Monday, January 31, 2011

What's on the agenda

As I have been organizing and decorating our new place, it always helps me to think a bit about what I would like to get done. I have somewhat of a running list that I add things to and cross things off as I get them done. Some of them might be smaller things like doing some laundry or paying some bills. Some of them might be more time-consuming projects like organizing and sorting through specific things.

Some of the bigger projects I have coming up:
*Sorting through and organizing old photos
*Printing some pictures for the walls
*Sorting through my arts and crafts supplies
*Sorting through my sewing and crocheting bins
*Taking pictures of and selling the cloth diapers and covers we're not using any more
*Taking pictures of and selling some baby things/clothes
*Sorting through boxes of books and selling them to, Powell's Bookstore, or Swagbucks
*Putting the finishing touches on decorating the kids' rooms. I'm wanting to get a decorative shelf for the girls' room and William's room, plus a couple of frames for each room to put some art into.
*Finding a good storage solution/shelving unit for the books we decide to keep

Monday is also shopping and menu planning day around here. Since my sister-in-law also uses the Gleaner's program we go to, she asked me to post what I was going to cook for dinner with the food I picked up. So, I thought perhaps at the beginning of the week I will start posting about what I pick up there, plus what I need to get at the grocery store each week between WIC checks and budgeted cash. My menu will mainly be based on what I pick up at Gleaner's. I like to try to buy as little as possible now that we're back on the program. The good news? We were able to pay $120 this month toward our credit card instead of the minimum payment! I'll try to post our menu every weekday, plus any recipes I think are worth sharing (this will be in addition to whatever else I happen to be rambling about on any particular day).

So, here's a brief summary of what I got this week at Gleaner's:

Household items

deodorant for David
3 rolls toilet paper
2 rolls paper towels
1 pkg liquid hand soap

Food items
1 pkg blueberry bagels
1 pkg sourdough english muffins
1 loaf white bread with whole grain
1 can mushrooms
1 pkg whole grain tortillas
32 oz sour cream
16 oz cottage cheese
homestyle gravy
mashed potatoes
tomato, herb, and veggie orzo pasta side dish
1 side of au gratin potatoes
8 yogurt cups
gluten free brownies
1 lb strawberries, a few might be moldy, but most are ok
1 bunch very green bananas for later this week
1/2 lb grape tomatoes
1 lg bag mixed greens salad mix (w/dressing, nuts, dried cranberries, and feta cheese)
1/2 lb sugar snap peas
2 small peppers
sandwich bag of chopped, cooked, seasoned chicken
1 jar blackberry preserves
1 bottle pancake syrup
6 applesauce cups
1 jar grey poupon
1 bottle coconut coffee syrup (Yay for coffee at home! Add a bit of hot cocoa for a "mounds" mocha :))
1 pkg decaf coffee
3 bags nacho cheese tortilla chips
1 bag avocados (need to be used now)
1 large box frozen breaded chicken breasts
1 canister table salt

The motherload of snacks for lunches
2 bags organic cheese curls
6 cans diet pepsi
8 cans regular pepsi
6 mini cherry pies
1 box gingerbread cookies
1 box chocolate mini cakes
1 box triscuit thins

I'll update later on my Grocery store purchases.

Monday's Munchies
B: Whole wheat blueberry pancakes from scratch. We also had bananas and apple juice.
L: Grilled cheese, grapes, oranges, carrots, and ranch
D: Spanish rice (recipe below) with the baggie of chopped chicken, 2 small peppers, onion, frozen corn/pepper mix, and 1 can each of organic tomato sauce and organic diced tomatoes (bought in boxes of 12 at Costco when I go with my mother-in-law and use her card ;)). I'll be serving guacamole, sour cream, and tortilla chips on the side.

coming back later to finish the plan.... gotta go cook up some grub!

OK! Now that said grub has been cooked, consumed, and approved of, here are the recipes (courtesy of the mad cooking skillz of none other than yours truly). You will not be disappointed:

Spanish Rice
2 c uncooked rice
1 c. chopped, cooked, & seasoned chicken (or ground beef!)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 29 oz can tomato sauce
12 oz. frozen corn
1 diced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin

I threw the 2 c rice along with 4 c water in my rice cooker and let 'er steam. While that was going, I chopped the veggies and sauteed them in some olive oil in a big ol' pot (I went ahead and threw in the corn when the rest of the veggies were tender). Yum! Then I added the tomatoes and tomato sauce and heated it through, adding the spices. You could add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. By the time that was all bubbly, the rice was done, so I plopped it all in the big pot and mixed it well, turning it to low, and then stirring it occasionally while I made my to die for guacamole. That way all the juices had time to soak into the rice. We ate it with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Holy Guacamole
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
3 med-lg avocados, mashed
1/2 c cottage cheese (yes, really!)
2 tbsp sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp lime juice (I just keep a bottle of it on hand so I don't have to run out and buy fresh limes)
1 tsp garlic powder

Dump it in a bowl and go to town with a potato masher. That's it! And it is soooo good with Doritos.

This post has been linked to The Grocery Cart Challenge.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Growing and Changing

As I've been reading through my past posts, I am finding that I was such a different person when I began writing than I am now. Some of my older posts I would like to delete, simply because there is no point in keeping them up. I'll still keep the ones that chronicle my pregnancy or sweet things the kids have done. But becoming a mother has changed me. Marriage has changed me. College has changed me as well. I see ways that I have grown and would like to continue to grow, and keeping some of those posts up won't serve that purpose. I don't want to be the same person I was and I suppose that's the way life is supposed to be. So I have been going through and editing/deleting some things. It feels good!

And dinner smells good, too :).
On the menu for tonight is black bean soup topped with sour cream and homemade salsa. These recipes have been linked to The Grocery Cart Challenge.

Black Bean Soup (by Marlene Sorosky Gray):
1 lb dried black beans, rinsed and sorted
1/2 lb bacon, diced & cooked (or 1/2 lb diced & cooked turkey ham is economical!)
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced onions
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground black pepper
64 oz vegetable broth
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp lime juice (add this right before serving)

I rinsed & soaked the beans for the afternoon, then I just threw everything in the pot and let it simmer for 2-3 hours. To me, it's less complicated that way. I also threw in a dash or two of taco seasoning and chili powder to liven it up a bit, but not a lot of either. Add salt and pepper to taste. It smells great!

The recipe says to top the soup with sour cream, tomato, and cilantro, but I am topping it with sour cream and my favorite salsa recipe, as well as some sliced up corn tortillas.

Sweet Corn Salsa (From Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables):
3 ears sweet corn (you can do 2-3 c frozen corn and it's still great)
3 medium tomatoes, diced (I use 4 romas)
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped (when I don't have one, I use a bit of cayenne pepper)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion or one large scallion, chopped (I use a whole yellow onion sometimes)
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes (or ~1/4 c lime juice)

Cut corn kernels off cobs. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat, then add corn and saute for 3 minutes. Combine corn and all remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Serve warm or chilled. It's amazingly good and makes a large bowl of salsa.

This meal is perfect! And not only because of the flavor. It was really frugal, too :)
The following items I picked up at Gleaner's:
vegetable broth
sour cream

The following items I got with my WIC checks:
black beans
corn tortillas

Everything else I had on hand, so the only thing I had to buy for tonight's dinner was the cilantro, which was $1 (and I have 2/3 of the bunch left!). The turkey ham is something I always keep around. I buy the Jennie-O kind and dice it up, separating it into 3 portions (for 3 separate meals). Can I just say that I love meal planning?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

She sings them to Him

(photo credit: Life Candids Photography, 2010)
Yesterday morning, my precious Dorothy was wandering around the house making up little songs as she often does. As she walked by, I told her that her singing was very beautiful and that I loved to hear it. Her response was priceless to me. "I'm so happy because everybody likes my singing! My other songs are true because they're about God. I sing them to Him," she said excitedly. It melted my heart, and it also got me thinking about what I am doing on a daily basis to teach my children about the things that are most important in life. Do they know who God is? Do I show them His love, or am I short with them? What more can I do to make sure that they see God's love through me? Am I teaching them responsibility and creativity? These are all sobering questions that will require daily thought, purpose, planning, and action.

I have been thinking more lately about how I want our days to look. Now that I am home with the kids every day, I feel like we need more of a routine to keep things running smoothly. It's too easy to fall back on cartoons to keep the kids entertained while I get things done, but my desire is for them to learn and grow as individuals. They have many options for creative play. We have been blessed with many toys and art supplies, most of which have been given to us as hand-me-downs or holiday gifts. If I am purposeful, it should be relatively easy to fit in all the things I want to do with them.

*Since the toys are organized into bins, "center" time is something I'd like to incorporate into their day. They can each pick a bin to play with and use their imaginations. The antique dollhouse/furniture we gave them for Christmas has already been a great addition to their play time. (And can I admit that it's fun for me, too?).

*I also want to make sure that they get art time every day with drawing, painting, or play dough. They both really enjoy art time. I just have to make sure Charlotte doesn't eat the crayons ;).

*I'd like to get some good Christ-centered preschool curriculum that is age-appropriate for both girls. They are both showing signs of being ready to learn more about letters, numbers, and how things work. We also need to set aside a regular book reading time, as well as a time to read their children's Bible.

*Baking/cooking time is another thing that I would like to do with them at least on a weekly basis. One of my favorite memories is punching down the bread dough for my mom in the kitchen. I remember the feel and the smell so fondly. Because my mom let me help her in the kitchen from such a young age, I was cooking very early on, and I love cooking to this day. It has blessed not only me and my family, but others as well. In fact, I'd like to add meal ministry to my tithing of time and resources. We may not have much money to work with, but I can use what God has given us to bless others. And I know first-hand after all of the high-risk pregnancies how wonderful it is to get a home-cooked meal when you are unable to prepare one. Allowing my children to take part in this will teach them how important it is to give of our time and resources to help others.

Scheduling my time will be a bit more challenging, as I still have some coursework. Household and school is always hard to balance, but it can be done! I'll let you know when I have a more solidified schedule worked out. What works for you?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Goal Setting

I earned another $5 Amazon card from Swagbucks yesterday. That combined with my previous $5 gift card and the deal they had the other day to pay $10 for a $20 gift card means that I now have $30 towards Christmas shopping already! And it's not even a month into the year yet. To be honest, I never thought ahead to plan for Christmas. Which is funny because I am always making lists and plans. In the past, I have had good intentions of getting started early, but it just never happened. Well, this year it's happening and it feels great. And empowering.

In fact, I have many hopes and plans for this year.

*Make more things from scratch. For instance, why buy pancake mix when I can make killer, fluffy, whole-grain pancakes for a lot less? Why buy boxed mac and cheese when I can bake a savory homestyle mac and cheese with simple ingredients that I almost always have on hand?

*Start using more healthful and natural options for cleaning our home and our bodies. If I have to hold my breath while I'm cleaning to avoid coughing, then is it really something I should be spraying into the air to begin with? Probably not! I'm finding that for most things, wiping it down with water does the trick. I've also heard that vinegar is great for disinfecting, so I may use a combo of that and baking soda for the dirtier jobs (like the bathroom). I still haven't found a natural option for our cloth diapers that keeps them stink free... I keep going back to the Tide. Any suggestions?

*Stick to our budget and get out of debt. I am really liking the cash envelope for our budgeting system. It's working awesome for me so far, although I think that David might be having a bit of a hard time adjusting to it. It's hard to remember to grab a $20 for gas when we're so used to waiting until the last minute and then pulling out a card. The plus side is that I have cut out all impulse shopping. Like that quick trip to the coffee shop has been replaced with brewing coffee every morning and adding a scoop of hot chocolate. I got a huge can of cocoa for $5 at Costco, and if I want it creamier, I just add some milk or creamer. That can should last me a long time and it tastes just as good to me as buying a mocha. Only it feels even better because I have a goal to look forward to.

*Seek God's direction on where to go with my schooling, doula business, and/or finding ways to make money from home. This is one area I where I just don't know how to proceed. I finished my associate's degree last month with a 4.0, which I am extremely proud of. I am taking a bit of a break right now, as it was just getting to be too much with the cost of day care. Not to mention the stress of too much homework and having to scramble for backup care when the kids were sick. Which, when they were in day care happened quite a bit. As in, every week one of them had something. I am really enjoying being home with the kids and I would love to find something that I could do from home to bring in some income.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Going through the archives

Today I am trying to go through some of my archives to label posts, which should make it easier to find what I am looking for later. Although, I am finding that there are just so many categories that I could almost do a few different blogs pertaining to things I am interested in. At some point in the near future, I will be starting a blog for my doula business, so I'll be doing most of my writing about childbirth and breastfeeding on that one. I'll let you know when I launch it, but for now I will be working on getting this one more organized.

Speaking of organized, some of you may know that I'm quite a perfectionist when it comes to being organized. I don't know for certain when this evolved, since I didn't really keep a clean room when I was growing up, but I think it started to take shape when I got my first apartment in my early twenties. And I find now that I have a family of my own, being organized is the key to a peaceful home. As peaceful as it can be with small children, anyhow. Being organized has helped me get though my toughest terms at school as well, because cooking and cleaning is so much easier when there is a plan and a place for everything. I like it that way. It works for me.

Some things that make my life easier:

*Storage bins of all sizes. Large ones for all the kids clothes are a lifesaver. I keep a bin for each size of clothing in both girl and boy. These stack in the kids' closet. Having them clearly labeled makes for easy storage and easy sorting as they grown out of things. I also try to keep the girls' clothes in their drawers folded together into outfits. This helps especially if we are packing or dressing in a hurry, since nobody has to ask if this shirt goes with those pants. It's a breeze!

*My 3-bin laundry sorter that I got from Target. It has removable bags that are just perfect for a load so that when one gets full, I just take it to the washer and dump it in. Easy peasy! I use one for darks, one for mediums, and one for whites. All of my kitchen towels, cleaning rags, cloth wipes for hands/faces, and bath towels, etc. are white so that I can throw in a capful of bleach with each load to keep them white. This assures me that everything is clean, too, since a lot of the whites are used for germy jobs.

*A home organization notebook. I have a wide 3-ring binder that I keep everything in. It has tabs for menu planning, grocery lists, packing lists (for camping, outings, etc), schedules, and budgeting. I also have a notebook for recipes, although I am needing a bigger one. When I find a recipe that I love, I print it out and put it in my book. Lists are my friend. I puffy heart love them. I have a master grocery list of every item I like to keep on hand, including all over-the-counter medicines and vitamins. It's always a work in progress, but it's so helpful!

*Toys are the tough one, especially since we now have a boy in the house, too, so we're adding more to the mix. We now have baby toys, big girl toys, books, and art supplies. All these things are in bins as well, although most are in medium ones instead of large ones. We have a bin each for blocks, ponies, barbies/other small dolls, baby dolls/clothes, dress up, legos/mega blocks, dishes/food, and our most recent addition is potato head sets from Christmas. The dollhouse furniture/dolls was going to go in a box as well, but I decided to keep them in the house to save on space. We also have medium bins for art supplies like paints, paper, coloring books, and crayons, as well as a small bin with play dough containers and accessories. When a bin is at capacity, I sort through to get rid of some things so the kids (or I) don't get frustrated trying to cram a bunch of toys into a box that they won't fit into. The bins also keep things easy to pick up. I'm going to be working on labeling them with pictures so the kids know what goes into the bins when they're cleaning up. Most of the bins get stored under the futon in the living room. Their books and kitchen are in the girls' room and William's toys are all sorted into something similar to this.

There's so much more, but I'll save it for another time. Those are my biggest sanity savers around the house. What do you do that makes life easier?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Budget Overhaul

We normally stick to a pretty tight budget. To help us make it on one income, we recently joined Gleaner's again when we moved into our new place. One of the requirements when a couple rejoins is that they are required to take a Good Sense budgeting class. The program is based on biblical principles, but if that's not your thing, you can still use the steps to overhaul your budget. Here are some of the basic steps ....

First, we must admit that our culture's view on money and possessions is contrary to what the Lord wants for our lives. Our money is God's. He simply gives it to us so that we can bless others. We need to be responsible with every decision we make, even if it is an *insignificant* purchase in our eyes.

Then, we look at the five areas when it comes to finances. A wise spending plan will help us do well in all of these areas.

1. Earning: Serve the Lord in your work. Be diligent, faithful, and grateful for what He has given you through your job. Then calculate how much you (and/or your partner) earn per month in Net (take-home) pay when starting your budget.

2. Giving: God wants us to generously give! This has been a difficult one for us, since we live on such a tight budget. One thing that helped me is that during our first session, the speaker told us not to get hung up on the 10% tithe at this point. Since most of the people in the class were in tough situations, the goal is to get to where we CAN tithe, and even give beyond that. But that is the eventual goal, not the short-term one. Just start with what you CAN give. For us, this is $40 a month. $20 goes toward a missionary couple and $20 goes toward our church. I know it's not a lot yet, but God will still take that money and use it. Above all, don't get bogged down by guilt!

3. Saving: This is money we keep, not money we give up! Compounding interest works for us if we set money aside each month. First, we need to focus on emergency savings. This should be equal to 3-6 months of basic living expenses, such as housing, food, and transportation. The second type of savings s for replacement. Think of larger purchases that are upcoming (such as a car, a roof, an appliance, etc) and save for them over time instead of putting them on a credit card at the time. The third type of savings is long-term savings for retirement. In all these areas, start with what you CAN do right now. The amount will increase as debts get paid off or as your income increases.

4. Debt: Try the debt snowball! List your debts in order from smallest to largest. Make minimum payments on all the debts except the smallest one. Put as much extra into that payment as you possibly can. As soon as you pay off the smallest debt, roll that payment on top of the minimum payment for the next debt. Do the same thing for the next debt when the second one is paid off. Your payment will keep snowballing until all of your debts are paid off. Do not take on any new debt! Instead, allow interest to work for you. If putting extra money toward paying off debt means eating rice and beans and cutting out movies, going out, and gifts, then so be it. Being debt free is worth it :). We've cut back all expenses that we can. Gifts are down to $15/month, plus the gift cards I earn from Swagbucks. Our entertainment is Netflix at the $10/month plan. This allows for streaming and one mailed disk at a time. I have cut out the data plan on my phone. We use cloth diapers on the two younger kids (which I actually love, for the record. I think they're convenient and adorable). We're going to get creative for dates and family time, including tent camping for vacations.

5. Spending: Make a plan and stick to it. For all variable expenses, consider using an envelope system with cash. We have envelopes for the following: groceries, household, gas, oil/maintenance, gifts, and medical/dental/prescription. As debt is paid off, we will try to add envelopes for things like clothing, vacation, hobbies, etc. Right now, we're bare bones as far as budget goes. And we're still extremely blessed! We really don't need anything beyond what we have now. Be thrifty! If you need something, God provides a way.

Those are just some of the basics of budgeting that we've learned in our class. I'm really excited to put this into practice. If nothing in our budget changes, we'll have all our debt (including student loans) paid off within just under four years! In actuality, it should be even sooner than that. Our tax return is going to likely pay off our first two debts, leaving only the student loans for us to pay. My hope is to earn a bit through becoming a doula. I will likely only do two births a month or so, but any little bit puts us that much closer to being out of debt and saving for the future. And that much closer to being where God wants us to be as a family. I hope you'll be just as excited as I am!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Time to Write

I've been ignoring my blog for far too long. With the craziness of life and adding yet another baby to our family, blogging has fallen by the wayside. That's right! William David came to join us in August after a long, hard pregnancy. 7.5 weeks of which were spent in the hospital. Now our little family is complete, so my blog will be more focused on the "beyond" rather than the "bedrest". I'm thinking of re-naming my blog, but for now it will stay as it is.

The good news is that I am writing again!

However, I am thinking of what my focus should be on...

I am still in school, although it is very part-time right now. I am taking a bit of a break after everything I've been through this year. Last December, I found out I was pregnant with William while I was taking full-time classes. I ended up having to get the cerclage done TWICE. Both times it slipped out, which is why I ended up in the hospital with him. It was a really difficult time, but God really kept His hand on the whole situation, and William came a full-term, healthy baby. When he was 6 weeks old, I started classes up after my break during summer term. In October, I also took a doula training class. I need to get 5 births under my belt for certification, but I am really excited about the possibility of being able to stay home with the kids most of the time and still earn some money doing something that I believe I will love. I'm still thinking of and praying about what my future looks like with school, work, and family. I'm not quite sure where God is leading at this point. I finished my associate's degree and my nursing prerequisites in December. This term I am only taking Spanish, which I will likely continue with for a while, since I am really enjoying it.

Some things I might be blogging about as I begin to write again:

*Natural living
*Living on a budget

Oh, and speaking of living on a budget, I recently joined Swagbucks! I am hoping to pay for Christmas gifts this year with my Amazon gift cards I earn there. If you want to swag, follow this link. It's easy! You search, watch videos, and enter codes to get points. The points add up and you can cash them in for all sorts of prizes. I'm saving mine for Amazon gift cards, but there are tons of other options as well. I'll be updating as I earn each gift card, and we'll see how much I can save up by the end of the year. The great thing is that once you sign up, anybody you refer will get you some swag bucks as well. It's worth a try! I've already earned one $5 gift card and am about 100 Swagbucks away from another one. Not too shabby.