Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pumpkins, pumpkins, we love pumpkins!

I thought it would be fun to do a pumpkin theme this Fall and incorporate it into our homeschooling lessons.  Here are some of the fun things I found around the internet to do:

I made pumpkin pie scented playdough, put out some things to attach to the playdough for fun, and away they went!

We wrote down adjectives to describe pumpkins:

Some creepy crawly sensory bins were made with waterbeads.  Not strictly on the pumpkin theme (although there were little pumpkins in it), but a good one to do before Halloween:

We filled out a pumpkin observation sheet before we carved the pumpkin (into an angry bird face of course!), describing it and guessing how many seeds there were in it:

We poked little pumpkins with pins, and stretched elastics in different designs around the pumpkins because, come on, how is that NOT fun??  At least until someone gets poked (which may, or may not have happened in this house....ahem....):

We painted little white casper pumpkins:

And of course we read stories about pumpkins.  Tomorrow we will end our pumpkin theme with some baking:  pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  And then the kids will go trick or treating and eat insane amounts of sugar before I try to put their little excited selves to bed.  All in all, a great two weeks of pumpkin fun!  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Travelling on the Cheap

Growing up my family didn't travel.  So I didn't know what I was missing.  Until recently.  Last year my family and I took a trip across Canada in our beat up tent trailer.  We saw the mountains, teal blue glacier water, and wildlife I didn't even realize existed in Canada!  I was hooked. I wanted to make these kind of memories with my family more often! Problem is, travelling can be expensive.

This year we are staying closer to home. BC is just not in the budget this year. (but believe me, it's on the list to happen again. :) )  However, I wanted to travel a bit still.  We decided there were some areas in Ontario, our home province that would be great to explore.  We are planning on going to the Bruce Penninsula this year as it is an area we have never been.  Here are some tricks we are using to be able to afford a small trip.

1.  Combining it with work.  I sell tie dye.  I am taking part in a craft show in an area close to where we want to explore.  So I will spend the weekend working while we camp, and then we will move on and use the following few days to take our mini vacation.

2.  Canadian Tire money.  Gas is expensive.  And you can't use Canadian Tire money to purchase gas.  But you can use Canadian Tire money to purchase a gift card, and you can use a gift card to purchase gas.  We always get our gas at the Canadian Tire gas station so we have a nice chunk that should get us almost 40 dollars of gas.

3.  PC Points Card.  If you have a bank account at President's Choice Financial, and you use your card at various places such as No Frills or Independent Grocer, you get points.  You can then redeem those points for groceries.  It takes awhile to accumulate them, but 20 dollars of free groceries is 20 dollars of free groceries! :)  We will be using that towards our food purchases for camping.

4.  Swagbucks.  Swagbucks is a site online where you can accumulate points and then redeem them for gift certificates for various stores or for paypal money.  While laying in bed putting my toddler to sleep I have used this site on my mobile phone to gain some points.

5.  Mystery Shopping.  I have done a few mystery shop assignments.  It is not huge money, but again it is a little extra that goes into my paypal account for our trip.

6.  Airmiles.  Recently I heard that airmiles have changed their program so that your points can expire after 5 years.  Apparently in 2016 points can start expiring.  We have been collecting the odd point here and there since we were first married.  We don't use the card enough for it to be enough for a flight, but it turns out you can redeem them for other purchases such as gift cards, or gas. :)

All of this combined with cheap camping, doing free or cheap activities, and eating food you pack all helps towards being able to take the family on a trip to make memories. :)

What ways do you save so you can take your family on a vacation?  I'd love to hear your ideas!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Know Your Audience

I don't really like to write controversial posts.  I worry that I will hurt someone's feelings, or open a can of worms that just isn't worth being opened.  But every once in awhile I get worked up enough that I write something and hit the post button, wondering if I really should be posting it.  So, fair warning, this is one of those times.

A very good friend of mine and I often have chats that often include one of us saying to eachother, "know your audience."

If it took you 6 months to get pregnant, don't complain that it took you forever to get pregnant to people who have dealt with fertility issues for years.

If you get straight A's in school, don't complain that school is such a struggle for you to someone who works their butt off and still struggles to only pull in Cs.

If you make $80,000 or $100,000 dollars yearly, don't complain that you have no money and finances are slim to someone who pulls in $20,000 annually.

If you find yourself in the first group of these statements and other situations like this, I am not saying you don't have struggles in this area.  I am saying that you most likely can't fully understand what the person in the latter part of these statements is really going through.  And by saying these types of things it can sting in the heart of the other person.

Honesty alert(because, really, sometimes you gotta be real): My family and I currently pull in roughly $20,000 a year at this time.  And if I had a nickle for everytime someone who makes $80,000 or more complain to me about how tough finances were, well, i might actually be rich.

I don't pretend to know what is going on in everyone's life. I don't always know if a crisis has happened in your life that has momentarily put you in a bad spot financially.  What I do know is that when I hear you say you have no money, and I see your lifestyle or I know what your annual income is (because friends, sometimes we do feel okay to share that number which is okay), I wonder what you must think of me in my $3 Value Village shirt purchased on 50% off day, if you are feeling bad about your own money situation while looking like a rockstar in your designer boots.

Here's the thing.  We have one vehicle.  We live in a small, OLD home. My kids are blessed with being able to take swimming lessons because I walked into the YMCA and applied for subsidy.  Not the funnest moment, let me tell you.  But my kids are worth it.  When I do buy clothes it is 9 out of 10 times from a thrift store, and soccer is paid for by Christmas money given to the children by relatives.  We don't have cable.  When we travel this Summer we are combining it with work to make money and using CHEAP camping accommodations. I don't go to the salon, or buy fancy lotions or makeup or creams.  Actually, I make my own bar soap to save money.  I hang laundry often. And in the winter we keep our temperature in our house on average around 16 or 17 degrees.

And I don't tell you this so you feel sorry for me.  Actually, I would HATE it if you did.  Because this kind of stuff doesn't make my life horrible.  Sometimes it enriches it.  Sometimes it strengthens my character.  And yes, sometimes it does cause me to complain because I am human and no matter where we are in our life, we are caught complaining about something that we shouldn't be complaining about.  But I imagine if I was in a conversation with a homeless person and started complaining to them about  how finances were tough that they might feel frustrated with what was coming out of my mouth.  Because to them, having a warm bed, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and never going hungry....well, that is something they dream of. I have all those things, and feel so fortunate! And for me, I often see these financial struggles as a temporary situation because one day my kids will be older and I will have more time to work and bring in income for the family when they won't need constant supervision or have such an attachment to their parents. But for now, when I hear those comments it makes me feel like there is this huge totem pole, and that I must be on the very bottom because if you feel like you don't have enough, it makes me think you look at me and just pity me and my children.

And you know what?  I am HAPPY for you that you make a comfortable income.  I think that is something you should feel proud of and thank God for.  I think it is something you should celebrate! I would love to hear how you were able to take a much needed vacation, or you were able to add renovations to your home you were dreaming about, or how you finally could put your child in those horse ridinng lessons they wanted so much.   All I am saying is, when we share our struggles, let's work together to know our audience.  I am guilty of this too...oh, how there have been times in mid-sentence I have realized I have said something that just shouldn't have come out of my mouth. There are many struggles people around me are going through that I really have no idea how hard that valley is they are walking through.   I want to learn to be sensitive to those around me.  Let's do this together. :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How to Fight Depression

Depression sucks.  It lies to you and tells you you are not enough, that you are a failure, that everyone dislikes you.  On top of that, it physically causes you pain too - headaches and stomach aches, fatigue, etc.

Since I was a teen I have struggled with depression.  Right around the time my parents split up, my mom left, and I was trying to make sense of everything, deep feelings of sadness and hopelessness crept in.  It wouldn't be until years later that I would have a name for what I was feeling, and it wouldn't be until more years later that I would finally move past the shame and stigma of depression and learn how to properly treat it.

Winter is often the time people with depression struggle more.   And if you live in Canada, even if you have never experienced depression before, this  possibly eternal winter that makes me feel like we are living in the Disney movie, Frozen, can bring the happiest person down.

 Here are some of the things I've learned over the years to help lift your mood when you are feeling low:

1.  Let the sunshine in.  Open up those curtains!  Soak up that vitamin D.
2.  Go outside.  The fresh air does wonders for your mood.
3.  Exercise.  I have yet to hear someone say they regret exercising.  Exercising gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy!
4.  Eat healthy.  I struggle with this one, but I can tell you that I often feel sad after I eat too much sugar or wheat or caffeine.
5.  Get out of bed.  When you are depressed you want to stay in bed.  Sure, sometimes you may need an extra hour, or a nap to rest, but don't make it a habit.  Staying in bed too much when you are down will only make the problem worse.  Get up and get moving!
6.  Get dressed.  Being a stay at home mom it is easy to put off having a shower and living in sweats or pajama bottoms.  Take a shower, put something on that makes you feel beautiful and be amazed at how much better you feel than before you did that!
7.  Don't treat your pain with bad habits.  Too much shopping, drinking, or in my case - eating junk, will in the end leave you feeling worse than before.  It is only  temporary high, and when it is over you will feel guilty for your poor choices.
8.  Don't beat yourself up when you do.  We all do things we wish we didn't.  Don't beat yourself up.  Just get back on the horse.  Beating yourself up will only leave you feeling more depressed.
9.  Keep your schedule.  It's easy to want to cancel out on commitments when you are feeling so discouraged.  But continuing with life will help you get through the tough days.
10.  Form a support system.  Family and friends, positive influences in your life, and those who will lift and encourage you are the ones you need in your life.  Look to people you can trust to confide in.
11. Dance around your kitchen.  This ALWAYS makes me feel better.  Don't believe me? Try it. :)
12.  See a doctor.  Sometimes people need medication.  And there is no shame in that.  If nothing else is working and you aren't feeling better, go see your doctor.  I have been on medication on and off for 7 years, and consistently for over the past two years.  I used to hide this information due to fear of judgment, but over time I realized there were many around me who are on medication as well, and there are others who want to talk to their doctors about medication options but are too scared to.  When we are open about this kind of thing, it can help others seek the help they need.

Depression doesn't define you.  And there IS help out there.  Don't let it win.  Make a conscious effort to BEAT it.  With God by my side I am able to get out of bed each morning and fight depression with all I've got.  And though some days are harder than others, I can happily say that I am winning the battle.  You can too.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Yummy Deliciousness Granola Recipe

I LOVE granola.  I remember the first time I ever had granola was at Summer camp.  Basically, my life was changed from that moment on.

Unfortunately, the price of a tiny bag of granola in the store is absolutely crazy!!  Especially when it is SO cheap to make.  Here's how I make it.

Yummy Deliciousness Granola
7 cups of rolled oats
1 1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup of flax
3 individual servings of applesauce - I used unsweetened Motts Cherry Starfruit Berry applesauce
3/4 cup of honey
1 cup raisins

In a bowl, mix up the dry ingredients, except the raisins.  In a separate bowl, mix up the wet ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients.  Mix them up really well, you want all the dry ingredients to be coated by the wet ones.

This is the applesauce I use.

Pour the mix onto three separate cookie sheets.  Put them in the oven at 275 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Stir it around with a spatula every ten minutes or so. Watch it carefully! Granola burns quickly and there is nothing more disappointing then having to throw out a fresh batch of granola!

Let it cool.  Mix in the raisins and put it in a jar. Feel happy knowing you have breakfast covered for the morning!

We mixed this granola with some homemade yogurt and bananas the other day.  So good!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to be a Smart yard sale Shopper

My husband and I LOVE yard sales.  To the point where we get giddy when Spring comes because we are dreaming of all the browsing of people's junk we soon get to take part in.  Here are some tips to make the most of your yard sale trips:

1. It's not a deal if you don't NEED it.  Just because it is cheap doesn't mean you should buy it.  If you buy a cd you will never listen to, or book you will read just because it was a steal, in the end you just wasted money if you will never use it!

2.  Haggle.  I am not really good at this one, but have done it once in awhile.  Most people who are holding yard sales just want to get rid of their junk.  If you are offering a reasonable amount, but lower than the price they are asking, most people will give you some sort of deal.

3.  Try it out.  If the item you are buying requires electricity, ask if there is a way you can plug it in before you buy it to make sure it works.

4.  Limit what you buy for your kids.  It's easy to hand over some cash to the kids for a purchase at a yard sale, and I encourage it!  It's cheap, and it can teach them how to figure out how much they can afford, etc.  But if you hit up a lot of yard sales like my husband and I, it's good to say no as well.  No child needs a bedroom full of stuffies, no matter HOW cheap they are. ;)  A few are adequate enough.

5.  Go Early.  Serious yard salers are out first thing in the morning to get the best stuff.

6.  Go Late.  So, if you go early you have a better chance of finding items you might be looking for but if you go late, you may score some awesome deals as the yard sale organizers are getting tired, ready to shut'er down, and most likely just going to take the rest of the stuff leftover to the thrift store.

7.  Bring Snacks.  You need to keep yourself nice and hydrated and full of energy while out.  And we all know the kids will get hungry.  Avoid wasting all the money you saved by eating out in a moment of hangry weakness.

What are your tips for successful yard saling?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Save Money on Your Grocery Bill

My family and I, we like to eat.  And though I haven't made the best food choices over the past few months, I do like to be able to eat healthily even though I am on a tight budget.  Here are some of my top things I do to save on my groceries.

1.  Beans can be yummy!  You don't need to be a vegetarian to enjoy beans.  Mix some black beans with salsa and rice, top with some cheese, and enjoy!
2.  Buy dried beans over canned. I sometimes buy canned beans, but usually buy dry beans.  I cook the whole bag in my crockpot at once, then put them in freezer bags in smaller servings.  Then when I need some, I just grab a bag from the freezer!
3.  Make meat the addition, not the main course.  Add meat to soups and stews, stir fries and casseroles to make it go further.
4. Make your own convenience foods.  I've made my own jam, taco seasoning, granola, yogurt, pancakes and so much more!
5. Grow a garden.  Nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato from the garden!
6.  Cut out the cereal.  My family LOVES cereal.  But it is expensive.  To appease them, I will buy one box of cereal on sale.  Once it is gone, we eat oatmeal, eggs, or pancakes until we grocery shop.
7.  Buy discounted meat.  Okay, before you get all grossed out, hear me out on this one.  Meat is usually discounted because it is going to expire in a day or so.  Once you put the meat in the freezer, it will keep for a long time.  As long as you either cook it the day you purchase it or put it in the freezer it is fine.  Obviously, don't buy anything that looks questionable.
8. Menu plan.  How many times have you stopped at the grocery store on the way home, or the drive-thru because you had no plan for dinner?  Having a plan will avoid these unexpected trips.
9.  Shop the flyers.  Plan your menu around what is on sale that week.  And don't forget to price match!
10. Don't shop while hungry.  Oh man, everything looks so delicious when you are hungry!  You will end up spending more than you planned.  Eat before you shop.

How do you save money on your grocery bill?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What I've Learned from People like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus

We all remember Justin Bieber and  Miley Cyrus as young teens.  Fresh and fun, good role models for our kids.  Both professed to be followers of Jesus.  In fact,it was Justin Bieber who was found singing worship songs on youtube.

but money and fame have a funny way of changing people.

And haven't we all, at one time or another wished for that fame? for that fortune? Oh, how life would be easier if we lived like Hollywood stars.  If we had money like that, we'd be set!

And we watch, and see Justin and Miley fall down.  Over, and over, and over again.  We wonder how they have gone from the squeaky clean role models we remember, to the barely dressed and law breaking stars they are right now.  And we smugly say we wouldn't be like that.  Oh no, if we had their money, we'd be wise.  We'd give much of it away as Jesus would want us to, and we'd make wise choices with the rest of it.  But we'd live comfortably, without worrying how we are going to pay the bills for once.

Well, I don't know about you, but if I am downright honest with myself, I think there is a good chance I'd be just as foolish.  I am pretty sure I'd stumble, just as they are....maybe worse. Because money and fame can do that to a person.  Not always...there are people who wisely use it to God's glory, to bless others, to help others...but many, many out there don't.

And it's not that they are bad people.  I don't believe Justin or Miley are horrible people.  I believe they are human, sinful people who are distracted by the glimmer of it all.

And I believe I would be too.

I think there is a good chance I could be a very greedy rich person.

Miley and Justin, watching them, from where they came from, to where they are now....they teach me that money doesn't solve all problems, and in the end can cause more.  They have shown me that you may be able to finally pay your bills, but now you can have a whole other slew of problems.  Not to mention that there are times we can read about famous people in Hollywood, who had a life full of promise, and MONEY, only to find themselves homeless or struggling to make ends meet because somehow after a host of poor choices, they find themselves in a very dark place.  And they say money doesn't buy happiness.   We secretly think it buys a little bit of happiness at least.  But if that was true I think we'd see fewer celebrities succumb to suicide, or drug and alcohol addictions.  It looks to me like all the money in the world doesn't take away the pain in your heart.

You know, lack of money is not the only area you can be poor in. You can be RICH in the financial sense, but poor in many other areas of your life.  We ALL are poor in some areas.  Sometimes I wonder if in the Bible when God commands us to help the poor, He isn't only talking about it in money terms. What about the spiritually poor? The emotionally poor?  Add that to the financially poor and everywhere you turn there are people who need Jesus' love.

And all of a sudden, lack of money doesn't seem so bad after all. Actually, as crazy as it sounds, many days I am thankful for it.  Many days I am thankful that living low income is okay with me as long as I get to spend more time with my family.  Many days I am happy that my husband and I can be risk takers without fear of losing a 3000 sq foot home or fancy cars (can't lose what you don't have!).  I have had moments where I am thankful we have learned how to be frugal, how to stretch the groceries, or how to choose cheaper activities to take part in because if ever we are in crisis, we may just be a little more prepared for it.  And though there are times that can be tough...that there are times that have brought us to our knees wondering if we got it all wrong, as was the case as early as a few months ago, those moments often pass, we learn a different way of working within our circumstances, and we see and feel God guiding us into focusing on HIM more, and less on the almighty dollar.  And we always seem to come out of those times stronger, and with a clearer understanding of what our lives should reflect.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

20 Cheap or free Spring Activities

Spring is coming!  Although, if you live in Canada, like me, you may be doubting Spring will ever come this year.  You know, I used to pride myself on being a northern girl, but seriously, I can't take this cold anymore!  Not gonna lie, I wanna punch winter in the face. one.  Does it even really exist?

Anyways, I am living on the dream that Spring WILL come.  And soon.  And after being inside for so long with the kids due to crazy cold such as the polar vortex this year, I am READY to get out.  So, what is family to do outdoors on the cheap?

1.  Go to the park.  This one NEVER gets old with kids.
2.  Have a picnic.
3.  Go hiking in a conservation area.
4.  Read a book to the kids outside on a blanket.  Or hide in a tree and read a book all by yourself. 
5.  Paint.  Yes, kids can paint indoors, but trust me, your stress level will stay relatively low if you save the painting activities for outdoors.  No more paint on your table, on your floor, etc.  It will still be on your kids, but hey, it's better than nothing.  Let the kids paint rocks for a new type of canvas.
6.  Fly kites.
7.  Ride bikes.
8.  Go on a scavenger hunt.
9.  Take a trip to the farmer's market.
10. Blow bubbles.
11. Go puddle jumping.  Seriously, put all your "that will be one big mess" thoughts aside and do this at least once.  Your kids will LOVE you for it.
12.  Make bird feeders.
13. Make a fairy house. Use or sticks or anything you can find.
14.  Play with sensory bins.  We do the sensory bins indoors in the winter and usually end up with pounds of lentils or dried beans on the floor.  Think of how less of a mess this would be outdoors!
15.  Collect rocks.  Bring them home and attach googly eyes to them.
16.  Climb a tree.  For the big kids of course, and maybe the parents too!
17.  Feed the ducks.
18.  Have a bonfire.  Roast marshmallows and bring your guitar to sing songs.
19.  Yarnbomb a tree in your yard.
20.  Draw with chalk.  Do some serious artwork on your front step.


Spring,  I can almost taste it!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Running Errands on the Cheap

I live in a small town 25 minutes outside of a main city.  All my main shopping is done there because as crazy as it sounds, I don't want to pay three times as much for the same groceries.  We do most of our stuff in the local city like go to church, swimming lessons, etc.  Maybe if you are like me you have some experience with a trip into the city ending up costing way more than you hoped because of those little people in your car complaining they were hungry or you ended up driving from one end of the city to the next 5 times because you weren't organized.  Here are some tips I have learned to minimize my expenses when going out.

1.  Avoid meal times.  This isn't always possible, but when you can avoid it, run your errands when it isn't meal time.  That way you avoid you and your kids getting HANGRY!  You know, hangry...when you are hungry, and then you get angry?  We are a family of hangry people, I swear it is in our genes.  Sometimes when the husband or I are being short with eachother the other one looks at the other and replies, "honey, do you need a sandwich?"  Speaking of which, a sandwich sounds really good right now...

2. Pack food.  If there is a chance you are going to be out for awhile, or around meal time, pack a lunch or snacks.  Truth is, if you have kids with you the chances of someone getting hungry if you are out of the house more than 20 minutes is pretty high.  Might as well pack some food for most trips just in case.  My kids have water bottles as well that they take with them quite often.

3.  Have a back-up plan.  Sometimes no matter how hard you try to be organized, life happens and you find yourself in town without food and hangry people. Have a back up plan for where you will buy food if this happens to avoid spending more than you want.  For us, we either go to the grocery store for snacks or get a 5 dollar pizza at one of the local pizza places.  Even if we buy 2 pizzas because we are REALLY hangry, it is still cheaper than buying dinner for our whole family through the Mcdonald's or Wendy's drive-thru.  (and don't judge on the drive-thru...if you have three kids in car/booster seats and you are on your own you know how difficult it can be to take your kids in and out of the minivan over and over again on an errand trip.)

4.  Plan your route strategically.  Write out what you need before you go and what stores you need to go to.  Then plan your route according to location.  This will help avoid you spending more gas than you had hoped because you are driving all over the city.

5.  Go by yourself.  I LOVE grocery shopping by myself.   If you can have someone else watch your kids while you run errands this can make the trip faster and less chance of spending more money in so many ways.

What do you do to avoid spending money when you are out?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Home Decor on a Budget

If I am being honest, I would say that home decor is not my strong point.  Actually, I'm not that great at it at all.  But I personally think any of my decorating fails in my home are not due to finances and more to do with my lack of creativity in that department.  However, I have made an effort to do a few things around my home.

We have furnished our home mostly by second-hand items either given to us or purchased.  Our only full-price item in our home is an Ikea chair.  (We were childless at that time and hey, it IS Ikea.)  At the time the chair came with a white cushion.  I hated the white cushion, but the coloured ones were more expensive.  So we took the white one.  Over 5 years later we finally were able to replace the white cushion for a black cushion! :)

Here are some things I have learned in an effort to save money on decorating your home.

1. Put the word out before you purchase it.  I really wanted to repaint my kitchen cupboards red.  I mentioned it on Facebook, and a Facebook friend had red paint they offered me.  Other times I have put the word out asking if someone had something I was looking for and at least half the time someone had something they weren't using.  It is always good to offer to buy it off of them (for a cheaper price than the store of course) but in my experience, most people are happy to give it to you if they aren't using it and know you.

2.  Paint freshens anything.  My house is 100 or so years old.  My kitchen cupboards are OLD.  New cupboards would be a dream, but not an affordable dream of mine!  So, whenever I am needing a change, I paint them.  It is amazing how much paint can freshen a room!

3. Let Pinterest inspire you.  Now this one you need to be careful with.  When I say let Pinterest inspire you, I am not talking about the Pins that scream "Absolutely PERFECT decor for $10,000".  I'm talking more about inspiration such as this:

This is a wall decoration I made after seeing a picture of this on Pinterest (only spray painted gold).  All it is is clothespins, embroidery hoops (which I purchased at a thrift store) and spray paint.

4. Use nature to decorate.  I don't do this enough, but anytime I do, I feel a sense of closeness with the outdoors.  We pick flowers from our yard in the summer and put them on the table in a vase, or pine cones in the Fall.  My kids take part in this too-I constantly find rocks or ladybugs all over the house...

5. Decorate simply.  Jars filled with coloured beads or dry beans, old crates to hold books or toys, or fabric for bunting flags or to add layering.  If you start looking around your house, you will be amazed at how many things around your house can be used for decorating.

Again, I am by no means a decorating guru.  Until last year I didn't even know what wainscotting was, and I don't understand why there are so many different shades of white paint to choose from, and I have ugly stick vinyl tiles covering my kitchen floor, some of which are tearing apart.  But I do like to add my own personal touch to my home, even if small.  Who knows, maybe when the kids grow up and I have more time on my hands I will find more time to learn the art of a well-decorated home. ;)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oh NO! Company is Coming for Dinner!

Anytime we have people over for dinner it is always an enjoyable time.  But leading up to it can be quite stressful.  Usually because I am always trying to rack my brain as to what to prepare that is frugal, and doesn't leave me in the kitchen all night. If I was smart, I`d write a list and tape it inside one of my cupboards.  But since I haven`t done that yet (Mommy brain, I blame MOMMY BRAIN!), I might as well write my list here. So, what should you serve for dinner for your guests without breaking your budget?

1.  Soups.  In the cooler months this is one of my favorites.  Pairing up a pureed squash or potato soup with a loaf of homemade bread and maybe a side salad and you've got a full meal!

2.  Chili.  Along the same lines of soup, pair it with some homemade bread.  Have some shredded cheese available for your guests to sprinkle on top and you've got a hearty, filling dinner.

3.  Quiche.  Eggs are cheap, and full of protein.  Raid your garden for what to put in the quiche.

4.  Salad.  Adding some chicken to a salad can turn a side salad into a full meal, perfect for those hot summer nights.  If you have a garden use what is there to make this meal even cheaper.  Serve with some delicious bread.  Cornbread can be a good option.

5. Hamburgers and hot dogs.  Some would feel uneasy serving hotdogs to guests, but in my neck of the woods, during bbq season that is completely acceptable!

6.  Pasta.  Who doesn't like pasta?  And pasta doesn't have to be boring.  Serving some bowtie pasta mixed with peas and sundried tomatoes, a little olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese and you might feel like you are dining out at an italian restaurant.

Some tips to remember when company is coming for dinner:

If they ask if they can bring something, say YES!  A side salad, dessert, or beverage can be very helpful in sharing costs.  And if you are invited out, it is nice to offer the same.

Dessert isn`t always necessary.  When we have guests over I try to have a frugal dessert prepared (or ask them to bring one if they asked what they could bring) but there are times it hasn`t happened.  No one is going to waste away without dessert.  Actually, we might be better off not stuffing ourselves with that huge helping of double fudge brownie.

Cook simple meals.  In the cooler months I love to use my crockpot when I entertain.  That way, by the time my guests arrive there is very little for me to do but dish out the food into bowls.  This allows me to actually enjoy the visit!

Entertaining doesn`t have to cost a fortune.  The truth is, people generally aren`t coming to your house for your food.  They are coming for your company, but the food is just a perk.  And if they ARE coming just for your food, maybe they aren`t the type of people you want to have over anyways. ;)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

5 Convenience Foods you can Make Yourself

I am all about convenience. I have three kids, six and under.  They require attention.  All. The. Time. They are like little energy suckers. Cute energy suckers, mind you, but energy suckers nonetheless.  So if there are ways I can make meal time faster in the kitchen, I want to do it.  But convenience foods that you purchase in the grocery store aren't always budget friendly. Not to mention the homemade versions are usually much healthier.  Here are 5 convenience foods that you can make for yourself at home.

1.  Pancake Mix. Seriously, when you buy a mix in the store you are probably adding eggs and milk to the mix. If you make the mix at home, you are only adding a bit of sugar, salt, and baking powder to that.  Three extra ingredients.  Really not all that time consuming.  And you can always make a huge batch of this to store in your pantry.  Just take your favorite pancake mix, double, triple, quadruple the recipe of just the dry ingredients and store it in an airtight container.

2.  Taco Seasoning.  Have you ever looked at the ingredients of storebought taco seasoning?  A lot of salt, and other ingredients you probably can't even pronounce.  I love that I have a jar of taco seasoning in my pantry at all times for whenever I am in a mexican-type dinner mood.

3.  Yogurt. The yogurt aisle is where I find myself the most frustrated in the grocery store.  It seems like almost every brand contains some type of alternative sweetener -sucralose, asparatame, etc.  I'm all for cutting back on sugar, but I'd rather have good ole' refined sugar any day over all those weird, bad-tasting,we-don't-know-what-it's-doing-to-us sweeteners.  By making yogurt at home you can avoid this. Though yogurt takes hours to make, most of it is just incubating time.  The initial work is pretty simple.  And you don't need any fancy yogurt maker.  I actually got rid of my yogurt maker awhile back because I prefer to use a small cooler and some mason jars.  For a tutorial on how to make your own, check out The Frugal Girl's blog.

4.  Breakfast wraps.  Hmm, breakfast wraps.  Okay, truth be told I'm not a huge fan, but my husband loves them!  You don't have to shell out some cash in the drivethru when the craving hits.  Just fill some tortilla wraps with some scrambled eggs, sausage, salsa, and basically whatever you want, wrap them up, freeze them flat on a cookie sheet so they don't stick, and put them in a big freezer bag when they are frozen.  Just take one out and pop it in the microwave when you want one!

5.  Granola.  I LOVE granola.  But everytime I see it in the store I am floored at how they charge so much for a little bag.  Especially since it is mostly just OATMEAL!!!  I get my oatmeal in bulk, either at the grocery store or a local amish store, and it is cheap.  Making my own granola is easy, and a fraction of the cost.  Granola recipes are everywhere online, but one that I like to use can be found here.

Making your own rather than buying can save you money and be healthier for you.  And many times it isn't as difficult as it seems, it just takes a bit of practice getting into the groove of things!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

God's Calling

"Being a mother is not about what you gave up to have a child, but what you've gained from having one." -Sunny Gupta

Sometimes life can be tough.  Sometimes we can walk through a trial, and it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But sometimes I think those trials help us bring us back to a more accurate picture of what our priorities should look like.

When your kids are young, it can sometimes seem like you are just trying to make it through the day.  "The days are long but the years are short."  That's what they say, isn't it?  And sometimes as moms I think we can get lost.  Get caught up in dreaming about when life will be easier.  When our little co-sleeper is not in our bed anymore.  When our munchkin doesn't nurse constantly.  When we can stop tripping over legos or barbies or matchbox cars.  I don't know about you but I can start dreaming about all the things I am going to do when I don't have kids attached to my hip.  When they are more independent.  And then i start thinking that maybe I should rearrange my life so that I can do that now.  I start worrying that I should be changing my life in a way that brings in more money, that allows them to do more, that allows US to do or have more.

And then times get tough. The bills come in and the van breaks and the stove sparks.  And I REALLY start to question the choices I have made in my life.  I start to wonder if I should be homeschooling.  I wonder if I should put them in daycare so I can go to work so that they can take horseback riding lessons, and hockey, and violin.  I wonder if I am not being a good parent by not bringing them to Great Wolf Lodge or Disney World.  I start to wonder if I am doing it all wrong.  I mean, I didn't even know there is a Despicable Me 2 out, and my daughter doesn't own a Hannah Montana backpack. (Wait, Hannah Montana is not in anymore anyways, right?) I am just not "with it". Maybe if I was in the corporate world my kids would grow up just like everyone else.  I know what it was like growing up standing out like a sore thumb, being teased for not having what the other kids I really want that for my children??

And so I pray.  I pray for wisdom.  I pray for guidance.  I pray that I wouldn't feel so conflicted in my heart.

In the meantime, I keep at it.  I teach my children math and reading and Awana Bible verses.  I cook many meals out of pasta and rice and lentils and peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  I work on my home business and help the husband with his.  I work on a fundraiser I am trying to get together for a cause I believe in.  I change diapers and hand out snacks and vitamins and wash laundry and sweep floors.  I give medicine to sick babes and cuddle them when they don't feel so well. I read stories and peel stickers off the floor and wash sticky hands.

And in the middle of life feeling tough, we receive many blessings from friends.

And God whispers to me,  "look around.  THESE are your priorities.  THIS is where I want you."

And I look.  And I see that my children are thriving at home with homeschooling.  And I see that slowly, VERY slowly, but surely, our businesses are showing promise.  And I see God's hand in a fundraiser that I feel so inadequate to put together.  And I see my children playing, and smiling.  And I feel my toddler's hand in mine and his skin feels perfect.  And I remember that I won't always have that pudgy toddler hand to hold.  and I realize the days I cry usually have nothing to do with feeling like I can't take one more tantrum (as frustrating as it is.)  No, the tears come when I feel like I will never be "enough" by the world's standards.  the tears come when I worry my children might resent me for not having the latest gadgets.  But all the laundry and dishes and backtalk and ouchies don't make me cry.  Even the days I feel like I am counting down till bedtime...still not enough to make me cry.  Maybe I am meant to be here.

God calls us all to different things.  Some women are called to work outside of the home. Some are not.  Some are called to homeschool, others are not.  And when everyone around us is doing one thing, it is easy to believe God would want us to do the same thing.  But that isn't always true.  God has different paths for different people.  and sometimes tough times help us reevaluate our priorities. Sometimes I get caught up in what I WANT MY priorities to be to suit me.  And i get confused in where God wants me.  But when I am very real with myself I can see very clearly where God wants me...right here, at home with my children.  Only he wants me to REALLY be here...not just physically.  He wants me to make sure my family is a priority...before my own selfish needs.  I don't think it is wrong to go out with the girls once in a while, or having a nap to recharge, or taking some time to ourselves as moms.  But if we start to look forward to that, and only that - never looking forward to the time with our own family because it feels exhausting, I think we need to look at our priorities.  Whether you work at home or away from home.  Whether your kids go to school or are home schooled.  I firmly believe God wants our children to know that mom and dad are a safe place for them. I firmly believe God wants our children to see us WANTING to spend time with them because we love them, and not just because we feel we HAVE to.

So, here's to 2014 being a new year for me.  A new year full of quality family time.  A year where my children AND my husband know I am here because I WANT to be here, and not because I have to.