Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In My Mailbox


Here's what we got in the mailbox this past week:
  • Women's Health magazine issue
  • God's Messenger audio CD
  • Start Something That Matters book and note from a friend and fellow blogger
  • BabyTalk magazine issue (not pictured)
I sign up for free magazine offers whenever I find them and typically, only for magazines our family is interested. However, sometimes, as is the case with Ski magazine, I receive magazines I have no recollection of signing up for, nor do I have a use for them. We checked our mail Friday on our way out to a couple's house for dinner and game night. When I saw I had received BabyTalk, I thought it might be a bit more appropriate for our friends who have a six-month-old baby boy than us.

I was particularly excited to see Women's Health and to receive Start Something That Matters, a book I won in a giveaway hosted by my friend and fellow blogger, Miss Krista. You can check out her blog here.

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

Monday, January 30, 2012

In the Kitchen With Jason: Pizzafied Chicken


Now before you tell me that pizzafied isn't a word, let it go and check out this incredible recipe from the Hungry Girl 1-2-3 Cookbook. The idea still baffles me and whomever came up with it deserves a pat on the back. And if nothing else, you need to try cooking a chicken breast this way even if you are going to eat it by itself as the chicken prepared in this recipe is super delicious.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 dash crushed red pepper
  • 1 dash oregano
  • 1 dash basil
  • 1 stick string cheese
  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup mushroom, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp onion, diced
  • 4 slices turkey pepperoni, chopped
  • 1 tsp Parmesan cheese, grated
Directions
  • Preheat your broiler.
  • Season your crushed tomatoes with the crushed red pepper, oregano, and basil.
  • Tear your string cheese into small strips and chop into smaller pieces.
  • Put your chicken in a zip-lock bag.
  • Pound your chicken with a meat hammer until it is about 1/2 inch thick.
  • Remove chicken from bag and season each side with remaining spices.
  • Bring an oven safe skillet up to medium heat.
  • Spray with cooking spray and add the bell pepper, mushrooms, and onions.
  • Cook for 6 minutes and set aside.
  • Respray the pan and add the chicken.
  • Cook for 3 minutes and flip.
  • Cook for an additional 3 minutes.
  • Top the chicken with tomatoes, string cheese, veggies, and pepperoni.
  • Put the pan under the broiler for 3 minutes.
  • Sprinkle your pizzafied chicken with Parmesan cheese and enjoy.
Though a little bit skeptical about this recipe when I first read it, I am skeptical no longer. Preparing the chicken this way leaves it moist and the remainder of the toppings complement it well. One note: don't expect to pick this up and eat it with your fingers. This is a knife and fork meal.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes

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

Dinner
Skinny baked mac and cheese
6-can soup, bread
Chicken adobo, roasted squash
Red beans and rice, cornbread
Tater-tot casserole, carrots
Ziti bake
Chicken pot pie biscuits

Snacks/Desserts
Cheese sticks
Carrots
Lemon-honey drop cookies
Cook This banana bread
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Lemon-honey drop cookies
Cook This banana bread
Chicken adobo, roasted squash
Red beans and rice, cornbread
Ziti bake

Saturday, January 28, 2012

This Book Room: Beyond Molasses Creek

Can I just first start by saying how surprised I was by this book? This book was a little like Eat, Pray, Love meets The Help meets Dorothea Benton Frank meets The Secret Daughter. I loved it. Here's a summary from goodreads.com:

Three lives are bound by a single book . . . and the cleansing waters of Molasses Creek.

Having traveled to the ends of the earth as a flight attendant, Ally Green has finally returned to the Lowcountry to bury her father as well as the past. But Vesey Washington is still living across the creek, and theirs is a complicated relationship--he was once her best friend . . . and also part of the reason she's stayed away so long. When Ally discovers a message her father left behind asking her to quit running, it seems her past isn't through with her yet.

As Ally's wandering spirit wrestles with a deep longing to flee again, a young woman on the other side of the world escapes her life of slavery in the rock quarries of Nepal. A mysterious sketchbook leads Sunila Kunari to believe there's more to her story than she's ever been told, and she's determined to follow the truth wherever it leads her.

A deep current intertwines the lives of these three souls, and a destiny of freedom, faith, and friendship awaits them all on the banks of Molasses Creek.


Vesey was a wonderful character - I adored him. And Sunila was brave beyond words. This story is uplifting and full of hope, but full of truth too, I felt. This is a book I would absolutely read again. The only character I wasn't crazy for was Ally. She just seemed sort of generic, and I felt I didn't really learn enough about her. Also, her bit of the story isn't very redemptive. She doesn't grow as a person, and I felt sort of sad for her.

All in all, a good book and a quick read. I had never read anything by Nicole Seitz before, but if you read this one and enjoy it, she has authored a few other books as well.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a copy for review.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Electronic Catch Phrase

It beeps, it buzzes, and it's more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Whatever could I be talking about? Electronic Catch Phrase.

Add three AAA batteries and call me in the morning.

The idea behind this game is simple. A phrase (or just one word) is displayed on the view finder and you have to get your team to say the phrase, so you can move onto the next phrase. The fun comes in with the rule that you cannot say any words in the phrase. The whole time you are doing this, the handheld device keeps beeping, and when the beeps speed up, you know that your time is almost up. The goal is to have your team shout out more correct phrases than the other team.

For more fun, the phrases are divided into the following categories: The World, Places, Sci-Tech, Sports and Games, Entertainment, Food, and Everything.

Though devilishly simple, it doesn't stop Electronic Catch Phrase from being ridiculously fun for everyone playing (if you have a headache or think you may be developing one, do not participate in a game of Electronic Catch Phrase as everyone will be yelling answers to be heard over each other and the never-ending beeping).

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winning at Walgreen's

Part of our regular weekend routine is to hit up both CVS and Walgreen's. I'm in charge of Walgreen's, and Jason is in charge of CVS, although we both offer input when asked. Recently, I looked through a Rite Aid ad, but there is just nothing to compel me to shop there, even though there's one on every corner in my area, it seems like. So for now, and for the foreseeable future, we're just sticking with Walgreen's and CVS, just in case anyone was wondering why we don't shop there.

Here's what we bought this week at Walgreen's:


I had one RR coupon from the previous week for $6 and a whole bunch of other coupons. Since Walgreen's only lets you use the same or lesser number of coupons for the number of items one is purchasing, I planned out my trip in advance.

I used a peelie I got the previous week on the bag of M & M's. Walgreen's must've raised their prices on this bag, as last week, the peelie was enough to get a bag for free. The peelie is good for one free bag up to a $3.49 value. This week, the price was $3.99. Thankfully, the cashier showed me a coupon out of the January booklet that still allowed me to get the bag for free. Yay!

The Flurry protein bar was $1.99 with $2 back in RR. This is the only RR coupon I received from this purchase, so that might be bad news for next week. We'll see!

Walgreen's was offering an in-ad coupon for Jergen's 8-pack bar soap for $1.99. This is a very good price for soap, in my opinion. We love Skinny Cow candy and it was on sale for $2.99 a box, plus I had a buy one, get one free coupon.

My total came to $1.09 after the sales and coupons. My price per item fell to $1.17. I anticipate this will go up next week since I only have $2 to go toward that purchase in free money. My goal of $1 per item has yet to be reached!

In the Kitchen With Jason: Cook This Chili

Jess and I have been making this recipe for quite some time now and finally I remembered to take a picture of it before we ate it all (and at about 3 meals per person per pot that is a lot of forgotten camera moments). But this time, we remembered and now we are sharing this fantastic recipe with you. The original recipe can be found on page 242 in the Cook This Not That: Kitchen Survival Guide. It will be titled Turkey Chili. Jess and I made this recipe multiple times using the turkey that is recommended and it is very good made that way, but since we bought a quarter cow late last year, it seemed silly to purchase ground turkey from the store when we had 30ish pounds of ground beef in our freezer, so we switched it.

Ingredients (there are a lot of them, but don't worry you probably have a lot of them already in your house)
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 lbs ground beef (or turkey)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 12 oz dark beer
  • 28 oz canned tomatoes
  • 14 oz canned white beans
  • 14 oz canned pinto beans
Directions
  • Heat EVOO in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add onion and garlic to pot and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Add spices and bay leaves to pot and cook for 2 more minutes.
  • Add beef and tomato paste to pot and cook until beef is fully cooked.
    • This will be sort of hard to tell as the spices will cover your beef and done and un-done will look very similar.
  • Add chocolate, beer, and tomatoes. Lower heat to low and cover your pot.
  • Cook for 45 minutes.
  • While the pot cooks over low heat drain and rinse the beans.
  • When the pot has finished it's 45 minutes of cooking, remove the lid and add the beans.
  • Leave on heat until the beans are heated through.
We have changed more than just which animal supplied the meat. There were a couple extra steps designed to increase the spicy factor, but as Jess is a 100% wimp when it comes to spicy food (I rank in at a low 90s or high 80s percent wimp as well), we skip them.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In My Mailbox


We got loads of good stuff in our mailbox this past week!
  • Disney's Family Fun magazine issue
  • Kohl's rebate check for $10
  • Canned fruit
  • Courageous DVD
We signed up for Family Fun free somewhere, and this magazine is very cute. Rebates are free money to us because sometimes, we don't get them. Because of that, we don't buy any items that promise to be a good deal after rebate - we only buy items that are a good deal before rebate. We purchased a griddle the day after Thanksgiving 2011 for $20. That, in and of itself, was a great deal. We sent away for the $10 rebate and it came! So we're just using this money as fun money.

Yummy fruit!
We ordered both the canned fruit and the DVD for free from amazon.com using SwagBucks gift cards. You can learn more about how SwagBucks works here. It's literally changed our lives (for the better!). We used Subscribe and Save on the canned fruit - you can learn more about that program here.

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

In the Kitchen With Jason: Baked Tilapia with Fresh Lemon Pepper

I originally was skeptical about this recipe as I do not normally go for fish recipes, but this was completely delicious. The recipe was originally for flounder but our Whole Foods didn't have any so I got tilapia instead. Though, since I don't know much about fish, it turned out just the same for me, which was yummy!


Ingredients
  • 1 Tbsp grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 tsp EVOO
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 12 oz. of tilapia fillets
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Combine all non-fish ingredients.
  • Place the fish into a 9x13 baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
  • Rub the lemon pepper mixture over the fish.
  • Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested a fork.
If you like, you can cut the lemon that you got the rind from into wedges and serve with the fish. We also saved some to use in water. We try to drink a lot of water, but the taste of plain water gets old so a lemon wedge helps keep the taste yummy.

This recipe originally appeared in the Cooking Light Complete cookbook.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Apple muffins

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

Dinner
Crockpot honey chicken, twice baked red potato casserole
Steak, honey roasted carrots, baked beans
Pizzafied chicken, homemade french fries
Turkey mushroom surprise, baked potato, broccoli
Broccoli and cheddar soup, bread
Cook This steak samich, Cook This coleslaw
Dinner out at our friends' house

Snacks/Desserts
Cheese sticks
Carrots
Oatmeal chocolate peanut butter no-bake bars
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Honey roasted carrots
Baked beans
Pizzafied chicken
Turkey mushroom surprise
Cook This steak samich with Cook This coleslaw

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saving the Moola: our savings plan for 2012

As December drew to a close and our needs/wants became apparent for 2012, our savings plan became a lot more specific. Jason and I feel it's important in 2012 for everyone to take a step back from their wants and really focus on saving money. Not only will this help in times of emergencies, but we guarantee your relationship and outlook on life will improve.

First, assess what your needs you might have for the upcoming year. For Jason and I, we have three savings accounts: un/underemployment, 8-month emergency fund and a new-to-us car. During the summer, we shared what our 2012 budget will look like. At that time, Jason and I were planning to put all of our savings into the new-to-us car savings account. However, our priorities and thoughts have shifted somewhat, as we realized we didn't really want to buy a new-to-us car until our primary car really officially died (our primary car is 13 years old and still runs very well). 

Here's why we chose these accounts and how money will accrue in each account:

Our no. 1 priority savings account is un/underemployment. Since Jason's income fluctuates monthly, it's sometimes difficult to plan a budget. Going into 2012, we decided on an amount that we could safely count on each month from all of Jason's various sources of income. Let's say that amount is $1. Our goal, then, is to save $1 (a full month of what we can consider normal income). Then, in months where Jason may make less than that through all his various sources of income, we will pull money from this account so our lifestyle is stable and secure. As we use the account, in months where Jason makes more than $1, we will put the extra income in this account. When the account reaches double what Jason makes in a month (in this example, $2), we will move $1 into another savings account.

Our no. 2 priority savings account is our 8-month emergency fund. This is an account that we will only use in dire emergencies: the house burns down and we have to pay the deductible on renter's insurance, death to one of us, Preston breaks his leg and needs surgery, etc. etc. We plan to save 10% of all our income to reach our goal. We won't reach the end goal this year, but we're hoping to reach this goal within the next few years. We're also aware that once we buy a house/condo/place-that-is-definitely-ours, we will need to beef this account up even more since our monthly expenditures will change.

Our no. 3 priority savings account is the car account. This car account is created to serve two purposes:
  1. To eventually buy a new-to-us car
  2. To have money on hand for major car repairs
Remember our no. 1 savings priority goal? Once we reach, for example, $2 in our un/underemployment account, we're going to move $1 to this account. Currently, that's our only plan for saving in this account. We'll see how much money we can accrue in this account. If it's minimal, we'll re-evaluate for 2013. We have a set goal for how much money we eventually want to have in this account. As we use the account for major car repairs and new-to-us cars, the goal is to replenish the account so it's back to our set goal for future cars and future major repairs. Once we have our goal met, we'll move onto other savings accounts we'd like to have for certain items. But for 2012, these are the three we're focusing on.

When considering your own savings plan, it's important to establish the following:
  • Order of importance: which account is most needed? For some, that may be an account to get a new car, and for others, it may be a retirement account. Anticipate your needs for the year in order of what needs will arise first or what needs are most important to you.
  • Amount for each account: how much do you want to save for a car? do you want to max out your ROTH IRA for the year? Determine the amount you want to save. It's okay if you can't met the goal this year; the point is to accrue money and save.
  • How to save money: where will you get the money to save in the account? do you want to take a set amount from each paycheck? can you take on a second job to earn the money? do you have services you can put to use to earn the money on the side? Determine where you can raise the money to put something in each account. Again, how much you can put away is not really of importance; the important thing is that you're trying to save and you're putting forth a solid effort.
  • What the account can be used for: can you use a car savings account to pay for a new blender? does a medical account include paying for items like glasses or Band-Aids? Determine what each account can and cannot be used for, so you and your family are on the same page. It's important to set boundaries ahead of time so when an emergency (or as the case may be, a non-emergency) arises, everyone is firm on where money can come from to handle the new need/want.
There were multiple times during 2011 that Jason and I were incredibly grateful we had set aside some money to use for emergency-type situations. When our tire flew off our car on our way home from vacation

Share with us: What are your 2012 savings goals?

This Book Room

Every wife who desires a deeper, more meaningful relationship with her husband is sure to appreciate Stormie's candor and encouragement in this practical book. By focusing on 30 different areas, women can cover every aspect of their husband's lives with prayer, including security in work and finances; health and physical protection; spiritual and emotional strength; fears and emotions; faith and the future; sexuality and communication; and fatherhood, leadership and decision-making.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. There were times when I felt like the author assumes husbands are not the best people, and this made the chapters hard to relate to at times, but seeing the way Jason reacted to knowing I was setting aside specific time to pray for him and I was putting effort into it - it was amazing. He loved it, I loved it. A must-read book.

Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise . . . if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him. They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, they discover dark secrets. An affair? An emptied bank account? A hidden identity? An illegitimate child? But what will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

My thoughts: This book reminded me a lot of Karen Kingsbury's 9/11 series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A good fiction read!

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much---if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle---who already has six wives---Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

My thoughts: This book is one I could not easily put down. I was instantly drawn into the story, and once I reached a certain point, I had to finish it. A very good fiction read and one that makes me very grateful for my life. This book is appropriate for teens and up.

It has always been Naomi Fontaine’s dream to practice small-town medicine—an ambition that brought her to Cypress Hollow, the charming, tight-knit community her late friend, knitting guru Eliza Carpenter, loved so well. But no matter how hard she tries, Naomi can’t seem to fit in here. Then rugged Rig Keller moves in to take over half of Naomi’s medical practice, and instantly charms everyone in town . . . including Naomi. Rig saw what a broken relationship did to his brother, and has no interest whatsoever in getting serious. But the temptation to play doctor with his new partner is just too strong to resist. Any chance they might have of being truly knit together by love, however, depends entirely on what secrets they are willing to reveal . . . and on Rig’s willingness to risk his heart and Naomi’s desire to open hers completely.

Additional notes: This is the third book of the Cypress Hollow series. You can read my review of the second book here. As far as I know, this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: These books remind me a bit of Lori Wilde's Twilight, Texas series in the fact that there's quite a bit of smut. If that's not your thing in any sense (meaning: if you can't enjoy the story in spite of the smut), skip this series. But if you can enjoy the story anyway, I really enjoy this series, and I enjoyed this book.

In 1826, Ann Miller travels to Pittsburgh with her widowed father and two young sisters, only to find that a mysterious man has pursued them all the way from Ohio. Is Ann's father just a circuit minister, or is he hiding something that may endanger them all? Will Hanby indentures with a Pittsburgh saddler maker, only to discover that his master is a cold-hearted tyrant. After years of abuse, Will becomes a prisoner of his own mind. But then lovely Ann Miller comes to stay next door and her compassion lights a long-dark part of Will's soul. His renewed courage puts his life in jeopardy as he begins to assist fugitive slaves. Will's murderous master and Ann's questions about her family may keep both of them bound in the shadows forever. Or will they find freedom-together?

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Saddler's Legacy series. The second book is coming out soon, and I sure hope this series is ongoing! (In fact, I just received the second book to review in the mail, so look for an upcoming post about that very soon!).

My thoughts: This reminded me a bit of Ann Shorey's Beldon Grove series, in the fact that this was set in the 1800s and isn't so much about the romance, really, as it is about the adventure. And I loved this book. The romance is very much in the background and not a big part of the story, and I loved that. The adventure aspect of this story was right on and very exciting.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Dominoes

There are so many different types of Dominoes games! I just recently was gifted a double twelve set of Dominoes for Jesus' birthday so I will be focusing on that. There are double nine and double six sets as well, and I have no doubt that there are other size sets that I haven't heard of yet.

Double Twelve, the domino that our set was named after.
In a double twelve set, there are 91 dominoes. Each domino in the set is unique. One side of a domino is blank and the other side has two numbers on it represented by spots. The number of spots ranges from none (or 0) through 12.

All 91 dominoes from the set!
Jess and I play a basic game, but our set come with rules for 15 different types of domino games (and none of them match the way we play).

The basic rules that we play by goes like this:
  • Turn all the dominoes blank side up.
  • Each player draws 7 dominoes.
  • The player who has the domino with the highest matching numbers plays first and must play that domino.
  • From there, you must play a domino that has a matching number to one of the ends of the already played dominoes.
  • You can play off of the sides of doubles but only off of the ends of other dominoes.
  • If you don't have a domino that can be played, draw one from the pile of unused dominoes. If you can play it do so right away, otherwise your turn is over.
  • You win when you are the first player to play all of your dominoes.
Game in progress - lots of doubles were played this game
Simple, ain't it?

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winning at Walgreen's

This week was a fantastical one at Walgreen's, and I scored even bigger than I thought I would! Here's what I bought, the breakdown of costs and coupons and a very special lesson for everyone.


I'll start with the best news: my out-of-pocket expense was $2.14. Love that!

I had six coupons: a coupon for $1 off two boxes of Rice Krispies cereal, an in-ad store coupon for a box of Puffs tissue for 99 cents (limit of 3), a coupon for South Beach diet bars of $1 off, and three RR coupons with a total of $9.

The South Beach diet bars were buy one box at $5.99, get $6 back in RR. Since I had the $1 off coupon, this made it a very good deal in my opinion. I do not follow the South Beach diet, though, but they're basically granola bars. Sounds good!

I was particularly pleased with my list heading into the store: the cereal, after the coupon, was $1.50 a box - a very good deal, cheaper than Aldi, plus I use rice cereal in our homemade granola bars so this was great! We always need more tissue, so I was scoring on that, too!

What I did not know, however, was that the two boxes of cereal came with what bloggers call "peelies" (possibly this is the actual term for the sticker type things on the front of the box, I do not know!). Actually, if it wasn't for the very nice Walgreen's cashier, I wonder if I would have ever noticed these peelies! Each box had one, and each peelie is good for a free 12 oz. bag of M & M's! SCORE! So I used one peelie that day to get a free bag, then I have another peelie to get another free bag next week.

The hilarious thing about this was that Jason and I were pretty lazy over the weekend. Sad to say, we ate out for most of our meals, the house was very cluttered, and we just didn't do a freaking thing. We went to VG's on Saturday and picked up loads of junk food, and one item I picked up was (horror!) store-bought cookies. Really, that is horrible. I paid a horrific price for cookies that were only okay but since I had the blues, I didn't even care. Anyway, the cookies were M & M cookies and I spent many minutes on Saturday and Sunday complaining about how I need to get M & M candy to make M & M cookies (and before you ask, they are not the same thing as chocolate chip cookies! I had a lengthy debate with Jason over this!!!).

So imagine the funniness when I get two coupons for two free bags of M & M's! I love it.

Okay, so for the big lesson for everyone: There are many bloggers and website owners out there who list not only what they spent at each store but the percentage of what they saved. If you regularly read this series, you know I don't do this. Why, you might ask? Because that percentage is not real. Yes, it's real in that if I were an idiot and had bought all of these items, that is the amount Walgreen's would have charged me. But I would never, in my right (or possibly wrong) mind, spend that crazy amount. There's just no way. I shop, using a price book, to get the best deals I can, even sans coupons. And for the record, the bloggers I know of likely wouldn't shop at these stores and pay for regularly priced items, either.

But, for tonight and possibly tonight only, I will share my percentage for two reasons:
  1. To show you that you can get big savings using the right mix of coupons (remember, I use only printables and in-ad coupons, unless I tell you otherwise) and sales.
  2. To show you how crazy drugstore prices really are.
Earlier, I mentioned my total at the register was $2.14. I also received $6 back in RR, so I have that coupon to use for next week. My total saved was.... $26.47. I had a savings of 93%! That is awesome and exciting, but I would never, never spend almost $29 on these items. That's just insane.

It's best to forget about these percentages and focus on the amount spent. That's why I focus so much on my price-per-item, keeping a list of every single item I have purchased and a cumulative of my amount spent. Taking into account the items I picked up this week, my price-per-item is now at $1.30. That's a price I can swallow for all of the items purchased this week.

In the Kitchen With Jason: Roasted Roots

The name may leave something to be desired but this dish is fantastically yummy. Jess says that it is a good summer dish but I think it would work at any time of the year, and since we made it in January and it worked just fine, her analysis may be a bit off. Or I may just be a silly boy who likes to eat, you never know.


Ingredients
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped carrots (about 2 pounds un-peeled and un-chopped)
  • 3 cups chopped parsnips (about 1 1/2 pounds un-peeled and un-chopped)
  • 1 3/4 cups chopped turnip (about 3/4 pounds un-peeled and un-chopped)
  • 1 large chopped red onion (about 1 large red onion un-peeled and un-chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Directions
  • Preheat over to 450 degrees.
  • Mix together first 7 ingredients.
  • Put veggies in a 9 x 13 baking dish or a roasting pan that will fit all of them.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Stir well.
  • Bake for another 30 minutes.
  • Add remaining ingredients.
  • Stir well and enjoy the aroma of the balsamic vinegar.
The original recipe for this can be found on page 583 of the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook. It uses different quantities of a couple of ingredients, mainly two red onions. We used only one red onion, and I thought there might be a touch too much onion so I wouldn't use two. The cookbook states the recipe makes 6 servings, but after eating it with dinner, there looks to be only 4 real-life servings.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pin This!

Here are this week's best finds from Pinterest:

This is called bunny bark - how adorable! I think this would be a perfect treat for springtime.
These fabric-and-cardstock bookmarks look like a simple DIY gift for any sort of occasion! We don't really celebrate Valentine's day, mother's day, father's day, etc., but if you do, these would be great. They're so simple, I think they'd be perfect for just because you love someone!
I really love this DIY idea of taking a 12-pack container from soda and converting it into a great organizer for canned food items. We don't drink soda in this house, but I'm sure I can get some of the containers from friends and family. Cover with paper just to hide the ugliness of the soda container, then you can label each container with what's inside. Fantastic!
Jason and I make "taco bowl" very often, but I really like this twist on tacos: skillet tacos! It looks pretty simple and oh so yummy.
I'm not going to lie to you, this project looks difficult. But, I really love this idea: a felt flower brooch! What a lovely item to gift to someone or to make for yourself (I personally really want to make one for me!). Plus, felt is so economical that even if I screw up the first one, I'll definitely have enough felt in my stash to make another.

You can browse through all my Pinterest boards and pins here. If you have a Pinterest, I'd love to follow you! Please leave a link to your boards in the comment section so I can be sure to do that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In My Mailbox


This week was a great one for freebies! Here's what we got:
  • Martha Stewart Living magazine issue
  • Woman's Day magazine issue
  • Popular Science magazine issue
  • A booklet of coupons
  • Perfectly Posh lip balm
  • Oprah's Lifeclass journal
I signed up for the free subscriptions to the three magazines through various websites. The booklet of coupons was from P and G, and you can sign up for this booklet at their website. The Perfectly Posh lip balm was a special freebie offer I heard about through one of the companies I follow on Facebook. The one big disappointment to me (even though it's FREE so I shouldn't really complain) was the Lifeclass journal. Since Oprah's Lifeclass series/season is now over on OWN, this journal is basically useless. It is blank inside, though, so I'll just it like a regular notebook. It would've been nice to have to use while the show was on the air. I actually didn't even end up watching it since I was a little miffed I didn't get the free journal. I'm annoying to myself sometimes, but apparently, a million were being handed out so I wasn't sure how I didn't sign up fast enough.

Anyway, I digress.

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Steak and Caramelized Onion Sandwiches with Creamy Coleslaw

My brother and his family got us this awesome cookbook for Christmas entitled Dollars to Donuts. The recipes looked awesome, but Jess and I had already planned our meals for the end of last year so we weren't able to try any out until just recently. The recipes we tried are on facing pages (pg 140 and 141 if you are following along at home) and are freaking fantastic. We altered the sandwich recipe slightly and recommend that you halve or even quarter the slaw recipe as the recipe as listed makes way more slaw than normal occasions ever call for. But without further blathering from me, here are the recipes.



Slaw Ingredients
  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • 6 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2/3 cup white vinegar
Slaw Directions
  • Core the cabbage.
  • Shred the cabbage.
    • If you do not own a fancy way to shred your cabbage, get your best chef's knife and slice it into as thin of slices as you can manage. Then cut the sliced cabbage crosswise and you have shredded cabbage.
  • Peel the carrots and grate them on the large hole side of a box grater.
  • In a large bowl, put about 1/3 of the cabbage in the bottom.
  • Put about 1/3 of the carrots on top of the cabbage.
  • Scoop 2 Tbsp sugar into the bowl.
  • Scoop 1/3 tsp salt into the bowl.
  • Repeat the layering process until only the mayo and vinegar are not in the bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayo and vinegar.
  • Poor the whisked mixture over the cabbage bowl and mix with a big spoon or spatula.
  • Let it sit at room temp for 5 minutes and then refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
Sandwich Ingredients
Sandwich Directions
  • Heat 1 Tbsp EVOO in a large, nonstick skillet on high heat.
  • Add the onions and salt.
  • Cook for 3 minutes, stirring often.
  • Lower heat to medium high and cook for 15 minutes. Continue to stir often.
  • Turn the oven on broil and make sure that the top rack of your oven is as high as it can go.
  • Mix 2 Tbsp EVOO and minced garlic in a small bowl.
  • Lay the bread out on a cookie sheet.
  • Brush one side of each piece of bread with the garlic/EVOO mixture.
  • Set bread to the side for now.
  • Season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper.
  • In a second nonstick skillet, heat the remaining EVOO over medium high heat.
  • Add the steak and cook for 5 minutes on a side.
  • Remove steak to a cutting board.
  • The onions should be ending their 15 minutes about now.
  • Add 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar to the onions and cook them for 3 more minutes.
  • Remove the onions from heat.
  • Put the bread under the broiler for about 2 to 3 minutes. 
    • Be careful as broilers like to turn something that is browning nicely into something that is burning nicely the second your back is turned.
  • Cut the steak into thin slices.
  • Put one slice of bread, white side down onto a plate. 
  • Top with 1/4 of the steak and 1/4 of the onions.
  • Put the other slice of bread over the steak and onions white side up.
  • Eat and enjoy.
Put these two recipes together and you have yourself a delicious meal.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Baked cinnamon bites

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

Dinner
Cheesy veggie chowder, bread
Cook This chili, bread
Crockpot samiches
Cheesy chicken and rice bake
Baked tilapia, roasted roots
Chicken and veggie casserole
Steak, cheesy grilled potatoes, carrots

Snacks/Desserts
Cheese sticks
Carrots
No-bake healthy granola bars
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Cook This chili
Baked tilapia and roasted roots

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This Book Room: some kids' books and other books I love!

Luellen O'Connell is stunned and confused when her husband of just one month tells her he is leaving—and that he has another wife. Deeply wounded by this betrayal, Luellen decides to follow the dream she had set aside of obtaining a teaching degree. But her wayward husband left something behind when he abandoned her. Can Luellen overcome the odds and achieve her dream? Can she hide her secret, or will it destroy her dreams forever? A moving story of tenacity and perseverance in the face of opposition, The Dawn of a Dream will inspire readers to discover and follow their own dreams.

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

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this series and sincerely hope it will continue, but I'm not sure if the author is planning on that. There's a bit of a romance plot mixed in, but I love that this series is more about an internal struggle with the character that isn't related to romance. Plus, who doesn't love a novel set in the mid 1800s? Read this series - I promise you'll enjoy it.

Newly reissued with the classic cover design, Beatrix Potter's four stories featuring Peter Rabbit are brought together in one volume, so that Peter's escapades can be read as a continuous saga. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies and The Tale of Mr. Tod are all included with complete text and original art. From Peter's mischievous childhood in Mr. McGregor's garden to the time he rescues a family from Tommy Brock's clutches, Peter Rabbit's story is one children will want to hear again and again.

My thoughts: The first time I really had books as a child was when I was reading chapter books (I kind of skipped from learning how to read to reading chapter books), so I missed out on all the fun children's books as a child. I guess I'm kind of making up for that now, but I would say that I'm not sure this book is really appropriate for very little ones, considering a bunny is baked into a pie! (In all fairness of honesty, I have to say this really disturbed me)

A heartwarming collection of true stories that will inspire, entertain, and get everyone into the spirit of Christmas. At Christmastime, it’s hard not to get caught up in the shopping, the decorating, the party planning and the family drama—and too we often to lose sight of the true meaning of the season. But sometimes, through God’s grace or a simple twist of fate, we’re able to step back and understand what the holiday is truly about. The Spirit of Christmas is an inspiring collection of true stories from real-life people who have experienced such moments where the meaning of the season becomes clear and touches their hearts. A man mailing gifts at the post office witnesses a moving scene that changes his life forever. An unhappy couple are drifting further apart…until a special Christmas gift allows them to renew their love and mend their fractured marriage. And a father tries to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for his son with a grand gesture--a gesture that will be remembered by his family and many others for years to come. Filled with magic, wonder and deep meaning, it’s impossible for these stories not to touch your heart—and fill you with The Spirit of Christmas.

My thoughts: I was skeptical that I would enjoy this book, as even though I want to enjoy Debbie Macomber books, I just don't (the foreword was written by her). But I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a perfect read right before the holidays.

More than sixty years ago, Christopher Robin took his friend Edward Bear—who came to be known to millions as Winnie-the-Pooh—by one chubby paw and brought him unceremoniously downstairs. Pooh has endured, still slightly rotund, a Bear of Very Little Brain, but very generous of heart: the immortal creation of A. A. Milne, who wrote this book for his only son, Christopher Robin, and Ernest H. Shepard, who lovingly gave Pooh and his companions shape. The adventures of Pooh and Piglet, Owl, Tigger, and the ever doleful Eeyore, are timeless treasures of childhood. These tales still speak to all of us with the freshness that distinguishes true storytelling.

My thoughts: I'm slightly obsessed with Winnie the Pooh. It is my sincere desire to own and watch all of the movies every day. In fact, Jason and I both often break out into the Winnie the Pooh song just randomly. This book did not disappoint. A must-have for young and old alike.

System alert: Inbox full of scandal, romance, and office hilarity!Meet Holly Denham. It's her first day as a receptionist at a London investment bank and inexperienced Holly is struggling. How's a working girl supposed to have a love life with a demanding job, crazy friends, a dysfunctional family, and gossipy colleagues? Not to mention that Holly's been keeping a secret from everyone - and the past is about to catch up with her. An affair with a sexy VP heats things up at the office, but when Holly's first flame (who, she thinks, left her in the lurch) gets a job at the same company, complications abound and Holly's inbox becomes a daily source of drama, laughter and scandal. Repeatedly compared to Bridget Jones' Diary, www.hollysinbox.com became a website phenomenon, with thousands of daily visitors from all over the world. This novel tells Holly's story in full, and also includes exclusive extra material not available on the site.

My thoughts: I cannot say enough things about this book: funny, cute, witty, whimsical. I just loved it. I had read other books by Meg Cabot that were set in an email format and I thoroughly enjoyed those as well. It feels naughty to read this book (on account of the fact it is set in an email format and you feel like you're reading something you shouldn't). Very cute read.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Skip-Bo

A game in progress - the top player has only placed cards into three of his four discard piles. The cards to the left are finished buildings.
A deck of Skip-Bo cards contains a total of 162 cards. They are numbered 1 through 12 and also there is the Skip-Bo card as well which is wild when playing.

All the different Skip-Bo cards are pictured here.
Up to six players can play at a time but I have not played with more than two for quite some time so my review will only focus on the two-player game. Each player is dealt a stockpile of 30 cards. The top card of the stockpile is turned face up. The first player to go draws a hand of five cards. He then may start up to four buildings around the drawpile. Buildings are started by playing a 1 from either your hand, your stockpile or a discard pile (we will get to these later). You could also start a building with a Skip-Bo card as well since they are wild. You then continue building upon the building pile by playing the next consecutive card (or a Skip-Bo). Whenever you play the top card of your stockpile, you turn the next card over and the goal of the game is to play all the cards from your stockpile. At the end of your turn, when you have no more plays (or choose not to play any more cards), you must discard a card into one of your four discard piles. Play travels around the table with each player filling their hand to five cards at the start of their turn and discarding one card at the end of their turn. If ever a players plays all five of the cards from their hand, they draw five more cards and continue their turn.

Though the explanation of this game sounds confusing, it is good fun and you will find yourself thinking much more than you thought a card game would make you. Jess and I received this for Christmas, and Jess had never played it but after one game, she was thoroughly intrigued. It's also a great learning game for little ones.

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Winning at Walgreen's

Jason and I took quite a long hiatus from playing the drugstore game. The holidays were upon us, and we just weren't seeing any amazing deals that were worth leaving the house since we were home so infrequently as it was.

However, now that our lives are back to a regular routine and we saw some good deals, we're back at it! We shopped at Walgreen's over this past weekend, and here's what we bought and the breakdown:


The first transaction took place on Saturday, using last week's sales. The cereal was buy 4 for $10 with $3 back in Register Rewards (RR). Each box, without RR, is $2.25. My ideal price point for cereal is $1 per box, but since that isn't really feasible, sadly, I liked that I could get Jason some name-brand cereal and get RR, at a final price of $1.75 (when taking into consideration the RR I would receive).

I'm slightly obsessed with EOS products, and the lip balm was $2.99 with $2 back in RR - score! And the protein bar was $1.99 with $2 back in RR.

After this transaction, since I had no RR to start with, my price per item rose to $1.57 per item. Since I would gladly pay that price per item for all of the items above, I considered this trip a success.

Then, on Sunday, we purchased these items, using this week's sales:



The Syntha meal replacement bar was $1.89 with $2 back in RR. Tom's toothpaste was $3.99 with $3 back in RR, and Colgate toothpaste was two tubes for $6 with $4 back in RR. I wasn't even going to get the Colgate toothpaste, but Jason saw the deal and was very excited about it so we got that, too. I was hoping to get the EOS hand lotion that was on sale, but my local store didn't have it yet (I'm still deciding if we should check in Ann Arbor on Thursday...).

After this transaction, my price per item fell to $1.55 per item. That's an okay price for the items above, but obviously, my goal is to get back to the $1.15 price point I was at for all of my items.

So far, I've purchased 29 items with an out-of-pocket cost of $44.82. Not too bad, but there's definitely room for improvement! 

In the Kitchen With Jason: Quick and Easy Chicken Pot Pies


This was a fun recipe to make. Though the end result had one more serving than planned, we were lucky as I had accidentally made an extra crust as well. This recipe was originally found on page 419 of the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook. It has been edited to bear a closer resemblance to reality.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 of one 15 oz package of refrigerated pie dough
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound uncooked boneless and skinless chicken, cut into little pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup mushrooms, quartered (this was about 5 oz mushrooms for me)
  • 1 10.5 oz can cream of chicken soup (reduced fat and sodium are recommended)
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Cut 4 (4 inch) circles out of dough; discard remaining dough.
  • Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  • Place dough circles on cookie sheet.
  • Lightly spray the dough circles with cooking spray.
  • Pierce the dough circles with a fork.
    • Make sure that the fork goes all the way through and doesn't just dent the dough as this keeps them from becoming dough balloons when the air inside of them heats up.
  • Bake for 8 minutes.
  • Once they are out of the oven, set them aside.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sage, pepper and chicken and mix well.
  • Heat a large pan over medium high heat.
    • If  it is a non-stick pan, you do not need to worry about spraying it, but if the pan isn't non-stick, spray the pan with cooking spray right now.
  • Add chicken to the pan.
    • If there is any loose flour/sage/pepper mixture remaining, don't add it just yet.
  • Cook the chicken for 5 minutes.
  • Stir in water, vegetables, mushrooms, soup and any remaining flour/sage/pepper.
  • Bring this mixture to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 10 more minutes.
  • Spoon about 1 cup (makes 4 servings) of mixture into a bowl and top with a prepared crust.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pin This!

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

Jason sewed a shawl for me not too long ago that I've become obsessed with. How cute would these be for the pockets? They are little hand warmers! Love this idea.
I love potatoes probably more than I should: they're cheap and you can make a million different things with them. I haven't had potato gratin in years, but I saw this and immediately wanted it. YUM!
I love this ornament for several reasons: 1. It proclaims that Jesus is the reason for the season. 2. It looks super easy to make. 3. It's made from felt. Super cute gift idea, and of course, I'm going to make one for me!
In case it's not yet obvious, I love crafts made from felt. Why? I'm so glad you asked! Felt is super economical and goes a long, long way. I think I have felt in every color now, and it sure comes in handy when it comes to crafts like this. There literally is no craft involved in making this, as I have all the materials on hand. I LOVE that!
It's technically winter in Michigan, although the weather has been lovely. Soup is still one of our favorite meals to make (whether it's winter or not!), as it is usually pretty economical, but it still seems fancy. Pair with baguette bread and a salad, and you have quite a gourmet meal, in our opinion. This beef and barley soup looks hearty and tasty.
You can view all of my Pinterest boards here. If you're on Pinterest, please leave a link to your boards so I can follow you. Happy pinning!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In My Mailbox: free magazines!


Here's what we got in the mail this past week for free:
  • Ski magazine issue
  • Thriving Family magazine issue
  • Good Housekeeping magazine issue
I signed up for all of these magazines through free offers online. Each magazine subscription is good for a full year. I'm particularly fond of both the Thriving Family and Good Housekeeping magazine subscriptions.

Share with us: What free magazines are you receiving this year?

Monday, January 9, 2012

In the Kitchen With Jason: Chicken Enchilada Casserole


This is one of the first recipes that Jess and I made out of the Hungry Girl 1-2-3 Cookbook (page 66 and 67). It is also one of the best recipes from that book. Somewhere along the line, our recipe and the one in the book diverged. I will be providing you with our current version of this recipe.


Ingredients
  • 10 oz. can 98% fat-free chunk white chicken breast in water
  • 6 tortillas, divided
  • 10.75 oz can 98% fat-free cream of celery condensed soup
  • 1 bag frozen California style mixed veggies, thawed
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 cup fat-free shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • Ground black pepper
Directions
  • Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.
  • Rip 1 tortilla into bite sized pieces and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • Drain the chicken.
  • Flake the chicken into the mixing bowl.
  • Rip another tortilla into bite sized pieces and add to mixing bowl.
  • Add cream of celery soup to mixing bowl.
  • Rip another tortilla into bite sized pieces and add to mixing bowl.
  • Add thawed frozen veggies to the mixing bowl.
  • Rip another tortilla into bite sized pieces and add to mixing bowl.
  • Add salsa to mixing bowl.
  • Rip another tortilla into bite sized pieces and add to mixing bowl.
  • Add 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.
  • Rip final tortilla into bite sized pieces and add to mixing bowl.
  • Mix the contents of the mixing bowl.
    • If you would have added all the tortillas at one time, they will not mix well and that is no fun, trust me.
  • Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and put the mixture into this.
  • Sprinkle remaining cheese over this.
  • Bake for 35 minutes or until bubbly.
    • If you do not thaw the veggies ahead of time, you will not be able to satisfactorily bake this recipe. The outside will finished long before the inside. You have been warned.
  • Allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
It makes 4 healthy sized servings. Smart and Delicious 50-calorie tortillas along with the fat free cheddar cheese make this a super healthful dish. As Hungry Girl says at the end of her recipe, "Eat up!"

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Turkey tenders with honey-mustard sauce
Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Banana muffins

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

Dinner
Leftovers
Steak, baked potatoes and broccoli
Turkey tenders with honey-mustard sauce, baked potato and carrots
Chicken fajitas
Chunky vegetable soup, bread
Chicken cordon bleu, roasted garlic potatoes and parmesan broccoli
Chicken and veggie casserole

Snacks/Desserts
Cheese sticks
Carrots
Bananas
Andes cookies
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Chicken fajitas
Chicken cordon bleu, roasted garlic potatoes and parmesan broccoli

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saving the Moola: December in Review

I'm pledging to fill my and Jason's stockings for Christmas 2012 without using any money.
December is usually a difficult month to swallow (as is November). Jason and I have increasingly become more and more frugal and not out of necessity but because we have set goals, desires and motivation and those things tend to get in the way when it comes to spending money.

It is our belief that money is an easy commodity to come by. It's easy to earn - you can pick up pop bottles on the side of the road, you can find quarters laying on the sidewalk, you can find a job (yes, you can, and it may not be the job you want, but we went out shopping last Saturday and most stores still had their "Now Hiring" signs posted).

But it's what you do when you get money that dictates the kind of person you are and the kind of life you want to lead. We were gifted with several gift cards this Christmas season and it was hard finding items to spend them on! (and we still have some money left on them...)

November and December usually mean spending some money. We had a tradition of going to get manis and pedis together, we bought gifts for our stockings, we set aside money for any extra costs that came up that we were not expecting, we traveled more (and needed more gas for our car as a result), etc. etc.

Well, it probably isn't a big surprise then, that in the midst of December and all of this spending that Jason and I looked at each other and thought: there's got to a better way! Or, at least a more frugal way.

With that thought in mind, we decided to permanently forgo our tradition of getting manis and pedis together at a salon. Our reasons for this are many, but it basically comes down to the fact that not only are we no longer willing to spend money on this, but we can create an equally wonderful spa experience at home with homemade products (or if you wish, store-bought products). Also, we can do this on our own time (such as 10 PM if we so chose) instead of being forced into an appointment time at a salon.

This year, I will be the one to fill the stockings for Jason and I. Typically, we have a set, modest budget for each of the stockings, but this year, I'm choosing to eliminate that budget. I'll post about this throughout the year as I gather up gifts, but there are three main ways in which I plan to spend zero money on Christmas gifts for Jason and I:
  • Homemade gifts - Jason and I love to craft, and I plan on making several of our gifts this year. I will share tutorials on this throughout the year.
  • Swagbucks - If you're a regular reader of this blog, you're probably sick of hearing about Swagbucks! But we can't really say enough about it. I've already ordered one gift for Christmas 2012 from Swagbucks and have plans to buy many more. You can read a brief tutorial on Swagbucks here.
  • Kohl's Cash - Jason and I have a set (but not modest!) budget for the day-after-Thanksgiving each year. We plan on participating in this day a little bit differently this year, but I'm already thinking of a couple of things I didn't get from Kohl's last year that I would like to pick up this year. I'm really, really hoping Kohl's offers the same (or an even better) deal this year: $15 in Kohl's Cash for every $50 spent. Jason used $45 in Kohl's Cash to fill out our stockings for Christmas 2011. He got a bunch of items for an out-of-pocket cost of $3 and change! I'm hoping to get at least $30 in Kohl's Cash to help fill up the stockings.
December is also a hard month to take because it means finalizing our budget which usually means making last-minute sacrifices because we want to keep growing our savings as much as we can. With that thought in mind, Jason and I opted to start using half of our amazon.com gifts cards for household and grocery items. You can read about that decision here.

With those three major decisions, Jason and I will be saving about $500 each year. That's something to definitely get excited about.

Well, that's our December in review. Jason and I are always looking for new ways to save money but also new ways to use money to make our lives and those lives around us even better. We're both excited about all of the good decisions we made in December and we're hoping January will bring us even more wisdom and grace!

This Book Room: The Exceptional Life

When I first started reading The Exceptional Life: 8 Powerful Steps to Experiencing God's Best For You, I sort of felt like it wasn't a book I needed to read. Since fully finishing it, I would say this is still mostly true, however, there were nuggets of truth in it that were presented in a way I had not considered before.

The writing style of the book was, at times, incredibly bland, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the variety and use of examples, at times, the examples did not seem to match the point the author, Stephen Arterburn, was attempting to make. In that way, this book was difficult to read. As the book progressed, the writing did improve.

I would say that if you're struggling with one of these areas in your life, you should read this book. Or, if you know someone who is struggling with one of the areas listed below and it's directly impacting your life, reading this book may also help to strengthen your patience and compassion for your loved one.

Here are the eight topics covered in the book:
  • Guilt and Shame
  • Resentment
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Instant Gratification
  • Learned Helplessness
  • Isolation
  • Addiction
Here's a summary from goodreads.com:

Stephen Arterburn, popular author, speaker, and radio host, shows readers what they need to give up in order to have God's best for their lives. After candidly sharing his give-up moment, he examines eight things that hold Christians back--including guilt and shame, resentment, fear, anger, and isolation. He then helps readers give up their lives to God, resulting in lives full of hope, love, trust, forgiveness, connection, community, and much more. Discussion questions are included for individual and small-group use.

Thanks to Bethany House Publishers for providing a copy for review.