Dec 28

Keeping Up With The Bills (Revised)

It’s that time of year again – time to empty out my bill folders and reset my Due Bills system for the new year.

I detailed my Due Bills system a few years ago here, and I tend to share it each year at the end of December. The key part of the system is the monthly folders, and the only adjustments I have made over the years is the method in which I track bills as they come in and record payments.

Here is a brief overview of my Due Bills system:

  • Stand-alone hanging file folder box (I’m still using my original box, and it is due to be retired soon…)
  • 12 manilla folders labelled for each month
  • Tax Documents folder
  • Basic monthly-style calendar
  • Record sheet for due dates, amounts, confirmation numbers, etc.
  • 12 envelopes labeled for monthly receipts

Before the new year starts, I set up the file folder box.  In the front, I have a folder labeled taxes for all incoming tax documents I am expecting.

In each monthly folder, I include a record sheet and an envelope for receipts. I fill all the folders at the beginning of the year so I am not scrambling at the beginning of any month.

Beginning of the month

By establishing a routine, I ensure bills are not misplaced,forgotten or payed late. At the beginning of each month (or even at the very end of the previous month) I do several things:

  • Check all account balances (Checking, Savings, any credit cards) and record at top of record sheet (I check all balances again mid-month and have a second column to record updated balances).
  • List all recurring due bills (name, due date and amount due if known). Bills like cable, utilities, mortgage typically have the same due dates each month, and this makes planning easier.
  • On calendar, add list due bills on their due dates. I highlight  in yellow (my Due Bills color) so I can scan the calendar quickly and due dates stand out.
  • Move any unpaid bills from previous month’s folder to current folder and list on record sheet. Things like subscription renewals or even tax payments that have a few months to pay would be handled this way.
  • Pay all bills due before the middle of the month. If I am sending a check, I record the check number on record sheet. Electronic payments, I record the confirmation numbers. I also note the date payed for each.
  • For any bills that I have a paper statement, I record date payed, amount payed and either check number or confirmation number.

Middle of the month

Our bills typically are due in two waves, at the earlier part of the month, and close to the end. Any bill due on the first of the next month, I list as a payment due at the end of the previous month – this ensures it gets payed on time.

Sometime between the 15th and 20th of each month, I sit down and recheck all account balances, and then pay all outstanding bills for the month, following the same steps listed above.

Ongoing Tasks

While many bills are recurring, we do occasionally get one-time statements in the mail. For these, I add to the folder as soon as they come in, list the due date and amount on the record sheet, and immediately list on my calendar.

Some bills are quartly or once-a-year – these I file in the month they are due, and mark on the calendar. This ensures that something due six months in advance doesn’t get lost or forgotten.

While I typically do not store non-bill related paperwork in my monthly folders, the one exception I do make is record of any reimbursment. This isn’t common however. If we received a paper reimbursement check, I would store in that month’s folder in case I needed record of it at tax time.

**Autodraft payments are recorded on the record sheet, along with the due date (date it is expected to draft) and the amount. I regularly check my bank account and as I see autodraft payments clearing my account, I note the confirmation number and mark it as payed on my calendar.

Tax Documents

I like to have a Taxes folder at the front of my box to collect any documents as they come in. Tax documents, ranging from various 1098s to our W2s start arriving early to mid-January, but I won’t sit down and prepare our taxes until closer to April when I am sure I have received everything. After tax season is complete, my filed and printed tax returns will go into this folder, and it will move from my bill box into my regular file drawer with previous tax year records.

**In previous years, I have maintained a Medical Receipt folder to collect receipts for doctor appointments or prescriptions. This is used to itemize medical expenses at tax time. We haven’t had to itemize in the past few years, however, and so these receipts tend to be filed with any other receipts.


In the past, I have just kept all receipts that come in, and sort through them at the end of the year for anything of importance. But that system gets unwieldy pretty quick.

Now I check my receipts throughout the month, usually when I clean out my purse and wallet. Most receipts are groceries or consumables that won’t be returned, and so they go into the trash or shredder. Medical receipts and bank deposit receipts are always retained.

If the receipt contains something of higher value (like an electronic or hardware item) I toss into an envelope in the monthly folder.  Anything of importance that my spouse has purchased, he gives me the receipt to set aside as well. If i need a receipt, I should be able to go back to the month I purchased the item and retrieve it.

This system works! I’ve been doing this for several years now, and it keeps me organized and our bills payed on time.

I am including the record sheet that I use – feel free to use the PDF or grab the Word file and modify to suit your own needs.

Due Bills Record Sheet (Word)

Due Bills Record Sheet (PDF)



Aug 19

Bacon Kale Skillet

I am a fan of simple, one skillet meals – easy on prep and easy on cleanup.

This dish certainly fits the bill. I used my largest cast iron skillet, and a smaller saucepan to prep the gravy. Very easy for cleanup.

Bacon Kale Skillet

1 package Benevolent Bacon (Sweet Earth) or other vegan bacon
3 cans sliced new potatoes, rinsed (or 3 -5 pounds peeled sliced potatoes)
3 cups chopped kale, fresh
1-2 cups gravy (recipe below)
olive oil for cooking

Saute vegan bacon in oil, chopping coarsely with spatula while cooking.

After bacon begins to brown, add sliced potatoes to skillet and cook on medium heat until they start to brown and crisp.

Add kale by the handful and slowly stir to incorporate. Kale will start to wilt and shrink as it cooks. Add 1 -2 Tbsp water to skillet to loosen up potatoes and bacon and to help steam kale.

After kale is cooked, remove from heat, and mix in gravy.

Thick Southern Gravy 

I took my go-to gravy recipe, and  just scaled down the final volume and decreased the liquid, which makes for a much thicker gravy.

2 Tbsp whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp oil
1 cup almond or soy milk
1 cup vegetable stock

Heat oil in a medium skillet, and then add flour and nutritional yeast. Whisk until ingredients are coated with oil (will be crumbly). Continue to whisk until mixture starts to brown – be careful to not let it get too dark as it will affect the gravy flavor. Add milk and whisk while cooking on medium heat. Once the milk is incorporated, add vegetable stock. Continue to stir with whisk over medium heat for a couple of minutes while gravy thickens. Remove from heat.





Aug 14

Life and Fresh Salsa

This evening I made fresh salsa. I’ve made salsa before, and it is always a hit around here. I’m a firm believer in “fresh and homemade is always better.”

It really isn’t that difficult – chop some tomatoes, peppers, onions, tweak it a little, and Boom!

And yet, I can’t recall the last time before tonight we had fresh salsa, it’s just been so long.

Somehow, even with the ease of making homemade salsa, it has become easier to just grab a jar at the grocery store.

I try to give myself a healthy dose of grace when it comes to things like this. I’ve got four young children, and animals, I work and homeschool. I’ve come to realize that sometimes I have to let things go and opt for convenience for the sake of a few more free moments or one less task. Like any good manager, you’ve got to know what can be delegated and what you need to do yourself.

Since starting work this spring, I have leaned more on convenience than I have in the past. For example, I love homemade laundry soap but it’s been weeks since I’ve prepped any. I’ve gone back to Ecos for the time being to save me the prep time.

I think some soul-searching is in order: what am I willing to “delegate” to ease the burden, and what do I just have to make time for?

My short list of Keepers?

Hmm, well after tonight, I’d say salsa is on the list. I had forgotten how awesome it is when homemade. Bread is another one. Tortillas – I am struggling with this one. It involves a rolling pin so for the foreseeable future, it may get delegated. Laundry soap, delegated. I’ll be working on this list over the next several days to try and help get my already overburdened schedule under control.

How do you decide what to keep making homemade and what to delegate to being store-bought?

Anyway… about that salsa.

I tend to eyeball measurements when there is wiggle room, so I will give my best estimate on amounts. But in the end, adjust to taste.

Jalapeno Habanero Salsa


10 -12 roma tomatoes, chopped (should yield approximately 5 cups chopped)

2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and chopped fine

2 habanero peppers, seeds removed and chopped fine

1/2  sweet vidalia onion, diced

1/2 Tbsp coarse salt

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

juice from 1 lime



To prepare:

Chop tomatoes, peppers and onions by hand or in food processor.

Add salt, pepper and lime juice and mix well to combine.

Cover and transfer to fridge to let juices mingle. Adjust to taste.

*Even with four peppers, this salsa was milder than expected. I was tempted to add a couple more since we’ve got plenty in the garden, but opted to stay mild for the sake of the children’s palates.

** Don’t be afraid to add cilantro to this! I didn’t have any on hand or it would have made it in.



tacosThis works great as a topping as well as an ingredient.

I prepped some taco filling – sauteed TVP, onions and black beans seasoned with cumin and a little coarse salt.

Before serving, I mixed in a scoop (approximately 1 cup) of salsa, being sure to get plenty of the liquid.

Topped with some Daiya vegan cheese and salsa, this simple dinner made me reconsider what I’m willing to give up for the sake of convenience.

Laundry soap? I’ll stick with store bought for now. Salsa? Only homemade will do.





Jun 07

Berry Oatmeal Bars

I’ve been in another kitchen rut since our schedule has become more hectic. With four kids, having snacks on hand is an absolute must. It is too easy to lean on prepackaged snacks – crackers, graham crackers, granola bars, etc.

In an attempt to stock the kitchen with grab-and-go snacks that aren’t processed, I modified a recipe from the wonderful cookbook The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook. And a bonus – I am using my homemade jam in the recipe!

Berry Oatmeal Bars

1/2 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup Earth Balance vegan margarine
1 3/4 cup unbleached sugar
2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/4 rolled oats
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup Blackberry jam
1 cup Strawberry jam
2 cups raspberries (frozen, slight thawed or use fresh)

In a stand-up mixer, combine coconut oil, Earth Balance and sugar and mix until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt.  Combine dry and wet ingredients in mixer, and mix on low speed. Dough mixture will be loose.

Stir together jam and berries and set aside.

Press 2/3 of dough mixture into the bottom of a 9″ x 12″ baking dish. Spread jam mixture evenly over dough. Spread remaining dough mixture on top of jam mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F for  1 hour until lightly browned. Remove and let cool completely before cutting.



May 16

New Product Review: Vegan Egg

I found a local source of Follow Your Heart’s new product VeganEgg. I was quite excited to try this!

Typically when I bake I use either EnerG Egg Replacer or Flax Seed, but it was interesting to see a vegan egg replacer that can actually be eaten as an egg, and not just serve as an egg replacer in baking.

I’ll be honest –  I don’t plan to use VeganEgg as an egg replacer in my baking  at this point so I can’t give any input on how it works in that regard. But VeganEgg is perfect for an awesome omelette experience!

VeganEgg is algal flour based, and comes as a powder. Two tablespoons of VeganEgg is mixed with 1/2 cup ice cold water and whisked well. Add to an oiled skillet and cook it up like scrambled eggs.

As far as flavor – it is definitely “egg-y” though it is a little bland. This works out well as you can season it to taste. I added a little salt and pepper near the end of cooking, and thought it tasted great. We even added a little Daiya cheddar to make some cheesy scrambled eggs!

This is a shelf-stable product and mixes up quick. It is definitely a good addition to the pantry for a quick breakfast option. I will be keeping VeganEgg on hand and already have plans for breakfast tacos!

Want to learn more, or locate a store that is carrying it? Check out Follow Your Heart’s website.




May 10

Down Home



downhome2You may have noticed but there have been a lot of changes around here.
The biggest change by far is the name.
While I have loved writing at The Vegan Bee, over the past year or so I have felt the need to move in different directions with the topics I focus on. While I love sharing vegan recipes and discussing the vegan lifestyle, that is not the only thing that defines me or the path my family is on.



downhome3In the midst of struggling with feelings of inadequacy for being unable or unmotivated to write about vegan food or vegan living, a fellow blogger that I love to read shared a wonderful and timely post.

Sarah Bessey wrote just this past week about how we lock ourselves into a defined role or brand, and we can make ourselves crazy when we need to move out of that role. That’s how I have been feeling.

When I first started this blogging adventure, I stepped into the world of vegan blogging, and I have loved it.


downhome4But as I find myself wanting to write more about family life, or building a homestead, or even homeschooling, there is a feeling of not meeting a standard, a standard I have set for myself.

But we go through seasons in life. This past year has seen us living in an empty house that was on the market, living with my parents and sharing a small kitchen, living in the woods cooking on a propane stove, and now living in a fixer upper in a kitchen that is in a perpetual state of repair. 



downhome7This is not the season to be adventurous in the kitchen. Right now we seem to be just getting by. My food posts have been few and far between this past year.

So I have decided to keep it simple.

I write about home, living, my life and family, and everything in between. Food is certainly one aspect of that, so vegan recipes and vegan things will still be a part of my blog.

But it won’t be the sole focus. Life is hectic now, with me returning to work and juggling family, homeschool, and getting our homestead off the ground. My focus has changed in this current season.



downhome1And that’s okay.

Seasons change and all we can do is embrace the change. We are now living in a small cottage in the woods, in a very small town.

Life is a lot different than it was a year ago. My new normal is not what it was. So my focus is changing as well.

I look forward to sharing in all the adventures we are going through in this new season.


Apr 09

Berry Muffins


Muffins are our go-to comfort breakfast around here. This is a basic recipe that can be modified with various berries or fruit.

Berry Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg equivalent (EnerG or “flax” egg)
2 – 3 cups frozen berries (I used a 12 oz bag of blueberries and strawberries
1/2 cup almond (or other nondairy) milk
1/2 cup coconut oil

In  a mixing bowl, combine flour, soda, baking powder and salt.

Rinse frozen fruit under hot water to thaw slightly. Large pieces of fruit should be chopped into smaller pieces (blueberry size).

Combine frozen fruit, sugar and coconut oil and mix well using a stand-up mixer.

Add fruit mixture to dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Mix in egg equivalent and milk.

Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full.

Bake in preheated oven at 350F for 26-28 minutes.

Check with toothpick for doneness.




Feb 24

Around the Homestead


It’s hard to believe we have been living in our new home four months already. While we still have so many projects to do around the property and the house, I am still amazed at all we have done so far. When we first moved in, it was ROUGH living for a few weeks. But we tackled the barest of necessities (water) and everything has been moving up from there.


We typically alternate between indoor and outdoor projects, depending on if we are going stir crazy and how nice the weather is. As we get closer to Spring, though, I have been trying to spend more time outside to get ready for gardening.

 This property is already set up for extensive gardens, with regularly spaced PVC garden sprinklers. Some of the sprinklers may need repair, but otherwise the system is in place. While we have a lot of space to work with, we are planning on starting small, since much of of the property is overgrown with weeds and needs some serious TLC. With that being said, however, our first year garden is still going to be much bigger than any we’ve previously done!


One thing I am looking forward to is putting in fruit trees. We’ve been dreaming of our own fruit trees for years and finally have a chance to make it happen. We also have grapes in the middle of the side garden that hopefully will be bouncing back in the spring.


In the front of the house, we are working to make it a little more functional as well as aesthetic. A simple circular drive addition has made my life easier, and I’ve gone a little crazy with pruning shears, working to tame the overgrown azaleas in our yard. We are working to make a safe and comfortable area for the children to play, and perhaps put in a small garden bed or two this spring. More shrubs that I’d like to count were removed and we had a lot of yard debris to deal with, but it has been so worth it! Finally we have a space where the kids can play and run around.


For an indoor update:

To keep renovation costs low, we have decided to redo all the floors with plywood. We ripped out all carpeting when we first moved in, and have been tearing out all the particle board as fast as we can. After put down plywood, we are sanding, staining and sealing. Our dining room/classroom and living room are complete, and we are currently working on the study. This is the project I am most excited about! We will be putting in simple, custom-built bookshelfs and will finally be able to fully unpack our book collection!
A hopefully not-too-far-off project I will be starting is organizing our pantry. We have have two separate pantries, one with built-in shelves and one without. The one without shelves is currently housing the fridge until we redo the kitchen floor. While the extra pantry space is a nice change, it also requires a little more planning. The smaller pantry just off the kitchen, with the built-in shelves have been designated as short-term pantry space. Here is where most of our groceries go, along with a dedicated cabinet for herbs, oils and various natural products supplies. I am reserving the larger pantry for longer-term food storage. Here is where I have bulk rice and dry goods I have stocked up. I don’t need to battle bulk quantities for everyday cooking.
Stay tuned for upcoming projects around the homestead: Completing the Study and Rebuilding the Chicken Coop!

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