Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saving the Moola: it's all in your head

So often, people fall victim to themselves. You get an idea that this is not going to work, there is no way we can live on a budget, we can't save money because we have no money, and so on and so forth.

I promise you - this is all in your head.

Many years ago, I didn't even have a thought of we can't save money. No, rather, I had no thoughts of saving money - we just didn't save money and it had never entered my head to do so. But when we were living in a tiny apartment and planning our dream wedding, that all changed. We weren't living on the budget we are living on now, but we were able to pay off loads of debt and pay for a very extravagant wedding - all on our own.

We believed we could do it.

And now that we've paid off more than half our remaining debt in just three and a half months and are now building up our savings for our expected addition to the family in March, I'm amazed at what is happening with our family.

In fact, I would say my friend, Jena, said it best when she said, in her blog post here about getting debt free,
"I can’t count the number of times I balanced the checkbook and the numbers came out in the red only to have an unexpected check show up in the mail that very day."
Jena goes on to describe that her husband often tells others that he doesn't know how they got there, but he knows it has something to do with the fact that his wife prays. A lot.

Since the beginning of July, we have had a chart hung in our bedroom of what we expect to put in savings on the first of the month and the 15th of the month (I am paid twice a month, not bi-weekly). Every single time, we have saved more than we had written down.

This should not be possible. We have a zero-based budget - meaning every single dollar has a place to go before the month even begins. We know what we make. Yet, to date, we have saved more than $1,000 total extra over what we have written down.

I literally have no idea where the money came from. We made a little more here and there, but it seems crazy to think it amounted to that much extra. It must've, since the extra money is not a banking or clerical error.

Here's my point: if you believe you can achieve it, if you work hard and make wise decisions, and if you are truly living your life for God and giving it all up to Him, you will find yourself blessed beyond your imaginings.

Oh, and a little positive attitude never hurt anyone. If you have a defeatist attitude, you will never get anywhere. Pick yourselves up by your bootstraps and get to work! This doesn't mean you have to work a million hours a week at a job you  hate - you can help your family or yourself along by having a menu plan, shopping wisely, staying home more and reading books to help you in your money smart journey. All of that, at the end of the day, is work. And these are things we can all do, no matter your circumstance in life.

So many of our blog posts are inspired by conversations we have with readers, blogger friends, friends and family. My mother nearly brought tears to my eyes one day while we were catching up on the phone. She told me how proud she was of me. She knows all too well that my husband and I have been on a journey together for the past nine (!) years to be wise, money smart and live for God. She told me that she tells people, "I never met anyone who could make a turnip bleed... until my daughter. She stretches her pennies."

That conversation inspired me to keep sharing as much encouragement as I can with all of you. I promise you, you can do this. Jason and I had debt, we lived in a 350 square foot apartment, we had a pet with severe health issues, we were planning our dream wedding and paying for it ourselves, and during all of that, our job situations were not stable. I don't know how many times I got a phone call from Jason to tell me he no longer had his job. But somehow, through of all that, with God being first in our lives, we prevailed.

We made it here. We have savings for an emergency, we have savings for our expected addition. Our debt is half what it was, and once the child arrives happy and healthy, we will be right back to it. We have a long-term plan to either keep our primary car running or buy a used car and eventually, buy a home.

We didn't do it on our own. Besides the fact that God's got a plan for us and has been with us through this journey, we had the encouragement of my parents, we had the pleasure of finding like-minded friends, like Jena, who inspired us, and we had each other - we rooted for each other every day.

Our journey is not over. In fact, in many ways, it's just begun. I encourage you to live life in a way you've never lived it before. Live it with abundant joy and wisdom, live it for the One who gave His son for you to have life, give your time, money, resources to others who truly, truly need it, and live every day feeling blessed. We don't have it all, but we have everything we need. We have more than we need. And we're praying that every single of you who read this will be encouraged and inspired by this to keep on your journey, or if you're not yet on this journey, to come along with us and millions others.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This Book Room: His Love Endures Forever

An unplanned pregnancy. An absent father. Can love really endure all things?

Danielle Kent is anything but Amish. Just her luck to fall in love with an Amish guy.

Now she’s 18, pregnant, and hopeful that the child’s Amish father—Matthew Lapp—will do the right thing and marry her. She knows Matthew plans to leave his Colorado settlement for a life in the Englisch world. But that plan never included a baby.

When Matthew walks away from her and their unborn child, she has nowhere to turn. Her unlikely friendship with Levi offers some comfort—yet they have so little in common. This wasn't the plan she had for her life, and she's never felt so alone. She doesn’t want to be pregnant. Doesn’t want to be Amish. Doesn’t want to trust God.

And yet.

God has plans beyond what her mind can imagine . . . loving plans to show a lost young woman that His love never goes away but endures forever.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Land of Canaan series. You can read my review of the first book here and my review of the second book here.

My thoughts: I was really excited to read this book but hoped it would be a bit less predictable than some of Beth's other books. She must've read my mind because this book completely delivered. I loved that it wasn't necessarily about Danielle and Levi falling in love so much as it was about Danielle and Levi building a life together. As a somewhat new newlywed, even though I lived with my now-husband for several years before we wed, I can tell you married life definitely has its ups and downs. And while Danielle and Levi started out with many challenges, it was incredibly inspiring to see them both lean on and grow in God's love. This is the best book of this series so far.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Crafty Christmas: Felt Heart Bookmark

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is 13 weeks away!

I'm craft-illiterate. That may sound strange coming from someone who not only claims to, but actually handcrafts all of the holiday gifts she gives. It's not easy for me to do this in terms of my abilities and, sometimes, time, but it's a lesson in discipline, learning and creativity.

Sadly, the craft I'm going to share pictures of was handcrafted by my husband, Jason. I tried to make this myself and failed, but with the tutorial I'm sharing, I think anyone can make these. Just follow our directions, and you'll be good to go! I first found this craft on Pinterest but there is no detailed tutorial in English to accompany it (possibly the reason I could not figure it out on my own).

Here's what you need to make a felt heart bookmark:
  • Felt
  • Thread
  • Needle
  • A book, ruler or something in which you can measure a 90 degree angle
  • Pins
  1. Cut out two smallish pieces of felt.
  2. Pin the two pieces of felt together; place the two pieces of felt against a book's corner.
  3. Using the book's corner as a guide, cut the pieces of felt so you're making the bottom part of the heart. Using the book's corner (or another instrument) will aid in creating a 90-degree angle (Jason says he just eyeballed this, but I eyeballed it and my heart was atrocious. It's totally up to you, but if you're craft-illiterate, you know to use a book... or you know to use a book and are not going to anyway, just like I did).
  4. Once the bottom part of the heart is cut out, put the book aside and while the two pieces of felt are still pinned together, cut out the top part of the heart.
  5. Following along the edge of the heart at the bottom, stitch up the sides of the heart right until you reach the heart's curve (we did not stitch that far, but we recommend it and will do it in the future). You can really use any kind of stitch you desire; we both just did the straight stitch.
And that's all there is to this craft! Jason, the lovely husband that he is, kept the heart bookmark I made for him, even though it's slightly deformed. This bookmark would be perfect for a gift any time of the year for the lady in your life or any book lover in your life. It's insanely cheap, quick and relatively simple to make.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This Book Room

Belinda Davis had trained as a nurse to assist her older brother, Doctor Luke. But as time goes by and she sees those she's grown up with getting married and settling into their own lives, Belinda becomes restless. What had seemed exciting and fresh becomes dull and routine. When she meets an elderly woman who needs nursing care, Belinda jumps at the invitation to go to Boston--a large, "civilized" city with cultural opportunities she's never even dreamed of in her little prairie town. But in spite of financial security and countless new experiences, Belinda finds herself restless, lonely, and empty inside.

Additional notes: This is the seventh book in the Love Comes Softly series. There are eight books in this series and all have been released. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here, the fifth book here and the sixth book here.

My thoughts: This book was so great. I loved that it was a real coming-of-age story. I really cannot say enough about this entire series!

The small town of Parrish Springs is not ready for Matilda Honeycutt. A strange older woman with scraggly gray hair and jewelry that jangles as she walks, Matilda is certainly not the most likely person to buy the old Barton Building on the town's quaint main street. When it becomes apparent that her new shop doesn't fit the expectations of Parrish Springs residents, a brouhaha erupts. After all, Christmas is approaching, and the last thing the town needs is a junky shop run by someone who looks and acts like a gypsy. But as townsfolk venture into the strange store, they discover that old memories can bring new life and healing.

My thoughts: This book was okay. I really love Christmas stories, but this book was seriously just okay. I'm glad I read it, and the characters were a bit interesting, but overall, the whole thing was lackluster.

Jenny McCarthy's hilarious, no-holds-barred personality has made her an instantly recognizable TV personality and a bestselling author. In Baby Laughs she examines the full range of challenges that new mothers face, including:
The humiliations of postnatal numbing spray,
Tucks medicated pads, and adult diapers; jelly belly, balding, and gum disease; and becoming a five-foot puke rag for the baby
Heart-stopping terrors, such as baby manicures, breathing checks, and burp failures
Inadequacies, such as lullaby illiteracy and the need for a heavy rotation of toys, videos, and mobiles
Daddy antics, such as infant wrestling, home-movie mania, sleeping like a log, and expecting sex
Dueling grandmas, germ-ridden guests, Olympic-class competitive mommies, anorexic pets and much more.

Mothers and fathers will find much-needed relief and insight in this sometimes touching, sometimes gritty, but always perceptive and outrageously funny account of what it truly means to have your very own small bundle of joy.

My thoughts: This book was not as funny as Belly Laughs. I may just be a bit crazy, though, because the whole time I'm reading this book, I'm knowing the author and her husband eventually divorced, and that made the bits about him a bit awkward and weird.

When Kari Baxter Jacobs finds out that her husband is involved in an adulterous relationship and wants a divorce, she decides she will love him and remain faithful to her marriage at all costs. This book shows how God can redeem seemingly hopeless relationships, and it illustrates one of Gary Smalley's key messages: Love is a decision.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Redemption series. There are five books in this series and all have been released.

My thoughts: I really, really enjoyed this book. There were twists and turns I didn't expect, especially near the end. If you enjoy reading Christian fiction, this series is definitely for you.

Jorie King has been waiting for Benjamin Zook to return home to Lancaster County so they can marry. When news arrives that Ben has been killed, Jorie finds comfort in the friendship of his brother Caleb. That friendship ripens into love, and it seems that they are meant to be together. But when the unexpected happens, their worlds are turned upside down once more. Will Jorie trust God to lead her into the arms of a new man?

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Lancaster County Secrets series. There are three books and one Christmas book in this series and all have released. You can read my review of the first book in this series here.

My thoughts: This book was just like the first for me, in that it was difficult for me to get into. But this series definitely stands out for me because the story lines go in all kinds of unexpected ways! So if nothing else, this series is fantastic just based on that.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Life & Style: What I Learned about Gardening 2012

Tomatoes growing and ripening in all stages of life. Aren't they gorgeous?!
This post should really be titled: What I Learned about Gardening Tomatoes in Containers 2012, but I thought that was a bit too long. A lot of the information here is useful for any newbie gardener, whether you're gardening in containers or just in the Earth.

Jason and I were incredibly nervous to begin gardening. In fact, I can't even tell you how many times we asked each other, "Are we sure we want to do this?" Now that we're fully in the throes of gardening, I can tell you that we haven't regretted it at all - in fact, we both wonder why we didn't do it last year!

Here in Michigan, if you want to grow tomatoes, you should plant them in little starter cups in mid to late March. While the seed packet may direct you to put four to five seeds in each packet, I would encourage you to only put two. All of the seeds we put in our starter cups grew. When we transplanted each seedling into his own starter cup, we had about 22 seedlings growing. And we only had room for a max of four plants on our balcony. While none of them died on their own, there were a few who stood out as being exemplary. We saved those and tearfully eliminated the rest {And I am not joking here. I do not take it lightly that I brought something into this world only to take it out. It was horrible. Jason and I both cried.}.

We accidentally killed one by taking it out onto the balcony a little early, and it snapped it half. That was also not a very good day. Tears all around. So three plants remained. Once the temperature outside at night was consistently 50 degrees or higher {this was the first week of June for us in Michigan}, we moved the plants to their permanent home: five-gallon buckets.

When you first begin to garden, particularly, if you're container gardening, there are some costs you will incur the first year you should never have to incur again. For us, this included five-gallon buckets, clay pots and tomato cages. Each year, we will expect to incur costs for seeds, soil and fertilizer. We highly, highly recommend organic gardening, and we have been so pleased with Tomato Tone as fertilizer. It's an organic fertilizer, and we both feel this fertilizer has made all the difference in our plants.

Caring for the seedlings and moving them from container to container is relatively easy. Our plants were moved three different times, each time into a bigger home. We watered them enough so the soil would remain moistened. We kept them in a sunny area of our home, and thankfully, Preston didn't mistake them for yummy food.
See that crazy branch with several tomatoes
growing on it? I didn't make sure the
branch was tucked in, and it grew really wildly.
I tucked it in near the top, but it looks a bit
wanky now.
Once they were in the buckets, though, things got a little dicey. This was all mostly due to the fact that we were newbie gardeners and had no clue what we were doing. So here's some tips {some of which I didn't do but will definitely be doing next year} you could follow to ensure your container tomatoes grow nicely and happily:
  • Water the plants every day there is no rain.
  • Buy plant trays for the bottom of the buckets. This will help lessen the amount of water that drips onto your neighbor's balcony {oops, sorry!} and will also assist in keeping the plants watered if you go on a vacation or are unable to water them for a day for another reason.
  • Don't worry about fertilizing as much as your fertilizer bag may recommend. On average, we fertilized every three weeks as opposed to every other week.
  • Be extremely diligent in ensuring all of the various branches of your plant are within the cage. This will mean checking every single day {if you have to miss a day, no worries} to ensure they're all growing within the cage. At some point, the branches will be too big for you to scoot them under and into the cage. Trust me, I've been done there, done that.
  • Wind can be a scary, scary thing for tomato plants. We found it best to tie the cages to our balcony rails. Since we've done this, our plants have not been tipped over once. Before that, on very windy days, our tomato plants would tip and fall over. We lost an unripe tomato or two due to this {and once again, we were very sad about that}.
  • Expect your plant to grow too high for your cage. I don't really know what we can do about this since we bought the biggest cages our local specialty gardening store offered. Our plants grew about two feet higher than the cage, so the branches above the cage are very much all over the place. But at least if you expect it, you may not be as surprised, like we were.
  • Your tomato plant may end up with some dead leaves/branches on it. It would be handy to have a pair of gardening clippers to clip off the dead debris {I plan to ask for some as a Christmas gift this year}. Clipping off the dead debris probably won't make your tomatoes grow any better, but it will definitely make the plant look better.
Can you see where the cage ends?
Our plants grew very high above the cage!
All in all, growing tomato plants in containers is really easy. As newbie gardeners, we were successful in growing them and enjoying fresh tomatoes every week throughout August and now into September.

While we were unable to garden on a plot of land this summer, mostly due to the fact that we live in an apartment on the third floor, we are anticipating that we may be able to garden on a plot of land next summer. If we do that, we plan to continue container gardening our tomatoes on our balcony.

I was never able to find one solid gardening book about container gardening, but I cannot recommend Pinterest enough. You should be able to find a ton of information about whatever you want to grow there, however you want to grow it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Chili Mac

We have began to dig through our older cookbooks for recipes that we may have missed. This gem was discovered and was made very soonly after it was found in a Rachael Ray cookbook. We were both very glad that it was found.

  • 1/2 pound dried pasta
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 2/3 lbs. ground sirloin
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Cook the pasta according to package directions.
  • While cooking the pasta, heat the EVOO in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add the meat and brown for 4 minutes, breaking it up as it cooks.
  • Add onions and garlic and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
  • Add chili powder, cumin, coriander, and tomato paste and cook for 2 more minutes.
  • Stir in the stock and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the pasta and cheese and serve.
  • Serving Size: 2 cups
  • Servings per recipe: 3
  • Calories per serving: about 570
  • Originally found in Rachel Ray's Big Orange Book

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

This Book Room

Belinda, Marty and Clark Davis's "surprise child," has always had a tender and compassionate heart toward anything hurt and broken. Her parents watch with both misgivings and genuine pride as Belinda's older brother, Doctor Luke, influences her toward nursing. Will she have the inward strength to face the "hurt and broken" people whose bodies, minds, and emotions need mending? Belinda's niece, who is also a teenager, comes to live with the Davis family to finish her schooling. How will Melissa's arrival affect Belinda's lifelong friendship with Amy Jo? And what happens when all three fall for the same nice fellow?

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Love Comes Softly series. There are eight books in this series and all have been released. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here.

My thoughts: This book was super fun to read, and I loved hearing about the young ladies. I just really love this series. If you like historical fiction or Christian fiction, this series is a must read.

In the middle of the year, in the middle of her life, Bethanne Hamlin takes a road trip with her daughter, Annie, and her former mother-in-law, Ruth.They're driving to Florida for Ruth's 50th high-school reunion. A longtime widow, Ruth would like to reconnect with Royce, the love of her teenage life. She's heard he's alone, too…and, well, she's curious. Maybe even hopeful. Bethanne herself needs time to ponder a decision she has to make. Her ex-husband, Grant—her children's father—wants to reconcile now that his second marriage has failed. Bethanne's considering it…. Meanwhile, Annie's out to prove to her onetime boyfriend that she can live a brilliant life without him! So there they are, three women driving across America. They have their maps and their directions—but even the best-planned journey can take you to a turn in the road. Or lead you to an unexpected encounter—like the day Bethanne meets a man named Max who really is a hero on a Harley. That's when Bethanne's decision becomes a lot harder. Because Grant wants her back, but now there's Max…. From Seattle's Blossom Street to the other end of the country, this is a trip that could change three women's lives.

Additional notes: This is the latest book in the Blossom Street series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the Christmas book here, the fifth book here, the sixth book here and the seventh book here. The next book is due out next year.

My thoughts: I was not a total fan of this book. I'm really glad the series is continuing because if this had been the last book, I would have been sorely disappointed. I was still disappointed because it just was not that interesting, but oh well.

All you need is love? For the residents of swanky Mayfair Estates, a pre-nup is just another item on the wedding to-do checklist—but three friends get more than they bargained for when they promise to love, cherish . . . and sign on the dotted line. Ellie married her handsome, wealthy Prince Charming when she was young, naive, and willing to sign a one-sided pre-nup in the name of true love. But seven years and one toddler later, her happily-ever-after has come screeching to a halt. If she can’t save her marriage, she’s determined to save her divorce, and she’s not about to let a lot of legalese stand in her way. When Jen married Eric, he knew she wasn’t head over heels. Still, he insisted that they were perfect together and even bankrolled her blossoming business. But when Jen’s career finally takes off, she realizes that she may lose her husband. If Eric leaves, Jen will lose everything—including the marriage she values more than she thought. Up-and-coming attorney Mara is sure her fiancĂ© has forgiven her for a foolish one-night fling—until he adds a “cheating clause” to the pre-nup she had demanded. If he really trusts her, why the clause? And if she’s really trustworthy, why is she objecting? As romance collides with real life, three very different women turn to each other for moral support and insights about how to safeguard their most valuable assets: their hearts.

My thoughts: Beth is a hit or miss author for me. And this was a hit. I loved it. I think I read it all in one afternoon. And then I wanted another Beth hit. Sigh.

Oh, the joys of pregnancy! There's the gassiness, constipation, queasiness, and exhaustion, the forgetfulness, crankiness, and the constant worry. Of course, no woman is spared the discomforts and humiliations of pregnancy, but most are too polite to complain or too embarrassed to talk about them. Not Jenny McCarthy! In the New York Times best-selling Belly Laughs, actress and new mother Jenny McCarthy reveals the naked truth about the tremendous joys, the excruciating pains, and the unseemly disfigurement that go along with pregnancy. Never shy, frequently crude, and always laugh-out-loud funny, McCarthy covers it all in the grittiest of girlfriend detail. From morning sickness and hormonal rage, to hemorrhoids, pregnant sex, and the torture and sweet relief that is delivery, Belly Laughs is must-read comic relief for anyone who is pregnant, who has ever been pregnant, is trying to get pregnant, or, indeed, has ever been born!

My thoughts: Jenny's voice is super funny. I'm not sure how much I'm a fan of her as a person, but as an author, she cracks me up. This book is funny no matter if you're pregnant, been pregnant or have never experienced these things before.

With a vibrant, fresh style Suzanne Woods Fisher brings readers into the world of a young Amish woman torn between following the man she loves--or joining the community of faith that sustains her, even as she questions some of the decisions of her elders. Her choice begins a torrent of change for her and her family, including a marriage of convenience to silent Daniel Miller. Both bring broken hearts into their arrangement--and secrets that have been held too long. Filled with gentle romance, "The Choice" opens the world of the Amish--their strong communities, their simple life, and their willingness to put each other first. Combined with Fisher's exceptional gift for character development, this novel, the first in a series, is a welcome reminder that it is never too late to find your way back to God.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Lancaster County Secrets series. There are a total of three books in this series and one Christmas book. All have been released.

My thoughts: It took me a really long time to get into this book, but this book was incredibly surprising. I thought it would be predictable, and I thought I knew what was going to happen, and then it went all topsy-turvy. I love that!

Monday, September 10, 2012

State of Our House Address: A Very Special Edition!

This summer has been an incredibly interesting, challenging, and joy-filled season for us. Jason was offered a paid position at our local library, and he absolutely loves working there. In addition to that, he and I also work for a market research firm - he now works part-time there while I work in a salaried position. Job-wise, we both are very blessed!

Jason and I have been continuing on our journey to live our lives in a way that is true for us. This means we spend a lot of quality time together - Family Movie Nights, Family Game Nights, date nights, quiet dinners at home at the dining room table, reading stories together. We adore one another! Some parts of this summer were difficult for us to maintain this, but through August and through September thus far, we've made ourselves our number one priority.

We also strive to be fiscally responsible. If you've been reading along this year, Jason and I were throwing every spare bit of money we had at my last student loan. Since July 4, however, we have not paid anything except for the minimum required payment. While we would love to continue on our journey toward being debt free, at this time, we are throwing every spare bit of money we have at our savings account.

Because... we are expecting to welcome a new member of our family in March! We are super excited {and super nervous, haha!} at the new blessing God has bestowed upon us. So while we are expecting a new member, and all of the expenses that come along with welcoming a new member, we are saving our money. Once I am back to work, after welcoming our new member, we will resume our debt free journey.

This will be our first human child, and we have a lot of ideas for how we would like to raise our child, keeping an open mind and an open heart to God's ways and to ways that will end up just working best for us that we may not be able to see right now. So, as a journal for ourselves and to answer any questions you possibly may have, we wanted to share some of the things we are planning {knowing that when we plan, God laughs}:
  • I plan to breast feed. Prayerfully, I will have enough supply to feed our child. Jason is already prepped to encourage me and pray for me during the first few weeks as my body adjusts to this. I know it won't be easy at first, but I am pretty determined.
  • We plan to cloth diaper, although not absolutely 100% of the time. When we leave the house, we plan to take disposables with us and plop a disposable on our child. But at home, we will be a cloth diapering family.
  • We are not having a "baby shower." We are both not fans of showers. While my mom eventually talked us into having one for our wedding, we are both adamant that no shower be thrown for our child. My mom is actually completely on board, although she reminds me often that if we should change our minds, we need to only let her know.
  • We are not finding out the gender before delivery. My mom didn't find out with either of her children {and she had the option both times}. Jason and I both have no desire to know before hand since it just doesn't matter. Also, we are not a fan of blue and pink. Thankfully, we have been garage saling since July and have a ton of yellow, green and orange clothes already.
  • We have names picked out in either instance but will keep all of them to ourselves til our child makes his/her grand appearance. Then, once we see our child, we will officially name him/her.
  • We plan to give birth in a hospital. I was totally into the home birth idea, but Jason was not all about it. For my husband's comfort and ease of mind, we plan to deliver in a hospital.
  • Jason will be taking some time from the market research firm to spend time at home, but he will likely only take a week or so from the library. I will be taking eight weeks of maternity leave from my job and expect to return sometime in May. Jason will be severely limiting his hours at both jobs once our child arrives, and he will be the primary caregiver while I work.
I think that's about all the information we have nailed down for sure. This is an exciting time for us and we're both enjoying this season of new life growing inside me. It's really weird to think about! We are also both very, very thankful that the season of the first trimester is over. I'm starting to feel more like myself and am back to my usual antics. My attitude is positive, I'm not always tired... but eating is still a bit of a challenge. I'm doing the best I can, but I haven't been eating very much at all and it's gotten a little bit to a scary point. Jason has been absolutely wonderful and going to the store whenever to get me whatever sounds good in that moment {which usually doesn't sound good by the time he makes it home!!!}.

Anyway, our summer has been pretty eventful, but we're ready to relax into fall, eat caramel apples, attend some football games and take long, leisurely walks. We pray your fall is enjoyable, surprising and full of good food!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saving the Moola: know your price point and don't budge from it!

photo credit
What do you consider a good price on cereal? How about on a great sweater you know you'll wear again and again, until it literally is falling apart?

While a price book can help with determining your buy-now price for cereal (as an FYI, my buy-now price is $1.50), your price point for a great sweater cannot be determined by a price book. In fact, the price point for a great sweater possibly cannot even be determined based on where you live, what stores you have access to, etc. The price point for items may be something that is affected by how you were raised, the value you place on objects and your faith.

Knowing your personal price points for items is absolutely a sticky business, and your price point for a great sweater possibly won't even come close to mine (as an FYI, my price point for a great sweater is $50).

You won't create a book to fill with price points for objects; it's something you carry in your mind. For instance, each month, I have a clothing budget, an entertainment budget and a crafting budget. When certain needs come up, by researching online, looking in stores and just knowing myself and what I am willing to pay, I come up with a price point. Jason was recently gifted with a free bike that was practically brand new. This was great as there were certain costs we had to incur for him to safely and responsibly ride his bike. We had a list and set out shopping. He needed: a bike helmet, a bike lock, a tire pump and a backpack. He also happened to need new flip flops, although those were not related to his new bike.

I didn't really have a price point in mind for the items for the bike. I knew I wanted to spend $100 or less on the helmet, bike lock, tire pump and backpack combined, and I knew I would never spend more than $25 on a backpack. My price point for flips flops was also $25.

We purchased a helmet, bike lock and tire pump for $65, and that left $35 for a backpack. I was truly shocked by the prices of backpacks. There were few at the $25 price point (in fact, there were none at the first store we shopped), and the backpacks at that specific store went all the way up to $150! I was in sticker shock, that's for sure. I could have budged from my price point and thought, Well, I guess that's the best we can do.

But I knew $25 was a perfectly reasonable price for a backpack and I was completely unwilling to budge. We kept on shopping. We found awesome, sturdy flip flops at Payless for $21.19 (including tax), so I was more than happy that we came in under my price point for that. My price point is the high end of what I am willing to spend - if we had found flip flops for $25, I would have been disappointed. My goal, in having a price point, is to find flip flops that completely meet our needs that are less than $25. This may be weird, but we never claimed to be normal!

I had a list of items I was looking for as well, and on that list was a frame that was cat-themed. On a lark, I suggested we go to Burlington's to look at frames. To my disappointment, the particular Burlington's we visited didn't have any frames, but right at the front of the store, right where we walked in, was a display of backpacks. And wouldn't you know it: there was a backpack, priced for $21.19, including tax, that completely fit our needs. I was so happy! We giddily purchased it.

Price points rely heavily on one's instincts and what one is willing to pay. You could choose a price point that may seem unreasonable, but I ask you to trust in yourself. If a specific price point has been put on your heart, trust in that. Trust that the item will find its way to you at the exact price you desire it to be.

Years and years ago, I had a need for a second pitcher. I had purchased one from the Pampered Chef line, and it was so functional. I absolutely desired to have a second just like it. I added this to my list of items to search for at garage sales. That summer, at the first garage sale we went to, I found the exact pitcher, the same exact pitcher, for $1. I had paid around $15 for the first one.

I was in shock. I could not believe the exact item I desired to have was right in front of my face. I scooped up that pitcher so fast, you would have thought it was Black Friday and I was after the hottest toy of the season! (Never mind that the garage sale had just started and my then-fiance (now-husband) and I were the only ones there!)

Any time I shop, I have a specific price point in mind. Keep in mind that your price points will differ depending on what you value. I gladly pay $50 or so for my favorite face cleanser. One large bottle lasts an entire year, but this is still a pretty hefty price. You may gladly pay $100 for a great sweater. I gladly pay $80 for a great pair of shoes (not flip flops). You may gladly pay $20 for a great pair of shoes.

Having a price point will help you shop with a purpose and shop responsibly. I'd love to hear some of your price points on the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Battleship

Jess is possibly the laziest couponer who ever lived {note from Jess: I actually take pride in this, and Jason says I'm the laziest with pride because I'm so lazy about it but find so many great coupons with no work done by me!}. If it's not printable and easy to get, she doesn't do it. The other month, Jess found coupons that would allow us to get Battleship and a card game for $4 and change. I know, pretty sweet, isn't it?

Battleship is a 'simulated' naval battle where your goal is to sink your opponent's fleet of five ships before she sinks yours. Simulated goes in quotes because when was the last time you saw any type of battle where everyone one both sides of the fight never moved, not once, until one side was completely wiped out and the other side is half exploded? But regardless of the slightly unrealisticness of the game's premise, the game play is superb.

The Fleets

The Carrier
It takes 5 hits to sink this large ship. It is also the easiest to find and is often the first ship hit.
The Battleship
It takes 4 direct hits to sink the game's namesake. Oddly enough, the battleship is just as offensive as the patrol boat. It just doesn't seem right.
The Destroyer
It takes 3 hits to sink the destroyer. Like all the other ships, its function doesn't live up to its function.

The Submarine
It also takes 3 hits to sink the submarine. It may surprise you but the only difference between the destroyer and the sub in game terms is that they look different.
The Patrol Boat
It only takes 2 hits to sink the patrol boat. Regardless of this, more often than not, this little guy will win you the game. Even if all your other ships are sunk, it could take your opponent quite some time to find it.

The Game

The Game Surface

The game is actually two separate units that are exactly identical. As pictured on the left, you can see the different parts.

The red grid is where you mark if your shots hit or miss.
The grey grid is where you position your ships during the game.

The other three sections are just for storage; ship storage, red peg storage, and white peg storage.

To start the game, each player positions his or her ships in the grey grid. This can involve a bit of strategy as once the game starts, none of the ships can move.
An example of placing ships for a game of Battleship!
Now each player takes turns calling out a coordinate. For example, if my opponent would call out B2 I would look on my grey grid and see that B2 doesn't have any of my ships in it so I would inform her that she had missed. She would put a white peg in her red grid at the B2 location as shown in the following picture.

I would then call out a coordinate, but for the sake of making this explanation easy to follow, let's assume that I miss and you understand how to place the white pegs. But on her next turn, what if she was to call C3? As we can see that my carrier is in C3. I would then tell her "hit." We would both get out a red peg at that point. She would put her red peg in her red grid at C3 to signify that she had hit one of my ships. I would put a red peg in my carrier at the C3 location to signify that that ship has been hit. 

If ever one of the ships has all of its holes filled with red pegs, then you need to inform the other player that they have sunk your ship and which ship is was that they sunk. The game is played until all the ships of one fleet are completely destroyed, and that fleet's commander is the loser.

So basically, you take turns trying to blow the other player up. What is not to love about that? Throughout the years, there have been many variations on the game. When I was young, we actually had an electronic version of the game where you punched your shots into a computer and it told you if you hit or not. You could even play it single player. There are even more and they have recently came out with a new version based on the new Battleship movie, which is based on the game. (Battleship, the movie, the game?) I am a little scared to even look at the back of the box for that one.

If you like this game, or think you would like this game, make sure that you avoid the upcoming Battleship movie. As I have mentioned in previous posts, books and super heroes made into movies usually don't fare too well, but let's face it, games made into movies are always bad. (Watch Wing Commander if you don't believe me.)

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Beauty Fix: I'm saying YES to...

My hair is curly and long (to my standards). My face is both oily and dry, and I'm prone to sunburn easily. My emotional being craves a luxurious shower experience... for the five minutes I'm in there each day.

I typically buy the cheapest shampoo possible, but as I grow my hair out each year, I tend to need better shampoo. In the past, I've relied on free product coupons to obtain better shampoo. In the past, I had tried every kind of face cream possible, but I've never found one that worked perfectly. And while I've definitely found products that provide the kind of shower experience I like to have, the products I've found to meet my shower needs are expensive. So expensive that I can't always justify spending the money.

Enter the Yes to Carrots product line. I haven't tried a product from this line that I haven't completely fell in love with, but there are three products in particular that have literally changed my life.

Yes to Carrots shampoo keeps my hair smooth (as smooth as it can be anyway) and relatively tangle-free. It smells delish and one bottle lasts a long time. I don't need to use a lot in the shower to thoroughly wash my hair, so I feel like I get a bit more bang for my buck.

For years, I've been searching for a face cream that has SPF but doesn't smell weird, doesn't make my eyes hurt and doesn't make my face too oily. This face cream delivers on everything I need:

The SPF is only 15, so I wouldn't use this as your only sunscreen if you're going to be directly in the sun for a long period of time. But the SPF is enough that you can use it year-round, and I only use a pea-sizeish amount for my entire face. It hardly has a smell, and it doesn't make my face oily at all. In fact, with regular use, I noticed my face was less dry overall. It doesn't irritate any part of my skin or my eyes. I could not be more happy.

That brings us to my last favorite product of the Yes to Carrots line. Their body wash is so creamy and moisturizing. The earthy smell is amazing. And again, just like with all of the other products, you really don't need to use a lot to thoroughly cleanse yourself.

If carrots aren't your thing, maybe tomatoes, cucumbers or blueberries are - there are Yes to lines featuring each produce item. You can learn more about all of the product lines at

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

This Book Room: The MoneySmart Family System

Is it possible to raise financially responsible kids of any age in a society filled with consumerism and entitlement? New York Times best-selling authors Steve and Annette Economides raised their five kids while spending 77 percent less than the USDA predicted. And the money they did spend was also used to train their children to become financially independent. The MoneySmart Family System will show you how to teach your children to manage money and have a good attitude while they’re learning to earn, budget, and spend wisely.
Learn how to:
  • Get the kids out the door for school with less stress.
  • End the battle over clothing—forever.
  • Teach your children to be grateful and generous.
  • Inspire your kids to help with chores as a member of a winning team.
  • Prepare your kids for their first paying job.
  • Help your kids pay for their own auto insurance, and even pay cash for their own cars.
  • Employ strategies for debt-free college educations.
  • Truly help your adult children when they want to move back home.
  • Be prepared to deal with your adult children when they ask for bailouts.
With clear steps for children of every age, The MoneySmart Family System proves that it’s never too early, too late, or too hard to start learning financial responsibility.

My thoughts: This book has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf. If you're a fan of Dave Ramsey and/or have children, you absolutely need to read this book. While Dave presents general concepts for how to teach financial responsibility to your children, this book presents actual ways to teach lessons. The authors share what they personally did with their children and offer many suggestions. I personally would not tweak what they said at all, except in one instance: the authors suggest that beginning at the age of 9 or so, children should pay for all of their clothing themselves. I personally feel clothing is a basic necessity in life, like food. So while I would continue to pay for clothing, I can absolutely see why the authors are saying what they are. As children get into the tween and teen years, they often want very specific brand names. I would know my specific price point, say $15 for a new pair of jeans, and if my child wants a pair of jeans that is more than that, I will gladly pay $15 for the jeans, but my child has to pay the difference. I think that's a safe and responsible way to handle the later years of a child's life and clothing wants.

I really cannot say enough good things about this book. There are so many practical ideas laid out in this book - things I never would have thought of. It is incredibly obvious that the authors have truly lived this life and raised children who have grown up - while making some mistakes, I'm sure - with a fantastic background in money. While I was taught not to use credit and to save money for a rainy day, that was literally all I was taught. Jason feels he was taught little about money as well. I don't want our children to feel as lost as we were. And even though the mistakes we made don't really affect our lives now (I still would have taken out student loans to obtain my college degree), we could have been more set in life and I want our children to learn from the mistakes we did make.

No matter what age your children are, or even if you don't have children yet, you can benefit from this book. I highly, highly recommend it.

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