Thursday, January 30, 2014

This Book Room

From the annunciation by the angel through the birth of Jesus, this beautiful full color book chronicles the journey of Mary and Joseph, the appearance of the shepherds, and the story of the wise men, in a way the Christmas story has never before been "told." Containing extraordinary images from the hit TV series, The Bible, A STORY OF CHRISTMAS AND ALL OF US is a book that will take a deserved place among the finest celebrations of Christmas.

My thoughts: This book took me about an hour to read in total. It isn't a long book by any means, but it is one that will bring the story of Jesus' birth to life. The book is peppered with still shots from the Bible series that aired on the History channel. If you enjoy coffee table-type books, I can assure you this is one that your coffee table needs to have. This book would also be perfect as a gift. 

Anna’s grandfather seems determined to ruin her Rumspringa . . . and any hopes she has of finding a
husband. Anna Byler should be enjoying her Rumspringa as allowed by her faith. But because of the strict rules enforced by her grandfather—the bishop—the available suitors in town are afraid to court her. Even Anna’s grandmother is keeping a big secret from Anna’s grandfather in an effort to keep the peace. Under her grandfather’s oppressive watch, Anna begins to feel her faith slipping and wonders if God has forsaken her. Jacob Hostetler and his family have relocated to Lancaster County following a family tragedy in Ohio. As his family struggles to rebuild their lives, Jacob is forced to act as head of the household when his father is unable to cope with recent events. It’s been a long time since Jacob has felt any joy. Until he meets Anna Byler. But will Anna’s grandfather succeed at keeping them apart? And can Jacob put the past behind him and open his heart?

Additional notes: This is the sixth and latest book in the Daughters of the Promise series.

My thoughts: I felt this book was one of the best in the series, although it wasn't a memorable book by any means. I really enjoyed reading about the relationship between Jacob's mother and Anna's grandmother. To me, that was the highlight of the book. Jacob and Anna weren't the most interesting to read about, to be honest. But Anna's grandmother seriously cracked me up. She made this book for me. If you want to get to know a crazy and stubborn Amish character, read this book. 

Trista Rehn was a pediatric physical therapist moonlighting as a Miami Heat dancer when she heard about casting for a new reality show—one guy getting to know twenty-five girls in the hope of finding a fiancĂ©e. As improbable and crazy as it sounded, Trista took the chance—and had her heart broken on the very first season of The Bachelor. But the next season, as the first Bachelorette, her fairy tale fell into place during a whirlwind courtship with poetry-writing firefighter Ryan Sutter and, eventually, a dream-come-true wedding on national TV.

In the midst of building a life with Ryan and raising two kids, Trista started to make a conscious effort to remember her favorite part of each day. And she’s made sure to post these thoughts, her own personal expressions of gratitude, almost every night on Twitter and Facebook—even on days she was dealing with fertility issues, a difficult pregnancy, family deaths, and other challenges that many of us face.

Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures and the most unassuming things that can have the greatest effects. Trista is often asked her secret to being one of the rare reality-TV relationships to make it to the altar and beyond. In this heartfelt book, she shares the simple yet profound keys to finding everyday happiness: gratitude and grace. From the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments we have with our kids, our spouses, our pets, or even strangers, to the more obvious lessons we pick up from reading the news or hearing an inspirational story, knowing how to recognize, accept, and be grateful for all of our daily blessings is truly what �happily ever after” means.

Ten years later, the first Bachelorette talks of marriage, family, friendship, and how powerfully gratitude can transform your life.


My thoughts: I cannot believe how much I enjoyed this book! I thought it would be more of a biography (which I so wish Trista would write!), but it really was not. Trista did include stories of her life, which I highly appreciated and enjoyed, but this book actually included a lot of stats and studies about how and why to live a life of gratitude. Trista also includes a lot of actionable tasks to help kick-start your journey. I would highly recommend this book. I'm certainly remembering to count my blessings a little bit more now thanks to this book! 

Always Beautiful by Beth Wiseman

Becky Byler is eighteen and overweight. She is overwhelmed by the embarrassment she feels when comparing herself to other girls her age. Having lost all hope, she considers taking her own life. As she stands before rushing water, unable to swim, Becky begs God for a miracle. In just several months, Becky sees her prayers answered as food and temptation lose their hold over her. She s finally pleased with how she looks, but does she like the person she has become? And has the man she has dreamed of been right beside her all along, loving her exactly as she is?

Always His Providence by Ruth Reid

Widow Rosa Hostetler has one month to pay her delinquent taxes before the county auctions her farm. She s prepared to sell whatever is necessary to pay the lien, but she isn't willing to request money from the community s widow fund. She s embarrassed and refuses to admit she needs help. Rosa depends on income from selling eggs, but when that income is threatened, only a miracle can help Rosa accept the kindness of a neighbor.

Always in My Heart by Mary Ellis

Hope Bowman believes God is punishing her for giving up her firstborn son when she was a teenager. She s hidden this secret from her husband, who is thankful for their daughters but longs for a son. Hope prays desperately, but the son God sends her isn't a new baby but the fifteen-year-old boy she gave up years ago.


My thoughts: I love the collections of Amish novellas that Beth Wiseman puts together. This collection is absolutely stunning. I am going to read other books now by Ruth and Mary! I had never heard of these authors before, but I enjoyed both their stories so much. Beth's story was surprising and unexpected. I thought I knew what would happen, and I was so wrong. I love when that happens! If you are a fan of Amish fiction, this one is a must read. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason: Maple Glazed Carrots and Yams

We served maple glazed carrots and yams alongside
boiled little potatoes and grilled Delmonico steak. 
We get veggies and fruits every week in a pail from a veggie and fruit delivery service. This recipe came in our pail along with the yams and carrots to make it. It sounded good, so we gave it a go. It was a little sweet, but it was very good. We had a serving left over and may have used a little bit of extra carrot :)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (click here for a homemade recipe)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil 
  • 1 lb. red yams, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped carrots 
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat yams and carrots with olive oil and pepper on a baking sheet. 
  2. Roast in oven for 15 minutes, then stir the yams and carrots and flip them. Cook 15 minutes more. 
  3. Combine maple syrup, mustard and garlic powder in a small bowl. Drizzle this mixture over potatoes and vegetables and mix to coat well.
Please enjoy!

Chef Jason 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ornament of the Month: Keepsake Baby Handprints


Crafting with Bug is one of the seriously most fun things ever. It is really tricky to make things with littles, but part of the joy is that the gift is made by a little. So the fact that it looks like it's made by a little... well, I think that's part of the whole point!

These ornaments are simple to make, all things considered. As always, when crafting with littles, make at least double of the item you're making to be sure you get at least one good item to give away. We made eight of these ornaments. Of those eight, we gifted two, kept one and threw five away.

Here's what you need to make keepsake baby handprint ornaments: 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup water 
  • Baby
  • Ribbon
  • Sharpie paint pen
  • Rolling pin
  • Straw
  • Spray paint
  • Sandpaper
  • Bowl
Here's how you make keepsake baby handprint ornaments:
  1. Mix the first three items together. Knead dough for 7 - 10 minutes. Roll out the dough on a floured surface. 
  2. Take your baby's hand and gently press it on the dough. This is a very tricky part. Good luck getting a good handprint! It was very difficult for us. 
  3. Using a bowl, cut out a circle around each handprint. Be sure to leave room at the top for a hole. 
  4. Gently place each handprint circle on a baking sheet. Use a straw to poke a hole near the top. 
  5. Bake in a 200 degree oven for a few hours, then let air dry for a couple of days. 
  6. After the ornament is fully dry, sand the edges and any other rough spots down with sandpaper. 
  7. Spray paint the front and back. We like the natural look of the ornaments, but there were flour bits on them we could not easily get off. So the ornaments would be a consistent color, we chose to spray paint them white. 
  8. After the spray paint is dry, write your child's name and the year on the back of the ornament. 
  9. After the ornament is completely dried (including the child's name and year), cut some ribbon and loop it through the hole. Tie a knot at the top. 
 Bug's grandparents loved receiving these as gifts for her first Christmas. Happy crafting!

Friday, January 24, 2014

This Book Room: The Headmistress of Rosemere

Patience Creighton will finally find the peace she lost years ago--if she can open her heart and forgive the man who loves her.

Bright, sensible Patience knows what is expected of her. At twenty-five, her opportunity for a family of her own has passed, so she finds contentment teaching at her father's school for girls. When her father dies suddenly and her brother moves away to London, she is determined to keep her father's dream alive.

Confirmed bachelor William Sterling also knows what is expected of him, but mistake after mistake has left him teetering on ruin's edge. As master of Eastmore Hall he owns a great deal of land but possesses little money to manage the upkeep. He is desperate to find a new source of income, including the sacrifice of land connected to Rosemere.

When her brother returns with a new wife to take over management of the school, Patience is heartbroken to no longer be responsible for her beloved school and is forced to reassess God's purpose for her life. After her sister-in-law's matchmaking brings Patience and William together, they both learn new truths about their character and find a common goal in restoring Eastmore's legacy. 


Additional notes: This is the second and latest book in the Whispers on the Moors series. You can read my review of the first book here

My thoughts: Sarah weaves a story like no one else. More than anything, her stories are always full of character development, twists and turns and a plot that moves me faster and faster and faster. That actually kind of makes me sad because then the book is over before I know it! At the end of this book, I was definitely left wanting more, specifically about one particular lady who leaves Rosemere. You'll have to read the book to know what exactly I'm talking about - I don't want to give it all away! 

Any book with little children always endears me - little Emma sounds so sweet. I think children are such a gift. They truly say the silliest things and are so innocent. Children in this book add a sense of innocence, which is needed amongst all of the other unsavory and reformed characters.

I did feel Patience was a bit naive at times, maybe unnaturally so, but then I remember the time period and am not so sure it was unnatural. I think in today's era, we lose our naivety very quickly and cynicism takes over. In some ways, that is unnatural, too. At times, Patience was grating with her attitude. Either way, I enjoyed this book immensely and am anxiously awaiting the next installment of this series. 

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars


This is Jess' new favorite go-to dessert recipe. You can make the recipe in a 9 x 13 pan for smaller bars, or you can make big bars by using an 8 x 8 pan. The bars pictured here were made in an 8 x 8 pan.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar 
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 

Directions

  1. Melt butter over low heat. 
  2. Add sugars, peanut butter and vanilla. Mix well. 
  3. Press into pan. 
  4. Melt chocolate chips and spread over the top of the peanut butter mixture in the pan. Let cool. 
Super yummy and super easy. Please enjoy!

Chef Jason 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This Book Room: The Dancing Master

Leaving London, dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire--but is stunned to discover that dancing is prohibited! He finds an unlikely ally in Miss Julia Midwinter, but her questions about his past are becoming harder to evade. Together, can they bring new life to this quiet village--and heal long-kept-secret scars?

My thoughts: This is, by far, one of my most favorite books and easily the best book by Julie Klassen (that I've read). It definitely is a sort of throwback to Footloose. 

First, I truly enjoyed the characters. While I would've liked to have known more about Ben and Tess' lives and Miss Patience as well, I really enjoyed the development of Alec, John, Julia and Lady Amelia. 

The story itself was far from predictable. I was genuinely surprised at several plot twists and turns. And while Julie's work is classified as "Christian fiction," I can tell you that even if you're not a Christian, you will enjoy this tale. 

It took me a couple of days to get into the story, but once I made it past about page 100, I really could not put the book down. I enjoyed all of the back story included and learning the different dances. One thing I always enjoy about period pieces is reading about the etiquette. Miss Julia's response to Alec when asked for a dance is certainly memorable! 

Above all, this book is far more than romance. A certain scene that takes place while Alec, Julia and others are riding their horses is enough to break anyone's heart, and it has nothing to do with romance between a man and a woman. Learning of Lady Anne and Lady Amelia's histories gives me fresh resolve to never let the sun set on my anger. 

In short, this book was inspirational and one I won't forget anytime soon. 

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: the dos and don'ts of date nights

photo credit
Please know that what may work for us may not work for you. We do not judge, however, we will often be blunt in sharing if something that works for others absolutely does not and will not work for us.

Jason and I have yet to go on a date night all by ourselves. We're quite okay with us and have discussed, at length, when we feel it will be the right time. We've decided that Bug must be able to talk, and she must be at least two years old.

In the interim, we've been talking with others and continue to evaluate our own choice to be sure it is the right choice for us.

I can tell you with 100% certainty that this is right for us.

Someone I know had their first baby. She and her husband went out shopping two days after the baby was born and left the baby with a relative.

I can tell you with 100% certainty that is wrong for us.

While Jason and I haven't gone on a date, we have, unfortunately, left Bug all by herself in the care of a relative. We were buying a new-to-us car and didn't feel the environment would be appropriate for a baby. It was only for a few hours, but I can tell you that neither of us are eager to repeat that experience. And by either, I really mean me, Jason and Bug, too. She was miserable. She was about five months old when that happened.

Only you can decide when you're ready for a date night (or any other occasion in which you and any other primary caretaker are away from the baby and the baby is left with someone s/he may not be used to), but I do hope you won't leave your two-day-old. That's a bit soon in my opinion (and in the interest of total honesty, I was absolutely horrified when I knew this happened).

But just because you can't go on a date outside of your home doesn't mean you and your significant other can't enjoy each other sans baby. Bug typically is asleep by 7:30 (and some nights as early as 6:30). This allows plenty of time to watch a movie, have dinner by ourselves, play games or have a spa night all at home. We have done this many times. In fact, even as I write this, we are planning a spa night combined with a movie night the following week. I'm very much looking forward to it!

When it is time for a date night, Jason and I have talked about the best way to do it. We already have certain people in mind that we would feel comfortable taking care of our Bug. I'm rather sure we'll stay in the local area for our date night so we're available to rush home in the case of an emergency or if Bug has an absolute meltdown. She actually loves people, but she very much likes to touch base with me now and again when we are visiting with others, whether at our own home or someone else's. So when I'm not there for her to check in with, I have a feeling she will be sad (she gets this really cute grumpy face when she wants to check in with me, but someone else is holding her and won't let her get away - don't worry, I always scoop her up so she can smell me and love on me and know that mama is still there).

Whatever you do decide, please know that your child is definitely used to you, even if they are in day care or being taken care of someone else while you are at work. And if you do work outside the home, your child may be even more clingy because they are used to being with you when you are not at work. I plan to take date nights slowly and always keep Bug as a first priority. There will be a day, soon enough (too soon, to be honest), where Bug will be off gallivanting with her friends or ask to spend the night at Nana's all by herself. This is just a short period of time (even though sometimes it feels long!) where she will always want me or Jason. I plan to savor it as much as humanly possible!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

This Book Room: Say Goodbye to Survival Mode


Calling the super busy, the stressed out, the overtired.

You know you're made for a more fulfilling life. With this book, you’ll know where to start.

You wake up tired. Your to-do list is too long. The commitments—and the laundry—are piling up, but your energy keeps dwindling. You feel like you're simply making it through the days, not living or enjoying any part of them.

In Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, you'll find both practical ideas and big-picture perspective that will inspire you to live life on purpose. As a wife, mother of three, and founder of the wildly successful blog MoneySavingMom.com, Crystal Paine has walked the road from barely surviving to living with intention. With the warmth and candor of a dear friend, she shares what she's learned along the way, helping you:

feel healthier and more energetic by setting priorities and boundaries
eliminate stress with savvy management of your time, money, and home
get more done by setting realistic goals and embracing discipline
rediscover your passions—and the confidence to pursue them

Packed with straightforward solutions you'll use today and inspirational stories you'll remember for years, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode is a must for any woman who's ever longed for the freedom to enjoy life, not just survive it. 


My thoughts: I was chosen as one of 1,000 bloggers to be part of Crystal's launch team for her new book. Even if I hadn't been chosen, I promise I still would have read this book. If you haven't yet read her first book, Money Saving Mom's Budget, I highly recommend that book as well. 

If you struggle with staying sane, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode is absolutely for you. Maybe you don't struggle with your sanity (bless your heart!). Maybe you think you've got it all together. 

This book is still for you. I don't know how often I struggle with my sanity. I always choose my sanity first, and that informs how I spend my time. But even then, I still struggle with juggling all of the various aspects of my life: blogging, mothering, being a wife, homemaking, and carving out precious alone time. I wear many hats, as does nearly every single person I know. 

Practical advice is offered in this book, and Crystal gives you actionable tasks to propel you on your journey to a fulfilling and rich life. Some of my favorite quotes from the book include: 

“Time doesn’t expand limitlessly. When I say yes to one thing, I must say no to something else.”

“Count the cost of each commitment before you make your decision.”

“If you don't know where you are going, you'll never reach your destination.”

“Don't look to other people, books, diets, programs, pills, or even a church to give you the strength you need to live the life God has called you to live. … They can never give you what you will find in Christ alone.”

“No matter your age, your financial situation, your education, or your upbringing, you can live an exceptional life.”

Aren't those quotes fabulous? I'm telling you - this is a must-read book. If nothing else, it will serve as inspiration for you that you are doing the right thing! I say no to others a lot so I can say yes to myself and my family more. Sometimes, I struggle with this because I can feel guilty saying no. But Crystal affirms that saying no is important! Especially when saying no to someone else means you can say yes to yourself and your family.

Give this book a go and just see if it doesn't change your life. 

Thanks to Crystal Paine for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason: Pumpkin Fluff Dip (and a recipe for pumpkin pie spice!)


Little chef Jess here again! I had to share this incredible recipe with you. Jason and I are not fans of anything pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is absolutely disgusting to me. I once made a pumpkin pasta dish; I literally have no idea what I was thinking. We threw the entire thing away.

So imagine my sweet surprise when I was at a Bible study luncheon, tried this dip and absolutely fell in love. It is so simple to make, but the real kicker is the kind of chip to serve it with!

Ingredients
  • 8 oz. Cool Whip
  • 15 oz. pure pumpkin 
  • 3.4 oz. Jell-O instant pudding, vanilla 
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Directions
  1. Mix the pumpkin, pudding and pumpkin pie spice together in a bowl. 
  2. Fold in the Cool Whip. 
  3. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
Easy peasy, right? With the dip, you'll want some sort of dipper. The best dipper is Stacy's Simply Gingerbread Pita Chips. These are only available during the fall/winter season (think early November through Christmas). You'll need about 3 bags for 1 batch of dip. I made this dip right before Christmas 2013 and had enough for two parties.

Don't have pumpkin pie spice? Please, please, please don't buy it! You can make it with ingredients you likely already have on hand.

Directions for pumpkin pie spice 
Mix together 2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 2 tsp. ground ginger, 2 tsp. ground nutmeg and 1 tsp. ground cloves. There you have it - pumpkin pie spice!

Please enjoy!
-Little chef Jess

Monday, January 13, 2014

Busy Bag of the Month: Felt Ring Chain

Each month, I'll be posting a new busy bag idea! Busy bags are a great way to keep your little ones not just entertained, but to encourage creativity and teach a little lesson along the way.

I'm a fan of all things felt. Not just because felt is economical and easy to craft with, but also because I have a huge stash of felt. So any project that uses felt, I have very little out-of-pocket expenses.

The original felt ring chain busy bag I saw involved Velcro. I'm not savvy in using Velcro, and I also didn't have any on hand. I changed up the design of the busy bag to suit my individual needs.

Here's what you need to make this busy bag:
  • Felt in a variety of colors of your choice
  • Embroidery thread to match the felt colors
  • Buttons of any color choice {I chose buttons that matched as I had those in my button stash}
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Chalk
  • Ruler
Here's how you make this busy bag:
  1. First, draw out, using the ruler and chalk, lines on the felt where you are going to cut. I made my felt strips one inch wide and seven inches long.
  2. After cutting out all the felt, sew one button on each strip of felt. Sew the button near one end.
  3. After all the buttons are sewn on, cut a slit at the other end of the felt for the button to go through.

Children can practice their fine motor skills and learn how to button by using this busy bag. The idea is to make a ring chain by buttoning all the strips together, like shown below.


You can also customize this project further and include instruction cards in the bag. The cards could instruct the child to make a ring chain by using just green and red. Or the child could be instructed to make a ring chain with all the green, then the red, then purple, then blue. That would help them learn colors.

You could also make cards that instruct your child to make a ring chain by using 2 green, 3 red, 4 blue and 5 purple. This would help them learn colors and numbers. The possibilities are truly endless.

Happy crafting!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Saving the Moola: calculating the costs of car ownership

photo credit
There's no doubt about it: in most parts of the United States, a car is a necessity. Where we live, in what some describe as a suburb of Flint, Michigan (we live 15 miles outside of Flint, so I'm not sure I would describe Fenton as that, but some do), there is no public transportation. We are just a couple of miles away from several large stores, such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and a locally owned grocery store. We are close to downtown where the library is located and other small shops and restaurants. We could most certainly walk to many of these destinations, and Jason has a bicycle that he uses often in the summer.

But for the most part, especially with a baby, a car is necessary for us. Jason works about 10 miles from home, and our closest family is more than 20 miles away. We have designed our lives so that one car works for us, but one car doesn't work for many families. If you both work outside the home and also live in an area with no public transportation, two cars are probably going to be necessary.

There's a lot to owning cars, and I'm not just talking about a car payment. In fact, a car payment may be the least of your worries.

I was thinking about the cost of owning our car the other day, and once I was adding up all the costs for it, I was actually shocked. I had no idea our car cost so much! Beyond our car payment that we're paying each month, we spend money every month on gas and car insurance. So go ahead: add up those three things. Those three things for us adds up to about $477. A month.

Yowza!

Now add in the rest of your costs. Oh yes, we're not quite done. Let's see: we get oil changes every three months for about $16 an oil change, our registration costs are about $130 a year, and of course, car repairs are a "when," not an "if." I would say, on average, we spend $50 a month on car repairs. Adding up those three things amounts to about $66 a month.

Our car costs us $543 a month. For one car. I can't even begin to stomach the idea of another car.

Owning a car is honestly serious business. Not having a car payment would seriously lower our monthly car expenses, and I'm super grateful that it looks like our car will be paid off in 2014 (and sooner rather than later to boot!). But even without a car payment, our car takes up a serious amount of our monthly income.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering a car: 
  • The larger the car, the higher the expenses. Your registration costs will be higher, your gas costs will be higher and there could be more car repairs. For instance, our car has 4-wheel drive, so it has extra parts that could break and need to be repaired. The more parts a car has, the more parts that could break. 
  • Cars will break. Things will happen. Just in the last few months of 2013, we had to fix several things on our new-to-us car that we had purchased in August. Car repairs are definitely a when, not an if. If you don't have an emergency fund, you need one. You'll want to keep at least the cost of your deductible in it. 
There are ways to save on car ownership. These are a few of our favorites: 
  • Pay for your insurance for six months or a year at a go. This will likely get you a little bit of a discount, plus you'll save on administrative fees. 
  • Shop around for car insurance every year. You may not find anything, but it doesn't hurt to look and make sure you're getting the best rate. Be sure to compare apples to apples, though. Low quality car insurance may not really be worth saving a few bucks. 
  • Pay your registration on time. You'll have a little bit of fine if you don't. Our local branch is never super busy. I like to go in the middle of the week, first thing in the morning. If you can't swing that, go first thing on a Saturday. You'll be in and out in no time. 
  • Drive as few places as possible. This doesn't just mean walking or biking. It really means: stay home. Do you really need to go all the places you think you do? 
  • When you do drive, combine all your errands and determine the best route. When we do leave home, we are often gone for several hours because we'll go to the post office, the library, Target, CVS and church in one day. Sometimes this means we eat lunch out (that is budgeted with money from other areas of the budget), and sometimes we'll plan to go right after lunch or right after breakfast. 
  • Always use gasbuddy.com to find the lowest price on gas in your area. We are so in love with gasbuddy.com. There's an app for it, if you prefer to use apps. We generally know the cheapest gas station in our town, but the website becomes particularly useful if we are outside Fenton as we don't know gas prices well outside of our town. It's worth it to drive an extra mile or so to save a few pennies per gallon. Our tank has at least 17 gallons so if we're saving 3 cents, that quickly adds up. The other day, we saved more than 20 cents per gallon by using gasbuddy.com. We were pretty excited about that! 
  • In the winter, if you live in a cold climate, be sure to gas up often. We gas up every week no matter what. Your vehicle will get better gas mileage if the tank is more full. 
  • Speaking of gas mileage, be sure you are inflating your tires often. Low air in tires also affects your gas mileage. 
  • Be sure to track your miles per gallon - this will come in handy if you notice a sudden dip in your miles per gallon. It likely means something is wrong with your vehicle and you can circumvent the problem before it becomes a huge hassle. 
  • Call around for prices on oil changes. We did this when we first moved to Fenton, and our local Muffler Man has the cheapest oil change prices. We've been using them since we moved here, and I wouldn't go anywhere else. Their employees are also super honest, which we really appreciate. 
  • Pay off your car as quickly as possible, if you have a car payment. Then, start a car fund. Put whatever you can into it per month. The goal would be to have a car fund with enough money that you can buy your next car in cash.
  • Know how to repair cars or learn how. We are so thankful for my father who knows cars and he teaches us how to repair our car as we go. Jason and I have both learned a lot of skills. Most car repairs, we do with my dad. There are some that are better to be done in a proper shop, but we can fix most things. This saves us a significant amount of money. 
If you are a two-car family, I would just really encourage you to consider if there's any way at all you can become a one-car family. It may be uncomfortable. It may not even seem doable. But it may be something worth trying. If you're interested in trying, don't feel the need to sell your second car just yet. Call your insurance provider and ask to put the extra car on parking insurance. That way, you can test out the one-car concept to see if this works for you and your family.

If you can't become a one-car family, you'll want to utilize the tips above to make the best of the situation. Cars shouldn't take up more than 20% of your take-home monthly income, so add up the costs of owning your cars and see what your percentage is. Personally, I would prefer our car costs not to add up to more than 10% of our income. Once our car is paid off, we'll be much closer to that goal.

Lastly, can I just encourage you to think outside the box? Talk with your friends and family. See what they do to save money on car ownership. Is there any way you can carpool to grocery shop? What about taking a walk once a week to complete an errand? Could you find bikes at garage sales and bike around to complete errands or visit friends? What about making it a point to stay home 4 or 5 days of the week except for traveling to and from work? Could your husband or wife complete errands for you on their way home from work?

Owning a car can be expensive, but it's definitely doable. And since it's typically necessary to own a car, we just have to do the best we can with what we have. You can make this work!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

This Book Room: Reading Contentment Challenge

Jason and I both decided to complete a Reading Contentment Challenge (RCC) for 2014. What's a RCC, you ask? Why, I'll tell you! We each chose books that we've read before but would like to read again.

So without further ado, here are the books I chose:


A Real Simple magazine issue recently asked something along the lines of, "What is one book you would share with your children?" Without question, my answer is Little Women (after the Bible of course, but I've already shared and continue to share the Bible with her). Little Women is an amazing book and one I've only read once or twice. The movie is also amazing and I watch that nearly every year. So I'm setting out to re-read this classic, and I'm going to try to convince Jason to read it too (he never has).


I grew up reading the Harry Potter series, but the last book wasn't released until I was already an adult, attending college and working full-time. I've only read the final book in the series once, and now that I own it, I would really like to re-read it. In all honesty, I'd love to re-read the entire series, but in the interest of reality, I'll settle for just the final book.


One of my goals for 2013 was to re-read Love and Respect (and complete the accompanying workbook). Let's just say... it didn't happen. But maybe including the book here will give me incentive to finally achieve this goal. This is a book I really need to re-read because I'm sure I don't respect my husband like I desire to. So I'm hoping it'll give me that kick in the butt I so desperately need and want.


With clarity, I can remember the summer I first truly discovered the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. It was the summer I was a camp counselor. Anytime I had a spare moment, I stopped by a Barnes and Noble and read the books until I was finished with them all. Then, of course, once I was an adult and working full-time and being a wife, a fifth book came out. I've only read Sisterhood Everlasting once, and I plan to re-read it again this year.


For months on end, all anyone talked about was the Help. When I read a summary of the book, it didn't pique my interest. I'm really glad I allowed the masses to persuade me to read this book. And I'm so looking forward to re-reading it. Maybe I'll enjoy a piece of pie while I read ;)


If you, like me, enjoyed the Help, I promise you will enjoy Wench. I'm not sure how much this book was ever noticed, but this is a book that will stay with me for forever. I can't wait to delve back into this story.


Jason and I both plan to re-read the Giver, as we recently discovered this is an entire series. My memories of the Giver are vague. I've read it once, probably in middle school. I'm looking forward to re-discovering the story and reading the other books in this series, too!


As a parent, it frightens me that I'm never perfect. And that lack of perfection drives me to be the best I can be. I first read the Resolution for Women a couple of years ago, but now that I'm a mama, I need to read it again. Honestly, this is a book I should re-read every year. It's just that good and convicting. If you want to be the best woman you can be, you should read this book.


Leila Meacham really can't do any wrong in my eyes. When I first read Roses, I was blown away. Ever since, I've been itching to re-read this terrific book. Her third book is coming out this year and I could not be more excited.


Last but not least, the Last Bridge has made my list. I've read this book once, and I remember loving it, but I honestly can't remember many details of it. Except there was a bridge. But since that's part of the title, I don't think that means much.

Jason chose four books to re-read, and here is his list:


Jess and I are re-reading the Giver so we can finish the series.


When I was younger, my brother and I read I Want to Go Home so many times, our copy fell apart. It's a silly story, and I can't wait to re-read it.


I read Bridge to Terabithia one time, but it was awhile ago. I think it deserves another read.


I read A Wizard of Earthsea in middle school. Later, a movie was made with the same name, but it seemed they just used the characters' names and nothing else. I have been meaning to re-read the book ever since.

Will you join us in the RCC? Which books are you going to re-read (and why)? 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: Benefits + Tips for Cloth Diapering

photo credit
Way back in the day, before we were pregnant, I didn't really know what I thought about cloth diapering. I kind of thought it was odd, but I knew cloth diapering usually equaled a cost savings.

When I became pregnant, I knew a bit more about cloth diapering, and we knew, right off the bat, we would cloth diaper. This post won't serve as an exhaustive resource of everything one needs to know about cloth diapering. If you're looking for a good resource for that, I recommend Googling "cloth diapering" and reading through all of the articles that come up.

First, let me say that cloth diapering can be a fashionable choice for your little. If you are into fashion at all, cloth diapering is one way to keep your baby fashionable and trendy. Not that this is important by any means, but cloth diapering can be seriously fun! There are a ton of fun patterns and fabrics available for cloth diapers.

Not only are cloth diapers fashionable, but just imagine for a moment that the underwear you have on now is made of paper. I've actually worn paper underwear. Apparently, hospital employees seem to think paper underwear is perfect for just after you've birthed a baby. I wore paper underwear for all of one night before I ditched them without telling anyone and donning my trusty big maternity underwear.

I can tell you first hand that paper underwear is seriously uncomfortable. But millions of people seem to think paper underwear is acceptable for their child. I feel really, really bad for those children. And I actually feel bad for Bug because we put her in paper diapers at night. I can't even imagine how uncomfortable that is.

Fabric underwear is much more comfortable and soft on your baby's bottom. Your baby might actually experience less rash on their bottom due to cloth diapers. In the beginning, Bug had diaper rash, but by about five months of age, we never used diaper cream on her. Rashes were not a huge issue for us.

One benefit, that also serves as a negative, to cloth diapers is that children can feel their wet and soiled diapers. While paper diapers keep the moisture and poop from a baby's bottom, a baby can feel the diaper is wet and poopy. This is a benefit for potty training later on, but it's also a negative, at times, for babies. One such time is at night. This is why we put Bug in a paper diaper. She never really woke up at night, particularly after three weeks of age. I felt horrible changing her diaper, which woke her up fully. Paper diapers work well for keeping Bug comfortable at night, all things considered.

While cloth diapers do need to be laundered, they are, over time, a huge cost savings over paper diapers. The cost of cloth diapers varies. First, you'll have to pick which style of diaper will fit your needs best. I am so happy with my Bum Genius 4.0 pocket diaper. I love these diapers. They are so easy to use and are made to fit a baby from 8 pounds to 35 pounds. We bought several of these and have enough that we could have two babies in diapers if the need arose. Our costs, initially, were about $500. And that is all we ever need to spend, ever. Most people I've talked to easily spend $40 a month on diapers. A family with one baby in paper diapers will spend more than $500 in 13 months.

Let me be the first to say that I've yet to meet a baby in America that was potty trained at age 13 months.

Even with the cost to wash and dry diapers, you'll easily save hundreds by using cloth diapers. You'll soon find that babies cost money. They don't have to cost a lot of money, but just birthing your baby, unless you have the best health insurance ever, will cost some serious dough.

Saving money on what is essentially underwear for your child is a good way to cut back on some of the bleeding of your money. Cloth diapering takes some work and time, but it's well worth it in the end.

Bug is in paper diapers at night and usually when we are out of the house as well. But she is primarily cloth diapered, and while I wouldn't call ourselves experts, we have learned some tips:
  • You will need to strip the diapers every so often. We've found that every three months works well for us. Each diaper you're going to strip should already be clean. Run the diapers in the washer with soap. Then, keep running the washer until the water runs clear and free of soap. It usually takes us about 4 to 6 rinses.
  • If your baby has produced a poopy diaper, it is helpful to rinse the diaper. We just rinse the diaper in the bathtub. You can buy a fancy diaper sprayer, or you can save some money and just rinse them in the tub. We find the tub works fine. It is just poop, after all.
  • Whether or not you desire to exclusively cloth diaper, you may find that cloth diapering out of your house doesn't work so well. One reason it may not is that cloth diapers take up a lot of space in a diaper bag and paper diapers don't. Either route you choose to go, be sure you have at least two plastic bags in your diaper bag. These will come in handy if you have a dirty cloth diaper you  need to bring home.
  • The best way to dry a diaper really is in the sun. This will save you dryer costs (in terms of electricity or actual money if you live in an apartment complex or use a laundry mat) and it helps keep the diapers extra white.
Whether or not you cloth diapered with your first, second or third child, if another child is in your future, I pray you consider cloth diapers. I am so glad we chose to cloth diaper and will choose cloth diapering with any other babies I may have in the future.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Saving the Moola: December in review

It is difficult to really believe 2013 has come and gone. Our lives changed in so many ways throughout this year that I just can't help but reflect on it all.

Jason and I became first-time parents to a little baby girl. Jason started working at a local security alarm company, and shortly after I returned to work, the company I worked for and I parted ways and I began staying home with our Bug full time.

And just as I was settling into a routine with that, I found a new calling! In December, I started a nanny position for a little boy. It is so, so good to be able to work from home and have my daughter on the job with me. It allows for a lot of freedom. This little boy is quickly adapting to our ways - helping with dinner, picking up his toys after he's done with them, listening to stories as we read them aloud. We're grateful for the extra income this job is providing and are hoping it will help us meet some needs we have right now.

Jason also started tutoring this year and recently gained a second student! His goal is four students per week. He meets with his first student every now and then, but not on a set schedule so he's looking to add three more students. The income from tutoring has helped meet a lot of wants. Jason purchased all of his Christmas gifts for us from his tutoring money and has treated us to dinner a couple of times. He loves tutoring and helping students learn. It has been such a blessing.

Usually, we sell jam throughout the year, but 2013 was an odd year. I don't think we had sold a single jar of jam until December. This isn't really an issue, but we can extra in the summer to sell, so we have a lot of jam in our pantry! I finally started to advertise a bit more (and plan to increase this exponentially in 2014), and we sold some jam in December! Thank you to my wonderful customers. I put the money in our jam envelope, so when summertime rolls back around, we can invest that money back into making more jam. 

Financially speaking, I feel like we're on our way for 2014. I feel like we have a lot of good things set up, and even though I don't know what God's plan is, I feel sure that He's there with me every step of the way, through the good, the bad and the ugly.

I plan to continue my nanny position for at least the full first half of 2014, so long as we all agree we're all having fun and this is a good thing (including the little boy and his family). Jason is actively working on growing his student base for tutoring and is praying for guidance and direction regarding his job and what the future holds for him there. I plan to advertise our side businesses a bit more in 2014 - jam, earrings, other crafting goodies we make. My mom and I have also been talking about another side business idea for me that may come to fruition to some degree in 2014. We'll also continue to blog here, although growing the blog isn't a focus for me in 2014. Over the summer of 2013, I actually had made the decision to take a long hiatus from the blog (a long indefinite hiatus). But at the end of September, when I found myself without a job and thus with more time on my hands, I knew God had paved the way for me to continue to share our lives here, on our little space on the web. I'm thankful to Him for that and I have a lot of new things planned for the blog in 2014.

In short, we have a lot of balls in the air, as we always do! There's never a dull moment around here. 2013 was a year of change for us, and I'm looking forward to what unfolds in 2014.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

State of Our House Address: December in review

December was hopping! Even though we made a Christmas 2013 bucket list, we actually did not do everything we hoped to accomplish. This was mostly due to the fact that we had several gifts to finish in December, our tree's lights did not work for the majority of the month (and it takes a long time to switch out each individual light on a strand), I began a nanny position for a little boy, and Jason worked a lot of overtime and tutored two students.

It was a busy month. Can you tell? ;)

We did manage to drive around town and look at all of the beautiful light displays. Bug slept most of the time but Jason and I had a great time. We even had to use the four-wheel drive feature on our car on some of the roads. We live in an area with several lakes, and the houses on the lake roads are lived in by what I can only assume are wealthy people (I pray they are wealthy and not broke but pretending to be wealthy), so the lights are pretty impressive on those houses. But the roads are often windy and with no outlet, so they appear to not be plowed often. It got kind of dicey on one road, and I feared we wouldn't make it out, but we did!

Preston is having a little bit of a hard time accepting there's another baby in the house. Before Bug arrived, he took over her crib. Since she is here, he's given that up (smells too much like her, I reckon), but he really likes sleeping her car seat and stroller combo. It is really funny to see.


We made and decorated over 4 dozen sugar cookies and tried a few new recipes. We visited several relatives over the course of the month, particularly in the week of Christmas. Bug had a great first Christmas, though she had a little uh-oh on Christmas eve, which resulted in a Rudolph-style nose on Christmas. My poor Bug! Her nose is almost perfectly healed now, though.

Before Bug's accident, she eats a new book while Grandma explains to my nephew how a rescue helicopter works.
Speaking of the week of Christmas, we live in Michigan, as most of you know, and a huge ice storm was predicted the weekend before Christmas. We decided to stay at my parents' house Saturday night. It would be Bug's first night away from home since we left the hospital 9+ months ago. Well, let's just say, Bug is not ready for sleepovers.

We had loads of fun at Grandma and Grandpa's house... until we weren't having fun anymore.
So, in the middle of the ice storm that would leave thousands in our county without power for days on end, we drove 30 miles home. At 4 AM. To be honest, the roads weren't that bad. Thank you, God! And we were so grateful (and are still grateful) that we never lost power at our house.

Bug received several new toys for Christmas. She had very little, but honestly, she's just happy with a whisk or a measuring spoon. Regardless, I was excited for her to have some new toys. One of her favorite gifts was a little toy kitchen from her grandma and grandpa. She loves, loves, loves playing with her kitchen. She turns the light on and off and also can change the settings on it and often turns it to the Spanish setting. Which is really funny. I think she's trying to tell me to teach her Spanish!

Bug with her gifts from Jason and I on Christmas day: a pair of pants I sewed,
a bath tub ducky toy, a honey crisp apple, a ball, a book set with an e-reader,
and a candy cane of bunny poop (watch Hop if you don't know what I'm talking about).
She can't eat the bunny poop, but everyone else got a candy cane and we didn't want to leave her out.
Bug also went poop in her potty for the first time in December, and she is sitting up really, really well on her own. I think the toy kitchen helped force her to learn balance, and she also loves riding around in shopping carts. The ones at Meijer are the best for littles because they have a stretchy belt.

All in all, it was a great month to end 2013. A little crazy, but I've learned to expect the unexpected. I can plan all I want, but the only plan that truly comes into being is His plan. And let's face it, His plan is always better than mine!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Life & Style: Goals for 2014

I won't be posting monthly goals, but please join us over on our Facebook page to view weekly goals. I also share good deals I find there, and I hope to post more content on our page in 2014. If you're not a fan of our page already, you might want to consider hitting "like!"

Anyway, I do have goals for 2014, and I plan to break them down as the year continues into bite-sized chunks so I can actually meet them. Here they are:

Spiritual

  • Read one chapter of my Amplified Bible each day
  • Read my devotional each day (for 2014, I chose Jesus Calling)
  • Minister to church families and others I see in need (such as taking a meal to them, giving of my time, etc.)
Personal
  • Read 52 books
  • Complete the Reading Contentment Challenge
  • Expand our garden (and by extension, my gardening skills)
  • Complete daily, weekly, monthly and yearly chore lists
  • Set and complete weekly household and crafting goals 
Career/Business
  • Grow our tutoring and other side businesses (we've set specific goals for these)
  • Maintain this blog and publish at least 15 posts per month 
  • Improve the aesthetic and functionality of this blog
Financial 
  • Pay off car loan 
Mothering
  • Potty train Bug
  • Wean Bug to foods completely 
  • Read 300 books aloud with Bug 
  • Continue signing to Bug 
Marriage
  • Have monthly date nights (Bug is always in tow for them, but we don't mind! When we crave some real alone time, we just have a date night at home after she's asleep for the night)
  • Play at least one game together each month 
  • Pray for my husband daily 
  • Read the Giver together
I don't choose a word for the year, but throughout the last part of 2013, I have had three words put on my heart as a conviction for how to live my life. 

First, pray. In all things and without ceasing, pray. Give all my cares to Him. 

Second, patience. Exercise patience. God will answer in His own way in His own time. 

Third, peace. Be at peace with whatever His plan is and comes to be. 

In all things I do and plan in 2014, I'm going to pray, have patience and be at peace.