Friday, November 18, 2011

Advent Consipiracy: Rethinking Christmas

(Photo courtesy of Living Water International,

Christmas is great. I love Christmas.

But, Christmas is also depressing. annoying. plain sad.

People act like fools to purchase stuff for people.  Others think how much you spend is commensurate with their love. You get loads of stuff you don't really want.

My husband and I aren't big on gifts.  Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries.  We just don't value stuff that much. We'd rather take a trip or go out to dinner.

Last year we decided to break the unending cycle of racking our brains to come up with a decent present for everyone on our list.  Instead, we participated in the Advent Conspiracy (although we didn't realize it at the time).

The tenants (so to speak) of Advent Conspiracy?
  • Worship fully
  • Spend less
  • Give more
  • Love all
The idea is that instead of spending a ton on worthless, material things, make some presents, spend some time with people, and give some money away.

We wrote everyone a note and gave them a small token (some chocolate, I think).  Then, we donated our Christmas budget to Living Water International.

And, surprisingly, it went over very well.  I thought my family and friends would think we were either crazy or cheap.  But, mostly everyone thought it was a good idea.

So, we're doing it again this year. 

I'm planning on making some homemade gifts this year.  Right now I'm thinking:

*Applesauce* & *Applebutter*


I've done a little bit of canning, so I think I can handle it.  (Blog post to follow!)

I'll come up with some more ideas before long (thanks to Pinterest)!

This year I urge you to:
  • Rethink Christmas
  • Spend less
  • Give more away
  • Celebrate Jesus
  • Love all.

Friday, November 4, 2011

It Worked! How to Grow Green Onions

I've become addicted to Pinterest.  Seriously.

I was recently intrigued by a pin that suggested saving the white green onion bottoms and planting them.  Well, I hate buying green onions.  I never use the whole bunch, and they get slimy and limp.  Bleh.

It just so happens I recently picked up some green onions from the store.  I have tons of planters and I had some dirt, so naturally I decided to plant the little guys to see if they'd actually grow.  The green onions I bought were just from the grocery store.  I wasn't expecting much.

And then the magic that is gardening happened.  They grew.  They are growing.  Regular green onions from the store.  Nothing special.

It made me think: why have I never thought of this before?  I'll never have to buy green onions again.  (Well, unless I kill them).

This little bit of gardening is getting me excited to start my real backyard garden!  I think I'm going to try garlic.  Fall is the time to plant, and spring the time to harvest.  And, I'm planning on starting a compost pile soon.  I just need to pick up a big plastic bin.

Do you garden?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hello Turquoise! Living Room Before/After, Part I

Part I of our living room make-over is complete!  The room is very big and bright, so I wanted to paint one wall a bold turquoise.  And, I wanted a color that would complement the pink carpet.  I'd like the room to be fresh, light, and open.  But, it still has a way to go!


Our cat, Sister, made a guest appearance.


Phase II will include putting a TV over the mantle and getting rid of the very big, old TV and entertainment center.  

Then, I'm going to slipcover the couch--maybe a chocolate brown or a coffee color.  It will go against the wall across from the fireplace. And, I'd like to get two armchairs for either side of the couch.  

My husband's music equipment will go where the entertainment center is now.  

By putting the TV on the mantle, it will open up the room, rather than divide it like it is now. 

I'm pretty excited to finish it!

Would you paint one of your rooms a bold, bright color?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cheap, DIY Halloween Costume: Zombies

This halloween, my husband and I lacked any clever costume ideas.  We had a work party to attend, and we didn't want to spend much money on a costume we'd wear once.

So, we decided to be zombies.  And, since it was a work party, we didn't go too bloody. (Some that I've seen are just gross.)

Great things about going as zombies:

  • You can wear anything.
  • All you have to buy is face paint.
  • Its really fun to paint your face.
  • Since we painted our faces, everyone thought our costumes were cool.
  • You can scare children (actually, the ones at the party weren't very scared at all).
  • You get to stagger around and grunt.

The total cost of both of our costumes combined: $9.

That's it. Nine dollars.  Can't beat that!

So, if you can't figure out what to be for Halloween this year, be a zombie!

What is your best DIY Halloween costume?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Planning for Lunch

I refuse to eat frozen or prepackaged lunches at work.  Refuse.

A few reasons why:
  1. They aren't that good.
  2. They aren't that good for you--sodium, sheesh!
  3. They leave you hungry an hour later. 
  4. I once got food poisoning from one of the most popular frozen dinner brands. It was horrible. 
In order to eat healthier and more delicious lunches, I've tried to do some planning.  Well, loose planning.  On Sunday, I usually make something, like yummy pasta salad or chicken breast, and figure out what I'm going to eat for the week (I may plan for leftovers). 

I don't mind eating the same thing all week--as long as it isn't sandwiches--I really don't like sandwiches.  Last week I ate leftover chicken, green beans (which were frozen), and pinto beans.  Simple, but quite delicious--and good for you! Eating somewhat-of-a-home-cooked-meal is very satisfying when you're in a cubicle all day.

Sometimes, I bring hummus, cheese and crackers, and some fruit, and it makes a nice lunch.  The fact is, its really not hard to bring something other than a sandwich or a frozen lunch.  Cooking a couple of chicken breasts isn't hard, throw in a veggie and some beans or rice or something.  Easy! 

This past weekend I was pretty busy, so I forgot to plan for the week.  I ate out twice, made a sandwich one day, and then brought leftovers for the remainder of the week.  I like to treat myself and eat out for lunch every now and again.  But, eating out multiple times a week gets pretty pricey, and where I work lunches aren't cheap. 

Another thing I do is bring snacks to work.  Right now I have some trail mix, wheat and peanut butter crackers, and sometimes carrots.  It helps keep me from loosing my mind sitting at my desk all day. And, I don't gorge myself at lunch and want to fall asleep once I get back to my desk.

What do you do for lunch?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oil Cleansing Method--FAIL!

I have, sigh, quit the oil cleansing method.

Its not that it wasn't working, but it wasn't getting better.  So, I switched back to my old facial cleanser--it didn't work either.

Its like I hit puberty again (really, I got off the pill and it screwed up my hormones and skin!) In fact, my skin is seriously worse than when I was a teenager. Eek!

My mom came to the rescue and ordered me the whole Mary Kay facial cleanser line (5 different products!)  She swears by it, so hopefully it works.  I'm tired of looking like a teenager!  I've been using the Mary Kay for about a week and so far my face is looking a little better.

I'm sad that my all-natural method didn't work.  I was really rooting for it to be a life changer!

Have any of your DIY remedies failed?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting Fit to Be a Career Woman, Or I Really Need to Exercise

So, as you may remember, I got that job.  And, I've been working now for about three weeks.  I like my job a lot and am learning about all kinds of new things. Plus, I get to dress business-y (which means I get to go shopping)!

The blog suffered a bit for the first couple of weeks on the job because I've had to adjust--going from not working for two months to working 8-9 hour days.  Plus, there's breakfast, lunch, and dinner to plan for. There's getting the house all "moved in." And a puppy. And trying to see family and friends.  Its really a lot to juggle.

The biggest frustration I have had so far is being utterly exhausted when I get home.  You wouldn't think sitting in a cube all day would wear you out--but sheesh! it is really draining.  And, sometimes the last thing I want to do is get in front of the computer again. But, getting back to blogging has felt good.  Even when it feels like just another thing on my to do list. 

Sadly, though, despite feeling tired and slightly dazed from looking at the computer screen all day, I am most upset about gaining weight.  Albeit, its not a lot of weight--but its only been three weeks.  But I can just feel it--and it makes me feel bleh.

What better motivation to get moving?  The hubs and I have been trying to motivate ourself to exercise, but we've consistenly been relaxing on the couch.  We're doing better with eating better, so our next move is, well, to move.

Here are my goals:
  1. Do 15 minutes of yoga a day--I used to do yoga all the time, now, not so much.  Taking a little bit of time to stretch, de-stress, and use some muscle can go a long way when your at a desk all day.  I hold tension in my back and neck and yoga has helped in the past.
  2. Get outside. Take a walk.--We were walking the dog around the neighborhood (until we discovered that a couple of my husband's students live here too).  I'm hoping to head to the LSU lakes at least once a week and walk a few miles.
  3. Find a weekend activity, highlighting the active part of activity.--Whether its biking or hiking or whathaveyou, we need a hobby to make moving around more fun.
  4. Convince my husband to do all of this with me--he may even go for the yoga.
I'm trying to set reasonable, reachable goals to get us going. And, in order to stay motivated and interested, I'm keeping up with blogs dedicated to exercise.

How do you stay fit?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Before/After: the Study/Library/Den--Whatever its Called

We're in the process of getting our home together.  We are renting-to-own my grandmother's old house, so there is a lot of unpacking and repacking going on. But finally--finally!--we started painting! 

My grandparents added onto the house, so there is a big living room (the addition) and a smaller living room (the original).  We're having trouble figuring out what to call the original living room--the study? library? the den? Either way, it isn't the main living room. I like to think of it as my reading room. 

So, I wanted to go with a darker, deeper color scheme. Something that is enveloping, soothing. A place where you can get lost. 

I decided on plum.  And, thanks to DesignSeeds, I found the perfect color scheme:

Before, the room was painted a sunny yellow--which I did like, but I was more excited about choosing a new color and new "mood" for the room!

I had already moved the furniture when I remembered to take before pictures:

And, after! There is less light coming in the room because I took the pictures closer to dusk, but you can still get the idea. 

I've still got to get some accent color, and I've yet to figure out what I want to hang on the walls.  I'm also going to refinish some of the furniture.  Pretty much everything we have is hodgepodge hand-me-downs and Ikea furniture.  

Next, I'm going to paint the big living room! I can't wait!

Are you planning any renovations?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Using Spreadsheets for Finances

Spreadsheets have revolutionized our budgeting.  Especially our savings.

A couple of years ago we were in a small group at church looking at Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover, and the leader helped us with a spreadsheet detailing our budget (thanks Sherry!).  Since then we have been working to get outta debt!

While our budget spreadsheet is very useful, the spreadsheet I made outlining our savings is amazing!

I have a column for each "cause" we're saving for:
  1. Emergency savings
  2. Tithes (we put half "away" until we feel led to give and give half to our church)
  3. Car savings
  4. Rent
  5. Vacation
  6. Christmas
  7. House down payment
When I look at my bank account, it (obviously) gives a total sum.  So, instead of guessing how much we can use for a given purpose, I have it all mapped out in the spreadsheet.  I used to save a certain amount of money per week or paycheck and put it back for rent.  I'm not sure if I'll still do it that way--it depends on how our paychecks fall in relation to each other. 

I also want to stress the "car savings" category.  We hope to build this one so that if we have any car issues, we have money put away for it so its no big deal.  I want to eventually do the same for clothes and medical stuff like new glasses. 

So far its been working well.  Although, we sometimes say screw it and spend some money.  However, we are in a much different place than say, two years ago.

I wouldn't call myself a "spreadsheet kind of girl," but lately I've been using them like crazy!

How do you keep your finances organized?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Guest Blogger Today

Today, I'm a guest blogger over at Life Blessons.  My post is part of Carmen's series, Secrets of a Newlywed.  Check it out!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Menu Planning

 My Weekly Menu Spreadsheet

I hate grocery shopping. I hate it.

Therefore, I often don't feel like cooking. Why? Because I don't have any good ingredients.  When I don't (even loosely) plan a weekly menu, I fall into buying the same stuff at the store.  And when it comes time to cook, I'm bored rather than inspired.

Lately, I've been using a spreadsheet to plan weekly menus.  I like this idea because I used to save online recipes in my bookmarks folder, but it quickly became an unorganized list of random recipes.  By using this spreadsheet I can see what I've made, where the recipe comes from (if there is one), and I get excited about trying new menu ideas.

The spreadsheet is pretty simple--on the x-axis I put the days of the week, and on the y-axis, the week dates. Easy. Simple. Boom.

After a while, I can track our eating habits.  Are we eating out too much?  Am I sticking with the menu? What did we and didn't we like.  And, if I change my mind I can drag and drop recipes to other dates.

I try to make one vegetarian meal per week and one slow cooker meal per week, and I plan for leftovers at least once a week, perhaps twice.  We are so bad at eating leftovers, so I've tried to perfect the art of cooking for two.  Menu planning is a lot easier when three or four days are practically planned already.

The best part about menu planning is having a shopping list! I can go to the store and get exactly what I need for dinner all week!  When planning out the weekly menu, I can work within my budget--a couple of fancy-ish meals and some cheapo ones.

We'll see how the menu planning spreadsheet works out in the long run. Hopefully, I'll stick with it.  I've been keeping tabs on Stephanie at Keeper of the Home and her Plan It--Don't Panic Meal Planning Challenge that is just starting.  She has a lot of great resources to keep people planning.

Do you plan your weekly meals? If so, what works best for you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dave Ramsey is Gonna Kill Me, Or Why We Bought a New Car

Dave is going to be very angry with me.  We broke one of his rules.  We bought. . .gasp. . . a new car.  You may remember my post, Trying to Live Frugally, where I explained how and why we are trying to get out of debt. We are, still, attempting to get out of debt as quickly as possible.  And, hopefully never to incur credit card debt again.

We had a plan--a la Dave--to save up enough cash to buy a used car outright.  We thought we'd be living with my mom for a little while.  Then, my husband got a job, then I got a job.  So, now we really need two cars (unfortunately we live in a two car city).

We figured instead of saving cash, we'd get a cheap-ish used car and finance it.  This way we could still pay it off pretty fast. My husband really wanted a small suv--so he can tote his music equipment around and it would be a good future family car. Plus, he's a tall guy and cars aren't as comfy as a suv or truck.

So we go look. Most of the suvs in our first price range were, well, crappy.  So then we looked at ones a little nicer--which were much more expensive.  There wasn't much of a in-between.

Then we got to thinking: Why buy a used car that will only last us a few years when we could spend 6-7 grand more for a new one that would last ten years?  We both have decent salaries now, and my car is paid off, so really, we can afford it.

We didn't want more debt, but our goal is to pay the loan of super early and not have another car payment for several years after--or ever!  After looking around, we got a great deal on a 2011 Nissan Rogue crossover--it an suv style with a car's gas mileage.  We got a base model with no bells and whistles, got great financing, and a lifetime warranty on the engine and transmission!

Yes, we have more debt to add to the pile, but we do have a car that will last us ten years.  And, we know it doesn't have any problems versus a used car that may windup having serious issues.

We prayed a lot about our decision and consulted with our parents. And, we feel like we made the right choice!

Do you buy used cars or new ones?

Monday, September 19, 2011

No Time For Breakfast? Hello Breakfast Burritos!

I sometimes forget to eat breakfast, but since I love breakfast I make an effort to eat something.  More importantly, my husband won't eat breakfast unless I put something in front of him.

We've both wanted to slim down and tone up (the exercise part is yet to come), and eating breakfast is one of the best things you can do to shed some pounds.  It gets your metabolism going and gives you some energy to start off your day.

Lately, I've been making a poached egg on whole wheat toast (egg-poaching post coming soon).  The hubs likes it and it doesn't take very long to make.  But, we've had enough poached eggs for a while.

Pinterest, besides being a black hole for productivity, gave me the idea of breakfast burritos, made in advance, and then frozen.  What a great idea!  Grab one, put it in the microwave, and you're good to go!

A great thing about breakfast burritos is that you can pretty much put whatever you want in them.  Mine are classic breakfasty goodness.

The ingredients:
  • eggs--I used 5
  • sausage--I used half the pack and had some left over
  • a potato--also had some left
  • half an onion
  • shredded cheese
  • tortillas
I cooked the potatoes and onion in a skillet, until soft (with some Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning, of course).  Then, browned the sausage. And, scrambled the eggs.  

Make sure you warm up the tortillas before assembling the burritos--it makes them more pliable.  I got the fajita size tortillas which proved to be a little smaller than I wanted, and I kept over-stuffing them.  Apparently, I'm not too good at folding the burrito closed on one end, either. 

For each burrito I put a spoon of each ingredient, with shredded cheese sprinkled on top.  I got 10 burritos, with some potatoes and sausage left over. 

Then, I individually wrapped each burrito in plastic wrap and placed them all in a freezer bag. 

How easy! Breakfast for the week is done! Next time I may try to make them a little healthier--maybe with some beans and some spinach.  The important thing is to get us eating breakfast every day.  We'll progressively get healthier.

What is your favorite quick breakfast?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Confessions About Budgeting. . .

I have a confession.  We have done a horrible job of budgeting this month. Its a good thing God saved our butts with me getting this job!

I suppose because the husband got a job we felt like we finally had some dough.  He gets paid once a month which isn't ideal because you have to make sure it lasts through the month (although I'm trying to see it as a motivation to keep up the budget).  I did the responsible thing and paid all the bills first.  But then we got a puppy. . . we went to Target. . .we went to dinner.  Our lump sum quickly dwindled.

Part of the reason we got Lucille and went to Target (I bought work clothes) was we were pretty sure I was going to get the job I interviewed for.  But then we had to wait on my background check to come back, and that took a while.  So I got nervous, thinking I may not get the job after all, causing me to freak out about our lack of budgeting.

Luckily (well, thanks to God's provision), I got the job and will start on Tuesday.  Whew! Checking account saved!

But--if the job would've fallen through, we would have been in a tight spot and would've had to eat ramen noodles for every meal (okay, it wouldn't have been quite that bad).  And I did get a bit nervous about everything going sour.

So, here is some encouragement if you have been or are thinking about budgeting:
  • Everyone splurges sometimes--even when they shouldn't (don't beat yourself up about it)
  • Getting used to a budget takes time, and sometimes you'll mess it all up
  • Society tells us to spend, spend, spend--so pat yourself on the back for just trying to budget
  • Even seasoned budgeters struggle!
While I do have a list of things I can't wait to get once I start getting paid, landing this job has encouraged me even more to get out of debt!  We're getting closer and closer!  Being debt free seems even more important now that both of us are bringing in a paycheck--if we stick with our budget plan, we just might attain some financial peace.  

Budget on my friends! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Slow Cooker Recipe: Mrs. Susan's Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy

I hope that you have discovered the wonders of the crock pot. The slow cooker. The magical dinner that cooks itself.

While the hubs is a great sport and eats my healthy menu experiments, he still loves meat-and-potato type meals.  Of course, I must indulge him once and a while. 

One of his favorite meals is something his mom used to make: crock pot roast with mushroom gravy.  This recipe is delicious and incredibly easy.  I highly recommend it!

  • Roast--whichever kind you prefer
  • Button mushrooms, cut in half--I usually get a tub of them
  • A handful or so of coarsely chopped onion
  • 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cans of french onion soup
I usually half this recipe since I'm normally cooking for two.  


Put all ingredients in slow cooker and turn on low.  In 6 or so hours, done!  I usually chop up the roast (or sometimes steak) into bite sized pieces--per request of the husband.

I like to serve the roast with brown rice (gotta make it a little healthy).  But, you could also serve it with some mashed potatoes or pasta.  I probably should've served it with a salad, but I forgot lettuce at the store (man, I wish I had a garden!).

What is your favorite crock pot recipe?

We Got A Puppy: Meet Lucille

We got a boxer puppy.  She's adorable.  And a handful.  But she's a lot of fun.  Minus the fact that she pees and poops a lot.  Potty training is exhausting!

My husband grew up with a boston terrier.  It died when he was in college.  Ever since we got married, he has wanted a dog.  I'm more of a cat person--and we already have two.  We decided to get a dog when we got a yard.  And, as you may know, we have a yard now.

Enter Lucille.

A ball of energy and a cuddler.  I'm a fan of our little gal, but I'm also exhausted!  I haven't been working, so I've been puppy-sitting all day.  I try to take her out every 30-45 minutes, but she still has accidents.

I haven't gotten much done lately (except blogging and endless pages of pinterest) because she falls asleep on the couch--but only when I'm on the couch too.  If I get up, she wakes up and follows me.  I can get stuff done in short bursts--if she wanders for too long, she either has an accident in the house or gets into the kitty's litter box.  So, I think I'll have to kennel her for a little while every now and again.

I can't imagine what having a kid will be like!  But at least babies poop in diapers!

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about puppies, or any pet for that matter?

Update on the Job

I got it! How the Lord provides! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

O My, Lord! How God (Suddenly) Provides, Part II

Oh. My. Lord.  If you remember my post, O My, Lord! How God (Suddenly) Provides, my husband's job and a house fell into our laps.  Well, God has done it once again.  I pretty much have a job.  A good one--and one I didn't even know existed a month ago.

My stepmom is a legislative auditor--a CPA.  She did a presentation at work with a few other colleagues, and part of her presentation was on performance auditing.  She thought, "This would be great for Kristen."  So, she had me forward her my resume and she sent it to some people she knew in the performance department.  They said they didn't have any openings but would "keep me in mind."

So, I forgot about it.  And, honestly, I wasn't that interested either.  Auditing--sounds boring!  I had been thinking about getting certified to teach english and was prepared to go in that direction.

A week later HR called me wanting to set up an interview.  I was a bit shocked--still uninterested--but set up the interview anyway.

My stepmom offered to talk to me about performance auditing and help me prep for the interview.  We got together to look over some reports and whatnot.

After she explained the basics of performance auditing, I thought, this is perfect for me.  An audit is pretty much a giant research paper--only about a government organization.  You're on a team, conduct field research as well as "library" research, so to speak, and you write a report.  The goal is to find areas within the organization that could be more efficient and make recommendations to them.  So, in 6 months to a year, you become an expert on your assigned organization.

This allows for a great diversity in the job--from medicare to the prison system.  And, you aren't always doing the same work for each audit.  And, and, they are actually excited to have someone with and English background.  That's right! I'll be using my English MA after all!

Back to the interview.  I go in and have the most stress-free, easy going interview ever--and they all knew my stepmom.  After I leave, before I even get to my car, HR calls to set up a second interview for the next day. Sweet!

The second interview wasn't really an interview at all.  I met with some senior auditors and they talked to me about the job.  Then, I did a case study writing exercise, where I had to write about a hypothetical audit.   Nailed it.

But so now, here I am waiting.  The director has unofficially offered me a position--and even knows what audit he'll be putting me on--but we're waiting on my background check to come back.  We're still waiting.

I did a little research and discovered that the office that sends my background check (in PA) is flooded. Seriously flooded.  So, I'm hoping and praying that my paperwork can come through by the end of this week--so I can start next week.  And, of course, I'm praying for the people affected by the flooding.

So--here I am, thanking God for a job (one that I didn't even apply for) and waiting for all the formalities to go through.  And, I'm trying my hardest not to freak out and be afraid that all of this is going to fall through (which is quite characteristic of me).

Say a little prayer for my paperwork and the people in PA! And, hopefully, I'll be working next week!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Vegetarian Recipe: Eqyptian Edamame Stew with Cous Cous

This week I tried my hand at a recipe I adapted from Eating Well.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, Going Vegetarian Once A Week, I've been experimenting with all kinds of fun veggie meals.  I love Middle Eastern flavors, so I was excited to try their Egyptian Edamame Stew with Cous Cous.


1 lb bag of frozen shelled edamame
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, diced
2 tbsp pressed garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4-ish tsp cayenne pepper
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint


Cook edamame according to package directions (add edamame to 1/2 cup of boiling water and simmer for about 5 minutes). Drain.

Then, sauté the onion in oil over medium heat for about 3 minutes.  Once the onion begins to brown, add zucchini, cover for 3 more minutes.  

Then, stir in the garlic and seasonings (cumin, coriander, and red pepper). Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes. 

At this point I started the cous cous, which only took about 7 minutes--it was just the plain boxed kind. 

Stir in the edamame and cook for a few more minutes. Before serving add chopped mint. 

And, voila! A delicious, healthy vegetarian dinner! (Well, I did use chicken broth in the cous cous, so it wasn't 100% vegetarian.)

We really liked this recipe, and it only took about a half hour to make.  The cous cous absorbs a lot of the flavor of the sauce.  Plus, edamame is very good for you!

What is your favorite edamame recipe?

Going Vegetarian Once a Week

One of my goals in my quest for a healthier, more frugal lifestyle is eating less meat.  Now that I'm not waiting tables (ever again!), I have been cooking dinner regularly.  I love to cook, so I'm pretty excited. 

I've been planning out our weekly menu on a spreadsheet--with links to online recipes, if applicable (a post coming soon).  At least once a week I cook a vegetarian meal.  

There are two main reasons for going veggie once a week:

1. For health.  Americans eat way too much meat.  Its not always a bad thing, but by cutting out meat, I can integrate nutritious ingredients that I don't use as regularly.  Plus, I'm learning a lot about where to find protein--in beans, veggies, and grains.  And, by focusing on veggies, we can get a lot of vitamins and minerals that we often miss in other meals.  Some good info about vegetarian basics can be found at Vegetarians in Paradise

2. For the budget.  Lately, I've been trying to buy higher quality meat--less chemicals, hormones, and fillers. The only problem is that good meat is expensive.  So, by cutting out meat at least once a week, it saves quite a bit of money. 

So far I've developed quite a love for quinoa and bulghur wheat. Not to mention beans. We never ate a lot of beans, minus red beans and rice.  And, one of my goals is to cook more with greens--like collard greens and mustard greens.  

I've been on the search for some good vegetarian cookbooks, and have found some great websites with vegetarian recipes.  Everyday Vegetarian and Eating Well are just two sites that have some good ideas. I'm excited, too, about experimenting with Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai recipes. 

I'll be posting some recipes soon!

What's your favorite vegetarian recipe?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Oil Cleansing Method

For about a month now, I've been using the Oil Cleansing Method to wash my face.  I had read about before and was intrigued.  So, while I was unemployed I figured I might as well try it.

My face hadn't been looking to good up until this point.  I bought some of those face wipe things when I was waiting tables because they were quick to use when I got off late.  They did not work.  In fact, they may have caused me to break out more.

On top of the faulty wipes, I went off the pill (not trying to have babies yet, though!).  So, my skin went crazy.  It was like puberty all over again.

Cue the Oil Cleansing Method.  Why the hell not, right?

What is the Oil Cleansing Method you ask?  It sounds crazy, but it really makes sense.  Instead of using harsh facial cleansers, you clean your face with oil.  Yes, oil!  The thought process is that oil dissolves oil.  So, when you massage oil into your skin, the fresh oil purges the dirty oil.

What I do is mix one part castor oil, one and 1/2 parts olive oil.  You can use a variety of oils in place of olive oil, but the castor oil is a must.  It is really good at dissolving dirt and the like.  If you have dry skin, up the olive oil.  If you have oily skin, up the castor oil.

I massage the oil into my (dry) skin for about 5 minutes, focusing on the bad areas.  Then I run the hot water, getting it as hot as I can.  I wet a clean wash rag, wring it out, and put it over my face.  The steam opens your pores.  I repeat with the wash rag about five times.  Then, I wipe my face with the rag to get off the excess oil.  Voila!

Your face shouldn't be oily--if it is you used too much.  Nor should it be tight or dry.  You shouldn't even need moisturizer.

So far so good.  My face is not blemish free yet, but my skin does look radiant.  My problem is that its a bit time consuming, so sometimes I forget to do it.  I try to do it once a day.  This past weekend, I forgot for like 3 days straight and I broke out again.  Gasp! But now that I'm regularly cleansing my face its looking a lot better!  Hopefully pretty soon I'll be blemish free!

For some more info check out: Crunchy Betty, The Oil Cleansing Method, and Simple Mom.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Greatness of Giving

Giving money away? That doesn't sound like frugal spending, does it?

But really, the whole point of living frugally is to be able to give money away.  There is something powerful in being a generous giver.

As you may know, my husband and I are working to be debt free, and hopefully we'll be there in six months. Once we are debt free we can start saving for the down payment for the house, pad our savings, and accumulate money for giving.  Without a car note or credit card debt, we should be able to do some serious saving!

About two or so years ago, we started giving half our tithe to church and saving the other half (I have a whole spreadsheet outlining our savings account!)  Eventually we amassed a nice bit of money. We weren't sure what we were going to do with it--we were waiting until God led us to give.

We even tried to give it away twice, but the potential recipients said they didn't really need it.  So, we continued waiting.  Recently, we happened to be talking to someone about what we had been doing with our tithes (I don't remember how it came up), and I mentioned how much we had saved.  A day or two later, the same person called my husband.  He said he felt weird asking this, but he and his wife wanted to ask us to pray about giving them the money.  They had some medical bills that equalled the exact amount that we mentioned having.

How amazing!  People don't like talking about money, much less asking someone for financial help.  And, honestly, in our economic climate there is no shame in needing help.  Life happens and sometimes it happens hard!  We are on earth not for ourselves, but for the people around us.  We are made to go through life together.  Isn't that what the body of Christ all about?

Our financial plan is not just about being able to provide for our family, but to be generous givers.  We feel like God has put that on our hearts and minds.  There is something amazing that happens when you open yourself up to being generous.  And, it opens you up for God's provision.

If there is one thing we have learned about finances it is that when you give, God provides for you.  We used to be on again, off again tithers, but for the past few years we have been trying to tithe regularly.  And let me tell you, tithing is not about legalism--giving because you're supposed to.  Tithing is about acknowledging that God is the source of your money, and that you are going to be good stewards of what he has given you.  And since we have been tithing we have always always been able to pay our bills--even when we didn't think we would!

If you haven't been giving, or have never thought about it, I urge you to think and pray about it.  Its pretty spectacular! 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Well Crap! Taking a Break from No 'Poo

I caved.  I said I wouldn't but I did. I used shampoo. 6 1/2 weeks without using shampoo--ruined!

Honestly, it wasn't as simple as that.  Unfortunately, my dandruff came roaring back.  For the first month or so my scalp was itch free and dandruff free.  I had a few greasy, my-hair-is-getting-used-to-this days, but overall I was pretty happy with my no 'poo results.  My hair was looking good for about two to three days before needing a wash.

I was even getting ready to get some essential oils to add to the mix and make my hair smell like lavender or something.  But then. . . itchy, flaky scalp. Boo.

I didn't even miss the lather of shampoo or the flowery smell of shampooed hair.  I was good. Ready to keep marching forward.

Eventually, I got so frustrated that I caved.  And, boy, the first shampoo was magical.  Six weeks with no lather.  Although the lather of shampoo has no real purpose (besides convincing us that it is, in fact, cleaner), it was luxurious and exciting.  I felt a little girly.

Now that I am shampooing again, I have found that I need to wash my hair more often. Which means I have to buy more and more shampoo.  Hopefully, though, not for long.

I am on a no 'poo break, but I am looking into chemical-free dandruff "shampoos" so I can basically be shampoo free.  I'd like to get away from the chemicals and whatnot in Head and Shoulders and the like.  I've seen some natural shampoo bars specifically for dandruff that I may try.  Apparently, rosemary and nettle are good for dandruff.  I could make my own shampoo bar too.  Unfortunatley, I was too desperate  to try to figure out how to make my own shampoo bar.

Until I reach a solution, I'm reveling in the lather. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lemon Squares, or Cooking in Someone Else's Kitchen, Part II

For my mother-in-law's birthday I whipped up some delicious lemon squares.  I love lemon squares.  I chose them for her birthday dessert because 1) I knew she and my father-in-law love lemon desserts and 2) you could easily freeze a few and save them for later--who eats a whole cake anyway?

I didn't have a recipe off hand, so I trusted the-always-reliable Martha Stewart to put me on the path to lemon squares.  (I won't lie; I love Martha--in fact, I named my (pastel) bicycle after her.)  Check out her website for the recipe.

Unlike my experience baking my mother's birthday cake, my lemon square adventure did not involve any kitchen equipment drama. I was, again, cooking in someone else's kitchen.  At this point, all of our stuff was still in storage, and my grandmother's kitchen is still full of essentials.  The tricky part was remembering where she kept everything.

I don't have a food processor (it broke), so to make the crust, I sliced cold butter, added it to the dry ingredients, and used my fingers to rub in the butter.  It's actually kind of fun!

The only problem I encountered while cooking in someone else's kitchen was the oven.  I don't think it was as hot as it claimed to be (its an old oven).  Every oven is different, and the great part of cooking in your own kitchen is you know its quirks.  For example, my oven in Delaware cooked hotter on one side than the other, so I had to be sure to turn the pan halfway through.

After cooking the squares for the allotted period of time, they weren't looking set--in fact, the consistency was still liquid. Using my kitchen smarts, I continued baking until it was set all the way through.  I'll admit, I was pretty nervous that I'd screw it all up and have no dessert to bring to the in-laws.

Yet, my smarts proved true and the lemon squares finally set and came out nice!  They could have cooked a little more (the middle ones were still pretty soft) but I didn't want to risk it--being that I had never made them before and didn't know what they were supposed to look like.

I couldn't find a sifter, so I just sprinkled the powdered sugar on by hand--which isn't as pretty.  But, equally delicious.

One of my recommendations regarding lemon-flavored desserts: ALWAYS use fresh lemon juice.  It makes such a difference!

And, a tip regarding ovens: Get an oven thermometer.  Mine is broken so I have to get a new one.  They are pretty cheap and changed my baking life!  Its amazing how wrong your oven can be! but by trusting your oven thermometer, you know exactly how hot your oven is and when its preheated.  Go buy one!

Any other funny oven experiences?

Sorry for the Hiatus! Vacation is Over!

Sorry for the hiatus!  We've returned from our San Francisco vacation and are settling into our new abode.

A lot has been happening since my husband got a job, so I've been a bit distracted from writing.  We finally moved all of our stuff into our new place, which means there is a pile of boxes in my dining room.  While I unpack our stuff, I'm going to start trying to box up some of my grandma's stuff for her (its her old house).  It'll be a slow, long road, but we'll get there!

The exciting news is that we are going to rent-to-own the house.  Woohoo!  We were planning on buying a house in the next couple of years, and this house fell into our laps--and I love it!  Needless to say, my mind has been in over drive thinking about how I can decorate and planning all kinds of diy projects!  Let me tell you, when God provides, He provides!

And, I've got a job interview on Thursday.  I feel good about it, too!

Back to the writing! And, I have a slew of new post ideas--enough to keep me going for a while! Get ready!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Living Simply: Why Do We Have So Much Stuff?

My husband and I are renting my grandparent’s old house.  They built a new one and are trying to sell the old one.  They don’t want to leave the house vacant, so here we are.  When God dropped a job in my husband’s lap, we needed a place to stay and viola! a house fell into our laps too. 
So, my grandparents still have a lot of stuff in the house that they need to go through--deciding what to keep and what to toss.  I plan on boxing up a lot of things for them (and doing some sprucing up to get it ready to sell!), and I’ve been thinking a lot about how much stuff the average person accumulates.  
Over forty years. Thats how long my grandparents were in this house. Thats a long time--and a long time to fill it up with stuff.  Of course, its gonna take a while to sift through forty years worth of living.  
When the hubs and I moved from Philly to Louisiana, we got rid of a lot of stuff (and we had skimmed down during the move before that), so I like to think we are closer to bare bones.  Then we moved into my grandparent’s house.  I feel like we have close to nothing! (Not really, though.)  There is no way we are going to fill up a 7 room house when we are used to living in a two to three room apartment. 
So why do we have so much stuff?  Society is always convincing us that we need the next new thing, and most of us believe it.  And, really, most of the stuff winds up forgotten in a drawer or closet somewhere.  When you pull everything out, you realize that you have a (rather large) pile of useless stuff. 
Of course, some things are good and nostalgic and worth saving.  I’m talking about junk we save because we think we’ll need it someday and then it just sits there.  
I hope to “clean out” our house every couple of years--getting rid of things I haven’t used or thought about in at least one year.  Then, hopefully, the build-up of stuff won’t be so bad.  Out with the old and in with the new.  (I’ve also thought about doing this with my closet--when I buy something new, I have to give away something old). 
Have you ever been surprised at how much stuff you have?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How a Cheap Piece of Plastic Saved My Car Wash

When we lived in the city we never washed our car.  Never.  But, now we are living in a house with a carport and a hose. Plus, we actually drive our car.

Naturally, I washed my car.  Instead of paying ten bucks or more to go get my car washed, I did the thrifty thing: I did it myself.  I gathered a bucket, some dish soap, and some rags went to the carport and washed away.

My concern with this particular car wash was how to get a splat of yellow paint off of my bumper.  In Philly, the garbage men dropped a can of paint and it splattered all over my back bumper.  It was just interior paint so I knew it would come off. But how would I scrape it off without scratching my paint job?  The rags wouldn't do anything, so I had to think of something.

Pampered Chef Nylon Pan Scrapers. A-mazing! I have been a long-time fan of these nifty little squares, and today they proved even more how valuable these guys are.

Not only did the pan scraper get the paint off, it was also helpful in getting off other junk that the rag wouldn't.  One side of my car looked like I ran over a can of soda--there were little brownish-pink spots everywhere, and the rag wasn't cutting it.  But, the pan scraper did the job easily and much faster.

I encourage everyone to save some money by 1) washing their own car with some soap and water and 2) getting out your pan scraper to help!  No need for fancy car wash sponges and soaps! And, you can get a healthy dose of Vitamin D.

If you do not have a pan scraper, I suggest you part with $3 and get one!

Any other car-washing tips?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

O My, Lord! How God (Suddenly) Provides

Remember when I posted What I'm Learning from God Lately: Trust about how we moved home and are looking for jobs?  Well, let me tell you, God always provides! You think trusting in him would be easier!

In about two days, our life changed drastically!

A week or so ago my husband snagged a job at a local restaurant.  All was set for us to stay with my mom for a couple of months while we saved up some monies.  Now, I am the kind of person who is always looking ahead, and for a little while I was ready to have a job and be where I wanted to be.  I prayed a lot about being patient and being content where I was.  And, finally I was okay with taking our time finding "real" jobs and hanging out with Mom.

It seems that right when I decided to be content, God dropped a job in the hub's lap.  He used to be a teacher, but had decided that he didn't want to teach anymore.  A friend texted him asking if he wanted to teach at our alma mater (and where he taught his first year) because they were desperate for a math teacher.  Usually he says no to any thought of teaching. However, this time his reaction was different.  He was strangely interested.  So, we thought and prayed.  He decided to call the principal.  He left two messages and never heard back.

That day he was scheduled to start training at the restaurant.  He hesitantly went it, and while he was at work the principal called and scheduled an interview with him for the next day.  After working his shift at the restaurant, he decided he did miss teaching after all.

So, he went in for the interview, got the job, and school started the next day.  He found out about the job, applied, got hired, and started all within three days! Now, he is at a job he loves (and at a school he loves), and he never thought he would teach again!

To top it all off, we even found a house to live in! We are renting my grandmother's old house for a nice low price. Now we can save up and pay off all our debt!

God always, always provides! Often in ways you didn't think were possible.

In what ways has God surprised you?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ode to the KitchenAid Stand Mixer: Baking a Cake without You is Not the Same

I love my red KitchenAid stand mixer.  It was probably my favorite wedding gift (thanks Fellners!).

For my mom's birthday I decided to bake her a cake (as a surprise).  Naturally, I browsed the cake recipes over at Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite cooking blogs.  My mom's birthday is only a week after mine, and she made me my favorite cake--yellow cake with chocolate icing.  So, I wanted to make something other than chocolate.

Pink Lady Cake. Strawberry cake with cream cheese icing. Yes ma'am. Mom loves strawberries so I thought it would be a success.  The cake turned out awesome (although not as good looking as Deb's from Smitten Kitchen).

The road to the finished product was quite frustrating and hilarious.

I did not make this cake in my kitchen.  We are living with my mom right now, so her kitchen was my workspace.  Not only is it difficult to cook in someone else's kitchen because you don't know where everything is, but also because their equipment is not your equipment.

I found a stand kitchen mixer, combined all the ingredients, and started her up.  It was horrible. Horrible. The cake batter was thick and looked like ice cream--which was apparently too much for this feeble mixer. It started smoking a little, and it smelled like burnt motor.  My mom always has a hand mixer, so I found it and began using it.  Every time I moved it a little, the beaters fell out. I even mixed it with one beater for a while.

I have never before yelled that many profanities while baking.

After struggling with the unstable beaters of the second mixer I realized that they were the wrong ones and searched for another pair--which I found in a different drawer.  Life moved on much easier after that, and I felt stupid.

I baked the cake, let it cool, and assembled it. Much smoother.

I bought some pink icing that comes in the aerosol can (I don't have any piping materials) so I could decorate the cake like the one on Smitten Kitchen--because her's is so adorable! Now, I've baked a lot of cakes, but have piped none of them.  Trying to pipe letters and polka dots on the cake with the aerosol can was so hard. You have to push the nozzle to the side, and after a few minutes my hand was shaking. Needless to say, it looked good, but a bit squiggly.

Mom was pretty surprised!  The cake tasted great--especially the icing! It was rich and sweet, but not too sweet.  I loved the texture.  Thank you Smitten Kitchen!

The moral of the story is that my KitchenAid mixer is amazing, and my cake adventure would have been a lot less exciting if I was using it.

If you don't have one, find one on sale and buy it now. Seriously.