Monday, June 30, 2014

Living the Dream

2013 was an incredible year of changes. First, I gave birth to my beautifully clever daughter, Bug. My husband took a new job. Then, in an accident, our car was totaled. Just one month after that, I was laid off from my job where I had worked for 6+ years.

It's little wonder to anyone that at the beginning of 2014, I had become just a tiny bit down in the dumps and frustrated at the lack of stability in my life. While it may have been justified to lament a little at my circumstances, I'm not known to just give up. But I did.

I totally and completely gave up. And when the first job that seemed promising on any level came along, I took it without much thought. That was a huge mistake. After finally coming to my senses (which was rather quickly), I reverted back to being a stay-at-home mom.

But I was done giving up. At least, I was done with how I was giving up. I was giving up again, but I was giving it up to God. And when that really and truly happened, my life exploded in a million happy ways.

Jason started working a ton of overtime hours at his job, giving us some much-needed money to maintain our bills (which are few). His tutoring business blew up, giving us some much-needed money to buy what we consider "extras" (like printer ink).

Jason was working so much that I gave up the notion of having a job. It would be way too crazy and life was drumming right along in a very happy way.

Are you laughing yet? Is it clearly obvious that God had another plan in mind?

I received a call in mid-June for a job that I didn't even remember applying for. After going through my files to see if I had really applied for the job, I found that I had. After reading the job details (including pay and location), I still didn't really remember actually applying, but I could see why I applied.

One of the owners of the business and I talked on the phone, and he invited me in for an in-person interview. Jason and I continually prayed that God would show us what to do, so already we were purposing to listen and think before jumping into anything. I went to the interview and it went really well. The job described was very similar to work I had been doing before, and honestly, it was like the job and I were a perfect fit. At the end, the owners let me know they were interviewing others but would let me know soon.

I went home that day and Jason and I only had a chance to discuss the job minimally. Life must go on, and there were errands to run, a toddler to take care of, a garden to tend, laundry to fold, dinner to be cooked. You know, life was happening.

The next day, which was Friday, one of the owners called me, offered me the job and asked me to start on Monday. I said yes, knowing this is where I'm supposed to be. Even while life was going on the previous 24 hours, I had been continually praying, "God, is there what I'm supposed to do?" I felt total peace about accepting the job. The only other time I felt so confident about a job placement was for my previous company where I had worked for 6 years. Now that I've got my first week behind me, I can tell you that I love my job. I love it. The culture there is a perfect fit. The work I'm doing is eerily similar to what I was doing before, but the job itself is ten times better. The location is perfect. Everything about this job is a perfect fit for me.

So why is this my dream come true? Because way back in the day, when Jason and I still lived in the city, when we were not even yet married, when Bug was nothing more than a thought in our heads, the dream was for me to work full-time and Jason to be a stay-at-home dad.

And finally, after a lot of ups and downs, the dream has finally come true. He is beyond excited to finally be living his dream and I am beyond excited that I can do purposeful work and while I'm there, I'm just imagining all the fun stuff they are doing at home, like swimming, playing, reading books, toddling around. It wasn't easy to get to this place where our dreams have finally come true, though, and it wasn't necessarily always pretty. There were many days of uncertainty, unrest and despair.

When you are feeling that way, just know: God has a plan for you. He always does. You may not always see the plan this side of Heaven. You may not even get to see the full plan on the other side. But that doesn't mean God isn't working for you. God is on your side. It doesn't mean you'll always get what you want. It doesn't mean your dream will come true the way you thought it would (God knows mine did not). God will always give you what you need. His plan, though it may be far different than your own, is always better than the plan you had. My life is better than anything I could have ever imagined for myself. God is that good. He loves us that much. My goal is to spend my life loving Him as much as I can in return and serving Him all the days of my life. I think he more than deserves that, not for everything He's done for me, but for giving me this life. Anything else on top of that is just frosting.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

This Book Room: The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane

I'm incredibly blessed to be part of a hand-selected group of people to let everyone I know about Sheila Roberts' wonderfully fun books. Thank you, Sheila, for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

After a fake food poisoning incident in L.A., Bailey Sterling's dreams of becoming a caterer to the stars collapse faster than a soufflé. Now Bailey's face is in all the gossip rags and her business is in ruins. But the Sterling women close ranks and bring her back to Icicle Falls, where she'll stay with her sister Cecily.

All goes well between the sisters until Bailey comes up with a new business idea—a tea shop on a charming street called Lavender Lane. She's going into partnership with Todd Black, who—it turns out—is the man Cecily's started dating. It looks to Cecily as if there's more than tea brewing in that cute little shop. And she's not pleased.

Wait! Isn't Cecily seeing Luke Goodman? He's a widower with an adorable little girl, and yes, Cecily does care about him. But Todd's the one who sends her zing-o-meter off the charts. So now what? Should you have to choose between your sister and the man you love (or think you love)?

Additional notes: This is the fifth and latest book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here and the fourth book here. The sixth book which is Christmas-themed will be out later this year. 

My thoughts: In so many ways, this was the book I've been waiting for! Finally, Cecily's love life is straightened out, and I'm so happy to have a happy conclusion to that particular story line. The story starts in such an odd way - Bailey's latest catering gig turns into a disaster, and Bailey's reaction to it is pretty hilarious. It's very obvious how emotional Bailey can be. I felt, at times, like she was throwing a little hissy fit. Maybe because she's the baby in the family? 

Anyway, the story quickly moves forward to Bailey being home again and this is where everything picks up and becomes interesting. It was great to see all of my favorite characters in some form or another. While Bailey continued to be annoyingly emotional and spastic at times throughout the book, her personality was countered nicely by the other laid-back characters, particularly Todd Black. 

The book wraps up several plot points nicely, but I'm left wondering if Bailey's mom, Muriel, will ever find a new happy ending. Hopefully, this can be found in a future book! I read this book in one day, and it was a perfect book for the start of summer. It also made me want to eat anything and everything lavender-themed.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Saving the Moola: Investing in Your Child's Future

photo credit
I feel like I can finally address this issue now that I'm a parent! And while my general stance on saving for your child's future hasn't changed, I can tell you that I absolutely understand the emotion of wanting to provide for your child.

With that said, please consider this: if you provide for your child instead of providing for yourself first, your child will feel obligated to provide for you later. 

My retirement goal? Not to have to eat dog food. Laugh all you want, but I know eating dog food is a reality for some elderly. Jason and I want to be sure we have the funds we need now and later to care for ourselves without burdening our Bug.

This may mean Bug won't have a hefty college fund. Our Bug might have to work her way through college - just like we did. She may need to work hard enough at her studies to earn a scholarship - just like we did.

I would say, "And look at we turned out!" But I do dislike when people say that.

So instead I'll say this: working hard for what you want is never a bad thing. Working hard for what you want often serves as inspiration. If you work hard to pay for college, I'm pretty sure you'll show up to class. And if you're working hard to pay for those classes, I'm pretty sure you'll actually care what's being taught. And if you actually care what's being taught, I'm pretty sure you'll study, earn good grades and graduate with an incredible GPA. That will in turn help you serve in the career field you've chosen.

Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. I despised school, yet obtained my bachelor of science degree. I didn't have a college fund, yet I had minimal student loans, all of which are now completely paid off before I hit my 30th birthday despite the fact we make an incredibly modest living.

There is a time and a place to save for your child's future. Here's what Jason and I have decided: right now, we're focusing on saving money. Our goal is about an 8-month emergency fund. I imagine this will take us quite a while, so I'm not too concerned about what comes after that.

But once our emergency fund is fully funded, we plan to save for our retirement next. About 15% of our income will be set aside in a mutual fund. If there is money left over after that, we will start putting money in Bug's account.

With all of that said, Bug does currently have a college account. She has accrued several hundred dollars from birth gifts, baptism gifts, Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. All of the money she has currently received from these occasions has been set aside for her to use for college (or if she chooses to be a stay-at-home wife and mama, then she can take this money with her then).

If I could, I would provide the world for our Bug. I know Jason feels the same way. When we look at her, we truly see the future. But first and foremost, I want Bug to worry about us as little as possible. I want her to know that we provided for ourselves first so she could be free to live her life later. 

And let's face it, dog food is really not at all appetizing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

This Book Room: Let's Sew Together

Don't just sew for your kids. Sew with them! Rubyellen Bratcher has invented 30 simple projects that encourage families to spend more time together through DIY activities. This mom of four learned how to sew at her local fabric shop, but soon found that her daughters were her greatest source of inspiration. Documenting her family's daily life and DIY adventures online, Rubyellen's blog, Cakies, has steadily grown into a destination for parents and crafters of all ages. In her first book, she offers 30 projects for kids and grown-ups to make together, including a handpainted skirt, scribbled placemats, a robot friend, easy felt party garlands, overstuffed dollhouse pillows, a gorgeous world-map quilt, and much more. Each chapter also includes no-sew projects, educational activities, play ideas, and reading suggestions to encourage imagination and learning.

My thoughts:, this book is perfect for introducing sewing to little ones! This book includes lovely patterns for creating little goodies with your tots, recipes and reading suggestions. There are even just some general project ideas to do with your kids. My favorite project is one that involves creating an entire table set from fabric - from place mats, to plates, to all the cutlery one needs and even some veggies and fruit to 'eat.'

If you like to sew and want to one day pass on the passion to your kids, this book would be the perfect place to start. The projects aren't just kid-friendly in that your kids can help make them, but the projects are ones kids will want to make. I love the idea of having kids too little to work with scissors and a sewing machine draw on the fabric, then use the fabric to make a skirt. That's a brilliant idea! This book has earned a permanent spot on my reference book shelf.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Chicken Alfredo with Broccoli

This is the first recipe from the In the Kitchen With David cookbook that didn't turn out as planned. There may have been a bit of extra cheese added. I'm rather sure that I accidentally doubled it, which caused the sauce to just not be right... but surprisingly it was still edible, and once the extra cheese parts were removed it was rather delicious. It's good enough to be put back into the list of meals to be made, and this time be made correctly.
Don't look too closely, as you will see clumps of cheese that never melted.
I really need to remake this recipe and have it turn out right. :-)
  • 3 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 head of broccoli chopped into florets
  • 12 oz penne noodles
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, filleted, and chopped into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp dry white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 2/3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 cup grated Italian Fontina (This is the one I accidentally doubled up on, I do NOT recommend you make the same mistake I did.)
  •  Bring a large pot of water and 2 tsp of salt to a boil.
  • Add the broccoli to the boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes.
  • Using a hand strainer or a slotted spoon, remove the broccoli from the water.
  • Run the broccoli under cold water and put in a mixing bowl.
  • In the water you just cooked the broccoli in, add the penne and cook for about 7 minutes.
  • Drain the penne and mix into a bowl with the broccoli.
  • Season the chicken with the remaining salt and  pepper.
  • Pour EVOO into a sauce pan and heat over medium high heat.
  • Put the chicken into the sauce pan. Work in batches if you have to and cook for 4 minutes.
  • Mix cooked chicken with the noodles and broccoli.
  • Add wine and garlic to the sauce pan, lower to medium heat, and cook for 1 minute.
  • Stir in cream and then slowly stir in the 1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano and all the Fontina.
  • Lower the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes stirring regularly. (The sauce should thicken now, not turn into a goupy, cheesey mess.)
  • Pour the sauce over the noodle mixture and mix it in.
  • Garnish with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano when serving.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, June 16, 2014

Life & Style: giving until it hurts (or why we tithe)

photo credit
It wasn't until I became pregnant in 2012 that we really started attending church every single Sunday. And it wasn't until we really started attending church every single Sunday that we started to follow as much as we could of what Jesus and the Bible taught.

Sure, we were good Christians. But being good enough wasn't the answer for us. While we'll never be anything even close to perfect (I will only speak for myself here, but I would say I'm at the opposite end of that particular spectrum), we rely on God and His strength to bring us closer to Him by following what He teaches and advises for us.

Part of His teaching is to tithe. Tithing means to be 10% of your income back to the church. If you've ever struggled with budgets and debt, you may be cringing right about now. But I need that 10% to get out of debt, you might say. I need that 10% to make sure I have enough gas in my car to get to work. 

Here's what I can tell you: tithing for an imperfect Christian (yup, that's me) is never easy. Especially when you first begin. You'll find a million and one reasons not to tithe. There will always be something you need. Forget what you want! You're still trying to figure out how to make sure you have everything you  need.

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Proverbs 11:24

I hear you. I'm totally with you. I've been there, done that (who am I kidding? I'm there every Sunday morning. I'm still working on the giving freely part).

If you're like me, you're thinking, Okay, God. I get it. You say I must do this. But I just can't right now. I love You and You're awesome, but this is my security blanket. 

You can let go. I promise. It won't be easy. It won't look pretty. But let go and tithe.

It may not be enough that God says you must do it. It wasn't for me. Here's what finally got through to me: God gave me 100% of the money we have. The money we have is from God. Yes, we worked for it. But we were able to work because God gave us our brains and our bodies and the ability to work.

God isn't asking for all His money back. Oh, no. He's not even asking for half! Just 10%.

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. Malachi 3:8

Still not enough for you? You're a stickler, you are! How about this: if you can't make it on 90%, you're not going to make it on 100% (this will be true for most people). Tithing won't really affect you then. You'll be able to make it less, but only 10% less.

If that hasn't convinced you yet that tithing is a fantastic exercise in faith, here's this: once we started tithing in good faith, we were blessed in so many ways. Some in terms of money, others in terms of goods. And others in terms of people just reaching out to us, encouraging us and loving on us.

If you don't tithe, God isn't going to stop loving you. He's always going to love you. There's not a thing You can do to make Him stop loving His creation. If you don't tithe, it doesn't mean God won't bless you. You will still have many blessings in Your life!

And if you do tithe, it doesn't mean nothing bad will ever happen to you. It doesn't mean you'll see your tithe back in your pockets from blessings given to you by others.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:19

That's definitely not what I'm saying. But I am saying that tithing frees up your mind to allow more blessings to come into your lives. You rely on God more which brings you closer to Him. You may find yourself reaching for your Bible multiple times a day to immerse yourself in His promises. You may find yourself praying without ceasing. You may find yourself building new friendships for encouragement and support.

Tithing has opened up our lives to a whole new dimension. People have blessed us with food, money, friendship, encouragement and love. Our lives are more full now, even though our wallets are a bit more empty.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ornament of the Month: Felt Mustaches

Mustaches are all the rage lately and while I'm not completely on the bandwagon, I have to say - these ornaments are too funny! They are really dirt simple but super fun.

Here's what you need to make felt mustache ornaments: 
  • Felt in colors of your choice
  • Embroidery thread to match felt (or use white)
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Mustache template
Here's how you make felt mustache ornaments:
  1. Print and cut out the mustache template
  2. Cut out all the felt for the ornaments. You'll need two mustache pieces per one mustache ornament. 
  3. Using needle and thread, sew a loop on one mustache piece per ornament. 
  4. Pin the two mustache pieces together and using a straight stitch, sew the two pieces together.
I only used one mustache template to make my ornaments, but I love the idea of using all different kinds of mustache templates. There are many just by googling "mustache template" on

Happy crafting! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Free eBooks round up!

I was on last night and saw some great e-books for free. Please check the price before automatically downloading any of these as the prices could change anytime.

Click here to get the book. Do you know that having healthy and beautiful skin is as easy as ABC? With simple to follow steps, you can make your own body butters! Whether you are a beginner or an expert chef, you can dish out a body butter recipe for you and your loved ones – not to be eaten of course, but to be applied on the skin. Say goodbye to dry, scaly skin and start giving your skin the star treatment it deserves.

Click here to get the book. These are the herbs that big pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to get your hands on. These Herbal Remedies offer a safe and natural alternative to prescription drugs that only serve to make you sicker and just keep you well enough so that you have to keep buying them. Take your health back now and start using herbs to fight disease, cure ailments, and prevent sickness. I have compiled the top 31 herbs in this book that will totally transform your life and health.

Click here to get the book. Modern-day homesteaders are throwbacks to the days of old. They raise and grow much of their food, practice food preservation techniques and know how to live off the land. While some may scoff at the lifestyle of a homesteader, they tend to be happier and healthier than most people caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Western lifestyle.

Click here to get the book. Cupcakes are just the thing to add a festive touch to your next party. Simple or elaborate, they’re colorful and tasty desserts that are just the right size to take in hand for casual entertaining. Whether you decorate them with a quick layer of frosting or adorn each with custom flowers and artistic touches, your cupcake desserts will be the hit of your next get together. 

Click here to get the book.

Happy reading!

This Book Room: the Hatmaker's Heart

For Nell Marchwold, bliss is seeing the transformation when someone gets a glimpse in the mirror while wearing one of her creations and feels beautiful. Nell has always strived to create hats that bring out a woman's best qualities. She knows she's fortunate to have landed a job as an apprentice designer at the prominent Oscar Fields Millinery in New York City. Yet when Nell's fresh designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she's had since childhood reflects poorly on her and his salon.

But it seems Nell's gift won't be hidden by Oscar's efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is.

My thoughts: I've always thought hats were so chic and stylish, even though I can't pull one off. What drew me to this book was that it focused on a hat maker. While the plot didn't delve too much into the hat making process, the plot was intriguing and flowed easily. I found it odd that Nell put up with so much of Oscar's attitude. I think it all just stemmed from feeling like she had to bow down to superior males in her life. The ending was somewhat abrupt, but it was nice to see Nell finally found her place in life.

It was incredibly obvious the author was setting everything up for her next novel, and the way the story happened around that was a bit too obvious. It was kind of awkward. I don't want to give too much away, but a very minor character is part of a scene and it's odd how much the author focused on that for a page or two, then no one discussed it again.

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

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I'm not sure if I would read the next book about the minor character from this book, but I'm glad I read this one and would actively search out more books about hat making based on what I learned in this book.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Sauteed Green Beans with Garlic and Bacon

As side dishes go, these green beans were fantastic. But then again, cooking just about any vegetable in bacon drippings and then adding crumbled bacon to them is a recipe for success in my book.

You cannot see the scallions but they are there. Oh and did
I mention that there is bacon mixed in there as well?

  • 2 1/2 pounds green beans, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 8 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • 3 tbsp. bacon drippings
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped scallions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch of cumin
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  • Add the beans and cook about 6 minutes, until they are crisp but still tender as well.
  • Drain the beans and run them under cold water, then set them aside for the moment.
  • Melt to butter with the bacon drippings in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the scallions and cook for about 4 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Add the beans to the garlic/scallion mixture and cook for 6 minutes.
  • Mix in the bacon, cumin, salt and pepper and serve.
Use this recipe with caution, as many people who don't normally enjoy their veggies will be drooling over their plates and asking for more. You have been warned.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, June 9, 2014

Busy Bag of the Month: Bean Counting

I'm a little crazy obsessive and want everything to be perfect. You would think as a mama to one cat and one toddler this would've changed by now. But it hasn't.

This busy bag could've been a lot easier to make if I didn't suffer from "everything must be perfect" syndrome. Maybe you don't suffer from that syndrome. If not, please embrace that! I'm forever jealous of you.

Here's what you need to make a bean counting busy bag: 
  • 5 foam sheets in colors of your choice 
  • Black Sharpie marker
  • Beans
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Pen
  • Nickel
  • If you suffer from the above-mentioned syndrome, you will also need number templates to draw your numbers. I used the templates found here and adjusted the size of the numbers by copying them repeatedly until I found the correct size I wanted. I apologize, trees, for how many of you had to die so I could try to be perfect. 
Here's how you make a bean counting busy bag: 
  1.  If you have full-sized sheets of foam (8.5 x 11), measure them at the 5.5 inch mark and draw a line. Cut out the pieces of foam so instead of 5 pieces, you now have 10. See how good I am at math? HA. 
  2. Print your number templates and adjust the size accordingly if you think you need to be perfect. Cut the numbers out and use your Sharpie to trace the numbers. 
  3. If you are a rebel, just free-hand the numbers. 
  4. Using a nickel and Sharpie, trace the nickel on each foam sheet to correspond with the number on the sheet. So for number 1, trace the nickel one time. For number 2, trace it twice (not in the same spot...). 
  5. Put the finished foam sheets in a ziplock bag and toss in a bunch of beanies. Dunzo! 
The child will put the beans from the bag on each circle when working on this busy bag.

This was pretty easy to make, except for all the copying and adjusting I did for the numbers. The busy bag is also pretty cost effective. I had everything on hand to make this except for foam sheets. I found a pack of 12 foam sheets at a garage sale for $1. I have no clue if this is a good price or not, but the price marked on it when it was purchased at a store was $2.44 (and that was on clearance). So I'm guessing it's a decent. I used 5 sheets from it so I may make another bean counting busy bag for a Christmas gift. 

And yes, I saved my number templates so more trees don't have to be killed.

Happy crafting!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Saving the Moola: practical tips to drastically reduce your energy bill!

photo credit
Jason and I are huge advocates for doing everything we can to save energy. Not only does this benefit our wallets, but it also benefits the environment. I recently read a fiction book (The Here and Now by Ann Brashares) where one of the characters talks about how everyone in the early to mid 2000s does green things but it doesn't really make an impact on the environment.

I will get to the practical tips, but I just have to say really quickly: anything you can do to save even a tiny sliver of energy is still saving a tiny sliver of energy. You'll also notice it in your bill. If nothing else, at least be happy you're going to save money.

Onto my energy story and tips... this past winter was incredibly brutal in terms of very low temps. We live in about a 1,200 square foot apartment on the third floor. We do have the benefit in the winter of having heat rise from below us. We also have a very large window in our living room, and when the sun comes in, it heats the house up pretty well. But we also kept the heat at about 60 degrees. Honestly, sometimes it was a little colder than I would have liked, but I honestly love winter. I love the cold. I love snuggling up with a blanket and Jason and my girl and my cat and watching a movie, reading a book or knitting something. That is my idea of a good time.

During the winter of '14, I was on a very frugal kick (that kick has not ended, by the way). I did everything I could to save on costs. Here are some of the things I did that resulted in a $0 energy bill for our April usage. Our bill was $0 in part due to a bad estimation from a previous month, but we have not paid more than $140 for our energy total since I can remember so please keep that in mind.

Turn off the lights
At night, I used a flashlight with rechargeable batteries to read or pick up around the house. I also am a huge fan of flameless candles (with rechargeable batteries inside, of course). I also have been known to use our Kindle Fire's flashlight app to read or find my way around the house at night. During the day and even early morning, I often went without lights and used whatever daylight was available. I couldn't quite manage to shower without the lights on, but I do get ready for the day with the bathroom light off. I use Energizer brand of rechargeable batteries, you can buy flameless candles anywhere and most (if not all) flashlight apps are free.

Use your slow cooker and keep the oven off
Slow cookers use far less energy than an oven. According to this article, a slow cooker used for seven hours uses 10 cents of energy and an oven for 1 hour uses 20 cents. Do that four times a week and you'll save $1.60 in one month. Use your slow cooker to make a one-pot meal, and you'll likely save more. There are other good reasons to use a slow cooker. Read about those other reasons here. We own 4 different slow cookers, and if I had more space and money, I'd buy more. Slow cookers are relatively cheap, though, and there are in abundance at garage sales and thrift stores. I highly recommend a 3 qt, 4.5 qt and 6 qt size. There are several great slow cooker books available at your local library. I love the Fix It and Forget It cookbooks.

Use your oven to heat your home
I know that sounds hypocritical, but give me a second to explain myself: if you do use your own at all for cooking, after you've pulled your dish out and turned the oven off, leave the oven door cracked. All the leftover heat from cooking will spill out into your home and add some extra warmth.

Turn off the oven before your dish is done
This is a newer tip I recently started implementing, and it works wonderfully! I wouldn't necessarily do this with baking since those cooking times are often short. A lot of the casseroles we make call for cheese to be added, then we bake the dish for another 3 minutes for the cheese to melt. When the timer goes off for me to add the cheese, I pull the dish out, add the cheese, pop the dish back in, turn off the oven and set the timer for 3 minutes. This saves a bit of energy and the cheese is perfectly melted when the 3 minutes are oven. If you're baking a dish for 30 minutes or more, turn off the oven 3 - 5 minutes before the dish is due to be done and I doubt you'll notice a difference.

Unplug everything*
Really examine everything you have plugged in. I was shocked when I realized how much we had plugged in just in Bug's room (2 lights, a nightlight, and a big power strip for our printer, internet, etc.). We ditched the nightlight and unplugged a lamp. She doesn't sleep in there yet anywhere so the nightlight isn't necessary. We never used one of the lamps so I unplugged that. We also unplugged various other things around the house for good and we also make it a point to keep items unplugged when we're not using them, particularly the KitchenAid mixer, the VitaMix blender and the toaster. I recommend finding a Kill-a-Watt or purchasing one (and if you do and live in the area, please let me borrow it!!). A Kill-a-Watt will let you know how much energy your devices are using. This will help motivate you to unplug them and/or decide if you need a new one. *Please do not unplug your freezer or fridge.

Take out light bulbs
We have two bathrooms and each one has 8 bulbs for the vanity. That's a lot of lighting! We also have a ceiling fan with four bulbs in our dining room. Many have reported taking out half the bulbs and not really noticing a difference. I do notice a difference in our dining room, mainly because there are no windows in our dining room so we have no natural light. But our bathrooms are fine without extra lights. You'll not only save money on the energy, but you'll also save money on light bulbs! Also, this goes without saying I think, but only use energy-saving bulbs.

Line dry your clothes
Set up an indoor clothesline and/or use metal drying racks to dry your clothes. We line dry everything except bedding, and I love it. I had never had line dried anything before we started doing it 3 years ago, and I will never go back. You can read more about line drying here. We have this clothesline and drying racks similar to these. Everyone who has seen our drying racks are highly impressed with them.

Collect rainwater outside
Our water usage isn't included in our energy bill, but I thought I'd throw in some water tips for good measure, too. Set buckets outside to collect water and use that water for boiling pasta, watering plants, giving your pet water, washing dishes, etc.

Collect water from your shower while it heats up
This might just be an us thing, but we have to run our water for a few minutes before we use it for it to heat up. We collect the water from the shower and use for everything mentioned above.

Save water from boiling pasta, potatoes, etc.
We save the water we use when cooking and use that to water our garden. It's a good way to use up the leftover water, especially since it can't really be used for anything else.

Hand wash clothes
There are a couple of different ways to do this. One way is to wash your clothes while you shower. I have personally never tried that, so I don't know how well that works. You can read more about that method here. Another way is to buy this handy-dandy washer tool and wash your clothes that way. Jason and I have done this off and on for a few years, just depending on our current season of life. It is a tool that I will never, ever get rid of. It is too darn handy and useful. Anyway, I digress a bit. You can also use rainwater or water collected from your shower for washing clothes so you're not really using any extra water. It does take a bit of effort, in that it takes more effort to hand wash than it does to put clothes in a washer, but it's a good little exercise and the only energy you're expending is your own. I don't know for certain, but I have a feeling the portable washer uses less water than a real washer.

Hand wash dishes
We hand wash a lot of dishes, and it's not always a pleasant task while I'm doing it, but I always feel happy after. Since you may be using water you collected, it definitely uses less water and the only energy you're expending is, again, your own.

Don't dry your dishes
If you do use a dishwasher, turn off the heated dry component. This is really easy for us to do since ours doesn't work to my satisfaction anyway, but if you do turn off the component, this saves energy. If you want your dishes dried faster, dry them yourself.

Step away from all electronics
We watch very little TV/movies, and you'll often times find our TV tucked away in a closet (unplugged). We also are very cognizant of how much time we spend on devices, even though I'll be the first to admit we spend way more time than I'd like on them. We work off paper for chore and to-do lists, and we mostly read physical books. We do keep our personal and work calendars strictly online. Maybe someday we'll go to a paper-only version of our calendar. The more you're not on electronics, the more you can keep them unplugged. I use my phone as little as possible, and I only need to charge it every 3 - 4 days or 3 hours or so.

Charge your items somewhere else
This is a really frugal tip and not for those who are faint at heart. Take your electronics (like your phone, tablet, computer, etc.) and charge them somewhere else, like McDonald's, a family member's/friend's house while you're visiting, work, etc. I will fully admit: I have totally done this. Multiple times. I do not go somewhere else just to charge my items, but if I'm going somewhere anyway, I do grab my phone charger and Kindle Fire charger with the explicit purpose to charge them where I'm going.

You may find some of these ideas to be uncomfortable. But I find three-digit energy bills to be more uncomfortable. I pick my battles wisely and this is one battle I am definitely winning. It does take energy and effort on your part, but I truly believe that if you're willing to put in the work and make sacrifices, you will see a huge decrease in your bill.

If you have any tips to share, please feel free to do so! I am always looking for fresh, new ways to save money.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: Essentials for Life with a Newborn

photo credit
There are very few items one needs for living with a newborn. But the few items you need are pretty important to making life go smoothly. What is an essential will vary person to person, but here are the items Jason and I could not have lived without for the first few months:
  • Receiving blankets
    • We had several blankets, but if we ever have another baby, I will make a few more. We used them all the time for the first six months for various reasons.
  • Burp cloths
    • We did not have enough of these, though we made do with what we had. If we have another, I will be making at least 6 more. These are useful for several things as well. 
  • Sleepers
    • We only used sleepers in the beginning to dress Bug. If you live in a warmer climate, you may find onesies and pants to be more appropriate (or just onesies, depending on how hot it is where you live!). We live in Michigan, and Bug was born in March, so it was quite cold. 
  • Bottles/breast pump/breasts
    • Let's face it: you need some way to get num nums into your baby's belly. You at least need breasts. I find a pump is really useful to get your supply up, and if you plan to be away from your baby for more than two hours for the first six months, you will need some sort of pump to extract milk, unless you want to hand express. If, for whatever reason, your baby isn't getting breast milk, you'll need formula. 
  • Diapers and wipes
    • Whether cloth or disposable, you'll need diapers and wipes. Oddly, I love cloth diapers, and I disliked cloth wipes. If we have another, I will re-visit cloth wipes. 
  • Car seat 
    • Most everyone will tell you not to buy a used car seat. Here's what I'll tell you: do what works best for you. If you feel comfortable buying used, do that. If you feel comfortable only buying new, do that. I bought a used car seat, and I have no regrets. We have since obtained a brand new car seat, so we'll be recycling our original soon. I would recommend buying a travel system: a car seat with accompanying stroller. I also recommend buying a car seat that goes up to 30 or more pounds. 
  • Baby bath tub
    • A friend gave us one shortly after Bug was born. She is a year old and still uses this, albeit without the sling. This has been one of the most useful items ever. 
  • Bassinet
    • For some reason, I thought, when I was pregnant, this would be a stupid item to purchase. So we did not. Then, Bug was born and for a million reasons, I didn't just want one; I needed one. We borrowed one, but if we have another baby, a new bassinet is at the top of my wish list. Bassinets are useful if your baby has jaundice or you or your hubby do not want to co-sleep. I also found it useful to pop Bug in the bassinet, then wheel the bassinet from room to room as I did chores to keep her super close to me. 
  • Carrier
    • We found baby-wearing to be absolutely joyful. Jason did more of the baby-wearing around the house, and I did more of the baby-wearing outside of the house. Whatever works for you, that is what works. We were given a carrier for free and found that it worked wonderfully. I would love, love, love to have a Boba carrier, and if we have another, that will be on my wish list. If you can't afford or don't want to afford a Boba, we used one of those $30 or so carriers you can get everywhere (Walmart, Target, etc.). 
Everyone will tell you babies are expensive. Honestly, we paid more for Bug's birth than anything else. Only buying essentials keeps costs very low. I still stand by my conviction that babies don't need a baby swing, a crib, a bouncer, a million outfits, and so on to grow into productive humans. I got a lot of flak from what I assume are well-meaning people for not wanting, in particular, a bouncer or swing. Bug is a clever girl and does not seem to be ill-affected by my choices. At the end of the day, you need to do what works for you, no matter if it's not what anyone else is doing. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

This recipe was trying to not be a favorite for us. I cannot eat eggs and Jess doesn't care for bacon, both of which are present in this recipe. Oddly enough, we both loved this salad. Jess liked it so much she ate all the leftovers and didn't let me have any more.

  • 11 oz baby spinach
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 dried cranberries
  • 8 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • 3 Tbsp bacon drippings
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano shavings
  • Toss together the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl.
  • In a saucepan over low heat, whisk together the bacon drippings, vinegar, sugar, mustard, and basil.
  • Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Toss dressing with salad, add remaining ingredients and serve.
Not only was this extra delicious, but it was crazy easy to make, and as stated before, was also crazy easy to eat. The recipe stated that it makes 4 servings but we got at least 6 out of it.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, June 2, 2014

State of Our House Address: May in review

We were so blessed in May! There was so much that happened, so many new and fun experiences that I'm just refreshed and renewed for life.

First, after praying a lot and talking it over, we decided to stay in the town we're currently living. Because of that decision, it did not make sense for me to continue commuting to where I took a position. For now, I'm staying home with Bug but am open to opportunities where we live. I'm so excited we're staying where we live! We love our community and the support we've built here.

Jason worked so much in May. I'm not really sure how he's even still standing. He worked a ton of overtime, completed a bunch of mystery shops and his tutoring business has really taken off. We've been intentional about making sure he has time to refresh and renew himself, and he's completing the C25K program right now. I am super proud and cannot wait to be there at the finish line at his first 5K with Bug to cheer him on!

A smallish haul from one day of garage saling. Total paid: $8.45.
May is really the official start to garage saling and boy, did we garage sale! There is one garage sale in a neighboring town that has an annual yard sale weekend. We spent way more money than I ever imagined because we kept finding things on our list! We bought a new, never opened copy of Peter Pan, a full-length ironing board, a board game, clothes for Bug, a toy for Bug, a George Foreman grill and lots of other items. Garage saling inspired me to look through the house to see if I had anything I could sell. I didn't find a lot, but I managed to list what I had for sale on a local FB group and I made $29. That's huge for me because we live such a minimal life that we don't really have extra stuff to sell.

Our garden is so big this summer! I'm so happy. We have 3 big tomato plants, 4 marigolds, a bunch of carrots, a bunch of strawberries and 2 jalapeno pepper plants. My parents gave us the pepper plants. I'm not too keen on jalapeno peppers but I've found some recipes to use with them that look good. My mom also told me that if I take out the seeds and cut them up, I can freeze them. She said they would taste more like regular peppers once I take the heat out. I'm going to give that a shot and see how that works, assuming I get some peppers from the plants. Once we transplanted everything, I feel like the carrots aren't doing so hot. I've learned so much from gardening already this summer, and this fall, I'll publish a post with everything I learned this year. If you also grow a garden in containers, I highly recommend the Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible. It is the best container gardening book I've read.

Since I'm home with Bug, I've been thinking up ways to earn extra money. Jason's killing it at work and with his side businesses, so I've been devoted to getting as many Swagbucks as possible and working on Bing. I help Jason with his Swagbucks since he's not always home to work on it. We made $50 in gift cards in May, and I placed a huge order that will arrive in June. I also started doing tasks through Amazon's Mechanical Turk program. It's similar to Swagbucks in that you choose when to work on it and what to do, but it's totally dissimilar in the work you're doing. It's a good way to earn a little bit extra. I worked on it very little in June but transferred $2 and change to my account at the end of May. My goal this month is $5. I work on it for a little bit about once a week after Bug goes to sleep for the night. Other people have told me they make a few thousand each year, but I guess I'm just not that ambitious right now.

I've been sewing and creating a lot, and I now have systems in place for both bathrooms for family cloth. I noticed a huge decline in TP usage once the systems were in place. I've still been tracking TP usage and am excited to see what June will look like for usage. It's a rare occasion when the sewing machine is put away because I've been using it so much. I've also been trying to purposefully re-use things I no longer want/need and cannot really be sold.

We went thrift store shopping with a friend in her town and scored all kinds of goodies! Jason only had one pair of jeans and they were in bad, but usable shape. His others had all died. He found two pairs of nice jeans for a total of $11. He also found a ton of board games for $1 each! I've told him he's now cut off from buying games until he thinks up and implements a new way to organize and store the games. We're running out of room where they are currently stored. I hope he thinks up something great - it's hard to pass up a great game for $1! 

Bug is growing up so, so fast. Shesistance. We've played a lot with bubbles, a fort, a laundry basket, flour - everything I can think of. I get a lot of ideas from Pinterest. She's kind of at an odd age - she's too little for coloring and she can't talk yet, but she's ready to be active and do activities. We go outside a lot, too, and she loves to just pull up grass and be silly. We went to our favorite local park near the end of May, and she loved walking in the water. I can't wait until all the "big bath tubs" (aka swimming pools) are open and heated enough for us to go swimming.

We don't watch a lot of TV, but there are times when I like to watch in the evenings when Bug is asleep. I was lamenting to Jason how I really just want to watch old episodes of TV series' that aren't even on TV and he told me about I don't know how they're able to do it, but they have a bunch of TV shows on there you can watch for free. I am re-working my way through the Hills right now, but I have a list of other shows I'll watch, eventually, as I have time.

Much to my horror, Bug is a little obsessed with watching the Princess Bride. We do limit her screen time, but there was a week or two where whenever she watched a movie, this was it and she would literally watch it smiling.

What did you do in May to save money? What kinds of activities did you do in May?