Monday, December 29, 2008

Confessions of a Struggling Housekeeper

Stuff, stuff everywhere
on the floor and on the chair

comes through the door but rarely leaves
this is one of my pet peeves

clutter makes it hard to think
but at least it does not stink

abundantly outfitted for "just in case"
but we surely need some space

we are blessed, that's for sure
all our needs are met, and more!

oh, to close the cupboard with ease
that would make me feel so free

we do not need a bigger house,
but there is much we could do without

how many clothes can we really wear?
how many toys can for we care?
how many books?
how many pots?
how many towels?
how many gloves?

I want a house not packed with stuff, but a home filled with love.

I wrote this little bit to introduce:
Resolution #1 (not because it is necessarily the most important, though): Simplify our household and its processes and possessions to make space for what really matters!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Letter to My Grandma

November 23, 2008
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Dear Grandma,
The last time I saw you was so bittersweet. You are dearly missed here, though it would be selfish to wish you back to this world of pain and suffering. This week it was hard not to receive the annual letter you would always send full of news which you would always wrap up with love, encouragement and affirmation. These letters have meant so much to me, especially in recent years.

I want you to know what a blessing you were to me and although I expressed this to you in your living years, I wish I would have mentioned it more often. I am so thankful for the privilege of growing up just one mile away from you, less if we walked through the corn field. I'm thankful for your amazing example of faith in God alone, of diligence, consistency and hard work, of living sensibly and resourcefully, of always having time to serve and support your family. I remember days spent at your home, in the house helping you in the kitchen while listening to Focus on the Family or Chuck Swindoll, and outside working on your many flowers or in your productive garden. I also remember once not wanting to do dishes or some other kitchen task at your house and having you tell me "A job's half done once it's begun." It is funny the things which stick in my memory, though that phrase has served me well. Some days I still don't want to do the dishes. :)Too, I remember being at your home in the evening and cuddling up with you and Grandpa along with my sister and brothers on the couch eating apples and oranges and popcorn. And staying overnight in your home and feeling that that was a special time. I remember you being a listener for Awana and wanting to make you proud by reciting my verses well. I remember getting to sit with you in church sometimes and Grandpa sharing his Certs with me. But most of all, I just remember you always being there.

You were such a good grandma, never spoiling (that I remember, but you probably did) but always showing that we were important to you and that we were loved, not because of the stuff you gave us, but because of the love in action and encouragement and wise instruction. Thank you for the letters you sent every year for my birthday. I enjoyed them so much as you told the happenings there like it was with a little opinion thrown in sometimes for good measure. I've saved most of those letters and will treasure them. I was so proud to be your granddaughter as your eulogy was given. Many of those stories from your younger days I had not heard. There are so many from your life which went untold, but that isn't surprising since I never heard you say a boastful word. It wasn't like you to bring attention to yourself. And yet that day in August I learned from you, even though you had departed. Your resourcefulness and your steadfast and pioneering spirit inspire me. I wish I would have asked you to tell those stories more. I wish I would have lived near you in my adult years and learned your secrets of growing delicious and prolific tomatoes and asked you deeper questions about your faith in your 80 years of life and asked you for advice in rearing children in the ways of the Lord. I wish...

What I really wish, albeit selfishly, is that you would be sitting with us around the table this week as we gather to reflect on God's goodness and give Him the praise and thanks. I'm so glad I could see you on your two final days on this earth and that I had the opportunity to say good-bye, but this grief is not easy. It comes in waves and is triggered out of the blue...when I hear the song Jenn sang at your funeral on the radio, when I received a birthday card from another grandma with something written that you would have written to me and in similar handwriting to yours, when my two older children talk about you being in Heaven, and when they express that they want to put flowers on your grave when we head out next, and countless other things. It is very hard, because you are so dearly loved and because I knew you into adulthood, which is something I certainly don't take for granted.

My life was forever changed because of you! I love you, Grandma! God is always good and He ordained the number of your days, and I find comfort in that. I'll see you in Heaven, where there is no more pain, no more suffering, no more crying, no more grieving.

Much love,

Friday, November 14, 2008

We Love These Little Shoes!

We have loved putting our children in little Robeez shoes. Thanks, Grandma, for sharing that Canadian product with us! They are such sweet and comfy shoes that it is a sad day when their Robeez no longer fit.

When I saw on Mom Advice's Freebie Friday post today that Robeez was making a donation for each eCard sent, I was glad to do it. The donation made by Robeez will helps kids around the world in needy and distressed situations. Go here to send your own eCard!

Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Overheard Today

From the lips of my six-year-old to his little sister, "The economy is going bad. People are spending too much money." Hmmm...where is he getting this information? Maybe he's on to something.

Really, in all seriousness, we have spoken with our kids about this, but sometimes it is hard to know what and how much to say. They are still children, after all. There is also danger in giving them some information which they then undoubtedly spin into a completely different thought. Active imaginations and attentive ears, I tell ya!

Baby, Baby

No, we're not having one at present, though we seem to be in the middle of a baby boom with our friends and families. With Christmas coming soon there aren't many extra funds to divert to baby gifts so I did the best with what I had around and came up with some cute, unique gifts that I hope they will like.

This is a set of two burp cloths, fleece hat and on-the-go pouch which is just big enough for a few diapers, a small wipes case and maybe an outfit or receiving blanket. The pouch was made from a clearanced placemat, a spare button and some twill tape recycled from a gift wrapping. You can't see it in the picture, but the twill tape goes around the pouch creating a handle at the very top of the back. The stiff nature of the placemat makes for a nice sturdy bag.

The second set is made up of two burp cloths, a fleece hat and a clearanced onsie. One burp cloth is flannel and fleece and one is knit and fleece. The knit came from an unused A-shirt that was in the bin of items to be donated. This set is 3 embroidered fleece and cotton mini-check burpcloths and an on-the-go bag made of cotton with a nylon webbing handle. With a caribiner clip the bag would be easy to attach to a stroller to keep bare necessities at hand.

For these gifts I purchased:
- small package of wipes $1.00
- two fleece blankets clearanced a the grocery store to be used to wrap two of the gifts $2.00
- tank onsie $.75
- two plug-in air fresheners with a clean linen scent (I thought these would be good near the diaper pail) - I think these were free after rebate, but no more than $1.00 each.
So now I have three gifts for under $6.00 out of pocket plus the cost of of fabric I purchased at an earlier time, though I often buy inexpensive remnants for these types of projects. These certainly turned out to be an economical option and will hopefully be well-received.
Now I have a question for anyone who reads here. Do you ever struggle with feeling like a homemade and inexpensive gift is not good enough? I really like the way these sets turned out and think they will be useful gifts, but have trouble shaking the feeling that I should have just ponied up the cash and bought something from the registries. Your thoughts?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Home Studio

It has been ages since we have taken photographs of the children, so yesterday I decided on a whim to snap a few. The last time we went to Sears for pictures, Sportster was about 2 and Sister was about 6 months and it.was.awful so we decided never to recreate that experience. Every 6 months or so I try to do a little photo shoot at home to capture their stages and personalities. So far we've been happy with this decision and as a side benefit we've saved a lot of money. On the downside, you still have to make time to make it happen and we've neglected this opportunity for far too long. But with Christmas fast-approaching it was high-time to make it happen. Here are some of my favorites. Grandma & Nana, these are coming to you so if you want to be surprised come Christmas, look away now.

Many thanks to our friend who blessed us with a portrait lens many months ago. It seems like the faces turned out more crisp with it. We just took these on our front porch and in our stairway to simplify the experience.

I am really smitten with this one!

I still need to work on getting all three of them to look and smile at the same time, but this was a rather successful attempt.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cheap Eats: Breakfast for Dinner

One of our go-to meals when we are wanting a simple cheap supper is breakfast for dinner. This comes in many forms: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, omelets with fillings from the deli drawer and vegetable crisper, egg casseroles using up scraps of bread, cheese and vegetables, french toast made on the skillet or baked, breakfast burritos, fruit in season or from the freezer, pancakes, waffles, muffins, juice, coffee, and any combination of the above items.

A few weeks ago we had breakfast for dinner and put many frugal principles into practice. The menu looked like this.

Baked french toast - In a jelly roll pan sprayed with cooking spray I poured in some (maybe 1/2 cup) homemade peach syrup that was too thin for our liking, slices of homemade whole wheat bread that was a bit stale, a mixture of eggs and milk and vanilla, a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon. This was baked at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes. Frugality at work: use it up so you don't end up throwing it out.

Toppings for french toast - That night we had whipped cream, we used maybe 1/4 of a $1.00 can, and raspberries, frozen from the lowest-price-of-the-year-sale this summer. Buy special items when they are at their lowest price and freeze, if needed. In this case, the toppings really made the meal seem a lot nicer.

Fruit salad - This was a combination of blueberries, raspberries, pears, apples and bananas. Buy in bulk when things are in season and inexpensive and freeze for use throughout the year. We love blueberries and raspberries, but never buy them for 3.99 and up a package whenever we want them. I stock up when raspberries are $1 per package and blueberries are $10 for 5 lbs. Enjoy things in season in abundance. The apples and pears are in season, and also cheap, in the fall so we eat a lot of them. Come December/January we'll be feasting on lots of oranges. Use markdowns and warehouse clubs to your advantage. I only buy bananas when I shop at Sam's or Costco or they are marked down to $.35 per pound at the grocery, then we eat them quick or use them in baking or freeze in chunks for smoothies later.
Milk - I always buy it on a markdown (unless we are totally out and no markdown is available) and we use it freely. When it starts to turn I use it in baking as a buttermilk substitute, or I freeze for later use. By buying markdowns I am able to usually get organic milk at or below the price I would pay for the cheapest conventional milk that is on sale that week. Most of the time we find the milk to be fine for one week past the date stamped on the carton or jug. We shop frequently enough and have a family size that is suitable for using lots of markdowns. Use time to your advantage and get better quality.

Just for fun, the flowers on the table came from our yard, were cut and quickly put into a glass of water. This literally took less than 1 minute and made the meal seem more special.

This was a delicious meal that was rather nutritious and didn't feel "budget" at all. Plus it was super quick to make! There are more ways to eat on a dime than just eating beans and rice. Hooray!

A Bit of Knitting

In the last few months I've taken up knitting again. Knitting is a fun little hobby which I find satisfying, even if I have only basic skills. And I can really appreciate a creative pursuit that doesn't create a mess all over tables and countertops, like sewing and scrapbooking and cardmaking do for me. And I like that knitting is such a portable craft.
I'm glad I finally completed a scarf for my husband which was on the needles for about 2 years, sitting in a dark cupboard. I think it will look great with his winter wool coat. I've also been cranking out quite a few dishcloths, which are not too exciting but functional and I like to give a little homemade something every once in a while.
I thought a case for my needles would be handy and made this one out of two placemats I found on clearance from a home store for about 50 cents each. Since they were already finished, I just cut one down to about 2/3 the height of the original, added some twill tape for ties (recycled from a gift wrapping), sewed the pieces together and sewed vertical lines of varying widths to make the pockets for individual or pairs of needles. I love simple, inexpensive projects!
I am knitting some things for each of my kiddos for Christmas. Two scarfs down, one hat to go.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Little Pumpkins

This summer we had some volunteer pumpkins come to life in our garden. Though at first I thought they were going to be squash, I'm glad we ended up with lots of unplanned greenery and some cute little pumpkins to share and enjoy this fall. Sportster took some into his class, we painted some and we hope to give more away this week. Earlier this week it looked like a freeze was on the way so I harvested many of them and we had a family pumpkin painting night. I have a confession to make, though, I don't usually initiate having craft times with my kiddos. But this time their wishes seemed so simple to fulfill so I couldn't resist. We just hauled out the kid paints and brushes we had on hand and used those. It was a good reminder to me that it really is the simple things you can say 'yes' to to your kids which become fun activities and great memories for them. The pumpkins themselves will not win any artistic awards, but that wasn't ever the point. I'll be looking for more ways this week, month and year to take time out for fun with my kiddos.

And thanks to my sweet husband for picking a few flowers this morning on his way out the door to brighten my day.

Happy Birthday, Son!

Sportster turned 6 last month and although the celebration was low-key, we certainly enjoyed his day with him. That is something that does not always happen when we host parties since much time goes into food and home preparation. This time around he had a very special guest, his grandma, here to celebrate with us. He enjoyed a cake and gifts at home, lunch at Red Robin, a dinner with friends the weekend before and a visit to the zoo with Dad, Grandma and Sister the day after.

Sportster, you are a joy and delight to us and we thank God for you!

Balloons '08

This Labor Day we were finally in town and could manage an early morning outing to the Balloon Classic. We went on the last morning and enjoyed it a lot.

And we were blessed by a co-worker of my husband's who gave us their trampoline. It has been a HUGE hit with our kids...and let's be honest, we enjoy it also! So what if it consumes our back yard?! We are at a season of choosing fun over fashion.

First Days of School

Sportster started his official education back at the end of August, both at home and in a homeschool supplement program run by a charter school. So far he is enjoying both settings a lot.

At home:

At the "school building," as we have come to refer to it:

Little Sister had to be part of the action, too. They share a special relationship and I think it is bit hard on her for him to move forward with school and not be involved in that yet, though she does participate in some of our lessons at home.

It is bittersweet to be at this phase. It is so exciting that Sportster is learning so much and growing up but hard to imagine that the years since his birth have passed so quickly.

We are so proud of our smart boy! The photo below was from May, about a month after he started reading on his own, much to our surprise and delight!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pumpkin Bars

As autumn is quickly approaching, I'm excited to get back to baking more and here is a recipe for pumpkin bars. It is loosely based off of a recipe for carrot bars which my mom makes, but I made this one up without calling for a full cup of oil.

Pumpkin Bars
In mixer, mix:
4 eggs
1 t. salt
1 3/4 C. sugar
3/4 C. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 C. oil
16 oz. solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 t. baking soda
2 1/2 C. flour
2 t. cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1/2 C. chopped nuts or craisins (optional)

Bake in greased jelly roll pan at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

If you wish, frost cooled bars with with cream cheese frosting made by mixing:
8 oz. lowfat cream cheese, softened
1 t. vanilla
1/4 C. butter
3 C. powdered sugar.

Happy Fall! Now I'm off to add a can of pumpkin to my grocery list.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Barely Keeping Up

There is much to write about, though I honestly have not had the time or motivation to sit down and work on it much. I do hope to get back to blogging soon, but I make no promises. This last month has been filled with lots of fun changes and events for our family and we are still adjusting.

In a nutshell, Sportster started his official academic education at home as well as in a homeschool supplement program (two 1/2 days per week) at the end of August. At home we are using this core curriculum and a random selection of other materials. My husband and I just decided on this option at the end of July and I had just missed the Colorado homeschoolers convention so I basically went with a curriculum that came highly recommended from a mentor friend, blogs and Facebook friends. It is going well so far, though there are the challenges of the charter school homeschool program being 30 minutes one-way from our home and keeping up with a happily destructive and active 2-year-old while we try to focus on schoolwork on our "home days". So we are certainly still working out a routine that works for our whole family, without the teacher/mom becoming exasperated and without children being neglected. We are very blessed that Sportster began reading on his own in April which makes my job so much easier now! Although his core curriculum is for Kindergarten, he is blowing through 2nd grade readers without a problem. I love to listen to this boy read and hear his speaking progress into more thoughtful and articulate conversation!

Our house came off the market in early September so we are in the process of moving things back in from the garage and rearranging our furnishings to best suit our family-focused lifestyle once again. Even though we had very few showings, this was a big weight on all of us throughout the summer so it is a relief to just get back to normal life around here. We've also had a delightful week-long visit with my mother-in-law. We were busy with normal weekly activities, but I think she enjoyed just being here with us and seeing how the kids have grown. It is fun to watch relationships continue to develop between our children and their grandparents. Fall activities are in full swing and include soccer, children's choir, a mid-week church children's program and a small group for us is still to come. It feels like we are entering a season of activity that may very well last for the next 17 years or so.

So, that's roughly what is going on around here, with all the everyday stuff of life, of course, happening, too. Which reminds me, laundry awaits.......

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cheap Eats: Beef & Bean Burritos

Another frugal make-ahead meal we like is beef and black bean burritos. I assemble these in bulk for make-your-own convenience food.

This batch was made using:
3.5-4 C. cooked ground beef, some already seasoned with taco seasoning
6 C. cooked black beans
1/4 C. roasted red pepper, finely chopped
1/4 C. red onion, finely chopped
1/2 can of chili beans
3 C. cheese, give or take
24 flour tortillas, burrito size

Mix everything but the cheese and tortillas, then put a large spoonful of the meat mixture and some cheese into each tortilla. Roll up and group in handy meal sizes for your family. For us, that is 6 burritos to a pack. I wrap each group in aluminum foil and then place the foil packet in a ziplock or reused tortilla bag and put them in the freezer. When you are ready to bake, remove foil packet from bag and place on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serve with salsa and sour cream, if desired. These will cost somewhere under $.50 per burrito to make if you cook your own beans and buy meat and cheese on sale. One burrito is generally an adult-sized portion, hearty, though not Chipotle-sized.

This recipe is very forgiving so I never seem to make it the same way twice. You could also use:
leftover rice
fresh or frozen red, yellow, orange or green pepper
other kinds of beans
the end of a jar of salsa or queso
shredded leftover steak or roast
white, yellow or green onions
diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
green chilis or Rotel
cooked potatoes, cut in small cubes

I also find these convenient to bring to a family in need as you can bring them a package and don't have to invest in disposable dishes and they can bake them when they need them, or even cook one at a time, depending on their need. This gives me more time to focus on the sides I would bring along to that family, too. Or, if we are having company, I just use more packets to serve a crowd.
These would be healthier if I used whole wheat tortillas, but the prepared ones I see at the market seem very expensive to me. When I've tried making them myself they turn out quite thick. Do you have any recipes or tips for making thin healthy, homemade tortillas?

Cheap Eats: Pizza To Go

One of the biggest challenges to cooking and eating frugally is the time it takes to prepare so much of your menu from scratch. We are in a tight season right now so our dining out budget has all but gone away, except for about one trip to Chick-Fil-A or something similar every couple weeks. This causes a need for me to cook every.single.night. To make that task easier I'm working at creating some shortcuts for that ongoing need to cook.

Last weekend I made up a big batch of this pizza crust. I quadrupled the recipe using my Bosch mixer and ended up with 8 fairly thick crusts. I also rolled them on cornmeal so I could roll the dough directly onto the baking pan. I also used whole wheat flour for part of the flour the recipe called for and asiago for part of the parmesan. I sized the dough circles so they would fit into my Tupperware cake taker (a Goodwill find) and could be frozen until we need them. I used waxed paper in between the crusts, but I'm not sure that was especially necessary. If you have rectangular freezer storge containers, maybe you'll want to make rectangular crusts. I was just using the storage option we had on hand. This is our all-time favorite homemade pizza crust, and believe me, I've tried several. I think it's the cheese and garlic that makes it so good. The total cost for 8 crusts was probably around $3, though much of that cost is the cheese. If you went for a cheese-less recipe I'm sure you could make them more cheaply. We will use 2 crusts for a meal and some leftovers, but that's still economical in my books. These are a breeze to take out of the freezer and top with whatever meats, vegetables, sauces and cheeses you have on hand which may also give new life to your leftovers.
What are your favorite time-saving make-ahead meals?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seizing the End of the Summer

We had a fun family outing last weekend, trying to squeeze in some fun before the summer comes to an end. We went to a city park with a sprayground which was very fun and refreshing, and as an added bonus also free (except the gas to drive there, of course). We'll definitely make this a regular outing next summer! Pictures are included for dear grandmas to our sweet kiddos.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stepping Into Fall

This summer has been full of activity, but not exactly tons of fun stuff. Our fully-staged house has been on the market since mid-May and we have had less than two handfuls of showings. Even without many showings, this has put a crimp in our family life as I have not wanted to go out of the house unless it was in great shape...just in case. We've discovered through this that although we do like a clean home, we really want to live here even more. Some furniture had been moved for a better presentation, but that has proved far less functional for our young family. We're ready to put things back in their family-friendly places, to move some belongings back in from the garage and just enjoy living here without pressure again. We will be taking our listing off the market within the next week and we're thinking of a family celebration to mark that event.

Aside from having our house on the market, we were concerned about my grandma and her health and then traveling to say goodbye and then traveling again to grieve and celebrate her life with all of the family. We continue to grieve this loss.

But, in between the stress and sadness we've experienced this summer, we've had some enjoyable times, too.

Sportster enjoyed being on his first team and looks forward to soccer this fall.

The kids enjoyed splashing in our backyard pool.

We enjoyed our July 4th weekend at home with a neighbor's party and fireworks and a outing to a very nice county park.

Surprisingly our littlest guy delighted in our hike the most.

My garden gave me LOTS of surpise pumpkin plants, which added lots of green to our backyard. And the kids are excited about the sunflowers, too! And we ended up with some free landscaping materials from a professional job next door which helped the cause, too. The tomatoes are coming along, too, so I am hoping the frost doesn't come too early as they still need much more time to ripen.

We endured a family camping trip with our church community. It will a great memory in the distant future, but the details are still a little too fresh to see it that way now, though we know it will certainly get easier as the kids grow up. In years to come we may actually be able to sit by the fire and fellowship or go hiking with those we went camping with.

We have been able to help with teaching Sister's Sunday School class and have so much more appreciation for those who serve in Children's Ministry!

We celebrated Smiley's birthday and transitioned him to a big bed, though the transition is still in process. He is enjoying the freedom a little too much.

And we have decided on a school option for Sportster which best suits him and our family for this year.

So, all in all, the summer was fine, but maybe not all we had hoped it would be. There are still many things on the Summer Fun 2008 sheet we made at the beginning of the summer which have not been even remotely attemped and with school starting tomorrow morning we will not get them done. But we're thinking it is going to be a great fall! Maybe I'll just make a new list....Fall Fun 2008!

We hope to get out and enjoy this beautiful place called Colorado even more!

P.S. - Most of these shots were taken by my husband and I think they turned out great! Also, this post is actually being published early on Monday, August 25th but I can't seem to change the date from the initial draft. If you know how to do this, please fill me in!