Friday, January 30, 2015

Relentless

January's theme has continued to be the cumulative effect. We kicked off my birthday celebration last weekend with . . . a trip the emergency room. After a delicious taco supper (thanks, R&A!), Naomi was playing around on the couch, and she fell over the back of it. She hit her head on the baseboard heater, and the one-inch gash bled profusely. Thankfully, she remained pretty calm, but it was still alarming and hard to know what to do. Going to the doctor seemed like the prudent thing to do, and I'm glad she was checked out, even though they decided not to do any staples/stitches. Now, a week, later, it looks amazingly better. But here is a photo of the wound from that night--after it was cleaned up. Poor thing!
As we are weary in body and spirit, I have taken much encouragement from this past week's readings in Jesus Calling. Here are some excerpts that will hopefully bless you as well:

1/22 "If you believe that I am sovereign over every aspect of your life, it is possible to trust me in all situations."

1/24 "Thank Me when things do not go your way, because spiritual blessings come wrapped in trials. Adverse circumstances are normal in a fallen world. Expect them each day. Rejoice in the face of hardship for I have overcome the world."

1/26 "It is possible to enjoy Me and glorify Me in the midst of adverse circumstances. In fact, My Life shines most brightly through believers who trust Me in the dark. That kind of trust is supernatural: a production of My indwelling Spirit. When things seem all wrong, trust Me anyway. I am much less interested in right circumstances than in right responses to whatever comes your way."

January has been relentless, and we are hoping for a lighter February. I'll be wrapping up the pantry challenge this weekend, and will post about that early next week.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lentil soup

Sometimes you hit the jackpot when you create a recipe from what you have on hand. I did use a couple different recipes to base this off of, but I'm just going to share my version here. Easy, inexpensive, healthy and delicious. That's an all-around win in my book! (Except I don't think my kids would like it, but I'll have them try it to see. More for me if they're not fans!)

Lentil soup

1 T. olive oil
1/2 c. diced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
3 carrots, diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained
7 cups chicken broth (or water and bouillon)
salt, pepper or other seasonings to taste

In a large stockpot, saute onions in olive oil until glossy. Add other veggies and saute for 10 minutes. Stir in broth, lentils, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour until lentils are tender.

This is my second time ever making this soup, and the first time was a couple weeks ago. I don't think I made it exactly the same, but this time I took notes so I can remember for next time. I used vegetable bouillon this time instead of chicken, and I loved the flavor!

Hope some of you can enjoy this recipe. Let me know if you try it, and what you think.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Frugal accomplishments

Thank you to those who commented on Friday's post! I appreciate your thoughts and encouragement.

Though we've had a lot of other things going on, I am grateful to have a solid list of frugal accomplishments (Not the least of which is sometimes NOT spending money, including walking away from a bargain!) especially since we are going through a time of many large expenses.

Here are my frugal accomplishments from the past two weeks:

*Made several dozen bran muffins--these are a nice alternative to bread/rolls at meals.
*Sold several items on a local swap site.
*Ventured to two out-of-town consignment shops when they were having sales. The first shop, where I had a substantial amount of credit, was 50% off the entire store. I got some excellent deals for the kids and a couple things for myself. The total price of the tickets was $76.35, but with the sale and my credit, I spent less than $10. A neighboring store was 75% off, and I got a couple things there, also.
*One of my favorite transactions: I used a rewards coupon to get a free 12-pack of C*ke, and also purchased some cough syrup that had a try-me-free rebate attached. While I've submitted several receipts via the W-mart SC program, I had never earned anything, because I usually do the price matching myself. Well, with this receipt, I was reimbursed for $3.31 total, and the two items that showed up cheaper elsewhere were C*ke and the cough syrup--my two FREE items. I was very excited to be paid for those purchases. =)
*On that same shopping trip, I bought some bakery bread for 60 cents/loaf and some cranberry sauce on clearance for 75 cents. They also had stocking stuffers for 75% off, so I bought several items (like lip balm) for party favors and shoeboxes for just a quarter each. However, despite this happening multiple times in the last year, I've still not been in the habit of checking my receipts before leaving the store. When I got home, I realized I was charged twice for a single item I bought, and that one of the stocking stuffers rang up at the regular price of $1. So I brought the receipt back and got a refund on the two overcharges.
*Attended a free exercise class and won a cute t-shirt from a drawing they were doing.
*Mended Nathan's snowpants
*A local thrift store was having a semi-annual bag sale. I have so much fun at these, and this time was no exception. I paid $4 for all that is pictured below! I was most excited about the Fr*zen pajamas for Natalie, several packages of brand new notecards, and a really nice pair of athletic pants for Nathan to wear in a couple years (brand new retail price around $40!).
*Made chocolate chip cookies (most were a birthday gift for Nathan's teacher), corn dog muffins for school lunches, hummus and pita chips, whole wheat critters (something my mom used to make--kind of like a big, soft cracker), snack mix, and white chocolate raspberry bars.
*Grocery deals: free pouch of salmon (w/cpn), coupon for 3 gallons milk/$9, and my best deal: 6 boxes of LIfe cereal for $9! Each box is normally $3.49 (reg. $20.94 total!), but they were on sale and I had a coupon for $3 off if I bought 6. That is less than half the retail price, and why I was willing to stock up even during pantry month. We all really like that kind of cereal, and it doesn't go on sale very often. I usually watch for it to be $2, so I was pumped to pay $1.50/box.
*Redeemed two coupons for mini pizzas that the older kids earned through school.

I'm continuing to work on the pantry challenge. Lisa left a comment asking me what we've been eating, so here is a list of some of what we've had for supper in the past two weeks: homemade pizza x2, tacos (using deer meat from freezer), potato soup x2 (only soup our kids really like, and it's very inexpensive), spaghetti, stirfry, fajitas, chicken spaghetti, hot dogs and homemade burgers (venison for Eric, black bean for me), cranberry chicken, walleye (in freezer, Eric caught it this summer), homemade macaroni and cheese, chicken and rice. Lunches are usually sandwiches, quesadillas, soup or leftovers. Breakfast really varies; in the past two weeks, we've had cereal, banana bread, donuts, oatmeal, scrambled eggs and pancakes.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The cumulative effect

We have started 2015 with a bang--or a thud. In the first two weeks of this new year, we have purchased a new washing machine (our old one conked out the day before our trip to CO!); both our van and the car have had to be at the mechanic for unexpected, fairly major repairs; one of our children has had a doctor appointment for a serious issue; and we learned that Naomi will probably have to have her tonsils out at some point. In addition, our dog continues to decline, and making that decision and appointment are definitely weighing on us.

These above situations have been demanding of our time, energy and finances. It has definitely felt overwhelming at times. I am not saying all this to have a pity party; I am saying it to process what's really going on in our lives. As I've said to many people, most of those things are not major in and of themselves, but the cumulative effect of all of them has been a big deal.

And I don't have blinders on to others' struggles. Also, just in the past two weeks, I have learned of several friends who are dealing with significant loss and pain. My heart hurts for them as well. My dad is scheduled for his last (at least for now) chemo treatment next week, and you'd better believe that's on my heart and mind, too.

There are about 50 weeks left in this year, and it's crazy to think what they might contain after starting off the year in this dramatic way. But I'm clinging to this--for me and for all of us:
"Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him."
Lamentations 3:21-25

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pantry challenge check-in

So I'm almost at the halfway point of my sixth annual pantry challenge, and as usual, I'm really enjoying it. If I haven't said it before (Ha!), I love being resourceful and using up random odds and ends. =)

I made an inventory last weekend of the items in our fridge, freezers, cupboards and pantry that need to be used up, either because of expiration date or randomness. I'm enjoying finding recipes to use up these bits and pieces.

My first new recipe was for lentil soup. I had about a cup's worth of lentils (which I don't normally keep on hand). I liked the soup so much that I bought a package of lentils to make it again! I'll share that recipe soon.

The most creative thing I've tried was when I was looking for ideas to use up some strawberry syrup we were given (the kind you put on ice cream)--I found a recipe for making Jello-type fruit snacks. It required only 3 ingredients, and one of the other things was unflavored gelatin, another item I needed to use up. Win-win! I cut them in fun star shapes and the kids enjoyed eating them.

I enjoy seeing what other people shop for at the grocery store (and what they pay!), so I'm once again going to share a receipt from my most recent grocery run:

apples: $1.81 (on sale for 99 cents/lb.)
organic bananas: $1.04 on sale for 58 cents/lb. (Cheaper than conventional ones this week--those are 69 cents/lb.!)
2 3-lb. bags of frozen chicken breast: $9.96 (This was a splurge in pantry month, but $4.99 is my target price for this kind of chicken, and it hasn't been at that sale for a long time)
4 boxes cereal: $3 total (combination of sale and coupons, see above, normally don't "stock up" during pantry month)
6 packages ramen: $1 (on sale and needed for recipe)
blueberries: $1.88 (Very good price for this time of year!)
whipped cream: 49 cents (super-coupon, reg. price is $1.59)
4 packages cheese (shreds, cubes): $6.67 (on sale for $1.67/pkg--we go through a lot of cheese at our house!)
coleslaw mix: $1.29 (on sale)
2-lb. bag of baby carrots: $2.49 (not the best deal, but needed them for lunches)
jar of alfredo sauce: $1.48 (on sale, was down to my last jar, so wanted to be prepared)
gallon of 1% milk: $3.15
Total: $34.29
The only things I bought that were not on sale were milk and baby carrots. I love shopping sales and shaping what we eat based on low prices and what we already have on hand!

I've spent just under half of the adjusted grocery budget so far, but I've made some splurges and will have to be very strategic from this point forward to fulfill the challenge. I'm excited because after considering options for where to send the other half of our monthly grocery budget, I think I've settled on the winner. Will share that if I reach my goal in a couple weeks!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Colorado Christmas

We are so thankful for time spent with family over Christmas, and for the beautiful scenery we all enjoyed! Some of my favorite photos from our holiday:









Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Frugal accomplishments

Happy new year, friends! I look forward to sharing some photos from our holiday in CO, but first I have a brief list of frugal accomplishments to share, as well as the announcement of my sixth (!) annual pantry challenge. That will be a frugal feat in and of itself for sure!

Here are some other examples:
*Received two free ponytail holders in the mail
*Received three books through PBS (gifts for Natalie's upcoming b-day)
*Took advantage of lots of clearance deals
--stationery store: unique valentines, items for girls' birthdays, and Christmas tags and notecards all for 75% off!
--T@rget: a couple Christmasy things and three tubes of kid toothpaste with 3 $1 off cpns
--Gymb0ree: swim trunks for Nathan and an outfit for Natalie's b-day on major clearance, plus 20% off cpn, and a gift card from a return a couple years ago. I was so pumped!
--H0bby L0bby: a few Christmas items for next year at 66% off
*Used a gift card to purchase a much-needed mini screwdriver
*Redeemed several coupons for free Frosties
*Enjoyed a trip to a grocery closeout store with my mom:
I was so pumped about what I found, especially the pectin. I need it for next summer, and the price for the green bottles was about 95% off the regular cost! The sprinkles were 5 and 11 cents, respectively. The cinnamon bread was just 99 cents, and it's our kids' fave for French toast, so that was a great deal. My total for the above, and an un-pictured 99-cent carton of cranberry sauce, was just $8.36.
*Used a coupon to get a gallon of milk for $1.99 with purchase (reg. $3.65)
*Made banana bread and "Better than Pam"
*Eric used a gift card to pay for part of a movie ticket.
*Made lentil soup as one of of my first pantry recipes--I had about a half-cup of lentils I was wanting to use up and tweaked a recipe to make it fit my taste and what I had on hand.
*Used a promo code to order 98 free photos, just paying shipping.

All of that being said, it was a notably non-frugal couple of weeks. Between traveling, replacing our washing machine (which broke down the day before our departure!) and needing to take our van in to the mechanic again, we've certainly incurred plenty of expenses. So I'm glad to do my part when I can in saving in other areas. And back to the washer, I should mention that Eric rocked it--he was able to price match, score free delivery, and use a 10% cpn on top of that!

I'd love to hear about your recent frugal activities, and I look forward to checking back in soon with how the pantry challenge is going.