Thursday, July 31, 2014

This Book Room: Annie's Stories

The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great book will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.

But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.

Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Ellis Island series.

My thoughts: I was a little upset at myself because I did not realize when requesting this book that it was part of a series and it was book two. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could not discern the book was part of a series, so you absolutely can read this book on its own.

With that said, this book moved a bit slowly for me. I really enjoyed how the Wizard of Oz was woven into this story, and I enjoyed the mystery plot lines. The book, overall, was just so-so, although I'm glad I read it. If you're interested in immigrants, the early 20th century or the Wizard of Oz, you'll be happy to read this story.

Thanks to Tyndale for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Crafty Christmas: Keepsake Baby Prints


Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 21 weeks away! 

I am no by means a perfect crafter. In fact, crafting is hard work and always involves imperfections, at least for me.

Add a baby to the mix and whoa! I hope you've got your seat belt buckled because you'll be in for one wild ride.

Crafting with Bug has been so much fun. But it definitely is messy, and you can tell our projects are made by a baby. But I think that's kind of the point, don't you?

For Bug's first Christmas, she made hand print ornaments and framed hand prints. By far, the framed hand prints were much easier to make.

Here's what you need to make keepsake baby prints: 

  • White card stock
  • Magnetic frame
  • Paint or ink in the color of your choice
We chose paint over ink due to Bug's age. We thought paint would be easier to work with. I don't know if that's true now that I'm on the other side of this craft, but I will say Bug thoroughly enjoyed the paint so that made it worth it. Also, I feel like the paint came off very easily from her skin, and I'm doubtful ink would come off that easily. I would personally wait to use ink until your little is older, but you can use ink with a baby. It really is your choice. Just be sure to get washable paint if you do opt for paint. 

Here's how to make keepsake baby prints: 
  1. Using a computer word program, type out your baby's name and the current year. Please note: to protect Bug, I've cropped the photo so it doesn't show her name and year. But I think you get the idea of what I'm saying with my directions here. We actually used her first name and middle name on one line, then entered the year 2013 on the second line. 
  2. Print out several copies. I printed out four and only needed two. 
  3. Using a ruler or the glass from the frame you've chosen, trace the dimensions of the frame on the white card stock and cut out the name and date, being sure the name and date are near the bottom and in the center. 
  4. Place a bit of paint on a plate. Be sure to use a minimal amount. You don't want the paint to be so thick, your baby's hand is just dripping with paint. It looks like, from our picture, that Bug's hand had too much paint. I'm not sure it did: she just wanted to move her hand around while we were making the print! :) 
  5. We put Bug in her high chair in a plain white onesie for this task. The paint came out completely, so don't feel shy about keeping your baby clothed. Once Bug was arranged in her chair, I came over with the plate of paint and the paper. Jason held her other arm and I took her hand, pressed it into the paint lightly and helped her open her hand and press down on the sheet of paper, one by one. We chose to do it four times, knowing we only needed two prints. We wanted to make extra in case some didn't turn out well at all. The one above was actually the second best print. We could have made more and I think as time went on, we all became better at the process, but this is a gift made by a then 9-month-old. I don't think anyone minds if the print is a little odd. I think that's part of the fun. 
  6. Place the pieces of paper on a cookie sheet or some other sort of tray and let dry. 
  7. Place each piece of paper into a frame. 
We all enjoyed making this project and plan to make something similar to this in the future. There are so many wonderful hand print and footprint ideas on Pinterest. Hand prints might be my favorite, but I do have to say that footprints would be easier for a baby. You may want to consider doing footprints for younger ones and hand prints for older ones. Either way, I'm just glad I've captured Buggy's tiny chubby fingers and palm. 

Happy crafting! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beauty Fix: the true story behind sun safety

photo credit
The reality is I'm a redhead with very light skin. I've had a few horrible burns in my lifetime; one when I was a kid and a couple in my early adult years. I've had a few light burns (is that such a thing?), but it wasn't until fairly recently that I became passionate about sun safety.

Oddly enough, it wasn't even a sunburn that truly turned around my outlook on sun safety. Rather, it's my baby girl. I always make it a point to slather sunscreen on her, put a hat on her head (which stays for mere seconds) and pop sunglasses on her face. I haven't always taken such good care of me, but in everything I do, I aim to be a model for her. If she doesn't see me protecting myself, she may not desire to protect herself in the future. Recently, I purchased a high SPF sunscreen and a chapstick with sunscreen to better protect myself. I also have sunglasses for my eyes.

Vitamin D is super beneficial for more than just our skin; being in the sun lifts one's mood. You could say spending time in the sun allows for a sunny outlook on life. I'm not suggesting at all that we skip out on playing outside, swimming, picking berries and living life.

But what I would recommend is slathering on high SPF sunscreen and protecting your skin from real damage that could be caused by the sun. I know the world says, "But tans are hot!" You know what's hotter? Less wrinkles when I'm older. Honestly, I don't even really care about wrinkles but to give people who care about appearances a reason for sun safety, here it is: anytime you lay in a tanning bed or lay out in the sun, you're adding more wrinkles to your face when you're older.

Maybe appearances aren't all that important to you. They aren't to me. So for those of you who are like me, here's this: skin cancer is real and it's not pretty. It's not fun, and it's not healthy. By doing something so simple as putting on sunscreen, you could quite literally save your life.

Here's the good news: sunscreen is pretty cheap! I bought a bottle of sunscreen for Jason and I to share and a chapstick with SPF from amazon.com (using gift cards I received from Swagbucks, of course) for about $13. My cost was $0 out of pocket since I did use gift cards. The sunscreen and the chapstick will definitely last until they expire, which is usually around 6 months to a year for these types of items. Check the expiration date on your items to see when exactly they expire.

I'm a fan of SPF 50 - it's just the right middle ground. For chapsticks, it's unlikely you can find one with that much SPF, but anything with 15 and over will work great. Be sure to apply sunscreen correctly - you need more lotion than you think. Read the bottle for full directions on the amount to use.

Re-apply often. Typically, you should reapply every 80 minutes you're in water, directly after towel drying or every 2 hours if not in water. If you're going out for the day and will be outside, pack your sunscreen, chapstick, hats, sunglasses, and lots of water.

If you have dark skin, you're not safe from the sun. It's true you won't burn as easily. Your skin has higher levels of melatonin so it may take longer for you to see the sun's effects on your skin. But be rest assured: spend enough time in direct sunlight and you can and will burn.

Maybe you're careful, or maybe you weren't and now you've got a burn. In the early stages of a burn, dip a wash cloth in apple cider vinegar and lay it on your burned skin. That helps take away the pain. Once you're in the stage where peeling will begin soon, I slather coconut oil on my skin to help moisturize the burned skin. That doesn't necessarily help the peeling not occur. Peeling is your skin's way of healing, after all, but it's good to feel like you're doing something and it will help your skin stay moisturized. I personally feel the oil helps skin heal faster but that's not a scientific fact (or if it is, I don't know it is and do not want to make untrue claims here).

I know sunscreen might not always seem glamorous, but the truth is is that the effects of not wearing sunscreen are not just ugly, they are life-threatening. I'd rather have life over a tan any day.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Life & Style: Quality of Life

photo credit
On any given day, you'll likely hear Jason or I say "quality of life" at least once. Each.

It's something that is behind every decision, every thought, everything in our lives. I wanted to share this philosophy with you all in the hopes that it will encourage you to step back, examine your own life and determine what you need to change or keep the same to achieve the highest quality of life.

First, it bears noting that God is our definer of quality of life. We first exist to serve Him. In everything we do and are, our joy is in loving and serving Him. While quality of life drives our decisions, it's really God who's behind the steering wheel. I just wanted to make that abundantly clear.

Improving quality of life may be something as simple as drinking a cup of tea when you get home from work or before bedtime. It may be reading a few pages from a book. It may be tickling your little one and having a nightly dance party.

Or it may be something bigger. It may mean quitting your job. I shared this previous winter that I needed a job. I do need a job. That is still true. I took a job that was far from home with the thought that we would eventually move. I took a job far from home that had an actual career track and threw myself into it.

Only to realize it was all wrong. The job was wrong. The distance was wrong. Moving was wrong. Jason and I had both prayed and came to the same conclusion: quitting was the answer. It honestly made me heartsick because I had wanted the job to work out. But I chose quality of life over that particular job. I haven't regretted it once. Since I now have a better-than-I-imagined job, my decision worked out quite well.

Quitting your job may not mean a higher quality of life for you. Your job may improve your quality of life because it allows you to keep a roof over your head, food in your belly and it fits in with your life and the vision you have for it.

How do you decide if something improves or lessens your quality of life? First, take a simple inventory of what makes you happy and what doesn't.

Here's some things that make us happy:
  • Reading our Bibles and devotionals
  • Exercising
  • Gardening
  • Crafting
  • Playing with, snuggling with, overall just being with our girl 
  • Same as above with Preston, our cat
  • Game nights/movie nights/happy fun theme nights
  • Money to pay all of our bills and have a bit left over to help us reach goals 
Here's some things that don't make us happy:
  • Having two cars 
  • Too little sleep 
  • Eating out all the time
  • No date nights 
  • Moving away from our current area 
  • The opposite of all the things in our "happy" category
The items in our happy category are very closely connected to the amount of time we have in a day to spend on these items. If we're too busy doing A, we might not have time for B. We don't need time every day to do each of the happy things, but if we never have time to do any happy thing, something needs to change. 

If something in our lives is making us do the unhappy things or think about doing them, then the something needs to go or change so that it fits in better with our vision.

Besides quitting the job I took in April, there are other things we've done or changed to better fit with our vision. We finally purchased patio chairs for our balcony ($1 each at a garage sale!). This immensely improved our quality of life. I love sitting on the balcony, drinking tea, reading my Bible and praying. It's so peaceful.

I love spending concentrated, uninterrupted time with my Bug, building blocks with her, playing with stuffed friends, and chasing her around the house.

Honestly, it's pretty easy to make decisions when you have a defined quality of life. That doesn't mean I always make the right decisions (obviously). Sometimes, I screw up. I'm not perfect and I never will be (thank you God for your grace and mercy). But having a defined quality of life gives me a good foundation to work from so I can start to make decisions that are beneficial for my family.

Take a few moments and write down your own happy and unhappy list. Tape it up in your house somewhere or keep it stored on your smartphone so you can consult your list when presented with choices and decisions. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

This Book Room: Reasons My Kid Is Crying

It all started when busy father Greg Pembroke posted a few pictures online of his three-year-old son, mid-tantrum, alongside the reason his son was crying: He had broken his bit of cheese in half. In Reasons My Kid is Crying, Greg collects together photos sent from parents around the world, documenting the many, completely logical reasons why small children cry.  Among them: “I let him play on the grass” . . . “He ran out of toys to throw into his pool” . . . “The neighbor’s dog isn’t outside”.  The result is both an affectionate portrait of the universal, baffling logic of toddlers—and a reminder for burned-out parents everywhere that they are not alone.

My thoughts: Oh.My.Hotcakes. This book is flat-out funny and in some ways, sad. Included are pictures of kids crying which is heart wrenching, but the reasons they are crying... is just pull-your-pants-down funny. One of my personal favorites was "It wasn't raining inside." Awesome!

As a parent to a toddler (gulp), I can attest to the fact that kids will cry for the most insane reasons. One of Bug's favorite reasons to launch into a full-blown tantrum in .000001 seconds is when I firmly tell Preston "No!" when he is being aggressive toward her. Really? You don't want me to tell your brother not to eat you? Okay, fine, then. Be kitty chow.

Alas, kids will be kids. Kudos to Greg for thinking of archiving his kid's craziest stunts so when his kid has kids, he has photographic evidence of what he is going to experience. And let me tell you: it's not pretty. But it is hilarious.

Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: how to dress your child for less

This is a picture of Bug's hang-up clothes from last year. You can actually see the $2 dress in this picture - it's the short-sleeved green, purple and blue dress. All of these clothes were hand-me-downs, gifts or garage sale finds.
The great thing about kids is that they're generally not picky about the clothing they wear. The bad thing about kids is that the grow out of their clothes in the blink of an eye. And for some reason, most people expect you to clothe your little one. I'm going to share all my tips and tricks with you so you can get the most bang for your buck when it comes to clothes for your kids.


The first step to saving money is deciding how much you really need for your little. Bug's clothing needs have changed over the course of her short lifetime. When she was a baby, we preferred to dress her in sleepers rather than a shirt and pair of pants. As she's grown older, we've ditched sleepers for two-piece outfits for the purposes of potty training.


For our purposes today, here's what I think any child aged 1 and above needs for each size of clothing:
  • 3 pairs of shorts (khaki, jean, colored, etc.)
  • 4 pairs of sweat-type shorts
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 2 pairs of other pants (khakis, capris, etc.)
  • 4 pairs of sweat-type pants
  • 4 dresses for girls, 4 nice outfits for boys
  • 4 long-sleeved shirts
  • 4 short-sleeved shirts
  • 2 hoodies
  • 2 sweaters
  • 1 winter jacket
  • 1 spring and fall type jacket
We don't keep a count for undies and socks, but generally speaking, we aim for 4 pairs of socks and 10 pairs of undies. Honestly, Bug wears socks very minimally.


Bug doesn't wear shoes very often, but she has a pair of TOMS that matches our TOMS, a pair of sandals that can get wet, and a pair of sandals to wear with dresses and dressier outfits. I don't really worry about shoes for the future, but I imagine she'll have a pair of TOMS for each size and a pair of sandal-type shoes. When she's old enough to add fitness as a part of her lifestyle, she'll have a pair of shoes for that.


Depending on the region of the world in which you live, your list of what your child may need for clothing can definitely vary. If you live in a very hot climate, you may want some sleeveless tops for your child. We don't make it a point to buy that type of item, but Bug has a couple of tank tops.


Once you've determined the bare necessities your child needs, and the keyword here is what is actually necessary, you can start shopping for your child's wardrobe. Bug is currently in size 24 month/2T, and we have 3T completed. We also have some clothing items for 4T and even 5T.


Hand-me-downs
You'd be shocked at how many incredibly nice clothing items we've received for free. Our friends have given us many bags of clothes, including many pairs of shoes. Family members who have daughters and granddaughters have happily given us clothes for our Bug. A good chunk of Bug's 3T items were completely and absolutely free. Ask around to those who have kids, even if they're many years older than yours. You'd be shocked at how many of them still have clothing in littler sizes. If they're past a child-bearing age or have decided not to have any more children, they may be happy to pass along the clothes to you. I've spent many a happy afternoon sorting through clothes given to me and keeping what I liked and passing on the rest. It was like shopping, only it was free. If someone you know is giving clothes to you for free, it would be a nice gesture to make cookies or muffins for them or offer a night of free baby-sitting.


Gifts
If Christmas or your child's birthday is coming up, and you're a little short on clothing items, don't hesitate to let friends and family members know what your child needs. For Bug's first Christmas, we let everyone know which 24 month items we were in need of. For all subsequent Christmases/birthdays in the near future, I don't foresee us needing any clothing items. In fact, I already asked my mom not to buy her any clothes because we need nothing. More clothes would actually be a bother because we have too many as it is. But when you're in need of clothes, family and friends are usually all too happy to shop for clothes for your little.


Garage sales
My love for shopping really comes in handy when it comes to garage sales. I can get great bargains on awesome clothes. I find the majority of the garage sales I hit up on craigslist.com. I click on garage sales. If I'm not wanting to travel far to save on gas (which is often), I type in my hometown in the search bar to limit sales to only my area. Thankfully, I live near a ton of towns so just by driving 15 miles, I can find a lot of good ones. I only pick out ones that specifically list girls' clothes for the sizes I'm looking for so that I don't waste gas or time.


Once I have a list of garage sales, I map out the best route on mapquest.com. This helps save gas and time, too. The best garage sales are subdivision sales because you can hit a lot of houses very quickly. I typically strap Bug in her umbrella stroller and walk the entire sub. Not only am I getting shopping done, but I'm getting a good walk in, too!


You can read a lot more in detail about garage saling here and here. Part of what I cover there is the cost I'm willing to spend at garage sales. Typically, I'm unwilling to spend a cent over $1 for any clothing piece. When Bug was born in March 2013, we started garage saling in April that year. I remember I bought her the cutest dress and hat ensemble at a garage sale for $2. That is way more than I normally would spend. Every time I went to dress her when she was in that size if the dress was clean, she was in it. And I always told her, "We've got to get our money's worth out of this dress. It cost $2!" Jason thought it was going a little too far (I admit to nothing), but I learned an important lesson. If it bothered me that much to spend $2, I should've passed on it. There will always be another dress.


My limit is generally $1, with the exception of jackets/coats. I prefer to spend less than that. 50 cents a piece is much more my range, and I've even been to a garage sale where I stocked up on colored onesies in fantastic shape for 10 cents each. That was a red banner day in my book.


You'll always want to be sure to have your list with you, whether you're going to garage sales or sorting through free clothes so that you know which items you need and which ones you don't. I'm not the best role model for this, I fully admit, but you don't really need more than 4 dresses. Generally speaking, there are only 4 Sundays in the month, so if you're a church-going family, you're covered. And if you don't go to church, I'm not sure your daughter will have 4 occasions in the month to wear a dress.


There's a lot to be said for owning less when it comes to your child's clothes. If you plan to store your child's clothes for the next little who comes along, less clothes will take up less space. You'll have less laundry that can pile up. Your little will need less dresser and closet space in which to store their clothes. Once you've mastered your little's wardrobe, consider taking a look at your own. Everything that is true about having less for your little is true for you, too. Having less really is better!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Saving the Moola: the best apps to put cash back in your wallet

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Whenever I hear anyone talk about ways to make your smartphone work for you, I think, That's great, but I don't have a smartphone.

Thankfully, you don't always necessarily need a smartphone to cash in on some of the fantastic apps out there where you can earn money or get rebates on groceries. Depending on the device you have, you can get these apps - no smartphone needed.


Currently, the apps I use are loaded on my family's iPod Touch. I shared here how I scrimped and saved to buy the iPod. At the time, I bought it mostly to listen to music at work, but I don't work at that particular job anymore. For a long time, it was gathering dust, and I considered selling it. Then, Jason started using it for games and I started playing in the app store. I was super excited when I found I could get certain apps I'd had my eye on!


There are two apps that I highly recommend you see if you can get on whatever electronic device you have. Most people do have smartphones, so if you do, please run (don't walk) to your phone and get these apps STAT. If you don't have a smartphone but have some other device, it's definitely worth taking a look to see if you can get either of these two specific apps.


What if you don't have any device to get any apps? Well, you'll have to make a choice as to whether or not you should get one, but I will say that I think it's well worth it to have a device that you can use for pleasure and business - in this case, making money.


Checkout 51
This is my favorite money-making app. Each week, there are offers you can redeem. It doesn't matter which store you shop at. You can shop anywhere, and if you buy any of the offers listed, just upload your receipt and you'll get a rebate. For instance, I bought 5 loaves of bread from my local bread thrift store. My total was $2. An offer was up for 25 cents for any loaf of bread. I uploaded my receipt within the app (dirt simple to do, you don't need a printer/scanner/copier, just your device), and it was processed very quickly. 25 cents was put in my account. Once I reach $20, Checkout 51 will send a check to me. You can check out this app here.


Ibotta
Other people have had fantastic luck with this app, and while I've managed to redeem a few offers, it's not as easy to use as Checkout 51. You have to select which store you shopped at, and I'll tell you this: bread thrift stores aren't listed. Most major grocery stores are, however, including Meijer, so that's one bonus for them. Once you select the store you shopped at, you can see the offers available for that particular store. Offers can vary store to store, but usually most of them are the same. Each store will have some exclusive offers - I've never cashed in on any of those. You upload your receipt in the same exact way you upload receipts for Checkout 51, and once you reach $2, you can get a gift card, or you can opt to transfer earnings to PayPal or Venmo when you reach $5. You can check out this app here.


There are a lot of great apps out there. I've heard others have used Shopmium and Shopkick. I downloaded Shopkick, but haven't been motivated to use it since I don't often take the iPod out of the house. I haven't had a chance yet to look at Shopmium.


What great apps do you use to make money? Please share in the comments!