Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wacky Wednesday - It's a Party!

If you live in Indy and you want to go to a supah fun, alcohol-free, video game, pajama New Years Party, email me (or leave a comment) and I'll get you the hookup! :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tackle It Tuesday!

This month our oldest child turns 4. And no, I can't believe it. We want to do something special for his birthday, and since he's been sharing a room with his two sisters up until now we plan to give him his own room for his birthday. This may not sound like a big deal to many of you, but if you've ever actually BEEN in our home, you'll know that all of our walls are white and there is absolutely NOTHING hung anywhere. So this is like a whole room rehab. Think....Extreme Room Makeover.

Part of our plan to is build our son a bed. Originally, we planned to do bunk beds but then decided that a bed with shelves and drawers would be equally helpful so we've opted for that. However.....we have no idea how to do this. My husband is handy and we have the internet at our side, so I'm sure we'll manage, but I'm still a little apprehensive to see how things will turn out.

I'll keep you all posted as the month progresses! Our goal is to be done by the 29th - and we haven't even started! :)

Anything in particular you're tackling this week?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Money Monday - WE'RE DEBT FREEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

DEBT FREE AND LOVIN' IT!

That's right, ladies and gentlemen! Our quest to become debt-free has finally reached a reality and we are....well.....VERY excited. I used to blog every month about our debt-free journey when I had a Myspace page but I kind of fell of the posting bandwagon for a while and then got rid of my page completely so those of you who used to follow my life via Myspace blog posts are probably way behind.

ANYWAY......

Many people have asked to hear our story, so in order to make my life easier, I thought I would just share it here. :) I warn you now. This is VERY long.

Ok, now let me start at the beginning.....

*Envision the screen going blurry for just a second and then coming into focus on two college students*

My husband (then, fiance) and I were considering eloping rather than having a large wedding (or even a small one!). Our families had been warned that this was likely what would happen since neither or us really cared much for the whole wedding drama. Being the "wise" 18- and 19-year olds that we were, one of the areas we took into consideration was our finances. Neither of us had auto loans or credit cards. One of us had a student loan, but we had understood that that would be paid by a family member. So we figured we had a green light with our finances. We had no savings, but hey, we were still leaps and bounds ahead of most college students!

We married in November of 2003. In January, I got a $2500 loan for my school (which mainly ended up going toward our apartment). My husband graduated from technical college the following spring and through a series of unfortunate events, we quickly discovered that the $12,000 student loan that my husband had from school was actually going to be ours to pay. BIG bummer. But we were both working, so no biggie, right? We were living in a dirt cheap apartment. I was still in school. And we still had 6 months before we needed to start paying on his loan.

In May, we took a trip to Branson, MO for Memorial Day weekend. I spent the entire weekend in the hotel bed watching Law and Order reruns....and puking. Yep, I was pregnant. And despite me being VERY sick for a few months, we were elated.

That fall, we decided that we wanted to buy a home. After all, living in an apartment when you could be building equity in a home is just stupid.....right? So we shopped around. And by "shopped around", I mean we went out one day, found a house that we wanted to build in a good part of town, and signed our life away. Our house was to be ready in January, which lined up perfectly with my due date as well as our February end-of-lease at the apartment. We were stoked.

We waited and waited for the foundation to be laid for our new home. We drove past several times over the course of a few months and nothing was happening. Finally, I called the company. "We need you to come in so we can discuss a few things." Oh great.

To avoid an unnecessarily long story about WHY we couldn't build where we had originally planned, I'll just sum it up. We ended up building a home on the opposite side of town - about 50% bigger and for about the same price. We got a discount of around 20%. We could not believe how lucky we were.

Our house was finished in April of 2005 and we were so happy to finally move in with our newborn and each other. The house was crazy big for us at first but, as all Americans seem to have a knack for doing, we learned to fill it up pretty quickly. Mostly with kids. :)

I suppose by now you're wondering where the finances are going to reenter the scene, right? Well, just hang on. It's about to get good.

Because my parents hadn't had to pay for any part of a wedding, they had bought us a car instead. Granted, it was an old car. REALLY old. But it ran and we were grateful. When it finally kicked the bucket, we went to a dealership and got a nice '97 Buick. We got a loan for the $4000 it costed and paid it off as quickly as we could. After all, we hated debt. Or so we thought.

I get lost in the mumbo jumbo of all the numbers, but I think it was about a week after we had paid off the Buick that we wound up with a $3800 home water purifier system. Oh yeah, we got a DEEP discount and we were set to get some SWEET customer service with the setup, installation, extras, etc. Well.....not so much. The water purifier ended up working about a year before we had some minor problems with it. Then a short while later, it started leaking. So we did what any good homeowner who has two giant towers taking up their entire carpeted entryway closet would do and we turned it off. The system is fantastic and has a lifetime warranty! If only you could actually REACH the company. Oh yeah, it's a great story. You see, we actually purchased the water purifier from a marketing company (Note: NEVER do that!) who subsequently went out of business shortly thereafter. The actual company who makes the water purifier is located in FL and can only be contacted via email....to which they refuse to reply. Amazing, I know. But praise the Lord we were not still paying on it when it broke!

Ok, let's see....where are we? Oh yes.....

No significant purchases were made for a while and we were paying a little extra on our student loans each month, but not really enough to make too much of a difference. In the fall of 2006, our church offered a class on finances. The class was based on Larry Burkett's book More Than Finances. We enjoyed the class and were even more motivated to get out of debt and develop a plan for our life. The book really focused a lot on why it's a sin for Christians to intentionally be in debt when it isn't necessary. Well, okay....I don't remember if Larry used those exact words, but that was basically what he said. There are TONS of Scriptures on money - more than any other subject, in fact - yet for some reason, Christians are just as in debt as non-Christians. We were ready to kick some debt-butt! But the class left us lacking in one area. We still didn't really know HOW.

In March of 2007, I was introduced to Dave Ramsey. No, we didn't actually meet. But some way or another, I came across a copy of his book The Total Money Makeover. I had been exposed to him a little bit while working at the Christian bookstore, but had never really sat down and seriously read any of his works. I don't really remember what exactly inspired me to buy his book, but something did and the day I got it, I read the entire thing all the way through. I'm pretty sure the house was probably a disaster when my husband came home from work that night, but it didn't matter - I had a plan for our finances and I was ready to tell him all about it!

The book laid out 7 proven steps to get out of debt, stay out of debt, build wealth and give. It wasn't a "get-rich-quick" book. It was logical. Realistic. A hard work, but worth it in the end sort of thinking. Dave's motto is "You have to live like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later!" meaning, of course, that you need to pay off your debt and live frugally NOW so later you will have money to spend and give when others are paying for their mistakes. So our plan included drastically cutting our spending and seriously throwing money at our debt. I had carefully looked over our checkbook and realized that we were spending around $300/month on going out to eat! $300! For two people! Ridiculous, I know. So that was an obvious reduction. We tweaked a few other things and I started doing things "Dave's way".

My husband argued with me quite a bit for the first several months, but I kept telling him, "No, Dave says...." and "His plan doesn't fail!" etc, etc. I'm sure he thought I was turning into a mini-Dave, but hey, at least I'm not one of those wives who racks up $60,000 in debt without her husband even being aware, OK?!

Anyway, Dave's first step was to have a $1000 baby emergency fund. No more, no less.

Why no more, you ask? Because all that money you have sitting around could be used to pay off debt. And all that debt you have sitting around, you're paying interest on! And there's a pretty good chance that you're paying a lot more interest than you're making with that savings account. Even if you're not, it's like saying "I'm going to take out a mortgage on my home so I can invest it." NOBODY in their right mind would do that! But we do it all the time with our debt vs. savings amounts.

Why no less? Because if you have an emergency, you NEED the money. Your credit cards are gone (if you had any) because that comes even before Step 1 in Dave's plan, so you need a fallback. And $1000 will cover most emergencies, at least for the short-term. You're not going to have only this $1000 in your bank account very long because you're attacking your debt with a vengeance now!

Ok, moving on. This $1000 EF thing was a really hard step for me. I felt very secure with our $2000 nest egg sitting in our practically non-existent interest-gaining savings account. But we went ahead and threw that other $1000 at my student loan. We (I say "we", but I really mean "I")also decided to put all of our extra money onto my student loan (yes, a $2500 loan still hanging out after almost 3 years) and got rid of that one pretty quickly.

Using the snowball effect, we took the amount of money we had been paying each month on my student loan and began applying it toward my husband's student loan.

Have I mentioned kids lately? We were expecting our 3rd child in September of 2007 and were sharing one fairly unreliable vehicle. But our debt was quickly fading and some months, with overtime, we were throwing over $1000 at that last remaining student loan! Debt-freedom was so close, I could almost taste it. But we knew there would have to be another vehicle soon. Yet rather than saving a little bit for that, we plugged on in paying off the loan. Right after Reagan (our 3rd) was born, my grandparents both got very sick. The situation didn't look fantastic and I knew I'd be needing to make a trip up to Wisconsin very soon to see them. We also now had a 3rd carseat to cram into the back of our 5-passenger vehicle. After much debating, we decided we would get a loan to pay for a used (but new enough to be reliable) van. I hated myself for it. HATED. I was SO ready to be out of debt, but we felt we had no other option.

I called our credit union and we were approved for the loan. I asked for a 1-yr loan but was informed that those don't exist. "Well, okay....give me a 2-yr then, I guess," I told the woman on the other end of the line. That night, we went to Carmax and purchased a $10,000 2003 Honda Odyssey. And it was a pretty good thing we did, because a few weeks later our little green Buick hit the dirt. We were back to one vehicle, but the kids and I had made it up to Wisconsin and my grandparents had both pulled through and were back at home. My husband decided that he would look at getting a car from the county auction. I was pretty skeptical, but I complied. After all, just a few short months after we got the van, we paid off our last student loan. A bit of joy in a sea of gloom. We could have been debt-free right about now. But anyway, the past was the past and we HAD needed a vehicle.

I can't quite remember, but I seem to recall that we might have gotten two vehicles at the auction, one a little earlier on and then one this past spring. My husband would remember for sure. At any rate, we paid cash for our $500 clunker (or both, if we got one before that) that was purchased just for my husband to make it to work and back. And our little red car has held up well. We've had it about a year now and while it's definitely not a spring chicken, it runs and has gotten my husband from point A to point B very well.

I think I skipped a few things.

1. Having babies costs money. Sure, you probably know this, but when you're aggressively paying off your debt, it seems like those hospital bills are just that much more irritating.

2. Our youngest had surgery. When Reagan was just 8 tiny months old, we wound up in the hospital with her for 5 days after she had some sort of cyst removed from her neck. An infected lymph node, they thought but were never really sure. Anyway, there went another $1000 deductible.

3. I started a business. Investing in the startup costs of a business is always tough, but it's even tougher when you JUST WANT TO GET OUT OF DEBT! We knew that every penny we spent on something unnecessary was just adding interest to our debt. The longer it took us to pay off our van, the more interest we would pay. Nevertheless, I did invest a small amount into my business. When we ran the numbers last spring, we figured that I would come out ahead before the time we expected to pay off the van so it would be worth it. And we DID come out ahead. And it WAS worth it. But it was a difficult decision to make.

Ok, back to present. While visiting my parents in Wisconsin last weekend, I make a trip to the good ole' Royal Credit Union, my trusty credit union that I love so much. I confidently walked up to the counter, matter-of-factly asked for the payoff amount for our loan (which, of course, I already knew) and pulled out my checkbook. I felt like the richest woman in the world! Of course, the check only read $712, but whatever!

I. Was. Psyched.

I almost jumped for joy that we were actually debt-free, but I thought the tellers might think there was something wrong and call the cops. You know how small towns are. So instead, I calmly walked out to the car, got in, and smiled from ear to ear. I'm sure I looked like the biggest geek of all time....just smiling and smiling as I drove back to the house. But I didn't care. I was so happy I could dance.




*********Coming next week: Plans and Goals for the Future**********

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Out With the Old - In With the New!

This week marks yet another year's closure. My husband is off from work this week, so if my posts are sporadic, don't be too surprised. (PST! This is where you're more than welcome to step up, Gretchen.)

Keep your eye out though for a most EXCITING post tomorrow. I can hardly wait to write it!

We had a very Merry Christmas here (well, four actually) despite the bad weather we had while traveling back home to Indiana from Wisconsin last week. We are enjoying some family time while my husband is off work and are grateful to be together every day for another week!

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and I wish each of you a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Luke 2:11-14

11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “ Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

As we celebrate Jesus' birth today I hope you all have a wonderful family-filled Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tasty Tuesday . . . Snow Cream

My dad and my uncle used to make snow cream for us when we would all be at my grandparents house. It was so delicious. As usual we don't really measure things so the measurements are my best guesses.

Pan of Snow (no yellow snow, ha!)
1 teaspoonful of vanilla
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of milk

When you get the snow use a big pot to put it in like a pot you would use for stew or soup. Add the vanilla and about a cup full of sugar. Start with 1/2 cup of milk and add enough until you have the consistency of thick slush. Taste it and make sure it is sweet enough and then you will have your snow cream.

It was so yummy when I was young. My grandparents lived out in the country so we usually tried to use freshly fallen snow. I survived so I am pretty sure environmental toxins had not gotten into the snow yet. Try it - live a little!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Money Monday - WHAT Economic Crisis??

Last week a friend of mine emailed me this article. Since it's rather long, I will just post bits and pieces of it for you to read. There is sadly a very large amount of truth to this article.

For the past couple of months the United States was been experiencing what we are told is an economic crisis. Indeed, stock markets are down considerably and the jobless rate is rising. Financial institutions are closing and the overall economy is slowing.

The mantra of the media and many politicians pins the Wall Street meltdown on "corporate greed." We hear this mess was spawned by de-regulation of the banking industry. And there is a cry for the federal government to step in to make everything better, from fixing failing banks to bailing ailing auto manufacturers to propping up debt-ridden cities and consumers.

While the blame game is in full gear, the average citizen is left in a fog to sort through the rhetoric. What to make of it all? What is the cause of our financial woes? And what is government's role in fixing it? A little worldview analysis helps clear away the fog to reveal the underlying problem and, therefore, the proper solution.

First of all, the underlying problem is not primarily with the "greedy" capitalists. Banking executives and Wall Street speculators do what they always have done; seek to make a profit. Making a profit is the purpose for any company to be in business and there is nothing wrong with that, per se, as long as there is no fraud, theft, or coercion in their operations or transactions.

...there is a lot of confusion over how the economy works. According to a recent study of Americans' knowledge of economic principles, only 54% can correctly identify a basic description of the free enterprise system. Therefore, if our nation is going to take the right course in these uncertain economic times, we need to refocus on the fundamentals of what makes the economy work. As my basketball coach used to say, the secret to success is perfect execution of the fundamentals. Let's be reminded of what the fundamentals are of economics before offering a solution.

Econ 101

How does the economy work? A simple example might help. Go back to when you were growing up and let's say you decide to set up a lemonade stand in front of your house. You did this, of course, to make money so you could buy something else you wanted, like a new toy! Were you being a greedy capitalist? Well, in one sense, yes, you were. You desired something you did not have. But in order to fulfill that desire, you set up a monetary exchange that benefited both you and your neighbor who bought your lemonade.

Your thirsty neighbor decided that, instead of spending his time going to the store, buying his own lemons, and squeezing them himself, he would prefer to quench his thirst by exchanging some of his money for your labor. In this exchange we have a win-win situation. Your neighbor quenches his thirst and you have a few extra coins in your pocket. No one was coerced to make the transaction and no one was defrauded by the exchange.

...a free market economy encompasses the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This is the biblical foundation for economics, along with the idea of private ownership of property.

Government's Role in the Economy

What is the government's role in a free market economy? Not much, except to ensure that business transactions are conducted peacefully, freely, and without fraud or deceit. A biblical worldview acknowledges that man is basically sinful and so there is the potential to defraud, lie, or cheat to gain an advantage when exchanging with your neighbor. The legitimate role of government is to bring to justice those who break these moral laws. Beyond that, the government has no role in the economy as it relates to setting prices or determining what is made and how much of each item.

The job of politicians is narrowly defined in the United States Constitution and that definition does not include managing someone else's business or "spreading the wealth around" by taking from the productive workers and giving it to others (see the October 2008 Truth and Consequences for more on the role of government).

To illustrate the problem of government intervention, let's say your competitor on the next block is a friend of the mayor and offers to give the mayor a campaign contribution if he passes a zoning ordinance barring lemonade stands on your block. That knocks you out of business! So now you have to hire a lobbyist to persuade the mayor to change the ordinance. This sets in motion an escalating battle for gaining benefits for certain businesses at the expense of others. And in every case, it raises the cost of goods and services for the consumer.

Intervention by the government into a free exchange of goods and services only penalizes those who are most successful and weakens the primary incentives that contribute to the free market's success. Under a government interventionist system, instead of "spreading the wealth around" the actual result ensures that everyone is equally poor. The only beneficiaries of such a ploy are the politicians who hold the reigns of power.

The Makings of a Financial Meltdown: Historical Perspective

With this background, let's reassess the current financial situation here in the U.S. How did this nice mess get started? I suggest there is no financial crisis, only a political crisis. While there are a number of factors that lead us down this road, let me sketch out one avenue that set the path in this direction.

The political crisis began in 1938 with the creation of Fannie Mae as a government agency to facilitate banks' ability to make mortgages. In 1968, the government converted Fannie Mae into a private shareholder-owned corporation, yet it still had strong ties with congress. In the 1970's Congress passed a law requiring banks to make loans to people who traditionally would not qualify, i.e., the poor and lower middle class. This legislation was beefed up and pushed further during the 1990's. All of these actions by congress are classic examples of interventionist policy aimed at restructuring society in some way, in this instance, to expand "affordable" housing to the "underserved."

But the manipulation didn't stop there. According to a New York Times article dated September, 1999, the Clinton administration pressured Fannie Mae to increase the percentage of mortgage loans made to low and moderate income people. The reporter insightfully commented, "In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk. . . . But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's." The ominous phrase here is "significantly more risk." And of course, "may run into trouble" was prophetic. Based on all sound economic principles, the current economic meltdown was predictable.

By 2002 it became evident that trouble indeed was brewing and by 2004 federal regulators detailed to a congressional oversight committee the many irregularities they discovered with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Many of our leaders in Washington refused to acknowledge any problem and instead attacked the messenger! Others called for more regulations.

But the point is there was already an incestuous relationship between these quasi-government companies and politicians. Fannie Mae and it's sister organization, Freddie Mac, were giving hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to a number of politicians. This situation does not warrant more "regulation" or "oversight," it demands severing the unhealthy connection.

Hence, political meddling has caused "another nice mess" which is costing "we the people" over $850 billion. It will actually be much more, considering the government will probably have to print more dollars to finance this project which devalues the dollar. This means that every American will have less buying power for every dollar spent—another "tax" on the average citizen. By the way, this hits even the poorest of the poor who pay no taxes directly, but will have to bear the burden of inflation for every welfare dollar they spend, too. So much for helping the poor!

Meanwhile, politicians on both sides of the aisle congratulate themselves for "saving the economy" by passing another bailout bill and at the same time lining their campaign pockets with pork-induced payouts and favors to the tune of over $1.5 billion.

A Free Market Solution

In the current situation, our representatives should be doing what they were hired to do; run the country, not run the country's businesses. This means keeping their hands off the banking business, the automobile business, the farming business, and every other business. All businesses are none of their business.

We hear that these financial institutions are "too big" to fail and therefore must be bailed out. However, a free market solution means letting companies that are not able to offer goods and services at competitive prices go out of business, be bought by another company, or go through bankruptcy court for the purpose of reorganizing into a viable business. The free market determines winners and losers. That is just the hard reality of life.

To put this into perspective, in the early 1900's should the government have bailed out companies making buggy whips because of the advent of the automobile? How about the millions of people employed by wooden wheel manufacturers; should they have been guaranteed work because their companies were too big to fail? Or, why do we no longer drive Rambler automobiles? What did all the workers at Rambler do after the American company went defunct in 1969? (Hint: they found other jobs!)

What we are witnessing today is exactly the kind of abuse of power and mismanagement of the economy that our founders warned against. That is why they intentionally limited the scope of the federal government with a written Constitution. They envisioned the national government as the least intrusive component of our federal system, with the states and localities having the greater range of authority (the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes this clear).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Foto Friday!

I didn't take too many pictures this week, but I did attend a really fun home party last Thursday! The host, Jennifer, asked if I would get a few images of her with her best friend and a few with her son. She also requested a few individuals but informed me that she always looks horrible in pictures. I don't know what she's talking about - I think she looks adorable!

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If you're feeling hungry, then by all means DON'T head over to my photography blog to see all the food we had! :)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thankful Thursday

Today I'm traveling. Ahhh, the beauty of scheduled posts. :) I'm very thankful to be driving up to see my parents this weekend and to be shooting my good friend Hannah's wedding on Saturday.

I'd also like to take this time to thank the Lord for His neverending goodness to me. I am a worthless sinner on my own, but through the redemption of the blood of Christ, God now sees me as holy and righteous. Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Works For Me Wednesday - Making My Christmas Presents

Okay, I admit.....it had nothing to do with Christmas. It was just a present that I happened to make in December. And Christmas is a good deadline for getting things done. And I need deadlines. Hence, the post title.

Anyway.....on to the good stuff....

A while back, Gretchen posted on her other blog that she was going to make some of these aprons for Christmas presents this year. Now, I cannot personally wear an apron. It makes me feel old and like I belong in the 1950s. BUT I did fall in love with this particular apron. I could not stop looking at the adorableness of the pattern and decided that I must make one...whether I would wear it or not.

Then I started thinking, I have a friend who wears an apron often. She also just happens to have 3 young'ns in her home - a 3 year-old and 1 1/2 year-old twins - ALL GIRLS. It sounded like the perfect project to me, so I hit up Gretchen for her sewing expertise (I assure you she's laughing right now) and she helped me out with my plan.

Last night, I delivered the aprons to my friend. It was great. I don't think I've ever seen her cry (and I still haven't), but she did say, "I might cry", which is pretty darn close! No, it's not that I really desire to see her cry, but it was just a happy moment for me that she was pleased with my handiwork. I admit - I'm totally proud of these. But not TOO proud, because I could not have done these without Gretchen's help!

Ok, onto the pictures....

The lovely adult pattern and one of the kids aprons...

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It's reversible. Isn't it lovely?

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I had to make the child's straps a little differently. Here's the back:

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Can you tell how totally proud I am of my work? Did I mention that I haven't touched a sewing machine in about 10 years?

On an entirely separate note, it's my birthday today and I'm really excited. :)

Are you making any of your Christmas presents this year? All of them? Some of them? If so, what are you making? And does anyone have any ideas for a MALE hand-made Christmas present??

Women are SO much easier, don't you think? :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tasty Tuesday - Meals I Love

My mom's not much of a cook. She doesn't like cooking, so I don't think she'll be offended by that. What she does make, she makes amazingly well, but again....she doesn't really like to do it. But since I happen to like cooking, oftentimes when I visit my parents I want to do a little bit of that while I'm there.

HOWEVER.....

It never fails that I don't have the right recipe on my blog and then have to call my husband and have him relay the recipe to me over the phone. Not only is this dangerous (you know how things can be misconstrued on the phone), but it's also slow since my husband is usually at work when I think of the recipe I want.

So, I've decided to post a few of the recipes that I love and that I may decide to make while I'm visiting my parents this weekend. It's possible that one or more of these recipes have been posted before, but you can just skip over that one/those. :) This post is more for me than for anyone else, but it never fails that if I tell someone about a recipe, they want me to post it here. So this time, I can say, "I'm way ahead of ya!" I'm including the links to the original recipes if available, although I have altered some of these.

Ok, these are a few of my favorite things......*insert music here*.......

Baked Oatmeal
- I just tried this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago. It. Is. Awesome. Normally I hate oatmeal - and I do mean HATE - but this stuff is amazing.

Grease 8x8 pan. Mix together the following, adding milk last:

1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
3 c. oats
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 c. milk

Pour into pan. Bake @ 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned. For a double batch, bake in 9x13 pan.


Really Easy Breakfast Casserole

6-8 slices of bread
1 lb. of sausage, cooked and drained
1 dozen eggs
8 - 12 oz. grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Spray casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Layer bread in the bottom of pan. Sprinkle the bread with sausage. Pour beaten eggs over sausage. Sprinkle cheese over eggs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


Biscuits Supreme


2 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
2 t. sugar
1/2 t. cream of tarter
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. shortening
2/3 c. milk

Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Make a well in center of mixture and add milk. Stir til moistened. On floured surface, knead dough 10-12 times. Pat to 1/2 inch thickness and cut into biscuits. Bake @ 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes.


Chicken Pot Pie

4 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
8 oz. sour cream
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 box frozen peas and carrots
Pillsbury pie crust (or make your own)

Mix together sour cream and soup. Mix chicken with veggies. (Add a little water if it's too thick.) Pour into unbaked pie shell. Cover with another pie crust and seal. Bake @ 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until golden brown.


French Toast

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. milk
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 c. sugar
dash of cinnamon
6 slices bread

Mix all but milk and bread together. Add milk. Dip bread into milk to cover both sides. If desired, sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture. Cook over medium-high heat on a greased griddle until browned.


Meatloaf/Meatball -I don't really have definite measurements for these. If someone asks for the recipe, I usually just make them up, which is what I'm going to do here. :)

1 lb. ground beef
2-3 c. bread crumbs
1/2 - 1 chopped onion (we like onion!)
1-2 eggs
1 T. mustard
1/4 t. chili powder
1 T. Worcestershire
salt and pepper to taste

Meatballs: Form ball. Baked on greased cookie sheet (with sides!) @ 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Meatloaf: Form into log. Bake on broiler rack @ 350 degrees for 1 hour or until meat thermometer reaches 160 degrees.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Money Monday . . . The Grocery Budget

There are some monthly bills that we cannot change such as our mortgage (short of refinancing anyway). But there are some monthly expenses the we do have control over and one of them is our grocery budget. Heidi has talked a lot about couponing and other things associated with a grocery budget. If you have ever read Crystal's blog over at Money Saving Mom you probably know that her family lives on a $40.00 a week grocery budget (although she just recently updated it to $60.00 a month due to her pregnancy). She does a lot of couponing and shopping at Aldi as well.

My cousin just turned me onto this person's blog called The One Dollar Project. Apparently they challenged themselves to see if they could live on $1.00 a day for their grocery budget. They freely admit that they do not get a lot of fruits and vegetables with this budget, but it is a pretty interesting concept.

Now, do I think that you should live on Tang and bean burritos and only spend $30.00 a month on groceries - NO WAY! I am actually more for eating more whole foods and unprocessed foods myself which can cost more, but if you plan ahead they don't have to cost a lot more.

CHALLENGE:

Look at your grocery budget and see what you can do differently. Or start a grocery budget. If you need to start a little high and pull out a certain amount of cash for the week and spend only that much for the week. Coupon if you want, or go to Aldi. I for one am planning ahead for next year. I am thinking about my garden and what items I can buy from the farmer's market and can. My green beans that I canned this summer are still lasting us! I am excited about that. Anyway, I am going to join the challenge starting in January. We can put it off until since next week is Christmas.

I am going to see if I can spend $60.00 a week on groceries (which is about what I spend anyway give or take $10 or $20, ha), but I am going to try to buy whole foods - no processed foods. I don't think organic milk will fit into that budget but I will see what I can do.

What about you? What does your grocery budget look like? What things do you do to slash that grocery bill?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend Worship - Does Your Spiritual Life Resemble Your Car?

I have heard it said by more than one person on more than one occasion that the state of your vehicle reflects the state of your walk with the Lord. Translation: If your car is always a mess, your spiritual life is likely a mess. Or....If your car is always spotless, you may very well have your walk with the Lord in order.

I was thinking on this idea today while driving (of course, while driving) and I have to say that it seems to be true for me. For those of you who don't live with me - and that would be all of you, dear readers - allow me to explain the typical status of my van:

About once a month, I get the urge to SERIOUSLY clean the van. I mean a take-the-seats-out-and-vacuum-and-wash-the-insides-of-the-windows-and-remove-every-last-penny-from-the-penny-tray kind of clean. After about an hour of hardcore work, my van is basically spotless and beautiful. I love it. But then I have to put the car seats back in.

Once the car seats enter the scene, I become just slightly depressed at the sight of how much smaller everything seems. There is suddenly far less room and for a brief moment in time, I tend to wish I didn't have so many small children who require such bulky arrangements. But alas, my children are a gift from the Lord and I love them to death...so I keep the car seats.

As the days go on, Sunday School papers begin to float in. I don't know who ever had such a brilliant idea as to send each child home with at least 3 papers per class, but whoever that person was....we're not chums. Having two toddlers doubles the papers, of course. Oftentimes I sneakily throw them out on the way out the church doors, but it usually comes back to haunt me when one of my children says to me later in the day, "Mommy, did you see my picture?"

I know many of you are thinking about what a terrible mother I am right now, but seriously....I refuse to keep every single piece of paper my children color. If I did, we would already have a closet full, and my oldest child is only 3.

Moving on....fast food. I admit it, we sometimes grab fast food. It's usually Chick-Fil-A, since we have like a bazillion coupons for Chick-Fil-A. Or if it's morning, every once in a while, the kids and I will grab Burger King. What can I say? I'm a sucker for giant creepy plastic kings. But the bags....ohhhh, those paper bags. I don't know what it is about them, but they just seem to nestle themselves right down into my passenger floor. Sure, I'll throw a bag out every once in a while, but mostly I just find them buried under my seat weeks later.

And then there's the toys the kids bring out to the van when I'm not looking, the diaper bag that gets torn apart in order to find one remaining diaper at the bottom of the bag, the mail I grab on my way down the driveway, my water bottle, workout towel, the extra coats, blankets, and lost shoes. Oh my, it gets to be messy!

And then...that glorious day comes when I decide that TODAY IS THE DAY. The van is thoroughly cleaned and the process begins again. It's a horrible pattern, really, but I'm just not sure how to break it. I blame it on the kids mostly - and it is partially their fault - but seriously, who's the parent?

Back to the topic at hand. How much does my van resemble my spirutual life? Remarkably well, unfortunately. You see, I have these same terrible habits when it comes to reading my Bible, spending time in prayer, and really being (can I use the age-old phrase?) "on fire" for the Lord. I have moments when I feel that I absolutely MUST change things in my life or...or....well, I just MUST. And so I do. I devote more time to the Lord. I read my Bible often and pray fervently. I begin to see changes in my life that I know are absolutely not possible without the power of the Holy Spirit. But then....slowly....I find myself slipping back into that same old pattern of sin, or if not the same one, a new one. And it tends to go on until I have another one of those MUST CHANGE moments. And that's the process.

Now, lest I sound completely depressing, there are definitely areas where the Lord has given me victory over sin! I don't know if I worded that right. He always has the power over sin, but sometimes I just choose to ignore it. Choose to try to do things on my own. Choose to do life the way I want to rather than the way He wants me to. And that's when my downfall comes. But praise the Lord that He continually brings me back to the place of MUST CHANGE over and over again. Because if He didn't, there's no way I would willingly choose to be there. He is so gracious to me.

-----END CONFESSION-----

I realize that was awfully personal and I'm not really asking that you get that personal, but what I am asking is this: Examine your life and see if this analogy proves true for your life too. I'd love to know if your car (van/truck/etc) is very much like your walk with the Lord or if you think that's just a bunch of bologna! If nothing else, I hope this post has at least glorified God in His neverending grace to us!

So if you're willing....tell me I'm not alone.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Foto Friday!

Yes, my favorite blog day is here again! And this week, I've actually had a few spare moments to take out my camera! I mostly just grabbed some images of our Christmas decorations since...well...it's brrrr outside and I'd rather stay warm!

I bought these little signs (can I call these signs?) last year in an after-Christmas sale and I just love them. I have a "Hope", a "Noel", and a "Joy", but I won't pick favorites.

Here's what I'm talking about:

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If you want to see more of our decorations this year, click here.


(And for those of you who are so careful to note the time of each of my posts, yes I am actually posting this at 3am.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thankful Thursday

It seems like I've had more than one post about gas prices lately (which makes me feel a little bit like my dad), but I have to say that I am so very thankful that the gas prices are low right now. I know it means our economy is in pretty bad shape, but even still...it was been such a blessing to us. And especially since we'll be making a trip out of state next week! Our lowest price in town today is $1.31/gallon! WOO HOO!

I'm also very thankful that I get to go up to WI next week to visit with my family and friends. I also have the privilege of co-shooting my friend's wedding next weekend and I just KNOW it's going to be amazing. I'm so excited. I just love trips. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't Miss Out!

If you haven't already done so, head on over to MoneySavingMom to register for the $500 Home Depot gift card giveaway! But you have to be fast - the giveaway ends at 6pm tomorrow (Thursday, December 11), so get going!

Click here to go directly to the giveaway!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tasty Tuesday - Preparing A Menu

Some people create their meal plans a month in advance. Some people do it when they see the sales ads. Some people don't do it at all. I have tried all of these and have yet to find my nitch (although I'm pretty sure the last one doesn't work AT ALL).

Something that I've done is to create a list of meals that we can make with different kinds of meat. We eat a lot of meat in this house, but I absolutely despise pork, so we mainly just eat ground beef and chicken. Occassionally, I'll purchase a roast or a turkey or something special, but in general our freezer is stocked with those two meats. Since it does happen on occasion that we have NO meat in our home (it's a sad sad day), I also like to have a list of things we can eat that DON'T include meat.

I'm going to share my lists with you, but I want to warn you....I'm learning how to cook. And I'm learning how to eat new things. I tend to stick to what I know, even at restaurants, so experimenting with new foods in not my favorite thing in the world. It's unknown territory. It's change. And change is bad. HOWEVER...for my husband, I do try. So here goes:

Ground Beef:
Chicken:
  • chicken pot pie
  • oven-fried chicken
  • chicken stir fry
  • chicken casserole
  • grilled chicken
  • battered chicken fingers
  • chicken tacos
  • chicken sandwiches
  • chicken noodle/dumpling soup
  • chicken and rice bake
  • chicken and stuffing
Roast Beef:
  • roast beef dinner
  • pulled beef sandwiches
  • beef stew
  • beef vegetable soup
Ground Sausage:
Meatless:
  • pasta w/ red sauce or alfredo sauce
  • grilled cheese sandwiches w/ soup
  • breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit)
  • veggie stir fry
  • PB&J
  • cheese pizza

I'm sure if you have lists like this, yours are MUCH longer, but again....I'm trying. It helps for me to keep these lists around so when I take a look at the sales ads or when I suddenly realize at 4pm that I forgot to plan dinner, I can grab these, look over them, and find something to make.

What things have you found helpful in your menu-planning? Do you plan by the day, week, month, or not at all? Please share your menu-planning tips! (I obviously need them!)

I Know It's Not Thursday, BUT.....

I'M BURSTING AT THE SEAMS!!!!

Today I am SO thankful. Some of you know that our mortgage company (along with the state of Indiana) completely messed up our taxes and we received a notice this past fall that our payment was skyrocketing from $700/month to $1200. We were stunned and confused. We could afford the payment, but just barely. And we knew it wasn't right, so I have been on the phone with them on and off for MONTHS, trying to make adjustments. We've been waiting and waiting for our tax statement (which normally comes in May) and last week it FINALLY arrived.

When I called today to see if our mortgage company was going to adjust our payment, the woman took one look at our loan and said "Wow, that makes a huge difference!"

Our payment dropped to $947! What a blessing! And if you don't think that's a big deal, let me just tell you....YOU'RE WRONG.

Oh, and one more thing....my husband just called to tell me that he's getting gas for $1.36/gallon. Whoop whoop!

I am so SO thankful! I praise you, Lord for your everlasting goodness to us!

Money Monday . . . Setting Goals

I probably should not be the one to write about this. I definitely set goals, but I don't always write them down as is the cardinal rule for setting goals. If you have read this blog or have not been under a rock you have probably heard of Dave Ramsey. He always encourages you to write down your budget and spend all of your money on paper before your month begins. Writing things down makes them more concrete and also easier to follow.

Since we are so close to the New Year - I want to challenge myself and all of you to write down your goals for 2009 and discuss them with your family and really make them doable. First write down your yearly goals and then break them down month by month so you can really see what you need to do every month. Since this is Money Monday I will just stick with the financial goals. If you are having a hard time knowing where to start, let me encourage you to take a look at Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps:


$1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
College funding for children
Pay off home early
Build wealth and give!
Invest in mutual funds and real estate
In goal setting you want to be as specific as possible. Don't just say, "I want to save more money in 2009." Make those goals attainable. Start by saying I will look at my budget and see what I can cut back on to make money available for savings.

If you don't mind sharing, let us know some of the goals you plan to set for the New Year. Maybe we can all hold each other accountable.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Foto Friday!

I was just looking through some posts from the last week and discovered that I completely missed Foto Friday last week. That works out well for me too, considering I have hardly had time to touch my camera in the past 7 days. It also means that you haven't seen any pictures from my latest family session (unless you stalk my other blog too), so I'll just share one of those with you. :)

This family was super fun! Alright, so it helps that we're friends outside of this business, but shhh. We walked down the canal and around the circle here in Indy in the FREEZING COLD a few weeks ago. We had a short (but very tiring) break inside when we climbed the observatory tower at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. It's 365+ stairs - and even the toddler made it! Anyway, they were such troopers and I think we got some great shots despite the bitter cold weather.

Wait....why am I writing you a novel? I must think I'm blogging on my photography blog. I'll get on with it. One of my favs:

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You can see the rest of their session here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thankful Thursday

During this time of year, it's easy to get caught up in all the craziness of the holiday season. People are always bustling around, running errands, and trying to get everything done in time. Oftentimes we fail to stop and consider what we are thankful for - specifically what Christmas is really all about.

Today I received a short-but-sweet email from my husband at work that made me smile. I love the little things in life. And I'm so thankful for my husband.

Consider the small things in your life today. What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Little Out of Blog Character

I'm usually pretty emotionally subdued on this blog. I tend to put my personal thoughts on my other blog and leave this one well enough alone with all the informative stuff. But today I'm going to take a step out into the somewhat unknown and share with you a few things that are on my mind today.


1. JOY

I have a joy that I cannot explain over the thrill of someday seeing my Saviour. I've been attending a Bible study at church for the past several weeks. We're going through the Beth Moore book "Stepping Up" and I just have to tell you that it is FAN-TASTIC. Today we discussed the joy of the celebration that the Israelites experienced and pursued every year at the Feast of Tabernacles. Just the idea of a having ANY week long feast is completely foreign to us here in America, but the Israelites had several feasts each year. These feasts were solely designed to glorify God as a nation. Can you imagine if we had a national feast for an entire week JUST to obey and bring glory to our God? Incredible.

Anyway, today we talked about the word "Hosannah". Whenever the Israelites cried out "Hosannah!", they were crying out "Send now! Send the Messiah now!" What if we lived in such anticipation of our Lord's return? What if our entire life was focused on that? How differently would we live? How differently would we treat out family and friends? How much more time would we spend with those we love? Of course, the Messiah has already come, died in our place, and was raised to heaven, but HE WILL RETURN. And when He does, what a glorious day it will be! We will be united with those in heaven and united with the Lord! I mean....it just does not get any better than that! There is a certain beauty in knowing the end of the story, and I am so excited so see it play itself out!


2. LOVE

There is something absolutely spectacular about the love of Christ! I have never in my life seen any family that loves each other as much as the family of God. In case you're not a Christian and you don't understand that terminology, the family of God is every believer - every child of God - every person who has repented of their sin and accepted Christ's gift of salvation for them.

I John 4.19 says that "we love because God first loved us" and I absolutely KNOW that this is true. It is impossible for us to love others without knowing the Lord. Impossible. (See I John 4.7) Sure, you can love your spouse or your kids or your parents in an earthly manner, but you simply CANNOT love the way God intends for you without first having a relationship with Christ.

I am continually blown away by the support of our local church body. When our friends Andy and Cari lost their baby girl this fall, the church rallied around them, brought them meals, prayed for them, encouraged them, and offered help in any way possible. What would they have done without the church? When I was pregnant and sick (with all of my pregnancies), I had friends come to my house to clean for me, cook for me, and watch my other kids so I could rest. What would I have done without the church? When a friend of mine who doesn't even belong to our church was suddenly put on bedrest halfway through her pregnancy, many people willingly brought meals to their family. What would they have done without the church? When we only had one vehicle and my husband was driving it to work everyday, I had several good friends who never failed to offer me a ride to activities so I would not be stuck at home. What would we have done without the church?

The list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I am SO grateful for the members of our church and I know these sorts of things are happening worldwide in evangelical churches. All of these things show the love of God - a love which can be attained in no other way than to have a relationship with Him - a love with can only attest to His power to change our evil human hearts.


3. CADEN

I've mentioned Caden a few times in the past couple of months, but to sum up, our friends lost their 8-month old baby girl in September. We were not really that close with Andy and Cari before that, but we did know each other and spoke regularly at church. The kids and I had even gotten together a few times to hang out with Cari and Caden. When Caden died suddenly, it hit home so very much because my youngest daughter is very close in age to Caden and, of course, simply being a mother causes one to understand things like the love you have your children and causes one to imagine the horror of losing one.

I've told Cari that whenever I see her now, I never know what to say. I usually just give her a hug as my eyes well with tears. I always feel a little out of place telling Cari that I miss Caden. I mean, who am I to say that I miss her? I have absolutely NO idea what she and Andy (and their families) are going through. Nevertheless, I do miss Caden. It's like she was a part of me....even though I hardly knew her.

Some days I visit Cari's blog just to go back and look at pictures and videos from when Caden was here on earth with us. I don't really know why I do it. It seems a bit self-torturous, really. But sometimes I just want to see her shining face, her huge smile, and her ridiculous amount of baby hair. I like to imagine that I'm not the only one who does this somewhat regularly, but perhaps I am. I just don't want to forget her. She was such a blessing to Andy and Cari and they never once treated her as anything BUT a blessing from the Lord. Even after she died. I remember Cari saying more than once, "We were so blessed to have her for the 8 months that we did."

Never is my life have I seen faith exercised in such a way. I know there are other Christians with a lot of faith, but I have never personally met one who could graciously allow God to do His thing without even a "But, God....that's not fair!" to be heard. And if you tell Andy or Cari that they are an amazing example, they will give all the credit to the Lord. As they should, I might add. It is truly a miracle that God is working in their lives to produce such incredible faith.


4. YOU

I want you to know that I am always open to questions, comments, and queries about my relationship with Christ. You are more than welcome to email me or leave me a comment if you are interested in hearing more about my relationship with Christ or learning about how you too can have a personal relationship with the God of the universe.

Tasty Tuesday - Using Leftovers

There seem to be an excessive amount of leftovers at this time of the year and I'm always curious how other people use all that extra food. Considering our most recent holiday was Thanksgiving, we had LOTS of turkey leftover. Besides just eating it for 5 days straight with mashed potatoes and gravy, I also made some turkey soup and threw in what vegetables I had in the house. (Conveniently I actually had carrots, celery, and onion, but that's so rare it normally would have been canned veggies or other leftovers from the fridge.) I had considered making a turkey pot pie but never got around to it.

What dishes have you found to be a great use for your leftovers? Not just turkey - anything! Do you make casserole dishes? Stews? Breakfast items? I tend to do a lot of soups because they're just so easy, but I would love to hear what all of you do!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Money Monday - Can you believe it's December already??

Alright, with last Friday being Black Friday and today being Cyber Monday (what in the world did we ever do before the internet??), I'm anxious to hear how many of you participated in the chaos. As I mentioned on Saturday, I went out and purchased a laptop on Friday. Yes, I waited in line. And yes, it was cold. But it was worth it. :)

I also managed to make a trip to CVS during their 3-day sale last week and got some SWEET deals there. I have a picture on my camera, but it's downstairs and I'm far too exhausted to go get it and upload pictures right now. You'll just have to believe me.

Did any of you get anything fun/cool/neat/exciting this weekend? And speaking of *things*, I'm curious to know - especially with the continually declining economy (did you hear the stock market plunged yet again?), - how many of you have finished your Christmas shopping. I heard on the news tonight that there is a large sum of people who have already finished their shopping for the year, which of course means bad things for retailers. But, seeing as I'm not a retailer and also seeing that I hate shopping in general, it doesn't bother me all that much.

HOWEVER....

I do understand that all of this means our economy is in bad shape. Anyway, I got off track. I've put up a poll on the righthand side of the screen. Please vote so I can feel special that you read my blog. Thank you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Super Savings Saturday!

Did you all hit any of the Black Friday sales yesterday? I took my first chance out in the freezing cold and stood in line waiting for a laptop for my business. And I GOT ONE!!! I must admit I am more than excited. I've never had a laptop before and I think they are the prettiest things on the planet. Okay okay, I'm not really that materialistic, but a laptop is something we've been wanting to get for a long time and now that we have one, it's like celebrating Christmas in November. :)

I have been diligently scoping out the Sunday ads for months now, researching what laptops cost, how and when the sales operate, etc. When I saw this laptop was on sale and had a savings of about 40%, I jumped on it.

Considering this is Thanksgiving weekend, I feel the need to offer some thanks:

My parents were in town visiting this week and I'd like to publicly thank my mom for coming out into the cold and standing in line with me for an hour before Office Depot opened. I'd like to thank my dad for hanging out at our house in his nice, warm bed and "watching the kids". :) I'd like to thank my husband for working hard and allowing me this luxury of a laptop. And I'd like to thank my photography clients for giving me a great reason to buy one!

The deals at CVS are still going on today and it's been a few weeks since I've had time to grab up any of their deals, so I plan to do that this morning....IF, that is, I can get my coupons organized.

*Insert UGH here.*

So how about you? Did you get any great deals yesterday??

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!


Hope you all enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Workout Wednesday!


No, I don't think I've ever done a Workout Wednesday before, but it fit very well with what I wanted to blog about today, so I went with it!

About two weeks ago, I rejoined a local fitness center. Due to germs in our family, I was not able to go more than twice in those first two weeks. But this week I was determined! Everyone is our home was well and I was going to make a run for it - literally.

Up until yesterday (so, the first three workouts) I had gone about 2 miles either on the elliptical or on the treadmill, occasionally jogging but mainly walking. But LAST NIGHT - drum roll please - I ran one mile straight on the treadmill.

Ok, I realize that for you experienced runners, one mile is ridiculously piddly and to you, I sound like a total wimp. But for me, someone who has not run since I quit playing high school sports 7 years ago, this is a HUGE accomplishment! I was so very proud of myself.

When I got home, I weighed myself and noticed that I am exactly 8 lbs heavier than I was when I started working out two weeks ago. Hmm. I'm going to say that's muscle weight! Well okay, or it could be the huge dinners I've been eating lately due to the holidays. It could also be due to the fact that our cooking club exchanged desserts this month instead of dinners. Nevertheless, I will not give up. I know weight-loss can be accomplished and I am bound and determined to figure out how!

What do you do to keep in shape? Do you have a fitness/gym membership? Do you workout at home with exercise videos? Do you do nothing?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Manic Monday!!!!!

Wanna see what I woke up to this morning?

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Reason #74 why children should not be allowed to enter Mommy and Daddy's room.

Menu Plan Monday . . . Thanksgiving week


It has been a while since I participated in this, but I thought I would this week. I am actually only listing my Thanksgiving menu because I am not cooking a lot the rest of the week. Also, my in-laws are coming in town so I am having a few snacks ready as well.

Here it is:
Turkey - just basted in butter and cooked in a cooking bag
Mashed potatoes - I just cook them until tender and I never measure the ingredients. I add butter and milk and salt and pepper until they taste delicious.
Green beans - cooked in bacon grease if I have it and if not cooked in butter or oil and salted liberally.
Aunt June's Sweet Potato Bake
Buttery Bread Machine Rolls
Mix N Match Party Cheeseball
Chex Party Mix
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie

I am sure we will have a salad and there will also probably be corn. I may make some macaroni and cheese as well.

For more menu plans, visit Org Junkie.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thankful Thursday AND Foto Friday!

Yep, I'm rollin' in all into one this week! As those of you who know me personally have probably observed, my 14-month old daughter has yet to show ANY interest whatsoever in the great human task known as...

Learning to Walk.


But alas! This morning when she woke up, my dear sweet Reagan immediately took to the floor on her hands and FEET! (not knees!) I consider this a giant step in the grand scheme of things and am proud to share with you a few images of her learning process:

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She's QUITE proud.

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I would also like to announce that my little Reagan is now the proud owner of not three, but FOUR pearly whites! (But sorry, there is no picture to accompany that.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

WFMW! Little Buckets and Closet Sleepers

Dear Internet, I would like to preface this post by telling you that I am NOT an abusive mother; I simply like to utilize space as best I can. :)

Now, having said that, let me show you my youngest child's bedroom:

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Yes, that's right, ladies and gentlemen. My daughter's room is actually a closet. But a closet with a window, which I'm pretty sure technically makes it a room....right?! (Yes, that is a blanket being used as a curtain.)

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And seriously....who needs a closet that big?? I know it sounds funny when I say my daughter sleeps in a closet, but now at least all of you know how spacious her closet really is. :)

In case you're wondering why she sleeps in a closet, let me explain. Our children are 3, 2, and 1. When one of them wakes up, they ALL wake up. And considering there is at least one child awake every morning around 6....well....three children being up at that time is just not conducive to my life or their sleep schedule. Apparently the door being cracked is closed enough that she does not hear the commotion of them getting out of bed. So hence, the closet.

In fact, all three of our children have, at one time in their life, slept in a closet. All of our closets are ridiculously big and we just don't need all that closet space. Our oldest slept in our master closet when he was an infant. Our middle child slept in what is now the toy room closet. And now this one, our youngest, sleeps here. :) We have exhausted all three of our closets now, so if we have another child, they won't be able to experience their own closet. Although now that I think about it, maybe they'll be happy about that.....

Anyway, on to the baskets. We only have two dressers for the kids. The girls had been sharing one, but it was getting pretty stuffed. So I decided to "basket" Reagan's clothes in her room and it's working out just fine! (After all, baby clothes don't take up all that much space). I got these baskets at the Dollar Tree for - you guessed it - $1 each. A pretty cheap "dresser", if you ask me!

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I also store a few things (diapers, wipes, etc.) under her changing table.

Now will someone else PLEASE tell me they have slept their child(ren) in an abnormal place?? :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tasty Tuesday . . . Irish Mint Brownies


People, I cannot even describe the awesomeness of these brownies. I am a lover of chocolate and brownies and mint and with the three rolled into one - I am in heaven. So my friend Michelle made these wonderful brownies for me when I had my second child and I got the recipe from her and made them myself. They are a LOT of work - but they are worth every second of it. And you can freeze them.

Irish Mint Brownies

TIME: Prep: 45 min. Bake: 30 min. + chilling

Serves: 30

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, cubed
  • 4 squares (1 ounce each) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) double dark chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • FILLING:
  • 4 squares (1 ounce each) white baking chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup refrigerated Irish creme nondairy creamer
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 15 mint Andes candies, chopped
  • ICING:
  • 12 squares (1 ounce each) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • mint Andes candies, halved, optional

Directions:

In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter and bittersweet chocolate; cool slightly. In a bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla. Stir in chocolate mixture. Gradually add flour until blended. Stir in chips and walnuts. Spread into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (do not overbake). Cool on a wire rack.
In a small saucepan, combine white chocolate and creamer. Cook and stir over low heat until smooth; remove from the heat. Refrigerate for 30-40 minutes or until chilled. In a mixing bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form; fold into white chocolate mixture. Beat on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. Fold in chopped candies. Spread over brownies. Cover and refrigerate.
In a small saucepan, combine bittersweet chocolate and cream. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted and smooth; remove from the heat. Stir in butter until melted. Cool to room temperature. Carefully spread over filling. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until icing is set. Cut into bars. Garnish with additional candies if desired. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 2-1/2 dozen.


You can find the original recipe here at Taste of Home which is where the picture is from also.

-Gretchen


Friday, November 14, 2008

Freebie Friday!!

Yep, it's a double feature Friday! You get both a "foto" and a freebie!

Snapfish is offering one free 20-page 8x11 photobook! The credit must be requested TODAY and the book must be ordered by Sunday. If you've got a few minutes to put together a book this weekend, I'd jump on this! (These books are usually $30 each.) Click here to get yours!

Foto Friday!

I photographed a sweet little newborn last week. Click here to see more pictures from his session.

DSC_0097 bw

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wacky Wednesday

So this post is really wacky because no one really cares about it, but I just have to say that I am a closet fan of the show Biggest Loser. Yes, I am admitting for the public. I wouldn't say that I am obsessed, but I do like it a lot for some unknown reason.

Anyway, if you don't watch the show there has been a particularly mean spirited group this time that think they have total control. They have been nasty and they have acted like they were in junior high. I was so excited last night when one of the group got kicked off in a surprise twist (oh those surprise twists). If you are really so interested you can see the recap here.

I warned you - this was wacky!

So here is the evil one - Vicki:
See the smirk on her face! And here is her husband that got voted off:
Ah well, good bye Brady!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tasty Tuesday . . . Hoe Cakes

Have you ever heard of hoe cakes? If not, you are really missing out. You can find out an exact recipe and more information here. You can find Paula Dean's recipe here. We had always heard that they called them hoe cakes because people used to cook them on their hoes over an open fire. The recipe I am going to tell you about comes from my grandma and is never exact because she does not measure.

My grandma made hoe cakes for nearly ever meal we had growing up. They were kind of a quick bread to make to have with dinner. We would put butter on them and oh they were so good. They are kind of like a pancake but not sweet. Again, guessing at the measurements:

1-2 cups self-rising cornmeal
1/2 cup of milk

You simply mix these two together until they are the consistency of pancake mix - not too think and not too runny. You heat oil, lard or bacon grease (ha) in a cast iron skillet until it crackles when you put in a drop of water. You cook the hoe cake just like a pancake - when the top starts bubbling you flip it. You may want to drain the grease off on a paper towel. Now, serve it hot with lots of good butter on it. You can also eat them cold the next day - which we did a lot.

I realize you wouldn't want to eat this every night of the week, but you must try it at least a few times a month especially if you are having a good southern meal consisting of some type of meat, mashed potatoes, black eyed peas - oh so yummy!

You can also visit Tammy's Recipes for more kitchen tips.
-Gretchen

Monday, November 10, 2008

Free Movies!!


I happened to drive past Family Video Store this weekend and noticed a sign that said "Rent Free Videos Today - 30th Anniversary!"

OF COURSE I stopped. :) What I found inside was pretty fun! Now through November 17th (next Monday) you can rent two of the 2/$1 movies absolutely free. Two rentals per family per visit. Apparently this has been going on for almost a month but I just found out about it. If you have some extra time this week, stop by your local Family Video Store and grab some free movies. Sure, they're not the new releases, but they're still free!

(The information inside the store indicated that this was going on nationwide, but if you want to be on the safe side call your local Family Video Store to be sure!)

UPDATE: It turns out "Family Video Store" is not so family-oriented after all. I emailed this to someone who politely informed me that Family Video Store sells porn. I Googled this to see if ALL Family Videos sell porn or just select branches. What I found was that, unless it conflicts with state law (usually prohibiting it in select areas such as within 500 feet of a church or school), it is a rarity to find a store that does not sell it.

What?! I have never seen a "back room" at OUR store, but then again...I guess I've never looked either. I am so discouraged. I guess that's why their movies are so cheap. I do not plan to buy movies from them again. Does anyone know if the other major movie rental stores sell porn?


....and to think we've been buying from them for years....

"The problems associated with rampant pornography in today's society are well documented. Among other things, porn usage can ruin a marriage, distort a man's view of women into mere objects of lust, or porn can lead to inappropriate and destructive actions....Porn use is so common among sex crimes perpetrators that some state's law enforcement agencies are now considering tracking its connection in the lives of suspects and convicted felons." (Indiana Family Voice, November 2004)

If this information bothers you as much as it does me, I encourage you to check out your Family Video Store. If they are selling porn, write to your store's manager and inform him/her that you will be taking your business elsewhere for this very reason. Some people think boycotts are pointless and that they never get anything accomplished. This is NOT TRUE, as was learned by the community in Frankfort, IN, who successfully shut down the selling of porn at both Family Video and Movie Gallery (a well-known porn seller) a few years ago.

"We know that such successes will not shut off the supply of smut in these towns, but if one divorce is prevented, one rape is stopped, or one child is protected, all our efforts will have been worthwhile."
(Indiana Family Voice, November 2004)