Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Saving the Moola: Tips for Buying a Used Car, Part 1

We unexpectedly found ourselves in the market to buy a used car much sooner than we had imagined. You can read all about that fun here.

Thankfully, we had been prepping ourselves to buy a new-to-us car for at least a year. We had read books and articles on how to buy a used car, plus we had my dad (aka our mechanic) in our court.

We definitely learned a lot throughout the process of shopping for and actually buying a used car. Here are our best tips so you can have a successful experience the next time you find yourself in this situation:
  • Start by looking on You will find loads of cars there in your area. Be sure to actually view the car in person before getting too excited about it. Pictures always make the car look better than it is. Pictures don't show dents, rust, or {ahem} a car's outside rearview mirror glued into the housing.
  • While on, familiarize yourself with the prices, years, models and makes, and mileage of the cars. Over the course of your visit to the site, you should begin to have some sort of idea of what is a reasonable and true price. For instance, I realized that a 2008 Grand Prix for $8,000 with 65,000 miles on it was not a true price. Something serious would have to be wrong with a car at that price point, for that model and at that mileage. And there was. It was a salvage title. Trust me on this - you don't want a salvage title.
  • Check out dealerships in your area online. Many have a full inventory listed. While the inventory may change on a moment (when a car is sold, for instance) and might not be fully updated, it can give you an idea if that particular dealership is worth stopping at to take a look.
  • Speaking of dealerships, this is where we eventually ended up purchasing a car. Dealerships are not inherently horrible. However, if you can, I would recommend only purchasing from a private seller. There are a few reasons why:
    • The price is much more negotiable. A seller may be really anxious to sell for a variety of reasons and can usually be talked down more than a dealer can.
    • Cash talks more. We {ahem, my parents} were paying cash. I felt like this made a difference at the dealership, but I know, and I've seen transactions where this has been true: cash talks more with a private seller.
    • Dealerships add in all kinds of crazy fees! We went super low with our first offer, but had we known about the $400 dealership fee and the $224 document fee, we would've went even lower. Lesson learned.
  • Then, there are reasons why you might want to go with a dealership. Our reasons for eventually buying at a dealership include:
    • There are a lot of cars in one place to look at.
    • The cars are pre-certified. You can be fairly certain the car's engine won't fall out as you're pulling away from the dealer after you've just purchased the car.
  • Whether looking at a dealership or not, you should always bring along a mechanic to view the car you think you're ready to buy. Unless you yourself are a mechanic. In which case you did bring along a mechanic - you! Anyway, I digress. Mechanics are truly important in this instance. Offer your mechanic a small sum of money ($50 is a fair amount here), or a home-cooked meal (if your mechanic is your dad, like mine is) in exchange for offering his or her expertise.
Part 2 is coming next month.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Crafty Christmas: Raspberry Tea Mix in a Jar

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 17 weeks away!

I love consumable gifts. Marry that with gifts in jars, and I'm one happy camper. I originally found a recipe for raspberry tea mix in a Crafts n Things magazine years ago but have since lost that recipe. Here's the recipe I came up with as a replacement:
  • 1.25 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened instant tea
  • About .5 ounce of raspberry instant drink mix
For a little extra fun, add some cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg to the drink mix. I use about a half teaspoon when I want to add in a little something extra, and sometimes I add in a half teaspoon each of all four options! Just use whatever you're in the mood for with that particular mix.

Mix the ingredients in a big bowl. Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, use a funnel to pour the mix into ball jars. One batch makes two half-pint jars with a smidge left over.

When gifting, make a label that indicates how much to use. For a mug of water (about 8 ounces), use 1 Tbsp.{ish} of mix. You can definitely use less - whatever tastes good to you.

Jason loves this tea as does my brother and his family. The tea mix makes for an easy gift that's easy on the wallet. We buy a big canister of unsweetened tea for a few dollars, and that canister easily makes six batches. We spent a couple of dollars on raspberry drink mix that made two batches. I would say the cost for one jar is about $1.75. I've heard there are raspberry Kool-Aid packets, but I have never seen these. If you find them, you need about two packets, and one packet usually costs about 20 cents, not on sale. So if you can find them, you can get your cost of this drink mix down to $1 or less per jar.

Happy crafting!

Friday, August 23, 2013

This Book Room

Ten years ago, Quinn Barton was on her way to the altar to marry Burke Morrison, her high school sweetheart, when something derailed her. Rather, someone derailed her—the Best Man who at the last minute begged her to reconsider the marriage. He told her that Burke had been cheating on her. For a long time. Quinn, stunned, hurt, and confused, struggled with the obligation of fulfilling her guests’ expectations—providing a wedding—and running for her life.

She chose running. With the Best Man. Who happened to be Burke’s brother, Frank.

That relationship didn’t work either. How could it, when Quinn had been engaged to, in love with, Frank’s brother? Quinn opted for neither, and, instead, spends the next seventeen years working in her family’s Middleburg, Virginia, bridal shop, Talk of the Gown, where she subconsciously does penance for the disservice she did to marriage.

But when the two men return to town for another wedding, old anger, hurt, and passion resurface. Just because you’ve traded the good guy for the bad guy for no guy doesn’t mean you have to stay away from love for the rest of your life, does it?

My thoughts: In the interest of total honesty, this book was really just okay for me. It probably doesn't help that on a personal level, I'm not a huge of the author as a person. Her writing is fine. But she's... well, catty. So why did I read this book? It sounded good at the time. I would skip this one, though, if I was you.

As a young California girl growing up in a blue collar neighborhood, Taylor Young dreamed of being
popular, beautiful, and acquiring a wardrobe to die for. Not to mention marrying a handsome, successful man and living happily ever after in a gorgeous house with three wonderful children. Now, at 36, Taylor has reached the pinnacle of her dreams, but is it all about to unravel? As the new school year approaches, Taylor prepares herself for playing the perfect alpha mom: organizing class activities, fund-raising, and chairing the school auction. But the horror! Her archrival, bohemian mom Marta Zinsser, is named Head Room Mom of Taylor's daughter's fifth grade class. As tensions rise at committee meetings and school activities, the two rivals seem to be destined for a final confrontation. But as Taylor plans her next move, she is floored by a more serious blow at home-her husband has been secretly unemployed for the past six months. With her posh lifestyle crumbling, Taylor struggles to maintain her alpha image-but could Marta, who cares little about appearances, be her only true friend?

My thoughts: I *loved* this book. It sounds... kind of shallow when you read the summary. And in the first few pages, I was contemplating chucking it and returning it to the library. But Taylor just sort of grabbed me and pulled me close. I read this book in an entire weekend, which is saying a lot since I have an infant to care for. This author kept the story real and gritty.

Ellen Branford is going to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish--to find the hometown boy she once loved, and give him her last letter. Ellen leaves Manhattan and her Kennedy-esque fiance for Beacon, Maine. What should be a one-day trip is quickly complicated when she almost drowns in the chilly bay and is saved by a local carpenter. The rescue turns Ellen into something of a local celebrity, which may or may not help her unravel the past her grandmother labored to keep hidden. As she learns about her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that a 24-hour visit to Beacon may never be enough.

My thoughts: This book could've been better. But there's blueberries on the cover. Ya'll know how much I love blueberries. So I couldn't really help myself. I *had* to read this book. And all in all, I really liked it. It was a bit predictable but as far as fun summer reads go, this one fit the bill for a fun summer read.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Saving the Moola: June in review

I'm conflicted with how I should feel about June in terms of our finances. We did not send one extra penny to my student loan beyond the minimum payment. Does that make me sad? Yes, in a way. I'd love to have sent more money, but we had so many things crop up this month.

Among our many expenses (most, if not all, of which were expected): a side of beef, canning two batches of strawberry jam, new bedding for our bed, many groceries, a car repair, etc.

The good thing is that we budgeted far more for the car repair than we needed: it was only a $6.56 repair - love that!

The bad news was that while we planned to buy new bedding in the near future, we certainly did not expect it to be in June. But the quilt I used was falling apart (as it rightly should have been - I had been using it for more than a decade (!)), and our fitted sheet was ripped and the hole grew bigger by the hour. We bought a new quilt for me to use, two fitted sheets and one flat sheet. We plan to buy another flat sheet in the future so we have two full sets, which will be really nice for those times when Bug drools all over or gets other bodily fluid on the bed.

I'm not displeased with where our money went in June. Sometimes, I wish there was more money. But I'm reminded daily by the roof over my head, the clean clothes on my body and the food in my  belly that God provides everything I need and then some. I may not have everything I desire, but I have everything I need and more.

We may not have made much (ahem, any) traction on our debt free goal this month, but there's always next month. The year is half over, but there's a half year left. Hallelujah.

Speaking of having everything I need and then some, I'm reminded of a time when we were seriously struggling to put food on our table every night and keep gas in the car. Those years are not that far away (or maybe I'll just never be able to get the memory of desperation far from my mind). If you're struggling today, please know I'm praying for you. Life can be tough. When you're feeling unsure of how to get food on the table for your family, please consider donating plasma. Jason did this for years, and it really helped us when we were in a bad place financially speaking. It's an easy way to make cash. You can read more about this here.

Friends, life can be such a roller coaster. More and more, I hear of friends and family struggling. If you would like me to pray for you by name, please send me a message via our blog's Facebook page or email me at thecarlsonmocnyfamily (dot) hotmail (dot) com. No need to tell me your situation, unless you would like to do so. I would be happy to pray for you and add you to my prayer list.

In the meantime, I pray this blog serves as encouragement for you and offers you a giggle or two. Jason and I don't always get everything right, but we try to love each other and Bug well. Love is always enough for us. Money comes and goes, but our family will be forever. Hugs and love to all of you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: to find out or to not find out - the million dollar question!

photo credit
If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know we didn't find out Bug's gender until she was born. Should God bless us with another biological child, we plan to not find out again. There are many reasons one could give for finding out or not finding out, and ultimately, it's totally up to you. Here are some of the reasons (the good and the not-so-good) we've heard for both!

You really want to know the gender because...
  • You have other children who may desire one gender over another, and you really don't want to spend the first days post-partum dealing with children not excited over their new sibling because s/he isn't what they wanted.
  • You want to buy all blue or all pink clothes, strollers, bedding, etc. (but may I point out that should you have another child in the future, you may have to then re-buy all these things unless you're cool with a baby boy lounging in a pink stroller and car seat?).
  • You're facing pressure from your family to find out.
  • You want to have a fun gender reveal party.
  • Your child's wardrobe will be primarily filled with garage sale finds and at the time of their birth, the season will not be conducive to garage saling (we were able to find several gender neutral clothing items for Bug, but I was very grateful when we started garage saling just seven weeks after she was born to fill out 3 - 6 months size and beyond).
You don't really want to know the gender because...
  • It's a surprise if you find out at the ultrasound or in the delivery room, but it's super special to hear your newborn's cry and, "It's a girl!" or, "It's a boy!" at the same time.
  • If you were really hoping for a boy or really hoping for a girl and you find out during your pregnancy, you may have a harder time coming to terms with the gender of your baby. If you wait to find out at delivery, I promise you won't care what gender your baby is when you hear your baby's cry and see his/her little face.
  • You don't want a lot of blue or pink stuff.
  • You feel not knowing will help you push in the delivery room and withstand the pain and work of labor.
  • No matter how accurate ultra sounds are nowadays, there are still mistakes, so what's the point in painting a room blue or pink and decking it out with that color if you have a surprise of the other gender?
  • You think it's funny, in a very sick but real way, that it annoys people who think they should know the gender of your baby and you didn't find out so everyone will just have to wait and see. But you're rather sure it's probably a boy or a girl. You're at least hoping it's human (when people ask you what you're having, it is so much fun to say these things!) (well probably not for them, but for me, it totally was).
There is certainly no right or wrong answer here. You should definitely do what's best for you. I think you can tell by the fact that we have more "not to find out" reasons than "to find out" reasons, we are huge supporters of not finding out.

The joy we had in not finding out was that I really didn't want a lot of blue or pink stuff. And even though I was a bit bombarded by pink things once Bug arrived, she had plenty of green, yellow and orange things. And she had some blue things I had picked up at garage sales that I felt could pass for either gender. One of my favorite sleepers of hers was a striped blue sleeper. It was clearly meant for a boy, but she rocked that sleeper like nobody's business. I never would have found and bought that if I'd only been looking in girl clothing bins at garage sales.

I knew not knowing the gender would help withstand pregnancy, labor and delivery. Even though I never got the chance to push (sob!), I'm pretty sure the excitement of finally finding out helped me withstand 27 (!!!!!!) hours of labor.

All back labor.

Very strong contractions.

Labor is a joy, truly. It really is. I would totally do it again.

As long as I can have a home birth.

With candles and singing kumbaya.

I think I really am a hippie deep down inside somewhere. I think my parents would be proud (they eloped in Vegas on New Year's eve.... and my dad has an afro in his wedding pic).

I'll be honest - in the beginning of my pregnancy when no one even knew I was pregnant (besides me, Jason, my parents, his parents, the doctor, everyone we told in Petoskey while we were on vacation because we didn't really know any of those people so we knew we could do that and no one back home would really know... you get the idea), I wanted one gender slightly more than the other. I definitely had good reasons, but private ones so too bad for you - I'm not sharing them here. But as the pregnancy progressed, I really, truly didn't care either way. I was just so excited to finally meet this little person growing inside me. I wanted to hear his/her little cry. It was an incredible moment when Bug was raised in the air, and the doctor said, "It's a girl!" I knew either way, whatever gender it was, I would cry.

And I did.

Only a little.

I was too, "Jason, you better not let her out of your sight, so help me, God. Do not let them give her any vaccines, sugar water, a pacifier. You better make sure they follow our after-care plan. You go with her. Go."

I was then left by myself for quite a long time, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I digress. I'm a bit passionate about birthing and babies, if you can't tell! Anyway back to the gender issue - when Jason called my mom to tell her the baby was here and it was a girl, she really thought Jason was joking. Ever since my bump had become, well, a bump, she was convinced I was carrying a boy. I was carrying very low, and she was just convinced that meant it was a boy. But secretly, she wanted a girl. She really could not believe Bug was a girl when Jason told her. It was honestly hilarious in the moment. When we talked the next day at the hospital, she told me she was extra glad I didn't find out because if we had found out it was a girl ahead of me, she said she wouldn't have believed it anyway - that's how convinced she was I was carrying a boy. So it was a fun surprise all around for her. That was fun for us to be able to surprise her in that way.

Finding out the gender before birth isn't really a serious issue, but it's certainly fun to talk about. No matter what you choose to do, stand strong in your decision. This is one of your first decisions as a parent, and standing firm now will help you to stand firm later in the big decisions.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

This Book Room: Lead Me Home

Shiloh Griffin has no identity outside of her roles as pastor's wife and mom. Some days that is enough. But not always. Particularly when she is partnered with the always confident, always gracious Jade Smith on a church ministry project. Rather than shying away from God in her nervousness, Shiloh clings to Him, seeking every day to redeem herself. When an opportunity arises for her to teach music at a local high school, she thinks maybe it's just the thing to give her more significance. Then Shiloh begins mentoring Monica, a fifteen-year-old student. When Monica learns she is pregnant, Shiloh must confront her own darkest secret in the desperate decision facing the teen. If she turns away, this teen's life—and her soul—could be in jeopardy. If she decides to stand up and help, she knows she's the one who risks losing everything. Stacy Hawkins Adams's second book in the Winds of Change series finds Shiloh at a life-changing crossroads: keep her halo intact, or lose her honor to save the girl's.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Winds of Change series. You can read my review of the first book here. The third book is expected out next year.

My thoughts: This was a really good book. The plot was good. The characters were good. There were some parts of the plot I didn't like, only because I wish the story could have gone another way. And I love this author. The first book in this series wasn't as good, and you don't need to read that book to read this book.

Shiloh definitely resonated with me. I understand the feeling of having to project yourself in a certain way and not wanting to let anyone down. I'm really glad she comes around to realizing that being honest and true are what matters in the end. My heart broke for Monica. I feel like I've been where she was: full of dreams and ambition... and getting sidetracked by silly crushes. If I could go back in time and tell my 16-year-old self advice, I could have saved myself... from myself. Hindsight's 20/20 though!

This book was a great summer read. I'm definitely looking forward to the third book.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Best-Laid Plans (or also known as: when the s&*t hits the fan)

At the time of this writing, less than 48 hours ago, Chef Jason totaled our one and only car.

Thankfully, everyone is fine. Jason was in the car alone when he hit a work bed type trailer on the front passenger side. Bug and I were at home asleep. It was about 8:30 in the morning, and he was coming home from work and grocery shopping. No one was near the trailer, on the trailer, etc. And the trailer was not damaged, so that's good, too.

The accident was literally just that: an accident. The sun hit at the right spot and Jason possibly made a bad decision in the moment - to keep driving when he could not truly see. But it was an accident.

Despite this fact, when you lose your one and only car, when this car was loved so well, so deeply, despite the fact it's a car and not an actual living breathing being, it's devastating.

This car, our Flamer, has been with me and with Jason through it all. This month, August, I had owned the car for one decade. As I am only 28 years old, this is more than a third of my life. I've never held one job that long, I've not been in a relationship that long. I've hardly been a full-fledged adult that long!

Flamer took me to and from college - first, Delta College where I obtained my associate's degree, friendships I hold to this day and confidence in what I wanted to do with my life (which was not to be in journalism in any way). Then, Flamer took me to and from Eastern Michigan University where I obtained my bachelor's degree and gained confidence in my ability to somewhat succeed at being an adult. Flamer took me to meet Jason for our first date. He was the one who transported us during most of our dating years, our engaged years and even to the church on our wedding day. He went on our honeymoon with us, on vacations with us. Flamer was there the day we brought Preston home from the shelter. He was there when I went on the job interview for the job I still hold now - six years and counting. He's taken me to Ann Arbor more times than I could possibly count. He took Jason to so many interviews for so many jobs and transported him to work thousands of times. Flamer was there throughout our entire pregnancy - to our first doctor's appointment and to the hospital to have Bug. He brought Bug home from the hospital.

Flamer was 14 years old. We knew his age, and we knew next year had to be the year we bought a new vehicle. We often spoke of that time as what would be Flamer's retirement: tootling us around town but not having to go to Ann Arbor or on long trips. He could just enjoy his senior years with us without having to work so hard.

Flamer's been reliable and dependable. He was finicky, though, and had quite the personality - he despised the cold. I don't know how many times I had to boil water in the teakettle to unfreeze the driver side door in the morning in the winter. Here I would be all dressed up in work clothes, traipsing in knee-deep snow with my teakettle of water to unfreeze Flamer. I guess he just liked warm toasty water in the morning!

I know this all probably sounds crazy, and quite frankly, we just don't care. We're both so raw from this, so heartbroken.

And really, it all just comes back to: the best-laid plans. Last year was the year we would be debt free. Then, Bug was planted in my belly. So we saved up as much money as we could to pay all the medical bills, buy cloth diapers, clothes, and whatever else is necessary for a little. And we were able to do all of that. All the bills are paid and done, she has everything she could need (not want, mind you, but need).

Then, this year. This year was the year we were going to be debt free. Then... this happened.

Where in the world do we go from here? Right now, I'm not really sure. We're looking for a new car. My parents graciously offered to borrow us money (without us even asking as we were likely going to go for a bank loan). But the burden of it all. The craziness of it all. And knowing that Flamer's life ended the way it did. Jason and I have sobbed over the loss - the loss of Flamer, the loss of the dream of being debt free this year, the loss of having Flamer and another vehicle until Flamer truly was done.

I know whatever Satan intends for evil, God turns to good. I know that. I trust in that. My soul lives in that.

But I can't see the absolute bigger picture. I might never, this side of Heaven. I just have to keep calm and trust God. Trust in the promise He made - that he will not forsake us.

In the immediate aftermath of our loss, we're just trying to love each other well. I'm working on not just blaming Jason. That would be really easy to do - just get mad. But I know it was an accident. I know he feels this loss just as much as, if not more, than me. He loved that car just as much as I did, if not more. We love in a big way. And when we lose, we hurt... in an equally big way. And it's not that we loved a thing. Flamer was never a thing. He was absolutely part of our family. He was there for all the moments that mattered... and all the little every day moments that maybe didn't seem like they mattered then, but they do. It matters to have a car to take you to and from work. It matters to have a car to go on a date with your husband. It matters to have a car to grocery shop. Maybe it doesn't if you live in the city and don't have a car. But if you have a car, undoubtedly, you know a car matters.

While loving each other well, we have a rental car to get Jason to and from work, to get us to the grocery store and for other errands, and to drive around to view potential cars. I don't have to drive for my job until Wednesday, at which point, prayerfully, we will have a new car.

There is one car we just viewed that quite frankly, we both fell in love with (and yes, we already have a name picked out for her). We'll be test-driving it in a couple of days, but so far, it looks good to us and to my dad, who is our mechanic and car expert.

After all of this is said and done and we have a new car, I think we're really just going to buckle down, re-prioritize in terms of finances, emotions, time - in any way you can think of, we're going to be taking a look at our lives and adjusting as needed. The loss of Flamer is huge, but when I think about if I had been in the car, if Bug had been in the car, if Jason had hit on his side... I'm horrified. I don't want to have to lose Flamer. And I really don't want to have to lose Jason. This thought process is leading to a time of reflection and a time of re-evaluating.

I want us to grow stronger through this experience - I want us to become better drivers, I want us to be better analysts in the moment, I want us to love each other well all day, all the time, I want us to breathe deep and appreciate the every day little moments that make up life.

So there you have it. Our eulogy to Flamer. We may be crazy, but we're okay with that. If this inspires one person to appreciate their car more fully for everything that car has done for them, this post will have served its purpose.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: the Importance of Tummy Time

photo credit
Back in the day, babies slept on their tummies. Since SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) rose in the 80s and early 90s and it was suspected that babies sleeping on their tummies played a part in their deaths, pediatricians recommend that babies now sleep on their backs. Thankfully, Bug seems totally fine with this and sleeps very well on her back.

Despite the fact babies should be on their backs while sleeping, it's incredibly important they spend time on their tummies. Tummy time helps babies' neck muscles grow and become strong. Since it's been recommended that babies sleep on their backs in 1994, pediatricians have noticed that babies are, overall, not reaching the milestone of holding up their head on their own when it's normally achieved. Tummy time is perfectly safe so long as you're watching your baby.

We try to do Tummy Time with Bug every day, but I'll tell you right now we didn't always succeed when she was four months of age or less. In the beginning, we were adamant about this every day - for the first month or so of her life. Once it was obvious she was a pro at holding her head up (she was bobbing it around on her own around week 2), we became a bit more slack about it, but she gets a lot of practice in with holding her head up when we're holding her to burp her. Now that Bug can roll, she gets plenty of Tummy Time because she always rolls on her tummy!

The best way we've found for Tummy Time is to put Bug on the floor with a blanket underneath her. As important as Tummy Time is, I have to warn you: your baby may hate it. Bug sure did. Oh boy, did she become incredibly frustrated. Why? Because she badly wanted to go somewhere. At week 2. She kicked her little legs and bobbed her head forward and was very frustrated when she wasn't actually moving forward. It broke my mama heart a million times over.

One way to keep your baby a bit less frustrated is to get on the floor with him or her, just in front and look at the baby and encourage him or her. Bug still didn't last very long before becoming so frustrated she was crying. If that's the case with your little, try Tummy Time a few times throughout the day so they get as much Tummy Time as they can - without being frustrated for several minutes straight.

Once your little is a little older, you can use a Boppy pillow for Tummy Time (as shown above). We're so in love with our Boppy - we bought a second one! (Both were purchased at garage sales for $10 each - a great price considering they retail for $40) Using the Boppy, you can place your baby, tummy side down on the pillow with their legs coming out of the opening.

One cool thing Jason did with Bug during Tummy Time, especially when she was frustrated at her lack of progress across the floor, was put his hands behind her feet. This way, when she kicked to go somewhere, she was able to propel off his hands and actually creep forward. She enjoyed this, but still ended up frustrated she wasn't going somewhere faster (at least, this is what I believe).

Tummy Time can be rough, especially if you have a little like Bug, but it's so important. I'm incredibly impressed with how well Bug can hold her head up at such a young age and am glad we took the time to work on this.

After Tummy Time is over, be sure you love on your baby a lot and reward him or her for a good Tummy Time session with hugs and kisses. I always tell Bug she did such a good job, she's growing so big and strong, etc.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Saving the Moola: July in review

I had such high hopes for July... and I wasn't too disappointed!

Our car is 14 years old. That's something I really need to make my peace with. We thought it needed to be repaired, and it does, technically. But for now, we're living with the uckiness of having an old car. The second we're debt free, we're saving as much money as we can to buy a new-to-us car with cash!

Beyond the fact that our car is was stressing me out a bit a lot, July was really great. Some of our frugal activities included:
  • We picked many pounds of blueberries and canned one batch of jam. We typically freeze blueberries for use throughout the year, but since our freezer is currently overrun with hundreds of ounces of breast milk and many pounds of beef, we decided freezing just wasn't happening this year.
  • I shaved Jason's head. I always cut his hair for him. We bought the kit we're using at this time for $10, and it's lasted two years. I cut his hair every five to six weeks. That's about 9 haircuts a year. And I've cut his hair 18 times. Each haircut = 56 cents. The best price you'll ever find!
  • We spent a lot on groceries the first half of the month, then decided to just eat from the pantry and freezer the last half of the month. This helped even out our grocery budget a lot. I'm planning our menu for August with meals from the freezer and pantry. Each week, we shop the perimeter of the grocery store (dairy, produce, etc.).
  • We were invited to many barbecues and ate for free. Many times, we brought watermelon or some other dish to pass, but it was still really cheap on our end. Many thanks to my parents for feeding us many times!
  • We tended our garden and as of this writing, we have harvested 14 cherry tomatoes and 6 big tomatoes. This doesn't necessarily lower our grocery budget, but it does ensure we have fresh produce on a near daily basis from the mid-July to mid-September. If we harvest enough in one go, we plan to can tomatoes. We didn't get to do this last year, but we have one more big plant this year, so we'll see what happens.
  • We coupon heavily on and off, and we're heavily couponing right now. Bug is in cloth diapers for the majority of the time, but at night and when we're out of the house (when we think of it), we pop her in a paper diaper. To offset the cost of paper diapers, I check out the diaper deals each week. I would guess we spend about $3.25 on average on diapers per week. This is a pretty low cost in my mind and well worth it for the convenience when we're out of the house, in particular. We also have scored great deals on groceries lately with coupons which also helped even out our grocery budget.
Jason recently cut his hours at the library. He only works one day there for now, which is sad because he loves it so much, but necessary because we have a Bug to take care of. He recently was offered a full-time position at his other job. This is a blessing many times over! It will save us some money in health insurance costs, and he will be earning vacation time now. He works many hours to provide for our family, and I'm very grateful for his work ethic.

I'm still plugging away at my job. At times, it is very difficult for me. I certainly wish I could be with Bug all day long and never have to work. At this time, we couldn't even make it work like that (I am the primary provider in terms of finances), and I'm not really sure I could leave my career. I truly enjoy working. Things could always change, but I'm very grateful to work from home most days. I'm always available to Bug whenever she needs me. This eases my heart a ton.

We sent a ton of money to my student loan institution. We are inching closer and closer to our goal of finally owing them nothing! I'm incredibly excited. I can't wait to start saving for a new car. There are so many things wrong with our car, it's just sad. And I will be sad the day I no longer drive that car. This August, I will have owned that car for a decade. 10 years. That's a really long time. That car has been part of my life for more than a third of my life. I think that's really saying something. Anyway, I could go on and on about that car (and yes, my car does have a name: it's Flamer).

With eating primarily from the pantry and freezer in August, I'm hoping we can work on knocking down my student loan debt a bunch. We're praying for a prosperous August!

Monday, August 5, 2013

State of Our House Address: July in review

This month was quite possibly the most fun month we've experienced in a long time. The month started off fantastic with Independence day. We popped Bug in her bathing suit and headed to my parents' house for a couple of days of fun and sun. She loves bath time, so we were unsurprised when she loved swimming. She mostly stayed in the kiddie pool with Jason, but we did let her go in the big pool with Jason for a lap or two. Also unsurprisingly, she liked the big pool more.

This water sure feels good!
Our mommy group at church had a family picnic. We've started wearing Bug, and Jason and Bug had so much fun going on the swings and down the slide. It was a great day of good food and fun fellowship. I love that our church has so many families - babies everywhere, little kids everywhere. It's so nice to be surrounded by like-minded families. We had a blast.

We went to Ann Arbor for a barbecue at my work. Bug enjoyed meeting my fellow co-workers {again} and being in the city. It was a lot for her to look at, and I look forward to taking her there now and again to experience all that the city has to offer. There's so much to do in Michigan - I feel very blessed to live in such a wonderful state.

One of the wonderful things about Michigan is the blueberries. Oh, the blueberries. I'm not sure I've mentioned it before, but my grandparents own a blueberry patch. Growing up, I would just walk down the road {we lived a quarter mile from them} and walk the rows and eat lots and lots and lots of blueberries. In fact, Jason calls me the Blueberry Monster. I could just eat pounds of blueberries and never stop. They are like candy to me. So July and early August are always fun times. We visit a local orchard that has all kinds of pick-your-own fruit and pick as many blueberries we can {and of course, eat as many as we can while we're there! Good thing they don't weigh us before and after!}. In July, we picked 10 pounds of blueberries and canned 11 jars of blueberry jam.

Taking a break from all the picking to have num nums!
Our little garden at home is thriving. To date, we've picked 6 big tomatoes and 12 cherry tomatoes. That's super impressive, to me, since I really don't know a thing about gardening. I'm really just learning as I go.

July felt very busy and really was very busy, but we had so much fun, I can't even complain. August will be very busy work-wise for both of us, but I'm hoping we can get in some more blueberry picking before the season is over.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Life & Style: August goals + an update on July goals

Here's on update on my July goals:

-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 8 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for July, I'm tracking all of my calories through My Fitness Pal.
-Work on one other habit per month - for July, I'm doing a fast food fast - no fast food! {again}
-Craft weekly - for July, I'm planning to pick many pounds of blueberries and can one batch of blueberry jam and freeze at least 16 cups of blueberries. I may also work on some things for baby Bug, like a scarf and fleece hat for this coming winter, but we'll see. I don't want to over commit myself!

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights
-Start reading Love and Respect and completing the accompanying workbook together

-Continue tummy time with Bug
-Read to Bug each day
-Continue gross motor activity skills with Bug
-Pray with and for Bug each day

-Send as much money as we can to my student loan institution

So all in all, I kind of bombed my goals. I certainly felt like I was doing well throughout the month of July, but clearly at the end of the month, not so much. My spiritual life has been floundering in that I'm not giving enough time to God each day. My soul feels that lack, and from late July to now, I've been spending more time in prayer, more time listening, more time with Him. And I've already felt my soul lift back up again and I've felt a resurgence of Him in my life. I'm so grateful for that.

With all of that in mind, here are my simple, I hope, goals for August:

-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 8 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for August, I'm working on eating at home for every meal {or as many as possible}.
-Work on one other habit per month - for August, I'm sweeping the kitchen floor each day.
-Craft weekly - for August, I'm making 3 gifts for Christmas and sewing a fleece hat for baby Bug.

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights
-Start reading Love and Respect and completing the accompanying workbook together

-Continue tummy time with Bug
-Read to Bug each day
-Continue gross motor activity skills with Bug
-Pray with and for Bug each day

-Send as much money as we can to my student loan institution

You can read my full goals for 2013 here.