Friday, May 30, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: make a photo album your official "baby book"

When we knew we were pregnant, we talked a lot about baby books with each other and with others. My mum regularly asked us if we had picked a baby book yet. You know, one of those books where you record the birth, baby's first steps, baby's first words, etc.

I have a baby book my mom put together for me, and it's nice and I'm thankful she did it, but it's so... baby-ish. It's all pink and girly and only has photos, really, from my first few years of life. It's not a book I wanted to take with me when I moved out, and even now that I have a Bug of my own, it's not a book I desire to have in my home.

In short, it's just not a book that's reflective of my life growing up.

Our desire for Bug was to have one book that would fully encompass her life with us, from birth to age 18 (or whenever she moves out). We wanted it to be simple in design and full of life from whatever we included in it.

In all our thinking and brainstorming, the idea finally came to us: a plain photo book. With lots and lots of pages for pictures.

It actually took us quite a while to find the exact photo book we were looking for, but we finally found it:

If you like this one, we bought it from Joann's with a coupon. I believe it was originally $25, but we spent $12.50 on it. One feature that was a must for us was that there was no "memo" section. We just want the book full of pictures. No words. There is enough room for 300 pictures in this album. With 18 years to cover, we'll pick 16 photos from each year of her life to include.

Trust me, it is hard to pick only 16 photos from Bug's first year. But she has, God willing, 18 years of life to live, and her first year, while so special to us, won't be so special to her when she's older.

Mostly because she won't remember it.

I don't want to be caught up in the years Bug won't remember. Instead, I want to just embrace each moment and know that God has a plan. A plan that I pray involves lots of years of life and lots of silliness as she grows up and makes her own memories - with me and without me.

When Bug grows up and moves out, I want this book to be the first item she packs for her new house. I want this book to be something she can keep the rest of her life and show her babies and grandbabies, so they'll see her childhood. I want this book to have a place of honor.

It might and it might not. But the first step to even getting there is making it simple for Bug. One book. One book that includes the best memories from her first 18 years.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

This Book Room: The Great American Slow Cooker Book

Millions of people are turning to slow cookers for their weeknight meals yet often can't find recipes that match their exact machine. Adapting recipes meant for a different-size cooker doesn't work—getting the right level of spice in your Vietnamese soup or keeping pulled pork tender requires having ingredients in the right proportion. But now, Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough have decoded slow cookers, and each of their recipes includes ingredient proportions for 2-3 quart, 4-5 quart, and 6-8 quart machines, guaranteeing a perfect fit no matter what machine you own. Each recipe is labeled for its level of difficulty and nutritional value, and they cover every kind of dish imaginable: delicious breakfast oatmeals, slow-braised meats, succulent vegetables, sweet jams and savory sauces, decadent desserts. This is the slow cooker book to end them all.

My thoughts: This book is absolutely genius. If you are looking for a slow cooker book, you really need look no further than the Great American Slow Cooker Book. First, each recipe is adapted for three sizes of slow cookers. So no matter what size cooker you have, you can make each recipe without trying to figure out the proportions yourself. I've never seen that feature in any other slow cooker book I've read.

The best part about this book, though, is that all of the recipes use real ingredients. You'll find no cream of something soup, no dry onion soup mixes, nothing like that (if a recipe from another book calls for that kind of ingredient, I'd encourage you to make the ingredient yourself). There are definitely recipes you'll recognize: tuna noodle casserole, macaroni and cheese, even sloppy joes. But there are others that I've never seen for a slow cooker before, and it's obvious their focus is on real foods: potato leek soup, spaghetti squash with pine nuts and sage, root vegetable tagine with pistachios and dried cherries. I'm incredibly excited to try some of these recipes. Sometimes, I can get in a rut with slow cookers and make the same boring dishes or I only bust them out for just me, Jason and Bug and don't use them for fancier occasions. But with recipes like sour cherry and almond cobbler, I feel like I'll be out of a rut and making dishes for big family gatherings in no time!

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Loaded Baked Potato Soup

This soup was so delicious that it has become our go-to potato soup. It was easy to make, but you probably don't want to try and rush it, as peeling fresh from the oven potatoes isn't the smartest idea. Also when you get to the garnishing step I felt as if there were not enough scallions and cheese but a little too much bacon. If you agree with me you may want to get some additional of the first two and less of the bacon.

Just look at this bowl of deliciousness. I want to make another
batch just thinking about how good it tasted!
  • 4 medium baking potatoes
  • 1 stick butter
  • 6 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Pierce the potatoes multiple times with a fork and then bake for an hour.
  • Let the potatoes cool and peel them.
  • Dice 3 of the potatoes and mash the 4th one.
  • Melt the stick of butter in a pot over medium-low heat.
  • Whisk in the flour until smooth.
  • Gradually whisk in the milk.
  • Cook the mixture for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes, 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese, salt, garlic powder, and pepper.
  • Stir until the cheese is melted.
  • Remove the pot from heat and stir in the sour cream and 1/2 cup of scallions.
  • Put the pot over low heat and cook just until hot, but do not boil.
  • When serving garnish with remaining cheese, remaining scallions and crumbled bacon.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Friday, May 23, 2014

This Book Room: Smart Money Smart Kids

In "Smart Money Smart Kids," financial expert and best-selling author Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze equip parents to teach their children how to win with money. Starting with the basics like working, spending, saving, and giving, and moving into more challenging issues like avoiding debt for life, paying cash for college, and battling discontentment, Dave and Rachel present a no-nonsense, common-sense approach for changing your family tree.

My thoughts: First, I just have to say that I love my job. Getting books for free to review is just about the coolest thing ever, especially when it's a book I want to own and now do not have to purchase. 

With that said, I'm not sure any money parenting book will ever top the Money Smart Family, which I reviewed here. That is such a top-notch book, and while I learned new things from Smart Money Smart Kids, it's not as thorough or as in line with my own beliefs about money and children as the Money Smart Family. 

I'm going to discuss some of the things Dave and Rachel did or suggest that I do not agree with and explain why. One is giving your child all of the money you normally would pay for their expenses per month and put it in a checking account for them to manage each month when they're a certain age. Certainly, it's not necessarily a bad idea. If you're a traditional family, this could work for you. 

We're anything but traditional. I not spend money on Bug each month with the purpose of spending money. I buy her only what she needs and this is frighteningly minimal. If Bug's wants change, that's up to her to fund. I will provide her with basic clothing, food and a roof. Honestly, the rest is up to her. If she wants to go to the movies, that's on her. If she wants to go for ice cream on a non-family outing, that's on her. If she wants to buy a birthday present for a friend, that's on her. 

Dave matched each of his children's savings for a car. That's great, and I'm sure they were all blessed by that. I feel like I don't have a lot of weight here since my parents did buy me a car, but we do not plan to buy Bug a car or match her savings or anything of that nature. If she wants a car, that's on her. I would be much more likely to match savings for a quality bicycle. It's not a money thing. It's probably just a me thing, but I would love it for her finances and lifestyle for her to ride a bike everywhere she could instead of driving. That would be a decision I could more stand behind. 

I felt that Dave and Rachel, by the way they explained chores, were a little too lax in this area. Call it child abuse if you want (but I would call it child abuse NOT to), but children need chores. And they need to be responsible and accountable for those chores. Bug actually already has chores. She's responsible for handing me the silverware from the dishwasher for me to put away. She also helps with the laundry. And yes, she's 14 months old. She's also responsible for helping to pick up her toys. I have never once had to say anything to her because she hasn't done it (throwing fits for not getting our way... we're still working on that one). 

Certainly, this book is worth the read. Does everything they did fit with our lives and the way we're going to do things? No, but there are lots of good nuggets of information in the book. It's a book that I will keep forever and definitely read again in the future. 

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Cheesy Cheeseburger Casserole

Jess and I, together, gave this 4 thumbs up. She liked it so much, she added it into our regular menu, and I liked it enough to be excited she did. Our only complaint, if you can call it a complaint, is that it didn't remind us of a cheeseburger at all.

Just looking at this picture makes me want to make up another batch tonight!
  • 1 Tbsp and 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 16 oz box of elbow macaroni (yes, we used elbow macaroni and not cavatappi)
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 8 oz cans of tomato sauce (I used a 15 oz can and it turned out just fine)
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup chopped green pepper (I used a whole green pepper and didn't measure it)
  • 1/3 cup chopped scallions (I used one bunch and didn't measure them)
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • Add 1 Tbsp of the salt and the macaroni to the boiling water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes.
  • Drain the water from the noodles and set them aside.
  • In a large skillet, preheated over medium-high heat, cook the ground beef and onions until the beef is well browned.
  • Drain the fat from the beef and onions.
  • Stir in the tomato sauce, remaining salt, and pepper.
  • Bring to a simmer over low heat.
  • While the beef and tomato mixture is still coking mix together the ricotta cheese, sour cream, bell pepper, and scallions in a medium bowl.
  • Spread half of the pasta in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish and cover with the cheese mixture and then top it with the remaining noodles.
  • Pour the meat mixture over the noodles and then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the meat and bake for 20 minutes.
  • When serving, sprinkle with fresh parsley (I skipped this step as I forgot to get parsley from the store. Bad me!)
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Friday, May 16, 2014

Saving the Moola: Bing can add serious Swag to your life!

Ya'll know Jason and I are huge fans of Swagbucks. We redeem our Swagbucks for gift cards and use those gift cards for household and fun purchases, like Preston's cat food, reference books and toilet paper.

Swagbucks is constantly changing and sometimes, those changes can make it difficult to consistently earn. Jason despises using Swagbucks to search and earn, and honestly, with both of us working full-time, it can be difficult to devote anything more than five minutes a day to Swagbucks.

When we discovered Bing, it was like an angel singing! Bing is not only rewarding, but it's actually fun. You can sign up for Bing here. Here are the benefits we found through using Bing:

Easy points 

Each day, there are anywhere from one to three easy points that can be earned. You just click on the links provided under Earn and Explore. Just by clicking on the link, which takes you to another webpage that is safe, you'll earn a point.

Search and win - guaranteed 

On Swagbucks, you're rewarded randomly for searching, which can get discouraging if you have a search goal for the day (our goal in our house is one search win per user). On Bing, you're rewarded no matter what. You can search anything you want, and if you use their search engine for a total of 30 times, you'll get 15 points. Sometimes, Bing will have Double Credit days where you can search 60 times for 30 credits.

Great rewards

You can redeem your Bing points for Swagbucks! I love that. If you're at the Silver or Member level, you can redeem 525 Bing points for 500 Swagbucks. That's not necessarily a fantastic deal, but get this: once you reach Gold status, you can redeem 475 Bing points for 500 Swagbucks! How awesome is that.

Honestly, we like Bing more than Swagbucks, but there are limited earning opportunities through Bing. There are Swagbucks members who report earning more than $200 per month. The average, so I'm told, is about $100 in gift cards per month. Before Bug was born, Jason and I each easily earned $25 in gift cards per month. Jason earns about $10 per month ($5 from Bing), and I earn about $20 ($5 from Bing). That's not anywhere close to the average, but we'll take an extra $30 a month any day.

If you are so inclined, I'd love for you to use my referral link (just click here) to sign up for Bing, but if you are a Swagbucks member, you should check out their special offers first. We both signed up for Bing through a Swagbucks special offer and earned 100 Swagbucks just for signing up. There might be the extra incentive you need to check it out. If you don't like it, you don't have to use Bing, but it's worth a try.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

This Book Room

God gave us emotions to experience life, not destroy it! Lysa TerKeurst admits that she, like most women, has had experiences where others bump into her happy and she comes emotionally unglued. We stuff, we explode, or we react somewhere in between. What do we do with these raw emotions? Is it really possible to make emotions work for us instead of against us? Yes, and in her usual inspiring and practical way, Lysa will show you how. Filled with gut-honest personal examples and biblical teaching, Unglued will equip you to: Know with confidence how to resolve conflict in your important relationships. Find peace in your most difficult relationships as you learn to be honest but kind when offended. Identify what type of reactor you are and how to significantly improve your communication. Respond with no regrets by managing your tendencies to stuff, explode, or react somewhere in between. Gain a deep sense of calm by responding to situations out of your control without acting out of control.

My thoughts: It took me forever and a day to read this book. It is a good book, though. It's a book that takes a lot of mental energy to read, and I felt like the first part of the book wasn't very relevant to me. Either way, it's a worthwhile read and I promise you will take something away from it. 

To those who matter in 1950s Hollywood, Lena Scott is the hottest rising star to hit the silver screen since
Marilyn Monroe. Few know her real name is Abra. Even fewer know the price she's paid to finally feel like she's somebody.

To Pastor Ezekiel Freeman, Abra will always be the little girl who stole his heart the night he found her, a wailing newborn abandoned under a bridge on the outskirts of Haven. Zeke and his son, Joshua--Abra's closest friend--watch her grow into an exotic beauty. But Zeke knows the circumstances surrounding her birth etched scars deep in her heart, scars that leave her vulnerable to a fast-talking bad boy who proclaims his love and lures her to Tinseltown.

Hollywood feels like a million miles from Haven, and naive Abra quickly learns what's expected of an ambitious girl with stars in her eyes. But fame comes at an awful price. She has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted. Now, all she wants is a way back home.

My thoughts: I had been waiting anxiously for this book to officially be released, and oh my heavens, it was worth the wait. If you haven't read any of Francine Rivers' books before, please pick one and read it. I haven't read them all and some did not particularly appeal to me, but this one is a must read. It is a fantastic coming-of-age and redemption story. I will read this book again. 

On Bernadine Brown's fifty-second birthday she received an unexpected gift—she caught her husband, Leo, cheating with his secretary. She was hurt—angry, too—but she didn't cry woe is me. Nope, she hired herself a top-notch lawyer and ended up with a cool $275 million. Having been raised in the church, she knew that when much is given much is expected, so she asked God to send her a purpose.
The purpose turned out to be a town: Henry Adams, Kansas, one of the last surviving townships founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. The failing town had put itself up for sale on the Internet, so Bernadine bought it.

Trent July is the mayor, and watching the town of his birth slide into debt and foreclosure is about the hardest thing he's ever done. When the buyer comes to town, he's impressed by her vision, strength, and the hope she wants to offer not only to the town and its few remaining residents, but to a handful of kids in desperate need of a second chance.

Not everyone in town wants to get on board though; they don't want change. But Bernadine and Trent, along with his first love, Lily Fontaine, are determined to preserve the town's legacy while ushering in a new era with ties to its unique past and its promising future.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Blessings series. The second book was just released. 

My thoughts: This wasn't necessarily a gripping story, but it was a really good book. If you're looking for a good book to read on the beach, this one is it. I laughed inwardly a few times while reading this book. Bernadine is quite the character. Honestly, all the characters are pretty funny in their own way. They're very sassy. I'm looking forward to the second book.

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves. 

My thoughts: First, I'm a huge, huge fan of Ann Brashares. This story is brilliant, heart-breaking and often confusing. While romance is part of the plot, either gender would enjoy the dystopian/time travel story. I loved the ending and would love to say a lot about it here but this is a fairly new book and I don't want to give it away. Let's just say... the ending is incredibly realistic which makes me love it. I read this book in about 12 hours. With a toddler on the loose, that's not an easy feat, but Bug was in an I'm-going-to-entertain-and-play-by-myself kind of mood the day I read this, so it worked out well. 


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese

This is the first recipe that I have made during my cookbook challenge, and it was very tasty. The day I made it, Jess wasn't feeling well and she didn't have the best opinion of it She did like the leftovers so I will probably be making it again in the future so she can taste the bubbly fresh goodness that is this mac n cheese.

Guess what is for dinner and lunch tomorrow?

  • 1 Tbsp and 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 pound cavatappi noodles
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded extra sharp Cheddar
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack
  • 8 oz Velveeta, cubed
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • Boil a large pot of water.
  • Add 1 Tbsp of salt and the noodles to the boiling water and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Drain the water from the noodles and set them aside.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat the half-and-half in a sauce pan.
  • Reamove the half-and-half from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
  • While the half-and-half is cooling, whisk the eggs in a bowl.
  • Whisk 2 cups of half-and-half into the eggs and then pour this mixture back into the sauce pan with the remaining half-and-half.
  • Turn oven on to 350 degrees.
  • Stir 1 cup each of cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Velveeta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the milk into the sauce pan.
  • Heat over medium-low heat and constantly stir until the cheese mixture is completely melted and smooth.
  • Mix in dry mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and pepper.
  • Mix the pasta and the cheese mixture in an oven-safe baking dish.
  • Sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese over the mac n cheese and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Sprinkle on the bacon crumbles and bake for 10 minutes.
A freshly finished pan of David's ultimate macaroni and cheese
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

P.S. Next week's recipe is cheesy cheeseburger casserole

Monday, May 12, 2014

Busy Bag of the Month: Stuffed Plastic Eggs

I adore this busy bag idea! It's a great way to use up plastic eggs if you buy them around Easter or just wait until they go on clearance (like I did) and pick up plastic eggs then. I bought my package of eggs for 99 cents. Per egg, this was kind of pricey, but these eggs have a metallic sheen to them and they are quite large, which was what I was looking for. I bought mine from Joann's. I had everything else on hand to make this busy bag.

Here's what you need to make stuffed plastic eggs: 
  • Felt in colors to match plastic eggs
  • Plastic eggs 
  • Embroidery thread
  • Needle
  • White felt 
  • Fiberfill 
  • Egg templates 
Here's how you make stuffed plastic eggs: 
  1. First, find the egg templates you want to use. I used two different templates (here and here). Print the templates out and cut out the entire egg. 
  2. Next, cut out the pieces of white felt for the egg white. You only need to cut out one piece of white felt per egg. 
  3. Once the egg whites are cut out, cut out the egg yolk from the center of the egg template. 
  4. Cut out the yolk from your fabric. You need one yolk per egg. 
  5. Now that all the fabric is cut out, pin one yolk to one egg white. Thread your needle with the appropriate colored thread (if you don't have all the colors of thread and do not want to buy all the colors, just use white), and using a straight stitch, sew the yolk to the egg white. Before the yolk is completely sewed on, leave an opening and stuff fiberfill inside. You will need very little fiberfill in total for this project. 
  6. Once the fiberfill is stuffed inside the yolk, sew the opening closed. 
  7. Repeat with remaining eggs. 
  8. Stuff the completed eggs into the appropriate colored plastic egg. Your child will have lots of fun opening the eggs and matching the yolks to the right egg! 
The busy bag project is really quick to whip up. I finished mine, after everything was cut out, in about one hour while visiting with family. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ornament of the Month: Buttoned Felt Trees

These little trees are so whimsical, fun and perfect for littles to help with! This would be a great project for them to learn how to sew buttons on. I found buttons at Michael's for about $2.50 a package. I purchased one package of multi-colored buttons and had buttons left over after the six ornaments I made.

Here's what you need to make buttoned felt trees: 
  • Felt in whichever colors you like 
  • Tiny buttons in whichever colors you like
  • Thread
  • Needle
  • Fiberfill 
  • Tree template 
Here's how to make buttoned felt trees: 
  1. Print this tree template. You may need to play with the size of the template a bit. I always do. I just copy the page with the percentage I want until it's right for what I envisioned. 
  2. Cut out fabric. You will need to cut two trees per ornament you want to make. 
  3. Using thread and needle, sew loops on the second piece of felt for each ornament. 
  4. Next, sew buttons on the trees. I used about 8 buttons per tree. 
  5. Sew the trees together, leaving an opening. 
  6. Stuff fiberfill inside each tree to make them plump and full. 
  7. Sew the opening closed. 
Don't hesitate to play with colors on this ornament. I love the idea of using just one color of buttons or two colors of buttons or whatever you want. You could make a red tree with green buttons or a blue tree with red and white buttons for a patriotic theme. This ornament is easily customizable for your gift recipient, which makes it a winner in my book!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

This Book Room: The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting

The age-old practice of companion planting is an effective way to create healthier, happier, more productive gardens simply by placing the right plants next to each other. It is an ingenious, all-natural method to control pests, disease, and weeds without the need for chemicals. With its unique split-page mix-and-match system, this colorful, visual guide makes it fast and easy for you to choose which vegetables, fruits, and herbs grow best with one another, and which do not. All you have to do is select your desired crop from the extensive plant directory, flip the strips, match the dots, and get ready for your vegetable garden to flourish!

My thoughts: Not only is this book practical for any gardener, but it's also incredibly functional. The first part of the book is a great overview of gardening in general. The second part is comprised of mix and match cards in three tiers. It was really easy to see which plant goes with what, and the cards were fun to flip through and read. If you love to garden but have always wanted to increase your yield (without spending extra money), companion gardening can definitely be the way to go. I purposefully planted marigolds this year because tomatoes and marigolds go well together.

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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason: Cookbook Challenge

Recently, I have been thinking about the quantity of cookbooks we own and how few of recipes that we have made from each book. This led me to challenge myself to cook through an entire cookbook, front to back. I had doubts if I would be able to actually do such a feat, but Jess (and all of you) helped encourage me to actually get going.

There was never a question of which cookbook I would cook through. For my cookbook challenge, I will be cooking through David Venable's cookbook, In the Kitchen with David. The observant of you will notice that the cookbook's name has a strong resemblance to the name of this column and that is for a reason. David hosts a twice weekly segment called In the Kitchen with David on QVC, where he talks about cooking, sells kitchen gadgets (it is QVC, after all), and has a generally good time. It was his show that made me remember that I really liked to cook and it had a big influence on me in regards to this column.

After deciding to do it, the biggest hurdle was to actually decide how fast or slow to do it. I settled on one recipe per week. This will give me enough time to make each recipe, write a post and prepare for the next week as well. I didn't want to go crazy and do a new recipe a day which would leave no time for life.

I will attempt to stay as true to the recipes as possible, but sometimes I may make substitutions or small changes due to the realities of my kitchen. I will post the original recipes with notes about what I changed so you will be able to better decide what you would like to do. Also, I have already posted a couple of dishes from the cookbook: peanut butter banana muffins and beef stroganoff with buttered noodles. Feel free to check those out now while I prepare my first recipe post.

Speaking of, my first recipe post for the challenge will be "ultimate macaroni and cheese." I hope you're hungry!

Monday, May 5, 2014

State of Our House Address: April in review

April was so, so busy! We celebrated our Lord's resurrection and on the same day, we also celebrated Jason's birthday! We can't ever recall a time when his birthday fell on Easter before, so it made the day extra special. We spent the day at Jason's mom and stepdad's house. It was our girl's first time encountering their lovely chickens. The chickens scared her a bit, but she really was into pulling up all the grass and watching the wind blow it away.

I don't know what the future holds for us in terms of careers. All I know is that we've spent a lot of time in prayer in April and plan to continue praying without ceasing in May. God has already revealed some things to our hearts, and we're still just trying to figure out where to go from here. Either way, I'm excited that Jason and I are both on the same page and that God is revealing the same things to each of us.

We expanded our garden this year, and it has been so much fun watching the little sprouts come up! We finally have all the seeds planted for this year. Our tomatoes and marigolds are coming along quite nicely. I'm not sure what to think of the strawberries because I have no experience with them at all. I also have no experience with carrots, but we just planted those so I don't expect anything for a little bit there.

At least for this month, I'm going to incorporate our Saving the Moola month in review post with this post. I may do this going forward, as I feel like a lot of the information is overlapped from one post to the other. With that in mind, April was a fruitful month. When I received our electricity/heating/cooling bill at the end of the month, I was pleasantly surprised! We owed $0. I am incredibly excited about this because it means all of my efforts have been paying off. I'll be sharing a blog post soon about what exactly I did to cut our bill so low. I highly doubt it'll be $0 next time, but I'm looking forward to seeing how low I can keep it!

Bug had a stomach bug and a cold in April, though the cold was caught from me. It was weird for her to be sick twice in one month and not the funnest thing. She still has no teeth, but every day, we swear she's teething. I really don't know if she is, honestly. I pray she is. Due to her illnesses, her sleep schedule has also been wonky. She slept a lot near the end of the month to catch up on sleep.

It is finally garage sale season here in Michigan, and I could not be more excited. We went the last weekend in April, spent $6.50 and scored 2 large pieces of fabric, 1 basket, 2 pairs of pants for Bug, 2 patio chairs and 1 wall hanging (pictured below). I was pretty pleased with my first haul! I also scored some amazing deals at Michael's and am a little obsessed with going there every weekend now. I spend $5 or less every time I go, so the cost is minimal. I'm so choosy about what I buy and work off a list I have of things I'm always looking for (such as note cards with envelopes).

Speaking of garage sale season, the weather is finally in spring mode. I took Bug for a few walks in April, and it is so nice to be outside. This summer should be extra fun with a little one running around, though Bug isn't quite walking... yet.

Part of my plan for May is to hit up as many quality garage sales as I can, update Bug's photo album and find a stamped cross stitch kit for myself. Jason enjoys cross stitching and I've always wanted to learn. It can be hard to find a nice stamped kit, though, so my goal is to find one in May so Jason can teach me how to do it.

Feel free to share what you did in April and/or any special plans you have for May!

Friday, May 2, 2014

This Book Room: Noah and the Mighty Ark

The beloved Bible story of Noah and his ark is brought to life with lyrical rhyming text by bestselling author Rhonda Gowler Greene and whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Margaret Spengler. Children will love hearing how Noah comforts all the animals on their journey, whether they fly, hop, crawl, stomp, or s-s-slither. Full of fun sound effects and helpful word pictures, Noah and the Mighty Ark is great for toddlers, preschoolers, and early readers, as well as parents who want an engaging way to teach their children the stories of God.

My thoughts: I am a little obsessed with this author and illustrator team. The illustrations are absolutely darling and whimsical. They bring so much life to this classic Bible story. The rhyming cadence is so sweet and makes the story fun to read. This book is one to be treasured. This author has other Bible stories and other non-Biblical stories available as well. One of our non-Bible stories that we love is No Pirates Allowed Said Library Lou! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Saving the Moola: the great TP debate (and experiment!), part 2

You can find part 1 of this series here.

When I last shared on this topic, I was getting ready to start tallying my family's TP count for the month of March. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mama, my hubby worked 40+ hours a week and my girl is not yet using TP, as she is not fully potty trained (she is 13 months old).

Can I just say that I am sickened by the amount of TP we use? We used 20 rolls of toilet paper in March. TWENTY!

I know some of you are against cloth wipes for yourselves. I know. I'm with you. I totally get it.

I promise, I really and truly do. 

If nothing else, though, can you just walk away from this committed to tracking your family's TP use over the course of one month? Whatever number you have, whether it's more or less than ours per person, may just shock you into coming up with some other sort of system for toilet paper. 

After March was over, I was more committed than ever to giving cloth a go. In March, I sewed up cloth wipes from flannel scraps I had. In total, I sewed 12 pieces. I tucked a basket I had on hand into one bathroom and filled it with those flannel scraps.

Before I share the full results of our challenge in April to only use cloth (minus extenuating circumstances, such as #2s and menstrual cycle times), I want to share some disclaimers:
  • April was vastly different from March regardless of the cloth wipes as I took a full-time job outside of the home. This obviously limited how much I was at home and using my own toilet wipes, whether it was cloth or paper. 
  • There are some instances that I have caught myself using toilet paper for things something else could have worked for: blowing my nose, wiping water off the seat (Bug splashes water everywhere when playing in the tub), etc. 
  • We have two bathrooms, but only one is fully equipped with cloth wipes. 
Honestly, I feel my results were disappointing. I thought we would use so many less rolls of TP. And we did use less: for April, we used 13 rolls of toilet paper. We saved 7 rolls, which is great!

But I really feel that isn't enough. Between both of us working full-time (and thus being outside of the home so much) and using cloth, I thought the number would be lower.

In all honesty, though, there were many, many times I didn't use cloth and could have. There were actually days, in fact, that no cloth was used. Not because I didn't want to use it. It just wasn't convenient, which is to say I was in the other bathroom that didn't have any cloth! That is an issue I will be seeking to fix over the next couple of months as I have time to sew more cloth wipes.

More surprising than the number of rolls we still used in April is how minimal the ick factor is when using cloth wipes. Shockingly, there is none. It's just pee. I have a bucket right next to the toilet so I literally use a wipe, and without moving anything other than my arm, I can properly take care of the wipe until it's time to do laundry. Since we primarily cloth diaper Bug anyway, we're used to dealing with cloth things like this. And ours is significantly less icky than Bug's as hers involves pee and poo! If you've felt unsure about cloth before, please be assured it's not icky.

Regardless of the disappointing results, we did save 7 rolls of toilet paper and that is enough to motivate me to keep going.  It is a savings of $2.70 per month. No, that's not an amazing number. But it is a savings, one that is very easy to get and maintain.

I learned a lot from this experiment, and more than anything, I learned that I can control how much TP I really use. It is up to me to be motivated enough to use the bathroom with cloth wipes, and it is up to me to make sure to use a cloth wipe for wiping water off the seat before using.

As Dave Ramsey always says, I may be the problem, but I am also the solution.