Thursday, September 29, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Hearty Bean and Vegetable Soup

If you haven't noticed, we have been cooking out of our slow cooker quite a lot. That was because both of our real jobs were crazy busy during August and it is just easier to mix everything in the slow cooker in the morning and have dinner ready for you later in the day. This recipe is super veggiefied and takes a lot longer than the 20 minutes of prep time than the Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook, where we found it, states it will for all the chopping, slicing, mincing, and frying.

  • 2 onions, slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 8 cups vegetable broth (you can use chicken broth instead if you want)
  • 1 head cabbage, chopped
  • 2 large red potatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 2 cups carrots, chopped
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 30 oz navy beans (canned or prepared for cooking, don't use dry ones)
  • Heat a skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add EVOO and let warm for 4-5 seconds.
  • Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender and starting to brown.
  • Transfer onions and garlic to 6 quart slow cooker (our 6 quart was almost overflowing with this so if you have a bigger one, use it).
  • Add all remaining ingredients and mix well.
  • Cook on low for 8 hours.
Ours made more than the listed 8 servings. This soup pairs well with a turkey sandwich.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homemade: Croutons

This recipe is so simple and so great! I was inspired to finally make homemade croutons from my fellow pinners over on Pinterest. Here's what you need to make homemade croutons:

  • 6 slices of bread
  • 3 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • Sprinkling of salt
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • Place the bread on a cookie sheet and let each side go stale for about 12 hours each side. 
  • After the 24-hour time period has passed, mix together the EVOO, garlic powder, salt and parsley in a mixing  bowl.
  • Cut the crusts off the bread and cut the bread into cubes.
  • Thoroughly mix the ingredients in the bowl together so there are no lumps, then add the bread cubes.
  • Mix together.
  • Place in a single layer on the cookie sheet.
  • Bake in oven for a total of 30 minutes (flipping after 15 minutes) at 350 degrees.
  • Store in airtight container.
We bought Italian bread from Sara Lee Bakery Outlet, and the loaf was just 60 cents. To configure the cost of the recipe, we assume the bread slices together costs about 15 cents. The other ingredients, altogether, would be about 50 cents. For this recipe, the total cost was about 65 cents. Compared to store brand, I think you will see a ginormo savings here, plus, you know what is and is not in these croutons. They taste great and are so quick to make!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In My Mailbox: free magazines and a milk coupon!

Last week, we received all the mail that was held for us while we were on vacation. It was quite a large bundle filled with magazines and one coupon. I had forgotten I had signed up for this coupon but was super excited to get it: $1 off any milk. Coupons like this are rare, but this is one we will definitely use.

We also received the following magazines that are all part of free magazine subscriptions we signed up for:
  • Martha Stewart Living
  • Whole Living
  • Every Day Food
  • Woman's Day
  • Disney Family Fun
Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in the mail recently?

Monday, September 26, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: So-Easy Roast Beef

Jess and I actually had a discussion if this should have gone under our Homemade category because a good roast beef should be every now and again in everyone's home (unless you have a vegetarian home, then don't make a roast beef, as it would be a giant waste).

  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 3 lbs beef roast
  • 10 3/4 oz can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 packet dry onion soup mix
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 to 2 lbs potatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 lb carrots, chopped
  • Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the EVOO and warm for 4 to 5 seconds.
  • Add the beef roast and brown all sides.
  • Remove beef roast to a 4 quart slow cooker (we used a 6 quart and it was almost too big).
  • Lower the heat to low.
  • To the saute pan, add mushroom soup, water, onion soup mix, salt and pepper.
  • Mix this well, making sure to scrape up all pieces of the beef that may have come off.
  • Pour this mixture over the beef in the slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.
  • Uncover, add the potatoes and carrots, recover, and cook for 4 more hours on low.
This recipe was one of the first slow cooker meals we made. We then made it again for Nana and multiple more times for ourselves. If you have limited cooking space, you can skip browning the beef. Omit the EVOO entirely and just mix the other ingredients in a bowl before dumping them over the beef.

The recipe can be found in Fix-It and Forget-It: Big Cookbook using variations 1 and 4. It makes 8 servings for conservative eaters (less if you're piggies like us!).

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Life & Style: goals for this week

Here's my goals this week:

-Complete Swagbucks survey profiles for my account

Home Management
-Keep knitting blanket
-Organize pantry
-Sew felt catnip toy for Preston
-Research chest freezers; compare prices

-Start making little dear ornaments

-Write to Jhonny

One Last Note: Only make goals for things that aren't second nature to you. For instance, I usually add "drink lots and lots of water" to my personal goals, but now that this is something that's become a habit, I don't need to focus on it so much. I used to add "declutter house" to home management, but now that I'm doing this every day without fail, I don't need it on the goals list. A goals list isn't just a good way to get special projects done around the house - it can also be a great way to form good, healthy habits.

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
French toast muffins

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

Hamburgers, herb red potatoes, mac and cheese
Hot dogs, mac and cheese
Soup and grilled cheese samiches
Salad, pasta, homemade garlic bread
Chicken burritos, corn
Pizza, homemade french fries, salad
Fend-for-yourself night (leftovers, samiches, whatever we can find!)

Cheese sticks
Peanut butter no-bake cookies
Spinach artichoke dip and chips/carrots/etc.
Corndog muffins

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Living Within Your Needs, But Below Your Means, Part 8

You can catch up on this series by reading Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here and Part 7 here. This is an eight-week series.

Last week, we wrapped up sharing our 2012 budget. In general, we recommend operating on a zeroed-out budget. This means that every cent is accounted for - how much is for groceries, how much is for housing, how much is for savings. Jason and I have found that for us, personally, we work best on an almost zeroed-out budget. We leave about 4 percent or so for unbudgeted incidents, such as the tire incident of 2011. It just depends on what works best for you - it feels better to us to not have to take so much out of savings when these things occur and just pay out of paychecks, but it's all about what feels good to you.

Or as Ms. Suze Orman would say: whatever makes you feel more powerful. We use this motto a lot to determine what big-ticket items we want to purchase first. For instance, two bigger-ticket items we're looking at are a chest freezer and a blender. Today, after touring Becker Farms and getting feedback from the Becker family and other families, we decided a chest freezer would not only make us feel powerful (having several pounds of meat stored ensures no one will ever go hungry!), but it would be more cost effective and a greater convenience in the long run. It's all about prioritizing.

Over the course of this series, I've double dog dared you to, perhaps at times, take on difficult challenges. The meatless day challenge was extremely difficult for Jason and I, and I don't know if we can really ever truly go meatless for a day (but I'm working on it, I promise!). Last week, I challenged each of you to sit down with your family and decide on a budget for 2012. I would love to hear from any of you who completed this daunting task and hear how it went!

This mini-series has been a delight for me, and I hope that this has helped shed some light on how to live, quite literally, within your means but below your needs and to offer hope that this can be done. You can be debt free. You can plan for the unexpected. You can enjoy life to the absolute fullest on your income, or heck, half of an income.

This mini-series will be back at some point in the future - to offer updates on how our 2012 budget is going and to offer up our 2013 budget. So until that time, the only true challenge in life that matters is this: to be happy. I wish you all the happiness in the world.

This Book Room

Lizzie Nichols is back, pounding the New York City pavement and looking for a job, a place to live, and her proper place in the universe (not necessarily in that order).

"Summer Fling" Luke's use of the "L" (Living Together) word has her happily abandoning plans to share a one-room walk-up with best friend Shari in exchange for cohabitation with the love of her life in his mom's ritzy Fifth Avenue pied-à-terre. Lizzie's landed a non-paying gig in her chosen field—vintage wedding gown rehab—and a paying one as a receptionist at Shari's boyfriend's father's posh law firm. So life is good . . . for the moment.

But almost immediately her notoriously big mouth is getting her into trouble. At work she's becoming too chummy with society bride-to-be Jill Higgins, inflaming the ire of Jill's troublesome future mother-in-law. At home she's made the grievous error of bringing up the "M" (Marriage) word to commitment-shy Luke. Once again joblessness and homelessness are looming large for hapless blabbermouth Liz—unless she can figure out some way to babble her way to a happily ever after.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Queen of Babble series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are three books in this series, and all have been released.

My thoughts: The characters really struck their groove in this book. Shari makes a stunning revelation about herself that changes the course of all the main characters. And it's a revelation that'll have you cheering for two very specific people to get their act together... together (wink, wink!).

Sadie Fisher wonders if she'll ever find true love again after the death of her husband. When wealthy Englischer Kade Saunders rents her guest cottage for a month, Sadie's world is turned upside-down. Kade has a five-year old autistic son who is unexpectedly left in his permanent care. As Sadie's feelings for the child grow, so do her feelings for Kade. But is this man suitable for anything more than friendship?

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Plain, or Daughters of the Promise, series. There are currently five books in this series, and so far as I know, this series is ongoing. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here.

My thoughts: I really wasn't so impressed with the second book of this series (but I still adore this author). I considered dropping the series, but this book changed it all around for me. I loved this book. I really like that Beth brings a fresh perspective to the tried-and-true (and sometimes boring) love formula. There's always a little twist, something that pushes the story one step beyond.

A man who once thrived on wickedness and counted on forgiveness, Curtis Black has changed his ways. Back in the heart of his congregation and his family, he will no longer stray from the beaten path. Or so he's promised his long-suffering wife, Charlotte. But the sins of the past have strange ways of coming to light. First, Curtis's former mistress shows up with their newborn baby daughter—named Curtina—and insists that Curtis be a part of their lives. Charlotte has forbidden her husband to have anything to do with them, but the trouble is, Curtis's newfound conscience is leading him to have uncomfortable thoughts of responsibility.

Also, the interim pastor who took over while Curtis was on a book tour is threatening blackmail. He's gotten too used to life at the pulpit and will do everything in his power to stay there.

Meanwhile, Charlotte has her own previous transgressions to deal with. The man who claims to be her son's biological father has turned up and wants to make amends for the past thirteen years. If Charlotte gives in to his increasing requests, she may lose the only child she has left.

However, Curtis and Charlotte have been through too much together to give up now. They must work harder than ever—as a mother and a father, as husband and wife—to save their family, their marriage, and their souls.

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Reverend Curtis Black series. This series currently has eight books and is ongoing. You can read my review of the second book here, third book here and the fourth book here.

My thoughts: This is one series I've never considered dropping. These characters are seriously crazy. You've got to read these books (if you have, please comment and tell me what you think!!!). I don't even know what I can say about these books is that they are so entertaining. A true escapism book.

Thousands of years of human history stained by strife, death, and sin come to an end when the King of Glory returns to earth. The satisfying conclusion of the seven years of tribulation covered by the Left Behind series portrays the return of Jesus Christ to earth in both glory and judgment at the height of the battle between the forces of evil gathered at Armageddon and the remaining Christian believers at Petra and Jerusalem. Nothing seems to be able to stop the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia. But God is in control.

Additional notes: This is the twelfth book in the Left Behind series. There are 13 books in this series, and all have been released. You can read my review of the tenth book here and the eleventh book here.

My thoughts: I didn't like how slow this book was in the beginning, but once Jesus comes, it gets so good. I am the kind of reader where I have a movie playing in my head of the book as I'm reading, and the movie playing in my head so good I didn't want the book to end. The message of this entire series is refreshing and essential. This series is a must read.

He’s at it again, but this time he’s not alone. America’s Ultimate Cheapskate is back with all new secrets for how to live happily below your means, á la cheapskate. For The Cheapskate Next Door, Jeff Yeager tapped his bargain-basement-brain-trust, hitting the road to interview and survey hundreds of his fellow cheapskates to divulge their secrets for living the good life on less.

Jeff reveals the 16 key attitudes about money – and life – that allow the cheapskates next door to live happy, comfortable, debt-free lives while spending only a fraction of what most Americans spend. Their strategies will change your way of thinking about money and debunk some of life’s biggest money myths. For example, you’ll learn: how to cut your food bill in half and eat healthier as a result; how your kids can get a college education without ever borrowing a dime; how to let the other guy pay for deprecation by learning the secrets of buying used, not abused; how you can save serious money by negotiating and bartering; and how – if you know where to look – there’s free stuff and free fun all around you.

The Cheapskate Next Door also features dozens of original “Cheap Shots” – quick, money saving tips that could save you more than $25,000 in a single year! Cheap Shots give you the inside scoop on:

• How to save hundreds on kids’ toys;
• What inexpensive old-fashioned kitchen appliance can save you more than $200 a year;
• How you can travel the world without ever having to pay for lodging;
• What single driving tip can save you $30,000 during your lifetime;
• Even how to save up to 40% on fine wines (and we’re not talking about the kind that comes in a box).

From simple money saving tips to truly life changing financial strategies, the cheapskates next door know that the key to financial freedom and enjoying life more is not how much you earn, but how much you spend.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches, and has appeared as a guest correspondent on the NBC Today Show and Discovery’s Planet Green network. He is also the author of the popular blog The Green Cheapskate,

My thoughts: I didn't agree with everything Jeff said, particularly the bit about not having an emergency fund, but I enjoyed that this book was more of a "why to" than "how to." The truth is is that most people who are living frugally and within or below their means aren't miserable - I certainly am not! We're doing it not only to save for retirement and be responsible, but because we actually enjoy it. This book was a breath of fresh air.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Life & Style: How to Max Out Your Time Each Day

Each day can sometimes feel like a race to beat the clock. The laundry is piled up and waiting to be folded, dinner needs to be cooked, the floor is waiting to be cleaned, and the counters are filthy. And free time? Well, for some of you, that may not really exist. Yet. Some years ago, I read "I Don't Know How She Does It" by Allison Pearson (this was just made into a movie). Each day, we all have loads to do and only 24 hours. I hope from the tips I'm going to share below, you'll learn how I do what I do and not go crazy, and more importantly, have hope that you can achieve a state of happiness and accomplishment.

Free time is as important as busy time. Busy time is great for getting things done - chores, cooking, family time, etc. But free time is when you cultivate yourself and allow yourself to be fully prepared and present during those busy times. I feel the need to insert here that I am not a parent of anyone other than a darling cat who can take basically care of himself. However, we all have lives and things to do, and I believe my suggestions here can be used for kid and non-kid households as well. I would encourage all of you to fit these tips and tricks to your lifestyle as you see best.

The best ways I've found to max out the time of the day is to: a. multitask, b. set goals and c. set your schedule.

I do not have time to sit and watch TV, and even if I did, that's not a good way to spend my time. Instead, I watch TV while I work from home, I watch TV while I blog, I watch TV while I cook/clean, etc. Jason enjoys listening to books while he works around the house, drives in the car and works.

You literally need to take advantage of every second you have. Think of those moments in life where you're doing only one thing at a time - eating, for example. Do you need to focus entirely on eating? The latest issue of Whole Living (10/11) suggests that at times, it's better to monotask - to fully focus on one task. Eating may be one of those times. If you're eating and say, reading, you may not be paying enough attention to what you're putting in your mouth and overeat. This is easily fixable by putting a specific portion on your plate and keeping the containers housing the food away from the space you're at. Mealtime can be a great time to spend moments with your family, or if you're eating alone or if you and your spouse/family are not big talkers while eating, read your devotionals for that day. Browse a magazine. Surf the internet. Watch TV. Anytime you find yourself doing only one thing, ask if you can pair that activity with something else. If not, focus fully on that one task to move along as quickly as possible, but if you can do that task and complete another at the same time, all the better.

But you're not going to know what to pair the activity with if you don't know what you need/want to get done! This is where goals come in. I've started sharing my goals here every Sunday as part of the Life & Style series. Click here to view my goals for this week.

Having goals and writing them down (it's extremely important to write them down to hold yourself accountable) has been incredibly important in raising my productivity. Jason has noticed how many more projects have been completed and how much more reading/alone/fun time I've been able to fit in. We've spent more time together than we have in the past - and I'm doing more around the house and on my own than I did before. If you have a list of activities to do, each second is less likely to be wasted.

Setting your schedule can be something like setting goals for each specific day, but I find it particularly useful to set an hour-by-hour schedule. Each hour or half hour of the day, I know what I'm supposed to be doing. This helps me stay on track and hold myself accountable. It also is a sort of fun challenge to see how far you can get ahead - the faster you work and get ahead, the more time you can have for playtime later!

One key to the success of making each second count is knowing that there's hope - for some activities, like organizing the food pantry, these will have to be done time and time again as they become slowly disorganized over time. But something like refinishing a bench will only need to be done once. Some weeks are slower than others for me, and I find those weeks to be particularly refreshing and only could have been slower because of my busier times.

Here's my last and greatest thought. I know so many people - colleagues, friends, acquantices, family members - who say yes to everything that is asked of them. Invited to the movies with a friend? Asked to bring a dish to a party? Invited to a wedding/baby shower? I say no to others so I can yes to myself.

That's right - I tell other people NO. No, I will not come to the movies with you. No, I will not make food to bring to your house. No, I will not attend your shower. No, I will not do whatever it is you're asking me to do that I think I should say yes to because I'm stupid and think I have to say yes.

Instead: Yes, I will spend time alone. Yes, I will spend time with my husband. Yes, I will enjoy a nap.

Prioritize. If spending time with friends means you don't get time with your husband and you'd rather have time with your husband, skip the friends! Choose what you want and need and then make sure that what you're actually doing is a reflection of what you want and need. No one is going to look out for you except for you (well and God, but that's another story for another day).

There's only 24 hours in the day, and there's always much more work than that that could be done. By setting a schedule, making a goals list, multi-tasking and priotizing, your days can be smoother and more productive.

Share with us: What are your best tips for maxing out your time? How do you get it all done?

Crafty Christmas: Simple Beaded Earrings

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 13 weeks away!

Beaded earrings are super simple to make and would make wonderful gifts for ladies on your Christmas or any other holiday list. Here's basic instructions on how to make earrings:

First, start with supplies needed. You need: headpins, earring wires, beads, earring backs, and jewelry-making tools. The outlay for the tools runs about $20, and I would recommend getting these only at specialty beading stores and not at big box stores. The tool quality is higher at specialty stores, and while the cost is about double, your homemade jewelry will look nicer and the wire is easier to manipulate (outlay for findings and beads vary).

Next, place the beads on the headpin.

Take the round-nose pliers to hold the headpin, and bend the headpin over the pliers and toward you. Then, rotate the pliers, bend the wire over the top and to the back, bend the wire under the pliers and pull it toward you.

Take the flat-nose pliers and wrap the headpin's extra wire around the straight bit of the head pin. I wrap at least twice, and in most cases, three times. Then, clip the extra wire off with wire cutters and straighten out any mistakes. I use flat-nose pliers for this. Repeat the process to make a second pendant/earring.

Then, open up the earring wires, slip the pendants on, and close the earring wire. Add backings.


Simple, right? It is, but to really learn this technique (unless you're a genius and already get it!), I recommend taking a class. There are three places I would recommend to take classes and buy materials. All of these stores are small businesses and are truly wonderful in terms of selection and classes offered.

Stony Creek Bead is located in Ypsilanti and has the most wonderful staff. The store may be small, but it is filled with so many beads! I particularly enjoy their selection of fire-polished beads and Czech glass beads. The store also features handmade beads from artists around Michigan. Advice is free and happily given. Class prices vary, but for basic technique classes, the cost is $30 plus the cost of materials (but tools tend to be available to use for free during class sessions). Visit their blog for more information or you can like them on Facebook here.

Beadin' Mon is located in Flint. If you have ever been to Flint, you have very likely passed this store and not even realized it was really there! It's located right on Miller Road across from Target. Classes are $10, and the ladies there are delightful. Visit their website for more information or you can like them on Facebook here.

Bead Haven is located in Frankenmuth, and classes here are completely free so long as you buy the materials at the store for the store. Their classes are truly unique, and the pieces you can make there are gorgeous and very affordably priced. The store is large, and the bead selection is truly magnificent. Visit their website for more information or you can like them on Facebook here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Creamy Farmhouse Chicken and Garden Soup

This recipe looked good, which is why we made it. This soup was so yummy and very easy to make.

  • 16 oz frozen stir-fry vegetable mix (we like the one with the mini corn on the cobs)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 3/4 to 1 lb of chicken
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 14 oz chicken broth
  • 2 cups uncooked egg noodles
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 Tbsp parsley
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

  • Coat the bowl of a 4 1/2 quart slow cooker (we used a 6 quart and it worked just fine) with cooking spray.
  • Dump in the frozen stir-fry veggies, frozen corn, and sliced zucchini and mix a little.
  • Put the chicken on top of the veggies.
  • Sprinkle the minced garlic and thyme over the chicken and dump the chicken broth over everything.
  • Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.
  • Uncover and remove chicken. Set it to the side for now.
  • Add noodles to the slow cooker and recover, cooking for 20 more minutes.
  • While the noodles are cooking, chop up the chicken into bite sized pieces.
  • After the 20 minutes are up uncover the slow cooker again add all remaining ingredients, including the chicken into the slow cooker.
  • Give it a good stir and let sit for 5 minutes to lower chances of burning before serving
This soup makes about 4 servings. We did have a little bit of reservation about this soup because of the half and half, but it turned out great. Jess went on and on about how good it was, and that's when I know a recipe is a winner.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Gaming Corner: Monopoly DEAL

Have you ever wanted to play a game of Monopoly but only have a few minutes? Well, with this version of the game, you can. Monopoly DEAL is a card game released by HASBRO in 2008 and is based on the board game.

Your goal in this card game is to accumulate enough properties to have three monopolies. Play is quick, easy to understand, and stays interesting past the second game (which many card games don't). There are only three different types of cards in the whole game: money, properties, and actions.

Money cards come in 6 different values. They are used to pay other players when they play certain action cards. They are also color coded like the money of the board game.

Action cards represent the different actions that happen in the game. Passing Go, collecting debts or rent, celebrating your birthday, placing houses and hotels, or making deals (deals pertain to taking/trading properties from other players). The interesting thing about action cards is that if you choose, you can use them as money cards instead of an action card.

There are 3 types of property cards. Basic property cards, simple wild cards (which can only be used as the 2 colors pictured on it), or finally the Property Wild Card (which can be used as any color).

The game takes for granted that you have a basic knowledge of the board game, but that isn't a big deal, because just about everyone does.

Here is a picture of a game in progress.

This game normally costs about $5 at Target or Walmart, but if you printed the $4/1 any Monopoly coupon that was circulating a week or so ago, you could score this game for about $1. This would make a great stocking stuffer or a great travel item for vacations.

Please enjoy!

-Gamer Jason

In My Mailbox

We're still waiting to get our held mail from the post office from when we were on vacation (sigh!), but here's what we got the week leading up to our vacation:

Jason received another Popular Science magazine as part of the free one-year subscription we signed up for. I was thrilled to get a free sample of Nivea body wash and some great coupons! I am planning to make my own body wash soon as it is much cheaper this way, but I have to say, of all the commercial body washes one can buy, Nivea is my favorite. I will donate these coupons to Coupon2Give.

We received the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook and Kingdom Come (Left Behind series #13) as an order we placed. The order cost nothing, as we used gift cards we received for free with SwagBucks. You can create a SwagBucks account for free by clicking here, and click here for a quick tutorial from Jason on how SwagBucks works.

As a general rule, we do not buy fiction books as these can be obtained for free from the library. However, I had purchased books 1 - 12 for $1 each at a library book sale, as I wanted to read these at my own pace and I wanted to own them in my permanent home library. Over the years, I have searched for book #13 but have never found it either at the library used bookstore or at the library sales. I just want to encourage everyone to please visit your local library to borrow books, and in the case that you want to own a book in your permanent library, buy used, or if you must own new, purchase for free with SwagBucks gift cards.

Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in the mail recently?

Monday, September 19, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: PB&J Sandwich Cookies

Normally, Jess and I go for the recipes that you can at least pretend are healthy. Not so with this one. Even though each sandwich cookie has enough calories to count as a lunch, that didn't stop us from eating a whole batch in a weekend, and we would have ate more if there were any. Make these at your waistline's risk.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1/3 cup jam
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • Line 2 baking sheets with wax paper. 
  • Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl. 
  • With an electric mixer on medium speed, mix 1 stick butter and chunky peanut butter until well mixed. 
    • The recipe says until smooth, but we are using a mixer, not a blender. How do they expect smooth when you just added crunchy peanut butter?
  • Beat in sugars until well blended.
  • Beat in egg and vanilla.
  • Turn mixer to low and beat in flour, just until mixed.
  • Stir in oatmeal.
  • Make 32 even sized balls of the cookie dough and place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets.
  • With a floured fork, smoosh each cookie twice, making a checkerboard like design.
    • Once flattened, the cookies will be about 1/4 inch thick. 
    • The important thing is that the cookies are all approximately the same size, surface area and thickness.
  • Bake the cookies for about 10 - 12 minutes.
  • When cookies come out of the oven let them cool for about 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.
  • With mixer on medium, beat remaining non-jam ingredients until super smooth.
  • Once cookies have cooled, spread peanut butter mixture on the 'bottom' of 1/2 of them and the jam on the 'bottom' of the other half.
  • Combine the cookies to make the most delicious snack ever invented.
This recipe originally appeared in Delish magazine.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life & Style: goals for this week

As we were on vacation last week, we took a week off from blogging. We didn't really compile a goals list to complete since we wanted to relax. Regardless, we still completed a few goals last week, such as completing earrings for the Hello Pretties fall '11 collection and exercising a lot up north. You can see the full fall collection here for Hello Pretties, but here's a teaser:

And here's a pic of us on vacation. We had a fantastical time (you can read about the exciting end to our vacation here).

Here's my goals this week:

-Work out twice
-Drink lots and lots of water

Home Management
-Keep knitting blanket
-Organize crafts
-Print vacation photos; frame in frames; hang frames on wall
-Load printer paper tray with all scrap paper going the right way

-Finish a dozen stitch markers (just need to attach jump rings, and these are good to go!)
-Update tags on all blog posts

-Send card to a church member who is ill

What's for Eats This Week

Due to the tire incident of 2011, some of our savings went to repair my car. Because we want to re-beef up our savings (in case any more tire incidents or any other incidents occur!), we're opting to keep the next few weeks of menus pretty simple. Here's our menu this week:

Choice of:
Oatmeal blueberry pancakes
Toast and eggs
Peanut energy bars

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

Cheesy Rice and Broccoli Bowls
Hot dogs, homemade french fries, mac and cheese
Soup and grilled cheese samiches
Salad, pasta, homemade garlic bread
Chicken burritos, corn
Pizza, homemade french fries, salad
Dinner out with extended family

Cheese sticks
Canned fruit
Trail mix
Whole wheat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
*snacks are getting pretty low, so I'm going to do some extra baking/cooking next weekend

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saving the Moola: Living Within Your Needs, But Below Your Means, Part 7

You can catch up on this series by reading Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here and Part 6 here. This is an eight-week series.

Jason and I returned early Thursday morning from our vacation. While on our way home, our tire and wheel went flying over the Zilwaukee bridge. Thankfully, no one was hurt (one benefit of traveling very, very early in the morning (or very, very late at night)). Unfortunately for us, we could not find the tire (we didn't really expect to). The repairs were actually very much lower than we expected and were paid for completely out of savings - with savings left over! When you live within your needs but below your means, unexpected accidents like the tire incident of 2011 won't freak you out - beyond the fact that seeing a tire go flying and sparks under your car is not that fun to see. We're very grateful to my parents for coming to get us and transport us back to Fenton, where we used Jason's car to travel back to Saginaw to approve the repairs and pick up my car. This is just one more nail in our coffin that living within your needs but below your means not only results in being a good steward of your money, but it allows accidents to be more stress free. Instead of worrying about how we were going to pay for the repairs, our concern was that we woke up my parents and ruined their relaxing morning (my parents, of course, were incredibly gracious and just happy we were okay).

So maybe that was a bit of a digression, but I just wanted to share a real-life, recent example of why or how this lifestyle works for us and how it can work for you. Last week, we began talking about our 1% or less expenditures. We're continuing that discussion this week with: holidays, Christmas, Day-After-Thanksgiving-shopping (or as I call it, DATS), crafts, renter's insurance and magazine subscriptions.

Holidays are everything minus Christmas. We typically only celebrate our birthdays and our anniversaries. And if we celebrate others' events, we do so with either a card, a phone call or a homemade gift, but in general, we tend to keep all occasions very low key. There are multiple reasons for this, but the biggest reason is that we honestly don't see a reason to celebrate any of these (including birthdays and our anniversary). We show our love for each other and others close to us all year round, whether it's with a homemade gift, a phone call to say "I love you," a dinner out on us, or doing an extra special chore around the house the other has been hinting at (like cleaning the outside of the wastebasket because really, who wants to do that? That's a show of love if I've ever seen one!).

Christmas expenditures includes everything from extra grooming, like manis and pedis, extra clothing purchases, gifts for our family, gifts for each other, Christmas cards, postage stamps for Christmas cards, etc. Our gift allotment is very low - we have a set amount for each of our three stockings each year that is the same - a stocking for Jason, a stocking for me, a stocking for Preston. Each year, one of us (Jason or I) play "Santa" (we alternate years), and that person fills up our two stockings and we both fill Preston's stocking. This year is Jason's turn. So Jason will buy and wrap gifts for his stocking and my stocking. This is extra fun because then on Christmas morning, it'll be extra surprising since I won't know what either of us received! Jason and I started this last year and really, really enjoyed it. We do not buy gifts outside of the stocking for each other. We make as many gifts as we can to give to family. You can read about why we do this style of gifting here.

DATS is something I look forward to, literally, all year long. It's not for everyone because most people are just cranky when they participate in DATS. Jason and I are not cranky people, and most definitely not on this morning! The stores we visit vary each year, but we're usually home and done by 7 AM and go back to sleep. We're not cranky for the following reasons: a. we wear comfy clothes (people who put on makeup and do their hair are just crazy!), b. we sing Christmas carols the entire time (this probably annoys other people, but we don't care), c. we don't have to go DATS, but we really enjoy being around other people, getting good deals, and buying things for ourselves that we normally would not consider due to higher costs on another day. During DATS, we usually are buying things for ourselves. This year, we're looking at buying matching picture frames for a project I want to complete for the kitchen, a blender, an electric heating blanket, and Disney DVDs. We would never normally purchase these items, but we're hoping to get good deals and can fit them into our DATS budget. My favorite website for viewing DATS ads ahead of time is

Crafts somewhat overlap with DATS, holidays and Christmas, as most of the craft items we purchase to make crafts (like pinking shears, fabric, etc.) are to make gifts for others. Crafting is enjoyable and challenging for us, and we truly enjoy it. If you're not into crafting, your "crafts" category may be called "hobbies." Crafting is our biggest hobby in terms of expenditures (reading is probably my biggest hobby, but I get all my materials free at the lib).

Our apartment complex requires all renters to have renter's insurance, although if this was not required, we would still have it. We haven't had it during the entire 5+ years we've been renters, but I'm glad we're making a point to always have this budgeted for the future. A cousin of mine just recently experienced the roof of his apartment complex caving in on his apartment, and everything he owned was ruined. Completely ruined. Thankfully, he had renter's insurance. Personally, I never want anything to happen (unless we were home) because if we weren't home and the house, let's say, burned down, then I could only assume Preston would perish in the fire. There is nothing in the world - no monetary reimbursement, no item, nothing - that would make that okay. Regardless of that, renter's, or homeowner's, insurance is a must-have. It's worth the little bit of money to cover yourselves and your belongings.

As referenced above under crafts, I get most books, magazines, DVDs and CDs from the library. However, there a few magazines that are particularly useful to subscribe to, such as Crafts n Things. I get a lot of gift and craft ideas from this magazine, and the magazine has templates, instructions, tutorials, etc. that are useful. We subscribe to very few magazines and always check several websites to be sure we're getting the best deal.

Next week, we'll wrap up this series. Last week, I double dog dared you to spend an evening at home and indulge in free entertainment. On our vacation, Jason and I stuck to our budget and had a blast! We could not have had more fun. We took several games and spent many hours playing those. We also took many walks and took pictures. We went to the beach, buried each others' feet and read books we brought from our home lib. We visited the local library, we drove downtown and looked at pretty houses, and we went through a rope maze that was free of  charge! I'd love to hear what you and your family did for free this week.

I Double Dog Dare You: This will be the last dare of this series. Is anyone else sad? I am! We'll be back next week to wrap up this series, so until then, I challenge each of you to sit down with your partner and decide on a budget for next year. Determine how much money you really need to live on and vow to keep your expenses to that amount. Save the rest of your income. Decide what that money's purpose is - every cent should have a purpose! Maybe you want to save for a new car to be paid in cash, maybe you want to save for a 20% down payment on a home, maybe you want to save for a remodel to be paid in cash, maybe you want to save for a vacation to be paid in cash. You can read our past posts in this series to see our budget for next year and what our goals are.

This Book Room: Christmas and series books!

“Todd, they always want you to adopt a dog. That’s what they do. Besides, we don’t need another animal around here, and most definitely not a dog.”When Todd McCray, a developmentally challenged young man still living on his parents’ Kansas farm, hears that a local animal shelter is seeking temporary homes for its dogs during the days leading to Christmas, he knows exactly what he wants for the holidays. His father objects, but Todd’s persistence quickly wins out. Soon the McCrays are the short-term foster family for a lovable pooch the young man names Christmas. But what about all the other dogs who will be forced to spend the Yuletide season in cages? In the days that follow, Todd uses his special gifts of persuasion to encourage his hometown to participate in the “Adopt a Dog for Christmas Program.” What follows from his small act of kindness will teach his family, and his community, about peace on earth and good will toward men—and animals.

My thoughts: This was a pretty good read. If you like animals and Christmas, you'll like this story. But this isn't one of the best Christmas books I've read so if you're not really into all that, I'd skip this one.

The Christmas Candle - In a small village in the Catswolds, nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. Except at Christmastime. Then a mysterious angel suddenly appears in a lowly candlemaker's shop. There the holy and the human collide in a way that only God could imagine.
A Christmas Child - A Chicago journalist finds himself in a small Texas town on Christmas Eve. Lonely and alone, he encounters old faces and new facts . . . a hand carved manger, a father's guilt, a young girl's faith. The trip into the past holds his key to the future, and a scarlet cross shows him the way home.
An Angel's Story - Journey back in time to the very throne of God . . . and witness firsthand the glory, the wonder, and the battle that took place on the very first Christmas.

My thoughts: Max is one of the best Christian writers EVER. I haven't read a lot of his books yet, but oh, I plan to. This collection of stories was uplifting and unique. I particularly enjoyed An Angel's Story and The Christmas Candle. This is a must-read Christmas book.

Meg Cabot continues the hilarious adventures of Mia Thermopolis, a very ordinary teenager whose life takes an extraordinary turn when she learns she's the heir apparent to the throne of a small European country. In this third installment of The Princess Diaries, Mia's self-deprecating wit, self-absorption, and adolescent angst are as entertaining as ever as she struggles with the realization that despite being a princess, she isn't guaranteed any fairy-tale endings. Mia discovers yet another branch on the royal side of her family tree when she meets her cousin, Sebastiano, an up-and-coming fashion designer. Mia worries that Sebastiano might want her dead, since he's next in line to inherit the throne, she's not yet willing to toss him aside -- his dress creations are not only exquisite, they are perfectly tailored to bring out the best in Mia's flat-chested, big-footed physique. Life is looking better on other fronts as well, for Mia finally has a boyfriend. Unfortunately, it's Kenny, her study partner, good friend, and fellow classmate, whereas the real love of her life is Michael, the brother of Mia's best friend, Lilly. But not only does Michael seem clueless about Mia's affections; it looks like he has a girlfriend. While bemoaning her inability to compete for Michael's affections, Mia spends her time trying to avoid Kenny's kisses, pondering the best way to break up with him even as she wonders why he hasn't asked her to the big Christmas dance. Adding to Mia's stresses are her upcoming final exams, her mother's incessant morning sickness, the usual unwanted media attention, and the ongoing torments of her fellow classmate and nemesis, Lana. While Mia's sometimes simplistic view of life remains intact and her adolescent shallowness is often apparent, she also shows an evolving maturity as she prepares for her royal role under Grandmere's overbearing guidance. But never fear, the seriousness is kept in balance with plenty of fun, tons of laughs, and several amusing disasters. And, if Mia isn't careful, she might even get that fairy-tale ending.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Princess Diaries series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here. This series has since finished, but there are about 16 or so books (including companion books) in this series.

My thoughts: By far, my favorite book in this series yet. The characters are growing stronger and developing, and I really found myself wanting to read all the books in this series when I finished this book (I did find myself checking out several of these books at the lib when I visited yesterday...).

Four years ago, rodeo celebrity Wade Ryan gave up his identity to protect his daughter. Now, settled on a ranch in Big Sky Country, he lives in obscurity, his heart guarded by a high, thick fence.
Abigail Jones isn't sure how she went from big-city columnist to small-town nanny, but her new charge is growing on her, to say nothing of her ruggedly handsome boss. Love blossoms between Abigail and Wade--despite her better judgment. Will the secrets she brought with her to Moose Creek, Montana separate her from the cowboy who finally captured her heart?

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Big Sky Romance series. This book was just released this summer, but I'm sure other books are planned for release.

My thoughts: What drew me to this series was that it was written by Denise, and I liked other books by her. And I liked that it was set in Montana, which I have a not-so-secret obsession with. But this book fell flat. I do not plan on continuing this series. The plot = uninspired, the characters = boring. Skip this one.

Traditional meaning of Pink and White Roses: I love you still and always will.

Caitlyn Marsh stopped believing in happily-ever-after when high-school sweetheart, Gideon Garza, left for Iraq. Now she raises her small son while her matchmaking gardening club members drive her crazy. Then Caitlyn's world turns upside-down when Gideon swaggers back to Twilight. Gideon had left town in the middle of night with threats ringing in his ears. A lot of things have changed since then. This bad boy-turned-Green Beret bears scars from the war, the timid girl he loved is an independent mother, and the father who refused to recognize his son in life has, in death, left him a vast cattle ranch. He still aches for Caitlyn, and now there's a dark-haired boy who looks exactly like Gideon did at that age. Could the child be his? And can this war-weary soldier overcome the scars of the past to claim the family he so richly deserves?

Additional notes: This is the fourth, and latest, book in the Twilight, Texas series. You can read my review of the third book here. This series, so far as I know, is ongoing.

My thoughts: This book was just... okay. I don't think I'm going to continue reading this series. It just... didn't grab me. It just didn't. It didn't do anything! Skip this one, too.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saving the Moola: Living Within Your Needs, But Below Your Means Part 6

You can catch up on this series by reading Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here and Part 5 here. This series is an 8-week series.

This week, we're talking about our very low expenses. All the expenses covered this week and in Part 7 next week are 1 percent or less of our take-home income. Last week, we covered the second half of our middle-of-road expenses.

Today, we'll be talking about: laundry, cell service, grooming, entertainment, clothing, pets, and car maintenance.

We live in an apartment complex and as such, do not have our own washer and dyer (most apartments do not have these). We've saved a lot of money off our laundry bill by having a clothesline, making our own laundry detergent and making our own dryer sheets. Still, laundry costs money, and I reckon we spend a lot more on laundry than someone would who a. owns their own washer and dryer and b. does all the above we do. But we've cut our costs practically in half so I can't complain...

I used to understand the draw of a regular phone contract. Er, at least that what's I keep telling myself to justify why I wasted money having a phone contract. There are so many phone service providers today that it's just stupidity to have a phone contract. Pay-as-you-go, or no-contract, plans are a way better deal and they put your freedom back in your hands! You can get incredibly sophisticated phones (but we prefer a very simple phone). We use MetroPCS and pay very little, in my opinion, to have: unlimited calls and unlimited texts (plans are available that include web use). I'm sure we spend far, far less on cell service than other Americans, and we also have one cell between the two of us.

In this next expenditure, it's hard for me to hold my tongue. So I'll try to keep it clean and kind: beauty comes from the inside. So even if you have fake nails or dyed hair, if your insides are ugly, you're ugly. With that in mind, among other things, when it comes to grooming, Jason and I take a simplistic approach. I will share what Jason and I regularly spend our grooming allowance on: waxing. Which, may I point out, that if I so wanted, I could buy a home waxing kit and do it myself. We treat ourselves to manis and pedis once or twice a year, and I shave Jason's head. We save about $12 a month just by Jason avoiding the barber shop. I only visit a salon for haircut when I truly feel my hair needs it, which is once or twice a year. Simplicity is key. Not only are you going to be spending money at salons and spas, but it wastes time, too! I have better things to do than sit in a salon chair being vain. I hope you do, too. With that being said, the average American spends about 1%, and it's estimated here that the average American should spend 4%. That's a little crazy, I think. We're in line with the average American actually spends.

Jason and I don't drink, don't party, don't go to the movies... but we sure as heck have a whole lot of fun together every day! We keep our entertainment costs low but allow enough to go to three or so festivals a year, a movie maybe once if it's something that's important to us (we're planning to see Courageous on its opening weekend to support the film), a Tigers game or other sporting event, multiple trips to Barnes and Noble to buy a treat and read books and mags for hours, etc. Also included in entertainment is garage saling and craft shows. The average American spends 4.8% on entertainment, and the average American should spend 5%. Again, this is crazy. We spend far, far below this on entertainment.

I think by now, you're kind of catching on as to why Jason and I have money to do the things we really want to do (like buy a car in cash, save money for an 8-month emergency fund, etc.) is because we're super frugal. And we're super frugal in one area that others love to spend money: clothing. We have a very, very low clothing allowance but we never go without - in fact, we recently donated a bunch of our clothing because we had too much and didn't wear it all. We mostly work from home so our clothing is very simple. In a normal day, we wear plain white t-shirts, sweatpants and boxers. Jason has multiple polos, jeans, and button-down shirts. We buy jeans brand new, but shirts for Jason are purchased at Salvation Army or very cheap at stores. We generally don't spend more than $4 for a polo shirt. I have one pair of jeans I love and multiple shirts - fancy, hoodies, cardigans, etc. Plus, we recently bought a sewing machine and plan to use this to make some of our own clothes. You don't have to spend a lot of money to look decent. Buy classic styles on sale and you'll be good. The average American spends 2.7% on apparel and should spend 5%. We spend far, far below this one as well.

Preston, our cat, is one of the greatest joys, if not the greatest, in our lives. He's witty, cunning and playful. He brings a smile to our face on the darkest of days and lends his heat on the cold ones. Preston's been known to have issues (allergies, scratching himself til he bleeds, lumps and bumps on his skin, etc.). His costs are usually high, but not higher than 1 percent of our income! Pets do not have to be expensive and let me tell you: his food is expensive (you cannot buy it a regular store - that's how special it is). We've taken his allowance for the entire year and divided it by 12. Every month, we put that amount in an envelope so whenever he needs unexpected care, a bag of food, more probiotics, etc., we just take the money out of his envelope. He's never, ever gone without (and has more toys than he knows what to do with). It also helps that we get his litter for free. You can read about that here.

Last but certainly not least is the topic of car maintenance. This mostly just includes oil changes, tabs, and registration for our two cars. There is a little bit of leeway here in the event of a small repair. In the instances of huge repairs, we utilize our unbudgeted money (which is about 4 percent of our income) or cut out other things that are not needs (like clothing, entertainment, etc.).

Last week, I double dog dared you to go an entire week with brown-bagging your lunch. This was hard for Jason and I because we usually do this save for one day a week. We work from home and usually, one day a week, Jason will get take-out as a treat for us. We so badly wanted to do this yesterday but convinced ourselves instead to have PB and J sandwiches. I'm glad we did! This challenge was a success for you. How did you do?

I Double Dog Dare You: Until next week, I challenge each of you to spend an evening at home with your loved ones and indulge in free entertainment. You could play a game with each other (non-electronic games are preferred and more fun! Try some Blockus). You could grab a DVD from either your own collection or the library, pop some popcorn and make hot chocolate. You could go for a walk and try to identify birds, insects or trees with your kids. People tend to spend so much on entertainment, but really, the best things in life are free. Use this week to remind yourself of that. Jason and I will be on vacation this week and will be enjoying some free entertainment of the varieties listed here.

One last note: As I just mentioned, since Jason and I will be on vacation, we will be taking most of the week off from blogging. Tune in next Saturday when we resume our regularly scheduled programming with This Book Room and Saving the Moola.

This Book Room: a slew of books in a series

Life is reasonably rosy for plus-size ex-pop star turned Assistant Dormitory Director and sometime sleuth Heather Wells. Her freeloading ex-con dad is finally moving out. She still yearns for her hot landlord, Cooper Cartwright, but her relationship with "rebound beau," vigorous vegan math professor Tad Tocco, is more than satisfactory. Best of all, nobody has died lately in "Death Dorm," the aptly nicknamed student residence that Heather assistant-directs. Of course every silver lining ultimately has some black cloud attached. And when the latest murdered corpse to clutter up her jurisdiction turns out to be her exceedingly unlovable boss, Heather finds herself on the shortlist of prime suspects—along with the rabble-rousing boyfriend of her high-strung student assistant and an indecently handsome young campus minister who's been accused of taking liberties with certain girls' choir members. With fame beckoning her back into show business (as the star of a new kids' show!) it's a really bad time to get wrapped up in another homicide. Plus Tad's been working himself up to ask her a Big Question, which Heather's not sure she has an answer for...

Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the Heather Wells series. You can read my review of the second book in this series here.

My thoughts: All's well that ends well. This book is a fitting ending to this trio of mystery books. I'll miss Miss Heather, but this series is by far not Meg's best work. Her best work would have to be the Princess Diaries series (so far that I've read). If you prefer mysteries, though, you'll enjoy this series.

Carley Marek experiences culture shock when she visits her friend Lillian's family on their farm deep in Amish country. She'll get an article out of the visit--and maybe some of Lillian's newfound peace will somehow rub off on her. Just when Carley is getting used to the quiet nature of the Plain community, Lillian and Samuel's son falls ill. But the local doctor who can offer the most help has been shunned by the community and forbidden to intervene. As David's condition deteriorates, Dr. Noah determines to do whatever it takes to save the boy's life. Carley is caught in the middle--drawn to Noah, wanting to be helpful in the crisis--and confused by all their talk about a God she neither knows nor trusts. Carley must decide what in life is worth pursuing . . . and what to do when she's pursued by a love she never expected.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Daughters of Promise (or Plain) series. You can read my review of the first book here. So far as I know, this series is ongoing, and the fifth book was released this year.

My thoughts: I really like Beth Wiseman's work in Amish anthologies, but I don't know what I think of this series yet. I just started the third book, and they're good enough to continue reading. I've heard really good things from her second series so I'm hoping that is more to my liking. These storylines are a bit too predictable for me.

The economic downturn has hit New Bern, Connecticut, and Tessa Woodruff's herbal apothecary shop, For the Love of Lavender, is suffering. So is her once-happy thirty-four-year marriage to Lee. They'd given up everything to come back to New Bern from Boston and start their business, but now they're wondering if they made the right decision. To relieve the strain, Tessa signs up for a quilting class at the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop, and to her surprise, rediscovers the power of sisterhood—along with the childhood friend she thought she'd lost forever. . . Madelyn Beecher left New Bern twenty years ago and never looked back. But when her husband is convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and she's left with nothing but her late grandmother's cottage, she is forced to return to the town she fled. Unfortunately, the cottage is in terrible shape. Madelyn's only hope is to transform it into an inn. But to succeed, she'll need the help of her fellow quilters, including the one friend she never thought she'd see again—or forgive. Now Madelyn and Tessa will have to relive old memories, forge new ones, and realize it's possible to start over, one stitch at a time—as long as you're surrounded by friends. . .

Additional notes: This is the fourth, and latest, book in the Cobbled Quilts Court series. You can read my review of the the second book here and the third book here. So far as I know, this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: Marie just outdoes herself. This book was astoundingly rich and lovely. I really didn't want this book to end. The stories are so unique but still relatable. The characters feel like friends. Everything you could want in a story can be found here (and I promise, there is no incentive for me to go on and on about this book... I just liked it that much).

Rebecca Kauffmans tranquil Old Order Amish life is transformed when she suddenly has custody of her two teenage nieces after her "English" sister and brother-in-law are killed in an automobile accident. Instant motherhood, after years of unsuccessful attempts to conceive a child of her own, is both a joy and a heartache. Rebecca struggles to give the teenage girls the guidance they need as well as fulfill her duties to Daniel as an Amish wife. Rebellious Jessica is resistant to Amish ways and constantly in trouble with the community. Younger sister Lindsay is caught in the middle, and the strain between Rebecca and Daniel mounts as Jessicas rebellion escalates. Instead of the beautiful family life she dreamed of creating for her nieces, Rebecca feels as if her world is being torn apart by two different cultures, leaving her to question her place in the Amish community, her marriage, and her faith in God.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Kauffman Amish Bakery series. There is a total of four books currently in the series with one Christmas novella. The second Christmas novella will be released later this year. This series is ongoing.

My thoughts: I. am. entranced. I was first introduced to Amy's writing and this series in her first Christmas novella. I didn't think I was going to read anything else of this series and I am certainly glad I changed my mind! I really, really like that this series isn't just focused on an Amish young woman finding love. This book was about family - not just about love - and that made all the difference. I can't wait to read the other books in this series.

At long last, the Reverend Curtis Black appears to be on the straight and narrow. The all-too-human preacher is a bestselling author now, and he and his wife, Charlotte, are raising two adorable children. But the ever-suspicious Charlotte doesn't trust that Curtis has put his womanizing past behind him. While he's on the road promoting his latest book, she knows that there needs to be just one extra-devoted fan in his flock for him to stray. Charlotte is no angel herself, and she's been keeping plenty of secrets from Curtis while he's been away. Still, Charlotte believes with all her heart that things will be better once Curtis is home again, although she should be careful what she wishes for since love may not be enough to untangle the web of lies she and Curtis have woven for themselves. And in the end, she'll have some tough decisions to make if she wants to salvage her marriage.

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Reverend Curtis Black series. You can read my review of the second book here and the third book here. This series is, so far as I know, ongoing.

My thoughts: For once, Curtis Black seemed to be on the up and up, but trust me, his secrets come all falling down when he learns of his wife's craziness. I love these books if only for the fact that my craziness and whatever craziness I have witnessed recently suddenly doesn't seem as crazy. Kimberla's writing also really shone in this book.

All summaries courtesy of

Friday, September 9, 2011

Life & Style: Pinterest inspires... and steals time!

One of the best websites I've discovered is Pinterest. To create boards and pin items, you must request an invitation - no worries, though, as from what I've seen, invitations are given freely once requested. Once you get your invitation via email (within the space of minutes), you can start pinning!

Some items that are pinned on Pinterest are: vacation ideas, decor, DIY, crafts, recipes, and quotes. My pinboards right now are: Autumn, All of the Above, Soul Words, Yummers in My Bellers and Craftiness. You can view my pinboards here.

Some of my menus over the last couple of weeks have included recipes from Pinterest. Most have been winners that we plan to make again. One of our absolute favorites was the Peanut Butter Cups pictured below and BBQ Baked Chicken. Yum!

Learn how to make these simple, delicious treats here!
I mentioned here that I was making a projects list so I knew what exactly I wanted to do with the rest of 2011. One of the items on my projects list was making a vision board. I had planned to do this the old fashioned way - by cutting out quotes and pics from magazines and gluing them onto posterboard. By using Pinterest, I not only saved time, but I saved resources (glue, posterboard) and I have the entire world wide web at my fingertips to add to my vision board instead of being limited to what magazines I had on hand.

Pinterest has inspired craft ideas for use as Christmas gifts and fun items for myself. Some of the things I'm really looking forward to making:

Instructions available here.
Instructions available here.

Genius! I can't wait to get started.

All of the Above keeps me motivated to eat clean and exercise. Here are some of the pins that keep me focused:

On days when I really need a pick-me-up or when I want to find the words but just can't, I rely on Soul Words. Here's a few of my favorites:

Everyone has a favorite season. Mine is autumn. I plan to be present for each season with season-themed pinboards. I'll start winter's in November. Here's a few of my favorite Autumn pins. I can smell fresh apples already!

I would love to see your pins and boards on Pinterest. This is an addicting but incredibly useful site. I really don't know how I even managed without it, and I can't imagine ever being without it.

Share with us: What are some of your favorite websites? If you're a Pinterest lover like me, post your link below and I'll follow you!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the Kitchen with Jason: Pop-Up Pizza Casserole

This recipe didn't turn out anything like I thought it would, but that's not a bad thing. The only thing is it doesn't end up tasting much like pizza. Looks must count more than taste in Family Circle, where this recipe originated (even though we got it out of our magazine).

  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1.5 oz (1 packet) spaghetti sauce mix 
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pepperoni slices
  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Cook ground beef over medium heat in a large skillet.
  • Drain off fat from ground beef.
  • Stir in onion, garlic, green pepper, oregano, spaghetti sauce mix, tomato sauce, and 1/2 cup water.
  • Stir until boiling.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • While the beef mixture is simmering, combine the milk, eggs, and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 minute.
  • Add the flour and salt and mix for another 2 minutes.
  • When the beef mixture is done simmering, put it in a 3 quart baking dish.
  • Put the mozzarella over the beef.
  • Put the egg/milk mixture over the mozzarella.
  • Put the Parmesan on top of the egg/milk mixture and finally top with pepperoni slices.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
NOTE: Do not put this on the top rack of your oven, and if your racks are close together, you may want to remove any rack near the top of the casserole dish. I'll just tell you that it doesn't have the name pop-up for no reason.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason