Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pin This!

Here are my favorite finds from Pinterest this past week:

I had a coupon for $2 off any one Yes To item, and I picked up the travel-sized body butter from Target for free. I LOVE IT! This is amazing stuff. I'm planning to try out the carrot shampoo and carrot body wash as well. Love, love, love!
This DIY felt rosebud basket looks like it would be a great catch-all. I really need to make one or a few of these...
This broccoli, chicken, noodle dish comes from Have you ever been? I LOVE this website. If you're a Weight Watchers gal or guy, there are points for each recipe. And each recipe looks ah-mazing and yummy (and they're all healthy to boot!).
I've only make one bracelet, and it didn't involve a clasp, but I saw these on Pinterest and instantly fell in love. I think I may need to take a stringing class to learn how to attach a clasp. I love these colors and the simplicity of these bracelets.
Jason and I love muffins as a quick, on-the-go breakfast option, and these chocolate muffins look delish! Somehow, someone decided they were healthy - I'm not sure about that claim, but I'd still make these anyway.
As always, you can view my Pinterest boards and pins here. If you're on Pinterest, please leave a comment with a link to your pins and boards so I can follow you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In My Mailbox

This week, we received:
  • Canned fruit
  • Shape magazine issue
  • Every Day Food magazine issue
  • Disney's Family Fun magazine issue
We used gift cards from SwagBucks to order the canned fruit. We're receiving the magazines for free through random giveaways online.

Share with us: What awesome freebies have you received lately?

Monday, February 27, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Creamy Broccoli and Chicken (with noodles)

So this recipe is based off a recipe found in one of our Hungry Girl cookbooks. It is based on this recipe like movies are based on good books - some of the names are the same and at least one plot point remains, but other than that, someone came in and stirred it up a bit with some improvements. Maybe that isn't the best example because the book to movie transition usually produces pure crap (Battle Field Earth), and the recipe that we ended up with was not only acceptable (The Postman) but it was better than the original (Fight Club). If you want to check out the original recipe, you can see in  Hungry Girl 300 Recipes Under 300 Calories.

It's so yummy I'm about ready to lick my screen.

  • 1 box spaghetti noodles.
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch broccoli, chopped
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 wedges of Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Break the spaghetti noodles in quarters, and then cook according to package instructions.
  • Set the noodles aside once they are finished being cooked and drained and such.
  • Heat a large saute pan sprayed with cooking spray over medium-high heat.
  • Add chicken and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook chicken for about 2 minutes.
  • Add all the veggies and cook for 8 minutes.
  • While this is cooking, microwave the cheese wedges for about 30 seconds.
  • Cream the wedges with a fork.
  • Mix the sour cream and Parmesan cheese in with the creamed cheese.
  • Set aside for just a moment.
  • Once the veggies are done cooking, add the noodles and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to bring the pasta back up to temp.
  • Add the cheese mixture and stir well.
    • If you ignored my instructions to break the pasta extra in the beginning, the veggies and chicken will not mix in well and you will have to use some creativity when serving or you will end up with a couple plates of only pasta and the others will be overflowing with veggies.
Though it took me 30 minutes to chop everything up for this recipe, it only takes about 25 minutes to cook it all up (and that was with me making it up as I went).

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
French toast
Breakfast pizza
Inside out carrot muffins

Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Canned soup

Taco bowl
Minestrone soup, bread
Tilapia penne
Herb roast chicken
Route 66 chili, cornbread muffins
Turkey dinner with all the fixings!

Cheese sticks
Apple oat crisp
Peanut butter blossom cookies
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Apple oat crisp
Peanut butter blossom cookies
Minestrone soup
Tilapia penne
Herb roast chicken
Route 66 chili
Cornbread muffins
Breakfast pizza

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saving the Moola: the most important money lesson

I'm about to share the most important money lesson, thought and concept I could ever bestow on all of you, and I didn't even come with it myself! No, the credit for this goes to Ms. Suze Orman.

How are you going to save money successfully? When you take more pleasure from saving than you do from spending.

I think I need to write that one more time for you all to read:

You will save money successfully when you take more pleasure from saving than you do from spending.

Years and years ago, I was a spendthrift. I loved shopping, I loved eating at restaurants, I loved vacations. I still love all of these things. But I love other things more: I love earning free items through SwagBucks, I love eating my husband's amazing cooking, and I love taking modest vacations where I pay cash and come home to no new bills.

I may not always practice what I preach, but please believe me when I tell you that in my house, my family and I take extreme pleasure in saving rather than spending - to the point of being called Amish, to the point we are called extreme, to the point we are called weird. Clearly, we are not Amish - we drive cars, use electricity and the like, but this is how far fetched we seem to other people. As far as being extreme and weird, yes, we must seem that way to others as most do not share our viewpoints on this subject.

Many people we've spoken with actually think we're torturing ourselves! They think, "Oh, you have too much time on your hands," "Oh, you must be just miserable having to do all those things."

Here's the thing: we're not miserable. In fact, we're happier than we have ever been in our lives. Seriously. Come to our home (or we'll come to yours!), and you can see our joy for yourself. We don't have to make our own cleaners or line dry our clothes or cook at home every night. But, if we want to pay cash for things most people have loans for (house, car, etc.), if we want to meet our retirement goals, if we want to feel good about our financial situation, we're going to take Mr. Dave Ramsey's advice and live like no one else now so we can live like no one else later.

We so enjoy all of our frugal activities that I doubt we could even stop if we tried. We so enjoy meeting our savings goals months ahead of when we thought we could just by being frugal (and not working a single second extra at our jobs). We have more money in the bank than we've ever had, we're working less than we've ever had and we're happier than we've ever been.

Time is a precious commodity in most of our lives, including my own. My dream is one day I will have nothing to do but eat blueberries and read books. Seriously. But just as time is a precious commodity, you have to be conscious of how you're really spending time. So many people say they don't have time to line-dry their clothes only to sit on their behinds and watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians or The Bachelor for an hour. So many people say they don't have time to cook dinner but they spend countless minutes or hours on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.

It's all about priorities - if you want to watch TV or waste time online, that's fine. That's your choice. But if you want to have more money in the bank, if you want a stronger relationship with your spouse, if you want your kids to grow up happy and responsibly, you'll likely have to choose your priorities wisely. And they probably won't include watching those shows or spending so much time online. If you're raising children right now, then you may not actually have enough time to do all the money-saving ideas you come across. And that's okay. Raising your children should be a top priority; I would just ask that you keep in mind that involving them in some money-saving ideas will be a great lesson for them.

If you want to have more money, work less and be happier, there's really just one simple lesson you have to embrace: spend less, save more. Take more pleasure in saving than you do spending.

Don't look at cooking as a sacrifice. Look at it as a way to learn a new cooking technique, to try a new recipe, to sustain your body and those you're cooking for, and to spend quality time at home with yourself and whomever else gathers around your dining table.

Don't look at making homemade cleaners as a sacrifice. Look at it as a way to know what you're cleaning your house with, to clean your house without adversely affecting your pet or your children and to clean with ingredients that make you feel good.

Don't look at driving an older car as a sacrifice. Look at it as a way to drive an antique without paying a hefty price tag and to see how many years your car will really last. 

Saving money can be fun for you (it's so much fun for us!), and it really just comes down to your attitude. Your attitude is all that is keeping you from realizing your financial dreams and financial freedom. Where there's a will, there's a way. It's truly as simple as that - Jason and I are living proof.

This Book Room: The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

To escape a scheme to marry her off to a dishonorable man, Margaret Macy flees London disguised as a housemaid. If she can remain unwed until her next birthday, she will receive an inheritance, and with it, sweet independence. But she never planned on actually working as a servant. And certainly not in the home of Nathaniel and Lewis Upchurch--both former suitors.

As she fumbles through the first real work of her life, Margaret struggles to keep her identity secret when suspicions arise and prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall. Can she avoid a trap meant to force her from hiding?

My thoughts: I cannot say enough how much I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had never read a book by Julie Klassen before, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that I'm a fan now. This book was so engaging. I felt compelled to pick it up again and again and read somewhat in a race to get to the end. I just had to see what would happen and how the conflict would resolve itself! Margaret is funny, endearing and adventurous. I loved her! The story moved so well and was so well written. When I was reading it, I really felt like I knew the characters and was their friend (okay, maybe this just means I'm a sad, lonely person, but I'm not, so that can't be it!). But really, everyone would enjoy this book. I raved about it so much to my husband that he asked if he should read it too. When I rave that much about a book, you know it's got to be a good read. Pick this one up; you won't regret it. You can buy a copy of the book here (and you really should! or at least pick it up at the library, people, c'mon!). You can see which other blogs are reviewing this book here and read their reviews as well.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this book for review in exchange for my honest review.

Here's contest information where you can win a copy of this book and other great items!

Don't miss the perfect blend of Regency-era romance and mystery in The Maid of Fairbourne Hall! Grab a copy and then be sure to enter Julie's Kindle Fire Giveaway and RSVP for her Author Chat party on Facebook! Swoon.

One fortunate winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle Fire
  • A Julie Klassen Library (The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Silent Governess)

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends 3/14/12. Winner will be announced at Julie's Fairbourne Hall Book Chat Party on 3/15. Julie will be hosting an evening of chat, trivia and a sneak peek of her next book - bring your friends! She'll also be giving away some GREAT prizes: gift certificates, books and a Downton Abbey Prize Pack (Seasons 1 and 2)!

So grab your copy of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall and join Julie and friends on the evening of March 15th for a book chat party.

Enter via Twitter

Enter via E-mail Enter via Facebook

Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP today and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on March 15th!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Scrabble

You would think that the guy, whom as a kid, failed at spelling until it wasn't a graded subject (and then continued to fail at it) would hate a game whose whole premise is spelling words, but that is not the case, and Scrabble is one of the funnest games to play with a small gathering of friends/family (maximum 4 players).

A game of Scrabble in progress
The game consists of a bunch of tiles each with a letter on them (and a small number to represent how many points are earned for playing it) and a board covered in a grid of which each grid space is the size of a tile. Each player then takes turns playing words on the board. The first player's word must be placed so one letter is in the center word of the board, but from there each person's tiles must play off of an already placed word. In essence, you are building a crossword puzzle. Littered across the board are colored squares that either double or triple the score of the tile or word first played on them adding a bit more fun as you try to get your words to lie just right so that no one will ever come close to your score (you can only have up to 7 tiles at any given time and if you somehow happen to play all seven on a single turn, you get 50 bonus points along with all the points for the played words). After you play a word, you draw enough tiles to bring the number you have back to seven and play continues on until there are no tiles left to draw, and no player can play any more words. The winner is the player with the higher score.
Jess is winning in this example. Drat!
Incredibly simple and even more incredibly fun, this game gets brought out more than any other board game and more than a lot of the card games as well from our closet when we are searching for a game to play. It is my strong recommendation that if you are amassing any amount of games for any reason, you should include this game in your collection.

-Gamer Jason

This Book Room: Blue Moon Promise

A love like Lucy and Nate’s only comes along once in a blue moon...
Lucy Marsh's worldly resources are running out, but she's fiercely determined to care for her younger brother and sister. When she discovers that their father's recent death was no accident, Lucy is eager to leave town. She accepts a proxy marriage she believes will provide safe refuge. But trouble follows her to Texas where her new husband is surprised to suddenly have a wife and children to care for.
Nate Stanton always hoped he'd marry someday, but running the family ranch meant he had no time for romance. When his father deposits Lucy Marsh—a city girl—on his doorstep, with two siblings in the bargain, he expects ranch life will send her running on the first train out of town. But Lucy is made of tougher stuff than Nate imagined. When danger moves in, Nate finds he'd give anything to protect Lucy and the children he's grown to love. Even if it means giving up his ranch.
Additional notes: This is the first book in the Under Texas Stars series. This series will be ongoing, and the next book, Red River Bride, will be published in January 2012. You can read other reviews as part of the Litfuse Publicity blog tour here.
My thoughts: I had never read a Colleen Coble book before, but I had heard many good things about her work, mostly from Beth Wiseman who is an Amish fiction author. I was super excited to delve into this book, and the cover made me even more excited! It's so gorgeous, don't ya think? The story is just as gorgeous, though predictable in the romance department (but then again, isn't that kind of the point? We want the fairy tale ending!). I love that Blue Moon Promise is historical fiction. I love the sense of adventure, and the reader is so drawn to Lucy and her life. I felt such empathy for her and wanted Nate to overcome his gruffness for her. The children in the story were cute and fun, and this added a lot to the story's lightheartedness. This was a quick, great read, and at the end of the story, I found myself really wishing I had the second book to read, even though it's not even published yet! I would say that if you like historical fiction, you definitely want to pick this book up. You can purchase a copy of the book here.
Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Baked Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

We found this one on Pinterest and adjusted it slightly to our own tastes. You can find the original recipe here.

  • 1 head broccoli
  • 1 box cavatappi noodles
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 2/3 cup dry milk
  • 1 chicken bullion cube
  • 8 oz. (about 2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese
    • We normally use organic cheese for everything but I have found that the organic cheese when melted doesn't make as good of a cheese sauce, so please use non-organic cheese for better results.
  • 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 Tbsp seasoned bread crumbs
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Chop broccoli into florets.
  • Bring a pot of water to boiling.
  • Add noodles and broccoli to boiling water.
  • Cook for 5 minutes.
  • Drain the water from the noodles and broccoli and set them aside.
  • In a large oven safe skillet, melt butter over medium heat.
  • Add onions and cook for 2 minuts.
  • Add flour and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Add water, dry milk and boullion and whisk it all together.
  • While stirring constantly, bring to a boil and then boil for 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese.
  • When cheese is completely melted, stir in the noodles and broccoli.
  • Sprinkle the Parmesan and bread crumbs over top.
  • Put pan in the oven for 20 minutes.
    • If you do not own an oven safe skillet, then put the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray before adding the grated cheese and bread crumbs.
  • When the 20 minutes are up, turn your broiler on and brown the bread crumbs for about 2 minutes.
No joke, this recipe is easy. I'm slow in the kitchen, as I like to make sure I do everything just right, and from start to eating, this recipe took less than an hour. With careful planning, it probably could have been completed in 35 to 40 minutes, and that is including the 22 minutes that it is in the oven.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pin This!

Here are my best finds from Pinterest:

Every Friday in March, I'll be blogging about organization as Jason and I tackle targeted areas in our home that are horrifically disorganized. One area we're tackling: our office/second bedroom/craft room/line-dry laundry room. My fabric needs to get organized on the cheap, and making my own fabric bolts looks super easy and lovely.
Late last year, we purchased a quarter side of cow from our friends at Becker Farms. We got some cube steak in our side, and we cooked some up and wasn't a fan of the way it tasted on its own. But this recipe, cube steak with mushroom-sherry sauce, looks like it will liven up what is typically a bland sort of cut of meat. We're definitely trying this one out!
I love hats, but I don't own any! That's going to change before summer, as I'm in need of a good straw hat for picking berries (I'm totally a hick, I know). But this hat looks so beautiful, useful and perhaps simple enough for me to knit up. I think having a hat wardrobe would be AWESOME!
This tutorial for making tiny envelopes is awesome. What a great way to package jewelry from Hello Pretties!
Springtime is almost upon us, and along with it, all the joys of gardening! This cute lil' idea for a cupcake is almost better than actual carrots (not better for me, mind you, but a tasty treat nonetheless!).
You can view all my pins and boards right here. Are you on Pinterest? If so, leave a link to your awesome boards in the comments section. I would love to follow you! Until next time, happy pinning!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In My Mailbox

This was a great week for freebies! Here's what we received:
  • Six bottles of Seventh Generation dish soap
  • Popular Science magazine issue
  • BabyTalk magazine issue
  • Ski magazine issue
  • Good Housekeeping magazine issue
We ordered the dish soap through by using gift cards we scored for free through SwagBucks. I sign for various magazine offers for free online - Good Housekeeping is awesome!

Share with us: What awesome freebies have you received lately?

Monday, February 20, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Banana Bread

Jess and I have had some horrible luck with finding a banana bread recipe that works. No matter what we did, they all had the same problems. The outside was cooked to perfection but the center was still batter. And this was after cooking it 15 to 20 extra minutes and us taking it out because we were worried about burning the outside. One loaf was so bad when we turned it upside down over a wire rack, the middle fell out while the sides in the pan stayed stuck in. We have a variety of excuses as to why they didn't work but whatever we did, we always got the same result. Then, we tried the banana bread reciep found in Cook This Not That! Easy & Awesome 350-Calorie Meals and it worked. It cooked all the way through, and it even tastes good!

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 bananas
    • The recipe calls for very ripe bananas, but we only had bananas with still green peels. They worked just fine.
  • 1/2 cup Greek yougurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Butter a 9x5x3 bread loaf pan.
  • In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.
  • While the butter melts, peel and smash the bananas.
  • As the butter should still be melting, put the bananas, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.
  • When the butter is done melting, add that to the mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  • In a seperate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.
  • Mix the dry ingredients into the banana mixture, but only until just mixed.
    • Do not overmix.
  • Use a spatula to help in getting as much of the batter as possible into the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until the toothpick trick tells you it is done.
    • For those of you who don't know the toothpick trick it is as follows: poke a toothpick into the center of your bread (or cake). Make sure the toothpick goes in as far as you can get it and still pull it out. Pull out the toothpick and if it comes out clean, then your bread is done. If not, cook it for another five or so minutes.
  • Eat or remove from the pan after letting it cool for 5 minutes.
See how delicious it looks once it is sliced!
Simple, ain't it?

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Oatmeal pancakes
French toast
Breakfast burritos

Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Canned soup

Taco bowl
Lemon-rosemary tilapia, oven-roasted green beans, cheesy cauliflower
Turkey pot pie
Coconut shrimp, potato salad
French pot roast
Chicken chili

Cheese sticks
Homemade guacamole with homemade pita chips
Chocolate mint cookies
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Breakfast burritos
Chocolate mint cookies
Lemon-rosemary tilapia
Oven-roasted green beans
Cheesy cauliflower
Turkey pot pie
Coconut shrimp
Potato salad
French pot roast
Chicken chili

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saving the Moola: a new (to us) grocery shopping strategy

In America's Cheapest Family, Steve and Annette talk in depth about the fact that they make one big shopping trip each month for groceries, then make smaller trips near the end of the month to get produce items.

I've heard many money-savvy people discuss this way of grocery shopping, and I've just always thought it wasn't the right way for us. For one, it would take forever to create a grocery list for one month. Typically, we menu plan week by week. At the beginning of January, I began menu planning month by month for other reasons and was super pleased with this way of menu planning just because we had a plan for several weeks and I wouldn't have to look in all our cookbooks to see what new meals we wanted to make (now, I just work from a document on my computer with recipes we've been wanting to try: so simple and quick!).

Since I had a menu plan for months in advance, I thought more and more about one large grocery shopping trip followed by weekly trips for produce. Jason primarily shops for groceries, for various reasons (one being that he really loves it!). When I mentioned this idea to Jason months ago, he was very against it. And I could understand that. It just didn't make sense at that time. He was going to the store every week anyway, so why not just do weekly regular trips?

As the stores we normally frequent began to increase, we both began to see the benefit of one large trip followed by smaller weekly trips. At the start of February, we tested out this theory. I figured out all the ingredients we would need that were non-perishable or long-term perishable, then compiled a list of all the non-produce items we needed for a month and produce items for the first week. Jason shopped at Aldi, Walmart, Sara Lee and Meijer the first week. We only shop at Aldi and Walmart for non-perishable and long-term perishables, and we only buy produce at Meijer.

Since that first week, Jason has shopped at Meijer, but he has had to make one stop at Sara Lee (which is right by Meijer) and a couple trips to Walmart (which is in Fenton where we live). We still think grocery shopping like this has made a huge difference. Somehow, we're spending less than we were in a month's time before and Jason's grocery shopping trips are a lot quicker. The first large trip was about three hours long. It's hard to guesstimate how much time each weekly produce trip has taken, considering that he's been completing other errands during that time, like going to the post office, stopping by the library, getting a movie from a Redbox kiosk, etc.

One big shopping trip per month has really made the difference - in terms of time and money. This is one strategy we plan on continuing so long as it continues to benefit us.

Share with us: How do you grocery shop? Do you grocery shop weekly, bi-weekly or monthly?

This Book Room

Meena Harper has a special gift, but it's only now that anyone's ever appreciated it. The Palatine Guard — a powerful secret demon-hunting unit of the Vatican — has hired her to work at their new branch in Lower Manhattan. With Meena's ability to predict how everyone she meets will die, the Palatine finally has a chance against the undead. Sure, her ex-boyfriend was Lucien Antonescu, son of Dracula, the prince of darkness. But that was before he (and their relationship) went up in flames. Now Meena's sworn off vampires for good ... at least until she can prove her theory that just because they've lost their souls doesn't mean demons have lost the ability to love. Meena knows convincing her co-workers — including her partner, ├╝ber-demon-hunter Alaric Wulf — that vampires can be redeemed won't be easy ... especially when a deadly new threat seems to be endangering not just lives of the Palatine, but Meena's friends and family as well. But Meena isn't the Palatine's only hope. Father Henrique — aka Padre Caliente — New York City's youngest, most charming priest, has also been assigned to the case. So why doesn't Meena — or Alaric — trust him? As she begins unraveling the truth, Meena finds her loyalties tested, her true feelings laid bare ... and temptations she never even imagined existed, but finds impossible to resist. This time, Meena may finally have bitten off more than she can chew.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Dracula series. You can read my review of the first book here. I'm not sure if this series is continuing, and I don't even know whether to be happy or sad about that.

My thoughts: This book was action-packed, which helps to alleviate the annoying-ness of the characters. But I have to say, this series reminds me more and more of Twilight. I just think Meg could've been more original. It's a disappointment.

Author and journalist Lorilee Craker was just like the rest of us, feeling the pinch from the financial fallout of 2008. As a freelancer, her income was going the way of the dodo-family dollars seemed like an extinct myth, the bank account some archaeological evidence of past prosperity. Then, inspired by a news segment covering the Amish and how they emerged from the economic crisis unscathed, she realized it was time to learn a thing or two about their time-tested approach to personal finances. While the middle-class was wringing its hands over the family budget and the wealthy were weeping over their slashed portfolios, the Amish were content as always, spared from the cares of the world and worldliness. They not only had financial health to support their lives, they exuded a wholeness that eludes so many when the financial bottom drops out. In Money Secrets of the Amish, readers go on an "Amish money makeover," learning the choices, secrets, and disciplines that safeguarded the contentment and the coffers of America's favorite plain folk by spending less, saving more, and getting happier doing it.

My thoughts: This book is a must-read. If you want encouragement to keep going on the road you're on to frugalness and simplicity, this will uplift you. If you want encouragement that you can get on the road one foot at a step, one step at a time, this will help you start walking. My favorite parts were when the author discusses how many money each person "fritters" over the course of the month and how to make do or go without items instead of just automatically replacing them. I counted up what we frittered in January (unplanned money that got spent on essentially "stupid" stuff (eating out, etc.)), and we frittered $74.68. I was both happy and horrified at that number. Happy because I remember months we'd easily fritter away hundreds of dollars and horrified that we were in the double digits! Also, my list of five things we're going without or making do with: my one pair of jeans (scruffy but serviceable),  a new car (our one car has no AC, a broken mirror, and no rear defroster), a heated mattress pad (we double  up on blankets, I wrap up in my shawl, etc.), extra lamps (we work on crafts during the day), and a new computer (our one laptop has no CTRL key, Jason and I spend loads of time apart working because we don't have two laptops). As of this writing, I've gotten rid of my jeans (I'm just going to do without and wear lots of skirts!), and we've ordered a second laptop. But seeing how much we're making do with or going without was and still is super encouraging to me.

Want to live your dreams--or even surpass them? Want the world to change for the better? Want to see a miracle? What are we waiting for? Why not "be" the miracle? That's the challenge Regina Brett sets forth in BE THE MIRACLE. To be a miracle doesn't necessarily mean tackling problems across the globe. It means making a difference, believing change is possible, even in your own living room, cubicle, neighborhood, or family. Through a collection of inspirational essays, Regina shares lessons that will help people make a difference in the world around them. The lessons come from Regina's life experience and from the lives of others, especially those she has met in her 24 years as a journalist. Each chapter is a lesson that can stand alone, but together they form a handbook for seeing the miracle of change everywhere. With upbeat lessons from "Do Your Best and Forget the Rest" to "Sometimes It's Enough to Make One Person Happy," these lessons will help you accept and embrace yourself, challenge and change yourself, and better serve others.

My thoughts:impactful read.

When space is at a premium, growing decent food to eat might seem an impossible task. Patio Produce is about just that; growing delicious, wholesome fruit and vegetables in the smallest spaces. It shows you how to make the most of pots and planters; how to create decorative but edible displays; how to plan for a reasonable yield; and how never to run out of at least something special to eat. If you have a balcony on a high rise, a roof garden or a patio, you can immeasurably enhance your quality of life, maintain your health and enjoy some amazing meals from the freshest and richest ingredients. Patio Produce goes from plant pot to plate. Think quality, freshness, flavour and put these thoughts into your ever greening fingers. Inside there are detailed step-by-step instructions how to grow on the patio - not just for novelty's sake, but for flavour and an enhanced eating experience. You might not have all the space in the world, but you can enjoy all the flavour in the world. To know you have grown, nurtured, harvested and cooked to perfection your own vegetables and fruit, will make this book into an old friend.           

My thoughts: Okay, I would just say that if you know nothing about gardening (which is basically true), you'll both think this book is weird, insightful and totally irrelevant. I would not recommend this as the first book you read about gardening in a small space. Also, this author's version of a "patio" is wildly different than mine. We want to grow some veggies on our balcony this summer, and this author talks about how you can grow fruit trees (!) and blueberry bushes (!) in a small space. I don't think so.

Handsome, headstrong Jacob offers Lilly his hand in marriage, but his heart belongs to someone else. While Lilly Lapp has loved Jacob for years, she wouldn't compete with Sarah King, the woman Jacob was determined to marry. But when Sarah marries another, Jacob spontaneously agrees to wed Lilly. Lilly divides her time between teaching the local Amish children and caring for her widowed mother who suffers from depression. Lilly's faith comforts her, but her heart still longs to be the sole object of Jacob's affection. As the days slip by, Lilly decides that hoping is too risky and vows to protect her heart. But God is subtly as work, and as winter turns to spring, their hearts awaken. The furthest thing from Lilly's mind is her Amish wedding quilt, a traditional gift for new brides. And the person she'd least suspect is the one making it. Like stray pieces of fabric quilted into a new design, Jacob and Lilly's marriage begins to bind them together in ways neither expected.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Patch of Heaven series. You can read my review of the first book here. I reckon this series is being continued...

My thoughts: I don't know whether I liked or disliked this book. It didn't end the way I envisioned (or wanted). I felt like the middle to ending was somewhat forced. I don't know if I would continue this series, even though the author will.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Sorry! Revenge

I was a little skeptical of Sorry! Revenge as I couldn't think of how Sorry! would be transferred into a card game. But, I also thought that about Monopoly DEAL, and I thought that was a great example of a fun card game based on a board game.

A game of Sorry! Revenge in progress. Blue just tried to make
Yellow Sorry! with his Sorry! card, but Yellow decided to not
be Sorry! with his Don't Be Sorry! card. Go Yellow!
We got this game home, opened it up and played a couple of games, and it is fun. The only difference is I don't feel like I am playing Sorry!. Each player starts with four pawn cards showing the start side. The goal of the game is to be the first player to flip all four of your pawn cards over so they are showing their home sides. To do this, you will play cards from your hand.

A picture of the different Sorry! Revenge cards
There are three types of cards: number cards, action cards, and Sorry! cards. Sorry! cards are the only cards you can play when it isn't your turn and they have the rules for that right on the card so you won't get confused. When you play a number card, you add the number on the card to the value of the stack (all the number cards below it). So if the stack had a value of 12 and you played a 5, the stack's new value would be 17. The goal is to hit 21 without going over. If you play the card that puts the stack at 21, you get to flip one of your pawn cards from start to home. The stack is placed to the side and the next player starts a new stack.

Action cards are cards that change the rules just a little bit. One action card reverses the order of play. A few of the action cards are slide cards that set the value of the stack at their value (I guess these are supposed to represent the slide spaces on the Sorry! board) so if you played a slide 10 card on a stack with a value of 17 the stack's new value would be 10. There are other types of actions cards but I think you get the picture. And finally, there are the Sorry! cards. One flips an opponent's pawn from home position back to start, one lets you flip a pawn instead of the player who just made the stack reach 21, and the third (which is called Don't Be Sorry!) lets you cancel any Sorry! card just played on you.

Earlier, I said the game doesn't feel like Sorry! and I still feel that it doesn't capture the feel of the board game at all. Plus the name of the game doesn't fit the play as very little revenge actually takes place during the playing of the game. But since both of these 'complaints' have nothing to do with the actual funness of the game, I would still recommend that you give it a try. If you are like us, you will enjoy playing it. If you are looking for a more portable game of Sorry! though, I would not get this game.

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Turkey Mushroom Surprise

This simple recipe was easy to make, though it looked like slop once it was all cooked up. If you don't mind your dinner looking sort of ucky, then this recipe is a good one to try. We found this recipe in a Hungry Girl cookbook.

Looks good, doesn't it? Ha! We put some potatoes under our Turkey
Mushroom Surprise but you can't tell in the picture.
  • 1.25 lbs ground turkey
  • 5 Cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 jar (12 oz) turkey gravy
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp dry onion soup mix
  • Mix first 4 ingredients.
  • Put in a crock pot and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.
  • Stir in remaining ingredients.
  • Cook uncovered 5 to 10 minutes, until thickened.
Please enjoy!
-Chef Jason

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Homemade: Cornbread

So, if you don't know, and I can only think of a handful of people who do, I am not the biggest fan of cornbread. In fact, I have been heard saying that the only acceptable use for it is for the outsides of corn dogs. But this recipe changed my mind. We made it with red beans and rice and they were excellent companions for each other.

The cornbread itself wasn't too gritty, which is one of my major complaints about it in the first place. And on top of all of this it was super easy to make.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Mix together all dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together milk and oil.
  • Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir just until mixed.
  • Scrape with a spatula into a greased (or cooking sprayed) 9 x 9 baking pan.
  • Bake for 25 minutes.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing into 6 servings.
And that's all folks! Simple, straight forward, and good for the belly. This recipe can be found in the book Dollars to Donuts.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Pin This!

Here's my favorite finds from Pinterest this past week...

My nana has me hooked on tortellini. This recipe looks delish! And since it's from Ms. Martha, am I really surprised?
I urge you NOT to look at the price of this shawl. Instead, I would urge you to make it yourself and enjoy the luxuriousness of this infinity shawl. I've been meaning to knit an infinity scarf for ages (maybe after I'm done with my winter shawl which is taking forever!). This looks a little too advanced as a project for me right now, but I yearn to make this someday.
Ha, like I need to learn one more thing! But my nana quilts and is making a quilt similar to this one (albeit much, much more difficult!). This would look so pretty in our master bedroom and totally liven it up for spring and summer (or even in winter for a reminder for summer!).
Um, yum. Hello, there. This noodly, beefy, mushroomy soup looks YUM. It does have an odd ingredient though: ketchup. Very odd indeedy.
This thought and fact can either haunt you or help you. I think it's going to haunt me for the rest of this work-crazy month, but I think it will help me come March through the summer! (Then work gets crazy again, so probably not so much after July...)
Are you on Pinterest? I sure hope so! Leave a link to your boards in the comments so I can follow you and check out all your pins. Who knows - maybe some will be featured here! You can view all my boards and pins right here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In My Mailbox: more free magazines!

Our mailbox has been inundated with free magazines lately and little else! I've been setting aside a half hour block of time a few days a week so I can read them through them all. I don't read every page, but I read what interests me, and that's quite a lot!

We received the March issues of Whole Living magazine, Better Homes and Gardens magazine and Martha Stewart Living magazine. I'm receiving Whole Living for free through points I redeemed through RecycleBank (you can learn more about RecycleBank here). I won a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens through a Purex sweepstakes (I make my own laundry detergent, but I figured hey, why not enter and see if I win and I did!). I'm receiving Martha Stewart Living for free through RewardsGold.

Share with us: Have you received any awesome freebies lately (besides magazines!)?

Monday, February 13, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Oat Bran Muffins

When looking through this recipe, I was slightly surprised with the ingredient list. This recipe has apple, carrot, orange, and raisins all in one recipe. And Jess decided that we should make it even though it calls for a blender or food processor, which we have neither. This is the what I came up with to accommodate our lack of kitchen appliances. The original recipe can be found in the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook.

Check out my fantastic cropping job!
Just please ignore the cut off muffin at the top of the picture.

  • 1 Cup flour
  • 1 Cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 3/4 Cup oat bran
  • 3/4 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 Cup dry milk (recipe actually calls for this, it is not me being silly!)
  • 1/4 Cup flax seed
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Rind of 1 orange
  • 2 Cups shredded carrot (about 3 medium carrots)
  • 2 Cups Granny Smith apple (about 1 apple)
  • 1 Cup raisins
  • 1 Cup milk
  • 1/4 Cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 egg whites
  • Juice of 1 orange (I recommend using the orange that you used for the rind, but if you want to use a different orange then be my guest.)
Note: Though labeled as an orange, and orange like an orange, it seems that the fruit that I picked up from my local Meijer was a grapefruit. This seems to have had no ill effect on the recipe and if you would like to follow my example exactly, then substitute an orange-sized grapefruit for the orange in the recipe.

  • Mix together all non-fruit dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Add in all fruit ingredients and mix again.
  • In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients.
  • Make a well in the dry ingredients.
  • Dump the liquid ingredients into the well.
  • Mix everything together just until it is fully mixed.
  • Spray your muffin cups with cooking spray.
  • Put about 3 Tablespoons (I used a 1/4 measuring cup just under filled) of the mixture into each of your muffin cups.
  • Bake for 19 minutes.
  • Makes between 2 and 3 dozen. We froze 12 to enjoy at a later time.
Please enjoy!
-Chef Jason

This Book Room: Sweeter than Birdsong

Music offers Kate sweet refuge from her troubles . . . but real freedom is sweeter.

In Westerville, Ohio, 1855, Kate Winter’s dreams are almost within reach. As the first woman to graduate from Otterbein College, she’ll be guaranteed her deepest wish: escape from the dark secret haunting her family. But with her mother determined to marry her off to a wealthy man, Kate must face reality. She has to run. Now. And she has the perfect plan. Join the upcoming musical performance—and use it to mask her flight.

Ben Hanby, Otterbein College’s musical genius, sees Kate Winter as an enigmatic creature, notable for her beauty, yet painfully shy. Then he hears her sing—and the glory of her voice moves him as never before. He determines to cast her in his musical and uncover the mystery that is Kate. Still, he must keep his own secret to himself. Not even this intriguing woman can know that his passionate faith is driving him to aid fugitives on the Underground Railroad.

A terrifying accident brings Kate and Ben together, but threatens to shatter both their secrets and their dreams. Kate can no longer deny the need to find her courage—and her voice—if she is to sing a new song for their future.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Saddler's Legacy series. You can read my review of the first book here. I don't know for certain this series is ongoing, but I can't imagine why not!

I raved about the first book. And you guessed it: I'm going to rave about the second book! I love this series. The adventure. The hint of romance. When I read this series, each page plays out in my head like a movie. The writing is so vivid and so real. The main character has to overcome her shyness in order to get what she desires out of life: a degree from college, the man she is attracted to, away from her parents, etc. I think this book speaks to readers on such an intimate level: what do you have to overcome to get what you desire out of life? Our struggles may be small, but the results can be life-changing. And for Kate, the results would be mean the difference between life and death for the slaves Ben is trying to help.  This series is a must-read, and I'm anxiously awaiting the next installment!

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy in exchange for my honest review. You can read other reviews here and learn about a super cool giveaway!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Oatmeal pancakes
French toast

Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Canned soup

Teriyaki salmon, roasted parsnips
Broccoli and chicken dish
Salad, chicken parm
Pizza pasta casserole
Taco bowl
Weight Watchers veggie soup

Cheese sticks
M & M cookies
Red velvet cupcakes
Homemade guacamole with homemade pita chips
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Oatmeal pancakes
Homemade guacamole
Chicken parm
Teriyaki salmon, roasted parsnips
Broccoli and chicken dish

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saving the Moola: Target's REDcard saves consumers money without using credit

Back in November, I blogged about how Jason and I shop on the day-after-Thanksgiving (also called Black Friday) as a means to get great deals on items we normally would not buy because the normal prices of those items are too much for us to swallow.

I'm a tad obsessed with this day. I'm not a crazy, rude shopper. In fact, we often sing Christmas carols and make friends with others in the checkout line. So perhaps because of my obsession, I often start thinking about what items I may want to include on the new year's DAT shopping list just as soon as the new year begins!

For many, many years now, I've been admiring the iPod. As of late, the iPod Touch has absolutely captured me. This has been something I've wanted for a very long time, this is something I've sacrificed for but never bought, this is something I've had the money fall into my lap for but instead gave the money away, this is something I've always believed I would admire from afar and never purchase just because it's such a luxurious want and not a need in the slightest.

After the new year began, I began compiling our DAT shopping list for 2012 with Jason's help. We quickly realized how few items we found we actually needed or wanted, and that was and is a fabulous feeling. He has been pestering me to buy an iPod Touch, especially in the last year or so when we've felt we've had enough money for such a large, fun purchase, and he suggested I add it to the list.

It took me quite a few days to think on whether I actually wanted to add it to the list. Never mind that adding an item to the list in no way guarantees the item will be bought, just adding an iPod Touch to the list was intimidating. And exciting!

I had heard about the Target REDcard in its credit form which offers five percent off each and every purchase, but upon further research of how I could an iPod Touch for the least expensive price, I discovered that the Target REDcard also comes in a debit form! I was so excited to find this out. The next time I went to Target, I took our checkbook and Jason and I easily signed up for a REDcart at the checkout. We got the debit-only version (a credit-only version is also available), and I could not be more pleased with it. With the debit version, a user of the card still gets five percent off. The card works like any other debit card - the money is instantly taken from the user's checking account, and it's just like paying cash!

If you shop at Target on a regular basis and either use cash or pay by a debit card, you really should get a Target REDcard. It's so easy and simple, and you'll save five percent on your entire purchase every time.

An iPod Touch is officially on our DAT shopping 2012 list. That doesn't mean I'll actually buy one, but the Target REDcard is making me feel the purchase price just a little easier to swallow. And while I count down the days to DAT shopping, I'll enjoy five percent off all my purchases from Target.

This Book Room: a slew of just okay books

Deep in the heart of Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains, shy Sarah King is happiest when working in her vibrant Amish kitchen garden, but new family responsibilities lead her into the confusing world of the Englisch. Sarah finds her life turned around when she encounters the community's new Englisch veterinarian, Grant Williams. His blue-gold eyes and his obvious concern for her people attract her immediately. Sarah seeks solace and direction from the Lord as she creates a quilt pattern which details her struggle between two worlds. The Lord is guiding Sarah to follow His will, but will she listen?

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Patch of Heaven series. There are currently two books in the series, and so far as I know, this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: I'm really gotten into Amish fiction over the past six months or so, and I had read Kelly's short stories in a novella collection and enjoyed them. I'm glad I checked out this series. If you like Beth Wiseman's books, you'll enjoy this series, too.

Emily Curtis is used to dealing with her problems while under the hood of an old Chevy, but when her mom dies, Emily's world seems shaken beyond repair. Driven from home by hospital bills they can't pay, Emily and her dad move in with his wealthy sister, who intends to make her niece more feminine---in other words, just like Whitney, Emily's perfect cousin. But when Emily hears the engine of a 1970 Dodge Challenger, and sees the cute gearhead, Zander, next door, things seem to be looking up. But even working alongside Zander can't completely fix the hole in Emily's life. Ever since her mom died, Emily hasn't been able to pray, and no one---not even Zander---seems to understand. But sometimes the help you need can come from the person you least expect.

My thoughts: I had previously read some of Amy's Amish books and had loved them, so I thought I'd try her first book for young adults that is not about the Amish. It was okay. I could see young(er) adults definitely enjoyed this. I am definitely not a young adult, but I still enjoyed it to some degree.

College senior Lily Madison is on her own and desperate to pay for her last semester of school. With nowhere to turn, she makes the difficult decision to donate her eggs to a fertility clinic. Peter Kelly is also a penniless student who supplements his tuition money by visiting a sperm bank. One day, Lily and Pete meet at the clinic and talk about their secret. They agree the clinic gives them an odd feeling, as if all is not as it seems. Despite their obvious attraction, Lily and Pete go their separate ways. Nineteen years have passed and Lily often wonders if she has a child somewhere in the world. She also thinks a lot about Pete. Now a wealthy entrepreneur, Pete never forgot Lily either, and when he sees her in an airport one day, he falls for her all over again. But while they enjoy their unlikely reunion, a story on the news has them riveted. Two teenage boys are missing and their disappearance may be linked to the fertility clinic Pete and Lily visited in college. In a shocking twist, one of the boys looks exactly like Pete. Lily and Pete are now determined to find out what really went on at the clinic all those years ago. When the whole story comes out, the truth will be more than they bargained for. But they will discover that letting go of their secrets from the past is the best way to build a future worth fighting for…

My thoughts: When I was younger, I had read some of Fern's books and really enjoyed them. I picked this up on a whim from the library. I did enjoy it, but I would not read another one of her books. It was just okay. I've read summaries on her other books and none intrigue me. Oh well, it was worth a shot at finding another author I might like.

Sick of vampires? So is Meena Harper. But her boss is making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them. Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die (not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does). But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side . . . a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for. The problem is, he already is dead. Maybe that’s why he’s the first guy Meena’s ever met that she could see herself having a future with. See, while Meena’s always been able to see everyone else’s future, she’s never been able look into her own. And while Lucien seems like everything Meena has ever dreamed of in a boyfriend, he might turn out to be more like a nightmare. Now might be a good time for Meena to start learning to predict her own future . . . if she even has one.

Additional notes: This is the first book in Meg Cabot's Dracula series. There are currently two books in this series, and I would imagine this series is ongoing, although I have not heard any information about a third book.

My thoughts: Okay, let me first by saying that this series is a bit addictive. But, and this is a really big but, there are so many things I do not like about this series, I could not even tell you all of them. I only picked up this series because it was written by Meg Cabot and I thought it was not really about vampires. Oh boy, was I wrong. Not that only, but some people found Bella of Twilight annoying. If you found her annoying, do not read this book. If you can get past Meena (the main character in the book), this story is just fun to read. But still annoying and much too copy-cat for my own taste. Also, I think Meg is a sellout. She's better than this series, and I'm sad she felt the need to do it. But if you like Meg's other books, you'll be glad to find her writing style has not changed.

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris - until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home. As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near - misses end with the French kiss Anna - and readers - have long awaited?

My thoughts: I've heard people (mostly other bloggers) rave about this book. And apparently, I missed it. I missed what was so wonderful about this book. I think any young adult would like to read it - boy meets girl, boy and girl like each other, boy screws it up, they end up together, blah blah blah. But there's not a whole lot to this story. I would skip this book.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Life & Style: building a wardrobe (of your dreams and reality!)

Way back in 2007, before I even graduated with a bachelor's of science, I landed an incredibly awesome job (in my humble opinion) working for a market research firm. My wardrobe was very lazy collegiate - sweatpants, pajama pants, tattered jeans, sweatshirts and the like. I actually am sort of cringing when remembering what I must've looked like each day in the office where I worked.

I would like to say my wardrobe improved vastly once I graduated but sadly, it really didn't. Sure, I had my moments, if I had a new top and I wanted to strut around in it. But over the years, I've found myself drawn back into a simple wardrobe of worn-in jeans, simple tops, sweatpants, flip flops, clogs, etc. This is partly because of the fact that also over the years, my position at work has slowly turned into an almost completely at-home position. I work in the office just one day a week now so I have few reasons to wear real clothes each day (and it isn't just me - ask any of my colleagues and they'll all tell you they work in their pj's too!).

I'm not sure it's actually possible
to have too many cardigans!
Once I evaluated my closet to discover what I had and what I would actually wear, I discovered I didn't have many clothes at all. So, last year, in 2011, as Jason and I were finalizing our budget for 2012, we decided a set, modest amount would go into an envelope each month solely earmarked for clothing. We also earmarked some money to spend on clothes that would come out of our paychecks at that time.

Because I wanted to be super smart about what I bought for myself (and I had yet to discover Pinterest - more on this later!), I consulted the internet for the pieces every woman should have in her wardrobe. What I found astounded me. I used this list here and heavily edited it to fit my own specifications of what I wanted. In fact, what I wanted went something like this:
  • Boxers (4 more pairs)
  • Sweatpants (2 more pairs)
  • V-neck sleep t-shirts (a LOT)
  • V-neck regular t-shirts (in all colors ever created)
  • Cardigans (in every color ever imagined)
  • Jeans (at least 2 more pairs)
  • A great pair of boots
  • A pair of slip-on shoes/clogs
  • A couple of printed shirts
  • Collared, button-down shirts (2)
You can buy accessories each season or year, or learn to
make some yourself. I learned how to make earrings a
couple years ago, and I also knit a couple of scarves.
My husband sews and has made shawls, pants,
and aprons. Making some of your wardrobe pieces yourself
can be fun and save some money at the same time!
What I discovered what that I was drawn to very basic, simple looks. I wanted to make/buy trendy or fun accessories, like scarves, earrings, a great handbag, etc., but my look was simple and would fit me well. I've found I love the way I feel and look in cardigans with a tank or printed top with a pair of dark jeans and flip flops. It's just so classic me. So, armed with my customized list of pieces I wanted, I headed out and promptly was able to check off several items I desired.

How do you build your own dream, but real wardrobe? First, go shopping in your closet and dresser. Yes, I know that everyone always says this. I would roll my eyes when I read that. But then I actually did it, and I discovered I had a lot of clothes to donate to Salvation Army. And I also discovered a terrific shirt I had bought at Old Navy (on clearance no less!), washed it, put it in the closet and never wore it, but then I wore it one day. And the angels sang! It is now one of my favorite shirts.

So, get off your behind and go shopping. Try on your clothes if you need to, but if you know you're done with a shirt, whether because you never liked it and didn't wear it or because it's worn out, put it in the "donate" pile. If you come across a lot of items you haven't worn at all or you haven't worn recently and you think you might, group them together in your closet. Give yourself a few months to wear the items. If you don't wear it, toss it at the end of three months. If you do wear it and you like it, keep it. If you wear it and don't like it, toss it. I just did this with a shirt last week on Thursday, and I hated it. The second I got home from work, it went straight into a bag for Salvation Army.

Once your closet is full of just clothes you love, figure out what it is you like about each piece. Write those things down. For instance, I loved that a lot of my clothes were made from just cotton or a very high cotton blend. I also liked that my clothes were mostly one color. I liked that I had a couple of items that had a nice print on it. I added the things I liked and didn't like to my list of items to look for while shopping so I would be able to smartly choose not only which pieces I needed, but which specific cardigan to buy out of the options available to me.

What do you see missing from your closet? This is where your shopping list will be created. I knew there had been specific occasions where I had wanted to match an item I didn't even own what I was wearing. I wrote down everything I could remember about what I had wanted to go with my current clothing options. I also consulted the list I mentioned above to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything I really did need/want that would fill out my wardrobe. I would just say to really take any list you find about what someone else thinks you "must have" in your closet as really someone who doesn't even know you saying what you need. I felt the list I found was kind of crazy, and I would never recommend you just take a list created by someone else and go buy the items on it.

A look I found and love on Pinterest
Creating a vision board will be wondrous for figuring out your style, what you like, outfit combinations, etc. Pinterest is fantastic for this. Using Pinterest, I can hone my look and keep a vision board of looks I like that will actually work for me. I can add whole outfit combinations, shoes, accessories, hair styles, make-up looks, nail colors, whatever I want. Someone once said to me that a shirt I admired wouldn't be good for my body type (I think it was that person's polite way of saying I'm fat). While you definitely want to wear clothes that flatter you, you also want to wear clothes that make you feel good. And these two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. In fact, I would say to never, ever listen to anyone but yourself. Maybe that's just selfish or foolish, but I've worn clothes that didn't necessarily make me skinnier or make me taller or make me look tan, but I'm not trying to be any of those things. I'm 5'0", I'm pale, and I'm not skinny! I've accepted my body for what it is, and I strongly recommend you do, too.

I've still got a long way to go with filling out my wardrobe, and really, it's probably something that will never be truly done. Clothes get worn out, your style may change slightly, your job situation could change - who knows? But my options are growing, and I love that. I don't know if the people I work with think I look better coming to work once a week, but I feel better about myself. That's what really counts.