Monthly Archives: March 2014

Spring Has Arrived… Let’s Spend Money!

Spring Has Arrived... Let's Spend Money!

I don’t want to jinx it but I think spring is finally here. After months of Hubby complaining about the constant snow (and yes, it did feel like it was every day that Mother Nature would clobber us with a storm), and stuffing my giant belly into my parka and tromping around in my un-tied winter boots (bending over stopped about a month ago), Hubby has turned off the furnace and thrown open the windows and we found a pair of rubber boots that fit my swollen legs. There is hope for sure when both of our dogs will sit quietly on the back deck soaking up rays of sunshine and catching lady bugs that fly nearby instead of shivering and scratching to be let back in after a 20 second quick pee. The flyers for the local farm store has notices reminding all the country folk of chicken orders to be sent in and hip waders to be purchased. The snow is still clinging to the yard and the driveway is a muddy mess, but temperatures have been in the plus for a few days now (yes… it only takes a few days to give us Canadians hope that winter will release us from his frosty fingers).
And with spring in the air it’s finally time to spend more money. Yup, that’s right folks, my employment insurance has kicked in and we’ve budgeted our land taxes and have a plan to get further into debt by the time all of the snow has melted. A fence needs to be up soon so our first “kids” can run about the yard and poop somewhere else EXCEPT for a ten foot radius around our deck. Hubby and I sat down and made an estimate of how much fencing we’d need and by the end it was a heated debate about affordability, and the pros and cons of fencing in the entire back yard. We both know it needs to get done, but it’s a painful expense. With two dogs, one being agile enough to jump high over fences, and the other being small and compact to fit under or through fences, chain link is our best and safest option. It will also keep critters from entering our yard a bit more than a regular cattle fence would. It seems most of the neighbours have their dogs on the underground shock fencing, and this I would consider if my dogs weren’t stupid. Yup, I’ll be the first to admit that my “kids” are both runts of their litters and seem to be missing a few cards from their decks. If they saw a turkey crossing the back field or scented a deer, they would be gone, galloping fast through the invisible barrier, being shocked all the way through without a flinch. My dad jokes that he wonders if the shock keeps getting bigger and bigger the farther they run until out in the middle of the field *POOF* the dog would blow up. He laughs as he jokes about this, but I think he would get a kick out of seeing it happen (him being from true country blood, dogs to him are meant to be obedient and used for tracking deer… something USEFUL… which is a far cry from what Juno and Fid are).
So chain link it is, and with only estimates at this time, we’re looking at around $5000 to get the back yard fenced in, complete with 2 man-gates and 1 car-gate. We’ve planned out, on paper, an area for a future garden and shed, and have our sights on a bonfire pit. We’ll be lucky if we can pay off the fence by the end of the summer, but we can still dream about what we want 5 years from now. We have to get used to the fact that even though we can’t afford a new deck, hot tub, garden shed, or maybe even the garden right away, we still need to plan for it. So now the waiting game, the snow has to go before I can pull on my new rubber boots and we can measure and spray paint the perimeter of our yard, and head into the farm store to place our order. In the meantime I pray for chain link fencing to go on a massive sale or clearance!! Wish us luck!

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The Pinterest Cookie Challenge

The Pinterest Cookie Challenge

So we all have one. The Pinterest account where we squirrel away pictures of dream weddings, luxury houses and tasty baking that we’ll never really attempt. My account is filled with past wedding ideas, cute ideas for the baby, and dream backyard details. I admit…. I’ve actually re-created a few of the items I’ve pinned. A wooden frame with a burlap middle for files and misc paper, some dollar store baskets in my pantry making finding small items a breeze, and a large chalk board for the kitchen where we write menus for dinners and honey-do lists. But one album that I haven’t touched with a ten foot pole is my “Food Ideas and Tasty Treats”. I’m no baker. I can hardly cook. It’s not that I “can’t” cook. I just have an aversion to following recipes, so I usually stick to a few tried and true foods and stay clear of all baking in general. So here’s the challenge…check out your Pinterest account, find those food pics and make them. Yes, actually make a few of them! So, week 4 of my maternity leave, 3 weeks til Juniors arrival (although doctor suspects it could be anytime now), and using only items I have in my cupboard since EI hasn’t kicked in yet, here are a few of my first attempts. Complete with my version of their matching Pinterest picture (my pic is on the bottom).

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes: I’ve had these adorable little muffin tins floating around for a while, so I whipped up this easy recipe for chocolate cup cakes (for this one… yes I scratched open the box). I used up some left over icing from the fridge and voila, easy bite sized treat! Success!

Fudge Crinkle Cookies: I’ve had these cookies before and loved them, but of course that’s someone else making them, and anything tastes better when you haven’t made it yourself. I followed the recipe and even popped the balls into the fridge to cool a bit more before rolling in the icing sugar. My balls were bigger than they called for… and I paid for it when they spread into giant cookies…. but should I really be complaining? I give myself a B-

Chewy Strawberry Jello Cookies: I was intrigued by these colourful cookies so I figured I’d whip up a batch and see for myself how the colour would work out. It wasn’t the issue with the colour, the “dough” was just a big bowl of pink crumbs and it wasn’t forming into anything rollable. I squished some together into balls and did a trial run with a few but ended up adding an egg and more butter to the rest. This one was pretty much an utter failure. Maybe it was my pregnancy tummy but I hated the smell of them while cooking and although they tasted like strawberry cookies should taste (like strawberry), it’s not a taste I’m used to. I’d give this recipe a C-.  **added note: a day later after the strawberry smell left the kitchen, I discovered a tin of frosting in my fridge…. by making mini cookie sandwiches with the strawberry cookies and some vanilla icing they tasted actually pretty good, and I may try this one again, although I’ll check for other recipes**

Peanut Butter Cookies: Tried and true, the simple Kraft Peanut Butter recipe of simply a cup of peanut butter, half a cup of sugar and 1 egg, this recipe is easy, fast and was a pleasant finisher to my evening of baking (it IS 10pm and my ankles have swollen up from standing so much!!) A+ for this one!

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Week 3 Maternity Leave Update

Week 3 Maternity Leave Update

Okay okay… it’s harder than it seems to set goals, attain them and then blog about them. Then add being pretty much 9 months pregnant on top of that, a handful of fitful naps and an overflowing calendar of events and social gatherings and I am not surprised that I missed updating my week 3.

More financial stress as my work, who told me that they could, did not pay me out my vacation which I was counting on. Ends up it’s against policy, which is fine, but no one thought to tell me. I checked my bank account and nearly went into labour right then and there. So after some phone calls I calmed down, they are nice people, but when you go off on mat leave, you don’t have income coming in, so you count on that last work pay tremendously! I was also able to get my Record of Employment from my work, which means after 3 weeks, I can finally apply for Employment Insurance. I decided to try the online application and immediately f#cked up, applying, by accident, twice. After some heated phone conversations with Service Canada I made my way to see an actual person in the closest small town. The lady was pleasant and helped me out which is a far cry from anyone you talk to over the phone. Now it’s the waiting game, waiting for my money to come in!

Also in week 3 I met up with an old high school friend. She found me on a local moms facebook group and so I headed over to her place (only 10 minutes away) and we sat and chatted about love, life and children (she has 2). She lives conveniently half way between our friends in the country who have 2 kids, and on a small cul-de-sac with a park. We plan on creating our own play group this summer and we’ll enjoy some time sitting in the shade rocking our baby carriers with our feet while we watch the older kids play. I can almost taste the iced tea now, and hear the creak of a wicker picnic basket opening just before a wayward ball covered in sand gets kicked our way.

Cross Border Shopping

Cross Border Shopping

As I now reside quite close to a border crossing into the United States, the temptation of cheap gas and excellent priced groceries is too great. My new neighbour who lives a concession away invited me to join her on an outing one night to show me the ropes on cross border shopping. We ventured to the border, handed over our passports and were ushered in without issue. We returned with a small amount of groceries, a full tank of gas and some products that one just can’t find in Canada. She expertly told them at the crossing what we spent and through we went, back home without a hitch.
As Hubby has Mondays off, we have been toying with the idea of a road trip together to test out our cross border shopping skills. Although we are still on a strict budget, we figured groceries would be an exception to our spending ban.
My palms were quite wet as we approached the border but Hubby handed over our passports and without a quiver in his voice simply stated that we would be getting gas and some groceries. The border guard allowed us through and we sighed in relief. Step one… done. Now the hard part… getting back in. Hubby and I proceeded to fill up the gas tank (holy much cheaper!) and we then headed to Walmart and then Price Choppers, trying our best to spend as little as possible. We picked up some spices and chip flavors that are unheard of “up north” and Hubby, on more than one occasion, hinted that we should attempt to bring back some booze. I put my foot down, as at nearly 9 months pregnant I did not want the added stress and I could only imagine having to have someone bail us out of jail! We headed back to the border and Hubby cheerfully advised the guard of our totals. We aren’t sure if it was the fact that Hubby looks like an intimidating man, or the fact that they couldn’t believe we simply bought groceries, but we were told to pull over for a search. Thankfully there wasn’t much for us to worry about, but it’s still a scary and stressful process as a Border Guard sifts through your car. I punched Hubby in the shoulder and whispered to him how lucky we are that we didn’t try to bring back a bottle or two of booze! The Guard was friendly enough and soon, upon finding nothing illegal, simply allowed us to go, not even asking us to pay for the taxes or fees that may have been associated with bringing back a fluffy bathmat or a flat of super cheap chicken wings. Was it worth it? Sure… but stick to your guns if your hubby tries to convince you to sneak a 12 pack home!

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Country Living = Isolation?

Country Living = Isolation?

There are many a folk who questioned our decision to live “way out in the boonies” away from civilization and “far away” from our friends and family, but in the few months we’ve been here we have proven that country living doesn’t go hand in hand with isolation. In fact, we’ve had a steady stream of family and friends over for dinners, had a baby shower, and hosted overnight guests on more than one occasion. Of course you COULD become isolated if that’s what you want, but Hubby and I have made every attempt to make sure we make friends locally as well as keep our awesome friends from the city. We went door knocking to meet the neighbors a few weeks back, and just yesterday our across the way neighbor reached out via email to say hello. Ends up she’s a stay at home mom with the kids and I’m hoping to drop by her place over the next few weeks once I start baking. Today I visited an old friend whom I went to high school with. She spotted me on the local Facebook group and invited me over. We hadn’t actually really talked since high school and let’s just say it’s been a few years. We sat and chatted for a few hours and she lives only 10 mins away…. actually very close to our other friends in the country. I’m thinking a mom and kids date is in order this summer, perhaps we can all meet at the local park. It’s amazing that living out in the country, with a back yard that has views of only fields and far away trees and perhaps the odd gang of turkeys lumbering across the open vastness, that one can connect with so many people. It definitely does become quality over quantity. And just to clear up the other issue… of being far from civilization. Sure we don’t have a public transportation system but we are 7 minutes away from the Wal-Mart, and all other conveniences. Our best friends are only 15 minutes away, and our family is only 30-40 minutes (depending on which relative we’re talking about). And when we lived in the city, it would take us nearly 20 minutes with traffic to get to Wal-Mart and about the same time frame to travel for a visit to our family.

As I write this… the house is pretty dark (don’t get me started on the electricity bills out here), and the only sound is the hum of the fridge and the snoring of one of the dogs on the couch. Not a single siren, no parties, no cars with music blasting and I haven’t heard a car go by in about 20 minutes. Oh how gloriously quiet it is!! So yup…. right now… this exact moment I’m isolated in my little country bubble, but anytime I want I can message a friend and head out for a coffee with other great country people.

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The Nursery: Big Dreams, Small Budget

The Nursery: Big Dreams, Small Budget

Paying a mortgage and being on maternity leave, can leave a mother beyond stretched for extra cash. In fact, I have no clue how single mothers can do it. It’s quite unfair. Our government has made it impossible for mothers to make extra money on the side (if they find out, they take dollar for dollar from your EI payments) and unless you are one of the lucky few that has top-ups from work, you earn about 55% of your wage on EI, which I’m not sure about the rest of you, but this just doesn’t pay the bills especially out here in the country! Thankfully Hubby has an okay job, but in this day and age that can always change in a second. In such a progressive time, I’m not sure why Employment Insurance leaves moms out to dry. My rant aside, I’ve always been a thrifty person, so even if I was rich and rolling in mega paychecks, I think I would still be re-using, up-cycling, and gladly taking hand me downs.

Here is a list of things we did to cut costs for our baby prep:

1. Shop ahead and shop sales: Stock up during your pregnancy on items you will need, and buy them on sale. You know you’ll use those diapers, and all that cream, so if you see a deal, snag it!

2. Check your local “used” website: This saved me some mega bucks and I found items such as baby carriers, curtain rods, mobiles, dressers, and a few outfits, all for a small fraction of anything new. Make sure you thoroughly wash everything of course and if you plan on haggling the price down, make sure you do so before you show up at the sellers doorstep. We even found a free chair on our local Kijiji site, and in order to have them hold it for a few hours, we offered to pick up some lattes as exchange. You may want to save and get a deal but never forget that these people need to make a few bucks too, so be courteous!

3. DIY wherever you can: Can’t find the perfect crib skirt to match your décor? Make your own from a single bed skirt picked up at your local thrift store (I sewed mine in less than 30 minutes). New curtain rod doesn’t match the rest of the room? Paint it. Use what you can and just make slight adjustments to make them fit. And check out Pinterest for amazing tutorials to make cute baby items. Also, check out out the picture of my mobile, I couldn’t find an owl mobile that I liked so I bought a used one from Kijiji which was a Winnie the Pooh theme…. I snipped the teddy bears off it and exchanged them for cheap owl christmas ornament that we found and touched up. And yesterday I went to my craft store and found the perfect sticker to cover the Pooh Bear sticker on the sound box… it says “Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale”.

4. Talk to friends and family: Even more so than a wedding, you will receive so many hand outs from friends and family at this time. Everyone loves a new baby, and most moms have tons of stuff to hand down to you. We luckily received our crib and change table from good friends, and so many outfits from pretty much every mom I know. I think Hubby and I only bought a handful of new onesies. Make sure you clarify if these items are gifts or are to be returned after you are done using them, and keep them as clean as possible if that’s the case. My crib already came pre-chewed by the past toddler, so I plan on simply making a crib teething guard to cover the existing fang marks and to prevent any further damage in case my friend wants it back.

5. Have a shower: It’s OKAY to ask, it’s OKAY to register (just don’t go hog wild or be too picky!). Maybe like me, you have no clue what you “need”, so being open to a shower allowed my friends and family to gift me items that they think is important to a new mom and baby, AND I snagged that awesome diaper bag I was eyeing. Make sure you send thank you cards so keep track of what everyone gifted you! And don’t forget to send thank you cards for items that are loaned to you. It’s a nice added touch. Which reminds me… I’ve got to get some thank you cards out to my work peeps!

6. Second hand shops: No, no, no… don’t you dare stop reading….get back here! Yes, I said it… second hand shops are awesome. Think about it… do the math… a baby has soooooo many outfits… baby might wear an outfit once and never wear it again since they grow so fast. Your local thrift shop will have racks upon racks of used baby clothing that look brand new. Throw on top of that semi-annual sales and you have mega deals! Be selective when you go, and buy for all ages up to a year. And of course, wash whatever you buy.

7. Be realistic: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Don’t expect other’s to buy it either. Baby doesn’t need 125 sleepers and 20 pairs of shoes, so resist the urge no matter how cute they are. Budget for essential items that you may not receive for your shower. You will need car seats and high chairs and monitors. And you need to prioritize those items over that giant stuffed teddy bear you really want for the nursery. To help out, we basically registered for only essentials, and a few inexpensive items, and as an added personal note on our registry we mentioned that gift certificates to box stores or grocery stores were very much appreciated. Where we live, we are limited to one store for baby registries and the prices are stupidly high. Receiving gift certificates to other stores meant we could get essential items on sale somewhere else, or simply buy much needed groceries and diapers.

All in all we may have spent about $50 on decor, including curtains, new rod, an owl statue, and the mobile. My dad offered up some paint he had in his basement and he even found someone who tinted it for him. All the furniture is second hand and the dresser we already had. I spend $100 I think on the second hand but perfect condition glider and the mural I did myself with a bit of Hubby’s help. Of course I wanted the nursery to be totally adorable, but in the end you have to remember that in a few years Junior will want it painted over and he’ll outgrow all the furniture before too long.

I hope that the above points help out, as we all need to remember that having a baby isn’t JUST about adorable outfits and a Pinterest-perfect nursery. Someone has to pay for these little thugs to get through school, and I hear teenagers eat a lot of food. Budget now and stay thrifty and we might just make it through this without putting ourselves into too much in debt!

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Week 2 Maternity Leave: Update

Week 2 Maternity Leave: Update

Well week two is almost over and I think I’ve already failed at giving myself weekly goals. Time flies when you are having fun, and I HAVE been productive, but just never with what I really think I need to get done.

I’ll start with Monday…. my Value Village Extravaganza! A few times a year Value Village has a 50% off sale and for the last one, we didn’t know the sex of the baby yet so I vowed that I would catch this one and take the whole day and go crazy. Now keep in mind I’m probably the cheapest person you’ll meet and I never splurge on myself… no hair cuts, no manicures, no make up or pretty clothes. Luckily since the sale fell during my maternity leave I didn’t have to take a day off work and although this has been a rough month financially, Hubby and I agreed that I deserved my day. Now my only downfall was that daylight savings put a kink in my morning since I seemed to have slept in past my usual 7am time frame. In the big city near us we have 5 Value Villages ready for my pillaging. I hit the western most one at 11am and progressed through town. I met up with my mother for lunch at the half way point and she joined me for the final three stores. The trick to taking advantage of the sale is to avoid the change rooms. You can exchange it later if it doesn’t fit (keep your receipt), but trying on everything will slow you down as the stores are packed for these sales and the lines up for the change rooms can mean a 15 minute wait.

My mom and I don’t see the same items as “cute”, in fact, our definitions of “cute” differ so much that I felt bad nixing so many of her choices of outfits for Junior. We have sooo many clothes for him that it isn’t practical to buy much more in regards to clothes, so I was being very selective. Poor mom had to put back alot of sleepers and winter jackets, but she seemed to take it in stride and I let a few “cute” ones into the basket to appease her. I was also keeping an eye out for summer clothes for myself to wear out in the yard and in the garden. By 5pm, the last store finally done, my feet were aching and my mom was limping and our trunk was filled with bags of awesomeness. I probably came away with about 30 new shirts, 2 pants, 3 dresses, about 20 new outfits for Junior and spent just under $200. Not bad! A few outfits that just didn’t look right went to my friend who lives near us, and a few outfits will need to be returned…. for store credit, which means more shopping (this time I can only spend what I return). Check out the picture of the outfits we found for Junior. I went a little crazy when I started finding plaid onesies and plaid shirts (Hubby always wears plaid type shirts), and I found all kinds of cute shorts, even a swim diaper, and a few plaid jackets for fall. There is even a Nautica shirt, and an adorable vest to boot!

I entertained ourfriends who live near us for dinner last night. I vowed to make them a nice meal to impress them. During the day we were slammed with a snowstorm and just the thought of it for some reason drained me. By the time I started cooking I was exhausted and promptly allowed the pasta to overcook, a pot of milk for the sauce to boil over (what a mess) and I think I dirtied every dish we owned. Luckily my friends still seemed impressed, but giving them lots of extra wine helped I’m sure. Since Hubby was working late, my friends husband offered to inspect our water softener and cut up some kindling for me… I didn’t have it in me to say no. Did I mention I baked a cake? (I opened the box before you think I made it from scratch though).

This week I found another book to read and tonight I just finished organizing our woodpile and garage in preparation for new wood to arrive. Tomorrow I’m heading into town with my friend and her two kids, plus the two kids she watches and we’ll head to a museum for the day. I’m not sure if I will have the energy to run after so many small children in my state, but I can’t read on the couch any more!

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Week 1 of Maternity Leave: Update

Week 1 of Maternity Leave: Update

Well, week one is over… I blinked and it was gone. What a whirlwind it’s been. I have to admit it wasn’t as productive as it could have been, but we’ve been hit by surprise bills pretty much almost every day I was off, which left me in panic/anxiety mode, worrying about making ends meet this month until my EI kicks in. Hubby and I have been stressed which leaves me exhausted in a don’t-want-to-get-off-the-couch way which ate up most of my day as I wallowed around worrying (which doesn’t do any good by the way). I did get some items off my list done, or at the very least, started.

Week One:
1. Get to the library and take out some books (done and already read both novels… not bad in one week!)
recover the bumper pads I found (they are 90% done… other projects took priority)
2. Get some photos to a friend who needs them for my website (did some… need some more)
3. Make a list of baking supplies I will need and stock up (done… but didn’t stock up… the idea of spending extra money made me worry more)
4. Re-pot my living room plant (admittedly not done)
5. Research how a water softener works (yeah, done… but still no clue… it’s like its all in spanish to me!)
6. Walk the dogs 3 times (hell no… that would have meant getting off the couch)
7. Sell some old over-the-toilet vanities (nope)
8. Get some pictures printed at Staples (I was going to do this but it’s for Juniors room, and I want to wait for his birth day to insert his date of birth and weight etc into it)
9. Fix a cushion that Juno chewed (well, it made it to the craft room to get done… does that count?)
10. Organize my craft cave that has exploded into a mess of lace and burlap scraps (I made an attempt, and then I received a few orders and it went back to being organized chaos)
11. Find/buy some more recycling bins for the garage (yes!! two new bins and 2 baskets for the kitchen to catch all the items, so no excuse not to recycle!)
12. Mail out the last of my shower thank you cards (had the last of the girls over to thank them on the weekend, but then forgot to give them their cards… in my defense I’ve asked them for their mailing address about 3 times now with no response)
13. Go to the municipal office to clarify land taxes (done… and even though we knew the amount, I freaked out and went into a financial depression…. hence the lack of anything getting done this week)
14. Find out how a diaper genie works (I kicked it and nothing happened… is that enough?)
15. Pre-register at the hospital for the birth (done! very proud of myself, and even looked into my insurance and called the hospital to see if I was missing anything)
16. Bake some banana bread (done… I’m sure you’ve seen my post)

In my defense we’ve been entertaining guests, I went to the states with my neighbour to learn how to shop state-side, went to Montreal with Hubby for a business trip, worked on some orders on my home-based small business, learned how to nap (still a work in progress, as I wake up with a headache and very groggy after, so if anyone has any tips on how to nap successfully, please let me know!), and last but not least I went on an epic Value Village shopping spree (nothing makes a girl forget about her financial issues than spending money right?)…. I’ll post about this epic spree soon.

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Starbucks in the Country

Starbucks in the Country

According to google maps, the closest Starbucks is 41.3 KM away. According to ME, the nearest Starbucks is about 4 meters away from my computer desk. Yes folks, why pay $8 for a Venti Mocha Light Frappuccino when you can make one… or at least one quite similar in your own kitchen. There is obviously some give and take as I’m no barrista (and have no clue what they put in their drinks except for rare unicorns and decadent flakes of fabulousness), but with a little help from my tassimo and my hand mixer this drink turned out quite fine.

Here is the approximate recipe:
1 brewed Tassimo coffee of your choice, chilled
1 cup of milk
½ cup of frozen vanilla ice cream
2 tbs of chocolate sauce
Sprinkle with chocolate bits to make it Pinterest-Perfect
(optional…when you aren’t pregnant…mix in some Baileys for a great evening beverage)

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Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

I wish you could smell my kitchen right now. Oh it’s been months since anything home-baked made its presence known!! Both Hubby and I can cook, don’t get me wrong, but anything that involves baking is beyond our patience level. But since I had some ripe bananas taking up space in the freezer and I had more than enough time to lounge around waiting for a quick bread to be made, I decided today was the day. I’d like to have a full day of baking these (will need to pick up more loaf pans) and freeze for when Junior comes and insists on taking up my whole day. Quick breads are not only quick to make, but make a great quick snack. Maybe I’ll have a “Quick Bread Baking Day” full of carrot, zucchini, banana nut, and apple oat goodness!

The Recipe:
1-3/4 cups flour
2/3 cups of sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp of salt
3 ripe bananas, mashed of course
1/3 cup of butter
2 eggs
2 tbs of milk
splash of vanilla
pinch of cinnamon
handful of chocolate chips (instead of 1/3 cup of walnuts)

 

Bake on 350 for at least an hour until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Mine took longer since it was a deep loaf pan.

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