Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sometimes the wheels just come off

This is a favorite saying of mine because it has actually happened to us.

Imagine our little family of four, trucking down the road at night in our free 1984 Toyota Van.  Just van.  No fancy model name.  Van.  We called it the Ghost Car because our kids said it reminded them of Scooby Doo's car and they were too little to remember Mystery Machine.  Anyhoooo, we were having a lovely ride until smoke started POURING from the van.  It was so much smoke, when the hubs pulled over, I yanked both kids out of the car and ran away.  I thought it was on fire!  Silly, right?  Except that we had another van that caught on fire once so I wasn't taking chances.  Turns out the car wasn't on fire but there was something terribly wrong.  We called my step dad to give us a hand.  He decided to tow us, redneck style, to his house.  (Redneck style is where you attach a chain to the vehicle you are towing and basically drag it to your destination while someone sits in it and steers)  So I loaded the kids into his jeep and away we went.  There was some God awful noise a few miles down the road and while we were wondering what that could've been, a carload of teenage girls pulled up next to us and said, "HEY! The wheels fell of that car back there!"  Did we stop? Nope.  We dragged the Van the last mile, sparks a flyin.  Turns out the back axle fell off.  Amazingly enough, my hubs found a replacement axle and the Van was still in working order years later when we sold it to a collector of Toyota Vans.

No worse for the wear and a funny story.  I love it when life turns out that way.  Which brings me to today.  I am sick with what I can only describe as allergies from hell.  Except it's not really allergies but a stress related illness compliments of my wacky immune system.  And as I was malaise-ing on the couch, I was surfing Facebook.  I ran across a recipe for something called Potato Candy from Christy Jordan's Southern Plate.  (Just a side note here, I love Christy Jordan.  She is sweet and kind and knows how to cook those Southern recipes your MawMaw made without being fussy or expensive.)  This recipe was insanely simple and something my step dad would love.  He is the eater of all sweets and loves peanut butter.  But when I went into the kitchen, I realized peeling a potato and then cooking it was too much work.  I crack myself up.  I felt too lousy to do this step but ended up spending an hour making Buckeyes.  Do you know what Buckeyes are?  Peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate.  The recipe I did today is at the bottom of this post.

This is something I've done before and I have a really hard time making anything dipped in chocolate.  The chocolate seizes or I make huge globs instead of neat balls or what I'm dipping crumbles/melts/messes me up.  There is typically a huge mess and each time I do these things, I foreswear all dipping stuff in chocolate!  So I blame the sickness.  I was delirious and candy sounded so good and things started out really well.


so round and shiny

I love that knife, btw.

THEN the dipping commenced.  And it was going ok for a second.  I got about 12 balls done and the chocolate was cooling already.  The balls were not coming off the fork well.  GLOBS WERE FORMING.  And then...yep...the wheels came.

I needed to add more chocolate to melt and a piece shot out from under the knife into the floor.  I stabbed a hole into that plastic dish by mistake.  My spoon broke.  The chocolate was too warm and the peanut butter was making the coating slide off.  WHEELS. OFF.


blobs and exposed peanut butter. arg!

I seriously contemplated throwing it all in the garbage and pouting.  But I remembered one time when I used leftover almond bark to make bark.  Imagine that.  So I poured the chunky melted chocolate into a small square dish (it is actually the tray to my food scale) and put the remaining peanut butter balls into it.  I melted the last of the almond bark and poured it over to seal everything in.

This might be genius!

I think I just invented the best homemade candy bar to ever exist!  I put the tray in the fridge, slammed it out on the counter, and cut into bite size pieces (use a really sharp knife and don't saw through it).  The "filling" is smooth and packed with peanut butter.  The outside is shiny and just the right amount of chocolate.  Think Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which as it turns out is my step dad's favorite candy.  

See?  No worse for the wear and a funny story.  Love it!


Here's my little recipe for what I made today:

1 c. creamy peanut butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. corn syrup
1 lb. milk chocolate almond bark

Combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, corn syrup until a very stiff dough forms.  Shape dough into teaspoon size balls (or bigger, depends on how many you want to make).  Chop almond bark and place in a shallow microwave safe dish.  Cook at 30 second intervals, stirring after each, until melted and smooth.  Dip balls into almond bark and place on wax or foil lined cookie sheet.  Store in airtight container once set up.  I prefer not to refrigerate because they will sweat.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The best walk you'll ever take is walking down the aisle

I heard these lyrics in a country song by Jana Kramer.  It struck a deep chord in me.  THAT is the best walk I ever took.  Though the first two years of our marriage was racked with grief and fear and questioning our very faith, we made it through.  Every year since has brought it's own troubles and doubts, arguments and hurt feelings but I look back on that blazing hot day in July and I am glad.

The other day, sweet girl asked us how daddy proposed to me.  He and I just looked at each other and died laughing.  He DIDN'T propose to me.  We were leaving my mom's house one day and I was looking out the window.  I remember how bright and clear it was that day.  While I don't remember what we were discussing, I do remember saying, "I think we should get married."  And he said, "I do too."  And that was it!  It was a little bit crazy since we had known each other oh...about a month.  But we were in the throes of, what I call a case of, love at SECOND sight.  The first time we met, he hardly paid me any attention.  But a few days later, I arrived at a mutual friend's house for a bible study and when we saw each other, lightning struck.  We were each other's answer to prayers said from desperate hearts, longing for a Godly mate.

Our families were delighted over the news and plans for an October wedding began.  The soon-to-be hubs and I were a little too excited in celebrating and I discovered I was pregnant.  I was beside myself.  He was over the moon.  I remember calling my best friend in the middle of the night and telling her this terrible news.  She said, "Amanda!  You are 25.  You are not some teenager working at McDonald's.  You HAVE a great job.  You HAVE a man you love, who is excited."  Her GET IT TOGETHER speech worked and though I had more doubts over the next several days,  I GOT IT TOGETHER.  We scratched the fall wedding and opted for July.  I wanted to look "not pregnant" in my wedding dress.

Every thing went so very well in planning the wedding and in my pregnancy.  My morning sickness was subsiding, I found THE dress, we had the chapel...then I got cold feet.  There was some minor argument with my betrothed about money or a bill or whatever and I ran to my mama, crying.  I told her, "This guy is not responsible!  This guy is not who I want to be with!"  I went on and on.  She looked at me and said words that felt like a bucket of cold water being dumped on my head.

"Then don't marry him."

It was that simple she explained.  If I didn't want to marry him then I didn't need to feel obligated to go through with it.  She said she would support me no matter what I decided.  But God spoke to my heart.  It was like everything was out of place because we had chosen to follow our fleshly desires and I knew if we would make it right before the Lord, everything would be ok.  So on that sweltering Sunday, I walked down the aisle with my fears and doubts nagging me but determined to make this covenant.  I actually do not remember taking our vows.  I only remember the transforming wholeness I felt when we were pronounced man and wife.  I was a Mrs. and I was a changed person and I had no idea what we were about to face.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Budget? Yeah....

Honest truth?  I'm lazy, bad at math, and a bit of a compulsive buyer.  Not saying that I shop daily or buy $70 boots I don't need.  I do, however, let the kids get a toy they don't need when it's only a dollar or two.  Or I might buy something I see on clearance because I really wanted it or will use it in the future.  But THAT....THAT right there is why I need some dadgum self discipline!  I can justify about anything.  Spending a dollar now on something I will use in the future is foolish.  Really it is.  And I'm not talking big ticket items like birthday presents or every day necessities like bread or toilet paper.  These are things like seasonal paper products, fuzzy socks, or My Little Pony themed goody bags.  (Sweet girl has already asked for a MLP birthday party for her May birthday and the bargain hunter in me has been fighting with the wise spender I'm trying to be!)

We've been Christmas shopping and visiting family and I've had lots of excuses to grab some fast food and convenience items.  And the money has been flowing straight out of our account four or five dollars at a time.  That adds up SO fast.  

And then there are things like this...Publix is having a deal this weekend only where you get a $50 gas card (any gas station they carry cards for) for $40 when you buy $50 worth of groceries.  I made our list based on what was on sale and BOGO at Publix and away we went.  I overspent by $40 of what I budgeted.  See?  This is what I mean!  I managed to save $20 off our gas budget, get a free rotisserie chicken, groceries for almost 2 weeks, laundry supplies and I still manage to sail through my limit.  

So I am putting the brakes on.  LIKE NOW.

I wrote down every bill we have for the next month.  And I paid the ones I could today.  Off my plate equals less stress.

I added in a few extra expenses I think may come up such as a follow up doctor's appointment I am expecting.

I did NOT add fast food or entertainment into our budget this month.  I may add it in next month but honestly, we are paying for cable now and live so far from everything the gas would add up if we made lots of extra trips for movies and the like.  I will have to factor in some field trips for schooling soon so maybe those will just be adventure days with some entertainment or McDonald's added.

Looking at everything on paper, we are in the black!  I feel reassured about that but instead of seeing any of that as "extra" money, we will finish buying a few gifts and spend the rest on savings.  If I tell my brain that savings is a bill along with everything else, then I won't be tempted to spend it.  

I am going to further my limits by using a Bluebird card from American Express.  I am waiting on it to arrive so I have not set up my account yet.  I researched it though and I was really impressed by what they offer.  It is a free/no fee debit card.  You can set spending limits on categories like groceries, entertainment, etc.  You can also transfer money into a savings type account.  Again, no fee.  It's really like a Christmas Club that traditional banks offer but there is no penalty for moving the money out.  The last reason I will be using the Bluebird account is because from now until Feb. 28, 2015, Bluebird will double any money you get back from using the Walmart Savings Catcher!  I've already gotten about $7 saved.  Now, of course, you can only use this "money" at Walmart but that's ok.  It's one of the closest grocery stores to me.

How do you budget?  Especially this time of year when everyone is gift buying, travelling, eating away from home so much?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who turns down free money...er, soap?

I have waffled back and forth and back again about shopping online and subscribing to deal websites. It just seems to get out of hand so quickly.  Especially around the holidays.  Did I mention I have willpower issues?  Click, click, buy is so EASY and before you know it, I've gotten things I can use but don't necessarily need.  See, I always justify whatever I get.  You know...I've always wanted one of those...I'm saving it for a present...blah blah blah.  Y'all.  I bought $10 worth of hair from Korea because I watched a YouTube video about hair extensions.  I legitimately planned on using them but do you know what the QUALITY of $10 worth of hair is?  It ain't great.  I would have had more fun setting $10 on fire than I did trying to untangle that mess and clip it onto my hair.  Cheese and crackers.  So I just stopped for a long time.  All of those emails went straight into the trash bin and I only saved a few. (Let me preface this whole post by saying I have not included any referral links.  I love getting credits or coupons but I just don't feel right putting it here.)

And, ahem, I have not forsaken any of my thrifty ways for buying a bunch of new junk.  Most of my online purchases are for things I wouldn't (or can't) buy second hand.  Shoes. Services. Consumables.  Hair and Hello Kitty stuff.  Just kidding.  I just bought sweet girl a Hello Kitty clock (brand new) at a consignment shop for 5 bucks.  And I will never buy anymore hair.

Groupon.  Living Social. I saved these. I rarely buy things but when I do, it's something like movie tickets or a $10 Starbucks card for $5.  That's my fave!  And I may or may not buy one on my account and my husband's account too.  Save one for us and give one away as a present.  They also will offer deals on local organic markets where I live.  Getting $40 worth of groceries for $20 is a deal I'd be crazy to pass up.  That deal comes around 2 or 3 times a year so that's nice.  I'm sure you have all heard of these sites and use them already.  Just be careful!  Read the fine print, pay attention to expiration dates, be thorough.  And go to the sites of businesses you may not be familiar with to see how much you are really saving.  If you were going to buy your mom a massage for her birthday and find a deal, see how much their regular packages are.  Sometimes I've found I could get a lower tier treatment for less than the Groupon.

Family Friendly Frugality (www.familyfriendlyfrugality.com) This is a blog/couponing site.  I also follow them on Facebook.  The main reason I saved it is because they have the drop on sales.  This time of year, I'm trying to keep up with what they are posting.  There were several Cabella shoes on sale for less than $10, shipped, this week.  I was slow on the draw and missed them BUT had I been paying attention, I could have some cheap comfy shoes headed my way.  They also find ways to stack deals with coupons, in store and online.

Speaking of coupons, PLEASE do a google search of coupon or promo codes for what ever store you plan on buying from online.  Retail Me Not almost always has a % off code for pretty much every store I ever shop at.

Ok.  So the soap.  I held on to some email subscriptions for stores I had no reason to.  Like The Honest Company.  I have no babies (have you seen those diapers?  ADORABLE!) .  I really like their packaging and a lot of the ingredients in their cleaning/body products but I couldn't justify spending the money plus shipping.  Tonight I got an email from them stating I had a $20 credit on my account.  There was no minimum or other qualifying purchase so I went over to the site to browse.  It's winter so I need body oil.  I'm also almost out of shampoo and body wash...Hmmm.  I started adding things to the cart and had about $22 worth of stuff.  Then I see the shipping will be $8.95 no matter what so I google promo codes.  I find one that will give me $10 off a $25 purchase.  Glory be to the websites that let you stack promo codes.  That will just about guarantee my repeat business.  So I add more things and have $26 worth but my credit is $30 off now.  ADD MORE THINGS!  I swear I edited my cart about 55 times trying to get exactly $30 worth of stuff but everything is priced at dollars and 95 cents.  I'm sure some math/Jenga genius could have hit it on the head but I ended up with $29.80.  Woot!  I paid the $8.95 for shipping and got 5 things I was planning on purchasing this weekend.  I'm excited to see how the products stand up to other natural/organic brands I've tried.  Have you tried them?  Thoughts?

Another side note, about once or twice a month I will hit up some free sample sites. I did unsubscribe from the emails though.  They were overwhelming.  The only caveat to freebie sites is the scams.  If you have to pay for anything, don't.  If you have to fill out 97 questionnaires or sign up for other "offers", don't.  A good site will just have links to the manufacturer of whatever product you want a sample of.  There are a few monthly sample "subscriptions" that are reputable.  I signed up for one called PINCHme.  I'm not sure why they chose that name.  You do have to work a little by filling out a profile and doing follow up questions after you've used your samples but I got a free box of Weight Watchers ice cream bars, a full size nail polish, and more.  The samples make great stocking stuffers or filler for birthday gifts.  I also stock my first aid kit, car, and travel makeup kit with the samples of OTC meds, bandages, hand sanitizer, etc. So it satisfies my shopping AND my frugal needs!

It is hard to resist all the gift with purchase, BOGO, holiday special clearance type emails this time of year.  But I will be strong!  Bottom line? The only way I'm hitting that COMPLETE PURCHASE button is if  1) There is no possible way I can buy this anywhere else; 2) I'm saving much more than I'm spending; and 3) I was going to purchase the item within the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


My most favorite time of the year has arrived once again!!!!  I love Christmas so much!  And yes, a lot of it has to do with the magic of Santa.  More on that in a sec.  But UNTO US A SAVIOR IS BORN! I have childlike glee over the thought of that tiny baby being born to scared, first time parents.  This time has grown even more special to me over the last decade as I finally understand, for myself, what awe and terror the first child brings.  Did Mary worry what kind of a mother she would be?  Probably.  Did Joseph regret scolding young Jesus (debate away on whether a sinless man was a rowdy child...my vote is kids are kids)?  I'm sure he did.  But on that first night, they were made a family and tears of joy were shed by all of mankind.  Whewwwww!  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.  So how do we celebrate according to Burkeology?

In the cheapest way possible. Ha!  

Seriously, we have never been loaded with cash in December.  I don't care how fat our hog was earlier in the year, it's always slim pickins at Christmas.  So we have tempered our children's expectations with reality but never shorted them on the mystery and magic of the holidays.  We have celebrated Advent for a number of years now and I wonder why I didn't do this my whole life.  Did y'all know that December 1st to January 6th is one long Christmas celebration?  Yep!  Hooray!  December 1st through the 24th is Advent (the coming of Christ) and the 25th is the culmination.  We do an advent calendar now but in years past we did a Jesse tree.  This was a particularly fun way to get the kids involved in learning the Christmas story.  There are tons of sites to find scripture and the ornaments that go with them.  Ann Voskamp wrote a book titled The Greatest Gift which explains the Jesse Tree and here you can download the printable ornaments for free.  We handmade a lot of the ornaments we had and loved them until they tore, crumbled, or broke beyond repair.  

What about Santa?  Well, we are full on Santa lovers here. We taught our children about St. Nicholas.  Here is one version of his story.  A story of selfless giving by a faithful man?  Definitely want my kids to know about him.  The Polar Express came out when the kids were little and that was a huge hit with my son.  Hello? Trains. Enough said.  We would let the kids have their Santa gifts on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) for a little while but it was hard to explain to their school friends why Santa came to their house before he did everyone else's.  So back to December 25th it went.  Now that we are homeschooling, I think we will return to St. Nick's Day and leave the 25th for seeing family and praising the Lord.  Our kids always get ONE BIG THING from Santa and a few odds and ends from us. A stocking full of do dads.  Even Santa presents are probably second hand at my house though. Last year, I got my daughter a well loved wooden dollhouse from a church bizarre for $5 and my sweet brother in law and sister painted it and repaired it. They helped me get the cutest dog family to live in it. And even mounted the house on a board with a lawn. A friend, who I am forever indebted to, sold me vintage doll furniture (NEW IN THE BOXES) for a song. When it arrived, I was in tears. It was an entire house of furniture with teeny silverware, rugs, the whole kit and caboodle. See? The magic of Christmas and Santa ARE real!
there is even sheet music with the wee piano!!!
how stinkin cute is this doll house?

 It was just too cute not to share again.

We have parties at my mom's, my dad's, and my sister's house most years.  That is a lot of family and presents to try to get.  One year, I was able to do some major thrifting in a resort town and I got things like a Prada wallet, swimsuit cover ups new with tags, souvenir T-shirts new with tags, well made purses, and more for practically nothing.  This year I am going back to my roots and making everyone homemade goodies in reusable containers, of course.  I found a killer recipe for "Swiss Miss" (I omit the cayenne but hey, spice it up!) and since Jet-Puffed makes marshmallow bits now, it's the realest deal you can get homemade!  And cheap.  I also saw this pin with cute dips mixes and you just add them to a tub of sour cream.  I may throw in some spicy pretzels and Christmas crack.  Trisha Yearwood needs a nomination for sainthood, sharing that recipe.  I don't even like toffee and I consider it crack!

Then on December 26th we start the 12 days of Christmas.  I take this time to binge on leftovers and wish for warmer weather and no ornaments to put away.  That's what February is for, right?

My birthday is New Year's Eve and it is cursed so we won't discuss it.  Except to say that one year my husband was out of state and forgot to call me, another year I got food poisoning and had to get my daddy to drive me to an urgent care clinic at the crack of dawn New Year's Day.  You get the picture now?  I will say that my family always makes it a blast.  We weather any storm together.

And just when you think you could not stand another round of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, it's EPIPHANY!!!!  Three Kings Day is another name for it.  Lots of other cultures really play this day up.  For the last several years, we made a valiant effort to celebrate this day with our dear friends The Guidos.  Funny story...their last name is actually Gonzalez but the husband, Guido, was our priest when we first met them and we all called him Father Guido.  My wee kiddies assumed that was his last name or that the people belonging to him were Guido's...I'm not sure exactly but they always called them The Guidos and it stuck.  Sadly, they moved away last year and we are working on a new tradition.  While I don't know that we will read Twelfth Night, there is a cake.  So I'm in!

One thing I have not mentioned is how we give to charity during this time.  On and off for the last 13 years, I worked for a Christian group home.  I helped make sure those kids had the best Christmas we could, to the tune of 50 kids at times.  And now that the group home has closed, we are looking for new ways to give during this season.  It will be something we decide on the 1st day of Advent and I can't wait to share it with everyone.

Ok, so now that all my family knows what to expect for Christmas (I never could keep a present secret) and I've explained how I manage to get 37 days of celebration (give or take) out of Christmas, let me share my final favorite tradition.  WINTER WONDERLAND.  Actually, it may be called Christmas Wonderland.  I don't recall even though we've gone every year for the last 7 years.  There is a dirt road in the backwoods of Chilton County, Alabama and on that road is the holy grail of Christmas lights.  An entire street filled with lights, animatronics, music, THE WORKS.  They even have Santa there.  I have no idea why these people do it and we always put what we can afford into their "light bill" donation box but my Christmas would not be complete without a drive through it.  I am seriously getting misty thinking about it.  Pure, unadulterated celebration of our Lord and it is lit up for everyone to see.  It is the star that I follow every year to remember why I love Christmas!  So corny but the childlike love I have in my heart wouldn't have it any other way.

I cannot even do it justice in these panorama shots.

16 days!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tiny spaces.

Moving to a smaller space means getting veeeerrrryyyy crafty with what little storage you have and finding ways to maximize each space.  I am really not much of a decorator.  I love to wander Home Goods and World Market and dream of highly stylized living rooms and such.  Honestly though, my budget and patience can afford all the trinkets.  So I just make do with what I have, what I can find at the Dollar Tree or thrift stores, and paint.

We needed a place to put EVERY SINGLE school supply.  Pens, paper, workbook, ya know.  We already had a white bookcase and the new house had a 3 shelf peninsula in the living room. So to divide the kitchen from the living room a bit, we stacked the white bookcase on top and anchored it to the wall.  While, it isn't a seamless architectural detail, it is very functional and organized.  I  covered the back of the bookcase with some dollar store contact paper.  It was a very ugly brown in the back and now you see the pretty graphic floral when you walk in the front door.

The kitchen has a sparse amount of cabinets and they are all small.  It only has 3 drawers.  So storing dishes AND food was out of the question.  I bought this amoire a few years ago for about $10.  It is a 1920s art deco style.  I loved it but the veneer design was missing several pieces.  I painted it a soft green color and decoupaged coordinating scrapbook paper into the panels.  It served as a pantry in another small house and then as a true clothes amoire for my daughter.  Now it is back to being a food pantry.  The green color and scrapbook paper doesn't really go with my color scheme now so I redid the inner panels with the same dollar store contact paper I used on the school bookcase.  I plan to pain the armoire white and faux bois it with a dark gray or black.  It will be very graphic and I can't wait to buy the paint!

The armoire has to back up to the kitchen bar in order to fit and be useful.  I was going to cover the back of the armoire or paint it but I have not decided yet.  In the meantime, I hung my badly beaten Tupperware rolling mat there.  It wouldn't fit into a drawer so decoration it becomes!  The tins all hold dry goods.  Cracker tin holds flour, cookie tin holds sugar, so on.  All of the items are used on a regular basis so it just made sense to incorporate them into the decor.  The little matryoshka dolls are my measuring cups!  

 Did I mention this house is tiny?  Our "master" bathroom is en suite but is about 5 feet by 5 feet, not including the shower enclosure.  The vanity has a wee bit of storage but I used it to house first aid supplies and stuff we don't use often.  We were able to put a free standing over the toilet shelf in.  It's pretty and white and let's me hide away my hairbrush and the like.  It is much too small for extra toilet paper or even towels so my mom brought over a magazine holder.  She had it painted in a fabulous red color and if it was for the living room, I would have left it as is.  But I want everything in my bathroom to be white and light so I painted it an antique white color.

I have to thank Pinterest for my next genius idea.  I had intended to get a vinyl shoe organizer and hang this stuff INSIDE the shower.  Honestly, after going to 5 stores, I gave up.  I bought this cheaply made cloth one and hung it outside the shower curtain.  I have to reach out for things but it holds all my shampoo, conditioner, razors, etc.  It is definitely maximum storage without taking up any space!

Last but not least is this little shelf.  It is in my tiny bathroom above the sink.  Made just for my Young Living diffuser, if you ask me.  I can put a favorite wake up combo like Peppermint and Lemon in it and it will fill the whole house in no time.  Oh, yes, that's right.  I forgot to say OUR BATHROOM HAS NO DOOR ON IT!  Thankfully our bedroom does but yeah...no door on the facilities.  I have a heavy curtain hung there for some privacy but let's just say having the diffuser in the bathroom keeps...well...unpleasantness down.  Ha!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Good and Cheap

That is the name of my new favorite cookbook.  And author, Leanne Brown, conquers something very near to my heart.  Affordable food that tastes great.  Ms. Brown started this cookbook as a project while getting her master's degree in food studies. She took a budget of $4 a day and made some of the best dishes I've seen in a long while.

Why $4 a day?  Because there are 47 million Americans on food stamps and the average monthly stipend for food is $126.  Could you feed yourself for an entire month on $126 plus a little supplemental cash?  Most couldn't without resorting to eating Top Ramen or boxed mac n cheese for most meals.  That results in too much sodium, too many unhealthy carbs, and not much in the way of vitamins, minerals, or fiber.  

There was a time in our lives when food stamps was all the currency we had.  My husband lost his job while I was staying home with a 18 month old and a 4 month old.  We were devastated.  It took us a very long time to recover from those months of no income.  We had to move several times over the following 2 years.  And though the hubs found a full time job and a part time job, we stayed on food stamps during most of that time.  As his income increased, our stipend decreased.  Then he got a $20/month raise and we lost our food stamps completely, nearly $200 a month.  I was scrambling to replace what amounted to about 2 weeks worth of groceries with $20!  How I wish Ms. Brown had written her cookbook then!!

So, with the complete understanding of what it means to have little money for food, I have always searched for low cost food that will taste great.  People like Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray have been invaluable for the best recipes but not always the cheapest ingredients.  Things like prosciutto or even bacon, at times, ain't cheap.  And while I can make some really tasty ciabatta bread for pennies thanks to Martha, a meal it does not make.  Ms. Brown took what the government did an ok job with and made it appetizing and appealing.  Pictures so wonderful, you can practically smell the spices and warm stew cooking.  Upscale recipes that appeal to the foodie in me.  Meatless recipes to stretch the budget and boost my overall health.  To me, this book is the perfect marriage of practicality and indulgence.

I know food stamps is a hot button issue but my convictions are firmly grounded in my own experiences.  Every single person-man, woman, child-should have access to affordable food.  Fresh produce and milk should not be a premium item (that is often traded for gallons of $1 fruit drink instead).  Because here is what is worse, there are millions of Americans considered the "working poor".  Sure, some of those people qualify for food stamps but often times, they do not.  Then what?  Like our family, a very slight increase in wage disqualified us completely and caused major financial havoc.  So regardless of your own opinion about food stamps, we should all be able to agree that a trip to the grocery store should not bankrupt you nor should you have to sacrifice staple, nutritious items that are simply too expensive.

 Could you make it on $4 a day per person in your family?  It definitely takes planning and strategy but it is doable.  So, armed with this amazing cookbook and your wits, I challenge YOU to take the Food Stamp Challenge.  Do it!  For a week, a month, forever.  Whatever time you can take to shop like millions of others are doing daily, it will be eye opening.  And hopefully, delicious!

Monday, November 10, 2014

I have no idea where my kids are.

Well, I have some idea where they are but I don't have my eyes on them at the moment.  This is a motherly sigh of relief you can only feel out in the country on acres and acres of land.  I am so thankful to have it once again.

You see, I have always thought of myself as sort of a modern day Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Anyone who knows me, knows this.  And while I do not yearn for the Western prairies the way she did, I do yearn for a simpler life filled with wide open spaces.  Both in my heart and on my homestead.  I tried being the wanderer she was and when I was single, it was fun.  When I was married with two tiny babies, I couldn't hack it.  I only wanted to be near my family and the rolling foothills of Dixie.  I'm ok with being in one place.  I resigned to it much the same way I'm sure Laura resigned to living in Missouri.

Anyway, for years, I was a stay at home mom and mended, tended, cooked, baked, crafted all the things we needed to have a cozy life.  We lived in one old, small house or another.  Charming with character would be the realtor words but cramped, dated, not from this century would be the words most everyone else would use.  Then I began working full time again and frankly, the tiny house with two kids, who seemed to grow exponentially overnight, was just too much for me.  I hated it.  I didn't have time to clean or organize.  Nor craft or bake.  I just wanted a normal house with central heat and AC. Oh, and a dishwasher.  And a regular working washer and dryer.  So we moved into "the city" to a townhome that had all the luxuries I had missed for some years.

It took a while but I started to feel something was missing.  I couldn't remember the last time I had used my creative side.  I was even giving my kids store bought birthday cakes!  This is actually something that most people do on the regular and it made my life so easy but in the years before I had always made, from scratch, whatever elaborate concoctions they wanted. It was a thing of joy and I didn't even care about it anymore.  I had gotten so far away from who I had always wanted to be.  And, lo and behold, the Lord stepped in.  Funny how He does that, right?

The job I had been so dedicated to ended rather suddenly.  I had made a huge commitment to them and God made it so I did not have to leave, the job ended because the organization closed.  I suddenly had the time I had been needing. Then, an auto immune disorder decided to make itself known in a big way.  So now this modern, huge, 2 story house was too much for me.  And as it would turn out, our lease was ending.  The hubs had a friend with a small house on some land and the price was too good to pass up.  We decided to homeschool the kids, move to this one level house in the middle of nowhere, and get back to how we love to live.  Simply.

The change we have seen in ourselves and our kids over the last few weeks has been amazing.  The kids and I are able to get so much done each day.  I have been able to craft and organize everything into a lovely home again.  One where each thing has a place and a purpose.  We are much more relaxed.  And most of all, my kids are joyful again.  Being well rested, not overloaded with homework, not working 8 hours a day at school, having unfettered outside time (where I'm not freaking out about traffic or crazy neighbors) has made them kids again...it is a blessing to me.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tomato Time

I recently watched a video going around Facebook called The Pomodoro Technique.  It was a little bit of a revolution.  I say little bit because I had a manager named Ann who told me about a similar technique used at the high school she went to.  I finally realized where this would useful in my life.

Pomodoro means tomato in Italian.  I have looked for a reason why the developer of this technique chose this name but I can't find one.  If you know, please share!  Ann the manager called the 20 minute chunks of time modules or mods.  I have not come up with a kitchy name for our version of this so, for now, we'll call them blocks.  Good enough?  Ok.

I had to come up with a daily schedule for our family of laze about procrastinators.  Honestly, we would sludge around in our PJs all day, watch TV, and eat chips if left to our own devices.  Plus we had to get cable TV in order to get Internet during our recent move.  This is the first time we have had cable since before our children were born.  This is a blessing and a curse.  Blessing because TV! And we can record shows.  And can I say that being able to pause what I want to watch, deal with XYZ kid problem or cook dinner, then come back to what I was doing has cut down on mommy meltdowns a good bit.  Curse because TV!  There is so much fun stuff to while away the time watching.  I mean, educational stuff to watch.  Yeahhhh.  So back to our schedule...

We are trying to model our homeschooling after Charlotte Mason's philosophies so the first half of the days are spent schooling.  Then lunch and outdoor time.  This will sometimes be educational/experimental but most of the time it will be exploration and good, old fashioned playing.  Then the kids have downtime in their rooms.  This gives me a chance to have time to myself and the kids can relax after all the brain growing and muscle building of the morning.  Then the kids have free time for the computer, video games, or TV.  I get to finish projects and start dinner, they get to watch all the cartoons their little eyes can bear.  Then when Daddy gets home, we eat, and have family time.  We might play games, watch a movie, whatever, it just has to be together.  Then we clean up as a family.  This way no one person feels like they are doing the bulk of the work and I get to leave the dishes, trash, etc. until this one time.  I don't feel like I am constantly cleaning the entire day.  Then baths, PJs, and the kids go play in their rooms again.  The hubs and I get time together and can watch grown up shows without fussing at the kids.  We have a bedtime snack like popcorn and hot chocolate, brush teeth, then winding down.  Kids go to bed and I usually stay up a little longer.  If the hubs feels like it he will go talk on his ham radio but most nights he goes to bed.

It's a very detailed but relaxed schedule that is really working well for us.  I have told the kids we won't stray from it but if we are sidetracked by appointments or errands, we just jump on schedule when we return home.   I don't even stress if we miss out on a school subject.  I know we can catch up and the kids don't feel pressured about missed work.  No stress for kids or mom?  Yes!

Ok, so where does the tomato come into play?  Well, if you watched the linked video, you'll see that tasks are broken down into intervals with rest in between.  What we have done is assigned 20 minutes to each school subject.  No breaks in between though.  This lets me maximize the attention kids at their age are willing and able to give.  Plus, I work better if I can just flow from one thing to the next and not break.  Another way this works well for us is setting the timer for 10 minute turns at games or apps we are using for a certain subject.  No more fighting over who's turn it is or how long someone has been "having fun" while the other is doing a worksheet or reading.

What techniques do you use to manage school time?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kids are in Charge: Aldi Edition

I decided to have some real world learning today and let the kids shop for their own food. By this, I mean snacks and goodies. I gave them a $15 budget that had to include tax. The only caveat was for every junk food item they got, they had to also buy a healthy, nutritious snack they would actually eat.

I thought this would be a lesson in Mother Knows Best or See How Far A Dollar Really Goes? NOT FAR. I was pleasantly surprised by the results!

Sweet Girl tends to be a healthy snacker. She chooses apples or pretzels over snack cakes or candy 9 times out of 10. And she picked much of the same today. What surprised me with her was how diligent she was in adding her total as we walked through the store. She was very frugal and initially came in around $5. However, after I firmly said no to a baby blanket (at Aldi? Yes.) that was on sale, she bought a few more snacks. Final total $8.21. I give her points for her negotiating skills and seeing a way to balance what she "needed" (food) with what she "wanted" (blanket). Being able to sacrifice and stay flexible is a valuable trait.

Sweet Boy is my junk eater. He would eat cake, brownies, soda, and meat 24/7. He hates fresh produce so I knew this would be a challenge. His negotiating is much more manipulative that his sister's but he is practical. His plan was to get 5 boxes of some NutriGrain bars as his healthy snack and get 5 candy items. I wouldn't let him get the bars though. Hello sugar! So we talked about true nutrition and how fruit filled does not equal fruit. I did commend him on his plan. There were 8 bars a box so they would have lasted a while. He spent much more than his sister but he was very thoughtful after our conversation. His total was $12.56.

I loved giving almost free reign over how to spend their money. We left the store with much less junk food than expected. It was a solid reminder that if we don't have junk in the house, no one really misses it. Even if they have the freedom to get it themselves!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Songbird for Wilder

I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, absentmindedly listening to the some nightly news program, when the voice of an angel pierced right through my heart.  Her voice was so clear and strained with emotion that I walked, without thinking, to the TV.  I sat on the floor as close as I could get to our giant 70's console set.  I wanted nothing to break the spell I was under.  I listened intently to the newscaster talk about a lovely, lit from within, woman named Eva Cassidy.  They played pieces of several songs and I was captivated with every note.  Since I was not paying attention to the beginning of the story, I was brought to tears when I realized she had passed away some years earlier after a battle with cancer.  This beauty taken too soon hit a particular nerve with me as I was carrying our first child, a son we named Wilder, who would likely never breathe a breath on this earth.  He had been diagnosed with a genetic disorder and his chances of life outside of my womb were slim at best. So I sat in the floor, bathed in the light of the giant TV, and cried tears for trascendent beauty and terrible grief.

I went out the next day and found THE album.  The one with a picture of Eva Cassidy backlit by sunshine.  It perfectly embodied the angelic sound of her voice.  I took it home and listened.  Track number 5 was the one I had been meant to hear.   Wilder kicked in response to the music and it was his song.

The words were written for us.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

If we forget our history, we are doomed to repeat it, right? Welcome to Vulcan 2.0

Everyone has met Flat Stanley, I assume.  He's a boy that got flattened and then goes on super adventures via the mail.  A friend of ours was just introduced to Flat Stanley and mailed us his ninja Stanley.  Yay!  Adventures in our great city!

First of all, we had to write an apology to said friend because that ninja is so stealthy, we cannot find him anywhere in our mess house.  So Sweet Girl crafted a new Stanley with a hoodie for the fall weather.  Crisis? Averted.

Now on to where the adventures would take place.  Let me give a little back story and exposition here.  Vulcan is a 50 ton cast iron statue that looks over the city of Birmingham, AL.  We have BEEN to Vulcan once before and it was replete with crying and gnashing of teeth.  (Crying and gnashing of teeth is our theme song around here so be prepared to hear it often.)  This mama has insane vertigo.  I have actually looked over the 2nd floor railing of the mall and gotten dizzy/terrified/nauseated.  My Sweet Boy is afraid of heights.  He is built like a tank but melts into tears at the THOUGHT of any height.  Elevator ride? Tears.  Standing on a step ladder? Crying.  You get the idea.  Sweet Girl is more on the fearless side but she sways with the crowd.

So whatever possessed us to go to Vulcan the FIRST time is beyond me.  It was nighttime.  Strike 1.  It was so windy. Strike 2. And did you know the walkway around Vulcan is open grate?  WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT?  STRIKE 3.  So we look around the park and had a pleasant time  We have a major meltdown about the elevator though.  My dear husband walks up the many flights of stairs with the kids while I ride the glass elevator alone.  The doors to the elevator open, I step out, and I'm stuck! I could not cross the open grate walkway from the elevator to the actual statue.  I promise, I tried but that metal walkway was made of flimsy Jello as far as my mind was concerned and the wind was making the whole statue gently lean from one side to the other.  Or, at least, that is what my vertigo was telling me.  My husband tried to coax me over and it wasn't happenin'.  So he starts to walk the kids around the statue.  There were several people up there.  One woman decided a skirt was a wise fashion choice and it flew up over her head.  My kids were shocked and did not notice (for a moment) that they were essentially suspended in the air, high above the ground.  THEN THEY NOTICED.  Let's just say leaving that place was in no way bittersweet.

Fast forward a few years and here we are with Flat Stanley in need of some fun.  Wednesday morning, I call Sweet Boy into my room to discuss a plan:

Me:  Where should we take Stanley?
Sweet Boy (SB):  VULCAN!!!!!
Me:  Uh...really?
SB:  Yep!
Me:  You remember what happened last time right?
SB:  What?
Me:  The crying and well, it just wasn't very fun.  Do you think you could handle it now?
SB:  Yes, I'm not afraid.
Me:  Even of the open grate walkway that is so high up in the air that it makes you dizzy?  (See, I'm trying to scare him because I don't know if I CAN HANDLE IT.)
SB:  Yep!

So we go and it starts out so fun!

This time we went in the museum and it was a nice little set up.  However, my 11 year old son could not keep his hands off of anything.  I promise I have taught my children how to behave in public.  They just pretend I haven't.  The museum walks you through how iron is made, the life of people in the mines, Birmingham history as it relates to Vulcan and the iron industry.  It was visual enough and short enough to keep the kids' attention the whole time.

Then we walk over to the statue.  We give the seemingly nice lady our tickets and she proceeded to murder our plans for a happy ascent.  I was going to let Sweet Boy walk up the stairs alone.  This lady wasn't havin' it.  When I finally convinced her that he was old enough to go up the stairs alone, Sweet Girl wanted to go too.  Sweet Girl is tiny for her age and the lady did not believe she was 10.  Whatever lady.  I told Sweet Boy we were going to have to ride the elevator.  He welled up immediately.  I told ticket lady to excuse us while we had a talk. Once I convinced him to ride, we went up and I forced...FORCED...myself to smile and walk across that death defying grate.  I made it to the wall of the statue and the world started melting.  I managed to hang on to the side of the building and grab this picture.

Do you know how hard it is to focus a camera phone from the top of the planet with one hand?  It's hard.  I asked the kids if they wanted to go around to the city view and they said yes.  So we slinked around the walkway with our backs to the wall as if we were perched on the tiniest ledge of the highest building.  I made it about 3 steps and told the kids we were leaving.  We practically ran down the stairs.  

As we walked out of the building, I looked lovingly at my children and said, "WE ARE NEVER COMING HERE AGAIN!"  

Our adventure with Flat Stanley taught us we are willing to go to the highest heights for a friend and that when we learn a lesson, it needs to stay learned!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Keeping score

I had to ask myself how to keep up with attendence (required in my state) and how/if/when to record grades (not exactly required in my state).  You have to teach certain subjects here but grades are only needed if you want transcripts (which I do).

So, I google homeschool record keeping and rather randomly choose a free trial of one.  The set up was a skosh overwhelming.  Lesson plans?  Skills?  Grade weighting?  I'm not afraid to admit when I'm out of my depth.  And here, I am out of my depth.  I need to find a really concise, practical online record keeper.  What do you use?

I have decided I will grade my children's work.  I have to.  I'm a quantifier.  I want visible markers for progress.  Numbers MEAN something to my brain!  I am not going to stress it to my kids though.  If they fail a quiz, we'll just go over the material again in a way that sticks.  I want the knowledge to be their success, ya know?  Not a number on a page.

Do you grade? Pass/fail? ABC? 

Friday, September 19, 2014

We just jumped off the diving board!

Today, I am withdrawing my children from public school and beginning our homeschool journey.  So jumping off the diving board is the exact metaphor for how I feel.  My heart has been yearning to teach my children at home for years. YEARS. I've read about the Waldorf tradition, unschooling, Charlotte Mason, this and that curriculum set and I was always always always gripped with fear.

Finally, we were faced with a move (that is coming in a few weeks) and I really did not like our options for school.  I told my husband I would revisit the homeschool scenario again.  And again all the same fears came back.  I asked my kids what they thought of the idea.  Sweet girl was all for it.  More time with Mommy? Yes.  Did I mention she is 10?  Did I mention she has spent all those years trying to resume her living arrangement prior to birth?  Ok. So Mommy's baby was a no brainer.  Sweet boy was a different story.  He is 11 and he is my go to for the God's honest truth.  Does this make me look fat? Yes and your hair looks awful.  How does that dinner taste?  Like it has too much salt and it looks like cat food.  He tempers this brutal honesty with a well meaning heart of gold, so when I want real answers, I ask him.  "How would you like to be homeschooled?"  Pause.  Sweet boy replies,"Could you really give me a quality education since you and Daddy didn't go to college?"  Gee thanks for hitting the overwhelming fear I have right on the head!

I read some more articles and looked at more sites and then I did what you do when you have no other foreseeable options.  I prayed.  Ugly crying, hand raising, thanking the Lord for all His glory kind of praying.  And like Laura Ingalls Wilder described the quietness of a prayer spoken by Reverend Alden, I felt the coolness of peace wash over me.  All I had to do was start at step one.

I researched several cover schools but thought I should wait to enroll when it was closer to our move.  Then this morning, as I bemoaned the fact that I had to wake up a very cranky Sweet Girl, I found a school that met our needs.  It also occurred to me in a divine flash...I AM IN CONTROL OF OUR SCHOOL DECISIONS.  Holy smokes!  You mean, I could go ahead and enroll them in this new school and just start teaching them?  You know the Bible verse where Saul is converted and scales fell from his eyes?  That is what I felt like (maybe not THAT dramatic).  It was such a revelation to me and again, the coolness of peace comforted me.

So here we go...off the diving board into the deep end.  

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