Friday, August 28, 2009

Linkadoos

I've found a few interesting sites lately that I wanted to share with you:

*Love this--next month, you can dine at a participating restaurant and some of the proceeds will be donated to end childhood hunger. (Obviously, you could also make a cash donation at any point to a program like this, but I thought this was a cool idea and a way to support businesses who are in turn supporting such a great cause!) Click here to find a participating restaurant near you.

*Did you know you can download a font that uses less ink than the usual Times Roman, Arial, etc.? Fascinating! Head over here to check it out.

*If you walk, run, swim or bike, then you have to check out this site. You can log your trekked miles and raise money for great causes like breast cancer research! I signed up in honor of my DAD, who just registered for yet another marathon (on Labor Day)!

*One of my favorite new sites is this one. I've had fun sending personalized (and free!) thank you notes for casual get-togethers. I also made special photo slideshows for the grandmas for Mother's Day. Cute designs, easy to use, and eco-friendly since it saves on paper and postage!

Now that I've shared a few of my new discoveries, I'd like to request your input on something:

We occasionally make pancakes on weekend mornings, usually with my husband's family recipe. (You can find that recipe here, along with my admission of pancake-phobia.) We recently decided to make a batch of "regular" pancakes, unfortunately made from store-bought Bisquick. Their taste and texture left something to be desired, but I was going for quick and easy. Thus, I'm wondering if any of you have tried-and-true recipes for homemade pancake mix? I'd love to keep a big jar of it handy!

Thanks for your help, and let me know if you check out any of the sites I mentioned above.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Miserly Moms

A friend recently loaned me her copy of Miserly Moms, and I wanted to jot down some notes and impressions. I didn't find it to be as practical as Tightwad Gazette, but I always enjoy learning about frugality and stewardship so it was still a good read!

To begin, the author shares her 11 miserly guidelines: 1) Don't confuse frugality with depriving yourself. 2) Give up things that provide the least value. 3) Keep track (written down) of food prices. 4) Don't buy everything at the same store. 5) Buy in bulk whenever possible. 6) Make and grow your own food whenever possible. 7) Eliminate convenience foods. 8) Cut back on meats and poultry. 9) Waste nothing. 10) Institute a soup and bread night. 11) Cook several meals at once and freeze them.

Though I could use improvement in most of those areas, I emphasized in bold the two I'd most like to concentrate on right now.

I've often thought about doing some kind of a price book for keeping track of the target prices of foods I buy regularly. However, I always end up wavering between thinking it takes way too much time and effort to implement, to thinking it's a frugal strategy I really should adopt. After reading MM, I decided to take the first step by printing off price sheets here. I plan to start slowly and not tackle figuring out prices for everything at once. I do have some target prices in my head already, so that helps as well.

As for buying in bulk, it makes sense to me for certain products, but I haven't figured out when and where to buy these items, mostly baking supplies and pantry staples like pasta. I did see this recent post that gave lots of helpful tips. Two stores were mentioned in the comments and I plan to look into those, as well as learning more about how to order from a local co-op. So I don't get overwhelmed (budget or otherwise), I'm thinking about starting with just one or two things, like flour, sugar, beans or yeast.

Other ideas from the book that I want to try:

*Cooking and freezing beans in bulk--we eat a lot of black beans, especially, and this strategy would save time and money. (On that note, have any of you had success cooking dried beans in the crockpot?)

*We regularly eat this dish that calls for canned cranberry sauce, and I wondered about making my own when I saw this idea in MM: Simmer together one bag of fresh cranberries and 8 oz. frozen concentrated apple juice for 5 minutes. The author suggests buying cranberries when they go on sale near Thanksgiving, and freezing them for up to a year. Has anyone tried making cranberry sauce? The cans of it I buy end up being dumped into the crockpot anyway, so the consistency of the sauce isn't important.
*Lastly, I appreciated the chapter on utilities. The author indicated that next to groceries, their utility bill was the area in which they reaped the most savings. Eric signed our house up for an energy audit, which will hopefully take place this fall, and I'm sure the results will be eye-opening!

I'd be interested in your comments on the things I mentioned here, like price books (yay or nay?!), buying in bulk, etc.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer food

The other night we had the *perfect* summer meal: kabobs with chicken, green pepper and fresh pineapple (all brushed with teriyaki sauce); green beans (with olive oil, garlic and pepper) and sweet corn. Delish!

The beans and green pepper were from our garden, and the corn was locally grown, so that made it even better. To top it all off, we enjoyed the perfect easy summer dessert: ice cream!

A couple notes about kabobs:

*I know a lot of people use the wooden skewers, but there's a greener, more thrifty alternative: metal skewers. I paid a couple dollars for a set of 4, and I plan to buy another set for when we have guests. They're easy to clean and don't have to be pre-soaked like the wooden kind!

*A friend taught me to put all the meat on one, and fruits/veggies on separate ones since meat takes longer to cook. The kabobs don't look as festive this way, but I prefer this method since I'm not a fan of charred anything. Happy grilling!
What do you put on your kabobs? Any other tips about making them?
By the way, did you know you can spell it kabob or kebab, and they're both correct?! Strange.
photo credit: mache

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thank You, Jesus

It's been awhile since I've written about my dad, so I wanted to give a little update. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can click here.)

The wonderful thing is that my dad's doing pretty well right now. When he saw the oncologist a few weeks ago, he was told to keep doing what he's been doing. That's encouraging news, and we are grateful. He's enjoying retirement, which allows him to get more rest and also work on various projects around the house.
In addition, he's had a great attitude through this whole ordeal, and he's been even more passionate about running than usual. He ran a big race in Colorado last Saturday, and since we weren't able to be there, we wore our crew shirts in his honor. We love you, Dad!
As for the title of my post, my dad likes to have a mantra for each race, and this time he chose, "Thank You, Jesus" as the words he wanted to focus on. I agree--thank You, Jesus!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Title chatter

Jamie recently recommended this kids' book. I'd heard of it, but never picked it up before. Since our sons are the same age, I thought Nathan would probably enjoy it as well, which was the case. And I liked it, too!

Up until this point, we've really only checked out board books from the library, and though there is a wide selection, we've pretty much exhausted the ones he's interested in--most of which have the words "trucks" or "tractors" in the title!

Last week I went to the library by myself (woo-hoo!) and decided to pick out a few different books for Nathan. Our library has such an amazing collection of kids' books that I didn't know where to start, so I thought I'd ask you dear readers for your suggestions. (As an age guideline, Nathan turns 3 in December, and when it comes to wordiness, less is more! By the way, the book doesn't have to be about vehicles!) Thanks for your help--I look forward to your recommendations!

(Hey, does anyone get my post title today--a take off on "idle chatter"? I confess I thought it was rather clever. Seriously, sometimes I think way too long trying to come up with a play-on-words, though of course some results are better than others! Ah, English majors!)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Farm fun

Earlier this week, my friend Kim hosted us and another family for a morning on her farm. Despite having lived in rural Iowa all these years, this was one of my first visits to an actual working farm. I was excited to show Nathan and also to see the farm up close myself! Here's some pix from our day, though I'm bummed they're so dark.

We were treated to a hayride, and Nathan even got to help drive the tractor (above).
The kids also got to pet some baby pigs.
Then we had a yummy picnic lunch, complete with fresh sweet corn. (Nathan's first time to try it--he liked it, but it may have just been all the butter and salt!)
We had a wonderful time, and appreciate our gracious hosts!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Works for Me Wednesday: Easier s'mores

Last summer at a church gathering, we discovered a brilliant idea for making s'mores even easier. Instead of buying both graham crackers and chocolate bars, you buy these.

S'mores made easier. What's not to love about that?!


If you're looking for more inspiration, you can find lots of great ideas here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Strawberry jam-boree

Several weeks ago, a good friend and I went to a local strawberry patch, where I picked eight pounds of these beauties. For the first time on my own, I made delicious freezer jam (as well as a delectable pie!) I was amazed at how easy the jam-making process is. Plus, it's cheaper than storebought and tastes so much better!
I made two different batches: the recipe on the back of the pectin box (left), and the version from this cookbook, which uses a package of strawberry gelatin. I can't imagine we'll run out of jam before next summer, but if we do, I read a tip in a frugal book to just buy frozen strawberries, as it's still cheaper to make your own jam.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Finding joy

Last summer, I linked to an article that appeared in the Counting the Cost newsletter. Unfortunately, the newsletter is being discontinued, but I really connected with an article in the final issue, which was written by newsletter founder Nancy Twigg. She graciously gave me permission to post her words here:

Finding Joy among the Crayons and Carpools

“This is never going to end!”

I was standing at my daughter’s changing table, giving her a clean diaper for the umpteenth time that day. Lydia was only a month old at the time. Being a brand new, first-time mom was taking its toll on me in the worst way.

Lydia wasn’t what you would call an easy baby. The words “high need” would be more appropriate. From day one of her first year of life, she wanted to nurse non-stop, and when she wasn’t nursing, she wanted to be held constantly.

“She is never going to stop nursing,” I thought as tears welled up in my eyes. “And I will never get a good night’s sleep again!”

Four years later when Lydia *finally* decided she was through with nursing, I was surprised -- surprised that the time slipped away so quickly. I was also shocked that it grieved me so to see that phase of our lives come to a close.

A year after that I was stunned again -- this time that my little girl was getting ready for kindergarten. I would have never guessed how hard it would be for me the first time I dropped her off at the front door of her homeschool co-op.

As I pulled my car away slowly, it was all I could do to keep from running in after her. I wanted to scream, “No, this can’t be happening! Who stole my baby?”

One thing I’ve learned in my time of being a parent is that every phase of our family’s life is a season -- a time that inevitably comes and eventually goes. Some seasons are longer and more difficult than others; some pass so quickly that I hardly notice their arrival or departure.

I like to compare parenting to running. As part of my fitness routine, I run several days a week in the hilly neighborhoods that surround my Knoxville home. Often as I run, I struggle to get up hills that at the time seem larger than life. Once I reach the top of the hill, I can breeze easily down the other side. But as enjoyable as the downhill runs are, I know they won’t last forever. There will always be another hill to tackle on the horizon, just as in parenting there is always another season -- complete with its own trials and adjustments -- waiting for me around the bend.

Ecclesiastes tells us, “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven…a time to plant and a time to harvest.” (v. 3:1, 2b) There is a time for nursing the baby until you think your breasts will fall off. There is a time for changing messy, blow-out diapers and wiping spit-up off your shirt. There is a time for colic and teething and all those other challenges of babyhood. But eventually that season concludes and you and your child move on to the next season, and then the next season after that.

The early years of your child’s life -- when she is small and requires so much care and attention -- is the season for planting. As any farmer will tell you, a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into planting! So much time and energy is invested in preparing the soil, carefully burying the precious seed, praying that it receives adequate water and sunlight. Likewise, these formative years are spent preparing your child’s heart, carefully planting seeds for future growth, and then nurturing what is planted until it grows to maturity.

As a parent, you gingerly plant now in hopes of the harvest later -- a time when your child becomes more independent and actually begins to exhibit some of the traits you’ve tried to instill. As distant as it may seem now, the season for harvesting will eventually come. But rest assured: its arrival will be bittersweet because it will mean your child, your baby is growing up.

Now is the time for planting. My “baby who somehow morphed into a kindergartner” is now in fourth grade. We’re through with pacifiers and potty training, but now we deal with new issues: What is the most effective form of discipline? Will she ever learn good manners? How can I teach her respect and responsibility?

And sometimes, just as I did that day when she was only a month old, I still say, “This is never going to end!” The writer of Ecclesiastes also penned another jewel of wisdom applicable to parenthood: that finding joy and satisfaction in the hard work of life is a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Let’s face it: parenting is hard, sometimes thankless work. But to find joy in the juggling act, satisfaction in the sacrifices -- that is a precious blessing from God.

The next time you think to yourself, “This is never going to end,” remember that inevitably whatever season you and your child are in will come to a close. And like me when Lydia stopped nursing, you may find yourself grieving over the days gone by.

Seasons pass so quickly. The moments you have with your child are numbered. Don’t waste them. Don’t let them slip by unappreciated. Look for the joy in each season of motherhood now. And when you find it, thank God because it is truly a gift from Him.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Calm and chaos: some thoughts on my adjustment to two kids!

Laura M. recently left a comment asking me to share about my experience adjusting to two kids and caring for both an infant and a toddler, so in no particular order, here are some of my random thoughts on that subject:

*Since having two kids (and obviously this would be emphasized with additional family members), I have been amazed how often I experience "extremes" in my day. Either we're running late, Nathan needs to go potty, the dog is barking, the phone is ringing and Natalie spit up all over my clothes or--a big or--everything is fairly calm and quiet. In those chaotic moments, it's difficult for me to figure out what to do first, but somehow we all survive. (I suppose these occurrences shouldn't be so surprising to me--much of life seems to be either feast or famine!)

*I am still grateful for the awesome advice I received when asking for input on adjusting to two kids. These are some of the tips I found most helpful:

--When nursing Natalie, I make sure Nathan is taken care of first. Early on, we read books together--now he prefers to watch part of a movie, and I sit right next to him. For the mid-morning and late afternoon feedings, I let him have a snack at that time, which of course goes over well!

--I often let Nathan help me with Natalie. He loves to get a diaper or the burpcloth, and now he'll even get toys and play with her a little. That warms this mother's heart, and I pray it will continue!

--A few things for right before/after the birth: *I did follow the advice given and had "Natalie" give Nathan a gift--a train set--at the hospital. This was very successful in him warming up to her! *I also stockpiled more meals than I had last time, and my mom was a huge help in that department as well. I later made an inventory so I knew at a glance what was available. *Lastly, I made myself take naps when the kids were sleeping, even though there were many things I wanted to accomplish. I probably took an afternoon nap every day for the first 2-3 weeks, then tapered off around 6 weeks.

--Tracy said something that I resonate with: "I think you will be a little surprised at how much 'easier' it is. Remember the feeling of your first born and how everything was new and you were stumbling to figure this whole "mom" thing out? With this new baby you'll have to figure out balance but you'll laugh at the memory of yourself as a first timer. The crying won't freak you out as much and monitoring the diapers and the feedings isn't nearly so overwhelming! Not that having two is easy...but at least it's not as scary!"

*I found that one-on-one time has happened pretty naturally with each kid due to their different nap times. Natalie currently takes 3 naps, and Nathan takes a nap in the afternoon, so I feel like I get a lot of time with each of them. I was more intentional about following a schedule with Nathan (a more relaxed version of Babywise), but it's been helpful to me this time around to just roll with each day as it happens. I do maintain a rhythm or pattern--feeding Natalie right after she wakes up (whether the nap lasted 45 minutes or 2 hours), and putting her down for a nap around 2 hours after she gets up.

*I appreciated this insight from my friend Rebecca: "When S was born L all of the sudden became very disobedient. He began showing a side that we very seldom, if ever, saw. I began to think that I needed to figure out ways to discipline and correct this behavior and asked an older, Godly woman for her advice. She stated that his disobedience was just an immature way of responding to this change. And, as a result, he needed more love and gentleness rather than discipline." We definitely went through a stretch (as I'm sure we will again) where Nathan was acting out more with me. He's never given me any cause for concern with Natalie, and is always gentle with her, but he was being very defiant when I asked him to do/not do something.

*I've mentioned before that Nathan was a pretty fussy/discontent baby. Natalie has been much more mellow overall, and that has also made the transition to two more smooth.

Laura (and other new moms), I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging and wish you the best as you embark on the adventure of (two) kids! I just jotted down what came to mind on this topic, but please feel free to ask specific questions if there's something else you're wondering about.