Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Homemade: Taco Bowl

Simple, delicious, and full of yum! This will sneak its way into your diet once or twice a month if you are not careful.

  • 1 lb ground beef (or turkey)
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • Water (check taco seasoning package for exact amount)
  • 12 taco shells
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Sour cream
  • Lettuce, ripped or chopped into 1 inch squares
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • Other toppings you might want (such as black olives or guacamole)

  • Prepare ground beef with taco seasoning as directed on taco seasoning package.
  • Break 3 taco shells into a bowl.
  • Sprinkle cheese over taco shells (as with just about all the ingredients, an exact amount doesn't exist, just add what looks good).
  • Cover cheese with 1/4 the seasoned beef.
  • Add 1 heaping teaspoon of sour cream and spread it around until it is evenly spread over the meat.
  • Add 1 or 2 handfuls of lettuce.
  • Add onion, tomato and any additional toppings.
Like I said, super simple. Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

The Gaming Corner: Scrabble Slam!

A few weeks ago, Jess and I were in Target, and we stopped by the card games section and picked up Scrabble Slam! This game is crazy fun, and Jess and I have been playing it multiple times a day since we got it. It is also very simple to set up and play.

The entire game consists of only 55 cards. 52 of the cards have a letter on its front and a different letter on its back, and the other 3 cards are blank and play exactly like the blank tiles in Scrabble because they are wild. Each letter card has both letters from the front and the back printed in a corner so you will be able to know what letters you can play without having to flip your cards around.

Example of a wild card and the front and back of the same letter card.

To start a game, you lay out 4 cards to make a 4-letter word. You then divide the remaining cards between the players. Once play starts, you can play any of your cards on top of the other cards as long as the 4 letters on the top of the piles continue to make words. For example, if the top cards spelled  CART, someone could play a T card on the C to make TART. Someone could then play a P on the second T for a TARP. (See below for pictures of play in progress.) Play isn't done in turns - whomever lays down a card fastest goes first. This is also a great learn-how-to-spell game, and I usually lose, but the game is so fun, I don't care. The winner is the first person to play all of their cards, or if none of the players have any plays left, the person with the least number of cards wins.

Example of a mid game word following plays
E makes LORE
M makes MORE

-Game Master Jason

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In My Mailbox

This past week in my mailbox, I got a free Kashi granola bar. This is still available here.

I also received my first issue of a free magazine subscription to Disney Family Fun. I obtained the free subscription through Tippr, which is a daily deal site similar to Groupon.

And lastly, Jason was super happy to see our second coupon for $1/1 Coca-Cola product arrived. I ordered this through RecycleBank, and Jason used this to get a free 2-liter of Mello Yellow at VG's. I've given up soda, except in dire circumstances (read: PMS), so these coupons aren't of much use to me, but Mello Yellow in our house for Jason is a rare treat so I'll still order these for him. Points at RecycleBank are super easy to obtain, and the rewards you can select from, depending on your household's diet or needs, are pretty generous. I love this coupon and the $2/1 Kashi item coupon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Loaded Alfredo with Chicken and Vegetables

We go this recipe from the Cook This Not That cookbook. I haven't posted many of the recipes from this book even though every one we try is delicious. Just be glad that I am sharing this with you as it is truly one of my favorite noodle dishes ever.

  • 3/4 cup + 3 Tbsp dry milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 tsp EVOO
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 oz chicken (about 1 skinless boneless breast)
  • 12 oz fettuccine
Sauce Directions
  • Mix water and dry milk to make 3 cups milk and set aside for a couple of steps.
  • Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute.
  • Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to avoid clumps.
  • Add garlic and cook for 15 minutes, whisking regularly. 
    • The recipe book says that it should thicken but after making this recipe two or three times it never has for me, so don't be surprised if it doesn't thicken for you either.
  • Stir in Parmesan, remove from heat and cover until needed.
Chicken Directions
  • Cook chicken on your George Foreman grill on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes.
  • Once done, remove from grill and let stand for 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Slice chicken into thin slices.
  • Cover chicken to retain heat until needed.
Veggies Directions
  • Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the EVOO and warm for 4 or 5 seconds.
  • Put broccoli in the pan and cook for 4 minutes.
  • Add mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes, the mushrooms will get caramelized and that is good.
Noodle Directions
  • Bring 4 to 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot.
  • Add fettuccine to boiling water.
  • Let fettuccine cook, stirring every now and then for 11 to 12 minutes.
  • Drain water from noodles.
    • Again if you magically got your sauce to thicken, retain 1 cup of this water.
Combining Directions
  • In the pan that you cooked the noodles combine noodles, sauce, chicken and veggies.
  • Mix well.
    • If sauce thickened too much add some of the retained noodle water.
  • Serve.
This makes 4 servings. Each serving has 540 calories, 14 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat and 520 milligrams sodium. (I like the Cook This Not That books because their serving sizes are actually close to what you are going to eat, and not based on what some scientists in a lab far, far away decided is a 'serving').

Fun Fact: The CTNT book compares this to Olive Garden's Fettuccine Alfredo which has 1220 calories, 75 grams of fat, 47 grams of saturated fat, and 1350 milligrams of sodium. Ouch. (Though, in all honesty, anyone whom has ever ate an entire plate of food from a restaurant like Olive Garden knows that what they just ate couldn't have been part of a balanced diet.)

Also, you may notice there are bits of red in the picture above. The original recipe calls for sundried tomatoes, but we feel these don't really go with the other ingredients and didn't care for them, so we're not going to use them going forward.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life & Style: goals for this week

Angel Holiday Pail
I painted this last week for a Christmas gift and completed a business goal!

My goals last week... went okay. I think I'm learning a bit about myself and which goals are feasible and which are not. And with the support of some of my dear readers, I'm giving up the milk goal I set for myself last week. I did meet the milk goal three days, and two of the days, I didn't complain in my head at all. But, I'm just going to make a conscious effort to drink milk when I can.

Here are my goals this week:

-Work out two times
-Drink lots and lots of water
-Start our packing list for September vaca
-Learn how to take care of a baby for a day (We're using Izzy, our darling niece, for this experiment... and we don't know how to change a diaper. This should be interesting!)

Home Management
-Declutter every day
-Organize office closet
-Knit a small blanket

-Pick fabric and designs for hollyjoy ornaments
-Begin creating sticky labels for Christmas gifts
-Stamp 4 pages for NLC tags

-Donate all stamps in stamp bag to our Ypsi church

-Jason and I are keeping the majority of our goals in this area private, but we wanted to share we're re-doing the Love Dare Day by Day. This book and the original 40-day Love Dare book are great ways to be mindful of your partner and to show love and kindness to him/her.

I'm a little low on ministry goals - if anyone has any ideas for goals in this category or just wants to share what they're doing in their lives, I'd love to hear about it!

What's for Eats This Week (and why we have a menu plan!)

Menu planning takes time, but it saves money and time during the week. If you have an idea of what sorts of things you have that can make a meal, you won't be so quick to order a pizza. Plus, if you create a grocery list from what you're going to cook for dinner, you won't need to make extra stops at the grocery store. However, in case anyone has noticed, "Winner Winner Onion Chicken Dinner" has repeatedly shown up on our dinner menu... and it has not yet been made. We plan our menu, but we do not necessarily stick to this. Sometimes, things come up - Friday, we went to a gathering at our apartment complex and Subway was provided for us. A week or so ago, we took my dad out to dinner. So we plan a menu, but we leave ourselves open to change too. Here's what we're planning this week:

Choice of:
Oatmeal blueberry pancakes
Toast and eggs
Egg Muffins
Baked Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Loaded turkey sandwiches

Winner Winner Onion Chicken Dinner
Crockpot Chicken Taco Chili
Garden Spaghetti
Vegeful Pasta
Marinated steak, crockpot mac and cheese, veggies
Crockpot BBQ Chicken, baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli

Cheese sticks
Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

Recipes coming soon:
Garden Spaghetti
Vegeful Pasta

Hello, Fall!

It may not officially be fall, but here at A New Leaf, we are welcoming fall into our hearts today. We're super excited to debut our blog's fall look, new changes, and new schedule! Please take a look at the top of your screen - the pages you see, such as Yummers Recipes!, New Leaf Creations, etc., will help you navigate this site in an easier fashion. These pages allow quick access to your favorite bits of this blog. If you have a page suggestion, we'd love to hear from you!

The fall change is still ongoing, so you may notice tweaks here and there as we switch over everything to the fall theme.

We hope our blog is serving your life well, and new series and series changes are designed simply to give you what you're looking for here (and of course, we have to have the know-how to bring that information to you - so if you're looking for, let's say, cleaving information, you're not going to find it here!).

What's for Eats This Week: A menu has never looked so good! Read what we're going to eat each week, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Many of the items are linked to where the original recipe resides on the web so you can cook up the meals for you and your family.
Life & Style: goals for this week: Each week, I'll share goals in the top areas of my life, such as ministry, business, and personal. This helps keep me accountable and, I hope, will inspire all of you to reach for your dreams and achieve all you desire!

In the Kitchen with Jason: Jason takes you on a culinary adventure complete with pictures and easy-to-follow instructions.
In My Mailbox: What freebies have we received over this past week? We'll link to any freebie giveaway that is still open so you can receive some of these by mail! We'll share details of how we received each one, so you can learn of ways to receive lots of free goodies by mail.

The Gaming Corner: Jason introduces you to some games you have never heard of (Blokus, anyone?) and games that are permanent residents on your game shelf!

Homemade: Jason shares staple recipe items (like garlic bread) and home solutions (like all-purpose cleaner or laundry soap) so that you can all learn how to stop being dependent on companies to provide you with products that you can make yourselves! And I'll be continuing Homemade Beauty posts for you to learn how to make beauty items (like shaving cream) to cut your grocery bills even further and feel good about what you're using on your body.

In the Kitchen with Jason: That's right - twice a week (I said twice a week!), Jason will be bringing you delectable recipes for you and your family to enjoy. This is one of our most popular series, and really, is anyone surprised? Chef Jason adores sharing food with you all, and he is thrilled to share recipes two times a week!

Crafty Christmas: A New Leaf's Christmas countdown has begun! I'll be sharing my favorite items to craft for Christmas presents, such as twig star ornaments, how to package your gifts in a homemade, unique manner, such as magazine bows, and some of my favorite recipes, such as Nana's sugar cookies. 

Life & Style: This series will delve into tips for all areas of life - decorating for less, frugal vacation ideas, time management, etc.

This Book Room: I share my latest reads and recommend which books are deserving of a look.

Saving the Moola: I will cover anything and everything that I know about saving money to help you and your family prosper. Right now, we're covering how to budget effectively and sharing our budget with you all in "Living Below Your Means but Within Your Needs." New mini series for Saving the Moola will emerge as the year continues. Join us in this transparent and enlightening look at our financial lives.

To the new visitors, welcome! We're excited you're here and hope you stick around to see what crazy antics we get ourselves into. To our dear friends who've been with us since the beginning, we are so grateful for your love and support. We hope this blog is a daily reading enjoyment for everyone. As always, we'd love to hear from you. If you have any suggestion, comments, questions or concerns, please leave us a comment!

Peace and love,
Jess and Jason

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saving the Moola: Living Within Your Needs, But Below Your Means, Part 4

You can catch up on this series by reading Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Last week, we shared our expected biggest expenditures for next year: housing, a new car, and groceries. This week, we're going cover some of our middle-of-the-road expenditures. These include: gas, school loans, vacation, savings and car insurance.

Our gas bill for our cars is relatively low, due to the fact that we drive to Ann Arbor once a week for work. Other than that, we usually drive three other days between the two of us - twice to the Flint area for groceries and errands and once around Fenton.

My school loans are in line with what I make - I've heard so many callers tell Miss Suze Orman their school loans are $800 and they make what I make! I'm not against school loans, in general - I would not have my four-degree or the job I currently have without having taken a school loan and gotten that degree. However, I, of course, wish I didn't have any loans! If you do take loans, just be sure you can easily pay them with what you expect to make. You can view the average American's expected education costs here. Note that the average American should, in theory, spend nothing on education (I do believe education should be free). Jason and I spend a bit more on education than the average American in paying my student loans back.

For many, many years, Jason and I never took vacations. Our "vacations" were visiting family (which is fun, but not the same as a true vacation). We had a terrific time on our honeymoon and vowed then that we would always take vacations. Our vacation this year is going to be fairly modest, but starting next year, we're allocating a huge chunk of change for this. Rest and relaxation are so important, and so are experiences. Experiencing new things can help you rekindle romance and get to know one another even better! You can view the average American's expected travel costs here and also view what the average American actually spends here. Our travel costs are a bit higher than the costs the average American actually spends and should spend. But I think we're okay with that!

As we discussed in Part 3 here, Jason and I are furiously saving toward a new car. This is our biggest priority right now. After the new car purchase, however, we plan to start growing our eight-month emergency fund. We'll be able to put away a bit toward this next year after we purchase a car. You can view what the average American should save here. Please note that the average American actually spends nothing on savings - in fact, a co-worker told me that the average American saves a negative percent of their earnings, meaning the average American spends more than s/he makes. I don't know if this is surprising. Our projected savings next year is less than what we should be saving - due in large part because we are first and foremost saving for a new car.

It's recommended that you review your car insurance policy every three years and shop around for a new quote. We did this a week or so ago and found, unsurprisingly, that no better quote is available. We use Progressive, and we've been extremely pleased with their customer service and costs. We've called quite a few times just to ask questions and have our bill explained to us - their reps are very friendly and patient. We've had one claim since we've been insured with them, and it was handled very easily.

Next week, we'll discuss more middle-of-the-road expenditures, such as charity and medical expenditures.

Last week, we double dog dared you to use as much cash as you could throughout the week instead of using your debit or credit cards. Jason and I did this, as much as we could (we usually do this anyway but we made a conscious effort this week), and we were happy with the results. We stayed within our grocery budget, we stayed within our "blow money" budget (and bought two beautiful pottery mugs), and we enjoyed a couple of meals out of the house with extra blow money we had.

I Double Dog Dare You: Until next week, I challenge each of you to go an entire day without eating any meat. Meat is more expensive than other protein sources, such as beans, and also takes a lot of energy to produce, process and package. Eating meat-free dishes can be a great way to keep your budget in line, keep your waistline slim, and expand your cooking repertoire. As always, Jason and I will be joining all of you in this challenge.

This Book Room

I'm staying on my reading schedule, despite a busier work month than normal, but I will be glad when life returns somewhat to normal. Here's what I read this week:

Summer is a magical time in New York City and Carrie is in love with all of it—the crazy characters in her neighborhood, the vintage-clothing boutiques, the wild parties, and the glamorous man who has swept her off her feet. Best of all, she's finally in a real writing class, taking her first steps toward fulfilling her dream.

This sequel to The Carrie Diaries brings surprising revelations as Carrie learns to navigate her way around the Big Apple, going from being a country "sparrow"—as Samantha Jones dubs her—to the person she always wanted to be. But as it becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile her past with her future, Carrie realizes that making it in New York is much more complicated than she ever imagined.

With her signature wit and sparkling humor, Candace Bushnell reveals the irresistible story of how Carrie met Samantha and Miranda, and what turned a small-town girl into one of New York City's most unforgettable icons, Carrie Bradshaw.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Carrie Diaries series. This series is ongoing.

My thoughts: I loved SATC, the show, and didn't so much care for the original SATC, the book. I really enjoyed the first book in this series, but the second book... was okay. Since all the original characters have now entered the scene, I think the third book is poised to be the best yet. This book is best for young adults (a little too mature for teens).

Clark Howard is a media powerhouse and penny-pincher extraordinaire who knows a thing or two about money. A lifelong entrepreneur who is now the hugely popular host of a talk radio program and television show and the bestselling author of several books, Clark consistently delivers expert financial advice to his wide and devoted fan base.

Living Large in Lean Times is Clark's ultimate guide to saving money, covering everything from cell phones to student loans, coupon websites to mortgages, investing to electric bills, and beyond. In his candid and friendly next-door-neighbor manner, Clark shares the small, manageable steps everyone can follow to build a path towards independence and wealth. Chock-full of more than 250 invaluable tips, the book outlines how to:
* Locate missing and unclaimed money in your name
* Lower your student loan payment
* Find legitimate work-at-home opportunities
* Get unlimited texting and e-mailing for less than $10 per month
* Know what personal info not to post to social media sites
* Determine the best mortgage rate, and much, much more

As Clark demonstrates, there are myriad ways to reduce debt, buy smarter, and build a future. Follow his lead and he'll get you there.

My thoughts: This book was referred to me, and I had never heard of Clark before. I'm a far bigger fan of Mr. Dave Ramsey and Miss Suze Orman, however, his book had some good points. The best part of the book was in the beginning. I would not recommend reading the entire book - just pick the chapters that relate to you (I read the entire book and much of it did not apply to me - for instance, I do not own a home, nor do I plan to anytime relatively soon).

How could I choose between my sexuality and my spirituality, two of the most important parts that made me whole? High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they're good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he's also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel's interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel's outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand. Lambda Literary Award-winning author Alex Sanchez tackles a subject ripped from the headlines in this exciting and thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be both religious and gay.

My thoughts: Okay, here's my thing: I believe, quite literally, what the Bible says. But, it's not my place to judge anyone! I love everyone, and I think love is a wondrous thing. This book had really good points, like - how can love ever be a bad thing? And is the story of Sodom really what the mass majority interprets it as? If you care about understanding all people, this book is one you should read.

Maggie Singer owns The Seven Year Stitch, an embroidery specialty shop in the small town of Tallulah Falls, Oregon. Trouble strikes when an elderly woman brings an antique piece of embroidery into the shop-and promptly dies of unnatural causes. Now Marcy has to stitch together clues to catch a crafty killer.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Embroidery Mystery series. You can read my view of the first book here. This series is ongoing.

My thoughts: This series is current (this book came out earlier this year), but the writing style is very old fashioned. This doesn't really bother me, but the writing style doesn't always match to the characters. Marcy, the main character, is really in her late 20s to early 30s, but she talks like she's in her 50s. It's kind of disconcerting. Anyway, this is a cute series, despite that.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Crafty Christmas: Knit Scarves (and why we make our own Christmas gifts)

Christmas Countdown! There's just 120 days to Christmas.

With many family members and friends, Jason and I had found our Christmas costs were rapidly increasing, but our love for Christmas decreasing. Since we've both been cultivating our craftiness, we decided about three years ago to begin making our Christmas presents. Now, we make the majority of the Christmas gifts we share with friends and family. It almost always saves money, but even more importantly, our love for Christmas has come surging back even more powerful than before!

Every January, we sit down together with a nice cup of cocoa, craft books, craft magazines and our laptop. We go through our list of people we exchange gifts with and choose a gift to make. If we can't decide on a gift for someone just yet, we just think on it for awhile and usually something comes to us. Then we make a crafts schedule for each of us. On average, we have two gifts to complete each month, and gifts can range from 40+ hours (a large cross stitched item) to 15 minutes (a pair of beaded earrings). We assemble a crafting supplies list after consulting with what we already have and make the first of many trips to Joann's.

Here's me - modeling a scarf!
Is he the cutest or what?!?!

In January, all of the yarn at Joann's is on sale, which makes it the perfect time to stock up on all the yarn I think I'll need for the year. I don't know how to knit much, but for the past few years, I've made scarves for nearly everyone we exchange gifts with. The best part of making your own Christmas gifts is the love and care you put into it. Even if the gift only takes 15 minutes, it's 15 minutes you almost inevitably spend thinking about the person you're making the gift for. Each time I craft, I spend the first five minutes or so to pray for the person the gift I'm working on is intended for. It's such a special time for me to send prayers up to Heaven and to just bless the present with my love.

Even if you haven't ever knit before, basic knitting is super easy to learn. Classes are available at Joann's for about $30, and to make one scarf, you could probably expect to spend about $15 (this would include the cost of my favorite knitting needles, which are the bamboo kind). Each scarf costs (once you already have needles), in materials, about $3. I made 10 or 11 scarves this winter in about 2 months - I made several for children, and those typically only took one weekend. You still have plenty of time to learn to knit to make scarves for those on your gift list!

And the other best thing about making your own Christmas gift: the Christmas spirit truly stays alive in you for the whole year. You'll decide in April that you want to listen to Christmas music, in August, you'll be planning your Christmas baking, and in October, you'll be itching to put up the tree and bust out all of your lovely ornaments (most of which will be homemade of course!).

Share with us: Are you making Christmas gifts this year?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In the Kitchen with Jason: Oven-Fried Parmesan Chicken

When purchasing chicken for this recipe make sure that you purchase your chicken legs and thighs pre-separated. We did not and I almost didn't have the stomach strength to finish the butchering myself. Well, at least we know one job I will never do :)

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free milk
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 2 1/2 lbs. chicken breast halves, thighs and/or drumsticks
  • Heat oven to 375.
  • Mix egg and milk in a bowl.
  • Mix Parmesan, bread crumbs, oregano, paprika, and pepper in a bowl.
  • Drag all your chicken pieces through the egg mixture.
  • Drag all your egged chicken through the bread crumb mixture, place the chicken into a baking dish after this step.
  • Spray the chicken with cooking spray.
  • Bake for 55 minutes.
  • Cook a side or to to go with the chicken as it bakes. Herb Red Potatoes would go great with this dish.
We got this recipe from our magazine. It was originally published in Diabetic Living.

Nutrition Information
  • 6 servings
  • 220 calories
  • 9 g fat
    • 3 g sat fat
  • 116 mg cholesterol
  • 196 mg sodium
  • 5 g carbs
  • 1 g fiber
  • 28 g protein
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Homemade: Herb Red Potatoes

This is a simple and easy side to throw together and have whenever you want some delicious red taters with your dinner.

  • 2 lbs red potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp thyme

  • Preheat oven to 450.
  • Mix potatoes with EVOO, garlic, salt and pepper.
  • Put in a baking dish and bake for 35 minutes.
  • Once the potatoes come out of the oven, mix them with the butter and thyme.
This makes 4 servings (unless you eat potatoes like you will never ever get to again like we do, in which case this only makes 2 servings).

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In My Mailbox

We received 2 more issues of Popular Science magazine, and somewhere, apparently, I had signed up to receive a free subscription to Woman's Day. I don't even remember where I signed up for this, but I vaguely remember doing so. It was a nice surprise in the mail, although I wasn't too impressed with the magazine.

I was very happily surprised when I received another coupon for a free bottle of Pantene ProV shampoo! I had already received and redeemed one coupon, so I'm not sure why I was sent two, but I'm not complaining! I have stockpiled, between these free coupons and Suave shampoo on sale, about 11 bottles of shampoo. That's about one year's supply, so I don't think I'll need to check for sales anytime soon.

Through, we "bought" this earbuds for free (no shipping and handling and no cost - LOVE!). These will come in super handy when we're leaving the house and want to take our MP3 player but don't want to take our very expensive and very nice Bose earphones. I'd rather lose these free earphones than our Bose ones! (And since I have a notorious habit of losing things, this will make my life so much more hassle free)

Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in the mail this past week?

Monday, August 22, 2011

In the Kitchen with Jason: Broccoli and Rice Casserole


  • 1 lb. broccoli, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • 10 3/4 oz can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 1/3 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Heat a saucepan of water to boiling.
  • Add the broccoli to boiling water and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Drain and add to the slow cooker.
  • Saute onions in butter for about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add this to the slow cooker.
  • Add remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and stir.
  • Cook in the slow cooker for 3 - 4 hours on low.
We found this recipe in the Fix-it and Forget-it Big Cookbook. Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life & Style: goals for this week

Last week, I started a new series about goals and shared my goals for key areas of my life: ministry, home management, business and personal (I've opted to have my marriage goals remain private). After Jason saw the success I was having with my goals list, he created a goals list for himself as well. We have both seen an improvement in our productivity at home! It's become a challenge with ourselves to complete everything on the list. 

Here are this week's goals:

-Work out two times (I borrowed 30-Day Shred from the library so I'll (gulp!) be using that this week)
-Stay on reading schedule (this may prove difficult with a crazy work month...)
-Drink 36 oz. of water each day
-Drink 4 oz. of milk each day (if you knew how much I despise the taste of milk, you would know how hard it's going to be to force myself to drink this)

Home Management
-Declutter every day
-Paint wall where I accidentally gouged it with the chair
-Organize cosmetics

-Complete 2 pages for blog
-Make angel holiday pail for a Christmas gift
-Begin typing up labels on computer for Christmas gifts

-Send expired/unwanted coupons to Coupon2Give at PO Box 41085, Mesa, AZ 85274-1085
-Take all stamps from envelopes on work desk; gather up all stamps in our stamp bag

Share with us: What are your goals this week?

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Oatmeal blueberry pancakes
Toast and eggs
Jam-Filled Muffins

Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

Chicken Burritos, corn
Winner Winner Onion Chicken Dinner
Broccoli and Rice Casserole
Loaded Alfredo with Chicken and Vegetables
Creamy Farmhouse Chicken and Garden Soup
So-Easy Roast Beef
Hearty Bean and Vegetable Soup

Cheese sticks
(hmm, this is kind of low for snacks - I think next weekend will be a baking/cooking weekend!!)

Recipes coming soon:
Broccoli and Rice Casserole
Loaded Alfredo with Chicken and Vegetables
Creamy Farmhouse Chicken and Garden Soup
So-Easy Roast Beef
Hearty Bean and Vegetable Soup

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saving the Moola: Living Within Your Needs, But Below Your Means, Part 3

This week, Jason and I will be sharing our greatest expenses for next year. You can read Part 1 of this series here, where we explain the basics of living within your needs but below your means, and you can read Part 2 of this series here, where we share what the average American family spends on items and what they should spend on items.

For 2012, our biggest expenditures, tied for first place are: housing and a new car.

You don't need to look twice - we're really going to spend as much on a new car as we are on housing. That's because we're paying cash for a new car (new to us - we're looking for about a 2008 car). Housing includes rent, water, sewer and trash. In the post here, it is estimated that the average American household spends about 32% on housing and what we should spend is about 25% - ours is far lower than this.

One key to a great budget that really works is keeping your overhead low. Your overhead is what you literally must spend per month in order to "survive." For us, our overhead includes such things as housing, car insurance, cell phone, internet, etc. (Jason works completely from home, and I work 32 hours a week from home so internet and a cell phone (and a landline) are a must - plus we just prefer to have those things anyway).

Paying cash for a car not only prevents your overhead from becoming bloated, but you'll save hundreds or even thousands (in our case) in interest. We'll save money during the long haul, the car will be ours free and clear, and our overhead will stay low. In the post here, it's estimated that the average American household spend about 15% on transportation. It's suggested that the average American household should spend 10%. Our percentage is higher next year for this, but our transportation costs in a typical year are far lower than this. In 2013, we plan to funnel the extra money we'll have from not saving for a car into savings for an 8-month emergency fund.

The next highest expenditure is groceries. Jason and I could spend less on groceries. We could eat simpler meals, we could never eat out at restaurants, we could buy cheap, ucky meat from Meijer and Walmart. But we prefer hormone-free meat. And Jason is a huge foodie. He loves trying new meals and sometimes, eating really strange things. We both enjoy a treat out once in a while where no one has to clean dishes or prepare the food. Our grocery budget is quite high for a human family of 2, but it works well for us. In the post here, it's estimated the average American household spends about 12% on groceries, and we should spend about 10%. Keeping in mind that our entire grocery budget not only includes food, but housekeeping supplies, candles, batteries, and other items like that, I feel our grocery budget is in line with this.

Your family's budget should be realistic. If you need a new car but aren't willing to save the money for a new car, budget in a car payment. If you always eat from home, you can budget less than the normal American for food. But if you always eat out, even if it's at fast food, you need to budget that in. At the end of the day, you want to work on a zeroed-out budget (or at least we do!). This means that every dollar is accounted for. Some of our dollars are accounted for "spend money" - money we can spend on whatever we want, such as garage saling, dinner out, a new Disney movie, etc.

Next week, we'll take a look at our middle-of-the-road expenses. In our last week's post, we double dog dared all of you to take one day of the week to consciously not spend a single cent. We had planned to do this on Sunday but failed miserably! But on Monday, we didn't spend any money. I was very proud! It's important to make a specific note to do this. So many times, you'll run to the grocery store for an item that you probably could have went without and you end up buying another item, or two, or three. All that money adds up!

I Double Dog Dare You: Until next week, I challenge each of you to operate on as much cash as you can (no credit or debit cards). When you spend hard cold cash, you tend to spend less than you would if you used a credit or even a debit card.

This Book Room: only 2 books!!

Well, this week in books was very, very low. Somehow, I am still actually on my reading schedule (check out this week's goals here), but that's only if I finish two books today. So we'll see how it goes! Here's the books I read this week:

At the request of her readers, Kim Roby is giving another airing to one of her most popular characters, Curtis Black, who was introduced in Casting the First Stone and who continued his escapades in Too Much of a Good Thing. Kim Roby's readers can't get enough of the Reverend Curtis Black, that self–justifying, greedy, womanizing flimflam man who is one of the biggest rascals ever to step into a church. In this outing, Curtis is starting over. He has a new job and a new wife, and of course he's convinced himself that this time he'll be good. But Curtis hasn't ever made a promise he could keep, and before long, he's up to his old tricks. The difference now is his third wife. She's unlike any woman Curtis has met before. And for the first time in his life, Curtis just might have met his match. Watch the sparks fly!

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Reverend Curtis Black series. You can read my view of the second book here. This series is ongoing.

My thoughts: I really enjoy this series, but the people in these books are craaaazy! The writing is a little bland, at times, but the characters really draw the reader in. I would recommend reading the first book, then seeing if you like it. This series should be read in order.

For a mother, life comes down to a series of choices.
To hold on…
To let go..
To forget…
To forgive…
Which road will you take?
For eighteen years, Jude Farraday has put her children’s needs above her own, and it shows—her twins, Mia and Zach—are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill moves into their small, close knit community, no one is more welcoming than Jude. Lexi, a former foster child with a dark past, quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable.

Jude does everything to keep her kids safe and on track for college. It has always been easy-- until senior year of high school. Suddenly she is at a loss. Nothing feels safe anymore; every time her kids leave the house, she worries about them.

On a hot summer’s night her worst fears come true. One decision will change the course of their lives. In the blink of an eye, the Farraday family will be torn apart and Lexi will lose everything. In the years that follow, each must face the consequences of that single night and find a way to forget…or the courage to forgive.

NIGHT ROAD is vivid, emotionally complex novel that raises profound questions about motherhood, identity, love, and forgiveness. It is a luminous, heartbreaking novel that captures both the exquisite pain of loss and the stunning power of hope. This is Kristin Hannah at her very best, telling an unforgettable story about the longing for family, the resilience of the human heart, and the courage it takes to forgive the people we love.

My thoughts: I don't like all of Kristin's books - Firefly Lane is still my favorite (although this wasn't the first book I read by her), but this book is my second favorite. I didn't love all the characters in this book, but I think that was kind of the point. The story arc was great, and even though I didn't love the characters, like I said before, I identified with them all. Two thumbs up for this book!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Beef and Beer

For those of you who know Jess and I, you know that we don't consume alcohol but once every 4 or 5 years. So when purchasing the beer for this recipe, I couldn't understand why I was being carded (I had forgotten that beer was alcohol and was just thinking of it as another flavorful liquid like a vinaigrette or something like that). Regardless of my silly antics at the grocery store, this recipe is very yummy. You will want to make some potatoes and a veggie to go with it.


  • 3 lbs chuck roast
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 small onions, sliced
  • 12 oz dark beer (I needed to ask assistance to figure out what beer was a dark beer, so don't feel bad if you need to, too)
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8 oz mushrooms, quartered

  • Season the roast with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a skillet over high heat.
  • Add EVOO to the skillet and warm for 5 seconds.
  • Brown roast in skillet, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  • Remove roast from skillet and put into your slow cooker.
  • To the skillet, add the onions.
  • Immediately add the beer and red wine vinegar over the onions.
  • Cook for 2 or 3 minutes making sure to scrape all beefy goodness off of the skillet that may have cooked onto it.
  • Pour contents of skillet over roast.
  • Add beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, and bay leaves.
  • Cook on low for 5 hours (high for 3 hours 15 minutes).
  • Add the mushrooms and cook on low for another 1 hour (high for 45 minutes).
  • Discard the bay leaves (if you can find them).
  • Serve roast with veggies and a generous ladle of broth from the cooker.
Jess thought that the generous ladle of broth was too much broth but I disagree. This recipe originally appeared in Cook This, Not That.

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Homemade Beauty: Shave Cream

All my life, I've used Skintimate shave gel. This is a very nice shaving gel, but for a few bucks regular price for a bottle, it's not incredibly cost effective. Also, as most of us frugalistas know, it doesn't matter if we have the money to spend on items like this - we don't want to! Our money could be more effective elsewhere.

Enter: homemade shave cream. This recipe is adapted from Reader's Digest Homemade book (I highly recommend this book if you're interested in learning about other homemade items).

Here's what you need to make this homemade solution:

  • 1 cup conditioner
  • 1 cup shampoo
  • 5 tablespoons baby oil
  • 5 tablespoons hand cream
  • Use a large bottle or some other large storage container to store the shave cream. Pour in conditioner first, then shampoo.
  • Add baby oil; then hand cream.
  • Secure the container and shake. Let mixture sit for about an hour.
This mixture supposedly lasts for a month, but I can tell you that I made mine a few months ago, and it is still good. The book advises that if the mixture separates, reshake. I just run my fingers through the mixture in the container and use. Jason and I both use this and we will never buy manufactured shave cream again - that's how much we like this homemade solution.

Here's the estimated cost to make this homemade solution:
Hand cream = $0 (I just use little bottles of body lotion I receive for free from Bath and Body Works)
Conditioner = $0.25
Shampoo = $0.25
Baby oil = $0.30

Total: $0.80

We made this back in May, and we still have about a quarter left so this has been a huge cost savings for us.

Share with us: What homemade solutions do you use? Would homemade shaving cream result in a cost savings for your family?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In My Mailbox

I've signed up for many free magazines through, but only select people actually receive the subscriptions. Well, color me dandy when I saw this magazine in our mailbox! I signed up for this for Jason, and he read it in one sitting as soon as we got it. Most of the freebies we get in the mail are for me, but I was super pleased that we actually got one that he can enjoy as well.

We received another free issue of Whole Living and Every Day Food. You can earn points at RecycleBank and redeem points for these issues. If you're a new member, you can earn enough points to redeem for these subscriptions within about a half hour. You earn points by taking quizzes, interactive diagrams of ways to green your home or vacation, etc. Super easy and fun.

Garnier sent us a free sample of shampoo - samples go right in the shower so the next time I shower, I just use whatever sample is in there. This saves me a day's worth of shampoo, and the house doesn't get cluttered with samples. Another good way to use these samples is to put each type of sample (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion) into a separate container and when your family goes camping or traveling where these things wouldn't be provided for you, you can take along your samples for easy use.

Jason and I were both excited to receive a $10 off $10 purchase at JCPenney's. We're going this coming Saturday to get an item for free or close to free. We'll likely buy Jason a screen printed t-shirt.

I mentioned here that Nature Conservancy just randomly sends Jason free stuff, and we were both excited to receive a free 2012 calendar. The calendar currently in our kitchen is the 2011 Nature Conservancy calendar (also sent via mail for free). If they keep this up, we'll never have to buy another calendar!

Jason's planning to eat the sample of Quaker Oatmeal Squares. He said he heard they were really good. The samples of cereal we've received are pretty small, but what can I say? They're free - who cares?!

Through Facebook, I signed up to receive a free sample of Avery Pocket Tabs with Storage. This was a pretty generous sample. We received several of the tab with storage pockets and plan to use these in our price book. Currently, our price book is organized alphabetically, but with these, we're thinking of organizing the pages into categories, like bath and body, household supplies, etc. and putting coupons relevant to that category in the pocket.

As I talked about in "Living Within Your Needs but Below Your Means" here, we're already working on our 2012 household budget. As part of our budget now and going forward, Preston, our darling five-year-old cat, gets an allowance every month. His allowance is pretty generous, and he usually has money socked away in an envelope in the house in case of an emergence hospital or vet visit. But now, he's about to have an even bigger savings envelope! His allowance never has to allow for cat litter again. Purina has, for the past two years I'm told, been running a promotion where you can call 1-800-PURINA, talk to a representative and request two $2 off Tidy Cats litter coupons. This is the litter brand we are currently using, although through the use of our price book, we discovered Walmart has an off brand that is about half the price per ounce. Since Preston is, shall we say, picky, we weren't sure whether to switch brands, but with the use of these coupons, we can buy little bags of cat litter for $1.77, and with the Walmart coupon policy, the other 23 cents will be overage toward our total purchase. Since we only change his litter every once to two months (we clean it twice a week), he will end up with a stockpile of litter as well. Once he has a big enough stockpile, we'll be able to donate some of the litter to cat rescue shelters.

Next week, in addition to sharing what we received in our mailbox, we'll also share how to handle freebies and take care of them so they're not cluttering up your foyer, mail area, etc.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Sausage Sandwich

We made this for dinner on Sunday and it was fantastically delicious. The veggies and the sausage melded flavors very well. Also it was supper filling which is always good. Pictured are two sandwiches, but we each only ate one (then ate the other two sandwiches for lunch today).

  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 links uncooked chicken sausage (you can use turkey sausage as well)
  • 4 hot dog buns
  • 4 slices provolone cheese
  • Your favorite mustard (optional)
  • Napkins

  • Preheat your grill to medium-low.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the EVOO, and warm it for about 5 seconds.
  • Add the red and yellow peppers and the onions and cook, stirring periodically, for about 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, add the vinegar and reserve.
  • Grill the sausages for about 12 minutes (6 if using a George Foreman type grill).
  • Grill the hot dog buns for about 1 minute.
  • Place 1 slice of cheese in each bun. If you like, add your favorite mustard over the cheese (spicy is better than sweet).
  • Top with a sausage.
  • Split the onion and pepper mix over the sausages.
  • Serve with a napkin (to keep your fingers clean, not to eat silly).
Please enjoy!

This recipe was originally printed in Cook This, Not That.

-Chef Jason

Life & Style: How to Achieve Reading 5 Books a Week, Making Christmas Gifts, or Anything You Set Your Mind To!

Crystal at posted an article about setting goals, and I found this article incredibly inspiring and useful.

As one friend recently put it, I sometimes do things that are anal retentive. I do not disagree with this at all. Scheduling my day literally half hour by half hour is a bit extreme. Writing down the prices of almost every item at every grocery store I ever frequent is also a challenge and a very large, time-consuming project.

But, I promise, you all can achieve whatever you set your mind to! Inspired by Crystal's article here, I'm vowing to share with everyone my top goals each week. I hope doing so offers inspiration and insight as to how you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. Most goals are never met unless they are written down, so I hope you take five minutes every Sunday or Monday and jot down your main goals for the week.

My categories of goals are: marriage, personal, home management, business and ministry.

As Crystal is doing, I am also, smartly I think, opting out of sharing my marriage goals, but I will say this: if you want to know, in general, what Jason and I each focus on each day of our marriage, watch Fireproof, read and complete the Love Dare, and read and complete the Love Dare Day by Day. These books and DVD encapsulate what we try to maintain and grow in our marriage.

Here's my goals:

-Work out twice (any kind of workout will do - weight lifting, Mr. Richard Simmons, elliptical, etc.)
-Stay on reading schedule (this may prove difficult with a crazy work month...)

Home Management
-Declutter every day
-Compile projects list (so I have a complete list of projects to tackle later on)
-Make jam-filled muffins

-Research pages to create on blog
-Work on Crafty Christmas blog posts
-Make knot bracelet (if this turns out, I'll share it on here!)

-Write to Jhonny, my sweet boy I sponsor through Compassion International
-Find a ministry or charity that will take our charity stockpile of school supplies for needy kids/schools
-Donate the boxes of books and DVDs in my car (from the rained-out yard sale on Saturday) to the Ypsi Library
-Donate the extra box of stuff we compiled from purging our closets to Salvation Army

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Oatmeal blueberry pancakes
Toast and eggs
Jam-Filled Muffins

Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

Sausage Sandwiches with Herb Red Potatoes
Beef and Beer, baked potato, veggies
Oven-Fried Chicken, corn on the cob
Chicken Burritos, corn
Taco Bowl
Winner Winner Onion Chicken Dinner
Hot dogs, veggies

Cheese sticks
PB & J Sandwich Cookies

Recipes coming soon:
Sausage Sandwiches
Beef and Beer
Oven-Fried Chicken
Winner Winner Onion Chicken Dinner
Jam-Filled Muffins
PB & J Sandwich Cookies
Oatmeal Blueberry Pancakes

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saving the Moola: Living Within Your Needs, But Below Your Means, Part 2

To avoid a repeat of our year of disaster, Jason and I have been living off one income while using the second income to pay for wants, unexpected needs, and savings. We've found this system has prevented us from ever being unable to provide ourselves with not just the basic necessities but luxuries, too.

The great Miss Suze Orman pointed out that if you can't live off half your income now, what would you do if one of you lost your job? Well, you'd have to! It's better to just live below your means now in case your means ever decreases. And if you're a single income household, you should try to live off half of what you make. If you're laid off (and you should probably pray for that instead of being outright fired), your unemployment will only be a portion of your regular paycheck. It's better to adjust your lifestyle now so you're ready for an income change later.

We've been living like this since 2007, and it has paid off for us big time. Since then, there has literally been no month or week where both of us haven't been earning money. This leads us to believe that living off income and not feeling like both of us have to have a job, we perform better at work because we're there because we want to be. Our lives are more stress free, we have more money than we ever had in the past, and we're giving more.

I promised last week in Part 1 that this week I would share our budget with all of you. But first, I thought we should take a look at what some experts say the average is for an American household budget:

Food: 12.2%
Alcoholic beverages: 1%
Housing: 32.4%
Household operations: 15%
Housekeeping supplies: 5.9%
Apparel and services: 2.7%
Transportation: 14.7%
Travel: 2.8%
Healthcare: 4.9%
Entertainment: 4.8%
Personal care products and services: 1%
Education: 1.9%
Smoking products: 0.7%

Now, let's take a look what you should be spending, percentage wise, on each line item:

Food: 10%
Alcoholic beverages: 0%
Housing: 25%
Household operations: 5%
Housekeeping supplies: 2%
Apparel and services: 5%
Transportation: 10%
Travel: 3%
Healthcare: 6%
Entertainment: 5%
Personal care products and services: 4%
Education: 5%
Smoking products: 0%
Charitable gifts: 10%
Saving: 10%

Charitable gifts and savings are definitely things the average American should be spending money on, but it's scary to note that in the average American family's expenses, these items are missing.

Next week, I promise we'll take a look at my family's budget. In lieu of sharing the percentages, however, we decided to share the expenses in order of how much we spend to preserve our privacy regarding finances. We are hopeful that in sharing our own expenses and explaining why we have felt called to spend more or less on certain items, we can influence our dear readers to re-evaluate their own expenses - whether that means spending less money on transportation or more money on vacations! We'll also share where our own line items fit in with the line items above - are we spending more or less?

I Double Dog Dare You: Until next week, I challenge each of you to go one day without spending any money - at the grocery store, at the gas pump, at a restaurant, online, anywhere. Jason and I will do this tomorrow, and we'll let you know the results next week!

This Book Room

This week was a big week in books! It helped that some of these were extremely easy, quick reads. Here's one quick tip for those of you who have trouble finding time to read: take a book wherever you go. Keep one in the trunk of your car in case you have car troubles or are waiting on the person you're meeting for lunch, etc. Keep one in your handbag and read it while you wait in the line at the grocery store. Whenever you have a spare moment, grab your book and read a few pages. Those pages will add up, and you'll be finishing books quickly!

Here's what I read this past week:

Billed as "100% Official," this very generously illustrated autobiography chronicles the early years and dizzying success of this teen-pop hearthrob in his own words and pictures. The staggering dimensions of his story should silence any skepticism about the worth of any autobiography of a 16-year-old: Since being discovered just three years ago, this small-town Ontario boy has gone platinum with his first album; drawn more than 70 million YouTube hits and four million Twitter followers; and caused crowd scenes and near riots on his World Tour. Sometimes just too cute for words.

My thoughts: I'm a Belieber - I'm not ashamed to admit it. Justin's life story is inspirational - to have a dream as a kid and have it come true and then some. It's really sort of a fairytale. I also watched his DVD two months ago or so and found it interesting and a good addition to this book. If you like his music at all, you'll enjoy the book and DVD.

For fifteen years, she fought for respect and footing in the masculine world of firefighting. Now she would finally put everything on the line. Ellie Karlson is new to Deep Haven. As the town's interim fire chief, she is determined to lead the local macho fire crew in spite of their misconceptions about her. But when someone begins setting deadly fires, Ellie faces the biggest challenge of her life. Especially when sparks fly with one of the volunteers on her crew: Pastor Dan Matthews. Dan's idea of the perfect woman is thrown off balance by this beautiful spitfire. Surely Ellies not the answer to his prayers for a quiet, supportive wife. But he can't seem to get her out of his mind... As Ellie battles to do her job and win the respect of her crew, she finds that there is one fire she can't fight--the one Dan has set in her heart.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Deep Haven series. You can read my reviews of book one and book two here and here. There is a fourth book in this series so far, and this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series, book two was not the greatest, and book three was even worse. I'll keep going with the series because I really started the entire series because book four sounded good. But I'm not impressed at all and do not plan to read any other book by this author outside of this series.

The success stories speak for themselves in this book from money maestro Dave Ramsey. Instead of promising the normal dose of quick fixes, Ramsey offers a bold, no-nonsense approach to money matters, providing not only the how-to but also a grounded and uplifting hope for getting out of debt and achieving total financial health. Ramsey debunks the many myths of money (exposing the dangers of cash advance, rent-to-own, debt consolidation) and attacks the illusions and downright deceptions of the American dream, which encourages nothing but overspending and massive amounts of debt. "Don't even consider keeping up with the Joneses," Ramsey declares in his typically candid style. "They're broke!" The Total Money Makeover isn't theory. It works every single time. It works because it is simple. It works because it gets to the heart of the money problems: you.

My thoughts: Jason first read Dave's book a few years ago, and this book, along with Dave's radio show and The Suze Orman Show, changed our ways of viewing money. I'm glad I read this book, if only to solidify my current viewpoints. The stories included were incredibly inspirational.

Hell on earth. That’s what it’s like for Luce to be apart from her fallen angel boyfriend, Daniel. It took them an eternity to find one another, but now he has told her he must go away. Just long enough to hunt down the Outcasts—immortals who want to kill Luce. Daniel hides Luce at Shoreline, a school on the rocky California coast with unusually gifted students: Nephilim, the offspring of fallen angels and humans. At Shoreline, Luce learns what the Shadows are, and how she can use them as windows to her previous lives. Yet the more Luce learns, the more she suspects that Daniel hasn’t told her everything. He’s hiding something—something dangerous. What if Daniel’s version of the past isn’t actually true? What if Luce is really meant to be with someone else?

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Fallen series. The third book recently came out, and as far as I know, this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: This book was intriguing and odd. I feel the need to note this is one of Jason's favorite series out right now, and he was so anxious for me to read the second book (he read it last summer) so we could discuss it. Really, that's part of what makes this series so fun for me - being able to discuss it with Jason. A great series, though, and one that far younger adults could read (10 and up).

Being a teenage girl with divorced parents is hard enough without discovering you're the heir apparent to a small European country, that you must have a bodyguard tailing you at all times, and that your paternal grandmother is determined to turn you into a proper princess. Mia Thermopolis faces all that and more during her year as a high school freshman, and she shares the trials and tribulations of her hilarious life in The Princess Diaries.

As the subtitle to the second book in this series suggests, Mia finds herself "A Princess in the Spotlight" when she's tapped for an interview by a world-famous woman TV journalist. She doesn't want to do the interview, which will be broadcast nationwide, feeling that her flat chest, ski-sized feet, and royal heritage make her stick out plenty as it is, thank you very much. But her protocol- and publicity-obsessed grandmother, Grandmère, insists that the interview is a great idea, claiming the exposure will give their homeland, Genovia, the sort of attention it deserves.

Unfortunately, when time for the interview arrives, Mia is nervous and unfocused, rattled by her secret crush on her best friend's brother, anonymous emails from an unknown admirer, and the shocking news that her mother, Helen, is not only dating Mia's algebra teacher, Mr. Gianini, but (gasp!) is pregnant by him. Comments made during the interview earn Mia the scorn of several classmates, and when she accidentally lets slip the news about her mother's pregnancy, Grandmère goes into overdrive planning the royal wedding of the century -- despite Helen's desire for a simple, quiet ceremony.

In the meantime, Mia debates such weighty issues as her friends' inexplicable attraction to her hick cousin, the naturalness of a certain celebrity's boobs, and the grim outlook for her future love life now that she knows the meaning behind the term "royal consort." The story unfolds via Mia's comical diary entries -- telling lists, acerbic asides, and self-focused narratives -- in a voice that somehow manages to be both refreshingly unique and quintessentially adolescent. And in the end, a royal good time is had by all.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Princess series. You can read my review of the first book here. This series has several books, but is now finished.

My thoughts: This book picks up almost directly from where the first left off, and parts of this book were also incorporated into the first Princess Diaries movie. I really enjoyed this book and am thoroughly enjoying this series, despite being a little caught off guard with the first book. This book would be perfect for tweens, teens and adults alike.

When cartoonist Jane Harris s best friend Holly, New York Journal art director, announces that she s eloping to Italy with longtime doctor boyfriend Mark, and asks Jane to come along as her witness, Jane jumps at the chance, delighted by the prospect of her first ever trip to Europe.

What Jane doesn t gamble on is Mark s witness, New York Journal foreign affairs correspondent Cal Langdon. It s hate at first sight for Jane and Cal, and neither is too happy at the prospect of sharing a villa with one another for a week —not even in the beautiful and picturesque Le Marche countryside.

But when Holly and Mark s wedding plans hit a major snag that only Jane and Cal can repair, the two find themselves having to put aside their mutual dislike for one another in order to get their best friends on the road to wedded bliss, and end up on a road themselves —one neither of them ever expected....

Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the Boy series from Meg Cabot. You can read my review of the second book here.

My thoughts: By far, this is my favorite book out of the Boy series. I loved Jane and Cal! This series would be appropriate for older-aged teens and young adults.

The top rules of the First Love Cookie Club: No men. No kids. No store-bought. No gossip!
And no one is going to keep rule #4 now that local-gal-made-good Sarah Collier has reluctantly returned to Twilight, Texas. The once-awkward teenager has become a big-time success with her bestselling kids’ books. Now she’s come back home to grant one child a very special wish, even though her own heart was once broken by the little girl’s father, Travis Walker. This all makes Sarah wonder, even though you can go home again—should you? Every time she turns the corner, the memory of who she was hits her square in the face, and it isn’t prettythere’s magic in Twilight, Texas—the magic of friendship and the magic of love, if only Sarah would open her heart to it. . . .

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Twilight, Texas series. The fourth book is coming out soon, and this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: This book may be my favorite so far out of this series. As with most series, you don't really need to have read the first 2 to read this one, but I would recommend it as the minor characters are the same book to book. Again, I feel the need to emphasize this series is a bit smutty. So don't read it if that kind of writing offends you or doesn't appeal to you.

*all summaries courtesy of

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Pizzadillas

Easy to make, easy to eat, and easy to clean up. That is what I like in a meal.

  • A small amount of vegetable or canola oil
  • 4 8-inch tortillas
  • 6 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 16 turkey pepperoni slices
  • 1 cup pizza sauce or marinara sauce
  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Brush oil onto baking pan.
  • Place each tortilla on greased baking sheet.
  • Put about 3 Tbsp shredded cheese (1/8 of total cheese) on each tortilla.
  • Put 4 pepperonis onto each pizzadilla base.
  • Spread remaining cheese evenly over all tortillas.
  • Bake for 4 minutes, open faced.
  • Fold in 1/2 and bake for 3 minutes then flip and bake for 3 more minutes.
  • Serve with the pizza sauce or marinara sauce.

Even prebaked, they looked delicious.

When it is all said and done, you will not even get enough dishes from this recipe to fill a single rack in your dishwasher. So enjoy your night off from doing them!

This recipe came from Cooking Light magazine.

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Homemade: Yogurt (and how to get the yogurt maker!)

This post is actually going to be a little different. The recipe to make the yogurt shown below comes with the yogurt maker that you need to pick up. "How do I get a yogurt maker?" or "How much is a yogurt maker going to cost me?" you might ask. Well, I am here to tell you that you can have one delivered to your door for free. It only takes a few minutes a day on the internet!


  • Computer with internet connection
  • 1(ish) minute each day
  • Mailing address

  • Go to Swagbucks and sign up.
  • Every day, go onto the site and get your free Swagbucks doing the following things
    • Download the toolbar for your web browser (1 Swagbuck per day)
    • Click on the Trusted Survey link under the earn drop down menu (1 Swagbuck per day)
      • Depending on how much time you want to spend, you can actually take the surveys (25-150 Swagbucks per survey)
    • Click on the NOSO link under the EARN drop down menu and click 'skip' for every offer that comes up (2 Swagbucks per day)
    • Click on the Daily Poll link under the EARN drop down menu and take the survey (1 Swagbuck per day)
    • Use the Swagbucks toolbar search engine (7 to 10 swagbucks 2 to 4 times per day)
      • You can use this to get to sites you already know the names of. My usual entries are "hotmail" and "facebook" or other random things I am researching.
  • Every time you get 450 points, you can redeem them for a $5 gift card.
    • Make sure you don't redeem them for the gift card (unless you live in Canada)
  • When you have $30 in gift cards, you can purchase the yogurt maker. Since it comes with Super Saving Shipping, you will not even need to cover the shipping costs.
  • In a couple of days, your yogurt make will arrive!
  • Wait to open it until your wife takes a picture of it for her In My Mailbox blog post.
  • Make yummy yogurt with your new yogurt maker.
At 20 points per day (you have to try to get less than that), it will take 135 days total from sign up to ordering of the final gift card. Jess and I together (though it is more her than me) can earn the 450 points needed to earn a gift card in a little over a week.

Let's see what delishiousness your new yogurt maker will provide you with.

This is what it looks like right after you turn it on.

This is a finished homemade strawberry yogurt cup.
(Homemade yogurt is just as good as the store stuff)

Jess was against the idea of homemade yogurt because she mistakenly believed the cost savings would be minimal, and the time needed to make yogurt, at least for us newbies, was extensive. However, by using dry milk, the cost of one yogurt cup costs about 18 cents. The cheapest yogurt cups we've ever seen to date were 35 cents (Aldi). This yogurt is way better for you, and over the course of one year, we'll save about $60.

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In My Mailbox

There's a reason why going to the mailbox is one of my favorite things ever! Here's the loot I got over the past week:

Ahem, Preston obviously did not come in my mailbox, but he sure enjoyed the box that the yogurt maker I ordered for free from came in. Other bloggers can attest to the fact that I once shirked the idea of homemade yogurt - I didn't see how making homemade yogurt would save a significant amount of money over the course of one year's time considering that fruit would need to be added (or maybe it's just that Jason wouldn't eat yogurt without fruit). However, I've since changed my tune (check out Jason's post tomorrow on Homemade Yogurt to learn more), and I ordered this using gift cards from SwagBucks.

Some charity sent me the free tote bag (and asked for a donation, but we prefer to send all of our money allotted for charity to Compassion International for our kids, Jhonny and Juan). Nevertheless, this makes a good tote for library books to return and pick up.

I received another free issue of Martha Stewart Living and Thriving Family. You can read about how I signed up for these magazines here and here. You can still sign up for the Thriving Family magazine here, and you can sign up for a free Martha Stewart Living magazine subscription here.

A week ago, I received my coupons good for 2 free bottles of shampoo, and my third voucher for a free bottle of shampoo arrived last week! We redeemed this at Walmart for a bottle of Aussie shampoo. I am really enjoying all my fancy shampoo!

We took the pic of our free items gathered so far last Friday because wanted to make yogurt that night. But right after I took that picture (and then proceeded to bust open the yogurt maker), we got a free box of Atkins bars, complete with calorie-counter booklet, recipe book and coupons. You can sign up for this free kit here. I would highly, highly recommend doing so. I have no clue what the Atkins diet is (and don't care - the diet I follow is called "eat right!" (ahem, this is not a real "diet", it is just what I do)), but those bars were really good. They're all residing my belly now, and I wouldn't spend money on them because we make our own treats, but really, these were good.

Share with us: What awesome freebies arrived in your mailbox recently? We'd love to know!