Friday, March 29, 2013

This Book Room: Unrivaled

Lucy Kendall always assumed she'd help her father in his candy-making business, creating recipes and aiding him in their shared passion. But after a year traveling in Europe, Lucy returns to 1910 St. Louis to find her father unwell and her mother planning to sell the struggling candy company. Determined to help, Lucy vows to create a candy that will reverse their fortunes.

St. Louis newcomer Charlie Clarke is determined to help his father dominate the nation's candy industry. Compromise is not an option when the prize is a father's approval, and falling in love with a business rival is a recipe for disaster when only one company can win. Will these two star-crossed lovers let a competition that turns less than friendly sour their dreams?

My thoughts: This book caught my interest simply because of the candy factor. What can I say, I am married to Chef Jason, after all! I had never read one of Siri Mitchell's books before, but I was in for a treat.

There's something about the characters that reminded me of Jack and Rose from Titanic. Jack and Charlie have similarities just as Rose and Lucy have similarities. Charlie is trying to reconcile his past with his present and future. He wants to please his dad, but his dad isn't necessarily a stand-up guy. While the old Charlie may have been okay with that, the new Charlie wants to be a better man.

Lucy, just like Rose in Titanic, is fighting against what her mother thinks is best for her versus her heart's desire: to be part of her father's candy business. How does she satisfy her mother while also satisfying herself?

The character struggles really made this book for me. The plot was, at times, confusing, and some of the extra characters distracted me (such as the Clarkes' maid and Lucy's friend). Lucy and Charlie's heart struggles made sense and were something all of us can relate to. It was really funny to read about Lucy's journey as the "Queen." As a character, she has a lot of spunk. I wonder if in our modern times if we would be receptive to a role model like Lucy. I personally would be, but society, I think, would not. We expect so much of people in the spotlight. It's like we'd rather they be robots than real people.

The historical aspects of this book made it stand out - I truly enjoyed reading about how businesses would advertise "back in the day." It's definitely a lot different now! Even the way workers were treated and what was allowed - it reminds me of how far we've come as a nation and how far we could go.

As you can tell, this book made me think of a lot of things! If a book stays with me weeks after I read it and I'm still contemplating issues it made me think about, I know it was a good one. And this book was definitely a good one.

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Double Chocolate Cookies

The name of these cookies is a little misleading. True - there are two types of chocolate in them, but the name leaves out the cherries which add a whole bunch to the recipe. I don't know what I would officially title them but "incredibly edible" and "totally delicious" would be good ways to describe them. We found this recipe in the Cooking Light Complete cookbook.


Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 11/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/3 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 3 Tbsp white chocolate chips
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix flour. baking powder, and salt.
  • Combine butter and sugars in a large bowl and mix with a hand mixer.
  • Add vanilla and egg white and beat for a full minute.
  • Stir in flour mixture and remaining ingredients.
  • Using an very full teaspoon (or a leveledtable spoon) divide up the dough into 24 balls spaced about 2 inches apart on cooking sprayed cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes and cool for 2 minutes before removing the cookies from the pans.
These bite sized cookies are the perfect snack.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, March 21, 2013

This Book Room: Pocket Your Dollars

Countless free budget plans are available for every possible income level and stage of life. So why do more than 60 percent of U.S. households still live paycheck to paycheck? The key to financial stability and success isn't just about money--it's about attitudes. Carrie Rocha uses the lessons she learned overcoming personal debt to teach readers how to triumph over the lies we tell ourselves, such as "I deserve a treat," "Fake it till you make it," and "I can't afford it." Each chapter uses real-life examples to explain faulty thinking about money, followed by step-by-step instructions for how to overcome these pitfalls. Budgets are helpful, but real change won't happen without a financial attitude adjustment.

My thoughts: This book blew.my.mind. It's exactly the book I'd been wanting to write - but now I definitely don't need to! This book isn't a "how you get rich quick" book. And it's not a "here's how to live on a budget" book. Don't you think there are enough of those? I certainly do.

Instead, this book is one of a kind and much, much needed! Carrie discusses the different attitudes one has toward money. I can tell you right now: I don't care how great you are with money, I don't care how fantastic your attitude is. Chapter 5 will relate to you if you're already money savvy. I read it and thought, "OMG, ___ needs to read this! OMG, I'm totally this way. Jason, you have to get in here. Doesn't this totally apply to us? Don't you think ____ and ____ should read this?" Literally, anyone I know could read chapter 5 and glean something new from it. EVERYONE!

This book was such an encouragement to my soul. It's not about how to save a few dollars. It's about how to change your entire mindset so you begin the challenge of tackling money and making traction with your goals, whatever they may be. It's about why you weren't able to save money, but how you can now if you recognize your pitfalls and properly deal with them.

Chapters 1 through 5 include a quiz at the end chapter - these were so helpful! Jason and I had so much fun doing them. We were rock stars with the quizzes... until chapter 5! I'm telling you: chapter 5 changed my life.

No matter where you're at in your financial life, this book will encourage you and change your life. It is absolutely a must read and my most favorite book I've read in 2013 so far.

Thanks to Bethany House Publishers for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Creamy Chicken Broccoli Bake

Normally we don't post recipes that take quite a bit of time to prepare, but looking through our past recipes, we noticed a very large quantity of them were cookies or muffins and not so many of them were meals. With that said, this recipe takes about an hour to prep up and another hour to cook, but it is well worth the time spent on it. It also makes a very large pot of noodley goodness, so you'll have leftovers or can feed an entire family.


Ingredients
  • 10 oz noodles
    • Guess what kind we recommend... cavatappi!
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 breasts), chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 12 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 prepared serving of cream of something soup
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 16 oz broccoli
    • If you want to use frozen broccoli, make sure to thaw it ahead of time.
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
Directions
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cook noodles according to package instructions
  • Reserve 1/3 cup of the noodle water for later in the recipe, drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  • Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until it starts to brown and is no longer pink, about 4 minutes.
  • Transfer chicken to the same large bowl as the noodles.
    • The chicken may get done before the noodles, but that is fine as everything is getting mixed in this bowl eventually.
  • Add mushrooms, onion, and pepper to the skillet that you cooked the chicken in and cook for about 8 minutes.
  • Once the veggies are done being cooked, add to the large bowl along with the cream of something soup, sour cream, dry mustard, pepper, and broccoli.
  • Mix up the ingredients in the large bowl and pour into a baking dish that will hold all of it.
  • Mix the bread crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle the mixture over the chicken mixture.
  • Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Uncover and bake for 25 more minutes.
This recipe was one of the few recipes that I had every intention of making properly, but then I accidentally doubled the amount of bread crumbs called for but it turned out fantastic with the increased amount. The original recipe can be found here.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, March 18, 2013

Saving the Moola: amazon.com's trade-in program is the answer for your unwanted books, DVDs and more!

Our latest shipment to amazon.com with 3 books to trade in
Here's the thing: I hate clutter. Clutter is something Jason and I fight every day. We each declutter for ten minutes a day, and just by doing this, our house stays incredibly decluttered.

But sometimes, clutter creeps up in small, yet annoying ways. Or, one just decides that clutter that was accepted a long time ago because "that item serves a purpose" no longer serves a purpose. This happens in our house a lot!

While donating items to Salvation Army, Goodwill or your local church are all great ideas, it's always nice to bring in a buck or two to either help put food on the table for your family, pay down debt or put it in your saving envelope for a special item or experience. Over the last 12 months, it seems our house has been re-organized many times. First, we re-organized back in March 2012 just to get our house in order. Then, in the summer of 2012, we discovered we were expecting our first bundle of human joy, so in September 2012, the craft room slowly died and in its place, Monster's room was born. During this time, our money needs varied but were all important: paying down debt, then saving for Monster's birth.

Between all of the re-organizing and living, we had a lot of items that we could no longer store in our house and no longer had the desire to store in our house, and we had a need to bring in extra money beyond our paychecks. In March 2012, we were mostly getting rid of really strange odds and ends that I didn't feel would sell well on craigslist.com {I'm not a fan of eBay, personally}. We also just really wanted the stuff gone. We donated everything to our church for their semi-annual garage sale and never looked back.

In September, we were looking at a whole heap of stuff that was mostly books, nice home decor items and DVDs. We listed all of it on craigslist.com and brought in some extra money. We still had items left at the end of the day, though, so those went to Salvation Army and our local library.

I really felt it was a waste to donate so many good items, but consoled myself with the thought that the library would sell the books to fund programs. I didn't have to wait long for a better way. In October, I learned of amazon.com's trade-in program. Just the name implies a lot of work on my end, I thought. Not so! I'm a simple woman and I detest complicated things. This program is so, so easy.

Here's how it works: 
  • Sign in to your amazon.com account. 
  • Search for an item you want to trade in. For example, let's say you want to trade in "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. You have the book in hardcover. 
  • Click on the book to see the various ways one could purchase it. Look to the right where it says, "Sell Us Your Item." Under that is listed an amount. For this particular book, one could get $2.25. 
  • Click "Trade in." 
  • Confirm the ISBN and that the book is in good condition. 
  • Click "Continue." 
  • From there, you will confirm your ship-from address and how you want to ship the item: either by UPS, USPS or another carrier. 
  • Print out the free shipping label, box up your book and ship it out! 
  • Within two weeks, the $2.25 will be credited to your amazon.com account. 
Okay, sure, you say. But I don't have any boxes laying around and I most certainly do not have any unwanted items.

Here's where I'm really going to challenge you. First, boxes are easy to come by. Do you ever order anything from amazon.com? We order a lot of household products: batteries, soap, dishwasher detergent, etc. {FYI, we order these things for free by using amazon.com gift cards we redeem through Swagbucks and of course with credits to our account from trading in items}. Break those boxes down as you get them and put them in a closet, under a bed, etc.

You can also always visit a fast food restaurant, a grocery store or a retail store and ask them to reserve a few boxes for you from their next shipment. Ask when their next truck is coming in and when would be a good time to come by to get the boxes.

Now you have a great supply of boxes. You just need some items to trade in! Jason and I rarely buy books and when we do, we're buying books we'd never sell. Mainly, the books we've traded in are books from long ago that we bought that we no longer want/need or the books are ones that have been sent to me for review. I enjoy reading the books and some of them are personal favorites, but we rarely keep books. In fact, the rule is that unless we're going to read/use the book again and again, it's got to go. Due to this, most of the books we have are craft books, marriage books, parenting books, and cookbooks.

We also regularly examine the items we have in our home such as DVDs and other electronics to be sure we still desire to house them. It doesn't matter that we actually have a spot in our home for these items: do we really want this item on the shelf? Does it serve a purpose? Are we going to watch this item again? Are we going to read this book again? Would we miss this item if it was gone?

You can trade in a lot of various items on amazon.com and earn some needed or wanted extra cash while you're at it. We first learned of this program and started using it in October. From October to February, we earned $36.76 in credit to our amazon.com gift card by trading in books and DVDs we didn't want. That's impressive!

Look around your home. Look on your bookshelves and your movie storage. Do you really use those items? Do you really desire to have those items?

Set a goal of how many items you want to trade in and get to work!

One extra tip!
If you're unsure what to actually use the amazon.com credits for, I highly encourage you to read this post about using amazon.com's Subscribe and Save program on household products and groceries. Jason and I always compare prices before purchasing something on amazon.com to ensure we're getting the best deal. By purchasing household products and groceries on amazon.com with your credits so the cost is zero to you, you can help your budget reach its full potential and put a little extra money back in your pocket.

Friday, March 15, 2013

This Book Room

A charming novel about a 40-year-old Brooklyn mother, recently divorced, who starts writing copy for a bakery, discovers a knack for food-related literary puns, and becomes entangled in a love triangle.

Molly Hagan is overwhelmed.

Her husband left her for a younger, blonder woman, her six year-old son is questioning her authority, and now, so is she. In order to pay her Brooklyn rent and keep her son supplied with Pokemon and Legos-not to mention food and clothing-she has to get a job. Fast.

So when an old friend offers Molly a copywriting position at a new bakery, finding romance is just about the last thing on her mind. But the sexy British pastry chef who's heading up the bakery has other thoughts. And so does Molly when she meets the chef's intimidating business partner-who also happens to have a secret that might prevent Molly from getting her own Happily Ever After.


My thoughts: I would have enjoyed this book more if Molly hadn't annoyed me so much at times. But, with that said, I really enjoyed this book. The cover art is delightful. The story was quick to read and fun. It seems like fun books don't come around all that often, but when they do, it's such a joy. I would definitely give this one a go. I will be looking for more of Megan's books in the future.

When Amy Clark and her husband found themselves in unexpected financial trouble right before the birth of their first child, they quickly learned the importance of smart budgeting and making a little money go a long way. In this book, Amy offers up a clever lifestyle plan that is long on creativity and short on cost to help you achieve a peaceful, thrifty home and a loving, happy family:
- Set a reasonable budget and stick to it
- Save half price or more on nearly everything
- Cook delicious, frugal meals for any size family, and save money by making your own easy salad dressing, barbecue sauce, and homemade mixes
- Manage an organized, clean house without spending valuable time and money
- Create traditions and family occasions kids will remember forever--without breaking the bank
You'll be inspired by a wealth of smart and creative ideas for families living on a budget and a guide for everyone who finds themselves challenged to juggle all the roles that come with parenting. Amy gives you the tools, the guidance, and the inspiration you need to run your own household with wisdom, wit, love, and style.


My thoughts: If you have just started on a journey toward cooking at home and living frugally, you'll want to read this book. If you've been on your journey and already read a lot of books, this book might not be as helpful. I found that this book wasn't so helpful for me. I didn't learn anything new. About a third of the book is recipes for dinners, snacks and homemade mixes. If you're in need of something like that and don't use Pinterest, you could check out this book for that, but I find most of that is available on the internet.

Six women. More problems. New secrets. The Potluck Club is back with a yummy casserole of characters, hilarity, and adventure in Summit View, Colorado! Club leader Evie continues to find newcomer Lisa Leann too tough to swallow, especially since the former Texan's new advice column causes rumors to rise faster than her famous instant-yeast cinnamon rolls. When one member stirs things up with a new 'do and a new outlook on life, the girls find themselves in a pickle as gossip takes over the group, a long-awaited romance doesn't go as planned, and the past comes back to haunt the club's youngest member. 

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Potluck Club series. There are three books in this series and following this series is the Potluck Catering Club which also has three books. All books have been released. You can read my review of the first book in the Potluck Club series here

My thoughts: There is just one thing after another in this book, and it made for a really quick, fun read. The characters are really entertaining. One thing I've thought of, though, is that unless you're a little bit of an older soul, you might not enjoy this series as much. The majority of the ladies in it are older with grown children. I consider myself an old soul, so I enjoy the series, but if you're in the throes of early mommyhood or a young wife and you want to read books with situations similar to your own, you might want to skip this series.

Three years after the events of Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are back in Sweet Valley and inseparable once more. Things are looking up for both twins: Elizabeth is a star reporter at the LA Tribune, and Jessica's PR career is on the fast-track. But while the professional lives of the Wakefield sisters are secure, their personal lives may be in jeopardy. Jessica, now a mother, finds that managing parenthood, marriage, and a job is harder than she expected, while Elizabeth and Bruce must face a scandal that could strengthen their bond...or tear them apart forever.

Meanwhile, life goes on in Sweet Valley. Families are made, hearts are broken, and . . . Lila Fowler is a reality TV star? Some things never change.

My thoughts: In case you've been living under a rock (or maybe your age is really young or really old), the Sweet Valley twins have been featured in multiple series, starting with the Sweet Valley Twins all the way to this series. I've read many of the Sweet Valley books, and this volume of stories was fun to read, particularly if you've grown up with the twins. It's really funny to think of how innocent they all were in the first series. Then, to read this book, the stories are scandalous. The twins are definitely no longer innocent! If you're a Sweet Valley fan, you'll definitely want to read this book. I enjoyed this one much more than Sweet Valley Confidential. I hope Francine keeps releasing these stories!

The people of Appleseed Creek in the heart of Ohio's Amish Country are under attack. Soon after the dust has settled on a buggy accident that turned out to be murder, an unknown assailant begins cutting off the long hair of Amish women and the beards of Amish men. New to the area, computer specialist Chloe Humphrey may not share their customs, but she is certainly alarmed over these crimes against the Amish and worries how such events will impact her growing number of friends who are more connected to that way of life. In this small community, when Chloe discovers the body of an Amish businessman who was stabbed in the back and whose beard was cut off, she knows that finding the murderer and restoring peace to Appleseed Creek is as much her responsibility as anyone else's.

Additional notes: This is the second and latest book in the Appleseed Creek series. You can read my review of the first book here. So far as I know, this series is ongoing. 

My thoughts: I so thoroughly enjoy this series. Regular Amish fiction tends to be all boy-meets-girl blah blah blah, but the fact that this book's main character isn't Amish at all really makes this series unique. From the summary, you can tell the author took events that happened in real life (cutting the hair of Amish people) and spun the story into fiction. I enjoyed that as I often wonder about real-life events and what was going on in the people's minds at the time - this book is in no way non-fiction, but it's fun to read how this author spun part of what happened in real life and how her characters reacted to it, both inwardly and outwardly. You definitely don't have to be a fan of Amish or Christian fiction to enjoy this series. In fact, if you haven't read Amish fiction because it's too romantic or too Christian (I personally don't think anything can be too Christian, but that's just me), you should give this series a go. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Friday, March 8, 2013

This Book Room: Grave Consequences

For Cora Kensington, the journey of a lifetime takes unexpected twists. And her future—her very life—depends on the decisions she’ll make at each crossroad. As her European tour with her newfound family takes her through Austria, France, and Italy, an unseen enemy trails close behind. Meanwhile, a forbidden love continues to claim her heart, putting everyone’s plans in danger. And as Cora stays one step ahead of it all, what might need the most protection is her own heart, torn between the dramatic pursuit of a dashing Frenchman and a man who has been quietly staking claim to her affections all along. Love has dangers all its own. She must escape the bonds of the past and discover the faith to make the right choices, as each one has grave consequences.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Grand Tour series. You can read my review of the first book here

My thoughts: This book was truly wonderful. I'm not even sure where to begin! First, there are the characters. They are multi-faceted and surprising. I felt like I just got to know a character and bam, something happens that makes me question who s/he truly is! There are many characters in this book, which for some books, can get confusing. Not so in this one. The author weaves them all together in the story line just right. Each one brings something unique and worthwhile to the plot moving forward.

And then the plot. The storylines. From Vivian and Andrew to Cora and Will. The adventure. From jumping off the balcony into the river to watching a bullfight. I really felt I was in the story and more than that, I enjoyed the adventures the characters were on.

This book definitely makes one wonder if we should trust so easily. I feel for Cora, but sometimes, I think she doesn't trust herself enough. She seems very willing to trust others and doesn't ask enough questions, demand enough answers, and so on. Maybe that's just a sign of the times then (this is historical fiction, after all).

Either way, this book is a gem. Fantastic cover art. Intriguing characters. Adventurous plot.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Cornbread Muffins

Boy oh boy, do we like cornbread. And now we found a recipe to make it into nifty single serving muffins. Input eating way too many here. We made a bunch of these for a family gathering and they went over fantastically. We found this recipe in the Eat What You Love cookbook.

Ingredients
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sweetener
    • If you want, you can use real sugar instead.
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
Directions
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Prepare a muffin pan by spraying it with cooking spray.
  • Mix together the egg, egg whites, butter, buttermilk and vanilla.
  • In a different bowl, mix the remaining ingredients.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients.
  • Stir just until it is good and mixed.
  • Evenly divide the batter into the prepared muffin pan.
  • Bake for 13 minutes.
  • Don't burn your mouth eating them fresh from the oven.
Trust me on this one, you will love them.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, March 4, 2013

State of Our House Address: February in review

Maybe it was just me, but February seemed to go on forever! Was it like that for you? You'd think it'd go quickly since it's the shortest month, but it just dragged on and on.

Possibly this is because we kept February relatively crazy free in terms of our schedules. We finished up our six-week adult instruction class at church, but also started taking Faith Legacy classes! This is our fourth set of classes for this pregnancy. The classes were supposed to wrap up in February, but due to the inclement weather, they'll wrap up in early March instead. God willing, we will be able to attend the final class and Monster will not have arrived yet! I also attended a moms group at our church. I can tell it will be a good thing to surround myself with moms - I really have no clue what I am doing and will need all the support and encouragement I can get.

Speaking of Monster, February was pretty much all about prepping for his/her arrival. We completely finished Monster's room. We filed our taxes. We made 36 breakfast burritos and popped those into the freezer, we made four dozen cookie dough balls for the freezer, and we made three casseroles for the freezer. We packed our hospital bags as much as we could and we have a printed list with last-minute items that need to be packed. We found a pediatrician who is willing to be flexible with vaccinations (the doctor is willing to follow any written schedule we dictate!!).

We also purchased a lot of food from various stores. We were running low on lots of items and we ran out of lots of items and we wanted to stockpile a bit before Monster arrives. 
But now all the Monster prep is done and we're just doing the waiting game. Which I'm totally fine with as I'm not quite sure if I'm emotionally ready yet for labor and delivery, but I'm working on getting there! Jason is completely ready, though, and often asks me if I can deliver Monster right.now. He's just really ready to finally meet him/her and get to know the little one, as am I!

Preston is also ready to meet his little brother or sister! He's very much been enjoying napping on Monster's bed. While he won't be allowed to nap in there when Monster is in there, we have no problems with Preston visiting Monster's areas... as long as Monster is not there. Once Monster gets older, they can sleep together.
Jason and I spent a lot of great time together in February. We had the most wonderful date night at a local restaurant. We celebrated our last date night before Monster arrives. It was so nice. We both read a lot of books cuddled up in bed next to each other. It was really a relaxing month, which was good because I was tired for a lot of it. I guess it takes a lot out of me to grow a Monster in my belly! I crafted a lot in February, but this one is definitely my favorite:


Jason and I have been having so much fun leaving each other little messages. It is so much fun. I really believe every house should have one of these. It's pretty easy to make and extremely cost effective. The frame was about $4, the fancy paper was 59 cents and I spent a couple of dollars on dry erase markers. For less than $7, Jason and I are giggling more and loving on each other even better than before. Love that!

As long as February felt, it really wasn't so bad. I think it's just that we're a little on pins and needles waiting for labor to begin so we can start the hard work of really meeting our Monster. We've both made our predictions of when we think Monster will arrive (if Monster doesn't arrive very, very soon, Jason's dates will have passed and while mine have already started, I have some time left). We are excited to share pics and Monster's birth story with ya'll once s/he makes his/her appearance!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saving the Moola: February in review

I'll just start by saying we did not save as much as we hoped to in February. Our paychecks have been definitely impacted by increased taxes, so our paychecks were lower than expected. They were also lower than expected in January, but we were still figuring out exactly how much we could expect from our various income sources so our budget was not completely correct at the start of February. Our expectations did not align with reality, unfortunately.

When we filed our taxes, which was one of my goals for February, we found we actually owed the federal government more money! This was a bit disappointing - we have never owed above and beyond what we already paid during the year. It wasn't a horrific sum of money, although it didn't really matter - it's the principle of it and I was very upset over the whole thing. Thankfully, we received a bit of a refund from the state government (more than what we owed the federal government) so that was good. We try to not get too much of a refund, but we also try to make it so we don't owe anything additional. I guess between the two, we succeeded!

Our tax issues did not help our savings plan. Then, during February, this pregnancy threw me for a loop when I reverted back to how I felt during the first trimester: very picky in what I wanted to eat. This caused us to spend a lot of extra money on groceries and eating out. I started craving exactly what I craved for the entire first trimester: grease, cottage cheese and fruit. I also was back to craving very specific things (like potato salad), so there were a lot of runs to the grocery store to pick up what I wanted that specific day.

Between all of that, our savings was definitely impacted, but the good news is we still saved money. That's really great, and I'm keeping that in my mind when I'm feeling a little down.

In case you missed it, you'll definitely want to check out this post on how to earn extra money and score free food by becoming a mystery shopper. This has helped our budget so much in that we can get a few groceries for free and eat out often. Jason just ordered the Kindle Fire he's been saving up for - we're both so excited to receive it from amazon.com!

I'm not really sure what the plan is for us financially in March because while I'm definitely delivering Monster in March, we don't know when so we don't know what exactly our income will be. Jason will be taking a couple weeks off from work, and I'm taking eight or so weeks off. In April, May and June, we'll just be on survival mode and spending as little money as possible from our Monster savings account. We're praying we can spend less than we expect during our leaves from work so we can give a huge chunk of money to my last student loan when our lives settle back into a routine. We'd appreciate any prayers you would offer up on our behalf!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Life & Style: March goals + an update on February goals

You can read about my goals for all of 2013 here. As a recap, here's what my February goals were and how I did on them:

Personal
-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified and regular Bible each day for a total of 3 chapters between the two each day
-Read 9 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for February, I'm working on drinking 64 ounces of water each day
-Work on one other habit per month - for February, I'm working on cleaning the kitchen each day --- I think I pretty much bombed on this one from about mid-February and beyond. Thankfully, my husband is a rock star and took over from where I failed.
-Craft weekly - for February, I'm planning to make homemade baby wipes, glass gem magnets, three felt ornaments and embroider a tote bag. --- I gave up any notion of embroidering the tote bag (for now), but in addition to my other crafts, I also made another felt ornament and an "I love you because" frame.

Marriage
-Pray for husband daily --- Still working on making this part of my daily routine.
-Have monthly date nights
-Have weekly game nights --- Preston continues to impede this goal. We're not actively trying any longer, but just taking the opportunities as they come for us to play a game or two together.
-Have monthly movie nights

Financial
-Save any extra money we have into our Debt savings account {after Monster arrives happy and healthy and life is back to whatever normal it will be, we will immediately put all this money toward our student loan debt. We just want to be sure we have maternity leave and medical bills covered first, in case our expenses are higher than we budgeted.}
-File taxes

My March goals are going to be a little weird since I know I'm delivering Monster this month, I just don't know when! So we'll see how much I can actually accomplish while getting to know Monster and learning a new routine.

Personal
-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day {in February, I finished my regular Bible - YAY! - so I'm concentrating on just my Amplified for now}
-Read 8 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for March, I'm working on walking each day... until I deliver Monster
-Work on one other habit per month - for March, I'm working on sweeping the kitchen floor each day
-Craft weekly - for March, I'm planning to sew napkins, create/organize our kitchen binder, make two sets of customized coasters, and sew an earwarmer.

Marriage
-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights

Financial
-Save any extra money we have into our Debt savings account {after Monster arrives happy and healthy and life is back to whatever normal it will be, we will immediately put all this money toward our student loan debt. We just want to be sure we have maternity leave and medical bills covered first, in case our expenses are higher than we budgeted.}