Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow Play

We don't get much snow in our area, a few dustings a year usually.  This time, we got enough to really sled.  JP's shift even got cancelled, which NEVER happens!  We played, drank hot drinks, ate cookie cake and watch movies in the middle of the week.   We still didn't take an official "snow" day!  My poor kids.  

Daddy sent us out to play by ourselves, but he just couldn't resist coming out and joining in the fun!!!!

We prayed when we moved here that the Lord would provide us with good neighbors and with some neighbor--kids!  He answered both of those prayers!  Our neighbors came over and sledded with us both days.  All the kids taking turns on the sleds.  The kids had a blast and braved the cold a whole lot longer.  Isn't that the case in life?  We can last so much longer with friends at our side! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Staying Warm When It's Freezing Outside

We live in a southern state that has four seasons, but doesn't usually have too much frigid weather.  Due to the polar vortex (or whatever the weather people call it), it's been downright unbearable at times this winter. Yes, we know it's winter and it's supposed to be cold.  It's just not something our bodies are accustom to.  

I'm more sensitive to cold than some people, so here's what I do to stay warm:

  • Use supplemental heating sources--We are blessed to have a wood stove in our downstairs living room.  It does not heat our entire house, but does offset using our  heat pump.  It allows us to keep our upstairs temperature on a lower heat.   Space heaters are great!  Instead of heating up the entire house, we use smaller heaters to heat up the bathroom during shower time.  My electric blanket allows us to turn the heat down lower at night and my freezing feet don't keep me awake.
  • Layers!  Put on more clothes.  I have yet to wear my coat in the house, but you can find me wearing three shirts some days.  Thermals under a long sleeve shirt topped with a sweatshirt or fleece jacket fits the bill when it's really cold.  Pull out the extra blankets at night or even while watching television.  Invest in a snuggie.  (I haven't went this far...yet!) That reminds me.... I need to find my battery powered socks I got for Christmas last year.  Wear a cute hat and /or scarf inside! 
  • Get moving.  Anytime I start to feel the cold too much, I get up and start exercising.  I even went outside to exercise a couple of times, because the inside feels quite toasty after being outside for a few minutes.  
  • Raise the humidity--When the humidity levels are higher, it feels warmer.  So, you can keep your thermostat on a lower temperature and still feel comfortable.  We have a humidifier we run downstairs.  I recently read an article that gave this tip:   fill coffee cans with water and place them around heating vents.  This one will have to wait until we have no children to knock them over.  
  • Let the sun shine in--I chase the sun some days, opening and closing curtains in different parts of the house.   In the afternoon the sun shines right in the living room windows perfectly.  Snuggled under a blanket or exercising in the sunshine is just what the warmth doctor prescribes.  

Now, I will say that sometimes I'm still cold, but it's not as unbearable as it could be!

How are you staying warm in this freezing weather?

Homestead Barn Hop
The Chicken Chick

Two Week Shopping--Things I've Learned

I did it!!! We went 2 weeks without going back to the grocery store or Walmart for any groceries or toiletries/household items.  I will admit I ended the 2 week period yesterday afternoon, instead of this morning.  It was just too cold to get out in the freezing weather! 

Things I learned:

  • This is not impossible!  It can be done!
  • Limiting how many visits to stores I make saves money! I know I saved money by staying out of stores. It helped me break the cycle of spending that is sometimes created around the holiday times. 
  • Planning is essential--Menu planning with quantities listed for each individual item keeps you on track.  If you just say carrots on your list, but use carrots in 5 recipes and for snacks--you will run out.  I made tally marks beside each item for each time it would be used in a recipe. I failed to do that for tortilla chips...see below. 
  • Honor and respect your spouse's wishes.  Okay, I didn't plan accordingly when it came to tortilla chips last shopping trip.  I had on the menu a dish that is my family's all time favorite that HAS to be served with tortilla chips.  We ran out!  My daughter suggested we put the crumbs we had left on top and just have it like a casserole.  This bothered my husband.  He wanted us to enjoy our meal instead of having to sacrifice just to prove a point.  So, I compromised and just put off having that meal until I went shopping again.  
  • Substitute and get creative  If I ran out of something, I just substituted something else.  I knew I would cut it close on milk, so I started using evaporated milk (which I had multiple cans of in the pantry) for cooking instead.  
  • Go shopping alone.  For this next two weeks, I went shopping yesterday afternoon.  I had all 3 kids with me.  We squeezed in 2 stops before chess club and 2 stops after in the freezing cold!  I'm sure I won't be able to stick to not going back, but I'll try to keep it to a minimum.  I spent more money with the kids with me, too.  Not because they were asking for things, but because I limited how many stores we went to.  It was way more stressful, too!  Gloves, coats, sub-freezing weather...not a great combination.
  • I realized that I could go on one big trip a month and a smaller trip to get dairy and produce.  I had almost a week's worth of dinners left at the end of the two weeks.  So, I just rolled those over into the next two weeks, but I still spent a bit more money this time.  Not sure how that worked for me, but I'll just blame it on having the kids with me.  

I was pleased with how things went these past two weeks.  We ate things we had on hand and didn't waste our time running to stores for misc. items.   I don't feel like I planned as well for these next two weeks, but we shall see! 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Three Things Thursday: 1/23/2014


Three things I'm thinking about:

1.  Year-round Homeschooling:  I'm researching right now into the pros and cons of year-round schooling.  Since I worked in the school system before having kids, it was natural for me to continue on a "take a long summer off" schedule.  Right now, I'm looking at different ways this could really benefit us as a family and help cultivate creativity in our lives.  I'll get back with you on this one!  

2. That a $12 purchase by my kids was totally worth it!!!  They pooled their cash and got this table top air hockey game.  They set it up and take it down.  Just the ticket for these cold winter days!

3.  It's better to be fit than to be skinny!  It always seems like I lose more weight when I just don't eat as much.  BUT....I feel better when I exercise, even if I lose weight slower.  My mood is better, I sleep better (usually), and feel slimmer (even if I'm not!).  I can't understand why I stop exercising for periods of time!  

Here's an extra one today:

I'm loving wearing scarves right now, even though most of them ARE Tera's!

photo credit:  Michael

What are three things you're thinking about today?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Feelin' Good

I've been feeling really good these past 4 days.  I've exercised every day and have drastically reduced my sugar intake.  Certain times of the month I can be a real cranky sorta person, but this week almost nothing.  My husband even commented on how he hadn't noticed anything.  The only things I've changed have been exercising daily, cutting sugar and doing my daily devotions. 

I've been home so much lately, it's starting to feel a bit unnatural.  I have to say I do like it....I feel routined, steady....less stressed out.  It feels good!

I haven't stopped at any stores to supplement our groceries and we're over halfway there!  I think I'll even have things left over to carry us longer than two weeks in the dinner department.  I made a batch of crockpot refried beans yesterday and muffins (pumpkin and English for the freezer).  Those refried beans are awesome and in the freezer waiting for future meals.  That feels so good!

Last night, we had a game night and finished one of our read-alouds in my bed before bedtime.  Everyone went to bed happy!  That feels good!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up: January 17th's Friday!

Last Sunday, we went on a beautiful hike at Middle Prong, probably my favorite place in the Smokies.  This week we are pretty much back into most of our subjects.  Frustration has been a constant theme for one of my children this week.  Missing too many problems in math or not getting a concept.  One morning we were all just in a cranky mood, so we stopped and prayed that we would be patient with ourselves and others.  Right now, we are focusing on areas we've improved on and cutting ourselves some slack.  

Speaking of cutting yourself slack....

I kinda took the holidays (Well, most of the fall, too) from exercise and eating right.  I'm getting back on track with moderate exercise that I just fit into my day and cutting back on sugar.  I found some great recipes yesterday that really hit the spot!

2-ingredient cookies--Now, don't think of these as cookies or you definitely won't like them.  Think of it as a different way to eat your oatmeal.  If you are looking to cut refined sugar and just need something sweet, these are good.  (I added some carob chips and raisins in mine.)

This was awesome!  I left out the banana and it got me through that afternoon slump.  

My husband's job has a healthy living incentive program that saves you money on your health insurance premiums.  You have to earn points throughout the year after you have a biometric screening in March.  If you are already healthy (BMI, Waist to Hip ratio, cholesterol), you get automatic points.  Just enough incentive to get me moving right now!   

I'm just taking one day at a time and focusing on improvement. 

Wednesday was the first week we've had music lessons since before Christmas.  It was a cold and early morning.  That afternoon we went over to a friends' house to hang out.  Yesterday, we took a trip to the library and stayed for chess club.  My kids hate to miss it now.  Usually, there are not very many younger kids there, so Michael doesn't get to play.  I decided even though it was freezing cold, we'd take several short walks instead of sitting there the whole time.  It was quite pleasant.  I got some exercise in and I didn't have to deal with Mr. Crankypants for 2 hours.  When Tera and Daniel were done, we all took a walk.  It was so cold, but it clears the head and mind to take walks in winter.

Today, I felt the kids' frustration mounting again.  So....we took a long walk around our neighborhood to the post office.  It was frigid again, but sometimes getting out there, even in winter is the best thing for you!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

8 Ways to Save Money On Groceries

Here are some tips I use to save money at the grocery store:

  • Shop Aldi's and other discount stores
In my opinion, there is no way I could feed our family for less without stores like Aldi and UGO (United Grocery Outlet).  I find so many things that are cheaper than regular grocery stores and Walmart.  Aldi is great for just about everything, but especially meat and produce.   UGO is our local discount grocery store.  They carry things that will soon be expired.  I buy my bread almost exclusively from UGO.  They have "day old bread" most of which is still way within the "sell by" dates.  I can buy whole grain breads for $1.29 a loaf. 
  • Eat beans and lentils
If you look at my menu, over half of our meals are centered around beans or lentils.  Aldi sells 2 lb. bags of pinto beans for $1.79.  When cooked in the crockpot will usually last us for 3 different meals.  Check out my pinto bean posts for ideas on how to do that!   Lentils are another great vegetarian protein that is versatile and inexpensive. 
  • Use smaller portions of meat 
Meat can be a very expensive part of a grocery budget.  I stretch my meat purchases to last over several meals.  So, 1 lb. of ground turkey will be cooked and split between two meals.  A package of country style ribs (boneless) will be divided into thirds and used to flavor three different recipes.  I will split a package of Italian sausage in half.  You get the idea.  Some recipes I will use the entire amount of meat called for, but not usually.  My family doesn't mind this or even notice.  I will say that if your family is accustomed to meat centered meals, you might have some resistance to doing some of what I've suggested.  I would suggest to do several things:  gradually decrease the amount of meat you use in a dish or casserole, have some vegetarian dinners to expose your family to different recipes, continue to have some meat-centered meals just less of them.
  • Buy less expensive brand name products
Since we started shopping at Aldi's primarily, we have become less brand sensitive.  I think the only food we buy a specific brand of is my husband's coffee.  That is our only non-negotiable (or his only non-negotiable).  I save lots of money buying Aldi's brand mayo instead of Kraft which is twice as expensive.  Pick a couple of things you wouldn't want to give up your brand and the rest buy the cheaper counterparts. 
  • Plan menus around things you already have or things on sale
Most of the time when I sit down to plan a menu, I will start by looking in the fridge, freezer, and pantry.  I take stock of what I already have and try to plan meals around those things first.  So, if I look in the pantry and see spaghetti and sauce.  Then, I automatically put spaghetti on my menu for the week.  Sometimes I will do a search to see if I can find recipes for random ingredients in the pantry or just get creative and make something up!   Checking store ads for sales and stocking up on certain items is a great way to save as well.  I do not use coupons because I do not usually find coupons for the types of things we buy. 
  • Buy less convenience and/or processed foods
The more something is processed the more expensive it can be.  A 2 lb. bag of carrots un-peeled and un-cut is the same price as a 1 lb. bag of baby carrots.  You get more if you do some of the work yourself.  Sometimes it's cheaper if you make it yourself.  I remember looking for some cupcakes for an event and realized that I could make them for prob. less than $3 for 24 cupcakes vs. $20 from the bakery at Kroger.  We try to make our own muffins and other breakfast foods.  We stopped buying cold cereal a while back.  There are some things I will buy because it just saves me time like tortillas, but I know how to make these and could/would if I needed to cut my budget more.  
  • Make one bigger trip instead of several smaller trips
This is something I'm working on now.  I tend to make several smaller trips throughout the two week pay period and buy things as we need them.  I do not have the willpower to only buy the one/two things on my list, because there is always something I've forgotten or just want.  So, I'm trying to make the effort to just "make do" if I forgot something.  Making one bigger trip, takes a lot more planning.  I had to go through the pantry pretty good to make sure I wasn't forgetting something important.  
  • Menu plan and stick to it
Menu planning is another area that I'm working to improve.  I make menus, but sometimes don't thoroughly plan for busy times.  I stray from my menu because I was too tired to prep or prepare what I had planned on making. When I came home from the grocery store,  I prepped the meat for several meals instead of freezing it first.  This will hopefully make it easier to follow through with my menu plan, because I've already eliminated one of the steps.  

One huge way to save money that I left out of this list is GROW YOUR OWN!  Since it's winter, we aren't growing very much right now.  So, growing our own vegetables and/or fruits is not really making a difference in my food budget.   It does make quite a bit of difference in the spring/summer/fall months! 

How do you save money on groceries?  
I'd love to hear your tips in the comments below!   

Homestead Barn Hop
The Chicken Chick

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Simple Church- Our Journey

When we moved here in 2007, we really had no idea what God wanted us to do.  All we knew was that it would definitely be something non-traditional.  We had felt for a long time that there were people who didn't have a problem with a relationship with God, but had a real problem with "church" as we knew it.  In our years of ministry, we had come in contact with a lot of people like this.  That was our motivation for starting a simple church...home bible study...whatever you feel comfortable calling it.  I think that's been the biggest challenge for us when people ask,  "Where do you go to church?"   After doing this for a while, it seems most people have the least problem or misunderstanding with the answer, "We have a simple church that meets in our home."  

When we left the local traditional church, we started by having "church on the trail".  Our children were younger and we wanted to keep things active.  We would prepare a Bible study that we talked about as we hiked in the Smoky Mountains.  Our first time doing this, Daniel asked Jesus to come into his heart.  It was a great confirmation to our hearts that we were finally doing what God wanted us to do here.  Daniel had always been resistant to the idea of accepting Jesus and going to heaven before.  We thank God then and now for such a visible sign of the direction we were to go.  

Does that mean that we haven't questioned ourselves during this journey?  Absolutely not!  We have learned and are still learning as we go.  

In the beginning, I set up prayer stations or we would do very hands-on things for the kids.  Sometimes we worked through a book of the Bible, or did topical studies (for example, spiritual gifts) After meeting for a couple of years with just our family, we added in one person that moved here from California.  He attended "house churches" there and joined us.  Since then, we have had one other family visit several times, but for the majority of the time, it's the six of us. 

So here's what we do on a typical Sunday (or Saturday).   Everyone brings food and we start by having a brief time of fellowship (small talk, etc.), praying and sharing a meal together around the table.  We alternate between two houses or the park if it's warmer.  After our meal, we have Bible study.  Our group picks a book of the Bible and works through it one chapter a week.  (We've done Luke, Acts, some of the Pauline epistles, other studies and are now working through Ezra and Nehemiah)  We go around the room with each person reading a verse until we have read the chapter.  After we are done, we discuss what we've read.  People ask questions, talk about what verses confused them or various things about the scripture.  If we don't understand something we pull out the commentaries or use our study Bibles to help us find the answers.  Our older children have full participation in our discussions.  Sometimes someone will share a song or hymn, sometimes there is spontaneous prayer, sometimes we have a full worship time with guitars and kids playing all kinds of percussion instruments.   It's that "simple"!   There is no preacher and no offering. 

We are able to adapt to those who are attending our simple church. We have orthodox Christian beliefs.  Group dynamics change depending upon the ages of children or the background and experiences of those there that day.  It's not a static experience.  I have hopes of being able to share some experiential worship ideas within our group in the future when/if the opportunities arise. 

Our vision for the future...we'd love to have at least one other family join our fellowship.  I'd love for our children to have contemporaries to share in their faith experiences.  That is our hope and prayer.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Middle Prong Trail- Upper Tremont Road

Middle Prong Trail or Upper Tremont Road---One of our happy places! 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Happy Birthday!

Michael celebrated his Christian "birthday" Thursday night!  He asked me to pray with him, so he could ask Jesus into his heart.  

Sometimes I think as adults we try to make the whole process difficult and lofty.  Our child approaches us and  we sit questioning:   Is our child ready to make this decision?  Did we pray the prayer just right?

Then, I'm reminded:

"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
Luke 18:17

"that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  
 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Romans 10:  9 and 13

It doesn't have to be hard!

Michael felt God speaking to his heart and he listened!  It's that simple!   It works for adults the same way!  


Friday, January 10, 2014

Menu Plan- Two Week Plan

Running and going, stopping here and there while we are "already out".  Just to pick up one or two things that turns into ten or twenty.  "Oh, I forgot we needed that!"  "Could we get some of this, too?"  

Sound familiar?  

That was my grocery shopping technique before Christmas.  I felt like we were in a store every couple of days.  It gets old very quickly.

Today, I left the house for the first time in a week.  We've been close to hermits.  In some ways it's been nice.  We've recovered from illnesses, started school without a bunch of outside commitments, started getting the house tidy and have been cooking/baking again. 

But, I began a TWO WEEK mission today!  I made a menu for the next two weeks yesterday, got up early and headed out.  Five stores and 2 1/2 hours later, I arrived home with enough supplies for two whole weeks.  I'm tired of spending part of my life in the grocery store.  I know we'll probably run out of milk and for that I'm making an exception.  Other than that, I'm going to try and stay out of stores until next paycheck.   I was able to get everything on my list grocery wise for right around $90 a week, which I think is pretty good for a family of five.  

Here's my list of dinners for the next two weeks in no specific order:  




7 Layer Bean Dip

Lentil Vegetable Stew with Pork

Mixed Bean Stew with Sausage


Lentil Stew with Sausage

Chicken Enchiladas


Chicken Lo Mein

Pizza Rolls 




Potato Soup

For breakfast we'll cycle through oatmeal, cream of wheat, egg sandwiches, pancakes/waffles, muffins, and toast. 

For supper we'll cycle through baked potatoes, ramen noodles, different types of sandwiches and breakfast for dinner.  

I feel pretty good about the variety of food on this menu.  I'm trying some new things and bringing back some oldies but goodies that my family already loves.  It's going to be a great two weeks of saving money (by not buying things we don't need) and saving time (by not adding errands to our daily schedule).  I'm so excited to see how this will work for us as a family!

How often do you go grocery shopping? 

Leave a comment to share any tips you have for staying out of the grocery stores! 


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