Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas craziness

Christmas has definitely been different this year now that we have 2 children. More fun, more toys and presents and much busier! We are up wrapping presents for the second night in a row. Actually, Daddy C is wrapping, I am instructing from my perch on the couch, cuddled up with a bowl of popcorn and cookies on the side!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blogging on the go!

This blog post is being published on my iPhone! I am excited for this since I think it will help me to post more often.

Today we finished up our Christmas cookies for our friends and neighbors. Dallas had a blast licking the spoon and would also run off with a piece of cookie dough every so often. She tried to use the cookie cutters but was not very successful at it. We made no bake cookies (my first time ever making them- so easy too) and sugar cookies. We kept the sugar cookies plain since I figured there was enough sugar in them already!

Dahlia's birthday is next week - I cannot believe how fast the time has gone! We are looking forward to celebrating her first Christmas together.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2.5 Years

Dallas will be 2.5 years old in a week or so! She has turned into such a fun-loving, emotional, energetic little girl! I love her to death, but she is quite the challenge most days. Her terrible twos seem to have made a reappearance as of late, after several months of improvement. She really is annoyed by her sister most of the time and we have to constantly remind her to be nice and not hit, to share and to not erupt into a scream every time her sister says something!

She is still not potty trained, but I am not worried. I am taking my time with it, as I have no desire to begin training and end up at a dead end of frustration due to her not being fully ready. She is not showing ANY signs of readiness so we will leave it at that. I plan on starting to train her closer to 3. For now, it's 2 in diapers still!

Dallas is finally beginning to talk more after taking away the pacifier a little over a month ago. I have a suspicion that is where the problems we have with her are coming from. She doesn't quite know how to calm or control herself without it. Hopefully that will improve over the next couple of months. She talks in sentences now, and is saying new things every day.

I have started preschool with her at home, as she needs and thrives under the structure of activities and the learning. I love that I am able to start her when she is ready and see her learn new things! It's truly a whole new world and helps me remember to involve her and teach her throughout the day, reinforcing what is being taught. Rob is able to have a hand in it as well, which he loves.

11 Months and Walking

Dahlia started walking just after Thanksgiving - right around when she turned 11 months old. This is about a month and a half earlier than her sister! She is so cute and so small when she walks! She still sometimes crawls if she is tired or needs to get somewhere quick, but mostly she is walking now.

She also has added some new words to her vocabulary. Along with mama, dada, kitty, sissy, hi, ball and jump, she can say bird, cat, water (wa-wa) and some other word we can't quite identify but which she associates with her lovey.

She is growing so fast, and everyday she resembles more and more a toddler and less and less a baby. I am treasuring the moments because I know how quickly they go. Soon, she will be a "terrible" toddler and we will have a whole other world to deal with!

I am still breastfeeding her (current goal is 18 months so still 6 months to go!), although not exclusively. Her favorite foods are biscuits and crackers, mashed anything (potatoes, sweet potatoes), bananas, baked oatmeal, larabars and eggs. She does seem to have a food allergy as evidenced by her eczema outbreaks, but we still have not been able to correctly identify what it is. We are in the process of beginning a big elimination diet to see if we can rule out the most popular allergens right away. She nurses about every 3-4 hours, depending on the day and how she feels. If she is sick, she will nurse about every 2. The daytime sessions usually do not last more than a few minutes, but her nursing style was always very quick even from the beginning. She still nurses at night 2-3 times as well, although the stretches are slowly getting longer and longer. I look forward to the day she starts sleeping through the night, which will hopefully be very soon!!

2012 Canning Totals

2012 was our most successful garden year to date. We planted 28 tomato plants and ended up canning 21 pints of tomato sauce from them. The last batch I canned today, yes, in December, thanks to freezing the tomatoes whole in gallon sized bags in our deep freezer. I will definitely do this method again next year. It wasn't the best year for tomatoes, so I was glad I planted so many of them. We grew many different varieties as an experiment, and some didn't do very well. Next summer we will know what does well in our area and can hopefully grow more!

Back in June, I was able to buy 6 or so pints of blueberries for just 99 cents each. I made blueberry jam for the first time from them, and ended up with 10 or so half pints of blueberry jam. It is so yummy, and nice to get a taste of summer in the middle of winter! We love it with toast or peanut butter on bread.

I had planned on canning more applesauce, apple butter and some more jelly, but the apple sales never materialized and I figured we had enough jelly as it was. The lowest the apples ever went was $0.99 lb, a far cry from the 49 cents the previous year. It was a bad year for apples though, and Michigan lost most of their crop. It was a bad year for farmers too - the corn here withered into nothing in many areas from the long, hard drought. I did end up stocking up on canning jars anyway, and that will help me with next years canning. I'm hoping to acquire a pressure-canner and can other vegetables such as green beans and maybe peas.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Sanity Savers: On Cloth Diapers and Bulk Buying

Life with 2 small children can be hectic at times. That might be putting it lightly, actually. I don't know how larger families do it, but I'm sure they figure things out or else everyone would only have two children. Even though I am far from having it all put together, I do implement some things to keep my life as simple as possible and reduce stress. The number one thing I try to eliminate is unnecessary shopping or errands. Putting 2 little squirmy girls into their carseats, back out, then back in and out again all for a simple run for toilet paper is exhausting. I thus try and bulk buy whenever possible. Although I do try and get the lowest price, price is not always my only consideration. I also consider the time I will save by buying something at another store that I know costs a little more if I am already there.

Let's talk diapers for a moment. Disposables are "easy". Easy on, easy off. Easy throwing them in the trash. Until it stinks up the whole house... then you are reduced to carrying each diaper out of the house and into the outside garbage can. Until you run out unexpectedly and have to run to the store... spend lots of money and turn the whole errand into the main event for the day. Until your baby starts smelling like some weird chemical experiment because her urine is reacting to the strange ingredients that make up a disposable...

Now let's think about all the "work" involved with cloth diapers. I have a full stash of cloth diapers for both my 10 month old and my 28 month old. I never have to run to the store to buy disposables. I always have diapers as long as I clean them. My cloth diapers take maybe 5 seconds longer to put on - that's it, seriously. When changing a dirty one, I unzip a wet bag and throw the soiled diaper in it, then zip it back up. No weird smells emit from this odor proof bag, and since there are no chemicals to react with, the general smell is less overall as well. If the diaper is really dirty, I go around the corner and shake it in the toilet or let it soak in there for an hour or so. When the wet bag is full, I dump it in the wash and wash them. Then I take them out and lay them on a rack to dry (I air dry most of my clothes so this is not an extra step for me. However you could just as easily throw them in the dryer if you wanted). Compare the washing to driving to the store, and cloth diapers come out ahead. So for this reason and many others, I use cloth diapers to help keep things simplified.

Another thing I do to help save my sanity is buying in bulk. I watch sales and stock up when the price is right. I have a basement, so this is not a space issue for me like it is for others. I utilize Sam's club for certain items as well, and I shop there about 4x a year to stock up on the good deals. I have a 7 ft cubic freezer in my basement where I like to freeze bread, veggies, cheese, meat and other frozen items. I have even frozen milk. This all helps keep my grocery shopping less harried and less frequent since I am usually fairly well stocked on our basics. In addition, I keep a personal hygiene stockpile that includes items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, body wash, soap and razors. Most of these items were obtained for very little by utilizing coupons and store promotions. It is rare that I think about buying these things, since we always have plenty.

These are just a couple of ways I keep my life simple. I know I have a long ways to go before I figure everything else out, but I'm hoping little by little to continue to get more organized and prepared for my family's needs by implementing simple systems such as these.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall Frugal Activities

Well, this series was meant to be weekly, but life has been busy with a 9 month old and a 2 yr old! Here are some of my recent frugal activities this fall!

A couple weeks ago it got cold enough to finally turn on the heat. I always wait as long as I can, but when the house is 64 degrees before nightfall, it's a good sign it's time. We have enjoyed the cooler weather setting in, wearing pants, leggings, socks and light jackets! One of the ways we keep our heating bill down in the winter is by setting the thermostat to 68 degrees. It can get a bit chilly, but we bundle with blankets and sweaters. We put flannel sheets on our beds and dress the girls in fleece pajamas.

We filled up our car at Kroger and with our fuel points, we were able to get 40 cents off per gallon. We usually try to use a fueling station like Shell that will allow us to utilize our fuel points, but that only takes off 10 cents per gallon. Kroger's gas station is not exactly close by so it's always nice when we get a chance to fill up there.

We had a fall festival party with family that included a fire, chili and hotdogs, pumpkin carving and a tractor ride. This was on a family member's property, we had a lot of fun for free!

I baked 2 loaves of homemade wheat bread, one last week and one today. This bread is so much better than the most expensive store-bought stuff. I don't compromise on bread at the grocery, so this saves us several dollars each loaf. I plan on making more in bulk (such as baking 3 loaves at once) and then freezing slices for later. I also still plan to keep store-bread in my freezer for those emergency days!

I shopped at CVS and Rite Aid several times in the past month, using my store rewards to get many items we needed for very very cheap or free. I am trying to stay on top of couponing again, and I have my old Case-It binder where I store all my coupons newly organized and at the ready. I realized I needed to change my couponing strategy from what it was before - I used to keep the inserts filed and then clip the coupons when needed, but then I would never have them while shopping due to everything else getting in the way (last minute diaper changes, nursing sessions ect.). I now clip every coupon I think I might use and sort them in categories. I also changed my food section from alphabetical to categorical in the order I shop at the store. These two changes have helped immensely. I am saving much more than I ever have before at the grocery! I am now trying to shop in the evenings after the girls are in bed, so I can think more clearly and have my coupon binder open on the cart as I am shopping. Before I would take them with me during the day, with Snowflake in the Ergo and Peanut in the seat of the cart. I was always rushing in and out to avoid meltdowns. Keeping a well-stocked pantry has also helped make it easier to shop only when it is convenient.

Both Peanut and Snowflake are regularly in cloth diapers most days. I ran out of our all-natural laundry detergent and decided to make my own cloth diaper detergent as well as regular detergent. Both have been working quite well with no skin reaction yet from Snowflake. This really is saving us money since the all-natural detergent I was using costs $11-13 a bottle and is rarely on sale.

We ate out a fast food restaurant this past week and used coupons to help save over $8 on our meal.

I harvested the last of the tomatoes from my garden a couple weeks ago. I saved the green tomatoes in a case I am storing in our basement. I am gathering ideas for what to do with them (besides fried green tomatoes!). I plan on canning the 11 or so gallon-bags of frozen red tomatoes soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review of eBay Cloth Diapers

Last year, I blogged about our recent purchase of pocket diapers off of eBay. I decided now, after several months of use, I should write an update on how they are holding up.

I have mixed feelings towards these diapers (babyland variety) and here's why. As a stand alone diaper with a single insert, they are pretty horrible as far as leaks go (major wing droop- a second row of snaps would solve this issue though). I will only use one like this if I know it will only be a short time before I change them into something else. However, with a cover over them, they actually work just fine. Now, this sorta defeats the purpose of pocket diapers since you still have to use a cover like you would with a prefold. The only thing that is different is that you don't have to worry about a snappi or pins, which Daddy C really likes. But it also takes more time to change diapers this way (so many snaps!), and with a squirmy baby, it can be a challenge at times. One insert really is not enough for more than an hour, so we typically make sure we have 2 in them.

Now, I also have several of another type of diaper I bought off eBay from China with minky and patterned fabrics. These actually hold up fairly well, and the inserts that came with them are much thicker and more absorbent than the Babylands. I use these with an extra insert for Peanut without a cover, but if I know we will be out a while, I put a cover over it for added protection against leaks. This can be a bit bulky, but that kinda comes with the territory with cloth diapers!

So, do I think the diapers were worth it? I do. We have gotten a lot of use out of them, and at an average price of only $3 a diaper, they are comparable to what we would have paid for prefolds. Daddy C likes to use these over the prefolds, so we end up using cloth more and disposables less, which saves money and the environment. Just make sure you have some good covers on hand to help contain leaks!

The covers we use are the Econobum covers (LOVE these, only $9) and Dappi covers ($5) The Dappi covers are just nylon pants and they are quick to put on and work surprising very well. We rarely have any issues with them.

For nighttime diapering, we use either a heavy-duty flannel fitted diaper that we bought from an Amish general store or a babyland with cover and several inserts. These work really well at keeping the little bottoms dry, rash free and cozy.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent

When Snowflake was just a few weeks old, she developed a nasty eczema rash. At first, we figured it might be a food allergy so I went on an elimination diet for several weeks with no luck. Then we speculated that it might be an environmental allergy to certain chemicals in her baby wash, lotion and detergent. At the time, I was using a pretty standard laundry detergent, Johnson's baby wash and Johnson's baby lotion. We threw out the lotions and baby wash and replaced it with Dr. Brommer's baby mild soap, an all natural lotion and I started using an all natural detergent. That seemed to do the trick, and her rash cleared right up!

Well, after some time using the new detergent, we ran out again and I decided to make our own and see if that works just as well. I was amazed at how easy this detergent was to make! 

1 Fels Naptha Bar Soap (or any other bar soap)
1 Cup Washing Soda
1/2 Cup Borax

Yields approx. 3 cups. Use 1 tablespoon for light loads and 2 tablespoons for heavy loads.

I don't think I will use this recipe for cloth diapers, however, since the Fels-Naptha and Borax are not good for them from what I have read (interferes with absorbency and waterproof shells). Hopefully this recipe will work well for Snowflake - I only made one batch to test it out first. I think I might use Dr. Brommer's soap next time to make sure there are no added fragrances that may irritate her skin. I plan on making a second recipe for her and Peanut's cloth diapers too as soon as I am able to go buy the additional ingredients I did not have on hand.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Peanut's Favorite Books

Peanut (26 months) is an avid reader. She reads all throughout the day, and we have an impressive children's library to help sustain her appetite for books. Yet she still chooses the same books over and over and over and over again. And just when you think she has had enough of the book, she asks for it again! Here are some of her favorite books at the moment:

The Little Red Caboose - This was Daddy's C's book when he was a boy, so it's a special book handed down to Peanut. She LOVES this book. The reading is repetitive, but the illustrations are so involved, it's no wonder she likes looking at all the pages. I think I have this one memorized!

Little Red's Autumn Adventure - I bought this book at Ollie's last year to go along with our leaf theme week awhile back. I wasn't expecting too much fuss over it, but it has become an all-time favorite read for her. The writing is clever and the illustrations are captivating.

Pajama Time - This i s a great bedtime book with a catchy rhyme-song. Daddy C and I both read it differently, but we both have it memorized. A fun read sure to delight any child!

It's Time to Sleep My Love - This is a beautiful book written like a lullaby. It makes ME want to curl up in bed and begin dreaming! The illustrations are simply wonderful, truly a treasure.

The Bible in Pictures for Toddlers - This is Peanut's Bible, and we read it to her every night. She loves reading her Bible and often totes it around with her during the day too! What I love about this toddler Bible is that it is the perfect size for little hands and has great illustrations for many stories - not just the popular ones! I highly recommend this one!

Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm -
I will admit, this is not my favorite book, but Peanut is obsessed with it. It reads with a strong accent so maybe that's why she likes it, oh and the fact that there are tons of balloons (one of her favorite things to which she used to refer to as "Bingy!")- this one is a winner.

Franklin's Baby Sister - Ah, the Franklin book. We have this one almost memorized as well, which is saying something considering it's not exactly a short book! She just loves this book, and it was read to her frequently before Snowflake was born. Given the chance, she will reach for this one! I could list more, but these are definitely on the top right now!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Recent Frugal Activities

I meant to publish this post a while back, and since I am just getting to it I decided to include a couple week's worth of frugal activities.

During one of our evening walks, we came upon a couple apple trees we never noticed before. The apples were all over the ground and the tree was bursting with ripe fruit. We asked the homeowner if they minded us picking some, and he was more than happy to let us since it would help reduce the amount to pick off the ground later. We filled the bottom of our stroller with some lovely crabapples - about 12lbs. Our first fruit gleaning experience!

I made a nursing necklace for Snowflake. I had been eyeing a few on etsy for a while, and I was all but ready to shell out $12 or so for a nice one when I had the idea to just make my own. I followed this tutorial and it turned out lovely. It has really helped with keeping her focused!

I decorated for fall using the decor I had in storage. I even had a few new items in there that I bought last year during an end-of-the-season sale.

Daddy C is at the wood working again and is almost finished with a new bookshelf for our living room. I am really excited for it to be finished - it's just what we need to help contain the small toys and books that seem to pile up quite easily around here. He has plans to make a matching end table for me as well!

We've been working on redecorating our living room and shopped around for many different pieces. We found a couch we really liked, but we did not like the price. It was $700, which was way more than we wanted to spend on a single item when you have small children running around. We kept looking and eventually found one almost identical at another store for only $400. The same thing happened with our chair and ottoman - we got them for $150 and $80 instead of $350 and $200. Yes, we could have bought used, but we really wanted something specific and the pieces on the used market were very worn and not at all our style. We paid cash for all our new living room pieces, saving on interest and other fees.

I visited several garage sales this past weekend and picked up a cute basket for $1, a brand new children's puzzle for 75 cents (these kind retail for $10-15), a wall hook for Snowflake's bedroom for 50 cents and a cute sweater and new looking shoes for Peanut for 50 cents each. I also found 10 books by Janette Oake to add to my library for only $2.50. Garage sale season is almost over, so I am scouting the few that are still happening. Many of these sales are of the best kind- people just wanting to get rid of things. That means you can find some great deals if you are willing to look.

I also line dried a couple loads of laundry this past week, kept the house at 74 degrees only when it became too hot and used coupons for our Sunday lunch out.

What frugal thing have you done lately? Share in the comments below!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

White Beans n' Bacon with Cornbread

We had something new for dinner tonight - beans and cornbread! A true pantry meal, everything about this dish is quick and easy. Daddy C loved it and so did Snowflake. Peanut liked her cornbread but wasn't as much of a fan of the beans. But, 3 out of 4 taste-buds, I'd say that's a winner.

Here is our recipe:

White Beans N' Bacon
1 can of Great Northern White Beans (or 1.5 cups cooked)
1.5 TBSP Bacon Grease
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
dash of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water

1. Drain and rinse beans. Meanwhile, melt bacon grease in a small pan.

2. Add beans to pan, stirring to coat. Add additional seasonings. Add water and cornstarch. Turn to low.

3. Cook until soft and thick. Serve over cornbread with a cold glass of milk.

You can use boxed corn-bread, but why do that when it's easy to make your own? I made up a mix of whole wheat cornbread mix quite a while ago and so I used that. Here's the recipe for that:

Whole Wheat Cornbread Mix

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups corn meal
¾ cup sugar
2 Tbs baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
¾ cup oil (olive or coconut)

Mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt, until well blended. Drizzle oil through the mixture and work until fine crumbs. Store in a sealed baggie.

1 cup of mix = 1 box of purchased cornbread mix.

To use: To 1 cup mix, Add 1 egg and 1/3 cup milk. Pour into greased muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-25 minutes or until done.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Frugal Family Vacation

Last week we returned from our family vacation to Michigan. We visited the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, relaxing at a family-loaned cabin and enjoying lazy days spending time with each other. It was a wonderful time, and we will always cherish the memories!

This was our first true family vacation since getting out of debt. We debated a lot during the planning stages on where we should go. Finally, we made a pros and cons list of all the places we wanted to see, and Michigan won! 

One of the many reasons we choose to go to Michigan instead of somewhere like Disney World, was that it was low-cost. We are still working on saving up for some other expenses, so it was important for us to not go overboard on a vacation, but we still wanted to have a carefree and fun time. 

Daddy C and Dallas rock hunting

Our expenses for this trip included gas (1200 miles at the end of the 2 week trip), food and entertainment. Since we stayed at a family-owned cabin, we did not pay for lodging, which saved us quite a bit! The entertainment money was spent on a museum visit, national park pass, books/gifts at a visitor center and ice-cream!

Hiking along the sand dunes

We ate most of our meals at the cabin, with food we brought from home. The nearest grocery store where we stayed is very expensive, so we saved a LOT by thinking and planning ahead by buying food before we left. For example, milk at the tourist grocery store is $4.99 a gallon, but here it's only $2.29! Add that savings up across the board and we easily saved $100 or more.

Snowflake and Peanut ready for a walk

 Almost all of our activities were free or nearly free. We spent a lot of time hiking, playing in the sand-dunes, driving the scenic drive and swimming. We didn't want a rush-rush vacation and some days we just spent lounging around the cabin, watching Veggie Tales or reading! Our cabin was a lakefront cabin on an inland lake, so we always had a nice view!

Peanut having a blast on the dunes

The space of the cabin was a necessity, since it helped all of us sleep better having our own rooms and ensured the girls got a good nap in during the day. We didn't have to worry about being too quiet during naptime and could do other activities in the afternoon and evenings as they slept. The low-key and peaceful surroundings helped rejuvenate our souls, which is what vacation is all about!

Peanut Swimming in the lake

All total, we spent less than $900 for a 2 week vacation for our family of 4. Definitely a frugal trip, but the memories we made while there are certainly priceless!

Snowflake hanging out on the dock

Some things that helped make our trip more enjoyable:
  • an ERGO baby carrier - this made it extremely easy to carry our 8 month old Snowflake on short outings
  • a double jogging stroller - Daddy C enjoyed taking Snowflake on several trail runs while we were there.
  • a picnic basket - this helped make the packed lunches in the car seem more adventurous and special!
  • a portable DVD player - borrowed from a friend, it really helped towards the end of the long 9 hour drive. Peanut isn't old enough to be interested in many car games/toys, so most of her time was otherwise spent staring out the window and listening to music!
We are looking forward to taking many more trips as a family in the coming years!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This Week's Frugal Activities

Here is a list of the frugal things I have done this week:

I lined dried all my clothes. Actually did less laundry this week so I saved on water.

I canned another 3 pints of tomato sauce from tomatoes harvested from our garden. I reused the water in the canner from the first time since I had just used it the day before. 

I read a book from the library and returned others that we had finished. I also renewed some that were about to be overdue, saving myself from racking up overdue fines. 

I combined as many trips as possible when running errands. Since we live about 10-15 minutes from the main shopping area, I try and get at least 2 errands done at once to save on gas. The most I am usually able to do is 4, but any more than that becomes difficult since Peanut and Snowflake don't do as well with extended trips. 

Did not need to water the garden for on several days due to rain! It's nice to finally get some rain around here, although for many crops it is a bit too late. My 2nd zucchini plant finally bit the dust after a particular hot afternoon last week, so I only have one producing plant now. I really thought I would have harvested more than I have from these 2 plants (as well as my 30 tomato plants), but I guess the weather just was not favorable this year. 

I shopped for our upcoming vacation and bought all our food for the trip at the discount store (Aldi) and Kroger here in town. The cabin we will be staying at is a bit more remote, and the grocery store is very expensive there, so we are saving a lot of money buying our food beforehand. 

This will be my last frugal activity update until we return from our trip in a few weeks. I will share all the frugal things we did while there when I get back!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

This Week's Frugal Activities

There is a forum I frequent that has a topic entitled "What Frugal Thing Have You Done Today?", and rather than update on the forum, I have decided to update it here on my blog instead. I'm hoping to start posting weekly again and this gets me started.

  • Line-dried all my clothes. I do this exclusively now that it is summer. Our clothes smell so much better, last a lot longer and I get sunshine and exercise to boot. The sun also is a great disinfectant so I usually feel they come out cleaner this way. Yes, I line-dry all our towels, socks, underwear you-name-it. Our dryer has been unplugged for the past several months :)
  • Ate lots of leftovers. We didn't have ANY leftover waste this week, which is a huge accomplishment since leftovers tend to pile up for us. I always hate throwing out food since it's basically throwing away money!
  • Went on a hike as a family. We went to a nature preserve close to our house and so did not pay much for gas. This was a fun, FREE activity that we love! Dallas hiked the entire way by herself over roots, rocks and other barriers. She was so excited to lead the way, reminds me a lot of myself as a child! 
  • Stayed home and played outside in our backyard. Staying home is frugal since we don't spend any money on gas or other shopping while out! Dallas played on her swing-set and Dahlia crawled around on a blanket in the grass throughout the whole week.
  • Ran the dishwasher only once a day with full loads only and let them air dry instead of running the heat-dry cycle. 
  • Washed all the clothes except cloth diapers in cold water. 
  • Used cloth diapers half the week - this saves a ton of money!
  • Researched and planned for our upcoming 2 week vacation. I worked on menu plans, shopping lists and Rob helped research campgrounds to stay in. We will not have any lodging costs on this trip except campgrounds since we will be staying in a family cabin the rest of the time. Menu-planning helps ensure we only eat out on planned days.
  • Did not have to water the garden on several days due to rain, hooray!
  • Successfully canned 5 pints of tomato sauce from tomatoes harvested from our garden. I also froze about 10lbs to save for the next canning session. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

We're Debt Free!!!

Today was a very special day. It was not an anniversary or a birthday or even a holiday. Just a normal Monday. Aside from one thing. Today, we sent in the final payment for our student loans! Today, we have become debt free!

Three years ago we read the book, The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. It completely changed our financial life from that point onward. We began budgeting like it was an Olympic sport, cut our expenses down, saved, sacrificed and started throwing every spare penny towards our student loans. It was not easy. It was hard, sometimes discouraging, a humbling and a long 3 years. But we are so glad we stuck with it, the freedom is an amazing lift off our tired shoulders, and we rejoice in the Lord for allowing us to get this point!

The Nitty Gritty

When we started on our journey to become debt free, we didn't have a lot of money. In fact, my husband was still in school, I was pregnant with our first child and we had no insurance for the birth. Talk about a triple whammy! Our income at the time was around $25,000. Our first goal was to pay off the one credit card we had, which was $3,500. We had some savings and decided to go ahead and pay it off with that. Then, we began aggressively saving so we could pay cash for our daughter's birth, which came to around $8,000. To even get it that low required lots of phone calls to hospitals and providers and the benefit of paid-in-full cash discounts. During this time, my husband graduated and continued working his part-time, retail job while job hunting. We prayed for God to provide and felt the need to move back to his hometown, and within less than a month of moving in, a full-time job opportunity opened up. This was such a blessing! Unfortunately, the insurance would not cover the birth since it was before the waiting period was up (1 week to be exact!), but we were able to finish saving the remainder needed! I was able to enjoy and give birth to a healthy daughter and not worry about how we were going to pay the hospital bill!

After the birth, we had a small amount leftover in savings which we immediately put towards debt. For the rest of the year, we faithfully plugged away at sending in whatever money we could to our loans. I learned how to coupon even more, cook more frugally and save in many areas. Saving money became my job! And it paid off -by the end of the year we had paid off more than $11,000 in debt!

The next year, we decided to move again, this time to be near family, and my husband was offered a work at home position with the same company! God truly provided for our needs! His position did not begin until a month after we moved into our new house, but we managed to live on very very little during that one month of no income.

Challenges and Provision

A couple months later, we found out I was expecting our second child. After making so much progress on our debt payoff, I was discouraged to have to begin saving again for another birth. I began calling hospitals again, and was shocked to see how much more a birth would cost in the new town. With the new position, we did not have any health insurance once again and had taken a bit of a pay cut. I was not sure we would be able to make it. We needed a way to make additional income. God heard our cries, and within a few weeks a part-time ministry job opened up to my husband that fit perfectly. We were indeed blessed and thanked God once again for providing for our needs!

As my pregnancy progressed, we became very focused on saving money in every way that we could. We eliminated everything that was not a necessity, but continued to faithfully tithe as we had through the years. We always made a point to give, even while paying off debt and saving on a low income, as we knew that God is our Provider, and that it would not be possible without Him!

During my third trimester, we decided to switch to a home-birth so we could have the birth experience we wanted and save money at the same time (a home birth saved us at least $4,000). We found a wonderful midwife team that truly took care of all my and the baby's needs! Our second daughter was born healthy, at home, on the evening of New Year's Eve. Once again, we did not have to worry about how we were going to pay a huge bill and were able to enjoy the new blessing God had just given us.

Gazelle Intensity!

The next month, we once again dumped the rest of our savings onto our debt. The end was in sight! I came up with the crazy idea to sell our car. We had a small SUV that really did not fit our needs at the time and decided to sell it, buy a beater van and put the proceeds towards debt. We found an older van for just $1,800 and were able to put almost $4,000 on our debt! This was a huge boost! Since my husband is handy when it comes to cars, he was able to fix it up a bit, saving us even more money. Ironicly, it really felt like we upgraded in cars, since we had so much more room!

By summer, thanks in part to a larger than expected tax return (thank you New Yrs Eve baby, haha!), we finally were able to pay off the last of the debt!

Our total debt payments totaled just over $51,000.

We give God all the glory, knowing that he has blessed us not only with the additional income needed to pay it off, but also richly provided the resources, people, community and knowledge to help us do it. With God, ALL things are possible.

(Disclaimer: This post was written in late May 2012 and published in July. We have been debt free except for the house since then.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Update on the Campbells!

I can't believe it has been over a month since I have updated this blog! Lots of things have been keeping me busy these days and I'm sad this blog has been a little neglected! Here are some photos of the last month:

Snowflake enjoyed her first trip to the zoo:

And Peanut enjoyed walking around seeing all the animals as well!

Snowflake is getting so big! She is such a little cutie! She turned 5 months at the end of May.

We took a little vacation to Amish Country in May. Here are the girls having fun in their carseats!

While there, we visited the Farm at Walnut Creek and got to feed all the animals. Peanut loved the llamas!

Snowflake in her little bonnet! We had nice weather, but it was warm so she needed to wear it!

We stayed next to a dairy farm and Peanut learned how to say "Moo-Moo" as well as "Where are the Moo-Moos"?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Planting Seeds in the Veggie Garden

Today was the perfect day to plant seeds in my vegetable garden. This week, the weather is warming up significantly, which will be good for seed germination. It's hard to believe that June is only a month away considering we just had sleet yesterday! I planted one bed for now and will plant more once it nears the end of May. Our beds are approximately 10 feet by 4 feet.

Here is a rough map of where I planted everything:
Last year, the only vegetable I started from seed were radishes. They were a huge success, so I am hoping for good results with others as well. I plan on buying some transplants from a nursery as well, as a kind of insurance against the seeds! I decided not to start my tomatoes indoors this year, so I will be buying transplants for those in particular. I plan on growing my tomatoes in place of the radishes once I harvest them. They will provide some shade for the turnips as well as the leaf lettuce. I'm also going to plant tomatoes in between the marigolds around my rosemary plant. That should also help shade the broccoli a bit. The peas are currently planted along a tall medal rod that is used for hanging baskets. I didn't plant very many since I need to get some sort of trellis in place in another area, but this will get us started.

One of my goals is to keep better records for this gardening season, so I will be blogging about my progress, updating my planting map accordingly. Once I get some things growing and transplanted, I will update with pictures too.

Have you started a garden yet? What are you planting?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Easter Sunday

I know this a couple weeks late, but I wanted to post pictures of our sweet, growing Peanut and Snowflake on Easter. I made both the their dresses, the first of hopefully many to come. 

Peanut in her dress after church. Her dress gave me the most grief (note to self: do not attempt to sew buttons and weird back pieces the night before she needs to wear it!). She would not look at the camera. It's tough getting a good shot of a constantly moving toddler!

Snowflake in her dress, probably watching her crazy sister doing something odd.

The Campbells - AKA Queen, King and Princesses of the Campbell Castle.

My attempt at getting a good shot of the sisters. This was after their nap, and Peanut was not thrilled with the idea of getting all smiley to take pictures. I'm pretty sure she has a talent for not smiling in photos when it counts!

Our Easter was spent at the church and with family. It was a busy, long day, but so wonderful. It's days like these when I realize how truly blessed we are.

Luke 24:46-47
"and He said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'"

Monday, April 9, 2012

Our Minimalist Spring/Summer Wardrobe

Having another baby means our laundry has increased significantly. It's amazing how many loads a little life can create! I had been struggling to stay on top of it all, and it was becoming a bit of a problem. I decided to minimize all of our wardrobes in effort to streamline laundry by creating less to do and also forcing myself to keep up with it since I will have less to wear!

Here's a peak into our small closet! Yes, this is ALL of our clothing except for underwear, pajamas and socks!

As you can see, we have worked hard to narrow it down to only the items we love and wear! A few of our clothes were in the hamper this day, but not very many since I had just finished with the laundry.

Daddy C actually has MORE clothes than I do, but he needs more since he is the worship minister at our church and is in front of a lot of people every week. Even so, we narrowed his church shirts down quite a bit!

I keep my pants and hats on the top shelf. On the right I have my ball hat and sun hat as well as a clutch for special date nights. In the middle are what I like to call my "house-clothes" - a pair of shorts, capris and sweatpants. On the left I keep my jeans, nice capris and shorts.

I hang up all my shirts. We are in between seasons right now so I have tank tops as well as long sleeved shirts! My 2 tee-shirts were in the hamper this day. I keep my church clothes on the right followed by nursing tanks, nicer casual clothes and then on the left I keep my "house-clothes". I have 4 belts, but I think I may get rid of some of those too since I hardly wear them!

As you can see, Daddy C has a lot of shoes! He used to sell shoes for a living so that's how his collection began! In this picture I have 3 pairs of shoes not pictured- my tennis shoes, hiking boots and my casual slip on shoes. I have one pair of special occasion shoes, one pair of white sandals, black church shoes, summer sandals, slippers and crocs. I need to get some new flip flops for the summer as well since I threw my old ones out.

It has been so freeing to get rid of clothes we do not wear, old raggedy and ill-fitting clothes. This really was not that hard for me since I have been going through so many sizes with pregnancy in the past 2.5 years or so! I really did not have much that fit me! I still have a couple items I need to get to fill in some gaps, but now I can clearly see what we have and need and don't need! It makes getting dressed in the morning so much easier!

I am working through Peanut's and Snowflakes clothing right now as well and will post as soon as I am done with that. It is much harder to narrow down children's clothing than adults, so I am moving slow on it!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Simple Homemade Nursing Cover

When Peanut was still nursing, I bought a nice nursing cover from Target and loved it. It was a bit of a splurge for me, but it made nursing discretely much easier. Fast forward to now, and I am nursing Snowflake, again using the handy cover. However, about a month ago, I somehow lost it and was having a lot of trouble nursing with just a blanket since Snowflake apparently hates being covered up. After several weeks of debating whether or not I was going to shell out money for a new, I decided to make my own!

This project is so easy and I am proud of how resourceful it is! All you need is a good sized receiving blanket (which I somehow had like a bajillion of), some scrap fabric and a piece of boning (if you have any, but not necessary).

Cut 2 strips of fabric 4 inches wide for the straps. You can make these as long as you want. Fold in half, and sew along the edges, closing one end in. Then pull right sides out. Fold the raw end a few times to hide it and sew it onto the backside of cover for each strap. And that's it! I found some boning in my sewing box, so I added that in as an afterthought, but if you wanted to do it, I would sew it in first so it looks more even.

The ties are simple, but I found I never really adjusted the cover anyway, so it works for me!

Since making this cover, I have actually found my old one, but I don't think I will be going back since I like this one better! And it's nice to have a backup in case something like this happens again! I saved at least $10 making this cover myself, but since I had the boning to put in it, I saved more like $30 since those cost more. Frugal win!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Taking 2 Under 2 to the Doctor Together

Today I finally took Peanut and Snowflake to the doctor for their well-visits. Peanut is 3 months behind and Snowflake is already 1 month behind! Chalk it up to a newborn in the house, juggling schedules and laundry! We finally found a local doctor to take them to, so at least I did not have to drive 1 hour away for it!

It seems no matter how much you might prepare to go out with 2 little ones, something always slows you down! Almost upon entering the doctor's office, Peanut started on her little charade of not wanting anything to do with the items I had brought with me to occupy her. Filling out double the amount of paperwork while rocking a starting-to-fuss baby in her carseat, and also trying to keep a toddler from taking away your pen and throwing a full-on fit does not usually bode well for the visit!

Peanut is also deathly afraid of anything to do with doctors and doctor visits, including simple procedures such as standing on a scale or up against a wall for height checks. Try to get near her with a stethoscope or other routine medical device and you might as well be torturing her!

I was at least happy to get both of their visits done at once (and they both checked out very healthy!), but it was not the most fun of times. I think in the future, I will have Daddy C come with us or arrange to only take one at a time. It was hard to give much focus on either one while the doctor was examining them.

Thankfully, towards the end when Peanut had all about had it, and Snowflake was starting her demands for a feeding, I quickly spotted a bowl of suckers on the checkout counter. Although I don't normally give Peanut sweets, this was one of those instances where you all but shout a praise to God that they appeared! I was able to get them both out without incident and buckled back into their carseats. On the ride home, Snowflake promptly fell asleep, completely worn out from the event, and Peanut proceeded to cover herself in a sticky mess in her attempt to chew the sucker rather than suck it... which is another story for another day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saving that Grocery Money

Over the past couple of years, I have got quite good at feeding my family on a low grocery budget. However, dealing with rising food costs means that low budget just got even lower. Because we are working hard to pay off the last chunk of our student loans so we can live like no one else, it's important to me to try and keep costs down in the kitchen while still providing healthy, hearty and satisfying meals for our growing family.

Angela Coffman, the Grocery Shrink, has been fundamental in helping me do this. I bought her ebook last summer and have since completely changed the way I shop and cook. She teaches a certain method to grocery shopping and planning that enables one to stay within her recommended budget guidelines. For us, that is around $250 a month for our family of 4 (nursing infant, toddler, 2 adults).

Last week, she came out with a brand new feature, Grocery Shrink Plus - a menu planning service that not only plans your dinners, but your breakfasts, lunches and snacks too - all for just $5 a month! Her plans are remarkably thorough and detailed to help make it as easy as possible for you to implement the meals. She gives step by step instructions to help plan the different meal tasks out ahead of time so that you don't forget. She also focuses on healthy from-scratch meals rather than relying on boxed or processed food items.

This service is so helpful for me, since I have been struggling to do all the planning and prep work that is necessary to keep a low budget. I had been coming close to the guidelines, but still had plenty of room for improvement, so that's one of the reasons I bought her service. I also needed help in planning more balanced and nutritious meals that include lots of vegetables. So far, I am completely impressed with how much it has helped! Our family loves the meals too - they are simple yet delicious!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March Flowers

Here's a look at some of the flowers and plants currently blooming at the Campbell Castle:

Daffodils are everywhere! These happy flowers are excited about the warmer weather:

Color along the driveway flowerbed:

Close up of our front flower bed:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

4 Items Not Worth Splurging On and 2 That Are

I came across an interesting article on the Dave Ramsey website entitled, "7 Items Worth Splurging On" and thought I would share my thoughts on it.

Firstly, you should know that I am a very frugal person by nature, but I like quality items just the same as the rest of you. However, there are some things that are just not worth the extra cost to me. Below is a list of some items that I think are NOT worth splurging on:

  1. Toilet Paper - I get the cheapest toilet paper I can find with sales/coupons (I go by price per roll and aim for under 40 cents per roll). We get the nice stuff occasionally through this method, but it is not worth the extra money to use it on a regular basis. It’s going on your butt, people. I think many people are just wiping too hard, and that, rather than the actual toilet paper, is what causes irritation.
  2. Trash Bags - We use Aldi trashbags for our kitchen, the cheapest kind they have. Just don’t put 5 gallons of liquid in them and they hold just fine. Every trash bag is prone to breaking at some point or another, and what exactly are people putting in them that would make them break so easily anyway? We use grocery bags for trash cans around the house, so those are free. Take your trash out regularly, whiling working on reducing the amount of trash you actually have, and you will no longer need those industrial strength bags!
  3. Running Shoes - This is something I do agree partially on, but you needn’t go overboard unless you are a hardcore runner. Unless you are training for a marathon, $50 will get you a decent pair that will last a while. Shoes sales are pretty common, so you could even score that $50 pair for around $30.
  4. Food - I'm not sure why the above mentioned article mentions fast food as being cheap, because it most certainly is NOT. You can eat very well for much much less. In my experience, once you go past a certain point, if you are spending more on food you are generally getting LESS healthy stuff (packaged/processed/frozen entrees/fast food/eating out). So cutting the food budget almost always means you will eat more healthy by cooking at home and from scratch more.
And here are a few items I do believe are worth splurging on:

  1. Silverware - If you eat at home as much as we do, you will want good silverware that will stand up to constant use and abuse and dishwashing machines. I've seen cheap sets sold at places like Walmart, and they are generally made of cheap metals like Aluminum, which break down very easily and leave a metallic taste in your mouth. If you can afford a nice set, I believe it is worth is, especially if it lasts your entire lifetime. You don't have to spend a lot though - look at garage sales and thrift stores long enough and you will find some nicer silverware for cheap.
  2. Cookware - Back when my husband and I were engaged, we attended a cookware presentation and bought the over-priced but extremely high quality cookware set. Despite over-paying, we are very happy we have this set - it stands up to constant use, day in and day out. After 4 years, it still looks brand new, despite incidents with boiling pasta being forgotten and melting chocolate left unchecked. The set also has a copper lining inside and heats up fast and stays hot long after the burner has been turned off. We paid an exuberant amount for ours, but similar sets can be had for much less. You will still be paying much more than those $50 sets though, and I think it is worth the extra money.

So there you have it - 4 items I am NOT willing to pay extra for, and 2 that I will. I know many people will have differing opinions on this, so leave a comment and let me know why if you do!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

10 Weeks Postpartum

Here's some recent photos of my growing little snowflake!

First smiles! These are the best :)

Floor time - she is already trying to roll over!
Life with two has been interesting and busy. It's all I can do to stay on top of the laundry everyday. I am working on streamlining all of our wardrobes because of it! Less clothes equals less chaos! Right now, Snowflake is nursing about every 2 -3 hours during the day and 2 -3 times during the night. She has such a calm and happy temperament, which is such a blessing since Peanut had terrible colic! I am really able to enjoy these first months with her, which I couldn't do with Peanut, so it's really been wonderful. She is growing so fast, already in size 2 diapers and size 3 month clothing!

I feel pretty much back to my old self, although I am still not able to exercise quite as much as I want. I get very sore and have some pains if I try to push myself too much. I think this is because I may have pushed a bit too hard during delivery. So, I am taking it slow and trying to remind myself that I am only 10 weeks out and it takes a long time for my body to be completely recovered from childbirth!