Monday, October 12, 2009

It's beginning to look like Christmas... in my house

Hi all! If I were a responsible blog poster, I would have posted Christmas projects and ideas all year round. If I were a responsible crafter, I would have actually crafted said Christmas projects and ideas all year round.

But I didn't. Have no fear, though! It is only creeping to mid-October and there are plenty of projects you all can still do - some that take only minutes, some that take hours, and even some that are a bit more long-term!

Jason and I will be posting many, many ideas and crafts in the next two and a half months. And as a little teaser for what is to come, we present one of the easiest, eco-friendly, quickest, wallet-friendly, and just all-around best project ever.

I always save our Christmas cards. I don't really know why. I have (or should I say had) no use for them.

Thanks to an idea I read in a Rachael Ray issue last year, I now use my Christmas cards as gift tags! Simply cut the front of the card with the pretty picture of a landscape or whatever it might be, and cut as many squares, ovals, circles, crosses, whatever shape you want as you can. Punch a hole near the top. You can either write on the back of the tag (what I am planning to do since the back of the tag is white) or use different colored pens - maybe even gel pens - to write "to" and "from" and the names.

Then, just take ribbon, raffia, yarn, twine, whatever is handy and tie the card onto a bag handle. If you're not using a bag, you can still use the gift tag. Just wrap your present and use ribbon on the gift. Then, tie the tag on the ribbon and secure with the twine for the gift card with tape to the gift's ribbon.

You will literally never need to buy gift tags again. I used up all my Christmas cards from last year right after the holidays (the best time to make these gift tags in my opinion, right before you pack up your gift wrap, bows, etc.), and I ended up with about 50 or so tags. Since I do not make or buy 50 presents in one year, I now have gift tags for life as long as I keep getting Christmas cards!

The project should take you, at most, about ten minutes to do. Have your hole punch handy and once you're finished cutting the gift tags, punch all the holes near the top. Put them in a little storage container to keep them safe, and voila, a season's worth (or more!) of gift tags.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

God and the Media

There are so many books that are on the bestseller's lists that involve religion in some way. Pastor Dave once preached about this, and I agree: God cannot truly be found in a book (minus the Bible obviously!!!!).

But books are widely what led me to join a church, learn more about Christ, and devote my life to Him.

DVDs are also a great supplement to actually seeing the effect of God on others (another great way to see this is to actively participate in a church and volunteer and give back to others).

Anyway, I'm getting a bit off topic :)

So what books have I read and thoroughly enjoyed? I'm glad you asked!
The first secular books (we'll call them that for the purpose of this blog post) I read that led me to seriously think about God was the Left Behind series. I've come to understand that these books have led a lot of people to thinking about God, and if you read them, you will surely understand. I think the best way to describe my faith is that I'm God-fearing and God-loving. I think these books are a good way to explore that sort of relationship, and it also helps the not-so-knowledgeable Christian (or a new Christian) to understand the future and God's love for us.

Once you get past those books (I'm still reading the series, on book 10), I would strongly suggest any of the following:
The Purpose-Driven Life
Love and Respect
The Love Dare
The Way of the Master

I would also suggest any books by Andy Andrews and Bruce Wilkinson.

The first DVD I watched was Fireproof. It's based on the Love Dare, and it is one of the best movies I've ever seen period. Kirk Cameron stars in it, and while the acting might not be the best (particularly regarding Kirk's character's wife), the acting doesn't really matter since it's the message that matters.

I would also strongly, strongly, strongly recommend Passion of the Christ. I don't even know what to say about it except to say I'll never forget it, and I'm so glad I watched it. My love for God just exponentially grew during that movie. I was able to fully grasp what He did for us and how much He loves us. Remarkable.

Other DVDs I would strongly suggest:
Flywheel
Facing the Giants
The Left Behind movies

The library is going to order Faith Like Potatoes, which I heard about from "Watch and Pray" - one of the blogs I follow on here. I can't recommend it since I haven't watched it yet but I'll let you all know what I think after I do watch it :)

I thoroughly enjoy reading Christianity Today (monthly magazine) and also Christian Women Online (a monthly magazine online). The link to CWO is http://www.christianwomenonline.net/issue/.

Another web site I would encourage anyone to visit is Way of the Master (http://www.wayofthemaster.com/).

A TV show that I enjoy watching that centers around living a Christ-like life is the Duggars on TLC.

Finding God through media is probably not the best and most fulfilling way to find Him, however, I think media provides an important connection to God. My relationship is much stronger with God because of the books I've read, the movies I've watched, the articles in magazines I've read. It's not all there is to having a loving and whole relationship with Christ, but I feel it's an important aspect of the relationship.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bride Musings

Hi all! Jason and I are getting so excited for our wedding - even though it is still more than a year away! Tomorrow, my mom and I are going to bridal salons in the Ann Arbor area, and I'm hopeful that I'll find something I like.

A lot of people seem a bit perplexed as to how Jason and I can afford a wedding completely on our own. Jason and I are far from rich, at least in the society definition of rich, but we are rich in smarts, I think!

Our budget is quite large, I think, for the size of the wedding we're planning - meaning we're inviting only 60 people and of those 60 people, we expect about 45 guests. Experts say you should estimate that 20% of those invited will not attend, and that falls in line with who we're inviting who is from out of town (like my aunt in North Carolina and Jason's in Germany) and who just might not be interested in attending since the wedding will happen in Ann Arbor - a good distance away from all those invited.

I think the key to making a wedding affordable is remembering not that it's just one day, but what you'll remember from that day. We're not serving alcohol. Jason and I do not drink ourselves (or at least, we rarely do). Are we going to miss not having alcohol? Absolutely not! 20 years from now, I'm not going to be saying, "Man, I wish I had a bar at my wedding." We're not having any sort of bridal party (though I wish Preston could be the maid of honor and best man all in one :)). A friend once gave me some great advice (although I never wanted a bridal party anyway!): don't have a bridal party unless it's comprised of relatives. I completely agree. I think the people brides and grooms typically choose for the wedding party, they are not close or friends with those non-relatives 20 years down the line. I know that 20 years from now, I'm not going to be saying, "I so wish I could have had a maid of honor." I think my friends are mature enough to realize that being in my wedding party is not the best or most appropriate way to honor their friendships in my life.

Flowers. They die, people! I mean, look, I didn't want any flowers, and now I'm seriously considering a bouquet, only so I have something in my hands when I walk down the aisle. But instead of buying flowers, why not just do candles for the middle of the table? You can keep the candles afterward and use them in your home with your new groom!

So what are we splurging on? Food. Photography. The attire. The decor. And my parents splurged on one of the best parts of the whole wedding - a wedding planner! This is key for any bride and groom. I hardly ever worry about the wedding (trust me all, I could be a lot worse than I am!!!). I know that the weekend of the wedding, I'll be sitting back in my salon chair, relaxed, while the entire wedding is orchestrated by the wedding planner. Complete ease of mind.

Really choose what you will remember about the day - I knew I would remember the photographs. That was one of the first decisions we made - who would be the photographer. I knew I would remember the venue - and that was the first decision we made. We're working on decor still, but we have chosen all of the linens, the chairs, and the lounge furniture for the day. We haven't chose the food, but I'm confident that next spring when we choose, the Gandy Dancer will have wonderful options.

And of course, I'm going to look at dresses tomorrow!

I know it's cliche, but just remember, the day is about the fact that you've found your other half, and you're pledging to spend the rest of your life with him or her. The rest of the day will just sort of fade away, but you'll always remember the one you married and the love you shared. And honestly, that is all that really matters.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

New Cooking

One thing Jason and I truly enjoy is finding new recipes, experimenting, and trying new food. Now, with the internet, this is easier than ever, but sometimes, internet recipes can't be trusted. You don't know who's putting them out there and if they truly work - and we can tell you from experience, sometimes they don't!

Instead of paying out money for cookbooks, though, without knowing if you truly will use the recipes between the covers, visit your local library. In doing so, Jason and I have found one cookbook we could really use for all our meals:

This book, which holds 1,400 recipes, is wondrous! Appetizers, dips, breakfast entrees, desserts, soups - anything you want, it has!
We don't use our slow cooker often, mostly because we never had any recipes for it. But with this book, our slow cooker is getting more use than our oven.
Today's dinner: macaroni and cheese!
Visit your local library and get inspired by all the different cuisines and cooking techniques you will surely find. Reading is knowledge, they say, and in the case of cookbooks, reading equates to great food!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My New Best Friend...

is the freezer!

It's summertime, and so many wonderful fruits and veggies are growing in abundance! In the winter, it's so hard to find great, ripe, flavorful fruits and veggies (particulary tomatoes and any fruits at all, except maybe apples and bananas).

Jason and I have extremely limited freezer space, but we've recently been doing experimenting and researching online to see just what we can use our freezer for and how it will help us save $$$ - by saving food and by buying less.

One great way is to take advantage of "u-pick" farms. One such farm, obviously, is my grandparents' blueberry farm! I get a 100% discount so clearly, that's a great way for Jason and I to save money! This week, Jason picked almost 11 pounds of berries! He brought half home, and we froze the other half.

My grandma says the best way to do this is to put them on a cookie sheet, unwashed, in a single layer. Freeze overnight, then put the blueberries in freezer bags. Since our freezer is small, my mum did this for us, and the berries look great! We now have 4 1-qt. freezer bags full, and Jason will be going back soon to freeze 4 more bags! (As long as the crop is still there :))

Other items that seem to freeze well include asparagus. Jason's grandparents do that, I believe, every year, and today I learned that my grandparents have asparagus growing at their house in the spring! I am most definitely planning to make a trip next year to pick up all the asparagus I can to freeze.

So what else can you freeze? How about pasta sauce? Jason and I only ever use half of the 24 oz. jars we buy. Well, you can freeze the other half! How great is that? Organic Meijer pasta sauce costs $2.12 for a 24 oz. jar. Now that we can freeze the other half (instead of throwing it away like we always do), each time we eat pasta, we'll only be paying $1.06 per pasta meal for pasta sauce!

It's amazing, truly, how much you can freeze, and there are so many ideas on the Internet on the best way to freeze the fruits and veggies. I recommend doing initial research to get a feel of how to freeze food, but before ever doing so, talk to someone who has experience freezing that particular food item. I talked to my grandma about freezing blueberries since she freezes them every year and has done so for the last 50 years. When I'm ready to freeze asparagus, I would talk to Jason's grandparents. Those with experience will be able to give you the most thorough instructions and directions, and it will make the freezing experience even easier.

Happy freezing!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cut $$$ From Your Grocery Bill

Last month, I shared tips on how to save money from your general merchandise bill (making your own dish soap, making your own laundry detergent).

This month, I decided to tackle the not-so-pleasant task of really looking at what Jason and I buy and how we can slash some Benjamins from our grocery bill.

Jason and I have lived together for almost four years, and we have come a long way. We've learned a lot of tips along the way (such as: don't eat what you're not going to be (seems simple...)).

You should probably start this task by looking at what you spend a lot of money on. For example, pasta sauce. We spend about $2 per pasta sauce jar, and we only ever use half of it. The other half always sits in the fridge, and after a week (after which we have usually not ate any more of it), we throw it away.

Sure, we could tell ourselves that we'll just change our habits and make pasta twice a week. But instead of lying to ourselves, we should just find a better way.

One tip is to buy tomato paste and make your own sauce. The great part about this is if you buy a large can, you can freeze the leftover paste in an ice cube tray, put the frozen cubes in a bag, and then you have tomato paste that you're not wasting.

Sam's Club has Hunt's Tomato Paste for about $5. You get 12 6 oz. cans. I have not compared prices with regular retailers so that might even be the best price!

Below is a link I found to a recipe you could make from tomato paste:
http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1615,148188-249198,00.html


So really, saving money is all about not wasting food, right? Jason and I always buy a loaf of bread when we grocery shop (ever two weeks). Depending on what kind of bread we buy, we could spend $1 to $5 per loaf of bread. But there is not one time we have ever used a loaf of bread. In fact, it's rare to use a quarter of the loaf before, surprise, surprise, the loaf is moldy.

Now, we break up the loaf into four equal parts. We take three of those parts and wrap each of the three parts in Saran wrap (we wrap the bread four times to ensure there is no freezer burn) and put the new loaves in the freezer. That way, we have enough bread for four weeks, instead of bread for one week (since good bread usually is only good for one week).

We're still figuring out how to best use our resources. Money is a common resource, but so often abused. It's so important to make each dollar count, and these tips are just two ways to make your dollar stretch further.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Homemade Home

Jason and I just made our first-ever batch of laundry detergent last night. So amazing! We were both really skeptical about how easy it would be to grate soap. I was completely blown away. It was just like grating cheese. Each batch will last us for about ten months and costs about $3 - $4 per batch to make (including the cost of materials over a period of time).

I posted a link earlier about how to make this laundry detergent, and while that's not the exact recipe I followed, it's very similar. The one I followed can be found in the 20 and Counting!: Duggar Book by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

I've also found a recipe for making my own dish soap. Any household product recipe can be found simply by using Google. If there's anything any of you are interested in, you should Google for it, and I promise you'll find dozens of recipes!

I certainly recommend figuring out the costs involved before just delving into anything. For instance, I had an idea to make my own dryer sheets, but I found dryer sheets at Sam's Club (membership necessary to shop there) that work out to be just less than $0.02 per sheet (TWO CENTS!). For just more than $7, Jason and I will have dryer sheets for more than a year. That's an amazing deal and way more cost effective than the recipes I found online.

Jason and I hope all of you consider making something you use regularly in your home instead of buying it. In most cases, homemade items are wallet-friendly and eco-friendly! Making your own products will cut down on a lot of plastic as you'll be reusing the containers, and you won't need to place your items in a plastic bag from the store to bring them home!

Happy making!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Keeping It Local

Where did all of April go? I want to sue the month of April and make it come back! I apologize for the length of time I have spent away from you, dear readers!

Earth Day has come and passed, but I have to say that the Oprah show that aired on Wednesday was positively riveting. Most of the stuff, I think any person who's eco-conscious would already know, but the video of the bird completely trapped in a plastic bag had me in tears. There was also a video of a turtle who had gotten a plastic ring caught on his middle when he was a baby, and he managed to still grow into an adult size, although his entire middle was probably just a couple of inches around - yes, with the plastic ring still on his body - and his body growing around it. Also, apparently, there's a garbage dump that is twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. In some areas, the trash is 90 feet deep. What is the trash? Mostly plastic bags.

And with the economy in its current state, being eco-conscious yet also maintaining purse strings can often be a struggle. Most people going organic or going green is costly. In most cases, it's just the opposite - it's cost effective.

That rare time you're treating yourself to a dinner out - skip the chains. First, it's food you've tasted in some degree before. Steak, chicken, fish, blah blah blah. Second, you're giving money to chains. Sure, people work at those chains, but the possibility of your server being truly excited to see you and learn who you are is slim to none.

Go somewhere local! I've had the opportunity to try more than a few of the local restaurants in Ypsi since living here (more in the past four months than I ever did in my first three years), and they're all superb. More than that, the prices are often cheaper. The food is always better, and the food is always different.

Aubree's Pizza offers the best veggie pizza ever. Sidetrack's has the most amazing spinach, artichoke, and crabmeat dip and the best pot roast ever - I don't even typically eat red meat, but they have me eating red meat every time I go there!!!

Beezy's has an amazing breakfast menu - from baked french toast to a pepper and egg sandwich! Bombadill's has an extensive beverage (coffees) menu with a few select baked goods, and Cafe Luwak is an awesome neighborhood cafe that offers a full beverage menu (coffees) and food menu.

Plus, the people at those establishments care that I go there. They appreciate my business and care to learn my name.

Think of that Texas-sized (twice over) garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean the next time you're at a store. Either ask for paper bags (and then reuse them when you go back (unless your cat thinks paper bags are his homes to destroy)) or buy tote bags and reuse those. And you don't have to go out and buy tote bags. I have tote bags that I've just gotten over the years. One is from a subscription I paid to TV Guide. Or scout garage sales and buy them there. That's extremely green (reuse) and budget-chic! Brand new tote bags could cost up to $50 each (if you think you have to carry designer!).

Buying 5 brand new tote bags at $50 each would cost $250.
Buying 5 tote bags from garage sales for $5 each would cost $25.

And I'm sure you could find tote bags for even cheaper.

Step outside the box and think creatively for ways to save the environment and cash!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Curl Up and Purl

Since beginning to learn how to knit, I've had Kate Jacobs' books recommended to me. Her most popular being the Friday Night Knitting Club which was followed by Knit Two. She's also written Comfort Food.

I credit Christine (Jason's sister-in-law) and my aunt Dawn for alerting me to the existence of these books and this author.

While Comfort Food was mediocre, it was the knitting books that perhaps not surprisingly appealed to me most. And while Knit One was great, it was truly Knit Two that made me yearn for a Knit Three!

There are a lot of knitting fiction books out there and so I can imagine it must be difficult to choose which ones to read. Without a doubt, I now highly recommend reading these books. The characters, truly, are lovely, and Knit Two is really surprising and fulfilling. It was a difficult book to put down and while some people I know (cough, cough, Suzanne and Jason :)) can't go to sleep at night whenever they start reading a book at night, I typically do not have that problem. But Knit Two is definitely one of those books, and it was certainly a joy to read. It not only made me want to knit, but it made me want to cook, travel, and write a novel.

I yearn to live at Walker and Daughter and run my fingers over all of the yarns. I want to tell Dakota not to grow up too fast, and I want to see how cute James really is... hehe!

So basically... just read these books! And then tell me what you think of them :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Paint 102: Colors

Once a brand of paint is decided, a color must be picked! To some, that may seem backward. Since there are so many different brands with their own colors, it used to make sense to choose a color first.

But with technology these days, it might make more sense to choose a brand first. Most companies, including Benjamin Moore, can make any color a customer chooses, even if it's not a Benjamin Moore color. Colors can be matched with a paint paper sample, a curtain, a favorite sweater - whatever you want!

The color you pick absolutely does not have to be from the brand company you choose.

Jason and I ended up picking a California Paints color, and the Benjamin Moore staff did a fantastic job of matching the color. In fact, when we picked up the paint, we held up the paint paper sample to the dot of paint on the lid, and it matched perfectly. Once our curtains arrive (they're being shipped right now!), we are going to take the curtains in to BM to get matched to a quart of paint so we can paint our window and the ceiling beam.

In my personal experience, I have found that Pittsburgh Paints and California Paints have the best colors - or at least the colors I like the most! If you want a classic look to your place, Benjamin Moore Paint colors might be a better option. If you're painting a kid's room, Pittsburgh, Disney, or Graham paint colors might be more suitable.

Any home improvement stores carry paint brands and thus, their own paint colors. From all of the different paint brands, there are likely thousands of different shades of browns. And there's likely hundreds of different shades of dark browns.

Before you officially pick a color, bring the paper samples home (they're free, and you can take as many as you want!) and pick the ones you like most from the strip. Cut them out, tape them in the room you're going to paint, and sit and watch. Observe the paint color in all different lighting - at night, early morning with sun, afternoon, evening, lights on, overcast day, etc. That would help to eliminate colors that wouldn't really work in all situations.

Once you choose a color, take that paint color to be mixed in the brand you first chose. Keep in mind, though, if the paint color is not from the brand, it could take up to three days for the store to mix the color since it's custom matching. There's no additional cost for it, but you should plan accordingly so that your painting is not delayed by bad time management!

And also keep in mind that no matter what you do, even if you do all of the steps necessary, you still might not like your paint color! I know of one such person, who shall remain nameless, who absolutely hates the color of a room in that person's house. I completely agree - the color is all wrong. It was "supposed" to be a brown, and it's peach! The store didn't mess up though, the color just looked different than the person expected when the whole room was painted versus viewing a small sample on the wall.

Choose carefully and truly examine the paint colors. That might help in getting a paint color you can happily live with for several years.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How Simple is the Dollar?

Hi guys! My local channels have been out for some time and as a reuslt, I've been watching a lot of DVDs and a lot of cable shows I've never seen before.

One such show I'm completely in love with is 18 Kids and Counting. It's likely most of you have heard about this family - Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar from Arkansas who just gave birth to their 18th child!

One show I saw within the last couple of weeks as how the family lives and survives financially. Can you imagine a grocery bill for 20 people? The family reportedly spends about $3,000 a month on groceries alone. Good gracious!

One thing the Duggar family does to save on money is make their own laundry detergent. I was able to watch a couple of the Duggar girls do this and I've been thinking about it ever since then. Today, I googled making laundry detergent and found a recipe that is extremely similar, if not identical.

Please visit The Simple Dollar web site and this link in particular to view the recipe and how to make your own laundry detergent:
http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/04/09/making-your-own-laundry-detergent-a-detailed-visual-guide/

Please note the cost of ingredients and how many gallons/cups the entire ingredients would make. I went to Sam's today and perhaps unfortunately bought a huge bottle of Tide.
However, while I was there, I also checked out the bars of soap. I don't remember the exact prices to the number of bars, but they were really cheap and probably an even better deal than that guy got!

I think making laundry detergent would be a great way to not only save on costs, but take an active role in your life. How much more fulfilling laundry could be knowing that you yourself produced the very detergent you're making. I'm very excited to try this out, although like I said, I just bought Tide today so it's likely that I won't need to make any for quite some time!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Paint 101

Hi all! It's been quite a while! One reason is because Jason and I are redoing our living room, and it's been more of a project than I even thought it would be.

The whole thing kind of started because we have blue carpet. Then, it kind of escalated into a full-out project and war. Needless to say, we have now repainted our living room and are awaiting our new carpet!

Jason and I painted together once before, and I have to say it did not go well. We had no idea what we were doing and since we wanted this place to really look amazing, we chose to fully immerse ourselves in learning about paint and painting.

Learning about paint was fairly easy since Benjamin Moore is one of STN's clients. I read about paint all day long! While Benjamin Moore is only one brand of paint, I felt confident that Benjamin Moore Aura was the best paint to use (at the time of this blog, though, Natura is their newest paint and probably better). Aura has low VOCs which means it has little to no smell. I remember when Jason and I painted together, it felt like we were dying because all we could smell were paint fumes.

Aura also dries quickly which was important. We live in a small space, and we didn't want to keep Preston cooped up for hours. We also were enlisting my parents to help, and we didn't want them to have to spend all day here.

It's fairly expensive as far as paints go, but it's also a self-primer! We did a lot of spackling, and Aura worked perfectly. The color is consistent everywhere (we also primed, but that's a whole other story). For newly constructed walls, they must be primed so I would absolutely tell anyone with newly constructed walls to buy Aura to save time and money from buying primer.

So after all of that, Jason and I were certainly anxious to try using Aura paint. It exceeded my expectations. There was very little paint smell, and by little, I truly mean little. We couldn't smell it at all until the second coat of paint. And only then, it was very subtle. The paint was dry in about 45 minutes, and after two coats, the walls looked amazing.

Later this week, I'll post on how to paint properly! But I hope everyone considers Aura since it is not only environmentally friendly (low VOCs) but economically friendly, too. Having to paint less and prime less is a great thing for the environment and your wallet :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mac and Brocheese

Hi all! Tonight's recipe is courtesy of Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine.

First, here's the link to the recipe (complete with a picture!):
http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipes/pasta-recipes/baked-macaroni-and-cheddar/article.html

But I have some adjustments I make to the recipe that I personally think makes it better!

Instead of one bunch of broccoli, I use two. I never use shallots, and I also just skip the whole microwave part. I just don't do any of that part.

Instead of just using cheddar cheese, I use mozzarella and cheddar cheese.

I typically use a 9 x 13 pan for the mac and brocheese, and that has worked quite well for me. Baking a whole pan of it lasts Jason and I practically a week as it is very filling.

One thing that's great about this recipe verus others is that it's economical to make - making one batch could feed many people or two people several times. So it's less expensive overall.

Happy cooking!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Utilizing Craig's List

Hi all! Craig's List (craigslist.com) is a popular web site in the AA/Ypsi area, although I've found it's not so commonly used up north. Since so many use it here down here to sell items, post events, jobs, pets, etc., it's often a great resource for any Ypsi or AA resident.

I was skeptical (and often still am :)) of using this web site with hopes of success. But I think the real joy of using the web site is that it's free so it doesn't really matter if a posting is successful or not. Ebay costs money to use, and Craig's List is virtually free.

The web site is very easy to use. Just pick your state and your area, and you'll be able to choose from a wide variety of topics, like jobs (from a variety of fields), gigs, events, rentals, and so on. I enjoy looking at items under "free," "arts and crafts," and "garage sales." But the true joy of Craig's List is being able to post items!

I have found someone to regularly pick up my magazines after I'm done reading them. This is eco-friendly in that someone else is getting a use out of them, and I also feel good that I'm kind of getting an extra bang for my buck. I don't charge my magazine girl anything - the magazines are free for her to take, but she does have to pick them up each month so that does mean she's paying for gas to drive her car to my house to get them (she lives in Ypsi, though, so it's not like she's using a lot of gas :)).

Anytime Jason and I have a "garage sale," we also post that on Craig's List and that has resulted in many sales.

But my personal greatest joy was when last week, I posted a wanted ad for Bed, Bath, and Beyond 20% off coupons. I mainly wanted non-expired ones, but I'd heard BBB takes expired ones too (which is true, BTW). I had one person contact me with ten coupons for me!

Saturday, I used two of those coupons, and I've already saved $3.80 by using them. Jason picked them up from WCC's (Washtenaw Community College) library, which is close to our house so very little gas was used. I have eight coupons left, and if I should ever run out, I know just where to go to get more :)

There are some crazy people on Craig's List, as there is anywhere, and I would never meet anyone alone. Always have someone with you when you're going to pick something up or when someone's coming to your house. Obviously, only accept cash (no checks!). Craig's List is a wonderful tool, though, that saves me time, money, and effort in the long haul. It's definitely worth checking out, and you might even find an antique for a great deal or someone to take an old item of yours and is willing to pay for it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Garlic Tricks and Tips


Garlic is a wonderful way to season food, but it is, in my opinion, one of the hardest foods to work with. I've learned a couple of things along the way that has helped to make adding garlic to my food even easier than before.


To get the garlic's skin off, put the garlic in the microwave for 10 - 20 seconds. I'm not sure why, but something, the heat I guess, makes the garlic's skin come off easier.


Once the skin is off, it's time to slice it and dice it. That can often leave your fingers smelling like garlic for quite some time, plus, it can be quite hard to dice it. I use Chef'n Garlic Zoom. I take one clove, cut it in half, and put one half in the zoom. I roll it around on my counter and when it is diced, I add another half clove. I continue until all of the cloves I need are diced. It is super easy to use and can be found at a number of stores. Bed, Bath, and Beyond sells it for $9.99 (a small price to pay if you use garlic weekly), but if you have any BBB 20% coupon (often comes in newspapers or in the mail), you can use that to save $2. BBB takes coupons even if they're expired so save them all and use them whenever you need something - like the garlic zoom!

Here's a link to the item on BBB's web site:

With these two tips, garlic will be easier to use so you can use it more often. And really, that just translates to even better food!
Happy zooming!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Saving Moola!

Hi all! In this economy, I think everyone is trying to find a way to cut costs, but it can seem difficult, especially when you're already living rather frugally.

Since Jason and I moved into our Perrin Street apartment, we have changed the way we lived, I think. I hear of people who go to Starbucks every day or buy books at full price, and news shows say, "If you make coffee at home instead of buying at a coffee shop, you can save hundreds per year."

Jason and I don't buy beverages every day or every week! More like once a month. We never buy full-price books - rather, we borrow from the library or buy used. And when we do buy new, we buy with coupons or from amazon.com, which is generally cheap.

So how to cut back when you've already done a lot? Jason and I had decided to cancel our home phone service since we rarely use it - the lack of a long-distance plan on it means it's useless except for local calls and using it to find our cell phones :) - so I called AT&T to cancel it. After telling multiple people, "I want to cancel my phone service," (which was eerily reminscent of the Friends episode where Chandler wants to quit the gym) someone talked to me finally about it. But instead of canceling my phone service, I ended up getting half of my entire bill (including Internet) which basically meant my phone service was free! Jason and I are now saving $26 a month by making that call.

Having an impeccable car insurance history also saves you money. Every six months, our insurance goes down by at least $15 (we have a two-car insurance plan with Progressive) since we have not had any accidents or tickets for several years.

We also scrutinized our cell phone bill to find ways to cut costs. Unfortunately, we're already on Verizon's lowest plan (Family Plan of 700 Minutes), but we canceled my phone's insurance and cut out texts. That saved us $15 a month.

So that's $56 we found per month by making a few changes and by driving safe! I'm sure there's lots of other tips out there so feel free to share what you personally do to save money.

The economy is tough, and there's nothing more imporant than securing your future by living smart now. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut, and if Jason and I were ever to suffer that kind of loss, we want to be sure our lives are covered. Making a few changes now can help ensure our future.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scones and Lasagna!

Hi all! Happy Valentine's Day!

Today, I'm bringing two great recipes that are both way easy to make. The first one can be found on Kraftfoods.com:
http://www.kraftfoods.com/kf/recipes/weeknight-lasagna-toss-95163.aspx

Weeknight Lasagna Toss is both yummy and easy to make. I made it the other night when I got home from work, and I was eating by 5:45! This is a recipe we used to make a lot, and I just started making it again. Since I don't eat red meat, I substitute the ground beef for ground turkey. I also don't add in a lot of Italian dressing. I just kind of eyeball it. It makes a bunch of leftovers (when cooking for two people), I always make breadsticks with it. Salad would be great, too, obviously!

The other recipe can be found on Martha Stewart's web site:
http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/oatmeal-and-dried-cherry-biscuits?autonomy_kw=oatmeal%20scone&rsc=header_1

A couple of notes on this:
I had never made scones before, and Jason claimed not to like them. I made them - so easy! And I watched Martha make them on her show. On the show, she cut them into triangles so I did that too, although the picture makes the scones look kind of square. Anyway, the scones turned out great. Jason loved them!

I don't typically watch Martha Stewart. My mum hates when I mention her (HELLO MUM!), but my mum likes to watch her show and I was at her house and these were on... and I thought, "Mmm, those look good!"

Cherry scones would be a great breakfast on V-day, though, I think!

Happy cooking and baking!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Our Weekends

Hi all! The sun is shining through our windows here in Ypsi which brightens my whole day :) I can feel spring is on the way, and I'm excited at the prospect of less snow in our parking lot!

Jason and I usually have a weekend routine. On Saturdays, we try to get up rather early for a non-work day for me and a non-open day for Jason. Usually, we'd both be up now, but Jason's still sleeping :)

We start off by lazing around and figuring out what needs to get done. Every Saturday, we go to the library to return books we read that week and to pick up books that are on hold for us. It's also a great day to go since the Friends shop is open every Sat. from 11 - 5. The Friends shop is a used book store in the library with books ranging from $1 to $4. Sometimes, we're lucky and we pick up a new release for $4 or find a book we just don't have that we want for $1. Sometimes we find nothing. But the Friends member who usually works on Saturday brings in her dog, Cole (who she needs for her balance), and we like petting him and telling him how handsome he is :)

We also usually make a trip to the bank and the bead store, which are thankfully near each other and also close to the library. They're on the other side of town (like completely out of town, that's how "on the other side" they are) so we usually save all those errands together.

Today, we're also making a trip to the post office, to Target, and to Whole Foods. Oh, and I might need to stop at Joann's, which is near Target so I should probably do those both. It's grocery shopping week - hence Whole Foods. We usually make weekly trips to Joann's to either pick up more yarn for a project I'm working on or random tidbits I need.

Sundays are a lot different. Church is at 10:45 and that's typically the first thing on the agenda. After church, we eat lunch. After lunch, we relax. Jason always works at 4, but until then, no one can leave the house, no one can run errands, we just spend family time together. We either read, knit, cross stitch, talk, stare at the baby, etc. It's very old school.

Saving all your errands for the weekends, well Saturday, might not work for everyone, but I find it keeps me steady throughout the week. It's also good, I think, to have a routine, a set day or way to do something.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Veggie Stroganoff

Hi all. Jason here. This is my first post to the New Leaf Creations' blog, and I figured I would start with one of our favorite recipes: veggie stroganoff. I made it for lunch for Jess and I yesterday. It's way easy to make and is very good. The original recipe is courtesy of Kraft foods.
Ingredients:
1/2 Large onion (or 1 small one)
1/2 Lb. of mini carrots
1 Green Pepper
3 cups water
2 bouillon cubes
8 cups wide egg noodles
8oz sliced mushrooms
8oz sour cream


Directions:
Chop the onions into slices
Chop the mini carrots and green peppers into small pieces
Chop the mushrooms into small pieces
Put some EVOO in a large skillet
Add the onions and cook over high heat until they brown
Add the water, bouillon, carrots, green peppers, and noodles
Over high heat, bring to a boil
Cover and reduce heat to medium high
Cook for 13 minutes or until water is mostly gone
Remove the lid and stir in the mushrooms
Cook for 2 minutes on medium heat
Stir in the sour cream
Cook for 2 more minutes over medium heat
Remove from heat and serve


This recipe also works well with meat if you like. Before Jess stopped eating red meat, we would chop up a pound of steak (whatever was on sale at Meijer) and cook it until it was brown with the onions.

Hope you all enjoy the veggie stroganoff. It was fun for me to share it with you (and fun for us to eat).

Lots of Love
Jason

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuna for the Jays and the Cat

Hey all! This past week has been lots of fun! Jason and I have been trying new recipes, enjoying hearing responses to our blog, and experience life the best we know how - by being crazy!



Today, we have a great recipe for you all courtesy of Campbell's Soup. We like this recipe in part because it allows us to give our baby, Preston, tuna water. Recently, I heard that cats typically are not hydrated enough. I don't know if that's true for Preston - he drinks from his own pet fountain and the bathroom sink and any glass we have laying around. He begs for water and drinks it a lot! But giving him a bit of tuna water reassures us that he's getting that extra bit of hydration.







The first picture of Preston is him begging for tuna. Actually, at that moment, he's begging for whatever I'm using the can opener for, and he generally doesn't care whether it's tuna or not. He just cares that we give him whatever it is we're opening, although he's probably way excited when he realizes we are opening tuna! So that's Preston's begging face. He also accompanies that with showing off his belly and rubbing on our legs.



This recipe is great for humans as well as for Preston because it's easy and quick to make. There's little mess and it doesn't take long to make so you can cook it after work. It's also great to make over the weekend, like on a Sunday night, pop in the fridge, and eat from all week.



First, cook egg noodles as directed on the package. I would say we cook a little more than a pound, but you decide how much or how little you like. Stir the noodles, a can of Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 cup milk, 1 cup frozen peas (I use more, though, because greens are good for you!), and 2 cans tuna (drained) in a 1.5 qt. casserole. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes. Stir; sprinkle shredded Cheddar cheese on top. Bake until cheese melts.




I usually don't add the cheese until the very end, and I don't usually bake it again. The cheese melts in anyway from the heat, but I agree with Rachael Ray in that you should cook everything the way you like. I never use scallions in a recipe - I'll either substitute something else or just skip them since I don't care for them. You work the recipe how it'll work for you.
So after Preston begs and receives tuna, he usually cleans himself and lays down for a good, long nap. This is the nap he took after eating tuna water on Sunday night. How cute is he?!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Entering into the Unknown


Hi all! I was going to post a recipe for a new soup Jason and I tried yesterday. We both thought it tasted great and while I suffered no ill side effects, it made Jason incredibly ill all night. There's proof that Jason and I test each thing we're going to do before bringing to to you!


I made a banana cake tonight (that has to be refrigerated overnight), but if all goes as planned, that might be tomorrow's recipe.


So in lieu of a regular post, I figured I'd enlighten you all on a few things Jason and I are currently working on.


Jason and I both working on strengthening our relationship by reading and participating in "The Love Dare." A movie has come out that is based on the book, "Fireproof," which is how I first heard about the book. I have yet to see the movie, but Kirk Cameron, devout Christian and actor on Fireproof, was on Dr. Phil and that's how I heard about it. We're on day three so far which is that we can't say anything negative to one another and we have to each buy the other something that says, "I was thinking about you today." We each have until tomorrow night to fulfill the dare! The book has been awesome so far, and I think Jason and I are both enjoying the experience.


Jason has recently started to cross stitch! He's working on a piece for someone for Christmas, and he's doing very well! He's interested in trying a sampler soon, and he wants to eventually be able to count cross stitch. There are some amazing kits out there, but I think eventually he'll probably want to design his own creations. Jason has plans to cross stitch designs for wall hangings and onesies for babies.


I've been working on knitting! Before this year, I had never knit. I took a class and learned though, and I'm so glad I did! I'm currently working on a scarf for my mom and dad for Christmas (if you can't tell, practically everyone is getting homemade gifts this year so we're starting now to ensure we have enough time!). I'm making my dad's scarf out of Lion Brand Wool Ease yarn, and I'm making my mom's out of Sensations Angel Hair yarn. The yarn is gorgeous, as you can see in the picture, but it is quite difficult to use. I have a lot of split stitches, but because of the way the yarn is crafted, you can't tell at all. It's very strange yarn, but I love it so much and will be very anxious to make a scarf for myself out of this yarn later this year when I'm done with everyone else's items.


I also dabble in other crafts, including wreaths, jewelry, ornaments, etc. As I make items, I'll post them on here if they were successful. If an item was not successful, I'll at least have an antecdote to share with you all!


Through my mom, a generous neighbor of hers, and myself, I typically have several lifestyle and cooking magazines each month. I'm working on my recipe card collection, and each month, Jason and I try several new recipes. I grew up in a household where there were seven (or so) meals my mother made and that was it. There wasn't a lot of variety, and a lot of the food wasn't really homemade. My mom would make hot dogs and Kraft mac and cheese, and that would be a meal. Jason and I have thrown some recipes away after making the food (like last night's recipe) and have modified some. As we make our regular staples (veggie stroganoff, for example) and new dishes (banana split cake, for example), we'll be sharing our faves with you.


As we live our lives, we'll share with you what new experiences we have and what new ideas we come across. We're excited to finally have a forum to share our ideas with everyone, and we certainly hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy sharing them.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Maple Caramel Sauce


Recipe:
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup pure maple syrup

In medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add sugar and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Adjust heat to medium. Boil for 2 minutes. Add maple syrup and boil, stirring frequently for 2 - 4 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Pour into heatproof jars.


Jason and I made this sauce all from organic ingredients. It's quick, simple, and makes three jars. The cost comes out to about $4 per jar so it makes for a really great gift. The sauce can be used on ice cream, pancakes, anything that could be "sauced!" The sauce should be heated before using. The sauce is good for two months after it's been made, and Jason and I wrote the expiration dates on small labels and affixed the labels to the bottoms of the jars so the gift recipients would know until which date the sauce could be used.


Jason and I used Ball half-pint (8 oz.) canning jars. We purchased 12 for about $7 from Ace Hardware. The jars' lids also created a semi-seal since the sauce was still rather hot when we poured the sauce into the containers. We also used a funnel to pour the sauce into the jars. A funnel can be purchased for around $1 and is also useful for other things, like pouring leftover pasta sauce back into jars and so on. We've found loads of uses for our funnel.


While the jar in the picture has no adornments, feel free to add a make a label and tie it around the jar to indicate what the sauce could be used for and directions for using. You could also add a wooden honey dipper to the gift for an easy way to use the sauce once heated.


I gave a jar to Jason's brother and sister-in-law as a gift when we visited them, and I also made a jar for my dad's birthday. I kept one jar for Jason and I, and yesterday, I used some sauce on ice cream. I scooped some of the sauce, which was quite hard, into a ramekin and heated it for 30 seconds. I would not recommend heating it for that many seconds, though! It was burning hot. I would recommend stirring it before serving it after it's been heated. One really cool thing I experienced was that when I put it on the ice cream, it formed a sort of hard shell, like some of the Hershey's ice cream sauces do. It was really yummy though and tasted very gourmet.

New Leaf Creations

Hello everyone! I've been talking about getting this blog started for months, and it's finally up. Over the next month or so, Jason and I will be working to develop the blog. We hope to post something every day so check back! We'll post recipes, books we like, crafts, and other things we haven't thought of yet!

We hope all of you enjoy the blog and inspire you to do something different and new in your life.