I love recieving real mail, the kind that doesn't request money or advertise a product. To this end I've decided to take on written correspondence as a sort of hobby. I've set aside time for it on Friday afternoons, and I've asked Zach to buy me a few related products for my birthday.

I want to get an address stamp with the name of my house (Bryn Dial), our family name (Griffith) and our address, a signet ring, some sealing wax and some nice paper and envelopes. I like the idea of communicating by snail mail. Sure, I can e-mail, but it's just not the same. I am hoping that by approaching letter-writing as a pleasant, enjoyable enterprise I can get over this life long aversion I have to mailing things.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Really and truly, I am not one of those people who sits around complaining about younger generations. I'm not old enough for that yet, but I have noticed lately how many kids don't seem to know much about the subject of manners. Mine included. We're pretty casual around here, and although I like that I do think my kids would benefit from learning proper manners.

This is good for me too. As we've done this I have come to realize how casual I have gotten. I frequently catch myself with my elbows on the table and I've never ever been good with Thank You notes. I've sworn to rectify this, as it sets a bad example for the kids.

In thinking about how to teach this I've broken it down into a few categories. I'm sure more will occur to me, but for the moment I think this is enough for the kids to take in.

1. Table Manners
-How to set a table
-Please and thank you
-No complaining (I was a stickler for this already)
-Elbows off the table
-Chew with your mouth closed
-If a strange food is offered to you, at least try it
-If you are at someone else's house, thank them for inviting you and for their efforts
-Wait to be excused
-Hands to yourself
-Help clear the table (at home) offer to help when at a friend or family member's home

2. Playtime Manners
-If a friend is over, let them pick what to play
-If you are at a friends, clean up before you leave. At home, clean up when you are done.
-When leaving a friends, thank them and their parent for inviting you
-Please and Thank You
-Follow other people's house rules, even if they aren't the same as ours
-Listen to the adult in charge
-Never be a sore loser or gloat when you win
-No arguing
-No whining

3. Correspondence and Communication
-Answer the phone politely
-Take a message if someone can't come to the phone
-Be polite to people who have dialed the wrong number
-When someone gives you a gift, thank them in person and send a thank-you note
-Don't interrupt
-If someone is talking on the phone, be quiet so as not to disturb them
-Don't talk on the phone to one friend while another is over

It will take some time, I'm sure, but I think this will be a really valuable exercise for my kids.