Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Busy Bag of the Month: Ice Cream + Numbers = FUN!

If you're new to making busy bags or are nervous about making one, this one would be perfect as the first bag for your collection! It's super easy to make and doesn't take too much time.

Here's what you need to make this busy bag:
  • Foam sheets in tan and at least one other color for the ice cream scoop {I used a variety of colors, but you could just stick with white, if you so desired}
  • Paint markers, regular markers, something with which to color on the foam
  • Black marker to color on the ice cream cone
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Ice cream cone template
Here's how you make this busy bag:
  1. Print this ice cream cone template; you may want to adjust the size. When the size is correct, print 2 copies.
  2. Cut out the cone from one copy and the ice cream scoop from the other. The cone you cut will need to be slightly taller than the cone pictured.
  3. Trace 10 ice cream cone shapes on the tan colored foam sheet. Cut out the ice cream cones.
  4. Trace 10 ice cream scoop shapes on the other colored foam sheet(s). Cut out the ice cream scoops.
  5. Using a black marker, write a number, 1 - 10, on each cone.
  6. Using markers or foam paint markers, draw sprinkles on each scoop. One scoop will have 1 sprinkle, another will have 2, and so on, all the way up to 10.
Children can match up the number on the cone to the number of sprinkles on the scoops, and if you use colored ice cream scoops, you can also ask the child to identify the color of the scoop. I also like the idea of asking the child to make up a flavor for each colored ice cream scoop - the blue could be razzle dazzle berry, the red could be strawberry, the green could be booger-flavored! It will give children the opportunity to be super silly and imaginative.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Saving the Moola: the what, how and why of an envelope system

photo credit
Being frugal may not have always been a popular choice, but it is a choice or a decision many families are making now. Chances are if you have explored personal finance on any kind of level, you have heard about Dave Ramsey.

Most certainly if you are not new to our little blog, you have heard us talk about Dave a time or two (or 10). We started our baby step journey before even knowing who he was, but he gave us the focus we needed - and solidified the baby steps we needed to take.

If you're going to be successful with your money, you've got to know where it's going. This is more than just glancing over your bank statement at the end of the month. The point is to tell your money where to go at the beginning of the month.

The envelope system works because you can actually see your money. You'll know exactly how much you have at any given moment. The envelope system is a system where you place how much money you will spend on categories like groceries, gas, clothing and so on in envelopes.

Depending on how often you are paid and how often you pay for these items will determine how often you stock your envelopes. Most of our envelopes are stocked on a monthly basis. Groceries, gas and laundry are stocked on a weekly basis. When we go grocery shopping, we take our envelope. We only spend what is in the envelope. If you go over, I'd recommend putting an item back on the shelf. If that's not an option, the money must come from another envelope - not the debit card, not the credit card. Once the money is gone, it's gone.

We have quite a few envelopes because we use envelopes for all of our sinking funds. Here are current categories for envelopes:

We each get a blow envelope for the month. Jason can use his blow money on whatever he wants, and I get to spend my blow money on whatever I want. We have not always had a blow envelope; this is actually new as of June of this year. We have found our blow envelopes to be incredibly useful for covering things we didn't think of, like dues for the mama group I belong to at church and printing pictures.

This may come as a shock to you, but did you know Christmas falls on the same exact date each year? It blows my mind when people don't budget for Christmas, then Thanksgiving comes around and they're all, "Oh man, we've got to get presents!" Well first, you don't have to do anything. And second, you knew it was coming! We save for Christmas all year and use the money in this envelope to buy three gifts for Bug under the tree, stuff her stocking and stuff each other's stocking. We don't spend a lot and we make gifts for each other, for Bug and for everyone else whenever, however, wherever we can.

We use the money here to cover making gifts for Christmas, making things we want to have, and making things to sell. Whenever we do sell crafts, the money we earn goes right back into this envelope. Ideally, this would be a self-sustaining envelope and we wouldn't need to put any money in this per month, but right now it is not. And that's okay.

This envelope covers canning supplies for anything we can from our garden plus canning jams. We give jams as gifts for Christmas, to bless other families at our church (and at times, for payment) and to sell. Again, like with the crafting envelope, it would be ideal for this envelope to be self-sustaining. We're not there yet, but we do sell quite a few jars of jam throughout the year. Any money we earn from selling jam goes right back into this envelope.

Our gardening costs are a little bit higher than the average person's because we live in an apartment and can only do container gardening. This means we must buy soil each year specifically for use in containers. Regardless of the cost, gardening adds great joy to our lives and is a lesson for Bug.

We use the money from this envelope for litter and food.

Bug's money goes toward whatever she needs or wants within reason (or whatever we want for her). Most recently, her money was used for swimming lessons. Future purchases include an electric toothbrush and new shoes.

Clothing for anyone can come from this envelope. We purchase a lot of our items from thrift stores and garage sales. Most of my clothes are purchased new, and I usually don't buy anything unless I have to. When I found out I was pregnant, we spent money from our savings because I needed more than this envelope would ever have. In a typical season, this envelope is more than enough for our needs.

Disney movies
This is such a frivolous envelope, but one that brings such joy to our lives. We are huge Disney fans and we watch our DVDs over and over and over again. They can get really old really fast so we came up with this envelope idea earlier this summer. We put enough money in this envelope to buy one new movie each month. It has been great fun.

Garage sales
Garage sales is a really fun envelope to have because so long as there's money in it, you can buy whatever the heck you want at a garage sale. We've bought items like new (still in the package) Disney DVDs, an ironing board, a Sulley doll that roars, a toy truck, clothes, crafting items, etc. I adore living in Michigan, but if I could change one thing, it's that I could garage sale in all seasons.

We're not crazy Black Friday (or Thanksgiving) shoppers. We go out around 9 or 10 in the morning and what we shop for is not what we will be sold out - my favorite thing to purchase is new slippers at Kohl's. I'm a wild party animal like that. There are great deals on the DAT, and we like to have some money set aside for the items we need and a few we want (within reason).

This is a pretty lenient envelope and can be used for most anything from eating out, to picking apples, to renting a movie.

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland is a huge Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan. We've made it a yearly tradition to go, and we set aside a little bit each month so we can buy a few ornaments when we visit.

This is the envelope I'm probably most pleased with. It's not going to fund a new car, but we put enough in each month for the routine things we need, like oil changes, new windshield wipers, etc. It won't cover repairs, but that's okay. That's what an emergency fund is for.

Okay, confession time: I routinely get my face waxed off. I am seriously one hairy beast - even more so when I'm pregnant and in the post-partum phase. We put enough money in there so I can do this every 6 weeks or so.

Whew, that's a lot of envelopes. You don't have to have this many, and you may find yourself needing more. I find it easiest to break everything down to the littlest detail. That's why you'll find a separate envelope for Disney DVDs rather than grouping that money into the entertainment envelope.

Based on how many envelopes we stock, you're probably thinking, "Holy cow, how much money do they make?" Ha, not that much; we are a one-income family. I take out $300 a month to stock all the envelopes listed above. Groceries, gas and laundry are funded on a weekly basis and are special envelopes that aren't included in the $300 budget. We have general amounts that we fund each envelope for each month. For instance, Preston generally gets $10 a month. But if one envelope is low and we are in need of money for that category, we will shift things around so that envelope gets more.

Just like with groceries, when the money's gone from a specific envelope, it's gone, unless you steal from another envelope. We recently did take money from gardening to fund some extra entertainment. That was a rare occurrence, but if you find yourself shifting money around often, you may want to re-visit the amounts you're putting in each one. Maybe you need to put a little bit more in one envelope and less in another.

Envelopes are extremely portable, so when we head out to purchase clothes, we literally take our clothing envelope with us. This allows us to see how much money we have to spend. If you're going garage saling and may be shopping for clothes, you can take both envelopes. If it's clothing you're buying, it can come from either envelope.

We've been strict on working the envelope system since June, and it's made a huge difference in what we're able to buy. We are actually buying more now that we're being more strict! It's really freed up our money to be working our budget and sticking to our guns. So long as the money is in the envelope, we're good.

If you've use or have used the envelope system before, we'd love to hear how it has or has not worked for you!

Friday, September 26, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Tangy Coleslaw

This recipe made a delicious coleslaw. The problem is that it made way to much delicious coleslaw... and I only made a 1/2 batch. The recipe stated 8 servings, and we got over 16 from the half batch. That being said, here is the recipe I made (and you may want to 1/2 that if you don't eat a lot of coleslaw).

Note: our local grocery store doesn't display 1/2 or 1/4 heads of cabbage, but they will cut one for you if you ask. You should ask at your own if you don't want to end up with extra cabbage and nothing to do with it. The worst they can say is no.

See the pretty coleslaw, all the yummy different colors. You know
you want some.

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
  • 1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1/2 red onion, quartered and sliced
    • Jess didn't care for the onion as much as I did, so if you are not an onion person, you may want to skip this.
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • Combine the cabbages, carrot, and onion in a very large bowl.
  • Combine the sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar dissolves.
    • The very next step is to let it cool so make sure to cook it as little as possible.
  • Let cool and then whisk in the remaining ingredients.
  • Pour mayo mixture over the cabbage mixture and toss to coat.
    • Or put a cover on the large bowl and give it a very good shake.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Crafty Christmas: Card Bookmarks

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 13 weeks away!

I don't know why, but we never seem to have any bookmarks in our house. This is particularly odd because Jason and I are avid readers. Of all the homemade bookmark ideas I've seen and tried, this one is one of my all-time favorites. It's cheap (practically free!) and incredibly easy. I made five bookmarks in about five minutes.

Here's what you need to make card bookmarks: 
  • Cards you've received in the mail, such as Christmas cards, birthday cards, etc. 
  • A hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Ribbon
I had cards from Christmas 2013 on hand. As part of my crafting stash, I had scissors and a hole punch. A few years ago, I bought a big bag of assorted ribbon on spools for $2. I've used ribbon from this bag for felt ornaments, gift tags at Christmas and other assorted projects. It was one of my best buys from a garage sale ever! My out-of-pocket cost for this project was $0. Love that!

Here's how you make card bookmarks: 
  1. Pick out cards to use for this project. You'll want to choose cards that have an image that would be easy to cut out or be fitting as a bookmark. Here's the pile of cards I chose from: 
  2. Using your scissors, cut out images from the cards. 
  3. Punch a hole near the top of each card piece you've cut. 
  4. Cut a piece of ribbon. Mine were about 10 inches long, but I cut extra. You could choose to cut 6 inches or so if you're wanting to conserve ribbon as much as possible. 
  5. Put both ends of the ribbon through the hole and loop the ribbon back through on itself to make a knot. Cut off any extra ribbon. 
I made the 5 bookmarks pictured in about five minutes. When Jason saw them, he was totally impressed and loved them! I think we may have a small fight over who can use the kitty bookmark :) I also love this project because it recycles cards you likely would've thrown away. Now the cards you were sent can be put to another use!

Happy crafting! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Down-Home Southern Fried Chicken

Who enjoys fried chicken? I know I do! And this recipe makes a wonderful and tasty fried chicken. Mine turned out a little darker, most likely due to me failing to have any cayenne on hand when we made it, causing the use of a substitute spice.

It is not safe to be a singular piece of fried chicken in our house.
This one didn't last long that is for sure.

  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp hot sauce
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp pepper, divided
  • 3 lbs bone-in chicken pieces. 
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (I used chili powder instead)
  • Lots of canola oil
  • Mix together buttermilk, hot sauce, 1 Tbsp salt, and 1 Tbsp pepper.
  • Lay the chicken in a single layer in a dish just large enough to for it all to fit and pour the buttermilk brine over it.
  • Cover the chicken and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, flipping the chicken 1/2 way through.
  • Drain the brine from the chicken.
  • In a resealable plastic bag, add the remaining non-oil ingredients.
  • With 2 or 3 chicken pieces at a time, put them into the bag and give it a good shake.
  • Remove the chicken and shake off any excess flour.
  • Store the chicken on a wire rack until you cook them.
  • Heat about 2 inches of canola oil to 350 degrees in a deep skillet.
    • I recommend using some form of cooking thermometer to make sure that the temperature reaches the correct level and stays there.
  • Cook the chicken in a single layer in the hot oil for 14-18 minutes, flipping 1/2 way through.
  • Remove the chicken to a wire rack with something underneath to keep any drippings from making a mess of your counters.
  • Let chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, September 22, 2014

This Book Room: Where Treetops Glisten

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.

In White Christmas by Cara Putman, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.

Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theatre in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?

In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.

The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and God’s plan for a future?

My thoughts: I had never read any books by Cara Putnam or Sarah Sundin before, but I like Tricia Goyer, I like reading stories about World War II and I love Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed Tricia Goyer's story and Sarah Sundin's story was interesting. But Cara Putnam's story nearly put me to sleep on several different occasions.

Cara's story didn't have enough true feeling to it; the characters' problems, in general, were superficial and silly. I was concerned about where Jackson's money was going, but the problem was solved in a second. There was way too much emotion being talked about, and I was just thinking... well, get on with it.

But honestly, Sarah and Tricia's stories were seriously good. This book did not really put me in the Christmas spirit, but it did put me in a spirit of thankfulness for what I have and for my country.

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): New England Baked Beans

Warning: New England is actually misspelled in the name of this recipe. It should be spelled Barbecue. The over abundance of the bbq flavor isn't a true problem, just more of a surprise.

Picture this: they have been baking and filling your house with good smells all day; you pull them out of the oven, spoon a generous portion onto our plate and take a bite. BAM! These are not how grandma used to make beans! The second time I had them, they were quite good, and I wouldn't mind making them again now that I know what I am in for.

Another thing this recipe is not: quick. Don't think you can whip these up in a couple minutes; they take all day. You won't be paying any attention to them for the majority of the time, but all day is a good description of the time from when you start to when you eat.

  • 1 night and 1 day
  • 1 lb dried Great Northern beans
  • 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinigar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Put the beans in a large bowl, put a lot of water in the bowl, and put the bowl in the fridge.
    • The beans are going to at least double in size from the water so make sure there is enough in the bowl; no such thing as too much.
  • Come back tomorrow.
  • Drain and rinse the beans.
  • Pick through them and remove any bad ones.
    • I have no clue what a bad Great Northern Bean looks like so good luck with this one.
  • Put the beans in a dutch oven and cover with water so the water is 2 inches higher than the beans.
  • Bring the beans to a boil over high heat and continue to boil them for 2 additional minutes.
  • Remove the beans from heat, put the cover on the dutch over, and take a 60-minute break.
  • Again, drain and rinse the beans.
  • Put the beans back in the pot and add 6 cups of water.
  • Bring the beans to a boil again, then reduce the heat, cover and come back in 2 hours.
  • Heat your oven to 275 degrees.
  • Before the 2 hours are up, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • When the bacon is crisp, remove it from the pan to a paper-lined plate.
  • Discard all but 2 Tbsp of the drippings.
  • Add the onion to the remaining drippings and cook for about 4 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Add all the other ingredients.
  • Drain the beans yet again, but this time reserve the cooking liquid (there will not be nearly as much as you started with).
  • Put the beans, bacon, and homemade bbq sauce in a 4 quart oven safe container that you have an oven safe lid for and mix them all together.
  • Cover and bake for 3 hours, coming back every 30 minutes to stir.
    • If the beans ever look dry, use some of the reserved liquid, but this didn't happen to me, so you might not actually need that stuff at all.
  • Serve up and enjoy your BBQ beans. They are delicious.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This Book Room: Joyful

Randall Beiler will sacrifice anything to take care of his younger siblings and the family farm, even if it means forsaking love. But when his brother offers pretty Elizabeth Nolt a job cleaning and cooking for the family, Randall is furious—and feels guilty about the way he once broke Elizabeth's heart. Then he learns that Elizabeth and her grandmother are struggling to make ends meet and he knows the offer, no matter how painful, is the right thing for everyone.

Elizabeth wants to refuse but she needs the work. Though she vows to protect her heart, spending time in the Beiler household makes Elizabeth realize that her love for Randall still burns strong. And though Randall keeps his distance at first, time and teamwork reveal that something deeper still connects them.

Elizabeth isn't sure what to think: Does Randall want her because he truly loves her, or because he needs a housekeeper? And if his feelings have changed for sure, Randall must find a way to show Elizabeth what she really means to him or risk losing his partner in life and love forever.

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

My thoughts: There is something warm and simple about reading an Amish fiction book and getting back to the roots of faith: loving and trusting God. It's not always easy or fun, but it brings such peace to my heart, and peace is just what some of these characters are seeking. I have to say amidst all of the different plot points within the series, the plot point involving Judith and Ben is my favorite. They are fostering a little boy and have fallen deeply in love with him. Their story is fully resolved in this book, and while it was heartbreakingly sad, it was also happy... and well, joyful.

It was fun and rewarding to delve deeper into the Beiler household. My curiosity was piqued in book 1 of this series for this family, so it was great to be able to spend time with the family. There will be a Christmas book for this series coming out later this year and I sincerely hope that series involves this family as well... I'm anxious to see where the brothers' stories end!

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Buttermilk Biscuits

In the Kitchen with Jason is proud to present one of the best recipes I have ever made. They are good for snacks, sides with dinner, or even as part of your breakfast and the best part: you can give one to your toddler and watch as she mows down on it like you have never fed her before (I promise that I feed her, she just acts like I don't).

These two are mine, go make your own biscuits!
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup butter-flavored shortening, chilled and copped into 1/2 inch pieces
    • If you only have normal shortening, this should work just as well.
  • 2 cups buttermilk
    • If you don't have buttermilk, put 2 Tbsp of white vinegar in a 2 cup measure and fill it the rest of the way with regular milk. In five minutes, you will have buttermilk. Super simple!
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  • Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
  • Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or a fork (with a knife to scrape the extra off), cut in the shortening until it resembles a coarse meal.
  • Add the buttermilk and mix just until combined.
    • It should be sticky.
  • Put the dough onto a well floured surface and roll it into a round about an inch thick.
  • Fold the dough into thirds (like folding a letter) and roll it out again to about an inch thick again.
  • Using a 2 inch circular(ish) cookie cutter (or biscuit cutter), cut out the biscuits.
  • Gather up the scraps and roll out the dough again.
  • Cut out more biscuits from this remnant.
  • If you have a bunch of scraps, you can do this again.
  • Place the biscuits onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
    • Either use a non-stick baking sheet or spray the baking sheet with cooking spray.
  • Let the biscuits cool (if you can) on a wire rack.
  • While they are cooling (or right before you eat them), brush the tops with melted butter.
They are also good with honey instead of butter, and if you have any leftover meat product (turkey or ham are my favorites), you can make a yummy samich.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ornament of the Month: Felt Candy Cane

I'm not gonna lie: I have made so many of these little cuties! I made a ton last year for my tree, then this year, I designed my own candy cane and made some more. I purposefully designed my own this year so I could sell my finished product, but designing a candy cane is rather simple to do. If you're looking to make candy canes for yourself or for gifts (ie. not for profit), you can find a candy cane ornament template online very easily.

Here's what you need to make a candy cane ornament:
  • Red and white felt
  • Red thread
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Cardstock
  • Pencil
Here's how you make a candy cane ornament:
  1. First, choose a template online or design your own.
  2. Once the template is printed/drawn, cut out the individual pieces. I personally like the simplicity and design of a candy cane with 4 red stripes vs. more or less.
  3. You'll need 2 white pieces for each ornament you are going to make, so be sure you cut your white pieces out accordingly.
  4. After all the pieces are cut out, simply pin on one red piece at a time, starting with the top most piece and sew it on. I used a straight stitch. To sew on the red pieces, you will only sew the non-border sides of the red. So for the top most piece, I sewed the two lines going up and down. I did not sew around the edges.
  5. After all the red pieces are sewn on, again making sure not to sew them on the border, make a loop for your ornament to hang on the tree. I always make my loop on the backing piece.
  6. Next, pin your backing piece with the loop to the top piece with the red stripes. Now, you will sew all around the border, which means at times, you will sew through three pieces - the two white candy cane pieces and the red stripes.
  7. Ta-da: all done!
Happy crafting!

Friday, September 12, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Vegetable Lasagne

I enjoyed this lasagna. Jess didn't even want to try it, but she is pregnant so you can't really trust her judgement. It turned out well and I got to use some fresh veggies that my Nana gave to us. Though good, it was not my favorite lasagna ever because I tend to enjoy the lasagnas with meat more than those without. I did leave out the roasted red peppers accidentally, but I don't think that it caused a massive change in the outcome.

  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced (I used a single large zucchini)
  • 2 small yellow squash, diced (I used a single large zucchini)
  • 1 head of broccoli, with the florets separated and chopped
  • 1 12 oz. can of roasted red peppers, drained and diced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz. goat cheese
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 4 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 1 lb no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup Parmigianno-Reggiano
  • 3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Grease a 9 x 13 ovenproof pan.
  • Heat the EVOO in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Once heated add the bell pepper, zucchini, yellow squash and broccoli and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, stir in the roasted red peppers and the red pepper flakes, and set aside.
  • In a bowl, mix the goat cheese, ricotta cheese, garlic, thyme, and oregano until combined.
  • In the greased pan, layer from the bottom up; 1 cup marinara, 1/3 of the lasagna noodles, 1/2 the vegetables, 1/2 the cheese mixture (you will need to carefully spread this with a spatula/fork), 1 1/2 cup marinara, 1/3 of the lasagna noodles, the remaining vegetable, the remaining cheese mixture (again you will need to spread this), the remaining lasagna noodles, the remaining marinara, and top it off with the Parmigianno-Reggiano.
  • Cover the whole pan with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.
  • Remove the cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  • After removing it from the oven, let it sit for about 10 minutes.
  • After plating a serving, garnish the slice with the chopped parsley.
Side note: The recipe stated that this would make 8 servings, but I cut it into 12 slices and no one went hungry with the diminished serving size.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This Book Room: Draw-a-Saurus

Even though they lived some 65 million years ago, dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles continue to rule today. From movies to comics and cartoons, these ancient, giant beasts are everywhere you turn. Of course, who wants to just read about or watch these dinos when you can learn how to use pencils, pens, markers, and more to draw your very own?

Cartoonist James Silvani combines easy-to-follow art exercises with the latest, greatest dino-facts to help you create fun and cool dinosaur doodles all by yourself. With lessons on old favorites like T-rex and stegosaurus, as well as lesser-known (but still awesome) creatures like the massive argentinosaurus, Draw-a-Saurus has everything the dinosaur fan could ever ask for (outside of their very own pet dino!).

My thoughts: Oh.my.heavens. this is quite a book. I was beyond excited to get this book for later use with my Bug, but until I received it, I never imagined how in-depth this book would be. I would highly recommend this for older children, rather than younger. Depending on their skill and attention level, my estimate is that for most kids, this would be appropriate for 8 years and up.

If your children is into art, I would suggest starting them off at a young age with a simple drawing book to get them acclimated with basic art skills. That would make following this book easier, though, you can just start art at age 8 (but I think that would be a grave disservice to your kids to wait that long to introduce them to art).

Dinosaurs are generally thought of to be a "boy" thing, and I also find that to be a disservice to all of humankind. I think dinos are pretty stinking cool, and the dinosaur-themed books out today for kids are awesome. If you're home-schooling or planning some lessons at home for your traditionally schooled child, you could spend an entire week or more on just dinosaur-themed activities and lessons; this book would be a fantastic addition to your lesson plan. Not only does it incorporate art, but it also incorporates reading, handwriting and spelling.

No doubt about it - I will be hanging onto this book until Bug is a bit older, and we will definitely be doing a lesson plan around dinosaurs. In the meantime, I may try my hand at drawing these awesome dinos!

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Chicken-Fried Steak with Country Gravy

This recipe didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. The problem is my inability to properly fry anything in oil without the use of a Fry Daddy. The steaks were a little dark around the edges and because of that the gravy looked like its main ingredient was burning. Good luck if you try and make this recipe, though, if you do make it, rest assured that it will most likely turn out better than my poor attempt.

This one might have been better off without a picture. Just try to
imagine it not looking so burnt and unappetizing.
  • Two 1/4 lb cube steaks (or a 1/2 lb cube steak cut in half)
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup flour + 3 Tbsp flour, divided
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • Place each steak between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until it is 1/4 of an inch thick.
  • Season the steaks with 1/2 tsp of the salt.
  • On a plate mix together 1/2 cup flout and the bread crumbs.
  • On another plate mix the eggs with the water.
  • Dredge the steaks through the flour, then the egg, and then back through the flour.
    • Make sure that you get a good coating of the flour mixture on the steaks, even put it on there by hand if you feel a spot is lacking.
  • Heat the canola oil in a large skillet.
  • When the oil is hot (I don't know how hot hot is but I made mine too hot), fry the steaks until cooked through. This will be about 3 minutes per side.
  • Move the steaks to a plate and pour out all but 2 Tbsp of the oil from the skillet.
    • If your steaks ended up getting a little charred like mine did, you may want to use fresh oil. I didn't and it was not for the best.
  • Over medium heat, melt the butter with the reserved oil in the same skillet you cooked the steak in.
  • Sprinkle in the remaining flour.
  • Whisk and cook until it turns a golden brown.
  • Whisk in the remaining salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  • Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a boil.
  • Whisk constantly and cook for an additional 10 minutes. 
    • If the gravy seems too thick, you can add an bit more milk (or stop cooking it...).
  • Pour the gravy over the steaks before serving.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, September 8, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: Play Ideas for 1-Year-Olds

Now that your baby has officially graduated to toddler status, you'll notice his or her developments are rapidly coming along. Your tot may have started to walk, is gibbering in his or her own language (with some actual words thrown in there for good measure) and is interested in far more than ever before. Here are some good ways to actively engage and play with your tot:

Swimming Time
Before, your child may have really only spent time in water in the tub. But now that baby is a tot, you can definitely take your tot swimming in an actual pool or lake. Our favorite ways to do this with Bug are to hold her in the water or we use a handy-dandy raft you can purchase at Target and other mass retailers. The raft is built for babies and has a sun shield for over their bodies.

Dance Party
One of Bug's favorite things is to dance with her papa. Jason will hold Bug in his arms and dance all around the living room. She giggles and giggles and giggles. It is the best thing ever. Take it one step further and put on music. Bug loved music as an infant and still loves it. We're happy to encourage her love of music.

Let's Play Ball
Bug's favorite toy by far is a ball. Any ball - big small, bouncy or not. The girl loves to roll them back and forth or just play fetch.

Building Blocks
Bug is great at putting blocks together, and we'll build a big tower for her to dissemble. Building blocks is one of the best ways to help with hand-eye coordination. I also use block time to teach colors.

Story Time
No child is ever at an age where reading isn't appropriate, but you can start graduating your baby from board books to real books. Bug is pretty good at turning real pages in books, and I credit her ability with our forethought to give her lots of practice at doing this at an early age. We also read her chapter books now. Even if Bug doesn't understand a word we say, by reading out loud to her, I know we're encouraging her imagination and she's learning the cadence of language.

Move Night
It is recommended that children under 2 do not watch any television. What you choose to do is up to you. We have decided to allow Bug to watch about a half hour of television each day and rarely is she actually watching television. Typically, we put in a movie at night while we cuddle, brush her hair and get ready for bed. I will say this: Bug is much more agreeable to grooming if a movie is on to distract her from me brushing her hair and clipping her nails. We do enjoy having a movie night once in a while and Bug is usually ready for bed before we're even halfway through the movie. I'm glad we're limiting her screen time and it's obvious in her interest (or lack thereof) in television that we're doing something right there.

Playtime at the Park
Bug loves nothing more than being pushed in a swing or just running around the park. Thankfully, we have several good parks right near our apartment. This is a favorite activity for all of us to enjoy.

Coloring, Writing, Drawing
Bug loves to color with crayons and pencils. We just give her plain paper and she will draw lines and dots. Surprisingly, she holds a pencil with pretty good accuracy and again, I credit this with the fact that we let her explore pencils very early in life. If Bug expresses an interest in something, we let her explore that to the fullest, so long as no one is being hurt.

Friday, September 5, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

This is the best carrot cake recipe that I have had the pleasure of eating. I first made it for a family gathering where I made a bunch of recipes from the In the Kitchen with David cookbook, and then [in]conveniently forgot to take a picture, so I had to make it again... darn (read with as much sarcasm as you can muster).

You can see the yummy just by looking at it. I may go make another carrot cake tonight.
  • 2 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups grated carrots
  • 2 8 oz cans crushed pineapple, well drained
    • Make sure you drink the pineapple juice as this stuff is good for you.
  • 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup coconut cream
    • It was very hard for me to find this item at the grocery store, until the second employee that I asked for help directed me to the alcohol aisle where it was with the mixing ingredients. Maybe this will make it easier for you to find.
  • 1 additional tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup flaked sweetened coconut
    • The recipe calls for this to be toasted, but as I end up with burnt coconut whenever I attempt to toast it, I have decided that from now on, it will be un-toasted for me.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Put the flour, coconut, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. 
  • Stir them all together and then set the bowl aside.
  • In an electric mixer, combine the sugar, oil, and vanilla.
  • Electric mix them until they are combined.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg.
  • With the mixer running at a low speed, add in the dry ingredients and continue to mix until they are completely mixed in.
    • Unless you have one of the electric mixers with the fancy paddle that scrapes the side of the bowl, you will need to stop and scrape the bowl once or twice during this step.
  • Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, using the tooth pick trick to see if the cake is done.
  • Cool the cake pan for 2 hours.
    • While the cake is cooling, pull the cream cheese and the butter out of your fridge so they can be the correct temp when you make the frosting.
    • If you only have one electric mixing bowl, you will need to wash that while the cake is cooling as well.
  • After 2 hours, put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of your electric mixer and beat until smooth. 
    • This may take a while; you have been warned.
  • Add the coconut cream and vanilla and mix until combined.
  • Add the confectioners sugar and mix until creamy.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cool for 30 minutes for the frosting to get a little more firm.
  • Spread the frosting over the cake in a very thick layer.
    • No matter how thick I make it, I always end up with extra frosting. If you don't want extra, you could always make it even thicker... but I don't know if I can truly endorse this practice.
  • Sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top of the frosting.
And that is all it takes to have a delicious carrot cake all of your own. Do not blame me if relatives you didn't know you had show up for a piece. It is that good.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Saving the Moola: August in review

Earlier this year, I decided to integrate my monthly savings review with our monthly State of Our House Address post. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I was not diligent in sharing our monthly frugal accomplishments so monthly savings reviews are back!

I spoke with other mamas in my area via Facebook about the possibility of a kid swap so parents can have date nights or run errands or whatever for no childcare cost. I also like the idea of Bug spending time with another family rather than one person while we're on dates because she likes to be around kids. A mama needed to take her two youngest a few towns over for an appointment and brought her oldest two to our house. Bug had a great time, and this mama is so unbelievably generous that she gave us two restaurant gift cards, several pounds of grapes and loads of Mt. Dew (the soda was for Jason, who loves Mt. Dew on those days when he needs an extra kick). It was completely unnecessary for her to gift us with any of that, but we definitely appreciated it and it all went to good use.

We used to always have candles in our home. I enjoy having candles for several reasons: I like having a nice scent, and I also say a prayer when I see our lit candles. This is a good way to remind me to pray often. Having candles used to not be an issue, but about a year ago, Preston almost set himself on fire on one, so we switched to flameless, battery-operated candles. Unfortunately, these don't give off a nice scent. I had read about baking soda air fresheners and made three - one for the kitchen and one for each of the bathrooms. I used one box of baking soda (49 cents at Aldi) to make three. For the bathroom ones, I used lavender buds, which I had on hand. For the kitchen jar, I used whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. These don't necessarily fragrant the air, but they look nice and whenever I need a little sniff, I just pick it up and sniff.

A year ago, Jason and I made jalapeno jelly when we were given several jalapenos for free. I am not ashamed to admit we have not yet opened even one jar, but a co-worker was interested in it, so we swapped jellies; I brought her two jars of jalapeno jelly and she brought me two jars of apple jelly, which we will happily put to good use.

Jason had a few tutoring sessions in August. We have definitely noticed a decrease in summer tutoring. Several students and their parents were interested in the beginning of summer, but their good intentions were only that. It is understandable and honestly, in this summer of transition, it was a little welcomed, but I think Jason's looking forward to fall and getting a couple of regular students to tutor on the weekends. He also cat-sat for quite a few days for a family, and he completed a couple of assignments as an independent contractor. The family he cat-sat for also gave us two food pouches for Bug, in addition to paying us for cat-sitting (and by us, I mean Jason!).

I cut Jason's hair, which is regular monthly occurrence.

We are a one-car family and happily so, but there are times when it would be convenient for Jason and Bug to have a car to get around town. My place of employment is close enough for them to drive me to and from work, but we still desired a way for them to get around on their own and to save on gas. We saved up money to purchase a bike trailer, and it has been such a pay-off! They are able to get anywhere in town in 20 minutes or less (and anything 20 minutes away is literally the furthest point away - church for one direction and Walmart for the other). They have used the trailer at least 3 times a week since we purchased it. Bug adores riding in it and it's been a worthwhile purchase.

Being a one-car family also has other challenges. And by challenges, I mean, these are absolutely first-world problems. Since we only use one car, everything from all of us end up in this one car. It's been a struggle to not just keep the car organized, but to keep it clean. We're still working on getting the car in the cleanliness state we desire, but I spent some time tossing trash from the car, organizing what needs to be left in it, and cleaning and organizing our CDs. We bought a new computer earlier in the summer, and it's on Jason's to-do list to get my iTunes account set up on the new computer. Once that's done, I will be able to make CDs, I think (I hope and pray!), so we can have fresh music in the car. I have a ton of blank CDs, so this will be no cost to us.

Summer is a great time for saving on groceries because of all the garden goodies! We were given zucchini, squash, beans, eggs and tomatoes from others' garden and egg bounties. From our own garden, we harvested many carrots, several tomatoes and 2 bell peppers. We canned some tomatoes for future use and we planted the next batch of carrot seeds. The carrots will be ready for harvest in early November. We used cilantro from our garden in cooking.
We've both been diligent lately in using Swagbucks, Bing and Perk to earn extra money. I haven't had much time for mTurk, but I'm hoping to slowly work my way into doing more of this as summer fades away. We used gift cards we earned from the sites to purchase a 15-bag package of space bags, a Disney DVD, a 12-pouch package of food for Bug, organic spray deodorant, 3 packages of 200-count bottle liners for Bug, a 3-filter package of filters for Preston's water fountain, and a stocking stuffer for Bug's stocking. The retail value for all of those items is $79.05.
Jason used coupons we received from Meijer to get a 4-roll pack of toilet paper for 19 cents, a tube of toothpaste for 69 cents and other items for rock-bottom prices. I was seriously impressed with the loot he brought home!

Speaking of my wonderful husband, Jason has been expanding on his skills in the kitchen and recently learned how to make homemade pizza. This will definitely save us a ton of money as his homemade pizza is better than any other pizza I've ever had.
We did not fully complete the summer reading program at the library, but the library assistant insisted upon giving our Bug the final prize anyway because she knows how much we read with Bug. She received a Mo Willems' pigeon book as her prize.

Generally speaking, I do not buy lunch at lunch. I always bring in food, however, there have been a few occasions when I've participated in lunch on Fridays. On those days, my co-workers tell me to take the extra pizza home and of course, I never say no. It probably doesn't hurt they know how cheap, I mean, frugal, I am.
My precious flip-flops that I love seriously broke. Thankfully, we used gorilla glue to mend them. I was prepared to buy a new pair as this is the third summer I've worn this particular pair and I wear them nearly year-round. However, in my searching online, I saw nothing I would even want to buy, so I was incredibly grateful we were able to repair them. A sweater I just purchased in April got a hole in it, so I also mended that. I'm fine with tossing clothes that have holes; honestly, I wear my clothes until they literally wear out. But I'm not really fine with a sweater that's just months old getting holes. I was grateful I was able to mend my sweater, too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

State of Our House Address: August in review

Summer has been so busy this year, and I'm almost shocked it's almost over! It has really went by quickly, but to be honest, I'm so looking forward to fall.

We finished blueberry picking in early August, as the berries here were not great for picking after early August. That was kind of disappointing, but that's okay. We managed to put away quite a few bags of blueberries in the freezer, though I suspect they will be long gone before fall is over. Bug has taken quite a liking to them.

Jason and I went on our first solo date since Bug was born in August. We hope to make date nights a monthly occurrence, and I can happily say our first one was a success. We went to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants. We had not been there since Bug was born. After dinner, we went out to a new ice cream place. We were only gone for a few hours, but it was so nice, even though we missed our Bug.

It had been a long time since I had my hair cut, so I finally made an appointment to get several inches cut off. My hair is much easier and quicker to manage now.

Jason's aunt from California came to Michigan to visit, so we spent an afternoon at Nana and Grandpa Bob's house with his family. It was great fun, and Bug loved walking around Nana's big garden and chasing the "dinosuars" (aka chickens).

Bug turned 17 months old in August and is doing a great job of running around, helping with chores, telling "stories," eating and sleeping. She also has made progress on potty training and has gone without a diaper with no accidents. I'm very excited for all the progress she's made. We incorporated chores into her daily routine at about 14 months old. Bug definitely let us know she was ready at that time, and she has become a great helper around the house.

We enrolled Bug in our church's VBS. We had low expectations going in as to how much she would get out of it and be able to participate. She loved the opening and closing sessions, and for the middle part, she played in the nursery or just walked around and was crazy. It was a great time, and we will make this a yearly event.

As August drew to a close, we realized how much we had not been home at all this summer. Our goal for September is to spend only one weekend day out of the house (excluding church). We all do much better emotionally and physically when we are only gone one day instead of both. Here's to fall and cooler, lazier days!