Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homemade Butter

I finally got around to making homemade butter. It was so worth it! It has a fluffly, whipped texture and tastes fantastic. All I did was whip heavy whipping cream until it was firm and added a little bit of salt. So easy. So good.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Packing 101

For all of you who are heading out of town to spend time with loved ones over the Holidays this one is for you! Turns out that spending a childhood of moving internationally several times and a few more times domestically (from one state to another) I've developed a talent for packing. Until now, I've kept this bit of information about myself hidden from most people. Of course my family has always known and as far back as I can remember I've gotten the "honey, can you come help us pack?" call any time someone is going anywhere. Which is precisely why it's not been made common knowledge. I'm okay with it in this setting though, because I'll be sharing my tips with you so that you can become your own expert packer! :) Of course, there are all kinds of ways to pack and I'm sure there are plenty of good ideas I haven't come across, but these have always worked for me. The tip I'm sharing with today are my ways to save space. In another post I'll share with you another packing tip to use when space isn't as much of an issue.

The pictures I'm showing you are from our 2 week trip to San Diego this September. This is my daughter's suitcase, a carry on sized bag. 
Just getting started. Underwear and socks in the pocket at the top. 
First, I lay out all the clothes that we will be needing for a specific trip. I arrange things by outfits. This helps me make sure that we have each piece necessary to coordinate once we're there. I also add layering options, and when possible I add long and short sleeve options to the outfits to account for any unexpected weather changes. I tend to be some what of an over packer, especially for my kids because I want there to be enough options in the event of spills, accidents, weather changes, etc.
Everything that I'll be fitting into the suitcase

Another view of the pile to be packed. Each pile is laid out as an outfit.

The shoes that will be going with us
Then I take each outfit and lay them on top of each other. I like the pants to be on the bottom, then the shirt(s) go in order on top of the pants.
Outfit laid out ready to be packed
I roll my outfits together, tightly. I do this for a number of reasons. The first one being that it's SO much easier to have my daughter or husband grab a whole outfit out of the suitcase at one time. This eliminates the digging through the bag for each piece and making a whole mess each morning. It also keeps certain pieces of the outfit from being used on another day and then not being clean when it comes time to use the other pieces of that specific outfit. Another reason I roll them together is because it saves space. Yes, I know it looks much larger this way, but trust me, it saves space. The final reason I roll things is because if you do it well, it can keep things from getting as wrinkled. I know, you think I'm crazy, but I promise for most things it keeps them from getting less creases and wrinkles then being stacked in a pile in the suitcase.
All rolled up, ready to be packed

Another example of an outfit.
This one has a long sleeve and short sleeve option that will be rolled up together.
As I'm packing things into the suitcase I'm mindful of what kind of outfit it is and pack like things together. In the picture below, the far left has all of my daughters cooler weather outfits, rolled up and then stacked on top of each other. This way when once we are there I don't have to dig around for things as much. In the center (the right side of the picture) she has warm weather outfits ready.
All packed up
In this picture you'll see that there are more warm weather outfits in the bottom right side, then in the middle of the right side I have her dressy clothes (she didn't need many, just 2 or 3) and then in the top right I have all of her pajamas. Again, all of this is packed specifically that way so that it makes things less complicated when it comes time for her to find what she needs each morning or evening.
Everything is in!
That's everything. In the top pocket we added her swimsuits and swimsuit covers.
When I pack shoes, I like to put them in between each little rolled up outfit. Shoes fit nicely in those little spaces. I put them in with the top down so that the dirty soles aren't touching her clean clothes. You can also put them in a bag before putting them in or lay a plastic bag or two over them if you're concerned about how dirty they might be and to keep the soles from touching the items in the pocket above them.

Just in case you weren't sure it would close! ;)
In the smaller top pocket I have her hair accessories and brush
and in the larger pocket below we put her Bible and a few other books in.
A quick picture of the hair accessories (in a separate bag) and her brush.

A quick recap:
-Put outfits together
-Roll them as a set
-Stack outfits according to style or weather
-Place shoes on top of the stacks facing down

For those of you who like to be extra organized and prepared, you can also print off my packing list. Then on pinterest (because I LOVE that site & I'm slightly addicted) I found this great resource for packing light. There are great suggestions that I totally agree with! :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Homemade Mixes: How To

Last week I shared with you all the benefits of making your own mixes. Hopefully that sparked your interest and you gathered up your ingredients because today we are putting our mixes together.

You can use this same basic process for any sort of mixes. Here are some ideas:
-Spice mixes
-Bread (savory or sweet: banana, zucchini, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust, dinner rolls, etc)
-Desserts (cakes, cookies, pie crusts, etc)
-Snack mixes

1. Gather your supplies for the first recipe (it's best to do one at a time)
This includes:
-The recipe
-Gallon size ziplock bags (or you can use mason jars if the mix is small enough)
-Snack and sandwich size ziplock bags
-Measuring utensils
-Index cards & pen OR printed recipe
-Sharpie or printed labels

2. Decide how many mixes you'll be making
Label the bags you'll be using and open all of the bags. Prop them up for easy access to the opening. Also decide if you'll be making 1/2 or 1/4 size protions. If so, then write out the correct amounts you'll need for those variations on your recipe card so you don't have to do the math each time. Be sure to also adjust the liquid amounts to match the amount you've decided on so that your recipe will be correct when it comes time to make the mix.

3. Read the recipe carefully. Be sure to look over all the directions so that you know if there are specific things that you'll need to do with some of the ingredients when it comes time to prepare the mix or something you should do now. For example, my cookie recipe calls for my oatmeal to be blended, so I do that before adding it to my mix. If there is anything that needs to be combined separately with a liquid ingredient, then you will need to keep that/those ingredients in a separate ziplock bag. For example, my cookie dough recipe calls for the sugars to be combined with the butter, so I keep the sugars in a smaller bag within my mix. Once you've paid careful attention to the recipe and made sure you made special arrangements when necessary, then you can move ahead to the next step.

4. Start adding your ingredients
First, put any special ingredients in individual bags so that you don't forget to that later and add them to the gallon sized bag. Then, start at the top of recipe and add the required amount of each DRY ingredient to your bag. I like to do one ingredient at a time. So if I'm making 3 mixes and my recipe calls for 2 C of flour, I'll add the 2 C of flour to each of my 3 bags before moving on to the next ingredient. Then I'll do the same for all the remaining ingredients. This helps me make sure I don't miss any ingredient in each mix. It also helps me keep a cleaner area, once I've finished with all 3 mixes, I can set that ingredient aside or put it away.

5. Finish your mix
Once you've added all your DRY ingredients to your mix, then add your printed or written out copy of the recipe to the bag. Seal it up and put it away.

You can follow this exact same process for the remaining recipes you're making. It's not hard to make several mixes in just a few hours, especially if they have similar ingredients.

Have fun stocking up!

If you come across a great recipe that works well for a homemade mix, please share it with us!

Friday, December 9, 2011

5 Benefits to Making your own baking mixes

One of my favorite changes I've made throughout this last year is to start making my own baking mixes. It really has quite a few advantages and it's so quick and easy. Usually I'll make a whole bunch all in one afternoon and be set for several months. 

1. Cost
These homemade mixes can be very cost effective. Depending on what kind you are making, there may be cheaper alternatives with coupons and sales, but some of the other benefits won't be available with those options. For the most part these are cheaper then buying a regular priced baking mix. 

2. Convenience
I love having a ready to go mix on hand to throw together for any sort of gathering or to add to a family meal. I keep mine in the freezer so the ingredients stay fresh and away from any critters that may try to pry them open. 

3. Control over the ingredients
I'm becoming more and more aware of the need to modify some of our ingredients and food choices. That doesn't mean I'll never eat another cookie though. So in order to make healthier options for my family I can adapt these mixes to fit the needs we have. I am able to substitute the flours, sugars, and other ingredients as I see fit. This is far less expensive then buying the healthy, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, etc. options at the health food stores that you may need for a specific health concern. 

The other thing I am able to control is the lack of preservatives or other questionable ingredients I don't want to be feeding my kids. 

4. Adapt size of mix
This one has come in handy! There are times that you don't need to make a WHOLE cake, but you do because the mix comes in that particular size. The benefit of making your own kits is that you can adapt the size of mixes you make. You can make a full recipe for those times you really do need the full size, but then you can make 1/2 size or 1/4 size recipes as well for those moments when you need a smaller portion.

5. Variety
I love being able to make some of my family's favorite recipes from a mix. Recipes that have been passed down to me from my mother or other family members or friends. I'm not limited by the varieties offered at the grocery store. If I find a recipe for a specific kind of bread or desert that doesn't come in a box else where, I can make my own mixes for them. 

Here is another post where I share a bit about my mixes. 

If you're interested in getting a step by step process on how I do these, check back next week! Over the weekend chose 3-4 of your favorite recipes (they can be savory or sweet, things like seasonings, bread mixes, desert mixes, snack mixes) and gather the ingredients because on Monday we'll be making mixes! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Homemade Granola

After messing up my granola a few weeks ago, I finally got it right! :) The interesting thing about the whole granola thing was that the first two times I was following a recipe that was loaded with sugar, butter and all sorts of tasty things. After failing miserably and wasting a bunch of food :-/, it took me a while to get all the ingredients rounded up again. During that time I was put on a very intense diet (for health reasons) to clear up some things which meant NO sugar for a while. Thankfully, I hadn't made my sugar filled version yet, so I adapted the recipe to make it acceptable for our family's new, temporary diet. We love it! We've been eating it with our homemade yogurt or with almond milk.

I have found that making things like granola can be a more cost effective way of getting healthier foods into our diet then buying mixes/meals ready-made at the store. I wouldn't say that this granola is significantly cheaper then boxed sugary, cereal, but it is cheaper then the healthy cereal alternatives. A high in nutrient box of cold cereal can easily get up into the $4 range and this large batch of granola with come in under that price tag. :)

It's hard to give a cost break down on granola because there are so many variations and options for add-ins that it really depends on your tastes, budget and preferences. I prefer less extras in my granola and then on mornings when I am in the mood for more fruit or nuts, I'll add them accordingly.

Here's my recipe:
8 C old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 C butter (if you prefer you could probably do 1 C of either butter or oil)
1/2 C oil
1/2+ C almond butter
1/2+ C honey (optional, I have been leaving honey out for my current diet, but if you like the crunchy chunks you should add honey)
1/4 C Stevia (or 1/2 C brown sugar)
1/2+ C fruit of your choice (we use unsweetened coconut shavings)
1/2+ C nuts of your choice (we use slivered almonds)
**Feel free to adjust amounts to your preferences and tastes. You can also leave parts out, but adjust things to make sure there is enough "coating" for the oatmeal.

Pour the rolled oats out onto a cooking sheet (or two if necessary). Boil the butter, oil, almond butter, honey and stevia for a minute or two until it is all mixed together. Pour over the rolled oats. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning. Once it has cooled add the fruit and nuts, stir together. Store in an air tight container.

Other options for add ins:
-Dried berries (blueberries, raspberries, cherries, etc)
-Dried fruit (apricot, apples, prunes)
-Any kind of chopped nut

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Grocery Budget Update

I know it's been a long time since I've given you my actual monthly grocery spending for all sorts of reasons, but most of them have to do with not being a diligent blogger lately.

For the most part we've stayed within our budget of $150/month. There were a few times that we were over by $15-20. My goal has always been $50/person per month and since our son was under 2 I wasn't really considering him a "full" person for the budget. Now, though, we've decided to increase our budget to the full $200/month due to the rising costs of groceries and our son showing signs of being all BOY, especially when it comes to filling his belly! ;) I'm feeling alright about the change, especially since we made it on our lower budget through our debt pay off season. Now that it is behind us, giving a little increase to our grocery budget should be manageable. I think I'll still always try to keep it lower though, that's just my style! ;) I like the challenge too.

Another change that is coming to our grocery habits is furthering my quest for healthier alternatives to add to our diets. I've always done this to some extent, but haven't pushed my self as hard as I could be, so that's my next goal. I'll be sharing some of those ideas with you as they come up, in case anyone else is interested in the same thing. :)

Anybody else working hard to cut spending on groceries? What are your tips? What's working for you? What do you find most challenging?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Family Cookbook

Still looking for a Christmas gift idea? This looks like a great way to give a personal gift, but will come in a professional bound book. How fun!

Blessing Bags

I came across this idea on pinterest, where most of my good ideas come from lately, and had to share it on here with all of you too!

The idea is to create a "blessing bag" to keep in your car to hand to the homeless as you come across them. There are a variety of ideas of things you can add to your bags. I came across several different ideas and have compiled the lists from here, here and here and added a few ideas of my own. The great thing about these bags is that you feel like you are able to do something for those in need without feeling like you may be contributing to an addiction problem in their lives. You are meeting some of their most basic needs and sharing Jesus' love for them at the same time.

Our family went to the Dollar Store and we bought enough items to fill 5 blessing bags. We did 3 male bags and 2 female bags. My husband and I each carry a few in our cars so that we are prepared to hand them out any time we come across someone in need. My husband already delivered one of his and we tried to deliver one from my car on Sunday, but we weren't on the right side of the intersection. On our way back by there we tried to get to the other side, but weren't able to. It was disappointing.

Anyway, we spent about $5 dollars per bag, so it's not a huge cost either. I've also heard of churches or groups of friends getting together to make a large amount of them. In that case each person signs up to bring a large quantity of a certain item and then you assemble them at a gathering. Depending on how many you make each person can take some to keep in their car. We did ours as a family activity, which I think was a good time to teach our kids about looking for ways to help other people around us.

Here is a list of ideas to get you started:
*You fill a gallon size zip lock bag with a combination of the following items:

-Packages of tissues
-Toothbrush and toothpaste
-Soap/shampoo (to save on your cost you can use hotel bottles/soaps that you've gathered from traveling)
-Band aids
-Hand wipes
-Throat lozenges
-Trial size Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen
-Hand sanitizer
-Hand or face lotion


Food Items: It's ideal if you have ready-to-eat protein rich snacks.
-Juice box or water bottle
- Cheese and crackers
- Power bar
- Tuna in a bag (no cans requiring an opener)
-Vienna sausages
- Beef jerky
-Trail mix
-Granola bars
-Crackers with cheese or peanut butter

-Chef Boy R Dee cups
-Pack of gum
-One sweet item such as canned fruit or pudding
-Plastic utensils and napkin

Misc. Items:
-Coins (could be used to make a phone call, or purchase a food item)
-Pair of men's socks
-Small bible or bible tract
-Bus/Train/Subway Schedule
-Prepaid phone card
-Gloves/ knit beanie/scarf
-Resource list for the homeless
-Fast Food Gift Cards               
-Hand-Written Prayers or Verses

We added a personal touch to each of ours by adding a note to each one. The notes varied a little bit for each one, but the main point we wanted to communicate was that Jesus loves them, they aren't forgotten and we hope the items we've included are a blessing to them that day.

Other ways to make it more personal/relevant to your area would be to include a business card to your  local church where they may be able to get some further aid, information to local ministries that could be able to help them, a picture or note drawn/written by your child.

Another idea we've come across and really like is to keep several fast food restaurant gift cards in your car to hand out to homeless as well, we'll probably have a combination of both on hand.

What ideas have you come across to bless people with? I'd love to hear them!

Friday, December 2, 2011


This afternoon I scheduled our LAST payment to be made on our debt! We are thrilled!! It's certainly been a journey. About 16 months ago, we made a decision that we were done with debt. We were tired of having so much of our money going to pay for our school bills. At that time we still owed $37, 717.96 of our nearly $55,000 in school loans. The number felt overwhelming and impossible, especially trying to pay for it on an annual salary of approximately $60,000. Now, as we look back we are so happy we made that choice on July 27, 2010. It has forever changed our lives!

On that day, I made a chart to track our progress of getting out of debt. After counting up 38 boxes, I felt a little hopeless, but each time we marked another chunk off it just gave us hope and the enthusiasm to keep plugging away at it. All of the excitement hasn't fully sunk in yet. I'm looking forward to our next paycheck when we won't have to use ANY of it for debt! :) What a relief. Best. feeling. ever!

If you're just hearing our our debt story for the first time, you can find out more by reading this page, or read the posts under the "Debt" labels. 
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