Monday, June 13, 2011

The Perfect Homecoming Meal...or Any Night

In honor of my brother-in-law coming home from Kuwait after a long one year deployment away from his home and family, I thought I would share my favorite homecoming meal idea. Lasagna! Who doesn't love lasagna?

My husband has been deployed twice and every time he comes home on leave or for good at the end of his deployment, he always asks me to make my famous lasagna.

This recipe is the perfect remedy for your loved one adjusting back into home life. He or she will feel right at home. It's a sure bet. I make this lasagna at family fuctions, holidays, halloween (which I name it 'lasagna to die for') and of course for homecomings.

People tell me all the time that it's the best lasagna they've ever had, so I figured I would share it. I don't know if it's in my Italian blood to create delicious Italian food, but with this step by step recipe it won't matter what your nationality you's sure to impress. Again, who doesn't love lasagna?

First, I'm going to start with the sauce/gravy (whatever you'd like to call it). This can be used for any pasta dish.

4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 cloves of minced garlic
1 finely chopped onion
4 cartons of Pomi strained tomatoes (you can find them at most grocery stores, if you can't - any can of strained tomatoes will do - the bigger ones - not the 15 oz cans)
Dried spices to taste: salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, oregano, parsley, cinnamon (just a touch)
1 lb. ground chuck
4 sweet Italian sausages (meat squeezed out of casings)


Start with a sauce pot, drizzle 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in pot, bring up to med-high heat. Saute onions until translucent and add garlic for a minute more. Add all 4 cartons/cans of tomato sauce, add all dried spices. Stir to combine. Lower to a simmer and pop a lid on it, allow a little steam to escape by propping the lid up a bit to leave an exit for steam.

In a 10 or 12 inch skillet, add the remaining 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Heat to med-high, add ground beef and sausage meat  and cook until browned. Add meat mixture to pot with the sauce. Let it simmer all day if you can. The longer it simmers....the better the sauce will be. I make it earlier in the morning that day and let it sit until it's time to assemble the lasagna.

If the sauce isn't sweet enough (some times the tomatoes or the sausage aren't as sweet as usual- add some white sugar to will really make a difference).

After allowing the sauce to simmer all day it's time to assemble the lasagna. Here are your instructions.

15 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
12 pieces of Oven Ready Lasagna (uncooked and unsoaked) - I use Ronzoni
4 cups of shredded mozzrella cheese
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese


Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, egg, basil and oregano. In a 13x9x2 baking dish, spread 3/4 cup of the meat sauce. Place 3 pieces of lasagna crosswise over sauce. Don't let pieces overlap or touch side of pan. Spread 2/3 cup of ricotta mixture over noodles. Spread another 3/4 cup sauce over ricotta completely covering it. Sprinkle with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Repeat these layering steps 2 or 3 more times. Then, top with remaining 3 pieces of lasagna. sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until it's hot and bubbly!!!!! Let it stand for 5 minutes.

It serves: 10 to 12 normal people....but in our case, 8 

Give it a try! I would love to know what you think or add any suggestions!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent - "A Success"

In my efforts to save money, I've decided to try making my own laundry detergent. I thought it might be a chellenge but I gave it a shot. I only have cold water hook-ups to my washing machine and my daughter has sensitive skin so I was afraid it may not suit us, but I was wrong. It's perfect. It works beautifully! It works the same if not better than store-bought laundry detergent.

I never knew that you can actually do this until I saw an episode of TLC's "19 kids and Counting". I'm not a huge fan of this family's life style choices, but they have some great money saving ideas. I guess when you have a family of that size you have to cut down and be creative wherever you can. My family of 4 is nowhere near the size of their family, but we do need to save money in the same respect. Our bills still cost more than our monthly income and with rising gas prices, all I can do is cut back wherever I can. Even if it means making laundry detergent for pennies on the dollar and having it last for months.

Here's my story...

Normally, I would spend about $1.99 every 3 weeks on laundry detergent for 32 loads. It's not a whole lot of money but if I can reduce spending in any way I can....I will! Here is the recipe I followed:

2 gallons Water (hot)
1 bar Soap (grated)
1 cup Baking soda (yes baking soda–not washing soda)
1 cup Borax (20 Mule Team Brand)

    * Melt grated soap in a saucepan with enough hot water to cover. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring frequently until soap is melted.
    * In a large pail, pour 2 gallons hot water. Add melted soap, stir well.
    * Then add the baking soda and borax, stir well again.
    * Use 1/2 cup per full load, 1 cup per very soiled load.


I've seen some homemade laundry detergents made with washing soda, but I've been to 3 different stores and still have yet to find "washing soda". So I decided maybe I could find a recipe without it. I was successful in finding one. Baking soda serves as a substitute. In the old days, they used it in their laundry, so why wouldn't I use it now. Also, Arm & Hammer makes a laundry detergent with baking soda so...Why Not?

Luckily, I had Borax on hand so I didn't have to buy that. The price is usually between $2 and $3 dollars. I paid about $2.63 for my box. It's useful for so many things. Here are a few:

  • Cleans Porcelain Surfaces (tubs, toilets, sinks) 
  • Hard Water
  • Cleans and Deordorizes Trash Cans
  • Cleans Refrigerators
  • Cleans Fiberglass
  • Gentle on baby clothes
  • Fine China
  • Deodorizes Humidifiers
  • Getting rid of fleas
  • Cleaning cookware
  • Cleans spills and stains and pet urine
So it's not a waste to buy it. It never goes bad so you can keep it on hand for years!

I bought a 3 pack of soap (Ivory) for $1.50 at Family Dollar. This amount of soap will be for an entire year of laundry soap for my family of four.

I purchased the baking soda at Family Dollar for 80 cents.

Some people prefer to add essential oil (like lavender or citrus), but I like the clean fresh scent of the Ivory soap and it makes my laundry smell extremely clean.

It was easy to make and now I don't have to run out to the store midweek to buy laundry detergent ever again!


Annual Cost of Store Bought Laundry Detergent: $51.74

Annual Cost of Homemade Laundry Detergent: $5.73


It's not a huge savings, but that is definitely $46 that I didn't have before and desperately need.

More Money Making Opportunities:

FINALLY, someone has made it quick, simple, and easy to sell the stuff you no longer need for cash (or great products)!

Get a FREE listing at:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Need to Make a Little Extra Money?"

Who Doesn't? I started looking into ways to make a little extra income for my family after I had my second child and my husband got deployed. I had to quit my job. I hated not contributing in some way. I've always worked and earned money for the family. I love being a stay-at-home mom and I wanted to keep it that way.

My sister and brother-in-law were using eBay to supplement their income and I thought there was too much involved for me to even think about it. One day after my husband had already been deployed and both my kids were down for a nap, I decided to take a look at what's involved in selling things on eBay.

I went to and created an account. I started thumbing through all the informational guides and tutorials that eBay has to offer. Their site is so informative. You can just log in and learn all about eBay from just looking through their website. It was amazing what I learned so much. So I started selling what I had throughout my house first. I started finding stuff that was new or barely used. I found things that my kids had outgrown. I found things that we bought for something and we no longer needed. I loved digging through everything we had because we live in a 925 square foot house and decluttering is a constant chore, so the opportunity to thin out our belongings was a reward in a way. Plus, that reward becomes rewarded further because you can make money off of these belongings. 

I once read somewhere that an average person has over $3,000 worth of unwanted sellable items in their house. Why not sell them on eBay? So, I gathered everything I could find at the time and kept them in various boxes. I started small as an experiment. I listed one thing at a time and within the first month, I was selling one thing after another. Now I have over 60 items listed at one time. Everything from car parts to baby items, gifts, book, you name is I got it. Go check out my selection on eBay. My seller username is: pekala717.

You will have to open a PayPal account if you do decide to sell on eBay. That is the way mostly every buyer will pay for the item they purchase from you. It's safe and secure and easy to use. You can create an account at

I've been selling on eBay for about a year now and I've brought in anywhere from $100-$700 a month of extra income for our family. It may not sound like much, but I'm doing it as an extreme part-time job. I maybe only dedicate 2 hours a week to it. I'd have to say that working 8 hours total a month can bring you $700, that's not so bad. Some people barely make that much working 80 hours over 2 weeks.

Once I ran out of items in my home to sell. I started looking at buying wholesale and reselling them on eBay. I found that there were too many generic type items and most were too expensive. Then I thought of something that I had actually been doing already. Some of the things in my house that I sold were from thrift stores, dollar stores, clearance racks, etc. and I had sold them on eBay. Then I realized that's what I could do. I live in a town saturated with thrift stores and consignment shops. I find things that are very cheap, yet very desirable or hard to find (designer or unique) and buy them and resell them for a profit on eBay. At my local thrift store I found tuxedos in mint condition, brand new tap shoes, Ralph Lauren crested jackets, etc. All for under $10 and have resold them for much more. The tuxedo for $150, tap shoes for $25, and Ralph Lauren jacket for over $200. It's amazing what you can find and what you can make.

If you are looking to make a little extra money for yourself or your family online, eBay is a great place to start. Then you can go from there. So far I sell items on eBay and   I also do surveys, watch videos, and browse the web for money. My favorite site for this is . I have also started blogging. I find blogging so rewarding and encouraging to myself and others, plus through using Adsense by Google you can earn some income as well. You can find Adsense by Google at: . First, don't forget to start a blog. The free and easy way is through . These are many ways to start making a little extra money. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started with making some cash-ola!

Friday, March 18, 2011

"My takes on Tricare Prime, Reserve Select, and TAMP"

When my husband first was deployed in 2004, we were given Tricare Prime while he was deployed. It was great because we were paying $160 per week for a big name health insurance company and we still had to pay a large amount out of pocket. We were truly dissatisfied with our current health insurance plan, but when he got deployed we were instantly given Tricare Prime. You need to enroll in Tricare Prime and it's only available to active duty members and their families. If you are a reservist and you get activated, you may enroll in Tricare Prime.

The website for Tricare Prime for more information is:

The first challenge is to get a military ID. You need a military ID to use Tricare Prime. You can get a military ID on a military base. I had to travel over 2 hours to get mine. Hopefully, you've got one that is closer. The Tricare Prime plan is FREE to its members while their family member is on active duty. No copays and no premium  pays...Thank Goodness! It is well-deserved because the soldier and their family members make huge sacrifices while they are deployed that free health care should be a given and thankfully, it is!

When he got back from deployment, our free health care ended. We had to go back to our horrible health care plan. When he got back we could barely afford it, so we did go without health insurance for a couple months.

After those couple of months, the Army Reserves opened up what is called Tricare Reserve select  (TRS). Finally affordable health insurance for reservists and their families! Before Tricare Reserve Select, reservist were only covered when they were drilling with their reserve units and family members were never covered. Tricare Reserve Select is a premium-based health care plan that is absolutely affordable. When we first started it, it costs only $181 per month. Right now it's about $200 a month. The copays are low and we've been extremely impressed with the doctors in the network and happy with the service we've received.

To find out more about Tricare Reserve Select go to:

When my husband was deployed for the second time, we were put back on Tricare Prime. We were back to FREE health care. It's wonderful except that we have to live without my husband while he's deployed. The only thing that I don't like about Tricare Prime is that we had to switch doctors.

We loved our current pediatrician with Tricare Reserve Select and didn't want to change. When we were put on Tricare Prime we had no choice but to change because our pediatrician wasn't covered under Tricare Prime. We had to fill out the Prime Enrollment or PCM change form (link below) to get assigned to our primary car manager (the primary doctor that we see). Each of my children and myself were assigned to primary care managers in the Tricare Prime network. All of us were given different doctors. Here is the link to the Prime Enrollment or Primary Care Manager Change Form:

My husband is a reservist that has been activated so we don't live on a military base. We actually live over 2 hours away from a military base. Since we live so far from one, the doctors in the Tricare Prime network are very limited in our area. We were left to choose between only a couple of doctors, none of which we have been satisfied with like we were under Tricare Reserve Select. Regardless of our satisfaction, we were getting FREE health care, so we had to just deal with it. Tricare Prime is mostly designed for active duty members and active duty members and their families normally live near or on a military base. So it's not ideal for Army Reservists that get activated like so many do in today's military.

One thing that has saved us through Tricare Prime is TAMP: Transitional Assistance Management Program. It is a program where after your active duty term is up, you can enroll in TAMP. It's 180 additional days on Tricare Prime to give you a chance to get back into regular life and transition back to your normal health insurance. You do need to enroll in this program. You may or may not qualify. You can call Tricare to find out if you qualify. Here are the numbers you will need. Make sure you have your military member's sponsor ID (their social security number) ready:

North Region: 1.877.874.2273
South Region: 1.800.444.5445
West Region: 1.888.874.9378

To find out more about TAMP, please go to:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Support Systems Are Crucial

When I look back at the 2 deployments I went through with my husband in the Army Reserves, I think of how it would have been easier if I was near my family or had lived on or near a military base. That is one of the disadvantages of being a reservist's wife. You aren't living on or near a military base. You lack the support system and community of other spouses that are experiences and coping with the same things are you.

One of the biggest problems I had was trying to establish a support system when my husband was deployed. I live about 5 hours away from all of my family members and most of my friends work full time. I'm not able to rely on anyone but myself.

During the first deployment, I only had to look after myself. I was going to school full-time and that kept me busy. There was still a need I needed to fulfill. The need of wanting to be around people that understood my situation. Luckily for me, my husband's reserve unit was only about an hour away. I had linked up with the family readiness group (family support group). I even became the treasurer of the group and handled their finances. It helped to keep me busy. We made care packages and had fundraisers a couple times a month. The men and women associated with the Family Readiness/Support group were wonderful individuals. Some were the spouses and others were the parents of a soldier that was deployed with my husband. It was so helpful and kept me from sinking into a depression.

The second deployment was different. I had 2 children to care for. I had to quit my job because daycare was going to run us $300 per week. I would probably only be bringing home less than that, so I decided that I would stay home. It's traumatic enough for a 5 month old and a 3 year old to understand let alone cope with one parent being gone for a year or more. The last thing they need is for the other parent to barely be around. So I decided to stay home and be a full time mom to my little ones.

I have never regretting that decision. I'm so happy I was there for them when they needed me the most. Yes, it was difficult.  I was literally living the life of a single mom and being their "everything". I learned to mow the grass, take care of the yard, and use various power tools. These are the things that my husband usually did around the house, but they became my job when he left.

Still, during that second deployment I still started out with no real support system. My friends worked full-time and my family still lived 5 hours away. My husband had been cross-leveled to a unit in Alabama and we live in Florida, so The Family Readiness Group was out of the question. I had no babysitters and no mommy friends that I could hang out with and confide in. So, I went searching on the internet for some places in which I could find support. I first typed in Military Support Group and surprisingly enough, my local military support group came up.

Here's the link for the Military Support Group of Alachua County (in North Central Florida)

They are an amazing group and they send out about 150 care packages a month to the soldiers that are deployed.

Next, I needed some adult interaction. I love my kids so much. There is nothing I wouldn't do for them, but I need some adult conversation every now and again. Since I didn't have a babysitter, I had to bring them with me. There was no way I could find someone to watch my kids while I went out with my friends. So again I searched on the internet and found another amazing group for my local area, Alachua County Mamas. At the time they had about 150 moms plus their kids.

Here's the link:

They had a play date almost everyday of the week. We participated in tons of them and the kids loved it. We really looked forward to every event. Plus, the cost to join was so inexpensive.

It would have been nice to be near my family during these deployments, but current circumstances prevented it. You get so little time when you find out you or your spouse is getting deployed that there is barely enough time to prepare. So you sometimes need to stay put, but one thing you don't have to settle with is being alone. There are a lot of people out there that are going through the same thing you are and can help. Search the internet for your local area and see what you can find!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Adjusting back to civilian life and civilian income can be challenging. We've done it before and we can do it again. There's only one problem this time. We have 2 kids who depend on us and we no longer use credit cards to cover us if we need them. Our income while my husband was deployed (this deployment - his second) was almost double of his civilian salary. We saved alot of it while he was away. The saved money went quick after he got home after his deployment.

He and I both purchased a car. He needed a new car and that was one of the reasons that we saved so much. We purchased a car for me because my car at the time broke down. The transmission blew and we were in a jam to where we had to purchase a new/used car for me. They wanted $6,000 just to fix it and we were able to buy a new/used car for about the same amount with only 28,000 miles on it instead of putting $6,000 into a car that is worth a third of that and has 163,000 miles on it.

We also needed new appliances and a fence. So we took care of that. After all of these items that we purchased including paying off our credit card debt while he was deployed, we were left with nothing.

Now, he's back at his civilian job and making half of what he made over the past year with his Army pay. I wish I could help take the burden off of a single income and work to earn extra income. I have no babysitter for my kids and daycare is outrageous. They want $150 a kid. I have 2 children, so it would cost me approximately $1200 per month for someone else to watch my kids. It's just not worth for my wallet or their well being. With this area's income levels, that is about half of what my income would be. Instead, I rather be a stay at home mom and take care of my own kids and try to find ways to save money.

So far I've been starting at some obvious places. I clipped coupons, printed coupons online, started selling more actively on eBay, and just simply going without. We haven't gone out to dinner at all and we barely go anywhere. We've been trying to come up with other ways to save money and ways to have fun without breaking the bank. They are harder said than done, especially when your income equals the amount of your bills. All I can say is that we are trying.