Friday, July 22, 2016

Owl Obsession

It was one of those patterns I knew I wanted to make one day as soon as I saw it...

So here's the story behind my "Owl Obsession" afghan. My house is not decorated this way but I love colorful whimsical things and this afghan caught my eye. I had the project saved in my Ravelry library as a "someday" project.

I have this other problem... I can't sit still without constantly doing something. My daughter was in a show the first weekend in July. That meant I'd be doing a lot of driving to and from rehearsals as well as a lot of sitting around waiting on her. I needed a portable project for the car. I had spent time this spring finishing up several unfinished projects. I had told myself I wouldn't start any new projects until all my unfinished ones were done. I have another full size afghan that I'm working on. However, it's a full size afghan, worked in one piece, and it's not exactly portable at this point in the project.

Friday June 24th... I got sucked in to the internet and found myself looking at project after project on Ravelry and Pinterest well into the wee hours of the morning and I kept coming back to this "Owl Obsession" afghan. No! Don't do it! It wasn't even a free pattern. I know enough about crochet that I rarely pay for a pattern. Usually if I can see a detailed photo I can figure out the pattern on my own. But... I really loved the looks of this. Finally, I shut off my computer without purchasing the pattern and figured I'd find another unfinished project to do in the morning.

Saturday June 25th... First of all, I'm not a morning person and this was one of those very rare Saturday mornings where I had NO commitments and I could sleep in as long as I liked. I woke up at 7 am, still thinking about the afghan. Now I was counting days... Johnson County Fair entries are due in on July 16th. That gives me roughly 3 weeks to finish this afghan if I want to enter it in the Fair. It's a competition quality pattern. It's a portable project because the owl motifs are worked separately. It's SO FREAKIN' CUTE!

I got online again. There were a bazillion people on Ravelry that had already made the afghan. Pictures were adorable. But, most were saying this was the project that would never end. A bajillion yarn ends to weave in from all the different colors and pieces. I would be different. I was a fast crocheter. I was more organized. I could be focused. Yup, I had it in my head that I would do this project by now and talked myself into it. I purchased the pattern then gleefully sped off to JoAnn as soon as they opened at 9 am.

I then proceeded to spend the next two hours looking at yarn. I had coupons at JoAnn but they didn't quite have the yarn I was looking for. I wanted fingerling baby yarn in bright colors. I was going to enter this in the fair. Part of what you get judged on is whether the yarn is appropriate for the project. Many people had made this afghan with worsted weight yarn. It's the "regular" yarn that comes in all different colors. JoAnn didn't have quite the colors I wanted in fingerling yarn so I had actually picked out a "woodsy" palette of browns and greens with orange and yellow accents in the Red Heart Super Saver yarn but then put it all back at the last minute and decided I would go elsewhere to find the yarn I really wanted. I ended up at Hobby Lobby and found the perfect yarn... at full rip retail. Normally when I work on a big project I'll find the yarn I want but then buy it one skein at a time with the 40% off coupons that all the craft stores put out. However, this time I didn't have the time so I shelled out $50+ and left clutching my bags of yarn like an addict.

Happier than a pig in mud right now!

Starting on my owls

Worked on the afghan all weekend and this is what I had done by Sunday (6/27) night...

After that, I had to go to work. Boo. I did work on filling in the octagons around the motifs whenever I had a moment so by Saturday July 3rd it was looking like this...

The original pattern called for worsted weight yarn but since I was using a lighter weight fingerling yarn I used a smaller crochet hook. Therefore, after making all the motifs like the pattern indicated, the blanket was still very small - like less than 24" across. It's a baby blanket but that's still too small. I decided I needed to do another row of motifs all the way around.

Another row of motifs took me another week but by July 9th it was looking like this...

Saturday July 9th... I still had plenty of colored yarn but I knew I was going to run out of the white yarn. I still had to make nine half-octagons to fill in the spaces around the blanket plus I needed yarn to make the owl's eyes and stitch the whole thing together. I had the weekend off work so the goal was to finish the afghan over the weekend. I then had to work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were going to be spent baking since all the Johnson County Fair entries were due in by 11 am on Saturday morning. I would finish the afghan Sunday, Monday at the latest. That would give me a day to block the afghan and leave it to dry a day. Blocking is when you wet the yarn so the fibers relax and pin your finished item out into the shape you want. It makes for a nice clean look for your finished product. I still needed to put a border on it after that but I figured that wouldn't take much time.

I had worked on Friday and was tired so I slept in on Saturday. Finally got to Hobby Lobby late in the morning... and they didn't have any of the white yarn I needed. It's important to get the same kind and color of yarn so the whole project is consistent. I couldn't buy any white yarn; I needed the Baby Bee Sweet Delight "Angel" color. The lady at the store said they were going to get a new shipment in on Monday. Monday was too late for my timeline. I ended up calling the other Hobby Lobby stores in Indianapolis and driving all the way out to East Washington Street (about 20 miles out of my way) to get the one skein of yarn I needed.

Finally got home midafternoon and started crocheting the half-octagons and putting the details on the owls.

Owls came out adorable! I put different expressions on all of them by varying their eyes.

While I was making the eyes I ran out of my first skein of white yarn and started in on the second skein. Right away I could feel that this yarn was different. It was slightly thicker. By now though it was too late to go back to Hobby Lobby as they close at 8 pm and they are not open on Sundays so I continued working on the owls with the thicker yarn.

First skein on the top, second skein on the bottom.

At some point during the weekend I was also online and happened upon how to make seamless joins. A seamless join is a way to hide where you "join" your yarn when you are finished with what you are working on. The photo below shows what my motifs looked like originally...

... and after a seamless join.

My OCD compelled me to rework the ends on all my motifs - all 49 of them - so they had nice seamless joins. The eye and beak detail on the owls also took longer than I anticipated. I didn't get done with them until late on Sunday night. That meant I only slept for 4 hours before going in to work on Monday morning.

Monday July 10th... I made it through work and rushed home to finish putting the afghan together. I had left long "tails" of yarn on all my motifs so I could use those to stitch the motifs into long strips.

The motifs were joined together using a technique called a "flat zipper stitch." This is what it's suppose to look like...

Now all I had to do was stitch the long strips together. Using the new white yarn, I went to work. Two strips in I realized this wasn't going to work. Remember, the new skein was ever so slightly thicker... When you crochet, you end up doubling or tripling the yarn over itself to get your stitch. That extra thickness made a world of difference. The motifs would not lie flat with the thicker yarn holding them together.

See the ridge between the square and the owl?

No amount of blocking was going to fix this.

It was almost midnight. I was exhausted. Frustrated. Mad. Suddenly, it was like a switch had been turned off. This owl obsession was over. I was done with this project. I had to get up in 4 hours to go to work in the morning and do the same the morning after that. I was out of time. I had spent WAY too much time and effort making this afghan "perfect." I was not going to ruin it with sloppy joining. To finish it properly I would have to take apart all the motifs that had been joined with the thicker yarn and find the thinner yarn to join them... or, since I had more than enough of the thicker yarn, I could take apart ALL the joined motifs and join them using a blind stitch technique where the stitching doesn't show at all. In any case there was not enough time to do all this before the County Fair turn in on Saturday.

So... another unfinished project. I probably won't touch this again until this year's fair season is over. I have every intention of finishing it and entering it in next year's fair. It just needs a proper finish. The proper finish is what takes the longest time in any project. That's why my Spider Web doily and lacy pink angora shawl both took over a year to finish. Crocheting the "body" of the project is fun. It's the finishing that is tedious. I think I dreaded weaving in the yarn ends and blocking the doily and the shawl so much that I stopped crocheting both with only a couple rows to go. On the other hand, good finish work is what makes the items eye catching - professional looking, neat, symmetrical, flat.

This afghan deserves to be finished properly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

2016 Johnson County Fair - It's a Sweep!

Sunday was opening day of the Johnson County Fair. For some reason my butterflies were missing. I didn't have that heart pounding in my stomach, clammy handed excitement as we neared the door of the exhibit hall. Fact was, I wasn't expecting much. I was excited for my daughter though. I SO hoped she had done well! One of the advantages of turning your entries in on the second day is that you can kind of eyeball what has already been turned in. Personally, I thought her flower arrangement was the best looking one on the table when we left. As for her baked goods, her rolls tasted just like the ones I made and that recipe hasn't lost in years...

G made a beeline to the flower arrangements.

She did it! Grand Champion is Junior Floral Arrangements! It may be the mom in me but I thought her arrangement even looked better than the adult grand champion's. So proud of her!

Next was the baked goods table.

Success! Her Loaded Potato Rolls took Grand Champion in Junior Baked Goods. She swept the Grade 7,8, and 9 age group category with the Iced Pineapple Coconut Macadamia cookies taking Second, Chamomile Cookies taking Third, and the Blueberry Pie getting an Honorable Mention.

Then we went looking for my stuff...

Coconut Cream Cake took Second in Other Cakes. Pretty much what I expected. The consistency is weird.

Honey Peanut Butter cookies took First in Honey Cookies. That was a surprise, especially since I saw at check-in that someone else had entered honey peanut butter cookies in the same category and I was sure theirs had more than three ingredients!

Gooey Butter Cake took First in Make It with a Box Mix Cakes and the Peanut Butter Brookies took Third in Make It with a Box Mix Cookies.

Blueberries in Paradise Pie - it was a blueberry pie with crushed pineapple and coconut - took First in Fruit Pies then Class Champion for Pies. Yay!

I was happy to see that the filling stood up and did not ooze out all over the place. There are 7 cups of fruit in this pie.

Toasted Coconut Quinoa Breakfast Cookies took First in Heart Healthy Cookies, then Class Champion for Heart Healthy.

White Chocolate Praline Fudge took First in Make It in the Microwave Candy, the took Class Champion for Make It in the Microwave. This is what I had hoped.

My XL Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies took First in Peanut Butter Cookies. That was a nice surprise since they weren't the traditional peanut butter cookies everyone thinks of when you say peanut butter cookies.

Maple Shortbread Cookies took First in Molded, Shaped, or Cut-Out Cookies. I had hoped for this too. BIG surprise was that it took Class Champion for Cookies, then got named the Reserve Grand Champion for Baked Goods!! I knew it was a solidly good cookie but, let's face it, shortbread is not fancy so this was a shocker.

Finally, those green Pesto Rolls... they took First in Fancy Dinner Rolls. Then they were named Class Champion for Yeast Breads, then they won Grand Champion for Baked Goods. I was incredibly pleased. G was rolling her eyes by now...

So...  surprised but happy. I didn't think I could do better than I did last year when I took 5 Class Champions as well as both Reserve Grand Champion and Grand Champion but I placed exactly the same this year. I entered fewer items overall - 10 baked goods in 8 different Classes, but I won 5 of those Classes and got both overall awards again... and I got to sleep!

Clean sweep for the Millers this year!

G got done rolling her eyes and turned to look at the crochet displays. Your shawl is Reserve Grand Champion. I spied my pink lacy shawl on the top of the display table with a pink fluffy ribbon peeking over it. Yes!! I worked really hard on this shawl. I was hoping it would win the Crochet Class. This was even better!

This is the first time I've won anything higher than a Class Champion in Needlecraft. So happy! The Grand Champion went to a cross-stitch picture.

As for my other items...

Lacy Acorn Sweater took First in Crocheted Infant Clothing.
Acorn Sweater took Second in Crocheted Sweaters. First went to an adult size sweater.
Pumpkin Hat took First in Crocheted Hats.
Woodland Pixie Hat and Bootie Set took First in Other Crocheted Item Made with Yarn
Spider Web Doily took First in Crocheted Doily under 12"
My photo took Second in Amateur Color Portraits
Smocked Pillow did not place. I knew it was rough in places since it was the first one I'd ever made so I'm not too upset about it.

Not too bad for only bringing 18 items to the Fair this year!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

2016 Johnson County Fair -Turn In Day

The bun rack is in the kitchen and the 2016 Fair Season has begun!

Admittedly, I wasn't going to do it this year. Then I decided I'd enter a couple crochet projects that I'd done over the last year, plus my favorite photo that I'd taken of my daughter... then I wanted to go see everything at the State Fair and it wouldn't be the same if I wasn't competing... so maybe a recipe or two... and some sponsored contests. Yes, it all snowballed.

Usually the turn-in for the County Fair falls on the Friday and Saturday of the first week of G's summer dance intensive so it's a crazy week of driving and baking. As luck would have it, this year G's dance intensive doesn't start until next week. G wanted to compete in the Junior Open category and she would have time to do it. I was excited for her and gave her several of my past winning recipes to recreate. I didn't want to compete them again because they have taken the top award in the County and State Fairs for several years now and I didn't want to keep doing the same thing over and over. G is dying to win a "big fluffy ribbon" so hopefully she will do well.

So... I came up with a list of brand new fair recipes to try out. Some of them I planned to enter in the State Fair so County is basically a practice run for me. Actually I planned to test some of these before the County Fair but, as usual, I ran out of time and ended up making them for the first time on Friday or Saturday.

First though, here are my non-food entries...

After my big office purge/organization I really worked on finishing some of the unfinished projects I had kept. I finished a lacy angora shawl I'd been working on since last spring a couple months ago. I actually wore it to one of my daughter's performances.

blocking my shawl

Lacy Shawl - crocheted cape, poncho, or shawl

Love it!

I finished a "Spider Web" doily I'd started, oh, maybe two or three years ago.

Spider Web Doily - doily under 12"
It's going to be a Halloween decoration

I entered the various baby items I made last summer for my Etsy site.

Lacy Acorn Sweater - crocheted baby item

Acorn Cardigan - crocheted sweater

Pumpkin Hat - crocheted hat

I also found some more adorable baby items to make on Ravelry and made these booties and hat.

Woodland Pixie Hat and Bootie Set - other crocheted yarn item

I'm planning to put them on my Etsy site later this summer. I love making baby items because they don't take forever to make and are so darn cute! I just have to sell what I make.

I entered the Canadian smocked pillow I made for G. I was going to make another one for J and actually enter that since the first pillow was a learning process but I ran out of time and didn't get a chance to make a second pillow so I entered the original one.

Canadian smocked pillow - sewn article for home utilizing creative stitching technique

I really wanted to enter the "Owl Obsession" baby afghan that I'd been working on fanatically for the last two weeks but there were some last minute issues (which will be a blog post of it's own) so I had to shelve it on Monday night.

I worked Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 6:30 am. I stayed up really late on Sunday and Monday nights trying to get the owl afghan done before throwing in the towel on Monday night so by Tuesday I was trashed.

Pretty much collapsed on the first flat surface in my house on Tuesday after work. Wednesday was better and I wrote out a game plan for Thursday and Friday.

Thursday G and I started Fair Season my going out for brunch and ordering enough food to take home and eat for the rest of the day. We love breakfast! Next was a stop at the Johnson County Extension Office to pick up our entry tags so we could fill them out at home before taking all our stuff to the fairgrounds on Saturday. After that it was off to JoAnn, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Fresh Thyme, and Meijer to pick up craft supplies and baking ingredients. Back to the house mid-afternoon to start fair prep.

Plan was for me to make my cakes while G made a floral arrangement. G's arrangement has a Christmas theme and the whole arrangement is surrounded by candy canes. I had purchased the candy canes after Christmas. She laid them all out and realized she didn't have enough to go around the base. Arghhhh! I told her to go do something else for awhile while I tried to figure something out. I made my cakes and ruminated.

I have my heart set on making a coconut layer cake this year. I found a wonderful coconut buttercream icing recipe and I dreamed of layers of moist coconutty white cake enrobed in this icing. I had a recipe that I had planned to try out on my co-workers last week but I got too busy with my afghan project and never got around to it. So... now I was making the recipe for the first time... and the layers came out flat... like really super flat.

Not what I was expecting. I re-read the recipe and I had made it exactly as written. I had two super flat layers. The recipe was simple enough so I made another batch of batter and baked two more layers. Four layers would give me the look I wanted. It was a white cake made with egg whites. But it looked really white too. My toothpick told me it was baked completely through but, man, it was really pale! I set those to cool and went back to deal with G's problem.

We had enough candy canes to cover a base 19"around. The one we had purchased was 25"around. I rummaged through the house to see if there was anything else that was cylindrical with a smaller circumference that we could use but found nothing. I had thrown everything out during my big purge. What to do? I finally decided to take a knife to the foam cylinder we had purchased and trim it down. I found a glass jar that was 17" around to trace and started sawing. Got the shape we needed and started getting out craft supplies for G. Then I realized someone had stuck low temperature glue sticks into the high temperature glue gun and destroyed it. I used to have two low temperature glue guns that used different shaped glue sticks - one with oval ends and one with rounds ends. Now all that was in my glue gun box were a bunch of round glue sticks and the glue gun that only used oval sticks. Arghhh again! It was back to Meijer to buy another glue gun. While I was there I got more baking supplies... just in case.

G was finally all set so I moved on to making my microwave candy. White Chocolate Praline Fudge. The original recipe called for it to be made on a stovetop and I had made it once this way last December.

White Chocolate Praline Fudge I made in December

I decided to try making the recipe in the microwave to enter in the "Make It In the Microwave" category. I poured everything in the pan and set it aside to set up overnight. I tasted the praline that was left in the bowl and was a little worried it tasted grainy. I'd just have to see what it tasted like after it was set as I learned last year candy can change in texture significantly over several hours.

Next up was my "Make It with a Box Mix" recipe. Peanut Butter Brookies. It's a brownie on the bottom topped with cut up Reese's peanut butter cups then covered with peanut butter cookie dough. A Pinterest find, I had made these for a relative's birthday party earlier this year. The original recipe called for a scratch brownie. I substituted a brownie mix for the base to enter it in this category.

After that, I made the cookie dough for my peanut butter cookies and my maple shortbread cookies. G was done with her flower arrangement by then so I instructed her to fry a pound of bacon for the rolls she was going to make in the morning. G is my healthy kid. She had never fried bacon before. Funniest thing she said was, "This is the McDonald's of meat!" From the mouths of babes...

I cut the mat for my photo and mounted it while she did that. We called it a day after that.

My photo entry

G's flower arrangement. I love it!

Friday was a big day. G had four baked goods to make and I had planned on about eleven. I got up at 7 am and made my pie. While that was baking I made Toasted Coconut Quinoa Breakfast Cookies in my top oven; my entry in the Heart Healthy category. G was still asleep when the pie came out so I made my Gooey Butter Cake. I was only going to enter one item in each category but this recipe popped up on my Pinterest feed and I was dying to try it. It too would go in the "Make It with a Box Mix" category but would be a cake while the Peanut Butter Brookies would be a cookie.

G was up after that so I turned the kitchen over to her for awhile. First she made her blueberry pie using our favorite blueberry pie recipe. While that was baking I had her start on her rolls. She is making my Loaded Potato Rolls. I think this is the best recipe I have ever created. It has not lost a competition in three years so I'm curious how it will do when she makes them. I basically sat in the kitchen and oversaw her time management (cause heck, it was my kitchen time too and I didn't want her to doddle!) while she baked. Pie is done, roll dough is rising, and I had her make the Iced Pineapple Coconut Macadamia cookies. Another Sweepstakes winning recipe. In Junior Baking G can only enter four items. Any four items. Junior Baking is not broken down into sub-categories like cookies, pies, etc. so all of her items will be competing against each other. I gave her three winning recipes and left the rest to her.

G's pie is done. Cookies are done. Rolls are done, and she decided she needed a nap so I got the kitchen back. I decided to make my Pesto Rolls next because that would take the longest time with two rises. I made the dough and during the first rise went to put the finishing touches on my Spiderweb Doily and the baby booties. I still had to stretch and block the doily. Done. Then I had to sew buttons on the baby booties... and I only had one button. Well, another trip to Joann. Plus, I found that I needed extra large ziplock bags to plate some of my items and G came up with her final baked item to make and still needed two ingredients so, another trip to Meijer.

In the summer the back of my SUV is the perfect proofing oven for my yeast breads. I shaped my Pesto Rolls and then they had to rise again for another hour. I stuck them in the back of my SUV, drove off to JoAnn and Meijer, and made it back just in time to throw the rolls in the oven. How's that for multi-tasking time management.

Rolls are baking and I cut and plated the White Chocolate Praline Fudge and PB Brookies. Fudge tasted better after a day. Phew!. I held my breath on the Brookies too because I was afraid the bottoms might be burned but they weren't.

Rolls came out... and I'm not too sure about them. Yes, they are Pesto Rolls... but they looked, well, green, and a little flatter than I wanted. Certainly not as attractive as the Loaded Potato Rolls. They tasted fine but the presentation wasn't exactly what I was looking for. I may need to shape them differently for the State Fair.

Next I made the coconut buttercream icing. Plan was to ice my cake while G made her last batch of cookies. I looked at the cake layers again. They were SO flat and SO white. Normally I level my cakes and taste the excess. These cakes were pancake flat so there was nothing to level or taste. I was scared to death they would be gummy and inedible. Do I just ice it and hope for the best or do I sample a layer and show a shorter cake? I always show a whole cake because I think a whole cake looks better. For the County Fair though, you only need to present 1/4 of a cake. I could sample a layer then stack what's remaining... Finally I couldn't stand it anymore and sampled the cake.

It's SO pale and FLAT!

I was going to have to taste it before making another one for the State Fair anyway. If this was awful I could just move on and find another recipe. The cake was OK. Not gummy. Actually pretty moist. Not incredible but OK enough to turn in for now. On the plus side, if I had had to ice four layers I would've had to make another batch of icing. I managed to get by (barely) with one batch for a three layer cake. So... cake was NOT what I had envisioned but it is done and entered. Not expecting much though.

Coconut Cream Cake

I really started losing steam after the cake. G was still baking her cookies in the top oven. I baked my peanut butter cookies in the lower oven, followed by my maple shortbread cookies.

G got done and left the kitchen. By now it was after 10 pm. I made my Spiced Pecan Buttercream Icing. I had made this icing last year to ice the Sweet Potato Cake that I had entered in the State Fair and fell in love with it. So tasty! I had visions of creating the perfect sandwich cookie by using it as a filling between the maple shortbread cookies I had made. Got the icing made and tried it out. It was a no go. The maple cookie totally overpowered the icing and you couldn't taste it at all. Finally decided I'd show the maple cookies by themselves as a cut-out cookie in the Cookie category.

It's getting late and I still don't have any items made for the Quick Breads, Candy, or Honey categories yet. I had two recipes for the Honey category. The first was a Lemon Coconut Cream sandwich cookie. The recipe said the filling needed to be frozen before using and that the cookie should be kept in the refrigerator. That should have been my cue that this was NOT going to work for the Fair but, oh, it just sounded so delicious I had to try it. I made the filling first. It was a total liquid FAIL. I threw it in the refrigerator and shelved it. Next, I was going to make a Nutella banana bread as my quick bread. I wasn't going to do a quick bread if I was running short on time but while I was running through Meijer on my third trip I decided I might have time so I had picked up the two ripest bananas I could find. Now... there was only one banana left in the kitchen.

Who ate my banana?!! My husband ate it as an after dinner snack. #$%@!! His comment... "Well, Meijer is open 24 hours..." Nope. I refused to go back for a fourth trip. Not that hard core this year! Decided not to make a quick bread.

Back to my Honey item. The other honey cookie recipe I had found was a honey peanut butter cookie. Mainly I was intrigued because it only had three ingredients - peanut butter, honey, and an egg. It might be awful but it was simple enough to make for the category. After that, I was DONE. I'm not entering a candy item this year.

Sewed the buttons on my baby booties. It was 1 am and bedtime. This is the earliest I have gone to bed the night before a Fair turn in in at least 5 years.

Got up this morning and filled out all the entry tags. Thankfully I had typed out all the recipes yesterday while waiting for stuff to bake. Tags took almost 30 minutes to fill out.

G's Baked Goods
Blueberry Pie, Chamomile Cookies
Pineapple Iced Coconut Macadamia Cookies, Loaded Potato Rolls

My Baked Goods
Pesto Rolls, Toasted Coconut Quinoa Breakfast Cookies, Peanut Butter Brookies
Honey Peanut Butter Cookies, Blueberries in Paradise Pie, Maple Shortbread, Coconut Cream Cake
Peanut Butter Cookies, White Chocolate Praline Fudge, Gooey Butter Cake

I really wanted to have some of the Gooey Butter Cake so I decided to show only a quarter of the cake. Definitely not very hard core about competing this year. The only baked items that I felt would be competitive were the pie, maple cookies, and maybe the fudge. I guess I'll find out tomorrow!

Ready to go!

Everything got dropped off without drama by 10:30 am. I think I miss the drama. Is that crazy or what?!! There is something sadistically satisfying about staying up all night to get everything done just right and turning everything in right under the wire. I don't have that feeling this year. I didn't WANT to do that and now I, well, miss the exhaustion. I know, I need my head checked...

Monday, July 4, 2016

Grocery Challenge Days 23 - 30... Finishing Out the Month

Perhaps it was already knowing that I was going to go over that really busted my budget... or perhaps it was because LIFE just snowballed at the end of the month. In any case, this is how it went.

Day 23
New grocery ad and it ended up this was the week the blueberries went on sale for 0.99/pint at Meijer so I was compelled to stock up.

10 pints of blueberries @ 0.99/pint
2 gallons of milk @ 1.55 each
1 lb of baby carrots  1.25
package of sirloin  4.91

Total spent: $19.16

Next stop was Marsh where seedless watermelons were on sale and I had a coupon for free eggs.

watermelon  1.88
dozen eggs  1.29

Used coupon for free eggs and paid $1.88

That put my running total for the month at $199.36.

Day 24 and 25
No spending

Day 26
My older daughter was leaving for cheer camp this week and needed snacks. I hadn't had time to plan ahead for this and I was busy driving my other daughter to dance rehearsals all week plus working the night shift at work a couple nights so I took her to Meijer and let her get whatever she wanted. Also bought more blueberries.

10 pints of blueberries @ 0.99/pint
banana chips   3.49
apple chips    3.89
2 bags Glutino chocolate covered pretzels @ 3.99 each
large box of oatmeal squares   5.49
box of fruit roll ups  2.19

Used two $1 Glutino coupons

Paid $33.65.

Froze all my blueberries. I'm a happy woman.

Day 27 - 29
Took my younger daughter to dance rehearsal on the 27th and then worked overnight. Got home on the 28th at 7:30 am. Had to drop my older daughter off at the school to go to cheer camp at 8:30 am. Came home and tried to sleep for a couple hours before driving an hour to up to pick my younger daughter up from dance rehearsal at 3 pm. Luckily my younger kid was able to spend the night with another dance friend on the 27th as my husband was out of town and I couldn't take her to dance rehearsal and my other daughter to cheer camp drop off at the same time.

By now my sleep and my eating were all screwed up so by the time I picked up my daughter I was starving... and I was totally fixated on eating a piece of Margherita pizza. Ended up driving thru Luca's on the way home and got a slice for myself and another for my daughter. Paid $9.18

Worked overnight again on the 28th. Luckily my husband came home that afternoon so he took my younger daughter to dance rehearsal on the 29th. However... it was a conspiracy... the phone rang, the dog wouldn't quit barking at the squirrels, the UPS guy came to drop off a package... I never got any sleep! I was just exhausted all day and didn't get anything done. Picked my daughter up from rehearsal in the evening and finally keeled over.

Day 30
I ended up sleeping for 10 hours! Woke up in the morning and actually felt amazing. Took my daughter to rehearsal and had a whole list of things to do around the house. Unfortunately, meal planning was not on the agenda. I ran through Kroger because we were completely out of dog food then picked up whatever looked good for lunch...

16 lb bag dog food  7.99
container of salad   2.50
sushi   7.49
fresh sourdough bread (heck, it was still warm!)  2.50

Paid $21.56

So, total spending for the month was $263.75. Didn't make the $200 goal and decided not to bother with the 2 extra days as I was over budget anyway. I think if I had done a little better meal planning at the end of the month it might have been a bit closer but I may have gone over anyway. Probably what killed it were the couple grocery trips where I didn't have a list and let the kids as well as myself buy whatever.

Looking ahead, I decided conclusively on June 30th to enter the Indiana State Fair - entries were due in by July 1st. That means I'm spending this month trying out recipes and finishing projects so I won't be tracking my grocery spending as it will be all over the place.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Grocery Challenge Days 13 -22... Life

The past 10 days have been a roller coaster. First  it was great and then it was horrible, and now I'm trying to pick up the pieces and put it all back together.

Days 13 and 14
My husband decided he wanted to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary a couple weeks early so he took me on a short get away to Cincinnati. It was close enough that we could drive it in a couple hours but far enough to try some new restaurants. Since this was not in the plan when I started this challenge and he was footing the bill, I decided the best way to handle this turn of events was to add two more days to my grocery challenge and have it run to July 2nd.

Our children are finally old enough to leave alone for two nights. I left them a list of all the food that was ready to eat plus I made a pan of chicken enchiladas that they just had to heat in the oven for 20 minutes, then it was off to Cincinnati on Sunday night. We had a wonderful time and returned Tuesday afternoon.

Day 15
As I mentioned earlier I had a $10 ECB from CVS that expired today. Quite honestly there was nothing I needed at CVS and since I had been gone all weekend I hadn't had a chance to look at all the ads in depth and plan any shopping deals for things I might need in the future. I ended up giving the $10 ECB to my daughter because she wanted to buy make up.

Later that day the bottom fell out of my pleasant week. I found out one of my friends had killed himself the previous night.

Day 16
New grocery ad broke today but I was in no mood to look it over. Unfortunately, I also looked in the refrigerator and realized we had eaten all the fruits and vegetables in the house. My younger daughter was also reading a nutrition book and had a list of food she wanted... so, we went grocery shopping together... me without a list or a plan.

First stop was Kroger...

green pepper  0.99
head of lettuce  0.99
1.92 lbs of cherries  5.74 (ouch!)
1.11 lbs Roma tomatoes  0.77
1.11 lbs peaches   1.10
2.83 lbs bananas  1.56
cored pineapple  3.99
pint blueberries  1.67
half gallon skim milk  1.00
container of goat cheese 2.99
8 oz brie  4.99

Only coupon I used was $1 off the goat cheese that I found stuck to the container
Paid $24.79

Next stop was Meijer where my daughter primarily wanted a variety of Greek yogurt.

2 containers Meijer Greek yogurt @ 0.79 each
2 containers Siggi's yogurt @ 1.59 each
1 container Chia Pod @ 2.99 (aack!)
package of prosciutto 3.99 (I'm splurging so what the heck)
1 container mascarpone cheese 4.49 (daughter had to have it; it was over $6 at Kroger)
box of Medjool dates  5.69  (continuing my splurge...)
canister of oatmeal  1.99
8 oz cottage cheese  2.00

Total was $28.90. I used the balance of my gift card and paid $20.27 out of pocket.

So... Day 16 and I'm up to $136.35 spent.

Day 17
No spending. I think I ate about 5000 stress calories of food though.

Day 18
Today was Alex's memorial service.
Anger, guilt, emptiness, sadness. Those are some of a myriad of emotions I've felt this week. I suppose there are two things that stood out to me that I will always remember. One was that Alex and I had the same birthday - same day, same year. We were exactly the same age. We had joked once long ago that we were twins, then filed that information somewhere way back in our heads. Now it was somewhat disconcerting seeing your exact birth date in someone else's memorial service program.
Second was that Alex ran with me. He ran with me on my long runs back when I was trying to run my Boston qualifying time. He was the only one that ran my long runs with me. I didn't need anyone fast and I didn't need anyone to run the whole way with me but I just wanted someone to keep me company for part of the miles since long runs can get pretty boring when you're out there by yourself for a couple hours. He would run the first 5 or 6 miles with me. That was the lasting memory I had in my mind when I first heard the news. I got to his service and found that the photo of him next to his casket was the one of him after the 500 Festival Mini Marathon with his finisher's medal.

After his service a group of us went out to eat. I was beyond caring about my spending at this point.
Dinner with drinks... $19.62.

Since it was Saturday I stopped at Meijer to pick up 4 weekend papers. We were almost out of milk too so a gallon of milk... and, what the hell, I NEEDED some cookies so a package of 10 Lofthouse cookies... total $10.08.

Now I'm up to $166.05.

Quite honestly I considered throwing in the towel on this challenge on Saturday. I didn't want to be frugal anymore. I wanted to buy whatever the hell my mouth wanted. I have plenty of money. I don't HAVE to do this. I suppose though that this would not be a CHALLENGE if it was easy. So, I am continuing on, tracking my spending. I've come to the realization that I very well may go over $200 but I'll track it nonetheless to see how close I can get.

Days 19-20
No spending.

Day 21
As far as food for the family, I am doing pretty good. However... I wasn't going to compete at the Fair this summer... but then I had a change of heart... and suddenly I WANT to try out some new recipes. I SHOULD wait until July to do this but I have a span of days off this week and I had to try out some recipes... and I needed a couple of things...

From Marsh...
bag of walnut pieces  5.99 (ouch!)
cranberry bread  4.99 (don't even ask!)
pint heavy whipping cream 1.79

Used 0.50 coupon on the whipping cream. Paid $12.27.

Day 22
No spending.

Total spending for the month so far $178.32.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Grocery Challenge Days 8 - 12

So... I've been fairly good the last couple days. Also, you'll notice that I tend to make lots of small grocery trips instead of one big one once a week. Couple reasons for this. First is that I'm kind of a control freak and I don't like to hand over 20 coupons all at once to a cashier because I'm afraid she'll miss one - not on purpose but sometimes coupons tend to stick together or the coupon doesn't scan immediately but if the cashier is going through a huge stack they tend to miss that and keep going. I always have a pretty good idea of how much my total should be but lots of times I've had the total end up higher and I can't find the mistake on the screen so I have to look at my printed receipt after the transaction is completed and then go back to customer service to get it fixed. It's much easier for me to buy less items at a time, go thru the USCAN to make sure everything rings up like I expected, then either scan my own coupons or hand over less than 10 coupons to the cashier. I have the luxury of shopping this way because I live where I pass all these stores to and from either going to work or running my kids around so most of the time I'm not making any special trips just to go to the grocery store. Other main reason is that I prefer to fly under the radar. I really don't want to be known as "the coupon lady."

Now onto Day 8. I fell to temptation. It was the last day Kroger had Turkey Hill ice cream on sale for $2.50 and I decided I really wanted to stock up on ice cream. June is Dairy Month by the way, so lots of dairy deals this month. Bought 4 containers of ice cream. Used 4 $1 off coupons.

Paid $6.00

Day 9, I hadn't planned on buying anything. I worked all day, then my daughter came home at 9:30 pm and told me she needed 4 2-liter bottles of soda for the cheer camp party the next day. Ugh. I hate it when the kids spring things like this on me. I went back to Kroger where the 2-liters were on sale for $1 and spent $4.28.

Day 10, no spending.

Day 11. More Kroger shopping to take advantage of their Mega Sale. I decided the Cascadian Farms cereal was a great deal so I should stock up. They also have Crunchmaster crackers on sale and they are my favorite cracker. I've found that the gluten free crackers are a great substitute for chips  because they are so crispy. They are usually $3.99 but I could get them for $0.49 this week. I broke this up into two transactions because I had 6 Crunchmaster coupons and the Kroger policy is 4 like coupons at a time.

6 Crunchmaster cracker bags @ 2.49 each
3 boxes Cascadian Farms cereal @ 2.99 each
3 bags Armour frozen meatballs @ 2.99 each
2 containers Laughing Cow cheese wedges @ 2.49 each
1 box Harvest Stone crackers @ 2.99
2 bottles Body Armor sport drink @ 1.00 each

Everything was part of the "Buy 5, Get $5 off" Mega sale except for the Body Armor. The Body Armor is a new sports drink and I wanted to try it.

$15.00 instant savings for Mega Sale items
(6) $1 Crunchmaster coupons
(3) $1 Cascadian Farms coupons
(3) $1.50 Armour meatball coupons
$1/2 Laughing Cow coupon
$1 Harvest Stone coupon
$1/2 Body Armor coupon

Paid $11.49

Next was a trip to Meijer.

First transaction
3 small containers of Marzetti veggie dip. I had heard that there was a Catalina coupon printing for $2.50 off your next order when you bought 3 Marzetti products and that the small individual size dips were working for this. The dips are 0.89 each but there is also a Marzetti coupon out for 0.75 off any Marzetti product. I did this first by itself because if the coupons didn't scan I wasn't going to buy it and, if the coupon printed, I was going to use it to buy my other stuff. Transaction went off without a hitch. Coupons scanned and Catalina printed.

I spent $0.42 off my gift card and got the $2.50 Catalina.
Essentially I got "paid" $2.08 to buy the dip.
This deal ends on 6/12 so I only had a chance to do it once.

Second transaction
5 packages sliced cheese @ 2.99 each
2 jars Ragu pasta sauce @ 1.50 each
1 box Creamettes spaghetti noodles @ 1.45
4 boxes Tai Pei frozen pot stickers @ 2.00 each

5.00 instant savings for 5 packages of cheese
1.00 mPerks coupon for buying over $10 of cheese
1.45 mPerks coupon for free Creamettes pasta when you buy 2 Ragu
(2) 1.00 Ragu coupons
(2) 1.00 off 2 Tai Pei
2.50 grocery coupon from transaction #1

Spent $13.45 off my gift card
I spent a bit more than I really wanted but the kids like the pot stickers as an easy meal and I needed more sliced cheese. I didn't really need the Ragu and pasta but it was just a great deal as it ended up being $1 for the 2 jars of sauce AND pasta after coupons so I went ahead and bought it. "Great" deals like this and convenience items seem to be my downfall in spending so let's hope it doesn't come back to bite me at the end of the month.

Final stop was at the gas station (Speedway) to pick up 4 weekend newspapers for the coupons. Spent $5.00.

Day 12, no spending

Total spent so far for this month: $91.29.
I still have $8.63 left on my Meijer gift card and a little over half the month to go.
I also have a $10 ECB at CVS that expires on 6/15 so I'll have to figure out the best way to spend that this week.